This story by Jenna Williams was one of the runners up in our Three-Minute Fiction contest.
In summers we slept late, loitered at the pool, watched TV until our eyes became raisins. There wasn't much to do in our town, and no one denied it. "Make something to do, then," my father said. And so, that summer, we did. We were white boys with straight A's and crooked teeth. Innocent as girls.
Rituals, we called them, those weekend nights we donned the black cotton gloves, long-sleeved shirts, our fathers' spandex jogging pants and crept through the neighborhood. We wore black shoes with no reflectors. Black ski masks that itched with our sweat. Mostly it was harmless eavesdropping under open windows. Ringing doorbells, sprinting away. We'd witnessed our school librarian bicker with invisible company and listened to a lonely neighbor, doing what lonely men do in front of the TV. We never worried about getting caught. If we did, we didn't show it. That was the point: to be fearless, sly and swift. To savor the danger. To be the deviants we weren't.
Brady tossed me a granola bar before we left his house. Provisions, he said. We slid the silver wrappers under our waistbands like handguns. We slipped out the screen door and into the night.
Lucy Reeler's mom was friends with mine; Lucy was friend by default. But she was the epitome of nerd, and we wanted — needed — to express, if only to ourselves, that we were different. Ribbons of ivy crawled up the Reelers' brick house, which overlooked the bluff. Roller skates and rotting baseball gloves littered the lawn. Cotton balls of dog fur quivered in the breeze. I'd been inside the Reelers' house the day before, with my mom, who later, predictably, said, "Lucy's a sweet girl. Don't you think?"
"Occupants?" Brady asked.
A hulking silhouette lingered behind the front curtain, then disappeared.
I said, "Check."
It was our fourth time doing rituals at the Reelers'. Our attack was now a routine: behind the row of tall lilacs, then down the bluff just a few feet into the tall, dry grasses. Crickets and moths sprayed before us like water cresting from the tip of a boat. We squatted to observe, strategize. Brady slugged me when I lit up my watch.
"My blind grandma could see that. Take it off."
"It's not very sleuthy."
"Sleuthy, dinglehead. Look it up."
I slapped a mosquito probing through my shirt. By night's end, the bites would speckle our bodies like ripening fruit.
"Let's just scout the grounds tonight," I said, pointing to the Reelers' Shih Tzu, asleep on a plastic sled.
"You're kidding," Brady said.
I pulled a hand to my chest and wheezed — faking an asthma attack, a trick Brady usually bought.
"You're just afraid of getting caught red-handed at your girlfriend's."
I rose to a runner's crouch. Brady tugged the bottom of his mask in agreement, and together we skittered across the street, pausing behind a hedge by the kitchen window. The dog growled.
"Do it," Brady whispered.
"You do it," I said.
"I did last time."
A pair of yellow possum eyes glowed behind a garden plant. Blinked.
"Scared?" I said.
Brady hesitated, then pressed the plastic button.
And we ran — we flew away from the porch, away from the yipping dog. The distance felt much larger than before, the safety of the grasses just beyond reach, and the clatter of our shoes and our hearts consumed the sound of the door that must have opened within seconds, our pride still too high to expect the flashlight beam that struck our bodies and captured the young shadows running before us.