Fiction: Small Revolution
By Michael Jess Alexander
Del twisted in his chair, unable to find a comfortable position. He would need to ask Grant for new padding.
From his seat, Del observed the young boy, who played amidst the cluttered mess of the front room. The disordered state of the house still bothered Del despite considerable time having passed since the world irrevocably changed. He would eventually ask Grant to tidy up again but had come to accept the six-year-old’s shortcomings in cleaning.
Grant, Del noticed, was playing with a couple of action figures. Long tempted to insist that the six-year-old abandon such toys, the youth’s apparent fondness for his action figures had ultimately dissuaded Del from doing so.
“It’s time to prepare dinner,” Del said.
“Okay,” Grant replied with a smile. Using a step stool, he collected a dusty can of chili from the counter. He then moved the stool to the kitchen island, stepped up, and grabbed the can opener.
Del glanced at their meager collection of canned food. We’ll have to scavenge for more soon, he thought. The work never ceases.
“Remember,” Del said, “Slow and steady so you don’t cut yourself on the lid.”
“Yep,” Grant chirped. With his tongue between his teeth, he turned the can opener’s crank. The lid lifted, and as though it were a living thing, he bent it back gently.
The kitchen light flickered and went out.
It’s a wonder they’ve been able to keep the power running at all, Del thought. “It’s okay, Grant,” he said. “The power’s out, but we’re getting used to this happening, aren’t we?”
In the twilight, he could make out the boy nodding.
“We’ll have to start a fire,” Del said.
“I’m scared,” Grant whimpered.
Del recalled the time the boy blistered his fingers on the Dutch oven. His favoring of his hand while the burn healed had made for an especially lean couple of weeks.
“I know, Grant, but we’ll need to heat the chili, and the stove doesn’t work without electricity.”
Grant did not respond.
“And it’ll be getting cold tonight,” Del added. “Without a fire, you’ll be too cold to sleep.”
“Okay,” Grant murmured. He approached Del.
“Remember to be gentle,” Del reminded him.
The boy assisting him in the growing gloom sparked for Del the memory of how the two of them came to depend on each other.
A little over a year earlier, Del sat on his couch and peeled a banana. He ate it and then placed the peel on top of a napkin on his coffee table. He knew it was silly, but later he would take the peel to the garbage can in the kitchen even though a small trash can sat next to the couch; he’d cleaned earlier in the day and, being a self-admitted neat freak, could not tolerate starting to fill the small trash can so soon after emptying it.
He rifled through a pile of bills on the coffee table. He located the one he needed, sat it atop the pile, and began typing the monthly total into a budget spreadsheet. As he typed, a couple of talking heads on TV droned on about some celebrity incident.
He found himself squinting at the figures on a bill.
“Selexa, turn on the living room lights.”
The virtual assistant obeyed, replacing the semidarkness with artificial light.
Sensing movement, Del spotted Maude, his cousin Harry’s cat, ambling toward the table. She walked under the table and laid down, facing her sitter.
“Heya, Maude. Would you like one of your snacks?” Del got up from the couch and went to the kitchen island. He grabbed one of the tubes of chicken puree his cousin had given him and stepped to the kitchen table. Kneeling, he waved the snack in front of the cat. “Does this look good?”
Maude answered his offer with a hiss.
“Alrighty, kitty,” Del said with a sigh. “We’ll try again later.”
He returned to the couch, looked at the pile of bills, and gave another sigh. Turning his attention to the TV, he found three beaming youths being interviewed by a blond-haired woman in a glittering gold, long-sleeved blouse.
“Joining us this evening are three of the young stars from the upcoming family film The Helpful Giant,” the interviewer said. “They are Daniel, 13, Rosie, 7, and Skye, 6.”
Del picked up the remote and aimed it at the set. The screen went to static.
He arched an eyebrow, for he hadn’t yet pressed a button.
Maybe the cable’s out, he thought.
An image returned to the screen, but rather than a cable news show, it was a man in a red hooded robe standing in front of a dark purple curtain. Del winced at the man’s eager smile, which was accentuated by his pale eyes and lack of eyebrows.
“What in the world is this?” Del asked in disbelief.
“Greetings,” the man said. “The modern world has grown soft. Convenience, complacency, stagnation.” The man’s smile shifted into a scowl. “These are the words that best describe the world today,” he said, adopting a sharp tone. “Too many have abandoned innovation, uncovering great truths, creating transcendent beauty. Instead, mankind preoccupies itself with hedonism and mindless distraction.” The smile returned. “Modern society is a rotten fruit, but we, my associates and I,” he said, motioning offscreen, “intend to harvest and cultivate the seeds of that fruit … the children.” The man smiled silently for a moment, and Del found himself wondering whether the man could see him through the TV.
Del dismissively huffed at the thought.
The man turned around, grabbed something from a small table, and then faced the camera, holding a metal scepter in each hand. A set of pincers, like those of an earwig, adorned the top of each scepter.
He held these in the air and, looking upward, bellowed some strange words. “Contarso, rencollo ivist Eldri enn Kandveer!” He repeated the words with increasing fervor, and a sudden wind began to billow his robe.
Is this an advertising stunt for a movie? Del wondered.
Amidst the wind and incantation, blue arcs of lightning struck each scepter.
His face illuminated by the electricity, the man howled the words in a crescendo. The electricity then moved down the scepters, snaking across the man’s form. As he writhed and screamed, the electricity scorched him black like an old tree overtaken by a forest fire.
The wind and electricity dissipated, and the man’s charred, smoking corpse crumpled to the floor.
The TV returned to the news show featuring the three youths, horror and confusion on their faces.
The woman held her arms in front of her and watched wide-eyed as her hands retreated into her sleeves. She screamed, glanced at the camera, and dashed out of frame, leaving the three youths.
A sudden pressure assailed Del from all directions. It struck in waves, rhythmically, like a heartbeat. While the pressure struck, the couch fabric rubbed along his body, and independent of his direction, his feet lifted from the floor.
On the TV, the two young girls, seemingly unaffected by the mysterious force, watched as their teenage companion steadily diminished, and while Del’s psyche rebelled at the idea, his eyes confirmed what was happening to him and the teenager and woman on TV.
Everything around Del seemed to be growing. As he took up less and less space on the couch, he wondered to what extent the phenomenon would continue. He found himself already as small as a child, yet the waves of pressure persisted.
Glancing around, he spotted Maude, still under the table. She was asleep, but Del imagined her noting his increasing vulnerability with an intent glare. His mind also conjured the familiar image of her attacking her toy mouse.
Spurred by such thoughts and the rapidity of his transformation, Del scrambled over the couch to the bay window sill, where the back of the couch would keep him hidden from Maude.
Laying on the sill, he focused on his breathing and the continuing phenomenon, confronted by the implications of unceasing waves of pressure.
He’d lain with his eyes closed for only a few minutes before the mysterious force stopped. He opened his eyes and was relieved to find that he had not been reduced to the subatomic or even smaller. His relief was fleeting, however, for he realized he now stood about a foot in height.
The crying of a child sounded from outside the window. Del peered through the glass and spotted his neighbor’s young son wandering their yard. The boy was distraught and grasping something.
Hoping the boy would be able to remove Maude before she could take advantage of his defenselessness, Del motioned wildly.
The child noticed him.
Grant sat Del on the couch, where the man would be able to watch the boy light the fire and tend to the Dutch oven they’d hung in the fireplace.
Their initial encounter still occupying his thoughts, Del eyed the action figures Grant had been playing with and recalled, with an involuntary shiver, the boy relating to him on that day of most consequence that the boy’s mother was away—“on a plane”—and his own realization of what the boy had been holding.
Forever seared into Del’s memory was Grant whimpering “Help” through a sob while presenting the broken body of his father and the stream of blood from the side of the mouth that suggested the type of naïve carelessness with which a child might crush a pet bird.
The fire caught, and Grant turned to Del, smiling.
“I did it!” he exclaimed.
“You sure did,” Del said.
Michael Jess Alexander is a high school English teacher in small-town Wyoming. His work can be found in The J.J. Outré Review, Bewildering Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, SERIAL Magazine, and Dark Fire Fiction, among other publications. His short story collection Boarded Windows, Dead Leaves was published in 2020 by Spooky House Press and was chosen by Indies Today as the best independently published horror book for that year.