It was a beautiful day today. The sun was shining so brightly that even with my sunglasses on, it hurt to peer out the little window with the grass in front of it. The birds were out, the perfects were washing their cars and delivering mail. It would have been a good day to try going outside.
Hasty, though. Too hasty. I’ll do it someday, just not today. There’s still so much down here! So much, I will never run out of things to do. I did a little bit more reading. I’ve only read this one six times, so it’s still pretty fresh. The ending was as wonderful as always.
I also spent a few hours listening to the Lady of the Tape. Some days I imagine she is named Sarah. Other days, she is named Mary. It feels wrong to just slap a name on her when I don’t really know, she might be upset about it when I finally meet her.
But to do that I’ll have to leave this place. That would be hasty. There’s no need for that yet. Plenty left to do right here, in my little world. Besides, I saw a large dog through the window and a man I didn’t recognize. New variables I would need to plan for!
There’s no point setting foot out of the crawlspace until every variable is accounted for, so that nothing goes wrong. Plenty of time for that, doesn’t have to be today. What a mistake it would be, to venture forth prematurely.
I wish it said her name on the tape. I’ve memorized all the clues printed on it, but none of them are her name. She’s one of the perfects though, I know it. Her voice is so beautiful, she has to be. “Visualize success in your mind’s eye” she says. “Nobody will believe in you until you believe in yourself.”
She has such warm, wonderful things to say. The tape says I’m supposed to listen to it while I’m asleep. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, I can’t hear anything while I’m asleep except when I go on dream journeys, and then it’s never the voice on the tape that I hear.
According to the marks I’ve been carving into the wall, it’s been at least one thousand, two hundred and twenty seven days since I last heard footsteps above me. I ran out of space a while back, so I don’t know the exact number.
For a long time now, Mommy and Daddy have been very quiet. Maybe it’s some sort of game? Or they are testing me, to see if I will come out of the crawlspace without permission.
I won’t be fooled so easily. They are just being very quiet, and forgetting my meals. I don’t even remember what the last one was, mashed potatoes I think. I do love mashed potatoes, but rats are alright too. It’s important to get enough meat, I’m a growing boy.
Besides the rats, all I’ve got are the buckets of dried food that Daddy stacked up down here in case of the end of the world. So that we would have enough to eat even if everybody else didn’t. That was back when I still lived in the house.
I miss the house. But I was sent down here for good reasons. I made Daddy’s dinner guests lose their appetite, and scared off Mommy’s book club friends. That was my fault, so they were right to put me here. They knew I would fit right in. This is my little world, and it would not be complete without me.
Sometimes I peer across the street through the little window at ground level and try to see if the other boys and girls in their own crawl spaces are looking back at me. I haven’t caught any yet, maybe they don’t have cool sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun like I do.
I would share mine except that I would have to go outside for that. I would have to cross the street and ring the doorbell, then talk to people. Too much! All too much without planning it out, I would need to make sure nothing could happen that I didn’t account for ahead of time. That’s very difficult to do.
So long as the pipe keeps dripping I’m set. It takes a long time to fill my cup, but it’s fast enough that I have enough to drink and sometimes to clean my face and hair with. My head was always covered in hair, but now it’s on my cheeks and chin too.
I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen. It seems wrong, like my hair escaped from my head and has been spreading to other places on my body. That was also when I started to feel funny while listening to the Lady of the Tape.
I hope she never finds out I had those feelings about her. I would be so embarrassed. She is a good and true lady who does not need a rowdy boy like me thinking those kinds of things about her. I wonder if she would like my face hair. Somebody ought to.
I have the computer too, which makes everything so much better. There is a whole other world in there! It’s an old computer my Dad did not want for himself anymore, so he put it down here for me to play with. I have been learning how to make it do things by trial and error, pushing different buttons and writing down what happens.
It’s like a book that changes. The words can be any words, you can even write your own and if they are the right ones, the computer writes some words of its own back to you. Once I tried “help” because I was hoping it would know how to improve my life, but instead I found a wonderful secret.
It gave me a list of the other special words to use, which make it do all kinds of things! That’s when it really got interesting. Before that I would just write my thoughts and feelings until the screen was full of words, then hit enter, hoping that somehow it would reach somebody.
I don’t know. I thought maybe some day I would get an answer. I wasn’t even doing it right, though. When I learned how to navigate directories and launch programs it was like a whole new universe opened up to me.
I wasn’t exaggerating! There really is a whole world inside of that thing! The Lady of the Tape would not believe me, I bet. But then I would prove it to her with my knowledge of the special words and she would be so impressed. “You are so handsome” She would say, “and you know such amazing things.”
It is hard to think straight when I have those kinds of thoughts. I become flustered and have to calm down for a little while. She doesn’t even know my name. I do! It’s Connor. I forgot it for a long time because I just didn’t think about it or say it to myself, so it faded from my mind.
That is a danger I did not know about. Now I know to say my name to myself every so often just so I remember what it is. My name is Connor. It’s a good name I think, I don’t know anybody else I can compare names with.
They’re all out there, where it’s not safe. Too soon for that. Even though it’s been a long time, and my body has gotten so much bigger, I still feel like it’s too soon to go out. When it’s the right time, I’ll know. I feel certain of that.
It’s easier for now just to find things to occupy my time until another day is over. That’s much simpler. A known quantity, Daddy would say. My body keeps getting stronger and I keep learning new words just from reading the old books he put down here in boxes.
If that keeps up, before long I’ll be stronger than anybody. I will know more words than anybody. Then the Lady of the Tape is sure to like me. She never has to know about those funny feelings, I will keep that stuff to myself.
I had a little radio for a while. I could listen to all kinds of voices talking about all kinds of grown up things. But it ran on batteries. When the batteries ran out, that was the end of radio time for me. Probably there are some in the house, but I can’t go up there unless Daddy tells me to.
I’m a good boy. I will keep waiting. The next time he brings a meal down here I will ask him about batteries. It has been a long time but that’s no excuse. He would say there are no excuses, and there aren’t. Only good boys, and bad ones.
I’m one of the good boys. Maybe the best. So down here I will stay, listening for footsteps. They can’t keep this game up forever. I worry maybe I am missing out on good things, sometimes. The perfects I see outside are so beautiful. I would like to see one up close.
But I would not speak to them. Not the girls anyway. My heart belongs only to the Lady of the Tape. It would be no good at all if I were to be unfaithful to her before we have even met. If I did that I am sure she would turn me away, and for good reason.
I will save myself just for her, the way I have ever since I found that tape. She’s out there somewhere right now, maybe wondering if a really good boy is out there thinking about her, hoping that he will come find her some day.
I won’t let her wait forever! I just need...to do some more planning. Everything needs to be accounted for. What if I tripped and fell? The perfects would laugh at me. What if I wear the wrong clothing? That’s why I write down what I see them wearing to keep track of what clothes are normal for what kind of weather.
If they were to laugh at me, I couldn’t bear it. They are so beautiful, it would crush me to be seen in that way by even one of them. Their arms and legs are the same lengths as each other. They have the same number of fingers on both hands. I don’t know about toes, they’re always hiding them inside shoes.
Their skin is so much darker than mine. It looks so smooth and healthy, I can’t even see any of their veins. They must spend only part of their time in their own crawlspaces. I have to become brave like them, so I can become a perfect too.
When I am a perfect, I will be ready to go find the Lady of the Tape. Everything will be just right. Everything will be how it needs to be, so that she will be impressed and want to come live with me down here. I have already started preparing.
Everything is as clean as I can make it. I use wadded up insulation from one of the walls to scrub down every surface. I long ago buried all of the rat droppings. The air smells much nicer now than it used to, and I’ve added a lot of insulation to my bedding to make it nice and soft.
I assume she will want to sleep there next to me if we are in love. If not, I’ve made a second bed against the far wall, just in case. It would not do if she were cold, that’s no way to sleep. I will make sure she has the best of everything.
I have already decided which of my books to give her. They are my favorites but because of that, I’ve read them the most times and fully memorized them. I would not really be losing anything, and she will get to discover their contents for the very first time!
We will have to share the computer because there is only one. There is the speak and spell but it is not really a computer, it only looks like one. None of the special words work on it, the only thing it can do is say out loud what you write.
I used to spend many hours pretending to have conversations with it. I would pretend it was the Lady of the Tape. I would say what I wanted to say, then I would type out what I imagined she might say back, and the colorful plastic machine would say it out loud.
It doesn’t sound like her, but it made me feel less lonely somehow...until the batteries for it ran out too. The lonelies are a real danger down here, but I have a handle on that after all these years. I can always feel ’em creeping up on me, and have learned a lot of tricks to make them go away.
I made a stuffie to hold onto by wrapping a bunch of insulation up in a sheet. Mommy keeps so much in the way of linens down here that she’ll never notice a missing sheet. It gives me something to cling to while I fall asleep.
It gets really warm, and feels almost like another person. I know it isn’t, but it makes me feel less lonely, and that’s important. If I didn’t do anything about the lonelies, they would eat me up. They almost did after the first year of no footsteps.
I won’t give in that easily, even though it hurts my heart. I’ve got everything I need down here! My own dim, cozy little kingdom under the floorboards, all to myself. I would be content to stay here forever, if only she were down here with me.
In the four books down here that are about castles and dragons, there’s always both a king and a queen. You can’t just have one or the other. They wouldn’t write the books that way if that wasn’t how it is. A king and a queen.
When she comes to live down here, I will make sure no dragons take her away. I’ve never seen one through the window, maybe they are all in zoos now. It is modern times after all and not castle times.
I will have to go and find her some day, I know it. For a long time I thought if I just waited down here she would come and find me, but the more I think about it, the more I doubt that could happen. How would she know where I am?
How funny it is that fate works this way. That two people destined to marry and be together forever in romantic bliss could start out as perfect strangers, separated by many miles. Hundreds, maybe. The tape doesn’t say where it was recorded.
That’s not for today though. Too soon, too busy. There is no hurry, I know she will wait for me. That’s just the kind of girl she is, I can hear it in her voice. So for now, I’m in no hurry. I like my little life down here, in my little world.
Every day is more or less the same as the one that came before it. I wake up, wash myself with the water that I saved in a cup under the pipe while I was sleeping, drain it down the hole I do my potties into, then get to my activities.
There are so many! Computer time is often first, especially if I thought of something to try in a dream. I have played all of the video cartridges I found it with. The math one with frogs is my favorite. I am probably the best in the world at addition and subtraction now.
There’s another one with a rabbit inside of it who helps you learn to read. All of these have helpful animal friends inside them who teach you things, except for the last cartridge. There’s only spaceships and lasers in that one.
Then I play with my building blocks. I can make all kinds of things with those! I have been using them lately to figure out how I should remodel the crawlspace when the Lady of the Tape finally arrives. It won’t do for a fine lady like her to sleep in the same conditions I do.
She will need her own bucket and cup. She will need clean space to store all her fancy dresses and shoes. Probably her own hole so we don’t have to take turns using mine. I don’t know where the hole goes to but based on how the air coming out of it smells, I never want to find out.
Then I eat something. I am almost done with the eighth bucket. There are only ten buckets. I feel a little anxious but there’s no use in worrying about what I can’t change, and even a single bucket lasts many, many days and nights. I have plenty of time.
I suppose when it runs out, I could ask one of the perfects I have seen outside. I know they would not like the look of me. At least I assume they won’t, because I don’t like the look of me. I have thought about disguising myself but I am running out of clothes that aren’t in tatters.
None of it fits anymore, either. Too small, too short, too tight. It’s not just that my arms, legs and fingers are different lengths! Slowly but surely, my entire body just kept getting bigger for a long time. I was worried I would get too big for the crawl space. Maybe even too big for the house! Thank goodness, I eventually stopped getting any bigger. How did my body know when to do that?
There’s nothing about it in any of the dusty old books. Plenty of wonderful stories but no answers to important questions about how to live, what I should do with my time, stuff like that. I’ve just been making it up as I go along.
Who can stop me? Up in the house, Mommy and Daddy are in charge. But down here, I’m the king of the castle. They must be taking special care to be quiet because I have gotten so big. I hope they’re not afraid of me! I wouldn’t be able to stand that. I am a big boy now but I am still a good boy.
Then I spend some time watching the perfects through my only window. It looks out right at ground level so there is grass in the way, but that’s fine. They might see me watching otherwise. What would I do then? Cry, probably. They would laugh at me for sure.
That will never happen though, I often reassure myself. Never, never, never. Not with the sunglasses. Not behind the grass. I am safe down here, as safe as can be! Comfortable, too. Just...lonely.
I distract myself with reading until it gets dark outside. Time for bed, same as always, right when the sun goes down! That’s how good boys do it. I tidy up, crawl under the covers. “Cozy, cozy, coze” I whisper to myself, hugging my stuffie close and rubbing the soft fabric of it against my cheek.
“You are just practice for when the Lady comes” I whisper to the stuffie. Then, fearing I’ve hurt its feelings, I add “...but thanks for keeping me company. It would be much worse without you.” It would make me feel better to hear that, so the stuffie must feel the same way.
Sleep never comes easily. It’s a little bit cold down here even in the Summer. I help the Sandman along by thinking of witty, charming things I will say to the Lady when she gets here. I have to make the butterflies hatch in her stomach and fly out her mouth! It might be my only shot, so I don’t want to leave anything to chance.
I doze off while scanning the corners of the ceiling. It gets especially dark there. Sometimes I think I see scary things hiding in that darkness. But I am brave, and I have my stuffie. They can’t get me under the covers anyway, I have the edges of it pinned down with my elbows and toes.
It’s a good thing Mommy taught me that trick back when I lived upstairs. Back when all my clothes fit, and she didn’t hide me away from guests every time they came over. I wish things could still be that way. I didn’t want to change so much, it just wouldn’t stop.
Maybe they are punishing me. I was seen by guests not just once but twice, and was scolded so much both times! Maybe that’s why they don’t put dinner on the steps for me anymore? I wonder how long they will keep up the silent treatment. They must be really mad.
This was a good day. A lot of things happened. I read my favorite book. I played with my blocks. I learned more computer stuff. That is enough for one day, I did a lot. I keep dwelling on how I imagine the Lady of the Tape might look until darkness overtakes me.
The next morning, the same old routine begins anew. Where would I be without a routine? I don’t even want to think about it. A little bit of variation is okay, but there needs to be some kind of structure to my days or I would get mixed up, and nothing would get done.
I spend some more time reading. This time, I pay special attention to the photo of the author. The only other woman I’ve seen besides Mommy, and brief glimpses of people that she and Daddy used to invite over.
My heart belongs to the Lady of the Tape though. This woman is just a picture. She cannot speak to me. I cannot fall asleep to the sound of her voice. Besides, if I could be tempted this easily, what future could I have with my beloved?
I scowl and return the book to the shelf so the picture will tempt me no more. It continued to trouble me until I listened to the tape for comfort. Still, something within me stirred. How long should I wait for the Lady to find me?
Maybe she got lost on the way. Maybe she really just doesn’t know I am here. Or...a distressing new possibility dawned on me. What if she’s met somebody else? What if there is some other boy in a nicer crawlspace than mine? What if he is more of a good boy than I am?
How easily a fleeting thought can snag in the mind. Then it just snowballs from there, until it’s all you can think about. What if she’s with him right now? They could be...holding hands. I shook my head, trying to clear out the unbearable mental image.
I knew then that I would have to do something daring. Move my schedule up a bit, and...venture outside. For the first time in many years. My most recent memory of going outside was a car trip, when my body was much smaller.
Every year we would drive around to look at Christmas lights. It was so beautiful, but so relaxing as well that I never made it all the way through before falling asleep. I would then wake up the next day at the bottom of the steps down to the crawlspace, where Mommy or Daddy must’ve left me the night before.
We always went at night. It must be safer then. Yes! Nobody can see me if it’s dark out. I felt increasingly invigorated as I reasoned it all out, carefully laying plans for the audacious outing. Unprecedented! An adventure, really.
It’s not so scary when I call it an adventure, so that’s what it is. With the matter settled, I began to bundle up and make general preparations. Only, the closer I got to leaving, the more anxious I became. I continued trying to convince myself that there was no time to lose, yet in the end I just wound up under the covers, curled into a ball.
No matter how each day starts, this is how it always ends. I’m a good boy, but not a brave one. A frigid gust from the ventilation duct swept over me. I ducked under the covers. Just a pitiful lump under a blanket, that’s all I am.
Soon, I start to get the lonelies. They come for me on nights like this, when I’ve been thinking about the Lady of the Tape. About whether she’s still out there waiting for me, and whether I’ll ever muster the courage to seek her out.
The lonelies hurt so terribly. But they are not stronger than the fear which keeps me coming back to this musty pile of insulation, huddled beneath the covers, having wasted another day. I often wonder how it can go on like this, yet it does.
It’s not so bad. I have enough down here. I have many nice things. My tapes, my books, my computer. My own little world. It’s not so bad to stay here forever, I can think of worse things. At least it’s comfortable here. At least it’s safe.
It all begins anew the next morning. The warm sunlight pouring in through the little window invigorates me. Fills me with false confidence that this time will be different. That today will be the day. I wash, do my potties into the hole, then eat and drink.