On a remote campus in North Carolina, six graduate students and their mysterious professor gather to study the science of lying. Professor Joe Lyons doesn’t just study manipulation and deceit—he practices it himself, even lying to the study subjects.
When one of them is killed, the deception that had become second nature to the cohort leaves each student unable to tell the truth from lies. And with a winter storm trapping the group on an otherwise abandoned campus, the killer could be hiding around any corner….
The utterly terrifying dark academia thriller you’ve been waiting for, This is How We End Things, will leave you chilled to the bone.
We’re thrilled to share that R.J. Jacobs’ newest thriller is one of two books included in the August/September Creepy Crate.
Read on for an excerpt from This is How We End Things, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!
FROM PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT
October 20, 2013
Evaluator: Simon Martin, PhD
“This is confidential, right?”
“It’s our seventh meeting, and you ask that every time. And yes.”
“Meaning nothing leaves this room?”
“Again, basically. There’re some exceptions. Legal issues. If you report child or elder abuse, even in the past, I have to make a call. Or if you say you’re planning to hurt yourself or someone else, I have to report that.”
“But things that happened in the past, that’ve been investigated already…”
“…They aren’t required to be reported, no. And won’t be. On that, you have my word. Protecting a patient’s privacy is a critical part of what I do.”
“…” [The subject pauses, approximately fifteen seconds pass]
“It sounds like there’s a story you want to tell, but you’re reluctant to start.”
“I mean, I’ve never told anyone.”
“That’s what trust is for.”
[A ten–-second pause]
“I think there’s something very wrong with me.”
“Well, maybe there is, and maybe not. Why don’t you tell me a little about what makes you think so, and we can figure it out together?”
“…You swear on your life it won’t get out?”
“Aside from the exceptions, yes, I swear.”
[The subject audibly exhales] “In eleventh grade, I murdered the man who killed my parents.”
“I…okay, I’m listening.”
“I knew I would from the moment I read his name on the police report and started being careful, even then, to avoid any internet research or contact with him that might raise suspicions about me. See, you’re fidgeting. I can tell you’re…”
“I was just surprised is all.”
“You’re sure you want to hear this?”
“Please, go on.”
“Will you put that pen down?”
[A clicking sound]
“I killed a man named Douglas Mitchner. He hit my parents’ car, head-on, at nearly eighty miles per hour. The police report I got said he was a type 1 diabetic who lost control of his vehicle after going into insulin shock, falling forward into the steering wheel as his foot pressed the accelerator. I knew he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but for some reason, that made me want him dead even more. Family money on my father’s side sent me to boarding school instead of state’s custody, but he took my adoptive parents away—-the only family I ever knew.”
“You’d mentioned you were adopted.”
“After their service, going in my parents’ room seemed disrespectful? Somehow? But I circled their bed. The corners of the white comforter tucked neatly beneath the pillows. It was the kind of bedroom that had lace doilies. On my father’s bedside table, the lamp was still switched on. I turned it off and could feel the heat from the bulb that had been lit for two days. On my mom’s nightstand was a picture of me in a silver modern frame that matched nothing else in the house. I think it had been a gift. The image kind of captured the hopes she had for me, and the way they’d cared for me, the best way they knew how. They took me in at my most vulnerable. They’d loved me.”
“And you loved them.”
“No, I don’t think I did, I don’t think I could. I respected them. I was loyal to them. If my mother knew about my dark side, she never let on. She was cheerful, always. But my dad knew very early; he could see my…emptiness but was warm and loving anyway, fully aware he could never be loved in return. I admired him for that.
“I retrieved my things, took a shower, then began plotting the most satisfying way to murder Douglas Mitchner, wondering how long I would have to wait to avoid drawing attention to myself.”
“I decided four months was safe, but in hindsight, I really should have waited longer.”
“Definitely. Boarding school was actually easier than my suburban Catholic high school, so I had some time on my hands. In October, I bribed a homeless man to buy a revolver from a pawnshop with cash I tucked away after the funeral. He passed it to me in the alleyway with the nonchalance of someone who would’ve given a teenager an atomic bomb. I tested its weight in my palm, noticing the number thirty-eight etched into the silver metal, then slipped the gun beneath the seat of my car before buying ammunition at a rural gun range, also using cash. In the second week of November, I caught a taxi to a neighborhood where I assumed drugs were sold. I mimicked a movie scene and asked to buy ‘rock’ cocaine from some guys in an alleyway. The dealer made a comment about my long hair, but when I flashed the emptiness, the vacancy in my eyes, and smiled, he relented. ‘Some kind of vampire,’ he said, about me. I stored the crack cocaine in a Tylenol bottle on a shelf above my roommate’s bed, in case it was somehow discovered. Not a nice thing to do, but like I said, something’s wrong with me. You keep looking at that pen. Please don’t take notes.”
[A ten–second pause]
“I’m listening, go ahead.”
“I bought a button--down shirt, a pair of pants, and a pair of nondescript running shoes at a thrift store and kept them separate from all of my other things. I forced myself to cry during a counseling appointment and made a point to appear unrushed at the end, lingering to make some extra small talk. I stole two sets of latex gloves from the student health center on the way out the door, then put on the thrift store clothes. Then I left my phone under my pillow and slipped out the back door. It was just after seven p.m. The drive took two hours, and when I got to my hometown, I parked in the shadows of an oak tree behind a church, then took a taxi to a shopping center near Douglas’s home, paid the driver in cash, and walked the rest of the way. It was a quiet night except for the crickets. I cut through a side yard where a wind chime clinked around. He had a bowl of something resting on his big bulbous stomach, pale turquoise light from a television flashing over his dumb features. Far away, a dog barked. I remember that. I knocked on the sliding glass door at the rear of the house. An outdoor light switched on.”
“You must have been scared? You were a kid.”
“No, listen. When he stepped outside, I shoved the butt of the revolver under his chin. And he blubbered, something or other about a gold and sapphire ring. ‘You’ll need the keys,’ I said, ‘Open the garage and start the car.’
“He did as he was told, and we were on our way. It smelled sour in the car. His gray shorts he wore were stained dark from where he’d wet himself. I directed him, ‘Take your next right.’ He was whining, ‘Where are…?’
“I motioned with the gun’s barrel, like I’d done all this a hundred times before. On a side street, I pulled several of the crack cocaine rocks from my pocket and held them to Douglas’s lips. ‘I need you to swallow this. But don’t chew.’ He was scared out of his mind, but did he it, wincing at the bitterness while his Adam’s apple bobbed. He was crying and mumbling to himself, and his shirt was getting dark in places from his sweat. I needed it to cycle through his bloodstream.”
“The rock cocaine?”
“Yeah. I scattered the rest of it across the floorboards. As I was doing it, he got brave or scared, I guess. He swung his elbow at me, trying to fling himself out of the car. Caught me right here [points to their left eye]. Yeah. It was bad; he stunned me, and I almost lost my grip on the gun and barely managed to get outside before him. He screamed once, like a sound that wasn’t really a word; I think crack dust had coated his mouth. In the distance, I heard a porch door creak open and slap shut. Someone called out, ‘Hello?’
“I shoved the gun under his chin and forced him back into the driver’s seat.
“I kept opening and closing my eye because my vision was turning blurry. He’d done some real damage to it.
“He started hyperventilating. His wheezing made me sick.
“I walked around the front of his car and fired six shots into him through the windshield.
“You’re okay? You wanted to hear this, remember?
“I ran off into the night, like any normal jogger. I heard the first siren as I slipped the gun into a food waste bin behind a pizza parlor. I ran all the way back to my car, then two and a half hours later, I was sitting in my dorm library, reading Rolling Stone magazine. I’d showered, and my hair was wet. Two kids I’d met earlier that semester burst through the door. I could smell alcohol on their breath from across the room. One asked, ‘Geez, you’re still up? What happened to your eye?’ They bragged about someone firing a potato shooter from a rooftop and told me everyone had ended up in a neighborhood swimming pool. Regular kid stuff. ‘You could have come,’ they said. And had I given any more thought to coming home with one of them over winter break? Someone’s folks had a place.
“I said, ‘You boarding school kids are too wild for me.’”
“They had no idea?”
“Not until five days later, when I was in handcuffs. The cop who arrested me wasted no time telling me I’d need a psychological evaluation.”
“And you mentioned none of this at that time? About you thinking something was wrong…inside?” [A thumping sound, likely the interviewer touching his chest]
“No. I started thinking about how I should lie.”
“That was five years ago?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t tried as an adult, so my sentence wasn’t very long.”
“So now you’re doing ongoing counseling and assessment as part of your parole. And you’re finally putting words to this feeling…”
“It’s a lack of feeling, more of an absence than a presence. When you’re like me, you have to hide what you are.”
[A long pause]
“Do you want to see the emptiness? I’ll show you, if you want. It hides in my eyes.”
[laughs] “Both of them, even the fucked up one. Maybe especially that one. Do you want to see?”
[A pause] “Okay.”
[Mumbling, indeterminable sounds, possibly a chair creaking]
[Laughs] “See? I knew you’d be scared. Everyone is.”
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