Smith dragged me down the hall by the hand with an impressive (obviously determined) grip, given how sweaty my hands were. Light from the moon filtered into the abandoned hallway through the windows that lined it. The urge to grab onto one of the lockers that made up the opposite wall was nearly insurmountable—I kept myself from doing that because I knew that, despite my face that had to be beet-red by that point, the only one that could save Smith if something went horribly wrong was me. More than that, even today I'm probably the only one willing to save him from his own antics.
"Oh, come on, you gigantic baby," he said, just as I was reminding myself why I was still here. "You would willingly go through your entire college and high school careers without doing anything reckless or stupid. What kind of a life is that?"
I rolled my eyes, and settled into an icy stare at the back of his blond head. "A life where I'm able to get a job and do things besides pay a debt to society. You know, the kind of life I try to make sure you end up having, too?" I retorted.
"Bah, there's only danger if they catch you," he said while shifting the olive green rucksack to fit better over his other shoulder the sound of metal and paint tinkling in the otherworldly silence, "The trick is to scope out the best spot, and always leave early."
"Yeah, and how much practice do you have with 'scoping out the best spot'?" My voice had more of a bitter edge to it than I meant for it to have, but at the same time, final exams week would start the next day. It wasn't like I had signed myself up for an easy semester in a breezy community college somewhere—university was expensive, and I was determined to keep my scholarships so that my parents didn't have to pay for me. Smith Yaeger always had things come easy to him—it blew my mind how flippant he always was about it, with a new stunt plan nearly every other week.
"Enough to know that even if we get caught here," he raised a finger with his free hand that had adjusted his rucksack, "There's nothing the school can throw at us since it's neither anyone's property (technically), and," he raised the second finger, "It's a hunk of junk just lying around anyway, so no one really cares about it." Well, that had my curiosity.
"Then why are we doing this, then? I thought this was about making a 'statement'?" I reached up a hand to my forehead, and pulled it away wet. I hadn't realized how humid it was, but we were in Houston, Texas. Of course it was humid. (The only two describing characteristics of Houston are wet, and green.)
He stopped, then, and looked at me. "Wait a second," he said, the look in his green eyes more serious than he had all week. "Do you not know what we're doing here?"
"Um, I thought we were spray painting a wall, or something… Am I wrong?" I mean, I hadn't read his "dossier" (which still felt like an overly dramatic term for "file full of documents on the computer" but I guess it was important to him) but I also was incredibly busy this past week, again, with studying for the LSAT and my other pre-law and business classes.
"My friend, my brother in shenanigans, my dearest companion, partner in crime, and geek-I've-known-the-longest. You could not be more wrong. I would not drag you hear, at nearly 12:00 midnight in all black clothes—literally the most uncomfortable track clothes I've ever worn in my life in the middle of a summer night—to get caught defacing public property. This is the university that we both go to, and as such, we both know how ridiculously stupid it would be to incur the wrath of the people to whom we owe a debt that will largely be stuck with us a great portion of our adult lives anyway. Literally, the price of this damn school is exorbitant, but that is not necessarily my point. Did I or did I not tell you to read the dossier?" His dumb (that was my inner tantrum speaking) green eyes narrowed at me, and I shrugged because I already told him I likely didn't have time for this. He sighed loudly and I shushed him for it, to which he gave me back a noncommittal wave of his hand.
"Okay," he said. "I guess I'm going to have to give you the details here, then." I wanted to mutter back that he should have just done that in the first place because he knew I'd be here anyway. Someone has to keep saving his ass. I didn't, mostly because that would've just stalled him, and I desperately wanted to get back to bed as soon as possible. (Not that I had classes until late afternoon tomorrow, but still. I wanted to study in the morning.)
"Go ahead, but tell me while we walk," I said.
I followed after him as he started walking again. "Houston has this museum called "The National Museum of Funeral History," okay? It's been around for a while—since 1992, to be exact—and they have exhibits for everything from coffins from Ghana to the caskets of some U.S. Presidents. The point is, they're super cool, and they have a truly impressive amount of neat history about dying and the dead from different cultures. So what is the problem, you may ask?" He turned around a looked at me as we rounded a corner and started descending the stairs to the gym. "They're trying to close it, and asked the school's anthropology and marketing majors to make a billboard rough draft, of sorts, to advertise closing ticket prices to try and get more people interested. This is a government-started, largely government-run facility, mind you. They've just decided in recent years that they don't want it around anymore and are going to donate the exhibits to different locations."
"What a shame," I said with an eyebrow raised. Smith always did have a flair for the super weird. "So what are we spray painting tonight?"
"The billboard prototype, of course," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. We had reached the double doors to the gymnasium at that point, and Smith dug his hand into the large pocket of his track pants and pulled out the key ring we had used to get into the building and picked out the right key. He shimmied it into the lock, turned it to the right, and opened the door.
"You know," I said, stifling a yawn, "It's a really good thing our school hasn't opted to put up security cameras around campus yet, or this whole thing could've been screwed from the start."
Smith made a noise that sounded almost like an angry sheep bleating and said "I hope that day never comes. It'd be like paying to go to prison! Why do I need to pay to be seen going everywhere?" I knew that wasn't the point, but I didn't feel like arguing him on it.
The gymnasium was a large room, a lot like you'd expect with rows of bleachers, though all on left side of the really long room, and the opposite side had a couple of doors where the storage closets were. Smith walked towards the doors, producing a second key from his pockets and I wondered to myself how he always managed to make these things work out. Honestly, it's as if it weren't a problem for him at all to just ask the janitor for his keys. Inside the storage rooms, just as Smith said there would be, was a large, long poster stuck to a canvas. Perfect for spray painting.
Two hours went by, then three. Around 4:30 AM (according to my watch) Smith stepped back to look at his handiwork. Even I had to admit it was impressive looking. In spray painted letters that were more… ornate (?) than I would have thought possible, the sign said "Respecting the Dead Means Respecting the History of Our Dead" with a side profile of Abraham Lincoln in space. I stumbled over next to him—I was probably about five minutes away from falling asleep on my feet. That was when something odd happened, though.
As we stood together, admiring his poster (I'm not sure what I would have thought about it had I been more awake, thinking about it now) an odd glow filled the room. It was bright, but neither of us could identify the source. Clearly, it wasn't coming from the door or the lights above us, that had been on the whole time. As we looked around, I remember I heard a voice. It sounded like it had come from everywhere—I couldn't pin it to the left or the right of me, it was just there, and it said, very clearly, "Thank you."
Smith and I turned around then to see two men floating in the air. One looked straight out of an American history book—one of the early settlers in complete costume—and the other had a pallid look to his tan skin that made him look gray and was wearing a mostly plain white robe with a colorful collar. I don't think either Smith or I had ever run faster in our lives. If anyone else had seen us that night, I'm sure we probably looked ready to wet ourselves. All I really know is that Smith never brought up another "activity" having to do with the dead, and I never asked (not that I would have anyway, but you get the point).
A/N: If you are reading this, blessed human soul that you are, I thank you and I appreciate you. I know the ending here is rather underdone, but in the interest of making my deadline I published it anyway. For the moment, I'm just trying to prove to myself that I can finish things and improve my writing before I try tackling a bigger project. If I can, I'll come back and fix it like I know it needs. Otherwise I hope you enjoyed the story, and I hope to see you next time, dear reader :)