My name is Raymond Miller.

I just turned 16 last January (I'm a Capricorn). I have brown hair and blueeyes. And I'm just over 7.5 centimeters tall (that's about 3 inches for themetrically impaired).

When I was born, I got my fifteen minutes of fame on page 5 of the NationalMirror. Sandwiched between stories about a man who could see out of his glasseye and a demon-possessed spider monkey was a picture of me curled up in thepalm of my mother's hand while she looked down lovingly. The headline read (Iswear I'm not making this up), “MOTHER MILLER'S MIRACULOUS TOY BOY!”That was how SPECTRUM first found out about me. Apparently, they have a coupleof specialists on staff that do nothing but comb the tabloids for potentiallyinteresting articles. I still think it's funny that a nationally renownedresearch firm would cite the Mirror as a source, but Gary says it's theseunconventional strategies that have kept SPECTRUM out in front. But I digress…When the powers that be at SPECTRUM learned of me and became convinced that Iwasn't a tabloid hoax, they approached my mother. I don't know the particularsof the deal—I like to think it was my best interests, and not the substantialmonthly checks, that persuaded her to turn me over to them. I do know that mymother's visits came less and less frequently and finally stopped altogetherwhen I was five.

I don't remember much about my mother. Her face is faint in my mined, and wouldhave probably been long forgotten if not for the pictures in the Mirror. Iremember her hand, the soft warmth of her palm and the gentle caress of herfingers. I remember red fingernails and the smell of lotion and perfume.

Let's not mince words. I've spent most of my life as a specimen. However, itreally hasn't been so bad. I mean, at least I had a room that was designed forme. I had clothes custom-tailored, and I had meals specially prepared. I had aTV, a stereo, and all the books-on-disk I would ever care to read. And I hadfriends. Louise, Gary, Sally, Alan… These people cared for me—hell, they raisedme! I've never had to endure a single moment without at least one of themnearby.

Until now…I'm standing at the upstairs window of my dollhouse, staring out at the vastexpanse of the living room beyond. My stepsister Nicole is lying on the floor,watching TV. Naomi, my stepmother, sits on the couch behind her, smoking acigarette before she goes to start dinner. My father is working late again. Iget the feeling this happens a lot.

It's only been two days, but I hate it here, living like a hamster among thesecretins. I hate Paul Dalton, who fathered me sixteen years ago and popped backup in my life, unwanted and uninvited, two months ago. I hate his wife Naomi, askinny blonde who wears too much makeup and smokes too much. And Nicole—sweet,pretty eleven-year-old Nicole—scares the living hell out of me!As if reading my mind, Nicole glances over and sees me standing at the window.

She bares her teeth at me in a predatory grin, then turns to her mother. “Momma,can Ray watch TV with me?”Naomi looks at me and shakes her head. “No, sweetheart. Leave Ray alone. Hedoesn't like to be touched.” She's still looking directly at me when she adds,“Although we may need to work on that.”She's still pissed about the trip from SPECTRUM two days ago. She and Paul cameout to pick me up, and I spent the entire trip riding in a shoebox on her lap.

The box was a bare, boring prison of cardboard that smelled faintly of leather.

I was wishing she'd put the lid back on; it would be dark, but at least Iwouldn't be subjected to Naomi's unstopping scrutiny.

“You doing okay, sweetie?” she asked as I sat huddled in the corner, as far fromher as I could manage. I looked up into her massive face, and she smiled when Imet her gaze.

“I don't like cars,” I said, shouting to be heard. “I don't like traveling.”“Well sorry, your majesty,” my father said, glancing at me from the driver'sseat. “We could've had SPECTRUM mail you to us, but I figured this would be morecomfortable.” I think he was trying to be funny, but I didn't feel likelaughing.

“Don't worry, sweetie,” Naomi said. “We're almost home.” Her smile widened intoa grin. “You know, Nicole is so excited about you. She can't wait to meet hernew brother.”I said nothing, contemplating the fate that lay ahead for me. Visions of Elmyradanced through my head. The cooing and the petting… “Oh, the cute widdle cuddly-wuddly…”It was the idea of being played with that terrified me.

“Aren't you bored just sitting there?” Naomi asked. “You want me to hold you upso you can look out the window?”“No!” I shouted, wincing as her enormous hand moved toward me. It stopped andjerked away suddenly, and Naomi frowned.

“I was just asking, sweetie,” she said, a bit icily. “You don't have to be rudeabout it.”Paul sighed and said, “For Christ's sake, Naomi. Why don't you leave the boyalone?”“I was just asking him, Paul. I don't need the two of you biting my head offabout it.”She glared down at me, then slammed the lid down in place. I spent the rest ofthe trip in blessed silence and darkness…Naomi snubs out her cigarette, stands up, and walks past my dollhouse on her wayto the kitchen. I find myself staring at her feet as she walks by—the way thesandal dangles from her toes as she lifts her foot, then slaps against her solewith each step. I feel like a voyeur, a pervert, but I can't help it. It's justone of those buttons that is so easily pressed.

I can still hear Louise's voice explaining to me, with great patience and only amodicum of embarrassment, how boys my age tend to go through a “sexualawakening” in which they experience feelings of pleasure mixed with guilt, yadda,yadda, yadda. She also explained to me that sometimes people associate sexualfeelings with non-sexual objects or body parts. She called it a fetish and sheassured me that it was nothing to be ashamed of. I remember her giving me areassuring smile, but I was too embarrassed to smile back.

The thing is, there's more to it than that. Unless you've spent your life thesize of an action figure, you can't possibly know what it's like. In my mind,people are little more than a group of their various parts. Louise is a lovely,gentle face that loomed over me for most of my life. She's a soft hand withlong, elegant fingers that held me so lovingly so often. That's how I relate topeople—as collections of vast body parts.

I wonder if Noami has seen me looking…Nicole has been watching me steadily since her mother went into the kitchen. Ikeep hoping she'll forget about me and go back to watching TV.

No such luck. With one furtive glance towards the kitchen, Nicole crawls over tothe dollhouse on her hands and knees. I back away from the window as she peersin.

“Raaaay,” she whispers. “Come out and play.”“Not now, Nicole,” I answer as reasonably as I can, hoping she can't hear thetremble in my voice. My legs are shaking from her sheer size and nearness, but Idon't want her to know how nervous I am.

“Come on,” she says. “I won't hurt you.” She taps a fingernail on the plasticwindow frame. “I just want to hold you for a minute.”“Just leave me alone,” I shout, and this time my voice does break. She gigglesand her malicious smile fills the window.

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” she says in a gruff, playful voice,climbing to her feet. “Or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in.”The floor shakes violently, and I stumble onto the green sponge that serves asmy bed. I watch with mounting horror as my dollhouse slides away from the safetyof the stucco wall. I feel vulnerable, suddenly at Nicole's mercy.

Her grinning face fills the vacancy of the fourth wall, and I can smell thatweird, fruity perfume that she wears. Her hand comes slowly towards me. I rolloff the bed and scamper to my feet, bolting through the bedroom door. I run pastthe plastic stairs, towards the bathroom. The doorway is suddenly filled withher palm as she blocks it from the other side. I turn and run back towards thebedroom, but she has done the same thing with her other hand. I jump around thebanister and start down the stairs.

Too late, I see her bare foot blocking the bottom of the stairs, her monstroustoes slowly wriggling. I try to go back up, but she has laid her hand on thefloor above, blocking my escape. Frustrated, I sit on the stairs and shout,“Leave me alone!”She flicks at me with her enormous finger, knocking me down the stairs. I hither foot and roll off it, landing on my back. Helpless, I watch her hand descendon me. I squeeze my eyes shut as she grasps me between her thumb and forefinger.

Gripping me tightly around the waist, she holds me up to her face.

“I told you to come out,” she whispers. “You should have listened to me.” Herbreath washes over me, smelling of cinnamon gum. She sees me wince and blows onme through puckered lips. Warm, wet air blows the hair from my face, and Inearly gag on the sickening sweet smell.

“Nicole, please…”My protest is cut short by a sudden, fierce pinch that forces the air from mylungs. I throw back my head but I can't find the breath to scream. I kick andflail and pound on her fingers until she finally relaxes her grip. Defeated, Ihang limply between her fingers. I blink back tears of frustration.

“Say you're sorry,” she says. It hurts to talk, but I finally manage a weakapology. She grins at me. “Now say, ‘I love you, Nicole!'” I painfully squeezethe words out, and she smiles triumphantly. “Now say…” she trails off, trying tothink of something properly demeaning for me to say. It doesn't matter; at thispoint, I'll say anything to placate her.

“Nicole!” Naomi's voice is shrill and angry. Nicole thrusts me back into thedollhouse, knocking my plastic dining room furniture aside and dropping me in aheap on the floor. I hear the slap of Naomi's sandals as she storms in angrilyfrom the kitchen.

“I was just looking at him,” Nicole says, glaring at me. Naomi grabs her by thearm and snatches her away from the dollhouse. Nicole's foot catches the wall,jarring the house and knocking everything in it askew. I cover my head, bracingmyself for the collapse that never comes.

“Go to your room,” Naomi shouts. Nicole starts to protest, but Naomi cuts heroff. “Get your ass in your room right now.”Nicole storms off, grumbling under her breath. After a couple of seconds, I hearthe bedroom door slam. I look up and cringe as Naomi's hand reaches for me. Iback away instinctively from her outstretched fingers, and I hear Naomi'sexasperated sigh. She snatches me up roughly and yanks me into the air with aspeed that makes my stomach lurch.

“I'm not going to hurt you, Ray,” she says, glaring at me with enormous eyes. “Ijust want to see if you're okay. Why do you have to be so goddamned skittish?”For several uncomfortable seconds, I lay huddled in her palm as she prods mewith the nail of her index finger. She rolls me on my back and studies me,taking some kind of perverse pleasure from my discomfort.

“She didn't mean anything by it,” Naomi says. “And if you didn't get somelodramatic every time one of us wanted to hold you, shit like this probablywouldn't happen.”An angry retort pops into my head, but I bite my lip and simply nod. Things maysuck right now, but starting an argument with Naomi can only make them worse. “Iknow,” I say, trying my best to sound reasonable. “It's just going to take somegetting used to.”“You're not the only one, kid,” she says, setting me down on the carpet next toher foot. I stand up and walk back to the dollhouse, trying not to stare as Iwalk past. The white leather strap of her sandal runs along the top of her footand down between her toes. Her nails are adorned with chipped, pink polish. Ihave this overwhelming urge to touch her foot, to run my hands along her toe…It's a crazy thought, but one I can't seem to exorcise.

“Something wrong?” she asks, wiggling her toes.

“What?” I glance up, my cheeks flushing. I see a small smile creep across herface and I realize that I have been busted.

“I asked if there was anything wrong,” she says. “You've been staring at my feetall day, and I was wondering.”Sheepish, I shrug and stammer, “I wasn't… I mean… I didn't…”Her laugh is a mean, humorless snort that makes my stomach knot. She raises herfoot slightly and says, “You'd better get back in your dollhouse before somebodyaccidentally steps on you.”I bolt for the safety of my house, stumbling across the shag carpet until Ireach the garish plastic floor. Naomi is still chuckling when she steps over thedollhouse and nudges it back against the wall with her foot. I spend the nexttwenty minutes huddled in the corner, wondering if I'll ever feel secure in thisplace again.

 As far as my life isconcerned, it's hard to say just when the shit hit the fan. But my best guesswould be my sixteenth birthday party last January.

That day went pretty much as usual until my stint in the lab with Gary. He setmy carrier down on the table and opened it up, as he always did. Only this time,when I stepped out onto the table, everybody jumped out and yelled “Surprise!”and started singing Happy Birthday. There was even a birthday cake of sorts—aTwinkie with a burning candle.

They finished singing and Louise lifted me up so I could blow out the candle.

One of Gary's assistants, a fat college kid named Tony, raised his camera tosnap my picture. Gary sighed and muttered something about security, but Tonyjust grinned back and promised him the photos would never leave the lab. “Justone,” he begged. “For the bulletin board? I'll develop it myself.”“Okay,” Gary relented. “For the bulletin board.”It was the last time we ever saw Tony.

The picture appeared in The National Mirror in February, in a special WHERE ARETHEY NOW edition. I was on page two this time. The headline read, “SPECTRUM'SSPOONSIZE SPECIMEN.” The article gave a lurid account of how my mother had soldme to the lab, where I was subjected day in and day out to inhumane experiments.

And next to the photo of me in my mother's hand was a new picture. The Twinkiehad been cropped out—all that remained was me, dangling between Louise's fingerand thumb near the open flame of the candle.

I can only imagine what kind of battle SPECTRUM's public relations people wereleft to fight. Alan Macky, one of their top security guys, was called back fromGermany to investigate the security breach and figure out who was responsible.

Poor Garywas called to the carpet for allowing the photo to be taken. For nearly twoweeks, everything came to a halt. The tutoring, the experiments, the therapysessions, everything. Then one day, Louise came in to talk to me.

“Everything's going to be fine,” she said. “The project should resume onMonday.” Even so, she didn't look terribly happy about it.

“What's wrong?” I asked.

“We got a call this morning from a man named Paul Dalton. Ever heard of him?”“No. Why?”She sighed. “He says he's your father.”I met him about a week after that. He was a short man (well, relativelyspeaking), incredibly tan, with black hair that stood up like a pompadour. Idisliked him on sight.

“I can't believe it,” he said, shaking his head as I stepped out of my case.

“I'm glad I finally get to meet you.” His voice choked when he added, “Son.”“That remains to be seen,” I said. “If you're my father, why would wait untilnow to show up?”“I didn't have a choice,” he said, his voice growing whiny and defensive. “Yourmother and I split just before you were born. I didn't even know she waspregnant. Hell, she didn't even know. But I saw her picture in the Mirror lastmonth, and when I saw your birthday I did the math and figured it out.”“Well, thanks for stopping by,” I said. “Nice meeting you.”He shook his head. “I'm getting you out of this place.”I clenched my fists and shouted, “I don't want to leave. You've got no right!”“You're just saying that because you've been brainwashed,” he said. “I readabout the kind of things that go on in this place, and I can't allow them to dothat to my son.”“They're good to me here,” I said, feeling panic creep into my voice. “Really.

They've been like a family to me since Mom…”“I'll never forgive your mother for selling you to these Nazis,” he said. “Ionly hope you can forgive me for not being there for you before now.”“I'm not leaving,” I said as defiantly as I could.

“We'll see,” he said, standing up and stepping back. “I've got a lawyer lookinginto it.”“No!”“It's for your own good, son,” he said, walking toward the door. “I'll see youin a week.”Louise held me in her cupped hands, trying to soothe me as I cried. “He can'ttake me away from here,” I kept yelling between sobs.

“We're going to do everything we can,” Louise said. “Gary and I won't let you gowithout a fight.”“You're damned right,” Garysaid. “'Nazis,' my ass.”Louise nudged him with her foot. “Language.”We were sitting at a large conference table with Alan and a bunch of people Ididn't recognize. One of them was a scary, thin guy with white hair and thickglasses. From the way he spoke, I figured he was from SPECTRUM's legaldepartment.

“From the mother, we have this nice, legally-binding document,” he was saying.

“But unfortunately for us, the father never signed anything.”“Have we made him an offer?” Gary asked. “Maybe we could pay him to walk away.”“Maybe, but I doubt it.”“Come on,” Gary shouted, slapping the marble table. “You're not buying his lineof crap about protecting his son, are you?”Louise's hands closed protectively around me and I felt her stand up. “I'mtaking Ray back to his room,” she whispered.

“We're thinking he might have gotten a better offer,” the lawyer was saying aswe left the room.

I still don't know the particulars, but apparently Paul Dalton showed up at thepreliminary hearing with some unexpected legal firepower. I was remanded intohis custody until the matter of my guardianship could be settled. Gary wasfurious when he got the news. Louise cried. But I was just numb—I had beencrying nonstop since Dalton had first shown up. By the time that creepy SPECTRUMlawyer explained to me that I would be going to live with Dalton and his family,I had no tears left. Just the chilling resignation that my blissful life atSPECTRUM was soon to end.

Naomi is putting dinner on the table when my father gets home. He gives her aperfunctory peck on the cheek, then goes into the bathroom to wash up, stillgrumbling about the day he had.

Nicole sits at the dining table, toying with her silverware and occasionallyglaring at me. When she sees me looking back, she presses her bare foot into thecarpet and twists it, as if grinding out a cigarette. She then gives me an evilgrin.

She's mad at me because she got grounded. No TV for two days. And to add insultto injury, Naomi made her come over here and apologize to me. Which she did,sweetly and sincerely. Hell, I was almost convinced until she leaned in closeand whispered through the window, “I'm going to squish you.”I turn away from the window and fall shivering into a yellow, plastic chair.

I've never felt so alone and so helpless. I miss my friends at SPECTRUM and Iwould sell my soul to be there and away from this place.

I hear the slap of Naomi's sandals approaching. “Dinner time,” she mutters.

Before I can stand up, my house is moved away from the wall. She crouches andthrusts her hand into the room, setting the little plate on the floor in frontof me. The plate contains a chunk of chicken breast, a couple of pieces ofshredded lettuce and the torn corner of a piece of bread. At my size, the mealis repugnant. But I know Naomi is in no mood to hear about it, so I thank her.

“You're welcome,” she says. But instead of standing, she stays and watches me afew seconds. Then finally, she whispers “Ray?”“Yeah?”“That thing that happened this afternoon, between you and Nicole? I don't thinkyour daddy needs to know about that.”Leverage! For the first time, I realize I'm not completely helpless. If Naomiwants my cooperation, she's going to have to earn my trust. I pretend to mull itover, saying, “I don't know. It's kind of early in mine and Dad's relationshipfor me to start keeping secrets from him.”She leans in closer, her angry face suddenly way too close for my comfort.

“Let's put it this way,” she says, her voice dripping with menace. “If you tellyour daddy, he'll punish Nicole and then he'll yell at me for letting it happen.

And when he goes to work tomorrow, I'll have you all to myself…”And suddenly, my illusion of power is gone. I realize just how helpless mysituation is. I'm at her mercy, and she knows it. And, God help me, I think sheenjoys it.

“Okay. Fine. I won't say a word,” I tell her. A tight-lipped smile appears onher face. So smug and arrogant… I clench my fists at my side and once againchoke back the anger and frustration.

“Thanks, sweetie,” she says. She touches her fingertip to her lips, then gentlytouches it to me. I close my eyes and sit there defiantly, refusing to flinch ormove away.

They all three eat their dinner without talking. The awkward silence is brokenonly by the sound of silverware clinking on the plates. Then Nicole's voicepipes up, “Daddy? Can Ray sleep with me tonight?”I hold my breath, honestly afraid of what his answer might be. Fortunately,Naomi says, “I don't think that's a good idea, sweetie. Maybe later, when Ray ismore comfortable in his new home.”“Say, that reminds me,” Paul says around a mouthful of chicken. “I was talkingto Rachel Foster today, and she warned me that the media is going to go nutsonce Ray's story breaks. Her firm is supposed to handle the publicity, so if anyreporters call or come by, we're just supposed to give them her name andnumber.”“Reporters?” Naomi asks. “Nobody said anything about goddamned reporters.”“Naomi, honey, it's to be expected. Before this is all over, I expect we're allgoing to be a little famous. Ray, most of all.”“Cool,” Nicole says. “Are we gonna be on TV?”“Maybe,” Paul answers. “Maybe some big shot producer will see you and decide tomake you a movie star.”“Oh, Daddy!” Nicole giggles. “I can't wait to tell Kim!”Naomi heaves a martyred sigh. “So, does that mean we don't have to keep Ray asecret anymore?”“Right,” Paul says. “I was thinking about throwing a barbecue or something thisweekend. Invite our family and friends over and introduce them to Ray.”“Oh, for Christ's sake Paul,” Naomi snaps. “Thanks for giving me so much notice.

I'll have to go grocery shopping tomorrow, and the house is a mess. I told Suzynot to come this week because I thought we were supposed to keep Ray underwraps.”“Well, call her and ask her to come tomorrow,” Paul says. “Hell, invite her andher parents to the barbecue.”Paul and Nicole chatter on happily about the cookout, gradually warming Naomi tothe idea. In a matter of minutes, they're all tossing out names to be added tothe invite list. Cheryl and her daughter Kim from next door… Jim and BarbaraRose… Linda and her husband… Naomi's sister Debbie…God, I am so not looking forward to this… It's late. I don't knowhow late because I don't have a working clock in my house. All I have is aplastic grandfather clock eternally set for 2:30. But it's been at least an hoursince everybody went to bed. Nicole went first, glaring at me as she passed thedollhouse and whispering “Goodnight, Ray,” in an icy voice. Naomi went soonafter, flashing me a thin smile as she passed by me.

Paul stayed up for a while after that, watching the Honeymooners on Nick at Niteand drinking rum from a plastic Batman cup. At last, he stood up, turned off thelamp and the TV, and stumbled by the glow of the nightlight into his bedroom.

When I heard his door shut, I breathed a sigh of relief and lay down on mysponge bed.

It's taken about an hour for me to relax and unwind. I've got knots in myshoulders so tight that my neck pops every time I turn my head. When this usedto happen at SPECTRUM, Louise would wrap me in a hot washcloth and then gentlyprod my shoulders with her fingertip until the tension melted. God, I miss herso much…Louise Herndon is the most beautiful woman I've ever known, and I love herdearly. She's in her mid-forties now, but she looks like she always has. Long,black hair and pale, smooth skin. Deep brown eyes and a smile that makes myheart pound. It's almost Oedipal, I suppose, since she's been more of a motherto me than anybody else, but I love her deeply and whole-heartedly the only wayI can. I think of the days ahead without her, and I feel empty.

My “sexual awakening” (as Louise so tastefully referred to it) happened a coupleof years ago, when I was 14. It wasn't a gradual thing, but rather a sudden,brutish onslaught of lust and shame. I was frightened by the ferocity of theseuninvited feelings, but…Okay. I'm trying to make it sound more poetic than it was.

The therapy session began as any other. Louise set my carrier down on the coffeetable in her office. I stepped out of the case and sat down on the edge of thetable, letting my legs dangle. Louise sat in a chair a few feet away. It wassummer, and she was wearing a short green dress and brown leather sandals.

For some reason, the sight of her sandaled foot made my heart race and my throatgo dry. I felt a nervous excitement gnawing in my belly that seemed to sink tomy groin. The next thing I knew, I was sporting an erection.

She was asking me about an argument that I had had with Leslie (my math tutor),and I was trying to answer her as best I could, but my eyes kept wandering backto her foot. Her toenails were pale pink and freshly painted. She flexed hertoes unconsciously as she spoke, and the sandal dangled slightly from the soleof her foot. My face was burning and I choked back a gasp as I struggled withthis sudden, inexplicable lust.

“Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded and muttered something about not feeling toowell. I forced myself to look away from her foot and into her eyes. I feltguilty for my mental violation and I refused to allow myself another moment ofweakness. I shoved the invading thoughts from my mind and concentrated on thesession at hand.

I kept myself busy throughout the evening with the extra math homework Lesliehad given me and tried not to think about what had happened in Louise's office.

But that night, as I lay in bed watching Letterman, I found myself unable topush the thoughts out. They crept back again and again. I closed my eyes and sawher foot, vast and beautiful. Finally I turned off the TV and dropped off into afitful sleep.

The next day, I could hardly concentrate on my classes. I kept thinking aboutLouise and said a silent prayer that she would wear sandals again. I barely atemy lunch and Gary got onto me for blowing the work in the lab. But 4:00 finallycame and my heart nearly burst with elations when I heard the slap of Louise'ssandals on the tile floor.

It was even better this time. She kept her feet on the floor, but she slid herfoot out of her sandal and toyed with it while she talked to me. I kept tellingmyself to look away, that she was going to figure out what I was doing, but Icouldn't stop watching her toes grip the sandal strap and lift it before lettingit drop back to the floor. I don't remember what she said. My answers wereevasive and probably made little sense. She finally called an end to the sessionand took me back to my room.

I couldn't even eat my dinner because my stomach was tied in such knots. I triedto read another chapter of Pride and Prejudice, but I couldn't keep my mind onit. After reading the same paragraph over and over for an hour, I finallyswitched off the monitor and lay down on the bed.

I thought of her pink toenails and wondered what it would have been like topaint them. I remembered the sole of her foot and I imagined myself beneath it,watching it descend on me. My erection became so tight that it hurt. I rolledover on my stomach, without really knowing why, and thought of her toying withthe sandal. I pictured myself between her toes, struggling to free myself as shewiggled them. I felt an explosion in my groin and my stomach was suddenly warmand sticky. Every muscle in my body tensed. I arched my back and raised my headas a convulsion wracked my body. I gasped and let my head fall to the pillow,exhausted and relieved.

This went on for almost two weeks. I spent the session ogling her feet and Ispent my evenings fantasizing about them. I created these incredibly sordidfantasies where Louise caught me looking and punished me. I spent most of mytime in these fantasies wedged between her toes or dangling from her sandalstrap, while she said such inane things as “So you like feet, do you?” or“Submit to me, my little foot slave.”I'm still not sure why I brought it up in our session; maybe I was going crazykeeping it to myself, or maybe I just wanted to hear her say out loud how shewould feel with me pinned beneath her foot. I was feeling pretty cagey, and Ifigured she was still in the dark about my petulant fantasies, so I just triedto bring up the topic as subtly as I could. I mentioned that I'd had a dreamabout her the night before in which she had almost stepped on me.

She asked me how long I'd been having these dreams, and I told her for a coupleof weeks. She frowned, and I knew I'd given the wrong answer. She crossed herfeet at the ankles and slid them under the chair as she leaned forward, and Iknew my cover was blown. Of course she knew! She was a licensed therapist, forGod's sake! And I was some smart ass kid trying to trick her into talking dirtyto me.

Louise didn't get mad and she didn't chide me for being a little pervert.

Instead, she explained to me that boys my age tended to go through a “sexualawakening” in which they experienced feelings of pleasure mixed with guilt. Shealso explained to me about fetishes and tried to assure me that they werecompletely normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Things eventually got back to normal, for the most part. The fantasies dimmedand eventually became no more than a piece of my nighttime routine. My sessionswith Louise became less awkward as the weeks rolled by. But although she claimedotherwise, I knew I had embarrassed her to some degree because she never woresandals in our sessions again.

A noise just outside the house awakens me. I bolt upright, and my aching neckimmediately makes me regret it. I see a shadow brush by the window, and I turnaway, afraid to look. Afraid that I'll see Nicole's face staring back at me.

I lie there in my bed, listening to somebody breathing outside my window.

Idiotically, I feign sleep, thinking whomever it is might lose interest.

Surprisingly, it works. Whoever it is moves away and walks into the living room.

For a second I lay there, my heart pounding at the close call. I hear the phonebeing lifted from the hook with a soft beep. Somebody dials a number.

Cautiously, I climb out of bed and peek out the window. Naomi is sitting in thechair in the living room, her legs tucked beneath her, dialing the phone. Sheglances in my direction and I drop to the floor, praying she didn't see me.

“Hey,” I hear her whisper. “It's me.” A pause, then a giggle. “I know. I had towait for everybody to go to sleep.” Her voice becomes quieter and less distinct.

Occasionally, she giggles and clamps her hand over her mouth to muffle it.

“Quiet,” she admonishes whoever is on the line. “You're gonna make me wake upRay.”The rest of the conversation is murmurs and whispers, and when the airconditioner kicks on, I know I won't hear another word. I still watch her fromthe window, amazed by the smile on her face. I don't think I've seen her happysince I got here. She makes a kissing sound into the phone, then hangs up with agiggle. She glances towards the dollhouse again and I bolt away from the windowand leap into my green sponge bed.

I hear her approach, the muffled footsteps of her slippers on the carpet. I liethere, forcing myself to breathe deeply and regularly, praying she can't hearthe pounding of my heart.

She's right outside my window. Even with my back to her, I can feel her eyes onme. I have this urge to leap up and scream into her vast face, “Just leave mealone!” But of course, I don't. I lie there, pretending to sleep, waiting forher to walk away.

She lights a cigarette, and for about ten minutes, I hear her inhale sharply,then exhale with a deep sigh. I can smell the smoke as it wafts through mybedroom. I fight the urge to cough, afraid any signs of consciousness mightencourage her to do more than watch me.

Finally, I hear her stand up with a soft grunt, and she pads back into herbedroom. It's only after I hear her shut her door that I sit up and heave a sighof relief. Which, of course, sets me to coughing. My bedroom reeks of cigarettesmoke.

I think of how Naomi acted on the phone, all giddy and giggly, afraid of gettingcaught. The kissing noises, the tender smile…I think she might have a boyfriend…I'm standing in the break room at SPECTRUM, the one where we had my birthdayparty. Only everything is my size. My body feels awkward, as if only barelyunder my control. I see the Twinkie with the extinguished candle sitting on thetable… the wick is still smoking. I take a stumbling step forward.

“It looks like your wish came true!” Louise is standing on the other side of thetable, smiling at me.

“What's happening?” I ask her.

“We made you normal,” she says. “You're not a freak anymore, and you don't haveto go live with the Daltons.”I'm filled with a strange elation as I realize that everything is going to beall right! I gaze into Louise's beautiful brown eyes and clumsily make my waytowards her. Smiling, she walks towards me, her arms outstretched…An evil giggle fills the room, and I catch a glimpse of Nicole's monstrous eyein the window.

I wake up sobbing.

It's morning. Paul left for work an hour ago, and Naomi just went into thekitchen to make breakfast. Naomi's tuneless humming is soon drowned out by thesplatter-pop of bacon frying.

I'm so hungry—I haven't eaten a decent meal since I got here—but the smell ofthe bacon mingled with cigarette smoke makes my stomach clench. God, I'm goingto starve to death if Nicole doesn't get me first.

As if on cue, Nicole comes bounding into the dining room, swinging her backpack.

She drops it to the floor with a thud, “accidentally” letting it fall against mydollhouse. She stops and kneels, filling the window with her leering eye.

“Oops,” she says. “I'm sorry, Ray. I hope I didn't knock any of your itty bittythings over.”I suddenly remember my dream, and the acute pang of loss I felt when I realizedthat's all it was. I turn from the window and clench my fists, commanding myselfnot to start crying again. Not now. Not in front of her.

“Don't you turn your back on me, midget,” she snaps. “Get over here right now,or I'll squish you…”My sadness and fear give way to anger. With the exhilaration of someone withnothing to lose, I whirl towards the window and shout, “Jesus, would you justfuck off and die, you bitch?”The smile on her face falters; she jerks as if slapped, and then shouts in avoice so loud and shrill that it tears through my head. “Momma! Ray just calledme some bad names!”From the kitchen, Naomi says, “Leave Ray alone and sit down. Breakfast is almostready.”“But Momma, he said the ‘F' word and he called me the ‘B' word!”“And I'm gonna whip your ‘A' word if you don't sit down right now.”Nicole glares at me through narrow eyes and I, with a feeling of gleefulabandon, flip her off. She stands up and I feel the house shake as she lays herhands on it.

“Nicole!” Naomi storms over and yanks her away from the dollhouse. “I swear toGod, if you don't stay away from Ray, I'm gonna ground you ‘til college! Now sityour ass down at that table right now!”“But Momma!”“NOW!”Nicole sits down and sulks as Naomi slides my house away from the wall and setsmy repugnant meal of egg pieces and bacon slivers down before me.

“Are you okay, Ray?” she asks, smiling that annoying patronizing smile of hers.

I wish I were big enough to wipe it off her face.

“Fine,” I mutter, my arms crossed. Her hand hovers, as if trying to decidewhether or not to stroke me.

“You don't have to worry,” she says. “Nicole won't hurt you. She's just…”“Oh, for Christ's sake!” I shout, leaping to my feet and kicking at her enormousfingers. She yanks her hand away and glares at me.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” she asks.

“Like you even care!” I grab the plate of food and throw it at her. It bouncesineffectually off her cheek and splatters all over the plastic floor of mybedroom.

“You little bastard,” Naomi snaps, brushing her cheek.

“You see, Momma?” Nicole says, running over to watch. “Ray's being mean today.”“Nicole,” go sit down and eat your breakfast,” Naomi says. “Ray and I are goingto go have a little talk.”“I've got nothing to say to you,” I shout.

“Oh, we'll see about that,” Naomi says. I scramble backwards as her giant handcomes towards me, but there is no escape. She grasps me between her thumb andforefinger and pulls me roughly from the safety of the dollhouse.

Instead of cradling me in her cupped palm, Naomi simply lets me dangle betweenher fingers as she carries me down the hall into her and Paul's bedroom. Shekicks the door shut and sits down on the unmade bed.

“Okay, now,” she says, holding me up. She smells of cigarettes and fried food,and her angry face is surprisingly severe without makeup. “What the hell has gotinto you this morning?”“I hate this place!” I shout back at her. “I hate all of you! Why did you haveto take me away from SPECTRUM? I was happy until you people came along andFUCKED EVERYTHING UP!”“It's not gonna be so bad,” she says. “Once you get used to things here, I thinkyou'll like it better. And you gotta understand that this is just as hard for meand your daddy…”“Just because Paul Dalton fucked my mother seventeen years ago doesn't make himmy father,” I shout defiantly. “And you're not my ‘Momma,' so quit pretendinglike you are!”Her finger and thumb pinch together fiercely, and I scream at the sudden pain. Iwrithe and kick in her grasp.

“Be still,” she says. “You don't talk to me like that, you little shit. Do youunderstand me?”I wipe at the tears in my eyes and glare at her. She pinches me again. “I said,do you understand me?”Frustrated, helpless, and tired of feeling that way, I nod and whisper, “Yesma'am.”“Good.” She releases her grip and I drop into the palm of her other hand. “Now Idon't know what kind of bug crawled up your ass, but this little tantrum ofyours is over. Your daddy and me have gone through a lot of trouble for you, andI'm sick and tired of your little pissy attitude.”“Yes ma'am.”“You do it again, and you'll see how bad things can get. No more dollhouse. Nomore hot meals. I'll tape you up and stick you in a drawer. Understand?”“Yes ma'am.”She smiles. “Good boy.” She stands up and we head back to the kitchen. Justbefore we reach the end of the hallway, she whispers, “Now you be good, andMomma will give you a bath after breakfast.”It's amazing the things you take for granted. Like food that doesn't make youretch when you look at it. Or your own TV, stereo and personal library ofdigital books. Or, for that matter, plumbing.

When I lived at SPECTRUM, my little apartment had running water, including aworking toilet and a shower. Unfortunately, my current residence lacks thisconvenience. My drinking water comes from a shot glass that Naomi keeps filledand sets in my kitchen. My toilet consists of some small, white paper ketchupcups that Naomi lifted from Dairy Queen. And bathing… well, bathing reallysucks.

Nicole has gone to school, and Naomi is sitting in the living room, chatting onthe phone with someone named Cheryl. From what I can tell, Cheryl lives nextdoor, is divorced, and has a daughter named Kim who is close to Nicole's age.

“Oh yeah, you've got to see him to believe it,” Naomi says on the phone. Shelooks towards the dollhouse, sees me, and smiles. “Well, Paul really wanted towait until the barbecue tomorrow night to show him to people but I guess youcan… oh, he'd love that, I'm sure.” Naomi giggles and holds up her bare foot toregard her toenails. “Well, yeah, I am in dire need of a pedicure. I wasthinking about putting Ray to work.” She giggles again and says, “Cheryl, youdirty-minded thing!”God, it just gets worse and worse.

“Well, how about this afternoon?” she says. “I still need to shower. Besides,Suzy's coming to clean today and I kind of need to be here because she hasn'tmet Ray yet. I'd hate for her to accidentally vacuum him up or something.” Shegiggles, then says, “Okay, Cheryl, I'll see you about noon then. Okay. Bye-bye.”She hangs up, then stands and ambles toward the dollhouse. “Ray, sweetie,” shesays, peeking through the window at me. “Momma's gonna go take a shower. Whydon't I go ahead and give you a bath while I'm at it?”For the past two days, I've dreamed of a bath. I feel so grimy and itchy rightnow I can't stand it. And I'm really starting to stink. I figured it was beneathNaomi's notice, but when she put me back in my house this morning, she made acomment about how it was starting to smell like a gerbil cage.

But the prospect of bathing in front of Naomi makes me cringe. And what if, Godforbid, she wants me to bathe with her? I can't even think about that. I know Idon't stand a chance of talking her out of it, but I try anyway. I sigh and say,“I'd really rather not right now.”For a second, I expect her to be angry. But she smiles and says, “I suppose youcould shower with me, if you wanted to.” Her giggle makes my blood run cold.

“No, that's okay. A bath will be fine. Give me a minute to get ready.”I rummage through all the clothes I brought with me from SPECTRUM, and I pullout my bathing suit. I step into the corner, out of her sight, and slip it on.

Then I go downstairs and out the front door to step into her waiting hand.

Naomi carries me into her bathroom and sets me down on the marble counter, rightnext to her clam-shaped sink. She turns on the faucet and holds her finger underit until it's warm enough. Then she flicks the stopper into place.

“Let's see,” she says to herself. She sets the enormous bar of soap and a bathrag down on the edge of the basin and turns off the water.

“Okay,” she says, turning her attention to me. “I think we're about ready.”“I can take it from here, Naomi,” I say. “Really.”“Okay, sweetie,” she says. She scrapes a sliver of soap off the bar with herfingernail, then offers it to me. She picks me up and starts to put me in thesink, but reconsiders.

“Ray? Maybe you should take those trunks off.”Horrified, I crane my neck up to look at her. “What? Why?”She shrugs. “You're supposed to be bathing, not swimming. Besides, what's withall the modesty?” A scary, predatory grin appears on her face. “What could youpossibly have to hide in there?”“Naomi, please.”“Oh, okay.” Her fingers envelop my body and her hand lowers me into the sink.

Her hand withdraws, leaving me sitting chest deep in warm water.

From inside the sink, I can't see her. But I hear the shower start up, and Ihear her digging around for a towel. After a few minutes, I can see the mirrorbehind the sink fogging up. I can hear her humming, but I don't recognize thetune.

I lather up with the sliver of soap and splash around to rinse off. God, it'sincredible! I rub the soap into my hair, then dunk my head to rinse it. I'm donein a matter of minutes, but I'm pretty much trapped in the sink until Naomi letsme out. So I lay back and float in the warm water, feeling my tired musclesrelax. For the first time in three days, I feel almost human…After a few minutes, I hear the water cut off and the shower door open. Naomicontinues to hum as she towels off. I can hear her rub her hair vigorously withthe towel. Soon, I hear her wet footsteps on the bathroom tile.

“That's better,” she says, peeking into the sink. Her hair is wrapped in a whitetowel. “You done?”I nod and stand, glad to have the bath over with, and relieved that it wasn'tnearly as bad as I had imagined. Naomi reaches down and scoops me up into herpalm. She starts to set me down on the counter next to the bath rag, but shereconsiders. Instead, she picks up the rag and begins dabbing at me with it.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Just drying you off, sweetie,” she says. She rubs gently with the rag, wipingmy chest and stomach. “Hmmm,” she says, putting the rag down.

“What?”She smiles. “Nothing. I just think we'd better get you out of those wet trunks.”“No!” I struggle as her fingers tighten around me. Her other hand hovers aboveme like a monstrous bird.

“Don't,” I plead as she grasps my swimming trucks with the tips of herfingernails and slides them off of me. Despite my protests, she effortlesslypulls them from my kicking legs. She tosses my trunks onto the counter and picksup the rag to continue drying me off.

“There we go, sweetie,” she says. “Feel better?”“I'm fine,” I say, just ready to return to the relative safety of my dollhouse.

“Good,” she says, carrying me over to her vanity. She sits on the stool andbends to set me on the floor.

“Now what?” I ask.

“I dried you off,” she says with a tight-lipped smile. “Now it's your turn.”I find myself standing on the bathroom floor in a puddle of water. Naomi's barefeet are on either side of me, still wet from the shower. Her hand comes downand drops the washrag on the floor in front of me. I take the rag and drag itover to her left foot. I begin wiping along the arch, down towards her toes.

It's debasing and humiliating, but what bothers me most is that some part of mewants to do it.

“Get between the toes real good, sweetie,” she says, fanning her toes apart tomake it easy. Nervously, I dab between her big and second toe, my heart poundingfrom the feeling of sheer helplessness. She giggles suddenly, clenching her toestogether and snatching the rag from my hand. Startled, I jump backwards.

“Sorry, sweetie. Momma's ticklish there.” She releases the rag and slides herfoot towards me, spreading her toes apart again. I'm suddenly, painfully awareof my erection. I grab the rag and continue to wipe the water from her foot,praying she doesn't notice. I make my way around her heel, trying not to noticethe way her toes are slowly wriggling. Trying not to imagine how it must feel tobe grasped helplessly between them…When I'm done with her left foot, she turns slightly and brings her right footto rest on the tile in front of me. For a glorious, terrifying second, I can seethe sole of her foot. What must it feel like to be trapped beneath it, to feelits flesh press me to the floor? Shaking my head, desperate (yet reluctant) tobe done, I start to work.

By the time I finish, I'm pretty much drenched again. Naomi reaches down andsnatches me into the air along with the damp rag. I squirm and shift in hergrip, trying desperately to hide my erection from her. Fortunately, she doesn'tnotice, or at least pretends not to. She just wipes me dry with the rag andtosses it onto the counter.

“You're not still angry at Momma about this morning, are you?” she asks in ateasing tone.

I choke back the resentment in my voice as I shake my head. “No ma'am.” One of my friends atSPECTRUM was an engineer named Sally Mabudafhasi. She was an older woman, fiftyor so, from South Africa.

I remember that she spoke with this beautiful, exotic accent that was clippedand vaguely European. She also wore these thick glasses that made her brown eyesamazingly large.

Three years ago, Sally was working on the lights in my apartment. I was lying onmy bed, watching her brown fingers as they nimbly navigated the tangle of wiresand circuits. It was almost frightening to realize just how complicated my homebecame once you peeked beyond the bare white walls.

“Ray?” she said. “Have you ever heard of the abatwa?”It sounded like one of my vocabulary words. “Isn't that a slaughterhouse?”Sally laughed. “No, not abattoir. Abatwa.”I shook my head. “Uh huh. What's the abatwa?”“The abatwa are this race of little tiny people that the Zulus believe in. Myaunt used to come visit us in the city, and she would tell me stories aboutthem. They're supposed to be really shy, and they only show themselves tobabies, holy men and pregnant women. In fact, my aunt used to tell me that mymother had seen an abatwa sleeping in an anthill outside our house when she waspregnant with me. I never believed her though.”“How come?”“Because if you're pregnant and you see an abatwa, you're supposed to have ason. That's what the legends say, anyway.”Her hand withdrew from my quarters, then returned with a tiny soldering probe.

The air was filled with the sour, bitter smell of soldered wire.

“Anyway, my aunt told me that the abatwa were so tiny that an entire tribe couldride on one horse, sitting behind one another from the neck to the tail. Theywould ride the horse to hunt food and if they didn't find anything, then they'deat the horse.”“Cool. Then what?”Her hand withdrew again, then returned one more time to snap the panel back onthe wall.

“I don't know,” Sally said. “I guess they would go looking for another horse.”“Well, did anybody ever catch one?”“Probably not,” she said. “They carry these poisoned arrows that can kill a maneasy, so most people go out of their way to avoid them. In fact, my aunt saideverybody in her village wore thick, hard shoes when they went walking in thehills just in case they accidentally stepped on one.”“Ewww.” At the time, the idea of being stepped on was repugnant and frightening.

“Anyway, I thought you'd be interested,” she said, finishing up her repairs. Shetapped on the wall with her fingertip, and the lights flickered on above me.

“That should do it, Ray,” she said. “Give it a try.”I clapped my hands twice, and the lights went out. Clapped again, and they cameback on.

“Cool,” I said. “Thanks!”I'm lying on my green sponge bed, wishing right now that I had some of thosepoisoned arrows. Just three would be enough…Naomi is sitting in the living room, reading a magazine. The Price Is Right ison the TV, and the constant blare of “Come on doooowwwwn!” is starting to giveme a headache. Life sucks, but at least I'm fully clothed. And clean. Now if Icould just get something decent to eat…“Ray, sweetie,” Naomi calls me from the living room. “You wanna come watch TVwith Momma?” Dammit, why can't she just leave me alone? I just lie there,wondering how long I'll get away with pretending I can't hear her.

I find myself toying with the idea of fleeing the dollhouse and living like arat. I would never dream of trying to make it in the outside world, but for somereason the idea of scampering for cover and avoiding capture appeals to me.

Darting under furniture, or even burrowing an elaborate network of tunnelsthroughout the house.

I remember Louise reading me The Borrowers when I was younger. The idea ofliving secretly in the world of giants was exciting and oddly tantalizing. Iconcocted elaborate fantasies in which I was a Borrower who had been discoveredand captured. I spent many nights imagining that my guerilla brethren wouldmount a massive rescue mission to free me from the giants and take me home. Ofcourse, I would never leave Louise, so in my fantasies she would always comealong to live with us…What can I say? I was eight.

“Ray?” Naomi calls from just outside, startling me. I didn't even hear herapproach. “Why don't you come out now, sweetie?”I just lie there, hoping she'll go away if I ignore her.

“Ray?” The house shakes as she nudges it with her foot. “You in there?”Just go away, I chant silently to myself. Just go away. Just go away. Just goaway.

“I'm going to count to three.”Justgoawayjustgoawayjustgoawayjustgoaway…“One… two…”“I'm coming,” I call out to her. Defeated, I climb down the stairs and go outthe front door to stand at her feet. That's the problem with fantasy. It setsstandards too high for reality to ever live up to.

She sits on the couch, cradling me in her palm. Her foot rests on the edge ofthe coffee table, her toes toying idly with the TV Guide. I catch myselfstaring, then glance up nervously to see if she saw me. Fortunately, Naomi istoo entranced in her “stories” to pay me too much attention. Bob Barker has leftthe air, giving way to The Young and the Restless.

I have no idea who these people are, but Naomi watches this show religiously.

I'm treated to her non-stop commentary: “Oh, I hate her. She's such a bitch. Shewon't be happy until the rest of the world is as miserable as she is.”She strokes me absently with her thumb, which isn't so bad. Her thumbnail pokesgently at my chest, then traces a path down my stomach. I take a deep breath andlean back against her fingers, feeling the warmth of her skin through my cottonclothes.

“Suzy should be here any minute,” Naomi says during the first commercial break.

“Who is Suzy?” I ask.

“She cleans the house every Thursday, and she baby-sits for Nicole when we needher to. She's a real sweet girl. Oriental, but sharp as a tack and she speaksEnglish real good. I think you'll like her.”I doubt it seriously. In fact, I'm fairly confident that when this day is over,I will have added yet another name to my Dalton Household Hate List.

The doorbell rings just as Jill Abbot is divulging her plan to screw VictorNewman once and for all. Naomi sets me down on the table and goes t