Enough. There’s no use dwelling on what will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’ve become so exhausted that these words have jumbled into a dry, clogged puddle. I wanted to write this to understand myself. I thought I was writing this to deliver it to you, with healed wounds, and—who knows—wipe this from my memory? But in fact, I’m writing this to convince myself I’ve done everything I could’ve done. I came to this island despite my lack of foresight. I broke myself for love’s sake. And now, I have the chance to write a letter regarding injustice towards a sinner.
Yesterday I came across a book on history of music, a passage of which had intrigued and persuaded me to write into this letter:
'One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the Devil’s Trill, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.'
Why, of all things, am I writing about a musical piece? Both God and The Devil wanted their own utopia, but what meaning would it have if you can’t understand it? Even peace seemed like an impossible dream. It was a beam of light casting a show of silhouettes; a soft, heavy blanket succumbing me to sleep. Has God come to me? No, God doesn’t speak for the wicked. So who was the Marwin Preis who picked the gun up despite his hesitation? Who am I?
Every mirror in me broke.
The gun stayed resolute on Utterson’s neck. He didn’t back down. I don’t understand him, and that chance would forever be lost if I killed him. I couldn’t read his face, but his grip told me he didn’t want to kill me. The gun dropped. Pierre smiled at me with approval. I corrected my observation: he wasn’t smiling. Though lines and curves on his face resembled a smile, he wasn’t communicating a thought that would cause it. Until then, I’d been reading Pierre all wrong. I’d been reading Utterson all wrong. I had been looking at Silvia, Sawney, Lucius, Penny, Patrizia, Normand, Gabriel, Sevrin, and Neilan, all wrong. I had been looking at Papa all wrong. I had been looking at myself, you, and God, all wrong. I assumed who you were and that I could trust you. Everything I looked, I assumed, until I acknowledged this action. Then I tried not to acknowledge it, yet I must acknowledge it.
Once again I was outside. Rain was falling. Rain was falling out of and into itself, and I stood in it. Nothing made sense. I continued to miss impressions, connections, instructions, and conclusions. I couldn’t read faces. When I thought I could, I couldn’t. I couldn’t think straight and I didn’t feel solid. I wanted to harm, to kill, to burn the witch on a stake and celebrate the hymns and Hallelujahs, but that would only provide the witch more joy. She had entertained herself enough to write a new letter: a piece of literature which could present me as anyone. That letter could be buried and discovered, beginning with a paragraph of me rejecting Sawney’s beer, intensified with Utterson accusing me of my calm, and concluded with me calling Mama and telling her I was coming home.
The brief relief was replaced by Pierre’s grunts. With Utterson still in place, I rushed to see the injured leg. It was infected. Suddenly I remembered the first-aid kit from Sevrin. We agreed to return inside, revive Gabriel, and get everyone else out of this place. They weren’t as defiant as before. Leaving Utterson alone, we set foot. I looked back. Utterson plunged his head into the sand. I don’t understand the slightest of this crime. He blamed me for the murders—yes, it was clear with Normand’s eyes. Yet, my feet raced towards him, and my arms swept into an embrace.
It wasn’t an act of mercy. It was an act of selfishness. Who he had been, was, and would be, have blurred into a deep, indigo canvas. Where land and water meet, these shattering waves were nothing but illusions. The earth will one day vanish. Everything, including the resurrected, will one day vanish. Water continued to flash. Multitudes glittered, shifted, and stirred. I walked him back, holding this knowledge inside us—though that, too, will fall away.
His knees dropped the moment I let him go. He placed his hands in front of him, waiting for his punishment. I wanted to understand. I asked him if he wanted to get sick. He didn’t answer. I asked him what had led him to this. Again, he didn’t answer. I walked him back again. Black shoes stamped prints into the sand, compressing it into a slushy layer when rain began to soften. The island met its first sunlight. Our eyes fixed on what was in front of us. Smoke replaced the grey clouds like a flock of pigeons. We ran into the chapel as we saw fire consuming the cellar. We needed to reach Gabriel as soon as possible; to bring her to life before the flames could. For a brief second, Utterson’s eyes reflected light.
I opened the doors to the chapel and saw Normand strapped down onto a pew. Gabriel sat behind him, face bruised. With one hand she read a script from a yellowed page. With the other she pointed a shotgun at Normand. ‘There’s blood on your clothes,’ said Gabriel. She left a period of silence, before she spoke again, ‘What’s there to know about Keziah Mason?’
‘Please get her away from me,’ said Normand. I walked Utterson past him and upstairs. I took Utterson’s parka off and emptied its insides. I redeemed my rosary. I rechecked Utterson’s wounds. I helped him wear his parka. I tried to read his face.
He had consumed himself.
He apologised back.
‘You have no intention of helping,’ shouted Normand from the pew.
‘You’re involved,’ I said.
‘The witch,’ said Gabriel.
‘He’s not a victim,’ I replied. Gabriel pressed the muzzle against him.
‘I am involved and I am a victim!’ Normand broke out.
‘I don’t respect you,’ I replied.
‘Utterson is the evidence,’ said the hostage.
‘We agree with one thing in common,’ said the host.
‘For God’s sake, stop aiming at me!’
She explained that Utterson had approached her through social media and offered her five hundred euros for each piece of information she held, with a hundred and fifty more per request. Utterson asked Gabriel to put up with me, which was more than welcome, and invite several people (Penny, Neilan, and Patrizia). All the same, Pierre also approached her and informed her about Utterson being behind the location choice. He requested her the same, as well as provide anything she knows about Utterson.
‘Do you understand why I’m telling you this?’ said Gabriel.
I nodded. ‘You’re too scared to face charges.’
‘I know nothing about this!’ said Normand.
Gabriel went on: as soon as Patrizia died (she wasn’t informed of this), she’d decided to abandon whatever request Utterson might’ve imposed. She went to Pierre, who found the yellow page (the sacrificial script) from Normand’s, and faked the note scraps so Pierre could help me. ‘If you didn’t shoot Pierre, things would’ve come undone peacefully,’ she said. ‘But you know what you can conclude from this: Utterson backstabbed me. That’s why I’m here. To kill Normand and warn Utterson.’
Utterson and I walked upstairs to our respective places. Utterson wanted to say something but snapped his mouth shut. I reclaimed my things while he reclaimed his. I pretended to wash my face while he didn’t. I pretended to have had another cup of coffee while he didn’t. When I came back, I put down my bag. Normand took a breath. I looked at Gabriel. She threw the gun onto the floor and told Normand to go. Normand snatched the yellow page from Gabriel, having enough of this game. He rose and swore at her, at me, at Utterson, and at Earth, that he was meant to be a scapegoat, but his cowardice had become his saviour. He pointed at Gabriel and told her he wouldn’t hesitate to report her to the authorities. He strode away and shouted more cusses and curses, though they faded before I could listen. Utterson held my arms, preparing to hug me, but gave up before he could. ‘Wait here,’ I said. He obeyed. I approached Gabriel, who kept her unreadable face. Exhaustion painted all over her.
‘I’m not sure what I’m doing,’ she said.
‘You’re a victim. You can stop.’
‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have come.’
‘What makes you think you can save me?’
She looked at the shotgun. She looked at her hands. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘You’re involved too, aren’t you?’
She trembled. ‘I’m not. I don’t want to. Don’t leave me.’
Too late. I rushed back to the exit, dropping the idea of extinguishing the fire altogether. ‘My family!’ she screamed as she tried to chase me, and when my pace quickened she shouted again, ‘Ich muss zurück! Mein Vater! Er wartet auf mich!’
I bit my lip. Covering my ears, steps sped up into sprints as internal oceans drowned her pleas. I tried to escape from everything and nothing. Everything is true and nothing is true. I acknowledged this and tried not to acknowledge it. Everything I saw, I assumed, until I acknowledged this act of assuming. Eventually she caught up to me, tugging my jumper and reminding me Utterson was still in the chapel. I needed to save him; she said. Desperate eyes met those of horror. I wanted to repeat her words, but my mouth snapped shut. I opened it again and stated, ‘Aristide Utterson cannot be saved.’
The smoke had crept into the chapel. Seconds later we could see yellow emitting grey. A rummage of footsteps echoed from the distance, not long before Sawney prodded down with slight difficulty. He bumped to me. Our eyes met. What was meant to be hazel had lost into the flames. I tried to look away from Sawney and at Lucius. His blindfold had fallen off. He seemed to be able to see, though his right eye never returned. Penny—I tried to search for her. She was there, not noticing me. I thanked God. The rest—Patrizia, Silvia, Pierre, Sevrin, and Neilan—had left. I looked at Gabriel again. ‘You have to see,’ she said. ‘You have to see what you’re doing is irresponsible and selfish.’
I told her to go.
She did. But before she left, she glanced back to me again. Her eyes then shifted to Utterson, then back at me again. She said, ‘Nothing lasts forever.’
She wasn’t speaking to me; she was speaking to Utterson, who was in tears. He refused to sob, but his frustration was chipping away with one burnt pile of wood after another. His expression sent me two contradictory messages: he was guilty and he was innocent.
‘Please. I need you to live,’ I said. For a moment I saw myself in Utterson, though fire had engulfed his eyes’ original colour. It was the only time I saw any eye light from him since we’d come here. When Utterson said no, I told him I was on his side, but he didn’t know it because it all seemed hopeless. That’s when Utterson had enough. He shunned me and shouted at me not to waste any more of his time on God. I asked him again if he wanted to start over, but he said there was no point for a new life if he couldn’t remember the last one. Seeing my shock, he smiled. He began to pour everything out of his heart, from cries of fear to tears of joy, as he no longer saw a point of holding his tears back.
Before I could stop him, he slid the knife from his parka, pointed to his own heart, and stabbed himself. I didn’t take his weapon away. Instead, I stared at his sleeping face embracing bliss. I contemplated. I walked up to him with the pistol. Nuzzling it on his face, I gave him the final bullet.
The echo faded. All that’s left was the scorching heat. I scanned my surroundings. Neilan’s shotgun Gabriel had thrown away. It lay there, bullets still intact: one last offer to shoot or not shoot. Then, I don’t know why, but something inside me snapped. I snatched the shotgun and began firing at Utterson. The trigger gave way. Each shot erased his face from the memories we shared. The first two shots, our images stayed the same. But from then on they began playing in reverse. The third shot—when he helped me put my jumper on. The fourth shot—the pranks he played on me. The fifth, the sixth, the seventh—the cardboard gingersnaps, the indigo parka, the glasses I’d given to him as an apology. The eighth and the ninth—the first time we talked and the first time we spotted each other. By the tenth shot, I imagined his life before he met me and stopped counting. I kept shooting as those images kept rewinding, from how he got to Miskatonic High School, how he sold the Necronomicon to Papa, his life with Normand, and his life before Normand. Utterson grew younger until, before I knew it, I was staring at a child.
With this shotgun, I could choose to shoot or not shoot. I can choose to drop it, walk away, and not think about it. Fire continued consuming wood; soon it would consume me too. I shook away my sweat in the veil of light. I looked up at Keziah Mason again. Ashes clung onto her face and the hole refused to mend. I dropped the gun. I picked it up again and threw it into the fire. With confusion and denial, I turned away and left. Wooden planks fell on Utterson’s body.
I was the last person on the boat. I spoke nothing more of Utterson. Neither did anyone speak of him. I threw myself onto the floor of the boat. I was able to calm down again. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up, sirens blasted through the light of dawn. The smells of an old book, the saltwater, and memories of a flowing scent of tea eased my breath. Papa was here again. He sat beside me, telling the stories of Harz and its silence without my presence.
Pierre asked me if Utterson had any last words. I said no. He didn’t believe me, but he took the lie and reassured me everything was okay. Yes, I was lying; Utterson did have his last words. But he explained to me why I couldn’t tell anyone, and why he wanted to take his testimony to his grave rather than settle this down for good.
All I could say, however, was that I could forgive Utterson. He carried a deep wound which gaped over the years without an internal shell. He needed someone to listen and sympathise, even if it meant the world would turn against him. But in the end, he couldn’t escape from the witch he’d pretended to be; and the witch finally took his heart in one summer July. When I thought about Utterson again, my chest ached. Melancholy cradled me into tranquil, and I didn’t want to let it go.
Then I remembered the rosary. As I pieced it back together, I saw that I had nearly all of it. Though one decade was missing two beads, and my tinkering with the links had left it crooked, it was repaired. Its incongruity struck me. This once-perfect thing was now bent and imperfect; yet it was still beautiful. I looked at Pierre, who handed me a can of beer. It was the same can Sawney had offered me. I could no longer refuse another offer of help. I opened the can, raised it up, and poured it all over my face. Pierre watched me in confusion, but no explanation would ease it.
Gabriel is right. Nothing is eternal. But somehow I wonder whether at some point, something can indeed become eternal. I believe in God. We always believe in something. No matter how we wander from ourselves, there’s always a pillar we hold on to. This is what hope is. Yes, it must be it. This is what flows against the test of time.