Wendy woke up achy all over with a crick in her neck causing her considerable discomfort. She’d fallen asleep on the floor of her own bedroom, her back against the wall parallel to her closet and her notebook opened to the very beginning of the fifth chapter she’d been meaning to study.
One chapter. She’d spent the rest of the night pouring over one lousy chapter of legal history. Combined with the previous three, she’d read only a third of her required reading material for the upcoming exam. She had just one more day to basically devour the remaining eight chapters she’d procrastinated studying on, and then an exam which could very well make or obliterate her GPA.
From an objective point of view, Wendy could hardly shoulder the blame of this procrastination alone. Most twenty-two year olds cramming for exams only had factors like the temptation of wild parties on a saturday night, or paper thin apartment walls where they could hear their neighbors arguing and making love, sometimes both. These were normal distractions.
Strange rips in reality that no one else could see, thus indicating some form of magic or severe psychiatric issue (a brain tumor perhaps?); that was a uniquely Wendy problem. She confirmed it not once, but twice, with each of her parents. Neither one could see it, even though since exiting the strange room made up for a giant baby, the invisible shimmering mirage in her closet had given way to being replaced with a beam of light coming out of nowhere. Absent the heavenly choir it still resembled the bright light at the end of the tunnel so common in near death and out of body experiences.
An afterlife with a giant adult sized nursery….yeah right!
“You sure you’re not studying too hard, cupcake?” Dad had asked. Mom had gone so far as to feel Wendy’s forehead checking for a fever and check to see if her lymph nodes were swollen or eyes dilated. Mom wasn’t a nurse, but being a public school teacher made her the next best thing.
There was a strange interdimensional rip in her bedroom closet that no one but her could see or seemingly interact with. What did one do in this situation, save retreat?
It’s why she’d hunkered down on the wall beside her bedroom closet. Out of sight, out of mind.
Once, when she was thirteen she’d banged her head really hard playing tetherball at summer camp. Squiggly lines started appearing in her vision, just on the fringes of her line of sight and crossing her vision only whenever she purposefully shifted her eyes from left to right; kind of like little white flurries in a snow globe.
The camp doctor had said she hit her head hard enough that some eye jelly had come loose inside her and that’s what the little squiggles that only she could see were. It happened all the time. Eventually the jelly would settle back into place or she’d stop noticing it. As long as she didn’t take a whole bunch of tetherballs to the face, everything would go back to normal and she wouldn’t need glasses.
This was the same principle. It had to be. As long as she ignored it and pretended not to see the hole in existence with blinding alien light shooting through it, it would go away. Right? Right.
That level of denial hadn’t served her well in her studying. Rather than the looming panic and procrastination in what was now tomorrow’s exam, Wendy was alternately obsessing over a miraculous discovery or her own fragile sanity depending on where her brain decided to go page by page.
The whole mess just resulted in her falling asleep with her back to the wall, waking up in brief spurts expecting to see a changing table where her dresser was supposed to be or a toy box where her study desk was. Then she’d go back to re-reading where she’d left off before dropping back into dreamland again. The text had made a better pillow than a book.
Achingly, Wendy stood up and raised her arms over her head, letting out a bellowing yawn. Her bladder was screaming at her. It had been the thing, rather than the trace amount of sunlight coming in through her bedroom blinds that had woken her up. “Why didn’t I just crawl into bed?” she moaned to herself. A mental overlay of a crib where her bed laid made her eye twitch.
“Oh yeah. That.”
Her bladder wouldn’t wait much longer. Still wearing last night’s leggings and sweater dress, Wendy jogged, actually jogged, out of her room to the toilet. Whether this was because of her dire need to relieve herself or because the extra bit of speed made it easier not to look back into her closet even Wendy couldn’t say.
Her bladder successfully emptying itself was the only relief she was experiencing just then. Blinking away the last bits of restless sleep, the Law student had to admit to herself that she’d absolutely failed at her endeavor. She could barely remember the three chapters she’d forced her way through before discovering the rip. The fourth chapter was a complete blur with the only knowledge she’d retained being that she had, in fact, read it. She couldn’t remember a darned thing!
The toilet tank was still refilling when her dad stopped her. “Wendy? Isn’t that what you were wearing last night?”
Wendy rubbed her eyes. Dad was wearing his ‘Sunday best’ a term he jokingly used when he wore khaki shorts and one of the tacky Hawaiian shirts. “Yeah, Dad.”
“Late night studying?”
“Go on and get changed, cupcake,” he said. “Your Mom’s out for an early grocery run. I’ll make you some instant oatmeal, and then you can do nothing for an hour.”
A smile crept up on Wendy’s face. “Which begs the question, why do I need instant oatmeal?”
In unison they said. “We could just make regular oatmeal and feel productive.”
That dumb, shared joke of theirs actually made Wendy feel a little better. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
Dad pointed to her. “You better,” he joked. “If you’re not ready by the time it’s out of the microwave, I’m coming in after ya.”
“Okay, okay,” she said, smiling despite herself.
Closing the door behind her, Wendy’s relief was short lived. “Oh yeah,” she mumbled. “That.” Directly across from her was the rip. It hadn’t gotten any bigger, as far as she could tell, but it was decidedly brighter. Either that or her lack of a good night’s sleep had made it seem brighter; the way the sun does after a hangover. Lacking sunglasses, Wendy did a right turn and forced herself not to look by shielding her vision with her left hand. Yeah...that’d make it go away.
She went to the dresser that definitely wasn’t a changing table. Despite knowing full well about it, she still sighed in relief seeing her panties in the top drawer where they belonged. She got some out and looked back over to her closet. “Definitely not.”
For that reason, her morning’s attire consisted of a bra and panties, and loose fitting tan shorts with a worn grayish t-shirt. These were clothes that she was more likely to wear to the gym than to school, but she didn’t have any classes today; just studying. Her own version of her ‘Sunday best’ would do just fine.
She went to her bedroom door, put her hand on the knob, and froze. She turned around and looked at the piercing light emanating from within her closet, so close yet so far away, and beyond it what she could only think of as a strange trip into a parallel universe. Hallucination or not, how long could she ignore it?
“Wendy!” Her father bellowed all the way from the “The microwave just dinged. Come and get some brain food, Cupcake!”
“Be right there, Dad!” She knew it to be a falsehood the moment she said it. “I’m just having um...lady things!” It was a stupid and shallow lie, but one that bought her, she hoped, at least a couple of minutes. Just how long could she venture into the world beyond her own closet before Dad checked in on her? What would he think if he opened her bedroom door and found her mysteriously missing? Surely he’d worry.
Addicted of all stripes find ways to justify getting their fixes. Just what she was addicted to didn’t come to Wendy in the moment, but she did come up with an idea. “Dad!” Wendy called. “Can you come in here for a second?”
There was a pause of uncertainty. “Yeah sure. Do you want me to find where your mother keeps the uh...lady stuff?”
“No. I’m fine. False alarm.” She paused for a moment and then thought to add, “And no, I’m not pregnant!”
“Oh thank god!” Dad laughed. It was the kind of laugh one does when they are both relieved and unsettled that someone guessed what they were thinking.
Wendy positioned herself at the threshold of her closet, right next to the rip. Her pulse was pounding, her breath was picking up.
A quick rapping on the door preceded its opening. “So what was it you wanted to show me, Wendy?”
“This!” Wendy dove head first into the light. This time, she was smart enough to close her eyes and the blinding light, like the heart of a sun, didn’t disorient her nearly as much. It was still disorienting, of course; expecting to hit the back wall of one’s closet and instead running several steps straight through was bound to be. It just wasn’t as disorienting as the first time.
What was disorienting was the fleshy thump into her father. “Whoah! Easy there closet monster!” she heard him say. It was definitely her father. She’d known his voice all her life. Warning bells blitzed her brain. She really was crazy. All she’d managed to do is stumble around in her own closet and parade out looking like a loon. “Is that what you wanted to show me? Did you want to show Daddy what a good closet monster you could be?”
She opened her eyes. Sure enough, her father was standing there, beaming slightly down at her with the height difference of a handful of inches. He was exactly the same as he'd been a handful of seconds before. The rest of her room wasn't.
To her near right was a toy box. To her far left was the giant crib and changing table. The walls were again pastel pink with fairy ballerinas along the borders. “Dad,” the words poured out of her like a fountain, “what are you doing here? Did you follow me? Does that mean you saw me go through the rip? Why aren’t you behind me, then? Why aren’t you freaked out that my room looks like it did when I was a baby but everything’s...everything’s...bigger?”
“Hmmm?” her father squinted. “What was that baby girl?” It was the same kind of look that her father had when they’d gone on family vacations and a local or a tour guide had a particularly thick accent; even if their English was fine. It was like he was trying to translate in his head what they were saying through whatever patois peppered their speech.
Wendy cocked her head sideways. How could father be having trouble understanding her? “What are you doing here, Dad?”
Dad nodded in not-quite understanding. “Ooooooh! Where’s Daddy?”
“Where’s Da-?” Wendy was cut off as her father placed one thick hand over each eye.
“Wheeeeeeeeeere’s…?” Daddy said, his words like the wind up of a pitch. He removed his hands from off her eyes and finished. “Daddy?!” He did it again. “Wheeeeeeeeere’s….Daddy?!”
Between rounds of peekaboo, the Law student blinked. It certainly looked like her dad, but not. He was dressed the same, and had the same voice she’d heard since she actually needed a crib, but there was a dearth of gray hair in his beard and almost no wrinkles at the corner of his eyes or hints of laugh lines. A reflection of her father, but with the last two decades or so shaved off. “You’re not my father, are you?”
She wasn’t scared. Just mildly confused. Befuddled? This might be what befuddled felt like. “Okay, okay,” she said, slapping his hands away as he came in for a fourth pass. “Stop!”
“Alright,” the not-Daddy (mirror Daddy? Closet Daddy? Yeah...let’s go with that) said. “I’m sorry. Daddy didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Wait,” she blanched. “You understood that?”
“Uh-huh,” he replied. “Time for breakfast! Let’s get some num-nums in that tum-tum!”
“Yeah...um...no.” She about faced and made to leap back through the rift of blinding light. “Thanks, bye!”
Her retreat was stopped as her Daddy’s hand grasped her by the wrist. “Whoah! Wrong way, Cupcake. You can play ‘closet monster’ later. First, some breakfast!”
The shriek Wendy let out as her father’s doppelganger pulled her into his arms and then draped her over his shoulder was one of surprise, but not necessarily fear. She could feel in his movements, and the tender strength of his grip that he wasn’t trying to harm her; nor was he close to straining himself. “What are you doing?”
“It’s breakfast time, Wen,” he calmly explained. “Most important meal of the day.” The world whirled around and the rip in this reality got farther and farther away as her Closet Daddy trudged out of her infantilized bedroom, carrying her halfway over his shoulder. “You want to grow-up big and strong, don’t you?”
“Big and strong?” Wendy echoed. A thought that should have been obvious finally came to her. “How old do you think I am?”
She jolted, helplessly in his arms while he gently patted her butt. It wasn’t flirty or sexual, (thank god). More clinical, like a nurse checking bandages. “Still dry, he said, more to himself.
“DAD! How-?” She cut herself off when she felt him shift her further and dig a finger into the waistline of her panties and pull them out. Her father, or someone very much like him, was literally staring at her ass. More accurately, part of her realized, he was staring at the back of her underwear. “THE FUCK?!”
“Not poopy, either.” he said more to himself. There was an unspoken ‘yet’ that she found most disturbing. He shifted her down so that she was off his shoulder and closer to riding on his hip. “What was that honey?”
“How? Old? Do? You? Think? I? Fucking? Am?” she repeated with deliberate slowness. She was taking her shock at being manhandled, having her personal space so casually violated, and being ignored, and tempering it with the realization that this world was decidedly not her own. Ironic, in a way. She was a foreigner in a foreign land, but talking like every depiction of a stereotypical American tourist; including the vain hope that speaking slower might make her more easily understood.
“Bla-blah-blag-baw!” Daddy crossed his eyes. “See? I can make silly faces, too! Drooly girl!”
“Drooly girl?” Self-consciously, she started patting her mouth, feeling for bits of saliva. Her chin was as dry as it ever was. Just like everything else, this man who looked so much like a younger version of her father, was seeing something that just wasn’t there.
Speaking of things that weren’t there, Wendy took a gander at her surroundings as she was carried off. Besides her room, not much else had changed. Everything else was exactly as she remembered it from this morning. Correction: A family photo in the space between the living room and the kitchen caught her eye.
It was supposed to be her High School graduation picture. Mom and Dad looked the same, albeit younger, but there was a little girl sitting down beneath them, wearing a pink dress with white tights and a big floppy bow in the child’s fair and fine hair. She only recognized her younger self in it by virtue of inference. She might have had a baby picture like that back home, but she’d long since forgotten it. A baby picture that didn’t exist...
What did that mean for this world seemingly adjacent to her own?
Between that photo, how her bedroom was decorated, and the way this version of her father was acting, Wendy might already have had her answer. “Daddy,” she said, much nicer than before. “How old am I?’
Wendy didn’t get her answer until she was set down and buckled into a particularly large highchair with a tray clicked into place. “How old are you?” Her Closet Daddy repeated as though he was just barely understanding her. Wendy nodded. “In just a couple of months,” he said slowly, “you’re going to be this many!” When he said ‘this’ he held up a single finger.
Part of her threatened to panic; that was why when she fiddled with the buckle around her waist, even though it was just a simple mechanism, it wasn’t budging. She likely couldn’t move the catch on the tray either and the bar between her legs would have prevented her from sliding out the bottom. A larger part of her was legitimately curious, not frightened by the absurdity as much as driven to understand it. Here was something that was completely outside the realm of normal possibility and Wendy’s brain itched to scratch the surface and understand it.
“You think I’m not even a year old?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Daddy said. He tied a bib big enough to be a towel around her neck. “You’re almost one whole year old! You’re growing up to be such a big girl!”
“That’s not what I said…”
“You’re getting to be such a good talker too. You’re a little smarty-pants just like your mother!” Closet Daddy turned from the microwave and started stirring around a bowl of instant oatmeal. “And when you turn a year old, you’re gonna have a big party! There’ll be cake, and balloons, maybe even a clown!”
“Fuck clowns.” Even now, she was experimenting.
“Okay, okay.” he chuckled. “Clowns are bad,” he picked up a bowl of instant oatmeal with a plastic spoon in it. “Maybe we’ll revisit that when you’re two or three. But all of your little friends from daycare will be there.”
“I don’t go to daycare,” Wendy said. “I’m a Law student.”
Her father dipped the plastic spoon in. Rather than make a straight line, though, he made the spoon duck and weave. “Bumble-bee, bumble-bee, bumble-bee….buzz-buzz-buzzzzzzzz!”
Despite herself, Wendy giggled at just how ridiculous he looked. That’s when he plunged the plastic spoon into her mouth. It was, in fact, just instant oatmeal. Cinnamon raisin flavored Not her favorite, but good enough. “You don’t get this kind of quality performance at daycare, I bet!” he congratulated himself.
Wendy swallowed. “I...don’t...go...to...daycare...” she repeated herself. “I’m...a...Law...student.”
The man who looked every bit like her father leaned over and tickled her foot beneath the tray, making her laugh again. That got another spoonful. While he was waiting for her to swallow, his brain seemed to make sense of the non-language barrier. “Oh?” he said “Oh yeah. They don’t call them daycares anymore, do they? I still think calling it Preschool is a little far-fetched. What’s the name for that place?”
Wendy searched her own memory. Back on the other side of the rip, she had pictures and certificates all the way back to before Elementary School. Being a chronic natural overachiever, she’d become inundated with story after story of her entire life. Before Elementary, it was Preschool. Before Preschool it was...
“Just follow the bouncing spoon!”
“Bouncing Babies Academy?” She got the words out just in time for a spoon to ‘bounce’ through the air and into her mouth.
She swallowed, and closet Daddy did that squint again like he was trying to parse out a thick accent. “That’s right! Bouncing Babies! My big girl goes to Bouncing Babies with her little friends like...Morgan and Tonya and Lindsay...who else is in your little playgroup? Oh yeah! Peter!”
The mention of her current classmates shut Wendy up quickly. Silently, she’d been working under the theory that this was some kind of time portal. She’d known her current group of friends for a while now; some of them for years. But she hadn’t known any of them for so long that they’d been in diapers together.
Red Flag! Definitely a red flag! Nothing a dollop of whip cream on the next spoonful and a tickle on the thigh couldn’t fix.
Wendy swallowed another gulp of oatmeal. It was actually quite relaxing. Not having to feed herself gave her time to sort this particular puzzle out. So this world beyond the rip wasn’t exactly a time portal. What was it? “Fuck clowns.”
“Yes, yes,” this alternate version of her father chuckled. Weird that he didn’t react to her deliberately dropping an F-bomb. Why was that? “I know you’re afraid…” he stopped himself, “I mean I know you don’t like clowns. That’s fine. I’ll tell Mommy. Maybe we can find a ballerina for you. Or we can dress you up like a ballerina for the party. Would you like that?”
“Okay. I’ll try to remember it in a couple of months,” he started scraping the bowl. A final spoonful came up wobbling to Wendy’s mouth.
Wendy leaned back in the highchair like the final spoonful contained cyanide instead of moistened oats. “No.”
“No?” Good. He understood ‘no’.
Closet Daddy shrugged. “Okay then. More for me.” He put the final bit into his mouth and swallowed. Glancing at the clock on the microwave he did a double-take. “Wow! That normally takes longer! Someone’s either super hungry or Daddy’s seriously upped his game! We do this a couple more times, and I can get the regular oatmeal! Good girl, Wendy!”
The praise, however condescending, caused all sorts of happy chemicals to release in Wendy’s brain. She smiled bigger and brighter than when she’d gotten her Bachelor’s degree.
“Ooops!” he reached up and used Wendy’s own bib like a napkin, dabbing at the corners of her mouth and cheeks. “Not a hundred percent success rate.” Wendy blushed. “Not your fault, baby. Hard to keep all your food in there when you’re being such a giggly girl.“ He smiled. “But if you weren’t such a giggly girl, Daddy might not get any of the food in at all!” He tickled the bottom of her foot again for emphasis. “Such is life. Time for a bottle.” He went to the fridge.
“Chocolate milk?” she called out.
“Chocolate?” He pointed to the nearly liter baby bottle he’d brought back. Wendy nodded. “I don’t think so,” Daddy said. “It’s a little early for chocolate milk, don’t you think?” He blanched. “Why am I asking you?”
Wendy reached out and accepted the bottle. The cool milk felt good after the hot oatmeal, and she gulped it down while her father wiped the kitchen counter and talked to himself.
Chugging down the bottle, Wendy felt like she’d about figured it out: For some reason, she was seen as an infant in this world; a toddler at best; not even a year old. Hence the giant baby furniture in her room and the chair in the kitchen she was sitting in. It’s why she had just another baby picture instead of her in a cap and gown. As far as her Dad was concerned, she was a baby; which explained patting her bottom and declaring her ‘dry’. In his mind, he was checking her diaper.
The physics of the world seemed to confine her to that diminished role, too. Closet Daddy was strong enough to carry her through the house like it was nothing. And even though she was a fully grown young woman, she lacked the physical capability to undo a safety latch meant for a small child. She didn’t feel particularly weak, just that everything else seemed that much stronger; like in the Marvel movies when someone tried to lift Thor’s Hammer.
Most interesting so far, though, was the communication barrier. Based on her probing, it seemed that there was some kind of one way language filter going on. She could understand everything that her kind-of-father said to her, but everything she was saying came out as though a small child just learning to talk was saying it. If it was something she might have said twenty-one years ago, he could just get the gist of it. Anything else must have gone unheard or come out as well...baby babble.
Did not even one-year olds actually talk that much? Wendy didn’t know enough about kids to say one way or another. Maybe a few words. ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’. Maybe this weird mirror universe was taking what she was saying as a full grown adult and kind-of-sort-of splitting the difference. Almost like part of her world, the real world, was bleeding over into this one. That made as much sense as anything else, she supposed.
“Daddy?” she said.
He turned around from wiping down the counter. “Yes, Cupcake?”
Good. He recognized when she called him. “Since I’m going to go to the Supreme Court one day, what’s your opinion on Roe versus Wade and a woman’s right to bodily autonomy?”
“Really?” He sighed. “Okay, Cupcake. Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Row, row, row your boat….”
Theory all but confirmed.
“-gently down the stream-”
Roe versus Wade certainly wouldn’t have been something she’d have talked about when she was less than a year old, so the best that could be done was-
“-merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.” Closet Daddy exhaled. “I love you, Wendy.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
Something in that made Wendy feel tingly all over. She was sure she said it to her parents often enough, and they to her, but there was just something...different about it. Tone? Context? Implication?
She wasn’t completely sure. He didn’t say it any differently than he usually did, it just felt different. She most often heard such praise and affirmation either when she was feeling rather low in despair, or right after a major success: ‘Oh, you forgot your homework? Don’t worry, I still love you Wendy.’ or ‘Straight A’s all year? So smart! Love you!’
But if everyone thought she was, say nine or ten months, then they had nothing to say “I love you” about. No minor failures to soothe or major successes to celebrate. Looking into her Closet Daddy’s eyes, she caught the smallest hint at being valued not for what she’d done or what she might yet do. Instead, she had the briefest memory of what it was like to feel valued just for being herself.
And that feeling tingled in a way that she hadn’t felt in what seemed a long, long time.
“All done with your milk?” Instead of speaking, Wendy just handed the three quarters drained bottle of milk off to the man and waited patiently. It would be as easy for him to remove her from the scaled up highchair as it was impossible for her to escape it. “Almost forgot.” He removed the bib, and walked over to the sink, depositing it there and dumping out the rest of the milk.
When the bib came off, Wendy felt her first bit of renewed caution. Still buckled into the highchair, she looked down at herself, and witnessed something both miraculous and disheartening. Her clothes were changing color! Her tan shorts, now that she could see them, were now undoubtedly powder blue. “Huh?”
Her shirt was in the midst of changing, too. Like an oil slick spreading into the ocean, Wendy watched dabs and droplets of pink spread out on the plain gray of her shirt. The rose tinted color expanded and blotted out the dreary cloud coloring much in the way paper towels soaked up water. Strangely, the pink morass left a section of her shirt untouched while it washed over the rest of her dreary clothes. That was only because the outline of a white cartoon kitty-cat faded and bleached itself into existence.
Wendy’s own language usage wasn’t the only thing bleeding. This world, it seemed, was bleeding into her; or her clothes at least. This was certainly a new wrinkle! Blue and pink instead of tan and gray wasn’t the most infantile thing in the world; it was still just a t-shirt and shorts, but it was definitely an alteration from when she had entered. What did that mean for the clothes beneath?
She got half of her answer when her Daddy removed her from the chair. “Wow,” he said, patting her butt again through her shorts. “Still dry! New personal best!” He joked. Better one of her parents doing this to her than some creep on campus, she supposed.
Wendy felt the hand gently groping her through her panties, with nary a squish or a telltale crinkle. As far as she could tell, she wasn’t wearing a diaper, thank goodness. However, while the kitchen zoomed away from her back towards the giant nursery, Wendy cupped her breasts.
“Still have my...” Just as they crossed the threshold back into her room turned nursery, Wendy felt the wires and padding of her bra evaporate. The straps and fasteners practically melted into her shirt. A ruffled pattern, like flower petals, manifested and sprouted along her chest and all around her back, just above the white cartoon kitty cat. “...-bra?”
“Don’t worry, baby.” the variant of her father said. “Mama will be back in just a little bit.” He sat her back down in the nursery version of her room and gave her a wet, though chaste kiss on the forehead. “I love you so much.” He gently nuzzled his head against hers.
Wendy felt her face blush a deep crimson. Not just because of the intimate nature of the physical affection, but frankly, the embarrassment of it all. Her nipples were poking out slightly through the increasingly babyish t-shirt. The newly added ruffles obscured it enough, but that didn’t mean she didn’t feel them rubbing on the coarser, unpadded material. Her breasts were a long way from sagging at her age, but that didn’t mean she didn’t feel gravity try to reassert itself as her support was literally yanked out from beneath her by magic. Bras could be uncomfortable at times, but it was even more uncomfortable when they suddenly and unexpectedly ceased to exist.
Out of habit, she brought up her forearm and shielded her breasts, as though that might make her feel less naked.
As had been the case so-far, Closet Daddy looked at the distinctly adult, distinctly womanly gesture of reflexive embarrassment and modesty and interpreted it through the lens of a baby still working through its first set of teeth instead of a woman who had long ago gone through puberty. “You cold, baby? Do you want Daddy to get you a blanket? Turn up the heat?” Yet again, he was talking more to himself than to her. “No. I think you’ll be okay.”
More for her own peace of mind, Wendy gently shook her head, too shocked to say much of anything. Watching her clothes change color was admittedly kind of neat. Feeling her underwear literally disappear was disquieting at best.
Speaking of underwear, at least the padding in her bra hadn’t been added to her panties…(yet). Needless to say, the added hurdle that being on this side of the rip seemed to be affecting her clothing was adding a mounting sense of urgency.
“So what can we do?” Her Closet Father asked the air. “What can we do before Mommy gets back? What to do, what to do?”
From her place on the carpet the Law student looked at her closet, and saw the same rip of blinding luminescence glowing just inside it. If she could just make it past the threshold she’d go tripping back into her own world where she was a proper woman again. Problem being, this version of her father was bent over the toybox and poised between her and her exit.
Howard Merts wasn’t exactly an NFL linebacker, but he had well over a hundred pounds on her and was stronger than her ‘in real life’. Between arriving and breakfast, it was already very obvious that he was disproportionately stronger than her. That might apply to other physical attributes, too. It wouldn’t do to have the comparative speed and reflexes of a toddler.
Better to wait.
Slowly, shakily, she stood herself up. Good. She could still stand, and the shaking was more from nerves than anything else.
A flat wooden rectangle clattered at her feet. “How about an alphabet puzzle?” Closet Daddy said. “You love playing with your letters.” It was a wooden puzzle, the kind that only a baby would struggle with and maybe not even that. Twenty six little notches, each one shaped like a letter. Tiny wooden letters with nubs in the middle so that they could be placed and removed one at a time filled the slots. Some of them, anyways. Their trip through the air and subsequent landing at her feet caused a good dozen or so to tumble out onto the carpet.
The younger version of her father bent over far enough to finish dumping out the letters. “There,” he said. “You can play with your alphabet.”
Wearily, Wendy went back down to all fours. Carefully, she placed the letters back into the puzzle, reconstructing the alphabet.
“Oh wow! Great job on finding the S!” Wendy blanched from the enthusiasm. “First try and everything!” Hands on his knees he loomed over her and the puzzle. “What about a W? W for Wendy!”
He gasped in astonishment when she plucked a W from the scattered wooden alphabet outlines gathered on the carpet. His applause was spontaneous when she placed it into the corresponding slot. “Oh my gosh!” he hopped. “Wow! You did it!” Dad- her real dad- didn’t get this excited watching his favorite sports teams win.
Wendy blushed. It had been a long time since she’d gotten this level of praise from anyone for doing something so simple. An unspoken truth was that the more grown-up you were thought to be, the harder adulation was to come by.
She looked past her father and to the glowing rip in her closet. Daddy was still positioned between her and her exit. “How about the letter E?”
Without nary a thought, Wendy put the vowel in its place. “YES!” Wendy would have thought he’d won the lottery. “N?”
Again. So easy, even a baby could do it.
Wendy took the penultimate letter of the alphabet and put it in the board puzzle.
“W! E! N! D! Y! That spells Wendy!”
The girl let out a shriek as her father yanked her up off the floor and started half-tossing her up in the air. “Wen-dy! Wen-dy! Wen-dy!” Wendy giggled and shrieked, spreading her limbs out to catch herself each time the big meaty hands left her side.
“Now how did you figure that out so fast?” He wondered aloud.
Wendy held her breath. On one hand this might be an effective way to communicate with her dad’s time displaced twin. On the other hand, what would happen if he realized just how little his little girl wasn’t?
The dilemma resolved itself when he looked at the lettering above the adult sized crib. “Of course you know those letters! You’ve been seeing them everyday your entire life, haven’t you?” He gushed. “Not even a year old, and my baby girl is studying!” He pulled her in for a hug. Despite all his monumental strength, it felt warm, and soft like a weighted blanket. “Clever! So clever!”
Complimented for studying. There was a first. She had to start somewhere though. “Do you want to play something else?”
Poking her head up through the clouds of dopamine and serotonin, Wendy remembered that she had more immediate matters to tend to. Her father, her real one, must be worried sick about her to say the least. She nodded. “Yesh!” Then she corrected herself. “Yes!”
“Okie dokie!” He set her back down and returned to the toy chest. “What to play with next? What to play with next?”
Her not-father kept tossing things out, careful to look behind him only so that he wouldn’t accidentally toss something at Wendy’s skull. “Or there’s your doctor bag. Your jack-in-the box. Your blocks. Your play pots and pans...how did they end up here? Shouldn’t they be in the play kitchen? Nevermind, not important. When did we get you a slinky? Oh a bouncy ball! That could be fun!”
Wendy quickly finished the baby puzzle, with one eye on her closet and the other on this strange version of her dad. Something about leaving it unfinished just bugged her. She didn’t need to consciously focus on it, only the slightest amount of anal retentiveness made her double check her work, (which was perfect by the way.)
Still on all fours, she shuffle crawled around the Closet Daddy, hoping that he’d distract himself enough digging through useless baby toys long enough for her to get to the rip and jump back through..
“Whoah! Where do you think you’re going, Cupcake?” Two hands reached down and grabbed her by the hips. The carpet flew away from her and she suddenly found herself, dangling by her armpits. She was now looking down at her father, and her tip toes only just grazed the floor, but the act of being held off the ground so easily was still quite unsettling. “Do you want to play ‘closet monster’ again?”
Inspiration struck. “Yes,” she said. “Closet monster!” Why fight the language scrambling and just go with it?
“Hmmm…” He seemed to look past her. Was there more than one difference between this version of her father and the (for lack of a better term) real one? Could he also see the blinding light that Wendy hoped to escape to? “I don’t knoooow...”
His expression was a blend of playfulness and parental paranoia; the kind that new parents get over unforeseen threats to their precious little ones. What could be so dangerous to a baby in her own closet (besides an inexplicable tear in the fabric of existence)?
Her old-man’s expression lit up when he pivoted back and looked at the floor. “Is that...did you?” Did she what? She reached behind her and felt the back. Had she had an accident or something? Wet her pants? Worse? She followed his gaze and realized what had gotten him so excited.
“Did you do that whole ABC puzzle all by yourself?” For a ten-month old, that was amazing. She found herself on her back, pinned under Closet Daddy’s loving grasp. “That’s amazing! He showered her with kisses, causing her to kick and squirm...but not too hard.
Daddy lifted up the front of her T-shirt and a puff of fresh hair breezed onto her belly button. “Who’s Daddy’s smart lil’ cupcake? Is it you? Is it you?”
Positively melting with all of the praise, Wendy allowed herself a happy,“Yes!”
She didn’t react until her Daddy said ,“Oh I could just eat my little Cupcake all up!”
“Daddy! No-ho-ho-ho-ho!” Protests erupted into giggles as a younger version of her father barreled down on her and started tickling her and blowing raspberries on her stomach! “No-ho-ho-ho-ho!”
She was powerless to fight the terrible two-ton-tickle monster her father had become. “Nom-nom-nom-nom-nom!” Even his beard tickled. Was she always this ticklish, or was some part of this reality now affecting her senses, too? “Daddy!” she shrieked. “Staaaaaahp!” She couldn’t have predicted the tinge of disappointment she then felt when he actually listened and stopped. The yanking of her shirt back down over her belly button gave an air of finality to the whole ordeal.
Catching her breath, her eye was still drawn back to the closet. “Closet…” she huffed and puffed, forcing her breathing to slow back down. “I need...to...go...back...to...the ...closet.”
Closet Daddy turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. “What are you lookin’ at, Wendy?” He gave her a light tickle, enough to make her twitch and squirm, but not so much that she laughed again. “What are you lookin’ at?” His own memory seemed to catch up to him. “Do you still want to go hide in that closet?”
Breathlessly, Wendy nodded.
“Hmmm...what if…” he grinned, mischievously, “I just ate some more Cupcake!” He blew another raspberry right on her belly button. It took so much of Wendy not to break into another fit of laughter. It took even more, she found, not to tell him to try again.
“Please?” Wendy pressed. Then she had an idea. It had been forever since she’d done this, but she pouted her lip out, made her eyes big and sad like a puppy dog and gave her best “PWEEEEEEEEEASE!”
“Hmmm…” Closet Daddy said. “I don’t know…” He was going to give in. He’d already lost the battle of wills and they both knew it.
A muted honking preempted his impending surrender. “Sounds like Mommy’s home,” he said. “Let’s go see what she got us at the grocery store!”
Yet again, Wendy found herself carried away from her escape route back to the real world. The second time she was dragged back into her own kitchen, she was deposited straight onto the tile instead of her highchair.
Wearing a loose green dress, her mother (Closet Mommy?) walked through the door carrying several bags of groceries. Like her counterpart, this was a younger, fresher, less worn version of her own mother, with hair that was more blonde than pale, and a face far less wrinkled by time and stress. “Hey Wendy,” she cooed. She looked to her husband. “Hey, babe.” They kissed in a way that Wendy wasn’t sure she’d ever seen them before. “There’s more in the car.”
“Groceries or kisses?”
“There better just be groceries in the car!” They both laughed.
Wendy thought she was more mature than to just gawk at her parents acting like a young couple, a half step away from making out. As it turned out, she wasn’t. “Ew…”
“Oh. Not in front of the B-A-B-Y.” this world’s version of her Mommy said.
“Careful,” Daddy said. “Have I got a story for you! It involves a certain someone being really good with their letters. We’ll talk about making her a little brother or sister later.”
Daddy went out the back door to the car. Mommy started unpacking groceries. Wendy watched. As with her breakfast in the highchair, she was about to travel back inside her own mind and analyze what new factors might come into play, when her Closet Mommy took out a normal sized pack of Pampers from one of the bags and set it on top of the oven. “That goes in Wendy’s room,” she said more to herself than anyone.
Wendy grabbed onto the counter and pulled herself up to a standing position from her spot on the floor. Closet Mommy glanced over, but paid her no mind. The package of diapers didn’t leave Wendy’s focus. Something was off, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
But as she tilted her head to one side, she got a better look at the package. Pampers. Size 3. Yet right in front of her, she witnessed a bizarre inverse of what had happened to her outfit. Just like how her adult clothes bled pastel and had become more infantile, the package was steadily enlarging itself on the counter. She watched in quiet horror as it expanded and grew; inflated almost. Yet the image on the outside remained the same.
Pampers. Size 3. With a picture of an almost naked child - boy or girl it was impossible to tell - giggling on the front and a promised count of twenty-six diapers. There was no way a pack that big only held twenty-six diapers unless they were very big diapers. Big enough to fit her.
More than the package was growing. Her own underwear grew too; except that ‘growing’ wasn’t quite the right word. A better one would have been ‘thickening’. Unconsciously, she spread her legs as a slight weight and a very noticeable bulk added itself to her panties. She felt a light tickle, more like an itch creeping itself, on her inner thighs, back and just below her belly button. Almost like ants creeping across her flesh. It wasn’t until she took a single step forward, drawn to the gigantic diapers that she heard the papery plastic crinkle coming from her own pants.
Wendy froze. She reached back behind her, feeling the extra padding on her backside. She lifted up her shirt and stared down past her breasts, seeing the thin waistband of the diaper creep up past the elastic waistband of her shorts as they tended to do. The slight tickling sensation on her thighs must have been leg gathers! That was what they called that weird bit of frilly stuff around a diaper’s leg holes, right?
The changes hadn’t stopped at her bra. Or if they had, they’d picked back up. She had to go.
“Uh...bye!” She took off at a tear back towards her bedroom.
“Howard!” her mothers voice called. “You’ve got to see this!”
Wendy didn’t slow. It had taken her only a few steps to compensate for the added mass of the giant Pampers that had manifested itself between her thighs. She ignored the lack of support as her breasts bobbed up and down with every thudding step. Now was the time. She’d been gone more than long enough to prove to her real dad that this wasn’t a joke or a hallucination. Within four mighty strides of entering her bedroom, Wendy Merts closed her eyes and leaped head first back into the mysterious light between worlds.
She knew she was back when she stubbed her toe and realized she’d hurt herself on her boring old work desk. “Wendy?” her mother called. “Wendy? Are you alright?”
Wendy looked at herself. She was still in gigantic baby clothes! She lifted up her shirt and felt between her legs. That was a Pampers, sure enough.
Diaper! She had to get rid of the diaper! The rest of the ridiculous outfit, she could likely pass off as ‘quirky’; maybe something she borrowed from Lindsay. So much of women’s clothing was slightly infantilizing anyways. But the diaper? No way!
Panickedly, she reached down into the front of her pants and groped along. Weren’t these things supposed to have tapes or tabs? Her hands grasped, unsuccessfully. What was she going to do?
Her mother’s footsteps drawing closer, Wendy’s shoulders stiffened and her elbows tensed as right beneath her fingertips, she felt the stiff, crinkling, not quite cloth cover of the disposable diaper shift to the soft, cottony, familiar texture of regular underwear.
Her clothes were returning to normal! Her diaper receded back into her shorts, the waistline and leg gathers lightly scratching against her skin one last time before becoming normal elastic. Simultaneously, the ruffles on her shirt’s chest dissipated and she could feel her bra rematerializing around her, the padding from her bottom all but slithering up her back and around to her front.
Little by little, gray was coming into her shirt again, and the pink seemed to be draining out. Same for her tan shorts!
The door opened. “Honey, are-...?” Mom froze, her pale hale and crows feet back; her expression uncomprehending as the last bits of juvenile color and decoration dragged themselves off of Wendy and vanished from wherever they had come. “-you okay?” Mom finished her sentence less like she was shocked and more like she was a recording that had just unpaused itself.
More color drained from Wendy, but this time it was only from her face. “Mom? How much of that did you see?”
“Just that you ran back to your room in a hurry. I thought something might be wrong.”
Wendy blinked. “No,” she said, unsure if it was a lie or not. “I’m fine.”
“Oh. Okay,” Mom said. “Your father told me you’d done something really special just before I got home and-”
“Dad!” Wendy shouted! She was running out of her bedroom and past her mother before she realized it. “Daddy!” He had to be completely freaking out!
She found her father in the kitchen, having just come in with arms full of grocery bags and started unpacking. The only difference between the groceries he was handling here and the scene she’d just fled was that there was no Pampers package, enlarged or otherwise, laid out amongst the various cans, sodas, bread, and dinner items.
“Daddy?” her father repeated. “You haven’t called me that since third grade.”
“Second grade,” Mom corrected, coming in from behind Wendy. “I remember because when her report cards went from E’s to A’s she decided she was too grown up to be calling us ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’. So you and I got demoted to good ol’ Mom and Dad.” The two shared a knowing, nostalgic chuckle. Mom stopped just long enough to check Wendy’’s temperature via the back of her hand on her daughter’s forehead. “Normal.”
Wendy frowned, not quite following what was happening. “Neither of you two were worried about me?”
“Why?” Mom asked. “I thought that mad dash you just made might have been to the bathroom, but you seemed fine in your room to me.”
“I hope that instant oatmeal wasn’t past its expiration date,” Dad said.
Wendy cocked her head to the side again, this time in confusion. “I had breakfast here?”
“I should hope so,” Dad said. “Otherwise I don’t know who I just got done sitting across the kitchen table from.’
No diapers, but Mom was still bringing in groceries. No highchair, but she’d still had breakfast with Dad. “Honey, are you okay?” Mom asked.
“She fell asleep studying last night,” Dad reported. “Must’ve paid off though. You should have seen what she did in her notebook just before you came home, the little show off.”
“Poor thing,” Mom said. “Why don’t you take it easy today?”
Extraordinary astonishment was overridden by mundane anxiety “But my test-”
“Test schmest,” Dad said. “You’re no good to yourself if you fry your circuits cramming. Take the day off. You’ve shown you’re ready anyways.”
Mom simply added an agreeable “Mmmmhmmm!”
Why was his dad so lenient all of a sudden? They were supportive as all get out, but they were never this laid back about it, not when it came to schooling. And what was that about being a show off?
“Maybe I’ll go lay down for a minute,” Wendy mumbled.
Dad got that same squinty eyed look on his face. “She said she’s going to go lay down, Howard,” Mom translated. “I swear we need to get your hearing checked.”
The Law student felt numb from her face to her toes, stumbling back into her bedroom. Just in case, she checked out the old family picture in the living room. There she was in her cap and gown, standing beside two older but very proud parents.
Had she dreamed the whole thing up? Had she gone into some kind of fugue state and only imagined that her father had been spoon feeding her the oatmeal in a highchair? A repressed memory maybe? What did that mean about the state of her clothes? More poignantly, what did that mean about the state of her mind?
The light beaming out from her closet was as bright as ever. It might have been smaller, but it was hard to tell. Was the light brighter or just more focused? Was this what having a stroke was like? Or going insane? Wendy looked down at the ground rather than stare into the bright abyss.
“Hmmm?” A bit of paper caught her eye. Her real room had been as spotless as the giant nursery had been cluttered with toys, so the rectangular shaped notebook stood out like a sore thumb. Wendy bent over and picked it up.
“Oh.” Twenty six questions were written, copied word for word from the end of her text books required reading chapters.
“My.” Each question was answered succinctly and in a way that she could understand. It was like someone had made her a study guide keyed directly to her brain with all the right questions and answers. No scouring and searching and trying to figure out where the answers were among pages and pages of text. Just simple memorization like a game of trivia.
“God!” To cap it off, everything was in her own handwriting.
On one side of the rip, she was twenty-two. On the other, she wasn’t quite one year old. Over there, she’d been spoon fed instant oatmeal, and then absentmindedly played with an alphabet puzzle. Over here was now the perfect study guide.
Both had Mom going to the grocery store and coming back while Dad made breakfast. Neither seemed to be disturbed or even recognize her absence. The only downside there was the infantile role she’d been placed in was starting to affect her clothing, but only on that side. And if everything she did over there had an adult equivalent effect on this side... Wendy’s mind started racing with possibilities.
She was going back. The choice was easy. So easy, even a baby could do it.