They crouched in the ditch when a car came over the hill, covering their faces from being exposed in the headlights. The flash of light and the sound of the roaring engine shook the earth as the car ripped past them at 70 miles per hour.
“They saw us,” Davon said. “There’s no way they didn’t.”
He stood up and watched the car vanish into the distance until all was black again. The boys waited a moment in the stillness.
“Nobody saw,” said Michael, dusting himself off. “If you’re going to be like this the whole time then you don’t have to come.”
Michael slapped Davon’s back to give him courage. He stepped onto the asphalt and felt the heat of summer rising off it. The boys sprinted across the road and slid to a stop at the chain link fence on the other side.
“Hurry,” Davon said. “I got a feeling they’re coming back.”
Michael hunted for the opening in the fence, no doubt cut open by some enterprising boys long ago. The presence of the opening made him question whether the mission was all that dangerous. If the warehouse did indeed house something truly remarkable, someone would have come along and fixed the fence by now.
“Here it is,” Michael said. “Quick, you first.”
He peeled back the fence while Davon wiggled through, then followed behind.
They sprinted across the field towards Warehouse B.
It all started a few months back when Michael heard that the line of Warehouses off county road 491 were used by the military to house weapons. With them being so close to his house, he saw the gray, unmarked buildings every day and began to notice details he hadn’t before. Trucks made deliveries, but the schedule was sporadic. Weeks or even months might pass between any activity. He never saw anyone in uniform. No security. No staff. The truckers stayed for an hour at most and were gone, often met by the same rigid woman wearing a lanyard and badge. She wore a full face-covering and pointed to which warehouse the truckers should go. They drove around back to unload, out of sight from the road.
The boys pressed against Warehouse B.
“Do you hear that?” Davon asked.
Michael listened and heard a repetitive clicking.
“I don’t know. Some kind of machine,” he said. “Come on.”
They moved around to the back of the building until they came to a set of steel doors. Michael reached for the handle and found it unlocked. He nodded at Davon. They slipped inside and Michael quietly closed the door until he heard it click. If they got caught, the plan was to say the whole thing was to fulfill a dare given by their friends at school. Michael memorized the speech. “It’s kind of embarrassing, officer. We play this dare game with friends, and well, I didn’t want to look like a coward. We were just supposed to touch the outside of the building but like an idiot I checked the door and it was unlocked.” He could go on and on from there. By making it part of a game, the police wouldn’t suspect anything nefarious. The truth was far riskier; two boys wanted to satisfy their curiosities and go on an adventure to do so. An officer would be far less likely to show sympathy for that story, because the impetus came from within rather than from some external voice.
Once inside, Michael turned to see the towering silhouette of a man on a horse, staring down at them. Davon pulled his jacket from behind.
Michael managed to lift his flashlight and saw the man and horse were made of . . . stone.
Or maybe bronze. The boys paused their scramble and stood straight.
“What the hell is it?” Davon asked, slowly walking back to where Michael stood.
They approached the horse and rider and Michael ran his hands down the smooth side of the horse’s neck.
“Look,” Davon said. “The whole place.”
Michael spread the light across the vast room and saw hundreds of statues, maybe thousands. Somewhere in the distance the clicking noise continued, but the place was empty. Now he understood why it was so rare to see anyone here. Even if someone wanted to do so, these damn things were too big to steal.
“Who are these people?” Davon asked.
“It must be storage for a museum or something.”
“Way out here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look at the plates.”
Michael looked down at an inscription at the foot of a man who looked like he came from the 1700s.
Neither recognized the name. The boys moved amongst the towering figures. Each of them displayed something powerful that drew Michael into them. He didn’t know the stories or what they had done to deserve to be cast in eternity, but seeing those faces with a sword pointed ahead at the horizon awakened the desire for greatness in himself.
All these people were dead. But they had lived for something. They’d given themselves to it. Michael flashed the light on the inscriptions beneath the statues, if one existed.
“I think I’ve heard of that one,” Michael said. “Washington. My dad talked about him. He said he was the first president.”
“Lincoln was the first president.”
“This was before him. Like a hundred years, he said.”
“I thought . . .”
“Look. His face.”
Michael shined the light up to reveal that Washington’s face had been chipped off and smoothed down. Where the nose and eyes had been was now flat, like something out of a nightmare. As they walked through the statues, none of them had faces. All had been disfigured or smoothed into a flat surface. Some had not been smoothed but smashed out of rage, maybe blasted with a shotgun, maybe crushed with a sledgehammer. The older the statue, the more defaced it had been.
“They must be fixing them,” Michael said. “I bet they bring them here to give them a new face, then send them back out.”
“They’ll never get to all of them. There must be hundreds. What’s the point, now.”
They heard the clicking, louder now. The west wall of the warehouse had offices, but all the windows were dark. Except one.
“Look . . .” Davon pointed to a faint light in one of the windows. “Someone’s here.”
Michael motioned for Davon to stay quiet. He turned off the flashlight. The boys crept towards the door to get a look through the window. They bent low to avoid being seen, then slowly rose until their eyes came up even to the glass. Inside, they saw someone working on a statue. It was Martin Luther King. Michael knew about him from school. The person stood on a ladder and took a chisel from their pocket. They started hammering one of the ears of the statue, first chiseling down the side of his head until the ear separated. The bronze piece fell to the floor with a clang.
It was the woman Michael had seen directing trucks. He recognized the facemask she wore. Her eyes held something dark in them. He had seen it before, but never so close. She wasn’t fixing the statues, she was destroying them. She’d given her life to it. But the eyes. In them was the fixation on destroying all that had come before she existed – not to build something new, but to crush everything around her for the sake of crushing it.
She wanted to dictate what the world was allowed to remember. She wanted to be the one who gave permission on how they must remember.
“We have to stop her,” Michael whispered.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Davon said. “Come on.”
“Wait. Be still.”
The woman climbed down the ladder to retrieve the ear and bent down to grab King’s ear off the floor. She stood and examined it, then slowly removed her own mask. Her eyes shot to the window and met those of the boys.
She had no face, either.
There was nothing there.