A knock at my door shocked me awake.
‘Daniel? Are you up?’ Amelia’s familiar voice brought me back to the present.
My hair was still messy and I was still in yesterday’s clothes. I slowly stood up, still half asleep, and let Amelia in.
‘We’re going to meet in the cafeteria in about twenty minutes. Will you be ready by then?’
‘Sure. Sounds good to me.’
She smiled, ‘Alright. I’ll see you there.’
She turned around and waved her hand as she walked away.
Quickly, I grabbed a new change of clothes and started a shower. The familiar motions of everyday played out once again, indifferent to the fact that someone had been murdered. Despite everything, today was still a normal day.
To avoid the pain of the stairs that I’ve become so acquainted with, I took the elevator down to the first floor and made my way to the cafeteria. The doors opened up and, like usual, I was the last person to make it there.
Taking my seat, I got a feel for everyone’s expression. Marcus’ face was full of pain as he gazed at the empty table, a reminder that William wasn’t able to prepare food today. Amelia wore a fake smile as she greeted me, she was still clearly in distress over yesterday’s events. Lilah looked like she did everyday, she smiled childishly as though nothing happened. Alex seemed back to normal from his previous depression, although slightly more serious, despite yesterday’s events. Mary appeared impatient and seemed to want to get the meeting started.
‘First order of business,’ Alex began. ‘How can we ensure our own safety? One of us is a murderer and they’ll take the first opportunity they see.’
‘We’ll find them first!’ Lilah cheered.
‘No. That’s foolish,’ Mary was less than amused. ‘I suggest that we either move as a whole or in groups of three. That way, the murder wouldn’t be able to kill without being seen. If a group returns without a member, we know it was one of the others. I don’t like the idea of one large group because disagreements on where to be and what to do would cause chaos. We may end up sitting in one room all day. On the other hand, there’s six of us so it would be an even split. I don’t suggest pairs because the perpetrator could have been a duo. They’d be able to easily take out another pair at once.’
Amelia seemed frightened of the idea, ‘Then how do we know it wasn’t three people?’
‘To minimize that risk, the groups will be assigned at random. There is always the possibility that all three murders are assigned together. In that case, all we can do is die.’
‘Sounds exciting!’ Lilah said.
Mary’s face grew disgusted, but she ignored her instead of causing a fight.
‘Guess that’s what we’re going with,’ Alex approved. ‘Next, our number two priority, right behind safety, should be figuring out our criminal. As it is now, anybody could have done the crime. Just to get this out of the way, getting rescued won’t be a problem, we’ll get rescued no matter what we do.’
‘Let’s decide the groups for now,’ Marcus spoke up.
After tossing pieces of paper with names on them into a bowl, we sat down at the table in our new groups. Group one was Amelia, Alex, and Marcus. Group two was Lilah, Mary, and I.
‘Any last minute thoughts?’ I prompted.
‘I have an idea,’ Amelia offered. ‘How does it sound if my group makes breakfast today? We all need to eat, and it might be better if only one group investigates at a time.’
Marcus chuckled, ‘That sounds like a good idea. You’ll need to be patient with me though, I’m a bad chef.’
Alex looked a bit annoyed, but didn't say anything about it.
‘Follow me,’ Mary immediately took the role as leader in our group and began to walk out of the cafeteria.
It was so sudden that I was taken aback and had to rush to catch up with her. Lilah waved goodbye to group one as she walked backwards following us.
Nobody spoke as we walked. Lilah skipped ahead of us, already knowing where to go and I had to follow close behind Mary.
It was obvious, but just to confirm, I asked Mary. ‘Are we heading to the workshop?’
‘Of course. That’s where the brick came from, after all.’
The door to the workshop was unique. It was strictly button activated and slid open like an elevator. It was one of the few areas in the mansion that could remind you Marcus once owned a tech company.
The interior of the room was mostly white. Various utilities lined shelves and tables across the walls. Some notable technology was a large three-d printer, a laser cutter, and various manual tools. There was one set of clear cabinets, several bottles of unknown medicine were visible from inside.
Lilah skipped right into the room cheerfully. This was my first time entering, despite having knocked on the door to tell them to head to the pool, but I knew for sure that Lilah and Mary had been here.
Several bricks stacked up in the corner of the room caught my eye.
‘One of these exact bricks was used as a weapon just hours ago.’
‘Say,’ Lilah spoke up in a childish tone. ‘You were the last one in here before the murder, weren’t you Mary?’
Although she spoke childishly, it felt like an accusation. Mary turned around and glared at her.
For some reason, I couldn’t let it slide, ‘Hey. There’s no evidence that it was her. She was at the pool party at the time of the murder, anyway.’
Mary watched me, surprised that I had come to her defense.
‘So was everyone!’ Lilah rebutted. ‘Unless you believe that he killed himself? Or are you proposing that there’s someone else on this island?’
‘Of course not! But now that you mention it, Mary being the last one in isn’t even a reason to suspect her! That brick could have been missing for who knows how long. Not to mention, you left the room before Mary. While she was still in there you could have just as easily set up a trap in Marcus’ office and went back to the pool!’
Lilah laughed, ‘Man, I knew you were smart! But you don’t share your ideas enough, you know? It always takes a little push to get you talking. Speaking of which, if they set a trap, how did the murderer even get into Marcus’ room? It was padlocked.’
‘Any number of ways,’ I guessed. ‘Still, I suppose that makes Marcus suspicious because we know he knows the code. Assuming it wasn’t him, it would be easy for someone to sneak up and watch him type it in.’
‘That’d probably be even easier with a good memory…’
‘It was a joke! A joke! But, you were pretty unfazed by his death,’ She laughed. ‘Putting that aside, I guess Marcus is pretty old. He may have simply left the door unlocked. Assuming there wasn’t an extra person, why did William even enter the office? I had assumed he was running from the murderer when he was stopped by a door and was hit over the head while he was opening it, but that couldn’t be the case when everyone was at the pool.’
On queue, I remembered the conversation I had with William that day. I suggested that he learn the true reason why Marcus stayed on the island. As dedicated and loyal as he was, perhaps his curiosity got the better of him? Or maybe he thought that knowing the truth would deepen his commitment?
‘Still though… if William entered the room by mistake and wasn’t actually the target-’
I thought in silence for several moments.
Before we could continue, Mary interrupted while examining the cabinets, ‘Well, aside from the missing brick, there doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary here, right?’
‘I guess not,’ I answered.
‘Let’s head back to the office, then. We may be able to discover what kind of trap was used.’
After reaching the bloodstained carpet of the office door, Lilah chuckled, ‘What do you think Marcus did with William’s body? Do we have to bury him?’
‘Let’s not worry about it,’ I said. ‘Marcus probably buried him last night.’
With one eye shut and the other glued to Mary, Lilah laughed, ‘Knowing him, he probably didn’t want us kids involved with the burial, to protect us and to be the last one with his best friend.’
‘Whatever. It doesn’t matter now. Anyway, what kind of trap could have been set?’ Mary forced the investigation back on track.
The bloody brick wasn’t moved, and if you looked hard enough, it was possible to determine a rough outline of where the body used to lay.
Mary turned to me naturally, ‘This is exactly where the brick was, right?’
‘Oh, yeah of course.’
The brick rested near the left wall of the doorway and appeared to be offset slightly out of the office.
‘If it was a trap, it must’ve simply fallen on him,’ Lilah continued staring at Mary’s face. It was clear that Lilah saw her as the main suspect. ‘It could have been a pretty complicated mechanism, but I’d wager it was something far simpler. Geniuses use the most effective option, not most complicated. What are the odds that it was simply propped up on top of the door? What if the murderer opened the door slightly and balanced the brick against the wall, like a classic water bucket prank?’
Mary slowly and confidently inputted the code into the door, unlocking and opening it once again. She then raised herself on the tips of her toes to analyze the top rim of the door.
‘There’s no dust up here. I don’t doubt William’s diligence, so that’s probably normal, but it looks like there’s a slight mark on the wall above the door. Could that have been from the brick sliding?’
‘If that’s the case then we’ve found our murder method,’ I confirmed.
Lilah smiled brightly, ‘I’m like a real detective!’
‘Well, you’re certainly good at playing the role of one,’ Mary remarked. Before Lilah could respond, ‘I guess that concludes this room’s search. Unless you think there may be another clue? But, I think it was checked thoroughly yesterday and I’m hungry too.’
‘What~? We should stay!’ Lilah smiled, still refusing to break eye contact with Mary.
As the tie breaker I announced, ‘No, I want to eat too. There being three of us, it should be left to a majority vote. Let’s go report our findings.’
‘Thanks,’ Mary smiled at me kindly and then walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her. ‘I need to use the restroom though. Could you wait for me?’
Lilah insisted that all of us enter the bathroom together, so nobody was left alone, but that idea was met with a vehement refusal from Mary. Lilah and I ended up sitting on the bench beside the bathroom.
‘So, why’d you trick me into thinking you were an artist?’
‘Oh!’ She looked surprised by the question. ‘I thought you would have forgotten by now, with everything going on, but I miscalculated there.’
‘Of course I didn’t. So?’
‘It was just for a bit of fun! A little prank, you know?’
‘There wasn’t a purpose behind it? You seem cunning enough for that to be the case.’
She grinned, ‘You really think? Well, I may have actually calculated a lot more than you know.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Oh nothing. It was just a lie.’
‘Yeah! Just a line that I thought sounded cool.’
‘How is that a lie? It isn’t an untrue statement or anything.’
‘Lies can simply be misleading too, they don’t have to be told as facts.’
The rest of us were all almost the same age, but Lilah always felt like an outlier there. She acted like a middle-schooler sometimes, ‘How old are you, anyway?’
‘Why do you want to know?’ She gave me a sly look, quickly followed with a laugh and a smile. ‘I’m kidding! I’m kidding. I’m seventeen, same as you.’
‘Then why do you act like that all the time?’
Her happiness washed away instantly, leaving an uncharacteristically expressionless face. There was a brief pause in which I was forced to focus on the complete silence around us. The only sounds I could hear were the ticking of a clock and my own breath.
In a dark and ominous tone she muttered, ‘To hide my true intentions.’
My heart sank. Between the recent events and the fact that we were practically alone right now, how could it not? The sudden fear must have crept onto my face because she immediately responded with a smile.
‘Just kidding! That was a lie too, of course,’ The look on my face gave her a good laugh. Through light tears, she continued childishly. ‘People like you crack me up. I’ve never once seen you smile. You pretend to be all aloof and apathetic, only to waste the entire act on something like my little scare just now. But, why is it that you choose not to smile? Why don’t you choose to laugh along with me?’
It suddenly felt like I was being attacked. My character, my very self was being called into question by this girl I hardly knew. In a stern voice, ‘You don’t know anything about me. I’m not apathetic at all. My emotion is just being saved for something else. It doesn’t belong here, now.’
Although I didn’t mention it to her, if I was forced to reveal where it belonged, I could only simply say, ‘then.’
‘Oh! I haven’t seen you respond like that since I accused Mary of murder! I wonder… what does Mary have to do with where you put your emotion…’ Lilah wore an ugly sneer on her face as she stared into my eyes.
Intimidated, I broke eye contact and looked away.
‘Just like back then, even while yelling at me, you don’t sound angry. Loud, but not angry. I don’t think I’ve ever heard emotion in your voice. You don’t invest emotion in reality, huh? Wherever you “invest your emotion”, it isn’t real.’ Her voice was cold once again as she uttered, ‘People like you, people who indulge themselves with fiction and refuse to take a look at reality… should all just die.’
The words reverberated throughout my mind.
With the sound of a toilet flushing and the quick spray of a sink, the door opened and Mary walked out. She looked at us for a moment and confusion set on her face. There’s no doubt that at that very moment, I was terrified.
‘Is that a threat? Is she telling me to kill myself? Is she saying that those who won’t take a look at life should just leave it?’
Suddenly breaking through the tense silence, Lilah’s voice became sweet once again. Just like a child.
‘I’m just kidding,’ She giggled. ‘That was a lie.’
Lilah seemed so much like a child.
Although children are often seen as kind, innocent, and cheerful, they have much less appealing traits as well. The strangest part about children, to me at least, is that you can never tell what exactly is going on in their heads.
They may be kind, but they can be nasty and single people out without knowledge of manners or care for their feelings.
They may be innocent, but their distorted sense of right and wrong can be eerie, leaving you to doubt their intentions.
They may be cheerful, but you never know what might be behind their smiles.
Lilah wasn’t childish only in the sense that she was kind, innocent, cheerful, or even petty. She was childish in a way that obscured her true intentions. She spoke her mind, her suspicions about others, without regard for emotion. She recovered from witnessing a death as though it were normal. She smiled when she lied and she smiled when she told the truth.
That is what made Lilah ‘childish.’
After that conversation, it finally hit me.
‘She must be the actor.’
I was very slow on the uptake and it was very obvious in hindsight. The way her personality seemed to flip around in the middle of a conversation was something that could only be accomplished by a skilled actor.
‘Sorry. I feel like I’m intruding on something,’ Mary turned around and began to walk away.
‘Leaving Mary as the genius.’
‘No! I-I mean, we have to stick together,’ I insisted, still shaken by Lilah’s threat.
‘Fine. Follow me. Let’s go eat.’
‘It seems that I was placed in a group with a troublesome person,’ I thought as I glanced behind me at Lilah. She was still grinning from her little ‘entertainment.’ Though she may just refer to it as a ‘lie.’
On our way to the cafeteria, I did my best to keep a safe distance from Lilah. Although, she seemed to have already forgotten our entire conversation and was already running around like nothing happened. She skipped her way in front of Mary and spun around as she curiously gazed at the rich environment of the mansion.
‘She acts like a little kid, but with that being the case… Why does she act so sketchy? It’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking. Every word out of her mouth may be a lie, but I suppose that’s true with everyone. Maybe I should be less trusting from now on? Was that the message she was trying to send? Was it a warning?’
‘Welcome back!’ Amelia greeted us.
Marcus and Alex followed with a wave.
Amelia continued, ‘It was hard, but we found all of the ingredients in the kitchen. None of us are great at cooking so…’
She walked past the door into the kitchen and returned with a pot full of mac and cheese.
‘Thanks for the food,’ I said, although it was admittedly very underwhelming compared to what William had made.
We all sat in our usual spots and served ourselves a bit of mac and cheese from the pot.
After everyone had a plate, Alex started the discussion, ‘What did you guys find?’
Mary, my group’s unofficial leader, started us off, ‘Not much. We confirmed that the murder weapon is identical to the bricks in the workshop. Through a bit of process of elimination we also determined the most probable murder method. It’s likely that the murderer broke into Marcus’ office somehow and balanced a brick at the top of the door.’
‘That’s all it took? That’s quite a simple set up,’ Alex pointed out.
‘Yes, but it was an effective one. Of course it wasn’t guaranteed to hit, but it was probably placed slightly towards the doorknob from the middle. That’s where most people’s heads would be placed while opening a door. And… well, it worked.’
‘Oh! If that’s true then Marcus was probably the intended target after all!’
‘Why say that like it’s a good thing?’ Mary gave him a piercing glare.
Marcus looked down at the table solemnly, ‘I’m sorry that it may have been my fault you are being put through this. If someone has come here to kill me then I can’t blame them… But now that I’ve been allowed this opportunity to shelter the future, accepting my death would only be taking the easy way out.’
‘If that’s the case then we don’t have to travel in groups anymore, do we?’ Lilah smiled.
‘That’s a bad idea,’ Alex immediately shot it down. ‘All of this has been speculation so far. For all we know, there could be another person on this island. While it is unlikely, it is still to be considered. Even ignoring that, Marcus could’ve only been their first target. If the murderer is one of us, they still may simply want to kill at random.’
Lilah made a pouting face and poked at her food.
I spoke up, ‘Well, no more investigating will help. So, are we just going to bide our time before we get rescued? There's only a little less than a week left before they’ll notice we’re missing.’
‘I think that would be wise. There isn’t anything else we can do,’ Marcus said.
Mary and Alex nodded in agreement.
Mary directed herself towards Marcus, ‘Just to confirm, did you bury William?’
‘… Yes. I’m ashamed that my selfishness has cost him a proper funeral, but I buried him in his beloved garden. Because I viewed this home as a punishment to myself, I would have never requested to make it beautiful like that. The garden was something that he enjoyed doing. He may have even done it to make me happy as well.’
To me, it still seemed that Mary was having a hard time looking at Marcus. The matter of him being a serial killer seemed to have bothered her even more than everyone else. Not that I blamed her.
A short meal later and it was already noon. We all had the rest of the day free, but were forced to stay in our groups of three. As sad as it was, it eased everyone’s nerves that Marcus may be the only one in danger.
My group took turns deciding where to go. I was impartial so really it was only Lilah and Mary’s decisions. I did my best to avoid Lilah, although it was difficult because we were stuck together. The tables had turned quite drastically since I first arrived on the island. I went from avoiding Mary at all costs, to sticking to her to avoid Lilah.
We all met for dinner and discussed how to deal with night time.
‘Do our groups have to share a bedroom?’ Mary brought up with distaste. ‘It’s not too bad in my case, but I’d feel bad for Amelia…’
Amelia chuckled uncomfortably.
‘She’ll just have to deal with it,’ Alex said. ‘I won’t sacrifice safety for something that small.’
Feeling like I had to assist Amelia, ‘It shouldn’t be a problem if we all go to our rooms as usual. Even if we all slept together to avoid someone leaving the room while everyone was asleep, it still wouldn’t be very difficult to sneak out. Not to mention, you’ll be safe locked in your room. They don’t have keypads on them, making it ironically more secure than the office. So it’s probably more likely you’d be killed in your sleep if you were locked in with potential murderers.’
Sighing faintly, Alex gave in, ‘You have a point… I might feel safer sleeping alone.’
Amelia showed a smile of relief.
‘All those in favor?’ Mary raised her hand.
Everyone raised their hands in unison.
‘Then it’s settled,’ she continued. ‘The first person to wake up after seven A.M. will be responsible for waking everyone else up. It’s possible that the murderer may move around at night, so report suspicious sounds and watch for possible traps. With that all out of the way, we can go to bed whenever.’
‘Let’s turn in for now,’ Marcus said. ‘I’m beat.’
We all entered our rooms at roughly the same time. Marcus started sleeping in one of the unused guest rooms in our hallway. As we said our goodbyes, I took note of everyone’s expressions.
Marcus was tired and weary, he still seemed to be shaken up over the loss of his friend, but he was doing well, all things considered. Mary seemed irritated that we hadn’t found the culprit yet, I wouldn’t doubt that she’d be up all night going over evidence. Alex seemed a little tired as well, he recovered from his sudden odd depression very fast. Lilah was giggling as always.
As for me, I’m sure my face was one of relief.
Stepping into my room, I immediately threw myself onto the bed.
Once again, I returned to the only world I care about.
‘I’m back… Rose.’