There are sleeping bags atop pastel foam camping mats and pillows brought from home. There is a petrified silence, for now, since Jason’s dad has only just finished telling them to be quiet again. There is partial darkness; the light of the full moon leaks through the edges of the curtains and makes everything glow pale. There are four boys, squirming, trying not to giggle, feeling like they might burst, fading into delirium, having to draw strength from all the WizzFizz and soft drinks digesting inside of them to fight off biological necessities and fourteen years of bedtime conditioning and the stern, disembodied voices of their respective mothers in their respective heads telling them, imploring them, to just please go to sleep.
That’s not why they’re here.
‘Dare,’ says Daniel. Daniel always choses dare.
‘Climb out the window, run around the house, and ring the doorbell.’
‘No! Don’t!’ whisper-screams Jason, ‘Dad’ll kill us.’
There are some unrepeatable taunts on the general theme that Jason is just such a wimp when they stay at his house. There are rustling noises and the sound of thick, gluggy chewing. There is a permeable feeling that the universe is alive in a way that it usually is not, and that they are the only four people that matter in the whole of the world. There are some aspersions cast on Liam’s awakeness, since he’s notorious, since he played basketball today and that always knocks him out.
A big wad of Zappos is lobbed from the dark and strikes Ben in the face.
‘Okay, Liam, gee. A simple “I’m awake” would have—’
‘Jason’s Dad’s going to pee in five minutes, so we need to be quick,’ says Daniel. No one asks him how he knows this. ‘Is someone gonna dare me or what?’
It’s a potent question. What more is there to do? Daniel’s already boiled the kettle, pissed out the window, texted Angela Kershaw a picture of his bicep, punched Ben in the stomach, followed Jason’s mum on Instagram.
‘Please,’ says Daniel. There is something tortured in the way he says it. ‘I want to do something scary. Hey, no one scream, it’s just a car horn.’
Four seconds later a horn blares from the street.
Jason lets out a yelp and the boys whisper mean things at him.
There is the whistling of the wind against Jason’s bedroom’s shutters and a dog barking a few houses away. There are metabolisms working overtime to digest all the glucose that’s oozing through their veins. There is a deep and terrifying need to do brave things and tell each other secrets in the pale dark, because they know this feeling will be gone in the morning. There are the increasingly desperate pleas of the boy Daniel.
‘Just nothing left to do, Dan. It’s gotta be a truth,’ says Liam.
‘Oh guys, hang on,’ says Daniel through a pinched nose. ‘Jason’s about to let one rip.’
‘What? No I’m—oh.’
There is chuckling and theatrical gagging. There are swishing sounds as the boys roll around in their nylon sleeping bags to punch each other. There is now real begging from Daniel, who has never felt so awake, who feels he must do something thrilling and new and unexpected or he’ll burst, who has eaten an entire packet of licorice allsorts on top of all the other stuff because he’s the only one who likes them.
‘Can I dare myself?’
‘No,’ says Liam. ‘Ben?’
Ben always asks the best questions and the boys are quiet while he thinks.
‘How do you always know stuff now?’
‘What?’ says Daniel. His brain whooshes. Can’t think. Heart pounds.
The boys’ hearts all pound, actually, because of the sugar.
A cloud must pass over the moon because the light changes, shadows slide about the room. The boys are quiet.
‘It’s something from when I was a kid,’ Daniel says, softly.
Shadows slide back to their resting places. The dog barks.
‘Wait, is Liam still—’
There are more Zappos catapulted from the dark. There is the unzipping of sleeping bags to let cool air flood over burning skin. Daniel’s heart punches the inside of his chest.
‘I ate a crystal,’ he says.
‘Is that…is that slang?’
‘He means like drugs or something. Hey Liam, do you have the gobstoppers?’
‘No!’ cries Daniel. He sits upright. He lies back down. ‘No, guys, it was a crystal crystal,’ he says. He knew this would happen. Like literally he knew. ‘My grandma was a psychic.’
‘Oh right yeah sure, Dan, okay. And my Gran fought in the trenches for the Navy.’
‘The Navy fight at sea, Jason.’
‘Anyone got eyes on the Sour Patch Kids?’
There is the exasperated sigh of a wise man amongst fools. There is some really toxic wind being broken here, because of bubbling stomach acids. There is yellow light from passing headlights that make the room spin golden, in slow motion. There is the sound of Jason’s Dad’s getting up to pee, which freezes them all again.
‘It was Black Obsidian Stone,’ Daniel whispers in a fragile silence. ‘Fully charged, too,’ Daniel says, a bit louder, a bit more oomph. ‘That’s like one of the most powerful ones!’ he cries, and they all hiss shushes at him because what is he, crazy?
Daniel feels like he might cry, which would be unconscionable.
‘Can you listen, for a second?’ he whispers. ‘When I was a kid, I had a tendency to put things in my mouth. Coins. Pens. Ants.’
‘Yeah we remember.’
‘You ate half my deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards once. Liam’s cat was never the same after you—’
‘Okay,’ hissed Daniel. ‘Okay so I was at my grandma’s house. She’d left this amazing black crystal out from one of her readings, just a little bugger, about as big as a lego block, black as night, glittering black. Beautiful. It kind of, like, drew me in. And I… ate it.’
‘Anyone else just get their first ever hankering for licorice allsorts?’
‘Anyway, I ate the thing,’ said Daniel. ‘Last year when my balls… when I got taller, I felt, I don’t know, I felt like I could feel it. Like the fragments of the crystal were fused with my glandular acids, and now it’s like I can feel the prophetic energies randomly ignite… and I just get sucked into a…the cascading temporal streams converge on… it’s like the vision overpowers me and… I… I see the future.’
‘I can see the future.’
‘The Obsidian energies pulses in my astral mind and my consciousness is flooded with a future reality. Just in fragments. Flashes. Visions. And they always come true.’
‘I can see the—’
‘Yeah, no, Dan. We heard you.’
There is a different kind of silence. There is a silence that lasts so long that Jason’s poor dad might think they’ve finally gone to sleep, but not even Liam is close anymore. There is again the barking, more like howling, of the distant dog at the full moon. There is no chewing of any kind.
‘That must be…’
‘That must be so fucking cool.’
‘Do I get rich, Dan? Do I become a dentist?’
‘Does Jenny still like me in 2035?’
‘What number am I thinking of?’
‘No,’ says Daniel. ‘You don’t get it.’
The boys stop grinning. Their friend sounds far away.
‘I can’t watch Eels games with you guys,’ he says. ‘I see it play out before it even starts. And they’re not going to win a premiership ever again.’
‘So why don’t you just support the Broncos?’
Jason is struck by Zappos.
‘I’ve seen fucked up, planet-destroying election results. I’ve seen the steady, global increase in human suffering. I’ve seen the exact moment my Dad gets sick. I’ve seen my heart get broken by girls I haven’t even met yet.’
‘I’ve seen the world end. In thirty-seven years time.’
‘I’ve seen each of you die.’
‘Does Jason’s Dad kill us?’
‘And no matter what I do or you do we can’t change any of it. The future I see is absolute. We’re all just atoms moving to places they’re meant to go. It’s inevitable. I chose dares because I want to feel something, feel some fear, but it doesn’t work—I know Jason’s Dad forgives us in the morning whatever we do, I know Angela Kershaws’s destined to fall for a vitamin-based ponzi scheme in year eleven. All that awaits any of us is empty heroics, low comedy, pointless death.’
There are four boys in the pale dark. There is stillness. There is gulping from Liam and Ben and light whimpering from Jason.
Then there is the breaking of wind.
Then there is giggling that comes in three separate waves. Then there is lightness again, joy, thrill. Then there is some punching and roughhousing and banter about how serious they’d all got just then, as if seriousness was a vice. Then there is a surreal sense of safety and warmth and love in the middle of the night, because nothing binds young boys like sleepover truths, because each of them have never felt more connected to other human beings before but they don’t know how to say that, so they just giggle and try to stay awake for as long as they can. Only Daniel knows that they will never feel this feeling when they get bigger.
‘Jason,’ says Daniel. ‘Truth or dare.’
‘Ummm. Okay. Let’s get back to the classics, hey? Shoot, shag, marry: Angela Kershaw, Liam, and Daniel’s psychic grandma?’