We ran fast and I tried not to bust my butt because the ground was slippery with glass and garbage. Burned car parts. Broken bikes. Boxes with trash in them. We got to a window, and as scared as I was, I hopped in first because I still figured a dog might pop out of somewhere. Sean was right behind me. It was dark in the Grey House. The only light came in through the windows. I checked my watch and could barely see the time: 5:45 P.M. I caught something else. My palms were black like I had rubbed charcoal on them. The fire that burned the Grey House must’ve left ash, and it got on me when I climbed in the window. “This ain’t coming off,” I said, showing Sean my hands.
“Calm down. It’s on me too. We’ll wash it off later,” Sean said. All of a sudden, his face glowed like a lightbulb. I turned to see what he was looking at. A staircase. It had one step, then two steps missing, then another step, then three steps missing. The staircase was mostly stairless.
“Son, we need to climb that,” Sean said.
I had a huge smile and he knew why. I was The Man at climbing. I used to rock-climb up the three-story bread factory behind my building just for fun. I’d squeeze my fingers into cracks in the wall and grip my hands onto poked-out bricks and grab and yank myself up until I stood on the cracker factory roof.
We walked up staircase after staircase. On some floors, only half a staircase went up to the next floor. The other half was missing from the fire. When we found staircases like that, me and Sean walked up as far as we could, then tugged at wires and pipes hanging out walls to see if they felt strong enough to hold our weight. If they didn’t snap out the wall, we grabbed them and pulled ourselves to the next floor. We got to the fourteenth floor before we knew it. We looked for a staircase going up to the fifteenth floor but couldn’t find one. We wandered into this huge room full of factory machines. Dust on everything. Probably old equipment used back in the day. Light came in through busted windows. Sharp, broken glass stuck out window frames like they could slice somebody’s head off. While eyeing the room, I saw on the opposite side a staircase going up to the next floor. That’s when I spotted something that scared me. The floor between us and that staircase had huge holes in it. Everywhere. Like heavy equipment had fallen through it. We had to cross this holey floor to get to the staircase.
Sean moved farther into that room.
“Chill.” I grabbed his arm. “That floor’ll break.”
“Relax.” He snatched his arm and took another step to see if the floor was solid. He looked at his feet and waited. Nothing. My heart was beating hard. Sean took another step forward and stood still again for two seconds. Nothing happened. Sean took a few steps more into the room. From his new spot, he jumped up and down.
He looked at me and smiled. “See?” he said, waving me to come over. “It’s fine.”
I slowly stepped halfway to where he was.
“Keep coming!” he yelled.
I moved in closer.
“Now, follow me,” he said. He turned and took a step, and the floor broke right underneath him. His legs went straight down until he was showing only from the waist up. I grabbed his forearms type-fast and pulled. But his skin and my hands were slippery from that black charcoal stuff. Sean kept sliding down. He started crying, “Pull me up!”
I had never seen Sean so scared.
I reached for his T-shirt and caught some of it under his armpit. With my other hand, I grabbed a pipe built into the floor. Sean kept slipping deeper into the hole and stuff flashed through my head. Like Sean falling downstairs and breaking his leg. Him laid out with his skull cracked open and bleeding.
Sean’s eyes were shut tight and tears ran down his cheeks. He breathed so hard through his mouth that I thought he was having an asthma attack.
I gripped the pipe harder and pulled on his tee and started to cry. Sean came more out the hole. A second later, his hand was next to mine on the pipe. Soon we were laid on the floor, side by side.