Let me start by saying that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone in this town has a story about him, and you’ve all got it wrong. They see a dude curled up in a grubby orange sleeping bag at the donut shop and their minds paint all kinds of crazy scenarios. Depending on who you talk to, he’s a traumatized vet with brain damage. Or he’s a widower, gone mad from grief. Other people say he took too many drugs back in the day or had a bad trip he never came back from.
I can tell you, those people, whispering rumors in a privileged game of telephone, they don’t know shit. You don’t know shit. They never knew Cal. Never knew the only war he’d been in was one he imagined. They couldn’t know he’d only had one girlfriend who cheated on him after four months, so Cal nailed the bloodied tail of a dead squirrel to her front door. Squirrel’s ass meat still stuck to it. We never knew what he did with the rest of that animal.
Nobody wanted to ask.
What I’m saying is, before he lived in the doorway of the donut shop, and way before he hung out at the McDonald’s on Main Street trying to bum coffees and cigarettes, Cal was one of my best friends. Don’t look at me like that. I’m telling you. It’s the truth.
How it all went weird is, me and Jason were doing typical end of the weekend stuff: mopping up the bathroom and trying to make the toilet flush again. Unsticking beer bottles, bottle caps, and other party detritus from the floors and kitchen counters. Then Cal came downstairs and knocked on our door, metal detector in hand, ready for a treasure hunt.
The three of us went around to the back of the apartment building and climbed the fence. Cal started in on another tangent about this book, The Necronomicon. He tried to tell us Lovecraft never wrote fiction, that The Old Ones were real. Jason believed it, too, and he warned Cal not to say some stupid spell out loud. They told me not to read it, maybe thinking because I’m a chick I need protecting. Well, I tried to read it anyway, but all those names full of consonants and apostrophes were ridiculous, so I read Pet Sematary instead.
Weaving in and out of the gravestones, Cal lumbered beside me with the metal detector slung over one shoulder. Jason was on my other side, an empty Safeway bag rustling as he swung his arms, in case he found any neat graveyard shit. Both creeping through the headstones with this prowling, hunched over walk. Their faces hidden behind long curtains of hair. The sides of Jason’s Deicide shirt all cut off, like most of his t-shirts. Not showing any muscle or chest hair, just rib cage, fish belly white. Armpit hair the color of dirt.
Cal told us about another time he came here to treasure hunt. “Those bones in my apartment upstairs, the chunk of vertebrae and that femur bone, I found those around here somewhere.” He gestured with his free hand.
I told him they had to be animal bones, but he wasn’t having it and I didn’t feel like arguing, so I said, “Dude, don’t you think the owners will want those back?”
Cal shrugged. “Even if they did, they have no use for them anymore. And it’s not like they know where I live.”
“Except those bits of bone are like runway lights, man,” Jason said. “They’ll know exactly where to land.”
Cal peeked out us from behind his ass-length black hair. “Oh, shit. Do you think so?”
“Who knows,” I said. “Vengeful spirits aren’t known for their predictability.”
“Maybe it’s like the book says.” Jason pushed his hair behind his ears. “Whoever tampers with the seals and wakes the sleepers are also damned.”
The corner of Jason’s mouth turned up a bit. His eyes narrowed. He had a way of smiling without smiling. One thing about Jason is, he was always so difficult to read. A joke. A warning. A gag, or life and death all blurred together on his face. You would’ve liked him.
The treasure hunt was a bust. They were always a bust. That was never the point. Not for me and Jason, anyway. For us, it was a harmless laugh, walking around like boneyard creeps, playing at grave robbers for an hour.
Not so for Cal. We didn’t know that then.
Jason complained he was so hungry that his stomach was wrapping itself around his spine. As soon as we got back home, I went to the closet and scooped a cup of rice from the twenty-pound bag Jason stole from a Chinese restaurant the month before.
Wait, what? Why’d we steal rice? I guess you never had to choose between buying groceries and paying rent. Lucky you. You wanna hear the rest of this, or not?
Anyway, Jason wondered if Cal was telling the truth about digging up bones in the cemetery, or just fucking with us.
“They came from something,” I said. “They’re animal bones. Those graves are old, but the bodies are buried deep and sealed in coffins. They’re not just strewn about the lawn. Want some rice?”
“We don’t have anything to put on it.”
Jason scrunches his face like he smells something strange. “Yeah, okay. Getting sick of rice, though.”
As I squirted ketchup on bowls of rice, Jason laughed and said, “Wanna do a prank?”
Jason looked up, as though he could see through the layers of wood and steel and drywall, up into Cal’s apartment. He jumped up off the bean bag chair and grabbed the broom we’d abandoned earlier. He tapped on the ceiling. A few fragments of plaster rained down into his lank russet hair. He tapped all the way across the living room, down the hall, into the bedroom. Then back again.
Above us, the ceiling light swayed as Cal stomped along, following the sound. I called his phone, asking if he heard the thing in the walls. Jason screamed like he was being flayed alive, banging the ceiling with more force. Hailstones of plaster fell into his hair.
“What the fuck is happening?” Cal shouted into my ear.
“Cal, something’s happening to Jason. Runway lights, Cal. RUNWAY LIGHTS.”
The walls shook as Cal thundered down the stairs. He blew through the door. Strands of black hair sticking to the sweat on his face. We sat on the futon in front of the TV, eating bowls of ketchup rice, doing our best to appear clueless and surprised.
“Whoa, man… what’s up with you?” Jason said.
Cal panted like a dog, eyes darting back and forth, searching our faces for an antidote to his confusion. He said nothing about the ceiling flakes in Jason’s hair. He flew out the door and up to his own apartment. When we heard his door slam, I asked Jason, “He knows we’re fucking with him, right?”
Jason shoveled a forkful of rice down. “Shit. He’s probably fucking with us. I bet he’s known those are animal bones this whole time. Remember what he did to the squirrel?”
After a while, we made the bathroom usable again and finished cleaning up the weekend party filth. Jason closed his door and I closed mine, falling asleep to the sounds of him playing something on his guitar while I read about cats and kids rising from the dead.
In a muddled moment between waking and snapping my eyes open, my dreaming mind imagined an angry dog caught in a terrible windstorm. I tumbled out of bed as my roommate shrieked on the other side of the wall. I staggered to his room. Cal stood over Jason’s bed, the battered paperback of The Necronomicon in Cal’s hand and bludgeoning Jason, who held his hands up to cover his face, unable to untangle himself from his blankets.
I screamed and jumped on Cal’s back, and then the scene slowed down. The three of us did nothing but breathe for a long moment, then Jason lowered his arms and sat up. His pale face blotchy and shining with sweat. Blood smeared all over his lips and teeth like a predatory animal that had just fed on its prey. I hung on Cal’s back, staring at Jason until Cal whispered, “Okay. I’m okay.”
I climbed down. Cal dropped the bloody book on the floor and ran out of the room. I bent down to pick it up.
“No.” Jason shook his head. “Leave it.”
“You’re as bad as he is. Books don’t hurt people.”
I backed off. “Okay. It’s all yours.”
The next morning, we went upstairs to Cal’s apartment, but he’d already gone. The metal detector sat abandoned in the alley behind the building. Sometimes we’d take it out on treasure hunts for old time’s sake, but we never found anything. We only lost. Over and over again. Eventually, Jason had enough. I haven’t been back to the cemetery since I went there to say goodbye to him. He didn’t leave a note when he checked out, but he left me this damned book.
And if you see Cal, maybe buy him a coffee or a donut. He’ll probably move on from the donut shop soon, though. Staying on the move confuses ‘em and fogs up the runway lights. That’s why I sleep here at the library now instead of down there behind the service station.
Anyway, this book is yours now. I finally got around to reading it. Don’t bother. It’s just a bunch of names that are impossible to pronounce with threats about the end of days and madness and some other crazy shit. Just hold on to it for me.
Nervous? Why would you be nervous? Books don’t hurt people.
To learn more about Rasmenia, please browse her website: https://www.rasmenia.com/