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Robert Scott Carey is enjoying a boating vacation with his wife Louise when a strange mist suddenly engulfs him, covering him with a sparkling powder. Six months later, Scott notices that his clothes are too big, and visits Dr. Arthur Bramson to figure out why he has shrunk two inches. Although Bramson is quick to allay Scott's fears, he cannot explain why Scott continues to shrink over the next few weeks, and sends him to the California Medical Research Institute for extensive tests. Finally, one analysis reveals the presence of an unusual chemical in Scott's body that has rearranged his cell's molecular structure, causing him to shrink in perfect proportion. Dr. Thomas Silver, a scientist at the institute, deduces that the problem was caused by a combination of exposure to insecticide and radioactivity, prompting Scott to realize that the mist that enveloped him on the boat must have been atomic. Outside, a despairing Scott assures Louise that he does not expect her to stay with him, and although she declares that as long as he wears his wedding ring, she will be his wife, the ring slips off his shrinking finger soon after. Within weeks, Scott has shrunk to a height of three feet, and his only hope for earning money lies in selling his story to the media. Word of his malady spreads throughout the world, and soon reporters and curious onlookers surround Scott's home. Mobs crowd the front door and tie up the phone line, causing Scott to grow angry and bitter and Louise to cry with helplessness. One day, Scott is writing about his frustration in his journal when Dr. Silver calls to inform him that an anti-toxin has been developed. The serum succeeds in halting Scott's attenuation, but it cannot help him return to his normal height. Filled with shame and sadness, he wanders into a carnival where midgets are being paraded as freaks, and stops for a drink at a café. There, he is joined by midget Clarice Bruce, who assures Scott that little people can lead full lives. Their encounter encourages Scott, who begins work on his autobiography. One day, however, he notices that he is suddenly shorter than Clarice, and realizing that he has begun shrinking again, runs home in horror. Weeks later, he is only inches high, and must live in a dollhouse. Scott's fears cause him to treat Louise tyrannically, and one day when she goes out, she is so rattled that she accidentally allows the cat to creep into the house. The cat pursues Scott as if he is a mouse, slashing him with a claw and forcing him to run behind the basement door. Although Scott tries to shut the door against the beast, the cat pushes the door open, hurtling him into a sewing basket at the foot of the stairs. When Louise returns, she sees the cat, finds Scott's bloody shirt and, anguished, assumes Scott is dead. Meanwhile, he regains consciousness and stacks thimbles, creating a ladder to climb out of the box. Realizing that the stairs are too mountainous to scale and that he must find a way to survive until Louise comes for him, Scott drinks from a dripping pipe, creates a bed in an empty matchbox, and searches for food. At one point, Scott finds cheese in a mousetrap, but when he springs the trap, the cheese catapults through the floor grate. Scott's hunger speeds the shrinking process, and now the size of a spool of thread, he spots a piece of bread on what seems like an impossibly high ledge. Using thread and a bent needle as a grappling hook, he scrambles up to the ledge, nearly falling into a paint box along the way. Scott is elated at his success, and even after a mesh window to the outdoors reminds him that he is trapped in a prison of sorts, he vows to dominate his environment. As soon as he brings pieces of bread back to his matchbox, however, a massive spider pursues him, and he realizes that he is now prey. Upstairs, Scott's brother Charlie has convinced Louise to leave the house and put her anguish behind her, but just before they depart, the basement floods. Scott clings to a nail on a stair, but is so little that Charlie and Louise cannot hear him as he shouts for them, even when they are standing directly above him, unclogging the drain. Scott grabs onto a pencil that prevents him from being swirled down the drain, but is powerless to stop Louise from leaving the house. Slightly crazed, he determines to kill his main foe, the spider, and to that end climbs back onto the ledge. Armed with a needle, he attracts its attention, and as the spider moves to devour him, Scott stabs it to death. Now shrinking almost to nothingness, Scott climbs through the grate to the outdoors and stands in the yard contemplating the sky, no longer sure if he is human. Suddenly, he is struck with an understanding of the universe and his place in it, and as he melts away into infinity, his fears likewise dissolve with the realization that no matter how small he is, he will always exist.