“Hey, wait for me,” Georgie yelled, running after Willis.
“Well, hurry up then,” Willis said, running down the steps, then across the lobby to the breakroom. Their footsteps echoed through the vaulted ceiling as if they were doing wind sprints in the school gym.
They came to a stop when they entered the stuffy room and found the vintage cigarette machine against the wall behind the door; looking similar to a snack vending machine, except that it was shorter. The blue front panel had a picture of a brown camel with the slogan, PLEASURE TO BURN next to it. Pull knobs stuck out below pictures of various brands of cigarettes. Georgie stood next to Willis as they contemplated how they were going to get cigarettes out of the ancient contraption.
“It stinks like sweat in here,” Georgie said, pulling the neck of his T-shirt over his nose.
“Max is right, we’ll have to break into it,” Willis said, noticing the tape covered coin slot. He began pulling on some of the knobs, hoping a pack of cigarettes would magically drop into the shoot below, but none did. “There’s only a few packs of cigarettes left in this thing.”
“How do we break into it?” Georgie asked, his voice muffled through the shirt being used as an air filter.
Willis looked the machine over, walking from side-to-side. “Here, help me pull it out.”
Georgie released his shirt and helped Willis pull the four-legged apparatus away from the wall. Cobwebs and dead spiders were pulled away from the painted drywall behind it.
“Damn it,” Willis said, looking over the enclosed back. “There’s no way into this thing without some tools or a key. Help me tip it over.”
“Can’t we just press A2 and EET and reach in and get the stuff?” Georgie asked as if he was a skilled thief.
“That won’t work with this,” Willis said, brushing away a cobweb that had stuck to his jeans. “But you can try to get into it if you want.”
Georgie pulled a quarter from his pants pocket, pulled the tape away from the slot, and dropped it into the opening. The coin clinked as it fell inside as if it was ricocheting through an internal pinball machine. He pulled knobs and banged his fist on the transparent plastic panel. “It’s not working.”
Willis slid a chair from the small table to the front of the machine, then they each took a side and tipped it forward so that the face rested on the seat. Willis unplugged it and kicked at it a few times before a pack of Camel’s fell to the face.
“Put your hand in there and see if you can grab anything,” Willis said to Georgie.
Georgie took his jacket off and reached in through the bottom lip. He was able to bend his arm enough for his fingers to jar two packs of cigarettes loose; they fell into the shoot. Willis took them and put them in the pocket of his sweatshirt.
Georgie pulled out his arm; the skin was red from scraping the sharp metal inside the mechanical slots. “I hope you’re not going to smoke those,” Georgie said, putting on his jacket. “Your lungs will turn black and rot.”
“Do you think I’m stupid, or what?”
Before Georgie could reply whether he thought Willis was stupid or what, they heard a banging on the main door of the observatory, like someone was hitting it with a metal bat. Willis and Georgie froze momentarily from the loud echoes, each looking at the other’s startled expressions. Willis walked to the breakroom entrance so that he could see the front door.
“What are you doing?” Georgie whispered, staying close behind Willis.
“I want to see who it is,” Willis said, slowly poking his head through the opening of the breakroom door, looking toward the main entrance. “Oh shit, those spiders are trying to break in.”