The day had finally come.
Months of saving up would culminate in just a single purchase today. I stand at the entrance to the pet shop. Through the street windows I can see some birds in their cages. Beyond that there are some fish tanks, but I can't seem too much else.
I guess they must keep the bigger animals somewhere inside. I put my hand in my coat pocket and touch my wallet through the fabric. I've been compulsively confirming it's there, as if it might have fallen out or something. Considering I've been planning this for months, there's no reason why I should be this nervous.
I take a deep breath and enter the shop. I walk a short distance to the counter and see a middle-aged man. I can't put my finger on it, but he seems creepy. Unfortunately, he matches the description my friend gave me so I approach anyway.
"Morning. Is this all you've got here? It's packed."
"Good morning to you little lady." He flashes me a smile. "No, we've got some others in the back too. Mostly the older ones, and some of the exotic pets like myriapods."
"Hmm... I was hoping for something exotic. Something... I wouldn't find in the front, so to speak."
He eyes me carefully. I see his eyes dart left and right, confirming that there's no one else in the shop except for us. He leans in a little closer looking a lot less cheery.
"I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for, but it sounds...expensive."
He raises a brow at me. It takes me a second to catch on. I quickly pull out my wallet and show him the money I've saved up. His expression softens a bit, and he motions for me to follow him.
"We keep those kinds of pets hidden. It's not exactly legal to buy and sell them, you know."
"I know. ‘Hush-hush’, right?", I smile, trying my best to look pretty and innocent.
He simply nods and takes me into the room behind the counter. We pass by a bunch of tanks and cages with all sorts of creepy crawlies. The man goes over to a locker and pulls out a key to unlock a storage unit. As soon as he does, I see a very different tank. I step forward to get a better look.
My heart sinks.
Dear God, what kind of sick hell is this...
I see Lilliputians. A race of people genetically identical to us Brobdingnagians, except for their size. The average adult is no bigger than a quarter millimeter. Legally they are recognized as people, but the law doesn't truly protect them all that well. People like this guy make a business out of selling them as disposable toys. It's slavery, plain and simple. The strong oppressing the weak has always been the way of the world.
It's so unfair. Cruel people like him and his customers only add fuel to the fire.
My gaze is drawn to a group of them huddled in the corner of their prison. He hands me a magnifying glass and I take a closer look. Most are naked, although I see a few wearing rags. They seem bothered by the sudden shower of light. I can only imagine how much time they spend in the darkness of the locker.
I can only describe them as miserable. They're like husks of former people, long since dead and gone. The time spent living in their own filth has made many look very malnourished. I don't think they could be in a worse state.
"I know that look." The man nods his head confidently, as if he read my mind. "Rest assured, they respond if you scare them a little."
He knocks the tank with the back of his hand, sending the tiny people into a panic. I feel my blood boil and I clench my fists.
"I've never had any complaints from my customers. Hell, just last week a couple came in looking for something to help 'spice things up' in the bedroom. A day later they placed an order for more. So, how many are you looking to buy?"
I look at him and force myself to act pleasant. It takes all I have just to resist slapping him across his disgusting face. I take another look at the poor creatures before responding.
"I'll take thirty. I was told that'll cost me about a thousand, right?"
"That won't do. A thousand will only get you ten."
"Wait, why? I could've sworn those were the rates just last month!"
"Exactly. Last month the police cracked down on Lilli dealing. It's become harder to find them, so naturally the price shot up. Take it or leave it, miss."
I think for a moment. With my two thousand I could get twenty, but then I would have no reserve funds. I'd like to have a lot in case anything goes wrong. You never know what you will need or when you will need it until the time comes. Reluctantly, I agree to his new price, handing him a thousand.
"Fine. I'll take ten, but they better not die by tomorrow morning! They're in such a sorry state already, I wouldn't be surprised."
He opens the tank and begins fishing them out roughly with a pair of specialized tweezers. He drops them into a vial that's no bigger than a shot glass and hands it to me, sealed and ready.
"Rest assured, they are healthier than they look. If one does die, you are welcome to bring it up with me then." He explains as we leave the room. "Have a nice day."
I don't reply, leaving the shop in a hurry. I'm extra careful with the vial as I walk, worrying about how my steps might bounce them around. I move the vial to the neckline of my shirt out of habit before immediately stopping myself and blushing profusely. What am I doing? These are people, not some random items to be stuffed down my top. Instead, I carefully place the vial into my pocket and make my way home.
I arrive at my apartment a few minutes later. I don't waste a second, heading to my room and locking the door behind me. Yes, I live alone, but that is beside the point. I take out the vial and hold it before my eye. All ten of my little Lillis look horrified. They must be expecting me to be like the others--someone who would use and discard them without a second thought.
I think it's time I introduce myself. It would be cruel to leave them so shaken like this.
I slowly tilt the vial between my fingers. This has to be slow so that they have a chance to adjust rather than being thrown. Once it's perfectly horizontal, I set it down on my desk. With a gentle twist of the lid, I pop it off, leaving their container open.
Not a word leaves my mouth...yet.
I turn around and take off my jacket, hanging it on the hook of the door.
By the time I come back to the desk I already see a few of them leaving the vial, setting foot on my desk. They're not running for their lives, as far as I can tell. That's good. I think they're just waiting for me. They want to know what will become of them at the hands of their new owner.
My heart is racing a mile a minute. Is this excitement or anxiety? I'm not sure. I hope it's the former.
I pull up my chair and take a seat before them, leaning in close. Immediately they panic, backing away from me. I'm taken aback at first, until I look down and realize what's scaring them so much. I put an arm over my chest and scoot my seat back a little, which seems to put them at ease. I find myself blushing again. What a great start, huh? Nice one, Jeannine. I forget how big and scary I must look to them. Every part of me, for that matter.
I clear my throat and finally address them, only after the last ones have joined up with the group on my desktop. I set my worries aside and act as confidently as I can. I try to act like a queen would, or maybe even a goddess.
"Hello there, little ones! My name is Jeannine and as you know I just purchased the ten of you from my local pet shop. I'm sure you're very scared right now, but you don't have to be. In fact, you never have to be scared again."
I try to see their faces, but they're simply too small. The best I can do is look at body language, which isn't very visible either. They're like dots to me.
"I know what you must be thinking. Here comes another Brob, ready to use us for her entertainment or sexual pleasure. I swear to you, that could not be farther from the truth. I mean you no harm and I will prove it."
I reach under my desk for a small bottle of water and a chocolate bar. I drip a single drop of water onto my finger and transfer it to the desk not too far from them. Next, I take the chocolate the break of the tiniest piece I can, setting it down beside the drop of water.
"Even I can see how tired and hungry you all are from way up here. Please, have your fill. This is just a taste of what I'm going to provide you from now on."
I see that they are very hesitant. I'm inclined to feel upset, but I remind myself that these people have suffered in ways that I can only imagine. When they were kidnapped they must have been torn from the family and friends. All their pain has been at the hands of people who look like me. It's the least I can do to be patient.
"It's alright if you're nervous. I'll wait."
Minutes pass before the first tiny begins eating and drinking. A few minutes later, some more join. By the fifteen-minute mark, nine of them are enjoying my gifts. One still seems nervous. I squint and make out the form of a woman, or at least I think it's a woman. I look at her directly when I speak again.
"Take this as an example of how you will be treated. I will always offer you what you need, but I will never force you to take it. One thing you will always have, so long as you live under my roof, is freedom."
She's clearly a stubborn one. After another then minutes of waiting, I decide to place a piece right in front of her, just to be nice. She still doesn't take it, so I shrug and move on with my speech.
"I wish this could be more of a discussion rather than a speech, but we will have to figure that out later. For now, I need to explain some things before we go any further."
The tiny men and women seem interested. I notice they've all moved away from the food now, looking at me with pure curiosity. It makes me happy, strangely enough. I feel a warmth in my chest.
"I don't want you to think of me as your owner. In my mind, we are the same... Apart from the obvious.", I giggle.
I place a hand on my chest, as if to seem even more sincere. It's not an act, though...
"My goal is to create a sanctuary for you tinies. One where you can live out your lives in peace, under my care and protection. I've already bought more materials than you could possibly need, and I'm willing to get more if you want. Sadly, being as big as I am makes building tiny things...difficult. I can help with the heavy lifting, but it's pretty much up to you to handle the construction. I've set aside a space in the corner of my room for you guys, so feel free to use it however you wish."
I see a few of them following my pointing finger to the corner. They look on from the desk to the place they will soon be calling home.
"And now for everyone's least favorite part. We will need to set some rules. Listen carefully, because these are important."
I raise my hand and a single finger, beginning my count.
"One. You may not leave the designated space for any reason. If you roam around my room, there's a chance I could step on you. Also, boundaries. This is my room, so I ask that you respect my space."
"Two. So long as you live in the settlement, there will be no fighting.
If you have a dispute, you can bring it up with me. Otherwise, I want to see cooperation. If not for me, you might have been sold to a horny couple or even some hungry Brob. Just do it for me, okay?"
"Three. I plan or buying more Lilli's and bringing them here. I need you all to relay this information to them so that they can smoothly integrate into your society. The transition might not always be easy for some. Be kind."
"Four. This isn't required just yet, but eventually we will need a government. I would like to have someone, or possibly someones, who I can speak with occasionally about issues."
"Five. I really want to get to know you guys. You must have stories, and I need to hear them. If we're going to be roomies, then shouldn't we chat? Please figure out some way of communicating with me. Frankly, your voices are far too soft, unless I stick you into my ear and... Yeah, let's not do that. Maybe find a way into the WIFI-network?"
"Six. This one is an extension of number two. Obviously, no criminal activity. Stealing, vandalism, sexual assault, and worst of all, killing, will be punished. Admittedly, I haven't decided on punishments yet, but criminals can expect to be exiled from our little sanctuary. They can look forward to the garden outside my building. Watch out for the ants."
"Seven. Do not disturb me when I am busy unless it's an emergency. I'm still a university student so I've got lots of coursework every day. Just be considerate, yeah?"
"Eight. This one's a little silly, but don't attack me. I may be gentle, but I am still a lot bigger than you. Trust me, you're not going to scratch me, if even that. If you feel like I've wronged you, please just talk to me. Mutual understanding is all I ask."
"Nine. All the previous rules may be amended or added to, if the situation arises. However, I am aware of how dangerous a loophole like that can be. I will only do so if your chosen leader or leaders agree with me. We might make it a majority vote or something similar."
"Ten. This is the last one, and it's hardly even a rule."
I lean in a bit and smile dearly. I try to look as gentle and motherly as humanly possible. At this distance, I can partially see some of their expressions. Forget about sounding like a queen or a goddess. I just want to be Jeannine for a moment.
"For rule ten, please try to be happy. Whatever hardships you’ve endured before now are behind you. Look to the future and live the lives you deserve!"