As the evening matured, the moon guarded the neighborhood in a blanket of blue; while in the tree house, gossip was slung, pages were flipped, and appetites were gained. Mrs. Tessal headed out back with the quart of milk and a Tupperware container full of cookies. She pulled a rope below the fort, and the other end tipped a small, rusty bell that struggled to make an audible ring.
"Send down the bucket, boys. I've got goodies for you. Chocolate-free, Shawn."
“Okay, thanks Mrs. Tessal.”
Both boys hurried to the bucket. Kyler got to it first and slowly lowered it down to his mother. She placed the goods in the bucket and tugged on the bell again. Humoring the boys.
Kyler pulled the care package up through the hole in the floor of the tree house and pulled out the contents. The milk was freezing cold. It would feel good going down on such a warm night.
"Oh, and Kyler. No whizzing out the windows up there. If you guys need to use the restroom then you come inside. I'm leaving the slider unlocked for you."
"Yes Ma'am." They both chuckled, knowing full well they'd be watering the lawn at some point.
The cookies were still warm and chewy. While the boys carelessly ate, the open pages of Fangoria collected the small crumbs that dropped, while the bigger chunks acted as edible bookmarks. By the end of the feast, only drops of milk remained at the bottom of the quart, bellies were full, and veins rushed with sugar.
"I'll be right back," said Kyler.
"Where you going?"
"I'll be right back." Kyler insisted.
Shawn watched as Kyler hurried down the ladder and sprinted for the garage—the glow of the moon lighting the way. Moments later, Kyler returned holding something in his hands. He climbed the ladder and fed a pair of binoculars through the hole in the floor and pulled himself up.
"Yes!" Shawn shouted.
"No. We're not watching Suzie. This is for spying on every other house but hers."
Shawn gave a disappointed look. He grabbed the binoculars and brought them to his eyes. At first everything was a blur. He lowered them and looked for a line of perspective, then brought them to his eyes once more. One street over he could see someone's living room illuminated by nothing but the glow of 100 yards of green football field being cast from a large flat screen. A man sat reclined in his chair, intermittently sipping on a beverage. A quick sweep around with the binoculars led to an open, well-lit garage on the other side of the street.
"Woah! Who's that? She's so hot!" said Shawn.
"Nuh uh. Let me see. Where?" Kyler snatched the binoculars from Shawn and searched intently for the hot female.
"Over a little. In the garage. No shirt."
Kyler searched frantically until he spotted the garage. A shirtless, overweight man sat at the end of his weight bench covered in sweat from lifting.
"Awww..you jerk!" Kyler punched Shawn in the leg, who was too busy laughing to feel it.
"Good night, boys!"
They hadn't even heard Mrs. Tessal open the slider. Kyler dropped his dad's binoculars out of his mother's view.
"Good night!" The boys said in unison.
The house went dark, save for a dim kitchen light showing the way for any midnight trip to the bathroom. After recovering from the startle, they both wiped their brow symbolizing a close call.
"Ya know, Kyler. Does Suzie even like you back?" Shawn asked.
"Sure she does. Just the other day in school she asked me to stand by her in the lunch line."
"She made you stand there to keep her place in line while she went and talked to Bill Weston."
"You make it sound so..."
"No! You make it sound like I've got no chance at all. You don't see the way she looks at me."
"Why don't you ask her out to a movie? Make it a scary one. She'll be all over you."
Kyler lit up. "Good idea! They have that special showing of The Shining next week. She'll be all kinds of freaked out."
"There ya go! Hey, maybe we could double date."
Kyler laughed at the thought. "Who are you going to take? Your little sister?"
Shawn's fist made contact with Kyler's shoulder. "Lame. I'll get somebody to go. Maybe that new girl."
Kyler rubbed his arm. "Samantha?"
"Yeah. Samantha. I'll ask her and we'll make it a double."
"Good luck with that. She'll get freaked out by your horror fanboy self."
"Nah. I'll tone it down."
"No you won't. You’ll be chanting ‘red rum’ an hour before we even get to the theater."
"You challenging me, bro?"
Kyler puffed his chest out. "I challenge thee. If you get her to say yes, you can't say 'red rum' one time all night.
"Here's Johnny!" Shawn gave his best Nicholson.
"That either. You can't do any line from the movie."
"All work and no play makes Shawn a dull boy."
Kyler laughed. "You'll never make it."
"Hey, technically that's not even a line in the movie."
A light flicked on in the house next door, catching their attention. Kyler quickly raised the binoculars and watched his neighbor, Mrs. Wilson, open her fridge and search it.
"What do old people do all day? Kyler asked. “I mean, Mrs. Wilson just shuffles around, feeds her cat, waters her flowers, and fills the birdfeeder. That can only take up so much of your time. What do they do the rest of the time?"
Shawn lied down and got comfortable in his sleeping bag. "They nap. Nap and watch game shows, I think."
Kyler turned around to see Shawn tucking himself in. "You going to sleep?"
"Yeah. Sugar rush is gone, and I'm coming down."
"Same. Those were some good cookies though." Kyler followed Shawn's lead and situated himself for sleep.
"Yeah they were. Your mom is like the Stephen King of baked goods."
"What does that even mean?"
"I don't know." Shawn chuckled at himself. "I'm tired. G'night, Kyler."
The boys lay silent for a full minute before Shawn threw in the last joke of the evening. "Red rum!" An explosion of laughter traveled halfway down the block.
As the crickets sang their lullaby, the boys drifted off into a satisfying sleep; safe within the four walls of their favorite place on earth.
Initially their slumber was not disturbed by the beam of light that shot down from the sky and into the backyard. The beam of light that left behind a perfectly black, round scar in the grass and two slender humanoids with skin that resembled that of a dolphin. The figures stood silent in the dark while a gelatinous layer of liquid formed around their feet and eventually up over their heads, as though sinking into an invisible pool of mucus.
It was the smell of the burnt grass that stirred Kyler. Still half asleep and dreaming, his imagination got the best of him as he envisioned flames from below, threatening to lick his precious fort to death with him in it.
Kyler pushed himself up and peeked out the makeshift window facing the back of the house. Both figures stood on the burnt ground; a blue ghostly aura around each one. Kyler rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and squinted, fighting through the blur. He squinted harder. The sight of two figures glowing blue in the backyard made little sense, even for one who was still half asleep. Once the blur had gone and he was fully alert, fear dried Kyler's mouth and gripped his throat. He reached down behind himself without looking and struggled to make contact with some part of Shawn.
Get Night as a Catalyst here for only $0.99 through the weekend, after which it will go up to $2.99. Paperback version available this weekend!