"I'm-well, I'm thicker than you. You're barely formed yet. You're practically transparent."
"Oh." Littlest examined her own self and saw that it was true. She had not paid much attention before to her own parts. Now she touched her ears, watching the shadow's arms move, too; then she swiveled her neck to peer down at her own tiny behind. "I do not have a tail," she announced. "I think I am not a dog. We, I mean. We are not a kind of dog."
"There. You have answered your own question. Come more quickly, please. You are dawdling."
Reluctantly, Littlest scurried across the design of the carpet, beyond the moonlit rectangles, and onto the pine-boarded floor, which was always a little dangerous because of splinters.
"What if the dog woke? Would he see us? Or smell us, perhaps? I know he has a very significant nose. And if he did see us, or smell us, would that be dangerous for us?
"Or the woman? She woke the other night, remember? Because there was a bat in the house? It swooped and woke her somehow. She didn't like the bat. She was quite brave, I remember, and opened a window so the bat flew out into the night, which was where he had wanted to be all along, doing his night food-finding.
"But what if our little footsteps and flutterings had woken her? Would she have seen us?
"Are we visible to her?
"I know we don't fly the way bats do, but we operate at night. Might we be a type of bat?"
Fastidious turned suddenly with a very annoyed gesture.
"Enough! Hush! Stop that questioning! We have our work to do. You insisted on coming. You said you'd be quiet. My nerves are becoming frayed. I want no more questions now. None whatsoever."
"All right. I promise," Littlest One said obediently. They continued on, one following the other.
"Are you doing your assigned tasks?"
"Yes. I touched the rug. And I'm touching this sweater now, the one she left on the chair."
"Gently. Do not under any circumstances press. But linger and get the feel of it into yourself."
"Yes, I am. You showed me how." Littlest was running her tiny fingers carefully over the sweater's soft sleeve. Then she touched a button and let her hand linger on it. It was startling, what she felt during the lingering. The entire history of the button came to her, and all it had been part of: a breezy picnic on a hillside in summer long ago; a January night, more recently, by the fire; and even, once, the time that a cup of tea had been spilled on the sweater. It was all there, still.
They moved quietly around the room, touching things. Fastidious half fluttered, half climbed to a tabletop and methodically touched framed photographs. Littlest watched in the moonlight and saw how the fingers chose and touched and felt the faces gazing out from the photographs: a man in uniform; a baby, grinning; an elderly woman with a stern look.
Forgetting her promise of no questions, Littlest suddenly asked, "Might we be human?" But Fastidious did not reply.
GOSSAMER by Lois Lowry. Copyright (c) 2006 by Lois Lowry. Posted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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