She didn’t immediately reply.
In fact, she didn’t reply for a sizeable amount of time.
But in the end, it seems she managed to remember.
“… About a week ago.”
“About three months ago, electronic devices started breaking. We can’t find a logical explanation for this, no matter how hard we try. That computer you were supposed to fix – it has already been examined by a dozen computer shops. It has supposedly been tuned and revised to perfection. And still – when Philip is around, it just breaks. Around me, it’s not as frequent, but it sometimes still happens. These incidents have been creeping us out ever since the beginning, and our wallets are really starting to hurt by now.”
“I see. Yes, that would be a problematic situation for anyone. Okay, I think that information is enough for me to start working. Would you mind telling me what parts of the house I’m allowed to investigate in?”
“Um… There should be no problem with you looking anywhere you want. Oh, except for our parents’ room. They aren’t here right now, but I don’t think they’d be happy with anyone entering their room just like that.”
“Of course, that much is obvious. Thanks again, I’ll make sure to do my best.”
She nodded, a relieved smile on her face. I still couldn’t comprehend how she could make such a face at me. If the truth was what I thought – no, it’s still far too soon to say anything for certain. I should know that better than anyone.
Trying to distance myself from my feelings on the issue, I focused on exploring the rest of the house, especially the second floor which I had yet to visit.
It was smaller compared to the base floor, since a large portion of it was taken by the rooftop deck. There were only four rooms: a small storage room, a bathroom and two bedrooms. These were, of course, Emma’s and her parents’.
I had nothing to see on the storage room or the bathroom for now, so I headed straight for the last option I had available.
Emma’s room looked a lot more… “alive” than Philip’s had.
The smell was the one of its owner. The look, one which fit with her personality.
The posters and other decorations were newer – if not to my taste at all – and I couldn’t find a single speck of dust no matter how hard I searched.
It really didn’t seem the girl’s room would provide any helpful insight, so I quickly finished checking all of the more unusual spots-
I had almost missed it.
Between the bed and the wall, hidden in a position nobody would have ever been able to find unless they were specifically looking for them, were quite a few handwritten letters and notes.
One would usually have to ask for permission to read something like this, of course, but I had been allowed to do as I please save for the parents’ room – furthermore, I was the detective for this case, and I remember reading some antiquated ruleset that stated that detectives shall never be kept away from knowledge of key evidence.
These letters... Okay, this is quite the surprise, but...
It would all make sense this way though, wouldn't it...
No, never mind. Even if I accept this theory as truth for the sake of argument, even if I do that – there’s still that one thread left hanging. Nobody would be satisfied with and end like that.
Argh. How messed up can this case possibly be...? I took those letters whose contents I couldn't bear to witness, and I tore a few of them to shreds – but making sure of keeping a select few to use as evidence.
Racking my brain in total confusion, I went out of Emma's room and stared into the emptiness of the hallway.
What to do, what to do... What piece am I missing...?
Is there any clue left for me to uncover...?
Actually, there might.
My sight drifted towards the storage room that I had previously dismissed. Given what I now knew, the probability of finding something of note there had only diminished.
But I was stuck either way.
Taking the time to look through one more place couldn't hurt.
There was just about anything you could possibly imagine on that storage room. From photo albums to old furniture, worn down toys, and even a surprisingly extensive set of screwdrivers and other tools. I even found some old videogames I'd pay literally hundreds for. Guess I'd ask the family if they were willing to do business with me. Given what Emma said about the current state of their wallets, they actually might.
But other than all of that, there was one thing-
Only one item that struck me as odd.
A book, or rather, a notebook – no, that's not it either. It was... a diary.
I quickly opened it and started glancing through the dates. The last entry’s date was... seven years ago.
But it seemed like the first entry had been only one year prior, so I doubted Philip had been keeping this diary of his own free will. In my experience, people either give up immediately or keep going forever, for years and years. Since he had done neither, it was safe to assume he had been keeping the diary because he had been told to.
And my guesses were right.
"I went to therapy today for the first time. I didn't want to go, but the man there was really nice and understanding. He gave me this diary and told me I should keep filling it until I no longer needed therapy."
"I broke another thing today. I couldn't control myself. I really tried to, but I... I still failed. Mom says it's okay, that the therapy won't work immediately. But I still regret being like this."
Those were the two earliest entries in the diary, and the two that contained all the information I could have possibly hoped for.
With this, everything was solved, there was no doubt whatsoever about what the solution was.
Every single one of the entries after that, which went on to give more details and detail unrelated events, only further proved what I was already sure of.
I couldn’t help but feel sad for what poor Philip and his family had gone through, but if the kid’s own words in the diary were to be believed, it all had ended long ago.
Still, that was nothing…
That was nothing when compared to what was happening right now.
I hate myself for ever thinking badly of these people. I should really have known better than this.
… Not much I can do to change that now, though.
Other than to finally resolve this case, and let this family be in peace once again.
I closed the diary, which I was still holding open, and left it in the same place I had found it in.
I had nothing left to do in the second floor after already seeing all there was to see, so I went straight for the living room on the base floor again.
Nick was there with Emma. I, of course, only cared about the latter, so I walked towards her.
“Any news on your investigation? Or is there anything you wanna ask me or my sister?”
“There has been a significant development, yes. I have already formed a full theory on what the issue is. Still, there’s something I’d like to talk about before I reveal that theory.”
I caught Nick looking at me with a pleased smile, which he forcibly eliminated from his face the moment he noticed I had seen him.
“Sure, go ahead. What do you need?”
“First, I’d like to thank you. This has been quite an insightful afternoon for me, and it has been a pleasure working for you.”
“Eh, sure thing…”
Reluctantly, she agreed to the handshake I offered, the sensation of her hand only further convincing me that this was the right thing to do.
“Okay, now for what I wanted to discuss. It’s just something I want to confirm, and something I’d like you to agree to.”
“For starters, there is not a single doubt in my mind – I know what supernatural being has caused this. It's quite the nasty thing, one which I had already met before in one of its many forms. I’ve named it the Coward Crocodile for convenience, but you can call it whatever you’re more comfortable with. And I have come to discover the identity of this monster only after knowing the truth of what it has caused. I have to say, I am terribly sorry for what all of you have gone through, and I understand the reason for everything that has happened so far, but even so-”
I stopped for a moment to recover my breath. Emma’s face, which had gone from completely neutral to confused just a while ago, was now starting to come across as that of a cornered prey in the face of its predator.
Yeah, of course.
All the people who have ever suffered because of supernatural entities are afraid to accept the truth. They would rather believe in ghosts and spirits, and accept them as the cause for all their misfortune.
Which in turn means-
That the truth is never an easy pill to swallow.
… Talking about pills, now I realized I had forgotten to take mine. That explained some stuff by itself.
This was no moment to stop at these thoughts, though, so I continued speaking.
“Even so, it’s my job to rid you of this curse that afflicts you. So I ask that you acknowledge the truth and don’t try to side-step the issue. Can I count on you to do that?”
“Sure, I can’t think of a single reason why we’d want you to hold back after making you solve the issue.”
“Thanks. That’s perfect by me. Then, we will begin the final act. For starters, let’s see… Emma, why don’t you tell me how your brother’s been doing? He’s been living alone for two years now, after all.”