4: Selfishness, Plain and Simple

4: Selfishness, Plain and Simple WOE.BEGONE


Mike gets the job done, eventually. Well, it’s not really a job so much as what the people running an online game told him to do.

[Warning: this episode contains a fictional description of murder. Listener discretion is advised.]


[Warning: this episode contains a fictional description of murder. Listener discretion is advised.]

WOE.BEGONE is a podcast whose story is told in order. If you are new here, please start at episode 1. If you aren’t caught up, you won’t have any idea why I’m talking about the TV show Dexter.

Dexter is a popular Showtime television show from the 00s and early 2010s about a serial killer that works for the Miami Metro PD homicide department as a blood spatter analyst. Dexter Morgan is described in the show as a perfect psychopath and serial killer, which is why he gets away with his crimes for all 8 seasons of the show– that and Miami’s laughably low percent of solved homicides. Since Dexter lives in Miami, he is easily able to dispose of corpses by weighing them down in trash bags and dumping them into the Gulf Stream off the side of his boat, the Slice of Life– get it? The show is very heavy handed in this way, in most ways. Dexter kills what must be a hundred people across the span of the show, most of them serial killers like himself.

I fucking hate Dexter. I’ve watched it all the way through 4 times now. It’s amazing. The “perfect psychopath” is someone who was groomed into it by his father who thought that because Dexter witnessed a murder when he was as toddler he was forever tainted. The show is completely uncritical of this interpretation of what makes a psychopath. Dexter is incredibly emotional because the writers couldn’t figure out how to write a compelling main character with the normal traits of sociopathy. It doesn’t help that the whole thing went on for 4 seasons too long.

All of this is to say that everything I know about killing a human being and getting away with it I learned from Dexter and that knowledge amounts to essentially nothing. You might remember that in Episode 2, I used my comprehensive knowledge of Dexter to keep the scene of my amputation clean and almost died thinking about this terrible TV show that I hate. Precious few other depictions of murderers feature the murderer as the protagonist and also that protagonist is never caught or sees the errors of his ways. There are consequences in Dexter in order to make it feel like things are at stake, but he wriggles out of any jam the show puts him in.

So when WOE.BEGONE tasked me with the murder of a real life human being and getting away with it, with Dexter being all I had to go on as far as methodology is concerned, I found myself feeling quite screwed. There was no Gulf Stream here for the Bay Harbor Butcher to dump his bodies into. And no police department on earth was as dumb as the fictional Miami PD from the show. Can WOE.BEGONE protect me from the consequences of my actions like a poorly written script did for Dexter? WOE.BEGONE said they “have my back”? What does that even mean coming from them? They didn’t help me kill a cop, if that’s what you’re thinking. This is WOE.BEGONE.

[Intro music plays]

So, last episode, WOE.BEGONE gave me the second part of my third challenge: a photograph of a police officer and a note that said “Kill it. It’s just a pig.” That was a sure sign that all of this had gone too far and I should pull out immediately. Sorry Matt, it was nice that you were alive, but things are just a little too hairy. It’s not like I trust the gamerunners. What if they just used me to get rid of this guy that they don’t like and I spent the rest of my days in prison?

There is no love lost between me and the police. Not to get on a soapbox, but the police under capitalism will always end up as the protectors of property for the rich and antagonists of the poor. This isn’t even a result of “bad cops” being put on the force. If we fired all the “bad cops,” and the guy in question is definitely one of those, the people that replaced them would be incintivized to behave just as heinously. The entire system needs to be upended. That’s not to say that the moral of this episode is that we need to abolish the police as we know it. I’m just trying to say that my reluctance was not the result of any fondness for cops. I need to maintain my woke cred, after all. But I still definitely did not want to do this.

Wait, CANNONBALL did all of this? When we spoke at the coffeeshop he told me that he was on the fourth challenge. That means that he also had to do this exact same thing. Honestly, he probably had a better stature and mentality for it than I did, but it still boggled my mind that he was able to go through with it. It must be a choke point for people playing the game. It makes you really have to decide if playing the game was worth the results. CANNONBALL had decided that he was playing for something more than the blackmail, so it was worth it. He wants a shot at discovering the tech for his own use. The power must have been what drew him in. I wanted to email him and ask him for advice but thought better of it. He said only to email him if I got a lead on the tech and leaving an email trace of what I was doing was probably a bad idea. I was only half-joking about government watchlists in previous episodes. The last thing I want is attention. I’ve seen what happens to people who get attention in WOE.BEGONE.

But why am I playing the game then? To protect Matt? While I did feel relief at him being alive again, I think even he would agree that when it gets to the point of taking another human life just to save his, it isn’t worth it, no matter the perceived value of that life. Not to mention the extreme personal cost and risk to my own life that this challenge entails. Was I still playing to harness the tech for my own use? I could erase this whole event after I got the tech if I did that, along with seemingly anything that I wanted. I was more skeptical about the possibility of full control than CANNONBALL seemed to be, though. Maybe once this challenge was over I could really roll my sleeves up and find people who really understood the Charles Thibbideau stuff. Alone, there was almost nothing that I could do to get closer to inventing it. I needed experts and I had was bread crumbs.

The third reason, of course, is because I like winning and I like making a number go up on a scoreboard. I’m one of those guys that got all of the achievements on Cookie Clicker. Knowing that I was in the lead just made me more enthusiastic and more bloodthirsty, even though I couldn’t even see the scoreboard. I was excited just by its existence. I’m also one of those guys that is super into Monopoly. I can cut throats if it means winning at a game. It was a combination of all three of these factors that drove me to stay in. No one of them would suffice on their own.

And you might be saying to yourself “well jeez, Mike, you don’t sound like a very good person.” Yeah, no shit. A good person stands absolutely no chance of winning this game or getting their hands anywhere near this tech or any of the other levers of power that this world offers. I can be smart, I can be kind, I can hold the correct political positions. But I can also lie, cheat, steal, take advantage of other people, disregard others’ feelings. When I was growing up my mom told me that I was capable of anything and I really took that to heart. Capable of anything.

Even murder.

According to CANNONBALL, it took him six weeks to cut his arm off. That led me to believe that the gamerunners didn’t put much of a time limit on getting the challenges done. I could take my time and make sure that I did this challenge correctly and with my safety in mind. I could be patient. Or, on the other hand, what are the attributes of someone who theoretically wins WOE.BEGONE– not just plays or does well, but is the sole individual that wins the game? It must be someone bold, prepared, and brutal– someone who will get done what needs to get done with expedience. Like if Dexter was written by smart people. It’s not someone who over-plans to the point of chickening out. Sorry, CANNONBALL, it’s not someone who takes 6 weeks to cut their arm off, either. It’s someone braver than me, but not someone braver than I could pretend to be, at least in short bursts. I knew that I had to act either quickly or not at all.

I won’t be using the cop’s name in order to give myself a thin veneer of protection if I lose WOE.BEGONE and this challenge gets reversed, but I did do a lot of reading on this guy. He beat an unarmed black woman very nearly to death. The weapon he claimed that she had never materialized. She was walking in a rich neighborhood– one that she lived in– when he drove by and thought she looked suspicious. Textbook racist cop stuff. She won some money in a settlement but he didn’t get fired or even meaningfully punished. This was the picture of the woman from the photoset that the gamerunners sent me. It was brutal. I can’t imagine doing something like that to a human person… well, I mean, unless it was to win at a mysterious online game. That’s different.

Also, I think he killed his wife? Searching for news articles with his name in them brings up articles about a missing woman whom the articles state is his wife. They never found where she went. Maybe she ran away and changed her name in order to get away from this guy or something else, or maybe she couldn’t get away until it was too late. Either way, no one has seen her in a year. It seems impossible to be missing for that long in the modern world and not be dead. It happens sometimes, but it feels exceedingly rare.

I spent a week trying to suss out his patterns. Most people operate on a weekly schedule for most things, right? Work during the day on weekdays, weekends off, maybe something that you do every Tuesday night or something. He liked to go hang out with friends against COVID rules on Saturday nights, which I witnessed twice. Not a big fan of masks, either. I guess I’m doing a lot of work to justify a murder. Would it be okay to kill him if he was mean to wait staff? Would it be okay to kill him if he didn’t put his weights back at the gym?

I think his surfeit of negative attributes is why the gamerunners chose this target as the first gruesome target that was also a human person other than myself. People need coaxing into dehumanization. You have to start with being able to convince yourself that it’s okay, he’s a bad guy and it’s a good thing when bad things happen to bad people. This is a very bad person, so a very bad outcome is a good thing for the rest of the world. Your lizard brain can comprehend that immediately. In fact, the whole point of a justice system is to use the rest of the brain to unpack how that is unethical and what should be done instead.

So, I didn’t decide to do it because he was a bad guy. I decided to do it in order to win WOE.BEGONE. And that’s the only way you can win WOE.BEGONE. I haven’t won yet so it might be a folly to speak like an expert, but the patterns are making themselves clear. You can’t waver back and forth. And if you’re not going to win, you’re wasting your time and hurting yourself and others. I’ll say it again: it is not a game for good people. It is a game that will kill and maim good people. I do not say this to disparage good people, quite the opposite. A just world would not allow this power to exist. In a just world, Charles Thibbideau would have realized what was possible as a result of his musing and left them unpublished. It is in this unjust world that I see my chance to take this power and at least use it to make myself comfortable. It’s selfishness, plain and simple.

I don’t think I was that sort of person when I started playing the game. Was I? I thought that I was just a bored and curious guy who saw something appealing on the internet and wanted to see how far down the rabbit hole I could go. Shlubby but not fiendish. Mildly handsome. Now I’m talking about how best to cut throats, metaphorically and literally. I’m scared that the game is changing me, darkening me. Who will I be once I win the game and what will that make me want to do with that power? Is that the point?

I gave myself a week because I figured that people like CANNONBALL probably gave themselves a month. Through some light stalking, I was able to figure out when he took a shower and went to bed every night. He was a fairly routine guy. The light went off like clockwork at 11pm every night. He didn’t have any people over for the whole duration of me observing him. It made me shudder to think that this, a police officer, was still somehow WOE.BEGONE’s idea of an easy target, that everything would only get more difficult from here. How much more weeding out could they possibly do? How many people could have possibly completed this task?

It was sort of a gruesome anticlimax. I showed up on Saturday night after he got back from visiting his friends, after he turned the lights off. He lived alone after his wife died. He had no idea that anyone was coming for him. He didn’t know I had been learning his habits and knew exactly when to show up. Not even cops carry a sidearm in their pajamas. You should stab more times than you need to. That’s the moral of this episode, not the stuff about needing to abolish the police or the nature of power in an unjust world. I’m not a stabber by trade, so I knew there was no way that I would be able to get the job done in just one blow. And if this guy got his wits about him he could easily beat me to death before I could do anything about it. So I just kept stabbing until it was obvious that any further damage was overkill.

The most haunting thing was how confused he looked. He looked confused when he answered the door so late at night. He looked confused as I made up a quick lie about who I was, long enough to get the knife out of my coat pocket. He looked confused, first at what was happening and then why he was being stabbed. He died with a confused look on his face. He looked friendly enough, like whatever was happening was due to an awful misunderstanding. His face didn’t belie any sort of horrible secret or recognition of this act as a comeuppance.

His eyes were open. I remembered that would happen. It’s creepy.

There was no plastic sheeting, no kill room. Just a good ol’ fashioned stabbing performed in the doorway. I used his cleaning supplies to clean up the scene and put all of the waste and the cleaning products in a trash bag that I took with me from the scene. I’m sure I left some forensic evidence at the scene, but I thought I did a great job for an amateur. I wiped down the walls and everything and made sure there was no visible blood. Blood spatter analysis is a grift, by the way. It’s a week long class that forensics guys take and there is no peer-reviewed evidence that it actually makes for useful forensics. Dexter fell for a scam and used his proficiency at that scam to assure himself that he was actually a genius. God, I hate Dexter.

To be clear, I was shaking and felt nauseous the whole time. After the adrenaline wore off, the “oh my god, what have I done?” feelings started to set in. I might be capable of doing something like this in order to win WOE.BEGONE, but it’s not because I’m composed or strong. I’m just selfish. I was banking on being too self-interested to have a total meltdown during all of this, because a meltdown would have ended up with me getting killed. If I lose WOE.BEGONE, it is this weakness that will do me in.

I knew that I had to take the body with me. The dead police officer was an enormous heap of forensic information. He had a second driveway that pulled into his back yard with privacy fencing on either side. I wondered if that privacy fence had ever been used to conceal the moving of a corpse before. I think that maybe it had, a year ago. It had an added benefit of making sure that the neighbors didn’t get a good look at me or my car at any point. The only time anyone could have seen me was when I was sneaking around to the front to knock on the front door, but the street was still and silent so I was almost certain that no one saw me.

Bodies are heavy. It was like that feeling of my dead arm hanging at my side while I was trying to cut if off, times 100. It was a sloppy job getting him into my car and I ended up wiping down the outside of my car just to make sure I didn’t just coat it in evidence. I had already lined the inside of my car with trash bags. Dismembering was out of the question based on the sheer amount of mess it would make.

There wasn’t an ocean anywhere near me, so I immediately started driving to the most rural place I could think of. Things get rural fast once you make it out of the city and then the suburbs, but I wanted it as rural as it gets. No joggers coming along and accidentally stumbling upon the body. Somewhere that people don’t have any place being for the most part, thick woods. I drove to where the houses were sometimes more than a mile apart and found a patch of woods in between them. America might as well be outer space. Vast swaths of nothing with brief blips of a planet, then more nothing until the planet is way out of your sight.

Dragging a body into the woods and covering it up is hard, etc etc etc. You may well have noticed that I perpetually underestimate how difficult these challenges are going to be from a physical standpoint. Maybe I need to start hitting the gym. CANNONBALL was probably great at dragging corpses into the woods. I was super jealous.

Now is where the planning really starts to pay off. After disposing of the body, I kept driving through the wilderness. I drove for another four hours to a mid-sized down that I had never been to. I returned to the motel that I had been staying at since Friday night, which I payed for in cash. That is actually where I drove from to end up at his house at 11pm. I entered, double locked the door, walked over to the bedside table, and checked my phone. I left it in the motel so that GPS data would make it look like I had checked in and stayed there all night. I was still shaking as I read the message I had received from WOE.BEGONE slightly after 11pm: “Congrats! We’ve got your back. Lay low for a week. You’ll hear from us soon. -W.BG”

It was then that I had the realization that the gamerunners hadn’t changed anything as a result of the challenge, at least not from what I could tell. My stomach began to sink as I realized what “lay low for a week” really meant. They had included that in the message after part 1 of the challenge when I slaughtered the pig and I didn’t think anything of it. Now I understand that they were telling me to practice getting off the grid because after I killed the cop, they were going to make me squirm for a week before they let me off the hook.

I immediately began to panic. Did I do a good enough cover up? What if I got found? If one of his cop buddies found me they might just kill me on the spot. Why didn’t I try to actually bury the body? What if someone saw me? CANNONBALL said that you can’t win if you’re in jail? I didn’t think anything about that when he said it. What if he was talking about this challenge? Was WOE.BEGONE just going to hang me out to dry here? Did I just throw my whole life away?

It was the hardest week of my life. I had not prepared for this in the week that the gamerunners gave me in-between challenges. I stayed in the motel and called in sick to work. I told them that I had mono so they were frustrated but ultimately understandable and let me have the whole week off work. I don’t have any more paid time off for the rest of the year, but I can’t lay low if I’m going to work every day. I watched the news constantly, on the TV and my phone, national and local, to see if there was anything about it. There wasn’t, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t happening. It just meant that the investigation wasn’t in the public eye yet. I resisted the urge to go back to the scene of the crime to see if it had in fact become a crime scene yet.

The cop was reported missing on Tuesday afternoon, after he failed to show up for work or call in 2 days in a row. The news was listed as merely a missing person. In fact, the note to the public mentioned that he should be approached with caution if found, as he had a history of aggressive behavior and might be in an aggravated mental state. That came as such a relief that I actually slept on Tuesday night.

I was still on pins and needles on Wednesday and Thursday, but the days passed without ceremony. I paid back some of my sleep debt. It wasn’t until Friday that my worst fears were realized.

News broke that there had been a body discovered in the woods where I had dumped his body. Probably not a coincidence. Apparently a large animal had discovered him and drug his body out to where it was visible from the road, where someone driving by reported it to the police. The animal had covered up a lot of my handiwork. It took them a few hours to confirm the identity, but once they did, of course they launched a full investigation to rule out foul play. I had the distinct displeasure of panicking all over again. Was this what WOE.BEGONE having my back looked like? They had six days to do something, anything, to keep me out of trouble but the police still found the body.

Every second of Saturday felt like an entire month. I was filled with dread at the thought that the gamerunners had given me false hope and nothing would change after a week was up. They didn’t change anything after the pig slaughter challenge, why would they change anything after this one? Maybe this was all just training to turn me into who they wanted me to be and the first couple changes were just a demonstration of their power to get me interested. I spent the day preparing for life on the run. I would have to start dying my hair if I wanted to look convincingly like somebody else. I always hate it on TV when people don’t do the bare minimum to disguise themselves when they’re on the run. I could gain a lot of weight, too, that’d be fun.

Around 4 in the afternoon there was a knock on the door of my room. As you know, I wasn’t expecting anybody. I hadn’t ordered pizza or anything either. I looked through the peephole and saw a police officer standing outside. I didn’t open the door or speak. He knocked again, louder this time and spoke. “Mr. Mike Walters. I’m officer [REDACTED] from the [REDACTED] Police Department. Open the door. I have some questions for you regarding the death of [REDACTED.] We have a warrant to enter this room.”

Not knowing what else to do, I took a deep breath and opened the door. As soon as my hands were off of the door handle, they were up in the air as a show of submission. I half-expected to be gunned down right where I stood, if they were sure that it was me. The dread melted away into a horrible acceptance. I had done what I had done and the range of possible outcomes was narrowing to a point. A lot of work to commit suicide by cop.

When I opened the door, there was no one there. I looked around, to the rooms on my left and right and into the parking lot, but didn’t see any police. My phone buzzed. I rushed inside, making sure to lock the doors behind me again, and picked it up. It was WOE.BEGONE (who else could it be?):

“Sorry about that. We couldn’t figure out all the contingencies until he actually knocked on your door. It’s in a solved state now, so they should be out of your hair. Standby for #4. -W.BG”

My head was spinning. I did it? I won the challenge? I had been ready to die a second ago. I was on to Challenge 4 already. I remembered my breathing and used it to anchor myself. I had done it and I was in the clear. They didn’t leave me in the wind after all. I was so relieved that I fell backwards onto the bed and let all of my muscles relax. I sat there in my comfort until I fell asleep and slept through the whole night, even though the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. I knew that this comfort wouldn’t last forever and I tried to cherish every second of it.

There was a clue in there, though figuring out the technology wasn’t anywhere near the front of my mind at the time. The gamerunners said that they couldn’t “figure out the contingencies” and that this scenario was now in a “solved state.” These were just microscopic fragments of clues as to what made this whole thing tick, but I thought that I should pass it onto CANNONBALL when I got a chance to see if it slotted into any research that he was doing.

I woke up the next morning to leave the motel and noticed a strange email on my phone. I guess it would be more noticeable if I wasn’t getting strange emails on the regular these days, but this wasn’t from WOE.BEGONE or CANNONBALL or even a stranger. It was from someone I knew. A girl I went to college with, let’s call her Anne. She stayed in our college town and became a journalist. She was a close friend who also dated one of my other close friends. They broke up but we stay in touch, though things haven’t been at all the same since the friend group splintered into two friend groups. By my estimation, it had been a couple months since I touched base with her, which was our longest gap yet. I thought I was finally losing touch with her, to be honest. I always expected that to happen eventually. This is what her email said:

“Hey Mike. I know we haven’t talked a lot recently so this may be awkward, but I need to meet up with you IMMEDIATELY. (Immediately was in all caps). I know you are in [REDACTED] and I’m still in [REDACTED], but I’m willing to drive up there to meet with you in person. I know that someone’s going on with you and I want to know what. I have a suspicion. I’m scared. If I lose then you die. -Anne”

That’s one hell of a way to end an email. I wonder if she ends all of her emails with “If I lose then you die.” It would spice up work conversations, that’s for sure. I had a sneaking suspicion that she knew better what was going on with me than she let on. I hate to speculate that maybe she was playing the game. Anne’s such a nice girl. She embodies all of those things that I said would make someone lose WOE.BEGONE. WOE.BEGONE would chew her up and spit her out. But if that is what she means then it sounds like I’m in some deep shit along with her.

You’ve been listening to WOE.BEGONE. Next time: a long lost friend, a rival, and a fresh burden. Thanks for playing.

[End theme plays.]