The man who lives under the floorboards chapter 1: week 1
I see the man who lives under the floorboards about once a week, usually on a Friday, when the rest of the house have gone out for some hard partying. He knocks first, to check it's safe for him to rise from the dark, hidden underworld where he abides. The loose floorboard that runs parallel to my bed lifts slowly, his furtive eyes rise cautiously from the darkness, gazing round the room like a meercat on leopard-spotting duties, until eventually he's satisfied that it's safe for his body to join them.
Of course you may have seen his website: www.themanwholivesunderthefloorboards.co.uk. If so you'll have seen his picture; he's the large, dark-skinned, dark-haired man in the black leather jacket, aged about 50. There are pictures of his home too, of below the floorboards - that's the picture of pitch black darkness. When I've ventured down there I've always been amazed how dark it is, as if he's perfecting darkness, experimenting with the perfect form. That said, he does keep a torch for emergencies.
He updates his blog on at least a daily basis, with all the news from his underworld life. Only last week a new rat appeared, a lighter shade of black from the other rats that lived there, and it's picture was up on site within the hour. By the end of the weekend it had been nudged by over 1,000 rats from around the world. www.themanwholivesunderthefloorboards.co.uk is a bit of a favourite amongst online rats, it being dark and underthefloorboardy.
In some ways he lives a better life than I do. I live in a small room in a shared commune; no lock, no door (just a curtain), just one small voice in a body of twenty. I have to work; I'm the storyteller, so I spend most of my day in front of the keyboard frantically typing the story I'm to tell the group that evening. The man on the other side of the floorboards has no such limitations, no such duties.
Though he keeps mainly to the space below my room, he has the freedom to wander should he wish to and occasionally the other residents complain of strange noises from below their feet, or even that 'there's someone living under the floorboards.' They don't really believe it though and would certainly never dare to go and check, so the sole resident of Floor -1 roams as he pleases, or just sits and sleeps should he choose, occassionally taking the leisure of updating his blog, photographing rats or enjoying the food I sneak under the floorboard for his nutrition.
THEY came for him once. It was on a Friday night, though luckily he had not yet risen. THEY knocked loudly, with authority and presence, so I was forced to answer. THEY poured into the house, not needing an invite. There were ten of THEM altogether, I know because I counted, all dressed identically in black stockings, black suede shoes and woolly black sweatshirts, all precisely four feet tall, all gazing up at me with menace.
Their eyes, such as they were, betrayed their identity, sour grey in colour with the distinctive zig zag markings where their souls had been removed. "We've come for the man," the leading figure hissed softly, as if hypnotising the very air through which he spoke.
"What man?" I protested, stating that I was alone, that the rest of the commune were out partying. He described the man under my floorboards in precise detail, from the colour of the roots of his hair to the smell of his fear, which I recognised from any time he was with me and heard a strange noise.
I didn't panic. I denied them again and again. "You're welcome to search." I said, offering the entire ground floor with a sweeping gesture of my arm, hoping they wouldn't think about the Floor -1 alternative.
"Oh the man is here," he hissed, "he was seen to enter." At this, the rest of THEM joined in. "Eyes see, eyes don't deceive," they chanted, one after the other, a sonic Mexican wave, and each, having thus assonated, lifted their right foot and strode with purpose into the house. 'Don't come up from the floorboards', I wished at the man, 'don't even think of coming up tonight.'
THEY failed to find him, above-ground creatures that they are. THEY tore back curtains, lifted bedsheets, explored wardrobes, shower rooms, even the heating cupboard, but found only emptiness. THEY returned to me, to quiz further. I was in the kitchen when THEY came for me and I could sense their hunger as they massed around my body, ten shadowy shapes, unsatiated, still seeking.
"Would you like some cake?" I wondered aloud, as I could think of no other distraction. To my surprise one by one their sour eyes began to light, as if coming to life after many years of death. "Cake," the leader hissed, "we like cake, feed us cake." Luckily there were plenty of cakes left that night, as I'd gotten carried away and baked too many.
I should explain, I'm the cakemaker in my commune. Storyteller and cakemaker. Both parts of the same job really, both form the desserts that follow the communal meal, the cakes eaten greedily in sweet contrast to the harsh stock food, the stories consumed equally greedily, sweet contrast to the harsh stock routines of the day. Baking and writing come from the same part of me, the unseen angel-touched part of my soul that enables me to conjure sweet enchantment. Both frequently suffer the same deficiencies, sometimes underdone, sometimes overdone, too much of one ingredient (plot, description, cinnamon), too little of another (egg, character, flour). Sometimes though, when the angel's touch comes to the surface of my fingertips, sometimes just right.
That day I'd been touched by the angel and I'd baked and baked; scones, eclairs, cupcakes, orange slices, I'd filled and emptied the oven many times that day, far too much for one commune to eat, even if it was a Friday.
When the little black figures saw the piles of cakes, pools of black drool formed in their mouthpieces and started to dribble from their faces. They hissed little sighs of pleasure as their paws, their black clawing paws, picked and poked, grasped and grabbed, like flies enjoying the fattest corpse in the desert, crumbs flying everywhere as their mouthpieces were stuffed with cake after cake.
I watched in wonder, never having seen such a scene, beasts feasting in an orgy of shameless greed that made rats seem refined. Eventually, and time runs at a different speed when THEY are present, all the cakes were gone and THEIR eyes were glowing bright red, like so many new-struck match-heads.
With all the cakes consumed, and no sign of the man, THEIR leader led THEM in an orderly line out of the door, pausing only to hiss: "We shall return."