As I was ushered through the front door of a house I’d never been in before, I felt hands cover my eyes and arms grab mine. I was shoved, forcefully, but gently, through rooms and down a flight of wooden stairs. The air smelled like lunch. Grilled cheese, I thought, and something sweet. Maybe cookies. But not homemade. The store-bought kind that I didn’t like.
At the bottom of the stairs, the strangers hands dropped and I blinked my eyes open. We were in an unfinished basement with a bare bulb hanging from the boards in the ceiling. There were rows of folding chairs set up, facing forward, and in a few of the chairs were other kids. They looked nervous, scared. I was nervous, too, but I was also excited.
As was my habit, I sat near the front. I couldn’t hear very well and I could see even worse, so I liked to be close up, so I didn’t miss anything important. I never knew anyone, wherever I went, and I didn’t like making new friends, so there was never any point in sitting anywhere else but up front.
I turned around to see if I recognized any of the other kids. Not really, but the girl sitting right behind me looked harmless enough.
“Why are we here?” I whispered.
She shrugged without looking up from her hands.
“I dunno. ‘Cause they told us to.”
She pointed straight ahead to two older boys. They were at least two years older than me and anyone else in the room. In fact, of all the kids in the basement, none of us, besides these boys, was older than 5 or 6. These boys were at least 7 or 8. Those two years were like a decade when you’re small and alone. The taller one was blond and considerably meaner looking than the short, brown haired boy. I definitely didn’t know the mean looking one, but I might have seen the brown haired boy around somewhere. He could have been an older brother of a girl I played with sometimes. But I couldn’t be sure. I was too nervous to concentrate.
The blond boy yelled “HEY. Listen.” We listened. “We’re going to start a club and we’re your leaders. You have to do what we say because we’re your bosses now.”
“You’re going to drink this.” The brown haired boy held up a tray. On the tray was enough cups for all of us, and in the cups was a foggy, watery-looking liquid. “It’s laundry detergent. Everyone who drinks it gets to be in the club. If you don’t drink it, you’re not in the club.”
None of us said a word. We looked around with our eyes wide to see if anyone was going to do it. No one moved.
The blond boy looked at me first because I was in the front row.
“You’re going to drink this, kid.”
I shook my head, ever so slightly.
“Yeah, you are. Or else we’re going to hang you from the ceiling by your thumbs.”
Any fear I had left my tiny body. This was ridiculous. Even at 5, I knew this was bullshit. I shook my head again, this time with more force. I had cousins bigger than these two and this wasn’t the first time I’d been idly threatened with a hanging.
“No. You’re not.”
I stood up and pushed that boy right in the chest away from me and turned to the girl who was sitting behind me.
“You don’t have to drink that.”
And I left. Walked up the stairs on my own, through the kitchen that smelled like cheese and sugar and out the front door.
Stupid boys. They can’t tell ME what to do.
Write about some sort of secret society or underground club.
The weirder the better.
Now, I hope you stuck with it until the end so that I can tell you that this is a true story that happened to me. I remember it as vividly as though it happened yesterday.