15-year-old Eric Stevenson sits at the dinner table of his suburban home, eating spaghetti with his parents under candlelight. His father, a businessman, wears a blue tie, a trim white dress shirt and suit pants from work. His mother, who works as a secretary in a dental office, wears a nice comfortable red dress, her hair back in a bun, and a thin pair of glasses rests on her nose. They eat in silence, with an air of familiarity as they have eaten at the same table each night at around the same time ever since Eric was old enough to sit on the booster seat. But lately, there have been changes in Eric's personality--changes which bewilder them. Of course, they know he is going through the typical pubescent changes which are natural and probably his personality changes are also normal and, they trust, are phases which will pass too. Soon, they hope, their son will stop wearing all black, will go back to listening to and sharing in their classical music taste instead of listening to low droning or loud raucous "noise" as his parents say of his "incendiary" musical taste, and they further hope he will pick up a sport--like baseball or soccer--at school. Maybe they were too complaisant, and figured since he appeared to be happy that there would be no real reason for him to change. His parents seem to have lost touch with much of the familiarity of their son, whose personality seems to have gradually changed in subtle yet obscure ways. They don't like to show him off to friends anymore as their cheeky little son, as they used to. It's hard for them to do that now because his appearance seems to be getting more and more frightening. His eyes always appear with bags under them and his skin is so pale it resembles a ghost. With that and his dark clothes, he more and more looks out of place in his surroundings.
A month before this evening's dinner, Eric's mother had gotten a phone call from Eric's science teacher and principal on three-way to report that he had apparently built three exit-free mazes at school, had enclosed mice inside each one, and showed off the frustrated mice to students during lunch all the while towering over the mazes laughing. It was only until a freshman student and president of the school's save-the-manatee club saw this spectacle, decided it wasn't right and went directly to the principal's office to tell on him. Eric steadfastly denied that the mazes were his until the school's woodshop teacher happened to come into the principal's office, got word of the situation, and revealed what he knew. He uncomfortably provided that he had supplied the materials for which the mazes were built--he had thought that that the mazes were for some other trustworthy purpose not involving mice and so had let Eric come after class to build them. Further, the science teacher spoke of how Eric had repeatedly urged to allow him to do an extra-credit science project involving mice. The science teacher maintained that using mice for the proposed experiment was a bit extreme. "It's wasn't necessary" turning to Eric accusingly "you could achieve better, more accurate results by using a computer for such an experiment," turning back to the principal and science teacher with stern confusion then back to Eric. "It's just not practical and you know it Eric" he said firmly, perplexed by his best students' interest in using mice in such scientific experiments. Eric felt the sting of his teacher's last words but kept his cool. When questioned as to why he would create such a maze for mice Eric responded: "No one likes mice least of all me, all they do is chew on everything, defecate all over, and poke their filthy twitching faces into piles of garbage. And they're hideous little savages too, with their beady little eyes, their repulsive tails, and the annoying little squeaking sounds they make."
While eating their dinner in silence aside from the din of utensils clinking dishes, Eric stares down at his plate and slowly eats his food. His parents periodically look at him quizzically and exchange furtive glances with each other. Finally, after many minutes, Eric brakes the silence by coughing, causing his parents to look up. Once he has their attention he asks a surprising request of his parents. "Mom, dad" he says calmly "I know that the mouse-maze incident upset you a great deal and I've been grounded for a month now and have been good." His parents are deeply engaged in their son, trying to understand him and eager to see what he's getting at. "What is it Eric?" his mother responds. "OK. Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking and I would like to move to the downstairs room" he says. "What downstairs room?" questions his father "you mean the basement?" His mother interjects "The basement! Why would you want to move down to the basement?" "Well" says Eric "I wish that you'd respect my privacy on this one, I assure you my motives are honest." "Come on" his parents object. "You'll just have to trust me" counters Eric. "Well, the answer is a definite NO Eric" says his mother. "Yeah, we can't let you do that" confirms the father. And with that the dinner table quietens and falls back to a more pensive silence.
After Eric excuses himself the parents remain at the table. "Why in the world would he or anyone for that matter want to live down there?" Eric's mother says. The father replies "I don't know, I just don't know anymore with him." "Well, I mean do you think we should let him?" "Again, I don't know. I don't like the idea, but there've been so many ideas I don't like. Let's just wait and see if he tries to bother us again with this business. Heck, maybe he'll abandon the idea on his own." "I guess so" says the mother "all I can say is that he'd better understand that there's not going to be any funny business. Our house has rules--no matter the floor."
As Eric's parents are holding this conversation, Eric is in his own room having his own conversation about the matter with his guitar-playing high-pitched sounding friend on the phone. On the other line Eric can hear his friend strumming his electric guitar, people chatting, and police and occasionally police or ambulance sirens. "Yeah, I told them…they're probably laughing and mocking me right now" Eric says earnestly. "Like 'ha ha…our son has to do as we say because we are the authority" he says feigning a tone of evil authority. "Do you think so?" his friend says dubiously. "You know, dude, I am having a little bit of trouble understanding why you want to move down there too. I mean, you're room is so nice and clean. It's spacious and you even have a bathroom right next door. I can't tell you how much I would love to just roll out of bed walk a few feet and pee. Oh, it would be righteous. Instead I have to walk all the way to the other side of the house." "No man, you don't understand, I thought you would but you're right you don't" Eric says agitatedly. "I live in a strictly regimented household--it's so boring here. There's nothing to do, I get restless all the time and just end up roaming the rooms of my house, frustrated and bored, walking in circles. And in my neighborhood, there's nothing to do at all, there are not many kids and all of them are younger than I am anyway. But you, you've got plenty of people to hang out with in your neighborhood that are your age. You've got a gas station down the street from you that's open 24/7. Where you live is so exciting." "Dude, whatever, you've got a nice pad, nice folks. This morning I went to take a shower and when I was in the middle of shaving the water ran cold. Then when I went to make toast for breakfast the toaster didn't work. At least you got some reliability." "Well, life will be better downstairs" Eric says, eyes gleaming.
For the next few weeks, Eric would spend his time downstairs in the basement cleaning, reading, doodling, and doing whatever. He would come upstairs to sleep, of course, and to eat. His parents noticed his time down there and also that the basement was looking cleaner than it had since they could remember. They had also noticed the pleading looks in Eric's eyes when he would watch his mother doing her crossword puzzle in the morning, or see spy on his dad doing the laundry and the way he appeared wistfully vacant during meals. Privately his parents had conversed with each other and consented that he could make the move downstairs to live. It was completely beyond them but he had been good and had done a nice job of cleaning that they gave in. Once Eric heard the news, he thanked them, rejoiced internally and set to work packing his meager possessions into a backpack and a duffel bag and gleefully brought them down to the basement along with his mattress.
On the first night in his new room, Eric lay under the covers of his bed with a smile on his face, happy to have gotten what he wanted. Suddenly he heard a squeal and looked to see a mouse run by then stop to stare at him, its face sniffing in his direction. Seemingly involuntarily Eric let out a great shriek of terror.