Claustrophobia

He felt taller lately. Perhaps he was holding himself differently. Perhaps he had a newfound confidence–a raised chin, a straight spine. Yet it always went away the instant he left the house.

Coming home from work was a delight. No more were the tall buildings and the vast sky: here was his home, his roof, and each time he returned he was gladder and gladder. He puffed out his chest and sauntered purposefully through his home for simple tasks, like getting more orange juice from the fridge, or going to the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, he felt his shoulders brush against the sink counter and the shower curtains. They were cold and alarming–an issue he hadn’t had before, not ever. Was he getting wider, too?

Maybe that was it–he was simply overeating, engorging and enlarging himself. No longer did he loaf, but he researched workout methods to do from his home (he still didn’t fancy going outside when he could help it). He found a guide used by prisoners confined to small spaces and lacking gym equipment, and followed it. He did crunches and push-ups, moved a chair in front of his bed and did backwards push-ups with his feet upright on the bed and arms curled behind him, gripping the edge of the chair. Every morning, he followed the prison workout routine, but his elbows still bumped the counter and shower curtain. In fact, he could hardly tuck them in and avoid it now.

He reasoned that the push-ups were making his arms and shoulders broader, so that saw the end of the prisoner workout routine. He did, at least, feel manful on his strolls down the hallways, like he had forged himself into a giant of a man in only a few days.

The outdoors, though–this huge, open space–it swallowed him up, made him feel puny and irrelevant. He buried himself in his carpentry work, focusing on the hammer and the nail rather than how much larger the other workers were. He was restless, moving about as much as possible, climbing ladders when he could just to gain size over the world.

During a brief pause, wiping his brow with his shirtsleeves from atop a tall ladder, his eyes had wandered to the sky, away from the buildings and the earth, and he had the horrible sensation that he was falling. He clutched the ladder frame with such panic that he nearly toppled and fell for real. The frame clacked back against the wall of the house he was putting together–so much newer and larger than his–and he breathed and breathed and climbed gingerly down.

Home again. He smiled when he approached. It was so much smaller than the ones he helped build, but it was his, and he was master of the realm, the tallest and hugest of its inhabitants (being the only inhabitant). He was so huge he grazed his scalp against the top of the doorframe on the way in. This had never happened before, but he had recently bought new boots, so that might have explained it.

How could he ever leave? he wondered. Even upon removing his boots he felt a colossus, stomping proudly through his small home. He didn’t care what his mother said; this house was built for one, and he would occupy every inch of it.

He stretched out along the couch, his toes hanging over the arm. In fact, he thought, the house might have been too small for him. Certainly the furniture was. He remembered napping liberally on it after every shift, but now–impossible. His feet lost circulation within moments. He no longer stomped through the house, for it was uncomfortable to do while walking on pins and needles.

On his way into the bathroom, thankful he only needed to piss and therefore wouldn’t need to bump his now-bruised elbow against the counter, he cracked the top of his head against the frame. It throbbed like a sonofabitch, and he swore loudly to the echo of the bathroom while he pissed in the new bowl and went wide, drizzling on the floor. He swore some more.

After cleaning, he ducked through the doorframe and went grumbling to his bedroom, ducking too under its frame, which had never before been necessary. He collapsed diagonally across the bed, his knees hanging over the end. He tried to move around lengthwise, but his feet, as with the couch, hung in the air. His newfound tallness was no longer inspiring him–it was a burden. He tucked his knees inward a little and fell asleep.

When he woke, his arms and his feet were all suspended in the air. He had stretched out, but only a little–the bed seemed to have dropped from a queen to a single, or smaller. Rising, he stumbled groggily through his house, banging head and elbow alike every which way he went, and he no longer felt mastery of his home. It felt as though it was turning on him. Strangling him. Pissing was target practice, now, the bowl was so small. He could reach his hand up–not even that high–and graze the roof. His sofa was now only slightly longer than a chair. Even the food in his fridge looked miniaturized. Probably for the best, he thought–he clearly needed to lose weight.

Ignoring his rumbling stomach, he sat on the sofa again, forwards this time. His knees seemed too high for comfort, but he ignored the awkwardness and turned on the tube. The resolution was too low to comfortably look at, so he simply closed his eyes and listened. When he opened them again, the TV screen was no bigger than that of a cellphone.

Now when he rose, not only did he bump into many things that seemed closer together than ever before, but he knocked them around, too, kicking coffee tables across the floor, bumping over the recliner and nearly toppling the fridge.

He was getting dizzy, short of breath. He made for the front door, the roof seemingly to slope downwards on his way. The doorknob felt like a marble in his massive palm. He pulled it open, splintering through the lock, and squeezed his shoulders through the frame–just barely–and landed on his hands and knees on the doorstop.

The wide world yawned before him. Massive cars and trucks roared by, people his size or taller chatted laughingly with big dogs clicking down the sidewalk on leashes. The sky was getting dark, and it was still so huge, so empty, ready to pull him into its blue maw and swallow him whole.

Nowhere was comfortable. His house too small, the world too big. He stood up and tried to walk away from his home, trembling from the sounds of the traffic, shrinking away from the big dogs and tall people who made him feel like a flea. To live tiny in a massive world or to live huge in a tiny world? He looked back at his house–his shack, really, it was so puny, or a woodshed. He returned his gaze to the world, the infinite roads and the dragon clouds and the billions of fellow humans looking down their noses at him.

No. He returned to his home, worming his way through the door.

Soon he lay flat, for the roof was too low. He tucked in his arms, because the walls were too narrow. And at last, the house arrived at its smallest size and shrank no further, stopping at 84 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 23 inches tall.

 


 

 

Day 267’s three random writing prompt categories were, “A house that traps residents inside,” “The walls are closing in,” and, “The Emperor.”

Those pesky shrinking houses. Always happens after a rain.

– H.

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