The feature image for this story was illustrated by the author, Alicia Hurtado.
The police found old Miss Paisley’s bones in the basement. My mom said, “The residents must have thought she was one of the Halloween decorations stored down there.” Then she hid her face with her hands and wailed just like the police siren.
Miss Paisley lived on the ground floor, and she never smiled. Her room was dark and smelled like moldy blankets, but she let me play with her troll doll collection and gave me melty lemon candies, plus also Miss Paisley wouldn’t listen when I talked. Nobody listens to me, not even my mom. Well, except Mr. McClane. He listens.
I used to have a different best friend. Edie lived in Unit Five. She was very old, and her eyelids were sky blue. The blue crumbled off when she smiled, and her condo was full of art from all over the world, and her walking stick had a golden badger on top named “Reginald.”
Edie listened to me. When me and my mom had a fight, Edie listened. When I got in trouble at school, Edie listened. When I did something bad, Edie didn’t scold me. She always said, “Nobody should ever have to feel lonely.”
Last year, Edie ate a whole bottle of pills and died in her sleep. She left me alone. When my mom told me Edie did that, I threw my glass music box across the room, and then my mom screamed at me, and she raised her hand, but she didn’t hit me. When we stopped crying, she braided my hair and said, “Edie was a very lonely old lady, and now she’s with her husband. She’ll never feel lonely again.”
Me and my mom live all the way up on the fifth floor. She’s the superintendent, plus also she works in a warehouse. Her jobs are important, so she doesn’t have time to play with me. She has time for the residents, but not for me.
Now that I’m a big girl—eight years old!—I help out when my mom goes to her other job. I like helping. I even have my own ring of keys in case of an emergency, but I never get to use it, because our residents always let me in. My job is to make sure nobody’s lonely. My mom says it’s the most important job, even more important than fixing the leak that rains on Mr. Anderson’s piano bench when I take a bath.
Mr. Valentine and Mr. Dobson say our building used to be full of kids, but now it’s all sad old people with no friends, so I have a very busy schedule. First, I visit Miss Rita. She has too many birds, but we won’t tell on her, because she takes good care of them. Miss Rita doesn’t let me hold the baby birds anymore. Then I visit grumpy Mr. Anderson and listen to him play piano. I’m not allowed to touch the piano. Next, I let Mr. Valentine and Mr. Dobson show me old newspapers. History is boring, but Mr. Valentine and Mr. Dobson are nice, so I pretend to be interested. Usually, I’d visit Miss Paisley next, but not anymore, and last is Mr. McClane.
The first time I saw Mr. McClane, he really scared me, but now he’s my friend. He never says, “Not now, dear,” and he asks me lots of questions. I met him in the basement, where he lives. My mom was doing laundry, and I was bouncing my glow-in-the-dark bouncy ball off the dryer, making a racket. My mom didn’t turn around to scold me, so I threw my ball extra hard and it bounced off the wall and rolled under our giant, rusty boiler.
The boiler is as big as a school bus with tentacles. The pipes look like tentacles. I’m scared of the whistling, clunking, thunking noises it makes in the winter, but I’m not scared of it in the summer, so I wiggled on my elbows and knees through a square hole in the metal.
It was dark in the tunnel. Darker and darker the more I crawled. The ground was cold and dusty, and a little green circle glowed a few feet away. My bouncy ball! I wiggled towards it. My mom wouldn’t like the soot on my clothes. Good. Then I saw three glow-in-the-dark circles. Two of them blinked, and I hit my head on the ceiling of the tunnel.
“Don’t be scared,” said a scratchy whisper. “I just want to give you back your toy.”
A skinny, yellow hand reached out of the dark holding my bouncy ball. His fingers were too long, and he didn’t have fingernails. Sharp bone poked out instead.
“Who are you?” He asked. I was too scared to talk or move. There was a crackling noise, and then he stuck his head out of the shadows and said, “I’m Mr. McClane.”