Harland Schilling smelled the toast was ready before he heard the spring release. The glass butter dish lid clinked but once as he lifted it with practiced hands, and his shoulders unknotted to hear the familiar rasp of the old dinner knife dragging across the craggy, lightly carboned surface of the bread. The name Louis-Camille Maillard floated through his mind as he plated the toast, retrieved his coffee from the pour-over, and shoved the junk mail aside to sit at the dining room table. Inese would never have let the table get so messy and unusable, but Inese had departed this world four years prior.
Nonetheless, Harland sighed through his graying mustache at the mess, knowing his wife would have interpreted it as a sign of resignation, and for that she would have had no tolerance. He closed his eyes, listening to his upper teeth plow into the crusty, hot toast and letting the lightly salted butter run over his tongue. The coffee filled the room with roasted warmth, and these small pleasures meant everything to him.
“Must get on with the day, though,” he muttered to no one. He glanced out the sunny window at the neighbors washing their car: three young women shrieking and playing music, making the job last four times longer than it needed to. They seemed unconcerned with the periwinkle silhouette of a giantess striding through downtown, far in the hazy distance, as ponderously as though she were underwater. He was more concerned with their use of common household dish soap, ruining the finish on their Mustang convertible. “But if they don’t care, I shouldn’t either.” He reached for the newspaper.
It dismayed him that there was a stack of newspapers waiting for him, folded primly in narrow green plastic sheaths. Sorting through their dates told him that he’d been ignoring the upkeep up the house for nearly two months. He frowned sadly, his shoulders slumping as he glanced at a gilt-framed portrait of his beloved wife, hanging over the microwave. “I’ll fix it all up this afternoon. I promise.”
With that, he turned to the Classifieds. Not for himself, mind, just to keep up with what the kids found interesting in society today. Between millionaires getting enlarged or having people shrunk by TNS, or Undermountain Labs running their haphazard size experiments, the world was spinning rapidly beyond Harland’s comprehension, but he wasn’t going to let it go without a fight. He snapped the newspaper open smartly and fished his cheaters out of his cardigan pocket. “Let’s see what we have here, today,” he said, as he always did.
BOW TO ME SLAVE
You know you want it. You’ve been waiting your whole life to worship a goddess, and here I am. I won’t tolerate one more second of delay: a big girl like me has to eat, and if you don’t empty your bank account for my sake, I’ll just have to snack on your worthless body. Call/email Goddess Serafina.
“Well. She sounds unpleasant.” He looked at his wife’s picture. “What kind of person do you suppose goes in for something like that?” He chuckled and shook his head, returning to the Riverside Star/Gazette.
UR MINE ALL MINE
shut the fuck up pig an gimme all ur money. u belong to me an im goona crush u liek the bug ur. ur goddess demands it. come here n lick my toes and worship me liek u kno u want. ur a stuped idoit n patetic bug so gimme all ur money. Godess Yadira but u may not speak my name discustin lil worm
Harland’s wiry brows raised and clashed as he strained to parse that ad. “What a curse, to be born under stupid gods, eh, Inese?”
THE ASS MENAGERIE
Life getting you down? Struggling under the burden of societal pressures and the relentless workaday grind? Stick your concerns in my pocket and crawl into my palm, and let me carry you away to a lifetime of hedonism and indulgence! If you’re willing to transfer all your possessions to me and get irreversibly shrunk down, I can promise you all the lavish sybaritic delights your tiny body can bear, for the remainder of your days. No hyperbole, no lies! Let me adore you, Little Man! Email Lore Feliciano, check out my YouTube.
“That, uh, certainly sounds unlikely.” He cleared his throat and his cheeks turned rosy. He ruffled the newspaper, caring not to glance at Inese’s image in that moment.
WHO CARES WHAT YOU WANT
There’s no such thing as a gentle giantess! The sooner you get used to that, the less I have to listen to your complaining! Give me everything you have, or I’ll find you and take it all! You can’t stop me! What are you going to do, you wretched little asshole? Give in to your fate or you’ll regret it! You’ll regret it anyway—you can’t win, so just give in! Is that what you like, worm? Giantess Ashlee: website, Twitter, email.
All the light in the house had narrowed to a pale golden bead, far in the distance before Harland. His hands shook as the newspaper lowered upon his coffee and toast. The wind in his throat leaped in bursts, catching, releasing, seizing again. It wasn’t the name, Ashlee meant nothing to him, but those words…
Four years ago, they’d driven back from visiting relatives in Green Bay. It had been an exhausting road trip, but they wanted to push through it for one last hurrah. Neither of them were excited about getting older, but Inese looked as youthful as ever to Harland, and something about her kittenish nature brought out the little boy in him. So they roared through the Midwest, buying flavored cigars at truck stops, posing before State Park signs riddled with shotgun pellets, taking selfies with shocked expressions as they pointed at tremendous naked women far, safely far behind them.
They pulled into their neighborhood, choosing to park on the street rather than the garage behind their home. Harland wanted nothing more than to collapse on their bed with her, but Inese couldn’t rest until she’d filled up the tank and checked the pressure on their tires. “Don’t be so obsessive,” he chided. “Come up and relax with me. Please, dārgais.” She insisted she’d take care of the car, shouting through the closed passenger window, like a nincompoop, and then come back and unpack just the perishable foods and put only one load of laundry in and then she looked up and screamed.
Harland heard only one boom behind him, a punishing eruption from the block behind his house. His body knew it wasn’t a gas main, construction, or a bomb. Both of their bodies had been trained over recent decades, thanks to TNS and UL, to assume that any loud noise came from a gigantic person. Harland started for the spreading oak tree in their front yard: lazy giants crushed houses beneath their enormous, stupid feet, while mischievous giants actively sought out tiny fleeing people to torture and crush. They tended to leave trees alone because they weren’t very dramatic and didn’t support the enlarged human’s power trip.
But he fought against himself for the shelter of the tree, turning back almost instantly toward the car. Inese was stunned with fright, staring above their house, craning over the passenger seat to look up into the sky and scream. She knew better, Harland knew she knew better. They’d practiced: get out of the car and find a tree, or lie still in the street. Giants aren’t interested in corpses, only in making them. Yet something had gone wrong in Inese’s body, she lost her training and strained to stare up at the being looming over Harland. He hadn’t fled either. He hadn’t taken shelter, he was out in the open. That was his third thought; his first was his training, and his second was rescuing his wife. That realization would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He only had time to scream her name, but Inese never looked at him. She hammered at the passenger window with weak, aging fists as the broad shadow slid from behind Harland and covered the car. Her voice rose in pitch in the second before the immense bare foot practically teleported into place. One second there was a car; the next second, a pink sole spreading as it plowed into the boulevard. A bus stop sign twisted beneath its heel with a singing whine. A tire exploded; its rim tore free and sailed through a neighbor’s window. The car alarm for a sedan down the block went through a sequence of five different cries. A hydrant launched like a rocket, a jet of water blasted at the smooth ankle just above Harland’s head, casting a chilling mist over the immediate area. It dampened his body as he lay in his front yard, dazed and breathless.
A mocking voice resounded from the heavens. “Is that what you like, you sad little worm?” She was young, maybe just over drinking age, with a child’s sense of sarcasm. Her laughter was choppy and hollow, a child’s imitation of laughter. “Pay up, you wretched little asshole!” He saw her huge knee, far overhead, swinging back and forth, watched the sloshing baby fat ringing her thigh, heard the chorus of tortured steel as she twisted her foot below his sight.
To her credit, she didn’t flee when the cops showed up, and she cooperated when TNS dispatched a team to reduce her back to normal size and apprehended her. She insisted it had been an honest mistake: her agency gave her the wrong address. She even showed the cops her invoice, clearly reading Macon Blvd S when the client lived on Macon Blvd N. The agency was in trouble, but this woman wasn’t off the hook either. She laughed, that false, amateurish laugh of hers, as the judge reduced her sentence and threw the book at her sex work agency, Big Girl Walking: “giantesses for hire and escort.” She stretched out her legs and rested her feet on her table in the courtroom, only feebly admonished by her lawyer. Harland, seated two rows behind her, wondered which of her tiny, cute, young woman’s feet it was that had extinguished his wife, then turned and vomited. He got slapped with contempt of court for that.
When his vision returned, he saw several dark blotches on the Classifieds section. He removed his cheaters and dried his eyes on the shoulder of his cardigan, tugging the newspaper to the floor. His thick, wrinkled fingers wrapped around the warm mug and he realized how bloodless his hands had become. “Inese, Inese,” he sang quietly, studying the pattern of chalky continents of mist upon his coffee, broken lands that formed and dissipated immediately. “Oh, my Inese, my dārgais.”
The piles of junk mail, much addressed to her. Car insurance companies were so slow to update their records. They printed correspondence to her, cheerily wishing her back as a member, offering a discount on the car that had been destroyed. “I want her back, too, you stupid, insignificant worms,” he’d screamed at them on the phone, three years ago. It didn’t fix anything, and he relegated them to background noise. More and more of the world was only background noise now.
Harland sipped his coffee. A really good cup of coffee is actually three cups, he knew, and he’d missed the first one: the piping-hot one with toasty bitterness, the fresh suspension of grounds unsure what to do with themselves. Now he was into the mellower cup, where the nuts and berries came out, and he would ride it out to the third cup when the coffee was nearly chilled. He breathed his wife’s name through his nostrils and tasted, so hard, every last flavor in that mug.
The remainder of his toast went into compost. The mug and plate found space in the sink. Retrieving a paper shopping bag from under the sink, he scooped all the junk mail off the table and saved it for recycling. If any of it was truly important, they’d write to him again. Even if it wasn’t important, he’d hear from them. He retrieved the Classifieds, found a highlighter, and circled Lore Feliciano’s name. “Just something to think about,” he told the portrait.