Warm Places

Once again I put off posting my last Size Riot entry, this time for CruelJanuary 2020. It was a stretch for me, but hopefully a productive one.


Maureen knew better than to tell anyone else what she knew about the little people.

If Crystal wanted to have one around her that was her business. But she wouldn’t, if she knew what Maureen knew. And now Maureen knew her weekend would be terrible.

“It’s not even the whole weekend,” said Crystal. “Just tomorrow and Saturday.”

“That’s two days,” said Maureen, tugging at a wayward bang. “That’s a weekend, that counts.”

“It’s fine! You’re both grown-ups, and it’ll give you time to get to know each other better.”

“I know him plenty.”

The tiny head and shoulders of a man five inches tall thrust out of Crystal’s afro.

“What’s my last name?” he asked.

Maureen jumped like someone had stabbed her in the ankle.

“Y-you were in there the whole time?”

The little man receded partially, eyes wide at Maureen’s reaction. “Uh… surprise!”

Maureen, honestly, had forgotten its—the little man’s—Yuri’s—last name, sometimes forgot he had a first one. In her mind, he was It, or The Little Thing, or The Thing Crawling Around in Crystal’s Hair. The Thing that Wants to Get Inside.

Didn’t it feel worse than lice? She often wondered.

“See,” said Crystal. “You can learn to keep an eye out for him, so you’re not always jumping like you saw a mouse when you notice him.”

Maureen found it difficult to laugh or smile, because her stomach was twisting so violently inside her at the thought of a weekend alone with Yuri and his little smiling face and slender spider’s leg fingers, but she forced out a laugh, hoping it sounded sufficiently self-effacing and apologetic.

“Right!” she said, twisting a bang hard for need of something to do with her hands. “Ha! Haha, right, of course.”

Crystal was going up north for her sister’s birthday. Fine reason to leave for a weekend, sure, but why not bring the… the boyfriend? Well, they weren’t ready to introduce him to the family just yet. Things were getting serious, but they just wanted to be really sure.

“And also,” Maureen had volunteered in a manner she had thought totally innocent, “he probably doesn’t like the cold that much.”

“No, true, he doesn’t,” Crystal had said, stuffing the last of her face and hair products into her overnight bag. “Little folks, y’know, they don’t maintain heat as well…”

“Yeah, I figured.” Maureen had kept both hands shoved into her pockets to keep them from shaking at the approach of a topic she found unbearably revolting, unbearably close to their lives. “I remember, on um, Planet Earth or something… little Arctic animals, right? Always in their holes.”

That the word “holes” had not come out as a strangled scream was surprising.

Because she had had from a young age certain suspicions about little people. Not about their intelligence, or if they had souls. It was obvious they could speak and make things and have civilizations—they were just what they looked like: very small humans.

But humans are suspicious sometimes, aren’t they? Because they want certain things they don’t say out loud, that never moved about in daylight where you could know them. Take as an example the buried eager urge for sex that had kept Maureen from going on a real date for… was it four years now? She had had less than half a dozen hookups in that time, because then, in theory, you knew what the other person wanted…  except then they wanted things from you in the dark that you had never guessed. Or, afterward, they wanted more than your body after all.

You could never know.

Little people were as small as those buried subterranean wants themselves, so what they wanted was totally unknowable.

Except Maureen knew. She had seen.

Maybe they couldn’t help themselves if they tried. But when Maureen was barely a teenager, she had seen her sister Nora with one. It had emerged from under a dresser drawer in their shared bedroom, a miniscule shape darting through slanting bars of moonlight cast through the shutters to climb the leg of Nora’s bed.

Big sis had been asleep with the covers off of her. So Maureen had seen where the little thing had slithered: beneath Nora’s underwear.

Inside her.

But how could it have been sex? Nora barely made a sound. Sex made noises, everyone knew that. This was quiet, and there was no going in and out, in and out. In fact…

Remembering this always sent Maureen to the nearest bathroom, and there she went Friday morning, remembering against all instincts screaming not to, listening to Crystal move around on her side of the apartment with her Yuri.

In fact… she had never seen the little man come out of Nora. Never. She had waited most of the night, she didn’t remember falling asleep before daybreak.

Not a wiggle. Not a whisper. But Nora had such a funny look on her face the next morning, and giggled too much, and wouldn’t respond to some of Maureen’s questions. When a month or so passed and their parents were interrogating Nora in the living room about How did this happen? and Who were you seeing? and Do you actually think you’re ready for a baby? Maureen had wanted to shake her sister and scream at her: Why did you let him inside you? Is he still inside you?!

And when it was born… Maureen had seen her sister holding the little thing (they had called it Maureen’s nephew more than once, and it had made her dizzy) after it came out. It was so small. But it was bigger than the little man. That’s when it had all made sense.

“Bye, Reen!” Crystal kissed her friend on both cheeks as the taxi pulled up. Maureen loved her so much in that moment, she wanted to beg her housemate not to go. Not to leave her alone with…

Yuri climbed up Crystal’s pantleg like a gecko and shimmied up to her shoulder for a kiss.

“Be safe, Big Trouble,” he said.

“You watch out,” Crystal said, sticking out her tongue. “Maureen’s gonna keep you in line, so watch where you explore.”

Maureen’s jaw hurt. She was keeping it shut so tightly, imagining the little man hopping into Crystal’s open mouth like a frog.

You’ll be fine, she told herself. You’ll be fine. He’ll stay in Maureen’s room with all his small stuff, you stay in your room.

She was just lying on her bed, listening to the rain. Hopefully Crystal’s flight was fine. Or maybe it would be cancelled due to bad conditions. That happened sometimes, right? Then she would come home and save her friend.

No. Stop. Deep breaths.

Just listen to the rain and go to sleep.

There were small, subtle sounds in the hall, and Maureen’s eyes peeled wide open.

If she pretended she was asleep… but no, she had to know if it was there.

“Y-Yuri?”

“Yeah, hi.” Though she wasn’t facing the door, Maureen knew he was poking his head inside. “Can I come in? Are you OK?”

“No. I mean, I’m fine, I just… my stomach’s bugging me.”

Be normal and he’ll go away.

“I just wanted to talk. Can we talk?”

“Sure. Yeah, go ahead.”

“It’s just…” Maureen heard him take a deep breath. “Do you think it’s gross that Crystal’s dating a little person?”

I think what will happen is gross.

“What? No, I don’t think that.”

“Oh! Oh, good.” He sounded relieved, like a big weight had left his tiny chest. “It’s just that sometimes I feel like there’s a weird tension between you and me.”

“I’m just not good with new people. Well, no, you’re not new new, I know you and Crystal have been… seeing each other for awhile now, but you’ve only been living here a couple months…”

“Feel like a third wheel? I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine, it’s not—”

“It’s not like we’re trying to rub it in your face.”

God, she knew it sounded like the little man was being sincere, but he was rubbing it in her face! That he was so close to them all the time. He knew what he was doing, he had to.

“I’m not lonely. If that’s what you mean. I’m not.”

“It kinda…”

Was he closer now? Did he come inside?

Maureen rolled over. He had.

“… it kinda seems like you might be. Crystal and I just thought… you look sad a lot, and you’re inside a lot.”

“Well I mean I work from home so there’s really no reason for me to leave that often and I have these allergies these really bad allergies so I try not to spend too much time outside this time of year you know—”

She stopped herself, she was talking too fast, being very un-normal.

“Look,” Yuri said, climbing over the top of her mattress like something reaching up from under the bed to graze its wriggling fingers over her. “We were talking and… would you be offended if I introduced you to some of my friends?”

Maureen’s back was against the wall, her room felt too small for her. “Little friends?”

“Uh, yeah, most of them.”

She wretched. Her whole body shook and curled up.

Yuri laid his hands on her hand. “Yikes, can I get you some—”

Get AWAY!

Her arm jolted, whipped Yuri through the air, smacked him against the wall.

He bounced.

Aah! Ow, ow ow ow…” He rubbed his side, but appeared unbroken. “Reen, you hurt—”

“Don’t call me that, don’t you ever call me that!” She leaned over the bed. “You think I don’t know what you’re trying to do? You’re already going to live inside my friend and make her have bigger babies for you, and you want that for me, too? You want one of your little friends to crawl inside me and live there and push around through me and make me feel his little hands and feet inside me almost at my guts—” she barely stopped to heave more “—and have his babies? No, I don’t want them! I won’t! Stay out of me, stay out!”

The little insectile frame was quivering, the little round face was screwed up, everything a-tremble. The storm outside was moaning.

“What… are you cold?” Maureen was also quivering, and her head was pounding. “Is that why you’re shaking? You need us, you need to use us, I knew it, you’re like parasites…”

“Th-that’s not true!”

The pillow was on him before he could reach the door, and Maureen was holding it down as he writhed under it.

“There! Are you warm enough, bug?”

Then she heard it. The wallpaper cracking, the furniture scratching open.

His little friends coming out.

“No…”

They were so cold.

No!

She scrambled over the pillow and ran to the bathroom, locked the door, crawled into the tub. She turned the water on: cold.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and rang the first number that came up and screamed for help and threw the phone across the room.

She could hear them trying to push through the walls, under the door… and they’d feel like inchworms biting through an apple core when they got to her, like nightcrawlers shoving themselves through wet soil. They would dig and shove and not stop, all the little hands and feet, the little tongues…

Crystal nearly kicked the door down when the taxi brought her, shaking, sweating, back from the airport before her flight.

There was water on the floor, and Yuri was floating on it. Alive.

Barely. A leg broken. Breath squeezed nearly out of him.

And there was a voice, quiet and desperate and quavering, as if speaking under the effects of hypothermia, coming from the bathroom, where ice-cold water was still pouring into the bathtub.

“Stay out… stay out… I’m no good to you like this, stay out, stay out… stay out, please, please, stay out…”

3 thoughts on “Warm Places

  1. This was my CruelJan20 anonymous feedback:

    This was a good psychological thriller in that we never truly know what’s actually real about what Maureen experiences, but that it’s real to her is all that matters.  I’m not sure if we can credit her memory of what happened with Nora.  All we know of Little People comes through her, and she’s clearly biased.  You did an excellent job of establishing the world of their apartment and their relationships.  Maureen’s fragility is well-marked, and her breakdown is both earned and shocking.  Just marvelous all around.

    We are our own best torturers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tell your kids about the birds and the bees, folks. Especially where the small folks are concerned, they’re bound to get curious. No telling what notions they’ll take into their heads otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remain fascinated by people’s thoughtful exploration of what it might mean to live in a mixed-size society. So many parables for our times; too many, probably.

        Liked by 1 person

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