The Nightmare Pills: A Penny Godwin Story – Part 7


The lift started to rumble. Penny’s blood ran cold.

Night was falling. The sky above Edward Roberts Court was a deep navy. Lights gleamed in the windows across the court, and voices ricocheted to and fro.

Out there, the campus was enjoying a normal Sunday night. In here, things were anything but normal.

Penny and Welcome were side by side at the kitchen table. They had sat there motionless, each wrapped in their own thoughts, for hours, waiting for the mechanical grind of the lift.

The flat’s fob locked beeped. In came Ross.

He glanced through the window in the kitchen door as he walked down the corridor, and stopped when he saw Penny and Welcome’s faces. He slid the door open.

‘Hey. You guys okay?’

A look passed between the girls. They hadn’t decided what to do. Welcome’s eyes were clear – she wanted Penny to take the lead.

‘Ross… can we talk to you?’ Penny said.

He looked over his shoulder at the door to Flat 6. Penny guessed he was thinking about Karla.


Ross came into the kitchen and pulled up another chair, opposite them.

‘How are you guys taking everything?’ Ross asked, with so much concern that Welcome fidgeted, and Penny felt like doing the same.

‘Not great,’ said Penny. ‘We’ve… we’ve been trying to get a handle on what happened the night Chris died.’

‘It just feels confusing,’ added Welcome.

‘I know,’ said Ross. He hung his head wearily.

Penny looked at her hands. Somehow, questioning the others had felt easy. They hadn’t suspected any of them. It was just information gathering. Now, when they had a real reason to think Ross was guilty, any instincts she had were deserting her.

To her surprise, Welcome sat forward.

‘Dd you and Karla see Chris again after we all put him to bed?’

‘Well, Karla didn’t. She was out like a light. She was sleeping against the wall, so she would’ve had to wake me up to get out of bed. But I did,’ Ross said. ‘I was struggling to get to sleep, and I was worried about Chris, y’know? It was about quarter-past-three, and I realised enough time had passed for Chris to have a second Alka-Seltzer. So, I got up and went to check on him. The door was unlocked, which was weird.’

‘Dalil and Lucien left it open. They had to go help Chris after we’d all gone to bed,’ explained Welcome.

‘Oh. Well, I’d meant to just knock and call through, but I poked my head in. He seemed fine, so I got Velda’s glass and made him another Alka-Setzer in the kitchen. When I went back to the room, though, Chris was kind of sweaty and hot. He was starting to toss and turn, so I sat up with him.’

‘Okay,’ Penny said. ‘Did you lock the door?’

‘I did, yeah. Force of habit, I guess.’ Ross frowned, as if remembering something. ‘Was that you who knocked, Penny?’

‘Yes,’ replied Penny. ‘I heard weird noises.’

Ross nodded.

‘I’m not surprised,’ he said. ‘I’d been in there a bit when Chris started thrashing around. I tried to settle him, but it wasn’t easy. Sorry I didn’t answer you Penny. I was pretty tied down.’

‘But the noises stopped when I knocked,’ Penny pointed out.

Another nod.

‘The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to do. Like, he’d stop thrashing for a bit, but then he’d start again. I would’ve come to the door, but I couldn’t be certain he wasn’t about to go off again, and I didn’t want him falling out of bed and hurting himself. I guess you went back to bed before I was happy to leave him. He still had the Alka-Seltzer if he felt bad.’

‘And did you leave the door unlocked when you left?’

Ross didn’t reply. The silence between them stretched and tingled with nerves, until he said: ‘Guys, why are you asking me these questions?’

Penny fought for words.

‘Ross,’ murmured Welcome. ‘We think Chris might’ve been murdered.’

Ross’s face went pale. His eyes opened wide.

‘You think… what?’ he said, in a choked voice. ‘That’s not possible. Is it?’

He stood up, unable to sit still. He had his back turned, fingers clenched in his hair.

‘How could anyone… who did it?’

At that, he swung to face them.

‘Hang on… you think it was me!’

‘Ross, listen,’ said Penny, leaning towards him, one hand extended. ‘We wanted to talk to you, because we think—’

‘You’re accusing me of killing someone!’ Ross cried. Penny flinched and looked at the door. She didn’t want anyone else hearing.

‘How could you think that?’ he said.

‘Ross, calm down,’ said Welcome.

‘No! You think I killed Chris!’

He glared at each of them, trembling with rage. Penny and Welcome couldn’t look away.

As the pause crept longer and longer, Ross’s eyes began to flame less fiercely. Or rather, a look slid over his face, as if he was slowly realising something. Suddenly, his hands flew to his mouth. His eyes shimmered with tears. He looked like a frightened child.

‘Oh my god…’ Ross croaked.


‘I… I left Chris’s door unlocked. I didn’t want to take his key, so I left it. Anyone could’ve got in and… and…’

He sank into the chair. He was trembling from head to foot.

‘This happened because of me.’

Ross sagged onto the table, burying his face in his arms.

Penny’s heart swelled. She glanced at Welcome and saw a look like fear on her face. Neither of them knew what to think.

‘Ross…’ Penny began.

Ross didn’t seem to hear her. Scrubbing an arm across his face, he sprang to his feet and strode for the door.

‘Please don’t tell Karla what we think!’ Welcome called after him. Ross paused. ‘We don’t want to panic everyone,’ she followed up.

Ross didn’t nod or speak, just stormed out of the room, but he had heard her.

The girls remained in the hollow silence he left behind.

‘I don’t think he did it,’ said Penny. Something in Ross’s reaction – his revulsion, horror, and regret – had convinced her.

‘But how do we know?’ asked Welcome.

‘We don’t,’ admitted Penny.

Welcome put her face in her hands.

‘Yours is the only Prazosin in the flat. Both Karla and Ross could’ve accessed it, but they both tell us they didn’t. We can’t prove anything.’

It was a doom-laden pronouncement, but Penny knew in her heart of hearts that Welcome was right.

Neither of them could think of more to say. Penny trailed back to her room.

Where did they go from here?

That night, the dream changed again.

Penny’s perspective was like that of a medical examiner. She was incredibly close to the woman’s face, and like a film camera, the dream panned over her countenance, slowly, deliberately, as if recording it for posterity.

She had a broken front tooth. Her nose was small and upturned. Her eyes were her most prominent feature, a pale green turned a colourless grey by the angle and the dim light. A smattering of freckles, left over from the summer, sprinkled the bridge of her nose. Her cheeks were smooth, full, lightly fuzzy like peaches.

It was a beautiful face. A face that had once glowed with energy and would have turned any head, but the life inside had been extinguished, leaving only a pretty marble mask. All the features of beauty were there, but they were soulless, dead.

The next morning, Penny felt wretched. She could only think of one, very weak avenue to follow, and had no idea if it would reveal anything useful.

Karla was beginning to find her feet again and left her room for the first time since the murder. Penny was taking down an old Barnardo’s society poster from the noticeboard outside the lift when she saw Karla come down the corridor.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m okay,’ Karla replied.

‘Well, that’s good to hear,’ smiled Penny. The smile felt wonky on her face. ‘Can I ask something?’


‘How many of my Prazosin did you take?’

‘Three. One for each night I borrowed it. Why, are there some missing?’

Penny fished the Prazosin bottle out of her back pocket.

‘I’m not sure. Could you check?’

Karla peered inside the bottle.

‘I mean, I really can’t remember how many there were,’ she said.

‘Okay. Thanks.’

Karla handed back the bottle, then called the lift.

‘By the way, did Ross take any?’ Penny asked.

‘Nope,’ replied Karla.

The lift arrived, and Karla went down.

Damn, Penny thought. If she couldn’t find out if any pills were missing, then she couldn’t know for certain that they’d been used to poison Chris.

Welcome emerged from her room. She joined Penny in the foyer.

‘Didn’t sleep last night,’ she said. ‘I’ve been trying to think what next. Got nothing. You?’

‘Not a thing. Karla thinks there aren’t any Prazosin missing either.’

Welcome frowned.

‘Then… how—’

‘I don’t know.’ Penny was kicking herself for thinking there would be a set of linear clues to find, like in a book. That had been naïve.

Welcome rubbed her chin.

‘Y’know, the one thing we haven’t even thought about is who would’ve wanted to kill Chris.’

‘Your guess is as good as mine,’ replied Penny.

Just then, she noticed that Lucien was sitting in the kitchen. She had no idea how long he’d been there. He was looking at something on his laptop, and chuckling to himself.

Laughter seemed very out of place in the flat right now.

Welcome saw where she was looking, and they made their way into the kitchen.

Lucien glanced up as they came in, the smile still on his face.

‘Oh, hey,’ he said.

‘Hey. What’s funny?’ asked Welcome.

Lucien turned back to his laptop screen, looking embarrassed.

‘I’m looking through Chris’s Facebook photos.’

Penny’s eyebrows rose.


‘I’m not sure,’ he replied. ‘I just… I know it’s weird, but I sort of wanted to see him.’

Penny didn’t realise that Lucien and Chris had been that close. Maybe it was just the hole Chris had left in the flat that Lucien wanted to fill.

Welcome sat down beside Lucien, looking at the screen. Despite herself, a grin ran across her face.

‘Oh my gosh. That foam party!’

‘Yeah,’ Lucien laughed. ‘Look at him with the bubbles all over his face.’

‘I got such a bad rash from that night,’ said Welcome.

Penny watched as they clicked through Chris’s photos. Most were from nights out, and each one brought a funny memory, or a giggle, or just a smile.

She was sure there were no photos of herself on there. Penny didn’t go out much, and in that moment, watching her friends reminisce, she felt a pang of regret. The point of coming to university was to make memories, and most of hers were so – what was the word? Tame? Unadventurous?

Lucien kept clicking through the photos. All of them had Chris front and centre, dancing or wrestling playfully with friends. They were so similar that Lucien went on clicking and clicking, the pictures flicking across the screen.

But then, Penny heard herself say: ‘Wait. Go back!’

‘What?’ asked Lucien.

‘Just go back a picture,’ said Penny. She craned over his shoulder.

Bemused, Lucien did as she asked. Penny squinted at the image.

This photo wasn’t just of Chris. He wasn’t even looking at the camera, as he was in most of the others. Instead, he was looking at the girl was dancing with. Her face was hidden by a swinging curtain of red hair as she danced with furious energy, and Chris was grinning in delight.

‘What are you looking at, Penny?’ asked Welcome.

‘Look,’ Penny answered, pointing into the background of the picture.

A tall, slender boy with electric blue hair was standing behind Chris, staring at him. The flash of the camera just happened to have caught him, and the expression of livid anger on his face.

‘What about him?’ Lucien enquired.

‘Oh, nothing,’ said Penny. ‘Just thought I knew him. Let’s find some different pictures.’

As Lucien resumed shuffling through Chris’s Facebook, Penny drew Welcome in close.

‘That’s Sam,’ she whispered. ‘The guy from the other flat.’

Welcome’s brow creased.

‘He was here on the night Chris died.’

Penny and Welcome were kept apart for most of the rest of the day. At last, the world outside the flat broke in: Welcome had to go shopping and Penny had to attend a study meeting, where she could barely pay attention.

However, that night she and Welcome met in the kitchen again.

Penny had her notebook with her, and together they ran down the notes she had made so far, adding details until they looked like this:


  • Poisoned with a Prazosin overdose, coupled with alcohol. Killer smothered him


  • Lucien Rodriguez
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – no
    • Notes –with Dalil, left Chris’s door unlocked, possibly to allow access
  • Karla Wilson
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – yes
    • Notes – partner, Ross, vouches that she never left bed during the night
  • Dalil Hamdi
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – no
    • Notes –with Lucien, left Chris’s door unlocked, possibly to allow access
  • Velda Jones
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – no
    • Notes – innocent. The killer used her mortar and pestle to crush up the Prazosin, but it was found the next morning in the wrong cupboard – a mistake Velda would not have made
  • Dylan Harley
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – no
    • Notes – unlikely suspect
  • Ross Johnson
    • Motive – none known
    • Access to Prazosin – yes
    • Notes – claims to have left Chris, alive, at 03:45. Left door unlocked, upset at possibly having allowed killer access to victim. Karla believes that no Prazosin is missing

There was a new name at the bottom of the list – Sam.

‘Why have you put him on there?’ Welcome asked.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Penny, chewing her pencil. ‘It’s just… I’ve never seen someone look so angry as he did in that photo. He looked like he was about to attack Chris!’

‘Okay,’ said Welcome. ‘But we don’t know why. And we don’t know how he would have done it. He couldn’t’ve got to your Prazosin.’


Penny slammed the notebook shut.

‘We’re stuck,’ she muttered.

Just then, the motion-sensing light in the Flat 5 corridor came on. The girls turned and watched.

Sam appeared, in his pyjamas. In one hand he held an empty glass. In the other, a bottle of Prazosin.

The girls stared as he went into Flat 5’s kitchen. He put the bottle of pills on the table. They heard the tap run. Then Sam went back to the bottle, tipped out a tablet, and swallowed it with the help of some water. That done, he returned to his room, without noticing them.

Penny and Welcome’s eyes met.

‘Sam takes Prazosin too,’ said Penny.

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