The Water Tower Dare

by J. Schumaker

As long as I can reach it. That thought was foremost in John "Kaz" Kazinski's mind as he eyed the bulbous bowl of the bottom of the water tower high overhead. The moon smiled like the Cheshire Cat, peeking through the dark storm clouds blanketing the night sky. Kaz pulled his green knit skull cap, with the Green Lantern insignia patch in the front, tighter over his ears and licked his chapped lips. A stiff breeze cut through his bulky gray peacoat. He'd inherited the coat from his grandfather, complete with the smell of stale cigarette smoke. His grandpa would be calling him an idiot for what he was about to do. But grandpa didn't have his best friends waiting to see if he was too chicken to complete the dare.

Kaz had left his bicycle leaning against the tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the water tower. The fence was meant to be a deterrent, but delinquents had clipped a line of links by one of the corner poles allowing people to slip in and out without the authorities noticing. The water tower was painted as often as the graffiti went on it, usually painted by those same delinquents doing community service. It was currently pristine with only the town's name, Cherryville, emblazoned on it.

"Let's do this," Kaz said to himself, as he adjusted his messenger bag across his chest. His black gloved hands gripped at the cold steel girder as he monkeyed up the cement base. Standing on top of it, he was just tall enough to reach the lowest rung of the ladder stretching to the sky, if he jumped.

On the fourth try, Kaz managed to grasp the rung. Thanks to his younger sisters and endless forays to the playground jungle gym, Kaz was able to pull himself up fully onto the ladder.

The wind buffeted Kaz as he began climbing, as if trying to stop his ascent. But long ago a safety cage had been installed, so he felt he was safe. The climb seemed to take forever, but also was over in an instant. When he reached the top, he stood at the rail circling the water tower and, with a sense of satisfaction, looked out over the town.

Cherryville was small, and Kaz could see the entire extent of it from where he stood. It was awesome. Street lamps and house lights lit up the streets. Headlights from a few cars gave the impression of moving ghostlights. The peaked roofs of houses and flat box roofs from stores lined up in a perfect grid pattern, as if Cherryville was designed on graph paper. Kaz could almost make out the numerous balls and Frisbees lost on his own rooftop. The abandoned rail yard at the edge of town, where he and his friends liked to hang out even though they weren't supposed to, looked spooky at night from above. Someone had tagged a huge yellow smiley face on the roof of the Junior-Senior High School. The ice cream cone on top of the Tastee Freeze appeared the right size to eat. Kaz couldn't wait for it to be summer.

The wind slapped Kaz's cheeks, reminding him that he was up on the water tower for a reason. He turned his back to the town and studied the expanse of white paint curving around the tower. He'd been dared to tag it two days after it had been freshly painted. It almost seemed a shame to do it - the water tower looked so clean.

Kaz glanced over his shoulder and down, checking for the cops and debating whether he should go home. A car drove down the street behind Little Carl's Pizza, where Mickey Hanson had given Kaz his first kiss. The memory made his face heat.

Being humiliated in front of Mickey for not completing the dare had Kaz opening his messenger bag and retrieving one of several cans of black spray paint. He shook the can. He was originally going to tag the Green Lantern symbol on the water tower, but now he had a different idea in mind.

Kaz took his time, getting the lettering perfect to match up with the Cherryville town name painted on the side of the water tower. By the time he was done, he'd used nearly all of his spray cans and false dawn colored everything pale gray. The storm clouds continued their trek across the sky, threatening rain. Kaz hoped it would hold off until the paint dried.

Kaz gathered the empty cans, stuffed them in his messenger bag, and descended the ladder. The wind gave him a break, as if approving of what he'd tagged. He dropped to the cement base and jumped to the dead grass. He hurriedly slipped through the chain link fence, snagged his bike, and pedaled swiftly for home.

The rush of what he'd done kept him awake the last few hours before his alarm went off. He'd disposed of the empty spray cans in the neighbor's trash and had gotten the paint off his hands using the turpentine his dad kept in the garage. His parents and his sisters hadn't woken up when he'd come in, which meant he'd gotten away with tagging the water tower without anyone knowing.

Kaz rode his high all the way to school. Everyone was talking about the new graffiti on the water tower on the bus and at their lockers in the school hallway. He'd even heard a few teachers talking about it, and someone mentioned it was going to be in the newspaper the next day. Kaz smiled widely as he strutted into homeroom. Sam Renny, one of Kaz's best friends, slapped him on the shoulder with a grin. "You did it," Sam said.

"Yep," Kaz said, as he slid into his seat. "Told you I wasn't chicken."

Sam laughed, the bell rang, and homeroom got underway.

Kaz's tag stayed on the water tower for more than a week before delinquents spray-painted over it with swear words. The community service kids painted the water tower white again that weekend. But Kaz still had the picture he'd cut out of the local newspaper pinned to his bulletin board in his room at home. The picture showed his tag beneath the town's name with pride.

Cherryville. This Town Is Awesome.