In the narrow gap between the wall and the fridge, a tiny man crouched. His dark hair was thick and unruly, swept to one side for the time being. Wide eyes rolled beneath a heavy brow he would grow into, and his mouth hung open with the taste of adventure. Beside him, the monolith of brushed steel growled and trembled, as its technology bent physics to keep fresh a supply of food that would have lasted this little man several lifetimes. His chest heaved within a wrap of salvaged T-shirt from the bigs; similarly, his lower body was covered in a crudely sewn sheath of blue jeans, the denim worn to baby-softness from years of use by its previous owner.
The tiny man was watching the dishwasher, almost entirely across the room from himself, a fearsome distance. The fridge stood facing the long alley of the kitchen, standing at a right angle to a cooking counter, an oven, cabinets under a sink, and then the dishwasher, a squat cube of brushed steel like the fridge. The signal was going to come the far end of the dishwasher, which was just a little more distance on top of a life-threatening sprint across the kitchen.
The other side of the alley, across from the sink and oven and all that, was a kitchen island, at which two bigs sat, a colossal man and a titanic woman. The woman was sipping coffee and scrolling through depressing news on her smartphone. Her thin lips turned down at every other story, and sometimes her black bob swayed in disbelief. Light, thin fabric hung from her shoulders, revealing much of her slender, elegant body. The man, in contrast, grunted quietly as he shoveled a pile of food into his mouth, and he was dressed like a pile of discarded clothes. There was no evidence of thought on his face, rumpled with sleep.
From the little crack between the wall and the fridge, the dark-haired man watched two pairs of huge, bare feet rest or swivel on the low rung of their stools, hers dainty as pink fins, his bulky and plodding. They were inert now, idling, but either one of them could spell the end for him in a flash. It took some effort for him to tear his gaze from these potentially threatening extremities, but when he did he saw the signal.
From a crack similar to the one in which he was stashed, a shadowy slit between the dishwasher and a cabinet of highly aromatic drawers, another little man emerged. He seemed to struggle with his position, not quite stuck but fitting poorly in the narrower gap. This, however, enabled him to scale the side of the dishwasher nearly to counter-height, and remain planted as he spied on the bigs. He was a round little butterball of a man, thinning yellow hair pasted to the side, and kind, sad eyebrows swimming high on his forehead in alarm. He wore no shirt, and if the bigs could hold him beneath a magnifying glass, they would have perceived tufts of darkish hairs swirling from his collarbone down to where his kilt (leftover navy sweatpants) began.
Two watery-blue dots peered intently above his flaring, puffing nostrils and a mouth that gaped like a goldfish on dry land. His belly adhered to the rippled enamel side of the dishwasher in a most useful manner, as he peeked over the breakfast island at the two sleepy, oblivious bigs. As always, he was struck with the woman’s beauty, and once again he wondered why she was stuck with a lug nut like that guy, unless it was for protection: he looked like he could punch a tree down. He also looked like that was the range and extent of his conversational prowess. Dames, who can figure ’em, the little man thought, as he huffed and crept closer to the drawbridge of the dishwasher’s facade.
He couldn’t see what the pretty lady was doing, only that it made her unhappy. The enormous brute was hauling piles of food into his maw, any single load of which would have satisfied the roly-poly spy for a couple weeks. As households went, this was a good one for a small clan of tiny people to shelter in, with lots of food waste and a high turnover of textiles and materials to be repurposed. Still, resourceful as the tiny people were, they weren’t terribly imaginative, or there might have been a less risky way for them to monitor the bigs and pull off their capers.
Far off to his right, the fridge’s motor grunted and rattled to a halt. It did this daily, fairly regularly. The gigantic man paused in his wanton consumption and swung his massy head in its direction, as though surprised by it. And from the narrow slit, way up by the chopping boards and drying rack, the pudgy little blond flapped one thick arm exactly twice, then withdrew and eased himself down.
The tiny brunet man caught the gesture, grinned savagely, and hurled himself from the narrow hiding spot. His bare feet slapped quietly upon baked clay tiles and his arms reached to seize the air itself as he propelled himself to the dishwasher.
“Holy shit,” said the enormous man. Even his dull eyes caught the flicker of a very small body rocketing out from under the fridge and disappearing behind the edge of the kitchen island. “Goddamn it!” He pushed his stool back abruptly, only just catching it from toppling as the rear legs snagged the grout between the tiles. His dropped spoon danced upon the glass-topped island, which caught the woman’s attention the way his expletives hadn’t.
“What’s going on,” she murmured, turning her head without lifting her eyes from the headlines.
“One of those tiny fuckers! Under the fridge!” Despite his incredible bulk, the monstrous man gripped the edge of the island and strained to peer around it. The little man, dressed like the big man on weekends, was of course gone. “Dammit!” Looking around for a weapon, he grabbed the soup spoon with which he had been stoking his furnace and crept around the end of the island in a predatory crouch.
The woman set her phone down without incident and slid from the burnished leather seat of her stool. Her own feet padded upon the glazed tiles as she joined her partner. “Where is he? Get out of the way, I want to see.” She planted her hands on his hips and peered around as though he were a boulder or a Jersey barrier.
His contorted face craned over one shoulder at her. “Not here, you idiot! Go around, he’s running over there!”
She smacked the back of his skull and jerked his sweatpants down. “Never call me an idiot, Erick,” she said, padding around the island like a spiraling ribbon of incense. “You’re the last person to call me an idiot.” Less sneakily than the beefcake she lived with, she too peeked around the other end of the kitchen island, but by that time the dark-haired man was practically in front of her. She breathed an oath as the wrongness of the sight shook her: it was a tiny little person, a human being, dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans, but tiny. He was running so hard but moving so slowly, somehow. The contrast between everything she knew from the rest of her life and this moment, the contradiction she was actually looking at, made her head swim. Her heart hammered in her chest as she watched the little being hurtling himself across the kitchen tiles, not very far from her bare feet, from where her bare legs ran up gauzy pajama bottoms, and where— anyway, she was hardly dressed, and he scurried like a mouse, and someone so small and light could crawl up anywhere… She took a step back in shock at seeing him, actually seeing a tiny person, and her hand draped over her heart and her eyes were huge and before she could draw a breath to say something (though she had no idea what she could say) he slipped into the narrowest slit between the dishwasher and spice drawers.
“Dammit!” she spat, instantly recovering. Watching the miracle of a tiny person right there, in her kitchen, practically running over her toes had wiped all sensibility from her head, but watching him slip into that slim crack was… like cheating. It wasn’t fair, that he could be there one moment and just throw himself into the seam and disappear. Thinking faster than her partner, she turned to a slim utility closet and snatched a yardstick from its nail. “Get back here, you fucker!” She knelt where the tiny man had vanished and thrust the yardstick in the gap as though slipping a rapier between the ribs of a dragon. The cabinet resounded with her sloppy, desperate scrabbling, as she pinched the last inch of the stick to reach way, way in the back and then scoop the little man out. “Come on! Come on, I want to see you!” But all she produced was about two years of gunk, vegetable fiber, and hairs in long streaks from the end of the yardstick across one gleaming baked tile.
“Isa? You okay?”
She turned and saw her husband’s stout toes and ungainly thick feet beneath the pillars of his sweatpants, then up at the rumpled cloud of off-white hoodie swaddling what she knew were washboard abs and chiseled pecs. Her perspective shifted and the lumbering giant became Erick, handyman Erick, moderately successful hedge-fund trader Erick. Disappointment, nameless and bitter, welled in her throat, but she swallowed it back as reason and custom reasserted themselves in her head. As she rose to her feet, already doubt crept in to gnaw at the corners of her memory.
“Did you get it?” Erick looked at her yardstick, then at the large spoon in his hand. He set the spoon on the island. He wasn’t finished eating.
“No… no,” Isa said quietly. She tore off a paper towel, wiped the end of the stick, and got a spray bottle of vinegar from under the sink to clean the tile. “That was dumb. It was just a mouse, right? Guess we gotta call the—”
“No, it was one of those little people I told you about. I showed you the photo on my phone, that one that was hanging out on your nightstand.” Erick frowned at the dishwasher and rounded the island to resume his perch and finish the bowl of oats and oat milk and fruit and whatever else. “Goddamn it, I thought we got rid of them.”
“You don’t think they’re real, do you? Doesn’t it make more sense that you were seeing things?” She composted the towel, joined him at the island, and picked up her phone reflexively to read it but realized she couldn’t care less about anything going on right now.
“I’m not seeing things. Didn’t you see it?”
She paused too long. “I don’t know what I saw.”
“You saw it! What was it wearing?”
The rational part of her mind tried to construct a sleek fur coat of dishwater brown, or maybe gray with brown spots, or was that a rat? With her mind thus occupied, her mouth was free to blurt, “A white T-shirt and jeans, like yours.” Her dark brown eyes focused on him hard. “But that’s impossible, right? Why would a tiny person be dressed like you, in your clothes? That’s why I think this is some kind of delusion. Probably something in the water.”
Erick slumped over his trough. “Don’t start.”
“You saw that military plane dumping purple powder over the city last month.”
“That’s how they dust for mosquitos. It looked fucking weird, but the news said we were going to have a hard season for mosquitos.”
She snorted. “Of course the news would say that, dummy. Remember The Truman Show?”
He raised one hand of stout fingers and proud veins, holding it up like a partition. “I asked you to keep that shit away from me, all right? I get it’s your hobby, but I don’t want any part of it. But come on, you saw it this time! Did it look like the guy on my phone?”
Her glossy hair vibrated with the gears shifting in her head. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t think I got a good look.”
Erick glanced at the stairway beyond the short wall that wrapped around the fridge. He’d left his phone next to the bed, and he wasn’t in the mood to go get it. “Well, what did it look like?”
“I told you, I don’t know. He was just there for a flash and he disappeared.”
“He? Whatever these things are, they’re pests. They’re unwanted, they’re intrusive, and they’re fucked up.” Erick’s strong jaw and prominent features belied an active intellect, enough to make him a modestly successful hedge-fund trader, if not overly imaginative. He could, in fact, hold his own in most conversations, though his active vocabulary only really spiked when discussing protein shakes and isolation exercises. “They’re not real people. I know I call them that, but come on. Humans don’t get that small.”
“So they’re not real, but you want me to tell you the little man running across the kitchen floor looked like the little man you saw on my bedside table.”
He nodded, a couple times.
“But he’s not a little man.”
“Some kind of super-insect that dresses up to look like you.”
He looked with irritation at the empty bowl before him. He didn’t remember finishing it. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe one of those evolutionary branches, like how monkeys look like humans in some ways but didn’t evolve like we did.”
The corner of Isa’s mouth curled, and Erick knew he was in trouble. “You look more like an ape than I do.” She gestured at him: chopping on her arm, waggling her fingers, rolling one fist over another before her chest.
“Was that supposed to be sign language?”
One fist sprouted a middle finger. “Are they an earlier stage of evolution? Tiny Neanderthals, and you’re the latest stage of this evolution? Are our grandchildren going to grow up to be giants?”
“I don’t know…”
“Think of the bills, all the food, constantly buying replacement clothes for them.” Her eyes twinkled. “We’ll have to hire a custom tailor.”
“Or is it the other way around? Were we gigantic, and now we’re mutating to shrink down? Look at you, my big, handsome, Cro-Magnon husband. Our grandkids could fit in your hoodie pocket.”
“What? No.” He looked down at the pocket over his belly.
“We’ll have to store them in an egg carton to bring them anywhere.”
“What are you talking about?”
“But wait, that doesn’t make any sense. Humans used to be much smaller in ancient times. Does that mean our height is just going to go up and down, like…” Her slender hand and arm seemingly lost their bones as she emulated a roller coaster or perhaps the waves of the ocean. “Is that what does us in, finally? Maybe we big, lumbering hulks just chow down on the next evolution, and we go extinct. Or maybe they all gang up on us, swarming out of the walls to…”
Now it was Isa looking nervously at the dishwasher and the drawers where they stored spices and implements. “Where do you think they live, anyway?”
Erick glanced at the fridge, solid and gleaming in its recessed housing. “Like rats, I guess. In the walls. Like they make little holes here and there to gain access in the hollows of all the walls.” He looked around himself, all angles. “Cheap modern construction. All show, no substance.”
She imagined her husband imagining a little cartoon mousehole, perfectly rounded on the upper half, fitted with a banded oak door bearing a shiny brass knob. “Why don’t we hear them in the walls?”
“If they’re so small, they’ve got to be really light. I’d be surprised if we could hear them stomping around.”
“And if one appeared on my bedside table, does that mean they have a network all over the house?”
“I don’t know.” Erick was holding very still, perched on his stool, as though trying to hear scurrying in the kitchen ceiling at that moment. “I guess they could climb the stairs, but it’d take forever.”
Isa’s chin lifted. She appeared to stare at the window above the sink, sunlight glowing in the creamy linen shade. “They’d need tools. A carpeted staircase like ours would make that easy. A little string, a bent paperclip, and you could snag the next level in the pile carpet and pull yourself up.”
Erick regarded his partner’s profile. “Huh. I guess so. Easier to just climb the walls inside the walls. I mean, the lathe and stuff.”
“Harder for a hardwood staircase. Again, easier in an old person’s home with textured skids on each step, but in a regular home? Polished wood stairs?”
“Does anybody have that? Sounds like a lawsuit.”
“And then food,” Isa said, shoving her phone away from the edge of the island toward the relative safety of a potted plant. She slid off the stool and waggled her slim butt for her partner’s appreciation as she rounded the island. “They have to eat. Assuming they don’t just feed on our dead flesh and plant matter, like, saying they eat like we do, same nutritional needs.” She stepped slowly, thoughtfully, aware that the soles of her feet were planting where someone else’s eensy-weensy little feet sprinted. By the time she got to the fridge, she wondered whether it would be possible to dust the tiles for prints.
“Cats and dogs don’t have the same nutritional requirements,” Erick said firmly.
“That’s true, they don’t. Very good, Erick, look at you. So smart.”
His bottom lip pushed out in his scowl. “I’m saying, they’re smaller mammals than us, but lots of our food is toxic to them and we need a bigger variety of things to eat than they do. There’s no reason to assume that tiny little people need the same food we do, when they’re closer to rats and mice and squirrels.”
“I guess that’s true.” She wrapped two fine hands around the fridge door handle and put her shoulders into jerking it open.
“But let’s assume, since we don’t have one here we can test on, that since they look so much like us, they have to eat like us. There’s no other way to guess what their requirements are.”
“Weasels, ferrets. Voles.”
“They need proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.” She bent at the waist to peer dramatically into the fridge, thrusting her little butt out, draped in cotton lemongrass trousers that draped around her lean legs, falling short around her ankles. “Leafy greens, grains and starches, and meat when they can get it.”
“Stoats. Ermine.” He tilted his head. “Muskrats are pretty large, aren’t they?”
“Erick.” She turned to him, and he wasn’t even looking at her. “Focus. Eating. They need to eat, and obviously they can’t open this big, huge fridge. What do they do?”
“They can go fuck themselves.”
“Pretend you’re a tiny little person, then. How would you find food?”
“If I was one of those tiny little pests…”
“I hope I’d have the sense to kill myself.”
“Come on! Don’t be foul! Think about this with me.”
He hauled himself off his stool and drifted out of the room, toward the entryway. He looked up the stairs to the bedrooms and at the door to the basement with new eyes. “I don’t see the point.”
“Think about how you’d do it, and maybe we’ll learn how they operate. And then maybe we can figure out a way to catch them.”
He turned, silhouetted in the junction between rooms. “What?”
“Kill them, I mean.” She selected a small carton of fruit juice from the door and closed the fridge.
“Huh.” He came back, his heavy feet plodding across the tiles. Isa imagined she’d sprint away from those slabs of meat, too, if she were that small. “Well, all right. They’re gonna get hungry, but we don’t know how many of them there are. Let’s assume a colony of fifteen.”
“What! Fifteen tiny little people? I guess there…” She leaned against the stove, between two sets of large chrome knobs, her butt against the display screen, and fiddled with tearing the carton open. “Have you ever seen a tiny woman?”
“In my life?”
“No, in this recent infestation.”
“Nope, just a man. I mean a male.”
“No other little men?”
“I don’t think so. I’d have to check the picture on my phone to be sure.” He looked up at the bedrooms again, and he thought about highly polished wooden stairs again. He muttered to himself, “I’d be fine with bare feet, but socks would probably kill someone. Shit.”
“But now we’re talking about a nest of fifteen tiny people. We have to assume women, because how else would they reproduce, and then there must be some children. Let’s say five, five, and five.”
Erick smirked, tugging the string in his hood back and forth a bit. “Ah yes, men, women, and children: the three genders.”
She stuck her tongue at him, then walk back over to the spice drawers for a pair of scissors. She crept close to the island to preserve the tiny man’s footprints, if any. “You can’t get into the fridge. What else?”
He scratched a corner of his skull. “Cupboards, obviously. Dry goods. Nonperishables. Can’t break into a can of soup, so you go for a box of something.”
“How do you do that?”
“Up the walls, on the inside again. Climb up the lathes and insulation or whatever. You can dig out a little hole in the back of the cabinet, if you can do it in the trim around the floor.”
Having opened the juice box, Isa took a long, thoughtful pull on it. “Tools. That’s another matter entirely. If you want to carve a hole in the wall or break into a box of cereal, you’re going to need tools. We can’t assume other evolutionary artifacts like claws or whatever.”
Erick cringed. “Jesus. That’s all we need.”
“I don’t want to get into it now, but let’s assume they have a supply of little sharp bits of metal. They wear out, but they have a lot of them.”
“So they’re tool-users now? Not just hunter-gatherers?”
She knew he was a little proud to use phrases like that around her, as she had a master’s in cultural anthropology. “Yes, tool-users.”
“Very good.” She winked at him, and that was good enough for him. “And why not? Living in a house like this…”
He swore quietly. “It’d be better if we had pets. Or teenagers. But I repeat myself.”
She laughed and asked him to explain.
“If we had cats or dogs, there’s a chance of leftover high-protein food lying around the food bowls. The risk is higher of getting caught by a pet, but the potential for food is there. Assuming they like the taste of it. But with a teenager, then you’ve got your pizza boxes, your bags of chips, leftovers… containers lying around with lots of good food in them. Just have to get at them before you get caught, but you’ve got large windows of opportunity as they’re sneaking around late or sleeping until afternoon.”
“But there’s the risk of getting caught by a teenager.” Her eyebrows were pencil-fine arcs over her eyes, and she raised these at him.
“I dunno. What are you thinking?”
Erick puffed up his broad chest, then pulled out his stool to sit at the corner of the island, putting it completely between him and his partner. “Teenagers have a cruel streak a mile wide. I’d rather fall prey to a cat than a teenager.”
“Really? You don’t think they’d keep a tiny person for a pet?”
“You know what they do to pets.”
“And they’re at the stage of their greatest cognitive development, their awakening sexuality…”
Erick reared. “That’s sick!”
She grinned cattily at him and drank more juice. “I dunno, in the right hands, it could be fun for some little—”
“That’s sick. You put that in the vault with your conspiracy theories. Keep that shit away from me.”
“Can’t stop me thinking about it.”
He grimaced deeply. “You got some serious problems, lady. Anyway, we don’t have pets or kids, so they’re going to be stuck picking up whatever’s around the trash can or what falls around the stove. Maybe they get really lucky and snatch up something you drop from the CSA pickup. Dunno what they think they’re gonna do with a leaf of dino kale, but that’s not my problem. You keep too clean of a house for a tiny person to expect much of a feast.”
Again she glanced at the floor, with the invisible evidence of the little man.
“So, that’s it? They’re just scavengers? They don’t have any fun, make paintings, perform plays? Do they have music or literature?”
“Those aren’t really survivable traits, except maybe on the spiritual or intellectual levels.”
“So they’re just bugs.”
Isa frowned at him. “I’m not saying that. I’m just trying to figure out how they’d get around. One obviously got up to our bedroom. What do you think it wanted?”
With a shudder, Erick sighed and rested his elbows on the glass top. “No idea. Maybe they’re just that stupid and desperate for food.”
“You don’t think he wanted something else?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Come on, if you were living in a giant’s castle, like Jack and the Beanstalk, wouldn’t you be curious about the people living there?”
“Hell, no. I’d stay out of their way as much as possible.”
She pushed her hips from the counter and mirrored his slouch on the island. “What if the giant wife looked like me? Not some big, warty ogre, but a pretty woman with kind, intelligent eyes and cute toes.”
Erick’s eyes ran from her shimmering hair, down her sloping shoulders, to the tapering fingers that loosely held a juice box. “If it was you?”
“Yeah, a sexy, lonely giant wife, walking around the castle while her husband’s out harassing villagers.”
He regarded his partner sidelong. “You’ve thought about this before, haven’t you.”
“Once or twice. When you showed me that photo.”
“You’ve been fantasizing about what you’d do with a tiny little man?”
“It’s an… interesting philosophical quandary, perhaps.”
“Well, what if you were masturbating yourself with a tiny guy—”
“And I just rolled over, seeing you’re in the mood, and just slipped myself inside? Goodbye, little lover.”
Isa straightened up. “That’s horrible.”
“Do you think he’d snap in half, or would he actually be unharmed, stuffed up inside you?”
He grinned with all his teeth and leaned over the table at her. “Until he drowned in my cum, of course, if my huge, thrusting cock didn’t batter him into pieces.”
“Now I regret thinking about this with you.”
“But until then… just imagine how he’d dance inside you. Squirming around, shifting and squirming.”
Her posture softened and she regarded her partner with mild surprise. She could easily imagine this.
“And I know how wet you can get, too, so he can slip around all he wants inside you.”
She licked her lip.
“And he just squirms harder and harder. He’s fighting for air, but you don’t know that.”
“Goddamn it!” She threw the juice box at him; the empty carton bounced off his broad brow and clattered before the oven.
“Well, you’re the one fantasizing about cheating on me with an infestation of tiny people.”
“Just one! Is that what worries you? An army of little people?”
Looking away, he informed her that she could shut up.
Her grin returned and she tiptoed around the island, before the fridge, waggling her fingers. “Think about it: you drastically underestimated their numbers. Instead of fifteen, there’s fifty. Maybe a hundred.” Her polished nails clicked across the glass-top island; Erick’s eyes watched them, and he moved his hand away.
“And they come pouring out of the walls. Not just one Tom-and-Jerry mousehole, but dozens of them, behind the fridge, the oven, under the sink…”
“And they heard what you were saying about them. Or maybe they’re just hungry, and hungry people fight.”
“They’re not people—”
“Hundreds of tiny men and women, all watching you with little red eyes. All of them armed with little bits of aluminum, tin, steel. Hundreds of little shards of metal, seeking your flesh.” She ran her nails skittering up his forearm; he jerked away most satisfyingly. “There you are, helplessly asleep, lying in your bed. And they come into our bedroom, but this time they’re coming for you. Can you see them, swarming up the dust ruffle, up the bed sheets? Hundreds of little heads, poking up over the edges of the mattress?”
“How about you go up and write about this? I’ll go open a bottle of red for you. Sounds like you’re brimming with ideas.” He slid off the stool, away from her, putting it between them.
She snaked around it, eyes bright, grin flashing. “You can’t even feel them crawling over your feet, over the eiderdown. They can run up the bed between our bodies, skirt the edge of the bed, or just crawl over your thighs…”
He grunted and slipped past her, going for the fridge.
“Think about that. A dozen little people in the night, crawling around that big, thick cock of yours. And I know you get hard in the middle of the night, too, regardless of whatever you’re dreaming.”
Erick paused, one hand on the door handle. That was an image: tiny people, predominately women, crawling around his huge log of a penis. He was proud of it, he thought it looked mighty, and then the idea of tiny women rubbing up against it, pulling themselves atop its bulge… hugging his balls, struggling to climb them…
“And up over your chest, around your neck, up to your face…”
He was still fixated on three or four tiny women linking arms to embrace his erection.
“Your eyes… and then the knives come out.”
“Fuck!” The wall of the kitchen rattled with the force of the slammed fridge door. Erick nudged his partner aside and stormed to the staircase. Isa cackled and chased him, nails extended as she provided sound effects.
In the narrow gap between the dishwasher and the spices, having hidden under the former during the brief bout of scraping, a tiny, grinning brunet man and a tiny, pudgy blond man peeked from the shadows.
“We really should be writing this down,” said the blond.