Kayla tried to quell her trembling as she stood at the tree house window, balancing a bulbous green water balloon on the business end of a spatula. From below, a peal of raucous laughter heralded the boys’ approach.
“They’re coming!” Amy whispered.
Kayla placed the fingertips of her free hand on the spatula’s edge, just like Laurie had shown her. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead as she waited, poised to fire. She swallowed hard. Three boys came into view, loping along like oafs. With a flick of her wrist, she snapped the spatula up and forward, launching the balloon. It sailed in an arc through the thick summer air and landed squarely on Randy Boyd’s head with a splat.
Laurie and Amy erupted into laughter.
“Nice shot!” said Laurie.
Kayla ducked down below the window and felt her muscles untwine as she sat on the floor and started to laugh along with the other girls. She was officially in the club now.
A few minutes later, Randy was still wet but hot with anger, pacing in his back yard. Kyle and Adam sat nearby on the porch steps, barely suppressing their laughter, further stoking Randy’s fury.
“I’m so sick of them! We need to retaliate!” Kyle and Adam probably didn’t even know what retaliate meant. Maybe the big word would wipe the smiles off their stupid faces and remind them why he was the group leader, albeit unofficially.
“What are we gonna do?” Kyle asked.
Randy stopped pacing and narrowed his eyes. “We’re gonna steal their candy stash.”
The boys’ eyes widened. The tree house candy stockpile was the stuff of neighborhood legend.
Dusk settled, painting the sky with streaky clouds in grapefruit and tangerine. Adam peered through his binoculars, which were trained on the tree house. “They’re leaving!” he announced.
“Are you sure?” said Kyle.
“Course I’m sure, dummy. They’re climbing down the ladder right now.”
Randy grinned. “Excellent. Gentlemen, it’s almost time. Everyone remember their jobs?”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “Yeah,” he muttered.
“What’s your problem?” Randy demanded. A less benevolent leader wouldn’t abide such insolence.
“I don’t wanna be the lookout. It’s no fun.”
Randy stifled the urge to tell Kyle to shut up and do what he was told. He knew a gentler approach would yield better results. “It’s an important job!” He clapped a palm on Kyle’s shoulder. “A good lookout could make or break the operation. And you’ll get an equal cut of the candy.”
Kyle didn’t seem convinced but at least looked less dejected. “Oh, all right.” He picked up the broom that lay on the ground beside him.
Randy looked at him expectantly.
“I stand watch, and if I see someone coming or any sign of trouble, I signal by swiping at the windchimes with the broom.”
“Good.” Randy nodded. “Adam?”
“I’ve got the note.” From a pocket of his backpack, Adam pulled a sheet of notebook paper. Large block letters in red marker looked menacing on the page. He read aloud, “Revenge is sweet, and you’re all suckers! The Boyd Brigade.”
“Are you sure you wanna say Boyd Brigade?” asked Kyle. “They’ll know it was us… or at least you… who took their candy.”
Kyle was just jealous. Randy was the leader, so it made sense that the group should have his name. Besides, Boyd Brigade sounded a heck of a lot better than Sanders Squad or Thomas Troop. Kyle’s and Adam’s names just weren’t as good. “We want them to know who took the candy,” Randy said. “It’ll teach them not to mess with us.”
Kyle nodded and shrugged simultaneously.
Randy smiled but clenched his teeth. If Kyle didn’t quit being so oppugnant, he might end up with a smaller share of candy. “Okay, as Kyle keeps lookout, Adam and I go up. The candy stash is probably hidden, so I’ll search the west side of the tree house, and Adam, you search the east.” Randy punctuated his speech with gestures to his right and then his left.
“East is that way,” Adam said, nodding his head in the direction opposite to where Randy was pointing.
Randy’s nostrils flared. “I said west. I go east. Adam, you go west!” Geez, Adam clearly wasn’t listening. His candy share might have to be cut too.
“Huh,” Kyle chuckled. “Adam West.” Randy and Adam looked at him blankly. “You know… the old Batman?”
“Can we focus here?” Randy hissed.
“Sorry,” Kyle muttered and turned his eyes toward the ground.
“Whoever finds the candy puts it in their backpack. We don’t know how much there is, so if it doesn’t all fit, we’ll split it between our packs. Then we get out of there quick-like and meet behind my garage. Got it?”
“Got it!” Adam and Kyle said in unison.
As the last wisps of daylight vanished and the buzz of cicadas dwindled to silence, the boys set off on their mission, creeping into Laurie’s back yard. Kyle held his broom at the ready and crouched to make himself inconspicuous while Randy and Adam bolted toward the tree. Randy grasped the rope sides of the ladder and began to climb with Adam close behind.
When he reached the top, Randy sneered at the “Keep Out!” sign on the trapdoor entrance, pushed the hatch open, and hauled himself up into the tree house. He flicked on his headlamp and started to sweep the room with its spotlight. Up against one wall, a large pink tackle box sat atop a whitewashed wooden table. “That’s gotta be it!” Randy said as Adam came up through the door and turned on his headlamp.
“Easy peasy!” Adam smiled and pulled the note from his backpack.
The boys stepped toward the box. Randy licked his lips, released the front latch, and flung open the lid. There was a click, then a pop. As windchimes jangled in the distance, the boys’ headlamps illuminated the spectacular explosion of glitter that engulfed them.
Elizabeth Barton has been making stuff up for most of her life. A day job as a medical writer pays the bills, but her true passion is fiction. Her work has appeared in Gemini Magazine, Skirt!, and Prime Number Magazine, among other journals and anthologies. Her name anagrams to brazen albeit hot and blaze into breath.