“If you’re awake, don’t let me know,” I said. The room had fallen quiet about fifteen minutes ago. Before that, the four of us had talked in the dark of Ty’s basement for about an hour. It was five in the morning. My mother wanted me home by noon. But tonight, I needed to talk.
We had just spent the evening playing Dungeons and Dragons. We had attacked caravans and freed slaves of Muls in Dark Sun. We had fought off four giant scorpions, and every one of the guys had died except Ty.
Ty’s basement could hold four guys. Couches and cushions and a recliner, and all of us were sleeping.
“He didn’t deserve it,” Shadow said. Here he came to make his confessions. Here, where no one knew his name and he did not have to look at them. “We came home on the bus, me and X, and we hadn’t been talking to each other for a few days. I had hit him and dropped him to the ground. I remember stomping on his face and him cursing back up at me. That fight had left us enemies for a week. But now that was over. We were together again, and we hadn’t broken anything in awhile. We needed destruction. We needed violence. We needed darkness.
“We hit the grocery store and I played lookout while X stuffed his arm up the soda machine. He was tiny and his arm fit all the way into the dispenser. He could reach in and take anything he wanted. He snatched a Mountain Dew and we walked on. I personally hated the drink. I think I hated it because X could get it free, and I wanted to complain about something.”
There was a stretch in the far corner of Ty’s basement and I froze. I tried to remember who had laid there but I couldn’t. It was either D or Teddy. I paused, and at that moment, I knew they were all awake, every ear straining to hear the words I would say next. But I had started something tonight that I would have to finish. If I finished the story now, no one would ask any questions, and no one would admit to ever having heard it. I closed my eyes and continued.
“We thought hard about it, and the name that came to us was Josh. X had been hanging out with him while we were pissed at each other. They played video games and Josh tried to be cool. He had tried to act tough a few times, hoping that X would hang out with him more. But Josh was too good a person, too nice to ever interest X for long.
“One day when X was there, Josh had tried to impress him and had bought him a pizza. He had gone to a secret stash of money and X had seen it. That day, we decided on Josh’s house. We went to his yard and X snuck in.
“He fit through the kitchen window. It was narrow and small, and high up on the wall above the sink. But the boy could climb, and he slipped in with no problem.
“I stood outside watching the yard, and when I saw Josh coming, I freaked out. Josh stopped, frozen in the yard. He looked at me and his eyes lit with fear. He knew then that I hated him. Knew then that I had always despised him. He stepped back and looked for a way out.”
I looked up at the ceiling. Ty’s ceiling was tiled and dusty. I tried to ignore it, but a false ceiling like that one had been my father’s darkest hiding place. I shoved the man from my mind and continued…
When Josh looked at me he smelled danger. I didn’t know what to say. I was losing him. He would run into his house soon, and X was still in there.
“Do you know where X is?” I asked. “I was looking for him, and he wasn’t on the bus.” It was ludicrous. Josh had been on that bus. He had seen us get off. He must have known I was lying. He shook his head. X came walking out from around the house, smiling.
“What are you faggots doing?” he said.
Josh’s face lit up at the sight of him. “Where were you?” I asked. X’s eyes lit up and he smiled.
“I came here looking for Josh,” he said. “Wanted to know if he wanted to hang out.”
Josh’s face lit up. He smiled and nodded. And X snapped his fingers. “But I just remembered that I have to get home. My mom is going to be home tonight, and she won’t shut up until she sees me.”
Josh’s face fell and we left. We divided up the money and I bought a whole box of crumb cakes and ate them all. X bought some soda bottles so he could break them against the back of the store.
I made an appearance at my house. I ate and washed the dishes. I went upstairs and hung out with my brother, and when we were told to go to sleep, I ducked under the covers still dressed.
“Hours passed and my parents went to bed. Half an hour after that, I was up. The hall ended at a locked door that went out to a porch that had no railing. My parents kept it locked so no one would fall off. They had a key. They were sure that they still had it. But I had found it and taken it a while ago. I was down the hall and out the door in a breath, and with a shimmy down a tree, I was free.”
I stopped my telling. I waited. I wanted someone to wake, or at least admit to me they were awake, so I didn’t have to tell the next part. It was too horrible. Too dark, the worst thing Shadow had ever done, a deed that haunted him forever.
But Ty’s basement was dead. No one stirred, and I let myself believe that they were all asleep. I could not carry it anymore. I had to tell someone. As long as they would pretend never to know, I could tell them…
We went to X’s house and his parents were gone. We drank. I didn’t know much about drinking then. I hated the way all of it tasted. I hated the way all of it burned. But the effect was the goal. When I was drunk, I could get away from the dark. So I got drunk.
We went to the arcade. It was more of a pool hall with a few video games. The door beside the bar led to a restaurant and the owners of one owned them both. It was bar rush and all hands were on deck next door. We had the place to ourselves, and we were playing pool.
X was amazing at pool. His grandfather had taught him. He could run a table every time and game after game, I just stood there, leaning on my cue and steaming. I was not mad at the game. I didn’t care. I was not mad at X or anyone else. I was furious with a secret. There was a secret embedded somewhere in there. Somewhere in my mind, there was a secret, and it was eating me alive.
When Josh walked in, X laughed.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he asked. Josh shook his head. He looked scared. He looked terrified.
“Why were you at my house today?” he asked. His voice cracked. His hands were trembling. I could not take my eyes off of his hair. There was something off about it. It looked like an animal to my drunken mind.
“We were looking for you. We wanted to hang out with you. Wanted to see if you were able to play some video games at the bar down the street,” X lied.
I was unscrewing the cue. I was stepping around the table. I had the thick end of the cue in my hand. And my blood started to gush in my ears. The cue felt right, like a hammer or a club.
Josh was not looking at me. His eyes were for X. “Did you steal our money?” he asked. He was talking too loud. He was talking too fast. His words hurt my ears. They hurt my teeth. They scared me. And X looked at me and grinned.
“Yeah, we did. We took it all,” he nodded to me and I swung.
I was staring up at the false ceiling in Ty’s basement, weeping. They had all heard me cry before. I was always right there, always a breath from breaking down. They had all watched me lose control, and now was no different.
Shadow wept in the dark, wishing that someone, anyone would rise, walk the distance to the couch he was lying on and hug him. Tell him he was not damned. Tell him that the boy he had beaten was okay.
But he knew that Josh was not okay. He had not healed right, and to that day, Josh was limping. He always would.
“He was so scared of us that he never even told who had beat him,” Shadow said with a gasp. His tears, he wiped away sloppily. “He came to school in a wheelchair and he would not look at us. He trembled when we walked up to him to sign his cast.”
Shadow could almost not control his sobs. He fought to say the words, to confess the words that had damned his soul, but he could not. For long moments, the four guys in the basement lay in silence. No one breathing. No one moving. Until Shadow could finish.
“When I signed his cast, I wrote, ‘Til next time.’”
Shadow wept, and three other boys pretended not to hear.