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Vandals (The Maskheads Series, #2)

Chapter Seven.

Source: Pixabay.

This is a speculative fiction series comprised of three books. Chapters will be released one at a time, with links to previous and next chapters when applicable.

Previous chapter.

We ran like maniacs until we got to the campgrounds. We didn’t think anyone was following us, but we didn’t want to stop and see. We at least wanted to keep up with Andy.

Once we got to the car, we saw Andy let Oliver down. She unlocked the car, and opened the backseat door. We ran in and jumped into the back, with Oliver in the front. Once we were all in, I closed the door. Andy immediately started the car and pulled out of the parking spot.

Now we were all talking. “Oh my gosh, was that woman still there when you guys left?” Tommy asked.

“Yeah, she was still there when I left.” I replied.

“Man, that’s nuts.” Julio said. “I told her we were safe, I wonder if she was still worried about us.”

“Why would she be worried about you all?” Andy asked. She had stopped backing up and was now driving forward toward the highway.

“A bunch of kids walking around with someone in a skull mask she’d just seen on the news? Naw, no reason to be worried there.” Drew said.

Andy shot him a look, then looked briefly to Julio. “You told her we all were okay, right?”

“Yeah, I did. I just hope she believed me.”

“Me too, Julio. But we can’t afford to worry about every little person who sees us. Right now, we need to get. We’ll figure out where we want to go next once we reach Birmingham. That’s the best place we can refuel.”

“We did it, you guys!” Tommy cried.

“Yeah we did, Tommy. Though you guys were calling each other by nicknames before; what do I call you?”

“They couldn’t come up with one for me. No one had any ideas.” Tommy grumbled. She took off her mask and slid it into the pocket on the back of the front seat. It startled me a little, but then I realized that it didn’t matter. Even if it wasn’t dark, no one had really seen us with our masks off yet. Maybe if we just kept changing our clothes, no one would ever recognize.

We reached Birmingham three hours later. Nobody followed us, even though there were barely any other cars on the highway. We had gotten away with it.

Andy opened the cooler again, and found that Ryan had frozen sandwiches for us on the layer under the burritos. Sandwiches and juice boxes. I have to remember to thank Ryan for that one.

She passed them around before going for the gas can in the third row. “Okay, where are we going next, kids?”

“I vote somewhere in the Midwest. That’ll throw people off good.” Julio said.

“That’s a good idea!” Tommy said. “We could go to Kansas City, that’s where my auntie lives. That would be a good place to hide.”

“That’s one option. Anyone else have any ideas?”

“We could go to Dallas. That’s far enough that no one might think it’s us too.” Drew said. He’d ripped off the top half of his juice box and was eating it like a slushie.

“Yeah, but that’s a straight drive. We’d be easy to follow.” I said. “Why don’t we go to Kansas City, but stop somewhere else first? Then we could throw people off that way.”

Andy paused. “Your mom once mentioned a safehouse in a town in Kentucky called Bowling Green. That might actually be a really good route to take.”

“So Dallas isn’t going to happen at all?” Drew looked upset.

“We might do Dallas sometime, Goggles. But right now, we need to throw people off. So we’ll head to Bowling Green, maybe sleep for a little bit. Then we’ll head to Kansas City and do some real damage.”

“Fine.” Drew was annoyed.

“What’s your deal, Goggles?” I asked.

“Stop calling me that!” He shouted.

“Do you just want to go by Las Vegas or something?” Oliver asked.

“Las Vegas isn’t anywhere near Dallas, stupid head.” Drew said. He was heading to the car.

Julio almost went after him, but Tommy grabbed his arm. “Let it go, Puppet.”

“No, that’s not cool! Why’d he call Sparrow stupid?”

“Because he wants to go home.” Oliver said. “It’s okay, Puppet. He’ll feel better. Maybe he just has to have more food.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Julio asked.

“I get cranky sometimes if I don’t have lunch and a nap sometimes.” Oliver shrugged.

Julio stopped. “I guess. Sorry, Sparrow.”

“It’s okay. I’ll ask him if he wants my juice box. It’s still frozen. I don’t like it on my teeth.” Oliver went toward the car, passing Andy. She was still filling up the car.

I was amazed to see her still there. “Why didn’t you stop Goggles from saying that?”

Andy smiled and shrugged. “You guys had it handled.”

She capped off the gas can and put it back in the third seat. It looked way lighter than before.

Once we were all in the car again, I asked Andy how we were doing for gas. She replied how I thought she would: “We need to call Ryan soon for a resupply, for sure.”

“Why can’t we stop at a gas station?” Drew asked. He was eating Oliver’s juice box. She was reading next to him, reading happily. I guess they were okay now.

“Because we’re on the run now, Drew. That’s why we have Ryan on standby — he can bring us supplies and stuff so that we don’t have to stop.” Andy pulled onto the main highway.

“Cool. I wonder if he’ll say it’s a special mission or something.” I said. I liked sitting in the front seat. I could talk to Andy way more easily.

“You mean like a kid-fetching mission?”

“Yeah. ‘Cuz you know, I bet Ryan will take over stuff when you’re gone.”

“What do you mean by stuff?” Andy looked wary.

“Like moving the kids to Home. He was already doing that sometimes when we were there. So I guess he would keep doing that when he’s not bringing stuff to us.”

Andy kept her hands on the wheel, but she suddenly looked scared. “That makes sense, I guess.”

“Why?”

“He knows how to be stealthy. He’s quiet. Hopefully they’ll just think he’s one of my assistants. Or they just won’t bother with him. Not if we do something crazy enough to draw their attention away from him.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“The media. The reporters, the people who work for the news.” Andy was driving off a ramp, so she spoke quickly.

When we were back on level highway, she spoke again. “I have an idea. Something to get people’s attention faster”

“What?” I asked. “Are we going to do something before Kansas City.”

“No, we have to make sure we’re not forgotten in Nashville first.” Andy shouted into the back rows of the car. “Does anyone still have their phone from Home?”

“I do!” Tommy said.

“Would you mind if I used it, Tommy? I’ll have to destroy it after, but I think it will help us.”

Help us or help Ryan? I wanted to ask. It wasn’t our job to protect Ryan. He could do it himself. I was angry that Andy wanted to protect him.

But Tommy handed her phone forward to Oliver, who then passed it to Andy. She dialed an information line with one hand.

I recognized the number from when Papa and Dad dialed it in Seattle, but I was shocked she was doing it at all. “My Dad and Papa say it’s not smart to call someone while driving!”

“It’ll just take a minute, Rory. I can’t even stay on the line too long or else they’ll trace the phone back to our location.” Then her tone changed. “Portland Star, please.”

We were all quiet, me and the kids in the back. A few minutes later, Andy said in a higher-than-normal voice, “Can I please speak to Lydia Williams? This is a source of hers.”

“What’s the Portland Star?” Oliver asked.

“It’s a newspaper.” I answered.

“Is a newspaper going to be open this early?” Drew asked.

“My brother’s a reporter. He sometimes went in really early to get the stories that came in later at night, from police and stuff.” Julio said.

A few more minutes of quiet, and from where I was sitting I could hear a faint “Hello?” on the phone.

“Hello, Lydia. It’s me, Andrew. The freaking Reaper, if you please. I just wanted to confirm with you that yes, I am Lady Two’s daughter. I don’t know who my father is. He died in a police shootout before I was born. Yes, he died at the hands of the police. I will confirm that. And yes, that fire in Nashville was the fault of myself and a group of kids known as the Maskheads. I will not be telling you where we’re going next. But we are planning on doing many more acts of hooliganism. If you want to know more, you’ll have to stand by your phone for the next twenty-four hours and wait for my call. I will call, Lydia. You just have to be patient.”

Andy said all of this in one breath. Afterward she flipped the phone shut and put it in her lap. After putting one hand on the steering wheel, she rolled the window down with her opposite hand. With one motion, she chucked the cell phone out onto the highway we were now speeding past.

We were all surprised, and turned to watch the cell phone ricochet off the highway barrier back onto the road. The joiner sprang off almost immediately, and both sides of the phone separated like they were opposing magnets.

The screen of the phone came off equally as fast, and soon crushed by our back tire. The crushing of the cell phone’s body caused a small silvery explosion of parts, so shiny it made Julio exclaim, “Cool!”

I turned back to Andy. “Why did you do that?”

“Lydia’s an old friend. We met a long time ago, before I came to Home. She’s a good person. But more than that, she’s a reporter who researches stories she thinks are good. She’ll know not to let this one get away.”

“’This one’?”

“The one about us. We’re a good story. She already wrote about my mom for the Portland Star, so hearing from me again will probably make her want to know more. The more information we give her, the more articles she’ll write about us.”

“Why do you want to talk to her now, Andy? Won’t she just hear about the fire from someone else?”

Andy paused for a minute. I’d seen that look before, when Papa and Dad were deciding to tell me about going to Home. What did that look mean? Did adults always look like that when they were deciding whether or not to tell kids something?

Andy rolled her eyes, then spoke. “I might as well tell you. If they publish stuff about the Maskheads, they’ll leave Ryan alone. He can probably slip under the radar and keep doing what he’s doing without getting arrested or declared a criminal. The more we can do to prevent that, the happier I’ll be.”

“Why?”

“Why? Rory, I’m scared for Ryan. I want to keep people focused on us. That’s the whole point of this thing anyway.”

I found myself smiling at her, though I didn’t know why. I think it’s because I could tell that she was telling the truth.

This is why I liked Andy, and still do. She was older than me but she’s not a total grown-up. She still talked to me and everyone else like we understood everything. I wanted to stay with her as long as I could.

Andy had moved on, shouting to the backseat: “Okay, so we’ve done something with fire. Who has an idea of what to do next?”

“We need an Explainer Event.” Drew said.

“What’s that, kiddo?” Andy said. She called me that too. I frowned a little, but turned toward the backseat to hear Julio better.

“It’s something I heard on TV once. There was this terrorist group in Europe one time, and every time they did something bad they always left a message saying why they did it. That’s how they tried to get people on their side.”

“That’s a good idea. And it’ll make it so the fire doesn’t look random. Okay, how do we explain it?”

“Go on the news, and tell everyone they took away our library cards!” Drew said. We laughed, but Andy didn’t.

“I’m serious, kids. Why would a group of crazy people want to burn down a library?”

We all thought for a few minutes. I loved my library back home. It was where I could find music and movies from years ago. And Julio loved his too.

“I have an idea.” Oliver said. She said it while her book was still close to her face. It made her voice sound hollow.

“Okay, what is it?” Andy looked back quickly after passing another car.

“I think, um, I don’t always like the library because I couldn’t always read the books.”

“Why not?” I asked. There were books people weren’t allowed to read?

“Daddy told me once that some books were grown-up books. I tried to take one home by putting it in my backpack, but the alarm went off. Then he got really mad at me because I was trying to sneak it. I got a spanking.”

“What book were you trying to take out?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It said it was a kind of cookbook. It was black and gray, I think. But Daddy was really mad that I took it. He said I couldn’t take things from the grown-up section.”

“And he didn’t say why?” Andy asked.

“Nope.” Oliver shook her head, and the beak wiggled.

I was surprised, but also sad. Oliver’s dad actually did give her a whoopin’ when she was bad, I guess. I don’t know, what she did didn’t sound that bad.

“I’m sorry he did that, Oliver.” I said.

Oliver looked up at me. She didn’t say anything, but I could.. I could feel what she was thinking.

Drew saw that.“Me too, Oliver. I’m sorry that happened to you. We should use that as our fake reason for burning down the library — we didn’t get all the books we wanted.”

“You think that’s a good one, kids? Not enough access to books?” Andy asked the car.

Julio shrugged. “How about just, ‘give us books’?”

“Not clear enough.”

“Okay, how about ‘maybe now you’ll give us grown-up books’?” He tried again.

“Ooooh, that’s cool.” Tommy said. “That sounds really wicked!”

“Sure, we can do something like that. We’ll work it out by the time we get there.” Andy was changing lanes again.

“But where do we put it?” I asked. “On the side of a building?”

“It’d have to be a big one.” Andy said. “We want as many people to see it as possible.”

“We need somewhere bigger than a building.” Tommy said.

“How do we get bigger than the side of a building?” I asked.

“Duh. We need a billboard!” Tommy said.

“That would work, Tommy. But I don’t think we could build a billboard ourselves.” Andy said.

“We don’t have to. Just find one that’s under construction, and use the right kind of paint.” Tommy said. “You can just write right on the canvas.”

“How do you know all that?” Julio asked, sounding really impressed.

“My dad was an electrician.” Tommy said. “I used to go with him on jobs sometimes. He used to just climb up poles and fix the lights on billboards. The old kinds of billboards are like big paintings. As long as it’s not a digital screen, then you can totally paint on it.”

“Just with regular paint?” I said.

“Yeah, that’ll work.” Tommy said.

“That might just work.” Andy smiled. “Okay, kids. First to Bowling Green, then off to cause trouble in Kansas City!”

We cheered at that.

It was another long drive to Bowling Green, but it was really cool when we got there. Andy found an old pizza place outside of town, with all the windows blacked out. She drove around to the back, and parked right behind the place. She opened the back door and found a random pantry.

Inside, there was a secret staircase! We all went down, and found the secret apartment below. It was a whole kitchen and living room and everything. It was really cool.

I found out later that while we were all sleeping, Andy called Ryan and told him to meet us in Des Moines, Iowa. That wasn’t too far from Kansas City, and we could stay there long enough to wait for him to bring gas and food.

We woke up naturally. There weren’t any windows in the secret apartment, so we had no idea what time it was. Andy was cooking eggs on the gas stove when we woke up, and told us that it was seven at night.

“Holy cow, we slept that long?!” Julio said.

Andy shrugged. “You guys did a lot today. But this all works out. We can have dinner here, then head to Kansas City.”

“What did Ryan pack us for today?” I asked.

“No idea, this is from the fridge. We’ll have eggs, bacon and French toast. We’ll leave behind whatever Ryan gave us for the next person.”

“But that’s our food!” I said. Ryan had made it special for us. It felt weird to leave it behind.

“Yeah, but the person before us left French toast and eggs.” Tommy said. She was out of her sleeping bag and was going to the kitchen. I remember because she was wearing a super-girly nightgown. That was weird.

“Tommy’s right, Rory. The rules of the road are that you help each other. Now go load up the fridge then we can all have dinner.” Andy flipped the egg in the pan.

I didn’t want to, but she was the boss. The cooler was over by the fridge anyway, so I crawled out of my sleeping bag and headed to it.

Popping it open, I really didn’t want to put the rest of Ryan’s food in the fridge. He’d put in popsicles for us, and what looked like quesadillas wrapped in foil.

I dragged my feet, bringing the popsicles one by one to the freezer. Everyone saw what they were, and started bugging Andy to let us have them. But she wouldn’t let us.

Andy was the boss. We tried to argue with her, but we eventually stopped. Like Dad always said, she was the one cooking the food and we were the ones eating it.

But she did say when dinner was over, “Rory’s going to be doing some of the painting on the next mission, kids. No argument there.”

“Why does he get to do it?” Drew asked.

“Because he put away the popsicles even though he didn’t want to.” Andy said. “You do the hard stuff, you get to do the cool stuff.”

Nobody argued with her. But I could feel it getting weird, so I said, “I don’t have to do it, Andy. If you think someone’s better for it, let them do it.”

“No way, Rory. You didn’t complain, so you get to do it.”

“Okay.” I said.

It was a really weird drive to Kansas City. Again, it was really boring. But everybody seemed mad at me for some reason. I don’t know why. I’d just done what Andy’d said to do. Why was that a bad thing?

I didn’t mess with anyone, though. And by the time we got to Kansas City, everyone was too distracted to care. It was two in the morning. We had to find a billboard. So we were driving around the city, up and down the roads.

“How do we even know if a billboard’s a good one?” Drew asked.

“They’re always in places where people drive past.” Tommy answered. “So just look for somewhere that has a lot of roads.”

“I really don’t like this, kids.” Andy said. “This is way more public than I wanted us to be.”

“You want to keep attention on us, right?” Julio said. “We have to do this now.”

“You’re right, I know you are. I’m just nervous this time. I’m going to keep the car much closer than last time, so we can make an easier getaway. But keep looking, kids. There has to be one nearby.”

“There!” Drew said. “Right by the big water tank!”

He was pointing about five blocks away, behind a few restaurants. It was a big billboard, all right. It had five lights and a bunch of stuff at the bottom part, so it must have been pretty long. More importantly, it was blank.

“That’ll have to do. Good spot, Drew.” Andy pulled in that way.

She parked by a few dumpsters right off the main road. She said we weren’t going to change into our masks outside the car this time. So even though we didn’t really have room to do it, Tommy gave us our masks from the third seat and we pulled them on.

Andy was really scared this time. I still don’t really know why. It was later at night than last time, and we probably didn’t have to deal with cleaning ladies. But she told Tommy to pass her the supply backpack so that she could check it before getting out of the car. She didn’t even want to do that outside. That seemed pretty paranoid.

We finally got out of the car, and I realized how narrow the alley was. The billboard was right there, maybe a couple hundred feet away.

“All right, here we go!” Tommy whispered loudly. She was pumping her arms.

“Quiet, kids. Now are you sure you know how a billboard light works?” Andy asked.

“It’s just inside the billboard. It’s not that hard to turn off.”

“What do you mean inside?” I asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“There’s a space between the two halves of a billboard. All the wiring is in there. I can probably just pull a few and turn off the lights. We could paint them, then I’ll reconnect the wires and turn the light back on.”

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay up there?” Andy said.

“We’ll be okay.” I said. I was trying to not look scared. A billboard had two different halves? Did that mean it could just break apart anytime?

We walked closer to the billboard’s pole. Andy handed me one of the supply backpacks — it looked like a cheap version of our supply bags. But it was all black. I could hear cans rattling around inside. Spray paint.

“Okay. Just be careful. Both of you. Climb slowly, and take your time with the job itself. I’d rather both of you get down here with your necks intact than have the paint look perfect but one of you fall.”

“We’ll be fine, Reaper.” Tommy was exasperated. “I’ve climbed this high a bunch of times before. And we’re wearing backpacks too, so nothing will be in our hands.”

“I know, I just want you two to be careful. You — “ She pointed at me. “ — paint first. I’d rather one person be watching the wires and making sure that’s safe at all times.”

“But that’ll make the job go really slowly.” Tommy whined.

“Better slow than unsafe. Now, are you two ready to go?”

“Yeah!” Tommy said. “Give me the tools, we’re okay.”

Andy sighed, the put the box full of tools in Tommy’s backpack. The zipper closed all the way, despite the amount of stuff going into it.

At this point, we’d reached the billboard. It was really high up. Like way more than I thought it was going to be.

“What are we going to write?” I asked. I was starting to get freaked out now.

“What do you kids want to write?” Andy asked back.

“We need to explain why we burned down the library.” Julio said. “And we should probably say that we’re the Maskheads, so that nobody blames another group instead.”

“How about ‘We burned it because we couldn’t read it’?” Tommy suggested.

“That’s good, but too long. I like something like ‘Our moms couldn’t read to us.’” Drew said.

“Oooh, that’s good.” Tommy said.

“Yeah, but that’s really sad. Why not just, ‘We’re the Maskheads and we want the truth.’”

“Yeah, I like that better.” Drew said. “That might make people ask what the truth is.”

“Yeah, I like it.” Tommy said. “You want to write that, Rory?”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” I said. “But let’s go. I don’t want to wait more.”

“Why, are you scared?” Tommy sounded snarky behind her mask.

“No. I just don’t want to wait up any more. It’s getting cold, and I’m worried about not being able to see going up the pole.”

“There’s nothing to worry about. This one was still being changed out. They left the safety ropes and everything. Come on!” Tommy dashed over to the pole and started to climb up.

I followed her, but a little slower. Of course I was scared to go up there. The pole looked stable enough, but the things we had to grab on to to go up looked super thin. It was like the monkey bars at school, but straight up instead of straight across.

Then there was the actual plank up at the top.

But I didn’t want to think about that yet.

I grabbed on to one of the bars, one was about as tall as me. It was really cold, and my hand went all around it. Tommy was way above me, going up like she was just going up a normal ladder. How was it so easy for her?

My other hand grabbed the metal bar. I wanted to go up. I really did. But I was terrified. I couldn’t make myself go up.

“I’ll catch you if you fall, Rory. I promised your mom you wouldn’t come back with any broken bones.”

I looked to my left, to where the voice was coming from. It was Andy, her skull mask and beanie on.

The supervillain who had gotten me to Home. She was there.

I looked straight up and started to climb. As long as I looked up, I wouldn’t look down. And then I could just go up.

The bars were thin, but they didn’t bend at all when I stepped on them. I could have probably put my arm totally through one and hung off it. But there was no way I was going to do that now.

I reached the top of the ladder and pulled myself onto the platform. I actually ended up behind the billboard and had to walk around on the platform to the front. But there were rails and stuff, and the floor was metal. Maybe Tommy was right. This didn’t seem too bad.

“Okay, I’m cutting the power!” Tommy said. I hadn’t noticed she was between the two halves of the platform.

Right when she said that, the lights on top of the billboard went out.

We were high up, at the top of a pole, with no lights.

“Oh my gosh, we’re gonna fall!” I screamed. I held on to the side railing. It looked like the most solid part of the whole thing.

“We’re not gonna fall! Just hurry up and write the first half so I can do the rest.” Tommy yelled back.

“But I can’t reach the top of the billboard!”

“No duh, Bugsy! Just make them as big as you can, it’ll stand out.”

“I can’t do it! I’m gonna fall off the board!”

“You’re not gonna fall off the platform. Now do it before I push you off myself!”

I swallowed and went to the inner platform. Tommy was in the middle, watching the space between.

Reaching behind me, I unzipped my backpack and pulled out one of the cans I’d put in there. I didn’t want to turn too quickly, and taking off my backpack too quickly seemed too scary. I didn’t want to take off anything heavy. There was some wind, and I didn’t want to be scared of falling off more than I was.

I couldn’t listen to Tommy, even though she kept telling me to hurry up. I wanted to get my part right. But it’s hard to be quick when you’re in a high place and feel every single little wind on you. Plus you’re trying not to look down.

But halfway through “Maskheads,” I couldn’t hear Tommy. But it wasn’t a bad thing. I just wasn’t scared anymore. I was on the platform, and I was doing it.

I finished the comma, then passed the can to Tommy. She nodded, then pointed to the middle section she’d been staring at. “If anything sparks, yell and let me know.”

“Sparks?!”

“Yeah!” Tommy crouched, then starting drawing out letters with the spray can.

I stared at the crack between the two billboard halves. It was just a mess of wires, with two separated ones sticking right out. Those must have been the two had Tommy disconnected.

She was right; it did look easy. If I’d known more about billboards, I probably could have turned the lights on or off in a minute.

A breeze reminded me that I still wasn’t holding onto something. I turned around to grab onto the rail.

There was something coming toward us. Something in the air.

“What’s that?” I called out to Tommy.

“What’s what? Is something going on with the wires?”

I looked back. They were fine. “No, they’re fine. I mean the thing flying in the air.”

Tommy looked back, and her arm started shaking. “Oh my god, Bugsy!”

“What? What is that?”

“That’s a helicopter!”

“What’s that?”

I had never heard of a helicopter before. I don’t know if it was just something I’d never heard of, or I missed it in school or something.

But Tommy stared at me in her hockey mask. She had finished painting was standing up fully. “They’re the news, Bugsy! And they’re coming straight at us!”

As if she had been calling them, a bright light shone on us. And the wind really picked up.

I held onto the railing as hard as I could. The helicopter was so quick! It was like Papa’s plane, but weirdly shaped and way too fast. I saw NEWS written on the side of it, but it turned too quick for me to really look.

It was facing us straight on, blowing a scary breeze toward us. I was holding onto the side rail with both arms. I can’t remember ever being more scared.

But Tommy looked right at the helicopter. She looked right at it, while holding on to the corner of my jacket with one hand. How was she not flying away? Was she heavier than she looked?

Then Tommy did the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

She lifted her mask up halfway, and stuck her tongue out at the helicopter.

As if she’d scared it, the helicopter backed off. The light spread out as it backed up , illuminating the entire billboard.

“Move out of the way of the sign!” Tommy yelled at me. She pulled my jacket so she could get up to the railing herself.

Th wind from the helicopter was going down, but I was still too scared to move. Tommy had to pull me along, holding on to the railing with the other hand. We inched along, never letting go of the railing.

We eventually got to the hole where the ladder down was. Tommy let go of the railing and went down first. The wind was much weaker now that we were behind the billboard. But I couldn’t make myself go down.

“Bugsy, come on!” Tommy yelled.

“I can’t!”

“You have to come!” She was hanging on to the ladder. I could barely hear her over the wind.

“I’m too scared!”

“Come on, we have to get back to the Reaper!”

Andy.

I looked down, even though I didn’t want to. Andy was right at the bottom of the ladder.

The helicopter was too loud for me to hear her, but her eyes were wide enough that she looked like she was screaming. Her hat had blown off, and her hair was coming out of its ponytail.

No one else was around, which is when I got it: Andy had sent them to the car, but she wasn’t leaving without us.

I knew then that I would do whatever Andy asked me to do.

She was my leader.

And I was a Maskhead.

I let go of the railing reached down for the first rung of the ladder. Once Tommy saw that I was coming, she went down the ladder really quickly. I don’t know how fast I was going. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to.

The helicopter kept the light on the billboard for a long time. As I write it down now, I’m realizing that they were probably trying to get a good shot of the whole message. It gave Tommy and me enough time to get down the ladder.

Tommy jumped off the last rung, and Andy caught her. I didn’t hear Andy tell her to do it. I just saw it happen.

When I got to the bottom rung myself, it was too loud for me to hear Andy at all. But she was waving her arms around, so I jumped off.

I don’t know why I wasn’t more scared, but I wasn’t. I saw Andy there, and I just wasn’t afraid to do it. I knew she was going to catch me.

And she did, right when the helicopter’s light turned onto us.

Andy didn’t set me down. She just ran toward the van, holding me. The backpack with the paint cans rattled around. And I could see the helicopter watching us. Watching us and probably getting ready to follow us.

Then something came to me, something Ryan had shown me once when he picked me up at school. He’d gotten in trouble for doing it to another kid. Just one thing with his hand, and he would have to have detention every night for a week. So I asked him to show me what he did.

Looking up at the helicopter in my gas mask, I lifted up my left hand. Just my middle finger.

Andy looked back at me doing it and laughed. She let me down as soon as we were back in the darkness.

Next chapter.