I stared expectantly at Dan, waiting for an answer that would never come. I held the card up to his vacant face. His chin was slumped against his neck like a lifeless marionette. Dan’s eyes had glazed over, he dreamt of the dead phone charging in the corner of the bedroom. I waved the card like a flare in front of his face.
“Dan, you know this.”
His empty expression suggested otherwise.
“I don’t know, man.”
Dan shook his head and shrugged. I read the card aloud.
“An organism’s ability to resist disease.”
“Damn, I was so close.”
“Hey, you asked for my help.”
“And I’ve never been happier.”
His body slumped back into its vegetative state. I surrendered and stashed my flash cards into my backpack. I began scrolling aimlessly through Facebook to fill the awkward void in conversation when Dan’s door swung open. His brother, Kyle, stood in the doorway. His hands shook slightly. He seemed excited, or nervous - possibly both, I couldn’t tell. A wicked grin infected his face, his eyes were wide and burned with a hot electricity.
“You guys wanna do something fun?”
Dan’s face lit up. He stared eagerly at me with eyes like his brother’s.
We made our way silently down the dark hallway, past their dad’s room and through the kitchen. We carefully slipped through the screen door, across the backyard and headed toward Kyle’s car. The bat-crap stained Corolla sat, mounted crookedly on the sidewalk. Dan and I crammed into the back, while Kyle struggled to smack the car to life. I’d always been nervous around Kyle. He smoked his way through high school and never amounted to more than a C plus average and a suspension for stabbing someone. I hated the way Dan idolised his brother like some misunderstood celebrity. I could see it in his eyes – he would follow his brother to hell. I only worried that he might never come back.
I gagged as I took a breath; drenched in the sting of sour perspiration, cigarettes and empty takeaway containers. I wound my window down as Kyle fiddled with the stereo system that cost more than the car. I couldn’t help laughing silently at his choice of music. Cradle of Filth. Couldn’t agree more.
The car’s emphysemic engine eventually hawked to life and pulled out into the dim street. Dan was the first to ask.
“Where are we going?”
“Not far. Just trust me.”
I looked over at Dan. He was trying hard to keep his cool, but I could tell he was just as nervous as me. His teeth gripped his bottom lip like a vice. He leant over to me and whispered.
“Hey, can I borrow your phone?”
“Yeah, for sure.”
I had just handed Dan my phone when the car suddenly came to a halt.
“Here we are.”
Dan craned his head around to see where we were. The headlights shot across a short patch of grass and illuminated a snow white building about fifty metres away. Giant white arches stood, supported by thick, round columns. Cream trim trailed along the edge of the arches and highlighted the corners of the square roof-top. Two large storm grey domes were perched atop the roof next to a tall spire that punctured the sky above.
Dan spoke quietly.
“What are we doing here?”
As if in answer, two more cars rolled out from the darkness. They parked beside the Corolla and shut their lights off. Simultaneously, two lanky figures with plastic masks hopped out from the cars and approached us. Kyle grinned and retrieved a bag from in front of the passenger seat. He dipped his hand into the bag, revealing a rubber Trump mask. He reached again into the bag and pulled out two more masks.
We donned the masks and left the Corolla. Dan and I hesitantly followed the three older boys toward the mosque. The boys had reached the mosque and from the shadows, I watched the other two boys approach the entrance with Kyle’s bag slung over one of their shoulders. I soon heard the unmistakable clack of spray paint cans being shaken. One of the boys (Joel, I heard them call him) flashed a torch onto the glass doors, while the second, Scott, painted a large red swastika. The lines were messy and distorted – a vague parody of a symbol he’d seen on the news once.
Kyle jogged over to us and offered Dan an apple-sized rock.
“Throw it, dumbass.”
“At the…” Dan pointed toward the mosque.
“Yeah, go on.”
Kyle planted the stone firmly into Dan’s grip. He stood back and waited. Dan turned the rock in his hand and wound his arm back slowly. Dan hurled the rock into the sky, missing the building entirely. Kyle pissed himself with laughter.
“Sorry, Kyle. I’ll find another one.”
“Whatever, dude. Nice throw.”
Dan walked off into the night, leaving me standing alone. I turned and peered across the road at the row of sleeping houses. I couldn’t see any lights. I felt a hundred pairs of eyes watching me from the windows. My heart began pounding like a fist beating against enclosing walls. One of them suddenly called out to me.
“Keep a look out if anyone comes.”
I saw Dan approach and a wave of relief washed over me.
“What the hell, Dan?”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Couldn’t find any rocks?”
“You said you were finding rocks.”
Dan looked around nervously. He seemed more on edge than before. We heard Kyle shout.
We walked quickly toward the entrance, where the three boys stood. Two more swastika-esque symbols had appeared on the building. Kyle took us aside, holding one of the spray cans.
“You guys want a go?”
Neither of us answered. Kyle indicated toward me.
“You want to tag a wall or something?”
Kyle pressed the can into my hands. That’s when we heard the siren. We turned and watched the flash of blue and red barrel down the road and pull up next to our cars.
We sprinted for the bushland behind the mosque. Kyle stopped, paralysed. He turned and darted back toward the mosque. Dan screamed louder than I'd ever heard before.
"What are you doing?!"
Kyle called out over his shoulder.
Joel and Scott had vanished into the bushes. I gripped Dan's shoulder and dragged him toward the trees. We bolted across the grass, our shoes kicking up the dirt beneath our feet. Dan craned his head over his shoulder as he ran, waiting for his brother to appear. A loud 'STOP!' echoed across the darkness as we disappeared into the bushes. We ran and never once stopped. Our legs raced on auto-pilot, our hands shielding off stray branches and low vines. We took off our masks and pegged them into a nearby bush. Eventually, we emerged onto another road and paused to catch our breath. Two familiar, lanky figures emerged from across the street. They'd ditched their masks too. Scott was aimed for me. Before I could move, he gripped my shirt between his fists. Spit flicked like acid across my face.
"Was it you, did you call them?!"
I turned my face away and forced my eyes shut.
Scott hit me. His steel palm sliced my cheek like broken glass. My skin burned. My head rang. I wanted to throw up. Scott shook me again.
"Well, it wasn't us. And even Dan's not dumb enough to rat out his own brother."
"I didn't call them!"
"I think you did."
Scott raised his fist again.
"I didn't even have my phone! I gave it to--"
The sirens blared in the distance. They were close. Scott threw me to the ground and fled. Joel bolted after him. I held my throbbing head and looked to Dan. I mumbled weakly at him from the ground.
I stared at him and waited for an answer that would never come.
Immunity. An organism’s ability to resist disease.
Resist, Dan. Resist.
He mouthed something that looked like 'I'm sorry' as he turned. The sirens grew louder. Only a street away. Dan looked away and tore across the street after Joel and Scott. I held my head as the police car turned the corner. I watched Dan disappear into the shadows as the fury of blue and red illuminated the midnight sky.