Downsized

Downsized

Downsized

---------

by Andrew Nellis

a.k.a. the Poison Pen

[email protected]

copyright 1997"The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the

feet of men; and so with the paths the mind travels. How

worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world,

how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!"                                Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

"So," said the psychiatrist. "Suppose you tell me why you've come to see me, and

what you'd like to accomplish." He leaned back into the deep leather of his

swivel chair, steepling his fingers before him in a way that suggested infinite

patience and profound thought. This was no accident, for he had spent months

perfecting just such a posture.

The woman who sat across the desk from him was unusually petite and fine-boned,

her feet not quite reaching the floor. "I think I'm going crazy," she said.

There was no drama in her voice. It was stated as a simple matter of fact.

"I see," said the psychiatrist soberly. He nodded sagely. It was a very good

nod. He practiced it often in front of the mirror.

"May I smoke?"

"Please, feel free," replied the psychiatrist, pushing an ash tray forward on

his desk.

The woman lit her cigarette with an expensive gold lighter. Sighing, she used

her fingers to lift the tiny, inch-tall little man from his imprisonment in the

ash tray and released him onto the desk. He immediately scampered away, crawling

underneath a small stack of medical journals. "I don't suppose you saw that,"

said the woman wearily.

"Saw what?" said the psychiatrist.

"That's what I thought." The woman smoked her cigarette for a while in silence.

"Where should I start?"

"The beginning is always a good place."

The little man peeked out from his hiding place. The woman stared at him. She

thought there might even be a look of sympathy on his face alongside the fear.

"It all started," she said, "the day I was fired."

* * *

"I'm fired?" Her voice bordered on hysteria.

Harvey smiled with false sympathy. "Not fired, Meg. Downsized. You know how it

is. Profits are down again this quarter, no one is buying. Everyone is

struggling. We have to lighten the load."

"You can't do this to me," said Meg. "I just put a down payment on a condo. My

God, I'm completely broke. Is that all I am to this company? A load to be thrown

over the side?"

"Now, Meg," said Harvey, "it won't do any good to go making yourself upset. It's

not as bad as it seems. You'll be getting two months' severance pay, and I'll

write you a positive recommendation myself. We all have to make sacrifices,

tighten our belts a little bit in these tough times."

"But, I mean, what about the Reynolds account?" Meg's mental reels spun, trying

to incorporate this sudden shift in the paradigm. "I can't go now, I have to, I

have to --"

The door opened and Lester Van Beeks, the office security guard, stepped inside.

Harvey put a hand on Meg's shoulder. "Don't you worry about a thing, everything

is being taken care of. You just go with Lester here and you can get your

things."

"My things," repeated Meg dumbly.

"Good-bye, Meg," said Harvey, propelling her firmly out the door of his office

with his hand. The door closed behind her.

"I've worked here six years," said Meg, dazed. She turned to Lester. "That's got

to count for something. Hasn't it?"

Meg and the security guard walked in awkward silence to her small private

office. The normally busy hallways were deserted. All the doors were closed.

They all knew, thought Meg. All of them. How long had they known? While she had

laughed at their jokes and gone to lunch with them and sat across the table at

division meetings, had they known the whole time? She felt suddenly sick to her

stomach and thought she might vomit.

Under Lester's gaze, Meg removed six years worth of her presence. The funny

cartoons pinned to the wall. The set of matching 'Garfield' coffee mugs. A

poster with a picture of a monkey and something clever written at the bottom,

which everyone had bought her on her thirtieth birthday. It took less than

twenty minutes to put all of her things in a small cardboard box. Six years to

make into her own, and twenty minutes to turn it back into just another sterile,

windowless office.

Meg opened the filing cabinet to retrieve her personal records and found it

completely empty. "Lester, my files. They took my files. I have to talk to

Harvey, there's been a mistake."

Lester stared at the tips of his shoes. "No mistake Miss Atto. They cleaned them

out while you were being... while you were out of your office. The records

belong to the company. I'm sorry."

"But I... I see," said Meg bitterly. "So what now? Do we go down to personnel?"

"Everything's taken care of," said Lester. He still could not bring himself to

look at her. "All you have to do is, uh..."

"Leave?" said Meg, deadpan.

Lester shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry about all of this, Miss Atto, really."

Meg stood, lifting the box into her arms. Lester turned out the light. For a few

seconds the two of them stood in the dark, neither of them speaking, and both

relieved at the brief respite from having to look at each other. Eventually they

left the office and began making their way through the empty corridors.

"Wait," said Meg. "I, I have to talk to everyone, tell everyone I'm leaving. I

have to say good-bye, I..."

Lester shook his head. "I'm sorry Miss Atto. Please, don't make this difficult.

I have to escort you to the door. And you'll have to turn in your badge." He

examined the polish on his shoes again. "I really am sorry."

Meg stared. "So that's it then."

"That's it," said Lester.

At the front desk, Meg took off her identification badge. Lester put it in a

plain manilla envelope and sealed it. Meg signed out on the register and a

minute later she was standing on the sidewalk, staring up at the sunshine. The

box in her arms seemed pathetic now, and she shoved the whole thing into a

nearby garbage can.

The world seemed very large and hostile to Meg at that particular moment. Her

arms dropped by her sides. She sagged, her shoulders drooping. There was a

musical clinking noise, and Meg was startled to see that her class ring had

fallen off her finger to the sidewalk below. She picked up the ring and put it

on again, but it was very loose, as if it had suddenly become a size too large.

Which it had.

* * *

She crushed out her cigarette in the ash tray. The little man, she noticed,

was still peeking out at her. He had listened to her whole story. Meg felt an

unfamiliar sense of empathy with him.

For a while, the office was silent save for the scratching of the psychiatrist's

pencil on the pad of paper in his lap. "You were laid off," said the

psychiatrist when his pencil stilled at last. "How did that make you feel?"

"I don't know," said Meg. "Angry? Sad? Frustrated? I think what I felt most was

fear. Jobs are scarce. I had no savings. I could live on my credit cards for a

while, but I knew I was in for a rough time."

Meg put out her hand on the desk. At first she thought he might not come, but

after a few seconds the tiny inch-tall man crept cautiously out of the stack of

magazines. He cast a nervous glance up at the psychiatrist, then scuttled

quickly across the desk, making a leap into Meg's outstretched palm.

The psychiatrist, apparently oblivious to the drama unfolding in front of him,

nodded his sage nod.

"You don't see him, do you," said Meg, lifting her hand up to eye level with the

little man in it. He was naked and pink, and he was trembling with fear.

"See who?" said the psychiatrist.

Meg sagged a little in the chair and gently stroked the little man with her

thumb, which was much larger than his whole body. "It was shortly after that, I

started seeing the little people."

The psychiatrist raised an eyebrow. "The little people?"

Meg barked a harsh, black laugh. "Yeah, the little people, the wee folk.

Whatever you want to call them."

"I see," said the psychiatrist.

"No," said Meg sadly. "No, you don't."

 

 

* * *

 

It was the sun shining directly in her eyes that woke Meg up. For the first time

in six years, she had slept through her alarm clock. There was a second or two

of panic as she sat bolt upright in bed, before remembering that she had no job

to be late for. Meg smacked her lips and grimaced. Something foul had died in

her mouth while she was sleeping. She noticed the empty bottle of Chianti on the

nightstand and had a vague recollection of having drunk the entire thing the

night previous.

Meg threw her legs over the side of the bed with difficulty, noticing in passing

that she needed to shave them. There was also a certain sour odour that came to

her, that clung to her skin and her bedsheets. She knew, realistically, that it

had to be the result of her drinking session the night before, but to her mind

it was the smell of failure.

"Need shower," she grunted, climbing out of bed.

After showering, shaving her legs, brushing her teeth, and gargling (twice), Meg

decided that she might be ready to handle the prospect of a job search.

Meg put on her sharpest power suit, the pleats in the knee-length skirt creased

to knife edges. Underneath she wore her most decadent red silk panties, a little

something to give her confidence. From her closet she selected a pair of

matching taupe pumps with a high heel that she knew did nice things for her

calves. "Not that I need it," she thought, examining her legs critically. They

were still slim and curvy, little changed from her college days.

Shoes in one hand, Meg crouched down and began hunting for a little person. She

found one in short order, a tiny four-inch woman who had been hiding under the

bed behind one of the metal casters. Though the woman squeaked piteously, Meg

dropped the little writhing body into her right pump.

As she was slipping her foot into her shoe, Meg suddenly froze. "What the hell?"

she said, her voice incredulous. A four-inch tall woman? In her shoe? What?

The events of the previous minute whirled through Meg's head, making her dizzy.

"Why on earth was I looking for a... little person," she thought with

bafflement. A vague recollection of previous mornings, of other little people,

and other shoes, percolated up through what was an increasingly confused

patchwork of memories. The sudden sharp memory of a small, hot little body

crunching under the weight of her foot brought Meg up short.

"Jesus Christ," said Meg, feeling her legs go weak, forcing her to sit down on

the bed. She put her fingers to her forehead. Under the sole of her foot, she

could feel something soft and warm wriggling inside her pump. From the apartment

next door, Meg could make out the morning news playing on the television set.

She concentrated on the sound, blocking everything else out, trying to get her

scattered thoughts in order. Slowly, her mind settled back into its accustomed

grooves.

"Why am I sitting on the bed?" she wondered, blinking a few times. She had been

thinking about something important, she knew that, something about, about... but

it was gone. The more she tried to remember, the farther away it seemed to drift

from her.

Meg stood, shoving her feet solidly into her shoes. This gave her a nice

feeling, of the world being as it should, though she couldn't say why. After a

quick breakfast, Meg grabbed her briefcase and a more or less current version of

her resume, and headed out to do some job hunt networking.

Seven hours later Meg returned home. Lines in her face, between her eyes and at

the corners of her mouth, spoke of worry. She had known that the job market was

saturated, but she hadn't realized just how bad things had become.

"College grads flipping burgers," said Meg, shaking her head as she threw

herself onto the couch and kicked off her shoes. Like everyone else, she had

read the horror stories in the newspaper about the lack of opportunities, but a

day before it had been something to discuss over lunch. Now it was her reality.

After a few minutes, Meg got up and padded into the kitchen. She took a frozen

dinner from the freezer and put it into the microwave, then grabbed a beer from

the refrigerator and poured half of it into a frosted mug. She moved the flour

canister aside on the counter, where she knew the little people tended to hide

from her, and snatched up the little, naked, two-inch tall man she found there

before he could run. His skin was a dusky black and he fought ferociously as she

dunked him into her beer a few times and popped him into her mouth.

"What," thought Meg suddenly with alarm, "do I have in my mouth?"

A thrill of something like terror exploded in Meg's chest as she considered what

had just happened. Even while her rational mind told her that she could not have

seen and done what she had just seen and done, she could feel the warm,

salty-tasting flesh of the writhing little man on her tongue. The instinct to

chew was overpowering, and she knew from experience that he would taste very

good.

Bile rose in Meg's throat. Gagging, she spit the little man out into her hand

and stared at him. He had curled himself into a ball with his tiny arms wrapped

protectively around his tiny head. Meg was still staring at him, stunned, when

he tentatively uncurled and looked around. She could see the surprised look on

his face. It was so comical, she had to restrain herself from giggling. Before

she could do anything else, the little man exploded into motion, leaping from

her hand to the counter and squeezing behind the toaster. It took Meg only a

second to pull the toaster away from the wall, but the little man had vanished.

"I'm losing my mind," said Meg calmly. Even as she said that, the memory of the

woman she had put into her shoe came back to her. Simultaneously, she felt

something adhering to the underside of her right foot.

"Oh fuck, oh sweet fucking Christ," said Meg, putting her hand to her mouth. She

made it to a chair in hops without putting her right foot down. With a feeling

of dread, she lifted her foot. The sole was stained a brownish black, and just

beneath the ball of her foot was a fleshy clump with things radiating out from

it that looked nauseatingly like flattened arms and legs. This time her gorge

came up and didn't stop.

Meg sprinted to the bathroom and made it just in time to vomit everything in her

stomach into the toilet. She kneeled in front of it and retched for a good, long

while before she grabbed the six inch tall latino man from inside the bath tub

where he had fallen and become trapped. She wiped the bile from her lips with

his little naked body, and dropped him into the toilet. It was only after she

had flushed and watched him vanish, screaming and thrashing helplessly in a

spinning vortex of blue-tinted water and vomit, that she realized what she had

done.

Wordlessly she stood and staggered to her bedroom, collapsing into her bed. She

felt feverish. The room spun, darkness closed over her, and that was all she

knew until the next morning.

 

 

* * *

 

"Naturally I didn't remember anything the next morning," said Meg, her eyes

unfocused as she stared through the psychiatrist at the past. It took her a few

seconds to draw herself back. She blinked and shook her head.

"But you remember now," said the psychiatrist. While Meg spoke he had had

remained completely silent, writing furiously on his notepad.

"Yes, I'm getting better at remembering," said Meg. She thought for a moment.

"Or worse, depending on how you look at it." Meg glanced down at her hand and

wondered why she was surprised to see it empty. She finished chewing whatever

was in her mouth and swallowed.

"When did you next begin... remembering?"

Meg took another cigarette from her purse and lit it. The ashtray, otherwise

empty except for the ashes and crumpled butt of her previous cigarette, made her

feel unaccountably guilty. She frowned.

"It wasn't for a couple of weeks," said Meg. She was still hungry. Her eyes

roamed around the room, though she wasn't quite sure what she was looking for.

"I had a job interview lined up. It wasn't much, the job. Nowhere near what I

had been making. It was all I could find, though. And that's when I first

realized that I was... getting smaller."

* * *

Meg sat in the waiting room, her briefcase on her lap. From time to time she

glanced up out of the corner of her eye, sizing up the competition. Everyone

else seemed to be doing the same thing. The room was tense with restrained

hostility. The smell of desperation and too much cologne filled the air, making

her head spin.

For over an hour, Meg watched people stand as their name was called and enter

through the door at the far end of the room. She would hold her breath, waiting

for a secretary to come out and announce the position had been filled. Each time

the candidate emerged from the inner sanctum, smiling or frowning according to

their perception of their performance, Meg would release her breath and her

heart would slow down again.

The call came at last. "Miss Atto?"

Meg stood and unobtrusively hiked up the waistband of her skirt. She had found

lately that her clothes seemed to hang on her, and worried that she might be

losing weight.

The inner sanctum turned out to be a very small, windowless office, similar to

the one Meg had once occupied. It smelled of grease, sweat, and fast food. An

enormously fat woman sat behind the desk, wearing an expensive blouse and too

much jewellery. Meg knew the type; a middle management drone, too incompetent to

be trusted with anything important, but who knew too many secrets about too many

people to risk laying off. A file folder lay open on the woman's desk, and Meg

could see her resume on top of a pile of others. The woman motioned Meg to a

lumpy, green, vinyl-upholstered chair.

"Megan Atto?" said the woman. Meg nodded. "My name is Mrs. Gorgom, I'm the

executive junior supervisor of placement and personnel."

Meg tried to look properly respectful of the title, since Gorgom had stated it

in the same voice she might have used for a Nobel prize for science. "Thank you

for seeing me," said Meg. Her own voice sounded false and obsequious in her

ears.

The woman's piggy eyes, like black raisins sunk in dough, flicked down to Meg's

resume. She scanned it in silence for thirty seconds. "I see that your last

position paid rather well," said Gorgom at last. "We are not prepared to offer

anything close to this amount. I'm not sure this position would suit you."

Meg forced a smile onto her face. "I'm looking for an opportunity to start on

the ground floor with an exciting company like yours. I can work hard and make

my own opportunities."

Gorgom nodded and reached absently into a grease-spotted white paper sack with

the trademark golden arches on it. Her short sausage fingers emerged with a

handful of french fries, which she crammed into her mouth. "Why were you

released by your firm?" said Gorgom around a mouthful of french fries.

The question seemed to Meg to imply that she was damaged goods, that there had

to be some reason why she had been fired. Meg had begun to wonder herself if

that might not be the case. "My supervisor gave me a good reference," said Meg,

by way of explanation. She tried to keep the doubt out of her voice. Had she

really been a good employee? "I must have done something wrong or they wouldn't

have fired me," she thought. Would they?

"Mmm-hmmm," said Gorgom doubtfully. She reached into the sack again and pulled

out a tiny man, shiny with grease and smaller than any of her pudgy fingers. Meg

gasped. Still examining the resume, Gorgom absently pushed the struggling form

into her mouth. Her flabby chin jiggled as she chewed, producing the muffled

crunching sounds of bones splintering. "Why did you apply with our firm, Miss

Atto?"

Meg's eyes bulged. "I need the money," she heard herself saying, too shocked to

realize her mistake.

Gorgom had reached into the sack again and this time her hand emerged clutching

a young, naked, six-inch woman, little more than a girl. Meg thought she could

not be more than sixteen at most. "I find that an extremely poor attitude,"

snapped Gorgom, shaking the girl at Meg to emphasize her point.

Meg stared, unable to speak. She could see the tears glistening on the tiny

girl's face. The top half of the girl vanished into Gorgom's mouth. A spray of

blood erupted as Gorgom bit down, bisecting her at the waist, the crimson

droplets spattering over Meg's resume and across the desk. Meg covered her mouth

with her fist to stifle a scream.

"Miss Atto, are you listening to me?" grunted Gorgom as she chewed, gesturing at

Meg with the lower half of the girl. Coils of purple-red intenstine hung from

the raw wound where the torso had been severed by Gorgom's teeth. Bright red

blood was smeared around Gorgom's mouth like chocolate on a child, and a thin

line of it was gathering in the crease of her double chin.

Meg gave a twittering cry like a frightened bird and leaped up from her chair,

clutching her briefcase to her. The white paper bag rustled with the movement of

whatever was still inside.

"Miss Atto!" said Gorgom, sternly. "Please sit down!"

Meg tore at the door handle like a wild animal, desperate for escape. She flung

the door wide and went running through the waiting room past surprised

applicants, sobbing and teetering on her high heels. When she reached the fire

stairs outside the suite -- she could not bear the thought of waiting for the

elevator -- she pulled off her shoes and ran down them barefoot at full speed

with her shoes in her hand, heedless of the danger.

Halfway down, Meg tripped in her panic and went rolling down a half flight of

stairs, coming to rest in heap on the landing. Still sobbing, she pulled herself

to the side and pressed her face into the cool wall, letting the tears and snot

run freely. Several people passed by her in the time she was there, but none

stopped, or even looked at her beyond a quick, nervous glance. Better not to get

involved.

An indeterminate time later, Meg pushed her hair out of her face and rubbed her

puffy eyes with the heel of her hand. She found a tissue in her briefcase and

wiped her runny nose. Her makeup had run in streaks like war paint, and she

wiped it off as best she could. "I wonder if I got the job," she said aloud,

laughing quietly to herself through the tears which had lightened from typhoon

intensity to a light spring misting. Doing a brief inventory, she found the

worst of her injuries was a bruised knee and a slightly twisted ankle. She knew

it could have been a lot worse.

Meg's ankle was sore, but not overly so. She stood and put her weight on it. It

held. Meg smiled in relief. She took one step and her skirt fell free, puddling

down around her ankles.

No one was around to see Meg in her panties, but hot embarassment crept up into

her cheeks nonetheless. She quickly snatched her skirt up, assuming that the

button had been torn off in the fall. A hurried examination, however, showed

that it had not, and Meg was mystified. When she pulled the skirt on again, she

found that it was now at least two sizes too large.

Or rather, that she was two sizes too small. For the first time, Meg had the

feeling that something very bad was happening.

* * *

"When I got home, the first thing I did was mark off my height against the

bedroom door frame," said Meg. She shifted uncomfortably in the chair, which had

been made for someone much larger. "How tall would you say I am?"

"Four foot three, perhaps," replied the psychiatrist, glancing up from his

notepad. He had worn the point down on three pencils so far.

A look of panic flashed across Meg's face. "That small?" said Meg in a worried

voice. "Are you sure?"

"Quite," said the psychiatrist. "How tall do you believe you are?"

"I used to have trouble getting dates in high school," said Meg. "I was five

foot ten, taller than most of the boys. That night when I got home from the

interview, I was five foot six." She paused briefly. "I was four foot five this

morning," she said quietly.

"How does that make you feel?"

Meg stared at the psychiatrist. "Feel? I've shrunk two inches in the past four

hours, and all you can do is ask me how I feel about it?"

"What would you like me to do?" said the psychiatrist reasonably. His stolid,

dignified demeanor infuriated her.

Meg bit off what she had been planning to say. She knew it wouldn't help. "I'm

sorry, I've been under a lot of stress." Meg was silent again for a little

while, obviously deep in thought. "I want to show you something," she said,

rummaging through her purse. She pulled out a number of credit cards and laid

them on the desk. As she did so, her gaze fell across the stack of medical

journals and she recalled the tiny man who had been hiding there. She wondered

what had become of him. "See anything special?"

The psychiatrist laid down his pencil with great solemnity and spread the credit

cards out on the blotter with his finger. "They're blank," he said.

"Have you ever seen a blank credit card before? No name, no expiry date,

nothing."

The psychiatrist thought for a moment. "I must admit that I have not."

"Three days ago they had my name on them," said Meg. "They were the first to go.

My name faded off my library card a few hours later. Neither the credit card

companies nor the library have ever heard of me." Meg laughed bleakly. "I guess

this means I can stop worrying about where I'm going to get the money to pay

them off."

"I can see this upsets you," said the psychiatrist, picking up his pencil again.

"Upset?" Meg glared at him. "Let me tell you about upset. After the debacle at

the interview, word got around that I was unstable. No one would give me the

time of day. None of my so-called friends would return my calls, and I was

seeing little people everywhere. Then my car got stolen. Or so I thought at the

time."

* * *

It was well past noon when Meg woke up and lit her first cigarette. Every day

she was waking up a little bit later. Sometimes days would go by without her

even getting dressed. There didn't seem to be much point; no one wanted to hire

her. As her trust account dwindled and the letters from the bank that held the

mortgage on her condo became more strident in tone, Meg began smoking again, a

habit she had given up more than a decade earlier.

Meg kicked back the blankets. Her sheets had turned a dingy grey, and she

couldn't be bothered to change them. "Only two today," she thought, as she

picked the tiny broken bodies from her bed. One was an old man, black-skinned

and wrinkled, and a full five inches tall. The other was a full-breasted and

lush-hipped woman in her middle age, only an inch and a half. Every morning she

found a few of them in her bed, always well-crushed. Meg thought she knew how

they got that way, and sometimes she had vague, sweaty memories of the night

before, but usually she did not, for which she was grateful.

It had been a while since Meg had got over her squeamishness with the little

corpses. After finishing her morning smoke, she went to the bathroom and flushed

the remains down the toilet.

That morning, Meg had felt a little stronger than she usually did. It might have

been finding only two bodies in her bed. She found that nothing quite took the

wind from her sails like waking up to find her sheets looked like a war zone,

with a dozen or more mangled corpses scattered all around her and adhered to her

flesh with a glue of dried blood.

As she always did, Meg went to the door frame of her bedroom and measured the

height of the mark. At first she would make a new mark every morning, but soon

found that it made no difference. The mark was always at the level of her

current height. "Four foot ten," she said out loud, as if trying to convince

herself of it. A full foot shorter than she had been. None of her clothes fit

any more. She had been forced to start buying clothes in the children's

department. No one but her seemed to notice her diminishing stature.

"Today I will get a job," said Meg. She liked the confidence in her voice. "I

will not return home until I have a job." So saying, she took a shower, dressed

in reasonably clean clothes, and headed out to do battle. "With my shield, or on

it!" she announced to the little people who crept out of hiding as she closed

the door behind her.

"Morning, Ms Atto," said Frank, the front desk man, as she walked by his station

in the lobby.

Meg knew what she would see. That was because every morning she saw the same

thing. Frank had a tiny woman on the desk before him, and was systematically

snapping every bone in her arms and legs between his fingers while she shrilled

like a wounded rabbit. It was always a woman, and it was always a young,

attractive blonde. And as always, Meg felt a mixture of fear and anger at the

sight. She was all too aware of her own platinum locks, and of the way Frank's

eyes followed her every time she passed by.

"Morning," mumbled Meg, trying to shut out the sound of the tiny woman's screams

as she hurried down to the parking garage.

The car was gone. Missing. Meg stood in the empty space where her Miata should

have been, her car keys dangling in her hand. For several minutes she just stood

there, unable to believe what she saw, or rather, what she didn't see. Twice she

checked the letter/number combination stencilled on the wall to make sure it was

her spot.

"Frank! Frank, my car's gone, someone stole my car," said Meg breathlessly as

she ran back into the lobby.

Frank glanced down briefly at the tiny woman lying before him on the desk in a

small pool of blood, her arms and legs twisted and bent in unnatural directions.

She mewed softly, a despairing sound. Frank gathered her up in his fist and

crumpled her like a piece of paper, tossing her body into the garbage can beside

his desk. "You bought a car, Ms Atto?"

Meg swallowed and tried to keep her gaze away from the inside of the garbage

can. "Frank, you know my car. The little red Miata. You must see it every day!"

Frank looked dubious. "If you say so, Ms Atto. You got the registration? The

cops are gonna want to see the registration."

"Yes, I have it right here," said Meg, digging through her purse. She was glad

now that she had had the foresight to keep the car's registration and insurance

papers with her, instead of in the glove compartment. But neither the

registration nor the insurance papers were in her purse. "I, I can't imagine

what I've done with them, they were right here."

Frank smirked. "Real funny, a real thigh slapper. Pulling a joke on old Frank,

huh?"

"No, look, I have the keys right here." Meg goggled at the empty key fob in her

hand.

"Sure, Ms Atto," said Frank, snickering. "Makes sense. Invisible keys for an

invisible car. You're a regular laugh riot."

As Meg fled back to her apartment, Frank was already pulling another tiny blonde

from his shirt pocket.

* * *

"When I got back to my apartment I was an inch shorter," said Meg. "I went

through my photo album looking for pictures of my car. I knew I had some. I

didn't find any. Not one. That's when I noticed that all the pictures of me had

changed at the same time. It was like I had always been this size. Well, the

size I was then."

The psychiatrist nodded sagaciously. "Tell me how you feel about your size. This

is obviously a major concern for you."

Meg blinked. "A major...? You don't believe me, do you. You think this is some

damn Freudian thing or something."

"Let's leave the analysis to the analysts, shall we?" The psychiatrist smiled

paternally, a smile that said everything was under control, that the darkest

thickets of the human psyche held no terror for him.

Meg ran her fingers through her hair. It was hopeless. She had known in her

heart that it was hopeless from the very start. "Hardly anyone remembers me any

more, you know. I called my old work, and they didn't know who I was. I can't

get served in restaurants any more; they never tell me to leave, but the waiters

never seem to notice me at the table either."

"How does that make you feel?"

Suddenly the chair in which Meg sat seemed larger. Her sandals fell off her feet

to the floor with a double set of clunks. "Oh God, I've shrunk again," said Meg.

There was terror in her voice. "Doctor, how tall am I?"

The psychiatrist smiled. "You're still four feet, same as before."

"I wasn't four feet!" wailed Meg, her voice pitched higher than it had been a

few minutes earlier. "I was four foot three! Look back in your notes, look,

you'll see!" Meg hid her face in her hands and began to cry.

The squall of tears passed quickly. Meg looked up to see the psychiatrist

smiling warmly at her and offering her a facial tissue.

"Now," said the psychiatrist, "how can I help you, Miss?"

"What do you mean?" said Meg, dabbing at her tears. An icy finger of blossoming

terror tickled her heart.

"Well, I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."

"I just told you!" said Meg. "I just spent the past two hours telling you!"

"I think I'd admit it if you had," said the psychiatrist with a dry chuckle.

"I've never been one to turn down billable hours."

Meg's eyes were wide with fear. "Look at your notes. Look at them, it's all

there in your notes," she whispered.

The psychiatrist indulgently passed her his notepad. It was blank. Every page

was blank.

"No. Oh no." Meg moaned and clutched at her head. She felt her clothes become

looser. Before the psychiatrist could say anything more Meg was up and running

from the office, barefoot, with her clothes flapping and fluttering on her small

body.

The sight of a three and a half foot tall woman running down the street in tears

wearing voluminous clothes excited no comment. Most seemed not even to notice

her. The few who did leered at her in a way that sent Meg running in the other

direction. And there were little people everywhere. Millions and millions of

them. The sidewalk was red with their smashed bodies. A baby in a stroller had a

tiny man in his hand and was happily sucking his head off. A stock broker in an

expensive silk suit was slowly crushing a six-inch woman in his hand while he

argued with someone on his cell phone. Three young girls were skipping down the

street together, seemingly oblivious to the screaming hundreds who died under

their black oxfords.

Meg's breath was taken away by the sheer scope of the massacre that was

happening right before her. She tried to flag a taxi, but none would stop for

her. Twice she ran for a bus, only to have the driver slam the door shut in her

face.

It took Meg over an hour to walk home. In that time she had shrunk another six

inches, and stood only three feet tall, half her original height. She had

discarded her skirt and wore only her shirt like a dress. No one paid attention

to her except Frank, who said nothing but stared at her in a way that made Meg's

heart pound with fear.

The inside of Meg's apartment was swarming with little people, dozens of them.

Their voices were a cacophony of chirps and squeaks. In desperation, Meg

switched on the television set and turned up the volume as high as it would go.

She had noticed in the past that she could make the little people vanish for a

while by watching television, and this time was no exception. For a short time

she bought herself some peace.

For two days Meg sat in her apartment while she slowly dwindled. The end of the

first day saw her standing only a little over two feet. She tried to call 911,

but couldn't get a dial tone. During the second day she watched her whole

apartment transform. Every time she turned her head, a piece of furniture would

vanish and be replaced with something different. Her clothes, her pictures, her

dishes, all of them disappeared one by one. By the time the paint on the walls

had changed from peach to sky blue, Meg could no longer reach the door knob. She

was trapped in what had been her apartment. She could find nothing to cover her

nakedness, so she simply sat nude in the middle of the living room carpet and

sobbed softly into her hands.

Soon, Meg knew, the little people would come, for now she was one of them. She

stood only six inches and the living room loomed around her like a vast canyon.

It was the end of hope. And the beginning of fear.

- End Part I -

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