My situation deteriorated pretty quickly. If there’s anything like a turning point in my story, it has to have been when they took me out of my house to visit the biologist. While I’d been living in a cloud of fear and steady loss, at least it was my cloud. It wasn’t until I was taken out of my own home that my life truly began to unravel. And there were no preparations, at least, none on my end. When we left that day, I had no idea in the moment, but it was the last time I’d be in my own house.
And while my condition, or whatever you want to call it, while we’d gotten by in our own home, it was like as soon as I stepped into the outside world, I was punched in the face with just how different everything was. To me, the world had gotten bigger, and I felt like I wasn’t a part of it anymore.
The three cement steps outside of my front door, the ones that I’d mindlessly jump and skip as I flew in and out of the house, now I had to deliberately plan out my movements, all while holding onto my wife’s hand for balance.
Our next-door neighbor was outside with his dog. I tried to hurry along to the car, because it was obvious something was wrong here. But while my neighbor stared and asked my wife what was going on, I couldn’t focus on anything but the dog. It was pulling at its leash, pulling toward me. I thought, this thing could tear me apart right now, there’d be nothing I could do.
I don’t know why I hadn’t considered it before, but I was all at once hit with a realization of just what kind of danger I could potentially be in. If dogs were a threat right now, what would it be like as I got smaller? There were squirrels, birds, insects. I thought about the time at the park I saw a red-tailed hawk swoop out of the sky and grab a pigeon with its talons. I put my arm over my head without thinking of it, feeling like at any moment something was going to pluck me from existence.
Being outside was scary. Getting in the car was a challenge. My parents didn’t think it was safe for me to ride without some sort of protection. And I’m sure if we had enough time, they would’ve insisted we buy a car seat. Fortunately we had an appointment, and the chance at some insight into what was going on outweighed any sort of vehicle safety concerns.
We got to the university and pulled up to one of the science buildings. Everyone got out of the car, and I practically had to run to keep up with everyone else, all while trying to keep my head down. I couldn’t face anybody. I was horrified just imagining people’s reactions.
“Oh my God,” the woman in the white lab coat said after we’d been buzzed into her office. It was always “Oh my God,” any time anybody new laid eyes on me, my wife, my parents. This is exactly what I was hoping to avoid. It was like every time someone else was exposed to whatever it was that was happening to me, there’s just something about me that causes an involuntary “Oh my God,” reflex. And to a certain extent, I get it, I really do.
I mean, have you ever walked down the street and been passed by a stranger with a severe disability or a significant birth defect? It’s not that you’re trying to look, it’s the opposite really. It’s like you’re not looking, you’re just going about life as if everything’s fine, as if problems don’t exist. Your eyes automatically jump from one person to the next, and then you land on someone where something’s not right. And maybe it’s because you’re not looking for it, but there’s some sort of a mental process taking place, something doesn’t seem right and, before you can access what you’re supposed to do, how you should behave in a situation like this, to look away, to not stare, to keep a regular face, before any of that kicks in I guess it’s just natural, we flinch, our mouths hang open and we call out to God. And only then do we try to regain some composure, to talk and act as if nothing’s really that bad, as if we weren’t just a second ago wide-eyed with inarticulate terror.
My dad’s scientist connection followed this reaction to the letter, although maybe because my case was so unusual, even after she regained her composure, she could never really shake completely the shock.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” my wife asked. She sounded desperate.
“I’ve never … I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. And yet …” the scientist trailed off.
And just like that, we appeared to have reached another dead end. But this lab had connections to other labs. The scientist got in touch with some other scientists, and within an hour I was told that help was on the way.
We waited around the lab for help to arrive. My dad went out and bought us some lunch, although by now I really didn’t need too much food to fill me up. Maybe it was all the attention I was getting from so many different people, but I felt like I’d gotten noticeably smaller since we left the house. The door to the room we were waiting in had a long rectangular window along one side, and I couldn’t help but notice a steady stream of faces peering in and trying to get a glimpse.
After a couple of hours, there was a pretty big commotion toward the front of the lab, and all at once, a team of nearly a dozen people in white hazmat suits marched into the lab.
“What’s happening?” I started freaking out. “Who are these people?”
“Just try to stay calm,” the scientist told me.
“What do you mean stay calm?” I cried out as four gloved hands grabbed me by the shoulder and lifted me up. “Where are you taking me?”
“We’re going to figure this out!” my wife yelled to me as the people in the white suits shoved me into a plastic crate. Did she know that for sure? I doubt it. It sounded like just another empty promise, something nobody has any business telling someone in any sort of real trouble. The crate I was placed inside had two doors, and in between there was a small device that I assumed filtered the air coming in and out. This was like a quarantine scene straight out of a movie. As the door to the crate locked, as I lost all visuals with everyone on the outside, I wondered if there was any way for my life to go back to normal.
When they unloaded me, I was placed in a white room lit by harsh, fluorescent rods. The people in the suits instructed me to take off my clothing, and when I hesitated complying with their request, I was grabbed by the shoulders and forcibly undressed. The suited figures exited the room, and I was left there, naked and alone.
A few minutes later, a voice piped in from an intercom somewhere. “Hello. We apologize for the abrupt manner in which you’ve been relocated.”
“Hello?” I called out. “What’s going on? How am I …”
“You’ve been transferred to a secure location,” the voice on the intercom continued. I wasn’t even sure that I’d been heard, or that two-communication was even possible. “We’re going to be running several series of tests to try to figure out the nature of your condition. We apologize for taking your clothing, but until we have an idea as to what’s causing you to lose mass, there are certain protocols we have to follow, so you’ll excuse any harsh treatment. In the meantime, just try to sit tight. We’re having new clothes outfitted right now, and after our preliminary examinations, we’ll have something sent for you to eat.”
“What about my wife? My parents? Are they being quarantined also? Can I …”
The intercom clicked off. I heard what sounded like a hissing, and when I looked up, there was a heavy cloud coming from the vents positioned along the top of the walls.
“What is this?” I yelled out to nobody. “Can someone at least tell me specifically what’s going on? What tests? Hello?”
The gas must have been a sedative, because I started to feel woozy. Eventually I blacked out, and over the course of some indeterminate amount of time, I kept slipping in and out of consciousness. At one point I was in a large, cylindrical tube, maybe some type of a scanning machine, I couldn’t be sure. It was hard to focus, and when I closed my eyes for what felt like only a second, I woke up in total blackness. A red light flickered in the distance, and then in another moment, I opened my eyes to find myself on a table, looking up at a bright light. There was a team of people prodding at me. I imagined I was on an operating table. My world was spinning, and then I felt an intense pain starting at my neck, spreading outward until I lost consciousness.
From that point on, I must have been out of it for a long time. And that’s where I’m at right now. When I came to, just a little while ago, it felt as if I’d been asleep forever. I’m back in the white room, I’m pretty sure, although I can’t seem to focus on anything for too long. I’m lying here on something, it’s coarse, but there’s a softness to it, maybe a towel? I still have no clothing. When I look down at my arm, I can see my body in clear relief. There are deep cuts spaced every few inches apart. Maybe they’d taken tissue samples? I try to rub the skin, but the area is too sensitive. Pain shoots out like a hot flame and images of the operating table flash in front of my eyes.
It’s best not to move, the pain is too intense, and so I just lay there for what feels like a long time. After a few hours, I hear a booming sound, I feel a strong gust of wind, and my attention is directed toward the far end of the room. I can’t make it out exactly, but it looks two figures walking toward me. But this doesn’t make sense because … I think I’m losing my mind. From my perspective, it’s like these two are giants. How long was I out for? Just now I think to take a look around the room, to really try to take in my surrounding. Way in the distance, it’s blurry, but could that fuzzy shape be the door? I look up toward the ceiling and it’s just another blur, white expanse going up and out of sight. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it when I woke up, but could this be the same room I was in when I got here? How much more had I shrunk?
As the two figures come closer, their footsteps shoot out like cannons in my ears. My sense of perspective is totally gone, but I’m pretty sure I’m less than an inch tall, and even that’s just a guess. As the two walk closer, I crane my head up to see their heads, but it’s like standing under a skyscraper and trying to get a good look at the top. It’s just not possible.
One of them starts motioning with his or her hands, and a deep, low sound fills the air. I can’t understand anything. Are they trying to communicate with me? The noise stops, it starts again, and this goes back and forth for a minute or so, before one of them leans in to crouch down.
It looks like a giant hand is coming straight for me. There’s a momentary panic inside, a feeling like I’m about to be crushed, wiped from existence. But the gloved hand lands in front of me, dropping off a miniature plastic tray. The two figures then turn around and exit my field of vision, I feel the same gust of wind, and then another loud boom.
From my point of view, in this giant room, I can’t tell the distance between me and tray. And it hurts to get up. I wait a few hours before I decide I have to check it out. It took me pretty much all of my strength just to stand up, and now I’m slowly walking toward what they left behind.
My sense of scale must be really distorted, because while the tray initially looked like it couldn’t have been more than a room’s length away, I keep walking for what feels like way too long. The distance turns out to be more like a football field, and the tray much bigger than I’d thought, maybe the size of a basketball court.
At one end there’s a translucent bubble, I’m not really sure what it is. In the far corner I can see what looks like a bunch of rocks. Right away a thought clicks in my mind, and I’m thinking that these must be food and water, only a lot smaller. In which case I’m really screwed, because these are both a lot bigger than my body is capable of processing.
I walk over to the water drop, and I can’t even break the surface tension with my hands. The food at the other end of the tray, or crumbs, whatever they are, the smallest morsel is bigger than my head. And when I try to wrap my mouth around one of the jagged edges, my jaw doesn’t have any success in breaking this thing down.
As I walk back and forth, I can see that there are grooves carved out along the surface of the tray. When I step back, it looks like maybe these could be letters, that the people up there are trying to communicate with me. But everything’s too big. I can’t fit more than two or three letters in my field of vision at the same time. Just walking back and forth is taking up all of my energy. There’s no way for me to process this message.
And worse, I’m pretty sure I’m actually noticing myself shrinking now. If I focus on one letter, or one corner of the tray here, it’s like I can see it all getting bigger. It’s slow, sure, but there’s definitely movement.
I’m having trouble breathing now. And I when I look down at the floor, at the tray, everywhere, it’s like there are all of these little creatures coming into view. I guess it makes sense, that as I get smaller, all of the microscopic little organisms that cover everything, they’re right there for me to see. They’re tiny enough that they don’t pose much of a threat yet, but how much longer until I’m the same size?
But like I said, I don’t think it’s going to come to that. At this size my lungs must not be powerful enough to work with regular air pressure. It’s a struggle just to take a breath. I’m getting dizzy now. I wish there were more that I can do, but hopefully this is painless. Hopefully I won’t have to face whatever’s down at my feet, the writhing circus of these horrible looking microorganisms. Hopefully I’ll just close my eyes, the blackness overtaking my peripheral vision will be warm, and all of this will be over soon.