One day earlier, Clay arrives home to find a shoebox-sized package outside his front door, addressed to him. He takes it inside and opens it. Inside is a roll of bubble wrap; when he unrolls it, he finds seven cassette tapes, each with a number on the top corner in dark blue nail polish. Both sides of each tape are numbered in order, except for the last side of the last tape—so there are only 13 numbered sides. Clay wonders who would’ve sent him the package—nobody even listens to tapes these days. He remembers that his dad keeps a stereo in the garage that can play tapes, so he heads down there and slides in the first tape.
The novel flashes back to the previous day. The reader already knows that the package will change Clay’s life—and perhaps not for the better—so witnessing the moment when he finds the package on his doorstep is exciting and ominous at the same time. The nail polish on the tapes suggests that whoever recorded them is probably a teenage girl. Adding to the tapes’ mystery is the fact that cassette tapes are an outdated kind of technology: perhaps these tapes are more of an emotional or symbolic thing than a practical way for the recorder to share information with their listeners.