Many kids don't read because they can't relate to the story so they get bored. However, with Zack...
Show full author's note »
Another day, another day, another day goes by and none of it gets any better. I sit at the same lunch table another day, and they have the same conversations, and I still can't follow any of them. I've been up on the mountain for most of the lunch period. I haven't touched my hamburger. It would've tasted like rubber anyway no matter how much ketchup I drowned it in.
Then I hear somebody call my name, and I'm dragged back to the South Side Junior High cafeteria. Mark and Tony are sitting across the table staring at me. What did I do? How long was I spacing out? Was I drooling? I wiped my mouth and chin just in case.
“So, are you in?” Mark asked.
The wheels in my mind were turning at 100 miles an hour. Was I supposed to know what he was talking about? “For what?”
“No, man,” said Tony turned to Mark, “he doesn't care. He wasn't even listening. He doesn't want to come.”
Were they trying to include me in something? They haven't spoken a word to me since I got here. This is my chance, my chance to actually fit in some place. “Yes I do! Where are we going?”
“To Mark's house.”
“Nice! What are we gonna do? Just hang?”
“We're doing some-”
“Painting,” Mark butted in.
“Yeah, painting. That's what you'd call it.”
“Like the kind they make us do in art class or like on a wall?”
“A little bit of both.”
Painting? Is that seriously what the cool people here do? Alright, I guess I've got a lot to learn. At least they're talking to me. The bell rings, and I get up to go to History.
“Oh, and Zack,” Tony smirked as I turned to face him. “Make sure you wear all black.”
What? Why would I have to- Oh well, whatever. I will.
I show up at Mark’s house after dinner. Both he and Tony are standing on the front porch waiting for me. “Ready?” Mark asks as they walk around the house into the back yard.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Just down this path. We’ll be there in no time,” Mark replies.
We walk down a dirt path in the woods our only light coming from Tony’s flashlight and the full moon. It shines off of the tree branches casting eerie shadows. I swear I can see glowing green eyes staring out at us from the darkness at every turn. I can’t see the branches hanging in across the trail, but I feel them catching my t-shirt and scratching the side of my face. I might be bleeding, but I can’t tell. Less than five minutes later, we’re in our school’s parking lot.
“What’s it gonna be this time, Mark?” Tony asks. “Show me the design.”
Mark pulls a sketch pad out of his backpack. “I came up with this last night. I think it’s one of my best.”
He holds the flashlight up to an intricate, very detailed drawing. A smirk slides across his face as he sees my jaw drop to the ground. I can tell he’s itching to tell us what this crazy thing is all about. I’m wondering what it has to do with us being in the school parking lot in the dark.
“You see, I’ve got the brain up here, and it’s got paint oozing out of it. That’s me. The fist crashing through the ooze, that’s you Tony. You see how the hand is covered in paint? That’s because we’re connected like brothers. Do you see it?”
“What’s with the eye in the middle of the brain, there?” I ask.
“That? That’s the all-seeing eye. It sees the past, the present, the future, everything. That, my friend, is you. You’re our lookout tonight.”
A smirk creeps across his mouth again, and the light of the distant street lights glows yellow in his eyes. They are not the same eyes I’ve seen when he’s laughing at the lunch table. Or even the excited ones I saw just minutes ago. No, they’re not even his. They belong to a monster ready to cause destruction, to break every rule in the book. I don’t like that look. Something tells me I should run now while I’ve got the chance. Too bad there’s nowhere to run to. Home is miles away.
“Where do you want to do this?” Tony asked, his flashlight slowly rotating around the parking lot like a searchlight.
“I’m thinking around the back. They’ll see us from the street anywhere else,” Mark replied.
“That’s why I’m the brains.”
We walk around to the back of the building in silence. I’m jogging to keep up with Tony’s long strides because if I fall behind, I’ll be left alone here in the dark. I fight to stay in that little pool of light.
Mark stops by the wall next to the dumpster. I can smell last week’s fish sticks rotting inside it and hear the rats nibbling away at them in a puddle of sour milk. He drops his backpack and it makes clinking noises against the pavement. Oh my God. I know why we’re here.
Mark pulls out green, black, and yellow spray paint cans and a plastic bag full of nozzles each one a different size and shape. He pulls out a black ski mask and pulls it over his head. I turn around to see Tony pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt.
“Where’s yours, Zack?” Mark asks.
“Well, you need something to cover your face. You’re going to get us caught.”
“You didn’t tell me this was what you were bringing me here to do.”
“I could give him my sweatshirt,” Tony offered. “It’s not that cold out.”
“No, then you’ll get us caught, you idiot. You’re the one who needs it most. The cops would recognize you if they came.”
“The cops?” Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?
“Remember that kid you punched out two months ago?”
“Hey, he started it!”
“It doesn’t matter. They know your face. Zack can have my mask.”
“Wait, then wouldn’t you get caught?” I ask.
That evil little grin creeps across his face again. “I never get caught.”
They tell me my job is to stay out in front of the dumpster and to give them a signal if I hear anything or see anybody coming. They also tell me not to let anybody see me. I don’t know how that’s supposed to work if I’m standing in front of the dumpster, but Mark says there’s never anybody around at this time of night anyway. We just have to make sure.
So I stand at my post and Mark starts his masterpiece. I’ve been standing out here for forty-five minutes (for real, that’s what my watch says.) I look back at Mark and Tony on occasion. I can tell Mark has had a lot of practice with that spray can. Every green wrinkle in the brain is highlighted by a little bit of yellow. Each shape is perfect. It looks exactly like his drawing in the sketchbook except it’s ten times bigger.
As he’s about to spray the color into the center of the eye, a light flicks on in a second floor window. I don’t even get the chance to flash the signal before they’ve pulled me backward. Tony’s flashlight has rolled under the dumpster, and I can’t see it anymore. He’s got his hand over my mouth and is holding me against the wall. I can’t move a muscle. I can’t catch my breath, and my heart is pounding in my ears. The window opens and I inhale the scent of floor cleaner as it trickles down towards our hiding place.
Suddenly my cell phone starts to ring in the pocket of my jeans. Tony’s grip tightens around me so I can’t even reach into my pocket to shut it off before someone inside hears it. It’s too late for that, though. The janitor sticks his head out the window. “Who’s there?” he yells. I try with all my might to disappear into the brick wall behind me.
After a few seconds he gives up, and his head is gone from the window, but we’re frozen where we are. None of us dare to move.
Just when I think we’re safe, I hear sirens wailing in the distance. Tony lets go, and I fall to the pavement, my head smashing into the wall. Before I can even sit back up, he’s run all the way to the edge of the school yard and climbed the fence. Mark is frantically trying to shove all of his paints back into his backpack. “Don’t just sit there! Help! Haven’t you ever seen those CSI shows? They can get DNA off of this stuff”
We collect every last can of spray paint and Mark zips up his bag. He pulls me to my feet, but I fall right back down. I’m dizzy from the pain in my head. He drags me away from the dumpster, and I can see blue lights flashing down the street. “Come on, Zack. You’ve got to stay with me here. Come on, get up. Get up! We have to get out of here.”
I stumble to my feet as he drags me by the arm through the back parking lot. The sirens are getting louder and louder and there is blue light shining on the ground just a hundred feet to our left. We crawl through a hole at the bottom of the fence. Mark is still dragging me along as we run through the woods. He trips over a tree root and falls hard taking me down with him. He lies there for a while breathing heavily, but his breathing slows with every second that passes. We’re safe now.
He says we should head back to his house to get cleaned up and that Tony probably ran home. I tell him that I’ll just go to my house, but thanks anyway. He shrugs and walks off to the path we took to get to the school. I sit down on a rock. My jeans were caked with dirt and blood is soaking the torn knees.
I take out my phone to call home, and I see that I have one new text message. It’s from Mom. “Hope you’re having fun. Call me when you need a ride home.” Oh, yeah, I am just having the time of my life right now. This has been such a great night. So great that I just want to go home and never leave. Ever. Because this is so fun that I never want it to happen again. How did I even get myself into this mess? As I start to dial, I realize that when Mom picks up I’m going to have to explain that to her. She’s going to want to know how I got to be in the woods behind my school and why my jeans are torn and why I’m all dirty. She can’t know about this. Never. I’m not going to tell her. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I’ll just call Bryan and have him pick me up. Then Mom will never have to- Wait, how is he going to do that? I’m in the woods. I can’t go back out to the school. It’s crawling with cops. They’ll know what I was doing with Mark and Tony. Then they’ll tackle me to the ground and handcuff me. I’ll have to sit in the back of the squad car. They’ll throw me in jail, and make me wear that orange jumpsuit. My picture will be lined up with all these other criminals, and that janitor will point me out. “That’s the one.” Then I’ll rot away in prison forever, and it’s not my fault. I didn’t know what they were doing till it was too late. Please, just let me go!
I walk through the woods until there are no more trees anymore. I know I’m in the park now. It’s only four blocks from the school, but that’s far enough. I take the ski mask off and toss it in a trash can. I dial Bryan’s cell phone number. I really hope he’s already out and not at home. I don’t want Mom to ask where he’s going. It rings seven times before he picks up.
“What do you want, Zack? I’m trying to drive.”
Oh, thank God. “Since you’re out already, can you pick me up?”
“Can’t you just get Mom to do it?”
“Fine. Where are you?”
“I’ll be there in five minutes.”
I get in the passenger’s side of the car when he pulls up. His eyes bug out to the size of quarters when he sees me. I must look worse than I thought.
“What were you doing?”
I didn’t really want him to know. I didn’t want anyone to know. “Playing man hunt.”
“Then why do you look like you’ve been mugged?”
My eyes dart around the car. I don’t know how to answer.
“You weren’t, were you? Did you have any money on you? If they stole something we have to report it to the cops.”
“No!” I can’t let him keep making assumptions. He’s going to tell the cops, or worse, Mom. I tell him everything, but make him promise to keep it a secret. Mom can’t find out. I’ll be in debt to him now till the day I die. And longer.