Living Alone, 3

Dear Journal That Doesn’t Exist, I’m Just Talking to Myself in My Mind,

So here’s what happened. I had that first nice little hole in the ground. Nothing fancy, just a bunch of skill-building projects as I gained my outdoors-legs, so to speak. It’s one thing to watch survivalist videos, another thing to put them into practice when time is against you and your life’s on the line. Still, better to know that shit than not. And then those two little girls came by and dug all my crap out, rejoicing in their “treasures” and laying waste to my lifeline.

Sure, I was furious, but I didn’t do anything. Size differentials regardless, Normal society tends to frown on Tinies taking action against little girls, even in self-defense. They don’t think much of us, and they rarely take our side in any dispute. What was I going to do, anyway? Even if I’d had my little apple-hunting spear (which, no, was destroyed by their excavations), I couldn’t have leaped down to one kid’s scalp, recovered quickly from the impact, stabilized myself on her glossy hair, and made any kind of meaningful stab before she or her friend killed me with one swipe of a bare hand. I just had to sit there and fume and swear and watch my life fall apart, watch them go skipping away…

And then just sigh, spit on my palms, and start all over again elsewhere.

I thought about the neighbor’s place with the smart mutt. He gets a little worked up now and then, the teens like to whip him up and annoy his owner, but mostly he’s got a good temper. That’s important, because I don’t need him catching my little rustle in the grass and have him freaking out at me. At the same time, he’s smart enough that he’s probably curious, and he’s probably fully capable of sniffing around, finding me, digging me out, and gobbling me down in a few sloppy bites without making any undue noise or disturbance whatsoever. A very good dog, but no friend of mine.

On the other side of the property was the unruly neighbors, the trashy couple that fight and party too hard, who let their property go. Long enough grass to hide in, but that’s just an invitation for rats, and with all the trash they leave around, rats are pretty much guaranteed. Also? I could foresee a likely scenario in which I’m making my way around their grounds during one of their shindigs, and some jackass goes out for a smoke and sees me, and then the theme of the party turns to finding inventive things to do with me. If they don’t kill me outright, I could be in for hours of torture and mutilation, all of which is laughingly recorded for YouTube, always a popular subject. I mean, YouTube takes it down after a week or so, but there’s no shortage of “fucking with the little guys” videos online. It’s the new hobo fight.

The woman in that house is kind of cute, but she’s usually drunk and always stupid. I wouldn’t trust her an inch, as much as I think about her. She doesn’t close her blinds when she… well, when she does anything.

That leaves the old property. That newlywed couple has been in love with the place since they moved in. Once in a while they have elegant cocktail parties with very nice-looking people. Not so much lately, since they called the cops on their neighbors once, and the trashy couple made all the polite and apologetic noises they were supposed to, but then subtly harassed the nice young couple over some weeks: kicking over their trash, graffiti on their front door, even keyed their car once. Just a couple of shits. Cops were called again, light investigation was done, trashy couple was seriously reprimanded, but now there’s an uneasy truce and neither of them have any more parties at all.

Maybe I sound like a quidnunc, but I had a lot of fucking time on my hands, let me tell you. I built another shelter… no, hold on. Wasn’t as simple as that.

Go back to that day, the girls walking up the street, parading their ill-gotten booty. I sat in that tree and let myself freak out before getting ready to go back to building a new shelter. Same area, why not? I know the environment up to those three yards and this plot across the street, a couple trees stranded outside a chain-link fence. There was supposed to be a municipal park or something in there but no one ever uses it. I just found a nice gnarled root to start digging under, cleared out some space, sawed away at the smaller roots. Figured it’d be safer to embed myself within the wooden supports, for a number of reasons. Lined the entrance with scrap metal from up and down the block, set up another food chamber of nuts and seeds, and once in a while the rambunctious couple leaves or throws out something I can use, either materials or food. Useful idiots.

I was about half an hour into digging when I hear this angry voice coming up the street. Not angry like a woman gets with her idiot boyfriend, more gently scolding. “Show me exactly where you got this!” she was saying. Two girls whined and sobbed in response. “I don’t care! You knock that crying off right now, I see right through you! You show me right where you pulled this stuff out of the ground!”

Hackles raised, I ducked behind the roots and pulled a leaf up over me, patted my face in dust and listened. I wasn’t in a vantage space to see anything unless they… yup, here they came, right up to my tree.

Whose tree? My tree.

The girls were in their pretty dresses, dragging their leather-soled shoes in a dreadful cacophony up the sidewalk. They clearly did not want to be there, and they absolutely did not want to surrender their hard-earned prizes. But there was a massive woman with them, legs shifting and swimming under one of those wrinkly peasant’s skirts with busy designs and colors. She was barefoot, I saw later, round and pink toes crusted with outdoor brown over what should have been adorable, soft pads on the tips of…

I sighed heavily. I never knew what would rise up to remind me of C____, damn her eyes.

And a maroon poet’s blouse, and frizzy blonde hair that shook with her stern words. She wasn’t mad, but she was doing a good job of impressing the girls with the urgency of their chore. “Is this it? Is this the tree?” she said. She had the girls clamped by their scrawny upper arms and navigated them to face the scene of the crime. The little one kept sobbing and the slightly older one pouted and nodded. The woman swept her frizzy mane to the side and peered around. Her voice grew quiet and somber. “Oh God… is that the hole? Okay, look: I’m not mad at you girls, do you understand? Patty, Cindy? I’m not angry at you, but what you did was very, very wrong.” She knelt on one knee and stroked their shoulders tenderly. “Someone lives there, do you understand? A little man found all that furniture to make a nice little room for himself, just like in your dollhouse.” She nodded at Patty. “And he saved up a bunch of food for himself, too, Cindy, just like you do under your bed. Right?” The older girl reluctantly nodded.

“Except this isn’t a game to him, girls. He doesn’t come out here and play-pretend and then go back to a nice, warm, safe home with someone who loves him and takes care of him.” The woman wrapped her arms around the little girls and made them look at the devastation they’d casually wrought. Who the hell was she? “He lost his home, and now he has to live in this little hole. And it was very easy for you to dig it up and find all this, but I bet it was very, very hard for him to find it all and bring it all down to one place. You know how hard it is for you to drag your mom’s dining room chair from room to room? It’s even harder for this little guy to drag a toy into his shelter, and it’s more dangerous because he has to drag it across the street.”

“Why doesn’t he get someone to do it for him?” asked the little girl.

“Because he can’t ask for help. He doesn’t know who’s going to help him, and lots of people think it’s funny to hurt him or capture him.” The woman nodded to herself, rocking back and forth slightly, bringing the girls with her. “You remember what happened when you found that little woman? And you didn’t tell your mom?”

The older girl looked away.

“What happened to her, Cindy?”

The older girl shrugged.

The woman let go of Patty and turned Cindy to face her. “What happened to her, Cindy? You’re not in trouble, this happened a long time ago. But what happened to her?”

“We played with her,” the girl said quietly.

“I know you thought it was playing, but what happened?”

“She broke.”

The woman drew a long breath and rubbed the girl’s shoulders soothingly. “Cindy, what did I tell you about using the passive voice?”

Who was this woman?!

The girl’s voice broke and she sniffled through her response. “I was making her go down the stairs and her leg went the wrong way. I thought it would be funny to see her fall down the stairs.”

“And was it?”

“Yes,” she said quietly.

“No, it wasn’t funny at all. What happened next?”

“She wouldn’t be quiet so I put a book on her.”


“Some books. And I jumped on them.” My blood ran cold to hear this come out of a little girl’s mouth. Didn’t matter that she was dozens times larger than me: a young kid confessing to a cruel murder like that? The stuff of nightmares.

The woman closed her eyes. She wore a lot of colorful makeup around her eyes, and some dangly jewelry in her ears. “Tiny people are very fragile and they break easily. They don’t know who they can ask for help, so they have to hide. The little man who was living here−”

“Where is he?” chirped Patty.

“Well, I don’t know. He’s probably hiding because he thinks we’ll hurt him.”

“I won’t hurt him!”

The woman snorted and ruffled the little girl’s hair. “You say that now, but you just dug up his home and stole all his stuff. I hope you didn’t hurt him with your shovel.”

“I’m sorry, little man!” Patty shouted around the tree. “I don’t want to hurt you! Please come out!”

“No, no, no, Patty. We’re going to leave this stuff here for him.”

“No!” Cindy stamped her foot.

The woman’s hand slid up from the older girl’s shoulder and around the back of her head, and then her fingers spread and knotted into her hair, holding her savagely in place. “After what you did to that poor, little, helpless woman,” she said in a threatening tone, “and what you did to this little man’s home—and maybe to him—leaving a couple pieces of furniture here is the least you can do. And if you don’t, I promise you, your mom will hear about all of this.”

Cindy glared at her defiantly, but it was only a reflex. The little girl was not prepared for the full brunt of a grown woman’s stare, and she quickly cowed. She didn’t like it when the woman made her personally place the Baggie with new doll furniture outside the hole, but she complied nonetheless. Patty was much more willing to drop an energy bar in the hole and earn the woman’s praise.

I blinked slowly, under my leaf. On the sidewalk stood two pairs of white leather shoes and ten bare, dirty toes, and between them and me was an airdrop of supplies and support. I tried to memorize the woman’s features, but her hair kept flopping around her cheeks and over her eyes. This was a very free-wheeling kind of free spirit, but she had a tremendous heart and an extremely rare humanitarian streak for Tinies. Extremely rare.

“Thank you, girls. Now we’re going to walk away, and we’re not going to look for the little man.” She took them by the hands and led them down the street. “No, Cindy, I see you peeking. You just walk away and leave that stuff there. You’re doing a very good thing right now. He just has to feel…” They were out of my earshot very quickly.

I didn’t crawl out from hiding when I couldn’t hear them. I crept around the vast oak trunk and peered down the street. I didn’t crawl out for my loot when they got to the end and turned the corner, and I didn’t crawl out for ten minutes after they disappeared. Cindy seemed like the type who’d break free and try to see me or even reclaim her possessions.

After more time passed I slit the Baggie open with some entrance-guarding spikes and hustled two white, carved Victorian chairs into my new chamber. Not that I’d ever have guests, but it was a nice thought. There was also a dresser. I left the this outside, not as a concession to vengeful Cindy but because I simply didn’t need it. It took up too much space, would’ve required too much work to move down there, and basically I was down to my last outfit.

Oh. There were clothes in there, too. I took the lightest shirt and thinnest pants and left the rest. The shoes were solid plastic molding and useless to me except as construction materials. As for the energy bar, it was well worth excavating extra space in my tunnel to move that inside, and well worth digging a new food storage room. With the clothes was a swatch of washcloth, judging by the soapy smell and stiff terry cloth, and I knew I could soak that in water at some point and wrap it around the bar to keep it cooler. Every little thing added up: surviving on your own was literally a game of fractions. Making a piece of food last six hours longer was an advantage over not doing so.

This little windfall, I didn’t let it go to my head. I was on guard for weeks afterward. Predictably, Cindy found a reason to swing by my block two days later, and she claimed all I’d left out for her. She looked around for the other stuff, announced that she hated me, and ran back home. I haven’t seen her since.

But you know who I have seen? That exotic, artsy creature who disciplined them. She came back three days later and just sat down next to the tree. I wasn’t in the hole, I was up in the branches, so I watched her saunter up and carefully pick a clear spot to rest. Sweeping her head from side to side, she spoke in a soft sing-song.

“I’m very sorry about what happened to you, little man,” she sang, rocking back and forth. To the people across the street, she must’ve just looked like some stoned hippie. She pulled out a piece of chalk from the folds of her outfit (dressed not too differently from before) and drew daisies on the sidewalk. “The little girls will leave you alone, I’ll make sure of it.”

I stared down at her, watching her golden scalp sway back and forth. Her voice was sweet and breathy. I would have liked to hear her sing for real.

“I hope you have a new home now, and I hope the supplies we dropped off helped. I can’t apologize enough for what happened, but I want you to know you have a friend in the neighborhood.” She put the chalk away and pulled from her wrist what I thought was a bracelet but turned out to be a hair-tie. She pulled her frizzy mop back, exposing her neck and shoulders to the late-afternoon sun, and rested her hands on her knees. Her fingernails were deep aubergine, like the wide vertical stripes in her skirt today.

She laughed, and cliché as it sounds, it rang like little bells. “I’ll check in on you every once in a while. I’ll be careful not to attract any attention. And if you ever want help or protection, I hope that someday you’ll come to trust me and ask for it.” She mentioned the names of some nonprofits she volunteered for, places that rehabilitate Tinies and other good deeds. I always found them condescending, in a way, but she wasn’t bragging when she mentioned them. “But I respect your decision to rough it in the wilderness, you powerful, independent little beast.” She laughed again and part of me wanted to let go of the branch and tumble into her broad, multihued lap.

I didn’t. My self-preservation instinct was too strong yet. I’d never seen cruel people lure Tinies away with sweet songs and warm vows, but it was totally believable to me that this must happen. And even though naïve Tinies don’t live to breed and pass along their gullibility, neither do we seem to get any smarter over progressive generations.

With a grunt, she heaved herself forward, got up to her feet, and quietly padded away. I watched her slim hips swaying through the leaves.

She came back the next week with a small parcel wrapped in biodegradable paper, so I wouldn’t feel bad about leaving it out like litter. The neighbor on the south side walked his mutt later that day, and the dog sniffed at the wrapper, sensing the honey granola bars it once held. Those lasted me until her next visit, and the bars she dropped off then lasted me until the next week.

I ate well, spied on the neighbors, fought with ground critters, and curled up in the living room chamber. Never bothered with other, fancier rooms. Just one place to live and one place to keep food. But one week I found the small pyramid of chalk that had grown too small for her to use, and I labored to etch out a large question mark on the sidewalk, two squares down from where I lived. She would see it on her next walk up to me.

She did. She laughed, rubbing it out with her bare toes. Her nails were dyed red, orange, yellow, orange, and red, and her rough soles rasped loudly on the pavement. Her hands parked on her hips, and I looked up at her, hidden among the roots, to see this beneficent hippie goddess look around to specifically focus on nothing. Her deep red lips parted as she tossed her hair to one side.

“Because any friend of C____’s is a friend of mine,” she whispered.

My heart leaped in its cage. I watched her walk away that time, but the next time she walked up, she found a little washcloth bundle containing furniture and food. When she bent down to pick it up, I stepped out from among the roots and waved my spare shirt up at her. Her eyes lit up to see me, and her smile was slow and warm.

She knew how to greet Tinies, but it wasn’t any form I was familiar with. Obviously she couldn’t tap her fingers on the ground on which I stood, but she slowly extended her foot to me. I crept back, wary, but she placed it upon the dirt and went motionless.

I walked up to her toes, round and cute. Her second toe had a braided gold ring around it. I could see my reflection in the nail of her big toe. I looked up at her, questioningly.

She waggled her eyebrows and wiggled her big toe at me. Unsure, I placed both palms on either side of her toe and attempted to shake it, like the Normals shake hands.

She laughed merrily. “No, you’re supposed to tap it, D____.” Again, the shock of hearing my own name. It disoriented me and I rapped my knuckles against the bulging curve of her strongest toe without thinking about it too hard.

More giggling. “No, harder than that.”

I drew back my fist and punched her toe, which cracked both of us up. She asked me if I was ready to go, and I let out a long, strangled breath. “Yeah,” I shouted up at her, “I think I am.” Her conventions for lifting me up were exactly what I’d taught Freda, one hand’s fingers lying upon the other as I stepped aboard, sliding to curve into a protective bowl as she lifted me up to chest-level and no higher. Maybe the toe-greeting was a new thing and I was just out of the loop.

Anyway. Her name’s Shavonne, and she’s C____’s bohemian artist friend. I’ve been staying with her for two weeks and not only is she stabler than I’d initially given her credit for, I now trust her pretty well. If she’s going to kill me, she’s playing the very, very long game.

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