The Ghost Giant - we need more fairytales
There was once a little woman who lived a very ordinary life in a small town at the foot of the mountains. She worked in the grocery store from 10AM until 2PM every Tuesday and Thursday, offering samples of food to shoppers. When her shift was over, she’d hobble through the store with her basket in one hand and her cane in the other, choosing the best vegetables and occasionally a small cut of meat. She always made sure to catch the bus home before rush hour.
Mondays and Wednesdays she worked cleaning house or minding children after school until their parents got home. On those days, the parents would drive her home or call her a ride. In any case she was never a mile or two from her cottage next to the old forest - next to it, but not quite in it. When she was younger, she used to keep a garden of flowers and edibles, but the ground had gotten as tired as she was, and so she worked at the grocer’s for the convenience of good produce. She had no pets, but often chickens or a cat would wander over from the neighbors, and each would get some sort of a treat.
At night the little woman would walk out into her yard and look toward the mountains. She’d whisper some words from another time, close her eyes, shimmy a little, and slowly grow larger - and this was not noticeable if you happened to be nearby. Outwardly, the little woman looked the same, maybe meditative, maybe a little crazy. But her true self - what lived inside and wasn’t visible to normal eyes - she’d let that out to be full-sized. She’d stretch as high as the sky, much taller than the oaks, probably as tall as the mountains, though they were much farther away than they looked. She’d stretch wide, and deep and expand in all directions, until she could see worlds away. She’d look in all directions - and this without moving, because her eyes were not eyes and could access every molecule - and she’d call out the unpronounceable name of her true love.
You couldn’t hear it if you’d been nearby, but the bats would fly in all directions, and the fireflies would briefly blink in unison if it were in their season. Every time it happened, which was two or three nights a week if she felt strong enough, she received no answer in return. Slowly she’d grow smaller, tuck herself back into herself like a fitted sheet, and without looking like anything other than a little woman with a cane she’d turn sadly back toward her cottage and go to bed.
It was said in town that she’d had a love once, and he’d left (for the war, or for the gold rush, or some such) never to return. It was also said that she’d never met her true love, and never had a date, and if you asked her she’d only smile and say the timing wasn’t right. The truth was that nobody knew. And so everyone went on about their own business.
There came a time when a dread disease was tearing across the land, causing children and old folks and really anybody to fall deathly ill. Fewer and fewer people came to the grocery store, and the children stayed home from school. The little woman was concerned for her community.
Late at night, she took her cane and stood out in the yard. She let her true self get larger and larger, pushing the tree branches aside until if you’d been nearby you'd have thought an especially strong wind was coming through. And then she let out all her breath until her true self was like an empty balloon, and then she slowly inhaled - she swallowed up all the germs in the countryside and kept them inside her, punching herself back into her little woman body. She did this several nights in a row. It made her very weak and tired; she called the grocer and said she’d be staying home on Tuesday. Since everyone had been sick, nobody thought anything of her absence. She stayed home on Thursday, too. The grocer sent some kids over to her cottage with soup, which they left on her porch - nobody wanted to get sick.
The little woman learned to manage her body with all the germs inside. She went back to work as usual, and spent time at the library, trying to figure out what to do with what she’d captured. She gained strength slowly and wasn’t really minding the extra load.
The community was feeling the pressure of being unhealthy for so long, even though fewer people were getting sick. Those who weren’t housebound were unusually rude to one another. Petty arguments were cropping up everywhere, even at the grocery store. The little woman was worried, and offered to work more days so she could be on hand to lend friendliness. The grocer finally agreed.
The little woman was in the grocery store on a Wednesday, spooning samples of macaroni and cheese into little cups. Every bristly shopper pushed past her without noticing. Around noon the grocer turned up the volume on his radio: there was a riot ensuing downtown, just three blocks away. Apparently two locals had got into a shouting match, and then other locals had started lining up behind each shouter, taking sides. Everyone in the market abandoned their baskets to run down the street and watch the fight. Police sirens could be heard - both on the radio and through the door of the market. Shots were fired.
The little woman thought of the kids she’d minded after school, and those who brought her soup when she was ill, the people who’d gladly accepted her samples before this ill wind had come through. She spoke a few quiet words and began to let her giant self out of her little self. She grew bigger and larger until she took the roof off the market (nobody noticed, as they were all arguing 3 blocks away) and kept expanding until she was about to encompass the whole melee.
Shots were fired again. Nobody saw it, but the bullets were stopped in the invisible skin of a ghost giant, and so did not miss their target and kill an innocent girl who was standing at the curb, holding her momma’s hand while her momma watched the fight. Nobody saw the bullet pierce the skin, and the whole of the little woman’s true self slowly deflating, slowly leaking out all the germs and disease she’d been keeping inside.
Nobody saw the little woman crumple to the floor next to her macaroni stand at the grocery store. By the time the grocer noticed and called 9-1-1, the little woman was no longer breathing, and anyway it took too long for the ambulance to get through the crowd.
There isn’t much of a town left at the foot of the mountains. By the end of 2020, the population had been decimated by the deadly virus, and another ten percent had moved away to live with relatives because the economy made it impossible to keep a small town functioning. A schoolteacher lives in the cottage now; she remembers that awful riot and tells that it’s lucky nobody was killed. She never knew there was a bullet with her name on it. But she does sometimes think she hears a sad voice in the trees, like someone lost who’s come looking for his one true love.