Robert removed his inhaler from his pocket and sucked on the medicine. He always had some ailment or another, something to keep him home and with his mom. She made sure of that he had to rely on her. The scary thing was, Robert knew his mom manipulated him into needing her, and he let her. He did need her.
“I don’t understand,” Robert said. “The summoning…it was fake, though?”
“Yeah. It was,” QP said. “But with Jimmy.” He took a breath and glanced at the ceiling. “I think with what happened to Jimmy, we unleashed the demon. How else would you explain he mask on my nightstand?”
“You were crossfaded,” Evan said. “It was late. We weren’t in the greatest state of mind. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe you remember burying the mask, but you didn’t.”
QP dropped his gaze and looked at Savannah. “What about you? You were sober.”
Robert racked his memory. He heard the dull thud of the can against Jimmy’s skull. Saw the can arc downward. The blood drudge around the mask and extend toward the moist earth.
“I didn’t want QP putting it in his bag to scare us with later,” Savannah said.
“Really? You think I’m that low?”
“I didn’t know. I just didn’t want to see it again. I dropped it into the hole. We buried it with him.”
“Okay,” Evan said. “Still. There has to be an explanation. Are you sure you there wasn’t two masks in your grandma’s attic?”
“He’s telling the truth,” Tyler said.
“What do you mean?”
Tyler unzipped his backpack and reached into it, removing an identical mask to the one QP had. “I found this in my locker today. I thought QP was playing a joke—”
“Seriously? Does everyone think I’m that much of a douche?”
“So I figured I’d ignore it and not give him the satisfaction.”
“Who knows your combination?” Robert asked. He knew it, and he had planned to leave letters or gifts for him, but had always chickened out. But Tyler didn’t know that Robert knew it.
“Did anyone else find a mask?” QP asked.
Evan and Savannah shook their heads.
“No,” Robert mumbled, thinking of QP’s grandpa being murdered. Then his curiosity overtook him. “How was he murdered? Your grandpa.”
QP shrugged. “I don’t know. In the letter he mentions how someone was following him. How he should tell, but he couldn’t. He thought he was being haunted by his guilt. Then he actually saw a person standing on the street outside his house.”
“That’s creepy,” Tyler said.
“That doesn’t mean he was murdered,” Robert said. “You really think he was murdered?”
“Geez, Bobby-Boy. I can see your goddamned erection from here,” QP said. “It doesn’t say it in the letter. But everyone who witnessed the killing that night died. And my grandpa seemed pretty nervous through his writing. And with that type of secret, I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, think of the motive. Revenge. Tie loose ends. Send a message.”
“It is strange,” Robert said. “How’d they do it?”
QP cocked his head. “Do what? Kill him? I don’t know. He didn’t get the opportunity to write his freaking obituary. Jesus.”
“Well, how did he die? Like how’d everyone say he died?”
QP shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Dead is dead is dead, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Robert said.
In his teenage years, he had grown infatuated with death. He often found himself lingering on Instagram true crime pages. Dark thoughts flashed through his mind as he studied the horrific pictures of broken, dead bodies. When did rigor mortis actually settle? Were the limbs planks of inflexibility, or coils of muscle he could manipulate with enough strength?
He wondered about how cold they were. Like hands crushing snow, or the general absence of all warmth?
Sometimes in class, when the teacher presented an impractical lesson that held no usage for his future, he would stare at a random student. What if he just stood up and walked to that student and grabbed the back of their head and smashed their face into the desk? How long would it take for their nose to break? Would blood spray across the class, or just leak onto the desk and drip onto the tile? Would a blood rendering of their face stain the desk’s white surface?
How would it make him feel? Powerful? In control? Unstoppable? Invincible?
He didn’t know.
He did know that when he plucked each of the eight legs from a living spider, he would feel like a god. Robert controlled that spider’s destiny. He decided if he would let it live and suffer, legless until it died, or if he would stomp on it right then and there.
Often, during those moments, he thought of his mom. She had a broad, powerful face and thin lips that turned white when she was upset. Almost like she was dead. Like she was a corpse, and her lips had lost all the warmth and blood that once coursed through them.
“What do we do?” Tyler asked after a few minutes of silence.
This question piqued Robert’s interest.
“Are we going to keep this a secret?” he asked.
QP shrugged. “Well, pretend this demon is real. It worked through my grandpa and his crew when they tried to keep their dirty secret. If that’s the truth, of course.”
“Or we go to jail if confess,” Evan said.
“We need to tell the cops,” Tyler said, facing the ground.
“And get Robert arrested for murder?” QP asked. “Or Evan? Why don’t you look at them and tell them that? Tell them you’ll call the cops and rat them out because you’re afraid of the bogeyman.”
Evan shook his head. “That doesn’t matter. Listen. It won’t take the cops long to speak with the officer who stopped us last night. He took the information from our IDs. He knows our names. Knows we came from the cemetery. How long you think it’ll take them to piece two and two together?”
“As soon as Jimmy’s body is found, we’ll be suspects,” Sava said. “There’s a third option. There has to be right? I just don’t know what it is.”
“There’s no crime without a crime scene,” Robert said. “We can try and get back to the body before the police find it. Then we destroy it completely. Burn it. Feed it to the pigs.”
“What the fuck,” QP said.
“It’d be a missing person’s case. The police might harass us for a bit, but with no body, no weapon, no proof of death, it’d be a missing person’s case.”
“This is insane. I’m worried as to why you know that,” Sava said. “But at the same time, it does give us a third option.” She glanced at Evan.
“I don’t know,” Evan said. “I don’t want to go back there.”
“I can do it,” Robert said. “I’ll need one other person.” He paused for a second, then added, “To protect us. I’m willing to risk it.”
“The creepiest little dude I know,” QP said. “But I’ll go with you, as long as you promise not to murder me.”
“Then I’ll go,” Sava said. “We all started this. We should all finish it.”
Evan sighed, rubbed his hands over his face. “Okay. Tonight then,” he said. “Tyler?”
Everyone turned their attention Tyler. His arms and legs were crossed, as if he subconsciously attempted to shield himself from his friends and their conversation. He glanced at Robert, then at QP.
“What about the demon possibility? I say even if we don’t confess, we tell someone,” Tyler said.
Robert saw the silver beer can break against Jimmy’s skull. He rewatched as the bigger boy collapsed. He tried to recapture that feeling he had experienced: the pure, unadulterated ecstasy of stealing a life.
“No,” QP said. “They’ll know Evan punched him, and they’ll see the trauma to the back of the head where Bobby, you know.”
“I agree,” Evan said. “Despite the masks and the story in the letter, I still can’t accept a demon is haunting us. Sava?”
“The masks are strange. But I have Jose to think about. Not campfire stories. Sorry, Tyler, but I’d rather risk a demon than the pigs.”
“Robert?” Tyler asked. His eyes begged Robert to take his side, and Robert almost did.
He wanted to. But the murder wasn’t an accident. And he couldn’t throw his entire future away for a sloppy impulse. “I agree with them.” Tyler’s face dropped, as did Robert’s stomach, but he persisted. “Demons don’t exist. Gabe and Marcus must have seen what happened. They’re screwing with us.”
QP clapped. “Dude, your twisted little brain sure is brilliant at times. That has to be it. We just need to find the asshole, now. Tyler, no going to the police. Everyone else, come up with your best body-disposal ideas. We’ll meet at Tyler’s at 11.”
“Why my house? I don’t even want to do this.”
“Because your house is on everyone’s way to the cemetery.”
Robert’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He removed it. His mom was calling him.
“Excuse me,” he said, then scurried from the room. “Hi, Mom.”
“Robert, where are you? I’m sitting in front of the school.”
He wiped his hand across his brow. No adults could no about their secret spot, especially no parents. “I went to lunch with QP and Tyler.”
“Is that nasty Evan kid with you?” she asked.
Robert glanced into their secret room. Evan stood beside Savannah and scrolled through his phone, ignoring QP’s endless chatter. “No, Mom.”
“Good. You know he lives on the west side of town where all the other sinners live. I’d hate to see him corrupt my baby. Why didn’t you tell me about lunch?”
“I sent you a text, but…” Robert was silent for a second. “Hold on. I’m looking at it now. I must have forgot to press send. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Just eat lunch then come home. I rented a movie for us to watch. It’s a wholesome, family movie.”
“Okay. Love you, mom.”
“I love you, too.”
Robert ended the call and walked back into the room.
“She say her nipples were missing your mouth?” QP said. Then he made a sucking noise and held an imaginary breast in his hands.
Robert glared at QP. He was hot with embarrassment, but didn’t know how to respond.
He pictured grabbing a pencil and jamming it through QP’s throat and ripping it through the side, but that would be rash and idiotic. A crime of passion, like last night. Not disciplined.
Instead he sat on a beanbag chair and remembered something QP had said a week ago.
“Hey, didn’t you get a new puppy? You name her yet?”
“She’s still missing. My parents won’t help me find her. Oh—”
“Okay,” Savannah said. “Before he starts on this tangent, I have to go. I’ll send a text to the group line later. After I think about this.”
“So she’s still missing?” Robert asked.
“Yeah,” QP said. “But I have fliers that I printed up and we’re gonna go hang them around town. Maybe someone’s seen her. Then we’re gonna go to the library and do some demon research.”