17-18 Group Short Story
Each year, members of the club come together to write a short story. Below is the group short story from the 2017-2018 school year, written by 23 members of the club.
The UCF Mystery
“Don’t leave Campus, Grant Chang.”
The words rang through my head like church bells, I desperately wished to jam my ears with the crinkled paper balled in my fist. That very piece of paper, held my only proof of my innocence.
The police didn’t ask for my statement. They were already convinced that the disappearance of my roommate was my own doing. Still, I scribbled down my statement, and handed it to the police officer that questioned me minutes before.
I could remember the police officer’s distinctive sneer, highlighting his crude features in the most unflattering way. The man asked me many questions and found my responses of stuttering quite humorous.
Sitting on my bed in the dorm, I recalled the moment that might as well have changed the course of my time here at UCF, along with my life.
I had only gotten here a couple of days before, having a bright future awaiting me at the entrance of the school. You could say my past is a bit, ‘rocky,’ most of it, I don’t like to remember. Being the ‘troubled kid’ all through high school was enough to make me believe that what lies ahead of me, would be just as bleak as before.
But I didn’t give in, I worked so hard to get here- and now it seems like I was right.
I faced the bed on the other side of the room. Still empty and untouched as it was on the first day of school. My roommate Max was supposed to be there on that day, too. But he never showed up.
Confusion started to bubble in my chest. If I’ve never met Max, then why would I do anything to him?
A muddle of emotions started to overwhelm me. I could feel my heart stammering violently in my chest Invisible tears streaming down my face. I tried to keep it together, holding on the positivity that got me through all those years of hurt.
I took a breath and tried to exhale the anger inside of me. By my bed, I saw a tiny trinket.
It was a snow globe, the first thing I bought when I got to UCF. A miniature version of the school I shook the snow globe, Glimmers swirling around like flurries of snow. I set it down on the bed, beside the notebook I used to write my statement.
“A statement won’t prove your innocence, proof will.” The police man chuckled. “You’re guilty, boy.”
Hearing that go through my head was enough to destroy to positivity I held so tightly in my grasp. I snapped- throwing the snow globe I used to write the only evidence I had at the mirror of Max’s bed. A distorted image of myself faced me in the shattered mirror – I felt just as broken as the mirror.
“Are you capable of harm, Grant?” I whispered quietly.
I sunk down, this was not me. I had to keep going, like I’d done all those years before. But, could I?
This time, real bells gave it’s great, loud retort to my pondering. I’d have to keep going, after all, I could still attend class.
I got up from my bed and opened the door. Leaving the broken mirror, and troubles behind, for now.
I walked towards my class, hoping that none of my classmates had heard about the incident. But I wasn’t that lucky, and I usually never am. The minute I walked in, everyone stopped talking and stared. But the worst thing wasn’t even the students, it was the teachers. Their glances were careful and as if I might do something if they make the wrong step. The minute I was dismissed from my last class, I left to a part of campus that was the furthest away from anyone. There was no way I was going back to my dorm yet, I needed first to clear my mind. After taking a seat on a bench in the open space, I closed my eyes. I tried to listen to the leaves rustling. Or focus on breathing the fresh air. But my mind always came back to one single question, where was Max?
“Are you okay?” Asked a voice. I opened my eyes and saw a girl about my age, wearing a UCF Arboretum volunteer uniform and a name tag that said Samantha Mcgee. She was leaning against the tree and then tilted her head, strands of her blonde hair falling into her face. I took a deep sigh and opened my eyes.
“I’m fine.” She squinted at me with her blue eyes and answered.
“No you aren’t.” I looked at her, wondering what she really meant by that.
“How would you know?” I asked and she smirked at me.
“You just got accused for something you didn’t do.” I guess my face must have looked as surprised as I felt because she laughed out loud.
“Sorry, to blunt for you?” I slightly shook my head and she took a seat next to me.
“You wanna hear a piece of advice?” She asked. I didn’t know if she wanted me to say yes or no so I just kept quiet. She gave me a look that said, well?
“Look for him, all you need to prove your innocence is proof.” She replied. I rolled my eyes at her.
“And how do you expect me to look for him if I can’t even leave campus?” I asked.
“Duh, search his social network profiles. If he is like any other teenager in this world, he had at least one profile.” The girl, Samantha, stood up and put her hands on her hips.
“Thank you.” I said, not sure what else I really could have said. She smiled and asked,
“I’m Sammy, you?”
“Cool, hope you succeed.” She yelled while running off to who knows where. I decided to head back to my dorm, maybe I really could prove my innocence. I was walking in, towards my laptop, but I tripped on Max’s bed and fell. I was about to stand up when I saw something underneath Max’s bed. I reached towards it and my hand closed around a piece of paper, a letter. I pulled it out and almost dropped it. On the front of the letter it said in messy handwriting:
To: My Roommate Grant
The first thing that crossed my mind was that I this was evidence. This letter could be the proof I needed to prove my innocence. I should give it to the police. However, if I didn’t open the letter, didn’t know what was inside, I could be signing my confession.
Looking at the envelope I decided this would probably be the stupidest thing I have ever done, but that thought didn’t stop me from breaking the seal and unfolding the letter.
I would like to start out by saying I didn’t mean for this to happen.
My roommates name is Grant Chang. For all intensive purposes he seemed like an average guy. On paper he was nice, clean cut, and safe. He seemed perfectly safe.
He greeted me with a smile and introduction. We talked about high school, his time at Vanguard and mine at Kait. It was when he was telling me about his interest in video game design that he started acting strange. I gather I wasn’t showing enough interest in what he has a passion for. His words took on a bitter, biting edge and he fidgeted in agitation. I felt trapped in his presence, on a pinicle between possible freedom and my impending demise. I must have shown how I was feeling because when he met my eyes again he stopped talking, becoming stoney and silent. I knew in that moment if I didn’t get away he would kill me.
In actuality I don’t know exactly what I did to set him off, but he lunged at me. I managed to run out of the room after being nocked to the floor only once. A sharp pain exploded in my head and then he was onto of my, his first making contact with my left eye, his substantial frame weighing me down. He got distracted when he realized I was bleeding. It was as if he was mesmerized by the pool of red liquid. Upon my frightful return I found my belongings missing. It looked like I had never been here, never even shown up.
I am writing this because I fear for my life. Shortly after my re-arrival I heard voices in the hall. It seems my roommate is returning. I am currently locked in this room with Grant banging on the door. It’s bending inwards at parts; weakening. It will break soon and I’ll be doomed. I don’t have much time and I don’t think I can fight him off again.
Just know, if anything happens to me, it’s his doing.
Please tell my family that I love and miss them.
The writing towards the end looks rushed. There are sports with ink smudges and rough texture speaking of dried tears born of fear. The letter is a perfect representation of the desperation its words convey. I am shocked with the emotions that overcome me. Disgusted with what this boy must have gone threw. Until I am reminded that I am the one who is supposed to have done this to him. I am the one whom this letter points to as the culprit.
If this letter where to fall into the wrong hands any change of salvation would be washed away in planted evidence and tampered testimonies. I would additionally be charged with obstruction of justice and possibly tampering with evidence. Not mentioning the assault and first degree murder charges. Even without a body this is all the proof they would need. A clean room. A hidden note from the victim. No alibi.
My finger twitches when I spot my lighter. It sits small and innocuous, innocent on my desk. My heartbeat spikes, hands becoming clammy as I contemplate the consequences of my future actions. It would be easy to light the paper on fire. Burn the words till they can no longer be used against me. I didn’t do it. Max is trying to set me up.
No one would know.
I grab the lighter.
Clenching the lighter in one fist and the letter in the other I ran to the bathroom and slammed the door behind me. If anyone were to come into the dorm, mainly the police, I wouldn’t be bothered in here.
Taking a deep breath, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and brought the lighter close to my face. I let my thumb rub the flint of the lighter. Slowly, I put pressure on the flint and pulled down, lighting a tiny fire. Before I could change my mind, I put the letter over the fire and watched as it caught fire and burned in my hands.
“OW!” I threw the letter down into the bathtub as the flames reached my fingers. I brought my fingers to my mouth and sucked on them to soothe the burn.
When the letter had been reduced to ashes, I turned the knobs on the faucet and watched as water filled the bath.
The tub had barely finished draining when I heard a loud bang coming from the outside door.
“Hey! Open up!” The banging only continued, “I know you’re in there! Let me in!”
I threw the bathroom door open and cautiously made my way to the front door. I stood in front of it and watched it shake with each knock. When it became clear to the person on the other side that I wasn’t going to answer the door, the knocking stopped.
“Listen,” A loud sigh came through the door, “Grant, I know you’re innocent.”
My eyes widened and my heart seemed to stop. I don’t even remember opening the door, but the next thing I knew a strange women was standing in front of me, the door behind her closed.
“What do you mean you know I’m innocent?” I looked at her with curiosity, “I mean, I am innocent, but so far no has believed me. Well there was this one girl, but she seemed…..off. What makes you so different?”
She let out a deep sigh, “How about introductions first, ok?” She held out her hand, “My name is Ferah. I’m Max’s sister.”
My reaction was instantaneous. Jumping back from her I screamed, “Who’s what now!?”
“Hey calm down,” Ferah hissed in a whisper, moving her hands up and down in quiet down motion, “I know what this sounds like to you but I think you should know something.”
“What? Why are you here!? What’s so important that you have to go to your brother’s murder suspect!?”
Ferah rushed towards me and slapped her hand across my mouth.
“Would you shut up?”
The hand on my mouth would only allow me to nod.
“Now I’m going to tell you something and I’m not taking my hand away until afterwards.”
My eyes narrowed, but I nodded again.
“Good.” Ferah closed her eyes and seemed to prepare herself before opening her eyes, “This isn’t the first time Max has done this. Max has ‘died’ before and someone was convicted and sentenced.”
“This isn’t the first time Max has done this. Max has ‘died’ before and someone was convicted and sentenced.”
“What?” I ask, conflicted by the depth of her words. She nods before speaking in a hushed tone.
“He has a secret only I know, and I don’t plan on sharing. I just wanted you to know that he isn’t who you think he is, he isn’t dead. He isn’t even gone.” I stare at the girl in confusion and shock, her large chocolate brown eyes scan my face for a reaction.
“So, I didn’t do it!” I exclaim in joy and relief.
“Well, don’t get too far ahead of yourself, just because Max has done this before, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook just yet. I’m just saying, you’ve been warned. Right now, you’re the suspect, and if you’re not careful, the tables will turn.” She says before she starts to walk away, her brown hair leaving a trail of perfume laced with the sweet smell of roses.
“Wait! Do you know where he is?” I ask, trailing behind her. She glances around when she sees me nearing.
She ignores me and walks faster, her red dress trailing behind her.
“I need to know more, I have no proof!” I exclaim getting glares and whispers of fear and doubt from the students around me.
“Get away from me.” She says through gritted teeth as she picks up her pace. It was no use, she wouldn’t utter another word to me, I was just a waste of her precious time.
I make my way back to the dorm, and open the door. I let out a breath and gaze around the room, noticing the bareness of Max’s side. One picture was hung on the white walls, it was Ferah and him, embracing one another. He was in a graduation robe, wearing a navy blue cap. Huh, that picture wasn’t placed there before, was it? I shut the door and take a few wary steps towards it. Carefully pulling the tape from the wall, I grasp the image in my hand. I stare closely at the picture, Max looked a lot like Ferah. They held the same gaze, except, his was darker. I gaze curiously at the image, trying to pick out any details. I flip the picture over to see four words in shaky red handwriting. My heart stops beating and my blood ran cold. I drop the picture and take off running. I throw the door open. The image sank into the depths of my brain, riddling me with questions of doubt and fear, not only of Max and Ferah, but of myself.
“You have been warned.” I could almost hear the words being spoken in a serpent-like voice as I run through the maze of the hallways. I soon realize, it wasn’t in my head, it was behind me… I turn quickly and notice a note, floating in midair. It fell with the gracefulness of a feather, and traced the air with its delicateness. I could smell the trace of roses as I watch the piece of notebook paper hit the dirty floor.
I slowly pick up the piece of paper off the floor. I look around yet again to see if is there, but of course they’re not. I slowly open the folded paper. My heart beats so fast trying to break through my chest. “You can’t win if you don’t play the game”, the paper read. I thought back to what Ferah said. The two statements are complete opposite. I lay on my bed and scream out of frustration. To play the game or not to play the game. I decided to sleep on the matter.
I jump out of bed from the loud bang that takes me from my dreams. The sun has barley risen and I walk to my door to find nothing when I open it. I knew I heard something. Turning away from the door, I face the window, and there is a figure walking from my window. I was frightened. Shakily I walk to the window to open it to find a box. I am feeling this was to do with the game. I open the box slowly, so scared of what’s in that I could drop dead of a heart attack at this moment. I take out the things in the box and scatter them on my bed. There were six items: a smaller box, a ripped picture, a note, a lighter, gloves and a puzzle. The picture was of two babies, but I’m guessing someone else was in this photo as the fact that is was ripped. I open the note next. “What are three of a kind,” I read. I scatter the puzzle pieces on the floor and start to put them together. An hour later I complete the puzzle. It was a picture of a hospital. I was beyond confused. I didn’t understand any of this. I didn’t get the gloves or the lighter being in the box and the rest seems to be a complete riddle. I open the tiny box to find nothing. “Ahhh!” I scream as I throw the stupid empty box at the wall. It broke, and I can see a piece of paper sticking out of it. I grab it. it’s a birth certificate, but the thing is so old I have no clue who’s it is but I’m guessing it’s Max. A faded birth certificate, a ripped photo of two babies a girl and a boy, puzzle of a hospital and “what are three of a kind”. I repeat the phase what are three of a kind for a good minute until I realize the answer is triplets Max must be a triple but that leaves the unsettling feeling in my stomach about the lighter and gloves.
“Open up the door”.
I snapped out of my stupor and quickly put the items under my bed before hastening towards the door to open it. To my surprise, it was Sammy. She wore the same volunteer outfit today.
“Hey!” she smiled at me cheerfully. “There’s going to be a welcoming party today. It’s sort of like a festival, if you want to come.”
“I don’t think that would be a great idea, not right now.” I frown and turn away from Sammy.
I could hear her sigh, and before I knew it, she had dragged me out of my dorm. “S-Sammy!” I barely had enough time to close the door before she raced down the hallway, giggling away. She went to the atrium, which was outside to the northwest of the school. She stopped near one of the several tents that were pitched, where the sweet smell of churros wafted through my nose. I stopped to catch my breath and looked around. The area was packed with what seemed to be the whole population of the school, there tents covering every square foot of the area.
“Hey, why don’t you meet one of my friends? She’s a little on the rough side, but she can be a really great friend.”
“Um, I do-“
“Grant! It’ll be okay, she’s not a judgmental person. The worst that she’ll probably do is show you her mass collection of puzzles.” Sammy smirked.
I couldn’t tell where we were at all, the tents blurred together, and the stares of my peers were overwhelming.
“Oh! There she is!” Sammy slowed down enough to let me see who she was waving at.
I felt my heart stop as I saw who Sammy’s friend was.
“Ferah, this is my new friend Grant. Grant, this is Ferah, my best friend!” Ferah tilted her head as she shook my hand.
“Hello, Grant.” Her brown eyes pierced through me. I somehow managed to shake her hand calmly. Was Ferah really Sammy’s friend, or is this a part of her and Max’s sick games?
“Hi Ferah.” Sammy looked between us suspiciously.
“Have you two met before?”
“We bumped into each other in the hallway and introduced ourselves.” Ferah shrugged.
Sammy hummed. I knew she didn’t fully believe Ferah, but she decided not to push it.
“Sammy, why don’t I show Grant our booth? I have a feeling he’ll like it.” Sarah voiced her agreement, and Ferah looked knowingly at me, leading the way to the girl’s booth.
Their booth was shadowed by a white tent with a red cross on it. On their table was a sign that said “EAST LAKE HOSPITAL FUNDING” in bold letters.
“Pay close attention to that sign, Grant. It might just be the only clue you get.”
Ferah took a seat on one of the stools behind the booth, as if she never whispered in my ear.
Sammy sat next to her.
“Ferah, isn’t this the hospital that you were born in?” Sammy smiled, then froze. Ferah looked at her.
“Yeah, and it’s been losing funding ever since the news came out that there was malpractice during a birth about eighteen years ago,” Ferah responded. I noticed that Ferah seemed almost reluctant to give away that information.
“It’s sad,” Sammy commented, “East Lake gives a lot of medical students their first jobs so we’re doing all we can to help them. It’s a shame they’re being punished for something that happened so many years ago.”
“Sounds like you guys could really help.” I felt uneasy being around Ferah and my head started to hurt with all that had happened within the past twenty-four hours.
“I think I’m gonna go look around,” I said, “I wasn’t paying attention as we walked over here and I want to see what everyone else has to offer.” My excuse sounded weak even to myself.
“Good idea,” Sammy said as she smiled again. “Maybe you’ll make some more friends.”
“Right,” I muttered as I glanced at Ferah. “I’ll be sure to steer some people your way.”
With those last words, I spun around and tried to get lost in the crowd so they couldn’t see where I headed. I kept my pace slow even as other students glanced warily at me, I didn’t need to give them more reason to be afraid of me.
I picked up my pace as the crowd got thinner and the booths and tents started to trickle down to nothing. The entire place had started to freak me out to no end and even though this campus was large, it felt like the smallest place on the planet.
I looked around and noticed I was in a courtyard towards the back of the residence halls. I started to walk in the direction of an empty pathway. I glanced behind me before the crowd would disappear out of my line of sight behind a building. No one seemed to be following me. I looked back in the direction of the pathway.
It was either stupid or a great idea. I kept walking anyway. Anything to get away from everyone in a place where they couldn’t find him.
I eventually came across some empty picnic tables in a spot where I could barely see buildings because of the trees surrounding the area. I cautiously looked around to make sure no one was in the area before heading on a table. I felt my heart rate decrease a little as I sat down. I closed my eyes and let my head drop onto the wood surface with a groan.
“Think Grant,” I whispered to myself after a few minutes of blissful silence. “Three of a kind, three babies, Max and Ferah are two of them, so who is the third?”
I picked my head up and rested it on my arms as I opened my eyes.
“Dead end. Can’t figure out who the third baby is because I barely know who Max and Ferah are.” I said to myself again. I hoped no one came by to see me talking to myself. It really wouldn’t help the fact that I’m a murder suspect.
“Alright,” I sighed and tried again. “Puzzle of a hospital, Ferah likes puzzles, born in East Lake hospital along with, she’s trying to get funding for it, the hospital is in trouble for a malpractice that happened eighteen years ago…” I trailed off. Wait.
“If Max was my roommate then he would also be a freshman which means he would be eighteen and so would Ferah.” I sat up straight as I suddenly realized that I need more information on this hospital.
I quickly got up from the table, tripping over myself in my rush. I had to go through the party to get out, desperately trying to speed out of there before Sammy could drag me away again. I sped walked past her, ignoring the confusion lighting her delicate features and the mischievous smirk on Ferah’s.
I sprinted to my dorm, throwing open the door, thanking any god out there that the puzzle box was still there. I put the box next to me, not wanting to take the risk of letting anyone else near it. I opened my laptop. “East Lake hospital…” I mumbled aloud, typing my search. Only one article had malpractice in the title. I opened the article.
East Lake hospital in East Lake, Michigan, was recently closed due to rumors of malpractice. There were rumors of human trafficking, but nothing has been confirmed to any media outlets. All that we know is that lajldfk;jasdfas as;ldkfjasdlkfj al;skdfjasldfj djfl;kjasdlfj a;sdlkfjdsfhs alksdjfasd laksjdfi asdf lijasdf llkjaslkdjf asldkfjadsfl;sadf asjklas asdflkjadsflkajsdflaskjdfalskdjflaskdjfalskdjflakfjlakjsdflkasdjflaskdjfalsdkfj alsd laskjdflasdkfaslkdfj laasldjfk l asdfkjasd and that a;lskdjfasldkfasld asldkjf was arrested for it. This tragic accident left two orphans, Ferah and Max Hemmingway, without their sister, in the care of the foster care system.
The rest of the article was so blacked out that it was completely useless. “Crap…” I muttered. Well this was absolutely useless. Think, Grant, think. I now know their last name, that there was some sort of human trafficking going on, and that they had a third sibling? I sat at my computer for a few minutes, staring at the screen, just trying to process this information. I needed to do something with it, but what?
Human trafficking. A missing third sibling. No… Was that a possibility? This mystery was getting darker by the second. But that would be the third piece. In the ripped picture of Max and Ferah, there was a third part missing. But why would she be raising money for a place that took her sister? My head was starting to hurt. I decided to just sleep on it.
I picked up the puzzle box and hid it in the closet, beneath piles of dirty laundry, making sure that I locked all of the doors and windows. Luckily for me, tomorrow was Sunday, so I’d have the whole day to investigate my supposed victim while trying not to look suspicious. Joy.
I woke up with a start in my dorm. Everything was blurry and out of focus. I turned and saw Max’s face in the window, his smile from the missing person’s flyers pasted on him. I tried to shout, but it got caught in my throat.
I was suddenly in the middle of the party from last night. Max, Ferah, and Sammy standing above me, glaring. I was immobilized. They got closer.
I woke up with a start in my dorm. This whole thing was really getting to me.
My mind was all over the place and I was more confused than ever. I decided that in order to calm down it would be best to go eat something at the dining hall, since I was hungry and it would get my mind off of all this mess. As I entered the place and got some breakfast, I tried to isolate myself and seem invisible to the small group of people who were also there. As it turns out I didn’t need to do much, for as soon as I sat down, everyone who was in there had suddenly finsished and left, probably scared I’d go crazy and do something dangerous. Anyway, as I sat and ate my toast and drank my coffee, I went over everything I knew in my head. Max, Ferah, and their missing sister are triplets born in East Lake Hospital. The hospital was accused of malpractice and human trafficking could be involved. Ok, still confused. Nothing made sense. Why would Ferah be raising money for the hospital responsible for losing her sister, and where did Max fit into all of this?
I got up and went back to my dormitory, to look through all the items that were given to me, when I noticed, taped to my door was a note, written in red ink with the same handwriting as before. I stared in silence and held my breath. I looked around to make sure I was alone, then hesitantly grabbed the letter and rushed inside the room.
Don’t think to hard …You might hurt yourself. I gasped and stood there like an idiot absolutely petrified. This whole thing started to give me chills and make me very uneasy. Not that I haven’t ever faced similar life-threatening situations. This was bringing back bad memories. I felt even more unsafe now since I was as clueless as a baby. I sat down on my bed and rubbed my forehead. I started fidgeting and thinking what I should do, what this all meant. Should I turn the note in to the police or will they not believe me? Who wrote this and why? Do they want me to stop or continue figuring this out? Why me?
As I sat there in contemplation, as if it could get worse, someone knocked. I was way to scared to even move to the door, then realized I was being silly and should man up. So I got up and asked who it was.
“It’s me, Sammy, silly!” replied a familiar enthusiastic voice,
“Hey what happened last night! You just disappeared. Hey let me in!”
It seemed like she’d never shut up, but she seemed harmless to me, so I quickly hid everything I was looking at, and let her in. She smiled a big old smile and started looking around.
She said, “Wow, I really like your dorm.” In my opinion it wasn’t as great as it could be. My side was pretty average except for the poster I hung of my favorite video game designer, Brad Johnson, though I knew Sammy wouldn’t take much interest in it.
However, she added, “Oh, I love that guy too!” She then proceeded to lay on my bed and stare at me with the same smile. I felt awkward and kind of mad she thought she could just own the place like it was hers. I didn’t want her there anymore.
“Hey listen it was nice of you to stop by, but I’m very busy with schoolwork, you know, so can you please…” I started saying, motioning her to the door, before being interrupted.
“Wait a minute, you didn’t answer my question,” she exclaimed standing up now.
“Oh, well, um, you see last night I remembered I needed to do something urgent, yeah something urgent,” I replied nervously.
“Oh really,” she said with her hands on her hips again, “What was so urgent?”
“It’s private,” I answered reluctantly, wondering if she would buy it.
“Oh, ok. I just figured you would probably want to continue with your investigation to solve the riddle.”
My eyes widened in horror. She saw my face and added,” You know find evidence to prove your innocent. At least that’s what I would do if I was in your shoes.”
I eased up a little, though now extremely uncertain if I could trust this girl. Does she work with Max and Ferah, does she know anything about what has been happening to me?
She then interrupted my thoughts saying, “Well, did you check his social media like I said.”
“No,” I replied
“Well then let’s do it! I love a good mystery,” she exclaimed, quickly grabbing my laptop and turning it on. I was stunned and frozen at how rude she was being, not even asking my permission, but I didn’t have a say in it because she suddenly asked where we should start.
I then got the courage and said firmly, “Listen, um I really don’t feel comfortable doing this right now, so if you don’t mind could you please leave!”
I didn’t mean to make her sad or mad, just to get her out of my room, but her smile suddenly became a frown, and her eyes got teary as she silently stood up and left saying,” I’m sorry if I was such a nuisance for you.” This all just kept me as confused as ever, but I decided maybe checking his social media wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Ensuring my dorm room door was locked, I took a deep breath and sighed. My whole life I had been working to reach this point, to alleviate myself from my old ways and finally become the man mama had always dreamed of. There was a time I had coldly distanced myself from my family, locked in a dark vacuum of pain and loneliness. My baba had died when I turned ten with no real explanation from the doctors, and it wasn’t long after that we fell into poverty—and depression. I remember the first time my mother woke from a night terror, screaming and begging for my baba to come back, and I remember how there were several days in a row where she would not leave her bed. I had to get a job at a magazine stand when I was eleven. School took the back burner and my sanity grew worse. I’ll never forget the day I sank the lowest in my life. Having escaped the house in anguish and anger after having a yelling match with mama, I saw a black Rolls Royce parked a block away. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been close to something so nice. Its exterior shined and on impulse I ran to it. I noticed the keys stuck in the still humming engine, and I slowly looked around me. Without another thought, I drove it away. The rush of taking something that wasn’t mine captured me and so began an unhealthy streak of such outburst and a horrible cycle of crime. It wasn’t until Mrs. Welch, my art teacher, helped me channel this adrenaline and my own grief into painting and web design that my life gained real purpose again. I cared more about school and got help from other teachers, and soon I was able to graduate on time. Getting into UCF was the icing on the cake—I had never cried of joy or seen my mother’s face light up more in my life.
A tear leaked now as I thought about how my small world was cracking again—I had finally reached the surface to breath a normal life again, only to be shoved back under so forcefully and without any warning. I slipped quietly back to my laptop, swallowing the tears away. What would Max’s social media show me? I doubted there would be any serious clues that could piece this outrageous mystery together, but I didn’t know what else I could do. I pulled up Instagram first and typed in “Max Hemmingway.” Several results popped up, but I couldn’t decide which would be the real Max. I searched for the graduation photo and held it up to the avatars. My heart skipped a beat when I found a match—it was just his face with no bio. But my heart sank when the profile was private. Maybe I could request him? Shakily my fingers clicked the mouse, and the words under his profile went from “follow” to “requested.” I held my breath—all I could do now was wait and see if anything came from this. There was one thing I did know for certain, though. I was not going to let this horrible joke or game or whatever this was prevent me from living what I had worked so hard for. Not on my watch.
I sat there for a moment, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Staring at my computer screen, I waited and waited, but nothing happened. By the time I snapped out of the trance, it was midday.
“Wow, Grant, you wasted an entire half of your day waiting for someone to accept your friend request. A person who, by the way, has been missing since the start of school,” I said quietly, shaking my head.
I left my dorm, finally realizing how hungry I was—especially after skipping breakfast. Maybe I could call Sammy and apologize for being rude earlier and grab a bite at some local café.
I didn’t even need to call her. “There you are, Grant!!” she cried, stepping into the hall from one of the classes. “I’ve been looking for you, you jerk.”
“Sorry for earlier,” I started awkwardly, though she didn’t seem to hear me. “How’s the hunt going?”
“I haven’t found anything yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Darn. At this rate, you’ll be jailed for this. Whatever happened to the burden of proof, anyways?”
“I don’t know. Anyways, I’m starving.”
“Let me guess, you want to go to a café and apologize for earlier?”
I was baffled at how easily she knew. It’s almost like she read my mind, I thought. No, shut up, you’re just being paranoid.
“Okay, let’s go. But only if you’re paying, okay? You were pretty rude earlier, you know.”
We sat down in the fine leather seats of the café, Per Ce Dulce. “So, anyways…” I started. I had apologized on the way here, but I had a question. “Do you know anything about Ferah’s brother?”
“Ferah has a brother?” That was an obvious no, then.
I shook my head in disappointment. “Nevermind.”
“Oh, don’t you ‘nevermind’ me, Grant!! What do you mean Ferah has a brother?!”
“I said nevermind, Sammy. Drop it.”
“I won’t drop it until you tell me what you mean.” She was starting to become annoying.
I didn’t know how to get her to leave it alone. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t go spitting every clue I find out at people, especially people like Sammy.
“What would you like to order?” a voice from above interrupted, saving me from having to answer Sammy.
“Hot chocolate, please!!” Sammy said.
“I’ll just have coffee and a bagel.”
“Okay, sure thing,” said the waitress, walking off.
I looked over at Sammy. “Grant, what do you think’ll happen if you don’t manage to prove that you’re innocent?”
I didn’t like thinking about this sort of thing.
“Jail, probably.” I had done plenty of bad things, especially in my adolescence, but at that time the worst I ever expected was a fine or a month or two of juvey. Jail, however, was the real thing.
Our orders arrived. Sammy and I sat in silence, Sammy sipping her chocolate, me nibbling my bagel.
“Anyways, what did you mean when you said she had a brother?” she said, interrupting the silence. I sighed, as the quiet was growing familiar. I didn’t have a waitress to save me from Sammy this time, did I?
“Does it have to do with Max?”
She was getting too close to the target.
The word escaped from me without my consent, almost causing me to cover my mouth in surprise.
Sammy’s eyes widened. “Really? Did her unheard-of brother make Max disappear?”
I inwardly sighed in relief. She didn’t know yet.
“I don’t know,” I lied. She was too easy to trick.
Without another word, I stood up, took out a crumpled twenty, and left.
I took the last steps toward my dorm room and opened the door. I felt bad for leaving Sammy hanging like that but I couldn’t let anyone in on my secret just yet. I slammed my door and sighed, belly-flopping on my bed. Why did my life have to be so hard? I buried my face in the pillow and heard my phone buzz. I rolled over and sat up, slouching hard until I got the strength to reach out my arm. I pressed the power button and scanned the notifications until my eyes landed on one in particular. My eyes widened as a breath caught in my throat. Max_Hemmingway has accepted your request! “Wh- Wh- How?”
I opened my phone with a simple code and pressed the Instagram icon. I had never been big on Instagram but the creator was pretty genius. Creating one simple platform where people type words and post pictures while he earns billions in the process. I scrolled through the multiple designers that I follow and found Max’s account. I took a deep breath closing both eyes then opening one and clicked on his name. Then my phone shut off.
“WHAT!?” I yelled much louder than expected as my phone loaded and died. I cringed looking around, waiting for someone to burst in the room for yelling too loud. As the echo died down I searched for a charger. This stupid IPhone Z was SO high quality. Yeah, right Apple. I searched in every drawer, even Max’s, until I found the charger. That’s when I realized something strange… our room didn’t have ANY outlets. Isn’t that regulation or something? Just another thing to add to the list of strange things I’d figured out these past few days. I groaned at the thought of having to charge my phone and search through Max’s account in public. At least UCF was pretty antique, meaning it was one of the few campuses left with a Starbucks. I knew I’d find an outlet there.
As I speed walked down the stairs I passed Ferah. I slowed as to not look suspicious and she glanced up from her book. I kept my head down and my feet shuffling with my phone tightly grasped inside my sweatshirt pocket. I saw her smirk out of the corner of my eye and was reminded of just how much she knew. I kept walking until she was out of sight at which point I began running. Just as I turned the corner so did Sammy and we barreled straight into each other. Grunting, I fell to the ground, Sammy right after me. She landed directly on top of my stomach and lifted her head.
“There you are!?” She exclaimed, “I can’t believe you left like that! Again! That was the second time, I thought we were friends…”
She looked at me questionably and for the first time I noticed how deep her eyes were.
“We are! Right? I know I left you but it was for a good reason, I promise.”
She quickly rolled off of me and sighed, standing up.
She helped me up and glanced toward the ground. “We could be. If you would stop running off and being a jerk. I know I can talk a lot but I’m working on that.” She looked up at me and I couldn’t help but apologize. We headed toward the old Starbucks and I told her about what I’d found. I didn’t tell her how Max had accepted my request but I told her I found his page. We sat down and I plugged in my phone. As I scrolled through his latest photos Sammy looked over my shoulder. I don’t know how I feel about her seeing all of this but I don’t have the heart to tell her to leave. One photo catches my eye and I select it. It reminds me of something familiar but I can’t put my finger on it.
That’s when Sam says,
“That looks like the arch in front of the East Lake Hospital.”
I look at her incredulously then peer closer at the photo. It looked like Max was carving something into the wooden spire of the arch. I zoomed in but could barely see the inscribing. I check the caption under the photo and gasp.
“The key to three.”
I whisper under my breath, “Oh my gosh.”
I stand up, unplug my phone and start jogging away when Sam starts to protest. I run back and grab her hand.
“Sammy, you were a HUGE help. You have no idea! I want you to be able to me but you can’t, just trust me. Friends trust each other, okay?” I squeeze her hand and let go and the look on her face tells me it’s okay to leave her. “Thank you so much, I promise I’ll pay you back!” I yell back as I start to jog. I keep my head downwards and ascend the stairs back to my room.
As I was jogging down to my dorm, theories and thoughts pouring through my mind like rain filtering through tree leaves, about what I had just witnessed. The key to three… What is that supposed to mean? And how was I so mixed up in this? What did Max want from me, and did Ferah have something to do with it? Well if that was true, then why did she just come out of the open and tell me that she was his sister? I sighed aloud, barely hearing or seeing the students passing the hall around me; I was so deep in thought. I made a sharp turn, weaving through people and pushing open a heavy door quickly.
“Hey! Grant, stop!” A gruff voice behind me yelled. My heart shot down with that familiar feeling of dread, and I stopped in my tracks, turning around apprehensively. That must have showed on my face, because the police man from before smiled grimly.
“Yes officer?” I asked safely.
He crossed his arms and inclined to talk to me quietly; there were still a bunch of students around that had started to show interest in us.
“Let’s talk outside.” He said and led me that way. I trailed behind, my pulse going from pausing to quickening in mere seconds. Did he find out about that letter, or another piece of evidence? If so, I was so finished, and it didn’t matter about those puzzles or triplets or anything. Jail for me it would be, and I could kiss my computer designer career goodbye. He pulled me beside a huge planter outside, the shade of the big tree shadowed us. I barely noticed the hot, muggy, weather; I was so worried about what would happen next. My knees threatened to hold me up.
“So, the police department has agreed that if we don’t find any more evidence telling us otherwise, you are the most likely suspect of your roommate’s disappearance. So far we haven’t found anything telling us that you are, but you know, guilty until proven innocent and all that.” He gave another nasty grin; I nodded politely.
“And as I said, no leaving the campus. We will also be keeping your phone and computer on watch at all times, just in case.”
I nodded again. I guess no more going to Max’s Instagram. They might as well take me to jail right now I’m being so closely watched and confined.
“So you understand all these terms right? If in one or two weeks we find no further evidence of Max’s disappearance, then we will be forced to arrest you.”
“Okay good. Now you can get back to your classes. The police will be searching the dorm often as well. Let us know if you have any evidence or anything to add to this search.”
I gave a quick goodbye and sped away, worried I would lash out due to the pressure. I’ve had a history of doing that before. Something I’m not particularly proud of, but it has happened nonetheless. In the halls back to my dorm, I saw Sammy sitting cross legged on the base steps to the second floor.
“Um. Hi, Sammy,” I said, hesitantly. It was kind of strange, how she was just sitting on the stairs. Wasn’t she afraid that she would get trampled by running students, or something?
Sammy jumped, as if surprised at my sudden arrival, before swiveling her head over to look at me. Her eyes widened before going back to normal. “Oh, hey, Grant,” she said. “Back already? It’s only been a couple minutes.”
“Yeah, about that.” I rubbed the back of my head and, disregarding my last thoughts of being stepped on, sat down next to her and kicked my feet in the air. “The police just talked to me.”
“They did? What did they say?”
I found myself shrinking back as she leant forward, her voice taking on a high, curious tone. Control your breathing, I thought to myself. Don’t get too flustered. Sammy’s here to help you. “They told me that– that if they can’t find evidence defending me in Max’s case then I’ll be seen as guilty.” I swallowed the sudden, huge lump clogging my throat. “They’ll arrest me.”
“Oh no!” Sammy whispered. She leant forward again, eyes seeming to widen by the second. “We can’t let that happen. We have to do something.”
“Like what?” I asked. “Have any suggestions?”
She hesitated, before opening her mouth to speak once again. “The… picture of the hospital.”
I sat up at that. Of course! How could I have forgotten so quickly? The confrontation with the police must have gotten me more rattled than I thought it had. “Of course,” I said, this time out loud. “Yeah. That could lead us to something. Especially the caption at the bottom. What was it, again? Oh, yes– the key to three.” A frown furrows my eyebrows. “What do you think that means?”
Sammy shrugged. “It beats me. But I’m sure we can find out. We’ll just ask around, do a little digging if we have to.”
“We will. There’s no time to lose.” I stood and offered her my hand. She accepted it and I helped her up. “Come on.” Without waiting or looking back, I descend the stairs. Her footsteps began to echo behind me– good, I thought, she’s following. I managed to fish my phone out of my pocket. Turning it on, I loaded up the picture that we had been talking about. I really hoped this would manage to end it all. If it didn’t, my life might as well have been forfeit.
“Hey! Wait! Stop!”
I skid to a stop, Sammy almost crashing into me. If she’d managed to hit me both of us would have fallen down the stairs; thank god that she hadn’t. Regaining my balance, I looked behind us, searching to see who had called. The face my eyes settled on made my breath catch in my chest. “Oh, no,” I whispered.
It was Mrs. Susan. Mrs. Susan was a Language Arts teacher here in UCF. She was the one who had taken it seriously that I had a troubled past and that I was being accused of Max’s disappearance.
I looked around nervously, Sammy’s blue eyes meeting mine, confusion clouded in them.
“Chang!” I looked up from her eyes to Mrs. Susan standing directly in front of me, her eyes going through me like lasers.
“Yes, Mrs. –“
“Oh, stop it with the politeness. I know you aren’t polite.”
The words stung into me, biting into my already wounded self-esteem.
“What I wanted to say, police officers are up in your dorm. They told me to call you up. They need to talk to you…in private.”
I stared at her in shock. What could have they found? The note in ashes? The words on the back of Max’s photo?
Sammy nudged me, jolting me out of my thoughts.
“Go,” She whispered, tilting her head in the direction of the stairs.
I nodded, my throat dry. I felt as if I was paralyzed, but I shifted my legs and began to walk up the stairs.
I reached the dorm, hearing deep voices and things being moved.
It’s now or never.
I pushed the door open and walked in. Police officers were everywhere, rummaging through my clothes, my drawers, even my computer.
Even after getting the police’s warning, I had gone into Instagram and checked out Max’s profile.
Now they were logging into my account and scrolling through my ‘friends’ list.
“Chang, get over here.”
I slowly mustered over to the police officer who was throwing out all my boxers from the top drawer of a dresser.
“What is this?” He pulled out a sheet of paper crumbled and worn-looked from the drawer’s pocket.
I felt the urge to snatch, but I remembered that this was a police officer.
“May I see it, sir?” He nodded and handed it rudely to me, thrusting it at my chest. I slowly grabbed it.
It read; ‘Get ready, Grant. The game hasn’t even started yet.’
My breathing accelerated, and my heart pounded, as if it wanted to burst out of me. That would be a better option, my heart bursting, instead of what I was going to say.
“Officer, I am not sure. It is my first time seeing it. It wasn’t there earlier.”
My voice didn’t sound too trustable. I hadn’t seen it before, had I? A gut feeling told me otherwise.
The officer creased his eye-brows.
“Grant, are you sure?” He asked in an oblivious tone, as if all the words coming out of my mouth were false.
“Don’t you snap at me, kid.”
My temper was getting riled up.
He took out hand-cuffs.
“What?! You said 2 weeks!”
“Changed my mind, son. Gotta learn control that temper.”
He snapped at me, beginning to walk to me, hand-cuffs in hand.
“No! Please! I’m not guilty!”
He shook his head.
The door burst, and a voice called, “Stop!”
My head snapped to the door. A woman, with red hair, stood in the entrance.
The woman placed her hands on her hips as she stomped forward.
“And what do you think you’re doing Private O’Brien?” She tilted her head as she spoke, anger in her eyes.
“I-uh-um” The officer stuttered frozen in his tracks.
Crossing her arms across her chest, the woman stood there. Waiting. If looks could kill, the officer would be dead, no doubt about it.
Clearing my throat, my eyes darted from one person to the other.
“I will take Mr. Chang. I want everyone here to replace Mr. Chang’s belongings back the way they were.” The redhead’s eyes scanned the room, seeking out objectors.
“Yes ma’am.” With that O’Brien started barking orders.
“Pick up your feet!” the woman whispered as she half dragged half pulled me out of the dorm.
Remembering I had feet, I began to walk at the brisk pace she had set.
“Shut up. Don’t say a word.” the woman kept her eyes forward as she guided me down the long hallway. She turned every corner with ease, as though she walked the dorm hallway all her life. Without hesitation, the woman guided me out into the daylight. Her grip on my arm felt like iron, as she walked me over to an unmarked squad car, its lights going berserk. Opening the door,
The mysterious woman shoved me in, slamming the door shut. Bewildered I laid there unable to move. The driver’s, door snapped open, causing the whole car to jerk to the left.
The red-haired woman entered the vehicle. Without a slight glance to the back, she started up the car.
“I don’t want to hear a single peep out of you. Understand?” the woman’s eyes flicked to the review mirror. For the first time I noticed the woman’s eye color. A deep brown, that shimmered more than it should. The car shook as it rumbled to life. My body swayed with the car as it drove toward the exit.
My mind’s wheels began to turn as I tried to figure out what was happening. Before long the car pulled up to what looked like a warehouse. Cutting off the engine, the woman got out. With the flick of her wrist the door opened.
“Get out.” She instructed. This is it…I’m going to die. I thought as I swung my feet out of the car. The woman guided me toward the door of the warehouse. May as well die fighting I reasoned. Striking my leg out, I hit the woman in the knee. Caught off guard the woman fell to the ground with a thud.
Screaming I backed up my hands going into a tighter fist. As the woman scrambled to her feet, I noticed her left eye had changed color, while the other remained brown. Before I could strike with my fist, the woman threw up her hands.
“I’m on your side! Let me explain!” She yelled her right hand moving to her eye. With a quick movement she removed the contact. Both eyes shown similar, dark blue almost purple.
The deep blue glistened as the sunlight lingered upon her face. Her eyelashes were full, light brown, and each lash curved at 45 degree angle. Her deep ginger hair bounced as she regained stability. She was actually quite attractive. Her attractiveness did not exuse her actions. Why did she have me here? What was she capable of? She was built, but her stance was weak, the probability of me winning a fight against her was slim, but I would take my chances.
“What do you want? Why am I here? Who-?” I began shooting questions rapidly and didn’t give her a chance to answer. She held her hand up and began speaking.
“My name is Elizabeth O’Brien and I’m a private investigator. Max Hemingway isn’t dead. I had tabs on him until three days ago. A man was sentenced to life in prison for the supposed murder of him. Max Hemingway has dissociative identity disorder . He’s unaware and he’s dangerous. Those officers are ignorant, arrogant, and spineless. They need to feel like they have some type of power, explain why they’re such anus cavities,” she paused.
“Where is he?”
“Ashville, North Carolina.”
“Why is he there?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“How many personalities does he have?”
“Three, that I know of.”
“How come he doesn’t know?”
“He just doesn’t.”
“What are the personalities?”
“Well there all broad. One is where he’s conniving and malicious. He enjoys making other people suffer, but everyone is easily drawn to him because he’s confident. Second, he’s a genius. He knows everything about everything, but he insecure. Third, he’s a closeted gay kid.”
“Wow. What triggers?”
“I don’t know. You know the first Max. My turn to ask questions. Did you start playing the game?”
“You know about that?!”
“Yes. You’re not the first victim.”
“Now what’s your clues?”
“I don’t know. I’ve gotten a puzzle of the hospital he was born at. He has a third sibling. He’s one of the triplet. Hid sister is raising money for a hospital that she should dislike. He lied about me. I’m tired. You know I’ve been trying to focus on school, but now I’m going to go to jail. I’ll lose everything I worked so freaking hard for.” I begin pacing. My head is throbbing. My chest constricted. I begin biting my lip. This psychopath is going to ruin me. Not if I ruin him first. I grit my teeth.
I didn’t realize how red my body was. I felt my temperature rise. Elizabeth grabbed my wrist.
“I know you have some crazy plan in your head right now, but you behaving like this isn’t going to help anything.”
I pulled my arm back, she had a tight grip.
“You don’t know me. I’ve done so much crap to get where I am now and I’m not going to let that malevolent, depressing killer ruin me. Let go of me, now.” Anger rung through my vocal chords. My voice is deep and cold. She slowly let go of my wrist.
“Grant, we’re on the same side, I’m trying to help you, but you have to calm down.” Her hands are raised in a gesture of surrender, attempting to establish some sort of understanding.
Her gestures go with little notice, my mind’s far too consumed with the current anger surging through me. I’ve been through far too much for it to be taken from me in a matter of days. I just want to close my eyes and let all of this be some messed up nightmare. If only. I suck in a deep breath and shakily let it out. Part of me wishes to lash out, but my rational side argues another way. If I want to be able to do anything I need someone like her on my side.
“Alright,” I mutter, my voice is deep and slightly raspy. “Alright.”
Her shoulders loosen a bit, but I can still see the caution in her gaze. “Okay, good.” She regains her composure. “Would you like to check out the HQ?”
My face must voice my confusion because she jerks her head to the warehouse. The building looks to be one of the older warehouses that has since been forgotten. She gestures me to follow behind her as she pulls out a key. The door is unlocked and she steps into the dark building. I reluctantly follow suit.
I am startled when the heavy metal door clangs shut behind me, leaving us in total darkness. I have lost total track of where Elizabeth is gone.
“Elizabeth?” I call out, my voice echoing in the large building. Her lack of response scares me, I start to back up when I bump into something. My mind starts racing as I think of what I could of have just been led into. I slowly shuffle forward, but pause. Breath lightly fans my ear and I freeze on the spot.
“Boo,” the familiar voice of Elizabeth whispers. I stumble forward as the lights flicker on.
“Why would you do that?” I exasperate.
“Sorry, not the time, I know.”
I give her a slight nod before turning to look at the now lit warehouse. A table was set up in the far corner, littered with papers and files. The rest of the space was filled with boxes of varying size. Elizabeth had already started toward the table, and I dutifully follow behind.
Upon closer examination, the follows seemed to contain details on Max. I note a few logs about the actions of Max and basic identification information. Elizabeth gathers all the papers together, sorting a few into different files, leaving it off in a tidy stack.
“Listen, I just want to prove I’m innocent and end this all. You said you can help me.” Elizabeth hums listening to my words, reorganizing the stack into smaller sections. She seems satisfied with her work, and settles town in a metal fold-out chair next to the table.
She turns to me, an unreadable expression on her face. “This is everything I have on Max Hemmingway, care to take a look?”
I nod curtly and she pushes a stack over toward me, making sure to push one to herself, and begins reading from a file.
“You have his health records. Try and see if you can find anything” she muttered absentmindedly, while reading.
I open a pale yellow sterile smelling manila folder from the top. It appears as if this folder is the contents of the notes from Max’s therapist.
Name: Max Hemmingway
The child’s foster parents have informed me that they have been noticing some odd behaviors with Max, and have asked me to see if there is a root problem. I did some digging, and while I never found any of the ‘normal’ red flags (i.e. cruelty to small animals or other children, advanced inappropriate conduct or language, or violent outburst) I did find that many teachers, students, and even family found him off. The parents did not wish to go further in his odd behaviors.
My interview didn’t seem to have any odd happenings. I was talking to a normal, if not a little confused, seven year old boy. He doesn’t seem to have any problems with his sister, or parents. While he did show a dislike of school, it was nothing more than the normal amount for children. I’m puzzled but his parents seem to believe that this talk helped him and scheduled me to talk to him again.
I remembered that Elizabeth hold told me about Max’s DID. I don’t know too much about it, but I do know that it is a disorder that you can develop in an early age. It’s possible that max hadn’t been diagnosed yet.
I read on.
Name: Max Hemmingway
I spoke again with max. He was still a normal seven year old. Until about halfway through the talk. Something happened, the boy had, had a normal checkup this morning at the hospital and I had asked him about it. He looked scared for less than a moment before donning a blank face. He was unresponsive for a few moments before he regained consciousness. He had an off smile on his face, and his demeanor had changed.
All of a sudden he was very polite, and very charming. But he made sure to keep me at in arms length. I can’t be sure but I’m almost certain this is a childhood case of DID. If this is what his parents meant by odd behaviors, I may have to have them investigated by child protective services. The same goes for Max’s doctor, considering this personality appeared when the checkup was mentioned.
I tired to chat with this personality, butt it was wall after wall. He was more interested in trying to get more information about myself. It was almost like I was speaking to an old English gentleman, but there was something darker beneath it.
That may have been the personality that was causing this mess. I read on.
Name: Max Hemmingway
I’m certain max has DID. Another personality popped up today, this one believes itself to be a genius. He popped up when I was having trouble opening the window shade today. In a very condescending manner he suggested that I try doing it another way. Because I would have enjoyed wiping the smirk off of his face, I’m regrettable to inform you that his way worked. This one was a chatterbox. His name he informed me was Jonathan, he says he’s the best scientist and psychologist in the word. He likes to pop up whenever max needs help; though he wouldn’t tell me what kind. The polite one I met was named Richard, Jonathan in scared of Richard. He says that Richard is violent, and likes to play games with people. Apparently Richard has posed harm to others, more commonly Max’s sister.
But apparently I’m one of the exceptions. All three personalities seem to like me. As Jonathan’s help is something that he never really offers to others, Richard is (according to Jonathan) never that charming to anyone, and Max adores me.
Sighing, I set the folder down. I can feel Elizabeth watching me, so I close my eyes and begin to think. So, there’s Richard, Jonathan, and Max that we know about, but we don’t know what any of the triggers for any of the personalities are. What does this all mean though? Aren’t mental disorders usually triggered by some kind of traumatic event? What happened to the third baby? Could young Max have discovered something about it? Why is Ferah helping that hospital? Why me? What did I do? Why is my life the one being messed with?
“Ugh!” I let out a cry of frustration and Elizabeth jump in surprise. That’s it. This ends now. I dump all the contents of the file onto the floor and spread them out so that I can see them all at once. As I do this, I hear Elizabeth scoff, but I just ignore her.
“Grant, what are you doing?” Elizabeth asks, obviously annoyed.
She sighs in response to my lack of a response and makes her over to me. At that moment, something catches my eye. It’s a piece of paper that seems much newer than the rest of them. However, that’s not what caught my attention. This page doesn’t contain a journal entry. It’s a picture. I pick up the picture and study it. It’s a picture of a woman that can be seen through a window. We can only see her back, but she seems to be addressing a large group of people. Who is this woman? Elizabeth lunges forward reaching for the photo but I’m quicker and I dodge her successfully. Elizabeth lets out a small cry as her body collides with the floor. She swears and leans over my shoulder again, but doesn’t make a move for the photo. I turn the picture over and gasp in surprise. On the back of the picture, written in an all-too-familiar red, it says:
To Miss Tabitha, may she live a good life in Hell.
My eyes widen in horror but before I can even think to react Elizabeth slaps my right hand and the picture falls to the floor.
“What the heck?” I exclaim, but she ignores me and snatches the picture up off the floor, with lightning speed. Her eyes immediately begin scan the writing on the picture frantically.
“No, no, no, no, no” For a moment, I just watch watch her confusedly. She pulls out her phone and begins to apparently make a call.
“Please, please, please pick up” she mutters in desperation.
What is going on? Is that woman in the photo Max’s old Therapist? I carefully slide the picture out of Elizabeth’s hands and set it down on the table and take a closer look. There must be something here. That’s when I see it. Behind the woman in the photo there’s a whiteboard with some notes on it. In the top right corner of the whiteboard is a date. I squint my eyes and then gasp in horror. In disbelief I double check what I think I saw. Is that yesterday’s date?
Elizabeth growls in irritation, and I shift my gaze to her as she slams down the phone.
“What happened?” I question, slightly shocked out the outburst of anger.
“It went to voicemail.” She answers in an icy voice. “Get in the car, we need to go see if she’s okay.” Without another word, Elizabeth sets off to the car, I scramble to my feet, and follow her, quickly sliding into the passenger seat. She starts the car, and starts driving.
“Can I borrow your phone for a minute?” I question. “Mine is dead.” Elizabeth silently hands over her phone, and I do what I should have done a long time ago. I call Dean and Bryan.
“Dean speaking.” I hear my friend’s lazy drawl.
“Dean, it’s Grant. Is Bryan with you?” I question automatically.
“Yo, Dean!” There’s laughter on the other end of the line as the phone is put on speaker, and Bryan joins the conversation.
“Okay guys, listen” I launch into the story of what’s been going on. After I finish, there’s a short pause.
“Okay, stay calm.” Dean says, breaking the silence.
“Send me a picture of this Max dude, we’re a few towns away from Ashville, we can try to find him. You, go check on that therapist.” Bryan says. There’s a click as the call disconnects. I sigh and hand Elizabeth her phone back.
“Friends of yours?” She questions.
“The best ones I’ve got.” I answer with a small smile. Elizabeth smiles approvingly.
“The mental clinic is just around the corner.” She explains. “We need to get to Miss Tabitha’s office, and check in on her, just to be sure. If she’s still alive, I’ll have her put in the witness protection program so he can’t get to her.”
“We still can’t be sure she’ll be safe though.” I point out. “We don’t know what Max is capable of. I’d take it that his sister is part of this too.”
“We also need to access that hospitals records. I’m not exactly sure, but I’m almost certain that the other triplet is still alive.” She says grimly.
“Why would the hospital still have custody of the last triplet?” I question.
“I’m not sure. It could be as dangerous, or more dangerous than Max. We would have to find out from the records, and through interagations.” Elizabeth shrugs and gets out of the car, walking into the large, white building she had parked in front of. I walk in ahead of her and start scanning the name tags on the doors in the hallway. I spotted it, Tabitha Charter, I knocked on the door, getting no answer. Elizabeth pushed open the door, her tazer held tightly in her left hand as she swung the door open with her right.
I saw her first, she was a middle aged woman, probably just starting her career when she started seeing Max. Her blond hair hung around her shoulders, her head tilted over onto her shoulder, and her hands were folded neatly in her lap. It almost looked like she was sleeping, if it weren’t for the greenish residue in a plastic cup that lay on it’s side on the floor beside her, the water split all over the floor.
Elizabeth drew closer towards Tabitha’s lifeless body, shaking her head in despair. “He’s insane,” she muttered as her face started to well up with tears.
“He sure is,” an unsettling voice had spoken from behind me. I jerked my head around, my eyes locking with those dark eyes. Max’s eyes. He seemed almost unreal in person, and his twisted expression didn’t match any of his pictures. Chills formed on the back of my neck as he stared me dead in the eye.
“Fancy seeing you here. I was almost afraid that I would never receive the pleasure,” he said, his charming tone was unavoidable creepy, especially after he had just committed a murder. Elizabeth held her taser out, slowly bringing it towards him as she stepped in front of me. “Max, you’re going to pay for all of this. None of this is a game. It’s real life,” she said, getting ready to strike if necessary.
“The name is Richard, thank you very much. And of course, it’s a game! It’s all a game! If it wasn’t then why would those fancy schmancy doctors think that it was okay to steal our brother from us? They were the ones who made the first move, not me…”
His voice trailed off as Elizabeth glanced around at me, her expression also in a state of confusion.
“The third sibling was a girl, not a boy. You aren’t making any sense…” Elizabeth’s statement was cut short by the sound of Max’s fist slamming the wall. “NO! You don’t GET IT do you?! How many CLUES do I have throw at you until you realize that you’re that stupid triplet?!”
He pointed at me from behind Elizabeth. What I had felt was so overwhelming, it was unbearable. I suddenly found it difficult to stand. There was no way he could be telling the truth. No way. It didn’t make sense.
“You’re lying! If you weren’t, then why are you trying to get me arrested?”
“I’m trying to protect you dimwit!” He exclaimed, as if it was all obvious. “If I got you into a place where nobody could find you, and you were safe, then you wouldn’t have to be out in the world that I’m going to tear to pieces. After Jonathan explained all of this, I had to go out of my way to make it seem as if you murdered me. That would certainly give you life in prison. No worries. No strife. The people who took you from us are going to get what they deserve. Everyone will get what they deserve. People like Miss Tabitha over here who thinks that she can just fix people and take away who they are. We don’t need those people.”
Elizabeth had clearly heard enough, because that was when she lunged at Max, Richard, whatever his name was, with her taser. He grabbed her wrist and pushed it away, sending the weapon tumbling to the floor. He pushed her into what was Tabitha’s wooden kitchen table. A thunk indicated the sound of her head hitting the corner, and it was very clear that she was no longer conscious. I suddenly forgot how to breathe. I’m going to wake up any second now. I’m going to wake up in my dorm on the first day and Max will be there to shake my hand for the first time. Normal Max. The Max in the graduation picture hanging on the wall. The completely-not-even-close-to-being-blood-related Max. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Perhaps, for the first time ever, Jonathan’s ‘genius’ plan was wrong. Maybe you don’t have to be detained.”
I glanced over at the door, which was slightly cracked open right behind where Max was standing. I thought of several ways I could slip through there.
“Maybe you can join me. Brother by brother, side by side. Something that we never could do, something that they took from us. We can scar our mark into everything and everyone. We would be unstoppable. They would fear us.”
And in the moment was when it was my turn to lunge at him. I pushed him with all of my strength to the floor, his eyes growing wide with both surprise and anger. I bolted for the door, and slipped into the hall. For the first time since my criminal years, I ran for my life.
The doors rushed past my vision as I sprinted down the hallway towards the stairwell. As I went down the first flight, I heard the door open followed by frantic footsteps from behind me. My heart began to race.
As I rushed down the steps, I was tackled from behind which caused me to tumble down onto the first floor. The exit was so close, yet so far. I then began to feel hands tighten around my throat. I looked up to see those same insane eyes.
“You don’t want to join me, brother?” he asked, spit flying onto my face, which felt hot as burning coals. He chuckled, it was a chuckle that could kill an army of men. “I’m offended.”
“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is how I’m gonna die.”
However, followed by the sound of several loud bangs, I was then able to feel air rushing through my windpipes, and those cold hands pulled away from my trachea. I took in a deep breath, barely able to see through watered eyes. I was overwhelmed by a coughing fit, and tried to regain myself. When my vision cleared, I saw Max on the ground, several bullet wounds covering his back, and standing over him was Ferah. A gun was squeezed tight in her hand, quaking as her eyes glistened with tears. She stared at her fallen brother on the ground, then at me.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
My breathing had stopped in that instant after what just happened had registered in my brain. Was he dead? He had to be. The last five minutes were the most overwhelming five minutes in my eighteen years of living. All that I could conjure up to ask was, “Is it true?”
The tears began to stream as she nodded. “I was trying to raise money for the hospital as a way to get him to shut up about it. To show that I wasn’t on his side. To try and teach him about forgiveness towards those who took you from us. Ever since he was seven, it was all he could talk about. You were all he could talk about. He stayed up night after night trying to find clues. Trying to dig up things. Trying to get revenge. He was unsuccessful the first time he tried to find you. He found the wrong Grant Chang, and he gave him life in jail. The fit that he had when he found out he got the wrong guy was…”
She started to choke on tears before she swallowed and finished with “horrifying.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, out of breath, struggling to put the pieces together. “Why did you leave me to guess?”
“I was afraid of what he might do,” she said. “He had ears everywhere it seemed like. He was sneaky. He had always been. I suppose now it doesn’t matter. He’s gone now, and so are all sides of him.”
The stairwell door swung open to reveal a group of police officers. I was struck with fear and complete confidence that once they got the image of Ferah with a gun in her hand hovering over her brother’s dead body, they were sure to arrest her then and there. However, to my surprise, they didn’t.
“Is this THE Max Hemingway?” The lead of the group asked.
“Yes, officer,” Ferah said. He turned to me and offered his hand to help me to my feet. “We apologize on behalf of those working on your case. They clearly hadn’t done their research. We’ve been looking for this kid for a while but had always managed to slip through our fingers. He had grown increasingly dangerous throughout the years.”
The officer dug into his pocket and pulled out something that was folded in half and handed it to me. “I think that you should have this,” he said before he went to attend to Max’s dead body. I unfolded it to reveal the missing part of the picture. I realized that I had never seen any pictures of myself as a baby. I never really thought much about it. After all, we never owned any cameras to take pictures with growing up because they were too expensive. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I never had been told where I was born or stories about being brought home. I was often told that I had looked nothing like my mother. The pieces started to come together in the most heartbreaking way.
A knock at my dorm door jumpscared me as I tried to clean up everything that the police had undone when digging through my things. It was a familiar knock, which was then followed by a familiar voice.
“Hey, hey best friend! You gonna let me in or what?”
I opened the door and there stood Sammy with her glowing smile. For once, I was relieved to see her. She held up a newspaper with a headline in big bold letters that read “Con Artist & Murderer Max Hemingway Officially Pronounced Dead.”
“It explained everything that you couldn’t,” she said. “Sounds like some juicy drama.”
“You can say that again,” I responded as I grabbed the newspaper from her. “I’m sorry about that, by the way. I just didn’t know who I could trust.”
“It’s okay! You’re famous now. You can make up for it by including me in those stories that you’ll write one day. You know, about all of this.”
And so I did include her. I included everyone. And that is my story.