Though my theory sounded unbelievable even to me, it was always interesting to see Utterson going down from impatience to fear. But as I saw Neilan’s searching gaze, for how blatantly I could speak such a thing, all my intrigue evaporated in the instant. Despite every urge to intervene and explain myself, the situation kept telling me to keep quiet, as it wouldn’t do my case any good. So instead of words, I struck them with a serious glare.
Trust no one. Suspect the person next to you. Never be careless.
No one wanted to believe me. None of us wanted to suspect anyone. As humans, trust is imprinted in us, and going against that is of course unpleasant. Yet, the investigation would never advance without skepticism.
Neilan blurted out his denial. Immediately I asked him whether Sevrin or Utterson were more suspicious. ‘Other than Gabriel, who else had a weapon? Sevrin and you. Tell me: sacrifice him or yourself?’
Perplexed, Neilan demanded me not to accuse him. Sevrin joined and grilled me about what was wrong with me. ‘Wrong? I’m only saying that Gabriel’s most likely to be the culprit. I’m only talking about a possibility. What’s wrong with you?'
Sevrin was gripping the gun so hard, it might break at any time. I wasn't sure what Sevrin was thinking, but he stared down at me with fear, confusion, and hatred all at once. Unable to withstand the rising tension, Utterson broke in and expressed his support toward me. Until we learnt more of the situation, he said, we would suspect Gabriel first. Lucius agreed, adding that we could never be too vigilant. 'Look,' I said. 'We’re only talking about Normand. She probably didn’t kill everyone, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t related to culprit. Think of her as a tool to the truth. Isn’t that more convenient?'
No one answered. Those who met my eyes (except Lucius) gave faint, half-hearted nods. To be honest, I felt pretty bad. ‘Pretty bad’, because I don’t know how to label the slight pang telling me I should’ve found a better way to say it.
Some time later, Neilan pointed out my overly restrained face. He asked me if I was healthy enough to continue. Yes, I replied. I was fine. We stopped talking and Neilan went on smiling. His flushed cheeks returned, and like Utterson said, he did look like Christmas lights (I heard him calling Neilan that during Sawney’s examination). As soon as we were ready, we moved on to Penny's.
I was getting more comfortable with this prison. The first few hours here had agitated me, but only because my thoughts were still those of a free man. As the rainstorm stripped my freedom away, I longed for the open breeze and saltwater on my ankles, before they all dissipated like sunlight through mist. The desire to swim tormented me. I wanted to take my jumper off. It was ridiculous—I had never felt like this. Instead of a place of comfort, this jumper had become a restraint, keeping me away from the blissful blend between lightness and warmth.
I wasn’t unhappy; but I sure felt sick. Thinking about the murders had grown into a nuiseance. One of the tortures here was boredom; so to kill it I learnt to record things in my head and replay them. First it was the wallpaper hanging from the walls. Then came the shaky bouts of rain, the occasional prediction for the next thunder, and the invisible vibration of the leaking hourglass. It wasn’t long before I moved from predictions to memories. Memories of autumnal breeze and leaves flickering like candlelight. Memories of colour dappling cedar fences. Memories of the books I had read.
One book stuck with me. It was about a Dutch dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I. She wanted a sense of security–somewhere to reinvent herself after suffering from her husband’s heavy drinking and frequent rages. After their divorce, she moved to Paris to become the mistress of a French diplomat who supported her career. As time passed, she had relationships with both German and French officers despite the growing tension of World War I. Because of this, the French authorities accused her for espionage and threw her into a rat-infested cell. In the end, she was executed by a firing squad.
I never got tired of that biography. I don’t know why. Perhaps I had reached the peak of boredom which couldn’t be surpassed. So when I checked my phone again to see that twenty-four hours had passed, I believed it, but I didn’t care. Those hours had become both long and short at the same time. They had become cluttered, meaningless strands of fiber twisted into a single yarn. ‘Today’ and ‘tomorrow’ no longer existed–only rain and the next crash of thunder. That was when my thoughts had become a prisoner’s.
Passing a stained glass window, I looked at myself. Neilan was right. My face was serious no matter how much I tried to smile at it. But whose expression isn’t tense when they are? It was the first time here I’d seen my physical self, and I was surprisingly dissatisfied by it. Then Pierre’s words reminded me: even if we got out, we would never be free. We were trapped.
From here, unspeakable things begin. Until here, I never thought I would have to mention this moment.
Adjusting myself, however, I no longer saw a point of my reluctance. In fact, I wasn’t really in the wrong that time (even though Utterson insisted). If you can’t handle violence, you can go ahead and close the envelope. But that’s not why I’ve written this. Maybe if I revise this later on and deem it unimportant, I’ll tear these pages apart and start again.
When we expected a proper interrogation with minor difficulties, we didn’t think that Penny would rush to attack me first. One hand held onto the fabric of my jumper, while the other pulled on my rosary. Blood covered both of them. Unlike Sawney, who held me in the shirt collar, I panicked more than ever for the rosary. Out of a whim, I returned her grasp and threw her to the side. Her head crashed onto the floor. Something in my shoulder ripped. Utterson gasped in horror.
‘It’s all your fault.’
Penny rose up and spoke in a croaky, bitter voice. The gash on her throat contrasted with her pale face, and her eyes no longer had that clear, penetrating light. She was talking to me. I replied, ‘My fault? I didn’t even play your game.’
‘But you’re the one who made me die, right?! You forced me to kill myself! Isn’t that enough for you?!’
‘What?!’ Utterson exclaimed. I muttered the same. For a while, neither of us believed that statement. Me bribing her to kill herself and lashing out afterward was beyond us. Utterson took a step and asked her to elaborate. A peaceful, proper interrogation was still possible, he said. Yet, Penny began accusing me of playing innocent by being a detective, before trailing off and suspecting that I had also bribed Utterson. I tried to reason with her. If that were the case, we would’ve forced her to lie. ‘See? There’s no point in calling you out,’ she said. ‘But I know. I know, and I’ll curse you for the rest of my life. I hope you get dragged into hell, morons.’
‘Listen. Just a little.’ I tried to help her up.
‘Don’t touch me.’
‘I’m not touching you. But is there another way this can happen? Is it possible that someone else is hiding?’
‘You’re using me to think of a fake truth.’ The bitterness in her voice didn’t change. ‘You think I’m dumb? You think I don’t know about the Necronomicon? You're the one planning this, aren’t you?! Just give up already. I’m not playing your games, sir Marwin Preis.’
‘And I’m not playing yours either.’
Penny wrapped her arms around my leg. Despite the pain in her throat, she yelled, ‘I said just give up already! Get yourself to the police, and all this will be over!’
Something white flashed into me. The next thing I knew, I had kicked her in the face. Penny screamed in agony. Then I kicked her three more times before she stopped moving. I slowed my movements. A horrible realisation struck me, and I held my breath. ‘Stop it… ’ I mumbled. Utterson, too, froze. His lips trembled while he drew his limbs near. Seeing what I had done to Penny made him fear that the same would happen to him.
‘What… have you done?’ he muttered. He wasn’t asking for an answer—he was asking me to reflect. Even we had done terrible things, such as using the Necronomicon or lashing out at friends, nothing had compared to this. Yet, one side of me remained blatant. It questioned me whether it was my fault at all; whether Penny should’ve listened to us. We could convince her once she woke up again, and by that time we’d do that, the atmosphere would be filled with fear, lament, or even more bitterness.
I asked Utterson if we could search around the room. Utterson didn’t reply. With silence, we unfroze ourselves and went after her luggage. Inside was a bag of cosmetics and a lighter. We took the latter, picked one candle up, and relit the room.
According to Utterson, nothing had changed except for the Ouija board on the cupboard. Penny’s blood made the sight even more eldritch. Shaking that feeling off, we searched through the rest of the cupboard. There was nothing but another box of matches. We kept it in Utterson’s parka.
At last, we looked in the wardrobe. Countless robes were hung on rusted rods of metal. Taking one of them out, I recalled Sawney’s interrogation. I pointed its characteristics out to Utterson and asked him if Lucius said something of the same. ‘Well? What do you think?’ he spat. I decided not to ask anymore.
Before we left, something stopped me. I wanted to do something for her, but once again I debated with myself whether I should. I did. ‘Don’t you dare do anything to her,’ he said. I ignored him as I lifted Penny's unconscious body up. As my eyes wandered at her, pictures of her smile painted over her listless lips. Instead of closed eyes, I felt her clear, black pupils seeing right through me, to what lay for me in the near future. It stung. Yet I held her close to me before laying her down for good. Part of me hoped that she would remember this as one of the worse parts of her nightly dream. The candle burnt out its last. I closed my eyes as a nonverbal apology, before opening them again and saying, ‘Goodbye, Penny.’
We left to find the rest of the group talking about something. When they saw us, they hid their gossip with silence. They all glared at me, while I did the same with the newcomer.
‘Marwin,’ Pierre spoke in a tone I never thought I would hear from him. Normally his voice is as warm as a sunset, though he never hesitates to tell us to do the right thing. Yet, none of that was present. With rashness, he brought up a bundle of note scraps before throwing them at me. My eyes followed them to the floor. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ he asked. As soon as I saw its ink, Gabriel’s question struck me, and all the puzzles in my head made me express the most anger.