I swear that they keep you waiting on purpose. Every time I go to the doctor – and my visits have been more frequent in recent years – I’m left sitting on that squishy bench for what feels like years, left alone with whatever ache or ailment dragged me in there. The rooms are the same no matter who I’m seeing, portals into the beige dimension that offer no stimulation save for peeling plastic posters slapped against wallpaper almost maddening in its blandness. Sore knees and persistent heartburn are nothing in the face of an all-encompassing boredom that becomes suffocating in a matter of minutes. By the time the doctor arrives, all I want to do is escape. So I downplay symptoms and illnesses. I nod along to whatever advice he or she drones out. I scurry away clutching a prescription that I know will merely buy me some time before I force myself back, before I’m again run through a demeaning cycle created by my impatience and cowardice.
What I’m experiencing now, though, is a special kind of hell. The examination room in which I sit is no blander than any that’ve come before; a little more sterile, perhaps, a little brighter in its monotony. No, the torture that I’m going through is particularly grinding because I can’t escape what’s brought me here. The specialist I’ve come to has promised to remedy the disappointments that make up my day-to-day life, the shortcomings and weaknesses that have come to define my middle age. It’s easy, when waiting for a doctor, to convince yourself that an ache will fade or that an illness will pass. It’s much more difficult to make the case that your life is going to be okay; and as I sit here, waiting – begging – for her to arrive, I have nothing to occupy me but thoughts of the myriad failures that have driven me here.
I nearly fall off the examination table when she enters. Though I try to laugh it off, Dr. Meyer does not seem amused. She merely closes the door behind her and stares down expressionlessly at the clipboard she scribbles upon. I clear my throat and straighten myself up as she stands before me, still not looking up. None of my doctors have a particularly tender bedside manner, but Dr. Meyer might as well be a mortician for all the effort she puts into being warm and comforting. Her attitude is all the more unsettling for the shame it adds to my attraction towards her, my fascination with her dark curls and amber eyes and the subtle spice of a perfume that I can only smell when she’s standing over me like this. Bad enough that I’m pining for a woman twenty years my junior; much worse that she hasn’t offered me so much as a smile in all the time I’ve been seeing her.
“Today’s the day, Mr. Bell.” She folds her hands at her waist and looks me over. She doesn’t even blink when I shiver under her scrutiny. “Do you have any questions before we get started?”
“Yes…well, no…I mean, it’s not really a question…” I stammer, my hands flopping about in pointless gestures. “It’s just that…well…I’m starting to think that this isn’t such a good idea.”
I’ve seen that frown before. It’s the one that curdles the corners of her lips when I haven’t answered a question the way she wanted me to, or when I crack a joke to try and break the unbearable tension she always carries into the room.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you or anything like that,” I barrel on. “It’s just…well…we’ve been talking for six months now. I told you all about my divorce, my failing business, the kids who won’t even speak to me. If I wanted to open up to somebody, I’d have seen a psychiatrist. But you…you haven’t even told me how you’re going to fix all that.”
“Solutions to issues this complex take time, Mr. Bell,” she says, as coolly as ever. “I would also like to remind you that you did sign a contract that compels you to accept whatever treatment I recommend.”
“Fuck the contract.” I surprise myself with my outburst, with this surge of confidence that make my hands tremble and my stomach somersault. Dr. Meyer even raises an eyebrow, which only spurs me on; if I could crack that ice, I must be on the right track. “Go ahead and sue me. I think the judge would be very interested to hear about how you’re bilking honest people out of their money in this secret clinic of yours.”
I force myself to meet her icy stare, not daring to so much as blink. My brow prickles with sweat and my heart thumps against my chest until she finally drops her eyes to her clipboard, scribbling as silently and casually as you please.
“Very well, Mr. Bell.” There’s something like a sigh in her voice. “Our lawyers will be in touch.”
She continues scribbling in silence. I clear my throat and hop off the table.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, feeling guilty that disappointment was the first emotion other than annoyance I managed to evoke out of her. I wait a moment for a response. When none comes, I turn and walk past her.
There’s a flash of silver in the corner of my eye. A glint of something metallic against the harsh fluorescence of the overhead lights, moving with such speed that I’m not even given time to turn. All I know is that there’s a deep pinch in my thigh, a subtle stab that I know all too well as the insertion of a syringe. An instant later there comes the equally familiar sensation of the pushing of that syringe’s plunger, the icy burn of a fluid as it’s injected into me.
“You’re going to want to sit down, Mr. Bell,” Dr. Meyer says as she slips the syringe back into her lab coat. “Dizziness is a common side effect of this serum.”
A low nausea sloshes within my stomach. I groan and reach out with a shaking hand for a nearby counter, using it to steady myself against the spinning room. A cold sweat roils over my skin as I waver and wobble, as a new hollowness forms within me; a trembling void that pushes itself down through my guts and displaces my nausea like a beach ball being forced through water. When it reaches a certain point I’m suddenly made to feel as though I’m in desperate need of a toilet, but when I clench in defense I realize that there’s nothing behind the threat.
“What…” I croak, each word fighting through the desert that my throat has become. “…was that? What did you put into me?”
“Nothing more than your treatment, Mr. Bell.” She’s as cool as ever as she puts down her clipboard and strides to the intercom beside the door. “I had hoped to administer it under less dramatic circumstances, but I felt compelled to act before you could make yet another life-defining mistake. Amanda, could you please come in here?”
Dr. Meyer doesn’t wait for a response; I’ve been here enough times to know that her assistant comes without question whenever she’s called. So it’s not her quick appearance that surprises me when she opens the door a moment later. It’s the brilliant smile on her lips, the awed and elated look normally reserved for children discovering that they’d gotten just what they wanted for Christmas. Amanda’s been about as warm towards me as her superior has, so her sudden burst of cheer only adds to my growing panic over the effects of the mystery coursing through my veins.
“How long has the process been underway?” Amanda asks, eyes alight as she looks me over.
“Less than a minute,” the doctor responds. “Please observe from a safe distance until it’s finished.”
“Of course, doctor.” Amanda takes a seat in a nearby chair and leans towards me as though she’s afraid she’ll miss something. “This is going to be amazing.”
I look at Dr. Meyer for some clarification on just what it is Amanda’s expecting, but my question is silenced by the icy bolt of fear that runs me through when I see the expression on her face.
There’s no menace or malice to her smile; it’s really nothing more than a slight curl at the corners of her lips. My dread is based in the fact that it is now of all times that she chose to premiere it.
“Please concentrate on staying conscious, Mr. Bell.” Now I must be imagining things, since it sounded as though there was a note of tenderness in her voice. “We’re going to be questioning you on the experience afterwards, so it’s important that you remember as much of it as possible; doubly so given how difficult communicating will soon become.”
“What are you talking about?” I demand in a ragged cry. “I don’t even know what you’re doing to me!”
The doctor says nothing. She merely reaches into her pocket, whips out a handheld mirror, and turns it towards me. The shock that threatens to knock me into unconsciousness comes not from seeing my clammy skin and glassy eyes; it’s not the confirmation that I look as bad as I feel.
It’s the fact that I’m twenty years younger. At least.
“Guhhh…” My knees wobble beneath me as darkness wells at the corners of my vision. I distantly hear Dr. Meyer again urging me to fight off unconsciousness, but I do not do so for her sake. I must see every detail.
I have a full head of hair again, its magnificence marred only by the occasional gray strand. Sags have tightened and wrinkles have smoothed, my features regaining a brightness and definition that had been lost to time. I raise a trembling hand to examine it more closely and discover that my farsightedness has disappeared; I watch with perfect, gasping clarity as my arthritic fingers gain strength and shed ache.
“You were right.” Amanda chuckles behind me. “He was handsome.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Meyer muses. She takes my jaw in her fingers and turns it this way and that. I feel my beard flourishing beneath her touch, feel my heart pound in a distinctly different way as I realize that I’m now about her age. “It’ll be interesting to see how these features developed.”
“You…” I bark out a laugh, drawing back from her touch to examine my well-defined chin and stubbled cheeks for myself. “This was the treatment you were talking about. The way to fix everything I’ve been suffering through. You’ve…you’ve given me a second chance. You’ve made me young again.”
They share a laugh. My eyes widen and my hand freezes, gripping a beard that seemed fuller just a second ago.
“Oh, my dear Mr. Bell.” Dr. Meyer sighs. “You have no idea how right you are.”
I moan and double over as the sensation suddenly intensifies. The hollow weight within me seems to double in size, and I find myself pushing without any regard for what’ll happen – for the intensity of the humiliation I’ll feel – should I succeed in my desperate attempt at achieving relief. But nothing comes. There’s no easing the weight that sits ironlike in my gut or the shivers that break out all over my skin, every inch feeling tight and sensitive thanks to the goosebumps that cover me from head to toe.
“Something’s wrong…” I murmur as I sway on my feet, the grip on the counter no longer guaranteeing my uprightness. “This is…I can’t…”
“The side effects do appear to be a little stronger than anticipated.” It feels like I’m hearing Dr. Meyer speak through an ocean. At the same time, though, the scribbles against her clipboard are so sharp that I wince and cover an ear to keep them from dashing through my addled mind. “Still, the serum is achieving its purpose rather admirably. Wouldn’t you agree, Amanda?”
“Absolutely,” she giggles. “He looks like a guy I dated in college.”
The flush of bashfulness I feel at this gorgeous young woman looking at me in that way – no matter how abstractly – is washed away by the realization of the next instant. If I resemble an old college boyfriend of hers, then she and I must now be about the same age. A quick glance reveals arms tight with the lean muscle of my twenties. A redefined chest strains against the buttons of my shirt as I bubble with the energy of a young man in his prime.
This would all be fine save for the fact that it’s not stopping.
“Look how skinny he’s getting!” Amanda gushes as she rises from her seat, her eyes alight. Even though I’m a head taller, I still instinctively cringe as though she’s looking down on me. The hot shame that roars in my chest is of an intensity that I haven’t felt since high school, since the years where my only concern was that of looking cool before all the lovely creatures I was obsessed with. So terrified was I by the thought of being embarrassed before the objects of my desire that the notion became twisted in my hormone-addled mind. I often engaged in a teenage boy’s favorite activity while fantasizing about the girls I crushed on humiliating me in any number of different ways.
The reality of the situation proves not nearly as exciting. Shame seizes me as my line of vision starts lowering, tears burning at the corners of my eyes as I look down at my slimming shoulders and arms…as every degrading fantasy I’ve ever had comes trues a hundred times over. I look up pleadingly at Amanda when she gasps in delight, shuddering with horror at the realization that I’m now standing level with the high-heeled woman. In the next instant I slip below, slowly but steadily pulling away from her elated eyes and from a world that’s growing bigger and more intimidating with each passing second.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Bell?” Dr. Meyer’s smile has widened; she may as well be a tiger baring her teeth for how comforted I am when I look up at it. “Though that title hardly seems appropriate anymore. Did you go by Jeff or Jeffrey in high school?”
“Puh…please…” I whimper as my shirt starts to bunch on my skinny frame, my pathetic pleas rendered more so by the fact that I can’t keep my voice from cracking. Inadequate is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel cowering before these grinning women. My skinny arms are lost in my sleeves. My chin and cheeks are smooth and pimple-dotted. My slacks would slip right from my slimming waist were I not holding them up. “I didn’t…I didn’t want…”
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter.” Dr. Meyer chuckles. “Doesn’t look like you’re long for that particular institution.”
I moan out a protest of rising pitch as the world suddenly and repeatedly pulls away from me, little jolts of shrinking undoing the growth spurts that marked my adolescence. Each one comes with a tug at a very specific area, the pull from within growing more and more insistent as I grow closer and closer to crying at what I know to be the most significant loss yet. For a moment, I forget that my only free hand is the one holding up my pants; and so, when I instinctively grab at myself, I find myself naked from the waist down before I can even confirm the new littleness between my legs. Though I squeal and immediately bend to pick my slacks and underwear back up – paralyzed for only an instant by the smooth skinniness of the legs they pool at the bottom of – my efforts are cut short when I’m suddenly grabbed from behind and locked into a full nelson. Amanda’s giggles ride on the sweet waft of her perfume, the sensory combination only furthering my humiliation as I futilely kick and struggle under her grasp.
“Let me goooo!” My cheeks feel as though they’ll burst into flame when the women simply laugh in response. Were my hands free, I’d clamp them over my mouth to silence my despondent little soprano, horrified by the boyish wail that just left my lips. “Make it stooooooop!”
“It’ll stop once it’s done its job, Jeff.” Dr. Meyer pats my head and offers me an indulgent smile. “And since you’ve made such a mess of things, I think it’s only appropriate that we go all the way back to the beginning.”
My heart feels as though it’s fallen out of my chest. Even in the face of the horrible impossibility of what I’m experiencing, I still never dreamed that she would let things go this far. Adrenaline surges through my shrinking body as I realize that I have to take the chance to escape while I’m still ambulatory enough to do so. With a cub’s roar I muster up what little strength remains in my childish form, jerking my skinny arms forward and loosening Amanda’s grip just enough to slip through and make a break for it.
That is, anyway, what I try to do. Though I bolt towards the door the instant my feet touch the ground, they’re still bundled in my fallen pants and underwear. I’m unable to make so much as a step before I’m tripped up, banging my knees and elbows as I tumble to the tile. For a moment, I don’t even breathe. The pain that jolted through my joints was so unexpectedly powerful that I have to fight back the instinct to burst out bawling like any other little boy that’s had a tumble. More distressing than that, though, is the feel of cool air on my exposed bottom, the burning of my ears as they’re teased by the laughter of Amanda gushing over its apparent adorability.
“Aw, did Jeffy want to show the pretty ladies his little tushie?” My chin is quivering as she ruffles my hair, the syrupy condescension of her tone as devastating as any blow. “I’m flattered, sweetie, but I think we might be a little too old for you now.”
“He’s a little charmer, all right.” Dr. Meyer grins as she kneels to my side and pinches my glowing cheek. “He’ll be putting the moves on his preschool girlfriends before we know it.”
The two of them tease and fuss over me as I pray to just shrink away into nothingness, the treatment so gallingly humiliating that I cannot stand even a second more of it. Something warm and light, however, flutters in the midst of that heavy despair. It might be simply because I’m so in need of comfort that I’ll take whatever I can find, but it feels like there’s real affection behind the condescending treatment. Suddenly, I want nothing more than to be scooped into one of their laps and held like the little boy I’ve become. I want to have my hair stroked and my worries whispered away as I bury my face in a shoulder, sobbing without shame until I feel better.
It would be so nice. So lovely. And that’s why it’s so difficult to push it away.
I feel a lone tear dribbling down my cheek as I scramble back to my feet and once more make for the door, my legs wobbling beneath me when I see just how massive the world has become. The height I lost between falling and getting back up suggests that I’ve become very small indeed, and it takes nothing more than a glance down my sail of a shirt to confirm that fear. My chest and tummy are silky smooth, the latter now so swollen with baby fat that it hides from sight the dangling little toy I feel bouncing between my pudgy thighs. I only have enough coordination left to move at a clumsy tromp, my steps becoming slower and more uncertain the closer I’m drawn to toddlerhood. I hear Dr. Meyer and Amanda call after me, but their words don’t even register through the pounding in my ears, through my commitment to shutting out their seductive promises of care and affection. There’s nothing in the world that can stop me from escaping.
Or so I thought. I’m nearly within a chubby arm’s length of the door – just about to reach out with my stubby fingers to grab the handle – when there’s a sudden tickling slip that runs down my sides. My confusion lasts only for as long as it takes for the cool air to caress my now-naked body. A shiver washes over my tiny, plump form at the realization that I’ve become small enough to slip through the neckhole of my shirt.
“Oh my Goooooooooood.” I hear the distinct sound of a shutter over Amanda’s gushing. The feeling of this moment lasting forever is only intensified by the image of my nude little toddler self being captured in her phone for all time. “You are the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Isn’t he?” I look up to see Dr. Meyer kneeling by my side. She pats my bare tush and grins when I can only offer an infantile whine in protest. “Not much of a man, Mr. Bell. But Jeffy; well, he’s just going to be a perfect little baby boy, isn’t he?”
I’m not through yet. I may be seconds away from the horrifying, impossible, tantalizing future she describes, but I’ve still got one last shot. It takes all of my remaining coordination, but somehow I manage to get up on my tippy toes and wrap my tiny sausage fingers around the door handle, hope flickering within me...only for it to be snuffed out a moment later when a shrink spurt yanks my pudgy hands away from their target. The sudden imbalance is too much for my wobbly legs to take, and I know the instant my chubby rump smacks against the tile that there’s no soldiering on this time. Everything that crashes down on me at once – the pain, the despair, the suffocating fear of being a very small child in a very big world – overwhelms me as thoroughly as it would a real infant. Tears blur my world as I finally give in to the overwhelming desire to cry, to wail shamelessly like the upset little baby I’ve become. I get only a moment to wave my balled fists in the air and drum my tiny heels against the tile before I’m plucked off the ground and scooped into a warm, secure, snuggly little nook.
“Shh shh shh.” Dr. Meyer’s voice soothes its way through my tantrum as she tickles my wobbly tummy. “There’s no need to cry. We’re going to take care of everything, darling. Every last little thing.”
I pull my bawling back to pitiful little sniffles when Dr. Meyer rocks me in her arms, when her intoxicating aroma swirls around me and soothes my senses. I look up at her and at the gigantic world that surrounds us with abject fascination and more than a little fear. The sparse furniture and high counters that I easily navigated as a man now seem like towering skyscrapers and massive mountain ranges, a skyline for a world of giants to which I no longer belong. I squeak and instinctively clutch at Dr. Meyer’s blouse when my gaze drifts downwards, feeling as though I’m being held a hundred feet in the air for how far away the ground now seems. Though I’m comforted by the way she cuddles me closer in response, I’m not made completely at ease until she lays me out on squishy bench that I had moments ago – a lifetime ago – sat waiting impatiently upon.
“You are just gorgeous,” Amanda breathes as she stands over me. It feels like the whole of my chubby little body is blushing when she kisses my cheek and plays with my wispy hair, when I can’t do anything in response but spastically wave my pudgy limbs about. “I can’t wait to take you home, sweetie pie.”
Nothing but gurgling comes out when I try to ask what she means by “home.” Though Dr. Meyer notices my consternation – this new horror of not even being able to speak – she takes a moment to play with my tiny feet before elaborating.
“Our home, silly billy.” Dr. Meyer tickles me beneath my chin and draws out an involuntary giggle. “Amanda and I have a lovely nursery set up for you back at our place. There’s one last thing to take care of before we go, though.”
She rifles through a nearby drawer as I reel at what I’ve just learned. Everything’s happening so fast that it seems like I only get a few seconds to absorb each new life-changing revelation before I’m slammed with the next one. That being the case, it’s not as big a shock as it might’ve been when Dr. Meyer pulls out a bottle of baby powder and a single crisp disposable diaper. I struggle to sputter out a protest as I gape at the infantile underwear, unable to get so much as a word out before Amanda pops a pacifier into my open mouth. My eyes widen as I instinctively latch onto it and start sucking, unable to do anything but look on in silent horror as Dr. Meyer effortlessly lifts my ankles with both hands and slides the diaper beneath my chubby tush.
“I’m frankly surprised that you’ve managed to hold out this long.” She powders down my most private areas and grins at the way I whimper and squirm in response. “Amanda and I hypothesized that evacuation would occur well before the regression reached its final stage. I suppose it’s all worked out for the best, though; you’re going to be going through a lot of these things, so might as well get used to using them.”
I’m baffled as to what she’s talking about until she finishes taping me in, that last little bit of pressure to my midsection reminding me of the great hollow weight inside my stomach. I had, in the tumult of everything that had happened in the past minute, forgotten all about it. The pressure has become too great to ignore, however, too massive to fight even though Dr. Meyer’s teasing has made me all too aware of what’ll happen when I give in. My pacifier bobs between my lips with increasing speed as Dr. Meyer and Amanda smile expectantly down at me, both knowing that my infantile strength is not nearly enough to hold back what’s coming, the weight like a spear in my gut for how desperately I crave release.
I ball my fists.
I push back with all my might.
I gasp as the fight comes to an end.
My tiny, languid body puddles against the bench. My eyelids flutter as the pressure ebbs within me, diminishing in time with the expansion of my diaper. My burning ears are tickled by the crinkling it creates as it stretches to accommodate the weight I push into it. It’s a delicate sound that clashes crudely with the little grunts I produce out of the exertion it takes to empty myself out completely. Though that takes some effort, the other part doesn’t; I don’t even realize it’s happening until I feel a wet warmth soak into the front panel, completely saturating it before spreading to the other parts of my ruined diaper. If you were to look at the ecstatic faces of the women who did this to me, you’d think that I was turning water into wine. But no; they’re just delighted that their new little boy has settled fully into his second infancy, that he’s now helpless to even keep from messing himself.
I’m numb when I finish, staring blankly at the wall as my pacifier lay limp between my lips. Amanda and Dr. Meyer coo over what a good baby I am as one or the other start cleaning me up. I don’t look; I don’t care. Much as I’m glad that I’m immediately being changed, each wipe against my messy little baby bottom might as well be a slap in the face for how thoroughly it deepens my already-bottomless humiliation. I only acknowledge their existence when I’m forced to do so, when Amanda pulls me into her arms after I’m put in a fresh diaper.
“Aw, I think somebody’s still a little grumpy.” She giggles at my glumness before suddenly turning solemn. “There’s really no need to be upset, Mr. Bell.”
I perk up at the sound of honorific. Though I’m grateful for the unexpected respect, my eyes are wary and suspicious when they meet hers.
“She’s right, you know.” Dr. Meyer steps to her side and cups my head. I coo despite myself when she runs her fingers through my fine, barely-there hair. “You wouldn’t have come in here if you felt that you could go on living the way you had. Amanda and I can’t promise that we’ll be perfect parents, but we can promise that we’ll never let any boy of ours ever get that lost. Is that fair, darling?”
I know that it’s not up to me. No matter what I do next, they’re still just going to carry me home and make me their baby. It’s a terrifying thought. An idea of all-encompassing horror that I still haven’t wrapped my mind around. But there is value in being open to new things. To facing up to the challenges in one’s life and not – as I had done – running away as soon as things get hard.
And it feels so nice to be held.
I offer them a nod and the tiniest of smiles. They beam, kiss my forehead, and carry me out of the room. They close the door behind them.
“Come on, sweetie! You can do it!”
“Almost there, darling. Use those big strong legs of yours.”
I certainly don’t feel very big or strong. It’s not just because my chubby, uncoordinated limbs feel entirely muscle-free. There’s also the fact that I’m still wearing nothing but a diaper, a padded little palette for cartoon animals so thick and puffy that I can’t even bring my pudgy thighs together. The swooning vertigo I feel whenever I so much as look up isn’t helping matters either. Though every item in my new nursery was designed to be as cuddly and gentle as possible, I still can’t take my eyes from the carpet without being overwhelmed by oceans of baby blue. I cower in the shadow of my massive crib, gape at the impossible heights achieved by my changing table, tremble at the sight of a gigantic teddy bear that might as well be a rampaging grizzly for how intimidatingly it dwarfs me.
I’m not saying that I’d be able to stand up if I was free of those distractions. But they’re certainly not helping.
“There you go, Jeffy!” Amanda practically squeals when I finally get my feet under me. I’m still bent over with my bite-sized hands pressed into the carpet, but this is the closest I’ve gotten yet. Just straighten my back and I’m there; and then it’s simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I tell myself that it’s just so they’ll stop pestering me to make the attempt, but the truth is that I’m genuinely curious as to whether it’s within my capabilities. There doesn’t – at least for now – seem to be any way out of this, so I should at least know exactly what I’m in for.
I take a deep breath and throw myself backwards, maintaining an upright position for the instant that my wobbly legs can support it. Then I’m right back on my puffy rump, crossing my arms and huffing as Dr. Meyer and Amanda chuckle at my frustration.
“Well, it was a very good effort.” Dr. Meyer kneels beside me and pats my head. Though I turn away from her smiling face, inside there’s a little gem of warmth that lights up whenever she praises me. It’s that desire to please her and Amanda that makes me capitulate when they suggest I explore my nursery through crawling instead, that keeps me from throwing them dirty looks when they giggle at my poofy bottom wiggling back and forth as I do so. The truth is that it’s not that bad. My rounded knees seem designed for prolonged shuffling against the carpet, and the little strength I have left in my tiny hands proves remarkably efficient at propelling my infantile body forward. Though I still take care to not crawl beneath any of the massive furniture – still give my menacing stuffed animals a wide berth – they’re not nearly as intimidating now that I’ve assumed some degree of authority over the space.
“What a good boy!” Amanda declares as she whisks me off the carpet. I squeal in surprise and giggle my little head off when she cuddles me in her arms and tickles my tummy. It’s not as though I mean to do any of that, but at the same time, I’m not exactly fighting the instinct, either. I haven’t even been a baby for half an hour and already it’s of massive importance to me that I make Amanda and Dr. Meyer happy; it’s like a smile of my own just appears whenever I see theirs.
“Our little explorer.” Dr. Meyer looks fit to burst with pride as she wraps an arm around Amanda’s shoulder. “I think he’s earned his surprise.”
I’ve already come to terms with the fact that attempting to speak isn’t worth the effort. Putting on a curious look whenever I need clarification on something seems to do the trick, even if I blush every time at the grin they share whenever I do so.
Jeez. I’m not that charming.
This time, however, a grin is as close to answering me as either of them get. They’re interrupted before they can do so by the ringing of the doorbell, which only makes them look even more pleased.
“Right on time,” Dr. Meyer says. “Come, darling – let’s go see what mommy and mama have arranged for you.”
I’m wary as I’m carried into the living room, completely at a loss as to what they have planned. The very fact that I’m being carried makes me feel as though these women are capable of anything; and so it’s a bit of a disappointment when Dr. Meyer opens the door to reveal a very average-looking handyman standing on the porch. He’s about the same age as the doctor and wears a worn polo with his company’s name on it, a shirt that seems designed to show off the muscles he’s earned from a life of skilled labor.
“Good afternoon, Scott.” Dr. Meyer smiles and steps aside to let him in. “Thank you for coming by on such short notice.”
“It’s no problem. If there’s something wrong with the work I’ve done, it’s my job to make it right.” He notices me for the first time and immediately puts on the indulgent smile I’ve seen others wear around very small children. I instinctively burrow deeper into Amanda’s embrace as all the adults laugh. “I’m guessing that this is the little fella that I’ve been busting my hump for.”
“The very same.” Amanda chuckles and bounces me in her arms. “We just showed him the nursery and he’s absolutely over the moon. You should’ve seen the way his little face lit up.”
“We really can’t thank you enough for putting the room together so quickly,” Dr. Meyer adds. “Aside from this one small electrical issue, everything’s worked like a dream.”
“No such thing as a small electrical issue. Let me go take care of that now so I can get out of your hair.”
“Sounds good.” Amanda says this as a whisper of a glance passes between her and Dr. Meyer, so quick and subtle that it escapes Scott’s attention. I see it, though. In an instant, I see Amanda ask for a go-ahead; I see Dr. Meyer give it. “Cuddlebug.”
Scott stiffens. His brow furrows.
“What did you just call me?”
“I called you cuddlebug, sweetie. That’s what you are, aren’t you? You’re just a sweet little baby boy that wants to snuggle with his mommy.” I can feel Amanda’s growing giddiness as she cradles me against her, and all at once I know exactly what’s happening. The realization crashes down on me with such force that for a moment I’m stunned, unable to do anything but gape up at my captor with a bit of drool dangling from my lower lip. The moment passes but I’m still not of much help in warning Scott what’s coming, as my desperate babbling and the clumsy waving of my tiny fists does nothing but deepen the man’s confusion. He looks back and forth between the chuckling women as the color drains from his face, as his eyes widen, as a swipe of sweat breaks out on his forehead.
“You’ve been so helpful, Scott.” Dr. Meyer’s rich voice savors every word. “Not just in the construction of the nursery, but in helping Amanda and I to test out new methods of application for our groundbreaking serum. Do you remember those homemade cookies you helped yourself to last week, Scott? Amanda was very proud of them; not only because they were delicious, but because they were the first batch to completely mask the scent of the serum.”
“I’d share the recipe,” Amanda giggles, “but I think it’s going to be a while before we can trust you to not make a mess in the kitchen.”
“What…are you talking about…?” Scott gasps, wavering on his feet as he brings a hand to his forehead. The wrinkles creasing the corners of his lips are smoothing. The few gray hairs dotting his beard are disappearing. It’s already happening, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. “Did that…serum…is that what’s doing this to me?”
“Clever boy,” Dr. Meyer grins. “But this serum is a special batch that’ll only be activated when the subject hears a certain word. I think our clients will agree that it’s much more fun to control when it happens. Imagine your fool of a boss cut down to size in the middle of a board meeting, or a cheating spouse taken down a peg while seeing their side piece.”
“When WHAT happens?” Scott shouts. “What are you doing to me?”
“Why don’t you ask your big brother?” Amanda beams as she holds me up. I’m red-faced with shame as I squirm in her arms, unable to meet Scott’s eyes as he gawks at me in dawning horror. “Jeffy here started the morning even older than you are. But soon you’ll be little enough to share his crib.”
Scott barks out a disbelieving laugh as he stumbles back into a tall cabinet, pressing himself against it as he shakes his head and groans.
“You’re lying…that’s not…I can’t…”
“What is it with men not believing something unless they can see it for themselves?” Dr. Meyer sighs as she reaches into her lab coat. “This should help rid you of the last of those doubts.”
She pulls out the handheld mirror and turns it towards Scott, looking delighted at the horrified, guttural cry that forces itself out of him when he sees what we see. The poor fellow had indeed started with a couple decades’ less age than I had, and as such would not even get to enjoy the reclamation of his prime. Those halcyon days have already slipped past by the time Dr. Meyer held up the mirror. The rounding chin to which Scott brings his trembling fingers has become baby-smooth; the thinning arms being swallowed by his shirtsleeves are those of a gawky teenager; the deflating chest that filled out his tight polo no longer holds even a hint of the hair that had bustled out from between the buttons.
“What a good boy your baby brother is.” Amanda coos as she plays with my tiny toes. “Getting all cute and little for his mommies. He might even end up more adorable than you are, though that’s a high bar to clear.”
Even if I were able to speak – if I could produce anything more coherent than wet gibberish – I don’t think that I would know what to say. Scott’s pleading eyes have finally met mine, and I see the terror in them deepen when he recognizes an intelligence in my gaze that no real baby possesses. I’m the only person in the world who knows how he feels, and I can’t even comfort him. I’m the only one who knows what it’s like to grapple with the final realization that what he’s going through is actually happening. He finally understands that he won’t be able to speak or walk; that his new mommies are going to cuddle him and fuss over him and carry him everywhere; that he’s mere moments away from being wrapped up in a diaper as thick and crinkly as my own.
That last part, as it turns out, comes a little too late.
“You can’t do this…” Scott whimpers as he tumbles backwards through high school. “Please…I – ”
His begging is cut short by a high, long squeak that did not come from his mouth. A bit of color finally returns to the young teen’s cheeks as he blushes at the rude sound he produced, a blush that only burns more brightly when Dr. Meyer and Amanda merely chuckle in response.
“Well, that’s something to note about this method of application.” Dr. Meyer muses. “I think someone’s about to have a little accident.”
“No!” Scott squeals even as another squeak eeks out. He’s shivering and shaking as he teeters on the precipice of puberty, holding onto the last vestiges of his masculinity for as long as he can before he’s yanked back into his childhood. The boy wails as inches of height are snatched from him at a time, as freckles dot his puffing cheeks, as one hand clutches through his pants at his severely diminished manhood. His other hand is trying to hold his stomach and the waist of his pants at the same time, making him look as though he got a tummyache while dressed up in daddy’s clothes. “I’m not gonnna…I won’t…I won’t…!”
He does. Scott moans, squats, and spreads his legs. Though none of us can see it happen, the associated sounds and smells give a more than clear enough picture of this ultimate humiliation that the poor, shrinking boy is going through. It’s almost as though he’s voiding himself of his age with every push, the lump in the seat of his comically oversized jeans growing as he gets smaller, cuter, younger, chubbier, his form becoming more and more in line with that of a boy too little to use the potty. The only mercy allowed him is the fact that he’s at least able to hold onto his jeans throughout the ordeal, though that too is taken from him the moment he finishes. The boy is driven to full-on bawling when the waistband finally slips through his tiny, trembling fingers, when his Levi’s and messy undies slump into a stinking pile at his feet. All that separates Scotty from total nudity is a polo that hangs endearing off one of his skinny shoulders, but even that is taken from him when Dr. Meyer whisks it off his tiny form.
“We’ll get you in something more age-appropriate soon, cuddlebug.” She grins. “Something you won’t have to worry about having an accident in.”
Scotty only cries louder as he dwindles before our eyes, so lost in his despair that he doesn’t even bother to cover himself up. Dr. Meyer and Amanda cheer him on – as though he had any choice in the matter – while I just look on in stunned silence, aghast and fascinated by seeing this transformation from the other side. As he descends into toddlerhood, all of his endearingly childish features simplify under a swell of baby fat until there remains naught but the barest hint of the man Scotty once was. His cries become the ear-splitting wails of an inconsolable infant as he impotently waves his little fists in the air, the stance of his pudgy legs growing more bowlegged and uncertain until they finally grow too weak even to support his tiny little baby body. Mercifully, Dr. Meyer swoops in and grabs him by the underarms before he can plop onto his bottom and into his own mess.
“Tch tch tch.” Dr. Meyer playfully reprimands the still-howling boy as she holds him at arm’s length. “Looks like we’ve figured out who the crybaby of the pair is going to be. C’mon, cuddlebug; let’s get you cleaned up and see if that doesn’t improve your mood.”
She carries Scotty down the hall with Amanda following right behind. Though she doesn’t say anything, I can tell by the way the young woman nuzzles me and holds me even closer – by the happiness she continues to radiate – that she’s delighted beyond measure.
My own feelings are a little more complicated.
Yes, there is great pity in me as I watch Dr. Meyer lay Scotty out on the nursery’s changing table. There is boundless sympathy when he immediately starts sucking on the pacifier she pops between his lips, when he finds himself unable to do anything but blubber and squirm as she cleans him up. There is righteous anger when I consider that he did not, as I did, ask these women for their help; that he is being diapered and fussed over merely because they needed a test subject and a brother for their first little bundle of joy. And all of this is exacerbated by the way Dr. Meyer speaks to Scotty as she diapers him, by the syrupy condescension that somehow seems even more galling when observed from outside.
“There’s our darling little cuddlebug,” Dr. Meyer coos, taking a moment to force a giggle out of him with a tickle to his tummy. “This is much better, isn’t it? No more hard work for our Scotty-wotty. Just lots of love and snuggles from his mommies.”
She pulls the tiny boy into his arms and rocks him against her. Scotty, for his part, has calmed himself down to mere sniffling. Fear and apprehension still cloud his shimmering eyes, though, so much so that a chill runs down my spine when he meets my gaze. Dr. Meyer and Amanda continue gushing as we stare at one another, but very little of what they say gets through. All they seem to want to talk about is how much fun we’re going to have as a family, how the two of them are just going to love their sweet little babies to death and give them every last little thing they need.
Something passes between Scotty and I in that moment. I can’t say for sure, but it feels like he’s thinking the same thing I am. If Dr. Meyer and Amanda are being truthful, well…there are worse fates. And though the coming days will likely prove to be a parade of embarrassments, there’s no denying the simple warmth of their embrace or the love in their voice. Another childhood – another life – stretches out before us. We may have fallen on hard luck by being lured into this impossible trap, but at least each of us get to experience the consequences alongside the only other person in the world who knows what we’re feeling.
I nod at the boy and offer him a smile. He hesitates, then smiles back. His lips curl around his pacifier as he wipes his eyes with a tiny fist.
My little brother. That’s kinda nice.