Chapter Description: Clark gets an impromptu lesson on the beliefs and activities of mindfucked Littles at a Little Voices meeting
I sulked in Janet’s lap at that night’s Little Voices meeting; still brooding and stewing over what went wrong with Beouf. Beouf gushed over how ‘well’ things had gone that day, and said how much of a joy it was to have Lion in the class with me. Beouf was happy, and that meant I couldn’t be. I felt like a chess player going over a game in my head to see where I made the wrong move. Where had the gap in my defense been? Had I not attacked hard enough? Had I jumped in too quickly?
I felt like the comedic relief in my own story. I wasn’t some idiot who didn’t know he’d been manipulated. I’d been just with it enough to realize I was being manipulated, but not enough to fix it back. I was Sheriff of Nottingham, instead of his bumbling henchmen. I knew just how screwed I was and I hated that I couldn’t figure out how to unscrew it. What had I done wrong back there?
In between replaying the events with Lion, I couldn’t help but overhear the other Little Voices members and their Littles talking and interacting with each other. “Yes, we had a scare with her the other day,” one Amazon said to another. “I don’t know how it happened, but one of the drawers in the kitchen was open and batteries were scattered everywhere. They were right next to her playpen. I almost ran her to the emergency room. Not sure how the baby proofing got undone, but we’ve ordered some stronger ones.” She looked down at the Little by her feet. The doll was wearing a matching denim jumper. The Doll had a doll. “It’s that darn cat.”
“This is why we never had pets in my family,” the other Amazon said. “far too much work.” I suppressed a bitter laugh. Changing diapers for decades was fine, but litterboxes were crossing a line? “Plus some of them are just so...small...I’d be afraid to hurt one or step on it. Or something.”
“Yes,” the first agreed, “but the cat came with her, and they’re so adorable together. Especially snuggled up. It’s just so precious, almost makes it worth it. Although I don’t think we’ll get another one.”
The Little in the jumper took exception to this. “WHAT?!?!?!”
“Don’t worry, Bea, Kit-Kat isn’t going anywhere.”
Bored, I listened in on conversations elsewhere.
“You know that coffee shop, a town or so over, that we encouraged everyone to avoid because of their um... ‘special’ items?”
A Daddy with sandy blonde hair arched his eyebrow. “Yeah, ‘Le Grande Bebe Cafe’, right? With the spiked chocolate milk?”
“Right. That one. Same place where they have the Amazon with Maturosis working full time.”
“Are you sure she has Maturosis and just isn’t parading around in a diaper or something? Using it as an excuse to dress like a baby in public?” I must have been punchy because of how hard I laughed at that. If I was the Sheriff, these were my henchmen. I was in a room where a bunch of pots were calling kettles ‘black’.
Janet looked down at me. “Something funny, giggly boy?” Her smile took mine away. Her light hug stole my laughter but at least let me listen.
“Not sure. I’ve heard rumors, but…” the woman shook her head. “Getting off topic. We won’t have to worry about them slipping anything into people’s drinks without asking. New store policy. Less innuendo. Someone had to take their Little to the emergency room for dehydration. Didn’t know what was meant by ‘special’ chocolate milk.”
“Oh my god!”
Mentally, I disengaged. There was far too much to take in there, and the cult meeting proper hadn’t even started.
Another pair of ladies took a seat next to Janet. “How did the date go last night?”
“Oh it was going really well, until we started talking about kids and how to look after Littles.”
“Let me guess,” the first hen covered her Little’s ears. “H-Y-P-N-O?”
“Yep, and kept going on about how good that place was.”
Ironically, both of them joined me in an unconscious shudder.
“Oh my gosh, that’s ridiculous.”
“I tried to talk to him, see if he was open minded, but I could barely get a word in edgewise. Honestly I think he may have seen one of those videos.” They both laughed. As if high and mighty Amazons could be hypnotized. How absurd!
I rolled my eyes. Of course they weren’t hypnotized. Why rely on hypnotism when they’d already broken themselves with nice comfortable propaganda and feigned empathy?
“Well I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but you know I hear Mark is single.”
My ears started burning. Mark. Stupid, plain, milquetoast, Mark with his thick rimmed glasses and mess of black curly hair. I could never have gotten away with hair like that back before Janet started toddlerizing me. He was the only Amazon without a Little prisoner of his own.
Even with a week between sightings, I still felt my hackles rise up at seeing him. The only thing worse than an Amazon who’d adopted was one who hadn’t yet but wanted to. I looked up at Janet only to realize that she wasn’t checking on me. Her eyes were also drifting across the circle of chairs, over to Mark casually chatting up two other husbandless- but not Littleless- giantesses.
“It’s about that time,” the balding meeting leader said. “Weeeeeeee’re-”
“-All together again,
We’re here! We’re here!
We’re all together again,
We’re here! We’re here!
And who knows when,
We’ll be all together again,
Singing we’re all together again,
The opening hymn was always the same. Set the tone, set the mood, set the expectations. It’s how indoctrination worked best.
“It looks like we have some new visitors with us this evening,” Baldy said. “Please, introduce yourselves.”
“Hi,” a red-haired Amazon said. “I’m Lois.”
“HI LOIS!” She bobbed a Little man with dark black hair who was absolutely quivering in her arms. He was terrified. Traumatized. “This is Bradley.”
“I LIKE TO PEE MY PANTS!” The new guy shouted at the top of his lungs. No one laughed. No one said a thing. New guy’s declaration about him pissing himself rang out to a near vacuum. What’s more, he sounded excited, but not happy about it. He wasn’t celebrating his unpotty trained state, but calling out a safeword. “I LIKE TO PEE MY PANTS!” He was begging. Pleading.
A couple of the other Littles exchanged worried, but knowing looks. Cindy, the pink-haired older little whom I’d ruined last week whispered two words to Baldy’s Little. I didn’t need to read lips to guess what she said.
“I just adopted Bradley,” his keeper, Lois, said sheepishly. “Money got kind of tight, and so I wanted to enroll him in a public school instead of a private daycare. But there’s a waiting list at Oakshire, and the only other accredited Maturosis and Developmental Plateau unit in the area was...” She gulped.
“DO IT CAUSE MOMMY SAID SO!” Tears were leaking out of the poor guy’s eyes, and he didn’t blink. Not once.
“I didn’t do my research,” the newcomer said. “I only looked on their website. The staff seemed very nice and professional.” Mark put his hand on her shoulder, and nodded solemnly, not saying anything.
“I did some more digging when Bradley started…”
“I’M A GOOD BABY! POTTY BAD! CUP BAD!”
She looked like she was about to cry. “that.”
“How long was he in there?”
Her answer came out just above a whisper. “Two weeks.”
Two weeks? I heard my heartbeat in my ears. That? All of that? Happened in two weeks.
There was a brief rumble from the gathered.
“I don’t know why the school board doesn’t shut them down.”
“Lobbyists at higher levels. Governor. Misinformation.”
“Those kinds of ‘therapies’ have a lot more standing...for now.”
“What about bugging them?”
“Illegal. Won’t hold up in court. Can’t record without consent.”
The newcomer drew her Little into a sobbing hug. “I just wanted him to be happy...”
The bald cult leader stood up and quieted everyone down. “The important part is you got him out of there and we’re all here to help you. Both of you.”
“Abso-fuckin’-lutely.” One of the men said.
“Carl! The children!”
Amy Madra snapped out of whateverself-induced. “FUCK!” She seemed more amused than anything “Fuck-fuck-fuck!” Helena pushed a pacifier into her lips. Amy kept happily swearing with the bulb in her mouth. No one heard the words, but that didn’t stop her cadence. “MMMMMMMMMM! Mmm-mmm-mmm.” Helena shushed her, but that only got her to lower the volume.
“Whelp,” someone joked. “Guess Carl isn’t watching the babies during the second half.” That lowered the tension. Even the Littles who were still with it enough to get the joke laughed.
Two weeks. I was almost breathless. I felt Janet hug me again, tighter than before and around the chest like she was afraid I might slip away into nothingness. I could hear her heartbeat, feel it through her chest like a jackhammer. I looked up and saw her looking down at me.
She kissed me on the forehead and whispered down to me. “I love you. I love you so much.” There was fear there; guilt too; and I knew why.
“I’M NOT A BIG BOY! I’M NOT! I’M NOT! I’M NOT! I’M NOOOOOOOT!” Bradley sobbed into his Mommy’s shoulder.
Two weeks. That poor bastard had been at New Beginnings for just two weeks and he was shouting words at the top of his lungs that didn’t sound like they belonged to him. “I’M! JUST! A! BAAAA-A-A-A-BEEEEEEE!” It was almost a relief when he started sucking his thumb and stopped saying real words.
Two weeks. That’s all it had taken to wreck this guy. Cut the crying and add a pull-string into his back and he would have been perfect for an Amazon.
Janet’s grip on me only got tighter. For once, I leaned into and returned it, and wrapped my arms upward over hers, pulling them down to me like a harness on a roller coaster. He could have gotten into Beouf’s class. Beouf would have broken him, sure. But not like that. The worst part of my day had been carrying around my stuffie, agitated that using him as a loophole to cuss wasn’t getting Zoge to clutch her at her pearls enough. Except he couldn’t have gotten into Beouf’s class. Waiting list. And I’d snatched up the last spot. We’d snatched up the last spot.
It’s a weird feeling. Feeling privileged and doomed at the same time. Looking at someone and having survivor’s guilt, even though you too, are a dead man. Feeling a shared sense of guilt with your captor: If there’s a single word to encapsulate that feeling I don’t know it.
The meeting got way off track. No silly songs or lap bounces tonight. It was all about people sharing resources with Lois so she could ‘fix’ Bradley. Talks of ‘deprogramming software’ that was hard to find but obtainable ‘if you knew where to look' and ‘specialists’. I heard Dr. Milton’s, my so-called pediatrician, name dropped. Someone mentioned grants and charities that could at least help fund getting him into a regular daycare. Regular by their standards at least.
Part of me, a very small part, wanted to help. I bit my tongue sitting in Janet’s lap, almost fantasizing about martyring myself by offering myself up and offering my spot in Beouf’s. I wasn’t gonna do it. Not really. There were a million reasons not to speak up, the fact that I didn’t have an actual say in where Janet put me during the day being one of them. Opportunities for vengeance was another. What the A.L.L. might think of me was a distant but present factor. Mostly, though, I was just scared.
Janet wouldn’t send me to New Beginnings, but I still wanted, no, needed the familiarity of my own personal hellscape that I’d been adapting to.
The meeting would have dragged on longer than that, had the other Littles not had their routines already driven into them. “Looks like the tots are getting restless,” someone said. “Let’s get them off to the nursery and we’ll finish talking here. Let them play.”
“It’s okay. Bradley can stay with his Mommy.”
Janet reached into my diaper bag. “Don’t forget Lion.” I took it and went to get in line, only to freeze when fresh air hit the rack of my ass. It was practically second nature by now. “Just checking. You’re good.” I got sent away with a pat on the butt. If Lion had had bones his ribs would have broken in my grip.
I waddled up with Lion in my arms straight to the Amazon on guard duty that night. “Put me in a crib, please.”
“Are you tired, Clark?”
Stupidly, I looked down at my shirt or on Lion, wondering if there was a nametag or something. It’s weird when someone knows your name and you don’t know theirs. Not that I wanted to know her name. “No,” I replied to the sandy haired woman who walked her Little on a toddler leash. “I just want to be alone.”
“Are you sure?” She asked. “We’re going to play Feather Wand in a few minutes.” She said it loud enough so excited murmurs rippled around the holding pen.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Okay dokie. Do you need a change?”
My eyes darted to the single changing table out in the open. No bathroom. Everyone could see. “No thank you.” I brought up Lion to just beneath my eyes to hide the rosiness that was coming out of my cheeks.. “My Mommy just checked me a minute ago.”
“Oh yeah,” the guard said. “That’s right.” She picked me up and dumped me in the crib in the back. “Thank you for being polite, too.”
“You’re wel-...” I stopped myself and silently cursed.
She didn’t notice. The lady unleashed her prisoner and dug through her diaper bag. “Look what I got!” She brandished two feathers that were so perfectly black and white and proportioned that they just had to be synthetic. “Who’s ready to play Feather Wand?”
All around the room, Little hands shot up like a Kindergarten class. “Me me me me me!”
The lone Amazon seemed singularly enchanted. “Wonderful! Just remember the rules. Black feather makes things heavy. White feather makes things light. Black feather and white feather can cancel each other out,” she paused and grinned, “but I don’t think anyone’s going to bother doing that.” More knowing laughter. “And how many times do you get to use a feather?”
“And then you-?”
“Give someone else a turn!”
“That’s right!” The sandy haired woman clapped her hands together. “I think tonight, we should start with...Kylie for the heavy wand,” she gave the black feather to a Little girl who’d been dozing in her Daddy’s lap the week prior. “Aaaaand Paul will start with the light feather.” The older man who had been talking blocks the way Burt Braun talked construction, got it.
“Mommy!” The Little woman in the toddler leash whined.
“Prudence...” That was enough to put a stop to it. “We play Feather Wand enough at home. Give someone else a chance.” The others, oddly enough dispersed and spread out of the room, but instead of looking at the holders of the wand, they started breaking out blocks and balls and other toys like the game wasn’t happening at all.
Curious. Very curious.
“Ready?” Prudence’s Mommy called.
“Ready!” The two Littles holding feathers said.
“Then one...two...th..oh wait!” The Amazon said. “Don’t forget kids. These wands don’t work on clothes! So you can’t make somebody’s shoes heavy and stick them in place.” A few of the girls raised their hands to ask a question. “And you can’t make somebody’s skirt or shirt go up.” The hands went down. “Okay. One...two...three!”
And then they just started playing quietly. Blocks were being stacked. Dolls were broken out and played with. The two with the feathers? They didn’t blast off or run around. They just walked around the playroom, like pool sharks lining up their shots.
No one else was paying attention to me, but this was so bizarre that I felt the need to exclaim something. I caught sight of Amy crawling around. I might have been able to wave her over and ask what was going on.
Wasn’t gonna happen.
I looked at Lion. Close enough. “The fuck?” I whispered to no one but him. This must be why actual children developed imaginary friends: Sometimes the world didn’t make sense and no one was around to just listen.
About a minute into it, the real game started in earnest. The girl with the black feather walked up to a girl combing her dolly’s hair with a tiny brush. “Heavy-One!”
The girl with the hairbrush let out a yelp of surprise and dropped the pink plastic brush to the floor like it was a brick made of dwarf star matter. “What?! Oh no! Clementine’s comb is soooo heavy!” She pinched it between her thumb and forefingers and pretended to tug, grunting and groaning. “Grrrr! How am I supposed to comb her hair now?”
Black feather giggled and skipped off. I kept my focus on the girl with the dolly to see if she’d break character or get distracted. Quite the opposite as it turned out. Unable- more like not allowed- to pick up the hair brush, she turned the doll upside down and started rubbing its head against the brush, humming happily.
“Light-One!” Block boy used the feather on his mate, and now the guy was up on his toes holding an orange brick up over his head by the very tips of his fingers..
“Whoaaah! Whoooooah!” The guy was acting like the piece of plastic was a hot air balloon threatening to tug him away. “Must! Get! Block! Back on top...of tower! Reggie! Cindy! Help!” Almost breaking, the three pantomimed forcing the block back to the top like they were pressing on a giant spring.
As soon as the other two backed off, block boy’s buddy was back on his toes.
“I am not sitting on that,” Reggie laughed.
“I know,” Pink Hair said. “What if we build the tower up high! It’s lighter up in the air anyways so it should say!”
“Yeah! That might work.”
From the safety of the nursery’s rent-a-crib, I nodded. I was beginning to understand the appeal of the game; from both sides. The people with the feathers were empowered to create problems, and everyone else had to creatively solve them.
No winners. No losers. Just an improvisation game. It looked kind of fu-
“Hey Clark!” Amy smushed her face up against the bars. I scooted to the very back of the crib. She couldn’t walk properly, her underwear crinkled, she was the only face that regularly registered to me in this place, and I had a wall to my back and still she managed to sneak up on me. “How you doin’ did you have a good week in Mrs. Beouf’s class I know the week’s not over yet but we haven’t seen each other and Friday doesn’t really count if you think about it I’ve been meaning to ask you about a ceeeeertain purple-”
“Yes yes yes,” I snapped, cutting her off. “Yes. I saw your stupid octopus. I saw Jessennia.”
Amy stopped, but only for a beat. “Oh yeah? When?”
I leaned to the side. Amy had pulled herself up to a standing position and was just barely blocking my view of the game. “This morning.”
“Aaaaaand? Did he say anything about me?”
This nutter. This fucking Full Native nutter. “No. He’s playing with Ivy now. She calls him Akka.”
Amy rolled her eyes and sighed. “Oh Ivy,” she said. “I do not miss her very much. Did you tell her she was wrong and that his name is Jessennia and he talks with an Albienese accent, you know I bit Ivy once but she didn’t bleed or anything but I warned her not to take the grilled cheese I’d put down the front of my diaper that I was saving for later cuz I didn’t have any pockets and even though it had gluten in it and I wasn’t s’posed to eat it we had picture day that afternoon.”
It took me about five seconds to process that particular stream of consciousness. “You bit Ivy?”
I smirked. “Is that how you lost your front teeth?”
The brightness and curiosity left Amy’s eyes and she sunk down. “No.” I felt a pang in my gut. I had crossed a line. I had guessed it might be there. I knew I was crossing it. Didn’t stop me from doing it. DIdn’t stop me from regretting it as soon as I did. I didn’t apologize, either.
“Mommy, catch!” A green rubber ball sailed into the lone Amazon’s arms. The tip of a black feather brushed it.
The Amazon dropped like a stone, arms first onto the floor. She practically belly flopped! “Oh no!” She said like the lead in a B-Movie, “This ball is sooooo heavy! And my hand is trapped under it! Oh wooooe is me!”
“We’ll help!” The call went out. Two or three other prisoners started playing the game of trying to move it off of the lady’s hand. For extra emphasis, the Little Voices cultist kept it in her vice-like grip making the Littles have to really work to move it.
I jumped up and looked over the railing so I could see over Amy’s head. “She’s playing?! “ I yelped. “Why is she playing?!” Amazons didn’t play baby games! They forced Littles to play them and watched while feeling smug about themselves!
“Why wouldn’t she play?” Amy looked back over her shoulder. “Prudence’s Mommy likes playing with Littles. Most Grown-Ups do.”
I plopped back down, suddenly more interested in what Amy had to say. “What are you talking about?”
“That’s why Mrs. Beouf does it? Playing with us is like...her job or something.” I glared at her to no effect. “You know sometimes I think they invented movie theaters so Grown-Ups would have an excuse to watch the fun stuff cuz it lets them pretend they’re doing it for us streaming services are really hurting their access to real art these days, ya know?”
“Beouf plays games to mess with us,” I replied. “Playing games, even these, just for fun, would be...be…considered...?” Damn it I didn’t have a better word for it.
“Yeah,” I huffed.
Completely straight faced Amy peered through the bar and said “What’s more Grown-Up than playing with Littles?”
My face was getting hot, and this time it had nothing to do with embarrassment. “Maybe paying a dentist to replace the gap in your teeth?” That’s what I should have said. That’s what I wanted to say. That pang in my gut came back when I started to say it, though, and so I stopped.
Instead, I asked. “Why do you call them that? Grown-Ups? You’re smarter than that.”
“Not my point,” I pressed. “Why do you keep calling them Grown-Ups? Why talk like that? It’s stupid.”
“No, it’s not, it’s complete zoological sense.”
“We’re all adults. Janet is two years younger than me.”
“Yeah, but we’re not Grown-Ups, like them,” Amy said. “Never will be, and that’s okay.”
The Amazons really got her good. I didn’t have anything to add, so she just piled on more nonsense. “Some adult tadpoles are called toads. Some adult tadpoles are called frogs. But you don’t call a frog a toad or they’d get very upset.”
I tried to piece it all together. “So a Grown-Up, to you, is just…?”
“A word for an adult Amazon.” She shrugged. “I’m a Little, not an Amazon, so I’m an adult, but not a Grown-Up. Adult just means you’re done growin’. That’s it. Calling them Grown-Up makes it less confusing.” She smirked. “Imagine if you just walked around calling all physically mature creatures ‘adults’.” She stopped and squeaked laughter. “Can you just imagine the signs at the zoo? Adult, adult, adult, adult, adult.”
Just when I thought I’d seen the bottom of the crazy barrel. “Is this why Beouf looked so freaked when I brought up the octopus’s-”
“-righ, when I brought up Jessennia’s name?”
I repeated myself. “She looked kind of scared when I called Jessennia by his name. Why?”
Amy twisted her mouth and squinted. “I dunno. She used to look like that all the time.” She paused. “She was fun. I kinda miss her. Say hi to her for me?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.” I wasn’t lying. A potential silver bullet was a potential silver bullet.
“I like your lion,” Amy said, pointing to the stuffie in my arms. I don’t know when I started holding him again, or if I properly stopped. “What’s his name?”
“That’s a good name. He looks like a Lion.”
I allowed myself a smile. “I know, right?” I exhaled and relaxed a bit. I really needed to lighten-
“Light-One!” A white feather snuck it’s way between the bars of the crib and tickled Lion. Amy talking to me had drawn some attention and a feather had exchanged hands again.
Pinned to the floor by a rubber ball, the sandy haired giantess called out, “Prudence, Clark doesn’t want to-”
“WAAAAAAAAH!” I screamed, chucking Lion so hard that he bumped the ceiling and thudded on the floor. “How in the-?” I said. “How’d you do that?!”
Prudence giggled so hard she doubled over. Amy squeaked through her nose so loudly she sounded like a guinea pig. “Hurry! Pin it down! Before it floats again!” A couple of guys dog piled onto Lion like they were heroes throwing themselves onto a grenade.
“Ooooooh,” Prudence’s Mommy groaned, finally releasing the ‘heavy’ ball from her grip. She stood up and continued the show of flexing her arm and shaking it’d just been released from a vice or something. “Clark, does that mean you want to get out of the crib? Do you wanna come out and play?”
Ever the trouble maker, I was seeing potential. Not for now, but for later. When the time was right.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. I think I will.”