"Holy shit," he gasped, sitting straight up.
Eyes wide open, he scanned the room, quickly checking for any exits. There had to be an escape from this nightmare. He'd woken up to his plight, but it wouldn't do him any good if he was still stuck. No, it was time to mobilize; freedom had to be fought for.
"We need to get out of here," he whispered to Trish and Thomas. His eyes were wide, and the urgency was evident in his voice.
"Don't you think I've tried getting out of here dumbass," Trish said, putting down her book and rolling her eyes. "That locked door is the only way in and out, and besides they're watching us right now."
"We can't just sit here!" Jacob exclaimed, trying his best to convey the anguish eating away at his insides. "We can't, not after what they did to me."
"Yeah, you were pretty messed up," Trish laughed, casually taunting and disparaging the 22-year-old. "Those spankings got into your head, huh?"
Jacob blushed and covered his face with his hands. He remembered all of the embarrassing stuff that he'd done while under the influence of Restalsis. The memory of looking up at Angelique as she fed him a bottle and rocked him sprang into his mind, and if he could have blushed any harder, he would have.
"Oh my god," he groaned, absolutely mortified.
"It's not your fault," Thomas empathized. "I have moments where I regress a little. From what we've been able to eavesdrop, we know it's a gradual and unavoidable experience."
Silence filled the room as Jacob processed the overwhelming humiliation that had been imposed on him by his time in Simon and Angelique's care. He had started to forget everything, the circumstances of his regression, his adult life and the ability to complete basic tasks, even how to read. He had become more reliant on his caregivers, giving up his autonomy for the unreserved nurture and warmth provided to him. Sure, he might have been happier, but it was all fraudulent, superficial, artificial and deranged. He wanted no part in it.
Dr. Kelly's meddling had given him a second chance to fight back, a do-over he desperately needed. The rational side of his brain was working again, and it compelled him to devise a grand scheme, a surefire escape plan, but given his current situation, he knew just how hard-pressed he'd have to be to create an opportunity to flee. They'd locked down the childcare center so well that the likelihood of liberation remained far-fetched, the possibility of a breakout inauspicious.
Looking down at his lap, defeat heavy in his heart, Jacob stared at the plush toy that he'd become attached to while he was regressed. The revulsion that he presently felt looking at the toy was overwhelming, and just when he was seconds away from launching the toy towards the wall in front of him where it would remain out of his sight, an idea popped into his head.
He had once played a Batman video game, and one of the ways that he was able to escape a room where the character had been held prisoner was by opening a vent and maneuvering his way through the crawlspace. All three of them were the perfect size to comfortably and quickly travel through even the smallest crawlspace. It was a flawless escape plan, he just needed help finding the vent and opening it before the attendants could intervene.
"I got it!" Jacob shouted, startling Trish who had gone back to reading. "We need to find a vent on one of these walls. It could probably be pried open with any one of the toys in this room."
"We are small enough to crawl through a vent," Thomas agreed. "That's genius."
"It won't work," Trish commented. "But I'll help you look. It's not like we have much else to do."
"I'll help too," Thomas volunteered.
It was probably a hopeless venture, but the desperation that was building up behind Jacob's chest urged him ahead. He needed to make a stand against the institution that reduced his status to that of a talking toddler. Their deeds demanded retribution, and he intended to instigate commotion however he could. It was not going to be business as usual now that his consciousness was back.
"Let's do this shit," Trish enthused, jumping to her feet.
As Jacob moved to stand, he heard the awfully distressing crinkle of a diaper rubbing against his thighs, and it unnerved him, heightening his awareness of the oppressive circumstance to which he'd woken up to. Forever, his diaper proved to be a continual reminder of the unavoidable effects that Restalsis produced. Rarely, did he ever even know when he needed to go. For the last two weeks, it was just something that happened. Soiling himself and waiting to be changed was his new normal, and that was an all too sobering reality. His regressed, toddler-sized bladder, courtesy of Dr. Kelly, had wounded his pride almost irreparably. But his deeply damaged ego didn't deter him from waging war with the evil doctor and his kidnappers. If anything, it inspired him to fight harder and smarter; everything was at stake.
Trish, Thomas and Jacob started on separate walls, peering behind the bookshelves, toy bins and cubbies. They wedged their tiny bodies into the small spaces between where decorations met wall and prayed for a vent. It wasn't an easy task. The observation room was carefully designed to be childproof, meaning that nearly everything was secured to the spot it occupied on the floor or beside the walls. Fortunately, they had three adult minds working together. It wasn't easy, but it would be possible.
Jacob was halfway through checking his wall, looking behind the cubbies that had been stacked with a variety of toys, from teddy bears to bins of Lego pieces. He ripped some stuffed animals from a shelf and tossed them onto the floor to make space for his head. He pushed his head through and looked through the back of the cubby, but only blank wall was hidden behind the large piece of furniture.
As he maneuvered his way out of the cubby, he caught sight of his all-time favorite toy, the bead maze, sitting on one of the lower shelves. The sight of the toy alone was enough to shift Jacob's consciousness, and his awareness slipped, plunging the him into his regressed state. Time slowed as he sunk to the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of the enchanting plaything.
"I found one!" Thomas yelled, pushing a toy bin away from the wall and revealing a large vent.
"Oh, man, that's perfect," Trish cheered. "We can use this action figure to pry it open, but we've got to hurry."
"Jacob, you coming?" Thomas shouted.
When Thomas got no response, they both ran over to Jacob, perplexed by his behavior. It was his plan after all. They expected much more enthusiasm and leadership than he delivered, but anything was better than the nothingness he offered.
"Jacob, did you hear what the fuck he said?" Trish demanded. "We're about the get the hell out of here."
No matter how hard Trish or Thomas tried, their words didn't reach Jacob. He kept staring at the bead maze in front of him. An inner voice from the rational part of his brain screamed at him, demanding that he aid Trish and Thomas in prying open the vent; time was especially limited. But the bead maze intrigued him beyond the urgency presented by his rational mind. The one red bead stranded all alone at the top of a curve needed to be reunited with its cluster. Until that had been resolved, everything else could be deferred to another moment in time.
"Leave him, Thomas," Trish ordered. "We have to go!"
"I'm sorry, man," Thomas whispered and turned to help Trish with the vent.
Just as Trish and Thomas ripped the vent from the wall, nurses and security guards barged in through the door. Trish and Thomas were able to crawl into the vent, and the nurses weren't able to follow as the opening was only large enough for a child's body. The room had abruptly become noisier than it had been mere moments ago. Beeping radios, barked orders and the cries of startled children meshed together to create a chaotic scene, but the whole time Jacob remained oblivious to the commotion around him; his attention possessed by the strikingly satisfying motion of the beads as they traveled the poles, weaving and rotating along the way.
He had no idea how long he played with the toy, his concept of time muddled, but at some point, the nurse who brought him to the childcare center stood next to him, holding his Batman toy in her left hand.
"Jacob, your parents are ready to pick you up," she informed him, offering him the plush toy. "Are you ready to go home?"
"Yes," he squeaked, nodding his head and standing up.
During the long walk over to the lobby where Simon and Angelique were waiting for them, Jacob innocently played with Batman, holding it high and weaving the toy through the air and across the walls. He even added sound effects; a boom, many whooshes and even some vrooms echoed along the hallways. His mind was at ease; the carefree, youthful daze clouded any and all practical thinking.
When they walked through the large double doors and into the lobby, Jacob twisted his hand out of the nurses' grip and sprinted into Simon's outstretched arms.
"I missed you, buddy," Simon hugged him, enveloping the toddler in his warm embrace. Angelique joined in, and the trio simply stood there for a short moment, finally reunited.
"Did everything go well?" Angelique asked the nurse.
"Yes," the nurse answered. "We were able to complete all the testing, and Dr. Kelly is looking over the results. We'll be in contact if we need to update you all on anything."
"Thank you so much," Simon said. "I hope Jacob behaved himself while he was in your care."
"Yes, he did," the nurse verified. "He cooperated the whole time."
"I'm so proud of you," Simon applauded, tickling Jacob and earning cheerful giggles from the boy.
"Thank you again," Angelique said as they left the lobby and walked to the parking lot, ready to begin the trip back home.
The regressed boy gladly joined his caregivers as they left St. Ives. While he was no longer fully aware of all that transpired, he knew he didn't want any more shots from the scary doctor. Simon and Angelique gave him all the warmth and affection he craved. He needed stability, routine and opportunities to be playful, creative and fun. His caregivers provided him with all that and more. Relying on them for safety and security was easy, and his quality of life was better for it.
While Jacob was being buckled in his car seat, his stomach grumbled. "Can I have a snack?" he asked.
"Sure thing," Angelique replied, fetching a juice box and a small bowl of dry cereal.
"Thanks," he said, pulling the straw into his mouth.
They hadn't been on the road for more than fifteen minutes before Jacob fell fast asleep with crumbs stuck to his face, Batman squeezed next to him and the juice box tightly gripped in his tiny hand.