Shrinkin' Lincoln


Chapter 1: A Small Problem



- Help Lucy with poem for writing contest

- Feed reptiles with Lana

- Join Lola for tea party

10:00 AM:

- Meet Lisa in her room for "new scientific breakthrough"

Lincoln didn't know how he ever survived without his daily planner. After the "Noise-B-Gone" incident, he made a pointed effort to never forget or renege on anything he promised to do for his sisters. The following day, he ran out to the drug store and bought a tiny little notepad, which he thereafter used to organize all his sister-related activities into neatly organized daily agendae.

Today, it seemed, was a day for the younger ones. At 10:00 that morning, he was to meet Lisa in her room to "bear witness to a groundbreaking new innovation," as she put it. As for the other three, he could attend to them at whatever time and in whatever order he pleased. The shorthand "A/T" stood for "any time", and it was usually the timestamp for his activities with Lucy (who didn't care when he showed up) and the twins (who hadn't learned how to tell time yet).

But Lisa was a stickler for punctuality. If she wanted you in her room at 10:00, she meant exactly 10:00, and not a single minute earlier or later. Fortunately, this generally wasn't a problem for Lincoln, since his bedroom door was right next to hers. All he had to do was set his alarm for the time Lisa chose, and when it went off, he could just step out of his room and stroll right into hers.

So from 9:30 to 10, he just lay about his room, wondering what Lisa could possibly have in store for him. An android? A miniature nuclear reactor? An automated peanut shell remover? With her, the possibilities were virtually limitless.

As soon as the clock struck 10, he hopped off his bed, left his room and creaked open Lisa's door. When he walked inside, he saw Lisa on the other side of the room, standing atop her chemistry table. On the table next to her was a large, bulky platinum cyndrilical apparatus with a red, cone-like nozzle attached to the end, which was pointed at the wall opposite her.

"Ah, greetings, Lincoln," said Lisa, giving him a curt wave. "You have arrived at the optimal chronological period."


"You're right on time."

She donned a prideful smirk and rapped the cylinder a couple of times with her fist, creating a tinny clanging sound. "This took me five months, but I'm proud to say that it's finally finished. What I have here is a miniaturization apparatus: in layman's terms, a 'shrink ray'."

Lincoln's eyebrows jumped. Lisa had put together some pretty outlandish contraptions - certainly beyond anything an average four-year-old could do - but this sounded far-fetched even for her.

"A shrink ray?"

"Indeed," said Lisa. "It can drastically reduce the volume of any object-"

"N-n-no, I know what a shrink ray does, but..."

Lincoln stepped further into the room. "It... it just doesn't seem possible. How would it even work?"

Lisa shot him a stiff, icy look. "Well, Lincoln, there are two ways I could respond to that," she said, her tone pointed and deliberate. "I could describe, in detail, what the device can do on a molecular level, using scientific theories far beyond your level of comprehension..."

She grabbed one end of the cylinder and started to push it counterclockwise.

"...or I could simply demonstrate. Which would you prefer?"

Lincoln sighed. "The second one," he muttered. Lincoln had always been apprehensive about asking Lisa questions, since her answers inevitably made him feel like a complete moron.

"That's what I thought," said Lisa. "Now, if you'll observe the layout of the room, you'll notice that I've already set up a target for the apparatus."

On the right side of the room, propped up against the wall, was a wooden stool with a head of cabbage resting atop. Lisa continued to push the shrink ray around until its nozzle was aligned perfectly with the cabbage.

"As of now, the miniaturization apparatus is fully operational and ready to fire. Are you ready to see its first successful test run?"

Lincoln gulped. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess."

"Then feast your eyes on this!"

She clenched her hand into a fist and hammered a switch placed atop the shrink ray. Lincoln waited with bated breath for the device to go off.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

For two agonizingly suspenseful minutes, nothing happened. At the two minute mark, the machine started to sputter, and a tiny plume of smoke started emanating from the back, but that was the only sign they received that the machine was doing anything at all. Lisa took a moment to look up from the apparatus towards her older brother, just to reassure herself that he was still enraptured. Much to her dismay, she could see the wonderment draining from his eyes with every passing second.

"Lisa, how long is this supposed to take?" he asked.

"Be patient!" she said. "This device is the first of its kind, you know."

Minute after minute passed with no discernible progress. Lincoln's eyes were constantly shifting between his watch and the still-sputtering machine on Lisa's table. Every time he looked up, he caught a glimpse of Lisa staring at him from across the room, silently pleading him to stay. It would only be so long before he decided that enough was enough.

"Okay, I'm out. Let me know when it actually starts working."

"Lincoln, wait!" cried Lisa. "I'm sure it won't be long before the device is fully calibrated!"

Lincoln scowled at the flustered young genius. "Lisa, I've got other things to do today. I'm not going to spend the whole day standing in your room waiting for that thing to go off. I'm leaving."

Lincoln turned around and started to walk towards the door, prompting Lisa to jump off the table and try to chase him.

"Lincoln, please! It just needs a little more time!"

Lisa leaped off the table, ran across the room and grabbed ahold of Lincoln's pant leg. "Just a few more minutes, I promise! After that, I'll let you... let you..."

In the midst of her begging, Lisa took a glance back at the device, just to gauge its progress. What she saw caused her jaw to drop and her pupils to shrink. Much to her delight, the machine's sputtering had become louder and more violent, indicating that it was nearly ready to go off.

Much to her horror, it was pointed the wrong way.

As it turned out, Lisa had just committed what was known in the scientific community as a "whoopsie". In her haste to stop Lincoln from leaving, she had accidentally nudged the nozzle a few degrees to the left when she jumped off the table, pushing it away from its intended target and towards an entirely new one.

All she could manage to say in that moment was a hoarse little squeak of, "Uh oh."

Lincoln, perturbed by Lisa's utterance, looked across the room to see that the nozzle was pointed directly at him. Before he even had a chance to process the fact that he was in danger, the machine let loose a piercing shriek and expelled a beam of luminescent yellow plasma, which hit him square in the chest. The entire room started flashing, and Lincoln could feel every muscle in his body contracting and his skin tightening around his skeleton, as if every one of his cells was trying to compress itself. The sounds of Lisa's panicked cries were the last thing he heard before his entire body went numb and his world went black.

Lincoln awoke moments later in a daze, clutching his head in pain. Through his slightly blurred vision, he had a bit of trouble making out the scenery surrounding him. Stumbling forward, he felt something graze his calf, and looked down to find some strange maroon-colored tumbleweed tangled around it. He bent down, unraveled it, and held it up to his face to get a better look at it. It took a bit of fiddling and examining for him to figure out what it was, but once he did, his heart fell into the pit of his stomach.

It wasn't a tumbleweed. It was lint.

Lincoln rubbed his eyes and started to survey the world around him, and what he saw just confirmed his suspicion: a massive, building-sized baby crib on one end of the room, a ceiling so high he had to crane his neck all the way up to see it, and a frazzled-looking giant stomping towards him.

"Oh, dear," boomed the giant, wringing her hands. "Dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. This was not supposed to happen."

Every step Lisa took in his direction served to reinforce how large she was compared to him, both from the minor tremors he felt every time one of her feet touched down, and the fact that his eye level was at least an inch below her knees. Upon seeing the titanic toddler draw closer, his body went into full-on panic mode.

"G-gah! Don't hurt me! Don't squish me!"

He fell backwards onto his butt and frantically tried to crawl away from her. Consciously, he knew that Lisa would never do anything to harm him, but her enormous (relative) size set off his fight-or-flight response. It was hard not to be afraid of someone so huge she could step on him without even noticing the crunching sound.

"Lincoln, I'm not going to harm you," said Lisa, her voice trembling slightly. "Please stop trying to run away."

"O-okay," squeaked Lincoln. "Just give me a moment."

He closed his eyes and started taking some deep breaths, giving himself some time to confront the reality of the situation. She shrunk you, Linc. You're about eight inches tall now. But she's not going to hurt you. She's still your sister and she still loves you.

Once he found the wherewithal to open his eyes and look up at his sister, she began to speak again.

"I sincerely apologize, Lincoln," she said, crouching down to get a closer look at him. "While I'm pleased that my invention turned out to be a success, I did not intend for you to be its first target."

At his diminutive size, Lincoln could see every crease, every fold in Lisa's shame-ridden face. The bottom lip protruding just a little bit, the light wrinkles cris-crossing her forehead, the faint but noticeable sound of her sniffling... it was all so profoundly pathetic.

"Lisa, it's okay," he said. While he knew that his current predicament was just about the furthest thing from "okay" he could imagine, he couldn't bring himself to stay mad at her. "I'll go get mom and dad; they'll figure something out."

"NO!" cried Lisa, causing Lincoln to flinch from the sudden spike in volume. "We can't inform our parents. If they discover that I inadvertently miniaturized your body, the repercussions will be catastrophic!"


"If they find out I shrunk you, I'll be in a lot of trouble!"

Lisa started wringing her hands again as she paced back and forth across the room.

"Well, we have to do something!" exclaimed Lincoln. "I mean, I can't live like this, Lisa! Can't you... um..."

Lincoln hesitated to ask his next question, as he feared that Lisa would respond to it with her usual condescending snark. Regardless, asking the question was the only way he could reassure himself that there was a way out of this.

"...can't you, I don't know, grow me back? Like, run the machine in reverse or something?"

Lisa scratched the back of her head. "Well, technically, yes. The good news is that the machine can, in fact, be run in reverse. It's perfectly capable of restoring your body to its original volume and mass."

Lincoln's face lit up. "That's great! Then just do that!"

"I wasn't finished," said Lisa, averting Lincoln's gaze. "The bad news is that it has a recharge time of approximately 24 hours. You'll be back to your old self tomorrow morning, but until then, I'm afraid you'll remain miniaturized."

Lincoln's smile disappeared just as quickly as it appeared. "A-are you kidding me?!" he shouted. "You made a machine that takes ten minutes to boot up and a whole day to recharge?!"

Lisa looked back towards Lincoln, shooting a biting glare in his direction. From jittery and sheepish to cold and condescending in 0.2 seconds.

"Oh, I'm so sorry for displaying such incompetence," she said, her tone dripping with acid. "Why don't you take me to your room and show me your shrink ray, and we can see how it measures up to mine?"

Lincoln could only respond by hanging his head in defeat. He didn't think it was possible for her to make him feel even smaller than he already did.

"You'll just have to wait until the shrink ray is fully recharged," she said. "Until then, sit tight. I'll bring you food from downstairs."

Lincoln shook his head. "Uh-uh. No dice. I'm not going to spend 24 hours sitting in your room doing nothing."


"I have stuff I need to do!" cried Lincoln. "Lucy, Lana and Lola are all expecting to see me today! At the very least, they deserve an explanation!"

Lisa dropped her steely authoritative demeanor once again and dropped to her knees, clasping her hands together.

"Lincoln, please! I know you had plans today, but what if mom or dad sees you out in the hall?!"

Lincoln didn't really know how to respond. It was a little bizarre to have someone fifty times his size groveling to him for mercy.

"If it really matters that much to you, I won't force you to stay here. But please don't go out into that hall alone. Let me escort you."

Lincoln saw Lisa's bottom lip starting to quiver. "Pretty please with a prunus avium on top?"

He took a moment to mull over Lisa's offer, and he couldn't really find any reason to say no. If anything, he'd feel safer having Lisa escort him from room to room, so that he wouldn't risk getting stepped on or vacuumed or eaten by one of their pets.

"Okay, you have a deal," he said.

Lisa sighed with relief. "Thank you, Lincoln. I promise I'll make this up to you when it's all over."

Lincoln's first instinct was to try to brainstorm what favor he'd have her do for him, but before he could really start the thinking process, he was interrupted by a voice coming from behind.


Lincoln turned around to see Lily standing in the doorway, eyeing him with what looked like an expression halfway between confusion and curiosity. Lincoln could practically hear the gears turning in her underdeveloped brain as she toddled towards him. She recognized that what she saw was outside the norm - after all, Lincoln was supposed to be big, not small - but she still understood little about the world around her. For all she knew, this was a completely normal turn of events and she just hadn't experienced it yet.

"Um, hey, Lily," said Lincoln, giving his baby sister a nervous smile. "It's me, your big- um, not-so-big brother."

Lily continued to walk closer, continuing to stare at him. The sight of a 15-month-old towering over him was something he never thought he'd experience. Lily was a good deal smaller than Lisa, so he didn't feel as tiny compared to her, but he was still only a third her height, if that.

Once she was right in front of Lincoln, she just stood there staring down at him with that same inscrutable expression. As the seconds ticked by, Lincoln prayed that she wouldn't try to eat him - not just for his own sake, but for hers too. He was too big for her to swallow whole, and if she tried to eat him, she could choke.

Luckily, she didn't do anything of the sort. She reached down, wrapped her thick, pudgy fingers around him, and hoisted him up into a hug.

"Winky!" she squealed.

Lincoln heaved out a sigh of relief as he felt all the tension in his body dissolve in that instant. He never had anything to worry about, and in fact he felt a bit silly for thinking that he did. For a moment, he just let Lily hold him, resting his cheek up against hers.

The moment ended abruptly, though, when he and Lisa heard their mother calling out to the latter.

"Lisa?" Rita called from the top of the stairs. "Can I come in?"

Lincoln's body went right back into danger mode as soon as he heard her calling. "Mom's coming!" he cried. "Quick, Lily, hide me!"

Lily's eyes darted around the room for a place to put him, but Rita was getting dangerously close. In an act of desperation, she pulled open her diaper and shoved him inside.

"No, not in the-!" was all Lincoln could say before he was thrown in. For what seemed like an eternity, he sat there shrouded in darkness, barely able to make out the conversation Lisa was having with Rita.

"I just wanted to let you know that the latest issue of MIT Technology Review just came in."

"Oh. Thank you, mother. You can just leave it on my bed."

"Say, what's that on your chemistry table?"

"Um... excellent question. Let me try to explain it in layman's terms. How familiar are you with the theory of-"

"You know what, never mind. You can just tell me later."

"Very well, then. Good day, mother."

Nice save, Lisa.

As soon as he heard the sound of the door shutting, Lily reached in, pulled him out and set him down on the floor. He looked up to see his baby sister with her eyes pointed downward and her hands behind her back.


"I-it's okay, Lily," he said in between gasps of air. "Just warn me next time you're gonna do something like that."

Lincoln was then greeted with the sound of muffled giggling, and saw Lisa a few feet away with her hand clasped over her mouth, in a vain attempt to hide her chortles.

"Oh, what are you laughing at?"

"Come on, Lincoln. You have to admit that that was at least a little humorous."

Lincoln just snorted at her. "For you, maybe."

Lisa gave herself a little more time to giggle before taking a deep breath and regaining her composure. "Anyway," she said, "I believe you told me earlier that you had activities scheduled with Lola, Lana and Lucy today. Is that correct?"

Lincoln nodded.

"In that case, I think it's important that we meet with them as soon as possible to discuss your current situation. This means I'm going to have to take you out into the hall."

She bent down to meet him at eye level. "I hate to subject you to another dark, enclosed confinement, but would you kindly go inside my pocket, please?"

"Sure, I don't mind," said Lincoln. "Better than a diaper, at least."

"Yes, I would imagine so."

With that, she picked up Lincoln by the collar, pinched open her pocket, and dropped him inside.

"Lily, I'm afraid I'm going to have to take Lincoln away for now," said Lisa. "He has business to attend to."

Lily just smiled and gave the two of them a wave goodbye. "Ba-ba, Winky!"

Lincoln grinned, peeked his head out of Lisa's pocket and returned the wave. "Bye, Lily!"

Once he saw Lisa clear the doorway and enter the hall, he ducked back inside. As he waited to be withdrawn again, he began to shudder, fearing that his three other sisters (especially Lola) would be somewhat less than pleased to see him in this state. Would he have to cancel his plans with them? And if he did, who were they going to blame, him or Lisa?

All he could do was sit there in the musky confines of Lisa's pocket and wait.

Chapter 2: An Early Lunch

Lisa's pocket wasn't exactly a luxury car. It was dark, cramped and filled with miscellaneous bits of dust, crumbs and debris. Lincoln gagged a couple of times on the thick, dusty air inside, prompting Lisa to shush him. His body was aching for fresh air, but Lisa disallowed him from poking his head out until she was ready to withdraw him.

Thankfully, that wouldn't be too much longer. From what he overheard, it seemed that Lisa was already starting to gather his other three younger sisters.

"Oh, hello, Lucy. I'm glad I ran into you. Would you please follow me to the twins' room? I want to show you something."


Times like these made Lincoln grateful that he and his sisters all shared one hall; otherwise, this would have taken forever.

The next thing he heard was the sound of a door creaking open - presumably the twins'.

"Hello?...Oh, hi Lisa! Hi, Lucy! What's up?"

"Come closer, Lana. There's something I need to discuss with you and Lola."

"Uh oh. Are we in trouble?"

"No, but I could be. You see, just last night I finally finished construction on my miniaturization apparatus."


"My shrink ray."

"Aw, neat! Can I use it?"

"I'm afraid not. I already used it once this morning, and it needs to recharge."

"Aw, man..."

"In fact, that's the reason I'm here. You see, there was a bit of a mishap during the testing process. Right before the machine was launched, I accidentally knocked the barrel a bit off-kilter, and... well, this happened."

Lincoln felt Lisa pinch him by his shirt collar and pull him out of her pocket, freeing him from his musky prison. Once she set him down on the ground, he took a moment to survey his surroundings, and found himself in the familiar setting of the twins' room: messy and disheveled on the left side, prim and symmetrical on the right, air filled with the scent of cheap perfume and the sound of assorted animal cries. Around him stood the now-gargantuan Lana, Lola and Lucy, all staring down at him with their jaws slack and their eyes popped. (Or, at least, he imagined that Lucy's eyes were popped.)

"Is that... Lincoln?" asked Lana.

"Affirmative," said Lisa. "He has been scaled down to roughly one one-hundredth of his original size, but in all other respects he is still our brother."

Lana crouched down to get a closer look, peering at him from multiple different angles. Lincoln felt a twinge of unease seeing those gigantic eyes boring into him. It didn't help that, at his size, he could see every stain and blemish on Lana's overalls in vivid detail.

"Yep, that's Lincoln, all right," said Lana.

Then, without warning, she plopped her butt down right in front of him, causing the floor to shake and knocking him off balance.

"Man, that is so cool!" she said, as a grin broke out across her face. "So what's it like being so tiny? Do you hang out with bugs?! Ooh, or mice?!"

"N-no," Lincoln stammered, trying to regain his balance. "At least, I haven't yet."

"I would like to ask you to save your questions for later," said Lisa. "Lincoln has only been miniaturized since 10:05, and he knows very little about the experience."

"Eh, fair enough," Lana said with a shrug.

Lana got back on her feet and glanced over at her other sisters, to gauge their reactions. While Lucy was starting to reassume her neutral expression, Lola's face was still frozen in the same position that it took when Lincoln was first hoisted out of Lisa's pocket.

"Um, Lola? Are you feeling okay?"

"H-he's..." stuttered Lola. "He's..."

Lisa rolled her eyes. "Yes, Lola. He's been miniaturized. I believe we have established tha-"

"He's so CUTE!"

Lola snatched Lincoln up off the floor, and the next thing he knew, she had him locked in a tight, rib-compressing hug.

"You're so adorable like this!" she cried. "I just wanna squeeeeeeze you 'til you pop!"

"P-please don't," gasped Lincoln, trying to squirm out of Lola's grip.

"Put him down, Lola," said Lisa. "We need to discuss how we're going to approach today's activities."

"Oh, all right."

Lola released the hug and set him down on the floor. He greedily sucked in air, relieved at the sensation of being able to breathe again.

"Now, unless I'm mistaken," said Lisa, "Lincoln has agreed to assist all three of you in your respective-"

"Wait, wait, wait," interrupted Lola. "Can I just try one more thing? Then I'll give you the floor, I promise."

Lisa sighed. "Proceed."

Lola bent down, reached her hand towards Lincoln and gave him a gentle poke in the belly, causing him to giggle.

Lola let out an elated gasp and started trembling with excitement. "Just like the Pillsbury Doughboy!" she squealed. "You're so precious I can't even stand it! EEEEE!"

While all of this was happening, Lisa, Lana and Lucy just stood there, completely stone-faced, staring at Lola and waiting for her to get over herself. Eventually, she did.

"...okay, I'm done," said Lola. "Go on, Lisa."

Lisa walked into the center of the room. "As I was saying," she said, "All three of you were expecting to see Lincoln today. Is that correct?"

"Yeah, I was gonna show him how to feed my reptiles," said Lana.

"And I was going to have him help me with my poetry," said Lucy.

"And I invited him to my tea party," said Lola.

"Mm-hmm," said Lisa. "And on an ordinary day, Lincoln would attend to all three of you at your leisure, in whatever order he saw fit. Is that correct?"

The twins and Lucy nodded.

"But as you may have gleaned, today is not an ordinary day. In his current state, Lincoln cannot traverse the halls unescorted, as doing so would cause him to risk detection from our parental units. And I do not wish to get them involved."

Lisa pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before continuing. "Therefore, for simplicity's sake, I think we should decide now who gets to see him first, second and third."

As if on cue, all three of the other sisters launched themselves into a squabbling match.

"I'm the oldest, so I should see him first!" said Lucy.

"No way! Beauty before age!" hollered Lola.

"Oh, then I guess I should see him first!" sneered Lana.

On and on they went, arguing and arguing. It didn't take long before Lincoln lost his patience and decided to speak up.

"Now, wait a minute!" he shouted, making sure all three of them could hear him. "Don't I get a say in this?"

And just like that, all eyes in the room were on him.

"I just think that, since I'm the subject of this decision, I should be the one to make it. So I'm gonna"

Lincoln lost his spine once he saw Lola, Lana and Lucy all lined up before him, arms crossed, leering down at him with half-lidded eyes.

"Well?" said Lana. "Go ahead, Lincoln. Pick one of us."

Lucy took a step forward, getting as close to him as she possibly could. "Choose wisely, little brother."

Lincoln gave off a nervous chuckle and backed away from them, throwing his hands in front of his face. "O-on second thought, I'll just leave it up to you."

Lana, Lola and Lucy took their eyes off him and turned back towards each other.

"Rock-paper-scissors?" suggested Lola.

Lucy shrugged. "Works for me."

The three girls arranged themselves into a triangle and started rhythmically slapping their fists into their open palms.

"Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!" they chanted. "One, two, three, SH-"


Lana, it seemed, wasn't interested in playing by the rules. Before the other two girls could make a choice, she threw both of her fists forward, socked them both in the face and sent them flying into the wall. Once the dust cleared and the noise subsided, Lincoln and Lisa were just gawking at the sight of Lucy and Lola collapsed in a heap.

"Lana wins..." groaned Lucy.

"I-indeed," said Lisa. "And by my estimation, Lucy collided with the wall a split second after Lola did. So Lucy will be seeing him second."

"YES!" cheered Lana. "In your faces!"

As Lisa walked the punch-drunk Lucy and Lola out of the room, a feeling of apprehension started to grow within Lincoln's gut. He wasn't sure how he felt about getting close to several predatory creatures that were now dinosaur-sized compared to him. His sisters were one thing; despite their imposing size, he knew that they would never do anything to hurt him, at least not intentionally. But to Lana's pets, he was no different from a fly or an aphid.

As soon as Lana heard Lisa shut the door, she scooped Lincoln up into the palm of her hand.

"All right, Tiny Linc! Now that Prissy Pants, Gloomy Face and Egghead are out of the room, it's feeding time!"

Lincoln's apprehension only grew after Lana carried him over to her terrarium and set him down in front of it. It was like he was watching a scene from some 60's monster movie, with colossal mega-reptiles stomping around some remote jungle. Only this time, the only thing keeping Lincoln away from the monsters was a single layer of glass, and Lana was just about to open up that barrier.

Just as she was about to undo the lid on the terrarium, Lincoln decided to stall her with a question.

"Hey, Lana? Why are we doing this again?"

"Me and Lola are going away to sleepaway camp in a week," said Lana. "When that happens, I'll need someone to feed my pets while I'm away."

She looked down at Lincoln, beaming. "And I thought, who'd be better for the task than my frog-saving little buddy?"

Lincoln blushed. One of his proudest memories was the time he and Lana saved dozens of frogs from being dissected for his science class, and he was flattered that Lana saw it the same way. Regardless, his feelings of flattery didn't make the danger he sensed any less palpable.

"Thanks, Lana, but I'm thinking that maybe we should put this off for another day."

Lana frowned. "You promised that we would do it today."

"I know, but feeding reptiles? At my size?"

Lincoln started to shake as he stepped away from the terrarium. "What if they decide to eat me?"

"Lincoln, I'm not gonna let them eat you," said Lana.

Lincoln stopped retreating and his quivering eased up, but he still hesitated to go forward. He wasn't sure how reassuring Lana's response was. If she had said, "They're not going to eat you," or, "They only eat insects," then he'd know for sure that he had nothing to worry about. But she said that she wasn't going to let them eat him, implying that it was at least possible that they'd try.

Suddenly, he felt Lana grasp his tiny hand gently in between her thumb and forefinger. When he looked up, he saw her enormous face mere inches away from his own, her wide, pleading eyes locked onto his.

"Do you trust me?"

Lincoln couldn't have said no even if he wanted to. In that moment she looked so vulnerable, so sensitive, that he knew an answer of anything other than "yes" would devastate her. It was easy to forget sometimes, but that scrappy, tomboyish grease monkey who wrestled alligators as a hobby was still a six-year-old girl who looked up to her older brother and wanted his respect. What kind of brother would he be to deny her that?

"Yes, Lana," he said, taking her by the finger. "I trust you."

Lana regained her smile. "Then let's get started!"

With that, she undid the lid on the terrarium, reached inside and wrapped her hands around a Hermann's tortoise who was lounging under the shade of a fern leaf.

"We'll start with Tori," she said. "You won't have to worry about getting eaten, 'cause she's an herbivore."

She pulled the tortoise out of the enclosure and set her down right in front of Lincoln. As soon as she touched the floor, her eyes were upon the miniscule human before her. Tortoises weren't exactly expressive creatures, and Lincoln had no idea how to interpret that look she was giving him. Confusion? Fear? Awe? Puzzlement? Infatuation?

Oh, geez, I hope it's not that last one, he thought.

Lana ducked under her bed, and came out with a clean plate in one hand and a tupperware container filled with assorted vegetables in the other. "Tortoises need to eat a lot of leafy greens," she said, as she set the plate down and started emptying the container onto it. "Sometimes you can throw in a piece of cauliflower or a sweet potato, just as a treat."

Tori crawled over to the now-filled plate, stared at it for a few seconds, and then started munching it down with all the speed and voracity you'd expect from a tortoise: which is to say, none.

"This is gonna take a while, isn't it?" asked Lincoln.

"A little, yeah," said Lana. "But you gotta keep watchin' her until she finishes her plate. Make sure she's eating enough calcium to keep her shell sturdy."

Lana looked down at Tori and gave her shell a couple of light pats. "Isn't that right, Tori? Don't you wanna keep your shell nice and strong?"

Lincoln giggled. He always thought it was cute when Lana talked to her animals, though he had to wonder if Tori could even hear her, since she didn't seem to have any ears.

After a few tedious minutes, Tori finally gulped down the last leaf on the plate, prompting a satisfied smirk from Lana. "Good girl," she cooed, patting the tortoise on the head. "All right, let's get you back in your tank."

She picked up Tori and gingerly laid her back in the terrarium, in the exact same spot she was before.

"Next, we'll do Izzy," she said, with her head still submerged in the tank. "Be careful; he's friendly. Really friendly."

Once she withdrew herself from the tank, she was holding a leopard gecko, who squirmed and flailed in her grip.

"Whoa! Little guy's feeling restless today."

When she set him on the ground, he started running in circles and skittering about, causing Lincoln to recoil in surprise. From his point of view, it was like watching a Saint Bernard break free of its leash and go on a rampage.

"Aw, don't be scared, Tiny Linc," said Lana. "He's just a little skittish. He won't hurt you."

Lincoln, deciding to take her word for it, just stood back and waited for Izzy to tire himself out. While that was happening, Lana reached back under her bed and pulled out another container, this one filled with an orchestra of writhing crickets.

A/N: Yes, a group of crickets is called an orchestra. Look it up.

Lincoln cringed at the sight of the container, which Lana took notice of.

"What's the matter?" she asked. "You can't tell me you didn't know that lizards eat bugs."

"No, I knew that. But do they really have to be live bugs?"

"Well, sure they do, Tiny Linc. A gecko won't eat prey that's already dead."

Lincoln blinked. He half-expected a response along the lines of, "Yeah, it's cooler that way! I like to watch 'em squirm!" But what he got instead was an interesting little tidbit that he doubted she learned in any of her First Grade classes. He had to give Lana credit; while she didn't have Lisa's intellect, she definitely had her thirst for knowledge.

"Anyway," she said as she unlidded the container, "before you take the crickets out, you gotta douse 'em with a little bit of this."

She reached into the front pocket of her overalls, pulled out a vial of white powder, and started drizzling it onto the crickets.

"This is supplement powder. Gotta make sure Izzy's getting all his vitamins."

Once all the crickets were thoroughly covered, she pinched one of them by its legs and pulled it out. Then, much to Lincoln's confusion, she started dangling it in front of him.

"Um, Lana? The gecko's over there." He pointed over towards Izzy, who at this point was just fidgeting about on the floor.

"I'm not trying to feed you, silly," Lana said with a roll of her eyes. "I'm trying to let you feed Izzy!"

Lincoln was a bit hesitant to take her up on her offer, as he wondered if Izzy would be willing to eat out of the hand of someone so small. That, and he doubted he'd be able to keep a firm grip on the cricket, which wasn't much smaller than he was.

Regardless, he knew how much his trust meant to Lana, and he knew she wouldn't give him that task if she didn't think he could do it. So he took a deep breath, suppressed his inhibitions, grabbed the cricket by the abdomen and pulled it out of Lana's grasp.

"There you go!" exclaimed Lana. "Now all you have to do is take it over to Izzy."

Lincoln nodded and marched up to Izzy with his hands wrapped tight around the thrashing cricket. He expected Izzy to lunge at the cricket and gobble it up as soon as he got close enough, but by the time he was just a few inches away from the lizard, he was still waiting for something to happen. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear that Izzy was trying to ignore him.

"Sometimes he just needs a little coaxing," said Lana. "Here, I'll help."

She reached down and nudged Izzy towards Lincoln. "Come on, Izzy! Tiny Linc's got a tasty treat for you!"

Izzy turned his head in Lincoln's direction and locked his eyes on the cricket, licking his chops. After a few suspenseful seconds, he sunk his teeth into the cricket's thorax, yanked it out of Lincoln's hands and swallowed it with a single gulp.

"See? Nothing to it!" Lana cheered.

In a gesture that Lincoln could only interpret as gratitude, Izzy drew close to him and started nuzzling his snout up against his cheek.

"Awww, he likes you!" she cried, practically swooning at the sight.

Lincoln couldn't help but grin, both at the lizard's affectionate display and Lana's schoolgirl-like reaction. It was all so cute, a word Lincoln never thought he'd associate with Lana's reptiles.

From that point on, the feeding session proceeded in much the same manner. The herbivores were given a plate of vegetables to munch on, while the predators were hand-fed by Lana (or Lincoln, if he felt up to the task). The process got a little tedious at times, but none of it was particularly arduous. Lincoln was beginning to wonder what he was even worried about in the first place.

Then they got to the last reptile in Lana's menagerie.

Lincoln saw Lana push her terrarium aside to reveal a separate glass box right behind it. The glass was a little too foggy for him to make out what was inside it, but he'd get his answer soon enough.

"Mmm... gotcha!"

She emerged from behind the terrarium with a long, lithe green snake in her clutches. El Diablo.

Lincoln swallowed hard. He had never been particularly afraid of snakes, but then, he had never been the size of a Barbie doll before. Regardless, he forced himself to stay strong, reminding himself once again that Lana wouldn't force him to do anything if she didn't think it was safe.

"Now, El Diablo's a little more picky than the other reptiles," Lana said as she set the snake down on the floor. "Take a look up there."

Lana pointed towards the top of her dresser. When Lincoln looked up, he saw what looked like a gray ball of fur set in front of a running fan.

"That's a mouse," she said. "Well, it was a mouse. You buy 'em frozen, and then you thaw 'em out a couple hours before feeding time."

Lincoln cringed, though he figured that the spectacle wouldn't be any less revolting if the mouse was eaten alive.

"Aaand it looks like that one's just about ready," said Lana. She hopped up and snatched the mouse off the dresser.

"Now, to feed the snake, you gotta dangle the mouse in front of him, and jiggle it around a bit," she said. "You're too small to do it now, so I'll just give you a demonstration," she added, prompting a sigh of relief from Lincoln.

She pinched the mouse by the tail and started dangling it right in front of El Diablo's face.

"Come on, El Diablo! Eat the mouse! Eat the little mousey mousey!"

After eyeing the furry carcass for a moment or two, El Diablo unhinged his jaw and devoured the mouse in one bite.

"Just like that," said Lana. "Now, the other thing about snakes is that you don't have to feed them that much. Generally, bigger snakes only eat once a week..."

Lana was so caught up in her own rambling that she failed to notice what El Diablo was doing. He had just set his sights on Lincoln and was slowly slithering towards him, leering at him and bobbing his head back and forth all the while.

"Um, L-Lana?" uttered Lincoln. "I think your snake is-"

Before Lincoln could even finish his thought, El Diablo unhinged his jaw, let loose an unholy hissing noise and lunged forward. Lincoln tried to run, but the snake swiftly caught up to him, slid Lincoln into his gaping mouth and forced his upper mandible down on his body like a hydraulic press. Right from the beginning, Lincoln was dreading that his feeding session with Lana would end this way.

But he wasn't going to go down so easily.

Just before the snake's mouth clamped shut, Lincoln grabbed him by his upper fangs and pushed his jaw back open with all his might. While his upper body strained against the top part of the jaw, he used his legs to push downward on the bottom part, trying to force himself back up into a standing position. Lynn would sometimes lecture him on the importance of "lifting with his legs" whenever he was exerting himself, and he figured that now was as good a time as ever to use her advice.

It helped that snakes' jaws were designed for flexibility rather than power, so keeping it pried open wasn't as difficult as he thought it would be. That said, Lincoln was a pretty scrawny, unathletic kid, and he could only hold out for so long before his stamina ran out and his muscles started to give way. He began to feel the roof of the snake's mouth closing in, pushing his arms downward, when...

"Hi-YA!" hollered Lana.

Just then, a massive blast of hot air shot him out of the snake's mouth and sent him skidding across the floor. It was a good thing that Lola and Lana's room was carpeted, or else he would have been scraped up pretty badly. As he tried to pick himself up off the floor, he overheard Lana chewing out the snake in the background, and couldn't help but wince. He had heard Lana scold her pets before, but this time she was practically screaming.

"That's a BAD snake! Bad, bad, BAD snake! You're gonna go back in your tank and think about what you've done!"

Lincoln struggled to get back on his feet, as his heart was still pounding and his legs were still quivering like jelly. Once he did, he was greeted with the sight of a mortified-looking Lana crouching over him. With her hair a mess and her hat askew, she looked almost as shaken as he was.

"Are you okay?" she asked, reaching down to stroke his cheek.

"Y-yeah," he muttered in between gasps. "Just a little rattled."

Lana grabbed him and held him tight against her chest. "Oh, Lincoln, I'm so sorry," she said, her voice cracking. "He's usually so well behaved. I don't know what got into him!"

" Don't be sorry."

"But I-"


Lincoln looked up at Lana, giving her a faint smile. " saved my life. I can't thank you enough."

Lana let out a rough, throaty chuckle. "Yeah, I guess I did," she said. "But you don't have to thank me, Lincoln. You know I got your back."

Lincoln's smile broadened as he nestled his head in her chest. "I'll thank you anyway."

Lana kept one arm wrapped around him while she used her free hand to stroke his hair. "If you insist."

With every successive stroke, Lincoln started to feel his heart rate decelerate. There was something reassuring about being in the arms of someone so large, yet so gentle: a colossus who wanted nothing more than to keep him safe and sound.

"So, Tiny Linc, now that we've fed everyone, do you want me to hand you over to Lucy?" asked Lana.

Lincoln shuddered. After what just transpired, he wasn't sure that he was ready to appear before the Duchess of Darkness.

"Not now," he said. "I'm still a little shaken. Could you, um..."

If Lana wasn't looking right at him, she probably wouldn't have noticed the faint blush starting to spread across his cheeks. "...could you hold me for a little longer?"

Lana beamed down at her not-so-big brother. "Absolutely."

She took a seat on the floor and started to stroke his hair again, while she continued to hug him tight. Lincoln rested his head upon her chest, letting the thumping sound of her heartbeat soothe him.

"Just relax," she whispered to him. "Everything's gonna be okay. I gotcha."

A feeling of warmth overtook Lincoln as he heard her speak. Those were the exact phrases that he would use to comfort Lana whenever she had a bad dream, or whenever she had to get a shot. But now the roles were reversed; she was taking care of him. After all he had done for her as a big brother, she was returning the favor.

"Feeling better, Tiny Linc?" she asked.

Lincoln lifted his head from out of her chest, gave her a warm smile and nodded.

"All right, then. Off to Lucy's we go."

As she dropped Lincoln into her front pocket and started for the door, he took solace in the fact that the hardest part of the day was over. All he had ahead of him was a poetry session with Lucy and a tea party with Lola. Compared to what he just went through, it'd all be a cakewalk.



Chapter 3: A Vivid Portrait of Fear

Lana's pocket wasn't any more comfortable than Lisa's; in fact, it was noticeably worse. The denim of Lana's overalls was rougher and more abrasive than the cloth of Lisa's pants, and the smell was a lot more powerful, undoubtedly resulting from Lana's less-than-stellar hygiene habits.

On the positive side, his trip was a bit shorter this time around. All Lana had to do was walk one door over to Lucy and Lynn's room.

"Hey, did someone here order a Lincoln?"

"Yes. I did."

"Well, I got one right here! Mint condition, too."

"Wicked. Just leave him on my desk, please."

Lincoln snickered, tickled by the way Lana decided to deliver him. It seemed Luan wasn't the only one in the house with a sense of humor.

Lana pulled him out of her front pocket, walked over to Lucy's desk and set him down. Lucy, who was reclining on her bed, gave him a wave.

"Have fun, you two!" sang Lana as she walked back out the door. Once Lana left, Lincoln took a cursory look around the desk, just to see if Lucy had started anything before he arrived. Judging by the completely blank sheet of paper in front of him, he guessed the answer was "no".

"I'm glad you could see me today," Lucy said as she walked up to her desk and sat herself down. "Lynn's at roller derby practice, so the timing's perfect."

"How so?" asked Lincoln.

"Well, Lynn's not exactly a supportive one when it comes to poetry."

Lucy leaned over her desk, opened her poetry diary and read her latest entry aloud.

"Darkness envelops my soul. Crushing, smothering, suffocating me, leaving me gasping for-"

"NEEEERRRRRRRD!" called a voice from the other side of the room.

"Anyway, as I think I told you before, I'm writing this for a contest," said Lucy. "I found an ad for it on the way home from the mall. The first prize winner gets two free tickets to Creepy Castle."

"What's Creepy Castle?" asked Lincoln.

"Only the most thrilling, chilling, goosebump-inducing amusement park in all of Michigan," she said, a hint of energy entering her voice. "I absolutely cannot pass this up."

"Mm-hmm. But why do you need my help, then? Doesn't poetry come naturally to you?"

"Usually, it does," said Lucy. "But this time I've been given a prompt to follow. Take a look."

She grabbed a slip of paper off of her desk and held it up in front of Lincoln. It said the following:

Get out your pencils and get busy! The Royal Woods Annual Junior Poetry Contest is right around the corner. This year, the theme is...


What frightens you? What does it feel like to be scared? How would you describe the experience? Draw from your own life and don't be afraid to think outside the box!

Send in your entries to 201 Savino Ave. P.O. Box 34740...

"I'm a little stuck, to be honest," said Lucy, as she turned back towards her blank page. "Fear isn't a feeling I'm very familiar with."

At first, this struck Lincoln as a bit odd; after all, how could a girl who surrounds herself with all things horror be unfamiliar with fear? But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. The prompt specifically asked the contestants to describe what fear feels like, and Lucy wasn't someone who scared easily. In fact, Lincoln shuddered to think of what actually could scare her.

"That's why I need your help," she said. "You know what it's like to be scared. Describe the feeling to me."

Lincoln smiled, feeling a glimmer of pride at the way Lucy complimented him... which promptly vanished as soon as he realized what she was implying.

"Hey, wait a minute! Are you calling me a scaredy cat?"

Lucy shrugged, maintaining her flat expression. "If the shoe fits..."

Lincoln glowered at the goth and jabbed his pointer finger in her direction. "My shoe fits up your-"

Lucy swung her head back towards Lincoln. A single pointed look from her was all it took to shut him up.

"N-never mind," he squeaked. "Let's just get started."

Lincoln walked over to the page, and tried to think of a way to begin the poem. What does fear feel like?

His first instinct was to try to remember how he felt just moments ago, when El Diablo was trying to eat him. He closed his eyes, tried to reimagine the experience, and began to rattle off everything that came to his mind.

"Well, when I'm scared," he said, "my heart starts pounding, my body starts shaking uncontrollably, and sometimes it gets pretty hard to breathe."

Lucy nodded and wrote down the following notes on the paper:

- Heart pounding

- Shaking

- Hard to breathe

"It's a start," she said. "But it's pretty low on detail. I really want to try to paint a picture with my words."


Lincoln paced back and forth across Lucy's desk, rubbing his chin in thought. "Fear is... it's like, your body's way of telling you that something bad's about to happen. That you're in danger."

Lucy started fidgeting with her pencil. "No, that's not it either," she said. "It sounds too much like a definition of fear. I'm a poet, not a dictionary."

Lincoln groaned and rolled his eyes. He could see her point, but that was such a pretentious way to put it.

"All right, all right. Lemme do a little more thinking."

Lincoln closed his eyes and tried to extract some more details from the snake incident, to little success. The problem was that the only time he felt truly terrified, instead of merely nervous or apprehensive, was when he was in El Diablo's mouth, and that moment only lasted for so long before Lana came in to save the day.

Let's see... what else was I feeling then? Pressure? Strain on my legs? No, that's fatigue, not fear. Determination? No, that's a response to fear, not fear itself. Um...

Lincoln's thought process was cut off by a deep gurgling sound coming from his lower abdomen. It occurred to him that he hadn't eaten since 7:00 that morning.

"Hey, Lucy? Could you please go downstairs and get me a little something to eat? I can't write on an empty stomach."

Lucy dropped her pencil, pushed out her chair and rose to her feet. "Sigh. Okay."

After she left the room, Lincoln took a moment to survey the world around him. It was odd, the way a setting so mundane could become so fantastical just by scaling it up. The baseball bat resting by the door was now a colossal monolith, the ceiling light a grandiose chandelier, Lucy's desk a plateau overlooking a thriving village.

Man, if only the writing prompt was about adventure or exploration, thought Lincoln.

Just then, the door swung open and Lucy strolled inside. After she retook her seat at her desk, she placed a slice of gouda cheese atop a Ritz cracker in front of Lincoln.

"I hope you like wagon wheels."

Lincoln sat down and started ripping chunks off the cheese and shoveling them into his mouth. "Mmm, I do! Thank you, Lucy!" he said in between bites.

Lucy let a little giggle escape. "I have to admit, you're pretty cute when you eat like that," she said. "You look like a little mouse."

Lincoln continued to stuff his face, so enamored he was with the food he was given. At his old size, this would barely qualify as a snack, but now, it was a full meal.

As soon as he polished off the last crumb, he leaned back and patted his full belly in satisfaction.

"Ahh, that hit the spot. Thanks again."

"You're quite welcome," she said. "Are you ready to start brainstorming again?"

"Yeah," said Lincoln, wiping crumbs off his lips. "Yeah, I think I'm ready."

"Good. Let's go."

Thirty tense seconds passed by, as Lucy hovered her pencil over the paper while Lincoln tried to set his mind back on the snake incident.

"I thought you said you were ready," said Lucy.

"No, I am. I just need a bit of time to think."

Lucy gave no immediate response, instead staying frozen in her writing position - eyes on the paper, pencil in midair. Then, after a long, drawn out moment of silence, she put her pencil down on the desk and slowly turned her head towards Lincoln, until her eyes were (presumably) pointed right at him.

"Lincoln," she said, her tone becoming sharper and more deliberate, "if you don't start giving me ideas, I'm going to be very upset."

Lincoln gulped, stood up and started shuffling towards the back of the desk. "U-understood, Lucy."

Lucy leaned over her desk, closing the distance between her brother and her. "Very, very upset."

Beads of sweat started to accumulate on Lincoln's brow, which he clumsily tried to whisk away.

"Do you know what I like to do when I'm upset?"

Lincoln started to tremble, knowing full well that he wasn't going to like the answer to that question.

"I like to squeeze things."

Lucy laid her right hand on the table, palm facing him. The very sight of it began to turn him pale.

"I like to wrap my thick, sinewy fingers around an object, and constrict it. I like to push it to the breaking point and beyond, to feel it struggle to resist my iron-bound grip, until it finally gives in and crumbles before my overwhelming force."

By now, Lincoln's knees were buckling under his own weight, and his face was drained of any trace of color, leaving him with a complexion that matched hers. To hear those words coming out of an eight-year-old girl - in such a monotonous, emotionless tone, no less - was nothing short of eerie.

"What if I decided to squeeze you?"

Lincoln's heart rate started to quicken. This has to be a bad dream.

"How long do you think you would last..."

Her right hand started to curl itself into a fist. "...before your windpipe collapsed from the pressure; before your bones succumbed to my grip, and began to splinter and crack; before your-"

"Lucy, Lucy, Lucy!" Lincoln blurted out. "You... you can't be serious! I know this contest means a lot to you, but you don't want to crush your only brother, do you?"

Lucy withdrew her fist and turned away from him. "No, Lincoln. I don't."

Oh, thank God-

"Which is why I'm going to give you one more chance."

Dang it.

Lucy looked back towards the cowering boy and dropped her fist right in front of him.

"You have until the count of ten to come up with an idea," she said. "One."

Lincoln's brain went into overdrive, scrambling for anything he could pitch as an idea. Think, Lincoln, think!...Think of the snake. Think of the snake and just say the first thing that comes to your head.

"Uhm... fangs? Saliva? Hissing noises?"

Lucy cast a pointed glare in his direction. "Two."

Lincoln let out a little yelp and got right back to brainstorming. "F-f-fear is... fear is an automatic response to external-"

"I'm not writing an essay," said Lucy. "Three."

Crud, crud, crud, crud, crud!...Okay, brainstorming isn't working. Try bargaining.

"C-c-come on, Lucy. I'm at least trying. Don't I at least deserve credit for that?"

"No," Lucy said flatly. "Four."

Lincoln started to pace back and forth like a cornered animal. All of his efforts to start racking his brain again were met with failure; he was too panicked to think.

"I-I...I... um-"

"Hold on a second," interjected Lucy, picking up her pencil with her left hand. "I think I've got something."

Lincoln gasped. "R...really?"

A split second later, Lucy slapped her pencil back down. "No. Five."

Lincoln recoiled in pain; every count she made felt like a stinging jab to the gut. Having run clean out of ideas and lacking the capacity to scrounge for more, there was only one option Lincoln had left: begging.

"Lucy, p-please, think about what you're doing!" he choked out, his throat too dry to scream. "People will notice that I'm gone! And they'll know you were the one who had me last! You won't get away with it!"

Lucy just scowled at him, completely unfazed by his words. "Six."

Lincoln dropped to his knees, clasping his hands together. "Lucy, I'm begging you!" he cried. "If it's Creepy Castle you want, I'll take you! I'll look online for tickets and I won't stop until I find a-"


"Ghosts!" he blurted out, jumping to his feet. "Ghosts and goblins and ghouls that come for you at night! Hiding under your pillow- I-I mean blanket! Hiding under your blanket!"

In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to save himself, he started spouting off every word he could think of even tangentially related to the subject of fear. It worked about as well as you'd expect.


There were only two counts left, and he hadn't made any progress trying to appease her. At this point, all he could do was grovel, in the vain hope that she'd change her mind.

"Lucy," he whimpered, "please don't let it end this way. I don't want to die."


By now, his entire body was drenched with sweat, his knees were knocking together so violently that he could barely keep his balance, and his heart was hammering against his chest, threatening to break through. This was it. The grim reaper was closing in on his position, and there was nowhere he could run. He had just cheated death earlier today, only to see it come right back for him.


And now he was officially out of time. He threw his hands over his head, clenched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, waiting for the painful conclusion to his tragically short life, when...

"Hold it!" Lucy said sharply. "Stay right where you are. Don't move an inch until I tell you to."

Lincoln had to stifle a tremor of surprise. What was going on now? Was he getting a second chance?

Whatever it was, he didn't want to imagine what would happen if he disobeyed her, so he froze himself in place. As he did, he could hear her snatch up her pencil and start scribbling something down. His first instinct was to sneak a peek at what she was writing, but for his own sake, he suppressed that instinct.

Finally, after a few suspenseful minutes, Lucy spoke again:

"Okay, now you can move."

With his heart still racing, Lincoln peeled his hands away from his face and cracked his eyes open. In front of him was a smirking Lucy, holding a now-filled paper in front of him:

"Fear," by Lucy Loud


Knees wobbling, weakening, wavering

Blood drains from my face, leaving it a ghostly, pale husk


A torrent of sweat seeping out of every pore

Sloughing off, leaving me dry



Too hoarse to scream


I throw up my hands in a vain attempt to shield myself

To keep the danger away

To hide the tears squeezing through my clenched-shut eyes


Can't run

Can't hide

Can't fight

Can't bargain

All I can do

Is embrace my grisly fate


"Lucy, this is..."

For the first time since the snack break, Lincoln's lips curled up into a smile. "This is wonderful!" he cried. "How did you come up with all this?"

"Simple," said Lucy. "I got it from you, Lincoln. All I had to do was look at you and write down what I saw."

And just like that, everything that had just transpired suddenly made sense. He looked the poem over a couple more times, and found that every other line was a lurid description of something he was doing. Lincoln was so overwhelmed by the oncoming wave of relief that he started doubling over in laughter.

"Oh, boy, you had me going!" he cackled, grabbing his chest in an attempt to quell his still-pounding heartbeat. "For a moment there I thought you- wait, hold on..."

Lincoln's laughter died down as he read the poem again. There was one line in particular that stood out to him:

To hide the tears squeezing through my clenched-shut eyes

"Hey! I wasn't crying!"

Lucy giggled. "You were a little."

Lincoln dabbed his finger around his eyes, and found that they were, indeed, a bit moist.

"Okay, a little," he admitted.

Lucy's smile broadened as she reached over and ruffled his hair. "All teasing aside, you helped me out in a big way today. Thank you."

"Y-you're welcome," he said, as he felt his heartbeat resume its normal pace. "Just please don't ever scare me like that again."

Having finally finished her work, she folded up her poem, tucked it into an envelope (which she already had stamped and addressed) and sealed it. "I just need to go downstairs to mail this," she said. "After that, I'll take you over to Lola."

But just as she stood up from her desk and turned towards the door, Lincoln called out to her.

"Lucy, wait! There's something I need to ask you."

She turned back around to face him. "Yes, Lincoln?"

"You... um..."

Lincoln averted her gaze and started twiddling his fingers. "You didn't really mean any of that stuff you said before, right? About crushing me?"

Lucy couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, Lincoln, of course I didn't. You're my brother. You mean the world to me."

Just to drive the point home, she picked him up, gave him a kiss that covered his entire cheek, and then set him back down.

"Now just wait here while I go mail this. I'll be right back."

With that, she pivoted around and strode out the room, envelope in hand. As soon as the door closed behind her, Lincoln fell onto his back and heaved out a contented sigh. At long last, the hardest part of the day was over. After this, all he had to do was join Lola for a tea party. How hard could it-

Wait, he thought. That's exactly what I was thinking before the poetry session, and look what happened.

...but even so, it's just a pretend tea party with a bunch of dolls and stuffed animals. What could possibly happen to me?

Chapter 4: A Playtime of Epic Proportions

Of all the trips Lincoln took through the hall, the one from Lucy to Lola was the most comfortable. Lucy kept her pockets cleaner than Lisa or Lana did, so hers wasn't as packed with dust. Lincoln supposed that that was because Lucy's hobbies were a lot less messy, or maybe because her dress had to be washed more often than Lisa's pants or Lana's overalls.

Whatever the case was, the trip was pretty short, since, again, the twins' room was only one door down from Lucy and Lynn's. Before he knew it, he was being raised out of Lucy's pocket and lowered onto the floor, where he once again found himself centered in the twins' room. He found himself standing before a round table, that was so large and imposing it looked as though it was taken straight from the legend of King Arthur. Or at least it would have if not for its gaudy pink color, its cheap plastic construction, and its cutesy attendees - a white stuffed cat with a golden collar, a rotund green dinosaur plushie, a perpetually smiling blonde rag doll with a navy blouse, and of course, his beaming six-year-old sister sitting on the far end.

"Oh, hello, Lincoln!" chirped Lola. "You're right on time; I just finished brewing the tea. Take a seat."

Lincoln climbed up onto the empty chair left for him, which was several times too big for him, but he wouldn't be able to reach the table otherwise. On the table in front of him, he saw that Lola had given him a thimble, in place of a full-sized teacup.

Lola stood up to address her tiny new guest. "Lincoln, I'd like you to meet Duchess, Mr. Patch and Miss Bliss," she said, pointing at the cat, the dinosaur and the rag doll, respectively. "Ladies, gentleman, I'd like you to meet my brother Lincoln. Please try not to faint from his overwhelming cuteness."

Lincoln blushed at her comment and gave the toys a stilted, awkward wave. "Um... hi, everybody. Hope the tea's good!"

"Oh, it is, Lincoln," said Lola, as she picked up the empty teapot and poured him a piping hot cup of air. "It was grown in Miss Bliss's garden, and everything grown in her garden tastes absolutely wonderful!"

Lincoln took a sip from the empty thimble, pretending to taste it. "Mmm, delicious!" he said, rubbing his tummy. "Boy, you weren't kidding!"

After pretending to wipe his mouth clean with a napkin, he turned to address the doll. "Must be a lot of hard work to tend to that garden, huh, Miss Bliss?"

"Actually, no!" said Lola. "Because Duchess put a magical spell on the garden, so that everything grows on its own and never goes bad!"

Lincoln sighed. It seemed that Lola failed to understand that you need conflict in order to make a story compelling. This was understandable - she was only six, after all - but it didn't make the party any less insipid. He had hoped that this would be the one activity that didn't make him fear for his safety, but now he felt like he was in danger of being bored to death.

As Lola continued to ramble on about Miss Bliss's garden, Lincoln's attention started to drift around the room, looking for anything even remotely interesting that he could focus on. He was a little concerned that Lola would catch on to the fact that he wasn't paying attention, but he wasn't exactly expecting an exam after the party. (Then again, knowing Lola, there very well could have been.)

But in the midst of his drifting, there was one detail that piqued Lincoln's curiosity. Right by Lola's bedside, there was a chair facing the wall, upon which a stuffed elephant sat.

"Hey, Lola?"

"Yes, Lincoln?"

"I couldn't help but notice that you left someone out," he said, pointing towards the elephant. "Who's that?"

Lola glanced over her shoulder. "Oh, that's Camembert," she said. "Don't worry about him; he's in time out."

She named him after a cheese?, thought Lincoln. Eh, she probably just overheard the word somewhere and assumed it was a fancy name.

"If you don't mind my asking, why is he in time out?"

"Well, yesterday, he showed up at Miss Bliss's party uninvited, and started eating some of her crescent rolls," explained Lola. "She spent all day baking those, too. That's why he's in time out."

Well, that was rude, thought Lincoln.

But as the party went on, Lincoln started to feel a pang of sadness for Camembert. Even though he was undoubtedly in the wrong, he just looked so pathetic facing the wall with his head slumped down and his trunk drooping. On any other day, Lincoln would have just ignored him, but at his size, Camembert's sadness seemed all too real.

"Lola?" he said. "I know it's not my place to suggest this, but-"

"Oh, don't be silly, Lincoln," interrupted Lola. "You're our guest of honor. Your opinion is more than welcome here. Now, what's your suggestion?"

Lincoln took a deep breath and leaned forward, looking Lola straight in the eye. "I think we should invite Camembert to the table."

Lola gave him a peculiar look. "But I just told you he's in time out."

"I know, but he won't learn anything if we just mindlessly punish him. He may not even understand what he did wrong. Doesn't he at least deserve a chance to explain himself?"


Lola rubbed her chin, giving herself a moment to mull over Lincoln's suggestion.

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to get a dialogue going," she said. "Miss Bliss, what say you?"

She leaned over towards Miss Bliss and held her ear up against the doll's face.

"Mm-hmm... mm-hmm... okay."

She sat back up in her chair and turned to address Lincoln. "Miss Bliss says she'll let him join us. But he won't be allowed to have any tea."

"Fair enough," Lincoln said with a shrug.

With that, Lola walked over to her bed, picked up Camembert's chair with him still in it, and carried him over to the table.

"Camembert," she said, "upon further consideration, we have decided to invite you back to the table, so that you will have a chance to explain your actions to Miss Bliss. If, at any point, you try to partake in the refreshments, you will be asked to leave. Is that understood?"

She grabbed Camembert by the trunk and jerked it up and down, making the elephant nod his head.

"Good. Now, let's begin with the obvious question; why did you think it was appropriate to appear at Miss Bliss's party uninvited and start eating her crescent rolls?"

She leaned over and pressed her ear up against Camembert's mouth, pretending to listen for a response.


She withdrew her ear and sat back up straight. "Camembert says that he didn't think it was fair for Miss Bliss to throw a party without inviting him."

That sounded like a pretty flimsy reason to Lincoln, but the image of Camembert slumped over in that chair alone was still fresh in his mind, so he couldn't bring himself to be too mad at the pachyderm.

"Well, Camembert, I understand why you would find that hurtful," said Lincoln. "After all, nobody likes to be left out. But you have to respect others' boundaries, and you can't expect to be on the guest list for every party that goes on in... where are we again?"

"Lolatopia," said Lola.

Of course, thought Lincoln.

"Anyway, you can't expect to be invited to every party in Lolatopia. Besides, I'm sure you weren't the only one who wasn't invited."

Lola pushed Camembert into a slouching position and made him cross his arms, putting him in an pouty, petulant pose. "Camembert says he was so the only one who wasn't invited," said Lola. "The party was advertised across Lolatopia as an elephant-free gathering."

Lincoln gasped. "A what?!" he cried. "Miss Bliss, is this true?"

Lola furrowed her brow at him. "Lincoln, I would like to remind you that Lolatopia laws forbid raising your voice at the table."

Remind me?! You never told me in the first place!

"Sorry, Lola, I guess I forgot," he said, not wanting to provoke Lola's ire.

"I can see that," said Lola. "Regretfully, even though this is your first infraction, I'm afraid we'll have to give you a penalty."

Lincoln swallowed hard. "Which is...?"

"A spanking."

Lincoln clasped his hand over his mouth, in order to muffle his yelp of surprise. His stomach churned at the thought of a giant-sized Lola bending him over her knee and spanking him raw, an experience equal parts painful and humiliating.

"L-Lola, l-let's talk about this," he stammered. "You're fifty times my size. A slap from you could really hurt me."

"Oh, Lincoln, you've got it all wrong," Lola said with a chortle. "I'm not going to spank you."

Oh, thank God-

"Miss Bliss is!"

Dang it. Wait, what?

Lola stood up out of her chair, grabbed Miss Bliss by the scruff of her neck and dragged her over to Lincoln's side of the table. Before Lincoln could even ask how she intended to have her doll carry out the punishment, he got his answer when she hoisted him out of his chair and pressed him face down onto the table, so that his legs were dangling off the edge. The next thing he felt was the sensation of a rag doll's arm thwapping against his bottom. Even at his size, the doll's arm was too soft and flaccid to leave much of an impact, so the punishment didn't hurt anything other than his pride.

As soon as Lola was convinced that he had learned his lesson (he had), she lifted him off the table, sat him back down, and put Miss Bliss back in her place.

"Hopefully, we won't have to do that again," she said. "Now, Lincoln, I believe you had a question for Miss Bliss. Feel free to ask it again, but remember to use your indoor voice this time."

"Yes, of course," said Lincoln. "Miss Bliss, is it true that you advertised your party as an 'elephant-free' gathering?"

Lola grasped Miss Bliss by the head and made her nod. "Miss Bliss says that she doesn't care much for elephants," said Lola. "They stomp around and make far too much noise."

Lincoln grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to restrain himself from snapping at the doll. "Okay, first of all, it's kind of hypocritical to exclude elephants just because of that, considering the fact that there's a dinosaur sitting right next to you," he said. "No offense, Mr. Patch."

"Mr. Patch says, 'None taken'," said Lola.

Lincoln gave the dinosaur a nod before continuing. "Second of all, as far as I can see, Camembert is the only elephant who lives here in Lolatopia. Why would you single him out like that?"

Lola took Miss Bliss by the head again. This time, she had the doll turn away from Lincoln and arch her head back, making her turn up her nonexistent nose at him. "Miss Bliss says that she has the right to exclude anyone she chooses."

At this point, Miss Bliss's attitude was really starting to irk Lincoln, not helped by her perpetually smiling face that now seemed to be imbued with an aura of smugness.

"That may be," said Lincoln, "but you should at least understand why you made Camembert upset. How would you like it if he had a party and invited everyone but you?"

Lola made Mr. Patch turn towards Miss Bliss, grabbed him by the neck and started bobbing his head back and forth. "Mr. Patch says he agrees with Lincoln," said Lola. "He would be very hurt if you threw a party and decided to make it dinosaur-free."

In "response", Lola turned Miss Bliss towards Mr. Patch and had her shake her head at him. "Miss Bliss says it's not the same."

"HOW I-" Lincoln began, only to catch himself midway. "...Sorry. Gimme a minute."

He scooted back in his seat, closed his eyes, and started taking deep breaths, in an attempt to simmer down.

Okay, Linc, get a grip. It's a doll. An inanimate pile of fabric. You should not be letting it get you this angry.

"Okay, I'm calm now," he said. "Miss Bliss, how is it not the same? Why are you so prejudiced against elephants?"

Lola sighed and gave Miss Bliss a nudge to the back of the head, making it droop downward. "Miss Bliss says that if you're going to keep pressing her, then you might as well know the truth," said Lola. "You see, just a month ago, Miss Bliss had an awful dream. She dreamt that an elephant stormed into her garden and ate all of her crops, and then he stomped it all up so nothing could grow back. That's why she doesn't like elephants."

Lincoln blinked in confusion. "Hold on a second, I'm a little lost. This was a dream, you said?"


"So nothing actually happened to Miss Bliss's garden?"

"Oh, no. It's absolutely fine."

"Okay, so..."

Lincoln took a deep breath and started massaging his temples. " she knows that nothing in the dream actually happened, but she still holds a grudge against Camembert."


"And elephants in general."

"Pretty much."

Lincoln took another deep breath. "Lola, can I be blunt here?"

"Go ahead," she said.

"That's the stupidest reason to dislike someone I've ever heard."

Lola grabbed both of Miss Bliss's hands and slammed them down against the table, causing a piercing crack that made Lincoln jump in his seat. "Miss Bliss says, 'NO IT'S NOT!'"

"O-o-okay, okay," said Lincoln, shrinking into the chair. "Just... just try to calm yourself."

Lincoln felt a little silly for being so cowed by Miss Bliss's reaction, but at his size it was scary to hear Lola raise her voice to him - even if she was just speaking for someone else.

Wait a second...

"Hey, Lola, I thought you said no raising your voice at the table."

Lola gasped, took Miss Bliss by the hands again and pressed them up against the doll's mouth. "My word, Lincoln, you're right!" she cried. "I'm disappointed in you, Miss Bliss. As a seasoned tea partier, you really should know better than that. You will have to be punished."

Lincoln's lips twisted into a smug smirk. "So, does she get a spanking?"

"Normally, that would be the case," said Lola. "But Miss Bliss is the one in charge of giving spankings, and she can't spank herself. We'll have to think of something else."


Lincoln stroked his chin, trying to think of a suitable penalty. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the empty spot by Lola's bed where Camembert used to be, and a lightbulb went off in his head.

"Perhaps we could put her in time out, in Camembert's stead?" he suggested.

"That sounds reasonable to me," said Lola.

She looked down at the doll, giving her a pointed look. "Of course, if you disagree, I could try thinking of something else. Would you prefer that?"

Lola made Miss Bliss shake her head.

"I didn't think so."

With that, she picked up Miss Bliss's chair, took it over to her bedside and placed it down, making her face the wall. Then, instead of retaking her seat, she walked over behind Duchess - who, Lincoln noticed, had been awfully quiet up until this point. She took the cat by the head and turned her towards Lincoln, until her beady eyes were in contact with his.

Lincoln, unsure of how to interpret that gesture, decided to play it safe and go for the apology.

"Oh, hi, Duchess. Sorry if I made things awkward."

Lola shook the cat's head. "Duchess says there's no need to apologize," she said. "Actually, she admires the way you stood up to Miss Bliss. She thinks you were very brave."

"Oh! Thank you, then."

Lola then grabbed both ends of Duchess's chair and started sliding it around the table, bringing her closer to Lincoln. "In fact," she said, a smile tugging at the end of her lips, "there's something else that Duchess has been meaning to tell you."

Lincoln started squirming in his seat, having only a faint idea of where this was going. She couldn't mean... could she?

Once Duchess's chair was right next to Lincoln's, Lola picked up the cat's paw and started dragging it up and down Lincoln's arm. "Duchess says that she couldn't help but notice how handsome you are."

Lincoln giggled at the sensation of Duchess's fur tickling his skin. This only encouraged Lola, who interpreted the reaction as lovestruck bashfulness.

"Duchess was too shy to say anything before," said Lola, as she made the cat crawl off of her chair and onto Lincoln's. "But now that bossy old Miss Bliss is gone, she can tell you how she really feels. She thinks that you're the the cutest little thing she's ever set eyes on."

Lola made Duchess nuzzle her nose up against Lincoln's cheek, eliciting another giggle - and, to his humiliation, a blush. He couldn't tell if he was just embarrassed at being in this position, or legitimately flattered by the stuffed cat's display of affection.

"Now Duchess wants to know how you feel," said Lola, her voice taking on a breathy tone. "Do you like her? Do you like Duchess?"

Lincoln could only guess what prompted him to do what he did next. Maybe he was afraid of the repercussions he'd receive if he didn't play along. Maybe Lola did that good a job making the stuffed animal's declaration of love sound earnest and heartfelt. Maybe he was just "caught up in the moment," as they say.

Whatever the case was, he yanked Duchess out of Lola's hands, dipped her down and pressed his lips up against the cat's stitched mouth.

Good lord, I'm smooching a stuffed animal, he thought as he held the kiss. This was too bizarre for words. He half-expected the entire world to freeze and a voiceover of, "Yeah, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this position..." to start playing. Nevertheless, he made a choice and now he had to follow through with it.

By the time he released the kiss, put the cat down and looked back towards Lola, her eyes were bulging open and her hands were clasped over her mouth. Lincoln felt a twinge of unease, fearing that he had just committed a pretty serious faux pas.

But upon closer inspection, he saw a hint of a smile peeking out from behind Lola's hands. Then, he heard a slight, barely audible snort, followed by a muffled snicker. This, in turn, was followed by several more snickers, each one louder than the last. Finally, the dam was broken by an eruption of side-splitting laughter. Lola took her hands off her mouth and slapped them both over her knees, as she gave up trying to hide her amusement and instead decided to focus her effort on keeping her balance. Alas, her efforts were unsuccessful; it wasn't long before she fell backward onto her butt, cackling all the while.

Lola's laughter would prove to be contagious, as Lincoln burst into a fit of laughter of his own. One so severe, in fact, that he went careening off the chair and fell onto the floor, where his fall was fortunately broken by Lola's belly. For some indeterminate amount of time, they just rolled around on the floor, each one's laughter fueling the other's, until they almost forgot what they were laughing about in the first place.

Once the laughter finally started to die down, Lola spoke again.

"That... that was really something," gasped Lola, catching her breath. "I didn't think you'd go that far."

"I didn't think so, either," said Lincoln. "I guess it just happened."

Lola, with a bit of effort, got back on her feet, and then helped Lincoln back onto his. "All that aside, thank you for coming," she said. "This really meant a lot to me."

This struck Lincoln as a little odd. Lana and Lucy had concrete reasons for wanting to see him; Lana needed someone to take care of her animals, and Lucy wanted to win a contest. What was so important about a pretend tea party?

That thought, combined with the way Lola's baby blue eyes shimmered as she looked down at Lincoln, made him suspect that this was more than just a play session for her. He wondered whether or not he should press her for details, but fortunately, Lola just decided to volunteer the information herself.

"In fact," she said, her smile beginning to fade, "there's a reason I decided to invite you here. I have something that I need to get off my chest. Can I talk to you?"

Lincoln walked up to Lola and gave her a pat on the ankle. "Sure, Lola."

Lola scooped him up into her palm and carried him over to her canopy bed. As she walked over, Lincoln noticed that her smile had all but disappeared completely. Once she made it over, she gently laid him down onto the mattress and took a seat next to him.

"Something happened to me last Monday that I haven't stopped thinking about since," said Lola, hands clasped in front of her and eyes locked on some arbitrary space on the floor. "It was 5:00 after school, and the judges were announcing the results of the Miss Cute & Courteous Pageant."

"Did you lose?" asked Lincoln.

"No, I won. Came out one place ahead of Lindsey Sweetwater, which felt pretty good."

Lincoln saw a hint of a smirk form on her face for a moment, before it vanished right back into the ether.

"So when I won, I started basking in my victory," Lola continued. "You know, cheering, blowing kisses, that sort of thing. And I guess I got a little carried away, 'cause Lindsey snapped at me. She said..."

Lola paused, clenched her eyes shut and sucked in air through her nose before proceeding. "She said, 'Geez, Lola, would you just shut up already?! Nobody even likes you!'"

Lincoln heard her voice start to fracture as soon as she got to the end of that sentence.

"Oh, gosh, that's awful," he said. "Didn't anyone say anything to her?"

"Well, her mom walked up and scolded her," said Lola. "But..."

Lola started to tremble, and her eyes grew mistier. "...but none of the other girls stood up for me. None of them said, 'Hey, that's not true! I'm Lola's friend!'"

Lincoln couldn't say he was surprised. He still remembered the time he went snooping around the pageant halls for dirt on Lola, and all of the other girls ran and hid at the sound of her name.

"So for the rest of the night, I just put on a big ol' smile and pretended that nothing was wrong, because you're supposed to be happy when you win a pageant," said Lola. A tear fell from Lola's eye and started running down her cheek. "But once I was alone in my room, I just cried and cried, because I knew that Lindsey was right."

Then, in a display that made Lincoln's heart crack like an egg, Lola crawled over to the other side of the bed and collapsed facefirst into her pillow. As she spoke, her voice deteriorated into muffled, fractured sobs.

"I don't have any friends," she whimpered. "Nobody likes me."

Lincoln walked over to the other side of the bed and started stroking his tiny hand across Lola's hair. Before he could think of something to say to console her, she came out with another heart-wrenching sentence:

"Sometimes I wonder if anyone here would even care about me if I wasn't part of the family."

Lincoln gasped, appalled that she would even think such a thing, let alone say it. "Lola, don't you ever talk like that. You're a beautiful, wonderful, talented little girl. Even if you weren't related to us, all of that would still be true. We couldn't be luckier to have you in this family."

Lola sniffled. "Y-you mean it? You're not just saying that?"

"Of course I'm not. And by the way, I had a really great time today. You're a lot of fun to play with."

Lincoln took a moment to sit by Lola's side and let her cry before moving onto his next point.

"And it's okay if you're having trouble making friends," he said. "You're only six. You still have lots of time to work on that."

"Lana's six!" cried Lola. "Lana's six and she already has, like, three friends! And I don't have any!"

Lola's sobs grew louder and heavier after her outburst. Lincoln cursed the fact that he was too small to give her a proper hug, or let her cry into his chest. At his size, all he could do was use his words.

"Well, it's easier for some kids than others," admitted Lincoln. "But you know what? I didn't meet Clyde until I was eight."

The sobbing started to quiet down after that point, indicating that she was at least willing to hear him out. Emboldened by his progress, Lincoln continued.

"And I didn't meet Ronnie Anne until I was eleven."

Lola lifted her head off her pillow and looked down to face Lincoln, her eyes puffy and swollen and her mascara running down her face.

"The point is, Lola, you're still young. You're in First Grade. You've still got eleven whole years before you even make it to college. You have all the time in the world and plenty of great experiences ahead of you. Just keep putting yourself out there and looking for girls with similar interests, and I promise you'll be making friends before you know it."

Lola choked back a couple of sobs and started wiping her eyes dry. "Promise?"


Lincoln walked over to Lola and wrapped his arms as far as they could go around Lola's waist. Lola, enchanted by the gesture, finally found the wherewithal to smile again. In response, she used one hand to hold him against her tummy, and the other to pet him.

After a few minutes of cuddling, Lola asked Lincoln one more question.

"Hey, Lincoln?"

"Yes, Lola?"

"Are you my friend?"

Lincoln tightened his grip on Lola, hugging her as hard as he possibly could. "I certainly am."

Chapter 5: An Afternoon of Secrets

"So... what now?"

Lola and Lincoln had been cuddling on the bed for so long that they lost track of time. In the middle of the hug, Lincoln snuck a cursory glance at his watch, and found that it was 1:00. It was then that he realized that, while he was done helping out his younger sisters, Lisa's contraption wouldn't be ready to grow him back for 21 more hours.

"Gosh, I dunno, Lincoln," Lola said with a shrug. "Lisa said we can't let you back out into the hall until she can make you big again. What'll we do until then?"


Lincoln scratched his chin, trying to think of a way to keep himself entertained in the interim.

"Why don't you bring Lisa, Lana, Lucy and Lily in here? Maybe we can all do something together."

This brought a smile to Lola's face. "Ooh, sounds like fun! I'll go get them right away."

Lola left Lincoln on her bed and dashed out of the room, making sure to close the door behind her as she left. While he waited, Lincoln lied down and let himself sink into the soft, plush surface of Lola's bed. He knew he couldn't get too comfortable, since Lola would be back any minute, but the mattress was so supple and the sheets were so silky and smooth that it was hard to resist.

Gosh, this is comfy. How come I don't have a bed like this?

Before long, the door opened again to reveal all five of Lincoln's younger sisters, with Lily in Lucy's arms. As soon as all of them were inside, Lola shut the door.

"Got 'em all here!" announced Lola. "Now we just gotta think of something to do. Hmm..."

"Maybe we could hand Lincoln off to one of the older sisters?" suggested Lana.

Lisa shook her head. "I'd rather you didn't. I informed you, Lana and Lucy about Lincoln's condition out of necessity, and Lily happened to walk in on us. The more people we tell, the more we risk blowing our cover. I'd much prefer it if we just kept this between the six of us."

"Fair enough," said Lucy. "But what do we do, then?"

The five girls started wandering aimlessly around the room, having been placed in a rather awkward position. Normally, there'd be plenty of ways for them to pass the time - watch cartoons, play outside, go to the mall - but their options were limited by the fact that Lincoln couldn't leave the room, at least not without being hidden. And they assumed that Lincoln wouldn't want to be left inside all alone for hours at a time.

Suddenly, Lola's face lit up as inspiration struck her. "Ooh! I know! We could form a secrets club!"

Lisa gave her a peculiar look. "That would seem entirely redundant, considering the fact that we're already part of a secrets club."

Lola shook her head. "No, I mean a secret secret secret club, for just the six of us. No icky teenagers allowed!"

The pageant princess wrapped her arms around Lana, Lucy and Lisa and pulled them into a huddle. "It'll be for all the deepest, juiciest, most secret secrets we have. And none of it will ever leave this room. What do you say?"

The other five siblings were a little hestitant at first, given Lola's past reputation as a notorious tattletale. On further consideration, however, they remembered how she took the blame for all of their secret misdeeds as an act of penance, and they thought it was safe to assume that she had learned her lesson. Besides, they had a few hours to burn, and this sounded like as good an idea as anything they could come up with.

"I'm down," said Lincoln. "Lucy, Lana, Lisa, Lily, what do you say?"

"Let's do it."

"Sounds good to me!"

"I, too, approve of Lola's suggestion."


"Yay!" cheered Lola. "All right, everyone, circle up!"

Lola picked Lincoln up off the bed and gingerly set him down right in the middle of the floor. Then, she and the other sisters formed a circle around him, each one of them sitting Indian-style (sans Lily, who just sat on her butt with her legs out front).

"Now, before we begin, I think we should have a system in place, so everyone gets a turn," said Lola. "Here's my suggestion."

She reached into the circle, picked Lincoln up and sat him down in her lap.

"Whoever's holding Lincoln has the floor. If none of us are holding Lincoln, then he has the floor. Sound good to everyone?"

All the other girls nodded. Lincoln had decided to stay silent, remembering what happened the last time he tried to butt into their discussion. It surprised him, then, when he looked up to see everyone in the circle looking at him expectantly.

"What do you think, Tiny Linc?" asked Lana. "Is that something you'd be comfortable with?"

"O-oh! Um, sure. I don't mind being passed around."

Lincoln's eyes darted off to the side. "To be honest, I kind of like being held and picked up and carried."

Lola giggled and tickled Lincoln's cheek with her finger. "Oh, Lincoln. Don't you ever get tired of being cute?"

Lana rolled her eyes at her twin's comment, which Lola just ignored. She picked Lincoln up with two hands and set him down right in the center of the circle.

"You can go first," said Lola. "After that, we'll let you choose who goes next, and then we can just go clockwise around the circle."

Lincoln felt a twinge of anxiety at the prospect of having to choose one sister over the others, but that dissipated once he scanned his eyes around the circle and got a good look at their faces. All of them were wide-eyed and smiling (except Lucy), with nary a trace of malice or hostility in any of their expressions. Things had certainly changed since that morning.

"Guess I'll get us started," said Lincoln. "Problem is, you girls know most of my embarrassing secrets already. Hmm..."

He paced around the circle, racking his brain for a story they hadn't heard before. He thought back to his early childhood, when most of his younger sisters either weren't born yet or were too young to retain anything. Let's see... what kind of stuff did I do as a little kid?

"A-ha!" he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "You girls'll get a kick out of this one."

All five of his sisters leaned into the circle, eyes widening with intrigue.

"I was five, I think," he said. "Mom and Dad took me to the movies to see an advance screening of The Lorax."

Lana winced. "The one with Taylor Swift? Ewwww."

"Yeah, that one," said Lincoln. "Anyway, about twenty minutes in, they could tell I wasn't into it, because I was getting kind of squirmy and restless, but they thought I'd be able to sit through it. Apparently, they thought wrong, because halfway through I blurted out, 'PUT ON CHARLIE BROWN!'"

That got a reaction out of everyone in the circle - a giggle from Lily, a chuckle from Lisa, a belly laugh from Lola, a soft, lilting laugh from Lucy, and a full-on cackle from Lana.

"N-no way!" Lana cried in between fits of laughter. "Right there in the theater?!"

"Right there in the theater," said Lincoln. "Mom and Dad are never gonna let me forget that."

It took Lana a full minute to regain her composure, even after everyone else had calmed down. "'Put on Charlie Brown'... oh, man, that's rich. Okay, Tiny Linc, who goes next?"

Lincoln was a little hesitant to make a decision. Even though Lana's tone suggested that she would be fine with whoever he chose, he still didn't want to feel like he was playing favorites. As such, he opted for the fairest, most impartial decision-making process he knew. He started spinning himself around in a circle, pointing at each sister in rapid succession.

"Eenie, meenie, miney, mo, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers let him go, my mother said to pick the very best one, and you... are... it!"

By the end of the verse, he was pointing at the child prodigy, Lisa.

"Splendid," said Lisa, taking Lincoln out of the circle and placing him in her lap. "I already have something in mind."

Her remark was met with a chorus of, "Oooh," from the rest of the circle, followed by everyone leaning in close to her.

"I... um..."

Lisa shrunk away from the circle and hugged Lincoln tight against her torso, intimidated by the prying eyes of her larger, older siblings (and Lily).

"Come on, Lisa, don't be shy," said Lincoln. "Remember what Lola said; nothing leaves this room."

Lisa took a deep breath and adjusted her glasses, which had been knocked askew during her timid squirming. "Okay, I'm ready," she said. "My secret is the fact that, at times, I... well..."

Lincoln looked up and noticed a slight tinge of red spreading across Lisa's cheeks.

"...I still like to engage in the oral absorption of my pollex."

Lisa's confession was met with several blank, empty stares, and she knew she had no choice but to clarify.

"I still suck my thumb."

"Ohhhhh," came the collective response from the rest of the group.

As she continued, Lisa had her hands wrapped firmly around Lincoln, clutching him like a security blanket. "It just feels like a natural place to put it, I suppose. Sometimes I'll just do it instinctually without even realizing it."

"Aw, Lisa, that's all right," said Lola, placing a hand on Lisa's shoulder. "It's normal for little kids to suck their thumbs."

Lisa shook her head. "But I'm supposed to be better than that. It's not proper for a scientist to engage in such childishness."

"Untrue!" said Lincoln, craning his neck up to meet Lisa's eyes. "Lots of geniuses have childish habits. Did you know that Thomas Hobbes was afraid of the dark? He had to sleep with a night light."

Lisa looked down and gave Lincoln a flat, unimpressed look. "Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher, not a scientist."

"...oh. The point still stands, though."

Lisa looked back up towards the circle, and her lips curled into a weak, faint smile. "I guess even the brightest of us have our odd little idiosyncrasies."

With that, she lifted Lincoln out of her lap and passed it over to the girl on her left - Lola. The pageant princess lay Lincoln down in her lap and used her finger to caress his hair as she spoke.

"So, you all probably know this already, but I started my pageant career when I was very little. I was three and a half years old, and Mom entered me in the Little Miss Adorable pageant."

"Oh, yeah!" said Lana. "I think you've got a third place ribbon from that pageant somewhere in the trophy case. I never really hear you talk about it, though."

Lola averted Lana's gaze. "Yeah, see, there's a reason for that."

"It's not because you came in third, is it?" asked Lincoln. "I know you're a perfectionist, but third place is pretty good for your first pageant."

Lola started to wriggle around in her seat. "It's not just that I came in third. It's why I came in third."

Lincoln noticed a blush overtaking Lola's face, this one more visible and pronounced than Lisa's. "See, right before the final judging, all the contestants have to appear before the judges and deliver their closing remarks. I was doing fine up until then, but when I had to face the judges one last time I just got so nervous, and I... I..."

By now, Lola's cheeks bore a fiery shade of pink that matched her dress.

"...I wet myself."

Everyone in the circle gasped, aside from Lily, who just sat there wondering what the big deal was.

"Mom had to pull me off the stage and get me changed," she continued. "It took her forever to get me to stop crying. I ended up missing the results."

Lola looked up to face the rest of the circle, donning a weak smile. "Boy, what a way to start my pageant career, am I right?" she said, capping off her remark with a half-hearted chuckle. She was met with some light snickering, as the group's amusement was tempered by their secondhand embarrassment.

"Oh, you don't have to feel sorry for me," she assured them, as her face began to reassume its neutral pigment. "I got over it in about a week. Anyway, that's it for me. Who's next?"

She got her answer once she looked to her left, and saw Lily with an eager grin reaching out towards Lincoln, fingers flexing.

"Aw, I think Lily wants a turn. Here you go."

Lola handed Lincoln over to Lily, who grabbed him around the torso with both hands. The tiny boy hung flaccid in her grip, as her pudgy, underdeveloped hands weren't quite strong enough to hold him firm.

The infant waddled into the circle with Lincoln in tow and planted herself right in the center. Once she was certain that all the eyes in the room were on her, she began to speak... to the best of her ability.

"Ahem. Gabba boo bah, wah wah hee hee. Booble platz, mama ga ga, gee, goo goo. Dada wawa yum yum, tinky winky, see saw. Dannit. Ooga jaja, mee mee, mah. Poo poo."

As she toddled back to her place in the circle, she was met with a round of polite applause and light, convivial laughter.

"Heh, what a story, Lily," remarked Lincoln.

Lily babbled out a malformed "thank you", reached to her left and lay Lincoln down in Lana's lap.

"Thanks, Lily," said Lana. "All right, I got a juicy one for you guys, but first lemme make Tiny Linc a little more comfortable."

She lay Lincoln down across one of her thighs, pulled up his shirt and used her pointer finger to give him a tummy rub, eliciting a contented purr.

"Comfy?" she asked, as if she even had to. Lincoln grunted in the affirmative.

"Good," she said. "Now, you all know that I love animals, right? Can't get enough of 'em. I've got dozens of pets and I love them all to bits. But..."

She used her free hand to fidget with some of the golden strands of hair sticking out from under her cap. "...but there's one animal that I just can't stand. Can't even go near 'em. They give me the willies."

The other siblings started racking their brains for what that animal could possibly be. Her half of the room was a menagerie of some of the creepiest, crawliest, scariest creatures on the planet. What was left?

"Lions?" asked Lincoln.

"Tigers?" asked Lucy.

"Ligers?" asked Lola.

"Dannit?" asked Lily.

"Komodo dragons?" asked Lisa.

"No, no, no, not an animal, and no," said Lana. "I don't think y'all are gonna guess this one, so I might as well come out and say it. It's..."

Her voice was reduced to a wispy squeak. "...squirrels."

The rest of the group could do little but stare at her with their mouths agape. That was just about the last thing they would have guessed.

"Come again?" said Lucy.

"Squirrels," Lana repeated, dodging the gaze of her five sisters and brother. "I-I don't like squirrels."

"Lana, that doesn't make any sense," said Lola. "You grapple with alligators and feed snakes and you're afraid of squirrels?"

"They just freak me out, okay?!" cried Lana. "Something about those big buck teeth, and those beady little eyes, and those weird bushy tails...eugh. Can't even think about 'em."

Lana shuddered, causing Lincoln to jostle about and sending him teetering off the edge of her lap. Fortunately, she was able to catch him right before he hit the floor and lay him back down.

"Whoa! Sorry about that, Tiny Linc."

"I-it's okay," said Lincoln, a bit rattled from the experience. "But what about the Royal Woods Squirrels? They have a squirrel mascot, and you're not afraid of him."

"That's different," Lana said with a shake of her head. "He's just a guy in a goofy suit. Real squirrels give me the creeps."

An awkward silence ensued. Lana had said everything she needed to say, and her siblings were a bit too stymied to question her any further. They still found Lana's confession to be utterly bizarre, but they did get a pretty reasonable explanation for it; at least, it was more reasonable than anything they could have come up with.

"So... neat confession, Lana," said Lola, out of an obligation to get the cycle going again. "Okay, Lucy, you're next."

Lucy nodded, lifted Lincoln out of Lana's lap and held him firm against her torso, facing outward.

"I already know what I'm going to tell you," said Lucy. "But I fear that you might not be able to look at me the same way afterward."

"Oh, please," said Lola. "I peed myself! What could possibly top that?"


Lincoln noticed that Lucy's breathing was getting longer and heavier, as he could feel her diaphragm expanding against his back every time she inhaled.

" you remember a few months ago, when Lincoln clogged the toilet with his Princess Pony book?"

Most of the other girls responded with quizzical looks. After all, this was supposed to be Lucy's confession. Why was she bringing up something that Lincoln did?

Lincoln, meanwhile, had his eyes burst open with shock, knowing precisely where Lucy was going with this.

"Lucy, you don't have to- MMF!"

Lucy clamped a finger over Lincoln's mouth, muffling him.

"It's okay, Lincoln. It's time they knew the truth."

As Lucy looked back up to face the group, Lincoln could feel her tummy push harder and harder against him with each successive breath. "And the truth is that...that..."

"Well?" said Lana. "Come on, Lucy, out with it!"

"IT WASN'T HIM!" she blurted out, shedding her stoic facade entirely. "He didn't clog the toilet! It was me! I did it! I like Princess Pony!"

Lucy's outburst prompted a myriad of responses from the rest of the circle: some gawks of disbelief, some judgmental glares, some errant snickers. All of them stung.

And those were just the immediate reactions. It wasn't long before the entire room erupted into bedlam.

"You?!" cried Lola. "Lucy, that stuff's too syrupy even for me!"

"I-I know, I know," Lucy choked out, keeping her head bowed and tightening her hug around Lincoln as she tried to scoot away from the circle. "I just need a break from the darkness now and then."

"And you just let Lincoln take the fall for you and get grounded?!" demanded Lana, who was now sporting a stern glower.

"I'm sorry! I-I didn't want to get teased!" cried Lucy. Her grip on Lincoln had elevated from "tight" to "constricting", and was closing in on "suffocating" territory.

"So you just had him endure all of the verbal castigation?!" snapped Lisa.

"Ga-ga-ba-poo-poo!" babbled Lily, who looked just as incensed as the others.

"I...I...I..." stuttered Lucy, quivering like gelatin in an earthquake.

Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to get Lucy's attention, Lincoln wriggled his arms free and started pounding his fists against her hand. "Lucy! LUCY!"


Lucy looked down, saw Lincoln flailing about, and hastily withdrew her hands, releasing him from her grip.

"Oh! Sorry, Lincoln."

"It's okay, Lucy," Lincoln said, as he took a moment to catch his breath and straighten out his disheleved shirt. Once he had composed himself, he hopped down from Lucy's lap and looked up to address the four sisters who were swarming her.

"Girls, you have to understand; Lucy never asked me to cover for her. That was my choice."

Lincoln's remark quelled the flames in the sisters' hearts, as all of them began to unfurrow their brows and unclench their fists.

"But why?" asked Lola. "Didn't you care a whole lot about going to that convention?"

"I did, but I cared more about Lucy," said Lincoln. "She's young. She's sensitive. She wouldn't have been able to take that level of teasing I got."

As they held their gaze on Lincoln, Lola, Lana, Lisa and Lily let their heads and shoulders droop forward and clasped their hands in front of them.

"Gosh, Tiny Linc, we're really sorry for making fun of you," said Lana.

"Though we must say, it was awfully big of you to take the blame like that," said Lisa. "No pun intended."

Lincoln shook his head. "Girls, honestly, it was nothing. Being teased is part of living in a rowdy house. After a while you just get used to it."

"But you didn't deserve it," said Lana. "Isn't there anything we can do to make it up to you?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Lincoln raised his hand, holding up two fingers. "Two things, actually," he said. "The first is that you don't tell any of the other sisters about what you just heard."

He gave Lola a pointed look. "You said that nothing is going to leave this room. I expect you to stand by that. Understand?"

Lola nodded.

"Good. As for the second favor..."

He pointed his finger towards the far end of the room. At this point, Lucy was curled up against the wall with her head buried in her lap, trembling and sniffling.

"...go over there and give your sister a hug. All of you."

The four guilt-ridden sisters gave him another nod, and shuffled over towards Lucy to console her.

"Hey... Lucy?" called Lola.

Lucy lifted her head from out of her lap and looked up at her sisters, displaying a protruding bottom lip and cheeks that glistened with fresh moisture.

"We just wanted to say we forgive you," said Lana, reaching down and extending her hand towards the crestfallen goth. "Come here."

Lucy took her by the hand and lifted herself back onto her feet, after which the four others swarmed her and smothered her with an enormous group hug. Lincoln, not wanting to be left out of such a moment of affection, walked up to the crowd, squeezed himself into the center and wrapped his arms around Lucy's ankle.

"You guys are the best," Lucy whispered. "Especially you, Lincoln."

After a long, warm embrace, the six of them released the hug, dispersed, and retook their seats at the center of the room.

"So," said Lola, "who's ready to go again?"

Lola was answered with a resounding, "I am!" from everyone else, and they proceeded to partake in a second round of secret sharing - which was followed by a third round, and then a fourth, and then a fifth. As it turned out, the children of the Loud house knew a lot less about each other than they thought, which meant that they could continue surprising each other for hours on end. Truth be told, they could have carried on the game for hours more...

...if they weren't cut off by the sound of their parents calling them for dinner.

Chapter 6: A Good Night's Sleep

"Kids? Dinner's ready!"

The voice of Rita from downstairs sent all off the younger Loud children into a frenzy. In a fit of panic, Lisa snatched up Lincoln, ran over to Lola's bed and shoved him under her comforter.

"Mercy me, how did I not anticipate this?!" cried Lisa. "We're going to have to think of an alibi."

"Like what?!" demanded Lana.

"I don't know! Something!"

While all of this was going on, Lincoln wished he could do something to help, but his mom would be coming up the stairs any minute and he didn't want to risk detection. The only thing he could do was make himself scarce, curl up in that silky pitch black cocoon that Lisa stuffed him into, and pray that his sisters knew what they were doing. His heart skipped a beat and a knot formed in his stomach once he heard the clink of the twins' doorknob twisting and the creak of the door opening.

"Girls? I said dinner's ready. Come down before it gets cold."

"We will, mother," said Lisa. "But I should inform you that Lincoln will not be joining us tonight."

"Oh? And why is that?" asked Rita.

Lincoln's knot tightened itself once he heard the other girls start running their mouths, tripping over themselves in a disorganized attempt to come up with a plausible explanation.

"He's sick!" said Lola.

"He's studying!" said Lucy.

"He's sick of studying!" said Lana.

"Girls, girls, girls, one at a time!" exclaimed Rita. "Now, why exactly can't Lincoln come down to dinner?"

"Well, he-" began Lana, only for Lisa to cut her off.

"He has a very difficult math examination on Monday," said Lisa. "He spent all day studying for it and now he's very tired and fatigued. He needs his rest."

What followed was one of the most tense, suspenseful, uncomfortable silences that Lincoln had ever experienced. Every one of his bodily systems seemed to lock and freeze; his heart stopped, his breathing ceased and his throat started to close up, all while he silently pleaded for Rita to give a response. Any response.

"You know, I was wondering why I hadn't seen him all day," said Rita. "Good for him, though. Glad he's taking his schoolwork so seriously."

Lincoln sighed with relief as his body relaxed itself and resumed its natural pace.

"And don't worry about leaving him hungry," Lola chimed in. "We'll bring up some food to his room after dinner."

"Aw, you girls are so sweet," said Rita. "Anyway, let's get the rest of you downstairs. Your father's waiting for you."

The next thing Lincoln heard was a flurry of ever-softening footsteps, followed by the click of the door closing behind them. Tentatively, he pushed the covers away from him and peeked out from under them, to find that the room was indeed empty.

Close call, he thought.

With nothing to do but wait, he wrapped himself up in Lola's covers, lay his head against her pillow, and started resting his eyes.

Lincoln was woken up about a half hour later, to the scent of steamed vegetables and legumes wafting down the hall.

Ah, yes, he thought. Succotash Saturday.

The door opened to reveal all five of his younger sisters, two of whom (Lola and Lana) were holding a plate of warm succotash, that still had a tiny plume of steam rising from it.

"Oh, hey, girls!" called Lincoln, as he rose to his feet to greet them. "Thanks for the food!"

"Eh, it wasn't nothin', Tiny Linc," said Lana. She walked over towards the bed and set the plate down on top of it, prompting a dirty look from Lola.

"Not on my bed, thank you very much," she snapped. She took the plate in one hand and Lincoln in the other, and lowered them both onto the floor.

"Well, excuuuuse me, princess," Lana muttered under her breath.

It was only when the plate was set right in front of him that the sheer size of the portion became apparent. It was almost big enough for him to bathe in.

"Hey, Lana? You don't expect me to eat all of this, do you?"

"Nah," said Lana. "I just brought up a whole plate so mom and dad wouldn't get suspicious. You can just pick at it and I'll give the rest to Tori."

"Oh, okay then."

Lincoln walked up to the plate, picked out a sweet pepper and started nibbling on it. The pepper was so moist and tender that his mouth nearly overflowed with its juices every time he bit into it. Lynn Sr. wasn't the most exciting chef around, but he knew how to cook a vegetable.

"Be sure to eat a bean or two, so you get some protein," said Lana. "Don't you want to be big and strong, like me?"

Lincoln gave her a deadpan look. "Lana, you do realize I'm going to be two heads taller than you tomorrow morning."

Lana just chuckled and gave him a playful little poke in the belly. "Oh, lighten up, Tiny Linc. I'm just messing with you."

Lincoln rolled his eyes and went back to his meal, picking out his favorite parts of the succotash and scarfing them down. After polishing off a few more peppers, a couple of beans and three kernels of corn, he wiped his mouth clean and collapsed onto his back, thoroughly stuffed.

"That's enough for me," he uttered. "You can just bag up the rest."

After that, he just lied back and watched Lana empty the contents of the plate into Tori's food container. Gosh, it's going to take her an hour to finish all that, he thought, tickled by the memory of Tori's absurdly sluggish eating habits.

Once Lana slid the container back under her bed, he began to speak again.

"Boy, we've had quite a day today, haven't we?"

"We certainly have, Lincoln," said Lisa, as she approached her prone brother and crouched down over him. "I must say, you've impressed me tremendously."

Lincoln raised an eyebrow at her. "How so?"

"Even after I miniaturized your body, you refused to let your diminutive size keep you from fulfilling your promises to your three sisters. A lesser brother would have used the accident as an excuse to procrastinate. But you, Lincoln, are no lesser brother."

Lincoln's heart swelled with pride at Lisa's remarks, until it rivaled the size it possessed before the accident. By the end of the day, he had learned how to feed Lana's pets, provided Lucy with a contest-winning poem (hopefully), and lifted Lola's spirits, all at a height below that of a kitten. He had every reason to be proud of himself.

And if he didn't realize that before, he certainly did once Lana spoke up.

"Let's hear it for Tiny Linc!" she cheered. "Ti-ny Linc! Ti-ny Linc! Ti-ny Linc! Ti-ny Linc!"

She was soon joined by Lola, followed by Lisa, and then Lucy. Even Lily joined in on the chant ("Na Nee Wink!")

That mass display of appreciation left Lincoln feeling so elated that he wished he could grow back to normal right that second, just so he'd be big enough to give all five of his kid sisters the hugs they deserved. For the moment, all he could do was lie back, reflect on the day and bask in his accomplishments.

After the merriment died down, it occurred to Lisa that bedtime was fast approaching for all of them - and if they had to go to bed, Lincoln would have to as well. As such, she and her sisters worked together to walk their bite-sized brother through his evening routine. In lieu of a regular shower, the five of them let him wash himself in the sink while they guarded the door. Lola provided him with a set of pajamas, courtesy of her "Sleepy Time Barbie & Ken" playset. Lincoln would have preferred something a little more dignified than a white undershirt and some sweat pants, but he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Lincoln decided that he wanted to sleep in Lisa's room, just so she wouldn't have to go fetch him the next morning when the machine was recharged. For his bed, Lisa lay a spare pillow atop her chemistry table and draped a washcloth over it.

"It's not much," she said, "but it should be comfortable enough to sleep on for one night."

"Oh, trust me, I'm not complaining," said Lincoln, as he slipped under the washcloth and curled himself into a ball. "Thanks for laying this out for me."

But just as he was getting settled in, he couldn't help but notice that the crib on the opposite side was empty.

"By the way, where's Lily?" he asked.

"She's being given a bath," said Lisa. "By the way, just as a warning, mom will be coming in any minute to tuck her in."

Just a few seconds after Lisa said that, a knock came on the door. Lincoln peeked out from under the washcloth, fully prepared to hide back under it if it was one of his parents or older sisters. To his relief, after Lisa opened the door he saw Lucy, Lola and Lana pile into the room.

"Can we do something for Lincoln before he goes to bed?" asked Lola. "We'll be quick about it, I promise."

Lisa sighed, rolled her eyes and pointed them towards the chemistry table. "Proceed."

The three of them walked right up to the table, with Lucy leading the way and the twins flanking her. Lincoln threw off the washcloth, hopped off the pillow and walked to the edge of the table to greet them, ready for whatever they had planned for him.

Lucy reached over, picked him up, lifted him to her face and gave him a kiss that enveloped his left cheek.

"Good night, Lincoln."

Lucy then passed him over to Lola, who kissed him on his right cheek.

"Good night, Lincoln."

Finally, he was passed to Lana, who capped it all off by kissing his forehead.

"Good night, Tiny Linc."

The three girls, having left him feeling warmer and fuzzier than ever, placed him back on the table, where he retook his spot on the pillow and draped the washcloth back over himself. It was moments like these that reminded him how privileged he was to be a member of the Loud family.

"I assume you are ready for slumber?"

Lincoln responded with a muttered, "Mm-hmm," already feeling the effects of drowsiness overtake him.

"I suspected as much."

Lisa walked over to the doorway, flicked the lights off and returned to her bed.

As he drifted deeper and deeper into unconsciousness, he could faintly hear the sound of Rita coming in to put Lily in her crib. He paid her no heed, partially because he was too sleep-addled to worry about being found out, and partially because he was confident that Lisa wouldn't let that happen. For the next five hours, his sleep cycle went on uninterrupted.

Then, in the middle of the night, he was stirred by some troubled-sounding murmurs coming from the other side of the room. He groggily flung off his covers and forced himself into a sitting position, trying to scan the room for the source of the disturbance. Once he got himself oriented, he determined that the noise was coming from Lily's crib, or at least somewhere in that vicinity. Through the thick, murky fog of darkness, he could just barely make out an outline of a restless infant, tossing and turning and wriggling about.

Oh, geez, Lily must be having a nightmare, thought Lincoln.

He probably could have tuned out the noise if he really tried to, but the thought of his baby sister being tormented was tearing him up inside. Besides, she'd probably start crying once she did wake up. What was he to do?

Normally, the solution to the problem would be a no-brainer for him. He'd been woken up by Lily's nighttime whimpering before, and when that happened, he'd just reach into her crib and slip Bun-Bun into her arms, which usually settled her down. As of now, though, Bun-Bun was too big for him to carry, and he wasn't even sure where he had left her last. He wouldn't feel comfortable waking up Lisa just to make her dig around his room for a stuffed toy.

Then, somehow, his drowsy, groggy brain produced an idea. He couldn't give her Bun-Bun, but he could give her someone else. Someone a little bit smaller, but just as warm and almost as cuddly.

In a remarkable display of brazenness (or maybe he was just too tired to properly assess risk), he jumped off the table and landed right onto Lisa's bed, landing with a whump. As soon as the bed stopped wobbling from the impact, he stumbled to his feet and lumbered over to the dozing genius. As he approached her enormous face, he was buffeted by gusts of hot air emanating from her nose with each exhalation. Undeterred, Lincoln walked right up and started poking Lisa in the cheek.

"Hey, Lisa! Lisa!"

Lisa's eyes fluttered open. "What is it, Lincoln?" she muttered.

"Can you take me to Lily's crib?"

Lisa's eyelids started to drift back together. "What possible purpose would that serve?"

"She's having a nightmare," said Lincoln. "I think she'll feel better if she has someone to snuggle with."

Lisa's eyes flapped back open, and a smile formed on her face. "You're a good brother, Lincoln."

After giving her body a good stretch, Lisa hopped off the bed, picked Lincoln up by the collar and carried him over to Lily's crib. The baby's whimpering grew louder and louder the closer he got, making his heart ache.

Once Lily got to the other side, she slipped Lincoln through the bars, bid him good night and returned to her bed. Lincoln, not wanting to see his baby sister upset for a moment more, walked over to Lily and slid himself right into her arms. As soon as he was in her grasp, he could hear her cries start to diminish in both frequency and volume, until they finally disappeared altogether.

He had to admit that Lily made a pretty comfortable sleep partner. Those layers of baby fat made her body so soft and cushy, and there was something soothing about the way her diaper would crinkle when she wriggled around in her sleep. That, and he liked the feeling of falling asleep in the grasp of someone so much bigger than he was, since it reassured him that there was someone looking out for him and protecting him. In the arms of his big baby sister, he couldn't have felt safer.

Lincoln had one final thought before he let himself fall back into the sweet embrace of sleep:

You know, in a weird way, I think I'm going to miss being small.

Chapter 7: A Big Resolution

Lincoln woke up to the sensation of flat, unyielding hardwood beneath his back. Looking down, he could see that he was laid out on the chemistry table, and he had been changed back into his daytime clothes. Looming over him was the gigantic form of Lisa, who was carefully slipping his shoes back on.

"Ah, good," she said. "You're awake."

After Lisa finished reapplying his footwear, Lincoln sat up and started rubbing his eyes.

"Mmm... what happened?" he said with a yawn. "Where's Lily?"

"She's currently in the kitchen, being fed," said Lisa. "I had to take you away from her before mother came in to carry her downstairs. I hid you back under the washcloth when she came in."

She bent over him and gingerly buttoned up his jeans and straightened out his shirt. "Also, I took the liberty of changing you back into your old clothes while you were asleep. I assumed that you would want me to return both you and your clothes to normal size."

"You assumed correctly," said Lincoln. "So thanks for tha-"

Lincoln blushed as soon as he realized the implications of what she just said.

"Wait, you changed me?" he asked. "As in, you took off my pajamas, and then dressed me?"

"Oh, come off it, Lincoln," said Lisa. "It's not as though I'm unaccustomed to seeing you in your underwear."

Lincoln's blush faded a bit. "Okay, that's fair," he muttered, recalling the number of times he'd read comic books half-naked in plain sight of her. Still, it was a little embarrassing to have his four-year-old sister dress him.

"The good news is that my size alteration apparatus has completed its cooldown period," said Lisa. "We are now fully prepared to return you to normal."

With that, she picked him up off the table, hopped off her stepstool and carried him over to the right side of the room. Having been liberated from Lisa's shadow, Lincoln was provided with an unobstructed view of her bedroom, and he noticed three beaming faces lined up in front of her closed door: one goth, one handywoman and one princess.

"We just wanted to thank you one more time," said Lola. "We had a really great time yesterday."

Lincoln just smiled and gave them a wave as Lisa passed them by. Once she got to the other side of the room, Lincoln noticed that the intended target of the shrink ray - the head of cabbage - was still in the exact same place it was in yesterday morning, atop the stool propped against the wall. Lisa nonchalantly swatted the cabbage off and placed Lincoln on the stool in its place.

"I should warn you three that the machine takes a while to boot up," said Lisa as she crossed back over to the left side of the room. "Be prepared to do a bit of waiting."

She used the stepstool to climb back onto the chemistry table, where the machine was positioned right near the edge, poised to fire. After punching in a few commands and nudging the nozzle into the right position, she hammered the switch on top, sat back, and waited.

Lincoln, knowing that it'd be a while before the machine got going, decided to pass the time with some small talk.

"So, Lucy, when are you going to hear the results of that contest?"

"In a week," said Lucy. "Also, you should know that if I win, I'm taking you."

Lincoln blinked at her. "Come again?"

"First prize winners get two tickets to Creepy Castle," said Lucy. "One for me, and one for you."

Lincoln gasped with joy, flattered that he of all people was her first choice. "Lucy, I... I don't know what to say. Thank you."

Truth be told, while he wasn't as big of a horror fan as Lucy was, he did have a soft spot for the supernatural, as evidenced by his love of ARGGH!. An excursion to Michigan's creepiest haunted house actually sounded pretty exciting.

Before long, the machine began to sputter and choke, expelling a thin wisp of smoke from its metallic shell. As the whirring of the machine gradually swelled in volume, Lana sniffled and flicked a tear away from her eye.

"I'm gonna miss you, Tiny Linc," she said, her voice crackling.

Lincoln looked over and gave her a befuddled look. "Lana, it... it's still me."

He decided not to press the issue any further, since he figured it wasn't worth it to try to dissect the logic behind Lana's sentimentality. Instead, he just turned back to face the contraption, which was now rumbling about and producing a cacophonous ruckus that filled the room.

At long last, the roaring, rattling machine spat out a jet of glowing plasma - this one blue - and scored a direct hit on Lincoln's body. He was enveloped in an opaque blue cocoon, and he could feel his skin expanding and loosening itself, presumably to make room for his lengthening bones and swelling muscles. Oddly enough, the process of having his skin stretched out like taffy wasn't all that discomforting; if anything, he felt numb during the transformation.

But whatever numbness he was feeling came to a swift end when his knees collided with the floor beneath him, shooting a dull pain into his kneecaps. Lincoln grunted with pain, took a moment to let himself recover from the impact, and then used his hands to push himself into a standing position.

Once he got to his feet and rubbed his eyes open, he was greeted with the relieving sight of a normal-sized baby crib, a ceiling that hung only a few feet above his head, and four little girls beaming up at him.

"It worked!" the girls cheered in unison.

Before he could react, the now normal-sized Lana, Lucy, Lola and Lisa surrounded him and locked him into a tight group hug.

"H-hey! Give me a little space!" protested Lincoln, failing to hide his enchantment. The girls ignored his request and continued to embrace him, leaving him no choice but to give in and return the hug.

"Good to have you back, Big Linc," said Lana.

"It sure is," said Lola.

"I concur," said Lisa. "And from now on, I'll exercise a bit more caution when performing my experiments."

Lincoln responded with a faint giggle, as he doubted that Lisa was going to keep that promise for long. For now, though, he'd just humor her.

"Glad to hear it," he said. "But now I've got a bit of homework to do, so could you guys let me out?"

The girls nodded and, showing a bit of reluctance, withdrew their arms and backed away from their big brother.

Lincoln could feel the corners of his mouth rising automatically as he took one more glance at his younger sisters' faces. There were times in the Loud house that he felt neglected or underappreciated, but in that moment there was no way he could even imagine feeling that way. Not when he was face-to-face with four elated little girls, each of their expressions bursting at the seams with affection.

Lincoln took one last moment to smile back and give them a wave goodbye before starting out of the room. "It's been fun, girls," he said as he pushed open the door. "It really has."

As he walked out of the room and closed the door behind him, he started to mull over whether he should start with his math or English homework first, when his thought process was interrupted with a raspy cry of, "There you are!"

He looked to his right to see Luna walking down the hall to greet him, her expression an odd cocktail of relief and mild bemusement.

"Where've you been, dude? I haven't heard a peep out of you since Friday!"

Moments later, she was joined in the hallway by Lynn, Luan, Leni and Lori, all of whom looked just as concerned.

"Yeah, Lincoln, it's not like you to skip a meal," said Lynn.

"I was starting to get a little worried about you," said Leni, knitting her brow.

"We should start calling you the Missing Linc!" said Luan, who followed up her statement with her trademark laugh.

"Very funny, Luan," Lori said with a roll of her eyes. "But seriously, Lincoln, what have you been doing since yesterday? And don't say that you spent all that time studying, or I'll literally know you're lying."

Lincoln just shrugged, turned his back on the five elder sisters and started walking back towards his room.

"Sorry, girls, but that's my little secret."