Even though there are signs saying KEEP OUT and BEWARE OF DOGS, Gordy says he’s going in.
“But what about the dogs?” I ask.
“He don’t have any dog. It’s a ruse.”
I have no idea what a ruse is, and the word is either something Gordy’s made up or recently overheard.
I watch him clip metal strands from the fence with wire cutters.
“You’re going to get into a buttload of trouble,” I say.
“Been there before,” Gordy says, which is true. Gordy’s been expelled from school four times.
He’s been caught shoplifting and he set fire to Wally Goff’s tree fort three summers ago, about a month after his dad made off with the redheaded receptionist at the used car lot where they both worked.
Gordy, like everyone else in our school, has heard the stories about old man Miller’s place, how he keeps kids caged in the barn beside his house. I’ve told Gordy that’s nonsense. If it were true, the sheriff would have swept in long ago. Gordy says the authorities in our town are dimwits, some of the dumbest people on the planet.
When he’s cut a space wide enough, Gordy climbs through it and I take a deep breath, waiting for lightning to strike, even though it’s a clear, starlit evening.
“Come on.” Gordy waves me in.
“I’m not an idiot like you.”
“Fine. Wait here then. I’ll just check out the barn and be right back.”
But he’s dashed off, hunched over, moving bowlegged as if he’s some dwarf commando.
The house and barn are set back quite a ways from the fence and I lose sight of Gordy in less than a minute. All I can really see is the outline of buildings and the porch light bleeding yellow streaks.
I listen for barking dogs but only hear crickets bleating and the eerie rustle of tree branches swaying in the breeze. I wait an hour, shivering as the temperature drops. I wait a half an hour more, my teeth chattering from the cold and for fear that something bad has happened to Gordy. I know I should probably go after him, but Gordy was right: I’m a chicken.
An hour later, he still hasn’t shown, so I hightail it home, sprinting as fast as I can, picturing Gordy locked in a cage, stripped to his underwear, on his knees with several other captives. Guilt and fright clash inside me. I’ve always been the wary one, the lucky one, with a normal family and parents that are still married. I can’t even think of the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, or any situation where I’ve been daring.
Running towards home with tears streaking my cheeks, I tell myself they’re because of the wind, nothing else. I plan on calling the cops as soon as I’m home, but once I reach the house, Gordy’s there, sitting on the porch.
“What the hell?” I gasp, out of breath.
“You were just going to leave me there?”
“You said you’d be right back.”
“How’d you get here?” I say, flustered, trying to change the subject. “You didn’t come back the way you went in.”
Gordy stands. His face is contorted, a mash-up of wrath and disillusionment. “Asshole.” He slugs me in the chest.
As he walks away, a flurry of thoughts clash in my head—that I should jump him and punch him back, that I should apologize, or lie and tell Gordy I went looking for him but he was nowhere to be found. Instead I call out, “What’d did you see? In the barn, was there anything inside?”
Gordy flips me the bird without looking back and keeps walking.
I watch him go, his body eventually swallowed up by darkness.
I slink inside the house and go to my room, undress and get beneath the bed covers. I think about courage and cowardice, friendship and choices. I picture the man I want to be someday versus what I am now. I stare at the full moon listing outside my window and promise it that I’ll be stupid from now on, reckless and daring, anything, no matter what it takes to be brave. I close my eyes and watch myself slip through a fence.
LEN KUNTZ is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. His story collection, The Dark Sunshine (Connotation Press), debuted in 2014. You can also find him here.