Jason waited outside, the cold creeping into his chest. He heard his dog under the bushes whine and bite at something—a root maybe. The woods behind his house didn't let any moonlight in, and they seemed to be something complete. Not just trees never cut down to make room for fields, but a whole thing—a black blanket over a box or a huge stone in front of him. He was scared Brandon was waiting in the woods. That he would sneak up and yell just to watch Jason jump and run. Jason waited and listened for Brandon. He waited to be surprised and deny he ever was. But when all he could hear was his dog chewing on a root and the clattering wave of the forest's leaves hitting each other, he realized he'd been tricked from the beginning.
Brandon was an asshole, and he wasn't coming at all.
Jason looked around, expecting someone in his neighborhood to point and tell him what a moron he was. He repeated the conversation in his head with Brandon, tried to figure out how he could have fallen for it. He thought of Brandon's thick lipped lies and his own stupid nodding head. How could he know whether Kelly slept naked or not? How could he know when she went to bed and which room was hers?
He'd have to get even in school on Monday. Maybe give him a cheap shot on the bus.
“Come on,” he heard Brandon say from the woods.
Jason didn't jump, which made him feel even better than not being tricked.
“How long have you been in there?”
“I just got here. I went through the woods from my house.”
“My neighbors are weird. They might start yelling if they saw me go through their yard. Come on, it's almost ten.”
Jason joined Brandon, who was already breathing heavily and dragged his feet through the fallen branches and underbrush. They walked down the slope where a small stream cut through before rising to another hill. Even in the dark Jason was able to tell which street he was parallel to—which neighbor’s house he would spill into if he ran out of the woods.
The trees fell away and a house appeared. Kelly lived just outside of the neighborhood, and her father owned three tracks of land, making the house seem more remote though the nearest neighbor was still only 300 yards away.
The boys crouched at the wood's edge. The porch lights were on, as well as most of the first floor lights. There was only one light on the second floor that was on from where they could see.
“Do you think it's that one?” Jason asked.
“I think we're too late,” Brandon said.
“No, man. It's not even really past ten yet. Come on, we can hide out behind that busted car.”
“I don't know. I think we should just do it another night.”
“Ok. Listen, you wait here. I'll scope it out. If that's her room up there, I'll come back and get you. I know you told people we were doing this tonight, and we can’t just head back now.”
Jason patted Brandon's back and ran for the old Pontiac. He crouched behind it and caught the glint of tools scattered around him: a socket set, screwdrivers, and an adjustable wrench.
Jason noticed other things, too. The collection of rotting lawn chairs, a tilted picnic table next to a grill with no bottom. All of the rusted metal and soft wood around the yard made him feel weird. It made the house seem off. It didn't belong in his neighborhood or his town.
Looking back, Jason saw Brandon was now sitting cross-legged on the ground. He didn't seem to care about how weird the lawn looked, so Jason moved past the car and towards the yard in front of the lit second floor window.
The blinds were half drawn, but from what Jason could see, it did look like a girl's room. He was standing in the middle of the yard with no cover, which made him nervous about the flickering light coming from a window on the first floor. He was wearing a tan shirt that he forgot to switch for a darker one. He thought about moving back to the lone maple tree in the yard and climbing it for cover.
The noise was probably no more than the sound that would come from dropping an empty oil can on top of another, but to Jason it sounded like a shotgun. He guessed Brandon tried to move closer to the house and stumbled over some of the tools.
Lights came on, the front door swung open.
Jason turned and ran, noticing a tool shed with its lock dangling open. He decided it would be safer to hide there than cut back across the lawn for the woods.
He opened the door just enough to slip in and shut it again without a noise. He smelled the raw oil and gas of whatever machinery was behind him. He smelled copper soaked through the dirt.
“You better not be wandering around out here. I'll know it if you are.”
Jason thought about the voice from the porch and Brandon. It wouldn’t take much to see him near the Pontiac, and even less to catch him.
He heard a shifting behind him. His mind flashed a thought of how quiet the father would have to be to get to the back of the shed without him hearing a sound. He thought of how frightening a man like that was—someone who moved without sound. He wondered if it might be Brandon, if there was another door on the back he hadn't noticed. He was too scared to turn.
“He thinks I left the shed. He doesn't know you're here. I hope he doesn’t know you’re here.”
The voice was soft and shaking. Jason turned to see Kelly Yeager in pajama bottoms and a tee shirt. She was soaking wet. He saw her body through the shirt and looked away.
“You got to go. He'll get so angry if he knows you're here. If he thinks that I asked you to come. Please, you have to go.”
“Why are you wet?”
“I didn't do the dishes before he got home like he asked.”
“You have to get out of here.”
“I don't understand. Why are you all wet?”
“I didn't do the dishes before he came home from work,” she said, treating each word bitterly as she pronounced it.
“He put you out here soaking wet?”
“You got to go. It'll be so much worse.”
Kelly didn't bother getting up from the side of the shed. She didn't look at Jason either, which he was thankful for.
“Ok. I'll go. Do you want me to call somebody?”
“Does he do this to your sister?”
“I don't know.”
“I want to call the police.”
“You can't. Please, just leave.”
Jason opened up the tool shed and slipped back out. He looked at the house and saw Kelly's father through the window looking back at him.
Jason started running. He was running past the Pontiac and heard Brandon start running behind him. He ran through the woods first, Brandon second, and the lumbering feet of Kelly's father third.
Jason felt the slap of branches against his legs and the cold air filling into his lungs. He laughed at how fast he was, how fast his feet moved from the slope of the hill through the stream and up the other slope again. He laughed because he couldn’t understand what was happening. Jason heard the huffing breaths of Brandon fade behind him and knew Kelly's father would probably catch him. He knew he should turn back but couldn’t—his legs refused to stop running.
He felt the house and the shed and the father and Brandon all fall away behind him. He felt the cold body of Kelly shivering in the shed and the belt marks or bruises her father would give her once he stopped chasing the boys and turned home. Jason thought of seeing her on the bus and not saying anything. Jason thought of the secret they now had.
About the Author: Matthew Kabik lives in Lancaster PA, where he points New Yorkers to where the "Ay-mish" are. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Structo Magazine, Pea River Journal, and Cease, Cows, among other pubs. Find him at matchstickcircus.com and @mlkabik.
Story Song: "John Wayne Gacy Jr. by Sufjan Stevens