QP, Tyler, and Robert stepped in the Ayser Public Library.
A smell from antiquity greeted them. Time seemed to have passed this place by. Stale books sat on white shelves. Clunky computers with more depth than height or width rested on metal tables. Rough, blue carpet stretched across the floor, probably holding dust as ancient as the women who sat behind the front counter.
QP imagined what his personal hell would consist of. He hated the stale stench of old. The worn, forgotten look of existing for too long.
He thought of his grandma, how her mind had frayed and become lost in the ocean of life. How her house stank of neglect. Neglect of dusting and vacuuming and taking out the trash. Neglect of personal hygiene. Everything rotted like a corpse in the ground, buried not by dirt, but by years.
Robert stood near the front of the library near QP. He held half the stack of flyers. A stupid smirk slapped across his face. QP found nothing worth smiling over, and he felt annoyed.
“It’s like a wet dream that you and your boyfriend designed,” QP said, slapping Robert’s shoulder with his thick stack of papers.
“What?” Robert asked.
“Cause it’s a bunch of old, maternal ladies. I know how hard you get over your mom.” QP back-tapped Robert’s crotch. He grunted and doubled over. “And they’re reading, like that homosexual friend of yours.”
“God damn. The one who alternates with your mom to blow you.”
“He’s talking about me,” Tyler said.
QP barked laughter, collecting a few dirty glances from the reading club in the corner of the building. “Sorry,” he said in a boisterous voice, then whispered, “Sorry.” He chuckled. “You admitted you take turns blowing Robert with his mom.”
Robert shook his head. “Are we here to joke around or find your dog?”
“Just trying to make light of this stupid hell we walked into.” He glanced at Robert.
The kid sucked on his cheeks, causing his lips to purse like a fish.
“Dude, anyone ever tell you that your face looks like an asshole when you do that?” QP mimicked the expression, then he spoke in a feminine voice. “Tyler, put your weiner in here. Do it Tyler.”
“Serious?” Tyler asked.
Robert threw up his arms. “All you do is shit on us. Why? Are you that insecure of your weight? You’re not even that fat anymore.” The outburst caused a few more dirty looks. Robert’s mouth worked, but no words came out.
“You know, you have a strange way of making your insults sound like compliments.”
“You’r such a dick,” Robert said.
QP flashed a smile. “Go ahead,” he said. “I know you want to go find one of those creepy serial killer books. I’ll come find you in a bit.”
“You don’t understand anything.” Robert walked away and into the maze of shelves. Tyler tagged after him.
QP approached the front desk. An older lady sat behind a computer. She had white hair. Two hoop earrings dangled against her neck. Orange paint covered fake fingernails that extended an inch past her fingertips. Makeup caked her face. QP thought she made a decent clown.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“How can I help you?”
“I lost my dog. I think she ran away. I was wondering if I could put some flyers on the windows? Maybe leave one here on the desk.”
The woman glanced over her glasses at QP. A smile warmed her face. “Yeah, that’ll be okay. What kind of dog is she?”
“A lab. Cutest puppy to ever exist.” He handed her a paper with a picture of Daisy curled into a ball in her bed and looking at him. “I know it’s in black white, but she has dark brown fur and these big black, like button eyes, and they always look like they’re begging. She’s so pitiful.”
“She is very cute,” said the lady. “I hope you find her.”
QP didn’t find Robert and Tyler in the True Crime section, but near the back corner of the library, in the dusty reference section.
“This is where people come to get away with anything. Think of all the sex that’s happened back here,” QP said, running his fingers over the hard-covered books, leaving streaks in the dust.
“What’re you talking about?” Tyler asked.
“Who comes back to a reference section in a library? We have computers in our pockets. If we really want to know something, we look it up. Right? This is like having a salad bar in a burger joint. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Do salads ever make sense to you?” Robert asked. He hid his face behind a thick book.
“Har. Har. Har. Want me to leave so you and Tyler can hook up in peace?” QP scanned the titles on the book spines. They all had some theological bent to them. “Serious, Bobby? Not only did you pick the lamest part of the library, but you chose lamest section of the lamest part. You’re the biggest nerd I know. Why do we hang out again? Because, right now, I think I hate you.”
“Last night,” Robert said, “when I got home, I looked up Dumah.” Robert leaned down and lifted a Bible from the floor. He flipped through the pages, then read. “This is from Isiah 21:11. A prophecy against Dumah: Someone calls to me from Seir, ‘Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?”
“Okay,” QP said. “Tyler, your boyfriend has gone crazy.”
“Do you know who Dumah is?” Robert asked.
“Stephen King wrote a book called Duma Key,” Tyler said.
“God, you’re both nerds.”
“I don’t think his book has anything to do with this,” Robert said. “Dumah, in Aramaic means silence. Dumah was also chief of the demons in hell, and he was charged with overseeing the punishment of sinners’ souls.”
“Wait. What’d you say?” QP asked. “He punished the souls of sinners?”
“I read something, when I was in my grandpa’s old stuff, he left a note or something and it mentioned that. Like almost exactly. Punishing the souls of sinners.” QP closed his eyes and tried to remember. “I don’t remember what else the note said. But we’re going back there tonight. Maybe I can pocket it and bring it back.” Goosebumps spread across his arms. “That’s creepy.”
“What’s going on?” Tyler asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” Robert said. “But Dumah punishes people for their sins, and…” Robert turned the book around so QP and Tyler could see the front cover. He pointed to a black and white image of a mask. “This is a common representation of him.”
Tyler covered his mouth and gasped.
QP’s eyes widened. “Okay. I’m officially freaked the shit out. That’s the same mask from my grandpa’s old shit.”
“What’s this mean?” Tyler asked.
“Probably nothing,” Robert said. “Most of this stuff is folklore.”
“Most of this stuff?” Tyler crossed his arms.
“There’s one reference to a document that lives outside of myth. A book. It’s called The Mask of Silence. I already scanned the shelves, but it’s not in here. My bet is that it’s lost to history.”
QP had his phone out and he was typing in words. “The Mask of Silence,” he said, reading. “The Mask of Silence is what Dumah wore when he punished the sinners, though the mask has never actually been proven to exist. Legend tells that the mask was the last thing Dumah’s victims saw to remind them of their own sin. The mask’s mouth was sewn shut and the eyes are sealed. Scholars believed that since Dumah’s name means silence, he actively haunted and punished those who kept their silence. Those who witness injustice and remained quiet, in Dumah’s eyes, held more responsibility to the crime than the actual offender. Thus, their sin was greater, and their punishment more severe.”
“Wait,” Tyler said. “First, the mask has never been proven to exist, yet QP happens to find one.”
“That could’ve been anything. A Halloween mask for all we know,” QP said.
Tyler cocked his head. “Second,” he continued, “This angel or demon or whatever it is, it punishes people for keeping quiet after witnessing sin.” He used air quotes around the word sin. “Uh, do we still plan to keep quiet about last night? I’m not trying to catch the attention of a demon.” Tyler fished his phone from his pocket.
“What’re you doing?” QP asked.
“I’m calling the cops, telling them about last night.”
“What’re you talking about?” QP stepped toward Tyler. He had a hand out in a calming gesture. “Tyler, you can’t call the cops.”
“Why? We partook in a murder,” he whispered. “We buried his body. I’m supposed to hold back and not say dick? No. I can’t. Okay? I can’t do that. Especially if some demon is going to haunt me and punish me.” Tyler glanced at his screen and started pressing buttons.
QP swiped his hand across Tyler’s arm. The phone clattered onto the library carpet. Tyler leaned down and picked it back up.
“Listen,” QP said. “Robert is one of our best friends. So is Evan. Use your pea-sized brain for once in your pathetic life. If we call the cops, it goes one of two ways. Evan and Robert are arrested and put in juvenile hall for God knows how long. Or we all are. Do want either of those to happen?”
Tyler stared at his sneakers. “No,” he muttered.
“Your damned right you don’t.”
“We don’t have to say it was us,” Tyler said.
“You won’t call the cops? At least until we figure this shit out.”
Tyler clenched his fist. “You know what? I’m done with this. I’m done with you guys.” He bolted toward the end of the aisle, then stopped. “I’m calling the cops and I’m telling them everything. Jimmy is some person’s son. Someone’s friend. Get out of your own head and think about someone else for once. Wouldn’t you want to know the truth?”
“It’s not that simple.” Robert shut the reference book with resounding force. He strolled toward Tyler, placed a slender hand on his shoulder. “What family do we have? Any of us? That’s how we found each other, right? That’s why stick together? You just don’t turn your back on family.”
Tyler looked at the ceiling, at the bookshelves.
“Besides,” Robert said. “God doesn’t exist. If God doesn’t exist, then demons don’t exist.” He grinned off the side of his mouth, as if he held a secret. “We don’t have to worry about Dumah, or any other evil presence, to haunt us.”
“I agree with the gist of that,” QP said. “I think God does exist, but not like God. You know? It’s not like the Christian God or Allah or Zeus. It’s like all of them put together. And people just worship it, because God can’t be a genderized—”
“Not a real word,” Robert said.
QP flipped him off. “Genderizing put God into a box. And God is too big to be put into a box. To fit within a singular religion.”
“You know,” Robert said. “You look and sound like the biggest blowhard to ever exist. But then you say shit like that.”
QP straightened his shirt and his posture. “I’m full of surprises.”
“You two just don’t understand,” Tyler said.
He cocked back his arm, then caught Robert across the jaw with a right hook. Tyler grabbed his right fist in his left hand.
Blood flooded from Robert’s nose and leaked onto the library floor.
“What the hell?” Robert said, his voice muffled and full of liquid. “I’ll fucking kill you, Tyler.”
His threats fell on empty air. Tyler sprinted through the library and out the door.
“Well fucking-hell,” QP said. “Now we have a real shit storm brewing.”