Instantly, my field of vision was filled with a giant man! He stared at me as if unsure what he was seeing. I tried waving to let him know I was friendly.
"OHMYGOSH!" he screamed, terror flooding his face.
I screamed as well, running to hide in the bathroom of my hotel room—very evidently not a hotel at all! I watched as the wall pulled away, and the giant reached into my room and felt around. I knew I had to get out of there fast. I dodged past the groping fingers and down the narrow hall. Nothing looked as it had been. There were only rooms on the front side now. I tumbled down the chunky staircase and reached the ground floor in time to hear a female voice speak to him.
"Jerry, what's wrong?"
"Wrong?" the hand pulled back and the wall slammed shut. The giant stood in front of the building as I spilled out the front door and onto the countertop. His movement blocked it from her view. "Nothing's wrong," the giant stammered nervously. "Why would anything be wrong?"
"Jerry, why did you scream?"
"Scream?" He hesitated, and I seized the opportunity to carefully lower myself off the edge of the counter and drop into his back pocket, alongside his wallet. "I—I have to get to work." Jerry turned quickly, probably checking to see if I was still in the house. When he turned around again, I saw that he had closed the window.
"Bye, honey," he said, striding out the door.
I had to slip out of his pocket as he slid into his car. I climbed across the emergency brake shaft to the passenger seat. He plopped his briefcase down almost on top of me.
"I'm seeing things," he muttered to himself, "It was just a—well, just...nothing. There wasn't really anything; I mean, what could fit in a dollhouse, really? It's just..." he sighed and gripped the steering wheel. "Stress," he finished, "office stress."
Creeping around to the handle of the briefcase, I found that the latch was large enough for me to reach in and release it. I climbed over the lip and landed amid piles of papers and folders. I had only just settled when I heard Jerry mutter, "I thought I'd already closed—" the briefcase snapped shut and I was both in darkness and complete silence.
I could mostly keep myself in one place while he was driving. I only wondered what I would do when he discovered me again.
Presently, the briefcase tipped upright, and I fell straight to the bottom. Jerry the giant was probably juggling a few other things too, because the case and its contents (including myself) slammed back and forth as well as up and down. I dodged as best I could, but in desperation I wedged myself in a corner of the case and hoped nothing would smash me. Yes, there were pretty exclusively papers and folders, but each was about one hundred feet long and weighed about as much as a piece of sheet metal.
Finally, the briefcase moved straight up like a freight elevator, and slammed down flat. I ended up, wedged as I was, head-down.
Just as I righted myself, the lid of the case flew up, carrying me partway with it. I landed on my rear end right in the middle of a paper. Jerry the giant was reading something on his computer screen as he reached for a sheaf of papers underneath me.
"Hi!" I shouted.
Jerry jumped so hard he hit the wall of his small cubicle and cowered on the floor.
"D-d-don't hurt me," he whimpered.
I could see the poor guy shaking, almost crying. I raised my hands to try to calm him, and he flinched like I was flinging magic at him.
"Dude," I tried to explain, "just relax, I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Laura," I said, pointing to myself.
Jerry's breath still came in short bursts. "I'm hallucinating," he muttered to himself. He fought to pull himself off the floor with shaking hands. "This is all—it's a dream. There is no such thing as a tiny, live, person; I'm going to wake up, and—"
The infuriated shriek caught him unawares and he yelled, "Yipes!" and slammed his briefcase shut, plunging me into darkness once more. I heard the woman's voice continue for several minutes, and then silence. The latch on the briefcase clicked, slowly; very timidly, the lid inched upward. I saw his enormous eyes, the size of satellite dishes, peeking through the slit, as if checking to see if I was really there. Still he did not open the lid all the way. I heard him psyching himself up for it.
"Okay, Jerry, you can do this. This is real life, Jerry, not something out of your imagination. Come on, Jerry; you're better than this. Okay..." He slowly lifted the lid.
I tried not to make any sudden moves that might scare him. He frowned when he saw me, like the expression one wears when trying to discern if a dustbunny is a spider.
"Hi," I said cautiously.
Jerry rolled his eyes. "Oh, dangit, you're still there!" He sat back and studied me as I crawled out onto his desk. Finally, he asked, "Are you, like my conscience or something?" His eyes widened as he considered the ramifications of such a thing. "This is about that one thing I did, and you're here to punish me with magic, right? With the teacher and the erasers—"
I couldn't stand all the crazy talk. "What? No! I don't have any idea what you're talking about, and I don't think I want to know! I'm not here to punish you—"
Without warning, his hand descended upon me. I could tell he had not calmed down much, if at all. He slammed me flat on the ground. Taking small strips of tape, he fastened my arms, my legs, and my waist to the desk. Then he pulled out a magnifying glass and examined me closely.
"Hey!" he cried, poking me roughly with his fingertip, "You don't have wings! You're not a fairy: are you a leprechaun?"
His strange behavior was freaking me out, but I couldn’t do a thing about it. Try as I might, I couldn’t pull my arms out. "Ow! Hey!” I struggled against the tape, “What on earth are you doing?"
He grinned childishly and set down the magnifying glass. "Ha! I've caught you, leprechaun, and now you must give me all your gold and I don't have to work at this stupid job any more!"
“Are you out of your mind?" I yelled. "I'm not a leprechaun, I'm not a fairy, or a pixie, or an elf, I'm not anything! I'm just a normal human being, and my name is Laura."
Jerry smiled condescendingly, as if he didn’t believe me. “Okay, human,” he scoffed, “What planet are you from?”
Finally, I wriggled my left arm free, and used that hand to free my right. With both hands I peeled the strip of tape off my waist, wary of Jerry’s twitching hands on either side of me.
“I come from a place called Earth,” I said.
Jerry snorted, “Whatever—this is Earth.”
I stopped in the middle of freeing my ankles. “No—No, it can’t be!” I spluttered. “Where are we?”
“America; Phantopolis, New York, to be precise.”
He said it with such certainty, but by now I knew that this could not be real. I struggled to my feet. “No,” I tried to correct him as my head spun, “see, that’s where you’re wrong. There is no Phantopolis, New York!”
Jerry’s face did not change; he only blinked. “Yes, there is; we are here.”
I shook my head, but everything was still spinning. “You’ve gotta understand,” I tried to tell him, “This can’t be Earth.”
Jerry cocked an eyebrow. “How so?”
I stood as tall as I could. “In the real world, I’m five-foot-five,” I said. “That would make you about seventy-five feet tall. That is not possible for a normal human being to be that tall. So you see, you are a giant, and this is not Earth.”
Jerry laughed at this. “Seventy-five feet?” he repeated, “Is that how tall you think I am?”
Something about his tone gave me pause. “Well…” I found myself considerably less convinced, “yeah…I mean—“
“Laura,” Jerry sighed, "I hate to be the one to tell you this." He opened his desk drawer and withdrew a ruler. He placed it on the desk next to me. "You’re six inches high."
I glanced at the board next to me. I knew that under normal circumstances, I was around five feet, five inches. Yet as I stood there on the desk, there was the numeral 6, just above my line of vision. It was as big as my face; I could barely speak.
"Oh—but how did...No, this is impossible," my vision blurred, and I felt my legs turn to jelly. I probably would have collapsed right there on the desk if Jerry had not offered his hand. I sat heavily in his palm, and he lifted me carefully. In all my adventures, I had never expected to be in a situation quite like this. I found myself feeling Jerry's palm, just as Perissa had touched mine. Now I saw as she did, the large crevices and ridges in the palm, the deep lines of the fingerprint on his thumb.
Jerry fidgeted in the silence. "So," he tried, "you don't know how you got shrunk? No, like, I dunno," he shrugged and rolled his eyes, "mad scientists running experiments or evil masterminds zapping people with shrink rays or anything like that?"
I shook my head. "No, nothing: I was normal size when I walked into a hotel and got a room and went to sleep." I tucked my knees against my chest as Jerry watched me closely.
"How did you get into my wife's dollhouse?"
I blinked and looked up at him. "Oh, that lady was your wife?" I asked dimly.
Jerry frowned as if I had asked a stupid question. "Yeah, she has been for almost five years now." He paused, "Why do you ask?"
I couldn't help smirking, "Well, the way you totally brushed her off and lied to her, I thought she might have been your girlfriend or a mistress or something."
"Well she's—" Just then, a woman's voice drew near the door. Jerry's eyes got wide, and he opened the shallow drawer at the middle of his desk, right beneath me. "Shoot, hide!" He did not wait for me to jump, but swept me in as a hulking form entered his cubicle. He didn't quite manage to close the drawer all the way before someone stopped in front of his desk. I could hear their whole conversation clearly over the rim of the drawer.
"Yes, Miss Werehauser?"
"Who are you talking to, Jerry?" The voice was the same woman who screamed at him earlier.
"Um," Jerry stammered. "No one; I mean... myself?"
The woman's voice went from sticky-sweet to harsh in a moment. "Then why are you talking at all?" She pounded on the desk as she railed at him. "Why aren't you working? Did you get those, ah, reports done last night like I told you?" Her voice weighed heavily on the word, in obvious hint.
I heard Jerry shuffling around in his briefcase. "Yes, here they are..."
As I waited, I made my way to the back of the drawer, where the rim did not quite extend to the top. The drawer was only three inches deep, so I could easily peek over the side. Two bulging feet stuffed into a pair of severe pumps met my eye. One foot tapped as Miss Werehauser clucked her tongue. "Oh, Jerry, you idiot! You entered these amounts wrong! All right, you can just stay late and enter them again."
"Yes, Miss Werehauser."
The shoes departed, and I scrambled for the front of the drawer as Jerry opened it. He lifted me onto the desk again, where a stack of papers lay, filled with columns of numbers and words.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
In just the few short minutes of the conversation, Jerry had lost all the excitement in his face. Now he just looked drained. "Galina Werehauser is my supervisor, the manager of this firm." He explained, "I'm one of the analysts."
I recalled the way she seemed to want his compliance with a secret project of some sort. "What does she want you to do?"
"This." Jerry pointed to the papers beneath me. I walked up and down the columns. Some numbers, I saw, were in dollar amounts, while others were in increments of a thousand.
"What do these numbers mean?"
Jerry sighed and slumped in his chair. "They're production reports, for the executive board. This is our expenses and profits, and these are our production records."
I noticed a singular feature of the records. "How come there are two columns of everything?"
Jerry was becoming more hesitant by the minute. I wondered what he had to hide. "Galina is one of two senior managers, but my department handles the business of both branches."
I shrugged, "These numbers look accurate to me." Not that I could really tell, but none of the amounts were particularly outlandish. I did see that the other branch seemed to consistently outperform Galina's office, both in lower expenses, and greater production and profits.
Jerry nodded, "They are. Galina wants me to tamper with them, because as long as I do it how she wants me to, no one will question them. She wants to make herself look better than Angelica Lindstrom, because the directors are discussing putting this whole company under sole management."
The whole plan became remarkably clear to me. "So," I guessed, "tweaking the numbers just slightly in her favor is not enough to put her beyond Angelica, she wants you to make Angelica look worse at the same time, so that separately, no one can notice the difference, but put them together like they are in this report—"
"Right." Jerry looked as miserable as a misbehaving dog due for a beating. I was puzzled by his submissiveness.
"Why can't you let the directors know?"
The man looked grim. "Because I am the only one who knows about this; even anonymous hints would let her know that I spilled." He sat back and ran a hand through his hair in agitation. "Let me explain this way: people like Galina, we call them kite-flyers."
By now the reasoning behind this term was easy for me to grasp. "They pull strings to get what they want?"
"Exactly, and Galina, well, she has a lot of strings, so if one is not pulling for her, the way she wants it to go—"
"She has no problem cutting it loose." Now I knew the source of his agitation.
Jerry nodded. "Worse than that," he added, "this particular little project means so much to her that she would gladly burn me if I so much as failed to swap the numbers to her satisfaction. I'd be ruined for the rest of my days!" He leaned forward and dropped his head into his palms.
The poor man was clearly at his wits' end. I watched him sitting there, completely under the thumb of someone who did not care the least about him; meanwhile, I could see how Galina’s domination was probably what kept Jerry at work late, and made him stressed, which did nothing for his relationship with Cherry. I knew I had to do something to help him; why else would I be here?
“Jerry,” I whispered, “I can help you.”
He peeked at me from between his fingers. “You really think so?” he asked through his palms.
I was growing more confident by the minute. “Yes, I’m pretty sure I can.”
This brought Jerry up short; he sat up and stared at me. “But what can you do?” he cried, “you’re only six inches high!”
I shrugged, “So? Show me what you have to do, and I can help you with your workload!” At the very least I could take care of the more menial stuff that he had to do.
Jerry stared at me; I calculated the likelihood of the fact that, as much as he would rationally like to dismiss me, he could not ignore the fact that my sudden appearance was nothing short of miraculous. Besides, what could it hurt? He threw his hands up in surrender.
“Ah, what the heck,” he acquiesced, “Why not?”