What Follows

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7.3: Seven Deadly Riddles- Part One

`Stop ignoring what your soul is telling you to do`

“Okay, hold on-” Tobias says, breaking my train of panicking thoughts that are mercilessly bombarding with every empty corner of my mind. “So this is an app that pays people money for ruining other peoples’ lives?”

I’m in so much shock, I can’t even speak.

“And like Sierra is Tina Thompson?” Tobias continues with his chain of unanswered questions. “Is it like a fake name? Or is it Tina’s phone and not Sierra’s? Because, you know, it’s weird to have two phones-”

But all I’m doing is staring at the screen. Staring at the words and trying to understand how could any human being agree to do this.

“It’s Sierra’s-” I rasp faintly. “She has all our pictures.”

Tobias doesn’t say anything for a while and all I can hear, meanwhile, is the teachers’ nonsensational bickerings.

“Select it-” Tobias requests. “Let’s see if it’s what we’re all thinking about-”

I select ′Ruin one of your closest people in seven, progressively worse steps worth $500 more than the previous step each’, and a white screen with seven numbered sections appears in front of us. I randomly select the first section, mentally preparing myself for the worst. The white screen turns black again and slowly words appear one by one forming a whole sentence in red.

1. Self-confidence is all one needs until someone finds the fear he feeds- $500

I look, puzzled at what the sentence means and how it relates to me until I scroll down and find my answer in green. ‘Six uploaded media files’, it says. I immediately select it and clench my shaky hand into a strong fist as six pictures load. There are pictures of very familiar pink sticky notes with vulgar language scribbled on it, and I instantly remember them.

I remember starting my school day with them, and I think that this is how it all started. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to kill myself. It was a long series of painful events that started by insults decorating my locker, insults in different handwritings from ‘supposedly’ different people about how I should keep a mirror in my bag to constantly ‘remember who I am and my place’.

Back then I didn’t understand why would anyone tell me this when I was being very nice to everyone. Back then, life was nice to me. My parents weren’t getting divorced, Joshua was always there for me, and I lived like I owned the whole world. I lived afraid of death.

“So those are-?” Tobias trails off, and I snap my head back to him and Benji who’s looking at teachers over Tobias’ shoulder.

I blink at him and feel myself deflate at what this means. At how Sierra truly and so heartlessly betrayed me and willingly took my hand to my grave in seven steps.

“She left them in my locker-” I say quietly, so quietly, scared that maybe if I’m too loud it would become too real. I look down and exhale shallowly. “I just- I-” I shake my head and hold his soft, hazel eyes. “You know, she’d search with me for evidence. Question people with me as if she was innocent-” I pause and feel a sting behind my eyeballs. “As if she actually cared about me-” I say heavily and Tobias’ eyes seem to only get softer.

“Maybe she didn’t hate you, Rosey-” Tobias suggests gently. “Maybe she just loved money more-”

And it hurts to know that, you know- is what I want to tell him as I look into his eyes, questioning my existence. It hurts to know that the person you see as worthy of your life values money more than your well-being. It hurts to know that she could stand seeing me bothered, distracted, sad even and not stop causing further damage.

Instead, I just speechlessly look down at the phone’s screen on which a tear fell and continue scrolling through the pictures until I find the one with me standing next to the locker with a furious face expression, with the same pink sticky note in my hand and with Sierra on my right.

And I wonder, who was taking the picture. I shut my eyes, feeling too weak to accept such a great revelation, such immense pain. At the very bottom, I can see that there are 753 comments from different players, I suppose, who must be condoning her actions and encouraging her to ruin me.

I select the return button at the end of the page in disgust and thoughtlessly select the second section on the white screen which is supposedly worse than the first section. The screen turns black and the words dance in red around the screen before organizing themselves into another sentence. Another sub-challenge about how to make Roseline hate her life more and more.

2- Roses are red, violets are blue, but unlike every time, everyone should see the colour through- $1000

“Alright I love riddles and all, but those sound quite malevolent-” Tobias remarks from behind me and I turn to him, lost in thought. “And that’s a lot of money for a teenager-” He continues. “What would Sierra need that money for? I mean, besides buying two phones?”

“Do you think this app knew me?” I ask him. “I mean, do you think those challenges were specially designed to fuck me up?”

Tobias gulps, tilts his head, doesn’t really look at me and then sighs. “I think not, Roseline-” He looks up at me and I falteringly lift a brow. “I think she knew exactly your weaknesses and she played on them-”

I subtly shake my head, vigorously and mirthlessly, searching my mind for any reason to deny what he’s saying. But truly, there’s no way an app can know about any random person, can know about me and my insecurities.

There are supposedly two pictures for this challenge. I scroll down finding pictures in the janitor’s closet and if I look close enough I can see a sea of tampons and pads on the floor. I gasp and slap a hand to my mouth as I remember the riddle. What had Sierra done? Did she actually raid everyone off their pads for $1000?

And I suppose if this was meant to destroy me, it was carried out on one of my periods. It was carried out on the day when my period started and no-one had a pad to offer me. Not even the school’s clinic. And by the time, the nurse went to fetch me one from the storage units, I had embarrassingly leaked through the tissues I’ve placed in my underwear.

Sierra was with me, I remember. She was pretending to be angry at the school nurse for not providing such amenities. She was pretending to feel sorry for me because I know I must’ve had horrible cramps, with a leak like a cherry on top. I remember her asking me to wait in the clinic until she fetched my jacket. But after a few minutes, I couldn’t wait, I decided to rush to the washroom.

And to my utter dismay, almost everyone was standing in the hallway as if waiting for my arrival with ridiculously wide, toothy grins and evil, anticipating eyes. I remember spotting Sierra’s face amongst them and feeling very sick. And it is in that very moment, when everyone burst into fits of laughter, did an uncontainable feeling of loneliness creep up my spine and force me to run to the washroom where I could be actually alone.

It’s then when I learnt that loneliness isn’t a feeling but company with expectations. Because here’s the thing about it; it takes as much as it gives. It indeed stole me from everybody’s prying eyes, it did save me after all. But it also stole from me a place to grow and thrive. Like a symbiotic relationship.

And maybe, you know, I shouldn’t have been ashamed of my female nature. I shouldn’t have been embarrassed about something I didn’t control, but somehow, the hushed conversations that happen as I pass by people, their laughter that they suppress in small smirks, made me feel so much different. It made me feel flawed.

It made me feel like I’m all alone dealing with this ‘curse’.

I look back at the phone and know what I’d find if I continued scrolling. Perhaps a picture of me and my bloodied pants as I ran horrifiedly, with welling eyes to the washroom with hundreds and thousands of comments with laughing emojis.

“I’m so sorry-” Tobias whispers miserably and I sniff loudly. “I have no clue you went through all of this-”

“That’s only number two-” I tell him brokenly and shake my head. “She brilliantly planned this. Everything-”

I select the return button, not waiting to hear Tobias’ reply, enhanced with his sympathetic tone, sighs or tsks. Tobias shifts uncomfortably behind me.

"Wait-” He then tells me and covers the phone’s screen with his hand. “You shouldn’t do this-”

I look at him incredulously and remove the phone from beneath his hand. “No, I should-” I say solidly. “I should know the truth. I should know that I didn’t just snap and killed myself. I should know that there are valid reasons.”

Tobias sighs and shakes his head. ”Roseline, there are many people who faced all those issues. And it’s real. With actual people hating on them. Not just a greedy best friend-” He says. “And they’re still alive and fighting.”

“Are you saying that those reasons are invalid?” I ask miserably. “Are you serious?”

“See? This is exactly why you should stop-” He shakes his head. “You’re losing purpose, Rosey-” He tells me like he knows me, and it angers me. “You shouldn’t sympathize with your death. You shouldn’t feel sorry for your living self-” He walks around me till he’s standing in front of me, close to me. “You should feel angry that you’ve killed yourself for no reason at all-”

My jaw drops in raw surprise. “No reason?”

“Yes, Rosey, not a single reason-” He shakes his head as if he’s having difficulty in reaching out for me. “Can’t you see? It was all inside your head!” He says slowly and I gulp. “People didn’t ′hate’ you to put those notes in your locker and it definitely isn’t a coincidence that everyone was there to ‘see the colour through’-” He speaks bluntly. “You were brutally played. And you-” He sighs sadly. “You, Rosey- You wasted your life as a result.”

My lashes flutter as I stare in his spiralling, sad eyes. His body is close and wilting like it’s hopeless, like it can’t believe I’ve left so cruelly. Even Benji has his head drooped low. And it’s almost impossible that someone can look that unhappy for a dead, wandering ghost.

“How can I be certain that I was ‘played’?” I say, sniffing loudly because I know he’s right. “C’mon, Tobias, this is just-” I shake my head and look at him pleadingly. “This is beyond me. I couldn’t have known-” I cry. “This is not fair-”

Tobias’ looks at me like he might shed a tear or two. “I’m afraid that’s the moral of the story-” He tells me. “We shouldn’t have killed ourselves because we have no clue what life has in store for us. I mean, if you’ve survived-” He smiles brittly. “You would’ve known, love-”

“I wasted my life-” I cry out miserably. “I- I loved her-” I sniff and almost drop the phone when Tobias holds my hand with the phone. I look up at him and hear my sobs, even though I don’t feel it. I don’t feel the tension behind my temples, the heat behind my ears and my warm, salty tears. “She played me!” I blather breathlessly. ”It’s not fair!”

Tobias sighs and Benji barks, and I know that this is how regret feels like. Knowing that if I had lived and known this, I would’ve had my revenge. But now? I’m footless, worthless, dead. So, yes, instead, I cry dead, rotting tears that I can’t feel on my dead, rotting face. I cry and wonder if all the dead can hear my heartwrenching screams of regret.

I sniff loudly and try calming my breaths. I look at Tobias who does nothing but study me and hope with his eyes that I’d feel better. But the dead can feel nothing but the blackity black of their graves and the rough, dry soil over their decaying bodies. They feel nothing but hopelessness and death and death.

"I hate her-" I hiss, simmering with pure rage, and I wonder if that’s what ghosts feel like before they decide to haunt a person or a house. If they feel hatred so overwhelming and fulfilling, if they let their hatred be their purpose and thus dwell on the living.

Tobias looks at me cautiously. “Maybe you should take a break-” He proposes and I sharply look at him.

“Take a break?” I ask him, my eyes steely and steady on his gentle ones. “Oh, I’m just getting started.”

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