Eric led Jake up the stairs to the house’s attic, where his mother, a notorious packrat, had stored virtually everything from her sons’ childhoods. The room was dusty and unfinished and obviously hadn’t been cleaned in several years. Boxes were cluttered in every corner of the space, in some parts piled up to the ceiling. Lit by a single open window in the front of the room, Eric had a hard time finding exactly what he was looking for.
“Ah, there it is!” Eric exclaimed after a bit of searching, his eyes locking on a particularly dusty carton sitting half-open in the corner of the room labeled “BOYS’ OLD CLOTHING” in thick black marker. Eric released Jake’s hand and walked over to the box, leaving the child momentarily out of his brother’s control. As Eric began to rifle through the box, Jake’s mind raced. He had to get the hell out of here, he thought to himself. Run...somewhere. Find some help.
Jake turned and was set to make a break for it when Eric piped up from behind him.
“Where are you gonna go, huh?” Eric questioned Jake, not taking his attention away from the box of clothing he was inspecting. “If you go to a neighbor’s, I’ll tell them you’re a cousin of mine with an overactive imagination and a tendency to streak. The police? They’ll dump you in foster care so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
Jake froze. Deep in his heart, he knew Eric was right. Even if he could escape, no one would believe his crazy story about how his little brother had turned him into a Kindergartner. If he was going to get out of this situation, he would have to do it himself. Dejected, he turned back around and hung his head, standing there defeated and submissive as Eric grinned to himself on the other side of the attic.
“Here we go.” Eric finally said in a tone that made Jake shudder in anxious anticipation. Eric turned and proudly held up a miniature pair of bright red Spiderman underpants, the kind Jake loved wearing back when he was six the first time. Eric smiled as Jake, his mouth agape in shock, took in the absurdly immature item of clothing.
“No. Way.” Jake finally stated, hoping beyond hope that Eric would realize how ridiculous this latest request of his was.
Eric shrugged. “It’s either that or walk around naked. Up to you.”
Jake stared daggers in the direction of his brother, which only caused Eric’s smile to grow even wider. After a second’s consideration, Jake begrudgingly held a hand out, leaving the other clamped tightly over his groin. Eric tossed him the pair of underpants, which Jake examined with the utmost disgust for a moment, incredulous that he ever found them to be cool. Jake shot Eric a sharp glance before turning away from him and quickly shimmying the skivvies up his legs, happy to at least have his childish private parts finally out of plain sight. With no small amount of dread, Jake found that the underwear fit him perfectly; a final confirmation of how small and pathetic he’d become.
As this sobering realization set in, Eric was chuckling on the other side of the room, amused at seeing the webslinger’s heroic visage splayed across Jake’s rump. Eric returned his attention to the box of clothing, looking for some other equally embarrassing articles for Jake to wear, when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. A few feet away stood a wide-open box without any dust or wear on it, seemingly placed in the attic just recently. Eric stepped over to it and looked inside, his eyes lighting up when he took in the carton’s contents.
“How perfect is this?” Eric snickered. Snapped out of his self-loathing, Jake turned towards Eric to see him rifling through another box, presumingly filled with more instruments designed to make his life a living hell. His fears were confirmed in dramatic fashion when Eric held up a small, bright blue polyester jumpsuit with one hand and a plastic mask with the other.
It was a child’s Power Rangers costume.
Jake went pale as Eric turned the pieces over in his hands, examining them in admiration the way one would an antique or rare mineral.
“Mom and dad must have brought these kids’ costumes home from the store to give to Goodwill or something.” Eric cheerfully surmised.
“I am [I]not[/I] wearing that.” Jake declared, fully aware of how ridiculous his defiant stand sounded in his squeaky little voice.
“Hm...yeah, you’re right.” Eric agreed, tossing the costume back in the box. Surprised but relieved, Jake uttered a few silent thank yous, grateful that Eric had finally found where the line was.
“This suits you a LOT better!” Eric proclaimed. Alarmed, Jake looked up, and his heart immediately plunged deep into his stomach. Eric had found a three-piece Spiderman costume - a mask, a long-sleeved top, and a footy bottom with an elastic waistband. The whole outfit looked like a pair of masquerade pajamas.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jake cried. Eric’s eyes narrowed, and Jake was instantly reminded of his still-stinging bottom. He winced and decided to go about this a different way.
“I mean...” Jake started, carefully measuring his words. “Can’t you find one that’s a little less embarrassing?”
Eric smiled. “Hey, I have your best interests in mind here, Jakey. When all my friends arrive, do you really want them to see your face? Or would you rather they see some anonymous little kid in a Spiderman costume?”
Jake paused. In all the excitement, he had forgotten about Eric’s party. Visions flashed through his mind of a horde of middle schoolers descending on him, remarking how cute he was, speaking to him in condescending tones, treating him like the little kid he now resembled. And he knew that if he refused to wear the costume, Eric would force him to play along. At least if he was wearing a mask, he could pretend he was shy, which was appropriate since he didn’t have any desire to be talkative or outgoing looking like this.
“Gimme the stupid thing.” Jake muttered.
“That’s more like it!” Eric happily replied, walking over to Jake and handing him the costume. Jake snatched the clothing out of Eric’s hands, unable to even look at it. He quickly dressed himself with the ridiculous pieces, a blank expression on his face that belied the shame and anger boiling within him. Jake kept the mask off for the time being, figuring he didn’t need to put it on until the prying eyes belonging to Eric’s guests were upon him.
“Perfect.” Eric mused, marveling at how darling Jake looked in his little costume. Jake avoided Eric’s gaze, not wanting to see him as his brother reveled in his humiliation.
“If anybody asks, you’re my little cousin...” Eric pondered a name to give his now-little brother. “Billy. Got it?”
“Got it.” Jake sullenly echoed.
“Great!” With that, Eric took Jake’s hand and led him out of the attic. “Cheer up a little, will ya? It’s Halloween. Have some fun.”
Demoralized, Jake couldn’t even muster up the energy to curse out his brother under his breath. He just allowed Eric to drag him downstairs, completely obedient to his will. As he was led downstairs, he began to wonder about what his life would be like if he couldn’t find a way to return to normal - if he was stuck as a kid and had to grow back up the hard way. What would happen when his parents got home, he thought to himself? Would they take him to a doctor or a scientist to try and find a cure? The thought of being passed around from quack to quack, poked and prodded and treated like a freak of nature did not make him feel any better. The alternative almost seemed preferable; that his parents, after initially freaking out, would eventually accept that he was six years old again and re-raise him as though nothing were amiss.
And with that, Jake began to long for all the teenage rights and pleasures he had taken advantage of before his transformation, realizing that it may be a long time before he experienced them again. Instead of going off to college next year, he’d be enrolling in first grade. Instead of dating girls, he’d be hanging out with boys who thought they were cootie-infested and gross. Instead of driving his car wherever he wanted, he’d be relegated to putting around on a bike with training wheels, forbidden from leaving the street he lived on.
The severity of his situation hit him like a bat to the back of his head. He was so lost in analyzing his hopeless position that he didn’t even realize Eric had led him into the house’s kitchen. Releasing Jake’s hand, Eric opened the pantry and began to search through it for party-suitable snacks.
“Let’s see, where are those Doritos I bought...” Eric wondered out loud. “Jakey, would you like to be your brother’s little helper? The party’s starting in a little over an hour and I’ve got to get the snacks set up.”
That was it. The realization that he would be spending the rest of his life as Eric’s little brother sent him over the edge. His desire to not act like a child despite his appearance was overwhelmed by the despair welling up within his body, a cold numbness that started in his gut and spread to every extremity, paralyzing him with heartbreaking anguish. Jake hung his head and began to cry once more, starting with quiet sniffles and a few fat tears before quickly developing into full-blown blubbering, complete with high-pitched wailing and a seemingly endless stream of hot droplets streaking down his enflamed cheeks. Eric sighed and turned around to see his brother well into a complete breakdown.
“God Jake, you are such a baby!” Eric stated, annoyed. As soon as his words escaped his lips, he froze, remembering that Jake had spat the same taunt at him not a few hours ago. Feeling lower than he had in quite some time, Eric realized that it hadn’t even taken him an hour to become as much a jerk as Jake was when he was the big brother. A tiny bit of sympathy finally managed to worm its way into his conscience as he looked down at his utterly despondent brother.
“C’mon Jake, it’s not that bad.” Eric half-heartedly tried to comfort Jake, who couldn’t even hear the words over his own weeping. Jake was making Eric feel like a complete jackass, and, for a second, Eric was able to forget about all the years Jake had spent torturing him. Eric had never consoled a little kid before, so he wasn’t quite sure what to do. Moving slowly and hesitantly, Eric lowered to one knee in front of Jake and outstretched his arms. Jake looked up at Eric, and, to his own surprise, gave into the overwhelming need to be comforted and threw his arms around Eric’s neck. Jake hugged his brother tightly, burying his face into Eric’s shoulder and quickly staining his shirt with tears. A little taken aback, Eric delicately wrapped his arms around Jake’s back before pulling him close, graciously waiting as Jake took out all his frustration and sadness at once.
For the first time, Eric understood just how scared Jake was, how terrified he must have been when this impossible transformation changed his life forever. For a moment, Eric considered telling Jake that the change was only temporary, that, by tomorrow morning, he’d be back to normal. And if Jake had cried for even another minute, he might just have been overwhelmed with guilt and let that fact spill. Before that could happen, Jake finally managed to collect himself, his uncontrollable sobbing giving way to little grief-stricken hiccups before disappearing altogether. He lifted his head off of Eric’s shoulder but held the hug for a few seconds longer, confused but appreciative that Eric was able to show some compassion towards him. After a few seconds, Jake pulled away and planted his eyes squarely on the ground, ashamed of himself for surrendering to his childish urges. Suddenly, Eric grabbed him by the shoulders, causing Jake to seize up in fear of what Eric might to do to him. But when he looked up, Jake saw that Eric truly sympathetic, his eyes sincere and maybe even a little sad.
“I’m really sorry, Jake.” Eric softly apologized. “I just wanted you to see what it was like to be the younger brother. It was just so frustrating being under your thumb for long, to always be in your shadow, to not have a life of my own. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been Eric - I’ve been Jake’s little brother.”
Jake looked into Eric’s eyes and realized that he had never really thought about his feelings. Whenever he rudely snubbed Eric’s attempt at building a bond with him through videogames or sports, whenever he stole mom and dad’s attention more to irritate Eric than to have it for himself, whenever he treated Eric like an annoyance instead of a sibling, he knew he was being a jerk. He just didn’t care. Jake never spent more than a second thinking about Eric’s state of mind or how his actions were affecting his sibling. The thought of Eric suffering for years as his younger brother made Jake almost feel as though he deserved this.
“So.” Eric continued, taking a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure I’ve made you suffer enough. From now on, I’m going to be the best big brother I possibly can. We’ll make the most of this together. How’s that sound, champ?”
Jake flinched at the annoying pet name but actually felt that what Eric was proposing wasn’t that bad. He began to think about the positives of his situation. School would be a breeze, even if he had to attend it with a bunch of dumb little kids. He wouldn’t have a shred of responsibility for the foreseeable future. And now that he had an extra twelve years to work with, he could put his experienced mind to becoming whatever he wanted. Plus, if he was going to be stuck like this, it was nice to think that at least it would be with an awesome big brother. With just a hint of a smile, Jake nodded and wiped away the remaining tears in his eyes.
“Okay?” Eric asked with a relieved smile.
“Okay.” Jake confirmed.
Eric beamed. “How ?bout helping me set up the party, Jake?”
Jake grinned a gap toothed-grin and nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah!”