It wasn’t bad enough that Theo was born a dwarf. He had a massive hair-lip too. The tiny women at the dwarf socials wouldn’t even give him the time of day. But it wasn’t enough to be unattractive. He couldn’t leave home without someone pestering him. Can I get a picture with you and my kids? strangers would ask. Theo would never leave the house if life permitted it, but he had to buy groceries, renew his license at the DMV, work the graveyard shift at the warehouse. All were places someone took a photo of him.
He held his breath as he entered the local bank to cash a check. The two women working the tellers spotted him immediately. Theo was glad he couldn’t hear whatever they whispered to one another. Ahead of him in line was a couple wearing matching Disney World t-shirts. The man glanced at Theo and lit up. “Wow,” he said. “Hey, honey. Check it out.”
His wife giggled as she studied Theo’s tiny frame. “It’s like a baby man,” she said.
“Hot dog,” her husband said and clapped his hands. “I was thinking an elf, but it does look like a baby man.” He pulled a camera from his pocket. “You’re so smart, sweetie.”
Theo stepped backwards. “What are you doing?”
The man put his arm around his wife. “Could you take a picture with us?”
“No,” Theo replied and looked at his cell phone.
“Oh,” said the man, inching up closer to him. “He’s a shy little midget.”
“Actually,” Theo retorted, “the correct term is dwarf.
”The man gawked at him. “What’s that?”
“Midget is a derogatory term. We prefer to be called dwarves.”
“Okay, Mr. Dwarf,” the man replied, holding in laughter. “Would you mind if I took a picture of you and my misses?”
“No,” said Theo.
“Why not?” asked the man.
“Why do you want a picture with me?” asked Theo.
The man scratched his head. “Not often you see a dwarf.”
“So, I’m a novelty. No thank you.”
“Why do you got to be rude?”
Theo balled his fists. “Me? You’re the one treating me like a monkey.”
“Hey now, Mr. Dwarf. No one called you a monkey.”
“The answer is no.” Theo pointed at a woman cashing a check. “Looks like it’s about your turn.”
The man turned to his wife. “I don’t like his attitude, honey.”
“Me neither,” she replied.
The man stepped out of line and moved to the center of the bank. “Just stand next to him, darling. I’ll at least get you in the shot.”
“I didn’t give you permission to do that,” Theo said.
“It’s a free country, buddy,” the man replied.
“Yeah,” his wife said, shoving herself next to Theo. “It’s a free country, buddy.”
Theo stared at his shoes. “Fucking assholes.”
The man took several snaps with his cellphone. “Just a few more. I want to get the perfect shot.”
Theo closed his eyes.
“Okay. Just a few more,” the man said.
Theo shrunk an inch.
The man squinted at him. “Don’t slouch.”
Theo shrunk three more inches. He could sense his bones contracting, but he kept his eyes close. If he waited long enough it’d all be over.
“What the hell you doing, little fella,” the man said. “Explain yourself or—”
A pop erupted through the bank. Pieces of the ceiling fell and dust filled the air. Near the entrance, a large man dressed as a Viking wielded a silver shotgun instead of a sword. “Everyone get on the ground.” His silver breastplate shined as he pointed the gun at the man with the camera. “I said down.” The Viking’s rage pulsed through his long blond beard and the boar tusks that protruded from his helmet.
“What’s happening in here?” asked the man.
A shower of bullets tore through the man’s chest and burst out his back. Blood splattered on Theo’s face.
“Do I need to repeat myself?” asked the Viking.
Everyone shrieked and dropped to the floor, but Theo. He remained motionless. He wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating, but he continued to shrink. He was half his former height, the size of a toddler.
The Viking continued to scream at the customers while Theo strolled around the bank. He’d gone unnoticed. He felt like he was walking on water. Within a minute he was only six inches tall. The dead camera man’s intestines loomed before him like giant mountains with red and black streams. He climbed into the dead man’s tattered chest, peered at his silent heart for signs of the incivility he displayed, but there were none.
The Viking fired his gun again, and from the ground he appeared like Zeus electrocuting poor mortals with bolts of lightning. The Gods had no remorse for those who perished before their time or born too hideous to love. Their actions, sometimes miracles and sometimes curses, were random. And as Theo continued to shrink down to the size of an ant, he did not question why.
Brett Pribble is on the board of directors of the Kerouac Project writer in residence program and is the editor in chief of Ghost Parachute. His work has appeared in such places as Stirring: A Literary Collection, Saw Palm, and The Molotov Cocktail. He teaches creative writing in Orlando, FL, and you can follow him on Twitter at @brettpribble.