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"Explain to me again," Mr. Townsend said as he knelt in front of his daughter and clasped his hands together, "Why you decided to dig these holes in the garden."

Maya smiled sweetly back at him. "Hattie said this town got built during the gold rush, but nobody never found anything. But she said they never looked here, neither!"

Maya's father sighed, though a smile played at the corners of his mouth. "Hattie, is this true?"

Hattie giggled as Mr. Townsend looked for her on the wrong side yet again. He couldn't see her, but he always pretended to, for Maya's sake. She once walked past the living room and stopped when she heard Maya's parents mention her name, calling her the "imaginary friend." A psychologist(whatever that was) said there was no harm in playing along.

Hattie didn't care what they thought or what they called her, so long as she could keep playng with Maya.

"I told you we should have blamed Gizmo," Hattie said.

The loyal dog let out a slight whimper and cocked his head at her. He'd finally grown into those legs, now a powerfully built dog with spectacular black markings around his face. His thick tail wagged constantly, always a threat to knock things off shelves and coffee tables. Wherever Maya and Hattie went, Gizmo was never far behind.

"You're both lucky your mother hasn't started planting her vegetables yet. We'll just tell her you tried to help out. Your mini gold rush will be our little secret." Mr. Townsend stood back up, and looked to the empty space where he imagined Hattie stood. "Just don't go giving her anymore bad ideas, okay Hattie?"

"Yes sir." Even if he couldn't see or hear her, she couldn't be rude. She liked the Townsends too much to even think about making them angry.

They'd been playing together for a year. Maya still hadn't quite fit in at school, but she didn't mind so long as she could come home and play with Hattie. If they weren't chasing each other or Gizmo around the house, Maya could be found drawing in the bedroom that once belonged to her best friend. Every so often Hattie tried to pick up a crayon and color with her, but she couldn't manage to control it well enough.

"Tell me what colors you like," Maya said as she sketched out a cartoonish version of Hattie, "And I'll color it for you."

Often they'd tell each other stories, since Maya had a vivid imagination. Sometimes she asked Hattie about growing up in the country before cars and electricity. Hattie, in turn, asked Maya about the huge buildings she saw in Boston, or the latest video games and movies, or pizza. Maya really liked to talk about pizza!

Only one question made Hattie uncomfortable. A few days after they first met, Maya asked how she died. When she didn't answer, Maya apologized immediately. Hattie finally told her one day that she'd gotten very sick, and neither her mother nor the local doctor could do anything for her. Maya nodded.

The next day, she came into the house and told Hattie she'd put flowers on her grave, as well as those of Mother and Father. They never spoke about her last days, nor the cemetery, again.

More than anything else, they loved adventures fueled by Maya's limitless imagination. The empty boxes from their move became a castle, then a rocket ship to Enceladus, Maya's favorite moon of Saturn. Once they landed back on Earth, the boxes transformed into a city attacked by a rampaging monster named Gizilla(a slightly disgruntled Gizmo in his lizard Halloween costume). One of her father's bobblehead dolls became an idol at the center of an ancient temple, while an empty pill bottle became an important microfilm they needed to steal.

"What's microfilm?" Hattie asked.

Maya shrugged. "A thing spies use," Maya replied. No other explanation was necessary.

The Echo of Hattie PalmerWhere stories live. Discover now