What had previously been a room for the sharing of sacred academic knowledge of the mortal realm, was now tarnished with a sense of dread. A coldness had snuck into the room, and every time it crept closer, I came to realize it was Death’s grasp, gently caressing us all, reminding us of our inevitable doom. Reminding us of our own mortality. And the catalyst for this horror emitted from a single occurrence:
The discovery of Stew Dent’s body.
One of his classmates had attempted to nudge him awake, yet the grasp of Death would not surrender its bounty with a mere shake. Upon further examination, the cause of death was determined to be tetrodotoxin, based on symptoms found on the body. In the middle of a lecture, someone had poisoned their classmate. No utilities used for injection were discovered on the premise, so I deduced that digestion was the only way, and the victim had gotten a coffee during the break. Thus, I assumed the culprit must have poisoned the coffee at some point.
The class consisted of five students, Nadia, Julian, Charlotte, Judy and Daniel. All with the exception of Daniel partook in the laboratory exercise where they learned of tetrodotoxin, meaning they all had access to the poison, except Daniel.
I was neither a detective nor too confident, but at Nadia’s request, as I was the objective third-party, I was to attempt to pinpoint a culprit within the hour. If I did not succeed, she would comply with a police investigation. I was given a map of the first floor, the only floor we all had access to. No other third-part could have partaken as this area of the campus was closed off to all except us on the account it was a Saturday. These are the testimonies of the suspects:
W I T N E S S T E S T I M O N Y
“I personally find the murder of Stew heinous. Stew might have been a quiet boy, but he was kind and had a passion for his studies. He always attended every lecture, taking notes dutifully and was an exceptional partner to work with. Why anyone would murder him is beyond me, as Stew never really talked with anyone here except when forced into group projects.”
“As you may remember, I sat in the front, right in front of Stew. I never really turned around to face him during the first part of the lecture, however, when the break came around, he seemed like his normal self. He stayed in the Lecture Hall when the rest of us left for the break. I went to the Outside Area for a breath of fresh air and to clear my head for the next 45 minutes of the lecture. No one seemed to follow my direction, and I spent the entire break there, alone. I think Stew went for a coffee at some point, but that’s only a deduction based on the coffee cup next to his body. Charlotte and Daniel I believe sat on some benches in the Lounge Area, I saw Charlotte there through a window, sitting alone until Daniel attempted to pull a scare on her. They still sat there the last minute of the break so I scolded them on my way back in. Judy I believe asked Julian to accompany her for a smoke in the Smoking Hut. She probably went there to avoid me.”
“I think this is because Judy despises me. The feeling is mutual, she’s a racist who hides behind the veil of feigned ignorance. I have a better mastery of her language that she could ever dream of, and I’m younger. Judy has the ingenuity to commit murder, but probably not the energy, however, she does read an awful lot of murder mystery between classes. Julian is too dumb to commit murder, or at least one he could get away with. Charlotte is not too dumb to commit a murder, but she’s too clumsy. If she stabbed someone, she would not notice the trail of blood from the knife as she carried it back to her apartment. Daniel, I do not know, I have yet to understand Daniel or why he’s here. He probably doesn’t even know what tetrodotoxin is.”
“By the way, a fair warning. Do not trust what alibi Judy gives you about Julian. Judy worships Julian, God knows why. And I believe there’s something between Daniel and Charlotte, however, I can’t quite put my finger on it. But be wary, we might be young adults, but we’re capable of lying just like anyone else.”
“Can’t believe Stew’s dead. That’s just twisted, y’know? A real body…so different than in video games. Urgh, sorry, I…I’m not so comfortable with the thought of a dead body, a real one. Stew was an alright guy I guess? Quite nerdy, but not the gaming type, he was waaay into board games and stuff. I don’t fuck with that. Never really talked much with him, seemed like an introvert so I just steered clear of him. Me and Judy sat in the very back, furthest away from Stew. Not really tactical of Judy, she had forgotten her glasses and has terrible depth-perception, but she usually doesn’t pay too much attention during lectures anyways.”
“Judy asked me to accompany her to the Smoking Hut, but just as we were about to go outside, I had to take a wiss, so I went to the Toilet. I actually met Daniel there on my way out. Stew was bickering with the coffee machine when I came back into the hallway, but I didn’t really pay him much attention, I went to meet with Judy in the Smoking Hut afterwards. Daniel and Charlotte? No idea, didn’t see them when me and Judy came back from the break, and I think we came in like a few minutes before you resumed. We were actually the first to arrive back into the Lecture Hall, besides Stew of course. Didn’t talk to him when we sat down, didn’t even bother to glance at him, he was probably scribbling down some things for his stupid board game.”
“I think you should be careful of Nadia. If someone knows how to commit murder and get away with it, it’s her. She has the smarts for it, always goes for A’s, top of the class, yadayada. Between you and me teach, no one here is really a murderer, but I do know that Stew was Nadia’s only competition for valedictorian of the class. Might have pissed her off. Anyways, me and Judy have alibis so we’re good.”
“No one here could be a murderer! No one! It’s just crazy, absurd, wicked, beyond belief, messed up! Stew was a little cutiepie, wouldn’t hurt a fly. Can’t really envision him cutting up dead bodies. I talked with Stew often! I would almost consider us friends, but he spends way too much time on his Dungeons & Demons campaign or whatever that thingy is called.”
“I sat right behind Stew, BUT Daniel was right next to me and he can confirm I didn’t do anything! When the break came around me and Daniel went for a stroll around the Main Hall. Halfway through, Daniel left to fetch his phone that he forgot in our Lecture Hall. After taking another round around the Main Hall I decided to wait on him by the Lounge Area. I never saw Stew once during all of this…Oh! But I did see a cup of coffee just randomly by the coffee machine, which I thought was weird, but if it was Stew’s then he probably just forgot it when going to the bathroom or something, Stew often forgot stuff, like he constantly forgets his bag or something like that. Anyways, Daniel was gone a little while, but suddenly I saw him coming from the hallway trying to sneak up and scare me, so I acted scared! He’s so cute when doing stuff like that, I never see him do it to other girls though, maybe I just look like a scaredy cat? We sat in the Lounge Area until the lecture started and Nadia came and yelled at us. She’s a bit too strict in my opinion, I don’t know why, I think it’s weird being this enthusiastic about school, but I guess we all are enthusiastic about something.”
“We’re all too young to even consider murdering anyone! Or, I guess, Judy’s not so young anymore. Or, OR! Maybe someone was secretly harboring a grudge against Stew? N-not me though, I’m just suggesting stuff here! Me and Daniel got in last, so I didn’t talk with Stew when we sat back down again. I just noticed he slumped over at some point, but Stew always looked sleepy, so I was surprised when it took him that long to fall asleep in a lecture. Always have baggy eyes, like a raccoon! Gnaws on stuff like a raccoon too, that’s why I lent him my least favorite pencil when he asked today. My aunt got it for me, has a sickening yellow color, and I despise yellow and my aunt knows this but she still got me a yellow one, I think she hates me-.”
“This is so surreal, can’t really wrap my head around it. Stew was a decent guy I think. Never said much but didn’t seem obnoxious or rude to anyone. Worked on one or two projects with him, he…kinda did all the work.”
“I sat next to Charlotte during the lecture, so behind Stew but one seat to the left. During the break, me and Charlotte walked around the Main Hall. I…I had forgotten something I needed to do, so I excused myself from Charlotte, and was gone for roughly five minutes. W-what I did? It has no bearing on the case, so it doesn’t m-matter! Anyways, I think Stew was done with the coffee machine when I saw him, but I didn’t have time to talk him. Nadia I hadn’t seen since the break started, but I think she mentioned she wanted to go to the Outside Area for a breath of fresh air. J-Julian? Never saw him, but I think he was with Judy the entire time! I returned back to Charlotte when I was done with my thing. We sat in the Lounge Area and talked until Nadia came and scolded us. I…I didn’t notice where she came from actually, I was too absorbed in Cha- the conversation to notice.”
“I can’t think of anyone in class who would murder Stew. Nadia might have the wits, but she’s hardcore about justice and would probably never commit a crime. Judy likes thriller novels I think, but I don’t think she would act on them, the same way Julian likes shooting games, but I don’t think he’s planning to shot anyone anytime soon. Charlotte could never do something like this! She’s too innocent, too perfect! A-and don’t tell her I said this, but she’s too clumsy to commit murder. She often confuses her lab stirrer with her pencils for example. Luckily, I always wipe them off for her though. I was with Charlotte almost the entire break and the entire class, I would have known if she slipped something into his coffee!”
“Terrible thing that happened. You can see the youth are shaken. I’ve seen dead bodies before, it’s part of our job after all, but perhaps the real thing was too much for them to stomach. Anyways, I honestly didn’t like Stew. Reminded me too much of my ex-husband, a quiet little snake, ready to poison anyone who threatens them. If someone in my class was gonna die, I would prefer it be Stew or Nadia.”
“I sat in the back with Julian. We never talked to Stew and today was no exception. I invited Julian to accompany me to the Smoking Hut during the break. He used the lavatory before joining me. When I saw him come out, I noticed Stew, but just for a moment. He’d gotten his coffee and like a robot, turned 180 degrees and went right back into the Lecture Hall again, forgot his coffee though, he was dense like that. Me and Julian sat there for the remainder of the break and were the first to return once it was finished.”
“Only thing vicious and cold enough to do something like this is Nadia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a xenophobe, but she exudes a tendency for coldness, not uncommon for her people. Julian has an alibi and is too sweet for this world, he would never commit such a heinous crime. Charlotte is too much of a klutz, however, she has her Romeo to do her bidding, so who knows, maybe she wanted to spice up her life by testing the extent of his love? I don’t know, and I don’t care, Charlotte yaps on and on without stop, and Daniel could have gotten any girl he likes with that swimmer body of his, and he chooses her? To be young and in love, luckily Julian hasn’t been infected by the parasite of love. Just like me when I was his age…”
“During the break, I stayed inside the Lecture Hall for its entirety. Nadia left first, followed by Julian and Judy and thereafter Charlotte and Daniel. Stew sat for a few moments viciously scribbling in a notebook. After some time had passed, he ventured outside the lecture hall, I presume to get a cup of coffee. He did not return to the Lecture Hall until only a few minutes were left of the break. Stew came first, then Julian and Judy, and finally Nadia, Charlotte and Daniel.”
“Nothing peculiar happened during the lecture. I have an unfortunate tendency to face away from an audience when lecturing, my attention focused on writing on the whiteboard. However, the few glimpses I saw was usually of Julian and Judy whispering to each other, Charlotte and Daniel snickering and pointing to their computers, Stew attentively taking notes between chews of his pencil and Nadia absorbing every word uttered, not needing notes.”
After delivering their testimonies, I summoned the group one final time, the police already alerted to the situation and on their way. Yet, before they could arrive, I would unravel the mystery for which we found ourselves entangled in. I summoned them all, and with hopes, fears and nervousness in their eyes I laid before them the only conclusion I could draw:
“This mystery is as tragic as it is illusively intricate. Going over your testimonies several times has revealed but a single fact: If you all are to be believed, not a single person had the opportunity to poison Stew’s coffee, nor had the motive to do so. However, it is only by believing you all that the truth is unveiled.
This was not a murder, but an unfortunate accident.
Last week, during the lecture, I suspect that Charlotte may have confused her pencil for her stirring rod, coating the pencil in a layer of poison, unknowingly creating a murderous time bomb. Daniel would usually disinfect whatever toxins her utility absorbed; however, he was absent that day. Thus, the present day. Stew asks Charlotte to borrow a pencil, she complies, and throughout the lecture he slowly chews in more and more poison, ensuring his own death.
The break comes, everyone does their ritual, and return. The poison reaches a stage for which he is paralyzed, and slumps over. And right in front of us all, Stew dies, without being able to call for help, or any of us noticing.”
Silence. What I have learned from observing Dante conducting this symphony of truth is that while it is a ravishing melody, it often leaves the audience melancholy instead of fulfilled. Yet, we must dare to listen to it, otherwise, we would be deaf to the other wonderful notes of life. I imagine neither me nor Dante play this for the living, but rather for the dead, so they can hear the symphony of life one last time.