(Or The Case Surrounding Crystal Woijick’s Supposedly Lost Death Tape)
By Cindy Pereira
“You don’t look the type of the girl that’d be into this shit,” Raoul Davenport says with a condescending smirk. Yeah, and you look exactly like the sort that jerks off to it and watches the Columbine surveillance tapes on loop. I hide my discontent behind my coffee cup’s chewed lip. I take in the older man’s shaved head. His black ball cap and pierced lip. I’ve seen the type of content that he posts on Facebook. But I keep it all in. The creep is certified, but he has it: the worst of humanity, all recorded on video tape by weirdos like me and ripped to whatever format is supported by your tech provider of choice—Apple, Linux, or PC.
“You’d be surprised. True Crime’s been making quite the comeback recently.’
“Yeah, I know.” He snorts. “All those podcasts with chatty broads and Youtube vids with skinny little boys, sorry no offence, putting on a scary story voice. Whatever, woman.”
The envelope I pull out of my purse is heavy with cash, threatening to spill open. This money could’ve been used groceries or part of my rent. Instead I’ve faked a “family emergency, Mum’s still in the ICU, sorry Phill—can I take the rest of the day?” I hopped in my car and floored it an hour and a half out of the city to meet Raoul at Tim Hortons. The engine sputtered and groaned the entire journey. I hoped this meeting would be worth it.
“Righteous. You brought all of it, eh?”
I nod stiffly and place it on the table, tapping my nails against the paper. “You first, may I please have the DVD?” You can’t trust a man who still calls sex workers hookers, I think.
Raoul clicks his tongue and pushes the CD case across the table over mountains of crumbs and granules of sugar.
“Heading off already then?” he chuckles dryly and then winks. “I was enjoying your company.”
I snatch the case from the table and open it. The disc is shiny and has RARE: CRYSTAL W’S DEATH!!! slashed over the top of it in thick black ink. I pop the disc from the case carefully, carefully and check the back for any scratches or smudges.
“Don’t worry—it’s all shiny and new. I wouldn’t fuck with you, I promise… Unless?”
“No, thank you—this is great. Also, I’m already taken.”
“I’m just joking, but lucky guy. You’re cute.”
I shrug and gently close the case before wrapping it in napkins and slipping it into my purse. “Yeah, thanks. We’re happy together.”
I zip the top of the purse then open it again to check. Just in case. Just in case it’s chosen to burst into flames or claw a hole into the bottom of my bag, and then drop down underneath the table to wait for an opportune moment to escape.
Crazy yes, but given it’s content… I wouldn’t put it past it.
“Man, you really do dig this,” he plainly states. “Original death tapes, shit.”
I laugh. “So do you, obviously with your website and all that, but why are you even bothering to sell the original to me? Aren’t you worried I’m gonna upload it on Reddit?”
“One, I’m a collector and I like to have physical copies of things—that’s why I don’t have a Kindle and still read actual books, too—and two,” he raises his fingers up then, “two, I think you’re a lot like me, all the crazy shit you post about on your blog—and well—when you watch it, you’ll see.”
I smile and disregard his comment about my blog. What I post there is between me, myself, and I. If the audience chooses to engage with my research, then oh well. More clicks for me. “How cryptic,” I say instead while buttoning my coat. “So you just happen to like me then? You were offered way more for this, I bet.”
He’s quiet, fiddling with his rings and all slumped over in his seat. “I’ve never told anyone before that I have it.”
“Really? You don’t have to lie just to make me feel special or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve—”
“No bullshit here, miss,” he looks up at me, calm as anything.
I feel a sudden chill. “That bad, eh?”
“Far worse. You’ll see.”
“Hmm.” I think about Bundy’s confession tapes and how it sounded as though he was recollecting his first love when instead he was waxing poetic about bashing in a sophomore’s head; I think about poor little Jon Benet’s doll-like hands and the chord wrapped tight around her neck. “How could it be worse than—What, is it cursed?”
He uses one dirty nail to pick out a piece of chicken from between his teeth. “Just don’t let anyone watch it if you don’t think they can stomach it.”
“I won’t, thanks again,”
He snorts, “don’t thank me—I got paid and I feel like a prostitute.” He sits up then. “Actually no. I feel like an executioner. Like, I’m pulling the guy pulling the switch.”
On the drive I home I think about Crystal Woijick, aged thirty-three. Cause of death: self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It’s a common enough death but the kicker was that she did it on live TV during a Monday morning news broadcast. She changed the history of live television in a very basic way—there’s now a slight delay to every “live event.” Like living in the past, like looking up at the stars in space. No one quite knows why Crystal did it. She had a successful career, a nice house. Her handsome face used to be on billboards around town.
She was funny and personable, with an easy smile and sleek black hair that made her look just a little like 1960’s era Cher. Rumours floated about that she got passed over for a promotion, or that she was spurned by a co-worker with whom she was having an affair. Some say she was forced into having an abortion. Others said that she found out that she infertile a few weeks prior to her death. That despite all of her money and success all she’d ever wanted was a baby. I remember, upon learning this, rubbing my hand over the exterior of my own womb, scarred by disease and coated with painful fibroids that caused me to ooze between periods.
Crystal was known for cracking jokes on set and being into trashy pulp novels so at first her boss thought that she was making some sort of sick joke since it was so close to Halloween.
Except she didn’t get up off the floor even after the cameras finished rolling, or her boss told her to “knock it the Hell off if she wanted to keep her goddamn job.”
Even though the channel Crystal Woijick worked at was broadcasted in smaller town and not during peak hours, a ton of people online have claimed to have seen the suicide. My grandma says she remembers it well, and so does my aunt, but I don’t know if that’s so. The recording itself has become the Holy Grail of Lost Media to true crime enthusiasts. We gathered on forums all over the Internet to discuss the possibility that it hadn’t been destroyed in a studio fire, which was widely believed. Or that Crystal’s boss buried the reel of film somewhere out on his property, or that he locked it away in a hidden room and threw away the key.
It was confirmed, however, that Crystal’s parents watched every episode of her show. They had indeed seen their only child kill herself on live TV.
My phone dings several times during the drive, and I pull into an Esso’s parking lot in order to check my notifications. I’ve been thinking of throwing my android off of a bridge and investing in a flip phone; I’m so tired of being locked into lives that I’m uninterested in.
Thankfully it’s a text from my sister, Jo, telling me that Mum’s condition has stabilized, but that it’s going to be some time before they take her off of the ventilator. See, I wasn’t totally dishonest when I said that I had a family emergency. I think Grandma will bite the bullet though if she loses another kid. One murdered by an unknown, the other by her own paranoia and distrust of doctors and vaccines. Women don’t live long in this family. Murders, illness, suicides.
I wonder if there’s a chance that we might be cursed.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I breathe as two more dings push through the fabric of my purse, where I thought I’d finally just laid my phone to rest.
I inhale sharp when Nina’s name flashes across the screen: “Hey sweetness are u on yer way?” And then there’s a photo of her in just a peach pink cami and her cute little sleep shorts covered in pineapples and palm trees. “Are u sure I can’t I sit next to u? My Hemmingway 😉 “
“Just don’t let anyone watch it if you don’t think they can stomach it.”
I adore my Nina; we’ve been together for two years, but she’s a Disney adult, she’s even worn the ears for me, and puked red wine and spaghetti into my lap right in the middle of The Exorcist. That might’ve been nerves, but her stomach is weak when it comes to violence.
“No, sorry babe. Gotta get this story in or I’m in deep shit. :(“
I put off watching the tape until about 10 PM. I do my actual work, some rewrites for a client’s landing page, and fold my laundry, which I’d already been putting off for about a week. This will be my reward for adulting tonight, I think. I opt for the Xbox instead of my laptop’s disc drive, though I wish I could hunch over it all in the safety of my bed, cocooned in blankets and hidden behind another door.
Raoul seems like the type to use spyware, so, no thank you. I sit in the glow of the TV screen with my finger trembling, thumb posed over the PLAY button. How bad could it be? Any worse than the hangings or that poor Iranian couple drowning on their honeymoon? What about what happened to Nina’s family in the Ukraine?
Finally I hit play and the screen goes from black to grainy and gray. The sound is shit, I feel like I’m underwater. I wait impatiently for a moment, but then there she is!
Sitting at her desk and then—
Her voice comes from the speakers; garbled and scratchy.
“—Live suicide,” and then bang, quickly before I can even blink. Her head swings back and her forehead crashes against the desk. My hand shoots up to cover my gasp and I watch as she slumps back and then falls out of frame. The film cuts off sharply. All that’s left is the TV screen , black and fuzzy with my own warped face staring back at me. Is that truly it? I creep towards the Xbox again, checking for ports pulled out of place, or dying batteries. I take a deep breath and hit play again. This time mentally recording timestamps for later. At twenty seconds her head hits the table, at twenty-three you can hear her boss speak.
I watch Crystal die over and over again, memorizing the swing of her hair and the clipped, professional tone of her voice. She’d announced her own death as she would the human interest pieces that she was well-known for among her viewers. And now here’s a first to all you folks watching this at home—a live suicide.
All you folks—suicide. Bang.
I didn’t sleep that night. Instead, I went for a jog around the neighbourhood and silently dared anyone to attack me but found that there few awake at 2 AM in my “safe neighbourhood.” There was an old man smoking on his porch and clutching a beer, he gave me a wave, a sleek black cat that I mistook for a statue until it slowly blinked sitting on top of a newly erected plywood fence. The sound of my sneakered feet and own rhythmic breath deafening in my own head. I almost collided with a man delivering pizza. I laughed out an apology. He cursed.
When I got home at about 2:40 AM I showered and attempted to scrub my mind clean as well as my body, but I couldn’t stop thinking of what I’d seen and how I thought it’d be worse. The film was grainy, to start. And the whole thing was filmed in black and white; no noticeable gore. I also felt sick; not over what I’d seen, but for being vaguely disappointed by the whole thing.
After a cup of chamomile tea and then a few glasses of chardonnay, I finally fell asleep. My dreams were simultaneously bizarre and mundane. No nightmares for me.
The next morning I awaken as usual at 7:45 AM, and end up calling in. I’m fucking exhausted, yes, but more than sleep I want to rewatch Crystal’s tape again, and see if there was something that I happened to miss. Over my morning coffee and slice of toast I ponder if the whole thing is actually a fake. It had seemed real at the time, but now I’m not so sure.
If Raoul has swindled me I’ll have his head on a spike and post it on his own website.
I feel my cheeks heat up with rage as I gulp down the last of my drink. My phone has been dinging all morning. I know it isn’t work since I’ve gotten all of my assignments in, and Phill is far too eager to believe that my thoughts were with my dying mother. I’m untouchable.
It has to be Jo, sending me updates about Mum, which I honestly can’t deal with.
I set my dishes into the sink with a clatter and silently vow to call Raoul Davenport later to scream. First, I’ll watch Crystal die a few more times, just to be sure that I haven’t been duped. I decide to shower first, and my day starts to go from bad to worse. Opening the linen closet I am confronted by a smell I’m quite familiar with; it’s coppery and tangy, and it can only be one thing. Wrenching the door open, I see nothing at first so I start to carefully root through the towels and spare sheets, fuming all the while. This means that I’ll have to wash them later.
At the very back I find what I’m looking for: the desecrated corpse of what was once a large gray mouse, it’s insides turned inside out from the poison traps I have set throughout my apartment suite. I’ve gotten good at this, so I don’t even gag when I pull the cold dead thing out with my hand wrapped up in a Safeway bag. I don’t even wince when some of the pus dribbles down my wrist. It’s just an animal, after all. It’s just fluids. And death comes to us all.
About an hour later I’m squeaky clean and the closet has been disinfected. The sheets and blankets are bunched up together in two separate laundry baskets and there are more than thirty missed notifications displayed on my phone’s screen. I completely ignore the two missed calls from Jo, and automatically tap on Nina and I’s text thread.
“Hey babe, how’s it goin?”
“Made a mistake! No restaurant 2day! Wanna chill?”
“Are you mad at me? : ( “ I roll my eyes and am about to power off my phone, when I remember that Nina took a few film courses back in school. If anyone can tell if Crystal Woijick’s death tape is fake or not,
it’ll be her. I suddenly feel giddy, a feeling that normally disgusts me. Ugh. So, I give her a call and Nina answer’s breathlessly. “Where, have you been?” she hisses. “I’ve been so worried, I—”
“I’m so sorry, Nina, love. Things have been so hard around here.”
I can feel her anger fizzle away even from the other line. “Oh, it’s your mom, isn’t it? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, no. It is what it is,” I look at the CD case sitting on my coffee table, next to all of my notes on it. “But I could really use the company since you’re free?”
“Of course! Do you wanna watch a movie?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I wanna do.”
An hour and half later, and Nina is storming down my apartment hall, pulling away from my attempts to pull her back into my arms and back into my life.
“I’m sorry, sorry, so sorry—I just wanted to be sure that it was legit and I’ve been waiting years for this,” I babble on, like a lunatic.
My girlfriend narrows her eyes at me. “You’ve been waiting to watch some poor woman shoot herself in the head?”
Nina scoffs. “I think we’re through.”
“You can’t mean that,” I plead. “Nina, please. You know that I like scary movies and shit. Remember?” I clasp her hands, but she pulls away.
“Yeah, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Not actual snuff films.”
“I bought it by accident,” I say. “Nina, I don’t like snuff films.”
“I can tell when you’re lying, you know,” Nina spits. “Your upper lip twitches. God, you’re sick.”
She’s right. I’ve always prided myself in my ability to lie—I’ve gotten awfully good at it over the years. Yes, I’m happy. Yes, everything is okay.
“I’m really not trying to shut you out. I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“Everything except my feelings and this relationship.”
And then out the door she goes.
I think about running after her, but the need to watch Crystal die again drags me back into my suite. My phone is ringing. Jo. It stops. Then starts ringing again. Jo.
I reject the call, and power down my cell. I turn out the lights in my apartment, and pull the blinds closed. I push a heavy chair against my door, just in case anyone tries to physically interfere. I hit play on the Xbox, and wait.
And now here’s a first to all you folks watching this at home—a live suicide.
Raoul Davenport picks up after the first seven rings. “Oh, it’s you. I was waiting for you to get a hold of me. Fuckin’ finally.”
“Um, hi… I guess you’re not busy then?”
“Not particularly, what’s tricks?”
I cut past the bullshit and decide to lead with “Where did you find it?”
“I didn’t, it found me.”
“Oh my God,” I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Raoul, I swear.”
“You think I’m some kind of liar?” he rasps back at me. “Come on, you know that—That thing is impossible to find. I think it chose me.”
“It just did. I found it in my mailbox one day, like a gift from the Devil or something.”
“And then you sold it to me—why?”
“Couldn’t handle it—but it looks like you can.” I hear the smirk in his voice, and it makes me want to pummel him through the phone.
I cough instead. “It’s uhh, really something, isn’t it?”
“Do you feel hollow, too?”
“It’s very tragic, what happened to her.”
“Fuckin’ yeah, it is,” Raoul says. “But that’s not what I asked.”
“I feel bad for her and her family, but…”
He finishes what I’m too ashamed to admit, his voice calm and smooth like a pastor leading a confession. “But you feel cheated by the wait?”
“I’m very much into advocacy for mental health, Raoul.”
“I bet you are,” he hums in response.
The line is filled with dead air.
“I’m a good person,” I murmur into the receiver.
“Keep telling yourself that, and maybe one day we’ll all believe it too.”
“What are you implying, you ass?” I hiss back in return. But I’m too late; my retort is only met with the dial tone and static like that of a tape wrapped up in misery and death.
It’s time to watch Crystal die, again. And again. And again.
Bio: “Cindy Pereira is a chronically ill writer of short fiction, and recent graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program offered at the University of British Columbia. Her work can also be found at ‘Sad Girls Club Literary Blog,’ ‘Chronically Lit,’ and ‘The Maynard.’ She lives in Edmonton, AB.”