Once, in a land of cold, clear, sunny days where the snowy ground glittered in patches and fields like powdered diamonds, a little family lived huddled together, cluttered but cozy, on the very highest floors of an odd old brick building.
The building was odd in that it stood skinny and fragile and tall, tall above its neighbors, like a funny flower whose petals were not as numerous or as beautiful as the lush bed around it, but whose pale stem curled heads and shoulders above the rest, reaching up to kiss the clouds, to drink the sun, and to whisper to the moon in the sky.
Bent chimneys and steam pipes jutted out of the from the brick from the bottom of the old building all the way to its topmost tower. They appeared at strange and irregular twists and angles, warding away the neat apartment blocks on either side, who muttered in their dull societies when they thought the odd, old building could not hear. The pipes and chimneys were the building’s own protective thorns, where like a rose bush it gathered birds and mice and other small creatures to perch them, nest them, and hide them from the cold. Around the highest apartment where the family lived, the building wreathed itself in copper, steel and iron like a rusty, tattered crown.
In some places there were windows, but there seemed to be no rule as to how many there should be, or how often they should appear. In some places there were no windows at all for many floors, as if entire stories had been forgotten about or walled up in a world of secrets.
The first floor had hosted many curious shops and businesses over many, many years. In the beginning there was a rarely-visited emporium that specialized in odd-sized wooden shoes. In decades since, the old emporium had been partitioned, cut up, redecorated, knocked apart, plastered together and painted over. It had seen more light bulbs, carpeting, cash registers, door frames, door knobs, saw dust and big iron nails than you or I could count.
The building disliked the big nails the most. It was not the driving-in that was bothersome so much as the prying-out. When the nails were pounded into the chipped pink stone, the building felt a small bit stronger, with good forged iron helping it to hold itself together. But each nail jerked crudely from the proud old brick left a bit of red and white crumble and an odd square hole, like the empty nest of a strange insect. Then the building felt the age of its bones, and the brittleness of its materials, and wondered how many more years it could hold itself aloft.