The jars filled every inch of every shelf of the cupboard. Their contents, he thought, were… exquisite? No, that wasn’t right. Much of his collection was far from that. Unique, that was more like it. Each one was unique in its own way. And he could always find more to collect. That was the joy and the curse of this hobby; it was never-ending. He allowed himself a smile, then turned off the light and shut the door.
‘And how are you feeling today, James?’
‘Well, it’s funny, but… no, forget it.’
‘No, go ahead, please. Remember, this office is a sanctuary. Nothing you say ever leaves this room.’
‘Well, it’s just that…’
‘Over the last week or two I’ve felt like I’m… getting smaller.’
‘Can you elaborate?’
‘Well… shelves that I used to be able to reach easily, I have to stand on tiptoe for. My clothes seem bigger. It’s odd.’
‘I see. James, I can categorically state that I see no difference in height in you, and you’ve been coming to see me for weeks now.’
‘Really? No difference?’
‘None at all.’
Doctor Collins crossed his legs and pushed his glasses up his nose. ‘James, what you’re experiencing is a classic sign of low self-worth. The feeling that you’re becoming small, insignificant, it’s not something I’m surprised to find in you. Many people with sensations of self-loathing and worthlessness suffer this.’
‘Right. Will it get better?’
‘Of course, of course, in time. Have you mentioned this to anyone else?’
‘No, I thought it might seem a bit weird.’
‘James, there’s nothing weird about your feelings, but it’s probably best to keep them to yourself for now while we further explore your condition.’
‘And if you keep taking those pills I gave you, the symptoms should begin to recede. Now, then, let’s talk some more about your father.’
Doctor Collins allowed his mind to wander as James began to waffle about the time he caught a huge fish on an angling trip, only for his dad to take all the credit later. Twenty minutes passed, and he held up his hand to shush him. ‘Thank you James, that’s all we have time for today. See you again on Friday?’
‘Hello again James, how are you today?’
‘I’m certain I’m getting smaller.’
Doctor Collins gave James his best concerned look. ‘Now, James…’
‘My clothes are too big. My shoes are flapping off my feet. I used to touch the end of my bed, now I barely make it halfway down the mattress.’
‘James. This is all in your head. Your clothes and shoes look fine to me.’
‘Are you… are you sure? I just really feel…’
‘And people are staring at me, I know it.’
‘I’m certain they aren’t James, but… well, I don’t normally do this, but if people are making you uncomfortable perhaps it’s best to take yourself away from them for a while.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’s a spare room next to this office, just through that door over there.’ He beckoned to the far side of the room. ‘It’s a bit basic, but the sofa pulls out into a bed, and there’s an en-suite just off it. But I don’t use it. You could stay there for a while, just until these feelings of getting smaller subside. Then you won’t need to see anyone until you’re feeling a little better.’
‘Oh. Yes. Thank you, Doctor, I’d like that.’
‘No problem at all. But I must say I’m surprised to find these sensations getting worse. I think we need to double your dosage.’
‘I’m definitely shrinking.’
‘No, James, you aren’t.’
‘But Doctor, I could hardly get onto your sofa!’
‘James, that’s your imagination at work. I just watched you sit down perfectly normally. I must say these feelings of self-loathing of yours are really rather powerful, although quite fascinating from my perspective.’
‘James, you are not shrinking. Look, your clothes and shoes fit, don’t they?’
‘Well, yes, but… I went to bed last night and they were really big, and yet this morning they fitted. It’s like, I don’t know, like someone took away my normal clothes and replaced them with clothes that look the same, but are really tiny.’
‘Goodness me, James, I’m afraid that your paranoia is somewhat extreme. Again, though, this isn’t unusual in cases like yours. Take a couple of extra pills tonight and see me again tomorrow.’
‘Good morning, James, are you feeling better today?’ James was standing, rather than sitting, and quivered with a mix of fury and fear
‘No! I’m shrinking! I’ve more than halved in size overnight! I’m barely bigger than your thumb! I can’t believe you can’t see it!’
‘James, James, calm down, I…’
‘No! I’m leaving! We’re finished! You’re nothing but a quack! I’m going to get some proper medical help!’
‘No! I won’t listen to another word. “Oh, you’re not shrinking.” “Oh, it’s in your head.” No, it’s not. I’m getting smaller and I’m going to find out why!’
‘…you’re too small to even open the office door.’
Doctor Collins crouched down until his face was level with James’. ‘Being so tiny and all, I’m not sure what you think you can do. I mean, you’re too small and feeble to open the door. The stairs, well, I imagine they’d be impossible to someone like you, the size of a grasshopper. No, James, I’m afraid you’re stuck here.’
James stood, frozen, as Dr Collins’ head loomed in front of him.
‘Well, not here exactly. Come with me.’
A colossal hand bore down on James. The palm wrapped around him. The giant forefinger of Doctor Collins’ other hand flicked him on the side of head. The impact was enough to knock him unconscious.
James woke up. He staggered to his feet, clutching his head. He looked around. Glass, on all sides, and even beneath his feet. He made his way as far to the left as he could, and swept his hands over the wall. No way out. He craned his neck up. What looked like a lid lay beyond his reach, even if he jumped. A lid? How could that be? He banged as hard as he could with his fists. Nothing happened.
He looked beyond his prison. Beside him, another glass cell. Inside, someone else, a girl with brown hair, wearing a tank top and a skirt. On the other side, an older man in a suit. Both were sitting on the floor, arms around their knees, watching him. He caught the girl’s eye. She looked away. He did the same with the old man. He looked away too. James shouted. No response. He banged again. Nothing. Then the giant figure of Doctor Collins appeared on the other side of the glass.
‘They can’t hear you,’ he said. ‘Neither can I, not any more. Those jars are surprisingly thick, and your voice is really small and squeaky.’
James roared at the top of his lungs. Doctor Collins cupped his hand to his ear.
‘Pardon?’ he grinned.
James looked around wildly. He could see other glass cells – jars, he knew now – stretching far beyond his neighbours’ on either side.
‘”You’re not shrinking, James. Why don’t you stay in my flat, James? Do keep taking your pills, James.” Honestly, how stupid you are. You never even asked me what those pills did, although I think you realise now.’ He gesticulated to the other jars. ‘How stupid you all are! I despair of people sometimes, I really do. I’m going to tell you, James, what I told everyone here. Think your little problems matter? They don’t. Think you’re not worth anything? You’re right, you’re not. Except, maybe, to me. To someone who collects lost and lonely people like you, partly for the fun, partly for the challenge – although you were no challenge at all, James, talk about a sucker – and partly just to shut you up and stop you whining about your pathetic little lives.’
Doctor Collins watched the tiny figure mouth a word. ‘Yes, James, collects. You are now part of my collection. My collection of the worthless. And by collecting you, I give you worth. You’re worth something to me. Maybe not to anyone else, but to me.’
A grin, and then the light snapped out.
‘And isn’t worth all you really wanted?’ said Doctor Collins’ voice from somewhere in the gloom. ‘You should be thanking me, really.’
A door slammed. James was left alone, blinking into the darkness.
David Cook lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife, daughter, cats and guinea pig, and writes as a way of filling in the time while waiting for the rain to stop. He has been published at Short Fiction Break and Flash Fiction Magazine, and has a story featured in A Box Of Stars Beneath The Bed: The 2016 National Flash Fiction Anthology. He also publishes work at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com. You can find him on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing – @davidcook100.