Carol transferred me to slightly more comforting arms of Karen and our gathering of people centered around the front door of the house, the youngest boy of Carol’s group jumping and prodding multiple times at the doorbell until a hushing hand slowly pushed it aside. The latch clicked and the door swung open widely revealing a large male host that smiled delightfully to greet us. He wore a faux scare across his neck and had various simulated ooziness pouring from his face and shoulders and his eyes were brushed with black to simulate their sitting deeply in his skull.
“Carol Ruttiger and the Vaughn’s - great to see you! Glad you could make it, come in, come in!” The zombie gestured as we began to enter the home formally. Past the entryway was a gathering of adults dressed in various degrees of brashness. A middle aged woman donned an ill-fitting spandex suit and a pink Mohawk, trying to mimic the fads of a few decades earlier. One remarkably fit man dressed as a gladiator with no chest plate and it seemed all the female eyes, and surely a handful of male’s, made their way across his chest at least once while he lifted his broad arm to drink from the can of beer. There were football players and other deceased members milling about and the house was decorated merrily in faddish orange and black streamers and dollar-store accessories.
“Damn, Pete, I didn’t think you had any left in the tank -who is this guy?” The zombie quipped as he prodded Peter with his elbow as Peter blushed.
“Ha! No, this is Todd, he just moved in with us. We’re his God-parents...” Peter trailed, exquisitely convincingly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the zombie gasped, then turning to me, “Well, Todd, you could have landed in better company! Please, all of you - come in and eat!”
“So Carl, tell me everyone who made it tonight.” Karen said as we walked casually through the entryway and into the dining area.
“Oh, run-of-the-mill-type guests. The Richardson’s family is taking another one of their vacations to the islands or something, who can keep track? Otherwise everyone from Tom’s class and their parents made it.” Tom was a classmate of Josh at a small parochial school.
“Good! The place looks great by the way! Where are all the kids?”
“They’re downstairs in the playroom doing who-knows-what. You want to drop Todd off? Danielle is down there watching over everyone, I’ll tell her to keep a close eye on the young man.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Is there anyone his age to play with?”
“I think Rebecca might be the closest one, honestly. Dana’s kids are a few years older, but, yeah, everyone is around Tom and Josh’s age.”
Karen excused herself politely and made her way through the smattering of characters, stopping occasionally to introduce her large pumpkin to anyone that asked. She rounded the hall and approached the door leading to the basement, and as soon as she twisted the knob and pulled it backwards the shrill sounds of a large group of children bellowed upwards, effectively silencing the hollow stomps of Karen’s boots as she walked down the hard-wood stairs. The tunnel of the staircase gave way to a large and well-lit finished basement that was stretched with pristine and plush carpeting. On one far end was a large and seemingly cavernous couch that faced a very large television that was mounted to the wall, a golden-wood entertainment center built precisely around it. Elementary aged children ran about wildly and unrestrained, dodging in and out of the legs of a pool table and around various pieces of furniture that were now serving as anything but. They had effectively broken into clans that interspersed about the room. A small circle of girls sat circularly in the furthest corner, all of them ranging in ages from eight to twelve, it appeared. Boys of similar ages divided into a group that was engaged in some type of fantasy-based warfare and the other that preferred a more casual experience that sat in another corner playing an elaborate card-based game.
“Hi, Mrs. Vaughn!”
A teenaged girl turned and sat upright from the couch waving to us, and Karen laughed once at the ballet of lawlessness and made her way over to the couch, sitting next to the teenager as she was fiddling with a small electronic touch-device. She was dressed casually in a sweatshirt and athletic shorts and her hair was tied back in a way that did not concern itself with the aesthetic but merely just keeping it from falling into her eyes.
“I hope Carl’s paying you well, you certainly have your hands full! Wow, it feels like it’s been forever, I mean, it’s been at least a few years since we needed you for Josh and Sarah. How’s school?”
“It’s OK. I’ll be done with calc this semester so I’m really looking forward to that, but all of my other classes are going well. Who did you steal this young man from?”
“This is Todd. Little guy’s parents passed away not long ago and we were the godparents, so he’ll be with us for a while.”
“Oh what a shame! How’s he doing?”
“You know, he’s adjusting really well, seems happy, I think he’ll be alright.”
“That’s good, at least. He is so cute though!” Danielle tried to reassure me; however, she had no idea I didn’t really require any reassurance.
“Alright bud,” Karen said as she placed me on the floor, “go make some friends.”
She looked at me smiling and our eyes locked for just a moment. I looked at her initially with some sort of delay, wondering why I would choose to venture away from an adult conversation on a couch to immerse myself in the world of juvenility.
“You know what, why don’t you take your bottle with you too in case you get a little thirsty.” She reached forward with the capped bottle and handed it to me as I remained still. Yet, as I stood and looked at her reassuring fa?ade I began to notice my ears perk at every loud and unexpected noise. More so than even a day prior I was becoming more enthralled by my curiosity and investigative need, however, it wasn’t alarming. It felt... right, as if I were freeing myself from some socially constructed bond and allowing my genetic makeup to control my actions, aligning myself more with the instinctual than the rational. I looked at her once more until resolve filled my body and I turned slowly to leave her. With a quick glance over my shoulder I began to toddle forth into a room that looked adventurous and full of capability as opposed to the one of disarray that was seen from a few feet taller.
As I meandered over the padded floor I thought of this relatively recent attitudinal change. I say ?recent’ with the full knowledge that I was still only a few days out of the ?experiment’ envelope. A few days, in the grand scheme of things, is almost nothing. In fact, it is completely inconsequential. Though, it did not seem that over the last forty-eight hours that time continued with the same interval that it had previously. I don’t mean to say it was either slower or faster, for I really can’t say for certain. What I can conclude, though, is that it had far less importance, something which caused me to disregard it almost entirely. I’m sure this had much to do with my new role, because for me, the concept of time was irrelevant. I could wallow in obscurity for an entire day and the world, as a whole, would be accepting of it. Small luxuries, I guess.
However, I bring this to light to highlight the changes that were taking place in me, physiological morphs that went beyond the obvious. Of course my size changed, but what also changed was the feeling of how my size was, if that makes sense. As I became accustomed to my new frame I became calmed by it. I became more responsive to it’s desires and needs, and I became more aware of what made it feel happy and what made it feel the opposite. It’s almost as if one switches from a sport utility vehicle to a finely tuned race car. The former is controlled through the drivers will as he powers it over rocks and mud. The latter, however, cannot be controlled in the same manner. The driver cannot command the car to accelerate quickly through a turn unless he is willing to be in a very serious accident. Instead, the driver must feel the car and perceive what the car wants to do and let it. In the former case, my body was the passive utility, but now, my mind was the bystander.
I summed this up to mean only that different chemical structures of my brain and body were producing differing emotive responses. Thus, I was not alarmed by it, I was just learning the rules by which to use it, and finding that rules were not defined in the same way. My ability to compose and implement my body was sometimes overruled by the instinctual drive from within, and I was become almost overcome with an impulsive nature. There were times when I felt so happy I was almost blinded by euphoria, and there were others when I became so angry and frustrated that I was essentially incapacitated. In short, I was becoming the toddler I looked like.
Back to the temporal, I scanned the horizon of the room for the familiar face of Rebecca, finding her sitting in the far corner on the edge of the circle with the other girls. Rebecca was the lone child standing on her knees, the rest of the gaggle planted on their stomachs and utterly engrossed in a magazine the collectively clutched. As it looked uninteresting to me, though I desperately wanted to continue my conversation with Rebecca, I looked around to see if there might be a distraction worthy enough to pull me away from the flock of giggles for even a moment. I doubt Rebecca would be leaving anyway, and I doubted that we would have much privacy to talk amongst ourselves. I looked over to the corner where a handful of boys had constructed a fort from the edge of the ping-pong table, a few boxes, and a gathering of blankets. They seemed to have lost some energy and were all huddled inside the tent, and I bounced forward to inquire about the activities taking place inside.
I crept to the edge of the tent and pulled back one of the blankets serving as a doorway, revealing four boys knelt with a flashlight shining on a centralized piece of paper. I was unnoticed at this point and just observed as they eagerly dissected whatever map sat in front of them until one of them lifted his head to notice me standing in the doorway, unconsciously sucking on the bottle that had made its way into my mouth.
“Josh, your new baby brother is looking for you, apparently.”
Josh rolled his eyes briefly before crouching over towards me. I stepped forward to gain entrance to the tent, thinking his move was initiated by acquiescence rather than opposition. However, as I moved forward, the bulky edge of my pumpkin costume became affixed to the side of the blanket, and as I felt it’s tug on my waist I stepped away from it to free myself, the entire blanket fell upon me and lit half of the fort’s interior, eliciting a collective moan from the commandos within.
“Good job, Josh’s baby brother,” one said sarcastically.
“Sorry guys, hold on!” Whined Josh in response as he worked to remove the blanket I was struggling to rip free.
“Come on, Todd, come here” Josh said in the same voice I had spoken to my last dog at times when I was trying to coax her to leave or do something against her will. He placed his hand gently but firmly on my shoulder and guided me away from the command post as the boys hurried to repair it.
“Todd, I can’t play with you right now, OK? Listen, why don’t you go play with the toys over there and I promise I’ll play with you tonight.” I looked at him and became convinced, myself, that it was a desire to play that led me to entering the tent as opposed to mere curiosity. More revealing and unsuspected, though, was the compassion that began to emanate from his voice, and I sensed that he intended to make good on his promise to spend time with me, something that, as well, was peculiarly warming. Satisfied, I left and travelled to the other grouping of boys that sat intensely over a collection of playing cards with differing types of characters and symbols on them.
I sat quietly behind them in a spot that offered me a decent vantage point but still hid me from their immediate circle. I had no interest in outright joining them but, much like the incident at the imagined military command, I was curious to see what such fervor was based off of. I laid forward on my elbows and intermittently raised the bottle upwards and rewarded myself with a gush of now lukewarm juice, and I slowly inched forward into their circle, partially out of compulsion, until I looked into their circle from just behind the elbow of one of the competitors. Though I’m sure they all knew I was there for sometime I felt unusually stealthy save the slight hissing sound my bottle made every time it released a bit of carbon dioxide after a drink.
“I think you have a friend, Mike,” one of them laughed and looked at the person whose elbow I was using as a shield.
“Shut up,” he smiled and looked at me, and I’m sure I began to have a faint crimson tint come over my cheeks.
“Have you ever played this game before?”
I shook my head in the negative.
“Didn’t think so, well just take your pointers from me, because I’m about to steal all of these dudes’ cards.” He chuckled, much to the chagrin of the other participants.
The game moved forward for a few minutes with me watching patiently from the sidelines. Players swapped cards for others and generally went through a cycle of extreme excitement to one of intense sorry over the death of their allegedly superior character, and I was beginning to notice my excitement at being affiliated with their jubilance, almost becoming emboldened by it.
“What’s dat do?” I asked once, losing myself in the mix of their competition and I thrust my chubby finger towards one of the different colored cards.
“Um, that’s his card that he’s using for defense.” Mike said unconcerned, indifferent to my engagement. I asked a few more questions over as many minutes, all of them met with some sort of muted response, though I did not pick up on their lackluster attitude towards me. Then I saw one of them lay down a card that I had not seen, and judging by the gasping responses of half the circle, many of them had not either. It was bordered not by the mustard yellow that set the backdrop for the other cards but by a reflective silver lining. The matte gloss film was replaced with a rigid plastic shell that reflected a holographic image. It was a remarkable card. I felt my eyelids push outwards and my pupils expand in unison. My stomach increased in pressure and I craned my neck forward slightly to get a better view of such a magnificent piece of paper. I observed it for a lingering moment until my body overruled my rationale and my hand outstretched for the card.
“Wow, wook at dis one!” I yelled as I moved for it, though I never remember commanding my mouth to let out anything, and I crawled over the carefully laid out stacks and groupings of cards en route to the one grail I set my eyes on, catching everyone in addition to myself by surprise.
“What are you doing?!” they yelled almost on cue, and I eventually found the card and grabbed it brutishly with my uncoordinated fist. As I reached up, though, a bigger and more defined hand met my wrist, that of the young man that had laid down the card.
“Sorry, dude, but this has to stay here,” he said as he began to pry open my grasp. Upset, I tried to yank my arm back and take the card with it, but because of the weakness of my arm and the strength of his I only succeeded in awkwardly twirling myself, falling shortly thereafter on to pile of cards, ruining any stray cards that I had left in place from my rampage earlier. This, again, met with howls of anger from the group, which I attempted to match with flustered yells and stomps.
“Todd!” A voice broke out from the distance and I looked up to see the deathly eyes of Danielle boring down on me. She had traded her collegiately polite demeanor for a very authoritarian one, and it seemed for just a moment, the entire playroom had quieted in her direction to see if the yell was intended for them, returning to their games after seeing such was not the case. I could only stand frozen as we met eyes, my brows furrowed angrily against her stern and unblinking set. We locked antlers for a moment until I lost my composure, subsequently being placed on the defensive.
“But, but, I just wanna pway wif dat one cawd!” I whined.
“Is it yours?”
I bowed my head and acknowledge the obvious nature of her rhetorical question.
“But, its just dat one! Just one!” I yelled, hoping we could end this standoff with my last-ditch bargaining.
“Todd, if it’s not your card, then you have to ask for it, and if they’re using it right now, that means you have to wait your turn.” Danielle said without flinching. We faced each other for another second, her continuing her powerful gaze and me trying to find some sort of recourse.
“Todd, why don’t you go over there and play, it doesn’t look like you’re having much fun with that game anyway.”
I grunted loudly and stomped my foot in defeat, fury plastered on my face as I moved out of the circle defeated. I picked up my bottle from the floor and shot Danielle a look of supreme anger as she eyed me leave the group to ensure I would not attempt to return and claim the one card I desired. I started to calm myself and regain a modicum of composure and decided now would be an appropriate time to make progress in talking to Rebecca.
I found her sitting on the same side of the room that she had resided in previously. She had make headway in becoming part of the small female clique that was entertaining itself in that region of the playroom. I approached cautiously, feeling somewhat embarrassed that my reputation had been tarnished by the previous incident, and I sheepishly edged my way forward to reach Rebecca, hiding on the floor as much as a large, orange pumpkin could.
“Look who it is,” Rebecca started, “I hope you didn’t come over here to get me in any trouble.”
“Shutup,” I said embarrassed. “How did you know all dat stuff eawrier?”
Rebecca looked around the room to gauge the level of attentiveness everyone was displaying and then looked at the group of girls that were still memorized by the pop culture magazine that sat in front of them.
“Want to go read a book?” She asked. I shook my head no.
“No, I mean, do you want to go read a book over there, by ourselves?”
Ah yes, Rebecca. I see what you’re getting at.
“Yeth, okay.” We made our way to a relatively secluded area behind the staircase after grabbing a book from the shelf next to the entertainment center. Rebecca laid it on the floor and sat behind it much like the girls at the other end of the room, and I followed suit.
“You wanna know how I knew all that stuff?”
“Four months ago I got a phone call early one morning from my agent, Jerry. He said he had this crazy doctor talk to him about some miracle procedure. Does this sound familiar?”
My forehead peeled back in disbelief.
“Wait, you did dis too??” I gasped. She only nodded. Luckily, unlike before, I was able to keep myself settled. “But, de doctor said dis was da first time! He said... he said...” I wasn’t upset as I was confused, and questions were coming out much more disjointed than I had hoped. If I was not the breakthrough experiment, did that mean all of this hype was for nothing? Was there some other motive I was unaware of?
“They told me that too. They told me that my mind would stay the same as well, but just a few days after the experiment I started to feel... different. Like I was young again, but inside my mind. For a little bit I got depressed, and then I saw carol squirt a small vial into my drink. Immediately I stopped drinking anything I didn’t see poured straight from the faucet, and I stopped feeling like my mind was regressing, too. I think I’ve got everyone pretty well fooled, so don’t go screwing it up for me. I mean, it’s not a bad gig, just hanging back and enjoying life, but I didn’t want to get brainwashed, you know? The whole point of this was to be a good swimmer again, not some crazy lady’s kid. I figure it’s better if I just keep it under the radar for a while, just put up with it, maybe write a book one day.”
She kept talking but my mind had shifted away from paying attention to her. A couple seconds earlier I noticed a fullness in my stomach approach me rapidly, and it descended from my stomach quickly, finally settling into my bowels, and as Rebecca kept talking, I tried to covertly shift positions to accommodate my full feeling stomach. As I inched myself off the ground by just a hair, I could feel the bulky composition bass from my bowels and through to the diaper, and for the second time I thoroughly soiled myself. It was as heavy and encroaching as the one before and sat on me heavily. As I laid back down, Rebecca stopped talking and screwed up her face, looking at me harshly.
“Did you just crap yourself?”
“No.” I denied it, quit self-conscious of how the pumpkin costume surely accentuated my full diaper, and though it had not reached my nostrils yet, I’m sure I started to give off a less than desirable odor.
“Yes you did, I can smell it. You pooped while you were sitting here having a conversation with me! Do you know how rude and gross that is?”
“I didn’t!” I yelled defensively, clinging to the lie that only I tried to believe.
“Stop lying, I saw you! I saw you get on your knees and elbows and poop!
“Well then prove it. Turn around and let me see your underwear.”
I remained silent and humiliated.
“Well, come on.” With that, Rebecca flipped me over onto my stomach and reached for the leg openings of the pumpkin costume. I tried to resist her but even a kindergartner was too powerful for me. I felt her stretch open the elastic leg holes and run her hand over the skin-tight pants, and I could feel her press lightly on the mass situated inside the diaper.
“You’re not even wearing underwear, you’re wearing a diaper!” She exclaimed. Apparently that gave her permission to more aggressively investigate the contents of it, and she drove her palm into my bottom, spreading the entirety of the inside around me as I began to sob.
“See, you stink, I knew you did!”
“I couldn’t hewlp it!” I yelled, beginning to tear even harder, bringing my two balled fists into my watery eyes and hiding my face in the floor as Rebecca jumped away from me and ran to the couch.
“Hey Becca what’s up?”
“Todd pooped in his diaper! It smells really bad!” She yelled, bringing forth a compassionate sigh of acknowledgement from Danielle. Danielle stood and came over to me as I lay face down on the rug and still wailing loudly.
“Todd, I think staying down here might be the wrong choice,” Danielle scolded gently. “This is where the big kids play, and if you want to stay down here you can’t cry all the time.” Danielle pursed a corner of her lips as if she were attempting to be poetically brilliant to me. Her patronizing was far from what I wanted to hear right now and I became enraged with her smugness. My chest filled with a deep breath of air and my eyes narrowed, and my body had begun an effect of reactions that would lead me to hitting a girl for the first time that I can remember. I snatched my hand from her grasp and cocked my shoulder and bicep, releasing the torque as I whipped my flattened hand around to strike her face. From my perspective I felt as though I had launched quickly and deftly. I didn’t think it would have been possible, but from Danielle’s perspective it must have been much different, for she casually reached her arm and blocked a fizzled attempt at battery. She wasn’t even phased.
“Todd Vaughn, that is not acceptable behavior,” she said coldly, causing me to re-enter the crying meltdown that she had rescued me from just moments ago.
“You are going to come over and sit with me on the couch, Todd, until you can behave yourself nicer than this. You’re almost three, for goodness sake. You need to start acting like a big boy.” Danielle took my arm and dragged me to the couch as I wailed and tried to kick and free myself, all to no avail. She spun me around and sat me on the couch next to her, letting me compose myself but reinforcing my defeat by keeping a firm grasp on my shoulder. Between tears I could see Rebecca dawdling behind in a pathetic attempt to be Danielle’s aide.
“Rebecca, could you grab me that bottle over there?” Rebecca snapped back to the scene of my crime and picked up the bottle, the nipple now covered with carpet strands.
“You want your bottle?” She said mockingly, and Danielle accepted it on my behalf, handing it to me in an effort to calm me. I picked it up and threw it in the opposite direction. I now knew what filth was mixed in the juice that I had been drinking for two days. How dare Rebecca?! She knew quite well what concoction was brewed in that bottle, but she still gave it to me willingly. It was well worth the brief chiding by Danielle to have thrown the very cause of my emotional instability far from me.
“Pee-ew, Todd, you stink. Rebecca, honey, could you run upstairs and ask Mrs. Vaughn for Todd’s diaper bag? Tell her I can change him down here, she doesn’t need to come down.” Again Rebecca sprang to life after being charged with such a responsibility. No matter how much she had just tried to impress me with her ingenuity, I still think that deep inside her she wanted nothing more than to have the chance to be babysat again, as she was truly reveling in my current misfortune, and in a few minutes she had left upstairs and returned, I having slowed my tears significantly, and she placed the bag next to Danielle on the couch. Danielle rooted through the bag until she pulled out a freshly fragrant diaper, the travel box of wipes and lotion, and the rubbery-backed pad from inside the bag, and upon receipt of these she brought me to the basement’s bathroom.
“Come on, stinker.” She joked as she set me down and unzipped the back of my costume, stepping my legs out of it to leave me in the black sweatsuit, and I looked at the diaper that did not push outwards as it had last time but poked almost happily out of the waistband of my pants, allowing bits of the smell to permeate the otherwise fresh air. Rebecca skipped behind us and was now smiling gleefully as she prepared to assist the surgical replacement of my diaper. As Danielle spread the rubber mat on the floor she undressed me in the same manner as Karen and Carol, and lifted my legs almost exactly similarly, and cleaned me, again, without much deviance. I was becoming all to aware of this pattern, for it truly was becoming that. The whole concept of the diaper started out as a “just in case”, yet it had transformed into the standard to the point where it no longer seemed odd, and I felt passive towards Rebecca gawking from behind Danielle. I wondered, ironically, what she would gawk at, for wasn’t this the normality of my new role?
“Time for trick-or-treating!” A voice boomed from the top of the basement stairs, setting in motion a herd of children scampering violently up the stairs. Danielle continued her job dutifully until she had cleaned me and replaced the diaper, pulling my pants high above my waist and re-dressing me in the gaudy orange costume. She paused for a moment upon completion and looked at my with a warming gesture.
“How can something so cute make so much trouble?” she asked with a smile, stroking my hair back through her fingers. “Alright, are you ready for trick-or-treating?”