The day was bleeding out against the dark sky in ribbons of magenta and gold. The boys ran in small packs of four or five. More dangerous together than apart. Tennyson was the new kid. Justin had vouched for him but that only got him to the circle in woods not in the inside.
The woods were the green space tucked behind a small college. The four boys stood in a circle fighting the cold and the boredom.Tennyson’s parents had begged, borrowed, and stole to afford a modest house in the affluent suburbs with the best schools. But Tennyson made his own path. The four boys stood in circle sharing a bottle of liquor. Tennyson choked back the bitter fire in his throat and drank deeply.
The boys passed a joint and took turns playing tracks from their phones. Their grunts, whoops, and barking laughs punctuated the heavy bass. Flying, Tennyson bobbed his head to the beat.
Bobby stepped out of the darkness. The air was charged. He lit a cigarette, his spotted face crimson in the flame. Tennyson wanted to slip into the trees, wanted to sprint through the fields, wanted to cut across his neighbors’ backyards, leaping fences to the safety of his home. He knew his mom had saved a plate for him.
“What you looking at, freshman?” Bobby growled.
“Could I bum a Newport?” Tennyson answered in a deep voice, flaring out his chest to appear bigger.
“‘Member I told you I was bringing Ten?” Justin said.
Silence. After a pause someone chose another song and the boys bobbed their heads in unison for a while.
“It’s cold as shit out here,” announced Bobby.
“Well, Alfredo’s is already closed,” Tyler said, scratching his shaggy mane. “And my mom would straight up kill me if I brought folks home.”
“I know a place,” Tennyson said, his voice breaking.
The cackle of teens traversed the woods, cut through the square, hooted and hollered across the playground, and stopped behind the abandoned church. Tennyson showed them the broken lock on the cellar door. The inky black of the church basement swallowed them.
Tyler tripped over a chair. Justin tripped over Tyler. The pair started play fighting. Bobby flicked his lighter and attempted to light some kind of candle. The basement blazed impossibly bright. Bobby had lit a road flare that he lifted from his dad’s SUV.
“Careful guys careful,” Tennyson whined.
With a high pitched giggle Bobby lobbed the road flare to Tyler. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, freshman.” Sharp teeth shining, Tyler laughed manically in return catching the flare and tossing it over Tennyson’s head. Justin joined in the hysteria jumping for the road flare as it slammed against the far wall showering an old pile of hymnals. The laughter continued as Justin retrieved the flare and tossed it. Soon slender tongues of flames appeared among the dried pages.
Tennyson beat at the flames with his feet and then his coat. The others howled in the smoke before running outside. Wild, Tennyson tried to crush the fire. Justin pulled him into the cold of the night. Ten stumbled on the grass. Face striped with soot, he watched part of his life burn away and then Ten turned to run with the pack.