September 3, 2036

Dark eras are no longer part of the past. We’re right in the middle of a new, darker and more threatening one. And we might not survive it.

American-Italian co-ed Megan LaMantia and ex-college boyfriend Bo Levin were acquitted this morning after having spent two years in prison for the murder of Megan’s previous roommate, Veronica Shaw. The third convicted murderer, Jay Gabriel, remains in prison serving his sixteen-year sentence.

Back in November 3, 2034 Police department received a phone call from a man named Bo telling them the front door of the house his girlfriend as well as other students lived in was open and one of the rooms ransacked. Upon that call, a police officer was sent to the students house located in Stamford to investigate. When he walked in, he found one of the rooms in a complete mess and a rock lying by the backdoor window. The girlfriend, Megan, showed concern about her unresponsive roommate’s bedroom door being locked. An elite police team arrived soon after and broke down the door. They discovered a duvet on the floor; underneath it was a the battered and dead body of Veronica Shaw.

The sun was sinking fast upon our arrival. Photographers and media outlets were tipped off about the crime and somehow made it to the house even before police arrived. Journalists took advantage of the chaos, pushing themselves through the police line and badgering and harassing officers to get information out of them which turned everything haywire. Lawrence Gulliver, an old-fashioned, Sherlock Holmes-obsessed detective was the lead prosecutor assigned to the case. He was randomly selected, chosen out of the rotation of detectives. A handful of years away from retirement, he seemed less motivated to sink his teeth into a complicated crime and more concerned about making his name more relevant. With a case that left everyone completely out of their depths, he was sure to succeed. Although it wasn’t the most horrific we’ve ever seen, it still taunted us due to everyone’s unreliable testimonies. They were all in on the lie we didn’t know who to trust.

Members of the forensic team saw a distressed Megan being dragged out of the house with her boyfriend and taken to the side of the house as both detectives walked in to investigate and gather evidence. After the initial brief questioning followed by the detective’s tour inside and outside the house, I was finally allowed to enter the premises and take pictures. I found Veronica’s body wrapped in a comforter. She was naked, her bra cut off and her t-shirt rolled up around her chest. She was clearly sexually assaulted. As David and Harrison tried to reconstruct the scene, I brought a few things to their attention I thought seemed a bit off; like the staged break in glass shards that were on top of the clothes instead of underneath them, and the rock being too heavy to be thrown into the window. Forensics collected keys items like Veronica’s handbag, a camera and laptop lying in plain view. A couple of hours later, more than 400 items were collected.

The house was mostly intact. Beside a few droplets of blood in the bathroom sink and a bloody footprint on the shower mat, I didn’t waste much time exploring the rest of the place. I was told to put all my focus on the crime scene; Veronica’s bedroom. The body was found lying face down right beside the bed. Her clothes were scattered everywhere and her purse was empty which suggested a robbery might’ve taken place. The autopsy showed Veronica was strangled and stabbed twice in the neck. However, the rest of the body had various minor wounds. Gulliver was adamant the killer didn’t act alone, that there were others involved. One person couldn’t hold Veronica who was known to be a trained boxer. To him, someone was holding her arms leading to the fatal blow.

After finishing my part of the job, I stepped out and let the detectives do the work. David was very unhappy about Lawrence’s involvement. Before leaving, I walked around the house and took a few shots of the broken window. Once I was done I turned and caught what seemed to me as odd and slightly disturbing behavior, mainly from Megan. She was holding her boyfriend, a slight smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. I took some pictures then started recording their interaction. At some point, they kissed. Once, but for a prolonged amount of time. On closer inspection of the photos, I noticed what seemed to be some sort of discoloration on her neck; a deep scratch. The investigators eventually included that information in their report to support their theory that Megan and Veronica engaged in a struggle.

The behavior of Megan and Bo kept on attracting a lot of attention and the pictures I took of them kissing somehow made its way into the hands of every news outlet and became the defining images of the case. Everyone could tell they were indifferent. Some seemed to think the two were so distraught that laughing and joking were used as coping mechanisms. At times, the way they behaved seemed nuanced, as if they were trying to comfort each other through the heavy turmoil, yet there was something eerie about the way they interacted. It was completely devoid of any sort of emotion toward the victim. What further validated that point of view was their lack of presence at Veronica’s memorial service. Instead, they were spotted shopping at a lingerie shop.

In the interrogation room, detectives and investigators practice different psychological techniques of torture and deceit hidden under a guise of what might seem to be a normal procedure, especially to people who were never interrogated before in their lives. You can either obtain the information you need from a well-rested, awake and focused subject or you can coerce them by pushing them to their limit through a relentless barrage of interrogations characterized by abusive behavior, rest deprivation and constant bullying and threatening which is most likely to give you a distorted account of the incident, a totally made up story or even worse, a confession which is usually the interrogator’s hope and goal. They usually start off easy on you by displaying false sympathy and minimizing the suspect’s culpability or the seriousness of the offense. If things go further and they don’t get a confession or any kind of useful information, they’ll lie and state there’s forensic evidence or a co-defendant’s testimony or eyewitness that proves they’re guilty; that way and in most cases, suspects finally give in or break down thinking there’s no point in lying if the police has enough information to make a conviction. It’s crucial they remain collected and in denial if they want to buy themselves some time. Their best bet is to practice their fifth right amendment and ask for a lawyer before things get tangled up. On the other hand, there’s the kind of behavior that many can rightly judge as cruel, like keeping a suspect in an interrogation room for hours on end, exhausting them by asking them to recount their side of the story enough times for them to either be caught in a lie or give out valid information. In smaller states where law enforcement can get away with acting in corrupted ways, suspects might be starved, forbidden to use the restroom and deprived from getting enough sleep, another technique to wear them out and have them confess or give out any information they’ve been withdrawing.

During his trial, Jay pleaded not guilty, claiming he wasn’t in the room when the crime happened, but in the bathroom. He said he stopped by the house that night to check on Veronica who seemed tense and needed to vent about Megan who she suspected had stolen money from her. They comforted each other and had sex. He went to the bathroom to clean up afterward. That’s when he heard Veronica scream. He rushed out to check on her and saw two masked individuals, a man and a woman holding a knife. They lunged at him and pushed him to the ground before rushing out of the house. Jay panicked and tried to stop the blood flow but was unable to stop the bleeding. When Veronica died, he tried to call for help, but due to his criminal background, decided to leave instead. Even though his story never changed, the extensive amount of forensic evidence found couldn’t be argued with, so charging him with the murder was pretty easy. His prior arrests and the fact his DNA was all over the crime scene served as palpable evidence prosecutors were able to use against him. He was a known and confessed burglar who previously stole from a pre-school and a defense lawyer’s office. His MO was throwing a rock through a window as his way of breaking in. Although it comes across as a horrible way to break in, from a thief’s perspective, it’s done not only to gain access to the premises but also to make sure no one is home. After throwing the rock, if no lights were turned on and nobody rushed to check, it was a sign no one was home, hence safe to pursue with the plan. Jay was caught during his last break-in and sent to jail. However, for some unknown reason, he was released soon thereafter, and so Gulliver thinks law enforcement would be scrutinized for letting a drug-addict criminal roam around town and commit a murder. With the media breathing down everybody’s neck, that information had the risk of getting leaked. Throwing Megan and Bo into the mix would shed more light on the latter instead of him.

Since Megan and Bo’s DNA was seriously lacking at the scene, only a few drops of Megan were found in the bathroom sink and on the murder weapon, a kitchen knife she claimed she used earlier to cook. Gulliver decided to rely heavily on false evidence and cloudy recollections, coercing Megan into signing a tortured statement she made about the possibility of her boss’s involvement in the crime. During a late night interrogation, Gulliver brought up a simple mundane text exchange between her and her boss at the bar she worked at (a man named Timothy Robinson) telling him she wasn’t feeling well and had to take the night of. In fact, she was perfectly fine but wanted to spend the night with her boyfriend. A small white lie was used against her and after hours of enduring Gulliver’s constant yelling and torment, she threw the whole thing on Timothy who was persistently trying to ask Veronica out on a date whenever her and Megan hung out at the bar. The thing that threw both Megan and Bo off was their separate interrogations. Since they were together the night of the murder, Gulliver went back and forth between them, throwing twisted statements in order to confuse them. At some point, when they both went to bed, Bo couldn’t prove Megan was there due to him being unconscious, a ruse Gulliver used to his advantage. When he told Megan that Bo said he wasn’t sure she was there the entire night, Megan freaked out and described to us in fragments that she might’ve stopped by the house and saw Timothy sneaking into the backyard. After a brief moment, she said she heard loud noises and screams. When Timothy was arrested and questioned, two clients gave him a strong alibi. Megan was accused of lying and so Gulliver became hell bent on destroying her. David stepped in and said the variety of her statement was due to extreme exhaustion, stress shock and mistreatment. Him and Gulliver had an intense fight. A mundane investigation was slowly turning into something far more exaggerated. The worst part is that Gulliver never relented. He created a fake receipt listing the purchase of bleach the night of the murder from a convenience store located nearby and deliberately leaked photos of the few drops of blood found in the bathroom to the press only after they were tested which made the bathroom look like a brutal crime scene as red seemed to be smeared everywhere. Gulliver fed fanciful stories to the press and the media devoured them, adding and mixing their own made-up elements to the story to further sensationalize it. A tabloid editor’s dream. At the time, Gulliver was still under indignment for malfeasance for a prior case where he did illegal wiretapping, threatened people and planted fake evidence at crime scenes to get to the end results he wanted. The only reason he was still working was because he was backed up by very powerful people in the judicial system.

By the end of the first week, Megan was portrayed as a loose and sexually promiscuous girl involved in orgies and satanic rituals. Every media platform attempted to demonize her, giving her multiple salacious nicknames like, “Femme Fatale”, “Sex-Crazed Killer” and “Demon Face” claiming she’s the mastermind behind a drug-fueled, Satanic sex orgy that took the life of an innocent girl. In her TV interviews, her intense, probing gaze seemed to be staring right into your soul.

Behavioral analysis is done without any basis and distractions. Experts look at the victimology and the crime scene and try to be as objective as possible. They often try to avoid looking at any of the suspects which often tends to mess with their opinions. A body language expert, Dr. Meredith Lightman analyzed Megan’s behavior in a few snippets of interviews, the video I’ve recorded of her and surveillance footage taken in the interrogation room where she sang and performed yoga poses. An officer even mentioned her doing splits and cartwheels at the police station. For a suspect to go through a lie-detector test there has to be a valid reason. One of those reasons is suspected deception and lying or what experts professionally call, baselining. Dr. Lightman managed to baseline Megan by pointing out various red flags, most notably the way she delivered her answers, her posture and her lack of indignation and sadness when Veronica was mentioned. Not a single tear was shed nor a hint of remorse was shown. David, Harrison and I got to hear Dr. Lightman’s input on the matter before Gulliver since he was strongly determined to convict her. David still didn’t seem too certain about Megan’s culpability or involvement.

“Not to discredit or undervalue your input, Meredith, but for someone who’s never experienced anything quite this shocking prior to this incident, how can you possibly predict how a person would behave in a situation like this let alone decipher the meaning of their behavior based  on just one interview?” He concluded.
“It’s not just one interview.” Dr. Lightman added, stressfully. “I’ve seen her exhibit questionable behavior at different instances. The only reason I’m showing you this particular one is because it combines all the facial expressions that point out she might not be as innocent as she’s claiming to be.”

I was never able to accept the fact Megan and Bo could be innocent. Although the more objective side of me saw her as a stoic and impassive young woman, I couldn’t unsee the signs she was potentially a cold, malicious psychopath. My instinct recognized her abnormal behavior from the moment I set my eyes on her. It wasn’t necessarily a logical feeling as she was always posed and angel-like. However, I still trusted this instinctual, alarming feeling of “danger” in my stomach, and by our second encounter at the house, my feelings were finally confirmed as I had strong proof those kids are at the very least ill-natured and possibly transitioning into two evil human beings.

Upon seeing Detective Gulliver’s strong determination to make her look as guilty as she possibly could, I decided to step in and help him achieve the conviction he was hoping for. Before going to trial, the forensic team scheduled another visit to collect more evidence that might’ve been left or overlooked. David didn’t take the initiative seriously at all, suggesting that every piece of evidence found at that point wouldn’t serve the investigation in any capacity since there was a strong chance the elements could’ve been contaminated and any rational legal expert wouldn’t hesitate to cast them out.

I drew a breath and walked straight into the house. I activated my flashlight and walked through it. The entire place was tossed upside down after being trampled by the police. Something was telling me someone had been in there before me, but I couldn’t be sure. I haven’t been inside since our initial investigation at the premises. However, EMT personnel and police officers are urged to move around the space carefully to keep it intact which indicated someone else must’ve entered it illegally or without permission. Veronica’s bloody shoes, purse and jacket are all relevant to the crime yet they were left at the crime scene. Her jacket’s sleeves were turned inside out which indicated someone forcibly removed it and so the killer(s)’ fingerprints were probably all over it. The whole place was in a state of desolation. Belongings that could’ve served as potential evidence were strewn around, drawers were open and things were clearly missing. For a case that garnered international attention, I considered that a careless disregard and incompetence on the forensic team’s part. I started taking pictures, alternating between my camera and my phone. Once I made it into the living room, I heard branches cracking outside. I blocked the flashlight with the palm of my hand and froze in my spot. Suddenly, I heard footsteps. I couldn’t place the sound. They seemed to be coming from different directions. I panicked and turned around to leave. As soon as I made it to the kitchen door it was clumsily yanked right in front of me hitting the kitchen counter behind it. I was faced by Bo and Megan, both dressed in black. My eyes stretched wide open and my skin prickled down my arms. They walked straight in almost causing me to trample and fall as I rushed back into the living room. They ran after me, grabbed me and threw me against a wall.

“You like what you see, huh?” Bo started.
“What are you doing here?” I asked pushing the words out.
“Funny you ask. We were going to ask you the same question.” He replied.
“This is a crime scene.” I took a step toward them struggling to regain my breath.
“And you’re here in a strictly investigative capacity?” Megan skeptically asked. She was enjoying the confrontation.
“We saw how you strolled and paced around the house. You weren’t here to gather evidence but to relish upon the twisted elements surrounding it.” Bo said.
“You get off on that, don’t you? Megan added. They’re figures got bigger and bigger as they cornered me. My back hit the fireplace’s countertop.
“Stay away from me. I can get you arrested for that.” I spurted pathetically. Megan remained in the distance while he took charge of the situation.
“Arrested for what? We’re just talking.”
“This feels more like a threat.”
“Threat? Don’t be confused here.”

As he fixated me with his eyes, I tried to dial the the most recent call in my contacts book which I guessed was David. Bo immediately caught me and snatched the phone away.

“No, no. Don’t do that.” He threatened, handing the phone over to Megan.
“We’ve been watching you. You’re one sick fuck. You don’t care about solving crimes or doing your stupid forensic job. You’re just some lonely sadist who gets off on blood and corpses.
“Sick fuck, huh? What about what you two did? You raped and stabbed a girl in the neck one after the other.”
“This is just an assumption. Nothing proves we did it.”
“Just because we haven’t found any evidence linking you to the crime doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.”
“What about you? You think you can hide behind your camera? Hold my feet to the fire, I’d say you’re just another apprehensive criminal using law enforcement as a cover-up.” I looked at Megan and noticed a smirk tugging at the corners of her face, parted with a slightly trembling limp. She could barely contain her laughter. I’ve never seen someone so demented. When Bo turned and made a brief eye contact with her, I clicked on the video recording button on my camera hoping they’d say something incriminating. Megan walked over until their proximities matched.
“Maybe we could give our little paparazzo friend here a show. What do you think, babe?” I had no idea where that was going. She raised her arm and reached for Bo’s neck, grabbed it and pushed him down to her level and kissed him. I was immediately thrown off. What the hell are they doing, I thought.
“What did we do the night Veronica met her tragic demise? I can’t seem to remember.”
“It was just like any other night. We had dinner, watched TV—“
“And fucked.”
“We definitely did that.”
“You like that warm pussy, babe?”
“I live for it.”
“What did we do later? Did we go by the house and deflowered that virgin whore?”
“Sure did. Too bad I had to wear a rubber. Missed out on all that wet-wet.”
“She was dripping like crazy, wasn’t she?”
“She certainly was.”
“Ask Jay. He was stupid enough to stick it inside her without a condom. You should’ve seen him as he nailed her.”
“More like humped her. Those negros fuck like their lives depend on it.”
“She was screaming like crazy, wasn’t she?”
“Not in a bad way or anything like that. She was kinda like, begging for it.”
“She had nice nipples too.”
“They were rock hard.”
“Better than mine?”
“No tits are better than yours.”

Megan took her hoodie and top off, unclasped her bra and thew everything on the floor. She walked up to me, raised her shoulders and straightened her posture in order to display her breasts.

“What do you think of them?” She asked. I didn’t utter a single word.
“She asked you a fucking question.” Bo added.
“I don’t swing that way.” I said challenging them.
“Oh, so you’re a fag?”
“Quit it, Bo. Be nice to our friend.”
“If you don’t swing that way, then how do you explain this?” She firmly pressed her hand palm against my crotch, her fingers firmly wrapped around my erection. She exhaled distinctively, steam emanating from her mouth and fading around my face. I closed my eyes and before I could even tell, my camera was taken away from me. Megan passed it on to Bo.
“Destroy his memory card.” Bo immediately fumbled through my device and ejected the SD card. He threw it on the floor and stomped on it four or five times. “Done.”
“You’re a bad boy, Eberstark—” Where the hell did she get my last name from? “—You know what happens to bad boys?” She kicked me right between my legs sending me straight down to my knees. She pulled down her leggings then her thong, exposing her shaved vagina. She parted her middle fingers to make a V shape and spread it open revealing her clitoris.
“Lick my clit.” I didn’t budge.
“Do it!” Bo lashed out.

I pulled my tongue reluctantly and slowly buried it inside her. She gasped, grabbed my scalp and started thrusting. I heard Bo unzip his pants and spit. He pushed himself onto her spreading her legs apart and started fucking her from behind. The more aggressive he got, the more her body pushed my head back and forth turning me dizzy. She moaned loudly and aggressively, the way a porn actress would.

“Did you slash her throat before or after you came, baby?” She gasped.
“On and off throughout.”
“All that blood!” She screamed.
“All that fucking blood!”
“So warm. So hot— Harder, baby. Come on!”
“You’re going to make me cum.”
“Do it!. Fill me all up.”

When Bo came, a warm, bitter liquid spurt out from inside her and into my mouth. I tried to move away but she wouldn’t let me.

“Take it.” I fought harder pressing both hands against her thighs to push my face away.
“Fucking take it, retard!” Megan screamed.

I closed my mouth and sniffed out any urine entering my nose. Once she was done, she released me and I fell down and hit my right elbow. Bo pushed her aside and kicked me in the face, sending my face flying backward and into the wall. He threw my camera behind a piece of furniture and together, they rushed out.

I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t supposed to be at the house and had absolutely no evidence of what happened—not that I wanted to tell anyone about my break in or even worse, my complete humiliation. I hoped Gulliver would have enough to put both of them behind bars. The following week, in the packed and hushed courtroom located downtown Manhattan, throngs of media personnel had assembled in the early morning hours to get seats. I desperately hoped things would get out of hand.  I sat a few feet away from Gulliver who showed up in a smartly tailored coat that cringed snugly to his inflamed, bullish frame. David was pissed.

“You’re on Lawrence’s team now? The fucking bully?” David lashed out as we headed into court.
“That’s not what this is about and you know it.”
“What is it about then?”
“Making sure that girl doesn’t kill again.” He rolled his eyes at me and we proceeded in walking in.

The biggest surprise of the whole trial was Sara Harper, a previous friend of Megan’s who took the stand and testified against her. We all wondered how much money Gulliver offered to get her involved because the information she provided was luckily for him, outrageously true.

Apparently, Megan was involved with the boys of Zeta Psi, a fraternity house recognized to have perpetuated a culture of pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault over the past couple of decades. She was lured into their secret activities by Bo (once labeled as “the punisher” since he was in charge of punishing people who didn’t abide by the fraternity’s rules). Although the close involvement of a female in such a secretive male-dominated underground group was practically unheard of, frat boys enjoyed having her around as her personality and attitude seemed to perfectly blend in with their. Even though never exhibited behavior as egregious as them, her mind outmaneuvered in its capacity at being more nefarious and conniving. She influenced Bo’s actions and decisions as well as the others, bringing out the worst in the group. Most importantly, though, she managed to create a link between fraternities and sororities.

“Even though you might think the boys were the ones to be feared, Megan was worst because she’d make you trust her before throwing you into the fire. We all knew what they were up to when they came and talked to us, and so we stayed away from most of them. But Megan was a college sweetheart. Everybody looked up to her. When we saw how she interacted with members of the fraternity, our impression of them slowly shifted. We thought some of them were friendly and cool. But it was all part of their game.”

Every month, Zeta Psi hosted a party where only the most attractive girls, usually freshmen were invited. They were expected to wear fancy dresses and act like they were lucky to be invited.

“Megan came to us with the invitations. She made it seem like a fun night of socializing and getting to know the male students. Little did we all know that we were walking right into a trap where we’d get drugged and raped.”

Obviously, such a strong accusation didn’t only affect Megan and Bo but it broadened the matter to the point the whole university system had to undergo an investigation. Sara admitted not having told anyone whereas a university representative declined to comment.

“I knew no one would believe me,” Sara said when the suspects’ defendant asked her why she didn’t report the crime. “I’ve spoken to some of the other girls and although none of them admitted it happened to them, you could see it in their faces. They were distraught and traumatized. Megan created this manipulative and toxic environment and although I was never threatened or felt unsafe after the incident, I knew there would be consequences if I didn’t adhere or caused them the slightest inconvenience.

Another girl who wanted to remain anonymous was briefly interviewed by Gulliver. She mentioned that Megan was out to get anyone who either crossed or challenged her. After a fight with one of the sorority houses, Megan and a few of her mutual friends staged a robbery they later claimed was a stupid prank. The girls’ sorority house was messed up and things were hidden to make it appear as if items had been stolen. That happened when Megan first got involved with Bo and his housemates. When it was known she was behind it, she apologized but never disclosed the full list of names of the people involved. To Gulliver, that incident was a clear foreshadowing of the crime Megan would later commit. Then, all hell broke loose when an online social media group was brought into evidence completely exposing the bad behavior and violent misconduct of Zeta Psi.

Graphic photos of violence, questionable behavior and nudity were compiled along with a bullet point of list of things the boys did in secrecy at the house.

Among the awful misogynistic acts toward women included but were not limited to the boys breaking into sorority houses and masturbating into containers of shower products left in their bathrooms, inviting a freshman female student once a week for what they called “Bait Night” where the girl would be plied in alcohol and forcibly raped, organizing a “Bone Room” party at the beginning of each semester where a group of girls would get inebriated and persuaded to perform sexual acts, creating a yearly tradition called “The Purge” where male students are invited to post nude and humiliating photographs taken of their “conquests”. In a picture with a blurred face, you could clearly recognize Bo’s haircut and rugged physique. He’s holding a woman’s panties while she lies unconscious in the bed behind him. The list also contained singular instances of misconduct; a thread containing posts by members of the football’s team recounting sexual experiences as well as videos of them re-enacting certain positions, a video of two young freshman students fighting in their underwear, a video of a girl being passed around at a party and getting her shirt ripped off, a selfie of a jock-type individual with a little boy tied to train tracks in the background, a sneaky video taken in what seemed to be a strip club where an anxious young boy sitting in a private booth is receiving oral sex by an older woman, a possible sex worker.

Digging deep into Megan’s social media profile, a photo dating back to 2029 of her posing with a machine gun, was shown inside the courtroom. She’s seen pretending to shoot the gun with intense exaltation. The photo was captioned with “The Nazi.” Gulliver used it to show a flippant and insensitive side to Megan and her disregard toward the value of human life and the welfare of others. With such a convenient end note, the atmosphere inside the gallery turned even darker. The air seemed to be sucked out of the room. Looking at the big screen of screenshots taken straight from the page, I felt a punch in my stomach. People say “What you don’t see can’t hurt you”, but once that secret is exposed and brought to light in such graphic detail, the pain is twice as excruciating knowing that all this time, terrible things have been happening right under your nose.

Although none of those events proved Megan and Bo were involved in Veronica’s murder, the allegations made against them and their repeated past misconduct were admitted into evidence, and since the judge always stood by his belief that Jay didn’t act alone, his final verdict found all three of them guilty for the murder of Veronica Shaw.

I had my own reservations about Megan. And yes, I’ve eventually realized that they were personal. She reminded me of Marnie and her awful mistreatment of me, something I haven’t been able to fully recover from even though it happened a long time ago. I wouldn’t say I’m terribly affected by it, but being reminded of her gives me the chills and a sense of unease. It mostly has to do with her demeanor. She was clearly evil and the fact no one else could see it was extremely frustrating. There’s also the idea that bad people can cheat the system over and over again and succeed in leading a double life which is also unnerving. The extreme duality of Megan’s persona can’t be overlooked. On one side, she’s portrayed as an innocent student that was more of an introvert with a form of social dyslexia. Yet on the other side, there’s the way the media has been depicting her as someone with no boundaries—a promiscuous party girl with a revolving door of sexual suitors. And her fame only managed to bring more confusion as to who she is. You can go from reading an article where you fully sympathize with her to watching a live interview that immediately fills you with both rage and fear as you try do decipher her behavior and figure out whether she’s telling the truth or downright lying. I’ve followed every detail of her case and still can’t understand what kind of person she is. The only conclusion I could come to is, if she’s innocent and hadn’t killed Veronica (her taunting me the night of our encounter could’ve been just that), then she’s at the very least a sociopath who got caught up in a complicated scenario. I can still remember her maniacal smile and vacant empty stare on the TV screen.

“I’m really overwhelmed right now.” Megan said in her statement upon her release from prison. “I just want to say that I’m incredibly grateful for what has happened, for the justice I’ve received and for the support I’ve had from everyone, family, friends and even strangers. You saved my life and I’m so grateful. I’m still processing this. I’m still absorbing the present moment which is full of joy.”

Once she was finished and turned away from the cameras, her mother took the stand right after her.

“We’re so grateful for the return of our daughter, and we know you’re all here and we appreciate it, but we need time as a  family to process and welcome Megan back into her home. We’re thankful everything is finally right. Thank you.
“Megan. Anything you want to say to Veronica’s parents?” A reporter asked. Megan turned slightly, her mother whispering indistinctly in her ear; I guessed she was advising her against it. After a brief exchange between them, Megan walked back to her spot and fixed the microphone. She swallowed deeply you could see her throat contracting. Then, looking down, she resumed:
“Veronica was my friend, and she deserved so much in this life.” She stops, her eyes wandered. She didn’t know what to say.
“I can’t possibly start to imagine the amount of pain her parents have and continue to go through. I’m the lucky one.” Her head finally faced the cameras again, her eyes glistening as cameras continuously flash in her face. She smiled a dark sinister smile and walked out of the shot.

David kept watching the news report when I had seen enough, so I cut our night short and left. I stared up at the lonesome night before strolling through the streets of downtown New York, hazy and slightly disoriented, the shadow of mysterious disembodied footsteps appearing and disappearing on the wet concrete sidewalk around me. My vision became arid. Buildings swayed and melted around me. It was close to midnight and I was eager to get home and wrap myself in the sanctuary that is my bed. I tenaciously power walked to the Fulton street station, descended down the countless steps of stairs and sought warmth and comfort in the steamy, congested subway air.

Fumbling through my phone, I found a text by an unknown number saying, “Hey, Felix.” It was sent an hour prior and I wasn’t sure who it was and why the person didn’t announce himself. It’s unnerving to me to receive texts from strangers who don’t introduce themselves. It almost feels like they’re purposely withholding that information to see whether or not I’d engage with them. I decided not to bother. The train took forever to arrive, so I went back up to take a cab. On my way up the stairs, the view of the ground entrance of the station struck me as familiar—as if I was having some sort of Déjà vu.  I wasn’t sure if that was the result of me skimping sleep or if my brain was actually telling me something. When I arrived at the end of the escalator and the whole street outside became visible to me, I finally came into awareness and was able to determine whether the feeling belonged to my real memory or was just a figment of my imagination. I looked at the outside taking notice and investigating all the elements. The empty streets, the red and blue neon lights reflecting against the windows, the heavy steam coming from the manhole across the street. The wind was strong and as it blew it upward, my eyes went along with it and settled on a high rise I strongly recognized. That dream I had, about the ritual; Amphidromia. I rushed to it believing I’m onto something. Once I reached the street the building was located on, I saw a stream of people dressed in mostly dark clothing stepping out of it. I proceeded in walking toward them just to get close enough for me to identify who they were, but even then I couldn’t properly see them. I spotted a man standing on the opposite sidewalk. He looked both ways before crossing the street and walking toward me.

“What a coincidence.” Patrick exclaimed as he approached me. I was in a deeper state of shock. “I just texted you earlier.”
“That was you?” I asked, suspiciously. “How did you get my number?”
“What do you mean? You gave it to me.”
“No, I didn’t.” I answered, resolutely even though I wasn’t sure.
“How else would I have it?”
“I don’t know.” I answered. It was one of those moments where I had no idea how to proceed. I felt like a puppet on a string, floating through the night without the slightest clue of what was going on around me.
“What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?” He asked.
“I’m just on my way home.” I replied, desolated.
“Are you okay? You seem tense. Would you like some company?”
“I’m good. Thanks.”
“Okay…Where’s home?” My eyes narrowed. Why would he want to know where I live? I opted to disengage and turned away from him. My feet tangled up in the process and I almost tripped, but he managed to swiftly grab me and pull me toward him. With our torsos glued to one another, I looked up and tried to see behind the glare covering his glasses. I couldn’t.
“Want to go for a walk?” He suggested. His tone sounded sincere, and although the last thing I wanted was to go off with a stranger without abandoning my inhibitions, I was desperately trying to understand what was going on, and so I decided to go along with him.

The entire city was mired in the murk. We strolled down a couple of blocks in meek silence, a subtle feeling of disquietude causing a warm surge sensation in the pit of my stomach, like an alarming sense of threat. I didn’t know the slightest bit about the man, yet he has my phone number and wants to know where I live. When I became aware of all these oddities, I stopped walking. He looked back at me.

“I want to go home.” I said, my voice slinging low.
“Are you sure?” He took a step toward me. I moved away slightly.
“Yes.”
“Do you want me to get you a cab?”
“No. I’m fine.” I started walking away from him. His reaching for his coat’s inner pocket alarmed me.
“Here—” He said, handing me his card.

Patrick Baylock
Grief Counselor

I looked at the card, confused, then looked at him.

“If you ever feel the need to talk, give me call.”
“I don’t need a therapist.” I answered, offensively.
“Sorry. That’s not what I was suggesting—“
“I don’t even know you.” I turned and walked away.

For once, my late night spiral of anxiety occurred out in the open and not in the confines of my bedroom where it usually does. Still herald by the reminiscence of my past, I could definitely use some help coping with Matthew’s death, but I couldn’t open up to a stranger without building some kind of rapport with them first. But then I realized it might be better if he didn’t know much about me or the other way around.

When I stepped foot inside my apartment, I was welcomed by the lingering mood of dread and cavalcade of night terrors. Despite of that I managed to jump straight into bed and close my eye, but I couldn’t keep them properly closed.

Sometimes, when I force my eyes shut, a stream of twinkling, swirling pattern of stars seems to move around inside my eyelids like a glitch on a TV screen. If I keep them closed for a substantial amount of time I start seeing white. I’ve always wondered whether it was an optical stimulation or something caused by a neurological disorder. It’s one of those things you assume everyone experiences as it comes across as an innate biological wiring yet you never inspect or ask anyone else if they’re familiar with the phenomenon. The static whiteness slowly faded revealing a large rectanglish canvas in the middle of a wide room filled with natural light.

I grab one of the paint brushes, dip it in a dark reddish color and motion my hand toward the plain fabric. I can feel the presence of someone else in the room. I turn around and see someone standing in front of an empty canvas. It’s Patrick stoically staring at me with an eerie smile. I turn my head around and face my canvas and he does the same thing. I move my hand and he imitates the same movements. He’s mirroring my behavior, copying every gesture. Filled with angst, I start painting randomly without paying any attention to him. I move my hand up and down, left and right. I’m not paying attention to what I’m painting. I switch colors and brushes, paint haphazardly and chaotically until I’m finished. I step away from my piece to take a better look at it. It’s filled with splash-like shapes and mud-colored textures. I turn to Patrick, my brush still in hand and see him standing in the exact same position. He looks void of any kind of emotion. I wasn’t bothered by it.

Stab-quick flashes and I’m steadily being transported underground. I’m in a hole, some sort of soil tunnel surrounded by twigs and roots. Showing up in my view is a closed concrete coffin. As I get closer to it, it slowly opens, its header sliding away and out of sight.

The body of a dead man appears. Although his body is pale and purplish, it’s still flawless and lacking any sign of decomposition. Subtly sprinkled fresh dirt can be found in certain areas. His long hair is a bit frizzy. I sit on top of him, his penis thrusting inside me. His eyelids open revealing his milky-colored eyes now staring right at me. I move my hips around to embrace the feeling but I can’t feel anything. I look upward and witness a stormy dark blue sky. Raindrops fall heavily submerging both of us in muddy water. I panic.

I woke up in the cold night wondering whether the dead man was Matthew. Unmoored and grief stricken, my soothing restfulness interrupted, I questioned what other unfinished business type of emotions remain kept away in my subconscious. I’ve grown reliant on my dreams. I tend to look into them for inner truths and answers. What you don’t know controls you. However, what if the information found in them is misleading? What if your mind becomes your biggest enemy and guides you into a trap? I’ve become quite adept at remembering my dreams. I go to bed hoping I’d have one so I can experience it lucidly and direct the outcome. Even then the only benefit I’d get out of that is a temporary virtual satisfaction averse to the real world.

Staring dolefully out the window at a placid gray sky, I reconstructed my memory of the night I met Patrick.

“I don’t mean to alarm you. I’m just curious as to why you’re pretending to be somebody else.” I ignored him and exited the building. He followed me outside. “I’m sorry. Forget I said that.” The loudness in his voice made me self-conscious. I didn’t want him attracting attention.
“What do you want?” I asked, defensively.
“What’s your real name?” He asked, nonchalantly. Well played. I refrained from answering.
“Do you know Astrid?”
“Yes.” I answered, but I couldn’t sound any less convincing. He stared at me with concealed excitement.
“Are you joining us for dinner?” He proceeded in asking. Better leave before I get too tangled up in this, I thought. “I won’t expose you. I promise.”

My anxious mind had erased every moment from my memory right as it happened that I had to force myself to remember the encounter. I turned away and left before things escalated any further. I also can’t possibly remember whether I gave him my name or my cellphone number. This man has clearly been investigating me. He can’t be trusted. However, I figured anyone in his position would draw suspicion upon someone showing up at a private event impersonating one of the guests. What if what I had witnessed put me in trouble?

I looked at the card left on my desk and wondered whether I should call him or not. Grief Counselor? What if he can help me cope with my mourning of Matthew—or even better, cure me from it? After a brief search online, I was able to confirm he was a professional and highly-recommended psychiatrist. By the looks of it, though, his clients are all wealthy people which I guessed would interfere with my financial ability to afford him. I picked up the phone and dialed his number anyway. Realizing it was 4:30 AM, I immediately pulled the phone away to hang up, but he picked up right before I was able to do so. Odd.

The call was quick. He suggested a brief meeting at Bryant Park the next morning, before heading to his office.

“How did you know I’ve lost someone?” I asked, curiously.
“I’ve been doing this for almost two decades, so I’d say I’ve acquired quite the flair. I know deep sorrow when I see it.”
“But how?”
“I could tell you were struggling with something when I spotted you at the memoriam. Figuring out it was a loss was purely a guess.”
“I see.”
“Therapy is crucial for trauma in both weathering it and recovering from it. In your case, it’s the decease of a loved one.”
“Well, although I agree with you about me needing help, I’m not quite sure I can afford you as my therapist.”
“We can discuss this matter later. Mind telling me a little bit about the individual?”
“All I can say  is that I’ve never fallen deeply for anyone the way I’ve fallen for him.” I started. “And the fact he was often out of reach either physically or emotionally only strengthened my longing for him. It created that spark which I feel is still there, greater than when we were together. And it hurts—especially at night. The loneliness I feel is excruciating. The only way to take off the pressure is through casual sex which I don’t have a problem with. If anything it’s a good distraction.
“Is it, though? On the long haul?” He interrupted.
“Sometimes it can be intense and worthwhile, other times not so much. After it’s over, it’s like it didn’t even happen. A disconnection occurs and my mind drifts so far away that the person right next to me starts to feel like a total stranger. I know I have no intention of building any sort of connection with these men, so I act like they don’t matter—like they’re not even there. The last person I had sex with, I didn’t even know his first name. I was aware of that halfway into our encounter, and I still didn’t bother to ask him—not even for the sake of it.”

Patrick passively sat back as I described how Matthew’s death altered my entire world, but to keep things personal, I avoided mentioning his name. When he got a sense of how serious the issue was, he suggested we meet at his apartment to start our first session. Due to my previous failed attempts at therapy, and the fact I needed some time to consider whether or not I really wanted to face my problems head on, I asked him to give me some time to think about it. Bringing our conversation to an end was a thick wind blowing all over us. We looked up and saw heavy dust covering the entire sky. He stood up to leave before the muddy rain started to fall and I did the same. He asked me to call him when I’m ready and left. As I watched him walk away and right before the downpour, a black cricket landed on the table we were sitting at instantly grabbing my attention. I stared at it superstitiously and wondered:

Is this the beginning of the end?

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