Fiction Experiment: Quarterling

Today’s fiction experiment is below. The midday prompt was as follows:

A magical mishap shrinks your character for 24 hours. How does the day go?

Quarterling

The covers smothered Jake Down in a way unfamiliar to him, as if his blanket had doubled in thickness overnight. His body was almost completely at an angle, as if he’d curled up entirely on his sleep ramp, and his neck hurt from his pillow becoming ridiculously puffy. Finally, the discomfort grew too much, and he awakened out of sheer exasperation.

He blindly reached for his glasses and couldn’t even reach them. This peculiar realization forced him to face the daylight and face a horror for which he had not prepared. He couldn’t reach the table, not because he was too far into the center of his bed but because his arm had shrunk to half its previous length…perhaps less. Looking down at his body, Jake now saw that it, too, had contracted. Everything was the same, just…smaller. Instead of respectable five-foot-eleven, he now appeared to be two feet tall, at best. Everything seemed proportional, at least as he gripped the sides of his head, shaking himself awake. It was no use: he remained in this state, and apparently fully conscious. His bed lay before him like a broad, puffy monolith.

He was smaller than a Hobbit. The impossibility had struck him that he was, if anything, a quarterling.

Getting out of bed had become a tremendous hazard he’d never considered before: the top of the bed was now taller than he was. More importantly, from his middle-aged point of view, a drop that far risked breaking a leg or worse. Then he calmed down: less, mass, less chance of damage.

Worse, he had biological needs that must be attended to.

He stood on the now-treacherous soft surface of his mattress, stepped over to the bedside table, and leaned on the control button of his iPhone. His thumbprint wouldn’t work, but he could still push the numbers, which now required a full palm-press to activate. Quickly, he pressed the numbers for Amber, the only person he could think of who might understand this. Her drowsy voice answered from the speaker.

“Amber? Buddy? I have a personal red alert happening here, and I really need your help.”

“I suppose it would’ve been too much to expect you to say good morning or ‘I’m sorry for waking you’ first, huh?”

“Sorry, Am. Seriousemergency. Kinda forgot about the niceties.”

“What’s wrong? And why does your voice sound weird?”

“I’ve got…an affliction. I can’t explain it any other way. Could you come over, please? As is? I don’t give a shit about makeup or combed hair.”

“Yikes. Okay, for you I’ll be over. Do I have time to get some coffee first?”

Jake sighed and rolled his eyes. “Sure. You have my spare key still?”

“Yep. You that laid up?”

“Let’s just say you’ll have to let yourself in.”

“Okay. Be by soon. Don’t die!” Jake heard the Georgia sneak into Amber’s voice as by and diebecame bahand dahwith worry.

Jake frowned down at the floor, which now seemed ridiculously far away, and his body, which was now naked. His t-shirt and sweats had not shrunk with the rest of him. Great.“I guess I could try to get dressed before she comes over.” Not trusting his low-mass theory, he got on all fours, backed toward the edge, and lowered himself to the floor. It wasn’t a great drop, but lessened weight of his body, did, indeed reduce the impact on his ankles and knees. Maybe I should lose some weight anyhow.

The thought amused him until he realized the restroom was now a mandatory item, and he scampered (what other word could one use?) toward the bathroom.

Rising monstrously before him, the edge of the commode now stood just below the level of his neck. He flipped a coin and decided that his male habit of leaving the lid up was a benefit for a change—a narrower ledge, but easier to reach. But—yuck—he’d have to get his hands and body coated with whatever was coating the edge of the rim…shame on him for not cleaning more often!

The edge wasn’t wet, praise the nameless gods, but there wasn’t much to grab onto. Desperation forced the issue, and he clambered onto the yellowed rim and relieved himself without staining the floor. Able to think clearly again, he reached for the counter, using the toilet paper rack to pull him over to the sink so he could wash himself. Everythingwas harder now: turning on the faucet, pressing down on the liquid soap dispenser, turning the faucet off. Jake was still in analysis mode: Task A, Task B, etc.He had made the conscious decision not to address whyor how this had happened until Amber arrived. That is going to be one scary discussion,he thought.

*

By the time Amber opened the door, Jake had managed to get down from the bathroom counter and improvise a hand towel into a toga. He hadn’t given any thought to how this mess would look to her. Not for the first time, he was glad that he didn’t have a pet. He didn’t feel like trying to get a dog—or worse, a cat—to obey a quarter-scale Jake.

As it happened, he had just sat down in the middle of the living room carpet, drained of ideas and energy when she breezed in, heading for his room, where he was presumably bedridden. “You’d better be dyin’ in there to get me out of the apartment this early without makeup!”

“Amber, I’m down here.”

“Wait, what?”From his now-peculiar vantage point, Jake looked up at his friend: pale oval face uncolored by makeup, dark brown hair hiding behind a Braves baseball cap, body covered in the usual t-shirt-and-blue-jeans uniform of a Gen-Xer. Lipstick stained the rim of her coffee traveler mug. At barely five feet tall, she now seemed very much larger than him. Everything had come into clear focus as if he were seeing her clearly for the first time. He finally met her sad grey eyes, which were wide with shock and something approaching terror. Before he could say another word, Jake had to bolt out of the way as his friend fainted dead away, on the way toward falling on top of him.

*

He’d dragged the sloshing travel mug to near Amber’s head. The black brew seemed to bring her to consciousness. She reached for the mug and sat up, hands shaking a bit.

“You wanna explain why you’re now a pint-size Jake?”

“I would love to,” he said miserably, “but I have no idea.”

She crossed her legs and sipped some more of the coffee, using the drink to stall for time. Amber didn’t know what to say, either. Jake sat on the floor, leaning back against the couch.

“I don’t mean to be forward, but could I touch you? I kinda need to see if this is real or if someone slipped some LSD into my wine last night.”

Jake stood, stopping about a foot away from her. Amber set down her coffee and reached forward. She poked him in the belly first, like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Jake emitted the expected “Hee hee!” Then he crossed his arms in front of his chest and drawled, “Satisfied?”

That elicited more laughter. “That was too cute for words. Should’ve made a video.” Then she reached out with two hands to grab around his waist.

“Oof! I said touch, not lift.”

“Sorry, darlin’. I just couldn’t resist. Never had a Jake doll before.”

“Har har. Could you set me down, please?”

“No problem. You’re still a bit much to just carry around.”

“High-density halfling.”

“Right. So what are you going to do about this?”

“I don’t bloody well know. It’s not like I went to bed last night thinking, ‘Gosh, it sure would be neat if I could shrink down to nothing and walk around in my towel for the rest of my life.’”

“You could’ve called a doctor or something.”

“And what would I have told them? Help, 9-1-1! I swallowed the wrong pill and now I’m looking for Wonderland?”

“Well, at least…” Jake heard a laugh starting in her voice.

“What?”

“I can’t say it…”

Jake rolled his eyes. “Go ahead…”

She looked down at his torso, eyes crinkling with mischief, and said, “At least you’d have a good excuse in case someone says it’s too small.” Amber then rolled over into an uncontrollable ball of laughter on Jake’s floor. She didn’t stop for nearly an hour.

*

Annoyed with his friend’s fitful hysterics, Jake walked over to the fridge and dug around to see what he could reach and eat. Christmas cookies were about the only thing close at hand, so he helped himself to what was now a monstrous almond-flavored treat. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about energy for a while. Then he glared at the chortling Amber and stomped as angrily as his tiny self would allow back to his bedroom to fetch his iPhone. The angry stomping set off a new round of cackling, and Jake rolled his eyes again. He had to put things in perspective. If he’d called one of his parents, they probably would’ve had a heart attack. As it was, he had to cope with his friend…and her understandable but grating laughter.

Sliding the phone off the edge of the bedside table, he hauled the infernally heavy device back to the living room. He was working on typing something when Amber finally sat up, wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to see if I can type on this thing. I’m a writer, for gosh sakes. It’d take me forever to get something done on a laptop now.”

“Jake, stop it. Sit down, settle down, and think things through.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing?”

Amber shook her head. “You’re thinking practically as if you have to do everything yourself. Typical man.”

“Hey now…”

“Relax, Jake. You brought me here to help. You must think I’m the only person you trusted with this. I’m flattered, actually.”

Jake sighed and backed away from the iPhone keyboard. At this size, the keys were just about right for his mouse-scale hands. It was almost easier than typing with his full-size thumbs.

“I mean it, Jake. You’re in a weird place—and quite frankly, I don’t even know how—but you called me. That says a lot.”

“Hmmmm.”

He felt something akin to a pair of long balloons brushing slowly across his miniature tuft of grey hair. He saw her two forefingers pull away.

“You’re not used to depending on anybody. That’s gotta hurt.”

Jake bowed his head, not really caring that this was the first time he’d cried in front of his friend. “M-more than you know.” He finally stopped shaking, wiped off his face, and turned to look up at Amber’s eyes, the look of pity giving way to something more businesslike.

“Well, there are things you can do to make this work.”

“Such as?”

“Voice-to-text, for one thing. You can’t spend all your life poking at things that aren’t suited for you.”

“Right. And I’ll just live in a toga for the rest of my life. Become a shut-in. Order everything through Amazon. Add stepstools everywhere.”

“Now you’re thinking! And as it happens, I know a few other bits of advice I can offer. I’m used to thinking like a short person, remember?”

“Riiiight.”

“Oh!” Her expression brightened. “That means I get to make the short jokes for a change! How fun!” She chuckled again but didn’t lapse back into body-shaking laughter this time. She seemed to have accepted whatever this…condition…was, and wasn’t going to let its ludicrousness divert her further.

Finally Jake nodded, stood up, and walked over to his friend, reaching out to hug her side as well as he was able. He tried not to notice that her breasts were now larger than his head. It figured he’d find thismoment to fall in love, now that everything was well-nigh impossible.

*

They spent the rest of the day on practicalities: Calling in from his job, which he did from home anyway. Setting up Amazon orders and times when she could drop by to pick things up from the mailbox. She agreed to bring over and deploy her own stepstools and ladders until the mail shipments arrived. Moving healthier food to the lower shelves of the fridge. Arranging smaller containers for soap and shampoo. Working out some sort of twine-based system so he could lock his apartment door. It all seemed so normalsomehow, as if they’d been doing this all their lives.

Then it came time to sleep again. Amber kept a polite distance as she set the footstool beside the bed to let him ascend. Jake sighed and crawled his way up the steps until he was back beneath the covers of his now-oversized king-size slab.

“What now?” he said, looking up at his friend, who was doing her level best to tuck him in. “I haven’t even come to terms with the really scary stuff yet: facing my parents, my colleagues, hell, just the neighbors!I’ll end up in a freak show somewhere, like the legendary Tom Thumb from P. T. Barnum’s days.”

“Hey,” Amber said, quirking her mouth upward in a smile. “I’m here to help, remember? I won’t let anyone get at you. They’ll have to get past me first. And I’m feisty.”

Jake chuckled. “That you are.”

She leaned forward and kissed him on top of his head. “You’ll be fine,” she said. “We’llbe fine.”

“What makes you think so?”

“You’re willing to let help. That’s a good start.”

Jake smiled and adjusted himself to his outsized pillow. He felt comfortable enough to fall asleep.

*

Awakening full-sized the next morning, Jake shuddered, his face growing wet with tears. He reached around his surroundings to confirm that reality had reasserted itself, even to the point of sitting up and letting his feet rest on the carpet. Bliss!

Somehow, though, he felt different—not just because of his size shifting back to normal—he was different inside.Amber had seen him vulnerable, more so than he’d ever allowed himself to be in front of…well, damn near anyone. She was there to help? So be it…maybe they could make things work. He reminded himself to go easy on the short jokes.

(c) 2018 by Bart Leahy

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