It was twenty past midnight on a Saturday morning when they left the house. Four boys quietly walked through the night, hoping no one heard them leaving. Only one of the boys lived at the house. The other three lived elsewhere in the same neighborhood, having stayed over for the night. The summer weather kept them warm in the dark. It was late July now, and the boys already had next school year on their mind. They were starting high school and hoping they would be in some of the same classes together next year. Since they lived in the same neighborhood, they knew at least they could see each other in the morning and afternoon each day on the bus. Tonight, they weren't up to anything special. Video games got boring quickly, and binge watching movies wasn't as appealing after the second film. The video rental store was long closed, and none of them had any money on them anyway. The night air was humid and tempting. On a whim, they went out into the dark. It was hotter than most nights around this time of year. Heavy clouds hid away the stars and the moon. Strong wind told them what was coming as much as the scents it carried. It would rain soon. They couldn't stay out long, but they were young and more than willing to take a risk on how much time they really had. Far off in the distance, they heard thunder rumbling and saw a flicker of light across the sky. "When do you think it'll get here?" One of the boys, Brad, asked. The boy whose house they were staying at, Toby, said. "Probably in an hour or two. I don't think it's that close." The youngest out of the boys was named David. He lagged behind the others. "Should we really be out here? What if we get in trouble? My dad's already mad at me." "My parents are heavy sleepers. So long as we come back in really quiet, they won't notice a thing." Toby said. The other boy, whose name was Chase, ran ahead of everyone. "Come on. Don't be a wuss, David. You're always chickening out." "It's not like I want to. My parents are really strict. I got grounded last week for being on the phone too long, and yesterday, I got yelled at for watching a movie on one of those big TVs at Walmart." David ran to catch up to them. "I'm surprised you're not worried, Toby. Aren't your parents crazy strict too?" "Yeah, but only about some things. So long as I got to church every Wednesday and Sunday, do all my bible study stuff, and don't get caught with dirty magazines, having sex, or kissing a boy, they don't care what else I do." Toby replied to him, lingering a little behind the other two boys to meet David halfway. "That, or drugs. They'd kill me if they caught me with weed." "Ugh, I hate going to church. Does it have to be every week?" Chase complained. Brad put his hands behind his head. "I can't imagine wasting a chunk of every week doing that crap. How do you guys put up with it? Isn't it boring?" "Dude, you have no idea. You're so lucky you don't have to go." Chase noticed a beer can on the ground. He kicked it as hard as he could. "At least you only have to go on Sundays." Toby said. "Yeah, I'd kill to only have to go once a week." David said. "I can't wait till I'm eighteen. They can't make me do anything then. I'm never going to church again." Chase watched the wind blowing. A heavy gust passed through. "Just four more years." "I can't wait. I'm ready to get out of here." Brad walked ahead with Chase. "Have you guys decided what college you're gonna go to?" "Not yet." Toby said. David looked over. "I dunno. That's a long way off." "Not really. We need to be applying to places in our senior year, you know. And we need to do stuff to make our applications stand out before then. High school's just a time to get ready for college." Chase turned around and walked backwards to face Toby and David. "Ugh...that sounds like so much work. I doubt half our classmates are going to bother even going." Toby sighed. "And we have to pick our majors and careers and all that too. Can't I just be an adult without any responsibilities? I just want to get out from under my parents." "To do that, you have to have cash. Your own cash." Chase turned back around. "I'm going to get into the music industry." "Eh? Music? You?" Toby looked at him in confusion. "Why not? I'm the best person in our church choir. Why can't I be on the radio?" Chase crossed his arms, offended at Toby's questioning of his goals. "I mean...you may be good, but there's a lot of talented people on the radio." David said. Lightning struck a tree in the distance. The boys all stopped in their tracks. Brad looked over at Chase. "Should we head back?" "No, it wasn't that close." Chase kept walking. "Anyway, I've got plenty of talent to be famous. You watch. By the time I'm old enough to drink, I can guarantee you I'll be on the radio." "So what are you going to do at college then?" Toby asked. "Networking and learning about how the industry works. No one going into theater or arts or music goes into those majors for anything else, unless they're stupid." Chase stretched. "I've got it all figured out." "I dunno about all that..." Toby scratched his head. Chase was in one of his moods where he decided something was the truth. Once he got like that, there was no reasoning with him to see any other point of view. "Y'all can join me. I'll need some other people in my band." Chase said. "I can't play any instruments." David said. "And I can't sing at all. You've heard me. I sound like a goat." "I don't play guitar that good." Brad said. Toby shook his head. "I never want to be famous. Then my parents would always know whatever I'm up to. Ugh, no way. I want to vanish into comfortable obscurity." "Ah, come on. You can do that after we make a ton of money." Chase stopped. He looked at each of the other boys. "Aren't we supposed to be best friends? This is my dream, and none of you have one. So you should help me out." "Why you gotta say it like that?" Toby asked, a little annoyed by Chase's lack of tact. "You know what I mean. Don't be so thin-skinned." Chase rolled his eyes at Toby. "Well, are we friends or not?" "I guess...I guess I could practice more in my free time. You said seven years from now, huh? That's a long time to get better." Brad was the first to cave to Chase's demands. David fidgeted with his hands, second to fall in line. "I can't sing...and I definitely can't learn guitar, but maybe I could learn a different instrument..." The group all looked over at Toby. Toby looked for a compromise. "I can't be in your band, but maybe I could...help promote you or something. Like do marketing for you." "See, I knew you guys would pull through for me." Chase grinned. But he wasn't content with this victory. He wanted more commitment from his circle of friends. "Let's make it official. Let's make a pact, here and now." "A pact?" Toby asked. "You know, like in the movies where people cut their palms and mix their blood." Chase said. "So they'll be bound together forever as brothers." "Uh...I don't know about uh, cutting my hand open." Brad shook his head and winced. "Yeah...I'm not doing that." Toby sided with Brad. "We don't have to go that far. Let's use this." Chase got out a small notebook and a pen from his pocket. He searched the other pocket and pulled out a safety pin. He held the safety pin up. "We'll each prick our fingers with this and press it into this paper. Then we'll write out our pact and the conditions of it." "Why did you have that on you?" Toby asked. "For when I get ideas." Chase said. "Why did you have the safety pin?" Toby asked further. "That's not important." Chase ripped out a piece of paper from the notebook. "Let's do this." "This sounds like some witchcraft stuff." Brad said. "My parents won't like this." David said in a nervous voice. "That's exactly why we should do it." Chase looked around. He went over to a bench off the side of the road and used it to bare down on. He scribbled something quickly as the wind picked up around them. Lightning and thunder inched ever closer to them. "Here. I've written it out. The four whose names are written and whose blood is shared here will remain friends forever unless this pact is broken." "How would we break the pact?" Toby asked. "We need to give up something to make it real." Chase said. Toby didn't like the sound of that. He could see Chase was really getting carried away with the idea. "Aren't we already giving up our blood?" "Nah, that's not enough. I think we need to give a little more. I know..." Chase's eyes lit up as he found a way to push them all further. "To make it official, we should write our deepest secret on the paper. That will be what each person gives up." David's anxiety grew. He looked to Toby for help. "So...like, do we have to tell each other what that secret is?" "Well, yeah. It's supposed to solidify our connection. Or something." Chase said. "That's how it works in movies." The other boys exchanged uncomfortable looks with each other. Toby said. "I don't know..." "What? Scared?" Chase egged them on. "How can we sit here and claim we'll be friends forever if we can't even trust each other with our deepest secrets?" Brad looked to the side. "I guess..." "Okay, who's going to go first?" Chase looked around. Though it was his idea, he wasn't willing to be the first to share anything potentially embarrassing either. He waited for one of the others to accidentally make eye contact with him. Brad was the first. He handed the pin and pen to Brad. "Brad?" Reluctantly, Brad took the safety pin and ballpoint pen. "What am I supposed to do? Do I just tell you?" "Tell us, then write out your name and your secret on the paper. Then prick your finger and get some of your blood on the paper by your name." Chase instructed him. "Chase, you always come up with the weirdest things to do." Brad walked over to the mostly blank piece of paper. He looked back at the others. Brad thought over what to say. He wrote something down on the paper and pricked his finger before telling the others. His finger pressed against the page stung a lot more than he expected. The blood soaked through to the bench. He sighed. "Okay, so we're keeping these secrets between only the four of us, right?" Chase nodded. "Yep. Whatever we say tonight stays between only us. No one is to tell another soul what the other three's secrets are." "Should that be part of the pact?" Toby asked. "Oh, yeah. We should add that. I'll add that at the end, after we've all signed it." Chase said, excited about making the pact longer. Thunder boomed around them. They all flinched at the sound of it. David stood a little closer to Toby. "Uh, I think we should hurry up. The storm's getting closer." "We have enough time." Chase said. He turned to Brad. "Brad?" "Okay, okay. My deepest secret..." Brad took a deep breath. His heart pounded in his head. "When I was in elementary school...well, I had this cousin who visited sometimes. And sometimes, he did stuff to me he shouldn't've." "Like...he molested you?" Chase asked. "Yeah, stuff like that. That was a long time ago." Brad was too embarrassed to face them. "I've never told anyone before." "I'm sorry that happened to you, Brad. I would've never thought." David said to comfort him. "Me either." Toby tried as well. He asked. "Are you okay?" "Yeah, I'm fine now. I try not to think about it too much." Brad 's tone was distant. He asked. "Is that all I have to do?" "Yeah...you don't need to say any more than that." Chase said. Brad shoved the pen and pin back into Chase's hands. "Guess it's your turn then, Mr. Witch." "Alright." Chase laughed nervously. Like Brad, he chose to face the paper before the others. He hesitated in writing down his secret and pricking his finger. A drop of blood hit the page before he could press his finger to it. He decided that was good enough, and didn't bother with that part. Chase slammed down the pen, took a deep breath, and turned around with his shoulders high. "Well, if we're really going that deep...I'm gay." Toby said nothing, his face turning red. "Wow." David said, staring blankly. "Huh, I kinda wondered." Brad said nonchalantly. Chase was disappointed in their reactions. He expected more surprise and shock. "Wait, you knew? How did you know?" "Dunno. Just felt it." Brad shrugged. Then, he asked. "So have you done anything with a guy?" Chase blushed and laughed. "What? Haha, no way. Who else around here is even gay?" "Well, if we're being this honest..." Toby walked up to the bench. He picked up the pen. "Me too." "What?!" Chase exclaimed in shock. Toby wrote down his secret and pricked his finger. He pressed it harder against the page than Brad did, leaving the biggest stain on the page. "Yeah...haha...I thought it was only me." "Didn't see that coming." Brad's eyes were wide. "But my parents did. They're always trying to catch me doing something gay. I don't think I'll be able to date anyone until I'm in college, unless I date a girl as a cover. Haha, not looking forward to any school dances in high school. If I don't go to at least a couple of them with a girl, they'll probably send me to some camp or something." Toby held his finger with his other hand to put pressure on the small spot he pricked. "I bet we can find some lesbians on campus to be our dates so our parents don't flip out." Chase suggested. "Great." Toby laughed in disgust. "What a lovely memory for all of us that will be." "So is that all?" Chase asked. Toby hesitated in answering him. He walked away. "Yeah. That was it." "You two would be gay." Brad added. "Why's that?" Toby asked. "Cause you've always been so close to each other. Maybe you should go out." Brad suggested as a joke. Chase immediately laughed at the thought. "Haha, me and Toby? No way!" Toby forced himself to laugh with Chase. His face went pale. "Haha, yeah...that's..." Chase picked up the items and walked over to David. "Anyway...that just leaves one. David, it's your turn." "Are you really going to make me prick my finger?" David took them. He held up the pin, now covered in three other people's blood. "Everyone else already did it." Chase said. "One of us is gonna get tetanus from this." David walked over to the bench. "It's not rusted. Besides, I got my shot." Chase said. "My parents won't let me get vaccines." David wiped the pin off with his shirt. "Remember?" "I'm sure you'll be fine." Chase pushed him to do it anyway. David stared down at the ink and blood covered page before him. He paused, contemplating what to reveal. Then, he quickly wrote down something, racing against his dwindling courage. He pricked his finger the fastest and touched his finger to the page so fast it smeared through his first name. David couldn't get himself to turn around. He faced the sky and the empty land behind the bench instead. "Okay, um...well, you're probably going to laugh at me." "No one's going to laugh. That's part of the pact. No judgement tonight." Chase encouraged him to spill his secret. "Well..." Heat rose up in David's face. "Sometimes...I wear my sister's clothes when no one's home and wear my mom's make-up." "What? For real?" Brad asked. David forced himself to peek at his friend's faces. He could already feel their eyes on his back when he spoke before. "Yeah...I know...that's weird." "Are you into like, drag or something?" Chase asked. "I dunno." David held the pen tightly in his hand. "Sometimes, I pretend I'm someone else when I'm dressed up like that. Like with a different name. I don't know why. That's really, really weird, isn't it?" "It's just clothes. I guess it's not that weird." Chase said. He probed deeper, wanting to see what else David might reveal to him. "Do you want to be a girl or something?" David hesitated in answering him. He looked away. "I don't know...maybe I do just like drag." Chase crossed his arms. He was disappointed David didn't say more. Wanting more, he asked. "So, what name do you pretend to have? What's your stage name?" "Haha, I don't really have one I consistently use...in my head, that is." David hid that his hands were shaking. "We should come up with one. What's the girl version of David?" Chase noticed, but he didn't care. So long as David wasn't crying, he knew he could keep the topic going. "Is there one?" Toby asked. "I can't think of one." Brad suggested a name. "How about Ashley?" "Every other girl in class is Ashley." Chase shook his head. He offered up a name. "Tina?" "How about Heather?" Toby suggested. "I dunno...those all sound good...I kind of like Diana." David said, revealing what Chase really wanted to know. Chase grinned again. "Oh, good one. Sounds classy." David gave the items back to Chase and stood by Toby. "Anyway, we've all done it now. Let's move on to the next part. The wind's really getting bad now." "Okay, okay." Chase went back over to the bench. "Now, I just need to finish writing out the pact." The other three stood around watching Chase as the storm drew closer to them. Chase struggled to keep the paper down. The wind wanted to snatch it from under his fingers. He held the paper up once he was done writing on it. No one could get a clear look at it as the wind bent it in all directions. Chase said aloud what he added. "Should anyone in this pact have lied about their deepest secret, that person will meet with a great tragedy within seven years of signing this and stop being friends with the other people in the pact, forever." The other three's eyes widened. Toby reacted first. "Whoah...tragedy? Why'd you put that at the end after we signed?" "What's wrong? Did you lie about something?" Chase teased him. Toby's cheeks had a hint of red. "No, but it's just rude." "So long as everyone told the truth, it doesn't matter. That was just to make it sound more authentic." Chase said. "No one lied, right?" They all looked at each other and shook their heads. Brad asked. "So, it's done. What do we do with it now?" "We should burn it." Chase said. "Do you have a lighter on you?" "I think." Brad checked his pockets. He wasn't old enough to buy them on his own, but Brad smoked. He had a pack of cigarettes and a cheap lighter in his back pocket. Brad tossed the lighter to Chase. Chase caught it. "Where should we burn it...Do you think we could walk to the Florida-Georgia state border? That'd make it extra powerful, I think. Because it's a boundary." "I am not walking that far." Toby shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Maybe if you drove us." "Maybe we should go back and get your dad's keys." Chase suggested. "Dude, no! I'll be grounded for life if you did that." Toby went cold at the thought of what his parents might do to him if he let Chase do something like that. "Do you even know how to drive?" "I'm sure it's easy enough." Chase said. "It's not like we're driving that far. It'd take like, not even thirty minutes." "We're not taking my dad's car. He will kill me." Toby refused again. Chase was going too far now. "Just burn it here." "Better idea. Let's go to the old cemetery." Chase said. "Sunset Hill's within walking distance." "That's still too far from here. We'll get rained on before we get there, and we're not supposed to be there after dusk." Toby rejected that idea too. Brad caved to Chase, trying to come up with alternatives. "How about we do it at Valdosta State? It wouldn't be that weird for anyone to be there at night. We can pretend we're students if anyone asks us why we're there." "Like we'd pass for adults." Toby shook his head. "And that's still too far a walk. The storm's nearly here already." "Whatever. Fine. We'll do it here." Chase gave up. He held up the paper and the lighter. The small flame from the gas station lighter was easily defeated by the storm winds blowing through. Chase tried again and again to set it on fire. All the flames went out. "I can't get it to light." "You're standing in the wind. Watch me." Brad took the paper and lighter from him. He turned against the wind and held the paper and flame closer to his body. The paper finally, slowly, began to burn. They all stood around and watched it burn until it was too small for Brad to hold anymore without burning his hands. He dropped it on the ground and let it extinguish itself in the wind. The remaining dust blew away. "So...now what?" Toby asked. "I guess...it's been made. I think. Maybe we should wait for a sign." Chase said. "A sign? We'll be waiting here all night." Brad said. "You don't know. Something could..." Chase started to say. Behind them, a bright light lit up the area. They looked back at it. A ball of light traveled along the power lines, flaming brighter than the little lighter Brad carried. They watched the flame burning through the lines until it stopped and exploded. Sparks scattered everywhere, catching a nearby tree on fire. The boys all took off at once in the direction of Toby's house. "You wanted a sign, right? I think that's a sign we should leave." Toby said, running ahead of everyone. "No, that means it worked. I think we do it right." Chase proclaimed. "I think you cursed us." Brad said. David fell behind the others. He stopped to catch his breath. "Wait...wait, I can't run anymore." The boys stopped. Chase complained right away. "Come on. Why are you always lagging behind?" "You know I have asthma, you jerk." David took several deep breaths. "Why are we even running?" "I dunno." Chase looked at the other two. They both shrugged. "What was that anyway?" David asked. "Lightning probably hit one of the power lines somewhere." Brad said. A loud strike hit against the ground. The boys flinched again. Lightning had struck down somewhere else nearby. "You know, I think we need to get back inside." Brad said. "It's getting really dark out here." "Duh. It's night and it's gonna rain." Chase said. "No, something looks off about the sky. I don't think we should be out here." Brad stared out at the coming storm. "It reminds me of this time a couple years back at my grandma's. A tornado came down that night." "You don't think they'll be one tonight, do you?" David asked. "We'll hear sirens if there is one. We don't need to worry about that. Toby's house isn't that far. It's nice and warm out right now. Let's enjoy it until the rain forces us to go in." Chase didn't want to go in yet. His mind was searching for more things to lead them into. Brad took the pack of cigarettes out and lit up one. "I dunno. I'm pretty exhausted from...all of that from earlier." "Me too." David said. He wanted to go to sleep and forget about tonight. "Come on. Don't be like that." Chase stopped at a four-way. Instead of going straight toward Toby's house, he changed direction and started walking down a different road. "Let's go this way." "Why?" Toby asked. "Because." Chase walked on without them. The other three followed after him. "Aren't you getting tired?" Brad asked Chase. "No. I feel more awake than ever." Chase put more distance between himself and the others. "Seven years. In seven years, I'll be famous." "What makes you so sure of that?" Toby asked. "Because..." Chase looked over at him. "I'll do anything to get there." "Why do you want to be famous anyway? You can get rich without being famous." Toby said. "There's no point in being rich and not being famous." Chase's attention turned to something else. He stopped and looked over. To right of the teenagers was an old house. It used to be for sale for a long time. At this point, it was abandoned. When they were in early elementary school, an old couple lived there. They didn't see them much. They always kept to themselves, but the outside of the house was in good condition then. The couple paid people to paint the house and garden for them. None of them knew what happened to the old couple, except that they came out of the house at the same time one summer night. Toby heard from his father that the old man lost his mind and killed his wife and himself after losing their retirement fund in some scam. David's parents told him there was a gas leak in the house and they both died in their sleep days before they were pulled out, and that it was a relative of the couple who found them when they stopped returning phone calls. Brad's parents said a burglar broke in and killed the couple after getting into a fight with the old man. Chase's parent's told him a serial killer came into the house and made it look like a robbery. No one really knew what happened, because no one really knew them at all. The local news didn't cover their deaths. As far as three of the boys were concerned, that meant that something uneventful and ordinary must have happened, like the gas leak. Chase preferred the serial killer idea, and joked around that the cops were hiding it from everyone because the serial killer was the sheriff's son. Where he got the idea the sheriff's son was related at all, no one knew. None of the other boys believed this, but Chase liked to bring it up to scare the other boys. Many years ago, the house was a baby blue. The paint had now faded to a dull gray-blue and parts of the siding were falling off in places. One of the windows was broken. The front door no longer locked and often swayed open when it was windy like tonight. All the flowers the couple had planted were dead, and the flowerbeds were as empty as the house itself. Grass grew up high in the front. The only unchanged aspect about the house and its yard was the Spanish moss dangling down from the trees beside it. Rumors spread that the house was now used mostly by homeless people and drug dealers. "I bet that house is haunted." Chase said. "Wanna go in?" Toby leaned against someone's fence. "No." "Chicken." Chase sneered. "If we go in there at this time of night, we might end up being the ghosts haunting it." Toby said. "Come on. No one lives there now. The only person I've seen go in there lately is that old drunk." Chase said. "I don't know if I'd wanna mess with him either." Brad finished his cigarette. "Why? That old man seemed like a nice guy." David said. "You know why he's homeless, right?" Brad asked. The other boys all shook their heads. "He was in Vietnam. My dad said he used to be alright, then one day, he just lost it on Fourth of July. He went nuts and lost his job, then his house, and then his car. His wife took their kids and moved to Savannah to live with her parents. He's been out here on the street ever since." Brad explained. "Every so often, something sets him off and he flips out again. I wouldn't do anything that might scare him." "Poor guy. That's so sad." David said. "Can't anyone help him?" Brad shook his head. "Can't make someone get help who doesn't want to. If he gets dangerous, they'll just lock him up or institutionalize him, and those places aren't great either." "I'd never want to be homeless." Toby said. "Well, duh. Who would?" Chase looked at him strangely. "I know no one would want to, but it's...it's just something that really scares me." Toby raised his voice at Chase. "Why? Your parents are better off than mine." Chase said. Toby looked up at the storm brewing over head. "I told you my secret. If my parents found out while I'm still living there, then I will be homeless." The other three went quiet. Brad broke the silence first. "They wouldn't really, would they?" A heavy wind howled around them. Lightning flickered overhead. David cowered down. "We should go back. It's practically on us now." Chase walked ahead farther into the driveway. "We don't need to go back if we go in. We can wait out the storm inside." "And if it rains until morning?" Brad asked. "We'll say we went on an early morning walk!" Chase said. "I'm not going in there." Toby said again. "Come on. It's not...Whoah." Chase went quiet. His eyes widened. The other boys stared. David backed up against the fence to where Toby was. Behind the house, streaks of blue lightning shot out in several directions. It went on for a few minutes, flashing in different locations behind the abandoned place. When it stopped, the boys stayed quiet for a while, unsure of what they had actually seen. Chase moved closer. He grinned. "Did you see that?!" "Yeah...we should definitely go back." Brad said. "I don't know what that was, but we already saw flaming power lines tonight. Now, lightning that's blue. This storm's gonna be something bad." "Wasn't there a hurricane recently? Shouldn't that storm be coming our way?" David asked, recalling something his mom mentioned a day ago. "Yeah, that's right. We need to get in." Brad said. Chase opened his mouth to complain, but the wind distracted him. The front door of the old house swung open and snapped off, tumbling forward and down the front porch stairs. One of the upper windows opened upward. Lightning struck in the front yard of the house, illuminating everything around them in an explosive flash. All of the boys ducked down in response, Chase falling onto the ground. Another strike beside the house lit up the front windows. The boys saw someone standing at the opened window. They took off running again, this time none of them saying a single word. Finally, the sky burst. Rain chased them down the street in sheets of heavy drops. Small, hard pings went off behind them. Toby looked back and was barely able to make out marble sized hail through the streetlights reflecting on the wet road. He covered his head, anticipating the coming pain. As they ran, Toby saw something else. Off the street, in a wooded area, he saw the old drunk scurrying into a makeshift tent. For a moment, he locked eyes with the old man, or so he thought. He could barely see with how dark it was. The old man's eyes were heavy and empty. Lightning brightened the area again. Briefly, Toby thought he saw himself in that tent. He blinked and the old man was already inside the tent, fast asleep. The rain finally caught up to them, drenching them completely. By now, all of them were covering their heads as the hail hit down on them. Toby remembered they left his bedroom window open when they left. His floor was probably getting soaked too. They scrambled in through the window, Chase falling again when he climbed in. Toby closed the window and turned on the light. From down the hall, he heard someone stomping over. He sighed. They'd woken up his father. He backed away from the door. His father opened the door. He looked around at the boys covered in wet clothes and the soaked carpet below the window. "What the hell were you boys doing? Why is everything wet?" Toby quickly made up an excuse. "The thunder woke us up. We went outside to watch the storm for a while, but then we got rained on." "You don't need to be outside at this time of night. You don't know what's out there. How far did you go?" Toby's father asked in an angry voice. "Just the yard and right to the edge of the driveway. We didn't go far." Toby lied. "Or were you wandering around at night and then you got rained on? Were you out getting drunk somewhere? Shooting up? Let me see your arms." His father demanded. "Dad, we weren't doing anything." Toby said. His father grabbed his arms and looked them over. Then, he smelled him. "You don't smell like weed or alcohol." "I told you. We were just watching the storm come in. There was blue lightning." Toby added. "Yeah, there was. It went on for a few minutes." Chase backed him up. "Blue lightning?" Toby's father didn't believe them. He heard the hail outside though. "Is it hailing?" "Yeah, and the wind's really bad too." Toby said. Toby's father went over and looked through the window. "Get your storm radio out. If there's a warning, you wake your mom and me. And I better not catch you outside again at night. You pull something like that again, and you won't be going to the youth group bible study trip to Panama City next week. Now, get back to bed and don't wake me up again unless it's an emergency." "I won't." Toby said as he went over to his closet and pulled down the storm radio. Once he heard his father was at the other end of the hall, Toby let out a sigh. "One of you has to get me in trouble again in a week. I do not want to go on another bible study trip." "No, don't make me have to go alone." David begged. "We'll both need to get in trouble then." Toby put the radio down. He realized it died. Toby checked his drawer for batteries, but he was out. He remembered he'd used the last of the pack he bought to change out his Gameboy batteries and his CD player. Toby sat on the floor and used the hand crank to charge it back up. "Looks like I'm going to be here a while." Chase went through his bag to get out a change of clothes. "You're really gonna do that before getting out of those wet clothes?" "If my dad comes back, and I don't have this thing on or I'm not working on getting it on, he's going to flip out again." Toby cranked the radio as fast as he could. "I want to get out of that trip, but I'm not gonna make him mad again in the same day." "Do you have towels in your bathroom?" David took out a change of clothes for himself. "Yeah. They're under the sink." Toby said. "I'm gonna dry off first. Ugh, I'm so cold." David left the room. "Bring some back." Brad said. "I will." David went into the bathroom. He grabbed a few towels from under the sink. As he changed, he looked at himself in the mirror. Then, he turned away from it to avoid his reflection. When he returned, he passed the towels out to the others. Chase dried off his face and hair. "Did you guys see that guy in the window?" "Yeah." Toby said. "You did too?" "Yeah, looked like a ghost." Chase said, smirking. "I could see right through him." "I didn't see anything like that. I thought I guy holding a guy." Toby said. "A gun? I saw the old drunk homeless man. Who's this guy with a gun?" Brad stared at Toby. "It couldn't have been the homeless man. I saw him when we were running back. He was sleeping in a tent under some trees." Toby said. "Are you sure?" Brad asked. "It was definitely him. He looked over at us when we came by." Toby said, though he wasn't sure if that really happened or if he was seeing things. David sat beside Toby. "Well, I saw an old lady." "Sounds like nobody knows what they saw." Brad wiped down his face. "We were all probably seeing things. The lightning was playing tricks on us." "Yeah, there was probably nothing there at all." David got under a blanket. "Yeah." Toby shivered from how cold he was. His arm was starting to hurt. "But...what about the window opening? How would the storm have made it go up like that?" "I dunno. Maybe something inside got knocked around and made it do that." David suggested. "It's not like we could see what was going on in there." "Yeah, I guess so." Toby said. "I still think it was a ghost." Chase got under a blanket beside Toby. Brad lay down to sleep. "You would." Toby was the only one still sitting up. He kept working at powering up the radio. Chase watched him for a while. He tugged at Toby's wet shirt. "Forget it." "But my dad..." "If a tornado comes, the sirens will go off. You'll get sick if you stay in those clothes." Chase pulled at his shirt again. "He won't care if you do. So stop caring what he thinks of you." "I can't do that." Toby put the radio aside. He changed clothes and got under a blanket. "In seven years, what are you going to do?" Chase asked him. Toby rolled over to avoid facing him. "What do you mean?" "If you get your own house, he can't throw you out. But will you keep hiding then?" Chase asked. Toby whispered. "I don't know. Seven years is a long time." "Yeah, but it'll be here eventually." Chase closed his eyes. He rested his head against Toby's back, beginning to drift into sleep. Toby's heart pounded. He wondered if their pact earlier really had any magic to it. It was a silly idea. He knew it shouldn't, but he couldn't shake feeling unnerved by it. After all, he lied. His deepest secret wasn't the one he wrote down on the paper. That secret was the same reason his heart was racing now as Chase rested against him. Toby wanted to move away from him to stop it, but he couldn't get himself to. He tried to think of something else. Seven years was a long way away, he thought. They may not even know each other after four years passed from now. They could all end up going to different colleges. He doubted he would even remember tonight then. He wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping. Neither Brad nor David could sleep. Toby wasn't the only liar. David stared up at the ceiling, wondering why she couldn't bring herself to say she wanted them to call her Diana, and that she wasn't interested in drag. But her fears of how they might react to that were too great for her to say anything. After all, they were fourteen, about to start high school. As much as she wanted to see them as friends for the rest of her life, she doubted they would actually still know each other in seven years, much less any longer than that. Four years was debatable. However, the wording of the pact was what scared her. If there was any real magic to it, then there was a punishment for lying. What tragedy could be waiting for her? She did her best to soothe herself to sleep and pretend tonight was a bad dream. Brad stared at the window, watching the wind bend the trees. What he wrote down was a half truth. He did have a family member who molested him, but that wasn't in the past and it wasn't a cousin. That person was his stepfather. Like the others unable to sleep, Brad wasn't waiting for seven years to pass for some lofty dream. He was waiting for four to pass, so he could leave and find refuge in a dorm, then hopefully find a way to never return here. He tried to picture a future for himself with a girlfriend going on fun dates together where he never had to worry about lying about what went on behind closed doors ever again. But the number seven kept interrupting his fantasy. Of course, Chase lied too. He was always lying, because he found it entertaining to see if people believed him or not. He had a big secret he did keep from all of them. None of them ever suspected it, but he did consider telling them tonight when Brad asked him about if he'd done another with another boy. But, as Chase enjoyed lying, he decided to say he hadn't for the fun of it. For about a year, he kept a boyfriend hidden from them all. He wanted to see if he could hide something like that from his best friends. The boy was a little older, two years older than him. It was fun at first. The other boy was more reckless than his friends. They eventually broke up when Chase got bored of him. Personally, Chase didn't believe in anything magical or supernatural. He was a hard atheist, but he pretended he wasn't for fun, mostly to see what other people were willing to believe. He found magicians and performers interesting for this same reason. They could get people to reveal things about their inner thoughts and beliefs by creating illusions. Tonight, the storm worked in his favor to make their pact seem more mystical. He saw that there was no one standing in the window in the house, but him pretending there was a ghost got the other three to reveal their minds were easy to trick with a little light and shadow. He'd gotten, as far as he thought, the other three to reveal their deepest secrets to him. If they ever betrayed him, those would be quite useful to know. As much as he wanted to keep them around, Chase was a very vindictive person when he didn't get his way. But, for now, he did like these people. They put up with him in ways most didn't. He enjoyed their loyalty, and Toby was the most interesting to him out of the other three. He stayed by him, even though he was the only one who would strongly challenge him. Toby cleared liked him, he thought. He could feel how Toby's body tensed when he leaned against him. But that challenging aspect sometimes got on his nerves, and if he was only staying around because of a crush and left the group eventually, Chase thought, he might do something very cruel. That was, if he was in the mood to. Chase was easily bored. Tonight was entertaining enough, but he wished he'd managed to take that joyride to the state line. He fell into a pleasant dream while the other three agonized over their lies. The storm howled on through the night, but a tornado never touched down. The boys quickly tossed aside their fears of the pact. After all, at fourteen, seven years is a long time. But, nevertheless, six years came soon enough.