I fell asleep. It was one in the morning last time I checked, and I had never stayed up so late before. Now, it’s eleven. I noticed the note you've left me, that you’ve requested Ms Collins a sick leave. Thank you.
Before I put this chapter to a start, I want to ask you something. If you have to keep an object safe, will you hand it over to a child? Isn’t it ridiculous?
When I picked the gun up and shot Pierre, I thought everything was over. With each passing hour I moved further from what is good or bad—just or unjust—fact or fiction. Now, I understand I cannot run away. A single action is a thin line between creation and destruction. It’s easy to say I can solve this crime, gain notoriety, and forgive everyone who condemned me, but that would mean gambling my way to the top without a chance of stability.
While the others were fighting for their innocence, I no longer needed to fight. The only thing I needed to do was to let them decide who I was. If they find me guilty, then the truth would eventually spill. Veils of shame would drape over them, and a heavy cross will weigh them down for the rest of their lives. That, or the real culprit would murder us all. Either outcome would be satisfactory.
I believe Pierre Renaud is the true president of the student council. I believe he’s a man of honour who sees that everything I had done was not of malice. Everything I had done, as defiled as it seemed, was because I’m as human as everyone else.
The longer these pages run on, the further it strays from their original purpose, the less I understand myself. Should I stop? I've been considering the choice since the part Sawney tried to attack me. But after a minute of deliberation, I decided I'll continue this as my punishment for turning to necromancy. These papers will be my penance for thinking of death as freedom.
And that was what I sought: freedom. When Papa died, I didn’t feel as much torment. Death is an untied bond, freeing me from the chain called love. That's how I view it. At that point, I no longer sought love. Because of love, I had done things I shouldn’t have and justified them as goodwill.
But the story doesn’t end here. Until we left the island and made sure nobody touches it again, I don’t want to rush it. Everything would flash from one lightning to the next, and I’ll struggle to keep everything up.
I woke up with the urge to cough. The whole place smelt like ashes and festering wood. With my face nuzzled on a dusty mattress, I had the biggest sneezing fit in my life.
My left shoulder hurt. I could still move it, but it hurt so much I’d rather not to. A faint trace remained on my left wrist, tainting my cross-shaped birthmark. I decided not to like the sight.
On a stool beside me, Pierre was striking a match and lighting a lantern. I’ve returned to the thirty-first of July 2020, eight o’clock sharp. Except I haven’t, because I still had my rosary and my black sweater. Right as I asked Pierre what happened to me, he gave me a dubious look and asked me whether I heard a gunshot. I didn’t. Pierre faltered. He told me Sevrin tried to shoot me because I tried to assault Utterson.
A battle of one against everyone. I checked myself. Despite what Pierre said, not the faintest trace of a bullet was present. I felt lighter than usual; but soon I found the reason unfavourable. The Necronomicon was missing. ‘We can’t have you keep it,’ he told me. ‘We can’t let you leave. We can’t trust you when there’s a ritual in your book that screams you’re making us sacrifices.’
He planned to restrain me until either a fresh piece of evidence supported me, or the police came. On his hand held Sevrin’s pistol, so he could shoot me any time. And like he said: I had lost control, having kicked Penny to defend myself and ‘attacking a defenceless Utterson.’
Now, you’ll say, ‘But you’re innocent!’ Yes, but I have zero concrete evidence to support myself. Even if I were innocent, they would use the same illogical judgements to incriminate me, but they would never admit to themselves that they would imprison an innocent. Innocent isn’t even the right word. I was never innocent—not since the moment I stepped foot here. They pictured me as the violin solo in an orchestra, and I believed it. I thought I could get away with my innocence—yet, I’m no different from a torn piece of paper in an obsolete book. The aroma of tea wafted up again. It reminded me of when Pierre found me and did everything to help, and that tore me apart more than my fear of the future. These memories always win; and with them comes remorse. It became my only warmth in this prison aside from Pierre’s offer.
‘I’m not doing anything. Why not have some tea right here?’
That time, I was paranoid of the drink, but now I regret wasting a precious sign of trust. As if forced to stare at a luxury, I downed the tea without a care of its scorching heat. Instead of a light jasmine scent, its oxidation left me with a taste of stale urine. It was so awful, yet I kept drinking it. Staring at the last drop dribbling down my chin, Pierre walked toward the door, knocked on it, before jarring it open. ‘He’s gone…’ he muttered. ‘That’s fine. I have a few more questions, anyway.’
‘Telling from when Utterson left, he’s probably going to Patrizia’s. If she really believes the culprit to be Normand, she’ll confront Utterson about it.’
‘I don’t like what you’re implying.’
‘You should. Especially if it’s only Utterson Patrizia’s speaking to. Then he’ll go after Normand. We’ll sort things out from there.’
I warned him not to set the bar too high, but Pierre insisted on his readiness. I told him not to expect much, but he remained hopeful. ‘You were lashing out because they hurt you,’ he said. ‘I understand what you’re saying. I don’t mind your threats. Or your insults.’
I told him to stop assuming what I thought. He placed the gun on a cupboard before confronting me. ‘You were upset, you lashed out, and now you’re growing defensive,’ he stated. ‘At first it looked like you’re avoiding our questions. But it’s normal and human to act up when there’s no way out. I’m glad you singled me out. I’d rather you take your sadness out on me than anyone else. So I want to ask you this: Are you sure Utterson isn’t behind this?’
‘Stop presuming I’m innocent.’
‘You’re only hurting yourself here. That’s why I’m talking to you. I want to understand you better.’
I asked him back if he trusted Utterson. He didn’t answer right away. Instead, he pondered before saying he was as skeptical as he was at me. A moment of silence later, I questioned him where he had been. He extended his rumination. He took a minute to compose his message, but right as he was about to answer, I piled him with more questions, from what he was thinking all this time, why he acted against me, to why he supported me behind their backs. He was taken aback. Closing his mouth, he stared at me, who refused to take any polished word. His mouth opened, closed, opened again and closed again, before opening again and started explaining in an adenoidal voice.
‘It started when they shot you. You forgot your stuff, but Utterson was kind enough to get them for you. I don’t know why, but I had this urge to search everything you have with you. I’m sorry for being curious. And nosy. And intrusive.’
I told him not to waste his time on apologies. He continued. 'But the person who made us do that was Normand. Everyone seemed to agree; Sawney, Sevrin, Utterson… the only person who didn’t was Gabriel, but she said nothing.
'You have nothing important—which is… disappointing—until Utterson found these scraps. They were in German, and they had these weird circles, so we debated for a while on who will keep them. You see, the reason I asked you if you’re sure Utterson’s not behind this is because he kept insisting on keeping them for himself. Then suddenly he just gave up and let me keep it. I won. I wanted to get Gabriel to translate it until I became… like this.
'Anyway, at some point I decided that staying in one place would only be a burden to Silvia. She deserved better than taking care of a useless suspect. So what I did was pretend to fall asleep, hoping that Silvia could follow. There’s something contagious in watching people sleep, you know? As soon as I made sure she slept for good, I got up and out. I don’t know where I was heading. I wanted somewhere where I can be helpful, thus I settled on finding a way out. Until I got in the cellar.
'If there’s one thing a man doesn’t want to see, it’s the death of a woman who has so much ahead of her. Is there anything sadder than a shattered future? All this repentance, if God allows it, all the plans she’d made, all the money wasted, who doesn’t want to help her?
‘I’m being melodramatic. Sorry. I forgot you’re uncomfortable with this. But seeing a corpse with your own eyes is nothing close of someone else telling me. And I can’t help but think… there’s something wrong with you and Utterson. So I did the same strategy as before. I went back, bumped to Utterson, talked to him about the notes, pretended to side with him, talked to him again, and got the same result. That’s how I’m here. But despite what he said, everything rounds down to what I asked you: are your values worth keeping at a time like this? Is it your fault?’
We stayed silent. Two hours after Utterson left, Pierre suspected that something wasn’t right. He offered me to leave the room with him so we could check on the rest of the group. ‘What will you do if I’m the culprit, then?’ I asked.
‘Really, Marwin. I know you better than to assume you’ll kill me on the spot. You know this too, don’t you?’
I wanted no more verbal trouble, so I nodded. The Necronomicon was with Utterson, he said, but Pierre told him not to try anything funky. From there I came up with the idea that they should’ve had me translate the text from German to English, then Patrizia to prove my innocence. It turned out Pierre had suggested that too. ‘But Utterson said, “If you find a gold bar in a dustbin, will you take only the gold bar or the whole bin?”’
He beckoned me to stand up. My shoulder didn’t hurt, but Pierre insisted with a helping hand like the time I’d fallen flat-faced on the boat. With his other hand, he picked the lantern up.
‘You know…’ Pierre spoke out of the blue. ‘Utterson once told me he wanted to be like you.’
‘What’s the point?’
‘Not sure on that. I was surprised, too. We were just talking. I can’t remember what we’re talking about, but at some point we ended up talking about you. He confessed that he secretly compares himself. Everything. He sees you as a better version of himself—Utterson, except if things “played out differently”. Do you understand?’
Again, I didn’t answer. Pierre gave up on me when he ran out of words to fill the silence. A clicking sound interrupted. I neared to the cupboard while Pierre swept his gaze. It came from under the bed, I told him. He glared at me—only my face—before crouching down to check the source of sound.
Sevrin’s pistol was in my reach. I hesitated in myself. But Pierre’s words dawned on me: I can choose the murders to be my fault or not my fault. I needn’t answer out loud, as I had some extent in my authority, despite something in Pierre hoping I would recognise my independence. Either choice would subdivide into subcategories, combinations of action and inaction. But no matter how many subdivisions there are, the line between ‘shoot’ or ‘not shoot’ was never and would never be clean. We both acknowledged I’d shattered the harmony of day and night, and the exceptional white noise from tumultuous waves. I had the choice to take it or leave it.
So I picked the gun up and took him down.
I can’t tell why I had shot Pierre’s leg. I wasn’t thinking of anything. The thought of escaping and confronting Utterson took over. Pierre eyed me the way he eyed a stereotypical psychopath. He stared at blankness. But I was terrified of everything and nothing, as everything and nothing was true. I acknowledged this simple knowledge, yet chose not to acknowledge it. It seemed to be the best way in theory, but in practice I realised this non-acknowledgement would require acknowledgement itself. To not acknowledge something required acknowledging something. I'd hoped these short-term acknowledgement would build a greater form of non-acknowledgement. It was Pierre’s same strategy, which failed. Making sure he wouldn’t follow me, I ran out and shot Neilan while I saw him shouting and laughing at Utterson. Two bullets left. Sevrin, Silvia, and Normand crashed into the scene. Normand didn’t have the same furious look as I last saw him. Sevrin got in the way and I shot him too. Silvia and Utterson froze. We looked at the two I had shot. They were still alive, I reckoned, and I smiled. Then I loaded the last bullet before aiming at them, offering them a choice for one more sacrifice. Utterson blocked Normand with his arm. When no one answered, I moved my aim to Normand. Panicked, Utterson snatched the shotgun from Neilan’s body and aimed back. Silvia screamed at him to stop. Her voice cracked. She walked up to me and offered herself, so I asked her if she will throw her future away. ‘You didn’t even ask the others. If my dream to become an air hostess is on top of my friends’ corpses, then I don’t want it.’ I told her, even if she offered herself as a sacrifice, she wouldn't be able to save Pierre. When she heard that name, she shouted at me, what did you do to him, to which I replied, I don't know. Silvia tried to take the gun from Utterson. But she failed, so she threatened me instead. I averted my eyes from her and told Utterson to hand the Necronomicon to me. ‘Are you blind?’ asked Utterson. ‘This madness is infectious. Don’t you see it’s taken over you?’ He surprised himself with his words. Maybe he saw a coincidental connection, or fear had consumed him whole. So I shared with him my enlightenment, that Silvia had the choice to shoot or not shoot, and she had the choice to take matters to her own hands. A pause later, I continued, perhaps neither choice mattered, because only God knows the unexpected. A grip on the leg distracted me–Sevrin was trying to say something until I broke free and stepped on his face. Despite Silvia’s shaking grip, she refused to shoot. Utterson signalled her to take matters to his hands. Silvia questioned me why I’d done this, but I didn’t answer. It was seconds later when Utterson poked Silvia with the shotgun, yanked Normand’s shirt, and sprinted. They left Lucius alone.
I lowered my pistol and gave out a purse-lipped sigh. Sevrin and Neilan were still groaning in pain when Lucius’s knees dropped. I stared at the blind man without much thought, before crouching down and flipping Sevrin’s body up. He was still breathing, deeply yet faintly, when our eyes met. We stared at each other for a while, without the slightest hint of what face I was making. Suddenly he let out a painful laugh.
‘You know it, you know who the culprit is!’
The words surprised me. The traces had been clear, though I couldn’t be sure until Utterson gave Silvia that signal. It was so confident, there was no way he didn’t want to kill me. Unsure what to do, I scanned our surroundings until Sevrin told me of a first aid kit in Patrizia’s room. He then uttered Neilan’s name. Neilan was still breathing, I told him. He relaxed a little. Looking at Sevrin’s wounded stomach, I contemplated, before rushing out to bring the girl back with the first aid kit, trusting Sevrin to help himself. He could.
Going after the escaped trio, I picked a chair up on my way and stopped at Keziah Mason’s portrait. Her face remained cynical and unchanging, provoking in me an uneasy feeling. At first it wasn’t much; but the seconds transformed into minutes, each one sickening me, until it became unbearable and I smashed that window with the chair. The fragile glass created a hole in her heart.
Like Gabriel said, it wasn’t a hefty fall. But the actual obstacles were the leaves and branches which scratched me. I paid them little mind. When the forest cleared, exposing me to the sea, I adjusted to the stinging pain in my shoulder while walking toward the boat. It was still there: where Pierre reassured me that everything was about to be fine.
For a few minutes I waited. I looked back. Maybe Utterson had fallen unconscious in the middle of the forest, but the thought was soon debunked when I spotted him. Beside him was Silvia, carrying Pierre with her shoulder, creating a trail of blood. I aimed the gun right at the injured man’s head, but he insisted we could still talk it over. At first I was about to pull the trigger before he could finish his sentence, but somehow it wasn’t in me.
So I asked Utterson first why he accused me for not crying for my father. If my assumptions were right, it meant he planned on targeting me. Utterson took a step back, perplexed. ‘How dare you?’ he asked. I told him I didn’t know; perhaps the same reason he accused me. I then told him he hadn’t answered my question. Meanwhile, Pierre was about to say something. Whether he was trying to put his thoughts into words or making up a lie, I didn’t know. But he said, ‘I think there’s something… that’s making you like this. Something you made up on the spot.’
‘So you think I’m lying?’ He nodded. ‘What if I’m not?’
‘You wouldn’t even reveal yourself. You’re the person who’ll keep even the lightest secrets to your grave. How do you think we know you? It’s always when Utterson or someone breaks into your dorm, and every time—’
‘You learn something new from me.’
He bit his lip. I loaded the gun. I was about to shoot him without another word. But Utterson dashed in to grab my sweater and threw me onto the sand, wrapping his hands around my throat while piercing a tearful glare despite my averted eyes. Then he began calling me a fag and a freak, and when I looked at him he called me a fag and a freak and a fraud, so I called him an idiot for not saving himself, even though the real reason was how he created a misconception of Marwin Preis, from my clothes (white shirt, jumper, blue shorts, long socks, and black trainers), my eyes (grey), my hair (so short I didn’t need to style it), and my personality (which I never cared to analyse), and though these misconceptions were partially true it never occurred to me it would be so much an inconvenience, and at the same time Utterson would also create a misconception of Sawney, Lucius, Penny, Patrizia, Gabriel, Normand, and himself, while deciding who he was and wasn’t and how to live with who he was and wasn't, so he would no longer have to argue with the witch called Keziah Mason or Aristide Utterson ever again.
‘Once, you told me you wanted to be like me.’ I reached a hand out to him. ‘You can do it too. Take the painless way and give in. I’d rather kill you than risk myself. Don’t you feel the same?’
‘Your mistake is your emptiness.’
‘I didn’t ask for this. It’s a condition.’
‘You’re only misleading yourself.’
I pushed the barrel of the gun right at Utterson’s throat. He screamed. Or maybe he didn’t. I wasn’t sure whether it’s his voice or mine, or whether there’s even a voice. Utterson’s nails dug further. Despite all this, we both wanted something in common. We wanted to be safe. We wanted to live. To go wherever we wanted, do what we wanted, and be who we wanted to be. Neither of us stopped smiling while the rainstorm buried our tears into the sand. With this bullet, I remember the faint warmth of the summer sun. With these hands, I remember all the pain and hatred in the world. I looked at Utterson and laughed, before…