VICKIby MalekimVictoria (or Vicki, as she preferred her friends to call her) had mostly had awonderful time in Ireland. She found the countryside to be beautiful, and lovedto take long walks or go horseback riding through it. The only blot on the triphad come in the last week when her father had been desperately been trying tomatch her with Captain Nate Broderick, the son of his old friend and their host,Lord Broderick. Nate was interested in everything that bored Vicki. He adoredtelling of his life in the army. These stories mostly consisted of brawls in thebarracks or whipping some poor Indian boy into line. He loved to talk about howthe Englishman was the creature most favored by God to live on the planet. (Thenhe'd remark how he was willing to forgive Vicki her American nationality,promising he could teach her how to pass as a proper English lady.) But, most ofall, Nate was fond of hunting. Since the Broderick estate already contained morethan enough food to feed a small regiment for a week, Vicki saw no use for it.

She saw no good thing coming from the various "trophies" he had around the greathall.

She had gone off by herself, wandering the woods that border the estate, whenshe heard a sudden tinkling sound. She left the path, trying to locate thesource of the noise, and found it was a bell attached to one of the numeroussnares set around the estate. Some poor creature was dangling upside down,hanging by a length of twine stretched over a branch. Vicki could see whateverit was struggling to free itself. Its efforts became more frantic when itnoticed her approaching. In response, the bell attached to the snare jingledlouder. Finally, Vicki was close enough that she could see what had beencaptured. But it still took her a moment to believe it. Hanging upside down inthe snare was a tiny woman! She was pretty, looked to be slightly younger thanVicki. But the girl was no more than a foot tall, and dressed in a small greenjacket and skirt. The poor thing was having a devil of a time trying to getloose and keep the skirt up at the same time.

"Vicki!" she heard Nate yell from not far away. He would be there any second.

Vicki took the pocket knife she kept in her skirt pocket. She'd been told manytimes it was something no proper young lady should be seen with, but she foundit frequently came in useful. She pulled out the blade and then grabbed thesmall woman. Instantly, a torrent of profanity poured loudly from the creature'smouth.

"Shh," said Vicki. "They'll hear you!" Quickly, while holding the girl-thingwith one hand, Vicki cut the twine. She had noticed a small piece of cloth, ahat, laying on the ground. Vicki picked it up, handed it to the girl, and sether down.

"Now go!," cried Vicki in a whisper. "Hurry, before he comes and sees you!"The tiny woman stared up at Vicki in amazement. There was a rustle in the bushesnearby. Vicki turned to see Nate come out, followed by Harrigan, one of thegroundskeepers. Then, she turned again to look at the girl. The small creaturewas nowhere to be seen.

"What is it?!," cried Nate excitedly. "What have we caught?" Then he saw thestring, cut on its end. He looked at Vicki, knife still in her hand, and glaredmomentarily.

"It was -- only a chipmunk or something," she said. "Some small rodent. Itwouldn't have made a mouthful, and wouldn't have been worth the cost ofstuffing.""Mounting," said Nate drily, but with a smile. "Can't imagine no chipmunk oranythin' that small bein' able to trip this snare," said Harrigan.

"Perhaps it had something in its mouth," she offered. "Something to make itweigh more.""Nothin' on the ground," said Harrigan after a brief inspection. "Still, youshould have just killed it," said Nate. "The poor thing will be hobbled by thatstring around its foot.""It was caught by its front paw," said Vicki. "I should imagine it will have notrouble gnawing the string off.""Perhaps. Still can't see no chipmunk settin' off that snare," said Harrigan.

"It would take a rabbit, or a squirrel, or -- somethin' else." He looked atVicki carefully.

"Harrigan!" exploded Nate. "I will not have you questioning the honesty of oneof my father's guests! Is that understood!?""Nate, please," said Vicki. She hated how some of the landowners treated theirservants, especially Nate and his father. She hoped she'd be able to live to seethe day when the Irish finally got tired of their British "jailers" and kickedthem off the island. "He meant nothing and I'm not in the least offended.""Very well," simmered Nate. "Harrigan, go check the rest of the traps.""Very good, Captain Broderick," said Harrigan.

***That night, Nate had been regaling the dinner table with the tale a major said asergeant had told him about how his colonel had been chewed out by a general forletting the regimental wine stores become warm. It been all Vicki could do tokeep her head propped up on her arm and her eyes open. Her father had given hera gentle kick a time or two under the table, but it had done little good.

Consequently, when she finally went to bed, she was surprised to find herselfunable to sleep.

She slipped down to the kitchen and had the cook make her a cup of chamomiletea. She also gave Vicki some biscuits to eat. Vicki returned to her room, setthe food on her bedside table, and started to read her new book, the newestcollection of Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle. She'd heard rumors thatHolmes dies in the last story. She hoped it wasn't true. Surely, Mr. Doyle couldnever murder such a wonderful character.

Suddenly, Vicki heard whispering. Actually, she barely heard it. She raised hereyes, but not her head and saw, on a table near an open window, two smallfigures. She was positive one of them was the girl she'd freed earlier that day.

Nervous, but not wanting to seem so, she marked her place in the book, and setit aside. As she reached over for the tiny sewing kit she had under the bed, shesaw, out of the corner of her eye, the two figures duck behind a lamp on theirtable. She opened the kit and took out two thimbles. She set them on the bedsidetable. Then, she took her teacup off of its saucer and set it on the servingtray. Making sure she had spilled no tea onto it, Vicki broke two pieces off ofa biscuit and set them on the saucer. Then, she dipped each thimble into theteacup and took them out, filled to the brim. Holding the teacups carefullybetween her thumb and fingers, she got out of bed, picked up the saucer with thebiscuits on it, and carried everything over to the top of her dresser, makingsure she kept her distance from the table by the window. She set the saucer downand carefully leaned the thimbles beside them, trying again to spill none of thetea. Then, she returned to her bed.

"The food on the dresser is for you," Vicki declared, not too loudly. "I brokeoff part of the same biscuit I was eating from, and the tea comes from my cup.

You don't have to worry about them."Cautiously, the two figures emerged from behind the lamp. With more speed andsilence than Vicki would have thought possible, both creatures jumped from thetable, crossed the floor, and scurried up the side of the dresser. They bothsniffed at the food and the tea, and started to eat. In a few minutes, they weredone. They jumped to the floor and cautiously approached Vicki. "It's allright," she told them. "I won't hurt you. If you don't want me to, I promise Iwon't even try to approach you.""It's like I told you, Da," said the one that Vicki now knew for certain was thetiny girl from before. "She's a good one.""And so it seems, Kate," said the other, who Vicki could see was a small manwith red, silver-streaked sideburns. Like the girl, he was dressed in green witha small hat on his head. He came closer, less fearful, to Vicki. "I'm Pat," saidthe man. "Pat O'Glenn. This be me daughter, Kate, who ye rescued today from thatnefarious trap set by Harrigan. I wanted to express me thanks to ye, lass.""Vicki," she said. "And I was happy to do it. I'd hate to think what might'vehappened had Nate gotten hold of her.""Aye, I felt the same way meself," said Kate. "I'm sorry I gave ye such a verbalabusin' earlier. I didn't expect ye to set me free.""I must admit I was surprised at that meself," said Pat. "Know ye not what webe, girl?""I'm guessing you're the little people I've heard so much of," said Vicki.

"Leprechauns.""Aye, that we are. But if ye know that, ye must know that if ye catch one of us,we're bound to grant ye a boon!""You mean a pot of gold? My family is wealthy enough, thank you." Kate laughed.

"Tha's the first one o' ye I've ever heard talk like that!," she said.

"I have, but not for a long time," said Pat. "I di'n't think there were any likeyou left in the world. Sure an' it pleases me to know there are. But is therenothin' ye'd like, lass? I'm thinkin' I should give ye somethin', on account o'ye savin' me daughter n'all. Plus, I think ye should be rewarded fer yer kind,unselfish nature.""I don't know that I'm all that unselfish," said Vicki. "But I don't believe inanyone owning or having power over anyone else. Where I'm from, we fought a warnearly three decades ago over that idea.""An' from where d'ye hail?" asked Kate.

"I'm from the United States. In America.""Ah! We've heard much o' America!""Aye. Many lads from hearabouts have left for that land. Is it as glorious asthey say?""It's quite a country," said Vicki. "The United States is very large, big enoughto hold maybe a dozen Irelands in it.""Be off wi' ye!" said Kate.

"It's quite true. I live on the East coast, in a city called Boston.""I've heard o' it! An' New York! Do ye know New York?""It's the biggest city in my country. I think over three million people lived init the last I heard.""Three million! Bless me soul! Tis more wond'rous than anythin' I've seen.""I don't know. I've never seen anything as wonderous as the two of you overthere.""Aw, cut out yer blarney, Vicki," said Pat. "Ye'll turn our heads. But are yesure there's nothin' we have that ye'd want?"Vicki thought for a moment, and then smiled. "Only one thing I can think of.

Your friendship."To her father's concern, Kate leaped upon the bedside table and curtseyed.

"That, Vicki me lass, ye had the moment ye set me free!"Vicki extended her forefinger and thumb and gently took and shook Kate's hand.

"And I'll treasure it all my life."Deciding it was safe, Pat joined his daughter. Removing his hat, Pat bowed low.

"And I extend my friendship as well," said Pat.

Smiling, Vicki leaned over and carefully kissed him on his balding head. As shewithdrew, he looked at her, sputtered a minute, then smiled, turning a deepcrimson.

"Ah, Da!," said Kate. "I've not seen ye turn that red since the Widow Gradycaught ye bathin' in the pond!""Go ahead and have some more tea and biscuits if you like," said Vicki.

"Ah, 'tis a generous lass ye are!" said Pat. "Are ye sure I can give ye nothin'?I hate bein' in someone's debt.""You aren't in my debt. I just did what any Christian woman would. Besides, Iwouldn't want you to think you're in my power the way my father thinks I'm inhis."Pat O'Glenn studied Vicki, stroking his sideburns as her did so. "Be yer fathertryin' to enforce his will on ye?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so. He wants me to marry Nate, the son of the lord of this manor.""Faith! I know better than to be tryin' to force Kate here into doin' anythin'she don't want. And I'd never want to force her to marry against her will, leasto' all to the likes o' that great lout!""I really hate to do it. My father and Lord Broderick are good friends, and theBrodericks have been our hosts.""But tha's more price than any decent host should ask for," said Kate.

"Perhaps. But I'm not too worried. Tomorrow, we set sail for Boston again and Idoubt father will mention the idea any more."The three of them chatted a while, then Vicki found herself growing tired. Patand Kate O'Glenn said their farewells, and Vicki turned out the lamp and fellinto a deep sleep.

***The next morning, Vicki awakened, convinced she'd had a strange dream. Then, shenoticed the ring on her night stand. It was pure gold, with a beautiful emeraldstone set in the center. Beside it was a note written in a hand so small, Vickicould hardly read it. The note read:"Thanks again for your great kindness. If ever your father or anyone should tryforce their will on you, put on this ring and press the stone three times. Youshall have the same power over them as your people think they have over us. Turnthe ring so the stone is on the other side of your finger and press it thricemore, and the power will end, until needed again. The love and friendship of thelittle people go with you. Pat and Kate O'Glenn"***How exciting the return to America had been! Vicki and her father had sailedback on The Queenstown, which docked at New York. They had decided to go thereinstead of directly to Boston so they could visit relations in Manhattan. Whilethey were on the dock, awaiting their luggage, a man approached Vicki. To hergreat surprise, it had been none other than Mr. Charles Dana Gibson! So stunnedwere they when he presented Vicki with his card, her father at first had refusedto believe who it was.

"How do I know you aren't some scoundrel after my daughter?," he had asked.

"I'm sure you must be careful of such men with such a lovely creature as thisfor a daughter," he'd replied. "But I do have proof of my identity with me." Hepulled out his proof, photographs and drawings of his likeness taken from thepages of LIFE magazine. Both Vicki and her father were convinced. "With yourpermission, sir, if she is interested," Mr. Gibson said, "I would like for yourdaughter to come to my studio and pose for some sketches.""Oh, Papa!" she'd cried. "May I?""These will be decent drawings?" said Mr. Nash.

"Papa! Mr. Gibson does no other kind. He's not like those Bohemians you hearabout.""Sir, you have my word as a gentleman, both I and my pen shall treat yourdaughter with the greatest respect."That was all Mr. Nash needed to hear. Arrangements were made for Vicki to staywith an aunt for a few days, during which she would "model" (as Mr. Gibsoncalled it) for the eminent illustrator. The job required little more thanposing. Vicki looked happy, sad, loved, whatever Mr. Gibson asked. Hecomplimented her on the expressiveness of her face. He also commented on thebeauty of the emerald ring she wore. "A present from friends in Ireland," shetold him, smiling so beguilingly at the concealed truth that Gibson made herhold the smile until he had it on paper from several angles.

After a week's work (for which, to her surprise, she was compensated; she hadnever even considered anything other than the honor of being a "Gibson Girl" inreturn for her posing), she returned to Boston. As the carriage took her home (aspacious manor in the country), Vicki could only reflect with astonishment uponher adventures in Ireland and New York. No sooner had she entered the ballroom,however, than her reverie was shattered. Nate was there. With him was LordBroderick, and two young gentlemen, Corp. William Leeves and Sgt. Harold Foxx,friends and soldiers in Nate's command. The three young men were in full dressuniform, complete with swords at their sides.

"Welcome home, Pet," said Mr. Nash. "Look who's come all the way from Ireland tosee you again!""Captain Broderick," said Vicki with a stunned voice.

"Please," said the young officer. He approached close enough for Vicki to smellthat he'd been liberally helping himself to her father's bourbon. "I insist youcontinue to call me Nate." Nate bent low, took Vicki's left hand, and bent overto kiss it. He stopped short when he saw the ring. "What's this?," he asked.

"It's a ring Vicki got from friends in Ireland," said her father.

"I know of no one around our lands who could afford a ring such as this," saidNate. "And this looks to be a ring far more than one would get from a friend.""They were people I'd done a favor for," said Vicki, not untruthfully. "Theyseemed simple, but I gathered they had wealth when they wanted it. I think thering had been in their possession for some years.""An heirloom?," he said, his temper starting to rise. "It must have been a largefavor for you to receive this in return.""Nathan," said Lord Broderick, sensing that the bourbon was having an effect onhis son's behavior. "It's only a bauble. Don't let it upset you. Tell her whyyou've come.""I'm not sure I should now, father.""Nonsense! You've traveled a long way for this! Now is not the time to back outdue to bruised pride.""What did you come for, Capt, er, Nate?," asked Vicki. Nate took a deep breathand unsteadily lowered himself to the floor on one knee, a movement made moreawkward by the sword at his side. He took Vicki's ringless hand in his. "MissVictoria Nash," he began, slurring the words some. "Will you marry me?"Vicki was not stupid. She'd suspected Nate's business from the moment shearrived. She'd just hoped she'd been mistaken. Nevertheless, when the dreadedquestion came, Vicki felt herself quite unprepared for it.

"What? I, uh -- no!," she stammered. She saw astonishment, injury, and buildingrage on Nate's face. She tried to rephrase the rejection to make it less painfulto Nate. "I'm sorry. What I meant is ... ""I think you've made it quite clear what you meant!" said Nate, standing up. Hisface was taking on a shade of red and an expression horrible to see. "You see,father, I told you! Coming here was a complete waste of time and money!""Nathan," said Lord Broderick. "Calm down!" Behind Nate, his companions lookedat him with sadness and total sympathy.

"Nate, please," said Vicki, trying to soothe his feelings. "It's just -- youtook me by surprise! I need time to think!""Oh, yes, I'm sure!" thundered Nate. "The time it takes to look at the ring onyour finger! I'll bet you said 'yes' to him right away!""I've done no such thing! I'm engaged to no one!""'Yes' doesn't have to be said for just an engagement. It can be used for otherthings that your ring could've been payment for!""How dare you!," said Vicki standing up.

"Nathan!" said Lord Broderick.

"You unprincipled lout!" shouted Mr. Nash. He walked up to confront Nate. "Noone addresses my daughter in such a manner under MY roof! I thought you were agentleman, but I see I was mistaken. Leave these premises at once or I shallthrow you out!" In his outrage, Mr. Nash didn't see Nate draw back a fist. Thecaptain struck his host hard in the nose, sending him reeling onto the floor.

"Nathan!," shouted Lord Broderick, who then shrank back at his son's expression.

"Shut up, father!" Nate bellowed. "I've had my fill of these, these commoners!Thinking their money puts them on an equal standing with us?! I kowtowed to themwhen they were our guests, and I had every intention of being the good soldierto this bitch here. But it's clear it would be wasted effort!"Mr. Nash tried to stand up, while stanching the blood from his nose at the sametime. Nate gave him a kick in the face, bowling him over again. Nate'scompanions laughed.

"Nathan," came a soft voice from behind. Nate turned to receive a hard slap inthe face from Vicki. "I shall NEVER marry you! Get out, before I have the policesummoned!" Nate responded to the slap by shoving Vicki violently backward. Shestumbled and landed awkwardly on her bottom. She regretted the bustle had beenout of fashion for some years.

"Didn't you know? Your servants are off today!" said Nate. "And right now, itdoesn't matter whether you'll be my wife or not!" He began to undo his belt.

"What -- are you doing?," whispered Vicki, though she already knew the answer.

Mr. Nash, on his feet again, started toward Nathan, only to be grabbed by Leevesand Foxx. They restrained him with little effort.

"Nathan!" gasped Lord Broderick. "You can't!""I not only can, I'm going to, father!" said Nate. "If it bothers you, leave theroom!""I'll kill you," said Mr. Nash. "You can hold me back now, but after you leave,I'll have you hunted down and shot like the dog you are!""Not if I kill you first," chuckled Nate, fingering the hilt of his sword. "Butfirst, to more pleasant business. You may marry another, Victoria. But yourcondition will be that of used goods, if not worse. It's up to you. You know.

How much you struggle."Vicki said nothing. She reached for the ring and pressed the stone three times.

At first, she thought she'd made a terrible mistake. After the third press, herbreath left her. She tried in vain to inhale, without success. She clutched ather throat, trying desperately to breathe. Nate hesitated for a moment, thinkingshe was having some sort of fit. Then, she realized the problem. Her corset wastightening. She'd long wanted to stop wearing it, knowing of women who hadswooned over too-tight undergarments. But her father insisted it was far tooimproper. Now, the whalebone pressed tightly against her torso, making breathingimpossible.

She felt a "pop," followed by another. The stays were breaking off of thecorset! Similarly, the buttons had begun to fly off of her shoes, which werepinching her feet terribly. She could feel a hole appear in her stockings, ahole which grew. There was an awful pressure at her waist, which she knew wasmade by her tightening belt. She reached to undo it, when it was torn apartsomehow and flew off of her. Her skirt was ripping itself apart, followed by herblouse. Its torso fell in rags to the floor, followed by the now-unrestrainedcorset. All that remain on her body were the muttonchop sleeves of her blouse.

The forearms tightened and tore first, then the puffy shoulder pieces which gavethe fashion its name split open and slid off of her arm. Vicki had been lookingat Nathan, who was backing away in shock. No, he was doing more than that. Hewas contracting, dropping out of Vicki's range of vision! So was her father andeveryone, everything else in the room.

Vicki suddenly found herself sitting naked upon the ballroom floor. She stood,and realized that her surroundings had not diminished in size. She had grown!From her natural 5' 6," she'd inflated to 11 feet. Then, she grew further to 22feet. Finally, her sized doubled once again. At 44 feet, she towered over thelittle men in the room. She started to try to cover herself with her arms, butstopped. Why should she be ashamed? She wouldn't feel awkward standing naked infront of a cat or dog. These creatures around her were no larger than that inher eyes. Indeed, they were littler little people than those she'd met inIreland.

She placed her hands on her hips, letting those around her drink in hermagnificence. Minutes ago, she'd have felt conceited to use such a word todescribe herself. Now, she could think of no other.

"Take your hands off of my father!" she commanded. Foxx and Leeves obeyed,though their faces showed they were barely aware of it. She grabbed them both,one in each hand, and held them before her face. They looked at it, and thendown at the floor perhaps 30 feet below them. "If you EVER lay hands on himagain, I'll crush you like I would a spider!""Put them down!" shouted Nate. He had drawn his sword and was waving itmenacingly in her direction. So intent was he on her that he didn't notice Mr.

Nash coming up from his side. A second later, Vicki's father struck a blow onNathan's jaw that more than avenged the punch the Captain had given Mr. Nashearlier. Nate fell to the floor, dropping his sword.

"As you wish," said Vicki to Nate's earlier order. She lowered her handsslightly and let the two men drop to the floor by their commanding officer.

Their heads struck the wood hard, and they lay still, moaning. Nate reached forhis sword. Before he could grab it, Vicki pressed down on his hand with herthumb. With her other hand, she flicked her finger against Nate's head, sendinghim flying across the room. She then picked up the sword and bent it in herhands.

"Vicki," gasped her father. "Pet. What's happened to you?""It's the ring!" cried Lord Broderick. "She got it from the little people inIreland. She had to!""Black magic!" spat out Nate, standing and wiping blood from him mouth. "Ishouldn't be surprised that she'd stoop to such deviltry! It isn't worth all themoney in the world to be your husband now, you immense cow!""What?" said Vicki. She was upon him in two steps and had him clenched in herhand the way she'd held his men moments earlier. She looked at her father.

"I don't know what he's talking about!" he told her. Facing Lord Broderick, hesaid "What is the meaning of this?""I'm sorry," said the old lord with a sigh. "I didn't want to tell you. We'renearly broke. Some investments this last year went bad. It used up nearly all ofwhat's left to travel here. Our lands are going to be sold next month if wedon't have the money. "That's why I encouraged Nate to marry Vicki. If they'dwed then, under English law... ""... the money in my dowry, plus what I'd inherit one day from Father, wouldbecome Nate's!""Yes. But I truly did not know what a monster my son had become. I could live asa pauper. But I could not live with the shame Nathan has brought upon our name.

Nathan," he continued, facing his son in Vicki's gigantic hand. "I'm glad nowthat I will have little to leave to you. I suggest that, when we depart, you setsail to return to your unit. I don't want to see you again.""And who said I want to be around an old fossil like you any more!? If itweren't for you, I would've stayed in India, and never have met this, thisgreatest of bitches in the world!" Suddenly, something moved in front of hisface. Vicki's hand opened around his body, but his head was grasped between thethumb and forefinger of her other hand. His body dangled in mid-air, his facesmothered by the enormous thumb.

"I'd much rather not have met you either. You are the most monstrous individualI've ever had the misfortune to meet! I should kill you right now and free theworld of your presence once and for all.""Vicki, pet, no!" cried Mr. Nash. "I know you feel he deserves it, and I'm muchtempted to do it myself. But killing him would only bring questions I don'tthink any of use would care to answer.""He'll be miserable enough without his allowance, lass," said Lord Broderick.

"If you kill him, you'd only be doing him a kindness.""Very well," she said, letting him drop to the floor. He landed hard on hisfeet, then limped toward Foxx and Leeves, who were regaining consciousness.

"You'll regret this!" he said in a low voice. "No one treats me like this!Especially no woman!""Father, open the door to the garden, please."Mr. Nash did as his daughter asked. Vicki then grabbed Nate between the toes ofher right foot.

"No!" screamed Nate. "Don't step on me!""I've no intention of dirtying my foot with you!" she said. She clumsily movedto the open door, keeping Nate trapped between her toes. Propping herselfagainst the wall over the door with her arms, Vicki bent her leg backwards, thenswung it forward in a kick. At the apex, she spread her toes and Nate was againairborne. He landed with a great splash in the decorative pool in the garden.

"Get him off our property," she told his men. "Now!"Foxx and Leeves furtively rushed out of the door, glancing behind them to makesure Vicki wasn't going to give them similar treatment.

"I'll depart now, too," said Lord Broderick. "I'm so sorry for what happened. Iwill not dishonor you with my presence again.""Michael," said Mr. Nash. "Wait. Please. I don't hold you responsible for yourson's actions. Let's talk."The two old friends went into an adjoining room. After they left, Vicki turnedthe ring so the stone was on the inside of her hand, and pressed it three times.

She returned to normal size. As she gathered up the tatters that had been herclothes, she glanced through the door. Closing it, she saw Nate and his men inthe distance walking away. She could hear cries of outrage coming from thecaptain. She had a suspicion that it still wasn't over.

***Though she expected many things to happen over the next few weeks, returning toIreland hadn't been one of them. But there she was, with her father, back onLord Broderick's estate. But it might not be his much longer. Her father hadagreed to settle his old friend's debts, and assume ownership of the lands,permitting Broderick to remain as his guest. Vicki wasn't sure how she feltabout this. As her father's only heir, she would one day own the property. Shefound it a magnificent country and had no problem with the idea of living there.

But would she really need so much land to herself? And the memories of Nate...

if she hadn't been able to grow to giant size...

She carefully fingered the ring. She had used it a couple of times since hereviction of Nathan, mostly for purpose of being measured by her maids. (Themeasuring had been rather fun, with the maids scurrying about -- and sometimesover -- her naked body. There was a sensuality to the act she found partlydisturbing, and partly arousing.) Mr. Nash had decided that, if she did have touse the "cursed ring" (his words, not hers) again, she should at least bedecently clad. He'd commissioned an outfit for her full height. The tailor andshoemaker weren't quite sure what the idea was, but, at the rates Mr. Nash waspaying them, they decided questions weren't necessary. Best of all, Vicki hadconvinced her father that a corset was not only inconvenient, it was decidedlydangerous! He no longer demanded she wear one. The only darkness in this victorywas Vicki's feeling that her father had agreed -- because he was afraid of her.

Ever since that night when she'd grown and so forcibly evicted Nathan and hismen from her home, her father had changed in regards to her. He spoke sodeferentially. On topics where once his voice might've boomed with indignation,he now was subdued if not absolutely meek. Once, when they were in a minorargument, Vicki's finger had moved toward her ring in jest. She regretted itwhen she saw how Mr. Nash had paled.

"Papa!" she had said in concern. "It was a stupid joke. Please, don't be scaredof me. I promise, I would NEVER harm you. You are my Papa!" The hugs and kisseswhich she plied him with seemed to relax him. But still -- After arriving inQueenstown, Vicki learned that friends from the States were in Dublin. With herfather's permission, she traveled there, a journey that took the better part ofa day. She stayed with her friends for three days. Then, a messenger brought amysterious letter.

Vicki froze at the site of the handwriting.

It was Nathan's.

She read the letter immediately:"My Dear Miss Nash,"I have your father.

"Men loyal to me at the estate of the man who calls himself my father arrangedfor Mr. Nash to be abducted -- kidnapped, I believe, is the current parlance. Iam busy returning the hospitality you showed me in America.

"Do not expect help from my father or the authorities. I made it clear to Fatherthen, as I do now to you, that, should I see anyone other than you, I shallrender unto them a rather old corpse.

"But you may come. I look forward to it. Directions are enclosed for you to findme. And do bring your lovely ring.

"Best regards,"Captain Nathan Broderick,"Her Majesty's Imperial Lancers""He means to snare me," whispered Vicki to herself. "To trap me as mercilesslyas one of the creatures on the estate." She tried to envision herself beingdangled upside down, as had happened with the tiny Kate weeks before. But, werethat to happen, she'd merely have to press the emerald, and she'd grow out ofany trap. Besides, there was an "X" marked on the map, denoted with theinstructions "You may grow here." Nathan clearly wanted her at full size, andwould no doubt be prepared for it. Complete cad he was, but not a fool. Therewas a time marked when she was expected. She barely had time to make apologiesand goodbyes to her friends. Soon, she was on her way to the meeting place.

***The carriage brought Vicki to a patch of woods by a road. The driver seemedpuzzled as to why his fare wanted to be dropped off here, along with her"bleedin' big trunk." But, upon seeing the large gratuity Vicki gave him, heasked no questions, though he did beg her to "take care" in those woods.

After he had driven off, Vicki picked up the trunk. It wasn't as heavy as onemight've imagined. The material inside was light, though the shoes wereburdensome. Through turns of carrying and dragging, she soon was concealed inthe woods. It was a pleasant afternoon. Vicki could see through the trees thelarge clearing the directions had mentioned. She stopped, opened the trunk, andspeedily undressed herself. It only took a few minutes, but they were thelongest of her life. As she removed her chemise, she reflected on how, if sheturned to see a small boy looking at her, she would blush. If she turned to seeNathan or one of his men looking at her, she would die, at least on the inside.

She stood behind a tree, naked except for her ring. She pulled out the giganticdress, spent a few seconds finding its hem, and then slipped it over herself.

She pulled the shoes out of the trunk. Perhaps it would be better to leave thembehind. There was something so ordinary about them. They weren't decorated.

There were no patterns to them at all. They didn't even have high heels, butflat ones, like a man wore. The overall look reminded her of pictures of whatthe Chinese wore. She could never picture anything so out-and-out functionalcatching on in the West. Still, Father had spent a considerable sum for theirconstruction. Might as well wear them.

Vicki took from her old dress the pocket watch she'd purchased in Dublin. It wasnearly time for her arrival. She left the watch with her normal dress, bunchedthe big outfit around her as best she could, and then, dragging the shoes behindher, started for the clearing. Some 20 feet from the woods, she found an "X" cutout of paper and attached to the ground by a stake pounded through it. Othersmight've found the idea amusing. Vicki merely regarded the sign as furtherevidence of military life's effect on the mind. She set her shoes side by sidewith the stake between, and then stepped into them. She put her finger on theemerald and pressed three times.

She started to grow. There were the pauses at 11 and 22 feet. When she reached44 feet, Vicki glanced down at herself. She was disappointed. She had beenexcited about the dress, and it looked attractive, bright yellow fabric amongthe green of the clearing. It fit well, as did her shoes, though the latter wereslightly loose. But, somehow, she didn't feel right being clothed at all, not atTHIS size. Her father would find the idea scandalous, but she didn't think shereally was Vicki any more. She was someone else, something else, a fabulousbeing who had no need of clothing, not on such a pleasant day as this.

She began to walk to the other end of the field, a bit nervous, her finger stillclose to the ring. She saw Nathan emerge from behind a haystack. There were fourother such stacks at various points around the clearing, each of them unusuallylarge. With Nathan were Leeves and Foxx -- and her father. Her father was boundand gagged, and shaking his head furiously. Was he trying to tell her to run?Away?"She is here!" cried Nathan in a high-pitched, commanding voice. "Positions!"Suddenly, men, dressed in uniforms, emerged from behind each haystack. They werein groups of three each. As they appeared, they stared at her, dumbfounded byher size, her beauty, or both. It looked like another man was also in eachhaystack, behind -- something. Vicki could see in the stacks nearest hersomething moving, repositioning. From each haystack, another soldier emerged,brushing hay off himself and nodding to the others. From each cluster of mencame shouts of "Ready!"Vicki glanced at each group, and noticed Nate raise his sword, then drop his armin one swift, cutting motion. But nothing was near him. It was a signal of somekind. Vicki saw sparks and flames in the hands of the man nearest each haystack,followed by a small cloud of smoke rising from the stacks. She realized just intime that they were lit fuses. Vicki dropped to the ground. She heard thecannons booming and the balls flying over her head. Reflexively, she pressed theemerald on the ring three more times. She wasn't sure why. She hoped to gainsome advantage at normal size that she wouldn't have at 44 feet. But somethingwas wrong.

She expected to feel her body drag along the ground as it contracted. Instead,it was pushing forward her arms, elbows, knees, and toes. Her clothing wasn'tloosening around her, it was tightening. She could feel her toes begin to feelpinched, then burst out of those shoes that had been so heavy, so mighty in herhands just minutes before.

She realized what was wrong.

In her terror and excitement, she had forgotten to turn the stone on the ring tothe inside of her hand. She was growing even larger than she had been. Herdress, her beautiful, new, sunshine yellow dress, ripped at its seams of ropeand twine. Her bare skin slid over the grass and dirt as her body expanded toever larger proportions. She felt a flushing, an almost sexual tingling racethrough her as she grew. Perhaps it was some liquid in her, some chemicalproduced by the human body, that was in temporary disproportion. At least, shehoped it was temporary. She wouldn't mind this feeling for a little while, butcould see problems if it persisted too long. She lay flat on her stomach. Thefeeling of the ground sliding under her nipples as she grew was very sensual,especially as the grass underneath became smaller, finer to her skin, until itwas like a strange, ticklish fur grown by the ground itself.

She stopped growing. Looking ahead, Vicki saw her face was mere feet way (inchesto her) from Nate, Leeves, Foxx, and her father. She just barely heard a tinyvoice squeak out "reload and fire at will." She saw the man who had been in thehaystack earlier start back for it. Before he could carry out orders, Vickibrought her fist down on the haystack. The man dove out just in time to avoidthe blow. The haystack was flattened, the cannon driven into the ground so farit would have to be excavated before it could be used again. The blow had causedall of the little men (insects! Vicki thought to herself) to lose their footing.

As they struggled to regain it, Vicki used her little finger to flick away Nate,Leeves, and Foxx at once. They staggered about, like ants that had been brushedby a child's toe, then dropped to the ground. Vicki lay her head down so herhuge eye could see her father, and the soldier who had manned the cannon. Shestarted to command ...

"RELEASE MY FATHER OR -- "Then, she saw the soldier drop to the ground and press his hands against hisears. Her father similarly was wriggling on the grass. With horror, she realizedwhat her voice must sound like to a normal-sized person. She remained silent andpointed to the soldier, then her father. The tiny military man went to Mr. Nashand quickly undid his bonds. Vicki stood on her knees, nodding at the man to lethim know he'd done the right thing. Then, she heard what sounded like a coupleof caps in child's gun going off. Something stung her calf and buttock. Itreminded her of a time when she was 12. She'd been walking along the side of aroad, when a carriage passed. One of its wheels had sent a stone into her leg.

It had hurt for a second, but no more. That was what this pain was like. Shestood up and realized what had happened. She'd been shot by two of the cannons!The balls had struck her, but her skin was now far too thick for any real damageto be done. But that didn't mean she liked it.

She looked at the haystacks. Another soldier was putting fire to a fuse. Sheraised her foot and brought it down on the haystack, her shadow alerting thesoldier to what was happening. He rolled to the side as another cannon wassmashed into the dirt. Vicki moved her foot, to see the smoke still issuing fromthe fuse. The men near it ran away and jumped to the ground, just as a largecloud of dust and metal billowed from where the cannon was buried. Dirt, rocks,and even a few chunks of metal rained down on the men. Vicki could only laugh.

It was like playing with a half-buried firecracker on the Fourth of July.

Quickly but carefully, Vicki gathered the soldiers on the ground with her lefthand, then dropped them into her right. She inspected them carefully. Theylooked stunned, but were otherwise all right. Then, Vicki started toward theother cannons. The men had been too intimidated by what she'd done to the lastcannon to risk lighting another one. She put her heel to each cannon, flatteningit and its concealing haystack. Then, she picked up the men around it, puttingthem in her right hand with the others. Soon, she had all the men she could see,except her father. She lifted him up and put him in the middle of the clearing,away from anyplace anyone might be hiding to take him prisoner again.

Vicki stood and opened her left hand, palm up, to check the men. It was hard totell, but it looked as if some of them were crying. There were several pairs ofmen, clutching each other, trembling. A couple of heartier souls looked over theedge of her hand. Those men crept back to the center of her palm, then droppedto their knees and faced her, imploring for mercy with their bodies. Vickilooked at her father, no larger to her than a bug. Even standing, she could telltheir was almost no color in his face. She knew that she, his daughter, his pet,had become the most terrifying thing he'd ever beheld in his life. She did somequick mental calculations.

As she'd grown, she'd again felt the brief, regular, pauses. Before this newtrio of spurts, she'd been 44 feet tall. She was certain she'd doubled in sizeby each pause. So, she'd become 88, and then 176 feet. With the final doubling-- Merciful God in Heaven! With the final doubling, she was now 352 feet tall!She could not recall if there were whales that large! With the realization, shelowered herself to a sitting position (taking care, of course, to avoid sittingon her father).

This was all Nathan's fault! His oh, so, stupid, vulnerable, male pride! Hecouldn't take being rejected by a woman without trying to have his way with her!He surely must've felt it the height of humiliation to have any woman deal withhim as Vicki had, giant or not! He must've talked to his fellow soldiers. Heconvinced them that a giant woman would be the greatest threat they could face!And now, she had those 20 poor, deluded men in the palm of her hand and ...

Wait, she thought. TWENTY men? Each haystack had 4 men with it. There were fivehaystacks, so there should be 21 men! She brought her hand close to her face toexamine them. All of them were there, except --"Nathan," she said in a whisper that nearly blew the men off of her hand. Asshe'd examined them, Vicki had rested her other hand on the ground. Suddenly,she noticed a sensation, like an ant crawling near her finger. She looked downand saw Nathan, swinging something over his head and bringing it down on thestone in her ring. She felt her ring struck, hard! And Nathan was running awayfrom her. Then, he stopped, and turned to face her.

"There, bitch!" he cried. "I have smashed the source of your witchcraft! Now,you'll return to your proper size, and then there'll be ... a ... reckoning?"Vicki brought the ring up to her eye. It was true. The stone WAS shattered! Natehad used a sledge hammer, had seen a flaw in the stone. By striking the hammerwhere the flaw was, he had broken the stone. But Vicki was not shrinking. Thering's stone was STILL on the outside of her hand! She had been unable to makeout Nathan's last words. That final, stone-shattering pressure on the emeraldhad caused one last, monstrous growth spurt!Vicki could feel the wind whip by her as she enlarged. She looked in her righthand and saw the ever-diminishing soldiers spread out, away from each other asshe grew, almost falling into the lines on her palm! And, she could hear thefaint, anguished scream of her father as he became less than an insect to her. Afinal mental calculation was made. Vicki now stood just over 700 feet tall! Shewas certain she had become the biggest, most monstrous creature ever to walk theplanet.

In a panic, she reversed the ring so the stone was on the inside of her hand.

She did not hear the screams, did not care as the men in her right hand rolledover the skin, the pores, the wrinkles of her palm. A half dozen of them wereabout to tumble over the edge, when she righted her hand again and they allbegan to roll back to the middle of her palm. As she'd reversed it, fragments ofthe stone fell from the setting. She pressed what was left three times. Nothinghappened. She repeated the procedure. The men in her hand did not grow larger,heavier. She dropped to her knees, letting her right hand rest against theground for a few seconds. The men in it used this chance to escape, some of themcarrying others injured by their ordeal. The soldiers ran as fast and as far asthey could from her, each terrified they would see that enormous shadow overthem again. Then, they noticed the ground shaking. Each man stopped and turned.

They saw Vicki frantically pressing at the setting without result. Tears thatcould drown any of them rolled down her face. Finally, Vicki gave up the effort,buried her face in her hands, and began to sob.

"What's to become of me," came soft, windy whispers from her mouth. "How shall Ieat? How shall I drink? How shall I shelter myself when the weather turns cold?"Why did you do this?" she said, facing the soldiers, still speaking softly. "Irejected your Captain and took steps to protect myself and my father from him. Icame here because my father was in jeopardy! I would have harmed no one had younot tried to harm him or myself first! And now, my father is safe... but Iterrify him as much as I do you! Why did you do this?" This display of fear, ofsorrow from so large a being caused a wave of guilt that would dwarf a divisionto flood over every man there. Their fear vanished and they approached the womanthey now realized they had horribly wronged. Mr. Nash approached his daughter,setting his hand on one of her huge fingers. She could not see that there weretears on his face, too. But a second later, Mr. Nash felt cold steel against hisneck. Before Vicki or anyone else could act, Nathan had run up from behind,drawn his sword, and placed it at Mr. Nash's throat.

"Now bitch!" came a high pitched squeal. She could barely make out what Nathanwas saying. She thought she heard the words "poison," "exhibit," and "Barnum."But there was no mistake of the threat. Nathan barked orders to his men. Leevesand Foxx approached. They took hold of Mr. Nash and Nathan sheathed his swordand began to walk away. Leeves let go of Mr. Nash, walked toward Nathan, andsaid something. Nate turned around just in time to take a blow from Leeves.

Nathan was sprawled on the ground to the cheers of the men. Leeves drew his ownsword and advanced upon the Captain, when an enormous fingernail blocked hispath. Leeves backed away, looking up at Vicki, making motions that clearlyindicated "Why?" Vicki picked Nathan up between her right thumb and forefinger.

Gently, hoping to disorient him but not kill him, Vicki began to roll Nathanbetween these digits. She held him to her ear and thought she heard tiny criesof "stop!," "don't," and a few inarticulate screams. After several seconds, shelowered her hand to the ground and released Nate. He lay on his back, face up,eyes open. Leeves and Foxx knelt by him, then looked up at Vicki.

"Dead?" whispered Vicki. Leeves shook his head. He made pantomime walkingmotions, then shook his head again, and Vicki understood. Nate was crippled.

***Vicki spent that night in the open field. Her stomach growled from hunger, herthroat was parched. She knew of streams of fresh water, but feared she mightdrain them completely in sating her thirst. Leeves and Foxx had brought herbread and a little water, but it was nowhere near enough. They had sown togetherevery blanket in their regiment to try and give her cover against the coolnight. It provided a little protection under her head. It didn't matter. Worrykept Vicki awake most of the night.

The next day, her father came, along with several large wagons, each coveredwith a blanket. He brought the one he was riding close to Vicki and uncoveredit. To Vicki's astonishment, there was a huge ring underneath, gold with anemerald stone set in it. Vicki took the ring, pl