Mandlebrot grinned with eery curiosity, “There are around thirty-two of these so far, but there could be more.”
I hated Mandlebrot. Always grinning, always smiling with keen eyes hidden behind dark shades. I never got anything from him. At times he was so alien, ignoring the plight of the people of this city, more interested in the shockwaves these certain events created. Events like when more than now thirty people have frozen to death in the early morning for no apparent reason.
While Mandlebrot drove through the street, I looked at the file he had given me. Police had already visited several scenes and taken photographs, and now it was my turn to investigate the matter. I looked at the pictures. All of them were naked,ice cyrstals glittered on their skin, which had turned a greyish blue. They all had serene looks on their faces, their eyes were closed and there was a calm wash over their faces, like they received some kind of absolution. Some had hands clasped in prayer, other had their palms open raised towards the sky.
At this point I realised a connection in the photographs. Their skin all glittered in relatively the same way. In one picture, the glint of the sun could be seen in a window. All of the victims were facing east. All towards a sun they would never see. I have not seen real sunlight in this city for years. Hopefully, whoever took these photographs had the time to enjoy the break in the grey wall of cloud that loomed overhead.
“What was the time of death?”
“They believe it was after three A.M, Mandlebrot grinned, “There has been some trouble with moving the victims. Some of them didn’t freeze all the way through, and as fragile as they were, many did not remain in one piece.” As I said, Mandlebrot was a bastard.
We arrived at one of the scenes, just another suburban house. Many of these suburbs are empty. As everyone is scrimping every coin they have in order to leave the city, most cannot, or will not pay for the cost that it takes to live in these places. Only the truly desperate live here, they do not expect to leave. “This is the woman’s house,” Mandlebrot says as I am looking at the photo, of the lady in her mid-thirties, brown hair framing her face in curls. Eyes closed and hands together in silent sleeping prayer. She seemed the most peaceful of the victims in the photographs. She seems so serene…
We both leave the car and move towards the house, ducking under bright yellow police tape. I walk by a drop sheet, bloodstains have leaked through, obviously when they tried to move her. Maybe her feet snapped off…I try not to think about it. The door has been left open by the regular police. Before we enter, Mandlebrot offers me a pair of gloves to handle any evidence.
“No,” I remind him, “I’m allergic to the latex. I thought I already told you that.”
Mandlebrot paused, there was a moment that he seemed confused, “Hmmm. I will remember that now.”
In my pocket is a pencil with a rubber eraser and a white handkerchief. I pull these out as we split up and begin to search the house. The residence seems to be schizophrenic. Some rooms are kept in immaculate condition. Others are in state of complete chaos. You can analyse a person purely on how they keep themselves in their homes. Two of the bedrooms are immaculate, the beds are made, the toys and personal effects are arranged in a stately way. The main living area is much the same, even the fireplace, barely has any dust or soot. The remainder of the house is the complete opposite. The kitchen is nothing short of filthy, plates and dishes staked high. Grime, grease and dirt are layered across every surface. The fridge is filled with food that is now unidentifiable. Empty packets, tins and containers are scattered across the floor. The bathroom is no different, I can’t even enter it, the smell is that bad. I cover my face with my sleeve and use my hand with the handkerchief to close the door. I move to the main bedroom. Here it is interesting. One half of the room neat, while the other is chaos, books and worn clothes cover the floor. Even half the bed is unmade while the other half remains untouched. This whole place is missing people. The woman was waiting, diligently, patiently and faithfully waiting for a family that would never return. As I am about to leave the bedroom I notice something out of the corner of my eye. Beneath a pile of books there seems to something out of place, something that does not belong.
Moving in close to the stack, I get the pencil and place it below the stack of books, the rubber eraser giving some grip to move the books aside with a little leverage. Beneath the stack is a small notebook, with a blank red cover. I picked it up with the white handkerchief. “What do you have there?” Mandlebrot had snaked into the room behind me. I showed him
“This…seems to be out of place,” I said, “the rest of these books are published, Proust, psychology, odd poetry books, but that will have hand writing in it.”
Mandlebrot flicked through the book, “Yes…but not all of it is hers, if it is at all. Look.” He showed the opened book to me. There was not just one or two sets of handwriting, but several in different sections. Mandlebrot took out a plastic evidence bag and slid the book inside. We collected other potential evidence and then the cleaners arrive. Dressed in forensic white, the cleaners would collect all of the woman’s possessions and incinerate them. There is some theory that this would help stem the spread of violence. Now, I’m beginning to think we should incinerate the book, but it could point to the origin to this whole mess.
We return to headquarters and pour through what we have collected. However, it is the red book that I’m interested in most of all. Every seven or so pages features a different set of handwriting, some are neat, almost contemplative, others are manic scrawl. The entire book is a litany of suicide notes. One person makes final confessions and thoughts and it is passed onto another for them to leave their last words.
Some of it, poetry:
i can’t tell the difference
between night and day
i don’t even remember
how did i get here
looks the same
i’m finding an exit tomorrow
maybe they’ll play
on the radio
(I remember some cases that involved people having a bath with their radios…)
Some of it is prose:
…I don’t know what do to anymore, I make the drudge to work everyday, taking the same path and the same path back. I remember when I was a kid I would watch an ant make lazy circles in the sun. Made me wonder, how long could it do that before it broke the cycle. My mother never bought the toys I wanted. Never knew why. The porn doesn’t make me hard anymore. I’ve tried other stuff from the market, even violent stuff, but it’s like there’s nothing there. Like dead skin. Sometimes I think of scaling the wall, just to see what’s on the other side. I don’t care if they have dogs, or guns, or if they’ll arrest me, or place me in that hole St Anthony’s. I need out, I’m tired of walking in circles.
Another entry catches my eye:
The walls don’t speak, they scream. This city is a hungry one.. Don’t drink the water. The centre is the maw not the eye of the storm. Avoid the speakers that do not talk. Darkness is not merely the absence of light, but not of colour. The Journey is not begun until the first step is taken and not completed until you have arrived at the place before you took that first step. Watch for our sign. The labyrinth that cannot be seen, must be felt through. The right step will lead to disaster, the wrong step will lead to safety. The way out is through.
Lastly, the final entry in the book:
I wait and they haven’t come back.
They said they would come back, but they haven’t yet. Maybe they will but I’m not so sure now. Ever since that horrible day things have been worse for us. So many people have died and there’s nothing we can do. We’ll just continue to die here and no one can save us. I sometimes wonder what is happening outside of the city walls. Some people try to scale them, but I’ve never seen them come back. No one knows whether it is just us, or that this is happening to the rest of the world. The days have been increasingly dark, and you don’t see the stars anymore at night. I wish I could see the stars again, but I wish I could see the sun once more. Feel it’s warmth again. I left their rooms the way they left them, I needed something to hold onto, my memory is getting worse. I try to think back to when I was a kid and I’m not sure of things, like it’s missing. Important things. I can’t even remember what my parents looked like. I thought I had a sister, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure whether the authorities know anything about what is happening to us, or even if they have some way of helping us. Some people where I worked thought it was a plot, to keep us in line. Then some of them disappeared. I hear about new deaths every day. I have accepted that. If this city wants us, there is nothing we can do. It will have us. All I want to do is see the sunrise one more time.
The moment I read this, something clicked. I opened the file that Mandlebrot gave me and look for the woman’s photo, staring for a while at her serene frozen face as the dawn sun warmly makes the ice glitter. There is a tear in the corner of her eye, now solid and perfectly formed.
Mandlebrot enters suddenly, startling me. He has a large case in his hand. With his free hand, he sweeps part of the table clean and empties the contents of the case: all of them identical red notebooks.