A few notes before you continue to read.
1. Characters in this story may contain real people's name but are totally fictitious.
2. The story might contain grammatical mistakes and a few rare logical errors which escapes me.
3. I cannot add everyone in this story so I apologise if your name is not in there.
4. This work is copyrighted. If you wish to use anything from here, please reference it. If you wish to copy everything and distribute it, please inform me first.
That's about it. Enjoy.
Status Update (12 May 2009): Finished
HMC LEADS kinda died for a while to revive HELP Mystery Chronicles
UPDATE (12/05/09): HELP MYSTERY CHRONICLES COMES TO AN END!
Everyone is an individual. Everyone stands out like a sore thumb on the hand of a clumsy carpenter hammering at night. No matter how close one is with one's significant other or how well one fit in a social group, one is still an individual. Everyone is different. Ironically, in that way everyone is the same. Everyone is the same because everyone is an individual.
The door swung open; a slow gust of air blew passed the corridor when the cool air of the room escaped. A hand wrapped its fingers around the cold metallic handle of the door and slowly tugged it. The one side of the double doors opened without a sound. The soft sole pressed against the carpet, one after another. The soles entered the room along with the body and hands, and stopped. The door stopped as it was about to be closed. The foot was jutting out of the entrance, which left the door ajar. Nothing moved. It stood still, silent. There was only the gentle cool air escaping from the room.
"Excuse me, excuse me."
People tried to squeeze in to get to the front of the crowd. More students poured in, making this claustrophobic situation worse. The corridor was stuffy. Lots of people meant lots of body heat. Cool air seeped into the corridor from the door which was held back by a girl. The entrance was left open wide. There was a flash of light coming from inside. The girl stuck her head inside and yelled a name. She yelled, "Joshua!"
A boy stepped out of the room with his hands in the air. He was of average height for a teenager, maybe slightly taller. His hair was short and stood up like a prickly bush of jet-black. He had spectacles on his face. He wore a black shirt and pair of blue jeans. He had a large camera slung around him. It was a single-lens reflex camera which he added on a flash bulb on the top and a long lens.
"Sorry," he apologised, kept quiet and just grinned.
There were a few people at the front of the crowd, who were carrying notepads and pens. They were jotting down any relevant notes. There was chattering; noises came from everyone, randomly, at every corner. Then, there were movements from inside the room and the crowd fell silent.
Voices came from inside the room. The girl, who held the door back, took a peek into the room and shortly pulled her head back. Soon a back was revealed. It came from the side and took a slow turn backwards. The back belonged to a huge tall person. His arm hidden by the wall and his back but it seemed as though he was carrying something. Finally, all four people came out from the room; one on the front, one in the centre, one at the other end and one lying down on their arms. All of them were male, except for the person being carried. She had long dark hair, messily placed all over her pale face.
"Make way," yelled one of them. His rough commanding voice made the crowd to step back, leaving enough room for them to move out. Curious people stuck their head towards the girl to take a closer look. When they moved away, some followed them, but other moved to close the gap. The story was still here. He was in the room.
The girl who held the door back managed to sneak in the room before closing the door behind her. No one had time to react. The door clicked as it was locked. The inside of the room was cold, slightly unbearable. The room was rectangular and there were two levels of seats. Chairs were arranged in rows with flip tables near the front and same went for the higher level. There were three steps leading to higher level. In front of them were a whiteboard and a large grey desk on the left. The projector was placed at a small section between the whiteboard and the door.
Someone sat at the desk, his chair was turned to the side. He looked depressed. The girl who entered helped him up. He placed his grey jacket over his shoulder. There were other people in the room being busy. They were clearing the mess up of the incident which happened earlier as they looked around. He passed them and they respected him. They had questioned him earlier and it was best to nod at him. The girl who was outside was hesitating but finally asked.
"Jeremy, are you all right?"
Jeremy approached the door. He had his jacket slung over his shoulder. He had slightly curly hair on the head of his. He had spectacles, a white shirt and jeans.
"Yep," he replied, "I'm fine. I hope she is."
"I am pretty sure she will be," she said with optimism; a sparkle of hope in her tone.
"I'm not worried about her," he said, "I am worried about what the message said."
The door clicked and part of the crowd moved back as the door opened. The girl stepped out followed by Jeremy. Questions poured over Jeremy like raindrops on a stormy day. Jeremy could not hear them though. As much as he hated the vocal harassment, he was not ignoring them. However, he was subconsciously blocking them out from his mind. There was another flash of light and Jeremy placed his hand to cover his eyes. Joshua took another photograph. The crowd dispersed shortly and the commotion died out. Though all that had ended, the story was just beginning.---
The next day came soon. HUC was a university college which was divided into three buildings: the Main Block, Block A and
From the start of the corridor until a certain depth there were benches placed against certain sections of the walls on the left. There were large pillars blocking each section for a bit of privacy. In front of the benches were tables. On the right of that part of the corridor were entrances to classrooms, computer laboratories and offices. There was also a helpdesk at the entrance of the corridor on the right. But the focus was what was on the left, on almost every table, placed open. They were newsletters called 'Matrics' and on the head lines read: 'Girl Found Unconscious'.
That very classroom that was mentioned in the article was currently occupied; it was not occupied by a class, but a girl who was there with a boy.
"So, Jeremy, she was here?" asked the girl as she walked across the room. She had long straight black hair which flowed until her shoulders. She wore spectacles. She had a yellow t-shirt with a pair of jeans on her slightly thin legs. She was almost as tall as him but the height difference was unnoticeable.
"Rachel," he said with a hint of exasperation, "I've told you for the thousandth time. Yes, she was."
Rachel looked around carefully. She examined the desk, every corner of it, as well as the whiteboard and the other chairs with flip tables.
"You know, everyone probably knows about this," informed Jeremy. What he said broke Rachel out of her somewhat trance and said, "What?"
"It was in the Matrics" he added as he reached into his backpack and pulled out a copy of the newsletter for her to see.
"This is bad," she commented.
The Matrics so-called headquarters was located at the centre of the stretch of corridors where the tables and benches were located. That stretch was known as the 'Wi-Fi area' mainly because it was the only area with a stable wireless Internet connection. At the centre of the stretch there was an alley opposite of a table and on the left of it was the entrance to the Matrics headquarters. The journey from the crime scene, also known as seminar room ten, was quite a distance to the Matrics headquarters. All the classrooms were located in the stretch pass down the Wi-Fi area. There was a bend between the two corridors and at that band there was a counter for the 'Language Department'.
Rachel reached the door of the Matrics headquarters and brought her fists down on the wooden door. She rapped on the door. Jeremy followed behind her. He came moments after her. He stood next to her. The rapping stopped when the door opened. The door opened a little and someone stuck his head out. His hair fell over his forehead with parts of the centre and back spiked up. He wore a black t-shirt. His hand rested against the door. He had a spiked bracelet on his left arm.
"What?" the person said abruptly and rudely, "What can I help you with?"
"Jian, right?" checked Rachel, "We need to talk."
Jian wanted to close the door but Rachel pushed it open. He was quite stunned; her stern look and authoritative voice gave an aura of command. He did not have enough strength to close the door. They entered the headquarters. The headquarters was quite large. In front of them was an elongated meeting table and at the end of it on the wall was two whiteboards placed side by side. Beside the whiteboards, there were plenty of notice boards filled with photographs and notices. On both sides of the room there were long working tables partitioned by thin wooden barriers. One of the partitions had a computer on it but the rest of it had electrical outlets. The tables were specifically designed for studying or for the usage of a laptop. On the right, against the wall nearest to them, was a photocopier with additional features. On the left, against the wall nearest to them, was the desk of the head of the Matrics newsletter. It was Jian's desk and much like the meeting table, it was filled with piles of papers and files. The whiteboard was filled with markings of red, blue, black and green which formed words, numbers and symbols.
"Why did you post that article?" she asked. Jian looked around and noticed Jeremy.
"Hey," he called for Jeremy, "You're the guy who found the girl. When are you free for an interview?"
"There's no time for this," snapped Rachel, "Answer the question."
"Because the public needs to know," he answered, "We can't keep the people in the dark."
"But that's exactly what the suspect wants," she argued.
"And I don't care," he replied, "As long as we get readers."
Rachel was walking to the other end of the room as he spoke. She took a look at the photographs on the boards. There were photographs of old events layered under fresh photographs of the crime scene.
"That's supposed to be-"
"I'm leading the investigation on this occurrence," she interrupted him.
"That does not give you the right to look at those photos," he pointed out, "And ask us what to put in our newsletter."
The room was silent after Jian's voice faded into the air. Rachel stood in front of the photographs with her mind preoccupied. She was focused on one particular photograph; there was something odd about it.
"Can I have that one?" she asked as she pointed at the photograph of the desk of the scene with parts of the floor.
"You didn't hear what I said, did you?" Jian muttered.
"I heard. It's all 'pee and see' and I can't force you to stop publishing articles, but can I have that photo?"
"Fine, fine," he sighed and pulled it off the board for her, "If I give it to you, will you leave?"
She nodded her head and he handed her the photograph. She left the room after that, followed by Jeremy. She was fixated on that particular photograph. There was something in there she saw and she had to check it with the other evidence she had. And then, there was a yell from the Matrics headquarter. The words echoed through Rachel's ears from Jian's mouth.
"You can't stop it from spreading, even if you tried. It would be everywhere by now."---
"Good morning," greeted the person in a suit. He wore a dark grey suit over his brown t-shirt and a silver tie. His hair had a parting but it was barely noticeable, only the fringe fell at both sides of his forehead and not the centre. His hair was long enough to cover his neck at the back. He wore spectacles with the temples hidden under his wavy brown-highlighted hair.
"Highlight for today is the incident which occurred yesterday. A girl, in her seventeen, was found unconscious in seminar room ten. Her name is withheld from the public. It was said that she was found by Jeremy at about one pee am as he was about to get something from the room. What is more alarming is the fact that someone left a message on the whiteboard in the room. The message is also withheld from the public and even the press. Rumours have it that she might have been knocked out and she did not faint on her own account. Whatever it is, it is going to be something big. She is currently in a hospital resting and doctors said that she is improving. That was the highlight for today's news. Catch College Show Network at 'Youtube dot com slash College Show Network' for the latest updates. I am Joe and that is all for the morning news. Have a nice day."
Joe sat in front of a blue background behind a generic grey curved desk as the video faded out into darkness. This was on about twenty out of sixty computers in the computer laboratories or also known as the 'Learning Spaces'.
"You were quiet when we were in the Matrics place," noted Rachel.
"Well, you were doing your fearless leader routine," responded Jeremy, "You can be quite scary at times."
"It's almost eleven thirty."
"You're changing the subject but thank you for reminding me. I have Human Comm. classes all the way in Theatrette near the entrance."
"Maybe after that we can go visit the victim."
"She has a name you know."
"Fine, maybe we can go visit..."---
"...Carmen?" The voice was soft and filled with concern but it was somewhat rough.
The world was black for Carmen. Her head felt light in the darkness darker than black. She could only feel her head as she stirred from her unconscious world. Noises from the outside were nothing to her; they were just humming sounds to her ears, only for a while. Soon she could make out the vibrations in the air and formed words in her mind. Her arms, legs and other parts of the body were hers once more. Her bed rustled when she moved.
"You woke up. Are you feeling better?"
It was the same voice from earlier but this time she could hear it. Her eyes opened and she was staring at the palms of hands. It was blurry. She focused her mind onto the peachy body parts and requested silently for them to close. They closed. She asked again for them to open. And they opened. They were hers. She noticed that her contact lenses were taken off. She pulled down her palms and looked down. Her dark red hair was in her way. She pulled back her hair and looked down again. She was lying on a white bed tucked under a white sheet. She looked forward and saw the metallic bars at the end of her bed. Beyond that, she saw the beige curtains surrounding her bed. She took a look around. There was a coffee table beside here, some hospital devices and some power outlets. On the curtains, she could see the black fuzzy silhouettes of the outside world. She could see the silhouette of a person sitting at the visitor's chair on the right of her, beyond the fabric which separated her from the outside world, reading something which looked like a newsletter.
"Yeah, I am," she murmured, "Just a bit light-headed."
"That's good," he commented but he did not sound relieved or cheery. It was an optimistic remark but it sounded quite detached. He added, "Doctors said you'll be out here by the end of today."
Then he asked, "So, did you recall what happened yesterday?"
"All I can remember is that I was walking into the room to get something and I found myself here. I think I saw something but I am not sure what it is anymore. Everything else is a blur."
"Alright, thanks," he said. His voice trailed off and it disappeared into thin air. A shadow behind the curtains moved until it faded away. There was an odd sound; it was the sound of soft thumping which faded away as well.
Carmen sat up on her bed. She reached out her hand as though she wanted to stop someone from going and said, "Wait, who are you?"
There was nothing but silence in the room. Quiet, eerie silence. It was the kind which could bring a shiver down many spines. She closed her eyes and laid her head back on the pillow, pondering if it was a dream. It was not. There was silence.---
The corridors had been quiet lately. There were too few people around, strangely, and only once in a while someone would walk by. The dim lights along the corridor made it even more unsettling. There was no noise; there was a pin-drop silence. Everything was still. It was as though the corridors were deserted, this section of it in any case.
Rachel walked down the corridors where the classes were. Where the classes should be held since there was no one in the classrooms. Rachel took a peek into the glass on the double doors of each classroom as she walked to her destination. Chairs and tables were unseated as they basked under the florescent light. That was a good thing; it would be spookier if the lights flickered.
Rachel walked down the corridors of stillness. She could hear faint noises coming from the Wi-Fi area but it was too faint. She could hear her own shoes shuffling on the carpet below her as she walked slowly to her destination. It might be the weight of the silence because her feet felt heavier than it was in the morning. She could hear her clothes flapped. She could even hear heartbeat softly and quickly under her chest. She was not scared; it was just abnormal, different, strange.
Rachel walked down the corridors to seminar room ten. Her hand wrapped over the cold metal of the handles of one of the double door and peeked into the room through the glass on the door. It was pitch-black. She pulled it slowly and the door creaked softly. She had never heard the door squeaked until that moment. She opened it until the gap was big enough for her to enter and she slipped into the room. Leaving the door ajar so that she had some light from the outside, she groped around for the switch. She found it and pressed it.
The lights flickered twice before they stayed on. The classroom was as it was when she checked it out for the second time. This was her third time. This time, however, she had a new perspective. That trip down to the Matrics headquarters was not as worthless as it seemed. The run refreshed her brain, and she found new clues. She might be on to something.
She ignored the chairs with flip tables and headed straight for the desk at the left corner of the room, which was on her right. She wanted to move fast but her feet refused to let her. She reached the desk and placed her silver book bag on the desk. She took out two folded piece of paper from the pocket of book bag. She was eager to find this breakthrough but the thought of it scared her as well. The thought of knowing frightened her. She unfolded both of the paper and they opened neatly like the buds of a rose. She took a quick glance at the photograph. It was the photograph of the desk. She placed the photograph of the desk on the desk. At the corner of each photograph, there were timestamps. One of the photographs was taken by Jeremy when he found her and the other was taken by Joshua when people came to help. According to Jeremy, he left the room to call for help. He did not see anyone when he did so. There was a significant change between the two photographs. She wondered what could have happened when Jeremy left for help.
She stared into both of the photographs. Like a game of spot the difference, she tried to find the clue. The photographs stared back into her eyes. It was annoying. It was annoying, scary and exciting. It was annoying because it was right under her nose and she could not see it. It was scary because what she might learn will lead her one step closer to the shocking truth; probably possibly shocking truth. It might not be. It could be. It was also exciting because advancement was an accomplishment which was something to feel happy about.
It suddenly clicked. She stared into the photographs until imaginary images of it formed in front of her eyes and converged into each other. Then she noticed the differences. The desk was moved, insignificantly. It was moved so insignificantly that it was significant. The desk was pulled away from the wall, a little. She pulled it away once more, separating the desk from the wall. She moved to the other end of the desk and checked the small opening between the desk and the wall. There was something there, she knew it. However, it was something surprising. She expected something but that something was unexpected.
She reached out and picked up the piece of paper wedged between the wall and the desk. There were lines on the paper; lines went across and lines went down. The lines formed boxes and within some of the boxes there were numbers. Below the tables and boxes and numbers, there were some wordings. It read: 'HMC Student Council'. HMC was the department which caters foundation and degree programmes. It was the department where the mystery was taking place, where the students were investigating an incident where a girl was found unconscious. It was not that strange. It could happen to any other department.
The question was about the involvement of the student council. That was not the strange bit. There was always something more. There was something puzzling. And that was what the paper was. The paper was a puzzle, in both sense of the word. It was a puzzle for being a puzzle. It was a puzzle as it made no sense and it was a puzzle which was known to most people as Sudoku. Sudoku was a number puzzle where numbers were carefully placed into boxes to fill it up and complete it.
Rachel took a seat at the desk and pondered. She thought and pondered and wondered and nothing came up in mind. Subconsciously, she asked herself quietly, "How does the production of Sudoku by the student council play into this case?"
Nothing came into mind.---
Jeremy shrugged and said, "It's a strange piece of mystery. Why won't you let me complete the puzzle anyways?"
"Because it's an important piece of evidence," replied Rachel.
Both of them were walking down the Wi-Fi area. He had finished his class and her class had been cancelled.
"What's the point of puzzles then if it's not for solving?" he questioned.
"Fine," she said irksomely to which he said with triumph, "Yes!"
Jeremy took out a pencil and started attempting to solve the mathematical puzzle. As they were walking down the corridor, they were greeted by one of their classmates.
"Hey Rachel, Jeremy."
"Hey Ben," greeted both of them back. Ben was sitting at one of the many benches at the side of the Wi-Fi area. He had a laptop in front of him and some papers around it. He was big sized and was wearing his black jacket. His hair was short and he wore spectacles. If he stood up, he would be taller than Jeremy and Rachel.
They walked passed Ben.
"Where are we heading to anyways?" asked Jeremy as he put down the puzzle for a moment.
"Student council room," she replied, "I need to get to the source of this."
They walked passed the bend and headed pass the stretch of classrooms. The student council room was located at the 'Department of Student Affair' or DSA room which was at the end of the college. At the end of the corridor where the classroom was situated, there was a stairs which would lead to the DSA room. The DSA room was one floor above and above that would be outside the college.
The DSA room was a student lounge. Upon entering the DSA room, the first door on the left was the entrance to the HMC student council room. The door was located at the end of the wall. On the wall perpendicular to the door was a counter built in front of the HMC student council room. It had metallic blinders which could be controlled from the inside. In front of the counter were two foosball tables which required some maintenance. The foosball tables were placed in a wide empty area between the counter of HMC student council room and a stretch of offices and room. On the right, there was a television hung from the wall and a pool table. There were some comfortable chairs placed beside the pool table. Behind the pool tables there were some large rectangular tables with chairs for just hanging around or group discussions. The room at the end of the DSA room was the ping pong room. It was a large empty room with a ping pong table and some chairs. It was located next to the meeting room which was one of the rooms in the stretch next to the foosball tables.
Rachel and Jeremy entered the DSA room and walked passed the door to the HMC student council room and took a peek at the counter. The blinders were lifted up by a bit and light escaped from the small gap. The gap was big enough to fit a whole arm in. She went back to the door to the HMC student council room and knocked on it. The door opened and a girl peeked out. Her hair was slightly wavy, pulled behind and tied up into a bun at the back of her head. She was quite short and small in size. She wore a red shirt and black trousers.
"Hi," she greeted. Her voice was high pitched and the tone of her voice was perky. She sounded excited. She asked, "How can I help you?"
"Victoria, right? Hi, I'm Rachel," she introduced, "And I'm on an investigation regarding one of your members, Carmen."
"Oh, please, come in," invited
"I haven't visited her yet," she said and then realised, "Before I forget, this is Jeremy."
"We've met before," he pointed out.
"Ah, I see," she said with comprehension before bring back the topic.
"We found a piece of paper with a Sudoku puzzle on it and there was the HMC student council on it," she explained as Jeremy passed
The three of them were in the HMC student council room. They stood behind the door. On their right was the counter below the metallic blinders. Beside the metallic blinders were the panel with some buttons, most probably to control the blinders. The room stretched out to the left. There was a wide rectangular meeting table which looked rather worn out. The movable whiteboard stood on its wheels on the left of the meeting table. There were some cupboards attached to the walls, hung a head above them. Below the cupboards were some notice boards with pins stabbed into them. In front of the elongated table, on the left corner, somewhat hidden by the whiteboard, was a door. The floor was carpeted with a shade of green.
She examined the puzzle carefully and suggested an answer to Jeremy to at which he cooed excitingly.
"So, who do you think would have this?" questioned Rachel.
"Anyone in the student council," answered
"That's about it. Thanks,
"Oh," she exclaimed, "I'm late for class!"
Rachel had to drag Jeremy out by force as he struggled over the third box on the fourth row in his puzzle and left
Another dead end. Even if the piece of paper was related to the culprit, they just added twelve more suspects, who were the HMC student council members. The more they dug in deeper, the more possibilities they encountered. All those possibilities had to be reduced through elimination. Just like the Sudoku puzzle. If it was only that easy. One wrong move and they would be lost again. Just like Sudoku. If it was only that easy.
"Maybe it was planted," suggested Jeremy.
"Possibly," replied Rachel.
Both of them were sitting in a theatre like place called the 'Theatrette'. This place was located at the left after entering HUC. There were two entrances, one from behind which was placed above three steps and the other from the side. There were three sections of chairs which seats were the spring up if there was no one sitting. There were two small rows on the very left and right end of the theatre and the main section which had about twenty or more rows. The room was dim with lights up on the ceiling which was placed in division of foam, one in each. In front was a stage with a rostrum and a table. There were two steps leading up to the stage on either ends but there were no curtains or even a backstage. At the very back of the theatre was a glass window which separated the place from the control room. A projector was hung from the centre of the ceiling which projected to a white sheet of screen which acted as the backdrop of the stage. The walls were all wooden which looked dirty and scratched. There was an odd smell of old furniture lingering around. Sometimes the smell bad, other times it was worse.
"If it was, who’d want to frame the HMC student council?" she pondered.
"There would be people who dislike the HMC student council system. I mean, they’re like the mafia," he replied.
"That’s what the rumours said."
"We should go visit Carmen after class," she suggested.
"Sure," he agreed. In the background, there was a mixture of noises. Students were chattering behind the lecturer’s back, metaphorically speaking. Almost all of them were not listening to Ms. Su, their History lecturer. She had a loud strong voice. Her voice resonated throughout the whole theatre without a microphone. The plump Indian lecturer stood in front of the stage with her curly black hair.
Class ended in a jiffy with nothing entering the students’ head. Rachel and Jeremy exited the theatre and head to the corridors. The corridors were actually built underground and there were many exits in strategic locations leading to the ground above. Above ground, there were a lot of buildings, most of them were offices and food outlets but there was also a hospital. They headed for that hospital.---
There was a knock, and some knocking which followed a tune before the door to the room opened. It was a room in the hospital on the third floor. There were soft thumping sounds coming from the outside when the door opened. The room was built for two. There were two beds in the room, one was surrounded by a beige curtain and the other was occupied by a red headed girl.
"Rachel, Jeremy," called Carmen with excitement. She was sitting on the bed behind a tray of empty plates and bowls built to attach to the bars of the bed. She placed the tray on the table in front of her and jumped out of bed, towards the two approaching visitors.
"Hey, Carmen," greeted both of them and Jeremy asked, "How are you doing?"
"Better," she said, "Just a bit light-headed."
"Do you know what happened back then?" inquired Rachel.
"Actually, no," she shook, "But I had headaches when I woke up. The doctor said it might be because of the trauma I can’t remember what happened."
There was a pause before she added, "Something strange did happen yesterday."
"What was it?" they asked curiously.
She told them about her encounter with the mysterious stranger which happened the other day and how he asked her about the incident. Rachel, in turn, told her about her current investigation. She told her about the Sudoku puzzle which Jeremy had kept away because it would be rude if he did not. The three of them talked till the sunset and Jeremy and Rachel headed their way.---
The door to seminar room ten opened and it closed. Someone stepped into it. That person moved fast but was also quiet. That person reached for the desk and pulled it away from the wall. That person checked the side between the desk and the wall. It was empty. That person walked back to the door. Before that person opened the door, that person looked through the glass on one of the double doors. That person could see the reflection, grinning back with satisfaction.---
The next day came and an unexpected face appeared in the corridors; unexpected for some in any case. She walked the corridors as though nothing had happened. Nothing had happened for her brain. The memory of that particular moment was wiped cleaned like a compulsive mysophobic kid on a dirty window.
The rest thought otherwise and they were around her like vultures. She had to hear the same question over and over and over again and answer that same question over and over and over again. It was fine the first time, but it became a nuisance after the fiftieth time or maybe some time before that. Curiosity killed the cat and would take another life soon.
"Look who came back," announced Joshua with a loud voice which could be heard two tables away along the Wi-Fi area. His ever ready trigger finger pressed on his camera which was hung around his neck. With that, three blinding flashes were fired and three photographs were taken. She could not react fast enough. When the flashes faded in the split-second, her hands were over her eyes, rubbing the white light away.
"Joshua!" she cried annoyingly. Two tables away heard the yell and the person behind the laptop took a look. He noticed the girl and he jumped over the table to meet her.
"Carmen!" he called as he approached her. He walked past Joshua who was busy look through the little screen on the camera.
"Any nice pictures, Josh?" he asked.
"Yep," affirmed Joshua, "You know the drill."
"Yes, yes, I'll pay you when I actually get the picture," said Jian. Joshua nodded and backed away slowly with a grin. Then, he spun around and dashed off. Jian turned to Carmen and greeted, "Welcome back."
"Thanks," she said.
"We're looking to do a story on you and everything that happened," he explained. Before he could continue, Carmen told him all she knew which was not much. She said she had to leave and she left for the classes.---
Jeremy was sitting down. His fingers on his right hand were wrapped around the rubbery steering wheel as he gently pulled the wheel to the left. His other hand rested on the gear stick. His foot gently released the pedal on the very right as his other foot pressed on the pedal on the very left. His hand pulled back the stick and positioned it to the groove where the number two was written. His foot pulled from the left pedal and his other foot hovered over to the middle pedal. He could feel the movements were reducing as he nudged the middle pedal. He could feel everything came to a stop. He released the steering wheel and pressed the toggle below the window, on the armrest on his right. The window winded down automatically and he reached out for the vertical orange metallic box. There was a white button on it, next to a slot. He pressed it and the slot coughed out a white piece of paper. He pulled the piece of paper and the bar swung up to an erected position. Slowly, he drove forward and took a left turn and a right turn immediately after. He drove into empty spot as soon as he found one and parked. He twisted his arm on his left and so that the glass on the silver watch pointed at him. The long hand was on four and the short hand between nine and ten.---
Class ended and Carmen went out of seminar room nine. She wore a red jacket over a white t-shirt. She had a small backpack over her back. She went out and waited for a while and there was a crowd exiting from seminar room nine and ten. The class was empty. It was not when she was there the last time. She could feel the presence of someone there the last time. She could still feel the presence of a phantom. She approached the whiteboard and placed her fingers on the cool smooth surface. Her finger tips trailed down the whiteness, following a certain pattern as though something was written on it. She was feeling something she had never felt before, imagining something she had never imagined before. A part of her brain knew something and it tried to bring it back as she entered the room. As soon as she took a whiff of the chilly air-conditioned air, she almost had a flashback. She put her hand at her mouth, covering it. It was a déjà vu she could not remember.
She jumped. He laughed. She turned to look. He was standing at the door.
"Not funny, Jeremy."
Jeremy went to put his bag and his grey jacket on one of the chairs with flip table.
"It was," he chuckled, "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, nothing," she said, "Was just trying to remember what happened here that day."
Both of them looked at the whiteboard for a moment in silence which Carmen broke.
"How's Rachel's investigation going?" she asked, "And that Sudoku puzzle of yours."
"Not so sure," he replied, "But I finished the puzzle. It was easy"
They both chatted for a while before Carmen left when more people started entering the classroom. Class was about the start.---
Rachel sat in front of her computer. A flat screen monitor was in front of her on an L-shaped desk, in the centre where both sides meet. Both sides were joined with a curve. Keyboard was placed in front of the screen on the table, clicking as she typed. The soft tap echoed in the empty room in the late night or early day. Her right hand hovered over the mouse and dragged it on the rubbery surface of a pad. The long end of the L-shape extended to the right. On it was a pile of books, papers, stationary and other relevant objects and above it was a whiteboard filled with both important notes and random gibberish. It was probably the work of her siblings, the mess that was. She was doing work; or rather she was trying to do her work.
Pushed aside on the long side of the desk was the mess, leaving her space for her stuff. Her stuff, being only an opened notebook with a picture of the bear, was placed in the empty space. There were writings all over the pages of the notebook and yet it was neat. Messy but organised. She was supposed to be doing her assignment; or rather she was supposed to be trying to do her assignment. Her research paper was due soon. But her eyes kept looking at her notebook. She stole glances at it every couple of minutes. Every period she pressed was also a break for her to look at her notebook. And her notebook was not filled with notes related to the assignment. It was the investigation. She looked at it. She took the pen left in between the book and wrote on the page which was already cramped. When she was done, she went back to her assignment with half her mind on the case.---
Weekends came and weekends went. Monday was an irksome day, for some anyways. Rachel had not got much rest during the weekends. It was not because of the assignments; it was more of the case her mind had been overworking on. It was like an itch that would not go away. All that was needed was to scratch it until it bled, scratch until the nail breached the epidermis, piercing through the flesh to let out ruby red liquid.
Rachel came early to college; she had to. She took the bus to college. The bus was relatively crowded. It was about seven o'clock and the sun had yet to rise. She sat quietly until the bus halted and came down. She came down from the bus and headed for the exit leading into college. It was called an exit even though she entered through it. All exits were entrances after all. She went through the exit which led directly to the bookstore and admin desk. In between the counter for the Language Department and corridor filled with classroom was an exit. Stairs lead straight up to the outside. Just opposite of the exit was a mini bookstore which sold textbooks and also snack food. Next to it was the admin desk where anything regarding the HMC department went there.
She came down through there and she noticed something. She noticed a slight tug when everyone was rushing off the bus. She thought it was nothing; it might have been nothing. She took a look at her book bag and she noticed the zip was not closed tightly. There was something white sticking out of it. It was a piece of paper. She took the paper out, read it and put it back in the bag. Then she headed to class, wishing time would just move faster.---
Weekends came and weekends went. That same Monday, Jeremy drove to college. He parked his car and rushed to the Conference Hall which was located next to the Theatrette. He had 'Psychology for Personal Development' class and he sure did not want to be late. Because if he did, he had to face the consequences and his lecturer would not go easy on him.
After an hour and a half of being lectured, he headed for the Wi-Fi area. He had his camera with him; it was a single-lens reflex camera just like Joshua's but slightly smaller. He took a look at his watch as he walked down the corridor when he heard his name being called.
He looked up and saw a girl walking towards him. She looked anxious. She had black hair which reached her shoulders and her skin was slightly brown.
"What's wrong, Dila?" asked Jeremy concernedly.
"Have you seen Ashikin?" asked Dila. He shook his head and she went off wondering where her friend could be.
Jeremy headed for his second class as he looked at his watch.---
Gears spun around. One gear spun and its teeth grind against another cause the other to spin. Gear after gear, each one of them spinning from the inside. Outside, the thin red hand spun round while the two others inched gradually. The long one was on the twelve and the short one was on the five. Each of them was moving, moving with time.
Jeremy took out his mobile phone and pressed a few buttons on the keypad. His phone rested on his hand, small enough to fit his whole palm. He read his message and slid the phone back into his pocket as he walked along the corridor. He lugged his bag behind his back. He could hear footsteps. It got louder.
"Where are you headed to, Jeremy?" called a girl from behind. He stopped and took a look.
"Hey, Carmen," he called back, "I was heading to lecture theatre four."
The corridor was surprisingly empty. Maybe it was because most of the students had gone home and only those who had to take History classes were still around. Also, History classes were held in the Theatrette near the front entrance and no one would be deep in the other end of the corridors. Lecture theatre four was the last room in the corridor.
"For what reason?"
"Someone wanted me to bring my camera there," he explained and asked, "Do you want to come?"
"Sure," she agreed.
Rachel was in the DSA room on one of the many study tables. She was trying to kill two birds with one stone; she was studying as she observed the HMC student council. She took a look at her watch. Her things were packed. She was just waiting for time to pass. She slung her book bag over her shoulder and headed down the stairs. She took out the note from her bag, took a quick read and put it back. As she was coming down, she looked ahead and noticed Jeremy and Carmen heading her way. Both of them were not however.
"Jeremy, Carmen!" she yelled to gain their attention. They heard her and yelled back in acknowledgement. Then, Rachel noticed something. She glanced at the floor and saw a photograph lying on the floor. In fact, there were a few of them. Jeremy and Carmen realised what Rachel was staring at and picked up the pace. They got by her side as she picked up the photograph. It was a picture of Rachel and it was pretty recent. She was getting off the bus in the photograph. She flipped it and there were some writings on the back.
Everyone is an individual.---
Like a trail, there was another photograph in front of Rachel's. The next one was Jeremy. Jeremy was presenting his assignment in the photograph. Similar to Rachel's, there were writings behind.
Jeremy Lim. 18. Student of HMC department. Photographer. Taking Psychology for Personal Development, Human Communications, Advanced English, Critical Thinking Skills and History. Reads and writes. Has a blog. Found the fainted girl in seminar room ten.---
Everyone stands out like a sore thumb on the hand of a clumsy carpenter hammering at night.---
They took a step and picked up the photograph after Jeremy's. This time it was Carmen's. She was sitting in the HMC student council room when the photograph was taken. They read what was behind of the photograph.
Carmen Ng. 18. Student of HMC department. Member of HMC student council. Taking Business Principles, Finite Mathematics, Advanced English, Critical Thinking Skills and History. Reads and writes a lot. Has a blog. Stays in hostel. Fainted last Wednesday. Is the fainted girl. First victim.---
No matter how close one is with one's significant other or how well one fit in a social group, one is still an individual.---
The next photograph they found on the floor was Joshua's. He was posing in front of a white wall in the photograph. As soon as the recognised the face, they flipped it to the back.
Joshua Yap. 18. Student of HMC department. Former member of HMC student council. Photographer. Taking Psychology for Personal Development, Human Communications, Advanced English, Critical Thinking Skills and Civics. Has a blog. Loudmouth. Sells photos to Matrics. Took photo of the scene of the fainted girl.
They moved on to the next photograph. It was Jian sitting at the Wi-Fi area behind his laptop. They flipped it to the back and started reading.
Jian. 17. Student of HMC department. Head of Matrics newsletter. Taking Internet Principles and Statistics. Has a blog. Fan of animations. Printed the news article on the fainted girl with photos from Joshua. Spread the message about.---
Everyone is different.---
Joe was sitting behind the generic table he used for his video news report in the subsequent photograph. They looked behind of it.
Joe Fendy. 18. Student of HMC department. President of College Show Network. Newscaster. Taking Psychology for Personal Development, Human Communications, Advanced English, Critical Thinking Skills and History. Has a blog for his club. Reported on the blog about the fainted girl story which had four hundred hits.
They hurried on. The photograph after Joe's was
Victoria Yeong. Student of HMC department. President of HMC student council. Former visual artist for Matrics. Taking Biology, Statistics, Finite Mathematics and Civics. Head of one of the most important organisation in the department which is the student council.---
Ironically, in that way everyone is the same.---
The trail was leading them towards the door of lecture theatre four. Dila's photograph was the one after. She was entering a classroom in the photograph. They read the back of the photograph anxiously.
Dila. 18. Student of HMC department. Taking Psychology for Personal Development, Human Communications, Advanced English and Critical Thinking Skills. Has a blog. Close friend of Ashikin.
The last photograph was in front of Dila's and in front of them. They quickly reached down and picked it up. It was Ashikin's photograph. She was walking along the corridor in the photograph. She had black hair about shoulder length with spectacles. She wore a black jacket vest over a white top. They hastily turned the photographer around. There was nothing there except for the word 'second' written in the centre of the thick rectangular paper. They flipped back and forth, looking for something, anything. That was the only word there. There were no other clues. Maybe whoever wrote the rest did not know anything about Ashikin. Or maybe nothing written except for 'second' was the clue. They were arguing, the three of them. Suddenly they were silent. They were silent but something else was not. There were soft muffled sounds. Very soft. It was coming from the inside of lecture theatre four.
Immediately, they rushed into the room. They barged opened one of the double doors and entered into the dark room. When the door flew open, there was a small crash followed by a thud. It was quiet after that; there was no muffling. They groped around and one of them found the switch. It was Jeremy who switched the lights on. Everything was clear. However, they could not believe it. They gasped soundlessly, in their hearts as they stared shockingly at the sight in the middle of the room. Rachel, who held all the photographs, took out the one which read 'second'. She understood what it meant and lowered her head. Carmen wanted to shout but she could not. There was water in her eyes. She wiped it away with her forearm.---
Everyone is the same because everyone is an individual.---
Jeremy, Carmen and Rachel stood around the mess in the centre of the room. Chairs with flip tables were scattered everywhere. Some had fallen and some were overturned. They spread across the room creating an obstacle. One or two were even behind the door. But the sight was not that. The focus of the scene was the centrepiece. The centrepiece was dangling in the centre on the ceiling projector by a rope. The cold, lifeless centrepiece. It resembled someone. The centrepiece resembled Ashikin. Except there was a bit of a difference. There was a change. Ashikin was hung by a rope on the neck as a cold, lifeless body.---
And when one realised that everyone is an individual, one will feel lonely for a moment; even in the presence of people.
End of Chapter 1
The answer is plain and you can surely see,
However you're blinded by the facts you find,
The truth will sometimes clutter your mind.
Like a fungus consistently expending its colony. Like a drop of water creating a ripple. Like worker ants rushing to a sugary spot. The outside of lecture theatre four was exactly like that. It was crowded. Curious heads tried to peak inside the room. It was as though something did happen. Something did happen and it was not pretty.
It was hot. The air-condition system throughout the whole corridor had been lowered down. People pushed against each other, creating body heat. It was stuffy. Amongst the people who were there were some of HMC student council members including
There were few people inside the room. Carmen, Jeremy and Rachel were already in there to begin with. Carmen immediately called the ambulance after overcoming the shock. Rachel went to the admin desk to inform someone there but they closed early. Jeremy was taking photographs of the scene even though he felt rather disgusted about it. Most of the lecturers left already. Joe managed to sneak into the room along with a few other people. He took out a notebook and jotted down information he could use for his morning news. Joshua came late but managed to squeeze pass the crowd and break into the classroom. He was taking photographs as well. He was even worse than Jeremy. His hands were shaking which in turn shook the camera. His mouth was silenced by the air of death. The other people there were quiet as well.
Men in white uniform came down from the exit near the DSA room. A siren could be heard, blaring echoes throughout the stairwell. They were carrying a stretcher. They were followed by men in blue. They came, took a look, wrote in their notebook and left. It was suicide they said, though the trio disagreed but refused to say anything yet. Ashikin was then carried on the stretcher, in a black bag which they had zipped up, and taken away. The door swung open and the crowd moved aside to let the door swing outwards. They walked away as the crowd questioned the incident. The other people told the story but Carmen, Jeremy and Rachel were speechless; Joshua too, for some reason.
They were walking out when suddenly Carmen stopped at the edge of the crowd. She heard a familiar voice. She heard that voice somewhere before but she could not remember where. She turned to look but she could not see anyone. She swore she heard someone.
"It was not suicide," pressed the voice, "Markings on her forearm shows that she struggled to escape..."
And the voice faded in the crowd. And the crowd dispersed. And she stood there as the people passed her. And Jeremy and Rachel called her. And she followed them. And the three of them walked away from the scene with red eyes, trying to make sense out of any of this.---
Words spread like the butter on a hot toast. Every time it spread, another layer of butter soaked deep into the spongy crunchy interior. Another spread and the heat radiated from the toast melt the greasy solid in between the crumbs. Constant spreading and soon, it was no longer toast with butter but rather butter with toast. In the spreading of the rumour or butter, the truth would get lost in transition. The complexity of the story would make each minor but important detail slip away.
The Matrics newsletter released an early issue. The whole issue revolved around suicide. The centre page was a two-page colour graphic novel on suicide. College Show Network uploaded a morning news report on the suicide case. The main headlines of Matrics read "Body Found ‘Hanging’ Out". The talk of the day was all about suicide. It was true when they said death would make a person famous. It was.---
"... If anything can go wrong, it will. That, my friends, is Murphy's Law. Nothing is ever right. So, even if everything is going right, something is wrong. Maybe that is one of the many reasons why failure can occur. We fail due to the fact that nature wants us to fail. Going against it would mean going against nature herself. It is inevitable.
With that I conclude my speech. There are many ways things can fail. It can be because of the unpreparedness of the person to the forces above. We cannot actually pinpoint the point of failure because it would only lead back to when time began. All we can do is embrace this occurrence we call failure and accept this fact of life. Thank you."
The class of students clapped. The room was narrow but long. It was called seminar room seven, just opposite seminar room nine, ten and eleven. The student who just gave his speech approached his seat which was the nearest to the front. There was no stage, just the front of the classroom, beside the lecturer's desk. He limped a bit, dragging his left leg. The classroom was arranged like a bus, with three chairs with flip table on both sides of the row in each column. There was a very narrow pathway in between.
The lecturer was sitting amongst the student in the front row. He had dark skin, with a shaved head. He wore his famous black jacket over a light blue shirt. He stood up and took the centre of the front of the class and spoke, "Thank you,
He took a look at the file which he just picked from the desk and added, "On Wednesday for impromptu speaking, we have Jeremy, Ben, Joshua, Clement, Megan,
"How was it?" she asked.
"What's it?" he asked back.
"Class, I mean," she clarified.
"Oh, it was fine," he replied, "
"It has only been a week," she said, "A week of rest from the shock as well. I'm continuing my investigations. I have a-"
"You rested?" he asked surprised.
"Yeah," she affirmed.
"I don't think so," he said, "You were camping outside the student council room again."
"Anyways," she diverted the topic, "I have a bit of information about the photographs. Carmen told me she recognised it. The photos belonged to the yearbook committee. And guess who took the photos?"
"That's not surprising. He was part of the yearbook for a while, then student council and now he sells them to the Matrics," he pointed out, "So, do you think Joshua did it?"
"He has motives," she stated, "But he's too incompetent. I doubt he's the kind of person who does these kinds of things."
"True," he agreed, "Who is it then?"
"I'm still uncertain," she said, "But I'm going to have a talk to someone from the yearbook committee."
Both of them discussed about the various possibilities as they headed for their History class at the Theatrette.---
"Poetry is sweet but not in this case. We have updates on the suicide story on one of our fellow student. Apparently, there was a poem found on the whiteboard written in red marker pen. We got this from a very reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous. It is quite puzzling as to what the poem meant but we assume that it was the suicide victim's final words."
Joe wore the same thing he did for his last news report. It was a grey suit, brown shirt and a silver tie. The College Show Network had become increasingly popular since the fainted girl. Everyone now wanted a piece of their news. There had even been people wanting to be news reporters and more members were joining their club.
He continued, "The poem talks about something that will never be. And then there is something about answer and being blinded by facts. There is also something about how the truth clutters your mind. Or something similar to that. Whatever it is, I will post the poem on the website. Stay tune for more updates. We update every Tuesdays and Fridays and sometimes in between if there is something hot."
"Joe!" she yelled. Rachel yelled from the other end of the corridor as she caught up with Joe. Joe turned around and saw Rachel approaching him.
"What?" he asked.
"You know that poem you said you got from about the Ashikin's suicide?"
"Who was the reliable source you got it from?"
"I cannot reveal to you that sort of information."
"I'm on an investigation. It's crucial to me. Now, tell me," she demanded.
"Fine, I don't know. Someone just left me a note and I found it. I lied about it."
"Can I take a look at the note?" asked Rachel.
"Here." Joe took out a foolscap paper with a small piece of paper clipped on to it. The foolscap paper was filled with his writing which was notes for his report and the piece of paper was the poem and some information which was typed.
"The poem is on the top," pointed Joe.
"I know, thanks," she said as she read through it and passed it back to Joe. She then told, "This kind of information is very important to me. Can you please inform me the next time you get something like this?"
He nodded and she gave him her contact. There was another clue. The poem at the top of this chapter of mysteries. A very intriguing poem at the top of this endless chapter of enigmatic mysteries.---
"Carmen," called Rachel with urgency, "There's a problem."
"What?" she asked worriedly, "What is it?"
"You remember the message written in the board for your case and the one with Ashikin?"
"The poem?" questioned Carmen.
"Yes, the one we erased before anyone came in," said Rachel, "Apparently, someone knows about it and contacted Joe."
"That could be a real prob-," said Carmen as she gradually slowed down.
"-lem," she ended. Her mind was distracted. She was gazing over Rachel's shoulder. Something, or someone, caught her attention. Her eyes were fixed on something else. It was diverting.
Both of them were standing in the middle of the corridor near the classrooms. Carmen was not responsive. Her eyes were glued. Multiple classes ended and the crowd filled the corridor. Whatever she saw drowned in the flood of heads. But she was staring at it. Her eyes were stuck to the same spot, without a blink.
"-men! Carmen!" yelled Rachel, trying to gain her attention. Carmen's sense came back to her, starting with her hearing. Carmen snapped back to reality but she seemed stunned. She was shocked. She stood there like a stone. Her mind was blank. She could not think. She wondered but did not know what to wonder; what to ponder. She made out the words being screamed into her ears but could not react to it. And when she opened her mouth, she could only say one thing. "Are there such thing as zombies?"---
The softness beneath. The silence around. The darkness amongst. The heat on top. The cool air above. The terror inside.
Carmen lay on her pillow on the bed in the room of the hostel; it was a small room. It was late. She should be sleeping. Prior to this, she had been doing her assignment. It was a rush job but she completed it. And now, it was very late. She should be sleeping. But she could not. She just could not.
She closed her eyes once more. She could not recall how many times she had done that. She stared into the darkness behind her eyelids. Absolute nothingness was what she saw. She closed harder. She could see white patches of light appearing. The bright white took form. It shaped itself, transforming into a figure, a familiar figure. A thin and tall silhouette of a female was formed. The figure stood there, as though she was standing in front of her bed and she was looking through her eyelids. The ghost figure stared at her, she could see that. Even though the figure was pure white and actually had no eyes, she could feel the figure’s gaze piercing through her eyes. It would not go.
Unexpectedly, she was grabbed from behind. The distance between the figure and her was gradually increasing. The figure shrunk as she was pulled away. She wanted to yell, but she could not; something was stopping her from screaming. Her voice was muffled. Soon, she exhausted herself. She stopped struggling and realised that someone’s hand was covering her mouth. Her mind slowly faded away from her.
Her heavy eyelids lifted up. She was aware. She touched her neck; it was wet. She was having cold sweat. Her clothes were soaked. She opened her eyes from pitch black to pitch black again. It was not a dream. She was awake, barely, when she had that nightmare. It meant something but she did not know. Her brain was trying to tell her something it kept from her after that traumatic incident. She just did not know what. She closed her eyes and attempted to sleep, letting her dreams and nightmares steal her soul once more.
The softness inside. The silence above. The darkness on top. The heat beneath. The cool air amongst. The terror around.---
People walked by the corridor. They walked slowly or seemed like it. Everything around her moved as though it was lagging movie. Carmen sat at the bench by the corridor watching the world pass by in stammers.---
People walked by the corridor. Everything felt artificial; nothing seemed real. It was as though Rachel's whole life was written in ink on a book which would never be read. It was like a diary. She walked passed the people as though they were programmed to do so, until something came out of place, like a plot twist in a story.---
People walked by the corridor. The world moved through a series of frames. Each frame was taken by a very good camera with shutter speeds at about sixty frames a second. And Jeremy was looking through the lens of the camera as he walked down the corridor.---
People walked by the corridor.
"Oh shi-" gasped Carmen as she immediately stood up. Jeremy and Rachel was coming from each side of the corridor when Carmen acknowledged them but left, saying something about her presentation.
"Hey Rachel," greeted Jeremy, "How've you been?"
"Tired," she replied. She did look slightly exhausted. She had a more apparent dark ring below her eyes.
"Still working on the case?"
"Kind of," she answered, "Finals are coming though, in about three weeks."
"Two," he corrected and added, "Do you want to go and have lunch?"
"I can't," she said, "I have to talk to Marcus."
"Regarding the yearbook and the photographs?"
She nodded her and said, "I'll catch you later."
"Yeah, sure. See you."
Rachel departed and headed for seminar room eleven. It was twelve thirty on a Wednesday. Yearbook committee would have a meeting, especially this late into the year. Their book went into printing but they had to come up with marketing strategies.
A tall boy stood outside the room. He wore spectacles and had a bit of a moustache. He wore a blue jacket over a white t-shirt and blue jeans.
"Marcus?" she inquired.
"Yep, that's me," he replied.
"Do you have time? I need to talk to you for a bit."
"I'm supposed to have a meeting but everyone is not here. Sure, why not?"
"I'm sure you've heard about what happen to Ashikin."
"Yeah, I have. It was a real tragedy."
"I'm currently investigating the case."
"Oh," he said in comprehension, "You're the detective."
"Sort of. I am just investigating. It interests me. Anyways, on the crime scene, I found these."
Rachel reached for her book bag and took out a small pile of photographs. She passed it to Marcus who examined each with care.
"They look like pictures for the yearbook," he commented.
"I think they are actually," she said, "We found them at the crime scene. Do you know who might have access to them?"
"Joshua does, I do," he answered, "Basically, almost everyone in the committee have access to the photos."
Marcus handed the photographs back and Rachel thanked him. He left as she placed the photographs into her book bag.---
Hectic corridor in the afternoon. HMC student council took a table at the Wi-Fi area in order to set up a booth to sell tickets for their annual ball that was coming in a month's time. It was noisy. Jeremy walked passed the corridor. He had just finished his class which was in Conference Hall and he was headed to the DSA room. They bugged him on the way but he politely told them that he would when he had the money. He continued on past the Language Department counter and the HMC admin desk.
Then he stopped abruptly. Ben passed by him, complaining about his spoilt laptop. Jeremy could not stop to greet him. He heard something. It was coming from seminar room nine. He went to the door and placed his ear on the cold smooth wooden surface. Something was coming from inside. He peeked through the transparent glass of the double doors. Everything seemed to be in order. The chairs were arranged as straight as possible. No one was there. There was a pink note on the door. It was a notice that a class had been cancelled.
He wrapped his hands around the door handle and the cool air from the inside seeped from the small gap between the double doors. It was like déjà vu. It was like the moment he opened the door and found Carmen, lying unconscious on the floor. He pulled the door and the chill flooding the corridor. He could picture himself entering the room and when he turned, he could find a body on the floor, waiting for him.
He stepped into the room. His heart pounded. He had this strange awkward feeling inside of him. The rush of blood went throughout his body and yet he felt the chill. He turned to the left and he was right. He was right in one way and wrong in another. He was right that something bad had happened but it was not Carmen nor was it a body on the floor. It was Joe, sitting in the corner with a blackened eye.
Joe sat on the chair in the admin office with a bag of ice on his eye. His face was wet from the cool condensed water. Jeremy stood next to Joe, pacing a bit, stopped and continued.
"How do you feel now?" he asked.
"Like something hard hit me in the face," pointed Joe. He pulled the bag from his face before putting it back on, wincing throughout the process.
"What happened?" Jeremy asked.
"I can't really remember."
"Why doesn't anyone remember any of the incidents they encounter?"
"Well, when some big dude comes, pushes you into a classroom and hit you in the head, your head tends to get a bit blur."
"They would have told you the reason for doing it," told Jeremy.
"They did, actually," he said, "It was something about the poem. The guy didn't want me to reveal anything to the public."
Thursday afternoon was such a bore, especially when they had to sit through an hour and a half worth of worthless lecture. Barely half of the class actually were present, even Carmen had skipped History class. Since the list for the people who were barred for taking the History paper were out, it was much safer to skip class.
Jeremy came in ten minutes late for class. He entered the Conference Hall and took the seat on the sixth row, beside Rachel's. The Conference Hall was just rows of seats built on top of a stairs. He slipped his backpack off his back and placed it in the small area in front of his legs. He was panting as Rachel was grinning.
"You were with..."
"Yes," affirmed Jeremy immediately, "I have much more interesting subject to discuss. Someone beat Joe up for revealing the poem."
"The poem?" repeated Rachel, "You mean that poem?"
"Yes, that poem. The one and only."
"That's very contradicting," stated Rachel with a pondering look on her face.
"One of them is trying to spread the word, while the other is trying to hinder it," she said and then questioned, "So which one is the one we're looking for?"
"That's false dilemma."
"You're only limiting yourself to two choices," explained Jeremy, "However, our guy might not be the one who is doing anything right now."
"But right now we don't even have anyone to point at," blurted Rachel softly, "If only were there a clue to give us a direction, to point the way."
Surprisingly, something soft fell strong on top of Rachel head. It felt as though someone threw it at her intentionally. It bounced on her head once and landed in front of her. It rolled underneath the seat of the front row. She bent down and stretched her arm underneath the seat. She felt around the carpet. The bumpy and tough fabric was on her fingertips. It was had lots of dust which she could feel. She felt the small tiny particles everywhere, smooth and irritating when it got to her fingers. Then, she her fingers felt something differently. It was harder but not too hard. It was thin and slightly pointy. She grabbed the ball of paper and sat up straight.
She held the ball of paper in her open palm and said with a sigh, "Another one."
"That was really a coincidence. Why don't you open it?"
"The last time I took something from a stranger, someone died."
"That's not true," disagreed Jeremy, "She would have died either ways, unfortunately. It was just a matter of who found her. I think whoever sent you the earlier note wanted you to know before anyone else did."
She sighed once more. Slowly and carefully, she unravelled this ball of paper. Sides by sides of the paper opened up, hopefully like the direction of this mystery. The soft crunching sound was heard when the piece of paper expended. There were writings on the inside, on top of the wrinkles of the paper. The words 'See aRrow' were written below a long vertical line which had two upside-down V's. One of the V's was at the tip of the vertical line and the other somewhere in the middle.
"Do you think he overheard us when we said we needed a direction?" asked Jeremy.
"I got a bad feeling about this."
"Why doesn't whoever who keeps giving you these clues approach you?"
"Could be that he doesn't want us to know? Maybe he's betraying someone by doing so. There are too many reasons for it. First we need to find out what this message means."
"Well, the capital letters in the words could mean be 'SR'. It could be the seminar room," suggested Jeremy.
"That's probably it. What about the arrows?"
"I think that's supposed to tell us which seminar room it is," figured Jeremy, "Or the time. Looks like the hands of a clock. But I think it fits better if it was the room number."
"So, the hands of the clock are pointing at twelve o'clock. That means it is seminar room twelve."
Jeremy shrugged and said, "I guess."
"What do you think we'd find there?" pondered Rachel.
"Not another body even if it's alive," he hoped.
"Me too," she said, "We'll have to pray, wait and see."---
The breeze slowly drifted by. It was early, too early. In fact, it was even too early for the sun to rise. The leaves of the plants sprinkled with dew, glistening in the streetlights. Streets were empty, making it much chillier than usual. It was a cool dawn.
Jeremy and Rachel, on the other hand, were not able to feel the chill morning. They were filling the chill of the empty corridors of HUC. The place well lit yet it felt so dim. It felt as though there was a shadow hanging above them.
Both of them came through the DSA room entrance, the stairs that led from above ground to the corridors of HUC. Carmen would have been here if she was able to wake up. Most of the time, she was unable to be woken up at such an hour. That hour would be the sixth hour of a new day.
"Wouldn't the classrooms be locked at this hour?" realised Jeremy. Rachel reached the nearest door of the classroom which would be lecture theatre four and it would not budge.
"It is," she replied, "But we have to check. If someone's going to plan something, he would probably prepare early."
"At six o'clock in the morning?"
"You wouldn't know," she whispered and hissed, "Shh."
They were trying to be as silent as possible. It was not the fear that they would be caught but they wanted to catch in the act. They reached the entrance to seminar room twelve. Both of them looked at each other, making sure they were assured of the situation. Jeremy reached for the handle of the door. This was the third time he had the feeling. He felt the coldness from the somewhat empty room seeping through the gap between the double doors. It brought back two memories and both involved people fainting or being injured. He nudged the door slightly to check if it was locked. It was not.
Rachel was Jeremy's back-up. She was to make sure they were not being followed. He entered the room, followed by Rachel who was walking backwards. He raced to the switches and the room lit up. Light flooded the whole room but the room felt as though it was not as bright as it should be. Maybe it was the eeriness and dimness of the situation. It was empty. It was actually empty for once. No body and nobody except for them.
They paused for a moment, assessing the situation. Eyes scanned every inch of the floor, walls and ceiling. Then, the silence was broken.
"I was expecting something to be here," said Jeremy who was no longer in whispers.
"A trap?" she questioned worriedly. Her eyes were wide open, suddenly nervous about the situation.
"What can anyone do?" he replied, "They can't lock us in. Using this room as a gas chamber would be over exaggerated."
"How about framing us?"
"How would he or she or they frame us?"
"I don't know."
They looked around the room, anxious, curious, dejected and relieved. There was a mixture of feelings. They wondered if there was anything here at all. There was something here after all. Jeremy picked up this circular, curved piece of glass from the ground next to the desk.
"Rachel," called Jeremy, "I found something."
Rachel stopped and turned towards Jeremy. Jeremy held the round piece of black plastic which surrounded the glass with his thumb and middle finger. She headed towards him and examined the thing he found.
"I think it's a lens," he guessed.
The plastic which held the glass in place was rather thick and inside of the plastic were grooves which allowed it to be screwed on to something.
"A camera lens?" she asked.
"Most probably," he said as he handed over the lens to her. She took a closer look at it.
"Maybe it is Joshua's?" she assumed questioningly.
"I doubt so," he told her, "This lens is quite strange. It has a hint of green stained on the glass."
"I noticed," she said, "Do you think it's a clue?"
Rachel was absorbed by the new found item. She peered through the glass and saw the whiteboard on the other side. There was something else. She noticed something on the whiteboard. It was faint but there was a mark on the whiteboard. She looked closer into the glass even though there was not much improvement.
"Jeremy," she said, "Do you see anything on the board?"
He shook his head. She put down the lens and the board looked perfectly clear. It was spotless, not even the little marker marking left from hasty erasing.
"There is something on the board," she pointed out and handed the lens to Jeremy. He took it, glanced through it and agreed. There was something on the whiteboard. It glowed faintly through the greenish shade of the lens.
"I think it should stand out much clearer if the room was darker," he suggested. He handed the lens back to Rachel and headed for the switch. Rachel positioned herself in the middle of the room and signalled Jeremy to switch off the light. He did so and she took a look through the looking glass once more. The room changed colour. The darkness of the room had a hint of forest green. She brought it up to the whiteboard and it was obvious. There were green marker writings glowing in the dark. She gasped inside, before even reading what it was. Whatever it was, it was amazing. Whoever did this went through a lot. Or he or she was simply insane. The whole board was glowing with luminescent words through the lens. It was like those professors' chalkboards which had a lot of gibberish on it. Except it was not gibberish; it actually made sense.
"Wow," she mumbled.
"What do you see?" he asked.
"There are diagrams and words," she described, "All of these explained Ashikin's death. Nothing on the motive though."
On one corner, there was an illustration of the room; a very rough sketch. A stick figure drawing with long hair was drawn standing on the chair being hung from the ceiling. An arrow drawn pointing to it confirmed that it was Ashikin. There was a line linked from the chair to the door. Strange enough, there were two more lines joining each stick arm to the ceiling. On the left, there were steps to how the event occurred. Briefly, she was knocked out. It did not explain how but it was not through hitting. She struggled, which caused the bruise on her arm. It was rope burn. It was possible that whoever wrote this was the same person whom Carmen heard from crowd after Ashikin's death.
Upon further reading, Rachel realised. She realised something tragic. She realised that the plan was much complex that it appeared. It was not simply suicide or murder, but something even more sinister.
"Did we find ropes on the floor in the room of Ashikin's death?" asked Rachel suddenly.
"Um," Jeremy hesitated, "We did. Why?"
Rachel gasped out loud. The soft gasp echoed softly in the room. She read on and reread it again. The more she read it, the more she did not want to know.
After Ashikin was placed on the chair and hung by not one but three ropes. One for the neck, placed with a perfect fit around her neck. The two others were to suspend each arm in the air. There was a rope stretched just enough to cover the distance between the chair and the door.
Rachel finished reading and passed it on to Jeremy to read. He skimmed through once and could not believe it. He had to read it again as well. Before they left, Jeremy took out his mobile phone and placed the lens in front of his camera phone to take a photograph.
The last part wrote that when did door opened, the chair would fly away. The ropes around her arms would loosen and drop to the ground. Ropes around Ashikin's neck would break, snapping it like a twig.---
The morning was still early. There was no chill; there was nothing. The air was still. Footsteps echoed softly as soles were placed on the carpeted ground. The corridors were well lit, casting shadows behind the figure as it made its way from the outside to the classrooms. It too took the stairs next to the DSA room.
It yawned and then sighed, not used to waking up as the sun rose. It lugged its way to the door of seminar room twelve. It opened the door carelessly and half-heartedly, and it entered a room. It took a quick sweep across with its eyes.
"Hmm," it hummed and then nodded to itself, "As expected."
It took a stroll across the room and back, examining everything with a glance. After, it took out a small vial of liquid and unscrewed the cap. It splashed at the whiteboard and took out a piece of tissue and started to wipe away the seemingly empty whiteboard. It hummed a tune as it did so.---
Gloom fell upon the corridors of HUC. The passageway seemed much dimmer than it did in the morning. There was a crowd at the eight o'clock rush. Everyone seemed to be walking slower however. Time was pacing like a snail.
Thirty minutes passed. It was more like twice of that. Jeremy sat at the bench by the Wi-Fi area and watched the people hastily walk by. There was a familiar figure walking from the distance. He lifted the hood of his jacket he had over his head. Carmen was running through the corridors.
"Hey Jeremy," she greeted, panting, "Did you see Rachel? I'm late for class. Rachel did not wake me up. Bye Jeremy."
And before Jeremy could say anything, Carmen went off.
"Hey Germy," he said as he patted Jeremy on the back, "You don't look too happy."
"Yeah, something happened," Jeremy replied dejectedly.
Jeremy pulled down his hood off his head.
"You want to talk about it?" asked
"Wish I could," said Jeremy," But I can't."
"Don't worry bout it. I understand."
"Why are you here so early anyways?"
"What are you up to,
"Nothing much, actually," he confessed with a smile, "Was just about to meet the rest to discuss our Critical Thinking Skill presentation. That tragic incident left us a member short. And Dila is still not quite herself yet. Joshua is still recovering from the shock."
"You sure are calm."
"I guess that's how I portray myself," said Eugene, "What about you?"
"Been better," he answered.
"Sorry about that," he apologised, "As I was saying, stuff like this will happen. We just don't know when."
"I guess," said Jeremy.
From a distance,
"Hey Vic," they greeted. It took
"Oh, hi Jeremy and Eugene!" she exclaimed before hurrying off.
"I have to get going as well," said
"See you later."
Jeremy pulled his hood over his head once more.---
Carmen pushed opened the door and entered the room. She apologised to the lecturer and occupied the empty seat next to Rachel. Rachel's expression changed. She immediately realised that she had forgotten to do something.
"I'm so sorry, Carmen," hissed Rachel as the lecturer was talking.
"Yeah Rachel, you forgot to wake me up."
"Something big happened," explained Rachel, "We found something out."
"Really?" said Carmen, "Tell me about it. I might let you off the hook this time."
Rachel laughed and told Carmen, "After class."
They were silent and the voice of the lecturer could be heard much clearer. It was going to be a long day.---
Learning space seven was located next to learning space eight at the Wi-Fi area. The learning spaces were computer laboratories available for students to use for work or for class. Learning space seven was free from classes all the time. Between learning space seven and eight was an alley to some unknown rooms which was probably the server rooms. Learning space seven was pretty much occupied. Most of them were rushing to complete their assignments. Groups of students gathered around an individual computer in the corner of the row to look the presentation. Others decided to turn learning space seven into a cybercafé. They had installed a first player shooting engine game into almost all the computers and were hooked up through a network. Swearing could be heard as one of them took a headshot in the game. The rest were surfing the random websites or checking updates on their favourite social networking site.
Jeremy felt crowded in the second seat out of four of the second row to the right. The person on his left was a humongous dark-skinned foreigner who could crush him if the person sat on him. The other two computers to Jeremy's right were occupied by five people who stood around to discuss their last minute work. Jeremy had no other choice since the rest of the learning spaces were occupied with classes and he too had last minute work to complete. A Psychology paper required a lot of research as well as patience and Jeremy's was being tested. Alternatively, he could have gone to Block A to visit his friend during his three hour break between classes, but he got stuck doing his assignment which he barely started.
"Take that!" yelled a tall boy who went by the name of
Jeremy simply tapped away on his keyboard like a maestro on his piano. The sound of the keys was like music to his ears. It played a distinctive tune compared to the outside noises. Then he paused, took quick glances at the notes, moved the mouse around, clicked on it twice, clicked on it once more and went back to playing on his keyboard. That was what he was going to do for two more hours. It was going to be a long day.---
Food outlets were all above ground. The corridors of an underground college had no place for a cafeteria on its own. Carmen and Rachel finished an hour and a half of class and retreated to a fast food outlet. It was Carmen decision because she had a sudden craving for fried long strips of salted potatoes.
"What was it that you wanted to tell me?" asked Carmen after taking her second fries. Both of them sat opposite each other and in front of them was a tray of food. There was a box of fries, a fish fillet burger and a medium cup of soda.
"Unfortunately," she started but stopped to take a deep breath. Carmen was listening. Then she got distracted. She saw something. The familiar body of the dead exited through the glass door of the fast food restaurant. The reflection blocked her sight and she disappeared into the distance.
"I'm sorry," apologised Carmen, "I kind of got distracted."
"Oh, we found new clues about the case," repeated Rachel.
"That's good. Why is it unfortunate?"
"Because..." she paused. Instead, she took out her mobile phone and passed it to Carmen.
"This will tell you everything," she said, "It's hard for me to tell you."
Carmen was fixated onto the small screen of Rachel's mobile phone. She pressed the buttons to scroll around a zoomed image of the whiteboard previously taken. The image was ten times larger than the screen. She read the image, word for word, which was a strenuous job. And when she was done, she gasped. She gasped exaggeratedly. Curious heads in the restaurant that were having their brunch turned their heads.
"Is this true?!"
"It does make sense," answered Rachel.
"I can't believe it," said Carmen in a lower voice, "How did you find out?"
"When you were not here for History class, someone else threw a message at us. Jeremy managed to decipher the puzzle in the message."
"Is it even reliable?"
"Well, we can't totally depend on it. But we need to base it on something. I know. It's the last thing I want to believe."
"It can't be," mumbled Carmen. Her eyes moved from the image on the screen of the mobile phone, which she was still holding, to Rachel to the exit of the place. Rachel reached out and took her phone back from Carmen.
"I just remembered. Jeremy should be free now," said Rachel as she searched for Jeremy's name on her phone and dialled his number. She placed the phone to her ears and listened. It went straight to voice message. It indicated that Jeremy's phone was either switched off or lacked signal.
"He's probably in the learning space. There's no signal there," she said to Carmen. Carmen, however, was not concentrating on her. Carmen was in a world of her own, trying to make sense from all the mess that was made.---
Jeremy had thirty minutes left before class and he had done three quarter of his work. He had been stuck there for about two and a half hours already. He was busy typing away like the rest of the people here. Most of them were doing the same thing. Psychology for Personal Development replacement class was at three o'clock and he had another replacement class at eleven in thirty minutes.
Everything from Jeremy's mind was gone. He was deeply focused on his assignment. He was a world on his own. Type, double click, scroll, click once and type once again. It was a repetitive cycle he had been doing for a while; one which included saving the file every sentence he wrote.
All of the sudden, he broke the cycle for a brief moment. He took a look up. Once in a while he would break the cycle to take a rest. This time was different however. He broke the cycle because he felt something was happening. It was like a gut feeling. And it was true. The first monitor on the left front row came to life. It lit up and its screen glowed blue. Large words which read 'Virus' popped up in red on the blue background and suddenly fizzled silently away. It would have made some noise but there were no speakers. It was replaced by two large, red letters. All of a sudden, three more monitors simultaneously turned black, then blue, and then red words appeared. Jeremy quickly pressed save. It directly saved his file into the thumb drive. Luckily, as soon as the filed was saved, his computer too blacked out, and turned blue with red letters.
The learning space exploded with panic. Screams and cries burst out. People were worried for their unsaved assignments. Jeremy quickly pulled out his thumb drive and ran out of learning space seven. He stole a glance through the glass door of learning space eight and saw the same reaction from the students. Something was happening there as well. He ran further down the corridor until his phone beeped. He stopped and picked his mobile phone from his pocket. There was one miscall from Rachel. It also meant that the area he was in had signal. He dialled her number and called her back. There was a ringing tone. He tapped impatiently. After a while it seemed as though she could not hear phone. When it seemed as though it was about to go into voice mail, she picked it up.
"Rachel," he spoke through the microphone of his phone, "You might want to rush to learning space seven immediately. Something's happening."---
Learning space seven was totally different than it was before. Almost everyone left save a couple of students who wanted their work back. Jeremy was there once more with Rachel and Carmen. They were exploring each computer. Jeremy was taking photographs of the computers from the very back with the camera on his mobile phone.
"You might want to come here and take a look," he called Rachel and Carmen. Both of them were astonished. They slowly made their way to the back and took a wide view at all the monitors on each row and on both the left and right columns.
"They form words," stated Carmen. Rachel said nothing. She took out her pencil and a notepad from her book bag and started writing down the letters from each monitor. Some monitors had two letters, others had three, and few had one. Some even had commas in them. When she completed, she took a glance at the jumble of letters which actually made sense. With a few spacing and proper arrangement it well, another clue was born.---
Somewhere at an unknown location where the room was dark sat a person. The only source of light was the rays which shone from the screen of a laptop. The person sat down with a grin of on the person's face. The person tapped on the key of a board attached to a surface attached to the bottom of the screen. The person leaned back on an armchair and let the programmes in the computer do their work. Once it was done, the person grinned once more and lowered the screen onto the keyboard. The light in the room vanquished. Another light source glowed out of nowhere. It was smaller this time. It came from the screen of the person's phone. The person held it in the person's palm and typed a message which read: 'It's done.'---
All three of them stood on Rachel's side, looking at the notepad in her hands. Scribbled above a bear-like watermark was the clue.
"What is it?" asked Carmen.
"It looks like a poem," answered Jeremy.
"A poem about the riddle and something getting worse," added Rachel, "We have to get to the bottom of this."
Two more clues and yet they are nowhere close to solving the mystery. Nowhere even near solving the mystery. Too many questions, too little answers. Everything was happening too fast, too quickly. Like shouting inside an empty room; only difference was that there was no echo. The poem at the bottom of the chapter might not get them anywhere. Instead, it was more like a big question mark; a big question mark at the end of their current chapter.---
Match the pieces to the riddle,
Some of it will go to the middle,
Another would just make it worse,
More and more and it'll become a curse.