This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.
I know — it’s been done a thousand times, and I know you are getting ready to turn away but wait.
Just give me a couple of minutes to explain.
This isn’t just another half-baked science fiction story, this really happened, and it happened to me.
To start with, there is a reason why there are so many stories going around about shrinking people, and there have even been a few movies on the subject — Rachel Welch was in one if I remember rightly. People are fascinated by the idea of really tiny people.
Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there — back to my story.
I was just another poorly paid research scientist working for one of those faceless, almost nameless U.S. corporations. They set up labs here in the 1950s when there was a considerable disparity between the value of our dollar and theirs — in other words, we were cheaper.
All that changed a few years back when the then President of the US, George W Bush did what no other President had done in the past — he didn’t defend the US dollar when it came under attack — he let it slide. He saw it as a quick fix for an economy in trouble — a cheap devaluation. Consequently, our dollar rose sharply in value.
Which is vaguely interesting, I guess, except that now our ageing laboratory and research complex is bleeding money — we aren’t cheap anymore.
The bosses told us point-blank —— “come up with something spectacular or face closure.”
I can’t afford to be out of a job, even a crummy job like this one is better than no job at all.
There is nothing like a little Armageddon-encouragement to get the juices flowing.
They wanted spectacular — I’ll give it to them.
I’d had the formulae worked out for some time, but I’d shelved the project partly because I didn’t want to be laughed at and partly because of the impracticality of human testing.
If it came down to it, I was, and still am, opposed to animal testing. I once sent an anonymous letter to the head of our complex, suggesting that I would find a way to turn him inside out if we ever resorted to that sordid business. He must have thought that I sounded crazy enough to do it because the idea stopped appearing on agenda sheets.
As I said, I was pretty sure that the formulae would work, so I advertised for test subjects. To my amazement the top brass let me. I guess they wanted to keep their lousy jobs as well.
I placed the ads and thought that would be the end of it — but no. We got a whole bunch of replies. At first, I thought they might be cranks, but when we arranged interviews, they all turned up with one exception, and even he rang in and apologised.
We ended up with a canteen full of prospective test subjects and, thanks to a microphone and portable Amp’ from a musician in Accounts, I addressed the assembled multitude.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We have gathered you here today to say that the murderer is in this room.”
Well, I thought it was funny, but all I got was blank stares.
“Sorry about that, just a bit of scientist humour.”
Still no smiles.
“We’ve got a right bunch here”, I whispered to my colleague, but he looked at me blankly as well. He later told me that he was trying to work out the joke.
I need a holiday.
“Before we go any further, I feel that I should make it quite clear that what you are signing up for is incredibly dangerous and will most likely result in your death. If you sign up, you are signing away the right for your relatives to sue us for your death, so all you will get is the $50 a day and a sandwich from the canteen, most likely ham and cheese, but there is always the possibility of ham and tomato.”
Dead silence. I even thought I heard a cricket.
“I said you could, and probably will die from the effects of these tests.”
A bloke up the back put his hand up and asked, “Exactly how many sandwiches do we get and are we paid at the end of the day, in cash, assuming we survive.”
A chorus of voices reiterated this bloke’s questions and added a few extras like, “Is a drink included with the sandwiches?” and, “Do we get a T-Shirt with I survived the mad-scientists’ experiments, assuming we do survive.”
This question got a lot of support, so I said, “Yes”. And they said, “Yes, to which bits?” To which I said, “Yes to all of it.”
What did I care?
Most of them were probably not going to survive, and the rest of them were going to be very tiny indeed. I could hand paint them if necessary. The whole thing was insane, and now the insanity had been lifted to a whole new level.
I could have been a doctor or a dentist like my mother wanted, but no, I had to ‘follow my dream’ and become a research scientist.
I’m going to shrink the buggery out of these people and save all our jobs.
Fast forward a couple of months and what should have been a celebration turns into a wake.
We successfully shrunk a whole bunch of people, and we were particularly successful with the women.
We were about to market the idea to a company that supplies secretaries all over the world when a bunch of five-star-US generals turned up. They told us that because the parent company was incorporated in the US, they were confiscating our research under the provisions of the Patriot Act.
So, we are out of a job, and the Yanks get to shrink anyone they like.
Bloody unfair if you ask me, but they did say that they would keep the canteen open while they packed up all our research and this means that we can eat all the sandwiches we want — for the rest of the week.
I have no idea what they are going to do with all the leftover ‘tiny little people’ that we had collected, and frankly, I don’t care.
I don’t work here anymore.
Oh, and by the way, no animals were hurt during the telling of this story, and no one got turned inside out, but a lot of sandwiches didn’t make it.