1.15: The Truth About Matt

Casey’s expression was neutral. “You’d better tell me everything.”

“Okay, so… there’s this game my friend and I play. We bought this tracker off the internet, right; one that we can pick up on our phones? And we take turns to hide the tracker somewhere, then the other person has to go get it.”

“How is it hidden, if you can get the signal on your phone?”

“Well, the challenge isn’t to find it, it’s to get it. We started small; hiding it in our own bedrooms and stuff so that the other person would have to break in. Then I’d hide it in the boy’s bathroom, Chelsea would hide it in a pipe she could fit through but I couldn’t… it’d escalate like that. We used to end up in a lot of places we weren’t strictly supposed to be; we kind of got a reputation for it. But everyone knew we didn’t mean any harm, so they never called the police or anything.” I glanced at Casey’s face. Still neutral. “Anyway, I’d gotten it into the perfect hiding spot – way back in this tiny vent in the employee only section of a busy McDonald’s. I knew it’d take Chelsea days to get the damn thing. So the next day, I go to school, check the tracker just out of habit… and it’s very close by. It’s on school grounds!”

Casey did not seem particularly excited by this major revelation. I explained.

“So it was clear what had happened, right? Usually it takes a little while to retrieve the thing, then the finder spends a few days looking for a better spot for it, and it’s the next person’s turn. But Chelsea had clearly gotten the thing way earlier than she should have, and she’d rushed straight to hiding it, and it was obvious why – she expected me to meet with her at lunch and say something like, ‘Do you have a plan for getting the tracker yet?’, to which she’d flutter her eyelashes and say, ‘Isn’t it your turn to get it?’, and relish in the look on my face when I checked my phone. But she’d made a mistake; she’d rushed things, relying on a really weak hiding place. It took less than five minutes to work out it was on the school roof, which is absurdly easy to reach. If I could retrieve and re-hide the thing before lunch, then when she pulled that stunt, I’d be able to reflect it back on her. Using a better hiding place. So I had to get the thing and hide it again as quickly as possible. Which is why I was up on the school roof before school started.”

“And then what happened?” Casey asked.

“The kid. Matt. Look, the thing you have to understand is, we’ve always been really, really careful about my curse. My family knows, and my two best friends and their parents know, and my doctor knows, but other than that, we’ve always tried to keep it quiet. All my life, we’ve taken every precaution we could to keep it quiet; I don’t get scared or angry, I don’t invoke gods or ghosts, I don’t even sing while doing crafts because of those stories you hear about singing cursed fates into existence. And we tell as few people as possible. We had to tell the school principal, of course, but he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else. None of my classmates except my two best friends ever knew. But Matt followed me up onto that roof and started throwing mistletoe berries at me, I knew something had gone very wrong.”

Casey scribbled some notes into a book. “Did Matt usually bully you?”

“Matt bullied a lot of people. He didn’t really concentrate on me as much as you’d think, because Chelsea, Melissa and I always hung out with a group, so there were easier targets. There were things about me that he really hated, though; sometimes he’d go for me and try to turn everyone against me, using my weird hobbies or tiny social circle or… other stuff, but I wasn’t his only target. But he’d somehow found out about the curse, and with that, he owned me. There was no weapon to use against anyone more powerful than that. He had everything he needed to ruin my life, and he started right away.”

“What happened?”

“Well, he followed me up on the roof, as I said, and started throwing berries at me. He said… well, I’m sure you know the stereotypes as well as I do. He started with simple stuff, asking if I was pissed because I was just hungry since I couldn’t find a baby to eat that morning, if the only reason I had friends was because I’d cursed them into hanging out with me, childish stuff like that. Then he started mixing in threats, saying how much safer the world would be if I was dead and getting really specific about how someone could protect the world like that, making it clear that he knew where I lived. I had the tracker by this point and was trying to get down off the roof. But he was blocking the way, throwing those berries in my face as hard as he could. And when he started asking how many demons my mum had had to fuck before she could find one who’d get her pregnant with a cursed kid… I felt the curse start to wake up.

“It burned in my heart, waiting for my command. And this kid, this waste of space who’d done his best to make so many lives miserable and now was going to ruin mine was standing there, screaming in my face and wasn’t letting me leave. So I coiled the curse around my will, gabbed a handful of the berries he’d thrown at me and threw them right back in his face, screaming, ‘oh, just die!’”

“And then what?”

“Well, you know the rest, I’m sure. My curse wasn’t strong enough to kill him, but it pushed him off the roof. He landed hard on concrete, right in the midst of the audience I hadn’t even noticed was there. And using the curse took all the energy out of me; I barely managed to avoid passing out as I fell off the roof myself. I wasn’t as badly hurt at Matt; mostly luck, I think, although landing on a grass slope and having a lot of falling experience probably helped. And then the police and ambulance guys showed up, and I haven’t seen Matt since.”

Casey was silent for a long time, reading their notes and occasionally making new ones. Finally, they said, “Okay. I want to interview some witnesses before we make a solid plan, but I think our best angle here is indeed to go with the unintentional curse effect. This is the first time your curse has been invoked, and there is simply no way that anyone can prove you had any idea what the curse would do, or that you were negligent in any way. Mr Parker knew as much as you did about the curse – namely, that it existed – and deliberately pursued you; you attempted to leave, which would have kept him safe. If anybody is liable for this, it’s him.”

I stared. “Um, didn’t you hear me? I said I used it on purpose, to try and kill him.”

“Yes, I heard you. Fortunately, nobody else did. While the witnesses probably heard you shout at Mr Parker to die, there is no way for anyone to know that this was your command to your curse – he did not die, and this is a fairly normal thing for teenagers to shout during a very heated fight. With some character witnesses to attest to Mr Parker’s history of bullying and the nature of the remarks he was shouting at you, it should be very easy to demonstrate that this was a normal thing for anybody to say in this situation and had no connection to the activation of your curse. The prosecution has no way to prove that you deliberately invoked your curse, given that it did not in fact do what you commanded it to do since Mr Parker has not died of his injuries. That, I think, should be our first step.”

“Our first step? There’s more?”

“Of course. While it is unlikely that our position here would fail, we should have a backup plan just in case; in this case, it’s clear that you acted in self-defense. Mr Parker was being extremely aggressive, directly threatening your life, and physically assaulting you.”

“They were just berries. I don’t think – ”

“That they could have caused you to lose your balance and fall off the roof to your death – or end up in Mr Parker’s position? They’re going to make his recovery sound as difficult and painful as possible to make your crime sound as serious as possible, but if he had succeeded in his plan to knock you off the roof, you could be in his very position. If our first line of defense fails then with this one, we will turn their own weapons against them.”

“I don’t think he was trying to knock me off the roof, though. He could’ve done that by punching me.”

“Then he’d have no plausible deniability,” Casey said smoothly. “Multiple witnesses heard him threaten your life, yes? I’ll need the specific threats he used, but the position should be fairly solid, if we need it. In addition to your defense, I recommend we bring forth two cases of our own, suing your school and countersuing Mr Parker.”

“What?”

“Mr Parker learned about your condition from somewhere. Unless your friends told him, the most likely source is either your principal letting something slip, or more likely, a teacher.”

“The teachers didn’t know.”

“Exactly. You’d be amazed at how many principals are a bit… relaxed… about private student information if they personally think their employees should know it. I’ll need to dig a bit, but if I can find out exactly where Mr Parker learned this, we’ll have a school ready to settle with you or support your defense as needed.”

“And how are we countersuing Matt, exactly?”

“Why, we’re suing him for awakening your curse, of course.”

What?!”

“You have had this curse for most of your life, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“And you have successfully kept it dormant until this incident?”

“Yes.”

“And you would agree that while carrying a dormant curse is frightening and involves a lot of energy and caution, and active one is far more debilitating and dangerous?”

“Well, yeah. My life has definitely gone downhill over it.”

“You have put a lot of effort into keeping this curse dormant your whole life. Nobody could call you negligent on that front, and I presume the handful of people who knew about your curse would make excellent witnesses to that effect. Then this hostile boy, a known bully, finds out that you have a curse and instead of avoiding you, he deliberately tracks you down when you’re alone and goads you about it. You attempt to ignore him; he starts physically assaulting and threatening you. You attempt to withdraw; he deliberately blocks your way and says the most offensive things to you he can think of. You’ve spent your whole life keeping this thing under wraps and keeping everyone safe from it; he finds out about it and immediately makes every effort to wake it up. And succeeds. He is liable not only for his own injuries as a result of this, but for your injuries and the effects on your quality of life.”

“And… we’d win that, you think?”

“No. But the case would greatly strengthen our initial defense, because anything they say about the danger of your curse directly supports this case.”

“I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this. It’s… not really true. I did try to kill him with my curse, no matter whether they can prove it or not. And I don’t think Matt was trying to kill me on the roof, or waking my curse on purpose.”

Casey nodded and closed their notebook. “My job in court is to represent your interests. This is the best strategy I can come up with on short notice to clear your name as thoroughly as possible. If you’re uncomfortable with the specifics of this strategy, I can probably find a more refined one by our next meeting, but if you’re insistent on representing both your intentions and what you believe to be Mr Parker’s intentions as honestly as possible then that, Kayden, is what we call a confession. I cannot stop you from pleading guilty if that’s what you want to do, but I advise strongly against it.”

I nodded. It’s not like I could protest, really; I’d hidden the little detail about trying to kill Matt from everyone I’d told the story to. But Casey’s cold, strategic manner of deception rubbed me the wrong way.

“Let me put it this way,” Casey said. “Do you believe that you deserve to go into juvenile detention for the next four years because of this?”

“No.”

“Do you believe that you deserve a criminal record, given how much Matt antagonised you and effectively caused this?”

“… I don’t think so.”

“Do you believe that your family deserves to be bankrupted to compensate this bully?”

“Of course not!”

“What I have proposed is a strategy designed to stop those things from happening. If this kind of deception is too high a price to pay, then that’s fine, but – ”

“No,” I said. “No, you’re right. Do whatever you need to do to win the case.”

Havencredits

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