Who was the Aristide Utterson who unveiled the witch’s cloak with grandeur? He had no clue what price he had paid, what price he had to pay, or what price he was willing to pay. The sole thing he trusted was this place he belonged, his tools as guidance, and his heart which betrayed him in the last minute.
How old am I? Ten? Twenty? I can’t be older than twelve, even though my passport made it clear I was born on 17 May 2003. The last time I checked, it was 1 August 2020—but I don’t want to do the math.
When Silvia took me away from Patrizia, something came up my throat. A sort of iron, almost like blood, suffocated me into a claustrophobic room of fingers and eyes as they crushed and bent my limbs into awkward angles.
This is the body of a dying man. There’s nothing I can do about it, because I am on the brink of death. I’ve survived, but only barely, and I’m clinging onto an arm of a clock like a leaf on a dead tree. Perhaps I did die the moment I threw everything away. The touch of wind, the sound of rushing rain, the rain clouds of Neuilly, the sun of Boston—none of them troubled me anymore. Weathery colours were recast into a distant rainbow, though like all wonders of the sky, my hand wouldn’t reach. I am Aristide Utterson, a French-American student of Miskatonic High School, but I am not.
‘Today, the witch caressed me with its wing and will knock at my door. If not today, then tomorrow. I mustn’t celebrate now. I’ll do so when she takes me away.’
‘Can you repeat that?’ Lucius asked.
I didn’t bother. ‘Sevrin. Can I look at that notepad again?’
We all did. Though we could form no assumption with Marwin’s writing, as he had only written about Sawney, we couldn’t say the same with Gabriel. ‘I can explain that,’ said Silvia. ‘The note scraps are in German, so we have Gabriel translate it for us.’
‘While Marwin’s still out. Right at the beginning.’
Why hadn’t they spoken of it beforehand? Fog began to cloud my head again. ‘Were you trying to watch Marwin’s behaviour first? Is that why you didn’t talk about it?’ I asked.
Silvia didn’t answer. If she said yes, it would sound illogical. If she said no, I would keep questioning her until she felt cornered and have another outrage. Perhaps silence was the best answer. Gut instincts are hard to ignore.
‘How do you know that Gabriel’s translation is truthful? Whose side is she on?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Neilan. ‘But from the fact she didn’t kill Marwin on the spot gave me some ideas...’
Neilan looked at me with a dismal glare. ‘What ideas?’ I asked.
‘I think Patrizia was right.’
All at once, the stream of rain which back then had numbed my ears became alive. Another piece of suspicion toward me. ‘And because Gabriel knew who the culprit was…’
An indescribable feeling returned. One was tension—Normand is my best friend, after all—but the other… it was acceptance. Why am I feeling that? Is it because I’ll have everything to myself now? Because that thought is selfish and egoistic. I mustn’t be that one person, but what if I’m beyond help? What if I am the problem?
The centre of the circle was shoving me from where I am to where I should be. The space took up space it shouldn’t have claimed. The space was constraining me to search for emptiness I couldn’t see. The hollow space was me, but not in me.
Sevrin slapped my face.
‘The fuck is wrong with you?’ asked Sevrin.
‘Yes… it’s hindering our progress. Let’s go…’
I’d overcome those. I’ve become independent, only to remind myself that independence was a show. My remorse for Marwin resurfaced, and now the word I had thrown around without care had become real: hatred.
Back then, I hated everything: the weather, the island, the witch, the blood, the victims, the Necronomicon, Marwin. I started by pouring the cup of coffee Gabriel had spent time with, letting myself cry and lash out, and I accused Marwin for not crying for his father’s death. At some point, I hated Normand, too. How can I hate someone who only gave me love? But it’s too late—I’ve unleashed this hatred into myself and clouded all morality into a mist of grey. I hated Normand because his selfless love was unreal; impossible; absurd. It filled me with guilt, with the desire to return his favour, even if he refuses. This love keeps me from the corruption of loss, leaving me helpless when that time comes in the most unexpected way.
I watched the tree of questions grow into fruits, before as quickly as its growth came its wilt. In the audible distance, Silvia and Sevrin told Neilan to stay, with Neilan asking back why he couldn’t come to interrogate. Sevrin scorned him for being disobedient. Neilan resisted his urge to invoke another shouting match, until Silvia warned him with a hit on the shoulder. None of them were competent enough to sense a fault in my silence. Otherwise they would’ve sent me away to somewhere worse—Marwin’s place, for example.
‘You seem sheepish,’ Neilan changed his focus to me. ‘Anything not going your way?’
I didn’t bother to answer. I looked at Neilan, switched my glance to his grip on the fore-end, and demanded him to spy on Marwin and Pierre. ‘But you’ll be left alone,’ he protested.
‘Neilan Jest,’ I said. ‘You are an underling. You’re always under someone’s command. Do as I say, and spy for Pierre and Marwin.’
Neilan stared at me, the classmate whom he had worked with for almost two years, and who had never been rude to him. There must be some ulterior motive behind my command, he might have thought, so he loaded the shotgun and aimed at me. ‘Tell me what you’re going to do,’ said Neilan.
‘Lucius and I will get to Silvia first, then you can go. Or he can stay with you. Does that sound convincing?’
He refused to change his position. I tried to think of another way to speak, but my irritation had become too profound to ignore.
‘Silvia?’ I said as I knocked the door to Normand’s. Silvia and Sevrin should allow me to enter, Normand should still be there, and I would be able to see him. But that hope shattered again. Normand was in a nasty situation, not recognising me even if I were to rush in and comfort him with an embrace. Worse, Silvia saw me and demanded me to stay out of this. She was concentrating to listen to Normand, which was already difficult even in silence. I furrowed my eyebrows. Nothing was working against my favour.
Neilan pressured me again. ‘If you’re the culprit, then why not kill me right here, right now? Are you scared of your own stolen weapon?’
‘Why would I? You haven’t wronged me. Why do you think I’m the culprit and I’ll kill you?’
‘You… you want to blame Marwin, so you bribed Pierre to get us on this island. And you bribed Normand, Penny, Gabriel… No, you bribed everyone! You told him to push those doors, and you had the gun, and…’
My voice shook. ‘… And what?’
‘And you shot Marwin, but you suck at guns, so that’s why… oh, I get it! Let me rephrase that. You killed Penny when you’re playing her game, forced Normand to kill Patrizia, killed him yourself, and then Gabriel when Marwin wasn’t looking. Right?! And those note scraps… you faked his handwriting so you can blame him! Just surrender. Or I’ll blast your mouth with this!’
‘Excuse me, who was the one responsible for your Lucius’s reunion again?’
‘That doesn’t matter! You killed them and tried to be good to us!’
‘Is that so?’ I said. ‘Then why were you gone for so long? Did you want to kill Gabriel, after all?’
‘And why are you so scared when Patrizia accused you and Normand? Wouldn’t that make you guilty?’
He was getting on my nerves. Worse, his haughty smirk told me he was enjoying every bit of my misery. But that wasn’t what I was worried about. I was more worried about Normand. He was still in there, pouring everything from his heart, as if I was never here. Or perhaps I wasn’t worthy for his hidden confessions or concerns, and for the first time in a long time, I wanted to silence his sobs with a kiss.
‘My theory isn’t so bad, right?’ taunted Neilan. ‘It’s not like they’ll keep you for ten years. It was an accident, right? You can just get away in a few years, and everyone will know your name! You won’t have anyone to suppress you anymore. What are you going to do with that? Are you going to kill me, too? That’ll make finding an excuse even harder, right? Right, right, right? Don’t worry about university. I will take excellent care of it. And I’ll make sure you’ll get every single drop of your fine back when jail time’s over. Put that anger aside, Aristide Utterson. Please calm down, and you’ll see that my plan is the best way. Think of it as financial support.’
‘Both of you, stop! Neilan, it doesn’t work that way! Utterson, what Neilan said are all lies!’
Lies… Lucius was right. They’re all lies. ‘L—Liar! You just want to get away! Don’t you dare acclaim you know it all!’
‘Oh, I know everything, Aristide Utterson, and I know that you’re a damn liar. You lied at everyone’s face that your family helped Normand, when the only thing you’ve done is exploit—’
‘Don’t you dare speak of my family!’
‘—the rich with some scam book—’
I howled in anger. Neilan smirked. ‘Now, didn’t you say seconds ago to calm down? To think it’ll backfire at that mouth of yours—’
I didn’t want to hear it. His words were nothing even close to a hair of a man’s head. Neilan’s voice and the rain’s echoes collapsed into one, and once again I was going to die. My body split into two, shocking me to sprint and snatch the shotgun from Neilan. Lucius tried to stop me by getting in the way.
Gunfire synchronised with a blitz of thunder. The echo faded into the midnight void, replaced with heavy droplets of rain. Something pierced me, but not enough to make me fall. The shock came from inside and outside, as if a second tore itself apart and disrupted the flow of time. Neilan was still there, cold sweat on his face and teeth gritting, with his aim in place.
Then, out of God’s whim, time resumed.
When I came to, an odd, red fluid trickled down from Neilan’s back. For a second he was there, before he too dropped onto the filthy floor. Blood formed into a puddle and crept on my feet. I was alive.
He didn’t do it. He didn’t even pull the trigger. So where did the bullet come from?
No, Neilan didn’t shoot me. He was too deaf and blind to do a proper shot. Neither did Lucius jar the fight and gave out an accidental shot. The bullet didn’t come from him. It came from behind him.
Smoke flew away from a brief gust.
Marwin was holding a pistol.