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The building talked to the little tow-headed boy who crawled through its walls. The building was his friend. A capricious and abusive friend, full of malice one minute and benevolence the next, soothing his fractured mind then oozing poison into it from some forgotten malignant history absorbed in the masonry.
Still, he preferred the walls over the rooms, which didn't so much ooze as shriek, a thousand objects shouting at him every last thing they had ever seen or did, the minds of everyone who had ever touched them imprinted like nails imbedded in rock. And the rooms were still better than the people, whose leaky emotions threatened to drown him. He needed to breathe, he could remember that. Lately the people were seeping through the walls even, heightened happiness and stress alike filling the tunnels like blood gushing through veins. He still remembered his metaphors, sometimes.
He had a few other friends as well. His shirt was his friend, it was soft, and it didn't ooze. His hair was his friend, but it sort of had to get along or he might very well decide to lop it off. His light was his friend, and helped him through the sanguinary tubes.
Then there was the strange boy, named Jarod he was occasionally reminded by the walls. His mind didn't spurt like the others, he could control it, it only leaked a little bit. Jarod's brain was awake but he was in the dark so he couldn't talk with his friends the books. Maybe he should introduce his light to Jarod, he obviously needed more friends. He could find his way through the tunnels without it, the walls would tell him where to go, even when they were mean to him.
Pain filled his stomach, and he realized he was hungry. He had forgotten how to eat. The boy decided to ask the building for food, before he forgot again.
Jarod wrestled with his loneliness and boredom for the hundredth time that week, trying to force his mind into brighter and better places, as they always were in his mind. At no time did he feel more despondent than the week before the change of the calender year. Sydney left him, the guards didn't want to be at work babysitting him, there was nothing to do but read books or stare at the walls, daydreaming. At least with the flashlight he could read later when the lights flipped off, so he was immensely grateful to strange little Angelo for the gift.
One of the new sweepers -- Number Ninety-Five as Jarod thought of him, as they weren't supposed to tell him their names -- spoke to him on occasion, although that too was against the rules. The only things Ninety-five ever said were meaningless banalities, but Jarod drank it up anyway, as he did any human contact that wasn't imaginary. This day Ninety-five was especially chatty, and Jarod recognized that he was somehow lonely too despite being able to leave and visit friends and family after his shift was over. Jarod wondered at the human capacity to let their hearts bleed out, even when they had the whole world available to fix it back up again.
After the evening meal Ninety-five came back to clean up and lock him in for the night. He seemed embarrassed, for reasons Jarod couldn't fathom, and finally fished into his pocket for something.
"Here, kid, you look like you use a little pick-me-up. Don't tell anyone, okay?"
The item pressed into Jarod's hand was about two inches long, white and red stripes, hook-shaped. From somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind he recognized it as candy. Jarod sat on his bed and examined the contraband. It was slightly sticky and smelled vaguely like medicine or cleaning solution, only infinitely better. The smell triggered an association with another forgotten scent, pine trees for some mysterious reason.
Jarod decided that, instead of eating it, he was just going to sim eating it, using the smell as a stimulus. He could enjoy it for months that way. Maybe he could remember what it was about the trees too, if he thought about it long enough.
He heard a noise at the ventilation cover, and out popped Angelo from the dark mouth of the tunnel. As usual he looked unfocused and overwhelmed, and Jarod wondered again what had happened to the mind of such a little boy. He looked hardly more than seven years old.
"Hi, Angelo, thanks for the present. It was you, right? I really appreciate it."
Angelo nodded. "Friend." Jarod interpreted that to mean he wanted them to be friends, a sentiment he wholeheartedly concurred with.
Suddenly a load grumbling noise came from Angelo's abdomen, and Jarod frowned. Was he hungry? Jarod himself was never hungry. The caloric content of his meals were recalculated weekly to exactly match his metabolism, growth rate and energy expenditure, and the caloric density was adjusted to account for satiety as well. Wasn't anyone taking care of Angelo? Why were they letting him run around the ventilation system like a rat in a maze? Jarod knew what would happen if he went through that tempting opening. Ninety-five would finally have exciting shift.
Jarod motioned for Angelo to sit on the bed, and slowly pulled the candy out from his pocket. "Here. For the flashlight. I'm sorry it's all I have."
Angelo stared hard at it, as if afraid it might burn him. Then he reached out, hesitantly at first until he made contact. Touching it seemed to calm him, as he felt all the good intentions pour out of that tiny piece of sugar. Then he grabbed it and stuffed the whole thing into his mouth, blissfully grinning with red drool dripping from his lips.
Jarod smiled. It was worth giving up months of small pleasures to see the look of happiness on the young boy's face. "Yeah. Glad you like it, my friend."