Chapter Description: Reset.
"Ahh," Chris thought, once again bathed in the electric prickles. Revisiting his teens was all right as long as it was just that - a visit. Chris harbored no desire to relive that awkward phase, much less while toting around a middle-aged brain in that body.
"I can feel it working," he reported, eager to return to a man at least older than his daughter.
Yet as the clocked ticked forward, a disconcerting notion crept up inside and his stomach felt ill at the mere thought. Glancing at his wife, he saw an impish look of pleasure surfacing. And then it hit him. His vantage was descending.
"Um, honey," he stuttered, already worried by the changing timbre of the sounds emerging from his mouth. He coughed and tried again. "Honey."
"What is it, babe?"
"Are you sure you did this right? I feel strange."
Dana snickered, unable to hold it in.
"This isn’t funny at all," Chris spoke with redoubled seriousness.
"Your mom always told me you were really cute as a kid."
"Dana." Voice rocketing up an octave on the second syllable.
A few more seconds passed and the results of his wife’s next hilarious joke became more readily apparent to the naked eye. An overall average but relatively muscular specimen, at least in his upper body, Chris now operated a smooth, ropey pair of arms lost inside increasingly baggy sleeves. Remnants of his facial hair washed away, unveiling the reddening cheeks of a middle schooler. Somewhere around twelve his height dipped dramatically. Keeping his Dockers aloft soon became too much of a chore, and so they puddled at his ankles along with his favorite pair of boxer briefs. And Dana absorbed every entertaining moment. If witnessing her rejuvenated daughter was an interesting exercise, watching her husband trickle down into a young boy had to be a thousand times more engrossing.
"Why are you doing this?" he finally spoke up, trying hard to disregard the still-rising pitch. Adrenaline coursing up his shrinking (but admittedly pain-free) spine.
The widening smile washing over his wife’s face did not bode well.
"It’s just so cool," Dana said, still observing him with owl-like attention.
Mercifully the process ground to a halt and she anxiously approached her diminished husband, who now came to all of 4’2". His hair had lightened considerably, going from a Mitt Romney-esque color scheme at his old age to a dusty brown. Mismatched teeth crowded along his upper gum, but the effect was far from unsightly. In fact, his mother was right - it was downright adorable.
"Oh wow," Dana said, bending down to get a closer view. "Oh my god, you’ve got little freckles right here and here." She touched the areas just under his eyes. "Honey, you are so freaking cute I can’t stand it."
Chris flopped his gigantic sleeves uselessly at his sides like flannel flippers.
"Say something else," she said. "I wanna get it on video here."
Dana whipped out her iPhone like a six-shooter, always at the ready.
"Is this really necc-"
"Your little voice, oh my god," she cooed. "It’s so different. You really are a little boy. Isn’t that crazy?"
"Okay, you’ve had your fun now," Chris said, pushing the smartphone away from his face. "Ha ha, you got to see your husband as a kid. This is all very fascinating. Could you please just change me back?"
"Aww," Dana purred. "I’m sorry, honey. I just couldn’t resist. I mean, the pictures were right there and when am I going to get another chance to meet my husband the third-grader."
Great, he thought. My goofiest looking year.
Chris let out a manly sigh, or as manly as his throat could produce. Dana always overdid things. From day one of their mariage, she played to win, and now she’d gotten her wildest hair yet. But the time to put his foot down was long past, so he started shuffling toward the computer.
"That’s about enough of kiddie time I think," he proclaimed, just as Dana knelt down to size him up one more time.
"Oh, and there is one more thing," she added nonchalantly. "You have an instant message from Katy Sullivan."
"I what?" His gut seized into a brick.
"Yeah, while I was fiddling with your Facebook there a few minutes ago she popped up," Dana told him, still messing with the collar that now displayed a good portion of his hair-free chest. "I thought you might want to take a picture and show her how handsome you look now."
"Babe, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I promise we haven’t spoken since 2010. Really," Chris found himself treading water. Panic set in almost instantly and he made another move for the computer desk but discovered no matter how hard his muscles worked he couldn’t reach it.
"Oh, and you can’t change anything on the computer," Dana casually explained. "I just posted a status saying that’s Mommy’s job now."
Mommy’s job. He didn’t like where this was headed.
"That’s right," she smiled, wetting her finger and taming an errant hair on the top of his head and snapping a quick picture. "There you go. Lookin’ sauve, my man. I bet if you ask Katy on a date now she’ll say yes in a hearbeat. Of course, it might be to McDonald’s and a Pixar movie."
"Dana, you’ve got to be joking. This is all a really bad joke, right? I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but it’s gotta stop. This is serious."
Dana knew how serious it was. She had done her due diligence. From the moment the option had first occurred to her while staring at their regressed daughter tucked in her bed that morning to the second that home-wrecking whore reappeared in the lower right corner of Chris’ Facebook page, she had weighed the pros and cons. Unemployed for three years with no prospects, her husband had ceased to honor his end of the deal, while she took any lowly temp job offer that presented itself. The family was on the verge of falling apart and now she had the power to reshuffle the deck. Katy didn’t know it, but her message could not have come at a worse time for her erstwhile lover. It was the last straw.
Chris’ pulse quickened again when he ventured another question of the woman who now towered over him.
"Are... are you going to keep me like this?"
"Oh no, silly," she replied, grabbing a clothes hamper from the bedroom and sitting it down. "It took a dozen reminders just to get you to empty the trash before. The last thing I need is to pick up after a lazy eight-year-old."
Relieved, Chris finally took a long breath.
"Now lift up your arms."
"Your arms. Raise ’em up," she said, pulling his last remaining shred of dignity up over his head, but not without a minor struggle. Not surprisingly, his hands clamped over his privates the moment they could reach.
"Hey! I thought you said you weren’t-"
"Right, well you’re not going to need big boy clothes when I turn you into a baby."
Chris swallowed hard, but his throat still came up drier than a desert.
"Dana, this is nuts. Just turn me back into an adult and we can work this out."
Situating herself back in the desk chair, Dana went back to work perusing photos. So many to choose from, she thought. Chris’ family were expert documentarians, it turned out, so she had her pick of virtually any day of his childhood. Still, the obvious choice stood out almost immediately.
"Chris, I waited three years for you to do something other than sit in the basement and play Call of Duty, but you never lifted a finger. You knew I wanted a big family and yet you decided that just wasn’t a priority anymore. Well, I’m gonna fix that. While you hurt me with the affair, I don’t think it would be fair to keep your memories intact. And honestly, when I raise you and your big sister I wouldn’t want that hanging over our heads either. So I’m going to make it easy for you to accept your new role."
Shivering, Chris made one last appeal: He didn’t mean to hurt Dana. The job would come eventually. Katy meant nothing. The usual string of hollow promises, straight out of the deadbeat husband playbook. By the end, he wound up bargaining for whatever years she might grant him. An hour ago, he would have never believed he’d be begging to be eight years old.
But Dana’s blood was boiling and her sympathies waning.
"You look so sweet in all these, honey. This one was always my favorite baby picture of you."
And now to see if Facebook can help me fetch me a new husband...
Later that morning Mackenzi, now draped in a giant Seahawks jersey, wandered back into living room a bit sleepy-eyed from having dozed off again. Coming around the corner, she ran into her mother cradling a babbling infant in her arms. Dana looked down and grinned.
"Who is that?" the yawning first-grader inquired with genuine curiosity.
"Meet your new baby brother," Dana said, getting down on her knees to show off little Christopher.
"But when did... I don’t understand," Mackenzi labored to square the sudden appearance of a new family member with the little she knew about where babies come from.
"The stork brought him," Dana explained.
"Yep, he brought him just for us, so we can have a family," she said, placing Christopher gently on the carpet.
"He needs a diaper!" Mackenzi observed, already helplessly giggling at the sight of the birthday suited six-month-old.
"I know. I’m going to go make one, okay? Can you watch him for me?"
"Yeah!" Mackenzi agreed excitedly. "Can we all watch The Little Mermaid now?"
"Maybe later, sweetie. Mommy’s going to be a tad busy with Christopher," Dana said, wiping her hands on the way to bathroom. Surely, they had some old cloth diapers tucked away somewhere, or maybe a makeshift version would suffice.
Frustrated, Mackenzi played peek-a-boo with the baby for three whole minutes before her concentration drifted. She liked babies and everything, but only when they got a little older. Christopher could barely sit up without slumping back onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. What else to do, what else to do, she wondered, eying the computer.
Climbing up into the chair, she discovered a screen full of mostly unfamiliar words. She hadn’t played on many computers, but she understood the basics they taught her in first grade. On the bright side, there was a nice picture of Mommy. She clicked on it.
Minutes later, Dana emerged from the hallway carrying a slapped together diaper barely worthy of the name, a prickly feeling slowly seeping down her forearm. That’s weird...she thought, before catching sight of Mackenzi spinning around in the swivel chair.
"Mommy, I put a new picture on your computer," she announced proudly. "And I typed words for you too!"
"No, honey, don’t do that!" Dana yelled, dropping the diaper and sprinting toward her daughter.
"At school they say you to press enter when you’re done," Mackenzi continued, ignoring her mother’s warnings. "Watch this!"
Moments before Dana could wrest her daughter’s tiny hands away from the wireless keyboard, her mind went fuzzy and the flow of time seemed to decelerate, making the world a cloudy slow-motion swimming pool of sights and sounds. Decades worth of stories, facts, acquaintances, songs, and memories sifted down like pieces of sand onto a beach, lost in a vast expanse.
"Mommy, you’re getting younger!" she blurted out, as if Dana could do anything to stop it once the changes had commenced.
Mackenzi watched, dumbstruck, as her mother’s physical history unspooled backward, taking her body farther and farther back in time. Her pretty teenage face looking pristine, then briefly covered in acne, then not again. An early bloomer, Dana’s breasts were the last vestiges of puberty to go. Gradually, they sank further into her chest until every hint of adolescence had dwindled away. Her sharp but attractive features - most notably her nose and chin - shrank into small, soft imitations. A collection of baby teeth repopulated her mouth, with the exception of two prominent holes right in front.
As the effect wore down, Dana awoke, her robe curled around her neck and spread out on the floor like an oversized cape. Craning her head to briefly exploring her inflated surroundings, her expression soon turned from a bewildered stare to one of frightened agitation. Tears welled up and she started to cry.
"Mommy?" she asked sheepishly. "Are you okay?"
Finally catching a glimpse of her daughter approaching, Dana’s wails calmed to sniffles.
"Do you remember me? My name is Mackenzi."
"My... my name is Dana," the precious little girl responded, now bearing a marked resemblance to her daughter. Even the photogenic dimples made an appearance.
Then it clicked. Mommy is the girl in the picture I put on her computer, she realized. Something about it must be magic.
"I think I used the computer to make you little," Mackenzi explained professorially to the oblivious kindergartner. "But it’s okay. It stopped now and everything is all right."
Dana’s expression lightened.
"I didn’t mean to," her daughter said earnestly. "But maybe it can change you back if you wanna be a grown-up again."
"Yeah," Mackenzi answered, honestly making an effort to comfort her miniature mother. "Or if you want, you can stay little for a while and we can all play."
Dana quickly responded to the second option, now all gap-toothed smiles and energy. "I know what we can do. C’mere."
With that, Mackenzi collected baby Christopher, who had barely advanced a few feet on the floor during their conversation. Dana jumped up and tugged on her daughter’s jersey, leading them down the hallway into the den with the TV like she was on a mission.
Meanwhile on Dana’s lonely Facebook page, the news ticker had halted, no longer updating. A poorly spelled status update, possibly her last for a very long time, sat frozen at the top of the screen:
"I want to watch the mermade movee."