Chapter One


It began on a Tuesday, as such things tend to begin. Janice Hall had always been partial to Tuesdays, so it felt fitting that what happened would commence on her favorite day. Things that began on a Monday, she always thought, were often trying too hard to start when they thought they ought to. Things that began on any other day were surely just a victim of procrastination, which, in her opinion, was the most disappointing aspect of anything beginning at all. 

Janice awoke that Tuesday morning in late fall with a uncharacteristically large smile. It was an ordinary day, to be sure, but the maple tree just outside her window had finally turned to that deeper shade of red she lked so much. It was a remarkably short moment in time every year since she moved to the third floor of her six floor walkup, but nonetheless, it was her favorite time of year and would continue to be years later, despite what began on that particular Tuesday. 

She dressed that morning in her best cordorouy dress and woolen tights. She grabbed a muffin from the cupboard and filled her red plaid thermos with peppermint tea. She grabbed an extra tea bag to-go, just in case the one thermos didn’t last her most of the day. Before she left for what would certainly be an enjoyable autumn walk to the train, she stopped to write her weekly friendly neighbor notes. This, too, was one of her favorite things to do, and her already uncomfortably strained smile grew even larger with each penstroke.

4E - It is customary for residents to keep the volume of their music, or on your case, video game music, to a reasonable level after 10pm. This, I am sure you are aware, as you have received 16 notices of your violation of this rule. Last evening your video game music was audlble all the way to the first floor, where the complaint orginated. Please see to it that this issue does not continue in the future.  Yours, 3N

1N - While I must say that your new bicycle is an incredible improvement over the last, it has been brought to my attention that the location in which your new bicycle has been stored for the last 72 hours is in violation of fire saftey regulations as stated by the City of Chicago. Please see to it that your bicycle is relocated to the lease appointed storage room at your earliest convenience. Yours - 3N

Janice smiled at her notes - admiring her own handwriting the way one might admire a heart in the foam of latte, or door held open by a polite young child. It was a fleeting sort of self-admiration that she was rarely accustomed to, with the exception of the feeling she had when a holiday pie crust was cooked to perfection.

Armed with a roll of scotch tape and her new red wool jacket, Janice exited her apartment and stepped into the typically sunlit corridor. Janice even thought in that moment, My, it is typically more sunny in this corridor than it is today, but she shook the thought away just as quickly as it had arrived and began her ascent to the fourth floor. It was far from shocking to find a loosely tied garbage bag with a half opened pizza box just outside the door of 4E, but she had neither the time nor the patience to go back and write a second note, so she affixed the first one, making a mental note to write the second note tomorrow morning, even though she often kept her notes confined to Tuesday mornings. Besides, she knew that 4E would come home tonight and stomp his foot, yelling down the corridor about her being an evil old woman, which often ruined the taste of her Tuesday night pasta dinner. She was used to the notion that others felt she was significantly older than she was. However, she was only three years older than 4E, which always made those short-lived tirades that much more distasteful. 

Jance turned to make her way back down the stairs when she heard a loud and unfamiliar creek from above. Thrusting her head out over the balcony of the fourth floor, Janice looked upwards torwards the old frosted skylight and tilted her ear northward, as if to catch whatever sound was up there with marked precision. She waited like that, her long blonde curls suspended over the three stories below, for several minutes before the sound came again. It was an unsual sound of a door swinging, she thought, but it wasn’t the sound of an apartment door. That, she was sure of. She knew the distinct sounds of all twenty-four apartment doors in her building, and this, she was certain, was not one of those. 

Janice tucked the note for 1N into her jacket pocket and made her way gingerly up to the fifth floor, and then the sixth, all the time waiting to hear that noise again. She was at the bottom of the stairs that led to the roof when she heard it once more, this time louder and far more clear, though she tilted her head towards it anyway. Janice rarely ventured up to the rooftop of the building. Very few residents did, besides the young man in 4E, the quiet young woman from 2S and of course, the bulding supervisor, Mr. Mayland. 

She, in fact, couldn’t remember the last time she had been on the roof in the last year. She remembered briefly coming up sometime in summer to find Mr. Mayland about a leaking shower head, but then again, it could have been in the spring. Janice hated the roof, and not just because she was deathly afraid of heights. She was also quite terrified of birds. Mr. Mayland, who had been the building supervisor for over forty years, had a bit of a collection of birds housed up on that roof. Most of them were pigeons, which any sane person, Janice thought, would be wise to stay as far away from as possible. 

On that Tuesday, as Janice opened the rooftop door and stepped down onto the silver-painted roof floor, it took her a whole ten minutes to assess what she had seen, even though she had seen nothing at all. 

Yet, that nothing at all was everything. 

It was what she saw. What was once a bustling flurry of feathers and squawking, lay empty and quiet. The metal door of the pigeon coop was hanging open on an odd angle, as though a great force had ripped it off its top hinge. The creak was deafening now as Janice approached the coop. The door creaked in such a way that the sound attempted to fill the void of what was once there. There should have been several dozen birds up there, filling every nook and cranny of Mr. Mayland’s hand-made cages and perches.  

Janice took her time walking down the six stories to Mr. Mayland’s apartment on the first floor. She tried to remember the smile she had on this morning, but she was too startled to muster it. The birds were gone, but it felt like something else was missing that she couldn’t quite place. Something else was creating a void.

She knocked several times on Mr. Mayland’s door before giving up and making her way to work that morning. Janice figured this, like the pizza box on the fourth floor, was something that could wait. Yet, she had the sinking feeling that she had witnessed the beginning of something on that rooftop. She wasn’t altogether incorrect, it would seem. When the city began to determine what happened to the birds several days later, the rooftop of her six-floor walkup was a starting point. Janice, Mr. Mayland and all of the residents of her building, became the place where everyone looked for the birds. 


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