Bryan stomped onto the stage and looked around yet again. What was he even looking for? The demons were gone, so what was his purpose here now? What had he wanted to be here for this evening? Had he thought he was going to solve The Mystery of the Synagogue by staring at it once night fell? He looked down at the floor and kicked at the dust that blanketed it. It was a lot of dust; it went up in a fog and drifted down lazily in Harper’s direction. She looked up at Bryan in irritation.
“Ivers,” she started, and coughed and turned away down the aisle as the dust entered her mouth.
Bryan smiled, a slow grin that grew to feel slimy on his face. He wiped it away. “I really didn’t mean to kick it at you,” he told Harper as if apologizing for the grin.
She was still coughing, retching even. She spat twice and pawed at her face.
“It wasn’t that much,” Bryan complained.
“No, but…” Harper spat again. “It tastes dead.”
He saw it again, just for a moment. The dead place. Then it was gone.
He got out the right deck this time, and took a card from it. Harper barely got out any protest before he tore it.
It hurt more than it should have. He shrieked and fell to the floor, and dust churned up around him as he flopped into it. It entered his mouth and eyes and he was repulsed by the stuff, by its absolute absence of life, and was struck by the strongest recognition. He knew this death, had been immersed in it for hundreds or thousands of years, had drifted among it hungry and cold, starving and freezing. He saw the landscape again and it was so so dead, all metal and dust.
“Ivers!” he heard from a million miles away, and again “Ivers!” right above him.
He realized he was screaming, and made himself stop. His eyes were full of dust, and it hurt to open them.
“My eyes,” he said, and coughed. He could still taste it.
“Hold still,” he heard Harper say, and then she was pouring water into his eyes, holding them open. “That was a stupid thing to do.”
“We thought that was the gamma you let in,” came Skinner’s voice.
“Scared us near to death,” Phan said.
“It was the dust,” Bryan said, as if making a weak excuse.
“Yeah,” Harper said. “The dust made you freak the fuck out.”
He sat up, wiping his eyes. They still stung, and he blinked rapidly to try to dispel the remaining dust. But the taste in his mouth was worse. He saw everyone standing around him. Harper was holding a water bottle, and he snatched it from her and alternately drank and spat.
“It did,” he argued. “I remembered that place again. We’ve been there. For millennia.”
There was still dust floating around, getting in his eyes and mouth and nose. He stood and made his way down the aisle to the other end of the space.
“So it is where they come from,” Harper said, following him. She and Skinner had their hands over their mouths, though Andrade and Phan were unfazed.
“What does the dust have to do with it?” Andrade asked.
He downed the remainder of the water and looked up at the bimah, and did what he had intended to do. He focused on the energy of everything around him, saw the faint glows in and around everything, let the place light up like Christmas. The glow was always there for a demon, but you could ignore the weaker parts, unfocus from them like most things in your vision unfocus and fade and don’t wind up in your memory. But he focused on all of it now, the life source that made the demon in him drool – metaphorically.
“Does an ant have an aura?” he asked.
“What?” Andrade squeaked. “Um, if you’re asking me…”
“Well, yes. But only if I really look for it, or watch it in my peripheral vision.”
“How about a dust mite?”
“No, they’re too small. But demons can see their energy. Is that what you’re getting at?”
He grumbled under his breath. That had been was he was getting at. “Yes. Even mites and microbes, bacteria, individual cells have energy, if you look for it. If you watch from your peripheral vision.”
“Then this dust…” Harper suggested.
“Is completely devoid of life. It emits no sign of lifeforce. Only spare bacteria, and I assure you it only has those from lying in this location.”
“This location?” Skinner said. “What location would it have come from?”
“The dead place,” Bryan breathed, and shoved the demon into a card. The lifeglow around him fell away as if collapsing into itself, and all that remained was a ruined synagogue with rotting wood and broken glass and peeling paint and dust in the air.
As they reached the cars a gray-haired woman was walking past achingly slowly, as if she really wasn’t up for the walk she was taking. She saw them come out of the synagogue and stopped.
“Oh, did something finally happen in there?” she asked.
“Do you live in the area?” Andrade asked her back.
“Yes, right there.” She pointed to a house almost directly across from the synagogue, neat and trim with a little garden in front. “I don’t like being at home at night. So I go for a walk every evening until it passes.”
“Until what passes?” Bryan said.
“Well, it’s hard to say. It’s just a feeling. Something happens in there at night.” A look of comprehension snapped onto her face. “You’re with the Office, aren’t you?”
“We are,” Bryan affirmed. “Would you say this something happens every night around this time?”
“Certainly every night. But the time varies. Sometimes at sunset, sometimes a little bit later on. Unless the weather’s awful or I’m sick I walk around the block where it doesn’t hit as hard.”
“What is it you feel?”
“Well it’s…like a hurricane kicks up, but there’s no wind. But dreadful. Dark. Oppressive.” She shook her head. “I don’t even like to talk about it. It must be something awful if you’re looking into it.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, ma’am,” Andrade said.
“Really? But it does get worse. It used to be I could barely feel it on the other block, but now I do, very much so. I would walk further but my knees aren’t up to it.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Andrade said. Bryan left her to crowd control one old lady and got into a car, Harper following.
“Still think it’s abandoned due to the economy?” he said to her.