Under the Floorboards

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Chapter 7

As he did something or other with a hand tool that emitted red light onto the little price sticker, he casually watched a news program on the television. When the news lady mentioned a security guard going missing last night, my ears perked up and I started paying closer attention.

A drawing appeared on the screen. It was poorly done, whoever drew this must be much younger than I am, my own drawings are much more detailed. Nevertheless I recognized the two figures it depicted right away. Both of us dressed in black, skin so pale they didn’t bother to color it in.

The counter man studied the drawing. Then looked at me. I tugged my jacket closed, hoping he wouldn’t see what I had on beneath it. “That’s enough for the batteries, isn’t it?” I pressed. He nodded slowly, and put it all into a bag for me.

As I headed for the door, he called out to me. “Hey, wait a minute. I wanna talk to you.” When I looked back, he was dialing his phone. I busted out the door and ran, clutching the bag with the batteries in it close to my chest.

I didn’t go straight home for fear that he might be following. Instead I ducked into the woods, zig zagging this way and that, only returning home once I felt sure I’d lost him. I can be a very clever boy when I want to be.

I descended the stairs and shut the trap door behind me, out of breath and sopping wet from the knees down. I waded through a creek at one point, unsure why except that it seemed like something people do when they’re on the run.

I worried it would irritate Violet, when she asked why my pants and shoes were soaked. Instead she seemed amused when I told her. There’s no predicting how she will react to anything. “Did you get the batteries?” I dumped the bag out onto the floor, beaming proudly.

She said nothing, just set about hurriedly slotting them into the back of the radio. I asked her if I did a good job, and how good of a boy she would say I am on a scale of one to ten. “Yeah, uh, mission success.” I frowned. “It’s...mission accomplished” I whispered, mostly to myself.

She’s just worried about the bad men searching for her, that’s all. When they give up, she will go back to her old self. The radio crackled to life for the first time in years. I laughed and clapped, but she hushed me and waved me away.

The voice on the radio talked about a string of missing persons cases in the area and how they were believed to be unconnected until the most recent disappearance. When the radio voice said that a manhunt was now underway, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“They’re looking for a man, Violet! They will never suspect you.” She hushed me again, hunched over the radio with a nervous look on her face, and continued to listen. While she did that, I changed out of the soaked pants.

In the process I discovered a gash in my leg. I have no idea how I got it except that I must’ve snagged on something while running away. When I checked the pants, there was a corresponding gash in the same place. I only didn’t see the blood because it soaked invisibly into the black fabric, and the water must’ve washed most of it away.

It didn’t start hurting until my legs warmed up. How does that work? Cold makes it so you can’t feel stuff. I puzzled over it until Violet took notice, crawling over to take a closer look at my leg. “Shit, how did you do this? You’re so clumsy.”

I didn’t deny it, and told her about how I ran from the counter man. This only further troubled her until I explained the precautions I took on the way home. She smiled and messed up my hair. It didn’t even bother me this time, I was just happy to say something she liked for a change.

“We’ve got to dress it or it’ll get infected for sure down here.” When she asked where I keep the first aid kit, I told her I’ve never been hurt before. That I’ve always stayed down here where it’s safe, so nothing like this has ever happened to me until now.

She blinked. I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad. She didn’t get angry at least, just looked briefly sorrowful. I asked her what the matter was. She hesitated before speaking. “I don’t mean to be short with you. You’re the last person I want to upset.

You’ve just really complicated everything, is all. I only wanted a place to hide. I didn’t expect it to turn into this. I haven’t really cared about another person in so long, it was never safe to. But I care about you. That’s why I wish I knew how to make a better life for you, anywhere other than this.”

I tried to convince her I would be fine if she just stayed down here with me, but she wasn’t having it. “I have to go. I’m sorry, I have to. But before then, I want to figure out some way for you to leave this place. I don’t know how, though. You’re like those stunted animals at the zoo.

Even to the children, it’s obvious they’re a shadow of their true selves. That they can never fully flourish, cooped up in a cage like that. But they’re so used to it. What happens if you try to release them?

If you just dumped them into the wild they’d survive maybe ten minutes before getting eaten.” I processed it for a while but it just sounded like another one of her weird stories to me. She noticed my gash, now trickling blood onto my shoes.

“...I can at least do this much for you.” She crawled over to the pit of black stuff, then scooped up some of it in her hand. I withdrew slightly as she approached me with it, but she insisted it would be fine.

When she rubbed it on the gash, something strange happened. The wound felt really warm and tingly. Then cold. She wiped it away, and to my astonishment, the wound had vanished completely. My leg was dirty, skin now stained with the oily black crud, but there was no sign I’d ever been injured.

“Why’d you go and do something like that?” I demanded, choking up a little. “You need that stuff to eat!” She carefully scraped the rest of it off her hands, back into the pit. Then, wordlessly, she scuttled back over and held me.

I struggled a little bit, feebly. But then I resigned myself to her embrace, as the radio continued babbling in the background about this and that. I next awoke in my bed, which she must’ve tucked me into after I dozed off in her arms.

She was in her usual spot on the ceiling. Comforting, except that she looked much thinner than I remembered her being. I discovered why when I checked the pit. The level of sludge looked only slightly lower than it was the night before.

After sundown, I asked why she’s not eating well. Even her voice sounded weak and sickly when she answered. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to replenish it next. I’ve got to make what’s in there last as long as I can.”

The sirens in the distance carried on as I prepared dinner. It felt unfair to put tasty treats into my tum tum. Violet must have the rumbly grumblies in her tumblies too, but there’s only one thing she can eat. There’s just no helping it until the sirens stop.

But they didn’t stop that night. Nor the next, or the night after that. Like shrill, buzzing bees swarming about, looking for someone to sting. All the while Violet sipped sparingly at the oily black soup, growing thinner and thinner.

“Violet? What did that man mean when he said those things?” I asked, mostly to break the uncomfortable silence. She didn’t initially know what I was talking about. “The important looking man with the hat and keys. He said I was doing something bad. He acted like you should be afraid of me.”

Violet didn’t even stir. I repeated the question, eager to hear her speak. She seemed less and less inclined to move, or to make any sounds at all as her supply of the black stuff dwindled. Finally, she cleared her throat.

“I’ve been on the run for a long time. I’ve seen all kinds of things. All kinds of people, and the different lives they lead. A few times I fell in love, and was lucky enough to be loved in return. But it never lasted because it was “wrong”.

Or that’s how they felt, anyway. When I got too comfortable around them. When I let them into my world completely, told them everything and showed them my real face. Sometimes they weren’t even the one to turn on me. It was someone else. Their mother, or father. Their sister, brother or friend.

You’d be amazed how many people think it’s their business who other people love. They can’t help but stick their noses into other people’s lives. They appoint themselves the police of the human heart, who decide for everybody what kinds of love are legitimate.

I hate them most of all. If you weren’t so...reclusive...I guarantee some nosy twit would be sniffing around us, looking for something wrong. If it hadn’t been that man, it would have been someone else. If they didn’t attack you, they’d attack me.

I really love you, yanno. I didn’t mean for that to happen. It just makes it hurt more. If I push you away it’s because I know what’s coming, and I want to spare you. I don’t want you to hurt so bad when I have to leave.”

I tried to argue with her once again. To convince her to stay, but she carried on as if I’d said nothing. “You love me too, don’t you? Isn’t that all that matters? Isn’t your love for me real? And mine for you?

Who is anybody to intrude? To get between us and pry us apart, when it’s bad enough that time will do that of its own accord? Do they know better than we do how we should feel? It’s our business and ours alone, isn’t it?

I know what they would say. I’ve heard it so many times already. That I am sick. That I’m wrong, and shouldn’t be like this. They would say that you and I only wound up together, down here in this narrow, dusty little space because so many things went wrong, one after the next.

If I’d made better choices, we’d never have met. This...what we have, you and I...it’s the product of dysfunction. Of sickness and misfortune. But does that mean we don’t love each other? Does it make it any less beautiful that somehow, your path and mine crossed?

I’ve met countless couples, madly in love. Most weren’t typical. Wholesome, ‘traditional’ love isn’t actually the norm. Humans are complicated. Society is complicated, love is complicated. For example, there was this one guy who briefly took me in once...an older gay man named Derek.”

When I blinked, uncomprehending, she explained that he liked other men. But more than that, younger ones. I pondered that for a while. I’ve got no books about that. The knight is always a man, and the princess is always a lady. I learn all kinds of things from Violet that aren’t in my books.

“He took in a gay homeless runaway named Ryan” she continued. “Ryan had been thrown out on the street by parents whose strictly Mormon worldview had no room in it for a gay son. They are so content to casually exclude and dehumanize the so called gay threat, but they never imagine it will come from within their family. That it will be somebody they love.

There is a dead man they are taught to love more than their family members. More than their mother and father, more than their own children. Someone they must obey even if it means turning against their children, casting them out in the cold and leaving them to die. So they do.

If Derek hadn’t taken in Ryan, probably he’d have died. Not necessarily by starvation, maybe by his own hand. I’ve seen it happen that way plenty of times. I’ve known, myself, what it is like to feel as if the whole world will turn against you the moment you stop hiding your true self from them.

It is a bleak, hopeless position to be in. There don’t seem to be many options. You feel as if you will never love, or be loved. Not in a lasting way, because nowhere is safe. Nobody is safe. I’ve often thought about taking the same way out.

But they did meet. Ryan caught Derek’s fancy and they hit it off. I was living with Derek at the time, he didn’t know enough to turn on me yet. I really thought of all people, he would be able to relate, but his claws came out as soon as he saw the real me.

Until then, I was able to watch their romance unfold. That’s what really horrifies people! Not that two such people could desire one another sexually. They can frame that in a reassuringly inhuman way, imagining people like Derek are just depraved and predatory. Sex they understand.

It’s the idea that Derek could really love Ryan, and the reverse, that squicks them out. That’s what really gets under their skin and pushes all their most ugly, violent buttons. Because they have felt love, too. They know that’s what makes them human.

Love is only supposed to be for real, legitimate people. Not for monsters. For someone like Derek to feel that way for Ryan would just be a matter of laughter and scorn except that Ryan reciprocated. That’s when the torches and pitchforks come out.

It’s because accepting that they love each other, and that it’s the authentic human love that everybody else feels, forcibly humanizes them to people who refuse to see them as human. Derek, anyway. They would think Ryan is a victim who somehow doesn’t understand what’s happening, because it suits their narrative.

I was there. I lived with them. I saw with my own eyes that their love was real. It was not animalistic lust, it was authentic romance. It’s true that it only happened because of everything that went wrong, both in Ryan’s life and in Derek’s, but that’s how many romances happen.

If Ryan’s parents hadn’t thrown him out to fend for himself in a community wholly aligned against him, he’d never have met Derek. None of it would have happened. How can they, the ones who betrayed their own child for the approval of a dead man, recoil in terror and disgust at the fellow who cleaned up their mess?

Who picked up their baby boy, dirty and scared, and took him under his wing? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and if Ryan’s parents consider him trash while Derek considers him treasure, which of the two is the monster?

Love is so rare. It is so guttingly rare to find any flash of genuine human connection...any oasis of light and warmth in this cold, dark world. We are not all so lucky as to find those flashes in the right places. Where we are “supposed” to.

Often not because we went looking for love in the wrong places either, but because those circumstances were forced on us. Because of an accident of birth, or being brought into the world by a mother and father who then throw you away for reasons which make no sense. Which seem insane and needlessly cruel because they are.

Love just happens. To the lucky few, without warning and never when it is convenient. Not just sometimes, but in fact quite often because of imperfect circumstances. In prison, in the terminal ward of a hospital, in crack houses...in the middle of a fucking war sometimes. Even tragedies can bring us together. Does that make it less beautiful, or more?

Derek died in prison. Ryan, being a minor at the time, entered the care of the state until he turned 18 a year later. Then he was back on the street. I don’t know where he is now. I wish he knew I still think about him. I wish I knew why Derek did what he did.

I understood him. I really, deeply understood his plight, and for a long time I thought he would understand mine. Of all the people who have helped me hide, I felt certain he would accept me for who and what I am, knowing what it is to be reviled as a monster.

In the end he turned out to be more like them than any one of them was willing to believe. Even as they cast him out for deviation, he did the same to me. I swore I would never trust anybody after that. I swore I would never love anybody, having seen what happens.”

I reached up and caressed her face. She flinched slightly. “But then you met me.” She didn’t smile. Instead she looked more miserable and agonized than I’ve ever seen her. “Yes...” she whispered. “...then I met you.”

I sat down, head in my hands, trying to make sense of the outpouring. “You’re wrong.” She turned to look at me, weary yet quizzical. “This...this isn’t doomed. It could work. You’re not giving it a chance. You just decided from the start it could never work because of all the people who betrayed you before.”

She sighed, shook her head and looked away. But I wasn’t about to leave it alone. “If you would just...It could work between us! We could still be together. I don’t know why it doesn’t seem to matter to you. It matters to me. You matter to me. You’ve been my teacher and everything else. You mean everything to me. Don’t I mean anything to you?

Don’t go. Please, please don’t. You just can’t. I don’t want to go back to how it was before, I don’t want to be alone. I won’t live that way anymore, I can’t. Not now that I know what it feels like to love someone. I never knew how it could be. Don’t show me, then rip it away!

We were supposed to go and live in the crystal palace, remember? There are so many, free for the taking! All you have to do is pick the color you want. We can be happy there, nobody will find us. Everything will be beautiful and perfect, forever.

Please, just tell me what you want. Tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it. I just want...to still be with you in the end. That’s all I want. I’ve never even really wanted anything before this. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to grow old with you. Nothing.”

She began trembling, but still didn’t cry. “I don’t want to hear any of that. I can’t even grow old, you idiot. Why do you have to say shit like that to me? Do you think that’s what I need right now?.” She covered her face with both hands and curled up into a bony, frail little ball.

I cried bitterly through the night and clung to my stuffie, not knowing what else to do. The sirens still wailed in the distance when the sun rose. If only the sirens would stop. If only those people would leave us alone. If only the world would leave us alone!

The pit was empty when I checked. Not even a drop left. Violet no longer had the strength to cling to the ceiling. I laid her down in my bed, making her as comfortable as I could, and knelt on the ground to one side.

She looked just like a little baby. I knew she was dying but couldn’t understand how. Can you die after you die? Couldn’t she come back again, however she did the first time? I grasped frantically at possibilities as I watched her light slowly dim before my eyes.

No. I refuse. My whole life, I’ve done nothing. I’ve hidden down here, waiting for life to find me. Now, against all odds, it finally has. I’m not about to let it slip away because of cowardice, like I did every other chance at happiness and meaning.

Violet murmured in confusion as I climbed into bed with her, put my fingers into her mouth and pried it open. She fought with me, trying to push my hands away, but by this point I’m much stronger than she is. My feet went in first. Despite my resolve, I’m still scared. Just a scared little boy, even now.

That won’t stop me though, not anymore. Even though everything in me recoils from what I’m doing. I shudder helplessly as I work my feet further in, her jaw dislocating to make it easier. I worry I might’ve hurt her until she begins eating me on her own.

Soon she’s up to my knees. Then my hips. When I look down, she has distorted into something almost unrecognizable. Mostly because of how her face contorts when she does this. But her eyes...they’re crying sticky black tears.

“Shhh” I whisper. “Don’t cry. Now I finally have something to offer you...and this way, I don’t have to be alone anymore.”

My legs start feeling funny. Warm, tingly. Then I can’t feel them at all. Soon, I can’t feel anything, nor can I move my body. She’s up to my chest now. Still crying, even as she eats me. Because she knows I’m right...it’s better this way.

I can’t hear so good. Everything’s...muffled? My vision becomes blurry. The light from the little window I’ve peered out of all these years now distorts. It streaks outward into a six sided shape. It almost looks like...something I saw a long time ago. Something incredible.

It’s so obvious now, I just never thought I would find it here. “Can you see it...Violet? It’s...so beautiful.” Her jaws reach my neck, and begin to close up around my head. “I’ll go ahead...meet me there...when you’re ready.”

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