Last week, we left our intrepid dollhouse hunter next to a barn at ground zero of nowhere. Her presence had just been discovered by the man she’d been following, a man she suspects of holding tiny humans captive. (You can read Part 1 here.) Herewith, the conclusion of:
… Karina spun around, her heart racing, an excuse already forming on her lips. “I– It’s not–”
The old man merely held up his hand and shook his head. “Please. Don’t take me for a complete fool. I saw you when you crawled into the back of my truck. I took the long way ‘round so you wouldn’t have an easy time figuring out where I was going.”
“It worked,” she said. “Where in the world are we?”
“This is what we used to call ‘the boondocks’ when I was a kid. That was a long time ago, but it still fits.”
“I know what you meant, but I’m sure as hell not gonna tell you.” He swept his arm toward the front of the great old barn. “It’s not like it’s a secret anymore. You might as well see the whole thing close up.”
Karina stared hard at him trying to determine if he carried a weapon of some kind, but he merely turned and walked away from her, empty-handed. “You comin’?” he called without looking back.
“Yes!” she replied and scrambled to catch up to him.
Together they walked through the open door into the barn. The upper lofts stood mostly empty, though they could easily have accommodated hundreds of hay bales. The middle loft housed what appeared to be workshops of various kinds, some obvious, like those for metal or woodworking, and others more exotic as if devoted to chemistry, electronics, and other highly technical pursuits.
“This is amazing,” Karina murmured as she turned completely around to take everything in. “It’s an entire community!”
“Actually,” the old man said, “it’s an entire race. The whole nine yards, every last member. They all live, work, and play right here.”
Karina looked into the man’s eyes, emboldened by the weariness she saw there. “How can you live with yourself knowing you’ve kept so many lives locked away in obscurity? How–”
“Stop!” he commanded in a voice heavy with anger. “Who are you to pass judgment on me? What gives you the right to make assumptions about any of this? You’ve taken one look at something I’ve lived with for decades, and suddenly you’re the expert?”
“Well,” Karina began, “it’s obvious–”
The old man shook his head; his slumped shoulders suggested either a very different story or an expression of guilt. Karina couldn’t be sure which. He kept twisting the gold wedding band on his finger, something she’d seen him do in the shop when dealing with an angry customer. She assumed it was merely a nervous habit.
“I’m the prisoner here,” he said wearily. “I have been for many, many years.” He waved his hand at the miniature community crowding the limits of his barn. “They’re the ones in control.”
“What? How is that possible? You’re so much… bigger. How could they ever control you?”
He pointed to the wedding band. “This is my slave collar. When they need me for something, they send a signal here. It itches like crazy, but my knuckles are so swollen I can’t take the damned thing off.” He shook his head and exhaled in resignation. “You have no idea how many times I’ve contemplated just chopping that finger off. But not even that would be enough.”
“I don’t understand,” Karina said.
“They’ve injected me with something, some kind of poison. I have no idea what it is, but if I don’t get a daily dose of the antidote, it’ll kill me. And not in a pleasant fashion.” He closed his eyes and swallowed. A tear formed and slowly traversed his wrinkled cheek. “I saw what it did to my wife, but I didn’t have her courage. She died rather than remain in bondage. I’m not brave enough to do that.”
Karina reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “I had no idea, Mr. Uh–”
“Danzig,” he said. “Oliver Danzig.”
“Who are they?” Karina asked. “And where did they come from?”
The old man pointed toward the ceiling. “They said they were colonists from another world. I have no idea which one. The name they gave me is meaningless.”
He gestured toward the work areas and sophisticated equipment. “Most of what you see in here came from their ship. Earth wasn’t what they had in mind when they left their homeworld, but it was the nearest one on which they could live when their space vehicle malfunctioned. They spent years trying to fix it, but eventually gave up.”
“And moved in here?”
He nodded. “They needed things they couldn’t make. At least, not at first, that’s why they needed me and my sweet Gerta.” He swallowed hard. “We were happy to help, at first. But their demands grew, and we had no time for our farm. They didn’t care. I don’t know when they poisoned us, but it was long ago.”
Danzig leaned against a stout wooden post which supported a section of loft. “I’m so tired. They finally agreed to let me modify and sell some of the homes they’d built for themselves. Making the changes took little time and generated a great deal of money. Enough to live on. When they needed something special, the funds went to pay for those things, too.” He spat.
“I was their delivery boy, their mule, their robot.” The anger in his voice grew with every word. “I’ve had enough. I’m tired. Done.”
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys which he handed to her. “Here. Take the truck. Go home.”
Karina looked at the keys then back at Danzig. “How will you get back to–”
“I’m not going anywhere after tonight,” he said.
“Please, just go. Now.” He pushed her gently toward the sliding door in the barn wall.
“Aren’t you worried I’ll tell people what I’ve seen? What you’ve told me?”
He shook his head. “Not anymore.” With a firm hand on her lower back, he guided her toward the exit.
Concerned about what he intended to do, she put on the brakes. “Wait a minute. What are you–”
“What I intend to do is none of your business. I’ve tried to be polite, but perhaps I need to remind you that you’re trespassing on private property. I didn’t invite you here. You have no right to stay.”
“I just don’t want you to do anything rash.”
His expression told her he had no interest in her thoughts or opinions. “Goodbye,” he said as he slid the heavy wooden door shut and barred it from the inside.
Karina stood looking at the big building and pondered its astonishing contents. Eventually, she turned and began the short walk to the truck but stopped when she heard a new noise—not exactly an explosion, more like a profound whump sound. Moments later, smoke and flames appeared through a loft window.
“Oh, my God!” Karina screamed. “He’s going to kill them all.”
She quickly reversed course and raced back to the barn door and put all her weight into an effort to open it. The massive panel wouldn’t budge.
Hurrying around to the back of the building, she paused to take a quick look through the knothole she’d discovered earlier. Flames and more smoke obscured the scene but not the sounds of tiny voices screaming in pain and terror.
Sticking her fingers into the knothole, Karina tried to tear the wooden slat from the wall, but like the door, it didn’t move at all. Abandoning that idea, she continued moving around the outside searching for a way in, or a way to let the victims of the blaze out.
Sadly, there were no other exits.
She circled the building and stood out front, staring up at the loft window she noticed earlier. A tiny figure stood on the sill, clearly terrified. Karina thought it might be a female.
“Jump!” she yelled, moving toward the blaze. “I’ll catch you.”
Instead of jumping forward, the doll-sized victim screamed as the flames swept over her, and she fell backward, out of sight.
Karina dropped to her knees, numbed by shock and grief. The rescue had been so close, so– possible. And just as quickly, it had disappeared.
The heat from the now fully engulfed barn forced her backward, and she began to fear it might set the truck on fire, too. She climbed behind the wheel, started the engine, and moved the vehicle to safety.
Almost as an afterthought, she extracted her cell phone from the pocket of her jeans to dial 911, the local emergency number. The “No Service” indicator on the phone told her the effort was futile. She shook her head knowing that even if she had gotten through to someone, the barn would likely burn to the ground before anyone could get there.
Her heart heavy with remorse, Karina vowed to stay long enough to look for survivors though she had no hope that anyone could have lived through such a massive and all-consuming blaze. She stood outside the truck and leaned back against it, her tears unchecked.
As the first rays of morning touched the eastern sky, Karina crept closer to the smoking ruins. Very little remained recognizable amid the sea of charred wood. Still, she picked her way carefully around the entire site, hoping to find something or someone who had survived. This was an advanced race, she told herself. Surely they had planned something in the event of a catastrophe like this. The smoldering wreckage, however, told a different story.
Turning her steps back toward the truck she almost missed the first sounds of distress coming from the woods a short distance away. Karina squinted but couldn’t make out anything in the shadows.
Soon, other voices joined the first, and a stampede of exceptionally small children emerged from the shadows racing pell‑mell toward the wreckage behind her.
One thought after another tumbled through Karina’s brain as she watched the horrified mob race toward their burned-out home. They hardly slowed down as they swept past her but came to a ragged and hysterical stop when they reached the vast pile of still-smoking cinders arrayed in front of them.
“Oh, you poor dears,” Karina said as she knelt down to get closer. “I’m so sorry.”
The tiny children were dressed in what appeared to be uniforms, their shirts and slacks all matched. The largest of the band, clearly their leader, stepped to the forefront, alternating looks of grief and hatred splayed across her face.
“Did you do this?” she inquired angrily, her finger pointed directly at Karina.
“No! Of course not. I would never–”
She was interrupted by the clamor of the adolescent mob, at least thirty strong, which stood behind their leader. Many of those voices called out for revenge, while others simply wailed for their lost families.
“It was Danzig,” Karina said, “not me. I swear it!”
“Who are you?” their leader asked as she moved closer, all the while motioning to those behind her to hold their place.
As Karina began to explain her presence, she felt the tiniest of pinpricks near her ankle. She reached down to rub it and saw the male version of the diminutive adult with whom she’d been talking. He held some sort of syringe in his hand.
“It’s done,” he said. “She’ll do whatever we need her to do.”
His co-leader looked at him and nodded, her expression grim.
“Or else,” she said.