Big Friends, Little Friends(A story based on Bookguy's Little Friends world)
I boarded the bus with the college kids. Young blonde Marisse from my computer class ran up the steps into the bus, saw me, and said, "Hi, Sylvia! I usually don't see YOU on the bus!"
"Apply today's lesson to that computer game I'm working on," I said. "Mary will probably have some suggestions for me, too. She always does."
"Maybe for some people. But not for me. Having Mary helped me be more comfortable around kids, but big families are for those who can't get enough of 'em."
"Mary almost has enough savings to get a car of her own, then we can help each other out when breakdowns happen."
"I'm not too crazy about those myself." Marisse went on to ask more about what the science fiction game was about, and I was happy to answer. Then Merisse interrupted herself. "This isn't our usual route."
I looked out the window as we passed Colby Drugs. "It sure isn't. This is taking me away from home.What's going on here?"
Decisively, I got past Marisse and headed toward the rear of the bus. I was determined to get off even if I had to jump out the rear exit at 60 miles an hour. Several nearby students tried to help me open the door. Not unexpectedly, the latch would not budge.
Part 2We exited through a great black hexagonal arch studded on the inside rim with rods of glowing green light. The bus slowed to a stop. The arch was set into a great blank wall. Even as we watched, the tunnel we just came through faded and solid wall took its place.
"Now I know we're in the Twilight Zone," I said to the others, who gaped and nodded agreement.
"Or Disney World," said one boy with glasses.
"There goes our driver," said another college man in disgust. "Who does he think he is?"
Just then the bus's speaker system came on. "Please remain calm. Over 30 years ago, earth had its first encounter with aliens, and these aliens conquered us. Your bus is the latest in a series of tributes which we have sent to our alien conquerers. Every couple of months, a plane, bus or train "crashes" killing all aboard. As far as everyone on earth is concerned, you're all dead, but actually you have been taken to another world."
"No!" cried Marisse from up front.
The color had drained from the young faces around me. Mine felt white, too.
Mary---these kids' families---
"Please exit the bus, now."
"Should we? Don't know. I don't wanna' get off. Alien conquerers!" murmured the students disbelievingly as some obeyed and got off.
"ALL of you exit the bus, please. It will be easier on you."
More wary passengers got off. I returned to my seat.
"What should we do?" asked Marisse as I retrieved my briefcase from under our seat.
I sighed. "If we've really been taken to another world, they'll get us off this bus one way or another. Safest thing for us to do is cooperate." And watch for a chance to make a break for it, I added to myself. And what did these aliens want with us anyway? The first horrific notion that came to mind was 'food item.' At least we would be out of our misery, quick. And what did these alien conquerors look like? Purple skin? Tentacles--?
"That's one heck of a light bulb," one student was saying as the others looked around at the immense room we were in.
Some stubbornly remained on the bus. Then there came a sonorous inhumanly deep-pitched, "Very well." A door slid aside--
"Gaaaah! No wonder they conquered us!" said a boy who looked like a computer whiz.
My mouth fell open. It seemed every time I got rid of a control freak, God threw me bigger ones. The three men looked entirely human except they were taller than most of the buildings in our city. Making a break for it was going to be extreeeeeemely difficult.
"Oh, my god!" cried Marisse, backing away from them toward the nearest wall. "They're HUGE!"
I walked off toward the wall where we had come in. After one last warning to the passengers still inside, one of the giants, a blond man in a work suit, pushed a button on the side and the bus roof popped open. "Will you come out or shall I take you out?" He reached down.
Stubbornness vanished as more scrambled off the bus.
The giant reached in, and I heard someone scream, "Ouch!" as the giant tried to lift him.
I knew exactly what that stubborn diehard was doing. He had legs straight in front of him, knees locked, wedged under the seat. He was brave, I'll give him that. I had thought of doing it myself, but I was too fond of having my legs in one piece. A second, older blond giant went to help the first get the last passenger loose. The third, a dark-haired thirtyish giant in a tweedy black business suit, looked at the passengers near his feet, then at me as I finally reached the arch and felt the wall beneath.
"The portal is closed. You cannot go back," bugled an ultrabass rumble from the giant in the tweedy black suit.
"Maybe not now, you big arrogant control freak," I muttered as I gave a wall a slight kick. Bullies brought out the worst in me. Or the best? Because if there was one thing I was tempted to bully, it WAS a bully. And the bigger the better!
Part 3I stared at the science-fiction hardware in the arch until I heard a rumbling ultrabass, "Follow me to the holding area." I stared up at these gigantic people as I followed them and my classmates out of the room. This would be a fascinating place to spend a vacation. But stay forever? Not with the danger of being dropped, stepped on, or otherwise mashed. This was no place for people who could be hurt. But apparently these big guys didn't care about things like that.
An hour ago I had rights and lived in happiness and security. I had been stripped of my rights before by my ex-husband. When Horrible Horace forced me to live in terror all the time, I literally got sick. Physically sick. I caught every bug that came around. Now I, along with these poor, panicked students, had been stripped of my rights again --- permanently, it looked like. No rights. Living in pain and terror the rest of our lives. No, no. I didn't want that. I'd rather die.
One of the giants in the work clothes led us into another huge room where he locked the door and sat in a chair reading a paper. We chattered amongst ourselves or used one of the portable bathrooms lined up against the wall. I sat down at one of the normal-sized tables. Marisse, crying, sat down beside me. "Now you know why I avoid public transportation. You might end up in the Twilight Zone," I cracked weakly at my classmate.
"Poor Mom..." Marisse sobbed even harder. I pitied her more than myself. I'd been through it before. She probably enjoyed a good home life and didn't know how to handle having her whole life derailed.
"Poor Mary." I wasn't sure I knew how to handle this much better than she did. I had never been kidnapped before, either. And I could run like crazy away from Horace. Not these big guys!
Not knowing what they planned to do with us was worse. The big fellow in the chair, besides his size, looked just like anyone else. I looked around. I was the oldest one in the group. Even the student who had been belligerent to the driver didn't have the nerve to approach him. Should I approach him? He might talk to me. He might ignore me. He might laugh at me. Fine. I'd laugh right back at him.
I went up to his left shoe, a piece of footgear as hefty as my cousins' best sailboat. His ankle bone was chest level. I considered hitting it with my purse or my briefcase, but caution ruled and I poked it instead.
His paper rumpled aside like a curtain as he looked down at me. "What are you doing?"
"What are you doing? What do you plan to do with us?" I politely said as loud as I could. It was like talking to somebody on top of a three-story building.
"Why do you want to know?" he asked, amused that I even had the nerve to ask. Exactly the way Horrible Horace used to treat me. You have no rights, woman. So I didn't say anything about rights. I simply cut to the reason we had rights. "Because we don't deserve to be scared any more than you do, that's why."
"You're part of our Little Friends program, now. We're not going to kill or eat you, if that's what you're worried about. Okay?"
"No, it's not okay. What is 'Little Friends'?"
"You'll find out all about it in the orientation." With that he went back to reading his newspaper.
And I went back to my fellow prisoners.
"Little Friends?" said Fred, another boy in my computer class.
The giant in the black tweed suit brought mixed berries piled up on a plate and set them down on a table. He smiled at us as he left the room. Except for kidnapping us in the first place, the giants seemed humane. Those of us who felt like eating did so. We paced, we chatted, we worried about our families back on earth, we cursed both our governments, ours and the giants', for taking our lives away from us. Some of us slept on pads apparently provided for the purpose. Until, hours later, the giant in the black suit came back, smiled and gently motioned for us to follow him.
Somebody dum-de-dummed a funeral dirge as we followed the giant to a huge room with colorful mazelike shapes on the floor and walls. The floor and walls were lined with some sort of soft and springy material, like foam padding.
The giant that was leading us sat down before us. "Okay, our little tributes for this month," he began. "After our conquest of your planet, our governments agreed on what sort of use we could make of you." A humonguous door opened at the other end of the stadium. "We agreed that you should become pets for our children."
My jaw dropped open. Pets for children? Congratulations, Sylvia Thompson. You've died and gone to hell.
Part 4Children ranging from 50 to 70 feet tall began filing into the room. No, no, no. This wasn't for real. I hated kids! Correct that. While I was kind and polite to kids, while I could appreciate folks who loved kids and were good with them, I just was not. Not, not, not. And if these jerks hadn't stolen me from my home planet, I would still be free to enjoy adult company as I pleased and keep contact with kids down to my own comfort levels. Now they proposed to give us to their giant kids? Torture!
The dark-haired blue-eyed giant continued speaking as I sidled toward the wall. "Our children call you Little Friends." His deep voice was pleasant.
"You mean Little Prisoners," I muttered to Marisse as I passed by her. She was still in a daze.
"When your bus arrived, there was a drawing, and thirty childen have come here to pick out a Little Friend. We give you only to children between the ages of 5 and 12."
"Oh , swell," I muttered rebelliously as I backed away from the group. My only consolation was that all children eventually grow up. Like my Mary did.
"You female friends go to girls, and you male Friends go to boys. And I warn you, if you escape from your new owner, you are fair game for anyone."
Another giant was talking to the giant children. After several moments, both giants were finished giving their instructions. The giant in the black tweed suit got up, gave the children the signal and stood back.
Part 5The giant children came running! Good Lord! We could be trampled! I continued walking as fellow passengers fled past me, followed by giant feet. Suddenly a hand grabbed me. I tensed up as I was lifted and found myself looking into a five-year-old face with light brown curls. I know how cold and unfriendly I must have looked to her. I'm no great beauty, either. She decided against me and set me down again. Whew! I continued on until I made it to the wall, and pressed up close against one of the soft, colorful shapes that protruded out.
At least it would not be as easy to trample me. Aghast, I watched fellow passengers disappear as giant children chased them down, examined, picked and chose. Poor Marisse was hysterical as one of the younger girls put her into her dress pocket. It was bad enough for them to take us from our home planet in the first place, but why wasn't this thing better organized? Just because we were littler than they were, guess it didn't matter if one of US got squashed!
When the dust cleared, all my younger, more attractive fellow passengers had vanished into purses, pockets, or clenched fists, and the old bespectacled Plain Jane was left standing. Me. As the children filed out of the room, excited over their new 'pets,' the adult giants looked over at me. I waved back. The giant who had given us our orientation moved over to me. With him up there and me down here, talking to him might be like yelling up at someone on the top of a nine-story building. I waited until he bent down to pick me up.
"I was always last to be picked for team sports, too," I said, sidling along the wall. "Only this time I'm GLAD it happened!"
"You will be placed, too. It's just a matter of time," he said with complete confidence as his big hand came for me.
My past horrible experience with my control-freak ex kicked in. Plus all those self-help books I read to help me deal with him. I looked straight up into the big guy's grey eyes as I kept backing off. Stuff your fear, Sylvia. Think. Think. "I've been treated like a non-person by people my own size." I put on a smirk and said it in a droll way. When I did that, I often got away with saying terrible things. I was glad I wasn't twenty anymore. The youthful me would have been afraid to speak up. And at a loss for words, too.
"We do encourage children to treat you little folks as Little Friends, not toys."
I evaded his hand by sashaying to the right. "You'd never know it from the way you simply set your giant kids loose on us. Somebody could have been trampled." He looked at me and uttered a big, windy sigh. "I see you're going to be a problem."
I looked him in the eye again. "I see YOU'RE a problem already!"
"Well, I hope you kill problems humanely." Don't be afraid of him. He's many times your size, he can squish you with one foot, but don't be afraid of him. "We don't kill our tributes."
"Oh, you arrange accidents!" I retorted happily as I half-danced, half-skipped out of his reach.
He uncrouched enough to scuttle forward and fence me in with his arms. I was surrounded by one person. His hand closed on me. Like being captured by a mattress. One, two, three, four great fingers slid around me. I tried to push them away and escape. He deftly tripped me with his little finger and made me fall flat onto his other three fingers, which closed on me tight before I could get away. He pinned my arms and lifted me... Whoa! Loss of floor contact, loss of control! "You're full of answers, aren't you?" he rumbled as up I went. He lifted me up past his trousers and his streaked brass buttons in their tweedy buttonholes.
Up. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. Forty. Fifty feet... My stomach dropped into my shoes. At 5'8" I was usually taller than many. Not now! He held me snug in a tanskinned welter of muscled knuckles and bones. As he lifted he also turned me until we looked each other in the eye.
"My ex-husband was a control freak. You're just a lot bigger than he was." I said to his gigantic face.
"This one has quite a mouth on her," he muttered to his partner as he walked to the door. The giant carried me down a hallway and brought me into a room with some cages and lab equipment. "We have one left over this time," he said to a giantess sitting at a computer. She nodded.
He happened to be holding me near his right ear. "What do you do if the kid and the person they pick don't like each other?" I asked pleasantly.
"I suppose you don't worry about little things like compatibility, good personality fits or stuff like that."
"What would you want for a big friend, then?" The big guy seemed almost amused.
"None. I'd rather go back home."
"I'm sorry, little one, but your government doesn't want you back. They don't want your people to know we even exist. So, you will have to be placed with a big friend."
Dratted government! How dare they! Oh, well. It was worth a try. "Then I'd rather have an adult."
"The rules say children from 5 to 12," he said with finality.
He blinked as if surprised that I had the nerve to ask why. "You're safer with them."
"No, we're not! Kids are undisciplined. Look what happened out there! Adults have better self-control."
"It has to be a child."
"The most mature child you can find, then. I'm not comfortable around kids."
"That's right. And if you big guys had not stolen me, you never would have found that out. What happens if you get someone who hates kids? Don't you ever think of stuff like that? As you yourself pointed out, we're not just pets. We can be pretty picky about who we want for roommates."
"You hate kids."
"No, I don't. I'm just not GOOD with kids. I'm not comfortable with kids. To me, being in the care of some giant kid is my idea of a nightmare."
The big guy set me down on a table with some cages and straightened up. Perhaps they would reward my honesty by rounding up the biggest brat they could find or flushing me down a toilet.
"My, it seems this Little Friend is defective," said that giant to the giantess. Uh-oh. They always said things like that on Twilight Zone just before a character met a sticky end. I don't like death, but death was better than torture.
The skeptical giantess turned in her chair and looked at me. "She may wear glasses, but she still has both arms and legs, Nordas."
"Ah, but she hates children. Or at least children who behave like children. A very serious defect. And she's middle-aged. And she has a sharp tongue. Entirely unsuitable to give away in a drawing." Nordas threw me a sly, appraising glance that made me uneasy. "The most mature child I can find, eh? I'm going to tell a certain brain, Serifina, that we've got the perfect one for her."
A child genius. A good child genius or a bad child genius?
"We don't offer them in drawings, but we can always find them homes."
Find them homes. I felt like a pet at the animal shelter.
"Yeah. Sure. That's what they always say." I stepped into the cage, which was furnished with a chair, a table, a bed and a Porta-Potty sitting in the corner. The door closed and locked behind me. "I'm a hamster," I muttered with disgust. I lay down on the bed and wept. Poor Mom. She would be heartbroken when she learned about my 'accident.' She would be even MORE upset if she knew what had really happened to me. She had always encouraged me to be my best self, and be who I wanted to be--it would kill her to see all her careful nurturing and encouragement casually crushed and undone by these oversized slave traders. The nerve of our government! What would they tell Mom when she asked for my body? "The bus burned up?" "The bus blew up?" Perhaps someday our blasted government would be undone by the fact that they could not come up with bodies. For now--for now--I was trapped.
Nordas came back in and peered in at me. "Good news. The Belafins agreed to take you."
My stomach boileth over. "I would rather go home to my real daughter."
For once, Nordas was at a loss for words and turned away. Guilt? I hoped so. I intended to remind these big folks every chance I could that I had a life they had taken me away from. Mary could support herself now, but we still cared about each other, and she would be shattered when she heard I was dead. I may as well be dead. Complete strangers would soon come to collect me. And was this Serafina a good genius or an evil genius? If she turned out to be an evil genius, there was always the long walk off a short table. Again, I didn't like death but it sure beat torture.
I lay there listening to the thumpety-thump-thump-thumping of the secretary's giant fingertips on her computer keyboard. After a while, I rose and looked around the stupendous room beyond the bars. So far these giants had spoken only English, even to each other. All printed matter I saw--stickers, reports, spines of books, etc--was also in English. I shook my head. By rights an alien people should have their own language and alphabet. No. The phenomenon of aliens speaking the same language as us seemed more like a parallel universe than an alien world. Ala 'Sliders.' In its last years, 'Sliders' had featured lots of giants. Did someone on the show do that on purpose to prepare us for this?
Congratulations, Sylvia. You no longer have to work on your science fiction game. You are now in one.
Inside, it finally was getting to me. I could feel myself crumbling. It was happening. It was happening again. Same as with Horrible Horace. I was going to live in fear all the time and be sick all the time. I just knew it. Well, I'd just have to figure out new ways to cope with this new control-freak experience.
Nordas came in and cheerfully announced to the secretary and I, "They have arrived."
I felt like throwing up. "Swell."
"Not so brave now, are we?" he said as he opened the cage door.
I'd been flip-flopping between fear and anger since I came. Now I waxed angry. "I don't deserve to live in pain and terror any more than you do." "As a Little Friend, you will live in comfort and get to play all the time. You will never have to work again."
"Is that supposed to be reassuring, Nordas?" I used the giant's name as I stepped out of the cage. "Endless days of nothing to do, or doing things you're not interested in doing are as bad in their own way as being on an eternal work-to-eat-to-live-to-work-to-eat-to-live treadmill."
"Oh, complain, complain, complain," said Nordas.
"Hey, it's like I told you. Intelligent beings can be picky, picky, picky," I told him forthright. "People as spoils of war was a custom better off dead." As Nordas' hand came for me, I added, "Why don't you have volunteers come here to be Little Friends? We have plenty of people who don't want to work for a living."
As I hoped, the thought gave him pause, but his hand still came for me. Keep coming up with ideas, Sylvia. Now that these Big Guys had conquered us, they were not going to go away. So, if they just HAD to have Little Friends, how could they have them legit and aboveboard without breaking human hearts and spirits like they were doing now?
Nordas hand went around me and lifted me. He brought me back to the colorful room where children picked out Little Friends.
"These are the Belafins," said Nordas as we approached a giant father and daughter. Both wore glasses, his silver-rimmed, hers black-rimmed. I pushed my own glasses up my nose. Great. We all matched.
With grey hair, sideburns and suit, the elder Belafin seemed a professional of some sort. The younger Belafin wore red shorts and wore her dark hair pulled back by a red scarf. She was a Plain Jane, too. Reminded me of a younger version of myself.
"Here's your Little Friend," said Nordas. "She's smart, just like you. Just watch out for that tongue of hers."
"I only use it on people who can fight back," I said. "And bullies!" I added, looking at Nordas as he set me on Serafina's hand. I looked up at the preteen. She smiled at me. I extended my hand. "Hello, Serafina, my name is Sylvia." "Both your names start with 'S,'" said Mr. Belafin as Serafina shook my hand with her forefinger. The elder Belafin struck me as a bit uncomfortable. "Remember," said Nordas to Serafina, "Sylvia is not a toy, so treat her with the same love and kindness as you would a friend your own size. Little Friends may not be bought, traded or sold. Here's a kit to get you started on your new friendship." Nordas handed Serafina a box, presumably with things little people needed.
"Thanks, Nordas--I think," said Mr. Belafin.
I would later find out it was a good thing I treated Serafina exactly like someone my own size and introduced myself right off. Other children of this giant world usually disregarded their Little Friends' real names and gave them names of their own.
We left the building behind. And with it we also left the means of getting back to earth further behind.
"What grade are you in?" I asked Serafina as her father opened the car door for her.
"I'm in twelfth grade," she answered as she got in.
"A senior in high school! I'm impressed," I told her as she settled in her seat. I was trying to treat her like a person my own size. I only hoped she would return my respect. "That is, if your schools are like ours. How many grades are there?"
"One to five is elementary school. Six to eight is junior high school. Nine to twelve is high school," she answered in mature girl-genius fashion. BOOM! Her father shut the car door. "Sorry that scared you," Serafina told me when she felt me jump.
"That's strange. On earth, we divide the grades up exactly as you do," I told her. "Elementary. Middle school. High school. Just like yours."
"I know," said Serafina. "That's why I think your planet is in a parallel universe instead of outer space."
"Exactly what I was thinking." Well, at least Nordas had proven his skill at matching up Little Friend to Big Friend--now that he had had a chance to do it. To be continued...
Serafina's father got in the car and there was another boom as he closed his car door. "Go ahead and look what they've given us for--what was her name?"
"Sylvia," I said.
Mr. Belafin smiled and nodded.
"Will you hold her for me while I look?" asked Serafina. She set me down the open palm her father offered, and opened the box Nordas had given her. She removed a green unit and commented, "Just your basic bathroom. And I see little soaps and towels in it," she commented when she opened the door.
"Let's head to the Little Friends Store," suggested her father. "Let's try to make our new family member comfortable."
The Little Friends Store? Quite a big fad I was part of now. I wasn't thrilled. The car was much like an earthly one--except this one ran on solar and electrical power. Bigger bumps, bigger curves, and one bigger pothole. The ride was like an earthly car ride with every bump, curve and pothole magnified to nauseating levels. "I hope I won't be riding in the car too often," I told Serafina.
"I heard other Little Friends get carsick, too," said Serafina. "So do I sometimes."
The Little Friends store that we stopped at had all sorts of things, from complete scaled-down houses to racks of clothing. Serafina set me down at the clothing racks and went off to look at some other things. Several others from earth were looking through the racks, too. Young people are supposed to be full of life and humor. Not these! Dispirited, disheartened--the sight angered and disgusted me.
A poke on the shoulder made me jump. I looked back to see a fellow around my age smiling at me. His hair, what was left of it, was dark. And he sported a slight spare tire under his casual clothes. "Hi, stranger," he said in a rich, pleasant voice. "I've never seen you before."
"I just came in on the last shipment," I cracked.
"You act like it. What's your name?"
"I was Tony Barnabas on earth. Here, I'm Charlie," he said. "I tried to tell Pete my real name, but he wouldn't listen."
"Nope. It's pretty common for our pet giants to rename us," he said.
"They call us Little Friends, and then don't even bother to get to know our names?" Unbelievable. That didn't sound like Little Friends to ME. "Well, as far as I'm concerned, you're still Tony Barnabas. Just think of 'Charlie' as your new nickname and maybe it won't seem so bad," I suggested.
"That's a good way to look at it. Thanks." Tony put his hands in his pockets. "How do you like being a Little P.O.W., as I like to call the program?"
"I look at it this way--we're here so these giants don't go there, to earth. Though sooner or later they'll probably go to earth anyways. Before they snatched me, I was a window washer on high-rise apartments and skyscrapers so heights don't bother me. But it sure gets to some of the others. How about you?"
"I close my eyes."
He chuckled. "They usually try to snatch college kids, get 'em while they're young, but I see they goofed again."
"I was riding with a bunch of college kids," I said.
"So was I. Trying to shorten my trip to my car. Turned out to be a very loooong trip." Tony rolled his eyes up and shook his head. "Can you believe this place? They even speak English!"
"That's why I think this is a parallel universe. Like on that Sliders TV show," I answered.
"You're right. I used to watch that thing, too. They were really into giants toward the end. I wonder if somebody planted that stuff to prepare us for this."
"Possibly. You know, your voice reminds me a lot of Rodney Dangerfield," Tony laughed. "It fits! I don't get no respect around here."
"What are you doing?" The words rumbled down from a giant high school boy. Blond hair flopped over his puzzled brow.
"Fomenting a rebellion!" I teased loudly as I shook my tiny fist in the air. "Yeah, Pete! We're planning a Little Friends uprising! Care to join us?" chimed in Tony.
The teenager looked taken aback. Then his mouth quirked and his eyes rolled up in his head as if to say 'Ask a stupid question...' "Yeah right. Got what you want, Charlie?"
Tony held out his books and clothing, and his Big Friend collected them. "That's the ticket. Us P.O.W.'s need to keep our sense of humor," he said to me as Pete looked over his choices. "Well, gotta' take my pet giant home, now. Bye." Tony waved as his owner's hand collected him, too, and lifted him up and away.
I waved. One girl stared at me as I went to the pants rack. "I can't believe you said that."
I shrugged and grinned at her. "That was probably what he thought we were doing anyway. 'Plotting against the Big Friends!' Nya-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!" And was gratified to see the girl crack a smile. I like to make unhappy people happy--if possible. And sometimes it wasn't. The Catch-22 with Horace? The only thing that made HIM happy was seeing me miserable. No wonder I left him. I went to the racks. The tops and slacks I examined looked like they had come from earth. Apparently, our government sent supplies as tribute to our giant conquerors, too.
While I was sifting through a stack of underwear, Serafina came back and showed me a red plastic box with a window in front and a strap on the back. "This is supposed to be a carrier. For you. What do you think?"
"I'm not dead yet!"
Serafina bobbed her head from side to side, wrinkling her nose in increasing distaste. "Yeah. This thing does look like a coffin. Pockets are just as good." I let out a sigh of relief as she went off to put the carrier back where she got it. From the look of that thing, it could not be opened from the inside if it were misplaced. I had once accidentally sun-roasted a poor little creature who could not escape from the container I had put him in, and I felt so sick at what I'd unintentionally done. Here, that could happen to me or any other person my size.Or it could be DONE to anybody my size. Now I really felt sick. Rights, I had no rights... I reminded myself that Serafina didn't seem to be a bad kid. After all, she had decided against the carrier. For now. See whether she was a Big Friend who would let me live in peace or not.
I entered a box used by people my size as fitting rooms, selected some slacks and tops and decided against others. When I came out, Serafina had three big boxes lined up on the table. They were three bedroom modules, with three opaque plastic sides and one transparent one with a door. The bedroom styles were, respectively, colonial, Victorian and sleek modern. "There's another one that's even bigger and fancier than these, but Dad says it's too expensive," said Serafina.
"I like the fancy one myself," she continued, pointing at the Victorian one with the tall painted headboard, and ruffles around the sides. "But Dad says you're the one who's going to be sleeping in it, so he told me to ask you which one you like, too."
"We have similar tastes," I called up to her. "I like the fancy one, too."
"Then the fancy one it is." Serafina triumphantly carried off the Victorian module and called to her father, "We want the fancy one, Dad!" Well, after all, if I dropped dead, it would be all hers. Might as well get something she liked, too. I looked at the clothes I carried, mostly my preferred colors of green and yellow. Serafina's Dad was teaching her to respect the wishes of others--even little, bitty others. That was good. After I divorced Horrible Horace, it took time, but Mom and I patiently undid the effects of his terrible example. Mary was now a kind, decent, upstanding young adult. Who thought her Mom was dead. She didn't deserve this. What would she think if she knew what our fine, upstanding government had done with her Mom? Stolen her away to present as tribute to giant conquerers? Though Mary would think it awful, she might also think it fitting that her fantasy and science-fiction loving Mom had been kidnapped by aliens. One of the young men I was riding with--I'd once overheard him discuss his wedding plans. He'd had the date set and everything... Little Friends, I took it, could forget about EVER getting married. Ever. Me included. No second marriage for me. Ever. And pity the kids I was riding with who would never even get a chance at their first marriage.
I walked over to a table with housewares and picked up a complete set of dinnerware. Blue plates, bowls cups and stainless steel utensils. There was another giant table beyond the one I was standing on, with normal tables on top with had books and art materials. When Serafina came back to collect my clothes and dinnerware, I said, "Would you put me over there on that other table?" Serafina placed her hand on the table, I stepped onto her palm, then braced myself as she lifted me over to the other table. "You can't get too much more," she told me as I stepped off. "The limit's one hundred credits for your stuff, and most of it's already spent on the bedroom."
Beggars can't be choosers. "Understood," I called up to her. Here, there were tables with drawing or writing materials. Books. Office supplies. Not much of a selection--not very much professional quality stuff, but it was better than nothing. I picked up several of the best quality pads of paper I could find, and a couple packs of pencils. Then it was over to the books. I added a science fiction book or two, and a couple of books where I hoped to learn more about the Little Friends fad I was now part of.
Then it was time to pay for everything and go. This time I rode in Serafina's pocket as her father drove off. The ride was only slightly less nauseating in her blouse pocket than it had been in her hand. We turned up the drive into the carport of what would have been a mid-sized one-story house on earth scale, in what looked like a good, middle-class neighborhood. Houses spaced about half a mile apart from each other. Except for the size, the houses looked very earth-American. Parallel universe.
"Here we are," said Serafina as her Dad let us in the side door into the kitchen. "Now where shall we put you?"
"How about the bottom of the linen closet near your bedroom?" said Mr. Belafin. He shook his gray head. "No. Correct that. I can just picture a shelf falling down on top of her. IN your bedroom?"
Serafina slouched at the thought. "Where she can watch me dress? I don't think so!"
"I like my privacy, too," I called.
"In the spare bedroom, then," Mr. Belafin decided. "We can always put Sylvia elsewhere when we have guests."
"Imagine that!" Serafina told me. "You get a whole big bedroom all to yourself! And this little one!" She held up the Little Friends bag it was in. On the bag, which I saw clearly for the first time, was 'Little Friends' in rounded type above a stylized little person in a stylized hand. Great. I had a great, big bedroom, and a great, big derailed life.
Serafina walked down the great hall to their spare bedroom, which had a bed the size of a factory building with ivory covers. She set me down on the blue braided rug, and pulled my Victorian bedroom out of the bag. There turned out to be an electrical cord in back, which she plugged into the wall before she slid the bedroom flat against the wall, too. "There," she said brightly. "Try it out and see if it works." I opened the plastic door in the transparent front wall and stepped in. Theoretically, everything was movable, but held to the floor with heavy tape. I flipped a switch on the left brown plastic wall, and a globe light in the brown plastic ceiling came on. "Seems to work," I told her. I looked at the bedroom more carefully. There was a box with a door on it in the corner--a clothes closet I assumed. The fancy bed with the ruffled bedspread and painted headboard. A bedside table. A chair. A bureau, and a chest of drawers. And this was my new house, now. Oh, how I missed my REAL home! And my real daughter. I put my purse and briefcase in the same place I always put it when I came home on earth--beside the bed.
Serafina was putting the bathroom unit right beside the bedroom door. Her billboard face smiled at me. "There you are."
"Thanks for trying. I DO miss my real house," I admitted. "Though," I added, "I don't miss the mortgage payments." I hoped Mary could keep up with them without me. Man! This would be a fascinating place to take a vacation! I wished this WAS a vacation, not a permanent stay as a P.O.W.
My pet giant furrowed her brow as if worried. She held out her nine-foot hand. "Here's your stuff, Sylvia. Go ahead and settle in. It's my turn to cook supper tonight, so I gotta go."
"Thanks." I collected the clothes and books and took them inside. Since I didn't have a proper bookcase, I put the books in a drawer. Ditto with underwear. The clothes went in a closet. The dinnerware was nowhere to be seen. Serafina must have taken that to the kitchen.
So far, Serafina was everything Nordas said---she DID seem mature for her age. Thank goodness. I reflected that it was actually immaturity I disliked--and some children could be very mature. Though he looked like an adult, Horrible Horace could be an immature little brat with the worst of them. Adults who behaved like shameless brats REALLY grated on my nerves.
I lay down on the bed with a book about the children of this world and their Little Friends. The book turned out to be entirely articles and stories about the fun children and their Little Friends had together. Beach trips, walks in the woods, county fairs, the circus--one article was about an earth person who saved his giant family from a fire by waking them up. Nice to see how human decency could survive P.O.W. status. "We P.O.W.'s have to keep up our sense of humor," Tony Barnabas had said. How true. I hoped I would see Tony again, though the chances looked slim. No person is an island, and I appreciated the encouragement he had given me at the Little Friends Store. Right now, I could have used his company.
Footfalls thudded into the room, and Serafina kneeled down and peered into my bedroom. I felt like a hamster on display. "It's time to eat, Sylvia. Come eat with us." She held out her hand. I left my bedroom and stepped in.
A spool served me as a chair, and an upended cardboard box as my table. The Belafins ate at one end of their big table while I ate at the other. After dinner, Serafina said, "I'm practicing a piece I'm going to be playing at the Spring Fall Concert at high school. Want to listen, Sylvia?"
"You might enjoy it, Sylvia," said Mr. Belafin in a warm, joking manner. "Serafina's musically gifted."
"Okay," I answered.
Serafina set me on a table beside a chair in their living room. The black marble base of the lamp made a good seat.
"The piece I'm playing is called 'Larelial," she told me as she assembled an oboe-like musical instrument about thirty feet long--half the length of the front of my house. She quietly closed her dark eyes, laid the double reed against her lips, and blew warmth and life into the polished wood. From memory, no music before her, she played 'Larelial' like the angel she was named after. The highest notes of her instrument resonated like the deepest tones of an earthly organ, and the lower notes resonated deeper still. Still, her rumbling megabass music was pleasant to listen to.
When she finished, I applauded. Along with her father.
She rehearsed the piece again, four times in a row, while I thought of Mary, my house, and the science fiction game on my computer that would never be finished.
"Here, let's go to my bedroom, now," she said when her practice was over. Serafina set me on the knee of one of her gigantic stuffed creatures, and giggled. Then she got out a board game and we played it on her bed. At bedtime, she took me back to my bedroom.
I finished the first Little Friends book I had been reading. Still didn't tell me everything I wanted to know about Little Friends. Perhaps a real, live person could tell me more. Putting the books away, I rose. Night had fallen, and stars twinkled in the sky outside the windows. I kept the light on in my bedroom so I could see my way back. I traversed the dark hall, taking care to stay close to the wall in case a giant family member came through. Deep breathing from Serafina's immense doorway said Serafina was sleeping soundly. I followed a shaft of light to the living room.
Serafina's Dad sat on the floor fixing a television set. Both he and the television hulked up higher than my house. He noticed me watching him, smiled slightly and nodded.
"Pretend he's your size," I told myself as I walked beside the grey couch. When I sowed kindness and courtesy, I usually reaped it in return. I knew to beware of whoever consistently gave me nastiness in return. "Hello, Mr. Belafin!" I called in a carefully modulated low-pitched bellow.
Turning his attention back to his project, he fiddled with a small wire that refused to go where he wanted it to. Had he heard me? Or was he trying to ignore me?
"Let me help---"
He put up a hand to stop me. "No, you'll get me in trouble. The Little Friends program came about so we would not be accused of slavery. I think it is anyway. But I can't let you do any work for me. I'm not even supposed to be talking to you like this."
"Why not? Why do they give us to children instead of adults?"
"Adults are more likely to exploit you and put you to work--and our government is trying to avoid charges of slavery."
Ah! There was the logic. "Okay, that makes sense. But it makes it pretty tough on people who enjoy adult conversation."
"You had better get back to your room before you get us both in trouble."
"I'm going, but children's play feels like work to me. What YOU'RE doing looks like fun."
"No, no work. You're a lady of leisure, now. Do at least try to enjoy it," he said with a sympathetic twist of his brow.
"I can guess how our conquest came about. You big guys got out of your spaceship and they bellied up."
"I understand it was something like that."
"See you later." I headed back to my bedroom like my humongous host wanted.
While I thought this whole Little Friends thing was barbaric, it did beat slaving in some sweatshop for some merciless tyrant. It was true not all adults were saints. The avoidance of the appearance of slavery was also the reason we were not allowed to be bought, traded and sold. But that same rule was also a pretty inconvenient one in cases where it turned out that a child and their Little friend were incompatible and didn't like each other. What did they do, then?
Back in my bedroom, I laid back in my makeshift bed and read the Little Friends literature. Though the reason the father gave for the 'only children' rule seemed reasonable enough, something bothered me about it. Back in the Victorian Era, children were thought of as dear little angels straight from heaven. When it came to children, the Victorians were hopeless romantics. Or so it seemed in Victorian poems that lauded the sweetness and innocence of children. Was that the case on this world of giants? Though in a modern era, were these giants like hopeless Victorian romantics who saw children through rose-colored glasses?
"Children can be sweet and innocent, but they can also be mean and selfish," I muttered. I was fortunate in having a Big Friend who was not comfortable with the adult-child role reversal, and who treated me like a person. From what Serafina had told me while we were playing games, other Little Friends had Big Friends who reveled in adult-child role reversal, treating and ordering their tiny charges around like children. Serafina was not the only one who behaved like a REAL Big Friend--there were some other Big Friends who actually tried to get to know their Little Friends instead of controlling them completely and ordering them around. My heart ached for the ones who got the latter--those poor Little Friends behaved like broken people. An approaching heavy tread jiggled my frame. "Danger! Danger! Warning! Warning! Giant approaching!" I thought. Quickly I rose from my bed and went outside. Sure enough, Mr. Belafin loomed through the doorway into the big bedroom. He lay his immense length prone on the floor and regarded me.
"Now look who's breaking the rules," I told him.
"I won't tell if you won't," he replied kindly.
I walked over to where his billboard face rested on his fishing-dock hands. "Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?" he asked.
"Just before you came in it occurred to me that maybe you big folks are romantics when it comes to children. Kids CAN be sweet and innocent," I acknowledged. "But they can also be cruel and selfish. I feel sorry for Little Friends who get kids like that. And that 'no talking to adults' rule isolates them. Completely. Not even family and friends to turn to. That's scary." "What else?" asked Serafina's dad.
"I'll bet they prevent us from talking to adults so Little Friends who are being abused can't get help. My husband tried to do the same thing to me--cut me off from friends and family. So he could systematically demoralize and destroy me."
Mr. Belafin ran a hand over his jaw. "Ouch." His gray eyes contemplated the wood floor. "Just to make you feel better, Sylvia, I'll come to you every day and ask you if Serafina is treating you well. Would that make you feel better?" "Yes! Thank you. But Serafina's been pretty good so far. I just feel sorry for earth folks who get Big Friends like my ex-husband."
Mr. Belafin's van-length head nodded agreement. "How did you get here, Sylvia?" "I was riding in a bus that took us down a tunnel through a space-time warp, and we wound up here."
He said, "And then?"
"They put us in a holding chamber."
"They brought us into a big room where they let the children come after us willy-nilly. It was a free-for-all. Some of us could have gotten hurt."
Mr. Belafin covered his big face with his massive hand and shook his head. He didn't like what he was hearing. Good. "Sylvia--what do you think of your life here, now?"
"I'll admit I get tired of the work-to-live treadmill. I'll admit there is a certain allure about being taken care of like you folks are taking care of me now. But the big drawback is that you're beholden to your caretakers and have to do what THEY want. That's why I prefer to support myself. That way I get to do what I want with my free time."
"Serafina's not keeping you occupied every second. You have free time,"
"But I can't up and go shopping or visit friends and relatives like I could on earth."
"No. And I also figure you little folks love your friends and relatives as much as we do ours and you miss them."
"Yes." The catch in my voice was quite real. "And if I don't get back soon, I may have no house to go back to--unless my daughter decides not to sell it--my daughter gets the house if I die--I hope my daughter lives in it instead of selling off everything I own--"
"You sound exactly like an adult my size," said Mr. Belafin, shaking his head again.
The Little Friends program, while it tried to safeguard the safety of earth folk somewhat, also treated us as less than people. Less than real. If I could get even one Big Person to see me--us--as real, not toys.... "The same thing happens when I see a dwarf, Mr. Belafin," I held my hand at at a child-sized height from the floor. "Adult, but the size of a child. My mental wires get crossed. How do I treat them? I imagine your wires get crossed when you see a Little Friend. An adult the size of a toy. How do I treat them?"
He smiled. "Exactly. How do you want to be treated?"
I thought about it a moment. "Taking into consideration my obvious limitations, as much like a fellow adult as possible."
"You're doing pretty good, so far."
"I try to treat everyone as well as I can," he said kindly. He turned a bit sad. "I'm sorry about your daughter. And your house. You must have worked hard your whole life to get it--"
His head thudded onto his hands and he shook it again. Then he lifted it again, curiously. "How old is your daughter?"
"She just graduated from college. I'll bet there are other Little Friends who weren't so lucky," I told him.
"Little friends with little children who need them--whose Mom or Dad are not coming home..." Again, he did NOT like what he was hearing. His big head shook even more violently than before.
"This--" I looked around the gigantic bedroom, "would be a very, very interesting place to come to on vacation, as long as you didn't get dropped or stepped on. But to stay permanently? You know fads come to an end. I'm sure this Little Friends fad will be the same way. And adult people make pretty finicky pets--and you know how children can get tired of taking care of their pets."
"Adult people like their lives just exactly so," agreed Mr. Belafin. "I know because I'm an adult people myself. And you're right--some children DO get tired of taking care of their Little Friends. Having Little Friends come on vacation, for a short time, would solve that problem nicely." "And all fads come to an end. I'm sure this Little Friends fad will be the same. What's going to happen to the Little Friends when their children are tired of them?" I asked.
"Sylvia, this 'short-lived fad' has been going on for 30 years. I'm afraid it's not going to end soon. My people are too intrigued with yours. If you discovered a world with people tinier than yourselves, wouldn't you be intrigued?"
"Yes. And I'm afraid some of my people are bad enough to do to them what yours are doing to us," I said. "Or worse. I've been reading a book about the Little Friends program. Little Friends strikes me as a weird mixture of kindness and cruelty. You do seem to try to treat us well once we get here, but the way you get us here is pretty cruel. Why don't you ask for volunteers to come here? We've got plenty of people on earth who don't want to work for a living. Or, again, who might even WANT to come here on vacation." I spun around as I bellowed in a louder voice, "'For The BIG Thrill Of A Lifetime, Come To Giant World!'"
Mr. Belafin chuckled. "I'd feel a lot better about having you little guys come to our world on vacation than keeping you prisoners for life. That's the reason we never took part in the drawings. Because I just don't believe in what the Little Friends program is doing." He leaned his head into his palm in bewilderment. "Then Nordas calls me up, puts me on the spot, and tells me he has a defective Little Friend with a sharp tongue who hates kids. So we decided to 'rescue' you. Of course, you may not consider it a rescue..."
"So far, I do think it's a rescue. Serafina is a nice, very mature kid. Looks like you've taught her well," I said.
"I feel like a big hypocrite," he continued.
"Call me Terron."
"Okay, Terron. Where I lived, I had rights. The right to a quick trial, the right to say anything I want without being punished for it, the right not to be subjected to cruel punishment--the plain fact is, with rights you feel happy, secure and protected. When you tell me I have no rights, you're telling me I deserve a life filled with pain, misery and terror. And frankly, I don't deserve pain, misery and terror any more than you do.Us wee folk deserve just as much happiness, security and freedom as any giant, and anybody who thinks differently can drop dead."
"Ah, there's that sharp tongue Nordas told me about. But I agree with you," said Terron sadly, adjusting his silver-framed glasses. "Some Little Friends act happy, but I can tell they're not. Not really. Who can be happy with no freedom?"
"Why did you conquer us?"
"I suppose the usual excuse--so you wouldn't conquer us first. Well, Sylvia, we had better stop breaking the rules, now, but thank you for what you've told me."
I watched him go. I was too realistic to get my hopes up, but at least it was a start.
Next morning we had breakfast, a faintly sweet grain mush the giants called padn. One of the differences between the giant world and earth. Some of the brand names on boxes and cans were the same as earth, others were different. Parallel universe-type weirdness again. Serafina cleared the table while I went back to my room. I did some drawings on paper with colored pencils bought from the Little Friends Store. At least Little-Friend sized items WERE available on this world. I thought of Mary again. And drew and erased and drew and erased until I achieved a good likeness.
Serafina tapped on my door. "Hello," she said with a goofy grin. "What are you drawing?"
Man, I hoped she would not insist on seeing everything I drew. Sometimes an occasional wrathful mood resulted in terrible drawings. It certainly beat taking out bad moods on people like a certain ex-husband of mine. Apparently safe ways to vent wrath were too tame for him. I picked up my drawing, and showed it to her. "This is Mary, my daughter. It doesn't look exactly like her, but it's close."
Serafina lifted up the pad of paper. Between her fingertips, it looked like a postage stamp. "Oh, how nice! You're a good artist." Then her face muscles drooped. "You must miss her."
"Of course I miss her, Serafina."
My girl genius Big Friend looked apologetic. "That's what me and my Dad don't like about the Little Friends program. From what they say about you, you'd think Little Friends didn't have families of their own."
"I noticed that in the Little Friends books you bought for me," I replied. "There's absolutely NO mention that we do have friends and relatives back on earth. As if we're just live dolls or action figures."
"Well, as I said last night, I know you're not, but I'll admit I'm used to big adults, not little teensy ones."
Serafina agreed that seeing toy-sized adults really crossed HER wires, too.
Serafina cringed and gave the pad of paper back. "Just show me your nice ones, Sylvia. If your pencil's as sharp as your tongue's supposed to be, I don't think I'd like the nasty drawings at all."
"Well, Sylvia," continued Serafina in that tone that said she was about to take off, "it's time for Dad and me to go. Have fun 'til we come back."
After she was gone, I got a green sweatsuit from my closet, went into the bathroom that Nordas had given her and closed the door.
The affair came complete with built-in heater for hot and cold running water. The toilet flushed like the one at home. Good. At least it wouldn't stink like the Porta Potty affairs the giants had at the place of our arrival. However, the thing came equipped with a shower. I liked baths. However, this wasn't home, so I'd have to make the best of what I'd been given. And there turned out to be something else I didn't like about the bathroom. Five minutes into my shower, both doors automatically popped open, letting out hot steam and letting in drafts. When I tried, the doors would not shut, either.
"Oh, great," I said, disgusted. I felt like I was up against a Horrible unseen Horace on a vast scale. He never respected my privacy, either, popping into the bathroom at the most awkward moments with his endless and childish demands just when I most wanted to be alone. It was a good thing the Belafins were gone or I really would have been embarrassed.
I finished up my shower and dressed with both bathroom doors open, and returned to my room to draw some more. And as I drew, I couldn't help wishing that I could listen to some of my music. Here--did they have music CDs and stereos at the Little Friends Store? I had not thought to look. Again, I was faced with the fact that here on Giant World I could not just hop in my car and go shopping for myself. I could not even earn my own money to shop with. If I wanted anything, I was dependent on Serafina's father to buy it for me. Welcome back to the Middle Ages, Sylvia, where women were dependent on men for everything. Of course, the men from earth were in the same position as the women. It was equal-opportunity subjugation and oppression for both earthmen and women here on Giant World.
That dratted door-opening mechanism on the bathroom... I got out and examined both doors. The metal peg that pushed the plastic doors open was located at the bottom of both doors, meaning the opening mechanism was in the floor where I could not get at it. I would have loved to break it. Perhaps Serafina or her father could do it for me?
When they returned, I mentioned the problem over dinner. After dinner, Terron broke the door-opening mechanism. "I hope you don't lock yourself in the bathroom too much," he joked as he set the bath back down next to my bedroom.
"Even if I did, you're big enough to carry the whole thing off," I pointed out.
"I wouldn't do that to you. Rattling around in there, you could get hurt," he rumbled down at me.
"I'm not planning to lock myself in there unless I'm doing something super-private." Terron Belafin's suit made me wonder what kind of professional he might be. "Do you mind my asking--what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a lawyer."
Nordas gave me to a lawyer? Or lawyer's daughter, rather? "I see you are going to be a problem," he'd said. And then he gives me to a lawyer. A LAWYER. That was strange. As if he was HOPING I'd be a problem? "That's interesting," I said aloud. "Think you could sue the Little Friends Program for my return to earth?"
Terron laughed. "Sylvia---" he began. Then he gazed at the floor in thought. And then he looked at me again, "I wish they would return you little guys to your home planet. It would be the right thing to do. That's all I can say." He wasn't about to commit himself to anything, even in jest.
Serafina came into the big bedroom and bent over me as her Dad got up. "Tomorrow's a school day, and so's the next four days, so you're going to be on your own for most of the day, Sylvia."
"That suits me fine," I called up to her.
"Don't tell your classmates you've got her," advised Terron. "Some of them might be pestering you to bring Sylvia to school, and neither you nor Sylvia need that. And don't you have homework to do, young lady?"
"Yes, Dad," said Serafina in a resigned tone. "TOO much homework, Dad. Human studies, my 20-page research paper on Delaprodotus, a full page of calculus problems..."
"Which I'm sure my girl genius can complete on time. Just let me know if you need help," said Terron, chucking his girl genius under the chin.
"I'll be so glad when I graduate from high school!"
"Be thankful you're doing it sooner than most kids, Serafina!" I yelled up at her.
"Yes, not everyone gets to graduate from high school at the age of 13. Most have to serve their entire 12 years," Terron reminded her.
Serafina nodded. "That's true."
Terron left the room and Serafina went to her room, leaving me to reread 'Little Friends' literature, and draw some more pictures. After a while I heard a terrible racket outside the windows which sounded like a giant lawnmower.
Later that afternoon, the moving stopped, a door opened and closed in the distance and giant voices rumbled from far down the hall. I heard heavy footfalls come down the hall and into my big room and assumed it was Terron. I looked out through the plastic front of my little bedroom. It was Nordas who stood beside the guest bed smiling at me. Wearing the same dark business suit as he had when I first saw him or a similar one. He raised his brows. Well, of course. He was a friend of Terron Belafin, so naturally he might come to visit sometimes. I went to the door and looked up at him. He got down on both immense knees and leaned toward me, still smiling. He placed his chin on both thumbs. "Well, it is working out?" he inquired.
"So far, so good. But I'd like my own house back on earth better," I replied. "I'll admit--given the chance you match up Little Friend to Big Friend rather well. Serafina IS very mature for her age."
Nordas regretfully raised his brows and sighed a steam-engine rush of wind through his slightly curved cigar-store Indian nose. "I wish I could match them all up. But that's not how they run the Little Friends program. Well," he did a little wave at me and rose, "Continue on with what you were doing." And he left the room.
But I was curious, and followed him.
Halfway down the hall, I heard the two giants exchanging their rumbling low-octave goodbyes. "I'm glad Serafina and her Little Friend are getting along." Terron heaved a gusty sigh. "Would you believe I've had more adult conversations with that little lady than with most people MY size?"
"Don't tell anyone. Against the rules, you know," remonstrated Nordas.
"Yes, it is supposed to be a free country," agreed Nordas. "Farewell, my friend."
And I heard the door shut. I debated whether to run back to my room so Terron would not know I'd been eavesdropping. But--Terron had just said Giant World was a free country, didn't he? I continued walking to the living room, staying close to the wall.
Terron saw me there when he came looming around the corner. "Well, how did you like seeing your old friend, Nordas, again?"
"That was a surprise." I yelled up as Terron leaned down so he could hear me better.
"He's a good fellow. That's why I'm surprised he's involved with that 'Little Friends' thing."
"I'm glad you said what you did to Serafina. I would not want to be taken to school. Anything could happen in a place like that. Like mean kids."
"And not just the mean kids. I assume you little people get sick just like we do--you did get carsick, didn't you? And if it happened at school, you'd be miserable, and Serafina's teachers wouldn't be happy, either. They've started discouraging kids from taking their Little Friends to school for those reasons."
"I appreciate your kindness, Terron."
"Good." Here Terron's billboard face clouded over. "There have been some cases where mean children disregarded the advice to treat their Little Friends with love and tenderness, and gotten a lesson in harsh reality when their Little Friends committed suicide. You don't hear about those in the Little Friends magazines, of course."
That week's schooldays went by. I ate regularly with Serafina and Terron. I played board games with Serafina, and sometimes I helped her with her homework. Only with math, though. I knew nothing about Giant World's history, though I was learning some of it, and the spelling here on Giant World was just different enough make me an unreliable help with Language and Literature class. When the weekend rolled around again, Terron took me to Serafina's concert and I listened from his pocket. Serafina's or Terron's pocket was the position that made me least carsick, so there I usually traveled. Now that he decided it was a free country, we conversed whenever we chose.
In the middle of her next week of schooldays, I could tell something was wrong while we played Monopoly. Serafina was more saddened, moody and preoccupied than usual.
"You know," I said, "The kids at school used to call me ugly."
"They've been calling me ugly, too!" said Serafina so angrily that momentarily I was afraid she might take it out on me.
But she didn't. So I gave her the same pep talk I'd given to my own Mary when she got that junk from other kids. "Then call them a bunch of beauty bigots. Tell 'em--uh--'Beauty stinks and beauty rots, beautiful girls are stuck-up snots.' And tell 'em you hope they marry a gorgeous witch. Why does being called ugly hurt? Because of the stupid assumption that ugly people don't deserve to be loved. Well, that's wrong. Ugly people deserve as much love as beauties do, and don't let anyone tell you differently."
"That's true," said Serafina thoughtfully.
"People act like 'beauty' and 'good' are synonyms--they're not. Ugly people can be good, and beautiful people can be bad. Are the people who are teasing you good-looking?"
"Some of them are," Serafina admitted.
"There you have it. People who are good-looking on the outside, but bad on the inside. Don't let 'em put you down, Serafina."
Serafina smiled down at where I reclined against the pillow. "Thanks, Sylvia. I needed that."
Sometimes even I knew how to talk to kids.
A month went by. Days melted into each other. I mostly stayed in my fancy bedroom and did drawings. When the art paper from the Little Friends Store ran out, Serafina cut some of her art paper into a neat pile of rectangles somewhat bigger than typing paper. She practiced her oboe. And sometimes we played board games together. Sometimes she mock-frowned at me when I won. "Little Friends are small, not stupid," I would reply. "Besides, wouldn't it be boring if you won all the time?"
"That's true," she admitted. "Come to think of it, I would rather have a 'worthy opponent,' as the movie villains put it."
It was 'different' to have to pick up a wooden token one-third my size and have to carry it several paces to move it. Or even walk upon the board itself.
I missed my Mary. How was she doing? We were very close, Mary and I, and I was sure she missed me as much as I missed her. Only, she thought I was dead. Never coming back. How dare the government break up families like this? So casually? So without a second thought? I reminded myself that they did it all the time--via the military draft. Sent off beloved sons and daughters to war, sometimes to their death. "Face reality," said the old saw. "Reality stinks," I retorted. Harsh reality might be unavoidable, but I didn't have to like it. Nordas, as it turned out, visited the Belafin home fairly often. At first, he and Terron held their conversations in the house where I could hear them. After a while, though, they moved their conversations outside the house--I guessed into the shed in Terron's backyard.
Then one night, as I drew at my table, I looked up to see a Little POW, who had the downtrodden look of one, approaching my room. A woman in her early twenties who brushed back her straight, sandy hair and stared at me in bewilderment. At once I got up to go outside and greet her. "What are you doing here?" I asked her.
Looking even more lost and bewildered, she shook her head. "I don't know!" she admitted. "Jill's parents told me they were taking me on a visit, and brought me here and this huge fellow with silver-rimmed glasses put me in here."
"That was Terron Belafin, Serafina's father," I told her.
Just then we heard a knock from the other end of the house. And Terron brought still another Little Friend to my room. "Please stay in here with Sylvia," he told the little man in his hand and put him down on the floor with us.
"What's going on, Terron?" I called up to him.
Terron smiled and winked.
"Look at this," said the partly bald middle-aged man who joined us. "My kid's parents gave me one of his teeth he lost to remember him by. And this necklace." He held up a long gold chain worth thousands on earth.
Then there came a steady parade of folks knocking at Terron's door. That evening, a veritable army of parents brought their kids' Little Friends to Belafin. Along with a hodgepodge of items that were either proof of where we had been, or things that were little valuables to the giants that long-time Little POW's could use to rebuild their lives once they got back to earth. Yes, I guess that must be where we were going.
They gave us lots of proof--giant hair, fingernail clippings, tissue stained with giant blood, two extracted teeth, seeds, leaves and other giant items that could not be explained away. I got a bloodstained tissue and a lateral incisor tooth that I put in my briefcase.
"Hi, there!" called a familiar voice. It was Tony Barnabas, the Little POW I met at the Little Friends Store. "Quite a Little Friends Uprising we're having, isn't it?" he remarked, looking around.
"I should say so!" I told him. "I wonder what this means?"
"I hope they're not planning to euthanize us," said one nervous pale-face POW who had lived here far too long.
Just then Terron came to the door. "Now that we have you little guys together," he announced. "Let me tell you what we're planning. We're going to try to send you back to earth. This very evening!"
Several of us jumped up and down and clapped.
"Fortunately for most of you, your big child friends have gotten tired of taking care of you, as children will, so they may not much mind what their parents have done with you. If they do, oh, well. On earth, you were used to being independent and doing as you pleased, so I know being held prisoner by our children has been hard on most of you."
"You said it!" Tony Barnabas yelled up at him. Aside to me, Tony said, "Hey, Sylvia. You were very lucky to be placed with this guy's kid."
Thinking of Nordas, I replied, "I don't think luck had anything to do with it. Some who had been here for years wondered whether they could rebuild, resume or get back their derailed lives once they did get back to earth. "That's why we asked parents to give you any jewelry or small valuable stuff they could spare," Terron replied. "I hope that helps you out."
Serafina stood behind him with a cardboard box, which, when she set it down, turned out to have two or three towels at the bottom to make it comfortable. "You're going to ride in this," she told us. "Please do get in and we'll take off. And hope to high heaven we succeed in our mission."
There were almost twenty of us who gathered into the box Serafina held on its side. When we were all in, she slowly tipped the box up so we could switch from standing on the side to standing, lying or sitting on the bottom.
With her father carefully carrying us all in a big cardboard box, Serafina knocked at the door of the Little Friends facility.
Not surprisingly, it was Nordas who answered the door. "Got quite a few?" he asked, looking down into the cardboard box at us. "Good. Take them to the Transwarp Gate Room. It's down that hall. Be careful. I'm getting the transwarp gate warmed up."
Closing and locking the door, Nordas caught up with Terron and Serafina at the Transwarp Gate door.
Unlocking it, Nordas let Terron and Serafina in, and Terron tilted the box on its side so we could all get out.
Nodding, Nordas stepped outside the room. I followed the dark-haired giant to a huge console outside the room. Nordas had learned how to run the transwarp gate.
I yelled up at Nordas as loud as I could, "Thank you very much, Nordas!" "I take it you don't like our Little Friends program," said Nordas with a satisfied cat-who-ate-the-canary glance.
"No, I don't."
Nordas smiled knowingly. "You know something? I don't like it, either." He lowered his voice to a cavernous whisper. "That's why I joined it." He continued pushing buttons and flipping switches on the console. "I joined the Little Friends program in order to sabotage it. I'm the director, now, so I am running--or ruining--the program to suit myself."
Which explained his seemingly illogical actions and behavior since the day I arrived.
"And you'd better join the others now if you don't want to miss your ride," he continued.
I ran back in to join the others who were standing near the transwarp gate. Standing at the console, the new Little Friends Program Director programmed in several commands, and the gate glowed green. "Goodby," he said regretfully as a glowing green opening appeared in the wall. Waving goodbye to Terron, Serafina and Nordas, we were on our way.
As we ran along the tunnel, Tony puffed, "I sure hope they're not--sending us--to another dimension. I--hope--we end up--where we started."
It took much longer to run the tunnel than it did to ride the bus in it, but eventually the lot of us ended up on a city sidewalk.
We all stared at the skyscrapers and street names, or looked for a paper rack to identify where we were.
"It's Cincinatti! I've been here lots of times," a dark-haired youth yelled at us over the heavy traffic.
We had left Giant World at night. Here it was early afternoon. Some of us went straight to the police. The rest of us went straight to the office of the local newspaper. When tomorrow's edition hit the stands, our government was going to be in big trouble.
Then we phoned relatives to come get us.
My Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Thomas drove me up to my two-bedroom house, where Mary still lived. She hadn't sold it. Not yet. What a relief. Other ex-Little Friends who had owned homes had not been so lucky. I went up to the door by myself..
Best not to scare her. I knocked. The door opened.
"Mom?" Mary's eyes widened.
"Yes, it's me."
Then we fell into each other's arms.
Our government had to 'fess up to the alien conquest. Too many witnesses telling the same story, you know. And too much proof, too. Giant kids' teeth were especially convincing. They had to renegotiate. Once people knew about them, it was surprising how many volunteered to visit the giants. Or, considering all those who did not want to work for a living, perhaps it wasn't so surprising. I've gone back once since my Little Friends experience, this time with Mary. Mr. Belafin and Serafina, who played host and hostess to us again, were delighted to meet my daughter. We enjoyed their hospitality two weeks, and then went back home. It was nice to be there on Giant World on vacation, because we wanted to visit. And both the children of Giant World and the little friends who went to visit were happier--the giant children found little friends who actually WANTED to visit and play with them, and who, unlike me, enjoyed kids, were much more fun and better little friends and playmates than the unhappy and unwilling kidnap victims had been. Also, many giant children and adults actually preferred having a Little Friend visit their home on vacation rather than be faced with the prospect of having to take care of the wants and needs of an little adult for life.
We and the giants are friends now. Real friends. The way it should have been in the first place. Maybe the next time we take a Giant World vacation, I'll bring my Mom.