A lonely gay man is determined to have a son no matter what it takes to achieve his goal.
Part 1: The Bad Girl
Not until I met Alan Collins did I begin to understand what was meant by the word obsession. If I had not met him then I would not have become an obsessed man, a ruthless individual determined to have my way no matter what the cost to myself or anyone else, such as Vanessa Shelton or John Fletcher.
John Fletcher arrived on a day that outwardly appeared quite ordinary. His presence in my bookshop, however, made it extraordinary. It had threatened rain early that morning but had cleared off shortly after I opened. I was expecting it to be a busy day since it was the beginning of the fall semester. A lot of college students came to my shop to buy their books because my prices were more reasonable than at the university outlet. As a matter of fact, I lost money on such sales but I didn’t care. The purpose of the shop was simply to help me find my son; I had no interest in a profit margin.
I was feeling particularly lonely that morning. I had spent the night before tossing and turning, my mind filled with thoughts of despair while sleep avoided my pillow. Only memories of the one I had loved had come to rest there. I had tried to thrust thoughts of Alan Collins from me but it was the anniversary of his death and I had spent the day thinking of all the things I had wanted to say to him but had not. Worse, I had the usual fantasies about our life together cemented by a bond which nothing was supposed to break. The trouble was no such bond had ever existed between us except in my imagination. The reader of these pages might reasonably ask what was so special about Alan Collins? I can only reply that love is like lightning, one can never know where or when it will strike. Needless to say, the victim of such a mishap cannot control the results of such an occurrence.
For me lightning struck on the first day of my freshman semester. After unpacking I had gone out to have a look around campus. I returned to my room to find a large teddy bear on my bed. I gaped at it for a couple of seconds then picked it up. It was the typical black and white teddy bear with blue button eyes and it had a red ribbon tied around its neck. But this bear was old and had seen a lot of wear and tear. The ribbon round its neck was tied in a granny knot and was faded, as were the blue button eyes that stared blankly into mine. Overall this toy showed considerable evidence of repair. I wondered who had put it on my bed and how they’d gotten into my room since I was sure I’d locked it before going out. My question was answered by a voice speaking close behind me, ’Poor Brutus, he’s looking pretty shabby, isn’t he?’ I spun around and saw a short dark-skinned boy about my own age, which was eighteen at the time. I hastily dropped Brutus and Alan laughed at my embarrassment. I glared at him but Alan only looked back, smiling slightly. I opened my mouth to demand why he’d left his toy on my bed but our eyes met and my anger melted in the warmth of his regard. Indeed, my whole life was changed by that first shared look. I had fallen in love in the blink of an eye as it were.
Alan, unaware of the momentous change that had just taken place in my life, explained, ’Brutus was a gift from my grandmother. She died a month ago.’ That was all Alan ever said about Brutus. Sometimes when I saw Brutus lying on Alan’s bed I would wonder what significance a teddy bear had for him. But I never dared to ask, not even why he’d put it on my bed. As far as I was concerned, if Alan needed or wanted a teddy bear then he must have one. I was so deeply in love in those days that I would have done anything for him. But of course, that’s how it is when you’re in love.
Now, however, things were different. Alan was dead and most of my dreams about him were equally so. But not all, there was one left, my dream of our son. Into this situation all unaware walked John Fletcher. At the moment of his arrival I was at the back of the shop restocking some shelves. My back was to the entrance and I only heard his voice but it was enough. I can describe it in one word: melodious. I had been kneeling on the floor, the better to reach the bottom shelf of a display case, and nearly dropped the book I’d been holding. Hearing John that first time, it was as if Alan had returned.
John said, ’Is there anyone here?’ Feeling awkward, I scrambled to my feet and turned to face him. Of course, he didn’t look anything like Alan. John was tall and muscular, possessing a superb athlete’s build and he had bright green eyes and blond hair which looked baby soft to the touch. Perhaps it was what gave me the idea of making him my son, I’m not sure. After all, Alan had been short and dark, not tall and slender like John. But the texture of Alan’s hair had been baby soft. Perhaps it was that small physiological similarity which connected Alan and John in my mind. John was wearing the typical collegiate uniform that morning of jeans and a tee-shirt, finished off with sandals.
On the surface he looked no different from any of a thousand other college students. But having heard his voice I knew there was a difference. The sound of his voice had told me that he was mature beyond his years. John was, in fact, nineteen that year. His maturity sprang in part from the fact that he had been orphaned during his senior year of high school and from his innate intelligence. All this, of course, I learned later. For the moment all I knew was that John Fletcher was a seed of hope that had unexpectedly fallen into the withered garden of my life.
My mouth was dry with fearful anticipation as I introduced myself to him. ’I’m Edward Bryce, the manager. Can I help you?’ I held out my hand as I spoke and he perforce took it. His grip was strong and I took this detail as a good sign. My seed of hope would bear fruit in its proper season. This thought flashed through my mind like a comet with a long vapor trail of other ideas in its wake. I remember thinking nervously, I must get his room ready, and a host of similar ideas blazed through my mind within the blink of an eye.
John said, ’I came about the job you advertised.’ His announcement filled me with elation. I would not have to seek him out when the time came; he would be there ready to hand, so to speak. I smiled and nodded quite as if I had been expecting him and John gave me a sharp look. I needed no one to tell me that I would have to move with great care. His look said plainly that he was sizing me up.
In 1997 I was 45 years old and my brown hair was turning gray at the temples and I was getting a middle-aged paunch. Unlike John I was in no sense an athlete. This is not to say that I disliked sports. I regularly watched tennis on television and when I had been as young as John I had tried my luck on the courts but my performance had been mediocre at best. Football and baseball held no charms for me as I considered them plebian in nature. Tennis, on the other hand, I felt was an intellectual exercise not merely a physical sport.
I stared back at John wondering what he thought of me. Was he dismissing me as an old fart who knew nothing worth knowing and who should do everybody a favor and kick the bucket ASAP?
Unbidden, the memory of a recent incident ran through my mind involving some of his contemporaries. I had been closing the shop after a particularly difficult day. Two young men about John’s age had been lingering at the back of the shop. As I reached them one looked up and snickered. I saw no reason for his amusement and so spoke more sharply than I might have done. ’Time to go fellas, I’m closing.’
The second of the two responded, ’Hey, keep your pants on Queeny; we’ll be through here in a minute!’
I stared at him speechless with shock thinking, You miserable little punk! You were still in diapers when I came to know who and what I am! Without thought for the consequences, I reached out and seized his shoulder and spun him around to face the front door. Then I swatted his butt hard enough to make him yell. The blow surprised him almost as much as it did me. I said, ’Get out of this shop; this business is for adults, not children. Go back to Toys R Us, that’s more your speed!’
The young fool took one look at my face, dropped the book he’d been holding and ran out closely followed by his friend. The incident had upset me very much. For several days afterward I had expected a visit from the police but nothing happened. Once long ago, Alan had told me that I looked dangerous when I was angry and I suppose that’s the explanation. The two idiots had simply been afraid to report me. Frankly I took comfort in their fear. It told me that I was not yet too old to exert my will and dominate others. During that time I visualized that punk in my power and forced to take lessons from me on what I considered good manners.
At one point in these fantasies I saw him clad in diapers, helplessly drooling and unable to speak except in baby talk and I laughed aloud. The sound reminded me of Alan’s files and the secret that lay hidden within them. For a moment I actually considered trying to find that little bastard and returning him to diapers. Then I reminded myself that regression was but the beginning of the education process, not the end. I sighed and thrust the bastard from my thoughts.
My thoughts turned instead to the secret with which Alan had hoped to save the life of the woman he loved. But death would not be cheated of its prize and Margaret had died before Alan could perfect his formula. Bitterness filled me as always at thought of Margaret Collins’s death. She had wanted no part of Alan’s genetic experiments. Not even when he’d told her they might save her life. She had preferred traditional methods of treatment for her malady.
Margaret had been the daughter of a highly respected surgeon. Doctor Frederick Churchill considered genetic experimentation a violation of every law known to God or man. So that was that! Daddy’s little girl was not about to go against his ideas no matter what the cost to herself. Aside from Alan’s feelings, the real tragedy of it all was that we were so close to success! Then Margaret died and Alan lost the will to live himself, all while I had stood by helplessly watching.
As far as Alan knew I was merely a fellow scientist suffering the usual pangs of disappointment at the failure of a cherished experiment. Never once so far as I know did Alan suspect that I loved him, not science. Never did he suspect that I followed his lead in science merely to be near him. Throughout the years I knew him I kept the secret of my love. I even went so far as to act as his best man when he married Margaret Churchill. If there is a God He alone knows what I felt as I watched Alan kiss his bride. At any rate, less than a week after the burial of his wife, Alan Collins was dead too. Witnesses who saw him die reported they saw Alan deliberately walk into the middle of a busy highway. Five cars ran over him before traffic could be stopped.
From that day until the day I met John Fletcher I had abandoned science, or rather it had abandoned me. The mere sight of a test-tube made me nauseous. Quite a comedown for Doctor Edward Bryce, so-called expert in genetics. Gradually however, time passed, and people forgot if they’d ever known who I’d been and simply thought of me as the nice man who ran the inexpensive little bookshop near the university. After Alan’s death for a long time I didn’t care about anything really. I even considered suicide but decided that I needn’t hurry death. It would come in its appointed time.
In the meantime I had to do something with myself. I fell into the habit of reading to pass the time. I reread some literary classics and some new books too, although I read fewer of these because they made me think of Alan. Within my mind I would hear his caustic comments about the latest bestseller. Against my will at such times I would review all my dreams about him, particularly those concerning our imaginary life together. It was then I conceived the idea of salvaging the dream of our son from the ruin of my past. To this end I purchased the small building which would house my bookshop. I reasoned that I needed a young man for my son because he would have a better chance of surviving the full regression treatment. Therefore I thought I needed a way to attract the young.
Thinking of my love of books I hit upon the idea of running a bookshop. And so the Academy Bookshop was opened. It was an immediate success if only because the owner did not care about profits. I soon came to know a good many students at the university. But none of them interested me until John Fletcher walked into my life. Then it was as if I had stepped from deep shadow into bright sunlight. I took him back to my office and we sat for a long time discussing the shop’s operation. In truth the discussion need not have taken so long but I was loathe to let him go until I knew all I could about John at this initial meeting. His parents’ life insurance policy was furnishing the money for his education. I learned that he was majoring in biology and I felt a momentary pang of regret at this news, knowing my plans for him. I quickly suppressed it and sent him home after learning where he lived.
Then I spent the evening walking through my neighborhood watching the children at play. They took no notice of me having seen me many times before. Many of their parents knew me as nice Doctor Bryce who’d suffered a nervous breakdown years ago and wasn’t up to much anymore. As I walked through the neighborhood a mother would occasionally call out to me and I would simply nod or wave. I was filled with happiness at the thought that soon my son would be with me. I pictured myself sitting on a playground bench watching him at play. The vision filled me with an indescribable joy. John would begin his play I thought in the sandbox and gradually move on to the monkey bars. For an instant I glimpsed a tiny boy sitting buried in white sand up to his waist beaming with pride of accomplishment. The vision changed and I saw him at nine or ten hanging upside down by his knees from the top of the monkey bars while daring his little friends to join him. This vision filled me with what I can only describe as paternal alarm and I shook my head to clear my mind. I stared round me, surprised to find myself standing in the middle of the deserted playground.
I felt unaccountably guilty when a police car drove slowly past. For an instant I was illuminated by its spotlight and felt like a criminal caught in the act. Then I wondered who or what the police were looking for. I sighed with relief when I realized that whatever they were looking for it was not me. It was getting late and I told myself that I should go home. Even so, I lingered on, loathe to stop thinking of the future and consider the present.
Finally after sunset I went home and down to the basement and started collecting Alan’s files. I began my work with fears of nausea but soon forgot them. The sight of his handwriting, like that of his photograph, no longer had the power to hurt me. Alan Collins had become a means to an end and nothing more. Now my life would revolve around John Fletcher.
On that same night I reopened our old laboratory and found the mess I had expected. Everything in it would have to be replaced. Fortunately, I had money enough for this thanks to some wise stock market investments made in happier days but it would take time to fully restore the lab. Meanwhile I must maintain my fiction of a shopkeeper. I needed a lab assistant but there was no one I could trust; or was there? I stood amid the ruins of our old experiments and thought of John and smiled. He was a biology major. This meant he would know at least the basics.
So from John’s first day of work at the shop I did my best to cultivate him. I even went so far as to challenge him to a tennis match. My performance on the courts had fallen from mediocre to abysmal. John was kind, however, he did not laugh openly at me. And so at the end of our match I invited him to dinner in my home. That was how I met Vanessa Shelton. I had invited John to my house for dinner and he brought Vanessa with him. He introduced her as his fiancÈe. Until that moment I had never considered such a complication and his announcement rocked me. Happily, John was oblivious of my reaction but not so Vanessa. I was enraged to see her amusement at my discomfiture. It was plain to me, if not to John, that Vanessa saw right through me and fifty yards beyond. I could too easily imagine her telling John of the aging queer who was in love with him. That night I sat at the head of my dinner table gazing at Vanessa, who sat at the foot, with murder in my heart. She must be gotten rid of, I decided, but how? I looked from Vanessa to John and felt my heart fill with fear. I could not bear the thought of losing him. The story of Alan Collins must not be repeated. Then suddenly it struck me, by regressing John I would effectively place him beyond Vanessa’s reach.
The difficulty lay in timing. In fact, timing was the most critical element in my plans. If John were reduced to infancy at the right moment then presumably Vanessa would lose all interest in him. I found it impossible to imagine Vanessa changing John’s diapers. I thought of those women whom I’d seen changing their babies, happily talking with them as they did so. Vanessa with her perfectly lacquered fingernails would never be of that number. Thinking of this, I smiled warmly at Vanessa and offered her some apple pie for dessert. She declined, then asked, ’Doctor Bryce, just what is genetics?’
I was pleased to see John’s look of annoyance at her question. Vanessa saw it too and glared at him. He opened his mouth to speak but I raised my hand and he closed it. ’Well,’ I said, ’I’m afraid your question is like asking Einstein to explain his theory of relativity to a five-year-old. I’ve no doubt Albert could have done it because he was a genius but I am not so fortunate.’ As I spoke, I let my tone carry just a hint of condescension and Vanessa flushed with embarrassment. The sight of it warmed my heart. John started to speak again but I overrode him. ’Genetics is, to put it in layman’s terms, the study and manipulation of cells; to be more precise, the study and manipulation of the basic structure of cells. Scientists hope that in doing so to discover a cure for things like cancer or sugar diabetes.
Vanessa rallied her forces and asked, ’What was your specialty in genetic research, doctor?’ This was a shrewd question, given Vanessa’s ignorance of the subject. The asking of it reminded me that she was an enemy and must not be underestimated merely because of her ignorance of science.
I replied, ’At the time of my colleague Doctor Collins’s death, I was doing work on the problem of aging.’
My reply caused Vanessa to smile and there was more than a hint of condescension in it. Her thoughts were as plain to me as if she had spoken them aloud. The silly old fool, thinks he can avoid old age with some magic formula! I stared at her smirking mouth, filled for an instant with the desire to slash her face with the steak knife beside my plate. Then the temptation passed and I smiled and offered her more wine instead.
After dinner I gave Vanessa and John a tour of the lab and the rest of the house. My home is old but well preserved. It consists of two stories, a basement, and a root cellar which I had enlarged and converted to a laboratory. I was sure that nothing they saw would give John and Vanessa a clue as to what I was doing. Even so, Vanessa was more observant than I would have thought. I should have been warned by the fact she was majoring in journalism. During the tour I had mentioned the lab was soundproofed and she immediately asked why. I gave a hasty and consequently feeble explanation about noisy equipment. John, being well-mannered, was satisfied but not Vanessa. She stared hard at the operating table in the center of the room quite as if she could see Frankenstein’s monster lying upon it. She said nothing about it however. What really caught her attention was the full-length mirror standing in a corner against the back wall of the lab. ’What do you need a mirror for, doctor?’ and Vanessa’s tone was definitely suspicious.
’To judge results,’ I replied truthfully and unhelpfully. Vanessa’s mouth became a thin line of discontent but she asked no more questions about the mirror. Even so, I think it was from that moment that she began to suspect that I might have an ulterior motive for my friendship with John Fletcher. Or maybe it was simply the isolated location of the lab which roused Vanessa’s suspicions more than anything else. Whatever the reason, I knew from that moment she would bear watching.
I received confirmation of this idea when we arrived on the second floor and stopped in the hall just outside my bedroom. I had opened the door and was about to step inside when Vanessa pointed to the door opposite and asked, ’Is that your guest bedroom?’
Her question caught me by surprise and I answered more sharply than I should have, ’No!’
’I see.’ She replied smiling slightly. Then without so much as a by your leave, she stepped across the hall and turned the knob. The room was locked; a bit of foresight on my part for which I was deeply grateful at that moment. She said, ’John, this is locked. I wonder why?’ Vanessa spoke as if she and John were the only two people in the house. My rage at her impudence was quickly dissipated by John’s look of horror at his fiancÈe’s behavior.
Looking at him, I was reminded of my grandmother. She had been a formidable old lady who had never hesitated to speak her mind. I remembered her once telling me, ’Edward, you mustn’t bring that naughty little boy to my house ever again.’ The boy in question had been my best friend at the time but I obeyed just the same.
I looked at John on that night wondering if I dared borrow a page from my grandmother’s book and tell him that he mustn’t play with that naughty little girl anymore. Deciding against it, I said, ’Curiosity killed the cat, you know.’
Vanessa shot back, ’Not this one, doctor!’ John glared at Vanessa again so I said nothing more, content to let her destroy their relationship without my help if she would. A short time later I stood at the front door watching them drive away hoping they would quarrel all the way back to their coed dorm.
Once they were out of sight I went upstairs to the room which had so interested Vanessa. The key to its door hung on the ring with the rest of my keys and I used it to unlock the room. I pushed the door fully open and stood there surveying it. As I gazed upon the room, my heart filled with the pride of past accomplishments and anticipation of things to come.
The room was as I already knew bright and cheery made so by light powder blue walls. The furniture, in contrast, was white. The crib had perfectly turned spindles on all sides so that the baby could see around the room. There was a padded bumper fastened to the sides of the crib so the baby wouldn’t poke a leg or arm through the bars while he slept. I felt particular pride at sight of the decorative baby blue stripe which ran around the walls of the room at waist height. The stripe contained pictures of teddy bears and bunny rabbits dressed in diapers and sucking on pacifiers. The room’s occupant could not mistake its message. Maturity was something to be earned, not taken for granted. And the decorative stripe was not all. There was a large toy box standing under one of the windows filled with age-appropriate toys. Next to the crib was a fully stocked diaper changing station. I smiled at the diaper pail and the teddy bear depicted on its side seemed to return it. Beyond it stood a large rocking chair with a receiving blanket draped over its back.
I went to the dresser and opened one of the drawers. It was filled with little tee-shirts in every color of the spectrum. I closed the drawer and then went through the rest of them. I paused longest over the drawer containing cloth diapers. The diaper changing station was fully stocked with disposable ones but I decided I would only use them when my son and I were traveling. My mother had used cloth diapers and I thought it best to follow her example. Of course, my critics might say that she would have used disposables if they’d been available, but none of them had known my mother or ever would. I closed the drawer, thinking of my mother, sure that she would have approved of my decision both to regress John Fletcher and use cloth diapers for him. As I left the nursery I heard my mother say with in my mind, ’Edward, you must protect your son from that harpy.’
I went to bed that night completely content, having decided to inaugurate my plan. It was sooner than might be wise but I felt no time should be lost. The next day I went to the shop as usual. While there I told John that I would be going out of town soon but my nephew would be filling in for me. Then that night I went shopping for clothes. This time the clothes were not for a baby but for a young man.
I got home late. I unpacked my purchases and then went down to the lab. It was near midnight when I gave myself the injection. By rights I should have tested the formula a great deal more but I was determined to forestall Vanessa Shelton, and so I threw caution to the four winds and used myself as the test subject. I gave myself what I considered to be a medium dosage of the formula. If I died it would not matter. But if I lived then perhaps I would one day have a last chance to ’capture the elusive butterfly of love’ as an old song had once described it. Of course, it would be the love that can sometimes exist between father and son but too often does not. Even so, if I succeeded in earning John’s love as a father I would be content. After all, I could never feel about anyone else as I had about Alan Collins. Such an attachment if it comes at all in life, does so only once. This truth is not lessened by the fact that the attachment in my case was only on one side.
A few seconds after completing the injection I felt the formula begin its work. It flowed through my veins carving a path of ice throughout the whole of my being. I started to shiver violently. Staring around the lab I decided that if I were going to die I would prefer to do so in my bedroom. I staggered upstairs and buried myself under a pile of blankets on my bed, not bothering to undress except for the removal of my shoes. Soon afterward I passed out.
I woke the next day at noon. The blanket cocoon in which I had wrapped myself smelled foul because I had sweated heavily while unconscious. I crawled off the bed and staggered to the dresser, clutching my trousers so they would not fall off. My eyes were fixed on its mirror. The face reflected there seemed that of a stranger, even though I knew it to be mine. My unshaven cheeks had not a trace of gray on them and my hair was as thick and brown as it had once been in my youth. I stood there for a long time simply staring at my reflection. Then I began to laugh and I found it hard to stop. I had gone from my fortieth to my twentieth decade in a single night! The idea seemed outrageously funny to me and I sank to the floor in a fit of giggles. I had not felt so good in years. In truth I felt healthier and stronger than I ever had before.
Finally I leaped to my feet and went off to the bathroom for a shower. I took the opportunity to examine my body. I found that my middle age paunch had gone. I discovered that I had more muscle tone than I had possessed in a long time. It was not an athlete’s body of course but it had the potential to become one. I smiled in the bathroom mirror as I dried myself off, thinking of the tennis courts.
Later I dressed in slacks and a preppy-looking shirt and went to get my driver’s license. I calculated my age now to be twenty-two so I gave a birth date corresponding to March of 1975. I had already purchased a used Ford van to drive in my new life as my own nephew. This nephew would have my name, thus avoiding possible trouble with a phony one.
After obtaining my license I went to the shop to see John, or more properly to introduce myself to him in my new identity. I walked in to find Vanessa leaning over the counter talking eagerly to John but he did not look happy. I said pointedly, ’Excuse me. I’m Ned, Doctor Bryce’s nephew.’ Ned was the nickname by which I’d been known in childhood.
Vanessa turned from the counter and asked in a condescending tone, ’What can we do for you, Teddy?’ I started to answer but she overrode me, asking, ’Where’s your uncle, Teddy? Off chasing moonbeams, I suppose!’
I corrected her dryly. ’The name’s Ned, not Teddy! And my uncle is away on business.’ My tone suggested that this fact was none of her business but she took no notice.
Vanessa was nothing if not a tough broad. She said icily, ’Tell me, do you ever play Peter Pan to his Tinkerbell?’ The implication was obvious and I decided to meet it head on.
I said quietly, ’Neither my uncle nor I are fairies of any kind.’
’Well, that’s good to-.’
’That’s enough, Vanessa!’ John interrupted in the tone of a man who’s reached his limit.
Vanessa turned back to John and glared at him saying, ’You’re right, it is quite enough. You just stay here, John, and play shopkeeper with Teddy here and I’ll go off and try and deal with the real world!’ Then Vanessa stalked passed me, shooting me such a murderous look as she slammed out of the shop that I wondered for an instant if she’d somehow seen through my disguise.
An awful silence followed her departure in which I struggled to find the right words to break it. It was John finally who did so. ’Look, Ned, I am sorry about all this. Please forget what Vanessa said. She’s not herself right now; she wants me to quit this job. We were arguing about it when you came in.’
’But my uncle told me you are so good at it!’ I protested.
’Yeah, well, your uncle’s the problem,’ John said with a heavy sigh. I did my best to look surprised at this announcement though I’d been expecting it. John continued speaking while staring past me as though in search of something or somebody to help him out of an embarrassing situation. ’Vanessa thinks your uncle is a dirty old man! I don’t, but she does!’
’What you mean is she thinks he’s a fag!’ I said, letting a lifetime of bitterness be heard in my voice as I used this pejorative term.
’Yeah, but I’ve got nothing against gays, Ned! It’s just-.’
’It’s just that Vanessa is your girl, John, and you don’t want to lose her,’ I finished for him. Strictly speaking, I should have addressed him as ’Mr. Fletcher’ since we were supposed to be strangers to one another but I felt so sorry for John at that moment that I forgot my self-appointed role of fake nephew. Recollecting myself, I suggested he show me the ropes as they related to closing the shop and then I would take him to dinner to make amends for inadvertently causing trouble between him and his girl. John demurred at first but I persuaded him.
We had a nice meal at a popular seafood restaurant. I drove and John was surprised to see the baby’s car seat attached to the rear seat of my van but he asked no questions. I was relieved because his seeing it could have been a bad mistake on my part. After our meal I dropped John off at his dorm and returned home. Before leaving him I invited John to play some tennis and he readily agreed.
We met the next afternoon and I beat him soundly. In all honesty I think my victory was due more to energy than skill, plus the fact that I suspect John’s mind was not on the game. He looked so hangdog afterward that for a moment I actually felt guilty. Then I came to my senses; it was, after all, only a game. But it was not so to John, as I discovered over dinner later.
Once we’d gotten our food I asked him point blank if my winning had upset him. He denied it indignantly and unconvincingly. ’No, losing doesn’t upset me. I was just thinking of my dad. Dad always wanted me to win. Winning was everything to him.’ As he said this, John looked so much like a sad little boy that I wanted to hug him there and then but I restrained myself. He added after a pause, ’Dad always thought tennis was a sissy sport.’
’Sissy sport!’ I exclaimed.
’Yeah, you know, because so many of its players are fags!’ John explained in the tone one might use when speaking to a child. I felt a flicker of anger at his tone but let it pass; after all, he was to be the child in my new life, not me. ’Dad planned on me going to college on athletic scholarships,’ John said, for an instant sounding old. ’But he and mom died and everything was changed.’ He looked guilty as he said this and I felt another impulse to hug him which I duly resisted.
Apparently he felt guilty for having survived his parents. What a terrible emotion guilt can be! I’ve always believed Alan died because he was overwhelmed by unjustified guilt. I drove home that night more determined than ever to carry out my plan.
The moment I opened the front door I felt that someone was in the house. I had been telling myself for months to have the locks changed but had put it off. I felt frustrated by this discovery because I had nothing of value, at least nothing of value a thief would immediately recognize. Then I thought of Vanessa. She was my burglar. Now I was sure that she was in my home, no doubt in hopes of finding something to convince John that I was the devil incarnate. If only I’d gotten deadbolt locks, I told myself angrily as I softly closed the front door and locked it. I turned from the door intending to go in search of Vanessa and there she was at the top of the stairs staring down at me. She had that same arrogant smirk on her face that she’d worn at my dinner table.
Playing my role, I demanded, ’What are you doing in my uncle’s house?’
Vanessa threw back her head and laughed. It was strange but at that moment of supreme arrogance, she looked beautiful so beautiful that for an instant I regretted that I could not feel any sexual attraction for her. She stood there with her hair flowing down her back like a golden curtain. Like John’s, Vanessa’s hair was blond though it lacked the infantile texture of his. It did, however, give Vanessa the look of a pagan goddess somehow cast up on the shores of modernity from the ancient world. She stalked down the staircase like a queen of old, tossing her head in a negative motion as she came.
When she reached the bottom, Vanessa said, ’You’re not anybody’s nephew, nor are you an uncle!’
As she crossed the hall to my side I debated what to do or say next. Well, that’s not accurate; I knew what needed to be done. The question was how to do it. Stalling for time, I asked, ’What on earth are you talking about?’
’Doctor, you were an only child. What’s more, you’ve never married. And given your sexual orientation, I’m sure you never will!’ Vanessa replied, grinning at me like the cat that’s just eaten the last canary.
After a pause I said, ’What a clever little girl you are. Just how did you get into my house?’
Vanessa laughed again and said, ’With pathetic ease, doctor. Your home security is equivalent to a wooden hasp.’ This was a gross exaggeration but there’s no denying my security measures were inadequate. She continued condescendingly, ’I used a credit card.’
’And have you figured it all out yet?’
’No, but I know you want John.’
’And you think you know why I want him.’
’Of course! You’ve gone from being a dirty old man to a young depraved one! You know, doctor, you’re pathetic; here you’ve discovered the Fountain of Youth without even going to Florida, and all you want it for is so that you can have the body of one young man!’ She was smirking again as she said this and suddenly it was too much for me. I swung my left fist up from the hip with all the strength of my rejuvenated body behind it. My knuckles crashed against her jaw and Vanessa went straight down and lay still. For an instant I was afraid I’d killed her. I knelt beside her and checked her pulse at both wrist and throat. It was strong. I picked her up and carried her quickly down to my lab.
Once there I stripped her and strapped her to the operating table. Then I put Vanessa’s clothes into the incinerator. She wouldn’t need those particular clothes anymore. I searched the purse she’d had hanging on her shoulder. I found a wallet and a set of keys, one of which was a car key. The sight of it made me feel sick. Vanessa had a car concealed somewhere and I had to find it. Perhaps I could make her tell me where she’d parked it. I stood over her watching as an ugly bruise developed along Vanessa’s jaw line. The sight of it roused a pang of pity in me which I ruthlessly suppressed. This was a moment for determination, not pity.
After a couple of minutes her eyes flew open and Vanessa stared up at me, momentarily confused. Then her mind cleared and she glared. I returned the glare, no longer needing to dissemble with her. ’Now, clever little girl,’ I said. ’There are some things I need to know and you must supply the answers.’
’And what makes you think, you miserable pervert, that I’ll help you in any way?’
I sighed heavily and replied, ’You’ve taken a tour of my laboratory and I trust you noted the presence of an incinerator. Your clothes have already gone into it and your body can follow. The choice is yours.’
’But if you’re planning to murder me, why burn my clothes first?’
ëThe answer is simple. I’m not planning to murder you. That is, I should prefer not to if it can be avoided. Again, as I said, the choice is yours.’
Vanessa stared up at me for a long moment, no doubt considering her options. ’What do you want to know?’
’Who else knows what you’ve discovered?’ I asked, watching her closely.
’Well, John doesn’t know anything, if he’s what’s worrying you.’
’Nothing is worrying me,’ I said, ’because in this laboratory I have a solution to all life’s problems.’ Vanessa looked at me then as if I were insane. I laughed at her and repeated, ’Who else knows, Miss Shelton? It doesn’t matter what John knows because he will be mine!’ And I let my ruthless determination reflect fully on my face as I spoke of John. The sight frightened Vanessa and for an instant she looked quite like the little girl I meant she should become.
I asked, ’Where did you park your car?’’ I put the question in a quiet tone, hoping thereby to conceal the importance of the answer I wanted. My hope was in vain.
Vanessa smiled broadly, knowing that she had regained some power over me. She said, ’It’s where you’ll never find it!’
’That’s nonsense,’ I said endeavoring to keep my voice calm. ’I know this neighborhood well. It may take some time but I will find it.’
’How can you? You don’t even know what my car looks like.’
’Nevertheless, I will find it.’
My calm tone disconcerted Vanessa and she blurted, ’I’ve left a letter in a safety deposit box telling all about you!’ She spoke with such excitement that I knew this solution to her predicament had just occurred to her.
I stared hard into her eyes for a long moment, then threw back my head and laughed. Regaining self-control, I said, ’I hope, my dear, that whoever are your parents in your new life they will at least teach you how to lie better, if not to tell the truth.’
’No, it’s the truth, I swear!’ and I heard real fear in Vanessa’s voice as she said this. I think she had begun to realize what I had in mind. But no matter what she said, Vanessa was lying and I knew it.
I turned away from the table to regain a measure of self-control. The temptation to beat the truth out of her was almost overwhelming. As I turned I nearly tripped and fell. I had dropped Vanessa’s purse beside the table. Seeing it I was reminded of the wallet it contained. I stooped and seized it. Opening it once more, I took out Vanessa’s wallet and searched its contents.
A few seconds later I found what I sought, a collection of photographs. I thumbed through them quickly until I found the one I’d been hoping for. There were a number of pictures in which John Fletcher made an appearance. In one of these he stood beside a car I knew not to be his. The logical deduction was that it belonged to Vanessa. John was beaming at the camera in such a way as to suggest to me that Vanessa had taken the photograph. I flashed it before her face and a look of despair clouded Vanessa’s features.
She said quickly, ’Look, doctor, let me go! You don’t want to get in to a lot of trouble do you? I won’t tell a living soul, I promise!’ Vanessa had already begun to sound like a little girl; not as little as she would become but it was a beginning.
’I know you won’t,’ I said calmly. ’I intend to see that you don’t.’ Vanessa wriggled on the table at these words so that at first I thought she was simply trying to loosen the straps which held her. Then I realized that her kidneys were simply adding to her discomfort as a prisoner. I smiled benignly down at her and said, ’I’m going upstairs now to get some things that will solve all our problems, both yours and mine. I’ll be back shortly.’
As I moved to the door Vanessa tried a last desperate ploy. She said, ’Look, Doctor Bryce, you can have John, I don’t want him, his kind are a dime a dozen!’
’Not to me,’ I replied as I opened the door. Vanessa screamed then and I was startled by her lung power. She went on screaming and I stepped quickly through the door and slammed it after me. The sound of Vanessa’s voice, thanks to the soundproofing of the lab, was cut off abruptly.
I went straight to the nursery. I collected some disposable diapers and other baby clothes along with the necessary diapering supplies. I put these things in a shopping bag. Then I went back downstairs grateful that the basement door was so heavy. Otherwise, the sound of Vanessa’s screams might have been heard by my neighbors. I opened the laboratory door quickly and stepped inside expecting to hear more screams. But only the whimpering of a little girl came to my ears. I set the things I’d brought down beside the door and walked to the table and looked down.
Vanessa lay there in a puddle of urine. She met my gaze and blushed to the roots of her hair. ’I-I couldn’t-uh-help it!’ Vanessa mumbled. Her cheeks were wet with tears and I felt another pang of pity at sight of them. She was an intelligent girl, even a brilliant one, but soon she wouldn’t know even so much as her own name.
I said quietly, ’I know you couldn’t help it, sweet pea, and it is the first thing you’ve done that you could not since I’ve met you.’ I had spoken gently, as to a small child, meaning only to reassure but my tone roused Vanessa’s anger.
’Stop talking to me like that! I’m not a child!’ she screamed. This outburst angered me and I slapped her on the thigh as any parent might who wanted to stop their baby from wriggling during a diaper change.
I glared down at her saying sternly, ’You will never speak to me again like that, young lady! Is that clear?’
’You’ve no right to-to hold me here against my will!’ she wailed.
’Don’t I?’ I asked dryly. ’You gave me that right when you decided to meddle in my affairs! And as for treating you like a child, you gave up all claims to adulthood when you pissed on my table!’
’But I didn’t mean to! I just couldn’t-.’
I interrupted, ’Of course you couldn’t help it because you’re not a child, you’re a baby!’ To emphasize my point I reached out and gripped her shoulders tightly, letting her feel my strength. Vanessa gasped as if my touch burned her. This enraged me and I shook Vanessa until her head rocked back and forth. I said between clenched teeth, ’You should wear diapers because you’re nothing but a baby, aren’t you? Come on, I want to hear you say it!’
I saw Vanessa’s mouth open in a silent scream of pain and terror and realized that I was losing control so I released her. The marks of my fingers were clearly visible on her shoulders. She lay utterly still then, presumably too terrified to move. Meanwhile I busied myself cleaning up the mess Vanessa had made and with the necessary preparations for her regression. I took a large blood sample which I intended to use later. Vanessa did not like this but she made no effort to stop me. She was, for the moment at least, thoroughly cowed.
I took from the shopping bag a baby’s blanket and approached the table. Vanessa stared at it as if she thought I was going to use the blanket to smother her. I laid the blanket across her stomach and said, ’It will keep you warm later.’ I expected a sarcastic remark from her concerning its size but she said nothing. Her silence may simply have been due to Vanessa’s relief that I was not going to murder her.
Having prepared the regression hypo, I approached the table again. Vanessa’s eyes widened at sight of the needle. She said sounding truly like a scared little girl now. ’You’ll never get away with this!’
I smiled at her and said, ’The ugly truth of the matter is, my dear, that whether I do or not, in a few minutes you won’t care!’ Then I rubbed some alcohol on her thigh and thrust the needle in. Vanessa screamed as if I’d cut her with a knife. I ignored her and pressed the plunger home. The barrel was soon empty. Almost immediately Vanessa began to shiver. I ignored this, merely taking up a stance beside the table and waited for results.
The minutes passed like hours and I watched as Vanessa regressed back to adolescence then past puberty. Whenever she entered another stage of regression I had to adjust the straps to accommodate her new form. At such times she would struggle fiercely but futilely, screaming things like, ’You bastard, I’ll see you fry!’ Vanessa’s threat was based on the fact that our state still has the death penalty.
I was fascinated by what I saw. Vanessa as a young woman had ample breasts. I suppose a heterosexual might have called them voluptuous melons of sexual gratification. But for me their only attraction was in watching them gradually disappear. They dwindled down to little pink nipples then disappeared altogether. They were closely followed by all of Vanessa’s body hair starting with her pubic area. Her long blond curls were gradually reabsorbed into her head until a short, unruly, childish mop remained. I estimated her age to be about five at this point. As I adjusted the straps she did manage then to kick me in the groin. The pain was excruciating but soon over. By then of course she had become pretty small, so I simply sat down on the table and drew her across my lap and spanked her. It was not long until she was howling for mercy. I kept paddling until her little bottom was bright red.
In her agitation, Vanessa lost control of her bladder again. My lap was soaked and this fact determined that Vanessa was to be put in diapers immediately. Having subdued the child, I laid her back on the table and went to get a diaper and the necessary supplies. Throughout all this the regression process continued and may have been speeded up by Vanessa’s agitation.
At any rate, when I returned to the table I found a little girl who looked to be somewhere between one and two years of age. I had expected a struggle over wearing diapers from her but the toddler who lay there was not up to any such argument. She simply looked up at me with big frightened eyes and I felt ashamed once again of my brutality. I also felt guilty because I had neglected to strap her to the table once more. A child that young could have so easily rolled off onto the floor. I spoke soothingly to Vanessa and she smiled angelically up at me. Then she said, ’Dada.’ This rocked me for an instant and I stood uncertainly over Vanessa, no longer sure what to do. Then I shook my head. This baby was not the one I wanted. Even if she now looked to me as a father, the fact remained that I wanted a son, not a daughter.
So I resumed my work; there was still much to do. I noted as I diapered her that Vanessa’s little bottom was no longer red. The redness, like the bruise on her jaw, thanks to the regression process had vanished. Something else had disappeared as well; Vanessa’s anger and fear had gone. She lay happily gurgling to herself as I oiled and powdered her. Meanwhile I was thinking about her transformation. I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally.
Vanessa had been a strong, even domineering, female. She had easily dominated John Fletcher I admitted to myself though it caused me a pang of regret to do so. And yet somewhere deep inside I was now convinced Vanessa had wanted someone to dominate her. If she had married John, I thought, Vanessa would have emasculated him. Then she would have discarded John like a little girl throwing away an unwanted broken doll.
After taping the diaper down tight I carried Vanessa to the full-length mirror in the corner. The instant Vanessa saw her reflection she cooed and beamed with pleasure. It was evident to me that no matter what else the regression process had done to Vanessa, it had not destroyed her vanity.
After letting her gaze her fill at her reflection, I carried her up to the nursery. I put her in the crib and gave her a bottle of formula in which I had put an age-appropriate dose of a sedative. After emptying the bottle, Vanessa went to sleep, happily sucking her thumb. I went off to the bathroom to shower and change so that I could begin my search for Vanessa’s car. I was sure that Vanessa, even if she awoke while I was gone, would be too small to climb out of the crib.
Fortunately, it was long before dawn when I left my house on foot. I had Vanessa’s keys in my pocket and rubber gloves on my hands. I was grateful for the darkness considering what I had to do. Even so, the street lights were good in my neighborhood, a fact for which I was grateful later when I considered the possibility of failure and its consequences. I found her car parked under a street light about two blocks from my house. Apparently, Vanessa had not believed in long walks. I smiled at this thought and approached her car with caution. I looked all around making sure I was alone. Then I took Vanessa’s keys from my pocket and tried the first one and got lucky. It opened the driver’s side door with a soul satisfying click. I slid behind the wheel as carefully as if the vehicle had been made of glass rather than metal. I wanted to be sure of leaving no trace of my presence in it. Then I drove straight to the university. Once there, I drove slowly through the campus until I reached the dormitories. In the gray light of dawn I spotted John’s car parked in front of his dorm, and parked Vanessa’s car beside it. Then I got out, taking the keys with me. In due time I hoped they would become an unrecognizable lump of metal in my incinerator. I stood for an instant looking at John’s car, wondering where he was now and what he would do when he learned of Vanessa’s disappearance. I sighed heavily, regretting the necessity of what I’d done and even that of what I must do now.
Part Two: The Boy in Trouble
When I got back to my house I found Vanessa still sound asleep. But she was in need of a change, having filled her diaper in my absence. As I accomplished this messy task I wondered for an instant if I really wanted to become a parent. Then I thought of John and knew that I would do anything to make him mine. To accomplish that goal, I decided that changing diapers would be a small price to pay. Vanessa awoke halfway through this process and was very cranky. I did my best to keep her happy until I was ready to go. All the events I have related so far had taken place on a Saturday night.
After changing Vanessa into a fresh diaper and wrapping her in a warm blanket, I carried her out to my van where she call me ’Dada’ again. I wondered when or if John Fletcher ever would. I drove her to a church I knew and left her asleep on a bench in its courtyard. I presumed that a Sunday morning worshiper would find her. By rights, of course, I should have stayed there until somebody found her. But I might have been seen and remembered later and so I did not. I left walking quickly, hoping that Vanessa would remain quiet or asleep until she was found. The last I saw of Vanessa she was happily cuddling a stuffed bunny rabbit and sucking on one of its ears.
I went home and fell into bed having been exhausted by the night’s labors, having paused only long enough to dump Vanessa’s keys in the incinerator, intending to incinerate them after adding a few other things. However, before dropping them in, I noticed with some amusement that she’d had a rabbit’s foot on her key ring. It was presumably a lucky charm. I smiled at the sight of it. I thought that Vanessa had indeed been lucky; after all, another in my place might have murdered her, whereas I had simply sent Vanessa back to diapers. On the chain with this rabbit’s foot was a little tag that read, ’With love from the sad little boy.’ For an instant, tired as I’d been, I was touched by this tag and I wondered who the sad little boy was. Then I dismissed him from my thoughts and hurried upstairs and fell into bed and forgot Vanessa’s key ring, though I would have reason to remember it later.
I was awakened by the telephone. I came up from a deep well of forgetfulness and snatched the receiver off its cradle and croaked the single word, ’Hello.’
John’s voice filled my ear. ’Doctor Bryce, is that you?’
’Yes, I mean no, this is Ned. What’s up, John?’ I had been half asleep when the phone rang but my near mistake had wakened me more thoroughly than a bucket of ice water in the face would have done.
’Oh, Ned, I’m glad it’s you but you sounded just like your uncle for a second! Have you seen or heard from Vanessa?’
I let my voice show some annoyance. ’No, why would she contact me? We weren’t properly speaking, even introduced.’
This brought John up short. ’Oh, yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry, I guess I wasn’t thinking.’
’Has something happened to your girlfriend?’
’Her roommate thinks she’s disappeared.’
’Disappeared? What on earth-?’
’Vanessa’s car’s in the dorm parking lot,’ John said. ’But apparently she never came inside.’
’I see. Is there anything I can do?’
’No, Ned, I guess not. I was just grabbing at straws.’
’Well, if you change your mind, give me a call!’ I let my voice fill with compassion for John. Vanessa’s disappearance had hurt him and I felt somewhat hypocritical but I did my best to suppress the feeling. What I’d done was necessary, I told myself and tried not to think of the look on his face if John should ever discover the truth. In the meantime he thanked me and hung up.
I crawled out of bed, showered and changed and as always felt better afterward. But my feeling was premature. I went down to the lab and read over the notes I’d taken during Vanessa’s regression. Then I prepared another batch of the formula, loading it into a hypodermic gun this time. Throughout my work in the lab I had been wondering about John. Foolish as it was I half hoped to hear from him again, but I didn’t, of course.
Early that evening I decided to inaugurate the next part of my plan. With this in mind I went to the university, stopping first at John’s dorm. He was not there and so I went next to the library and found his car in the parking lot. I looked carefully around and seeing no one I then used a copy of John’s car key to open the passenger’s side door and sprinkle Vanessa’s blood on the front seat and floorboard. I had made a wax impression of John’s key one afternoon at the shop. Then I reproduced it using a light metal alloy in my lab. After emptying the supply of Vanessa’s blood into John’s car and disposing of the container, I entered the building and found him sitting in a corner at a reading table. He was staring at a sheet of newspaper in front of him without seeing it. The headline read, ’Unidentified baby found outside of a church.’ There was a photograph below the headline showing Vanessa sitting up with her mouth wide open, obviously screaming her head off. I was impressed with the view of her toothless gums and involuntarily smiled. My formula had performed absolutely perfectly! No one seeing Vanessa now would have suspected that a short time before she’d been a promising journalism major.
I touched John on the arm and he jumped. Then he looked up at me and I saw hostility in his eyes. ’Oh, it’s you! I thought for a second it might-.’ John broke off.
I asked gently, ’You’ve had no word about Vanessa, have you?’
He shook his head negatively, his lips set in an angry line. ’No, there’s no word yet. The police questioned me today but beyond that they’ve done nothing!’
’The idiots think I might be responsible for Vanessa’s disappearance!’ John interrupted hotly.
’But why on earth would they-?’
’Because her roommate told them we quarreled!’
’I see,’ I said, trying to sound sympathetic while feeling elated by this news.
’Bertha is a damn dike and she’s always-.’
’Dike?’ I queried, just as if I didn’t know what he was talking about.
He explained brusquely, ’Bertha’s a lesbian!’
’Oh, yeah, I’m an idiot!’ I said, hoping I sounded embarrassed. John nodded in agreement and I decided to change the subject. ’Have you eaten yet, John?’ He shook his head negatively and I suggested we go out for something.
John did not reply immediately because he was staring over my shoulder. I turned and saw two men in nondescript suits approaching. I had never met them before but I recognized them. They were two police detectives. They ignored me completely and stopped in front of John; he rose quickly to his feet. Only one of them spoke, not bothering to introduce himself or his partner. I suppose John already knew them and that it was not a social call.
’Mr. Fletcher, the lab boys have been over Ms. Shelton’s car and found nothing unusual. But we’ll keep working on it and if we find anything-.’ His voice trailed off.
John glared at the man. ’That means youëve given up!’
’No, Mr. Fletcher, we haven’t. It just means that it will take time more time than we want it to but that’s how it is.’ The second man explained.
’So you don’t think I had anything to do with Vanessa’s-?’
’No, Mr. Fletcher, we don’t,’ The second detective said, sounding sympathetic.
’There’s no concrete evidence to suggest foul play.’ The first detective added. I felt my lips twitch at this and the first detective gave me a sharp look. He asked quietly, ’What’s so funny, son? Share the joke.’
’Oh, it’s nothing, detective, nothing at all!’ I said, trying to sound young and confused and even frightened. The element of fear in my performance wasn’t hard to produce because both detectives were looking hard at me and I was afraid I’d blown my disguise or something.
Smiling thinly, the first detective said, ’Just remember, son, that being class clown has its downside as well as its upside.’ Then without another word, he and his partner turned their backs on John and me and walked away.
John stared after them frowning. I decided it was best to break in on his thoughts so I reminded him of my dinner invitation. He shook his head negatively saying, ’I’m going to look for Vanessa myself.’
’Okay, John,’ I said, ’let’s do it together after we’ve had something to eat.’ We were walking out of the library as I said this and John acted as if he only half-heard what I was saying. I followed John to his car knowing he was in for a shock. John opened the driver’s side door and the interior light came on and the bloodstain on the front seat was clearly visible. He gasped as if he’d been punched in the stomach.
John turned as white as a bed sheet and I grabbed his arm and pulled him away from his car and kicked the driver’s side door shut with a foot. Then I began dragging John toward my van while he protested, ’Hey wait a minute! I’ve gotta go back and-.’
’What you’ve got to do,’ I interrupted, ’is to get out of here right now!’
’But I just can’t run off! I’ve got to-.’
’No, you don’t,’ I repeated. ’You’ve gotta get out of here right now!’ By this time I was gripping John’s arm so tightly that I’m sure I left a bruise. Despite his protests I got John into my van and we raced away from the university.
I drove back to my house and dragged John inside and down to the lab. I was amazed at how easy it had been to handle John under these circumstances. The boy was in such a state of shock that he seemed incapable of thinking or acting for himself. This was all to the good as far as I was concerned. I shoved John down on to a work stool and demanded, ’Why did you kill her?’
’I didn’t kill anybody!’ John screamed, leaping up from the stool as if it burned him. ’I don’t know where that blood came from! It wasn’t there when I went into the library.’
’Then you’re saying somebody’s trying to frame you?’ I asked, letting a tiny note of skepticism be heard in my voice.
John sank down on the stool again and buried his face in his hands. ’No, I mean I don’t know! Who would want to do such a thing to me?’ he moaned from behind his hands.
I said quietly, ’If the police search your car they’ll find those stains and I’ll bet they’re Vanessa’s blood type.’
John raised his head from his hands and stared at me as if I were an alien from outer space. He asked in a small voice, ’Do you really think I killed Vanessa?’
’No, John, I don’t. But my opinion doesn’t matter. It’s the police you have to convince not me.’
John asked in a stronger voice, ’Do you think Bertha killed Vanessa?’
’I don’t know,’ I said, ’since I’ve never even seen this Bertha before.’ I went on ruthlessly, ’The point is, John, the police know that you and Vanessa were going together and that you quarreled. Frankly I think you’ll be suspect number one; especially after they find those bloodstains.’
John, sounding desperate, said, ’Why should they ever find them? I could get rid of my car and say it was stolen.’
’That’s too convenient,’ I replied ruthlessly.
John buried his head in his hands again and groaned. ’What am I gonna’ do?’
This was the moment I’d been waiting for. I asked quietly, ’Do you want my help?’
John stared at me in disbelief. After a long moment he asked, ’Why should you want to help me?’
’Because I like you. Isn’t that reason enough?’
John stood up and began to pace the room. ’No, it isn’t. We barely know each other.’
I replied, ’But you and Doctor Bryce know each other.’
’Yes, but that doesn’t explain why you-.’
’It does if I’m Doctor Bryce rather than his nonexistent nephew,’ I said, beaming at him.
He stared back at me disbelievingly. I watched as John took a deep breath evidently to regain self-control. ’Look, this is serious! Vanessa Shelton has disappeared and I am a suspect or about to become one in a possible crime. I don’t have time for practical jokes and even less inclination for them!’
’I see you require proof, which is understandable,’ I said. ’Will you wait here while I get the means to prove that what I’ve said is true?’
’Yeah, but you can’t prove-.’
’Just wait here and you’ll see!’ I said, sounding smug even to myself. John nodded reluctantly in agreement and I raced up the stairs. I needed a test subject for my proof and I knew where to find one.
There was a large mongrel dog living next door. I had deliberately made friends with the animal with the intent of using it as a test subject. As things turned out, I had not done so until now. My idea at that moment was to use the formula on the dog turning it into a puppy again in front of John, thereby proving to him who I was and who I was not, as it were. Then I would persuade him to take the regression formula willingly as a means of thwarting the police. I would suggest that he be regressed to a twelve-year-old whom they would naturally never suspect. Of course, in reality John would become a baby again or at the very least a toddler. John, I hoped, would not realize this until it was too late.
The animal’s owners fortunately were not at home and so I entered their backyard and easily secured the creature. It followed me readily into my house. The two of us entered the lab to find John pacing the room again. He stopped in front of me, one hand clenched in a fist at his side and the other braced on his hip. John gave me a hard, searching look, not unlike the one the police had given me earlier.
’So the dog is your guinea pig this time, is it?’ John’s tone was so dry that the bubble of excitement in which I’d been living for the last few minutes burst and I was left standing naked in the harsh glare of John’s suspicion.
He knows something. But how? I thought, my mind swamped with fear.
The dog meanwhile gamboled around us, oblivious of atmosphere, merely happy to have our company. I decided that I should be the same. I walked to the table and opened a drawer beneath it and took out the hypo gun. I started to turn to the dog when John’s fist came up and he flung something at me. It struck me on the forehead and fell to the floor with a jingling sound. The blow startled me and I almost dropped the hypo gun. I looked down and saw Vanessa’s key ring lying at my feet. The rabbit’s foot seemed to point at me like an accusatory finger.
I lowered the hypo gun to my side then I looked up and met John’s eyes. They were filled with a pain so great that I felt momentarily ashamed of what I’d done and even a little of what I proposed to do. He asked quietly, ’Where’s the body, Ned?’ It was plain that he didn’t believe I was Doctor Bryce. But he apparently believed that I, in my persona of Ned, had killed Vanessa Shelton.
’Body? What are you talking about?’ I queried, stalling for time while my mind raced. ëHow much does he know?’ I wondered, trying to stifle panic.
’Yes, the body! Where is Vanessa Shelton’s body?’ John’s voice was rising in volume and his eyes were blazing with the determination to know the truth, whatever it might be. While my mind filled with questions and their possible answers, John was saying, ’Vanessa told me that Doctor Bryce was up to something but I didn’t believe her because I knew she didn’t like him. I told her as much and she broke off our engagement. Then Vanessa disappeared and those bloodstains showed up in my car and I didn’t know what to believe anymore. And then you showed up almost at the same time spouting a ridiculous story about your uncle. That made me think Vanessa might be right. The last time I saw her she swore she’d find proof that Doctor Bryce was up to no good.’
’So after I went to get our canine friend here, you decided to search my laboratory,’ I said with a sigh.
’Yes, that’s right,’ John agreed with a nod for emphasis. ’I searched the incinerator thinking I’d find evidence of her body if she were dead. That’s how I found her keys.’
Still stalling for time I said, ’John, be reasonable. Why would I want to kill anybody?’
He screamed, ’Stop lying to me, I know you did it!’
I replied in a reasonable tone, ’There’s no need to shout, John. I’m not deaf.’
’Cut it out, Ned! I know you’ve done something with Vanessa; how else did her keys get in your incinerator? And where’s your uncle? Have you killed him too?’
Still holding the hypo gun down at my side I walked up to John and put my free hand on his shoulder and asked gently, ’How do you know those keys are hers?’ pointing at them where they still lay on the floor. As I had approached, John had watched me like a wild animal caught in a trap. At the touch of my hand he shrank away and looked as if he wanted to spit on me. At mention of the keys his eyes shifted to the floor for a split second and that was all I needed. Within that split second I raised the hypo gun and pressed its barrel to John’s thigh and pulled the trigger.
John raised his hands as though to ward off a blow but this particular dose of the regression drug also contained a powerful muscle relaxant whose effect was practically instantaneous. The dosage took into account John’s body weight and size. I had intended to use a much smaller dose of the regression drug on the dog along with an ordinary hypodermic needle but now I would not need them. I had decided the hypo gun was better for use with human subjects. John proved me right. He reached out, apparently with the intent of choking me but his hands fell harmlessly to his sides and he would have fallen if I had not dropped the hypo gun and caught him.
I stood there for an instant holding John in my arms, savoring the pleasure of possession. He tried to speak but was too weak. I spoke soothingly to him as a father might to a frightened child. ’Don’t worry, John. Daddy’s here and everything is going to be all right!’
John moaned as I lifted him onto the table where I proceeded to undress him down to his underpants. I left them on as part of my plan of regression. I strapped him temporarily to the table until I could get rid of the dog. I wouldn’t need it now. Having restored the mongrel to my neighbor’s backyard I then returned to the lab and helped John down from the table and half-carried, half-walked him over to the mirror. I wanted John to watch his regression. This would, I had decided, help him in the end, to accept his new life with me.
At first John simply stood on shaky legs with a puzzled expression on his face in front of the mirror. He couldn’t work out yet what part the mirror was to have in the plan I had for him. Then the regression began and John forgot about the mirror for a while. His face flushed bright red and his eyes rolled back in his head for a couple of seconds. He moaned softly and I wrapped my arms tighter around him. ’Don’t worry, John, I won’t let you fall.’ Whether he heard this reassurance, I’m not sure.
I should have said more perhaps to help John but I was too excited because all my planning was about to pay off. Of course, John could not have felt the transformation very much at first because it was on a cellular level. But I knew from my own regression and that of the Shelton bitch he soon would. Therefore, I fixed my gaze on the mirror and waited.
The transformation was not noticeably visible to begin with. But moment by moment the regression formula’s effects became visible. To start with, they were made up of a thousand subtle changes. I saw that John began to look thinner and slighter in build. His shoulders fell in upon themselves losing their classic ’V’ shape, seeming to dissolve like butter exposed to heat. His deep chest deflated as if it had been a balloon. The pecs which he’d created through countless hours of athletic activity simply vanished. The powerful muscles of his neck diminished momentarily making his Adam’s apple prominent before it too began to shrink. His powerful upper arms began to dwindle as the muscles withered beneath the skin.
At this point John looked to be about sixteen years old and was beginning to take on a gangling appearance. The sideburns he sported and the stubble he had on his chin and upper lip, a sincere effort at a goatee I thought, grew finer and finer until it could only be described as peach fuzz. Then it disappeared entirely. I watched as his abdominal muscles dwindled to be replaced with an ever-growing layer of baby fat at his waistline.
John grabbed feebly at the waistband of his underpants as he regressed out of them. They would have long since fallen off but for his clutching hands. I said gently, ’Let them go, Johnny, you won’t need big boy pants for a long time now.’ My words shocked John so much I think that he let go of them involuntarily and his underpants slid to the floor. He tried to stoop and collect them but I prevented him. It was time for John to get use to being naked in front of me. By now John looked to be about fourteen and he was growing younger and smaller with every passing minute.
When the regression had begun John had been six feet two inches in height but now he was a head shorter than me and I’m five feet six inches in height. I ran my hands over his deflated chest and felt the blond hair growing finer and finer until it too disappeared. Even the hair in his pubic area had gone, leaving his penis looking naked and useless except for a call of nature. John had regressed back beyond puberty. He could have been somewhere between ten and eight years of age.
When his head fell below my waist I estimated John’s age to be about five. His blond hair had grown finer and lighter almost white. The layer of baby fat had spread until no vestige of the young man John had been remained. The powerful athlete who gloried in tennis and I don’t know how many other sports had vanished. In his place was a toddler no more than eighteen months old.
John’s regression was complete. He stood there on trembling legs, whether from physical weakness or from fear I don’t know and John could not tell me. I picked him up and left the laboratory. He clung to my shirt with both tiny hands while staring into my face with wide, frightened eyes. I held him close and murmured soothing, meaningless words while patting his little bottom. John seemed to listen to my voice like a blind man endeavoring to learn a new route of travel. His reaction was understandable; after all, his world had greatly changed. Only a short time before he’d been a superb athlete and a promising college student bent on attending medical school but now all that had changed because he had become a toddler again.
I carried him straight upstairs. As we approached the door of the room which was to be his, John frowned as though trying to remember something. I stopped in front of it and lowered him to the floor. He stood for an instant looking up at me, his little dimpled knees wobbling slightly. I fumbled in my pocket for my keys and drew them out. John stared at them, frowning again. I selected the one to the nursery and thrust it into the lock. Then I turned the key and flung the door wide, saying to John, ëThis is your room, Johnny! Isn’t it pretty?’
John stared at it for an instant, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water then he turned and tried to run. He managed only a few steps before doing a belly flop. I reached him in a couple of strides and picked him up. He began to scream as I carried him back to the nursery. You’d have thought I was taking the poor baby into a medieval torture chamber!
I laid him on the changing station and began to oil and powder John. Unlike Vanessa however, he did not gurgle with infantile contentment during his diapering. The inarticulate sounds which came from his mouth were ones of rage, not pleasure. He kicked his feet in the air as I reached for his first diaper. Then suddenly John’s struggles ceased. This was because his kidneys, like Vanessa’s, betrayed him. His penis became a regular fire hose. Urine splashed everywhere, at least until I held the diaper over it to stem the flow. I had put some cloth diapers on a shelf of the changing station in preparation for this moment, never guessing how soon my washing machine would be in use.
Once his bladder was empty I finished diapering my son. I used double diapers and safety pins and after fastening the last one I stood back for an instant to admire my work. John lay on the pad of the changing station trying to put his legs together but was unable to do so because of the double thickness of cotton between them. He looked adorable! Following an impulse, I bent down and kissed his forehead. In response to my gesture John tried to spit in my face. It was the reaction of a man, not a baby. The spittle did not reach me; instead it landed on his tummy. I laughed.
’Naughty baby, you’ll feel differently in a little while. That bitch you thought of as a girlfriend did! Why, before I could even administer the regression formula she was pissing all over herself. Whoever potty trained Vanessa did not do a very good job. And as for you, John, you could not even hold your water until I’d finished diapering you!’ He flushed bright red with embarrassment at mention of his lack of bladder control.
I went on ruthlessly. ’The regression you’ve experienced is not just physical, it is mental.’ John shook his head from side to side in negation of my words. I smiled in response. ’You still require proof I see. Very well.’ I reached down and took one of his tiny hands and curled it in to a fist with the thumb upper most. Then I tickled John under the chin and he giggled involuntarily. The instant his mouth flew open I popped his thumb inside. John’s lips automatically closed around it and he began to suck. I beamed at him.
’You see, John,’ I said, ’you are now following an infantile impulse and I think these impulses will grow in number and frequency. They will in time, I believe, blot out your past life. Of course, I’m not certain of this but I do know that the last time I saw Vanessa she was happily sucking on the ear of a stuffed bunny rabbit.’ This news shook John, I think.
At any rate, he did not put up a fuss when I slipped a pair of plastic pants over his diapers. Nor did he struggle when I dressed him in a pair of blue Osh Kosh overall shorts with matching tee-shirt. I finished dressing John with a pair of Velcro sneakers of the same color. Then I took him down to the kitchen thinking he might be hungry after all that had happened to him.
I set him on his feet in the middle of the kitchen and busied myself fixing a bottle of apple juice. John stood for a long moment staring around him then he made a beeline for the main hall of the house and presumably the front door. I followed him, not bothering to hurry.
John reached the door and found to his dismay he could not reach the knob. Foolishly I had forgotten to lock it. Even so, I obliged John by picking him up and letting him grip the knob in his tiny hands. With some effort he turned it but only slightly. His failure to open the door seemed to drive home the circumstances of his new life, more clearly than anything else which had happened to him so far. He squirmed in my arms so that I knew he wanted to be put down. I lowered him to the floor and he turned to face me and backed up against the door. He looked small and helpless standing there trying to maintain some self-control.
I watched him no longer seeing rage in his eyes but fear instead. It was the fear of a man who knows he is helpless and dependent on others for protection. Of course, I can only guess at the feelings of a nineteen year old man who finds himself trapped in the body of an eighteen month old toddler. But some of them seem obvious to me because at this moment John still retained his intelligence. For example, here he was once again clad in diapers, when he had no doubt, dismissed his infancy as a closed chapter of his life. But I, with my regression formula, had reopened it with the intent of making a complete revision. The prospect must have been terrifying to the man.
But what of the baby? I asked myself. What would be his feelings about his situation once he dominated his body, as I felt sure he eventually would. I must think only of the baby John, I decided not of the man. With this idea in mind I stooped and spoke gently to John using the tone and manner one would with a baby. ’Come with Daddy, and I’ll get you some apple juice. Won’t that be nice?’ My tone and manner roused John’s anger instead of reassuring him, as I had intended. The young man in him was still too dominant to be safely ignored. Glaring, he shrank away from me as far as he could get.
With a sigh I straightened up and addressed the man John. ’It would be better for you to accept what is to be without a struggle. Because there is nothing you can do to reverse what I’ve done. By struggling this way, John, you will only injure yourself. Let what is to happen as it should and you’ll be happy, I promise.’ As I said this, I filled my voice with all the appeal I could muster. But he merely stared back at me with that look of a trapped animal once again and shook his head negatively in rejection of my words.
I sighed with frustration. ’Very well, John, but the fact is you now have the body of a baby and you will soon have a mind to match.’ He hung his head at these words and began to cry. The sobs were made in the high-pitched tone of a toddler but their nature was that of a man. Big tears rolled off the end of his nose and dripped onto his tee-shirt. He might have looked comical but for the seriousness of the situation. His unsteady legs gave way and he slid down the door to sit huddled up on the floor.
I stepped closer. ’You think that I’ve deprived you of your manhood but I haven’t. It is merely postponed. One day, Johnny, all that you think you’ve lost will be yours again. And when that day comes you will be a better and stronger man! I know this because I will be your daddy. I intend to make sure you’re happy growing up this time and can be the person you want to be, not the one someone else thinks you should be. I promise. But for now you must be a baby. This means you must wear diapers and drink from bottles and Sippy-cups when the time comes. You will poop and piss in your diapers just like any other baby and you should not feel embarrassment or shame in doing so. Remember if it will help you to accept what must be, that it was I who did this to you, not you yourself.’
As though to emphasize my last words we both became aware of a smell that had begun to emanate around John. He had dirtied his diaper. He looked up at me, his tears having ceased to flow but his eyes were filled with horror. I smiled at him and asked deliberately, ’Did Johnny, go poopy?’ He nodded slowly and began to cry again. For an instant his sobs were those of a teenager suffering an unspeakable humiliation then they became simply those of a baby in need of a diaper change. The sound was music to my ears.
By now I had realized that two people struggled for mastery of the regressed body I had created. One was a college student and the other was an eighteen-months-old toddler. I scooped John up from the floor, settled him on my hip and went back to the nursery. On the way he buried his face on my chest and continued to cry but now his tears were definitely those of a baby not of a man. The diaper change went off without any protest from the man John. For the moment the baby, Johnny, was dominant. I reveled in his presence lovingly oiling and powdering him while he lay contentedly sucking his thumb.
This done, I carried Johnny down to the living room and sat him down in the middle of its floor while I quickly finished fixing his bottle of apple juice. I had just given it to him when the doorbell rang. I went to answer it, glancing back over my shoulder at John who was sitting with his legs out in front of him and clutching the bottle in his hands while trying to suck the nipple. The former biology major was not finding it too easy. After all, he was trying to use a forgotten technique.
I opened the front door to find the two detectives who I’d seen in the university library on the threshold. They introduced themselves as Detectives Miller and Cox and I perforce invited them into the house. We sat down in the living room, they on the couch and I on my recliner. John still sat in the middle of the floor but he had stopped trying to suck the bottle. It lay forgotten in his lap. He was gazing at the two detectives frowning in a way that told me he was trying to make a decision. Had it not been for the baby roundness of his face one might have thought a man was deep in thought. I felt a twinge of fear at sight of his face.
Detective Miller said, ’Cute kid.’ Then without waiting for a polite response from me, he asked, ’How well do you know John Fletcher?’
’I don’t really know him at all,’ I said. ’My uncle knows him, not me.’
There followed a series of questions about my association with John Fletcher and my supposed uncle. I did my best to answer them while baby Johnny sat listening. I emphasized that I hardly knew him and that my uncle was away on business and might not be back for quite some time.
Then the subject of Vanessa Shelton came up and I felt a little safer. After all, as far as the outside world knew she and I had barely met. However, the moment her name was mentioned I saw John’s face light up, with far too mature an interest. The man John was dominant in his regressed body once more. I watched in horrified silence as he scrambled to his feet and waddled over to Detective Miller. He reached out with a tiny hand and clutched the man’s knee.
Miller looked down at John and smiled sourly. He asked in the jocular tone which people always use who don’t like small children, ’What’s up, sport?’
John replied, ’Goo, ga, Da-da!’
I sat frozen throughout this exchange knowing I should do something but for the moment I was too afraid to move. Then the smell of a dirty diaper filled the room and broke my paralysis of fear. I sprang to my feet. ’Excuse me, gentlemen, for a few minutes. My son needs his diaper changed. He has very sensitive skin. I have to watch out for diaper rash all the time.’ I swept John up into my arms intending to go straight upstairs. John began screaming.
The detectives then decided they had enough information from me. One of them told me, Cox, I think it was, that he had kids but thank God they were all past diapers. The three of us laughed at this, then they were out the door and I bolted it behind them. After I’d heard their car drive away I walked back into the living room. I set John down on the floor not far from where he’d left his bottle. He was no longer screaming, sensing my anger, I suppose.
I looked down at him, letting my anger show and I felt pleasure as his eyes widened in fear. I said quietly, ’You were a very naughty baby to try and talk to those cops! You wanted to tell them what I’d done, didn’t you? One of the first things I must teach you when you are old enough to understand is not to talk to strangers. I should spank you for what you did. But you are only a baby after all, so I won’t this time. Besides, Daddy is so pleased with his baby Johnny for doing such a good poopy in his diaper. Your timing was perfect, John.’
I had addressed this last remark to the man John and I knew he heard it because he blushed to the roots of his hair. I smiled and watched his fear grow. John was completely in my power and he knew it. His attempt to escape had failed. The man no doubt was wondering what I would do now.
I walked over and picked up the baby bottle. I brushed it off and held it out to him. I spoke quietly, controlling my anger, ’Take your ba-ba like a good baby, John, unless you want to sit in that dirty didee until you have a rip-roaring case of diaper rash?’ I reached out and stroked his cheek with the nipple and baby Johnny opened his mouth wide in anticipation of more juice. I popped it in and he began to suck greedily.
When the bottle was empty I took baby Johnny upstairs and bathed him and put him in double diapers and left him in his crib for a nap. He soon fell asleep with a pacifier poking out of the corner of his mouth. Then I went down to the lab and cleaned up. I burned all John’s clothes in the incinerator along with Vanessa’s keys that had so nearly ruined everything. I also burned all my notes on my formula and those of Alan Collins’ as well. I saw no reason ever to use the formula again. After checking on Johnny, I went to bed pleased with what I had achieved.
The next morning I got up early and collected the newspaper and found a picture of John Fletcher on the front page, alongside that of Vanessa Shelton. The story beneath the pictures intimated that John was a murder suspect. I smiled because my planning had paid off yet again. I finished my coffee and went upstairs to get Johnny up for his breakfast. He had another poopy diaper and I bathed him before bringing him down to the kitchen. While Johnny finished off his bottle of formula I read the front page newspaper story to John. I know he heard what I read because his head was hanging pretty low when I finished.
I tossed the paper aside and said to him, ’You see, John, don’t you? Your old life is over. You can never go back to it. This is why you should let yourself become my son!’ The only answer he gave to my appeal was to drop his bottle and begin to cry like any baby might under such circumstances. With this answer I had to be content for the time being.
Later that day, I went to the neighborhood playground. This was something I’d wanted to do from the moment I had made John mine. As I took my son out of the van I noticed one just like it parked next to mine. But I thought nothing of it until later. I saw its government plates but again gave them no thought. It was that time of the afternoon when young children and their parents gather at the playground. I did notice a number of children who I had never seen before. But I made no connection between them and the government van. I sat down on one of the benches reserved for parental use while Johnny found his way into the sandbox just as I had hoped he would.
I meanwhile became the center of a circle of inquisitive women. They wanted to know all about my son and me. I explained that I was Doctor Bryce’s nephew and this increased their interest. Until that moment I’d had no idea how popular I had been as Doctor Bryce. I spun them a tale of an abandoned father and son by a woman who was tired of being a wife and mother. I concluded my story by saying I’d lost my job and had come to work for my uncle in his bookshop. Mention of the shop sparked questions about John Fletcher. The older women were shocked to hear that such a nice boy was a suspect in a possible murder.
One of the oldest women asked when my uncle planned to return. Without being too specific, I intimated that he might be away for quite some time for reasons of business and health. In fact, I planned to eventually announce that Uncle Edward had died suddenly in Europe. But of course, he would die only after leaving all his property to his sole nephew. I was musing on this plan when I saw Vanessa riding in a pink and yellow stroller. She was being pushed down the path directly toward me. The path ran near the sandbox.
Johnny and another little boy who looked somewhat younger than him were rolling about in the sand, giggling uproariously, oblivious of impending disaster. There was no hint of John about my son until he sat up in the box and saw Vanessa. Then the toddler he’d been an instant before vanished. Despite his infantile features I could clearly see the look of maturity on his face as he gazed at his former girlfriend. As John scrambled to his feet and clambered out of the sandbox and waddled rapidly toward Vanessa, I felt the elusive butterfly of love slipping through my fingers to leave me lonelier than ever.
Vanessa’s caretaker, for such she must be, since the clothes the woman wore resembled a uniform, stopped pushing the stroller at John’s approach. I sat frozen with horror again as he reached the stroller and John’s and Vanessa’s eyes met. For an instant a look passed between them of complete maturity and understanding. They both knew who they were and what had happened to them.
Then their infantile nature conquered them. I saw John clutch his stomach, then even more quickly his little bottom. His lips parted in a groan whether of relief or of pain I could not tell which. I guessed that he was filling his diaper at that instant. I rose quickly to my feet and took an uncertain step toward him and Vanessa struck. She raised the pink rattle she’d been holding and brought it down on Johnny’s head with a resounding crack. Johnny sat down abruptly with an audible bump. Instantly I forgot my own feelings and ran for him. He opened his mouth and began to howl. Vanessa looked on with an infant’s naughty satisfaction at what she’d done.
I snatched Johnny up and tried to comfort him while the woman said angrily, ’I told em’ she ought not to come out with the rest of the kids but they don’t listen to me!’ Her words reminded me that the county orphanage was located somewhere in the city. ’She’s been a little devil ever since the cops brought her in!’ the woman added, I suppose as a kind of apology. And so Vanessa’s presence in our neighborhood was explained. But why had they chosen this particular playground? I would never know and in truth it didn’t matter. Ironically I felt grateful to Vanessa. Her temper tantrum had placed the seal on my relationship with my son. She had unwittingly, no doubt, broken Johnny’s last link with his old life.
I carried him to the restroom and changed his diaper. He gurgled with pleasure as I oiled and powdered him and made no objection as I firmly taped him into a disposable diaper. During this process I was reflecting on Vanessa. Why had she attacked John? The answer was easy, at least for me. Like me, Vanessa was determined to have her way. That was why she and I had crossed paths with such disastrous results for her. It was true of course that we would not have done so but for my interest in John. And so she blamed him for what had happened to her. It was not fair, but then neither is life.
As I carried Johnny to my van, he yawned sleepily and said, ’Da-da.’ I was content. My obsession had ended because the butterfly of love had at last come to rest in my heart.