The tiny man in the crude blue suit shrugged and walked back over to the shot glass. “I’ve always been little. Born this way. I’m not the only one, you know. Did you know?” He smiled up at the tremendous young woman, looming over him at the kitchen table.
Petia had had no idea, though her imagination began finding excuses to permit this, tenuous rationales that hinged upon this as the explanation for hundreds of nagging little questions. Missing keys, missing socks, food that went missing: all of it because of a network of tiny little people, living among them. Why not? Her arms crossed her chest and she covered her mouth, laughing into her palm. Why the fuck not, indeed!
“All right, so you live in this town. Always have.” Her words were a little edgier now, challenging him. “And you get by living on our scraps, is that it? And no one’s ever noticed you? Living in secret like this, for years?”
“No, no, no. Obviously a few people have noticed us. We’ve even revealed ourselves to some people, certain people.” He lapped at the inside of the shot glass. “We’re very careful about who we do that with, however. We can’t just show ourselves off to everyone. People would hunt us down and kill us, or capture us for whatever circus show, or whatever people do with exotic little things.” He sat in place, his tiny shoulders slumped. “I don’t know. Sell us for too little money to people who lose interest after a week. I know that’s happened before. That’s a shitty way to go.”
“That sounds inhuman,” she said, with a little sadness. Then she peered at him more closely. “I, um… are you human?”
The tiny man sprang to his feet. “Why don’t you get one of your scientists to tell you? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
She reared slightly, resting the heels of her hands on the edge of the table. Her fingers flared a little when she asked, “Well, are you?”
His indignant expression held for a moment longer, then faded. “I have no idea,” he said, shrugging in his little satin shirt.
Petia blinked at him, and he blinked back. Then they burst out laughing.
Over the week they began to forge and solidify their friendship through frequent visits. Petia very much looked forward to these at the end of each wretched, thankless day. His name was Milan and he was born in this town. His age was something more difficult, as he explained: “What I’ve noticed is that you giganti seem to grow older consistently, while we khora have two different ages−”
“No, no, no,” said Petia, over spiked tea. “We’re the khora and you’re the malko chovek.”
He puffed up his chest. “Who’s malko!”
“Malko! Mŭnichŭk!” She pinched her fingers at him, giggling.
He dodged reflexively, helplessly, his nervous system jerking him around despite himself. “Ugh, glupav velikanka, knock that off! Now listen to me, because I don’t understand this either. We have two ages−”
“The mŭnichŭk have two ages.”
He sighed. “Yes, and you, velikanka, only have one.”
“Are you talking about reincarnation? Do you know this for a fact?”
“This has nothing to do with reincarnation. What I mean is that me, as a mŭnichŭk, if I just go about my life and only meet other mŭnichŭk, then I’ll live about five winters. Maybe ten if I’m very clever and always have food. You know?”
Petia was saddened by this. “You really only live five years? How do you get anything done?”
“We can get a lot done in that time!” Milan said indignantly. “Maybe we don’t make bombs and tanks like you giganti, but a good mŭnichŭk has enough time to write a book, several songs. We pick things up quickly.” He snorted. “We have to.”
She reached for him, and he skidded backwards, swearing. “Please, Milan, I just want to hold you. Quit running.”
“I can’t help it,” he said, picking himself up from where she’d sent him over a fork. “It takes a lot of concentration to let one of you giganti touch us.”
She pouted cutely, sticking out her bottom lip. “You don’t trust me yet?”
“You’re a little out of control, my friend, and not just because of the schnapps you dumped in your tea.”
Her cheeks burned. “Milan! Look, just…” She laid her hand upon the rough kitchen table, palm up. “Please. Can you please just climb up into my hand? I want to feel close to you right now. I promise I won’t do anything funny.”
The little man’s spiky black hairdo turned slowly back and forth and he looked up into her face and then at her hand. “I just want to explain,” he started.
He shifted from foot to tiny foot for a moment, then without taking his eyes off of hers, he slowly walked over to where her pinky finger stretched. Carefully he knelt upon the outside of her palm and felt his way forward. Petia was stunned to realize he weighed nothing at all, that she could barely feel him. He was lighter than a mouse—she’d let a gentle one crawl over her hand once, during a period of intense loneliness. The tiny man in the homely blue suit crawled into the center of her hand, sat on his knees and folded his arms. His eyes were two pitch-black dots, peeking up at her, and in her head flashed the urge to just squeeze him into a wad, she was so taken with his cuteness. Yet she refrained, breathing deeply and keeping her hand flat.
“We only live several years on our own,” he continued, “but when one of us grows close to one of you… we can live as long as you.” He nodded slowly.
This was astounding to Petia. As remarkable as a community of tiny humans was, this seemed too far out of the believable. “So how old does that make you?”
Milan raised his eyebrows and looked down. His lips pushed out cutely while he thought, and again Petia had the urge to thrust him up to her face and smother him with a kiss. “I guess… with the bonus years… I’d be 30? Around that.” He shrugged.
“You connected with another woman before me?”
He lifted his head and looked aside. “I’ve loved two velikanka.”
She begged him to tell her about them, but he demurred. When she insisted and started to close her fingers, his legs jerked straight and carried him to the center of the table. She apologized for scaring him (he insisted he wasn’t scared at all) and pleaded with him to tell her about the other women he’d loved. For one thing, she wanted to know if they were anyone he knew.
“One, maybe, and I’ll tell you nothing about her,” he said, after she poured him a shot. “I will tell you about my first, though.
“She caught me when I was quite young, maybe two years old. But I looked like her, so−”
Petia did some quick math. “She was a teenager?”
He nodded. “Around 15, yes. She kept me in a cage at first, a little brass wire cage that I escaped from several times before she realized what was happening. She used to tease me, see, or feed me terrible food, threaten me to perform tricks for her.” He tightened his lips. “I could escape the cage, but there was the matter of leaping down from that high shelf, or sprinting across room after room to find a way out. She always caught me again and jammed me back into that cage.”
“How long did she keep you?”
“I stayed with her for seven years.” He watched the disbelief form on Petia’s face. “After a while she stopped threatening me and trying to build a better cage. One day, I don’t know, she came home upset about a stupid boy at school, and her parents were upset about something else so they fought, and she stormed into her room and threw herself on her bed and cried.
“By this point I learned that long falls can’t cause me any damage. I’d already busted myself out of the cage, so I just hopped down to the floor and climbed up the bed sheets and trotted up by her face. When she noticed me, she was so shocked that I hadn’t fled that she just started talking. You know, talking to me like a real person.” He thudded his chest with two fingers. “She complained about her parents and she whined about the boy, and then we started talking about all sorts of things. I knew a little bit about TV and music, just in passing, and a little more about food. She became excited to show me all these things I’d been missing. It made her feel important, you know? She felt like she was an expert on something.
“And I let her be. She brought home samples of food to me, when her family went to a restaurant, and on weekends we’d bike around the countryside, me riding in her pocket, you know. I started to fall in love with her, and she started to fall for me, and then one day…” Milan placed his hands on his chest, then his stomach. “Something inside me changed. I don’t know what. Something inside me shifted, and I started to think of time differently. It didn’t just happen in a day… it was gradual. A week became only a little bit of time. I had months to play with. I learned to relax.” He smiled.
Petia could only accept these ideas at face value. She listened to him, usually taking him seriously, mentally shelving anything that sounded too outrageous… shelving it without dismissing it entirely.
“And how come you’re not with her still? This beautiful young girl you patiently watched blooming into the flower of womanhood? What a classical story, the fantasy of every man! Where is she now, little lover?”
The tiny man ran his fingers through his hair. “She got drunk at a party before her college graduation. Tried to drive herself home. I heard all about it from her grieving parents for a week, before I sneaked out of their house.” He looked up at his giantess and shrugged.
It felt as though someone had kicked Petia in the stomach. She stammered an apology and he waved her off. He only explained that after a tiny person stops living with a velikanka, for whatever reason, the bond fades and their normal aging resumes. It happened that Milan had developed a taste for living and sought another giantess, but he didn’t elaborate on this and she did not inquire.
Eventually Milan showed her where he lived. This wasn’t a sudden event: Petia had been nagging him for weeks. Sometimes he was coy about it, other times he was dismissive. But one day he said “okay.”
“How’s this going to work, though? I can’t really shrink down to your size,” she noted.
He waved his hands toward himself. “Here, pick me up. I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” The easier it became to pick up Milan—without sending him skittering away—the more pleased Petia was, inwardly. Now it was entirely easy to pick up the tiny little man. She settled him in a cloth pouch she wore around her neck, just for him, and he directed her into her own basement. “You have to promise not to be mad,” he warned her, and though this suggestion sent ideas racing through her head, she nonetheless promised.
At the bottom of the rickety, warped stairs, Petia’s fingers sought out the heavy-duty Bakelite toggle, crudely bolted into the concrete wall. The lights came on with a loud bang, though the lights were only two in number and rather dim. She asked Milan now what.
“Over by the washer.” His thin little arm pointed straight ahead. Petia took them to where the previous owners had abandoned a badly abused clothes washer, a defeated cube of white ceramic and rust. “There, behind that board.” On the wall, a foot above the washer, was a near-perfect square of particle board. Two holes were drilled in the upper corners: one corner hung on a twisted nail, the other was laced with a knot from a thin rope. “Lift up that corner of the board and untie the rope,” said Milan, and Petia did so.
Once the board hung only by the nail, she could see that the rope ran to a metal bar inset in the concrete, that served as a pulley. The rope tied off behind the board, suggesting to her that Milan could let the board down when he wanted out, and pull the board up when he wanted secrecy.
For behind the board was a space about as large as the chamber of a microwave oven. At first glance it looked like it was filled with junk. “Put me in there,” said Milan, “let me show you around.”
With the tiny little man standing in the center of the space, the environment transformed. He trotted over to a nine-volt battery and slipped a bare wire in an anode, bringing surprisingly bright light from an LED. Now the large cavity looked like a living room: a large sponge draped in washcloths and swatches of fabric served as a couch or a bed. A spool of thread and two playing cards formed a serviceable table, on which was a 2 stotinki coin. The coin served as a platter for little crumbs of food, a clump of cheese, a wedge of sausage. Nearby was a clear plastic box of Tic Tacs, filled with clear water; a thin cocktail straw emptied to it from a hole in the wall. “The soil outside naturally filters the runoff from rainfall, so I collect what I need or plug the wall up with a little clay,” he explained with just a trace of pride showing.
“Is that a smartphone?” One leaned against the wall across from the makeshift couch.
Milan grinned at her astonished expression. “Hey, everyone needs their creature comforts! Some drunk idiot lost his phone in the curb, and when he didn’t come back for it for a week I collected it.” The tiny man gave a tiny shrug, though he didn’t look so small in the proper context. “I fixed it up enough, downloaded a couple books before the owner cut his service. I don’t get wireless, but I can play games and music.” He rubbed a scuffed corner of the phone with a truly minuscule hand, then grinned at the large woman. “The power comes from a small solar cell I hid on the side of your house, and a wind turbine next to it, just a toy propeller. Very small, very convenient.”
Petia could not contain her amazement. “And that gives you enough power?”
“I don’t need much. When I run out, I borrow some of yours. Heh.”
Her eyes flickered around. “And those rocks with the wires around them?”
“Weights. I looked up a little workout regimen for the whole body. Gotta stay in shape if I’m going to survive in this world.” But no matter how Petia begged, Milan refused to flex and show off for her, surprisingly bashful about this.
He waved for her arm and she rested her dainty hand in the middle of his little room. They both looked at it for a moment: she was struck by how normal his dwelling had seemed, in context. Everything was his size for his use, and he looked appropriate and even comfortable. His crude little outfit seemed to hang a little straighter on his frame.
For his part, Milan slowly walked around Petia’s fingers. She held perfectly still for him, watching him as he studied her, each of them silent. Her thumb and forefinger slipped around his table, and her long fingers ran past his couch—she felt larger than she ever had in her life. The tiny man stepped around her thumbnail and carefully placed his feet between her fingers, studying the back of her hand. His little legs straddled the knuckle of her middle finger. She could feel his satin pants brush ever so faintly against her skin as he stood, arms akimbo. He glanced at his couch, then at Petia’s broad hand with subtly sloping knuckles and the slightest shadows of tendons, cast by his simple LED diode.
His lips parted a little as he bent at the waist and extended one arm, placing his tiny palm upon the base knuckle. Petia took a quiet breath, hadn’t blinked in a minute, leaned forward slightly to witness what felt like a miracle. Milan: living in her basement, salvaging the jetsam and ejecta of her impoverished town and living quite comfortably. Milan: this minuscule human, perfectly proportioned, now studying her hand as though in a dream, moving through a haze of hard-earned trust. She didn’t feel his palm on her knuckle until he tried to bunch up her skin in his little fingers. Two palms, now, and he was leaning forward on her hand as though he were about to do some push-ups. Petia smiled without knowing she did so. She watched his tousled hair hang forward when he bent; she watched his clothes shimmer and shift as he explored her hand—her mere hand! He brought one knee up and let it rest in the saddle between the knuckles of her middle and ring fingers, then slid his two hands slowly up the back of her hand, nearly weightlessly. He was doing something, his face was dark with concentration, but he might as well have been a clever insect for all his impenetrability.
For a moment she felt as though Milan’s was the normal world and she was a tremendous, enormous freak… no, not a freak. To be this huge was to feel… powerful. Yes, she felt very powerful, and not just compared with this shrunken being. Her body swayed slightly as she let the idea of existing as truly immense wash over her. She could see herself standing over all of Varbovka, her shoe turning hardly at all to demolish that bastard Sava’s house. She could see this! Raising her toes, a twist of her heel, and then bringing her sole down upon that murky hovel… and if he were inside, all the better, listening to that fat little pig squeal…
This was her first instinct as a giantess. Petia was a little surprised to discover that, given that kind of power, this would be her first act. Was that bad, to want to kill that prick once she had the advantage?
She eased herself out of the delusion and returned to her basement. Milan was carefully crawling over her wrist, working his way up to the sleeve of her turtleneck. Without startling him she raised her left arm and held her opened hand below him, a safety net for her little performer. His tiny body tickled as he croodled up her forearm, over her highly ticklish elbow, but Petia held her breath and bit her lip and did not twitch a single centimeter. The fabric of her sleeve tugged a little as he began to scale her bicep, and her heart pounded with the dramatic tension of the tiny man accessing her shoulder to a place of safety. Milan settled down and she felt the neck of her turtleneck tug as well as a lock of her hair, very gently.
“If you’ll lock my place back up, please,” he said, his voice very clear in her ear, “we can go back upstairs and discuss what I can do for you.”
Petia blushed. “Why, little man… are you suggesting…”
His laughter was pretty. There was still a little sting, though, that her mind had gone somewhere a shade libidinous and gone there alone. To say nothing of the shock at yet another bizarre idea that never would have occurred to her before! Crushing Sava’s house beneath her foot, and then leading this tiny little man into her bedroom! What was happening to her?
“You lovely woman,” Milan said. “I think I’m a little more than you can handle in the sack, honestly.” She laughed at the idea, his audacity! Why, even by accident, she’d−
“But no, I was talking about what I can do to help you get out of this godforsaken town.”
All thoughts fled her mind and her heart skipped a beat. She hardly dared to breathe at all.