Making my way through the frozen January darkness, I looked through the sparse, dead trees to the snow-smothered outhouse ahead. Being more of a shed than an actual building, it was built the spring before for use in the summer to take advantage of the heat.
My troop and I had moved in over the winter months, furnishing it with patio armchairs taken from the garage and filling the chill air with a radio lifted from my uncle’s tool shed, and a blast heater, which Bailey had contributed to the effort. People rarely came out here, in the clearing of a small wood out behind the house. Especially now, when everything is dead and white and the sun only comes out in cold glimpses.
Approaching it now, the glow of lamplight radiated through haphazardly strung blankets, put up against the windows and door. My feet pandered in the freshly fallen snow, my steps deliberate and stretched; the gentle crunch as I broke its seal satisfying. In both hands I cradled a freshly filled hot water bottle, its scalding heat working to thaw my hands a little. I listened, as I grew close, to the warming sound of laughter and the muffled emission of music, leaking out through thin, wooden walls into the forest around.
Peeking in through the holes that the blankets had failed to cover, I could see the turned heads of my companions engaging each other with our specific niche of folly. Knocking on the door, I was greeted by the sound of someone rising and the lifting of a latch, which, opening the door so that it swung out to meet me, revealed the familiar head of Bailey poking through the draped sky-blue throw.
‘Hey man,’ he said, looking at me with poorly disguised glee, over a face still too boyish to be called a man, yet too naïve to know so, ‘Hope you don’t mind but we thought it better to come straight here rather than by the house, you know, to avoid your uncle,’
‘That’s fine, now let me in already I’m damn near death out here,’ I said, pushing with one finger on his forehead so that he once again became enveloped by the cotton veil.
Following him in across the threshold, I entered the strange little world that we had come to call our haunt in its disused winter off-season. Shadows grew in the neglect of the orange-yellow light: the gaze of which I had admired from outside. Diluted through an ostentatious shade: not fitting to the lamp but rather stolen from the house, to avoid the garish glare of a bare bulb, which since remedied now cast a sleepily serene tone on my friends’ faces.
The shade was one baring a classical motif, mimicking that of a mural depicting Thesueus trapped in the maze, the flaming red eyes of the Minotaur brought to life by the light behind them as the hero stands to face him: in one hand a sword is brandished in defense, in the other a ball of yarn offering hope.
‘Want me to pack another bowl?’ Fobbs enquired, taking me from Minos and back to the Sunhouse.
‘Ofcourse, I’ll light it: seeing how you guys have taken a head start,’ I replied, whilst removing my wax jacket, the blaring heater reducing me to an uncomfortable temperature, my hot water bottle held between my thighs, ‘D’you guys know how much this thing costs to run?’
‘We’ve only had it on for a minute,’ Bailey said, ‘besides, you can’t put a price on being warm,’
‘Evidently, you can,’ I said, realizing too late the edge in my voice, ‘it doesn’t matter, it’ll probably short itself out when it gets too hot anyway,’
I turned back to Fobbs, girlish blonde hair dangled over his brow, furrowed in concentration, squinting his delicate yet sharp features. Satisfied, he carefully tightened the now full bowl on to his pride and joy, a new and yet-to-be-named bong before raising it to his lips, pausing at the protest in my expression,
‘Packer’s Privileges,’ he replied playfully with a Cheshire grin, before arresting the top with his lips. With his left hand, he held the body so that he could see the chamber beneath his nose, a finger strategically covering the carburetor whilst his right fumbled pockets for a lighter. Bailey leant forward, coming to the rescue with his own. After a failed spark, he set alight the bowl of brimming green packed tight now smoldering. Slowly, with ease, the water began to bubble as the barrel filled with a cloud of thick, white smoke. Releasing his finger, he inhaled it whole and, sitting back against the chair took a small sip of gin before exhaling a long, thin plume of smoke into the air, adding to the cloud that had gathered gregariously above us.
Taking the bong from his outstretched hand, smoke lazily rising from every orifice I gripped it in my own fashion, if anything rather clumsily. As I sucked air through the bowl, I watched as its contents charred from the wave of fire that coursed down to its bottom. Born out of what was now hot ash, the contents of the barrel diffused smoothly into my lungs.