Chapter Description: Relieved of terrible nightmares, Clark spends quality time with his family, and is reminded that some things are almost as bad as his imagination.
Stomach cramps, again. It wasn’t quite noon, and I was still making trips to the toilet. I really must’ve done a number on myself that last night. Several extra rounds to the bathroom were still preferable to what I’d dreamt about.
I didn’t go back to sleep afterwards; just cuddled with Cassie (among other things) until hunger and stiff joints coaxed us out of bed. I was sprawled out on the couch, picking at the second round of bacon dipped in syrup. I wasn’t hung over, but damn did crispy bacon with syrup, and toast and sunny side eggs hit the spot. I hadn’t had a single bland breakfast shake all week.
“Gonna have to start working out in the living room again,” Cassie said between plates one and two.
“Worth it.” And it was. Good food. Good family. Good furniture. I was still loving that if I stretched all the way out, I’d have taken up the whole couch.
As great as it was to live in an Amazon sized home- feeling like I’d gotten away with something or taken something from them- there was something that was centering about lounging around in an environment crafted to your size. This was the unspoken second part of the Gwiffin Party: The lazy morning after.
The third round of bacon was in the oven, and the eggs were sizzling thanks to Irene. Hangover food. We’d missed the pancakes and waffles, and skillet master Bert Braun was adamant that he wasn’t making another round today. “Should’ve been up and about when they were ready.”
Nobody complained, even if everyone groaned a bit as they moved. The aching pains after a massive rager were like interest on a credit card payment. Knowing the good time upfront and the rough time on the back end hadn’t stopped any of us from partying down, and the discomfort we were all feeling.
Most of us were feeling it at least. Michelle, still on the verge of popping, and Ollie had come over, too. My sister in law had been gracious enough to offer to help with the kitchen and the cleanup, but we all waved her off. She’d taken Bert’s custom recliner and rested while Ollie played on the floor with some toys that were in no way educational.
I didn’t care. I was off duty. I scratched my stubbled cheek. After almost a week it was reaching that point where it wasn’t a proper beard, but was more than just a rough patch. I looked damn scraggly. I’d have to shave that day and the next, just so that I didn't have a hack job when Tracy came to pick us up.
Another cramp gurgled in me and I shuddered, but it wasn’t the cramp that made me do so. I felt bad that I thought Tracy had betrayed me, even if it was just a dream. It had been Raine who had told me in the dream, too; and I couldn’t trust a damn thing she said in real life. It was a dream, though. Just a dream. Things didn’t have to make sense in a dream.
Tracy would never betray me like that. Certainly not because some bully like Brollish ever threatened her. Like she’d told me, Tracy already had an out if Amazons ever turned up the heat on her. It was a good plan, too. One of the fringe benefits, I suppose, of marrying an Amazon. Assuming Tracy’s husband never turned on her.
That’d be pretty typical.
“You okay?” Cassie asked.
I got out of my own head. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just feeling the aftershocks.”
Cassie sat on the couch with me, my feet in her lap while she played with her phone. Wistfully I weighed whether the lingering discomfort was worth standing up again and making another trip to the toilet, or whether I could ignore it and just space out while Michelle’s shows droned on.
“Go poop.” Cassie didn’t even look up from her phone. Damn, she knew me well.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, Mommy.”
I got a smack on my shins for that. “Don’t even joke about that.” Her tone was flat, but I could tell I was just about over the line.
Ollie chose just that moment to toddle over to the couch and lovingly plop his entire head right on my belly. “Oooof!” I gasped. “Easy there, Ollie. Uncle Clark doesn’t feel so good.” I gently moved the toddler away from me so I could sit up and hold my stomach.
I wasn’t going in my pants but my breadbasket was still super tender. “Thought you didn’t get hangovers, Clark,” my wife teased.
“I’m also running on maybe four hours of sleep,” I countered. “And it’s not a hangover. I just...uh…”
I stood up. “Alright. Alright.”
“Round three oughta be up by the time you’re out,” Irene called over.
A flush and a hand washing later, sweet delicious bacon was crunching between my teeth. I was sitting upright, hunched over my plate like a dog guarding its bone. So good. In between bites I looked to the T.V.
Somebody had changed the channel. Ollie was watching cartoons. He sat there splay legged and laughing his butt off while a sea cucumber in a tie delivered pizza to a talking manta ray.
“What’s this?” I asked, doing my best to hold off the edge in my voice.
“It’s on Pennycade,” Michelle said.
I stopped eating. “Not Littles Network?” Admittedly, it was kind of insulting for me to second guess, but worry makes you say stupid things.
“Pffft,” Michelle waved off my concern. “You think I’d let anybody I cared about watch Littles Network?”
“Littles Network is blocked in this home. Can’t even pull it up accidentally.”
As an informed Little, I was aware that most cartoons were safe for viewing. Contrary to popular belief, Amazons are no more immune to mind fuckery, hypnosis, conditioning and subliminal messaging, than anyone else. It would be social and financial suicide for a major broadcasting company to lace their stuff with mindfucking shows, (not to mention illegal).
Littles Network though...
“Don’t worry,” Michelle said. “It’s safe.” Ollie laughed as SeaBenedict Cucumberbatch ran headfirst into a wall for the third time.
Bert still was wolfing down sunny side up eggs on toast; at least his third helping today. “Boy’d be going a lot quieter and wide eyed if there was something hinky goin’ on behind the screen.”
I just shook my head. It was no Muffets; still better than Contest of Crowns. That thing had meandered along and died a slow death as soon as the showrunners had run out of novels to adapt from. Oh, the things I watched just to keep up with campus small talk.
The dumb cartoon went to commercial break. “We’ll be back with more with more Seabenedict Cucumberbatch on Pennycade!”
The first commercial came on and I could feel Cassie’s hackles rising up beside me: A baby wearing nothing but a diaper and a mock football helmet toddled onto a mock football field. “It was the day of the big game at Monkeez stadium” the bodiless narrator said. The camera cut to a tight shot of babies in the stands, playing the parts of fans.
“But the star receiver couldn’t catch a pass,” the narrator continued. Tiny toy footballs bounced past the confused looking toddler. The camera panned down to a plain white diaper barely holding onto the kid’s hips. “And no wonder, there was an offensive leak in his diaper!”
A poor sound effect of a whistle blowing and a quick cut to another child with a whistle around their neck and hat with the word ‘COACH’ stitched onto it. He grabbed a pack of diapers and waddle-toddled over to the ‘star receiver’. “Here comes the coach with a new game plan. Monkeez Lil’ Steps Diapers, now with a more absorbent center, and Monkeez leg elastics to help eliminate gaps in the defense!”
The screen flashed away to a diagram of the diaper, as a marching band played. As if stuff like “holds more pee” or “stays on tighter” was some kind of revolutionary new technology. (Or at all relevant to football.)
“Okay team, let’s FIGHT! THOSE! LEAKS!” Another quick cut to the ‘star’ catching a tiny foot ball and the kid toddle running past the camera. The kid had been changed between shots, and now was wearing a fresh, snug diaper with tiny cartoon monkees on the landing zone.
“And it’s a touchdown!” Of course, the baby could manage spiking the ball. “What a happy day for Monkeez fans!”
Michelle pointed to the television. “See? Perfectly safe and appropriate. An entire diaper commercial and not a single Little wearing one.”
“Not an adult Little, at least.” Cassie said. “Those could have all been Little children, but it’s hard to tell without scale.”
I looked to my wife. “Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked. “This way it could be marketed to any parent, but it’s also using real babies. Positive examples. Better than a bunch of us up there.”
My wife crossed her arms. “As if Amazons can tell the difference…”
“They can learn.”
“They don’t want to learn, Clark.” Cassie was on edge.
Bert threw in his own two cents. “Here-here,” he said. “Them learning would mean they gotta respect us. So they’re not gonna learn.” For the shortest time, I’d forgotten whose home I’d been sleeping in. Bert had just reminded me.
“It’s a step in the right direction.” I was grasping at straws, but Gibsons and Brauns were equally stubborn, it seemed.
Surprisingly, it was another Braun who came to my defense. Michelle put her finger on her nose. “Exactly! It’s a diaper commercial, but it’s just a diaper commercial. It’s a silly cartoon, but it’s just a silly cartoon. Also, I love those diapers,” she added. “Monkeez is one of the few disposables that isn’t complete crap.”
I tried to lighten the mood. “I thought crap came later…”
If you’ve never had a pregnant woman glare at you, I recommend you avoid it. “You know what I mean, Clark. Monkeez is the only major diaper company that sizes for all babies. The rest is store brand...and store brand is not great.”
I nodded and looked to Cassie. She was crossing her arms, but she grunted acknowledgement. Even Cassie couldn’t argue with basic common sense: Networks like Pennycade and diaper companies like Monkeez stood to make the most money by appealing to the broadest base possible, and that meant doing everything they could to NOT scare Littles away.
Still...something about that commercial irked me, too, the more I thought about it. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Michelle wrinkled her nose. “Speaking of diapers…” She looked to the baby on the floor. “Pregnancy turned up my sense of smell, but bending over’s a little tricky at this stage.” She looked to the room. “A bit of help?
“I’ve got him,” Irene said. She picked him off the middle of the floor. “Wooo! There it is! Come with Gam Gam, Ollie. We’re gonna get you cleaned up.”
Another commercial came on. The screen went dark and sad, sorrowful music came out of the television’s speaker. A woman’s quiet voice spoke in soothing, yet sad tones. “Every year, hundreds of Littles are adopted and are put into abusive households.” Black and white photos of Littles filled the screen. I felt my stomach roil at the sight. Pictures of black eyes and baby clothes. Diapered Littles in casts and hospital beds. “But don’t let us tell you about it. Let them.”
A Little woman in a white dress came on screen. “My Mommy would only change my diaper once every couple of days.” Behind her was a black and white photo. Her head shaved bald, she was naked on a hospital bed, a disgusting rash of bumps and discolored skin ran up her back and down her legs to the back of her knees.
“Mommy and Daddy went on vacation and left me by myself...in my crib...with no food.” The Little man was plumper than the emaciated picture behind him, and was dressed in a button up shirt and slacks, but the bulge of his diaper was still obvious.
Another Little girl, this one holding herself up with a medical walker. “Daddy spanked me so hard, it broke me.” The picture behind her was herself in a full body cast, her face contorting in pain. The pacifier that dangled from her collar was no-less unsettling.
Yet another Little man was on screen. His shortalls might have been dapper and clean, but they didn’t look grown up. “I don’t tawk...good...no more....too...m-m-m-much...cartoons.” The photo of him staring blankly into a static filled T.V. wearing only a used diaper; eyes wide and mouth drooling, made him look like a genius by comparison.
More black and white pictures, these ones of smiling Littles in nothing but T-shirts and diapers, or onesies, or baby bonnets...but the smile never matched the look of pain and terror in their eyes. “Other Littles can’t speak for themselves,” the lady narrator said. “They were left unsupervised around sharp objects and died due to neglect and poor supervision.”
No. No they didn’t. They took the only way out they knew from dollhood.
“Littles expressing Maturosis gain childlike qualities and mindsets and need to be cared for and loved,” the narrator continued. “But too often, the same protections given to Amazonian children don’t apply to Littles. No background checks are given to Amazons adopting Littles, and abusive or neglectful parents rarely face any legal repercussions. Isn’t it about time, we do something about that?”
The silence in the room was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I felt Cassie staring at me, even though I couldn’t look at her. Maturosis. That was Beouf’s catchall. And this commercial was talking about all the terrible things that happened to so-called adopted Littles...but it was talking about us like we were children. It was missing the point entirely. So typical. So terribly fucking typical.
“Thanks to your donations and support, Little Voices has been able to save many Littles from abusive parents, caregivers, and working environments. But there are so many more in need of help and understanding. Their Little voices are calling out for help. Isn’t it time we listened? Please consider donating today.”
A logo faded gently into view. A white silhouette of an adult holding a child’s hand and walking into the sunset. But based on the proportions, anyone could tell that the child wasn’t really a child. Underneath it were the words “Little Voices”, and a website.
The commercial faded back out. “And now we return to Seabenedict Cucumberbatch, on Pennycade!”
No one said anything. We all just stood there in silence as Cassie’s Mom came back in with the baby and set him back down. “I’ve never seen that commercial before….” Michelle seemed shocked; embarrassed even.
Bert looked over to Ollie, and back at Michelle, his glower saying more than words ever could. Cassie had already walked back up to her room. Michelle changed the channel and Ollie started crying. Irene did her best to distract him by picking him back up and bouncing him on her knee; playing horsie.
Michelle looked around nervously. “Maybe Pennycade isn’t so great…” I went back to the bathroom and vomited up my bacon.