After Halloween a year ago, they had decided to utilize the abandoned apartment complex as a getaway spot. Graffiti, broken glass, and fast-food wrappers littered the walls and floors.
QP and his group of friends had never taken part in the vandalism, but they had watched the act and hadn’t done anything to stop it.
Why would they? This wasn’t theirs alone, but a teenage sanctuary from the world of textbooks and adults and good decisions. This was a place, much a like a portal to a new world, where they could disappear from and forgot about reality and just be kids.
The drywall had fallen off in places, exposing pink foam. The ceiling leaked when it rained, and rust stained the cement floor where the puddles had dried.
QP and his friends usually met on the third floor, only accessible by scampering up a shoddy stairwell and hopping over a few missing steps to the top. It wasn’t difficult to navigate, but it did ward off most unwarranted traffic.
QP always imagined he was about fifty pounds lighter—not scrawny like Tyler, nor short like Evan, but fit and wrapped in muscle. He pretended the building was an old castle. As he climbed the staircase, he imagined scaling a treacherous castle wall. As he leapt up the two missing stairs, in his mind, he jumped over oozing lava.
He put himself in such fantastical danger in order to rescue the imprisoned princess. Who, of course, was always Savannah.
But that day, the clouds covered the sun, and the interior of the apartments was gray and inked in shadows. The old cement breathed ice. The walls seemed to close around QP. And as he scampered up the third floor, he kept hearing odd noises he’d never noticed before.
His mind shifted to Jimmy. Was he haunting him? Had he come to join their discussion?
With that thought, QP wished he had set up their meeting at the park, at the mall, in the school library. Somewhere public and modern and with lighting.
When QP stepped into their apartment hideaway, he saw Tyler’s Stephen King books stacked beside his beanbag chair. His mom didn’t allow him to own such books, but Robert had recommended them to him. So he read them here, where she didn’t know about them.
In this small sanctuary, the word fuck existed on the page, and killer clowns ate little children from sewage pipes. And no one said squat about it.
QP, Robert, Evan, and Savannah had a Monopoly game paused. All their pieces were positioned around the board. Their colored money was partitioned off in the box. Notes were scrawled on scratch paper, specifying each persons exact net worth.
QP had brought in five beanbag chairs. They were positioned in a circle. There was also a large cardboard box full of food in the middle of the circle. He opened the box and removed a bag Cheetos, then sat and waited.
Tyler and Robert arrived first. Their voices carried from the apartment’s lobby. At the sudden sound, QP had jerked, as if shocked. When he realized the source of the noise, and the subject of the conversation, he shook his head and relaxed.
They were debating which Star Wars trilogy was the best. Robert argued for the originals, but Tyler stated that the new trilogy was a thousand times better.
When they entered the room, QP butted in. “First off, Bobby-Boy, you look like Marge Simpson. When’re you getting a haircut?”
Robert shooed away QP’s comment and continued to defend the original trilogy against Tyler. When he finished, he said, “Hello, QP.”
“It looks like one of those decorative trees grew from your head,” QP said. “Also, Tyler, it’s not even a trilogy yet. Your argument is moot.”
“It’s planned as a trilogy. But for the sake of this conversation, we have to take the sample size. The first two movies are better than New Hope and Empire Strikes back. By far.”
“You’re an idiot. Do you even hear yourself?” Robert asked. “Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest movies of all time. No one says the new Star Wars are even in the top one thousand greatest movies of all time.”
In a perfect Yoda impersonation, QP said, “Nerdy virgins Star Wars is for.” He grinned. “I mean, I’m glad this geeky, pointless argument allows Tyler to voice an unheard option, but listen, for movies, it’s all about John Wick. The real question is whether Keanu Reeves was better in John Wick or The Matrix?”
“I haven’t seen either one,” Robert said. “My mom doesn’t let me watch rated R movies.”
“Yeah. I only saw the Matrix. But that brings up another good question,” Tyler said.
“You morons haven’t seen John Wick? And, Bobby-Boy, please grow a pair and tell your mom that you no longer enjoy the taste of her tit milk and you would actually like to see another woman’s boobs for once.”
Robert flipped off QP.
“Serious,” Tyler said. “That brings up a good point. Neo or Superman?”
“What’re you talking about?” QP asked.
“I don’t have time for this,” Savannah said. Her and Evan stood near the room’s door.
QP hadn’t heard them over the crunch of Cheetos and the movie debate, and the sudden sound of her speaking made him drop the bag, spilling Cheetos and orange dust across the floor. Robert and Tyler had lurched, one of them squealed. Apparently everyone was on edge.
“I have to leave and pick up my brother. If we’re talking comic books, I’m leaving now.”
Putting on a tough face, trying to shake the ghost of Jimmy, QP said, “Well if you guys weren’t late, we never would’ve had to endure these two nerds and their stupid debate.”
“Why’re we here, QP?” Savannah asked. “I have like two minutes before I need to leave. Make this quick.”
“They don’t call me Speedy for nothing. I always make it quick. It’s a sprint, baby, not a marathon.”
“I’m leaving,” she said. “Text me later.”
“Wait,” QP shouted. “It’s.” He licked his lips, buying time not to say the name aloud. “It’s about Jimmy.”
Everyone quieted, stilled. QP had their attention.
“Well, you know my grandma’s sick, and my parents go and make me go see her like every day?”
“Yeah,” Evan said.
“She smells bad. Like stale air, or…or piss that’s sat in the toilet too long. And she has barely any hair on her head. Imagine an old lady in a horror film.” QP glanced at Robert. “Your creepy ass can probably describe it better.”
Robert’s eyes shot up and met QP’s. He didn’t say anything.
“And she calls me Max. I think that was their old dog.”
“You ever think she’s just calling you Mac? Like, your real name?” Evan asked.
QP’s real name was Cormac. When he was young, everyone called him Big Mac because of his size and his infatuation with fast food. Big Mac lost some weight in middle school, and his nickname changed to quarter pounder, thus QP.
“I don’t know. Maybe she is. But I don’t care. Her veins show through her hands. And she has these brown spots all over her skin. Dude, you’ve got to see it. She’s like a walking corpse. I’m telling you, she looks creepy. And she sounds creepy. Like a robot.” He pantomimed a robot, stiff arms bent at hard angles, and he spoke in a monotone voice. “‘I am granny. I am robot, zombie granny. I will eat your brains.’ And she mumbles. Like talks to herself with all these weird words. I don’t know. I just don’t like seeing her like that. It’s pretty weird.”
Everyone stood in the middle of the apartment room. The air was cool, even up there.
“What’s this have to do with Jimmy?” Savannah asked.
“I hate seeing her like that. So I sneak off sometimes. Yesterday, I went into the attic. I thought I might find old treasures to show off to you losers. And I did.” QP reached into his pocket and removed a a crinkled, folded piece of paper.
“A note?” Evan asked.
“Yeah,” QP said. His voice was ominous. “Written by my grandpa, I think. Guys, this is weird. My grandpa was part of a group who saw out a murder.” QP slid his backpack off and unzipped it and ruffled through the contents. He pulled out the mask that Jimmy had worn.
“Dude, what the hell?” Evan asked.
“Didn’t we bury that?” Savannah asked.
QP bit his upper lip and nodded. “He wore this mask. It’s all detailed in this note. He wore the mask, then burned it after the job was done. But I found the mask in the attic, next to his note. I didn’t think anything of it, until, you know, last night when we buried it. Then this morning, it was on my nightstand.”
“What’re you saying?” Savannah asked.
“I think my grandpa unleashed a demon.” QP unfolded the note. “I think we unleashed the same demon.” He cleared his throat and read with a Sam Elliot tone. “I speak in death, for I was silent in life.”