When QP had walked into his grandma’s house that evening, she sat at the kitchen table and gummed a mashed banana. Her bony hands shook, and the spoon rattled against the bowl.
Shivers covered QP’s body. The clinging noise was rancid in his ears.
“Hi, mom,” Dean said. He knelt beside her and kissed her liver-spotted, wrinkle-devoted cheek. He placed his massive paw on her rail-sized leg.
Her eyes widened and were unblinking. She stared at the wall behind QP and ate her mashed banana without thought, like a robot that trembled from fatigue and weakness.
“Hello, Lydia. How’re you feeling today?” QP’s mom asked.
Lydia grunted, then smacked on her banana with an open mouth.
“Mac, please hug your grandmother,” his mom said.
“She probably doesn’t even know who I am,” he mumbled. But he shuffled forward and wrapped an arm around her fragile shoulders. They jutted from her body like deformities on some dead monster. She smelled rotten, half decayed. He cringed then pulled away as quickly as possible.
She smacked banana mush, and pale yellow gook slipped from her mouth and down her sunken chin. She hadn’t blinked yet.
“I’m going to go in the other room,” QP said.
His parents knew he hated being around her. They always told him reassuring things like, “I know seeing her like that makes you uncomfortable,” or, “She appreciates the fact that you showed up.” He supposed they didn’t want him to feel bad for having to leave the room. They thought he was dealing with some emotional turmoil because his last remaining grandparent had lost her mind and was a babbling wreck.
The truth was, QP had never known his dad’s mother. She was an alcoholic and a bitch before the disease had rotted her mind. He remembered the childhood fear that accompanied her name. And now that she had forgotten the simple routine of hygiene, or how to clean up trash, that fear had turned to a guilty disgust.
He avoided her whenever they visited, not because he was sentimental and scared of her corpse-like state, but because she reeked of shit and decay.
A large part of him wanted her dead, but he didn’t admit that to anyone, not even himself.
He knew he shouldn’t feel that way, but how can one help their feelings? No one controls what they think or how they feel. They just control how they act. And QP chose to leave to avoid the discomfort and awkwardness.
QP pulled down the string to the attic door and unfolded the stairs. He climbed up and flipped on the attic light switch. The downstairs heat had warmed the cluttered space. Sweat formed on QP’s brow minutes after he climbed into the attic.
Typical junk that old people hoard for whatever reason filled most of the limited space. Due to the low ceiling, QP had to crawl or mosey around in a crouch, like a monkey, in order to get to the back corner.
A box titled “Merle’s Stuff” was opened, just as QP had left it, which eased his mind. Last night, when he found the box, he had a sickening feeling that someone had followed him up the ladder and watched him scavenge the contents. The feeling of being watched had driven him back down the stairs and into the kitchen.
As a result, he hadn’t finished looking through the box where he had found the journal.
Recalling the sensation from last night, QP’s ears prickled. He sidled his gaze back and forth, and he saw nothing but shadows from lamp stands and old, moth-eaten clothes.
His grandpa’s stuff waited inside the box. Letters and medals from his time in the war. Old pictures in black and white and sepia tones. QP riffled through all of it, inspecting each item as if it leant a clue to his search.
At the bottom of the box rested a slip of paper with a polaroid attached. The picture was of a burlap mask. The same mask QP had found in the box. That Jimmy had worn when they buried him.
In the picture, the mask appeared white, not tan. The whiteness didn’t resemble snow or paint or color. The white of the mask reminded QP of sound, or lack thereof. It reminded QP of silence. The mask showed the color of silence. The lips were stitched shut, as if someone had cut a smile into the mask then sewed it. There were no eyes, no nose, no other facial features but the stapled mouth. And that was the picture. A silent face.
Attached to the picture was a piece of paper. It appeared torn from some book. Time had yellowed and crinkled the page. The letters tilted and curled with an old-fashioned style of writing. QP’s hands trembled as he read the note.
Dumah, the angel of silence and stillness of death. He and his thousands of attendants are charged with the punishment of sinners. Isaiah 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?’”
QP didn’t understand the writing. Had his grandpa written it? Was it a letter sent from someone else? There was no signature at the bottom of the page. He swallowed a wad of nerves and continued to read.
We have awoken the great demon of silence. He haunts us, tortures us, punishes us for our deeds. For our silence. There’s nothing to do but wait and wait and wait, until death calls me into the next world. Nothing to do but jump at shadows and echoes of the night.
Footsteps sounded up the ladder to the attic. QP gasped at the thundering noise. He dropped the note and it fluttered to the wood-planked floor.
“You up here?” his dad asked, popping his head into the cramped space. “God, it stinks like musk.”
“Dad” QP retrieved the note and the picture and placed them back in the box. “I’m just looking through grandpa’s old stuff.”
“I don’t think he would’ve liked that. He lived a very secretive life.”
“That’s what I figured. Do you know he died? You never told me. But I saw a note and it seemed like he was murdered.”
QP couldn’t decipher his dad’s facial reaction from across the way, but he spoke in a low, serious voice. “The same disease your grandma’s dying of. His mind rotted. He forgot how to survive.”
“When exactly did grandma get sick?”
“I don’t know. A few months before your grandfather passed away. He was sick, too, you know. His mind had started to slip. Saw things that weren’t there. Heard voices.”
QP glanced into the open box. Dumah, wondered. The voices of a demon trying to punish him. Did his dad really believe that, or was he lying to QP?
“Is that why grandma got sick? Was grandpa contagious?”
His father chuckled. “No. Memory and reality are fickle things. We often disremember reality, and reality is often only what we remember of life. It’s a thin line that often makes no sense. When you’re older, that line fades, and you swerve back and forth between the two realms. It’s easy to confuse your imagination with your memories.”
“Will you be like that?”
“I already am. I thought I ate pancakes for breakfast. Turns out, I haven’t had pancakes in a week.” He ruffled QP’s hair. “We’re getting ready to go. You should probably tell your grandmother goodbye.”
“Does she even know who I am?”
Dean frowned. His eyes carried hurt. “Somewhere she knows. The thing is, memory and reality collide. You look a lot like I did when I was younger, and I look a lot like my father. That’s who we are to her, and that’s okay.”
QP glanced into the box one more time. The inside was dark, and he could only make out the shapes of different objects, and the mask in the picture. It stared at him with the silent face and the stitched mouth.
“Alright, then,” he said, antsy to exit the attic space. It felt like bugs had started to scurry over his skin, like rats were gnawing on his ankles. “Let’s go.”
His dad shimmied backward to the opening in the attic floor, then dropped down the steps, and QP followed. He folded up the ladder and shut the hatch.
All of a sudden, he didn’t want to meet his friends later that night. He wanted to tell everything to father, to the cops, to someone.
He felt that if he didn’t say a word, the dark knowledge would kill him.