I started putting on the gas mask once I made sure nobody could see or hear us. The nearby construction and complaining drivers made whispering difficult. The gas mask muffled my voice even worse.
“Okay, I want someone on the south side of Wazee street, someone north on market street, south Lawrence, north Curtis, and someone up front on kind of by the paramount theatre but still on the sidewalk for the finale, you know?” I explained while I adjusted it. I circled the points of the 16th street mall map I printed to make sure they knew where they were. The group took the tiny map and argued over who would stand where, saying who would be dumb enough to get it wrong.
“Calm down guys,” I shouted, “can we just get this stupid thing done and over with before someone sees us? Cops are on every block corner here you know.”
“Not down this far dude.” One of my friends said, “This where the park goers usually hang with their dogs. I mean, come on; there’s a book store not too far from here, you really think people will cause trouble this far down?”
“One, the book store doesn’t indicate jack. If it does, then why would you need police patrolling around Barnes and Noble? Anyway, get into position and everyone text me when you are, no sooner and no later. Make sure you’re able to do what you need to do too. Don’t look suspicious; I want this as clean as possible.”
“Hey, when you done with that can I have it? I wanna make it into an Annihilator.” another said.
“Just go,” I said, “the faster we get this done, the sooner you can get it to make your stupid bong.”
They all left me to get on the shuttles. I checked my shoe laces and jean cuffs for untied knots and unrolling. I zipped up my black hoodie and tucked in my shirt and was ready. I shoved my hands into my jean pockets and waited. One hand held the information on my sociology class’ deviation experiment and my cell phone in the other, ready to check.
I was nervous. I couldn’t keep from wanting to back out, but I knew I couldn’t. Worries of something going on went through my head. I worried about someone noticing or one of my buddies messing up before we started. I checked my phone when I’d get ahold of reality.
It felt like time had stopped. The ten minutes it took them to set up felt like the whole day. The last guy’s text of approval to start eventually came.
“Please don’t screw this up, nobody.” I said to myself. I sent the group text that I had started.
I stepped out of the alleyway and onto 16th street and started running. I there weren’t too many rowdy people yet; mostly dog walkers and middle-class folks like it always is the first few blocks. I shuffled between people, shoving some out of the way. I kept my pace as even as I could to keep from wearing myself out for the rest.
I hit the first stop light and kicked in my best acting. I looked both ways in a panic for cars. I ran anyway with a few cars heading anyway. My eyes, lungs, throat and sides started burning half-way through. As much as I didn’t want to, I started running more normally for the added effect of panic. I wished for water, but I knew being prepared would ruin the façade and kept going. I made it to Stout where people were running too, but to catch the trains. I stumbled a few times because of this, but everyone seemed used to it.
A north-bound train was crossing when I reached California and I had no choice but to stop. As curious as I was to look around and see what reactions I was getting from my deviation experiment, I had to keep the acting going. I ran up right in front of the moving train and waited. I almost froze as I listened to cars pass and miss me by inches. I continued running once the train had passed. My friend stood up front with the HD video camera.
I began to slow down and eventually stopped a few feet away from him. I made no contact with the camera or my friend as though they weren’t there. I took off the mask and turned around as if I had no idea what was happening. A group of people stood behind me, confused. They looked at each other and at me, mumbling quietly or gesturing. I preceded the end of my experiment to calmly walk back as if nothing happened. The crowd stayed where they had stopped and talked to each other. I could hear a few laughs from people who had probably figured it out.
A friend with his cell phone came up to me with a bottle of water I happily drank down.
“Man that was awesome.” He said, “I’m puttin’ this up on the internet. I’ll be as famous as you.”
“I didn’t do this for fame. Attention; yes. Reactions; yes.”
A stern voice shouted our way and stopped us where we stood. I turned around to see a pair of police officers that hung around the street mall all day, every day. My blood chilled and my heart skipped a beat. They stopped in front of me, ready to start writing up reports.
“What did you think you were doing?” one asked.
I sighed and put my hands behind my head. My friends fallowed once they hit send to publish the video on the internet.
“This is why I told you guys to record this,” I said to my friends, “turn in the videos if I don’t get released on time.”