I woke from the nightmare by taking a giant gasping gulp of air—and then choked on my own spit. By the time the coughing fit was over, I was well and thoroughly awake and the dream was gone, leaving behind only a vague sweaty sense of horror.
My dog was staring at me from across the room. He wasn’t the most affectionate of dogs and his expression said more “What is wrong with you, human?” than, “Oh my God, are you all right, most beloved person, light of my life, adored one who brings all that is good into existence?” He was that kind of a dog. But that was okay. In my current life, a dog that tolerated me was more my speed than one who was devoted.
I flopped back down onto the pillows. No light seeped in through the blinds, so I had time to go back to sleep, but was it twenty minutes worth of time or two hours? No way of knowing without looking at my phone and I’d rather not. It had been chiming fast and furious a few hours ago—text message after text message coming in. I knew what they all said: some variant of WTF? from every acquaintance, friend, family member or former colleague who was still talking to me, and as soon as I read them, I’d have to start responding.
I wasn’t in any hurry.
There’d been a voice in the dream, I remembered. A tiny voice. Like a whiny mouse. And it had wanted something. No surprise there. Everyone did.
I pulled the covers up over my head. Maybe I could just stay in bed for the next decade. Like a character in a Victorian novel who turned her face to the wall and let the world go on without her. Were there really any Victorian novels with characters like that? Probably only ones who had servants bringing them trays of soup, companions who talked in hushed whispers while knitting next to their bed. Blankets for the poor. Or no, embroidery, that would be better. What did they embroider, anyway?
My dog gave a whimper. I burrowed deeper into the blankets, turning onto my side and pulling my knees up to my chest.
I couldn’t just stay in bed. I had to walk the dog. Not until morning, though, and it wasn’t morning yet. I should appreciate these last few hours of peace. Tomorrow was going to be a nightmare. Ha.
Irony of ironies, to be sleepless on the last quiet night I was likely to ever have. Who would be at my door first? Not too many people knew my address any more. I bet the people living in the house I’d sold two years ago were going to be unpleasantly surprised sometime around dawn when people started showing up at their door. My lips curved in a not-very-nice smile.
It wasn’t kind of me to be amused by that, but I’d been sorry to lose my house and the new owners hadn’t endeared themselves to me. Served them right if they had a few hours of annoyance. It wouldn’t last long, anyway. The media was sure to find me soon. For all I knew, there were cameras on the front door of my new place already, just waiting for me to emerge. Once I did, the coverage was likely to be 24/7 or as close as they could get. The entire world would be watching with bated breath.
What was bated breath, anyway? Or was it baited breath? What would you bait breath with? Worms?
I tugged the pillow farther under my head. Maybe I could go back to sleep. Maybe when I woke up the whole thing would have been a bad dream. Not just yesterday but the last three years. All the way back to when it had started.
When the dog had caught it. Him. I should have just walked away. I should have taken one look, then closed my eyes and pretended I hadn’t seen anything. That was what any smart person would have done. Things that didn’t exist, that couldn’t exist—when you saw them, you pretended they weren’t there. Everyone did it.
Not that I’d realized that back then. Back then, I’d been amazed and wondering and curious and… stupid. Oh, so, so, so stupid.
If I’d walked away, what would have happened? Nothing. Well, most likely the dog would have eaten the thing he’d captured. He was that kind of a dog. More cat-like than dog-like in a lot of ways. Not so friendly, and with definitely predatory instincts. And I couldn’t have let him eat a little person. Even today, even knowing what I knew now, letting my dog eat a person — even a very small person — would just not be cool. At the very least, it was a bad precedent to set. I let him eat some mini human being and who knew where he’d stop? Next I knew he’d be taking a nibble out of me.
The dog gave a gentle woof.
“Get up!” The voice was tiny. Whiny. Mean. And real.
It was a dream, wasn’t it?
“You! Human! This is not acceptable behavior!”
I sat up, throwing the covers back and looked wildly around the room. But it was dark. I couldn’t see a damn thing.
“It is the middle of the night,” I snapped, hearing the hysteria in my voice. “The middle of the night. You can’t just barge in here and wake me up!”
“It is very early morning,” the tiny, whiny voice corrected me. It was coming from the nightstand next to the bed. “And three hours later on the East Coast. You have a call with the President scheduled in approximately seventeen minutes. You must be dressed appropriately and ready to communicate our demands.”
“Demands?” Oh, like that would go over well. Even our last President wouldn’t have been likely to respond well to four-inch tall people threatening him. The current one… well, I wasn’t the only one who thought he was a little crazy.
“That is your job. You are our ambassador to your people, carefully chosen after much debate. You accepted the position and you must now fulfill your responsibilities.”
Accepted the position? Right. That would be when I’d shrugged and said “Why not?” to the little person who’d shown up in my kitchen last week. She’d asked if I wanted the job. Since I’d already effectively destroyed my life three years ago by trying to convince people of what I’d seen, I’d figured might as well. But that was before I knew that the little people intended to go to war.