Maybe at the pool that afternoon or maybe at a baseball practice later that week, Mark said we should go to the witch house “to see what really goes on there.” Adam and Ajay said they were in. I pictured Mrs. Morton’s daughter, looking in my direction and smiling at me. And then I pictured my mother shaking her head and mouthing “poor decision.”
When Mark asked, “Alex, are you in?” the faces of my friends replaced the faces of my daydream.
“Um . . . sure.”
We began a series of surveillance stakeouts that included binoculars, flashlights, ski masks, and once a set of walkie-talkies which were too loud to use. Each time, I was as much afraid of getting caught as I was hopeful that I would. I didn’t want to meet Mrs. Morton, but I sure did want to see her daughter again.
One night, while I was having a group sleepover, we snuck over to the witch house, stashed our bikes down the block, and staked out a few houses away. Mark suggested that one of us peek through a back window. He flipped and re-flipped a coin several times, and before we knew what he was doing, he said, “Alex. It’s you.” I thought about arguing with him, but I knew I’d lose.
It was a moonless night, and there were patches of shadows alongside every gate, hedge, and parked car. I scoped out my path, keeping an eye out for any headlights that might be approaching. As I passed over the freshly mowed and watered grass of the yard next door, I kept low. At the edge of the property, I paused to listen for neighbors out for a night stroll. I was hoping for some noise that might give me a reason to abort the mission. All I heard was the blood rushing through my ears.
On the dead lawn, I crawled toward the backyard, where a flickering light was shining from a sliding glass door, which opened to a back deck. I figured if I could spy through the cleavage of the closed curtains, I might see something our binoculars couldn’t.
The dry stubble of the lawn cut into my hands and knees as I moved along the side of the house. Near the back corner, the lights from inside sent blue shadows dancing across the neighbor’s trees. Behind me, the boys were whispering something I couldn’t hear. I was almost to the deck when a low grumbling sound stopped me. I froze so I could concentrate fully on listening. I heard a loud, phlegmy cough, followed by my friends franticly whispering my name, and then just as I was turning around to face them, a feline wail cut through the air.
Mark and Ajay ran, but Adam stayed behind, shouting, “Alex, c’mon.” I couldn’t move. The hair-raising yowl had me paralyzed.
Then I heard a click followed by a sound like a skateboard on pavement. I realized it was the sliding doors on the back deck. I ran.