The Dream=========by Andrew Nellisa.k.a. the Poison PenCopyright 1998The children were laughing. It should, like the silvery peal of wedding bells,have been a sound to lighten the heart and grant ease to a weary and troubledspirit. Instead, it brought me only a feeling of deep, abiding dread. How couldanyone ever have been glad to hear such a sound? The laughter was cruel,mocking, all the worse for it having come from the mouths of such young,innocent little girls as ran freely around the room.

I could not see, at first, what had attracted the children's attention, andwhich elicited such excited squeals of delight. I threaded my way through thetables and desks which littered the cluttered room, obviously designed for formssmaller than my own. A classroom perhaps? Though the building was small, asbuildings go, there were no internal divisions, the whole of its space beinggiven over to whatever purpose this room served. Certainly it seemed that thechildren were properly attired as if for a particularly formal school in theirprim little dresses, and their neatly pressed jumpsuits, and their best BusterBrowns.

Several times as I approached the throng of laughing little girls they reverseddirection and stampeded past me as a group, as if in pursuit of something smalland fast which I could not see. Finally, I emerged into an open area against oneside of the room where the children had stopped, standing with barely concealedexcitement, their bright, glittering eyes fastened on a spot midway up the wall.

As I passed through them, several of the little girls turned to me, making abrief assessment. Before they turned away again I could see the dismissal intheir eyes. I was neither a threat nor of interest to them.

At first I thought it was a mosquito. Like a mosquito, it had long, thin,translucent wings which fluttered nervously. The tiny little creature could nothave been more than a quarter of an inch in length, and so it was not until Istood almost directly before it that I saw the thing for what it was -- aminiscule, winged woman.

She was nude, and I could see her skin was desperately pale, though whether thiswas natural or a sign of her terror I could not have said. The ebon blackness ofher hair only seemed to emphasize this. She crouched on the wall, like a fly,her hands and feet seemingly capable of adhering to the smooth surface. I couldnot see the front of her, but her back was shapely and well-toned, the buttocksshaped like tiny white teardrops. Were she larger, she would surely have been avery beautiful woman indeed. Her pale white shoulders rose and fell rapidly asshe panted, trying to regain her spent breath.

One of the children, a blonde-haired girl who looked to be six or seven yearsold, giggled and looked up at me, as if waiting for me to get some secret joke.

Then, suddenly, before I could react, she lashed out with an open palm, tryingto smash the little insect woman. I cried out, but I saw the woman launchherself free, lurching tiredly into the air a half second before the slap whichwould surely have crushed her flat.

Once again the children began laughing, their hands slapping at the tiny formthat buzzed in increasingly exhausted loops through the air. Each time a handwould lash out, a knot of fear would form in my gut, and each time the childrenwould miss by a smaller margin. Seconds later, the little creature fetched upagainst the wall again and perched there, exhausted, her whole body heavingviolently with the force of her exertions. Then she turned her head to look atme.

I knew that nothing the size of a mosquito could have a brain capable ofrational, sentient thought. And indeed, though the mosquito-woman had thelushly-lipped, high-cheekboned face of a beautiful woman, I could see dull,insectile stupidity reflected there. It was not until I looked into her eyesthat the true horror revealed itself to me.

She was human.

There could be no doubt. Though her brain was now no larger than the point of apencil, and though the world had now become incomprehensible to her, she stillretained whatever it was that makes us human. Her eyes told me the whole story.

Someone -- one of these little girls, perhaps? -- had changed her, taken awayher body and her mind, but left her humanity horribly intact such that, thoughshe lacked even the rudimentary thoughts necessary to save herself, she couldstill feel the exquisitely human terror of death.

My mind raced. I must help her. I must save her. This was a fate too terriblefor any person, almost too terrible for me to even contemplate. How could oneperson do such a thing to another? I looked down at the little girls and sawonly cruel anticipation on their faces, enjoying the fear of their prey.

I formed my fingers into a cage and brought it down slowly over the tiny woman,intending to cup her in my hand. As my fingers neared her, her face became amask of fear, causing her wings to buzz anxiously. I stopped my hand,motionless. She continued to stare at me, uncomprehending that I was trying tosave her, seeing only another source of danger. With agonizing slowness, Ibrought my fingers closer, seeing her agitation become more and more pronounced.

In my mind, I had a sudden image of a fly battering itself to death against awindow, realizing with a flash of horror that even if I trapped her in my hand,she would kill herself trying to escape her salvation.

I could not save her. The thought brought tears to my eyes and a wave of blackdespair. Though I knew she was doomed, I also knew that I could not allow her todie by my own hand. With great sorrow I let my hand drop away from the littlewoman, whose body sagged with both utter exhaustion and relief.

For the last time, the insect woman drew on her final reserves of strength andlaunched herself into the air with a sob of hopeless fear. The children gave ajoyous cry and pounded in pursuit of her, grasping at her with hands like stubbyclaws, the tiny winged woman slipping between their fingers only at the lastpossible second, her motions becoming slower and slower as she tired.

There was only one way this was going to end, and I could not bring myself tostay and watch. Closing my eyes, I turned my back and left the building.