A Little Problem - A Short Story

“Astonishing,” Dr. Alice Gelding said, squinting through a high-powered magnifying glass at the walls of an ancient Egyptian chamber. Alice’s long brunette hair, grey with dust, tucked away from her round face. Sweat dribbled from every pore, caking mud on already drying layers of dirt.

            “What did you find, doctor?” her colleague, Dr. Tim Shoshlefski, asked as he positioned a large spotlight on Alice’s position of the dig. He was tiny by every measure that could apply: tiny eyes, tiny body, tiny mind, tiny everything. He stood next to another man, Gary Toulouse, a lanky university student looking fresh off the boat and mostly unsure of anything at all. “Did you find the Egyptians liked cake as much as you do?” Dr. Shoshlefski said, nudging Gary as he engaged in his favorite pastime: teasing Alice for her weight. Toulouse looked at him and smiled uncomfortably for a moment before his countenance dropped back into unease.

            “Nothing wrong with a little indulgence from time to time, Doctor. But what I’m seeing here indicates they loved cake almost as much as shaving their servants head to toe and lopping off their genitals.” She turned her own small flashlight on the two, the light reflecting off Shoshlefski’s nearly hairless cranium. “Seems you’re halfway there, Doctor.”

            She clicked the flashlight off and tucked it in her shirt pocket. She picked a small brush from her back pocket swept it over the stonework. She focused the magnifying glass on a section of the wall and ran her fingers over what appeared to be unusually small carvings.

            Her belt buzzed. Startled, she dropped the magnifying glass. She unclipped her pager from her belt, the screen illuminating an unfamiliar number. Shaking her head, she clipped it back into the holder and retrieved a fine brush from her cargo pant pocket, dusting off one of the tiny panels of etchings. Her Motorola rattled again in its case. Same number. “Is that a pager?” Gary asked, “How does that work?”

            “It’s a pager. Haven’t you ever seen a pager before?” Dr. Shoshlefski replied.

            “Of course. I know what a pager is. But how does it work down here?” Gary replied, gesturing to the thick earth and stone ceiling and walls that surrounded them.

            Alice, pager in hand, pushed past the two of them and up the excavated corridor to the daylight. She entered a nearby tent where a handful of other people from the dig examined artifacts and wrote in their logs. “Phone?” she asked.

            One of the veteran archeologists, Donald Alder, nodded toward a large black box.

            “Thank you,” she said before picking up the large handset and dialed in the foreign number. It rang and rang on the other end, but there was no response. She hung up and dialed the number again, letting it ring a little longer this time, but still no response.

            “Doctor?” Donald said after she placed the phone back in its cradle.

            “Yes. What is it?” she replied.

            “I hope you don’t see this as me being rude, because I have the utmost respect for you, Alice,” he paused, finding his words and scowling as if trying to comprehend a mystery. “But have you… gotten smaller?

            “Oh god, not you too,” she said with a sigh. “I expect it from human garbage like Shoshlefski, but not from you, Donald.”

            He smiled a gentle smile and scanned the other archeologists in the room as if asking for confirmation. “No, my dear. Not your weight. You’re beautiful. I’m sure I’m just seeing things. I’m sorry.” He dabbed the sweat from his brow. “The desert heat playing tricks on me.”

            Alice clipped the pager back into her waistband and exited the tent. She walked down the passageway to the chamber to continue her research, but it felt a little bit longer than before. Desert heat for sure. By the time she got back, Dr. Shoshlefski was nowhere to be found but the university student, Gary, sat, alone on the ground, asleep. The spotlight was propped up on a small rock on the floor of the chamber.

            “Christ, I haven’t been gone for more than five minutes,” she said under her breath as she kicked Gary with her foot. He awoke with a start. “Hey. Can you hold the light for me?” He nodded, eyes darting around the room. “What? I… Where?” he stammered and stood up, picking up the light and aiming it at the site and then rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand.

            Alice returned to the corner of the site and looked into the sandy area where she had dropped her magnifying glass before. She wrapped her hand around the handle, and soon discovered this was not the same magnifying glass she had before.

            “Gary! Did that balding monkey run off with my other magnifying glass?”

            Gary just stood there, staring at Alice. He started trembling and urinating down his leg.

            “Gary!” she shouted. He dropped the spotlight and ran as fast as he could down the corridor, shouting.

            When Alice turned her attention back to the dig, she found the once tiny carvings had become larger. They now took up most of her height. She found she could read them now whereas before they were much too small to even see.

            “Only the worthy can venture into the world of the lost…” she said as she ran her hands across the hieroglyphics, her pulse quickening. “This was not here before.” The carvings continued past the adjoining wall, which appeared to now be barely wide enough for her to slide her body in between. She turned her body sideways and slipped herself through, taking her flashlight from her breast pocket to light the way.

            After what felt like a thousand steps, she emerged into a large square room. Orange light from blazing torches danced with black shadows on the walls of the enormous edifice. Six bare-chested men surrounded a carved stone altar with a woman in white and gold ceremonial robes and a mask looming at the far end of it. A single, writhing human form lied prone on the slab before them.

            Alice moved closer, the unreality of the situation coming into focus as she spied Dr. Shoshlefski’s face through the bodies of the men surrounding the altar, his mouth stuffed with a cloth. The woman in the mask raised an ornate golden dagger above Dr. Shoshlefski’s body. Alice let out a no before she could stop herself.

            The men turned, their eyes focused toward her, but their smooth, hairless bodies remained in place. “Oh, shit,” Alice said under her breath.

            The masked woman’s head turned toward Alice’s, pausing only for a second, then brought the dagger down, burying it up to the hilt in the good doctor’s chest. His writhing ceased.

            Alice turned back to escape the same way she came in, but found the way blocked by another servant. She threw her fists against his chest, but he absorbed her attack and caught her by the wrists, holding her fast. He wrenched her around and she watched as the priestess crossed the room toward her with her now crimson-tinted blade.

            Alice kicked and bucked in an attempt to get free, but she could not overpower her captor. She collapsed into tears. “Please— please. Just let me go. Just let me go.” She closed her eyes.

            The priestess approached and removed her mask. She knelt in front of Alice and offered up the dagger, raising it with both hands and bowing her head. The servants followed suit, kneeling. The priestess began chanting a single word and the servants soon followed. Alice opened her eyes and realized what they were saying. Her studies of ancient Egyptian language had not gone to waste. For these tiny Egyptians were now calling her… Queen.