The construction of girl violence in media and public discourse

Back again by "popular" "demand", here is the latest in my series of randomly posted school assignments. This essay involved using the Reena Virk case (a well-known case of girl violence in Canada) to investigate the broader discursive frames in which the violent girl is represented in society. References available upon request. 


The murder of Reena Virk marked a point in Canadian culture where worry over the “violent girl” blossomed into a moral panic. This case became a problem-defining event, drawing a great deal of public and media scrutiny onto the issue of girl violence in Canada. The coverage of Virk’s murder, and other cases of girl violence in the Canadian media, is rife with examples of the themes McCormick discusses, particularly the valorization of victims, atrocity tales, moral outrage, and editorialization that he describes as common in media accounts of youth crime. The media and public discourse is characterized by a representation of girl violence as being a major social problem that is occurring with increasing frequency and savagery. It displays a level of disbelief that girls should be capable of violent crimes, and frames violence as fundamentally non-feminine.  

The portrayal of Virk in the media is one of the innocent victim of bullying. Most articles written about her discuss that she was awkward and overweight, desperate to please, and disliked by her classmates (Armstrong, 2000; Armstrong and Makin, 2009). Less common but still present in media accounts are discussions of the bright future that was cut short, as well as a downplaying of the problems she had been having with her family in favour of highlighting her achievements and positive qualities (Armstrong, 2000). Meanwhile, the teenagers who were eventually found to be responsible (particularly Kelly Ellard) are depicted as being cruel for the sake of entertainment, brutally violent, and in Ellard’s case, apparently unrepentant and unmoved by the suffering of the victim or subsequent punishments (Armstrong and Makin, 2009). This reflects what McCormick refers to as the “valorization of victims”, the movement towards depicting the victims as innocent and good and the criminals as guilty and dehumanized predators (McCormick, 2012). This attempt to dehumanize or demonize the violent girl while elevating the victim is typical in most other reported instances of girl violence, in which the victim’s humanity and viewpoint is almost universally preferred and reported while the offender’s is rarely considered (Barron and Lacombe, 2005; King, 2011; Spencer, 2005). If they are considered, it is only to highlight the deviance of their act, either from their own established behaviour or from the behaviour acceptable within society (Bruser, 2011; Schaffner 1999). For example, in the case of the Richardson murders, in which the two parents and the young son of the family were murdered by their twelve-year-old daughter and her twenty-three-year-old boyfriend, the daughter was initially regarded as a potential victim (Dohy, 2006). However, after her involvement in the crime became apparent, the media rapidly began searching out evidence that she was a hardened deviant, firmly separate from “normal society”. To this end, articles detailing her involvement in the goth subculture and the ways in which she did not fit into her family’s “average” life began to appear (Breakenridge, 2006; Reynolds, 2006). In this way she becomes a violent “other” who it is easy to fear, and who does not belong in society (Worrall, 2004). In public and media discourse the violent girl becomes a dehumanized criminal who poses extreme danger to society at large, her victims sympathetic, innocent targets who do not deserve the crime they have suffered.   

As with general youth crime, the perception exists in both the public and the media that violent crime committed by girls is on the rise (Barron and Lacombe, 2005; Scelfo, 2005). In these media accounts, the “growing lawlessness,” of young girls is lamented, and statistics are cited displaying what is portrayed as a troubling increase in female offending, particularly when it comes to violent crime (Barron and Lacombe, 2005; Macdonald, 2009; Morris, 2008). These claims of massive statistical increases in girl crime usually fail to take into account the fact that violent crime committed by females is still markedly lower than that committed by their male peers, as well as the fact that the small population of female offenders make any percentage increase seem larger than it is (Batchelor, 2001; Schaffner, 1999). This tendency to claim that girl violence is increasing at an alarming rate is enhanced by the tendency of the media to report on the particularly brutal and savage cases. This occurs because the media is highly selective of the sorts of cases that feature, and it prefers the easily sensationalized and highly atypical accounts of extreme girl violence that is not reflective of the general experience of girls themselves (Batchelor, Burman, and Brown, 2001; Chesney-Lind, 1992; McCormick 2012). This trend is reflective of the use of atrocity tales, in which these unusual cases are discussed in such a way as to highlight how clearly these violent girls have violated the mores of the public (Shupe and Bromley, 1981). Thus cases such as Reena Virk’s death and the Richardson murders come into the spotlight and remain in use as clear evidence of the increasing violence of young girls while the more mundane and far more common crimes committed by girls are largely ignored by the media and the public (Punch, 2008; Reiner, 1997; Victoria News, 2011).   

The perception of female youth crime as particularly vicious is also enhanced by the use of moral outrage and editorializing in the reports of girl violence that appear in the media. Moral outrage involves engaging the reader’s sense of disgust at the perceived violation of moral standards, while editorializing involves the insertion of opinion into the report of the facts of the case (McCormick, 2012). Words used to describe youth crime in general and girl violence in particular in the media include “heinous”, “brutal”, “horrific”, and “disturbing”, while a sense of outrage is cultivated through the use of valorized victims, references to the senselessness or brutality of the crime, and lurid descriptions of the crime (Victoria News, 2011; Armstrong and Makin, 2009; King; Canadian Press, 2005; Reiner). By framing girl violence with such language, and focusing on the unusual cases, the media appeals to and enhances the sense of outrage felt by the general public when it comes to violent girls, and encourages the perception that all violent crimes committed by girls are as violent as the select cases that are presented. In this way, girl violence is constructed as a major and growing social threat.  

The view of the violent girl as deviant is enhanced by the media and public’s general reluctance to accept that women, especially young girls, should be capable of any degree of violence. Most articles discuss the unbelievability of not only the severity of violence, but the fact that it is girls who are being violent (Armstrong and Makin, 2009; Macdonald, 2009). Violent crime is constructed in the media as a distinctly un-feminine crime, and girls who are violent are typically portrayed as less feminine, or as attempting to mimic their male peers in some way (Barron and Lacombe, 2005; Harris, 2011). Girls who are violent are seen as more deviant than their male peers despite similar levels of violence, reflecting the media and public belief that girls’ transgression against established gender norms are inherently more deviant than boys, who are expected to be violent (Schaffner, 1999). Often alcohol or substance abuse is introduced in an effort to provide mitigation for what would otherwise be an inexplicable level of violence; jealousy also features heavily in narratives attempting to make sense of girl violence (Gillis, 2010; Harris, 2011; Schaffner, 1999). At the same time, the media tends to portray these girls as morally transgressive, exhibiting cruelty, and given to promiscuous sexuality, this last particularly reflecting the past tendency to pathologize girls’ sexuality (Macdonald, 2009; Schaffner, 1999). Through this tendency to distance the violent girl from the traditional view of femininity while also tying her to what are traditionally viewed as feminine ways of offending against the legal and moral order, the media and public discourse engages in the othering process, vilifying the female offender and placing her firmly on the outside of society.    

In the discourse surrounding violent girls, victims are valorized while offenders are vilified. The media consistently puts forward the view that girl violence is increasing and growing more savage by the presentation of carefully selected and highly atypical cases of violence. Violent girls are othered by dehumanization, and stripped of their femininity by the perception of violence as inherently non-feminine. These elements together create a public and media discourse which does not reflect the true picture of violence as it is experienced by most girls, and creates a violent girl who has become more a social problem than member of society.  


Fan Expo!

I was at Fan Expo this weekend, and it was seriously the best of times. I got to meet or see a lot of really awesome people (shout out to Peter Chiykowski from Rock, Paper, Cynic who is really just the most awesome of guys) and I got tonnes of comics and cool things, and just so many posters! Anyways, here are some sweet photos of cool things/things I got. There aren't many because I am a bad person who is bad at taking pictures, but what can you do? Also I'm the one dressed as Delirium, I didn't actually get a picture of the full costume myself, so I stole that photo off the internet.


Anomie as the root of Punk

This is an essay I wrote for a class in which I "employ Robert Merton's anomie theory to make sense of [...] the Punk movement," posted by what I can only describe (inaccurately) as popular demand. Feel free not to read it, it's a bit terrible. Reference section available upon request.  
This system cannot be reformed! (So how about we try something different?): Anomie as the root of Punk 

There have long been efforts to explain the formation and attributes of youth subcultures, many of which, at some point or other, are considered to be deviant. The punk movement is no exception to this need to explain. This essay will attempt to apply Robert Merton’s anomie theory to the punk subculture, arguing that it can be used to explain the various elements of the subculture that have emerged in the decades since its inception.

Robert Merton’s strain theory rests heavily on the concept of anomie. First popularized by Emile Durkheim, anomie is broadly defined as the loss of norms, values and social cohesion and the accompanying lack of meaningful regulations and objectives in life brought about by modern society (Durkheim, 1951). Merton proposed in his theory that anomie was a driving force behind social strain. He attributed this social strain to the discrepancy between socially approved goals and the legitimate means of achieving them available to members of the society. He believed that when society was structured in such a way as to limit the legitimate means available, people would turn to illegitimate avenues to achieve their goals. Anomie ensues when society can no longer integrate or coordinate the ends and means, and the emphasis is placed on achieving goals while the acceptable ways of achieving them are not available to all members. This, he argued, was the foundation of deviance in society (Merton, 1938).  

The term “punk” refers broadly to a style of music and the accompanying subculture, which is characterized by its nonconformist mode of dress and hairstyle, and uniquely politicized nature (Clark, 2003); (Sabin, 1999). The movement emerged in the 1970s, and is generally associated with left-wing and progressive ideology, though it can cover a broad spectrum of ideologies, ranging from libertarian to right-wing to apolitical (Simonelli, 2002); (O’Hara 1999); (Sarabia and Shriver, 2004). Generally the movement is noted for its anti-establishment overtones, its emphasis on discontent with the status quo, and its focus on individualism, do-it-yourself self-reliance and free thought (Heffernan, 2011); (Hansen and Hansen, 1991); (Moore, 2004). In its more extreme forms, punk has acquired a reputation in the mainstream as a violent and deviant subculture, often aided by the vitriolic lyrics, tendency towards profanity and subversive, confrontational performances given by many of the well-known punk bands (Heffernan, 2011); (Simonelli, 2002); (O’Hara 1999). Though the mainstream tends to associate all punk with one type of person, one style and one sound, it is in fact made up of a diffuse group of people who embrace different elements of the lifestyle and ideologies to varying degrees, and enjoy different styles of punk music.  

In his theory of anomie, Robert Merton describes five adaptations that individuals may make to the pressures of society, specifically to the means and ends that are acceptable within society. These are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. In each of these adaptations the individual decides whether to accept, reject, or attempt to replace the culturally acceptable ends and means (Merton, 1938). The last three are of special interest in an investigation into the punk subculture; most adherents of the punk subculture appear to most clearly display two of his proposed adaptations: retreatism and rebellion while the third, ritualism, is less clearly present but still important.   

One of the major adaptations displayed by the punk community is that of retreatism, in which mainstream culture’s ends and means both are rejected (Merton, 1938). This is perhaps best displayed by members of the punk subculture who withdraw from traditional ways of living or earning a living, often embracing a homeless or transient lifestyle rather than continuing to function normally in mainstream society. These punks, especially those referred to as “crusty punks,” refuse to participate in a society with which they disagree for various social or political reasons, and so drop out almost completely, refusing to engage in culturally acceptable behaviour or to seek out culturally acceptable goals (Heffernan, 2011); (Leblanc, 1999). Of all members of the punk subculture those who retreat from society are most likely to be perceived as deviant, as they are generally most likely to display their subcultural affiliation externally with extreme fashion statements (Leblanc, 1999). They are also more likely to engage in socially unacceptable behaviours such as panhandling or homelessness, and perceived to be more likely to have substance abuse problems or to be violent, even if this is not the case (Heffernan, 2011); (Baron, 1989). Punks of the retreatist adaptation are cast adrift by mainstream society, and experience anomie as a sense of isolation from the society that they feel no longer has anything of value to offer them. They react by refusing to participate in society. 

The rebellion adaptation is perhaps more closely related to punk in the minds of mainstream society, and for good reason. In the rebellion adaptation, ends and means are not accepted, but nor are they outright rejected. Instead, the rebel replaces the values of mainstream society with new ends and means, creating their own rules for behaviour and desirable goals that are subculturally acceptable and which they advocate spreading to mainstream culture (Merton, 1938). This rejection and replacement is best exemplified through the highly political messages conveyed by much of punk music, which often espouse anti-government and anti-conformist messages, as well as advocating for a new order in which their personal goals and ideas are substituted for those of mainstream society (O’Hara, 1999). Punks draw attention to issues such as militarism, racism, animal cruelty and oppression of the working-class, and offer solutions to these social issues, often supporting a wholesale replacement or restructuring of vast swathes of society in their own image (Hansen and Hansen, 1991); (Clark, 2004). They reject available, culturally approved means of achieving goals, such as maintaining gainful employment, in favour of expressing themselves and their dissatisfaction with mainstream society (Heffernan, 2011). Many punks also display disdain for the common goals of society, notably consumerism and capitalism, and reject the opportunity to profit from their art or music. Often this manifests in their disdain for those who have “sold out,” that is, those who have sacrificed their ideals for status or monetary gain (Gosling, 2004); (Davies, 1996). They replace these culturally approved goals with those of their own choosing, usually focused around individual freedom, lax social control or artistic expression (Heffernan, 2011). Many punks also take part in “direct action,” activities including protesting or civil disobedience, designed to make their opinions known and bring about social change (Heffernan, 2011); (Ardizzone, 2005). Punks of the rebellious adaptation are angered by the structure of society, and experience anomie as a result of the hypocrisy of the mainstream. In response they act out and demand change.   

The ritualism adaptation is less associated with the punk movement, but still holds some weight in the subculture, mostly as it involves adaptation within the subculture itself. In the ritualism adaptation, individuals accept the means but reject the ends (Merton, 1938). For many members of the punk movement, especially those who exist on the periphery and affect the punk style without genuinely accepting its ideologies, often referred to as “poseurs,” the rituals of punk have become central (O’Hara, 1999). They do not care about the rebellious or political goals of punk. Instead, they are interested in superficial and inconsequential rebellion, using the subculture as a fashion statement: something that makes them appear tough or edgy without actually having to be so (Heffernan, 2011); (Clark, 2003). These punks are almost universally rejected by the more dedicated punk subculture, though what makes one a poseur is not always clear, and can vary between groups of punks (Levine and Stumpf, 1983); (Heffernan, 2011). Despite their rejection by “true” punks, poseurs remain closely involved in the movement, and probably outnumber the “true” punks due to the rapid commercialization of punk that made it more acceptable and more available to the mainstream (Clark, 2003). For these poseurs the instrumental actions of rebellion, the fashion choices, the values espoused, have become ritualistic expressions of a discontent they do not fully understand or care about. Interestingly, the ritualistic mindset is also seen in some elements of the most dedicated hardcore punks, as members turn searching out “genuine” punks and defending their subculture from poseurs into their main goal. The need to keep their subculture insular, originally a means to ensure that their subculture remained true to its ideals, becomes for them an end unto itself (Moore, 2004).  For poseurs, anomie arises from the wish to reject culturally acceptable goals in order to be seen to rebel or be different, and is dealt with by clinging to subculturally acceptable actions without attachment to the goals. For hardcore punks, the need to protect “their” lifestyle from interlopers becomes paramount, and previous goals are abandoned in favour of staying “pure”.  

Using Robert Merton’s theory sheds a great deal of light on much of the punk subculture. His theory of anomie and adaptation explains the street punks who choose to drop out of society completely, the politicized punks who use their subculture to attempt to force change, and the fashion punks who engage in the punk subculture more as a form of ritualism than as a lifestyle. While it is difficult to fully explain every element of such a diverse subculture, Merton’s theory goes a long way to making sense of a movement that might, at first glance, seem one-dimensional and simple. 


The Adventure of Looking Too Hard At A Meaningless Problem

So a friend of mine and I just finished watching the new Sherlock episode, and if you haven't seen this show yet you absolutely should. Go on and watch it, I'll wait.  
Good, okay, now that we're all caught up, let's get down to the matter at hand. Because we're terrible nerds, we've naturally been reading the tie-in material for Sherlock, and John Watson happens to keep a blog. As has been mentioned in the most recent episode, the hit counter for that blog is stuck at 1895. Of course, our interest was immediately piqued. What could it mean?! It has to mean something! This sent us on an hours-long quest that lead us through a number of attempts to figure out what precisely that hit counter was trying to tell us. Now I open this up to you. Does 1895 mean something, or are we just desperate for something Sherlock-y to occupy our time between now and the next episode? The answer is almost certainly the second one. Here's what we've got: 
We tried it as a date, but there are seemingly no notable Holmes stories published/ set then, and no important events occurred in the UK in 1895 that are of special note; 1/8/95 was similarly fruitless. Next as a simple cipher (1=a etc.) from which the best we got was "AHIE" or "RIE," which appear to be meaningless only because they are. Then as a slightly more complex code (blog entry on 1=1st day, of 8=August, 9th line, 5th word) which came out as "details" or, using the 5 as a letter, "R," similarly meaningless unless you want to make the gigantic leap that "R" is the first letter in "Reichenbach Falls," which is the place where Sherlock Holmes met his temporary doom in The Final Problem (published 1893 and set in 1891, so no connection to the number). Then we started to get a bit sillier. In 1895 a book entitled The Woman Who Did was published. Irene Adler's nickname is The Woman. Coincidence? Almost certainly, yes. In 1895, famous playwright Oscar Wilde was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel. Also, the Sherlock Holmes story The Bruce-Partington Plans was set in 1895. The name of the murder victim? Arthur Cadogan West. What can it be other than some hidden message?! 
It's actually a lot of fun coming up with these crazy connections, so feel free to weigh in with your own ridiculously convoluted theories! As for my apparent descent into madness, I can only blame the show for hosting these sites wherein there actually is some audience participation (albeit extremely, almost insultingly, easy puzzles; see Sherlock's Science of Deduction website, specifically the Hidden Messages section), and my own suspicious and mistrustful nature.  
Edit: I have found a solution that might almost be called reasonable! A poem by a man named Vincent Starrett, entitled 221B, is about the timeless nature of the Holmes and Watson characters, and explicitly uses 1895 to describe the generic time period in which the stories are set. Mystery solved! ...Or is it?!

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Enter Sandman

So as you may know, it is the exam period for many universities. This means that I, being a good student, should be dedicating all my free time to studying. But of course I have not being doing that. Instead I've been staying up until five in the morning making random fan art. And then of course I have to share it, because why not? So here is a watercolour painting of Dream of the Endless. Enjoy!


This is why I shouldn't be left alone with art supplies

So the other day I was procrastinating on doing some work, and started fooling around with watercolours. And somehow I ended up with three paintings of questionable quality!  But anyways, they’re sort of semi-gifts for three people who have been super nice to me here on the site. Respectively, they go out to Silkcuts, The Poet, and Mr Q. Thanks for being so cool, guys! I hope you like them, or at least that you like me enough to lie and tell me that you like them.    



A Terrible Birthday Present

This drawing started out as a birthday present for a friend of mine. Why I'd think a drawing like this could be considered an appropriate birthday present  is unclear even to me, but it can probably be best explained by my morbid and creepifying nature. The character sitting on top wasn't originally intended to have a skull head- and indeed doesn't in the final drawing- but I drew it as a guide and found I quite enjoyed the look, so I scanned the rough version into my computer before completing it. It bears a more than passing resemblance to the portrayal of Death in Dr McNinja, but that was unintentional I swear.

Anyways, I knew this version wouldn't be going to my friend, but I wanted to post it somewhere, so it gets posted here. 


Stories from the Machine of Death: Alone

This is a story that I wrote for the Machine of Death, but never submitted. I abandoned it in the run-up to the submission date, when I decided to focus on the Sherlock Holmes story. Because I abandoned it, it's only been edited once (for spelling, grammar, etc.), and I didn't take the time to work out the little details that I usually enjoy writing (hence being a little vague in terms of how and where the recording has been acquired; I didn't have time to research how transcripts usually look). But anyways, enough nattering on -- here's the story.  
[Transcription of the tape recovered from the recent rockfall incident in the Rocky Mountains]
I don't know how much I'll be able to record before… well, before this recorder thing dies, but I wanted to be able to tell this story if anything… um…. if I don't make it. It's uh… I think it's probably Monday evening. I've been here since Monday morning [INDISTINCT] noon. I think there was rockfall. Well, I mean, I'm pretty sure it was rockfall, since I'm trapped under a whole bunch of rocks [COUGHING]. My right foot is caught under a really heavy rock, I lost feeling in it not too long after I came to… that's probably a blessing. I don't think it's bled too much… [SNIFFLING]. Uh, there's a large rock overhead that probably would've crushed me, but it's supported by a couple of other rocks, so it's just propped above me, making it hard to move my head. I can't raise my body more than a few centimetres off the ground. I was able to get my left arm out from under the small rock that was pinning it, I think it might be fractured, it hurts to move. I can see a bit of the sky in a crack between the rocks. I'm basically sealed in, but otherwise unencumbered. I don't… I don't know what happened to Charlie. I uh… I was calling for a while. He didn't answer back. I'm sure he's getting help. I think… I think he must be. I um… I'm sorry I…[COUGHING, SNIFFLING] I think I'll just talk until he gets back. That way when the search party arrives they'll be able to hear me, and that'll help them get me out faster. Plus they'll have a report already made for them [LAUGHTER, COUGHING]. 

So, uh, Charlie and I came out here to do some climbing this morning. He never lets me go out on these trips by myself, because of what my card says [QUIET LAUGHTER]. I say he shouldn't strain himself, I mean, his says "Heart Attack," for goodness sake, he could kill himself trying to keep up. But he never lets me go by myself. So he was climbing in front of me, and I guess something slipped and the next thing I knew we were falling. It was so loud, I tried to call to Charlie but I couldn't even hear myself over the noise. I guess I got hit on the head and passed out, because I don't remember anything past tumbling head over heels down the side of the mountain. When I woke up it was daytime, so either it's still Monday or I slept through most of the day and night. I tried pushing the rock overhead, but it's too heavy and I didn't want to unsettle it too much. The rock trapping my foot is supporting the big one, so I can't free it. But I'm um… I'm sure someone is… is coming for me soon [SNIFFLING]. I'm sure Charlie is nearby. He wouldn't have left me here because he knows that I shouldn't be… out here on my own. [SHOUTING] Charlie! Charlie, baby, please, are you there? Are you alright? Baby? [CRYING] Oh god I should've given it up, like Charlie said. This was all my fault. But I didn't want to be a slave to my prediction, you know? I know so many people who got things like "drowning" and gave up on swimming and boating and all the things they used to love that involved water, and then died because they got drunk and passed out face-down on a leaking waterbed or something stupid like that. That's the way the machine works, right? It's fucking with us. I didn't want to be another person who gave up everything they loved and then died in a cruelly ironic way. I remember Charlie and I fought about it right after I got my prediction. And I told him that I didn't care if I died out here, at least I'd be doing something I loved [LAUGHING, SNIFFLING] I'm beginning to regret that now. 

You know my old climbing partner gave up climbing because of his card. It said "Accident," and naturally he assumed that his accident might happen somewhere up here. He hasn't had his accident yet, so far as I know, but really, what's the point? If you live for a little while longer, but you have to give up what you love, is that really living? [LAUGHTER] Listen to me, like I'm one of those so-called philosophers who everybody's always listening to, telling people what to do with their lives, and about their deaths. I never really had any use for those sorts. They never really have anything to say to people with cards like mine, anyways. [COUGHING] It's odd, it looks like night through the crack in the rock, you'd think it'd be getting colder, but I'm sweating through my clothes. I think I… I need Charlie here. [THERE IS A THUD, AS THOUGH THE RECORDER HAS BEEN DROPPED. THE DIALOGUE IS MUFFLED] Charlie? [SHOUTING] Charlie! Please help me! Are you there? Please you can't leave me here. Help me, someone! Please! Help! Help me! Charlie! Please! Don't leave me by myself! Don't leave me here! Charlie? [CRYING] I don't think… I don't think he's there. Charlie… Charlie [INDISTINCT MUMBLING, THERE IS A RUSTLING AND THE DIALOGUE BECOMES CLEARER] I can't… um… I don't know how much longer I can… [SOBBING] I can't even think straight… I just… I think I'm hearing things. And every once in a while I think I see lights through the crack. But there's no one there. There isn't anyone… [QUIET LAUGHTER] That damned machine was right. I'm dying just like it said I would. Alone. [COUGHING] I finally said it, Charlie. You were right. I'm so sorry, baby. I think I just… I need… I need to… to sleep. I'll just--
Thanks for reading!

Murdered by a Person You Wouldn't Suspect, Part 2

And now the thrilling conclusion to my Machine of Death story! Apologies for the delay, I was locked out of my house and thus unable to post it.  

Several hours later, my friend returned, this time entering through the door. He did not acknowledge my questions, instead hurrying into his room and emerging in his usual attire. "No time for questions, Watson. Let us make our way to the unfortunate man's bedside." When we arrived it was revealed Holmes had summoned us all to the sick room. I was surprised to see he had called the housekeeper, who we had met earlier, along with the wife and son of the beleaguered gentleman. My friend moved next to the bed, looking down at the ill man, who had gotten much worse in the few hours that we had spent parted from his company. His skin had become quite flushed, and an angry red rash had spread onto his hands and neck. Occasionally his body convulsed as though he were experiencing short-lived fits. His wife, whose eyes were rimmed with red, stood next to her son, who was somewhat more stoic but no less troubled by his father's state.

"Please, Mr. Holmes," said Mrs. Goode, her voice full of emotion, "I cannot stand to see my dear husband in such a state. Have you deduced the identity of his eventual killer?" My friend smiled reassuringly at her. "Indeed I have, my dear lady. But first- your son is nineteen-years-old, is he not?" She nodded, holding her son's hand tighter. My friend nodded distractedly. "Yes, I think I have the whole of the case within my grasp. You will, I hope, correct me where I go wrong, Miss Kelly," here he turned and made a slight nod towards the housekeeper, who instantly went rigid, her eyes and mouth wide with shock. Before she could make a retort, however, my friend began to speak. 

"I visited the conservatory that you maintain on the grounds, Mr. Goode. It is well stocked, I noticed, with a variety of poisonous plants. The world of botany provides an incredible variety of murder weapons, would you not agree?" The young man drew himself up indignantly. "Mr Holmes, if you are suggesting what I believe -"

"Never fear, Mr. Goode," said my friend, waving his hands dismissively, "you have been ruled out of consideration by the very prediction that brought us here. But surely you aren't the only person who enjoys botanical pursuits."

"No," he said slowly, "Miss Kelly often joins me in the conservatory. Ever since I was a little boy, she would take me out to the garden to play while my mother was busy." My friend nodded, "I thought as much. You have always been close with Miss Kelly, is it not so?" The lad nodded again. "The kitchen maids told me as much," said Holmes, "The gossip in the kitchens has proven most instructive. Many of the maids there recalled that nineteen years ago you, Miss Kelly, had been pregnant out of wedlock, and had refused to name the father. They further recalled that your infant had died of cot death only a few days after his birth. Is this true?" Miss Kelly crossed her arms and scowled at my friend, "I don't see what this has to do with anything, Mr. Holmes," she said venomously. "Oh, it has a great deal to do with everything," said Holmes, "for it was not Jacob Kelly who died all those years ago, but Jeremy Goode." The young man thus named looked at my friend in horrified shock. "Allow me to explain what I believe happened," said Holmes, turning towards the bed, "Nineteen years ago, Sir William was having an affair with Miss Kelly. Both his wife and his mistress became pregnant at around the same time, and both were delivered of boys within a few days of one another. Miss Kelly was infatuated with Sir William and mad with jealousy of his wife's child, who received every comfort and kindness while her own son was treated as a bastard, unacknowledged even by his own father. In a fit of rage she crept into the nursery while the poor boy's own mother slept in the next room, and smothered the child. 

"However, her deed was not, as she had hoped, secret. Sir William saw her commit the heinous crime and, unable to save his son and hoping to spare his wife the pain of losing the child while simultaneously silencing his mistress, took his other child in place of the deceased one. No one but Miss Kelly and Sir William were ever to know of it, and Sir William blackmailed Miss Kelly into silence and servitude not only with the knowledge of her terrible crime, but also the fact that her beloved son, Jacob, now Jeremy, was in his hands." Miss Kelly burst into tears, "Oh it's true, all true, Lord help me," she wailed, "But… how? How could you know that he's my Jacob?"   

"Freckles," said Holmes. "You never see a freckled child with two parents who lack them, in the grand scheme of heredity it is an impossibility."

"Sir," said Jeremy Goode, clearly struggling to maintain a calm demeanour, "you have revealed some very troubling things about my family, it is true, but I don't quite see what this has to do with my father's murder-"

"I am surprised, Mr. Goode, that with your own botanical knowledge you failed to note the signs of poisoning, though perhaps love of your father has blinded you to the symptoms. You have agreed that yourself and Miss Kelly spent some time together in the conservatory discussing botany. It stands to reason that she has thus developed something of a knowledge of poisons by way of your own knowledge. It would be a simple matter for her to steal into the conservatory and clip some leaves from the belladonna that I observed growing there. It would be a simpler matter still to slip some of these leaves into the tea that your father has been drinking, for who would be less suspicious than a servant with a good history who has long been in service to the house? Her first attempt, made just a day before we arrived, put him into his false meningitis. Doubtless he was already dying, but fearing that he might reveal some of their sordid history to my companion and I, she dosed him again shortly after we arrived. I am afraid that there is nothing we can do for him, as there is no antidote for belladonna poisoning." At this the man's wife, who had managed to keep hold of her emotions through the litany of tragedy that my friend had laid out, burst into tears, sobbing into the jacket of the man who she had thought of as her son. My friend continued on, heedless of the emotion he had stirred up."But what could have persuaded you, Miss Kelly, having waited nineteen years, to only now take revenge on the man who had so wronged you? Again the kitchen maids proved most helpful. While doubtlessly a man like Sir William has had many affairs over the nineteen years during which you have remained silent, only one of them has conceived a child. She is about a month along, if I do not miss my guess. Recognizing the signs, you again felt the maddening jealousy that had driven you to murder once before. Having no innocent baby upon which to vent your rage, you turned your murderous gaze upon Sir William, even going so far as to poison the tea brought to him by his new mistress."   Miss Kelly turned towards the door as if to flee. I started towards her, hoping to stop her, however Holmes had, as always, planned ahead.

"Lestrade!" called my friend, and at his call the door opened, revealing the very man. "I sent a telegram requesting Lestrade's presence here as soon as I was sure of Sir William's inevitable death," he informed those of us assembled in the room, then turned back to the Inspector, "I trust you heard everything, Inspector?" The man nodded. "Then I hope that you will take Miss Kelly into custody, and we may declare this matter closed." 

Holmes and I quickly departed the mansion, commandeering the family's carriage to take us back to our apartment at 221B Baker Street. For a long time my friend simply gazed out the window, watching the English countryside flash past. About fifteen minutes into our journey he turned to me suddenly, "Your own prediction, Watson," he said, his face pensive, "old age, if I am correct." I nodded, expecting some gentle ribbing from my friend. Instead he himself just nodded. "That's a good death. Some time for us, yet." I murmured my agreement, but couldn't help but think over my friend's words, and feel some curiosity as to their meaning. "Some time for us, yet " he had said. Not for the first time, and not for the last, did I wonder what the small card that Holmes always kept on his person said. I did not ask, I would never press him to reveal it to me, but for that moment, that brief moment when I saw in his clear eyes the look of doubt, I could not help but wonder if his card and mine were more similar than he cared to admit. 

Thus concluded the curious case of the most peculiar Death Machine prediction. We returned to more or less similar cases to those that had come to us before the Machine's invention, and while on occasion a death card may feature in the investigation, Holmes has since refused every case directly related to that most singular machine.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

Murdered by a Person You Wouldn't Suspect

Alright everybody, here it is, my thrilling Machine of Death story, called Murdered by a Person You Wouldn't Suspect (the official MOD title) or The Adventure of the Death Machine Prediction (the Holmesian title)  

It was the summer of 1885 when my friend Sherlock Holmes and I were brought a most interesting case, a case that was tied inextricably to the newest fad to grace the upper echelons of London society. It was not the first case brought to us by the curious machinations of the Death Machine, nor, I am sure, will it be the last. Many a person, having received their prediction and found themselves marked with "Murder", would turn to my companion in the hopes of preempting their death. The first such case was the peculiar case of the American - Mr. Harcourt Mudd - which will perhaps be related at another time. My friend soon began turning away such cases, however, as merely identifying the potential murderer was not yet enough to have the villain arrested, and the Death Machine was always right, after all. Sooner or later our client would succumb to their killer, whether Holmes had found him or not.

It was early on a mid-summer morning that our case appeared in the form of a letter. "See here Watson," said Holmes, waving a letter in my direction, "we've received another Death Machine request".  I looked up from the newspaper which I had been reading, "Surely you don't intend to take it, not after the tragic debacle of the death card of the King of Bohemia." Holmes smiled and brought the letter down to rest on his lap, sitting up straighter, "We must pursue this case, Watson, the prediction is simply too intriguing to ignore." He stood and stepped quickly to the table, dropping the letter onto my newspaper. I picked it up and began to read as Holmes retreated into his own chambers.  

"Dear Mr. Holmes, 

My father has only recently received his Death Machine prediction, reproduced below, and needless to say it has left my family in an awful state. We would very much appreciate your aid in resolving the matter. We will pay handsomely for the privilege of your assistance. I will call at your residence at precisely nine o'clock in the morning to receive your answer. 

Yours faithfully,

Jeremy Goode"

After the main body of the text a card was affixed to the paper, the familiarly thick card stock that denoted an official Death Machine prediction:

"Murdered by a person you wouldn't suspect"

It was much longer and more descriptive than the average prediction in my experience, most of them going to about four words at the maximum. My own card had made do with only two. Holmes refused to share his prediction with me; I could only assume this was because it indicated some tragic end brought about by his dangerous lifestyle, and he did not wish to cause me to worry any more than I already did. He was well aware of my own prediction - old age - and though he never commented on it, I was sure he considered it woefully pedestrian and wholly uninteresting. 

Holmes emerged from his room, dressing gown shed in favour of his usual clothes. "The young Jeremy should be arriving soon," he said, gesturing at the clock, which did indeed reveal only a few minutes left until the appointed time. I had only had time to fold my newspaper before our landlady, Mrs. Hudson, knocked on the door. "There's a man to see you, Mr. Holmes," she said, leaning in at my friend's invitation. "Thank you Mrs Hudson," he said, throwing himself down into his armchair, "please show him up."   

Only a few moments later a clean-shaven man with very blond hair entered the room. He looked quite young, an effect that was enhanced by the light freckles that covered the bridge of his nose. He was dressed crisply, though the clothes had obviously seen some wear, splashed with mud as they were from the morning's downpour. His eyes shifted nervously between myself and my companion, as though he was unsure which of us to address. My friend saved him by rising from his seat, "I take it you are Jeremy Goode, who sent us this most interesting letter." He gestured at the letter, still lying on the table. The man nodded curtly, "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Holmes. My parents hoped that you would be willing to take our case. My mother is willing to offer twice your usual fee if you will come at once." He glanced away from Holmes, looking instead at his hands, which were turning his hat round and round at a dizzying speed. "Would I be wrong in saying you opposed hiring me?" enquired my friend. The young man looked up, eyes wide with shock, hands ceasing their movement. "Surely you will not be offended, Mr. Holmes. It is simply that, well, the Machine has already rendered its prediction. You know as well as I that any action taken to undermine the prediction will prove ultimately futile. I do not see what my parents intend to gain from hiring you, at least before my father has actually died." My friend smiled. "My dear boy I take no offence. However, I'm afraid I must dash your hopes, for the case is one I simply cannot ignore." The man smiled wanly, "I understand completely, Mr. Holmes. If you have nothing to detain you, I have a carriage waiting to transport us to my father's estate." 

After hastily packing a few of his more important scientific instruments, Holmes and I followed Mr. Goode out into the street, where a black carriage was indeed waiting. We rode in silence for some time before my friend spoke, "Does the life of a botanist suit you well, Mr. Goode?" The man's eyes widened yet again. "Why, how could you possibly know that, Mr. Holmes?" My friend smiled, and a gleam entered his eye, as one always did when he was able to demonstrate his amazing deductive powers, "The mud on your trousers has told me." The man looked down quizzically at his lightly spattered trousers, "But your trousers are spattered as well! I can't see a difference."

"Ah," said my friend, grinning, "but the type of mud on your trousers is not common London mud, nor is it from the kind of soil that can be found on or near your father's estate. It occurs to me, then, that it is from a garden to which the specific soil has been transported in order to grow a specific plant, as a garden occasionally requires. It is possible a member of your family is the gardener, but you weren't simply walking in this soil, you were also digging in it, revealed by the dirt that you have not yet been able to clean from under your fingernails. Thus, you work in gardens. Perhaps you are a casual gardener, but would a casual gardner have taken time to work in his garden when he had an appointment so early in the morning? I think not -  you must be more dedicated to your pursuit than the casual enthusiast. It is clear from the pin on your lapel that you are a university man, and that particular pin belongs to a department that has a reputation for botanical and biological studies. Thus, it is clear you are a botanist." The man gaped at my friend. "Your reputation is well-earned, Mr. Holmes." My friend allowed himself a small smile. At that moment we arrived at the Goode's manor house, a sprawling estate located just outside of London. 

At our arrival we were greeted by the butler, a man by the name of Thompson, and, after being shown the rooms where we would be staying for the duration of the investigation, quickly ushered into the presence of the man of the house, Sir William Goode. Though the heat outside was quite overwhelming, the window curtains were all drawn, making the room positively stifling and incredibly dark; the only notable source of light coming from a small candle at the bedside. The man himself lay propped up in bed, surrounded on all sides by a gauzy curtain. A dark-haired woman, presumably his wife, sat by the side of the bed, murmuring comforting words to him that we could not hear. As we entered, the younger Goode moved immediately to his mother's side. She rose and turned to us, eyes sad and defeated. We made our pleasantries brief, and quickly returned our attention to the sick man who lay before us. "Has your husband been ill for long, Mrs. Goode?" asked my friend. "About one day," she replied, "the doctor diagnosed him with meningitis. That's why he had us get a Death Machine prediction, to see if William should be setting his affairs in order." I stepped closer to the bed, attempting to get a clear view of the unfortunate man through the curtains. "Has he been responding to any treatments?" I knew from my medical training that meningitis was difficult to treat, though could be affected by regular withdrawal of fluid from the spine.  She shook her head, "Not yet. Though of course he must eventually, considering his… prediction," tears sparkled in her eyes. "If you will excuse me gentlemen, I must tend to some matters about the house," she hurried from the room before we were able to say anything, and her son, muttering a quick apology, hurried after her, leaving us alone in the company of Sir William. 

"That poor woman," I said, looking towards the door through which she and her son had just departed, "it must be quite a shock, to have her husband first succumb to so awful a disease as meningitis, then find out his ultimate fate would be so brutal."  My friend made a noise to acknowledge my statement, but appeared absorbed in peering through the curtains to where the stricken man lay. Before I could stop him, my friend tore back the curtain. Sir William, who had to this point appeared to be asleep, raised a hand to his head, shielding his eyes from the meagre light of the candle that Holmes was holding over him. "You're a medical man, Doctor," said Holmes, turning to me, "would you be willing to examine this man?"  Sir William struggled up in bed, "Please," he said, in a voice that was quite slurred as though he were intoxicated, "please, where has my wife gone? My son?" My friend set the  candle back down. "They've gone for fresh air, Sir William. I've brought a doctor to see you," he gestured at me and I stepped forwards. Sir William shook his head, throwing it violently from side to side, eyes wide and wild. "Please, you must turn off the lights. My eyes!" He thrashed wildly, as though swatting at invisible lights. My friend and I looked around the room, searching for the offending light. However, none shone in the room aside from the weak glow of the candle. Even the natural light from the window was completely blocked by the heavy curtains. Sir William suddenly stopped thrashing and made a low keening noise, pressing his hands to his temples and squeezing his eyes closed. "My head, my head," he moaned, "it's terrible. Doctor, please can you help me?" He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and gazed at me. For the first time I noticed his pupils, which were enormously dilated, almost completely covering the natural colour of his eyes. My friend spoke before I was able to, "We will send some help to you, Sir William. Come along, Watson," he seized my arm and began to pull me away from the poor man's bedside. His eyes were alight with the excitement I knew all too well. A clue had fallen into place, something had revealed itself, and my friend was eager to investigate. We were about to reach the door when it opened, revealing a woman of about forty, with fiery red hair and a heavily freckled face. She bore a tray on which sat a teapot and cup, as well as a bottle I recognized as containing laudanum. "Begging your pardon, sirs," she said, bobbing a hasty curtsey, "I've brought some tea and medicine for Sir William." We stood aside to allow her entrance, and as she made her way to the bed, my companion and I departed. 

The moment we were out of the room I turned to Holmes, who was keeping us to a rather hurried pace. "Holmes, I don't believe that man actually has meningitis."

"Well noticed Watson. You are quite right, he is missing some important symptoms of that disease, specifically the stiffness of the neck common in all sufferers. Though my medical knowledge is not quite as complete as your own, I have had occasion to witness the terrible afflictions of meningitis. However, my knowledge of poison far outstrips your own, you will agree." Here I nodded. "Then you believe he has been poisoned?"

"I know it, Watson. He has all the symptoms of one poisoned by belladonna."

"So the killer has already begun his deadly work."

"That is what the clues indicate, Watson." We arrived then at our rooms, and Holmes gestured for me to take a seat, assuming his own after lighting his pipe. "Well, friend Watson," said Holmes, sitting back in the chair and smoking his pipe thoughtfully, "what say you on the matter?" 

"Perhaps the son?" I ventured, "He may be after his father's money,"

"I daresay not," said my friend, removing the pipe from his mouth, "we must not forget the man's death card, which indicated that his killer would be the least suspect of all the possibilities. The son's apparent perfection is perhaps too perfect"

"Then who?" I asked, "surely you have some idea of the culprit, Holmes."

"Ah Watson," said my friend, his eyes sparkling in amusement, "you underestimate me! I have indeed identified the villain responsible. However I am still engaged in arranging the ways and means into a coherent narrative." With this he rose and moved towards the chambers in which had been placed his luggage, "await me here, Watson, I shall return shortly."

When he emerged some time later, he was quite a changed man. His figure, usually so tall and thin, was hunched and looked positively frail. His eyes, usually alive with intelligence and interest were dim and tired. His clothes were ill-fitting and of poor quality. He looked for all the world like a labourer fallen on hard times. Upon seeing my surprised expression, he straightened and smiled at me, "Surely you cannot still be surprised by my penchant for disguise." 

"Not so, Holmes, merely surprised that you have decided to don a disguise at all. What purpose does it serve?" He smiled, eyes flashing, and promptly strode to the window, flinging it open and sliding through to the ground. "Wait here for me Watson. I will return soon with, if all goes well, the solution to our little mystery." With that he hurried away from the window and was soon lost to my view. I returned to my chair and prepared to wait for his return.  

To increase the "dramatic tension," (and also because it is sort of a long story) the "thrilling conclusion" of this story will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned!