Kayla pulled up and started to coast when she heard the telltale clomping approach outside her prison. Strange, she thought. She distinctly heard her captor and someone else talking in the distance, and yet the usual slamming of a door hadn't preceded the other person's departure. Why was Bob coming back here already?
Something didn't sound right about the slapping noises outside, either. She was still trying to figure that out when she heard a voice gasp, "Oh, dear God in heaven!"
The only thing she knew for sure was it wasn't Bob that had spoken. "Who the hell are you?" she called out, pulling herself to a halt up against the nearest wall.
"G-g-gaahh--" came a barely understandable response, as though someone were struggling for breath outside. Had someone surprised her captor now? Were they fighting or something? That didn't seem right, because there weren't any other sounds of violence going on. What if whoever had come in just spotted her through the glass? This could be the chance she was waiting for!
"Please, you have to help me!" Kayla called out desperately. "Please! Whoever else is out there kidnapped me and put me in here! For the love of God, let me out!"
"You--you're--oh, geez," said the pained-sounding voice. "Are you really--oh, Lord, I can't believe it!"
Suddenly another, louder voice interrupted him. This time it was Bob that was speaking. "What the hell are you doing down here?" he almost screamed, and Kayla had to cover her ears to keep from being deafened. "Get out! Get out now!"
Some scraping sounds followed, as if whoever the newcomer was had just been dragged out of a chair. "Please help me!" screamed Kayla. "Please, don't leave me here! Call the police or something, damn you!"
Whoever it was didn't answer, though. All she heard was his muttering as he got further and further away. "Oh my God, Howard," came the voice. "That's Kayla Robertson in there, isn't it? But she's so--"
"Don't say it!" came the snapped reply. "She doesn't know! Come outside and I'll explain everything!"
That was the last thing Kayla could make out, unfortunately. She would've loved to hear the rest of that conversation, and more than anything she wanted to know what was supposed to come after "But she's so--"
There was one thing she had learned, though, and that knowledge made her smile. She now knew the name of her captor. He wasn't Bob any more. His first name was Howard, and even as she realized that, she finally recognized that deep, loud, distorted voice.
Howard half-pushed, half-dragged the babbling Stephen up the stairs and out the front door, where the taller man finally collapsed on the grass. "T-that was Kayla," he managed after a moment of hyperventilating. "It was Kayla in there! But how? How did you--I mean, how did she get like that?"
"Like what?" asked Howard innocently, trying the only thing he could think of on the spur of the moment. "What did you see, Stephen?"
"What do you think I saw?" he demanded. "You had Kayla in your diorama! She was only this big!" He held up his hand with his thumb and forefinger spread apart. "How'd you do it, Howard? How'd you make her so small?"
"I didn't do anything to her," Howard replied lamely, trying not to notice the bead of sweat coming off his forehead. "That was a trick of the light. Mirrors, you know. A projected image of her. I told you, I wasn't finished--"
"Oh come on!" Stephen almost shouted. "I saw her, Howard! She was real! Don't try to tell me that was some kind of goddamn hologram! She looked up and spoke to me! I heard her voice!"
"Think," said Howard firmly. A sudden idea crossed his mind, and without hesitation he ran with it. "You heard her voice coming from where? Speakers on my desk. She's a computer simulation, Stef. What did you think, anyway? Did you think I shrunk her down to doll size and put her in my basement? Come on, get real!"
Stephen shook his head and looked back at the front door. "I saw her, man," he gasped, seeming to sag as the adrenaline made its way out of his bloodstream. Howard's words were strangely soothing, and he was already starting to doubt what he saw. "She looked so real! She heard me and saw me, and begged me for help. She said you kidnapped her."
"I programmed that in," Howard lied smoothly. The words were coming easier now, as if he just discovered a new skill he never knew he had. "Originally it was just supposed to be for me to take out my frustrations after work, but after she got kidnapped, I programmed that in instead. She reacts to anyone like that, you know. It's a lot of fun."
"Well, then, why didn't you tell me?" asked Stephen, seeming to accept the explanation at last. In fact, he was looking away now, plainly embarrassed to have totally misread what he saw.
"I was afraid the police would find out," said Howard. "If they knew I had something like this, they'd think I had a grudge against her or something. You and I both know I could never kidnap someone. I don't have it in me. But the police might not believe it."
"You could've let me in on this," Stephen replied in a level voice, apparently recovered now from his shock. "I wouldn't tell the police on you. You know that."
"It's not that," said Howard with a shrug. "I didn't want to put you in a position of having to lie for me, that's all. I figured as soon as the police investigation is over, I'd let you come over and play with my little simulation."
"All right, sounds reasonable," Stephen replied. He found himself believing Howard's explanation automatically, partially because it was logical, but mostly because it was so much easier to believe than the alternative. "Can I come back down and look at her now? That simulation is awfully realistic."
"Nah," Howard answered casually. "It's still full of bugs. I can get her to ride around the track and talk to me in Kayla's voice, as near as I can remember it, but not much else. I was hoping for--well, you know, a lot more."
Stephen laughed, remembering how the miniature woman had been wearing only a bikini. "Yeah, okay, I see what you mean. I've got to see that, man! Let me know when it's finished, okay?"
"Sure," agreed Howard, letting out a sigh of relief as his friend got in his fancy car and drove off.
Stephen didn't look back as he hurried away from Howard's home. He made a couple of turns and got on the main thoroughfare through town before he finally allowed himself to even think about what he saw in his friend's basement.
Everything Howard said made perfect sense. Kayla, or the simulation that appeared to be Kayla, hadn't looked him directly in the eye when he spoke. She simply glared up at a random spot on the ceiling. Also, he hadn't heard any sound at all from within the diorama. The words all came from a speaker on the desk, set off to the side and attached to the box with several wires.
Still, she looked so real! She was wearing a black bikini and rollerblades, showing off more of her body than Stephen had ever seen, but it was exactly as he often imagined she looked under those crisp business suits. Her face was dead-on accurate, and the way she said "Who the hell are you?" was exactly like something his old boss would spit out. Yet, she then pleaded with him in a decidedly un-Kayla-like way. He couldn't imagine any scenario in which that woman would ever beg.
Of course, if she were really shrunk down and kept prisoner in a box, who knew what she'd do?
No, that wasn't possible, he told himself, shaking his head. That couldn't really be Kayla. Shrinking people was one of those fantasy things you only see or hear about in movies. Where would someone like Howard get an ability like that? And yet, the little diorama seemed so real, didn't it? What if he really could--?
No, that's stupid, Stephen told himself. It just wasn't possible. People can't be shrunk down to the size of mice!
Even as he convinced himself of that, though, Howard's voice kept echoing in his mind. Something he said before Stephen was dragged outside the house. Howard said she didn't know. Why would he say that about a simulation? What difference would it make?
"She doesn't know." The words haunted Stephen as he drove along. He tried to force them away, but they wouldn't depart.
"She doesn't know..."
Back to Main Story Page