Evan jumped off his bike before coming to a complete stop. He landed in a full run.
Robert and QP stood beside the garage. The house’s front door remained open. Evan averted his eyes, not ready to investigate.
“Savannah, get over here,” he said, slowing to a brisk walk. He paused before his two friends.
QP kept fumbling with his hands. His face had blanched. Scariest of all, he wasn’t running his mouth. He stood quiet. That signaled bad news more than anything else.
Robert shifted from foot to foot. He kept biting his lips and scratching his face. Anxious? Evan wondered. About what?
“Hey,” Evan said, clapping his hands to get their attention. “What’s going on?”
Robert shook his head. QP might have shrugged, might have twitched. But he remained silent.
Again, Robert shook his head. QP continued the wrestling match with his hands.
Evan threw up his arms in anger. He wasn’t angry, though. He was afraid. Robert had texted the group and said Tyler had an accident. That they needed to get to Tyler’s house ASAP.
“I’m going in,” Evan said, turning from the two boys.
“No.” QP covered his mouth, as if he had cursed in a church.
“No?” Evan asked.
“He’s,” Robert said, staring off into the street. A car drove by. The driver waved in Evan’s direction. “He’s.” But he didn’t manage any more words.
He didn’t need them either. Evan didn’t need to walk in the house to know.
“Dead?” Evan asked.
QP walked away, disappearing around the corer of the garage.
“Yeah,” Robert said. “I found him that way. You shouldn’t have to see it.”
But what else would Evan do? Of course he had to see Tyler. He licked his lips and started toward the front door.
Each step lasted an eternity. A billion thoughts rushed through his mind. Is he really dead? Had Robert found him? Or killed him? Why think that? Could Robert kill? Kill Tyler? They were best friends.
And that was the first step he took.
When he reached the front door, he saw Tyler’s socked feet. A hole stretched across his left heel. His right sock soaked in blood.
Evan placed a hand on the outside wall of the house. He panted. His vision blurred. Then he forced himself forward, at least enough to see up to Tyler’s waist before the darkness of the house devoured his torso.
They looked like legs. Human legs. Dark hair shrouded the pale skin. A mole grew from his right ankle. A scar jutted across his knee where he had surgery years ago.
Evan shuffled forward and saw Tyler’s torso up to the neck.
A human torso. He wore his Dark Tower shirt, showcasing the Gunslinger holding a revolver. Tyler’s left arm sat on his stomach, covered in blood. His right arm rested near his waist. His phone just out of reach.
Evan took the last dreaded step and saw his friend’s face.
He noticed the blood first. It spilled all around Tyler’s neck and ears, flecked on his cheeks and nose.
Second, Evan noticed the face. Not a human face. The eyes had glossed over, and appeared more doll like than anything. They stared, lifeless, at the ceiling from behind a mask. A burlap mask. A mask with stitched lips that curved into a tormented smile.
Then the smell overcame him. Hot blood sitting out too long. Defecation. Rot.
Evan placed a hand over his mouth, turned to the front porch, and vomited across the cement.
Robert stood a few yards away, staring at Evan.
A wild terror overcame him that Robert was going to slash his throat, too. Did he fear Robert now?
“What happened?” Evan asked, keeping his gaze attuned to the skinny kid before him. “Don’t let Sava see this. Where is she? Don’t let her see this.”
“I don’t know what happened. I texted him. Said I wanted to apologize.” Robert’s voice barely reached Evan’s ears. “This is how I found him.”
“Have you called the police?”
Robert shook his head. “I didn’t do it,” he said.
“What?” A tingle ran down Evan’s spine.
“You’re looking at me like I killed him. Like I’m going to kill you. I didn’t. I swear.”
“He punched you,” QP said from behind Robert. “You said you’d kill him.” QP stepped forward, inching closer to Robert and Evan and the body.
“I didn’t. I found him like that. It was the mask.”
Evan’s eyes widened. His face broke into a sardonic smile. “The mask?”
“I know it sounds crazy,” Robert said, stepping toward Evan. “I know how it looks.” He turned to QP. “I threatened him. I said I was coming over. And I blame it on the mask. Evan, do you think I’m that neurotic?”
Evan didn’t know what to say. He didn’t think Robert killed Tyler. But he also didn’t know. All of sudden, he felt nothing and he knew nothing but exhaustion.
“Evan,” Savannah said. She came jogging from around the corner.
“Sava, no,” Evan said. “Robert, QP, get her away.”
Robert and QP reached for her as she tried to run past. They held her back.
“You don’t want to see that,” Robert said.
Evan noticed tears streaking down her beautiful face. She fought against Robert and QP, flailed against their restraint, but to no avail.
“He’s dead,” Evan said. “Tyler’s dead.”
The words must have hit her hard, because she collapsed into Robert. They both stumbled back and tripped. She leaned into him, hugged him, and sobbed on his shoulder.
He wrapped his arms around her, not in restraint, but comfort.
Evan glanced away, back toward Tyler’s body. Something caught his eye. An object that caught the dying sun’s light. He stepped forward, into the house, over Tyler.
The darkness within swallowed him.
Robert watched Evan disappear into the house. Savannah’s tears wet his shirt. She rocked against his chest.
He glanced behind him to find QP. He noticed an empty driveway and a quiet neighborhood. As Savannah continued to sob, he thought he should cry, but the tears didn’t come. In fact, he felt nothing.
“Guys,” Evan said from inside the house.
Robert glanced at the front door. He saw Tyler’s feet, the blood staining the right sock. Don’t ask me to go in there, Robert thought. Don’t ask me to step over him.
Then he realized it wasn’t nothing he felt, it was numbness. He couldn’t process the information. The incident. What had happened. His mind refused to acknowledge what lay before him.
Savannah’s head lifted off his chest and she looked toward the front door. Her hair blew into his face. It smelled of smoke and coconut. “Evan,” she said. “What’s up?”
“You need to check this out.”
Savannah crawled onto her hands and knees, then stood. She scuttled toward the entryway, pausing when she came close enough to see all of Tyler. Robert watched her shoulders tighten, her feet shift. He heard a small gasp.
But she was strong, stronger than anyone else in the group, and her hesitancy lasted the duration of a breath. She continued forward, stepping over Tyler like stepping over a fallen log.
Robert stood and followed. He stared forward and up, not daring to glance down and lose his conviction. When Tyler lay behind him, Robert exhaled. Standing in his friend’s empty home, where only his ghost lived, sent chills over his body.
Savannah and Evan stood in the entryway, a few feet from Tyler’s body.
“What is it?” Robert asked.
Evan scooted to the side, creating a perfect view for Robert. In blood-red ink, scrawled across the tan walls of the house, was an image of a masked man holding a knife.
In block letters, above the stick-figure drawing, read the word SILENCE.
Robert felt Evan’s eyes boring into him. His internal temperature spiked. Sweat broke across his brow. He rushed backward, not realizing he didn’t have much space, and he tripped on his dead friend. His ass sat onto Tyler’s chest.
“You little, fucking liar,” Evan said. In that moment, he resembled his father. Eyes tight and squinted with rage. Mouth pursed. Fists balled.
“Evan,” Sava said, grabbing his shoulder.
He shrugged her off. “He killed Tyler,” Evan said. “The fucking creep. Always reading about serial killers. Disappearing into the woods. What do you do out there? Jerk off to dead animals?”
Still sitting on Tyler, Robert flinched. Evan’s accusation didn’t miss the mark by much. “I didn’t kill him,” Robert said.
“I didn’t. I swear. He was my best friend.”
“Get up,” Evan said. “Get off of him.”
Robert scrambled to his feet and scurried away from Tyler. “Please, Evan, Sava.” He glanced at Savannah. She stood behind Evan with her arms crossed, not wanting any part of this. “You have to believe me.”
“Funny,” Evan said. “It’s really fucking hysterical. This creep told me earlier that the mask killed Tyler. Just said it on a damn whim. How convenient is that?” Evan wiped snot from his nose.
“Evan,” Savannah said. “I think we should go outside and find QP. Yeah? Maybe talk this over as a group.”
He spun on her, pushed her against the wall so her head whiplashed against the drywall, leaving a golfball-sized dent.
“I’m done talking in groups. This isn’t therapy. People are dead. Dead. I should’ve told the police. But who had the bright idea of meeting? You did. Who had the bright idea of disposing of Jimmy’s body? This fucking freak.” Evan turned back to Robert. “What? You didn’t want Tyler spoiling our fun tonight? You were hard about digging up a corpse, you little shit. You had to kill because you were scared he would tell. Well he had it right the entire time. We have to tell. At least his mother. Did you tell his mom?”
Robert stared at Evan. His mouth flapped, and he shook his head. “She’s not home.”
Evan stalked over to Robert and stared down at him. “I should kill you, you know that? And if I’m going to prison for murdering Jimmy, I still might kill you. Make it worth it.”
He stepped over Tyler and exited the house, disappearing as he rounded the corner.
Robert turned toward Savannah. She sat on the hardwood floor, face between her knees. She didn’t tremble. Nor did she make sobbing noises. She just sat there, stone still and dead silent.
“You okay?” Robert asked.
Savannah lifted her head. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”
“I’m not either.” He sat beside her.
Her fingers touched upon his hand and he clutched them with all his might.
“He’s been in love with you forever,” Robert said. His cheeks heated. “He told me awhile ago, but didn’t want QP to know.”
Savannah scratched her cheek. “I think we all knew,” she said, looking at Robert. “Did you love him?” Her voice sounded scratchy.
Robert sniffled. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Do you love Evan?”
Savannah rested her head on Robert’s shoulder. “I don’t know,” she said. “What I do know is that you didn’t kill Tyler.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Outside, someone yelped. Savannah’s head shot up, her comforting weight leaving a cold, hollow spot on Robert’s shoulder.
“What was that,” she asked. “QP?”
“It didn’t sound like him,” Robert said.
Savannah jumped to her feet and ran out the door, leaving Robert alone with Tyler. He crawled forward until he sat beside his friend, then clutched Tyler’s cold hand.
His lifeless body felt ike a slab of meat taken from the refrigerator. Cold. Firm. Not human in any way.
“I’m sorry,” Robert said.
He leaned over and kissed Tyler’s forehead, then touched his eyelids shut.