Once again it’s a privilege to post a story written by my 12-year-old granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. She makes me proud every single day.
Part 1 – Selected
There’s an abandoned building up on Bison Street. I know because I pass it every day on my way to school. I know because the Clean-Up Team at my school is hosting a fundraiser to fix it up. But there is something strange about that building.
“HENRY!” my friend Carlos shouts. I snap out of my daydream. “You’re standing when Principal Miron has told everyone to sit down!
I turned red and sat down. The principal began her announcement:
“Thank you, Carlos, for that loud clarification on your part” she laughed. “Well, good afternoon, students. Before you’re dismissed for the day I just want to say … WE DID IT! Starting next week every day after school a select group of students will start cleaning up the building on Bison Street! Special thanks to the school’s Clean-Up Team! That is all, students. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you all on Monday.”
I walked home with multiple thoughts filling my head: Am I part of the selected group? Why next week? HOW THE HECK DID THE SCHOOL GET ENOUGH MONEY?!
I opened the door to my mother’s restaurant. “Hola, Mama.”
“Hola, Henrita. I am a little busy with work right now. Can you grab an apron and help Marko and Linda with serving the customers for about three hours?” she asked.
I sighed “Sure, Mama.” I guess I’ll tell her about cleaning up the building when she’s not so busy.
I was lying on my bed. Mama’s restaurant didn’t close until 9:00 PM and I was feeling a little depressed. Before he died, my dad and I would always binge-watch our favorite TV show, “Detectives at Middle School”. It was a show about twins who would deal with mysteries, middle school life and parent drama. Mama promised that I could stay up late on Friday nights so we could watch the show together and keep the tradition going but lately she’d been forgetting our deal and I really can’t blame her.
The restaurant has been twice as busy with dad gone and everything. I enjoyed helping sometimes; other times I didn’t. My mom’s new boyfriend Jonathan works as one of the staff and I don’t really like him that much. He calls me “Henry”; everyone else calls me by my real name – “Henrita”– even my mom. Henry was my dad’s name and he gave me the nickname “Pequeño Henry” which means “Little Henry”. He said I’d always be his little girl no matter how big I got. I only let my friends Carlos and Sasha call me “Henry”.
Suddenly I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My BFF Sasha came in with some muffins. “Hi H” she said as she gave me a chocolate muffin, my favorite.
“Hey, Sashay” I said, reaching for a muffin.
“You thinking about your dad again? I’m sorry, Henry. I know how much you loved him.” Sasha knew me really well; it’s almost like she could see the thoughts in my eyes.
“Thanks for checking on me, Sasha. Did my mom fall asleep again?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah, she did, but we can watch “Detectives at Middle School” together if you’d like.”
I smiled. “Sure. Let’s sneak downstairs to the restaurant and grab some snacks!” We stuffed our pockets with popcorn, cookies and sodas, then hurried back to my room as we heard Mama making noises like she was waking up.
“That was close!” Sasha said and I giggled. “As Mama likes to say: ‘Fisgones van a fisgonear’ (‘Snoopers gonna snoop!’). We both laughed as I turned on the TV and we began to watch the show.
Sasha must have woken up before me because when I woke up there was a sticky note on my forehead that read: “Went home. Left you something sweet on your desk!” On my desk was a box of leftover muffins plus a new batch of chocolate muffins. That’s my BFF!
I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I turned on the TV, sat on the couch and began to eat my cereal. Then my mother came down all dressed up.
“Mama, you look nice! Where are you going all dressed up like that?” I asked with a mouthful of cereal.
“Johnathan is taking me out for breakfast, Henrita, and you’re coming with us.”
I nearly choked on my cereal. “Huh?!”
“You heard me, Henrita. Now go get dressed.”
I didn’t want to go to breakfast but what Mama says goes; it would take at least a million dollars to get her to change her mind. I put on black sweatpants, a grey T-shirt and a black hoodie, pulling the hood over my dark brown hair. When I came downstairs Mama said “Honey, we’re going to a fancy brunch place. I wish you’d wear something nicer.”
I wanted to say “I really don’t care or want to go anyway” but instead all I said was “Well, at least I brushed my hair.” Mama sighed and we got in the car. On the way to breakfast I saw the abandoned building.
“Hey, Mama. Do you believe in ghosts?”
Mama laughed “What has gotten into you?? Of course I don’t believe in ghosts!”
When we got to the restaurant Mama sat down next to Jonathan and I sat across from them. “So, Henry, how’s school?” asked Jonathan.
“Fine. And my name is Henrita.”
Mama gave me a stare like daggers. Changing the subject, Mama explained to Jonathan “The school Clean-Up Team and some other students are going to clean up that old building down the street. I hope Henrita participates.” I rolled my eyes and put my head on the table. “Henrita! Sit up!” Mama scolded. I exhaled loudly and sat up straight.
The waiter came and asked us what we wanted to have for breakfast. I said “I’d like a way out of this place!” Mama glared at me. “Sorry. I’ll just have a bagel with cream cheese.” When the waiter was finished taking our orders I pulled out my phone and texted Carlos and Sasha on our group chat.
“I’M STUCK AT BRUNCH WITH MY MOM AND HER BOYFRIELD!” 😦 – HENRY
“YIKES, HENRY! I GOT SOCCER PRACTICE. GOOD LUCK!” – CARLOS
“JUST HANG IN THERE, GIRLFRIEND!” – SASHA
“Henry! This is the third time your mother has spoken to you!” Jonathan said angrily.
“Huh? About what?” Why does he insist on calling me “Henry?”
“No phones at the table.”
I put my phone in my pocket. “Happy now?”
I got grounded. Yep. Grounded. Mama said that Jonathan did nothing wrong and wouldn’t listen to anything I said. She said that my father would have done the same thing. That made me really angry and I yelled “If we were having breakfast with dad I never would have needed to text my friends. I was angry and dad never made me angry! I’m sorry, Mama, but I don’t like your boyfriend and I never will! Please don’t compare him to dad!”
Mama looked very sad and I felt terrible but I couldn’t take back what I said. Now I’m sitting here on my bed feeling sorry about everything and stuffing my face with one of Sasha’s muffins. Thankfully Mama said I was only grounded for today.
Carlos, Sasha and I usually have our video game tournaments on Sundays. I’m not a video game addict; however, Carlos is. All he ever does is play soccer and games. I’m not judging him; I’m just saying he’s the gamer of the group. Sasha has skills but prefers to draw and bake. Then there’s me; Sasha usually wins whenever she and I play ‘cause I absolutely SUCK at video games. I’ve got zero coordination. I always lose. I won a dance video game but only because I took dance classes from age 4 until I turned 12.
And suddenly there it was. BAM!! My mom burst into my room with my phone. “Your BFF and boyfriend won’t stop texting you!”
“I’m confused. Oh, do you mean my two best friends?” I replied sarcastically.
She just says “Oh, right. Well, I don’t know how to make it shut up! And I don’t like the way you talk about Jonathan!”
I want to get one thing straight: Carlos is NOT my boyfriend. Sasha, Carlos and I have been friends since forever. Anything else is just weird. Mama is always asking things like did I meet a boy? Or do I have a boyfriend yet? I think Mama wants me to have a boyfriend for some reason but what do I know? I picked up my phone and looked at our group chat:
“HENRY!!! THEY PICKED WHO’S GOING TO HELP CLEAN UP THE BUILDING!” – CARLOS
“REALLY? I HOPE IT’S NOT ME!” – SASHA
“WHY’S THAT?” – CARLOS
“I’M ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH AS IT IS. YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW, CARLOS!” – SASHA
“DO YOU KNOW WHO’S ON THE LIST?” – HENRY
“NOPE. THEY JUST SENT AN EMAIL.’ – CARLOS
“THEY’LL PROBABY ANNOUNCE IT MONDAY AT SCHOOL.” – SASHA
“IF I’M ON IT, IT’LL GIVE ME A REASON TO STOP BEING THE THIRD WHEEL ON MY MOM’S DATES!” – HENRY
Monday morning started with an announcement by Principal Miron:
“Good morning students. The school board and I have selected the students for the Clean-Up Team … and they are Marcus Con, Jackie Kale, Martha Steward, Alex Tetry and Henrita Cruz. The Clean-Up Team has volunteered to work Mondays-Wednesdays. The selected students will work Wednesdays-Fridays. Congratulations! That is all for now. Have a great day!”
It’s official; I’m spending half the week cleaning up an abandoned building. I hope it’s not too bad. I mean, everyone is bugging me about getting out of the house so that’s taken care of. But still, why me? Is it a punishment? Did I do something wrong? I’m confused.
As I’m walking to math class, Sasha and Carlos appear by my side. “I’m convinced it was a random pick. All three of us had a chance” Sasha said.
“Yo, Henry. You find any ghosts, call us before you become one” Carlos laughed. Sasha lightly punched him; “Don’t joke like that, dude!”
The first days of the project were just the basic safety rules: don’t go to the top floor without an adult to supervise you; wear a helmet and goggles. Little things.
“Henrita, are you ready to go?” Mama called from downstairs. SHOOT! I forgot about lunch with Mama and her boyfriend.
I marched downstairs in jeggings and a grey T-shirt with a lightning bolt on it. My dark brown hair swayed side-to-side as I walked down the stairs.
Right away Mama was on my case: “Henrita, we’re going to Jacques Van Goldam for lunch. They won’t let you dress like that.”
“I’m counting on that. Besides, I’m going to the abandoned building – not to lunch.”
“Henrita, it’s a Saturday. That’s a day off from clean-up.”
“Extra credit, Mama. And there will be adult supervision.”
“Alright, Honeycomb. Just stay safe.” Mama kissed my head and smiled but I could tell she was disappointed.
Now what I said wasn’t exactly true; I was going to the abandoned building but I was going alone and it wasn’t for extra credit.
I grabbed my phone, put it in my bag and left. I was walking on Bison Street when I spotted the building. I’ll admit, it looked better than it did last week but when I walked inside it looked exactly the same as when I left on Friday. After I explored the first three floors, I decided to do what no one else had yet done. I was going to the fourth floor. The only way to get there was from a circular staircase. I knew it would be tiring but I was going to do it.
The fourth floor looked just like the rest of the building – dark, dusty, abandoned. I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight, shining it around the room. And then I heard it. A thump, like someone knocked something over. I looked everywhere with my flashlight. At first I didn’t see anything. And then I did.
I saw her
Part 2 – Construction
“Hello” I said.
The girl responded with “Hello”.
“Are you a ghost?”
“No. Ghosts are somewhere else.”
“So, who are you?”
The girl giggled. “I’m Scarlet. And I live here.”
I was shocked by her answer. “You live here? I thought this building was abandoned.”
Scarlet smiled. “Technically it is, but my mother, brother and I used to live here.”
“What happened to them?” I asked.
Scarlet looked heartbroken. “There was a shooting. I was at a sleepover. Whoever did it left no survivors.”
“I’m so sorry!”
She put on a fake smile. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
It’s been a month now and every day Scarlet and I have talked. I brought her food and clean clothes. One Sunday Scarlet and I were playing a game of ‘truth or dare’.
“Alright, truth or dare?” Scarlet asked me.
“Truth” I responded.
“Ugh, fine. Lame-o!” Scarlet joked.“Why did your family come to California?”
“Well, I used to live in the Caribbean but after my dad died in a car crash my Mama said it was best if we moved here” I explained. “Your turn; truth or dare?”
Scarlet seemed confident. “Dare.”
“I dare you to do a handstand!”
Scarlet groaned. “Aw, come on!” She sighed and attempted to do a handstand but she fell backwards and we both burst out laughing. “Truth or dare, Henry?”
To Scarlet’s surprise I said “Dare.”
Finally! I dare you to prank call someone.”
I smiled and pulled out my cell phone, dialing Carlos’ number.
“Yes, your pizza order is outside on your doorstep. Twelve large pepperoni pies, four salads and three brownies –all for a cost of only $19.99.”
“Henry, are you ok?”
I hung up and put my phone down. “There you go!”
Carlos was left scratching his head wondering what was up with Henry and that strange call. He called Sasha right away and between the two of then they figured out that Henry was probably in the building. After all, it was a Sunday and she wasn’t at home or with them so where else could she be and what was she up to? The two friends were concerned about Henry but knew she could take care of herself. And if she WAS in any danger they knew she’d call back.
MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE BUILDING
“You can’t do this!” shouted Mr. Al.
“I’m sorry, sir, but this is our only choice” responded Matthew, a construction foreman.
“We’ll see about that!” Mr. Al dialed a number on his phone. “Diana, I need you at the building ASAP. There are people here.”
Five minutes later Ms. Miron pulled up in one vehicle and two police officers in another. “What’s going on, Al? asked Ms. Miron.
Mr. Al explained “These people want to demolish the building!”
One of the officers spoke up. “I’m Officer Jonane and this is Officer Benjamin. We heard that Middletown High School is renovating this old building.”
Ms. Miron took a deep breath. “Yes, that’s correct. We are.”
Officer Benjamin asked “Do you have all the official paperwork? Our scans say that you don’t and you just went ahead and began cleaning the building on your own without permission.”
Ms. Miron and Mr. Al became flustered, neither one knowing what to say.
“I think we have our answer” Officer Jonane spoke up. “We don’t need any more excuses. There are no students in the building. Is that right?”
Mr. Al replied “No. It’s a Sunday. The building is empty.”
“Good. The building will be destroyed in just a few minutes. Everybody clear the area!” And with that the officers walked back to Matthew and the rest of the workers.
MEANWHILE, BACK INSIDE THE BUILDING
Scarlet and I were sitting next to each other talking about our lives. “I guess we have a lot in common” Scarlet said.
“Yeah, I guess we do.”
“What was that?” Scarlet asked, panicked. I got up to look out the window.
“They’re demolishing the building! I shouted.
Scarlet looked at the door leading to the staircase. “We need to get out!”
We ran to the door. Scarlet and I struggled to open it and finally managed to do so. We ran down the stairs as quickly as we could. Scarlet made it to the second floor but the building was coming down leaving me on the third floor. I could hear Scarlet shouting my name, just barely. I looked up and saw the ceiling cracking. My life flashed before my eyes and then everything went black.
I awoke in the hospital with my mother sitting next to me. “Mama?”
She gasped and looked up. “Honey, your awake! Jonathan and I have been so worried about you.”
I didn’t really care about Jonathan.
“How long was I out?” I asked.
One week, Henrita. One week!” Mama said, a bit over-dramatic. I smiled; it was good to see her again.
The next few weeks were busy with tests, therapy and horrible hospital food, but early in May I was able to go home. In the car Mama said “I hope you have an explanation, young lady. According to the principal, you weren’t even supposed to be in the building.”
I winced. How in the world was I supposed to tell my very traditional mother that I snuck away to a dangerous building in order to get away from her and her boyfriend?
When I got home Carlos and Sasha immediately ran up to me and hugged me. Sasha cried a little “Are you ok? What happened? Did you break anything? We figured you were in the building; now I feel bad that we didn’t call somebody. You never would have gotten hurt!” were some of the many questions and comments they had.
“I’m fine, you guys. I’ll tell you everything.”
We walked upstairs to my room. When we entered I saw a note on my bed:
“Henry, I’m on the run right now. If I was was with you, I would tell you everything but at the moment I can’t. We’ll find each other again, I’m sure of that.
“Who’s Scarlet?” Carlos asked, looking over my shoulder back and forth from Sasha to the note. Sasha put her hands up like a police officer was pointing a gun at her. “Don’t look at me. I’ve never heard that name before in my life.”
I smiled. “There might have been a few things I didn’t tell you!”
Epilogue – 8 years later
I’m 22 now. I haven’t heard from Scarlet since that note. Sasha and Carlos ended up falling in love and getting married; my mother married Jonathan. And although I wasn’t happy about that, Jonathan is part of the family now and I’ve come to accept it.
Sasha and Carlos know all my secrets. My mother, however … she has a slightly edited version of the story.
I don’t know if there is danger out there but I’ll find Scarlet … one day.
MFR © 2021