Have you ever wondered if your existence is a lie?
When you can never tread on another’s footsteps, how can you tell that your feet even move?
When you cannot feel the way another does, how do you know that you’re not caressing thin air?
When you can never see through another’s eyes, how can you believe the sights before you?
You will be pleased to know that this letter contains no trivial gossip. This is with regard to the information you requested involving a certain Samantha Peterson and our common friend Jonathan Gray. My acquaintance with Miss Peterson being quite close, I find myself at a position where I can wholly oblige you. Samantha entrusted me these files in confidence, but confidences dissolve when breaths cease to be.
As a defence attorney, Samantha was used to handling both the worst and the strangest of the human species. When she met Jonathan Gray, however, a witness for one of her most high-profile cases, she was flabbergasted. Mr Gray was a stable man in his twenties with a good home, a good job, and had always lived a sheltered life, but there was something very wrong about him– something that even Samantha’s honed precision couldn’t identify. As you already know, Samantha retired young–immediately after this case–and was found dead under mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards. These transcripts of Samantha’s interviews with Jonathan were made public during the investigations that followed, and I now present a select few of them to you.
Samantha: Where were you on the night of the murder?
Jonathan: I – I was at home. I was – I was cooking. I love cooking. I was cooking.
Samantha: But as per the address you listed, your home is three miles away from the spot of the murder.
Jonathan: I- I guess it is.
Samantha: Then why is it that you are listed as an eyewitness?
Jonathan: I-I don’t know. I saw it.
Samantha: Saw what?
Jonathan: The – the murder.
Samantha: From home?
Jonathan: I don’t know
The above dialogue seems to falsify my claim that Jonathan was ‘stable’. But I had the privilege of meeting him once in real life, and he was certainly distinguished and well-spoken. His contradicting statements were a result of childhood trauma that Samantha, in her investigations, managed to uncover.
Samantha: So the victim, Mr. Calvin Gray, was your brother, am I correct?
Jonathan: Yes, yes, he was.
Samantha: And he was your only family, wasn’t he?
Jonathan: Yes, yes he was.
Samantha: Why was he your only family, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Because they – because they were murdered! My parents were murdered in front of me, I – I remember! I remember testifying, but they let her go!
Jonathan: Or him, I don’t know. The one who killed them!
This was not true at all. Though Jonathan’s father had indeed passed away violently, his mother was still alive and kicking. However, I was not confused, for I was also privy to the knowledge that as a child, Jonathan was diagnosed with a rare and controversial disorder – the False Memory syndrome. My knowledge is inadequate to explain this, and hence I have attached an excerpt from an article by the psychiatrist who diagnosed him.
“Memory is a strange and wild substance, amorphous and malleable. As psychiatrists, we talk of ‘repressed memories’, often mentioning them to patients with unexplained mental health issues. This concept originated with the esteemed Sigmund Freud, but has never scientifically been proven to exist. What has been proven, however, is that it is possible to induce a memory by carefully drawing ambiguous conclusions that a patient tries to make sense of, or giving hints that cause erroneous inferences. Assumptions, preconceived notions, irrelevant prior knowledge, etc. are all contributors to false memories.
Humans have a tendency to extrapolate, as our knowledge is based on neural connections. For example, the words ‘bed’, ‘pillow’, ‘rest’, ‘pyjamas’, etc. naturally lead to the word ‘sleep’, which we would then tick off incorrectly as a part of the same list. We thus confuse the details of one story with another, and impressionable young minds are most prone to these derelictions. Eventually, a well-meaning expert ends up creating a memory of falsehoods in an innocent yet overzealous attempt to help.”
Jonathan’s childhood comprised an absent and disturbed mother, and a sister who tried but failed to make things right. It was not a happy childhood. As his mother almost vanished entirely and his anxious therapist stepped in, a dramatic lie seemed to give his childhood a more romantic twist. He finally made something of himself. Unfortunately, this was not the end of his beguiling trysts with his own mind.
Samantha: Why are you here of your own accord, Jonathan?
Jonathan: I wanted to confess.
Samantha: Confess to what?
Jonathan: I was the one who did it. I killed Calvin.
Samantha: You sound very calm.
Jonathan: I killed him! He did nothing to stop my parents’ murders-nothing at all! He had to die – it was only fair.
Samantha: You do realize that this conversation is being recorded, don’t you?
Jonathan: I killed him. That’s all I have to say.
Jonathan’s was an uncharacteristically calm confession, and I think it is time to make one myself. All it took was an anonymous note, a bunch of carefully placed psychiatric journals and a promising case. Samantha was a good lawyer, but a typical one– more invested in her record than the war against crime. But she was good – she took the many hints that I gave her, planting doubts in Jonathan’s addled brain. He was indeed cooking at home the night I killed you, but he was too nervous to prove his alibi. He started to believe that he saw the murder. When Samantha reminded him of his parents, the thought somehow escalated to him, incriminating himself. But I’m sure you are more concerned about something else I just wrote.
Yes, I killed you, Calvin. Both of Jonathan’s parents were never murdered, but he saw me kill his father, your father. You protected him and tried to make him good when he was always meant to be my literal partner in crime. His poor brain couldn’t take the conflict between his mother’s debauchery and his brother’s virtue. You cut off his wings when he was still a fledgeling. You had to go, and so did he, for he was now useless. He killed himself after the confession. Samantha knew too much, so she had to go, too. I know you will never read this, but with that acknowledgement, my journey is complete.
– Your Mother.
Calvin Gray laughed, with a dispassionate glance at the body and the blood in his vicinity. “There was only ever one murderer in the family, Mother, but I suppose false memories run in the genes. You did create the murderer in me, though. A crazy mother, a crazy brother, a violent father – quite a lot for a teenager don’t you think?”
He glanced at the table, at the piles of meticulous notes forged in her handwriting. She had never done anything – she was just another of his trophies. ‘Death’ had brought him so much freedom, for no one even considers a corpse. Faking it had been easy – the afterlife before him was a sitting duck. There were so many skins for him to now slip into, unbeknownst to the gullible minds that let him in.
For when your dreams are so real and your perception is unique, when do you realise that your memories are fiction?
His past was resolved, closure achieved. One last glance, and then the world awaited.
“I’m sorry Mother, but your whole existence was indeed a lie.” And with that, a chuckling cadaver crept out into the night.
~ Written by Ankitha Giridhar for MTTN
~ Featured image by Ashitha Melissa