Who Wears the Pants - Part 3
by Jennifer Loraine
Clothes Really Do Make the Man
It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.
Henry David Thoreau (1817ñ62), Walden, "Economy" (1854).
Unfortunately for Howard's ego, the process of rejuvenation continued unabated. Howard became smaller with each passing day. His hair grew shaggy and his fingernails appeared to grow as his body shrunk in proportion to his unchanging nails. Howard was forced to ask Anita to trim his hair every evening just to keep the hair out of his eyes. He took care of his nails himself while he sat on the toilet for hours each day to relieve himself. Anita kept a clipboard hanging on a hook in the bathroom where she charted his size, weight and temperature every evening. His temperature remained slightly elevated throughout the process of rejuvenation. It was never high enough to cause alarm, but it never dropped below one hundred degrees Fahrenheit either. On Friday morning he woke up and stumbled sleepily to the bathroom to urinate. He still woke every morning with an overfilled bladder and had started leaking a little urine into his underwear during the short trip to the bathroom each time he had to go. The changes in his physique made him feel like death warmed-over. Every joint and muscle screamed in protest as he squatted on the toilet and evacuated his bladder and bowels. He noticed that his diarrhea seemed to be getting better, but he was producing more stools than his diet could reasonably account for. He decided that he must be voiding the products of meals that he had eaten earlier in the week. It wasn't within the realm of rational possibilities that he could have produced that much waste from the light dinner he had had the night before.
After his session on the pot the next morning, he turned on the spigot in the tub to warm the water for his morning shower. The hot shower felt like a blessing on his achy joints and he luxuriated in the feeling of being clean. He got out of the shower and toweled himself off, then massaged his still achy limbs. Despite his shower, he still wasn't awake. He looked with bleary eyes into the bathroom mirror as he shot a mound of shaving cream into the palm of his hand in preparation for his morning ablution and was shocked by the change that had occurred in his complexion overnight. His face had broken out in a full blown acne attack. Instantly he was fully awake. He hadn't had acne since he was sixteen! After a close examination of his face revealed that his beard had thinned considerably; the thick growth of beard which had forced him to keep an electric razor in his briefcase had become light wisps of blond hair on his cheeks. He rinsed the shaving cream from his hands and rotated his shrunken torso in front of the mirror to get a full view of his chest and back. His chest hair had completely disappeared. Howard looked at the hair on his left arm and saw that it too had lightened in density and color. His silken boxers hung on his slender pelvis like he was wearing another, larger man's clothes. He put his right hand up to the side of his face to feel his beard mournfully and noticed that his wristwatch was dangling loosely on his forearm after slipping off his wrist and down his arm. The gold band of the watch was hopelessly too large for his scrawny wrist. Howard reluctantly removed his expensive Swiss designer timepiece to put it away. When he went to put his watch in the small drawer of the walnut valet on top of his dresser where he usually stored his gold cuff links at the end of each day, he had to stretch to reach over and drop the watch in the valet.
Howard dropped his loose boxers to the floor and stepped out of them to examine his crotch. He stared in horror at the black mess in his shorts that lay on the floor. Most of his pubic hair had fallen out in the night and lay in a thickly tangled mat in the crotch of his discarded underwear. The proud bush of hair that had declared his manhood to his wife and mistress was gone. All that remained was a small dark brown ring of curly hairs around his penis. Howard groaned when he saw that his pride and joy had also changed. Instead of the mature penis that he had the day before, all he possessed was a teenaged boy's sexual equipment. It was enough to do the job, but just barely. He put his hand down to touch it and was shocked to see it spring to life the moment his fingers made contact with it. Thrills of pleasure ran up his spine from a mere touch on his shrunken manhood. Images of naked women filled his mind and within minutes, he was sitting naked on the toilet seat, jerking himself off for all he was worth. Howard spent most of the day in the bathroom alternately relieving himself by hand and evacuating himself on the toilet. While he waited for one urge or another to strike him, he sat on the pot and smoked his expensive cigars. After a half hour or so, a thick pall of smoke from the cigars hung in the bathroom, obscuring the overhead lamp and darkening the small room ominously. As hours passed, the reek of the cigars combined with the stench of feces, sweat and semen and gave the tiny chamber the ambiance of an anteroom to Hell.
Howard couldn't believe how much shit he was producing; from the mess in the toilet bowl, it looked like he'd been constipated for days. The copious jets of semen each ejaculation yielded was phenomenal. The wad of toilet tissue he used to collect the ejaculate as he orgasmed could barely contain the huge amounts of viscous fluid that soaked the flimsy paper and leaked over his hand into his almost hairless crotch. His sexual stamina was endless. Howard hadn't felt so randy since he had been a teenager. The heat from his constant exercise made the small bathroom hot, causing rivulets of perspiration to roll down his face and chest. As he moved, the sweat ran over his thighs and dripped off onto the toilet seat. His bottom quickly became wet and slippery as the toilet seat transferred the moisture back to the skin of his behind.
The first time he emerged from the bathroom that afternoon was to get himself a beer when the combination of cigar smoke, heavy breathing and the diaphoresis-induced dehydration made him more thirsty than aroused. He downed three beers in quick succession and opened a forth to quaff it more slowly in the bathroom. The beer was a mistake. He had thought he was horny before he took a drink. After his body absorbed the alcohol, he was unable to control the images of buxom supine women that danced in his consciousness. All he could think about was burying his head in their vast cleavages and fucking until he dropped from exhaustion. The imaginary seductresses spread their legs for him invitingly, begging him to come and fill them with himself. Worse, the beer made him even thirstier than he had been before he drank it.
He left the security of the smoky bathroom once more to assuage his parched throat. All he could find in the refrigerator that was cold aside from beer was skim milk. Howard hated milk and couldn't abide drinking it. He couldn't understand how Anita could bring herself to imbibe the foul stuff. He had told her repeatedly over the years that milk was a drink that was only fit for infants. The only other drink that was available was water. Unfortunately, the water company in their area heavily chlorinated the water supply for safety's sake, giving the water a strong chorine aftertaste. To make things worse, they were out of ice cubes in the freezer trays. If he decided to drink the water, he would have to drink it warm from the tap. The thought of drinking the foul tasting water made Howard shudder. He reluctantly poured himself a large glass of milk and downed it in a single long gulp. Within minutes the pressure of the milk in his stomach made him run to the bathroom to drain his beer distended bladder. An hour later, the lactose in the milk made his diarrhea worse and he found himself on the pot voiding the liquid contents of his bowels. His ingestion of daily products had been too infrequent for him to maintain the level of lactase necessary to digest milk sugars without consequences. Of course the effects of the beer were still working their magic on his libido. He spent the intervals between relieving either his bladder or bowels by masturbating. By the time Anita got home from work, he had abraded the skin on his penis from manual friction. The mere sight of her made him want to whimper in relief. When he ran up to wrap his arms around her and kiss her, he discovered that she had to bend over slightly to kiss him. Anita was now taller than he was!
The shock of seeing his once short and submissive wife tower over him made Howard want to weep in dismay, but the urgent demands of his body would only hear of one thing. He had to get her into bed as soon as possible.
Anita smiled at the expression of naked lust on his face and hugged him to her chest. She could weigh and measure him later. Obviously, Howard needed her then and there. Anita put her hand down around his rear and began rubbing his diminished tush provocatively. Howard moaned involuntarily as she moved her hand around to his crotch and cupped his bare pubes in her hand. Shudders of anticipation ran up his back as she squeezed slightly and brought him to full erection. She smiled and led him back to the bedroom where she made him lie on the bed while she slowly stripped in front of his trembling frame. By the time she laid down in bed, Howard was ready to orgasm from the sight of her nude body alone. Without pausing for a decent interval of foreplay, he mounted her with the eager clumsiness of a teenaged boy bedding his first woman. Just as he was about to enter her, he exploded in an orgasm that shot ejaculate almost up to the level of her breasts. His penis immediately wilted and went limp. He sat up in shock and straddled her legs with his knees to see what he had done. Her stomach glistened with a coating of white fluid. He had wasted his opportunity! He had emptied himself and hadn't even entered her! Howard's face fell and he closed his eyes in a paroxysm of frustration. The desire for her was still there, but he had no way to express it. Tears flowed from the corners of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. It wasn't fair! He had waited all day for her to come home. What was he supposed to do? He was poised over her like a silly teenager with a limp dick and no idea of what to do next!
Howard started to cry and felt his wife's hands pull him down to her body to comfort him. Because of the position of his knees, his head lay upon her bosom with his nose pressed into the crevasse between her breasts. Howard shuddered as his body was racked by his anguished sobbing. Anita made soft murmuring sounds as she stroked his hair and patted his back like a mother trying to comfort a distraught baby. When he quieted, Anita silently got out from under him and slipped out of bed. She rolled him over onto his back and gently spread his legs with her hands. Then she knelt on the bed between his legs and bent down close to his crotch. Howard's eyes sprang open as she surrounded him with her lips. She rolled his balls with the fingers of her right hand as she worked her way up and down his manhood with her tongue. Howard's back arched and he went rigid in sexual tetany as his body prepared to loose itself again. A few seconds later he orgasmed in a blaze of sexual ecstasy. Howard whimpered in relief as his wife continued milking him by hand until every last drop of semen was extracted from his body. Anita sat up and grinned down at her teenaged husband jubilantly. Howard opened his eyes and looked up at the woman who had answered his need. There was a triumphant smile on her face as if she had seen grand plan come to fruition.
She got up from the bed and said, "Come on, Sweetheart. Let's get some dinner. Why don't you get some clothes on and we'll go out and get something to eat."
He gazed at her with a pained look on his face and replied, "I don't have anything that fits me! Look at me! I shrank during the night! That's why I had to greet you at the door with nothing on!"
"GeeÖ," she said with mock surprise. "And all the time I thought you were just glad to see me," she said with a smirk, trying to add a bit of levity to the situation. "Don't worry about the clothes, Honey. I've already taken care of it. I saw how you looked when I got up this morning. You seemed to have shrunk a little while you were sleeping, so I stopped off at Goodwill on the way home and picked up some clothes for you. They're in the trunk of my car. I didn't get any underwear for you I'm afraid, but I did manage to find some jeans and T-shirts that will fit you. We can pick up some briefs for you when we go out to eat. Oh, yes, I also picked up some sandals for you. They were so cheap at Goodwill that I got different several sizes for you. One of them is bound to fit. I did the same with the jeans and T-shirts. Let me get a robe on and I'll go out to the garage and get them in for you, okay?"
Howard nodded his acquiescence and continued to lay on the bed as she left. A minute later, he had to get out of bed and run to the toilet as another urgent call of nature made itself known. He had just gotten out of the bathroom when she returned holding two large paper bags in her arms that were stuffed with pre-owned clothes. Anita handed him a folded pair of jeans in a boy's size with a blue cotton packet laid neatly on top. He took them from her hand while she rummaged through the bags to find the sandals she had bought him. He laid back on the bed and lifted his legs in the air to put on the jeans as she put the pair of sandals at the foot of the bed. While he struggled to pull the jeans over his bare legs, she put the bags in the walk-in closet and took out a dress for herself. Anita slipped the dress over her head and redressed herself while Howard attired himself in the unfamiliar clothes she had bought him. Anita stopped to pick up her purse and car keys on the way to the garage following Howard out of the kitchen door and locking it. When she saw him automatically go to the driver's side of his Suburban, she said, "Honey? Why don't you let me drive?"
"Why?", Howard grumped, still upset about his failure in the bedroom.
"Because if we get stopped and you're driving, you're going to have a problem," she answered.
"What problem?", Howard demanded in an irritated tone.
"Driving without a license," Anita said simply.
"What do you mean? I have my driver's license right here in my wallet in my back pocket!", he exclaimed.
Anita shook her head and said, "It wonít do you any good if we're stopped. If fact you might get into even more trouble if you showed it to a police officer."
"Why is that?", he asked, "It's not expired. I have every right to drive. My insurance is paid up. My license is valid. I'm a grown man for Christ sake, what's wrong with letting me drive?"
"Your driver's license is for a forty-four year old man, right?", she asked socraticaly.
"Of course it is, it's mine isn't it?", he said with an attitude.
"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?", she said, springing her trap.
She moved her hands as if washing her hands of his decision and began to walk around to the passenger side of his car, saying tiredly, "Oh, go ahead and drive if you must, but for God's sake don't show them your license. They'll think you stole it. If we're stopped I'll tell the police that I'm your mother and that I'm teaching you how to drive. If they ask for your learner's permit, look sheepish and tell them you left it at home. At least then the worst you'll get is a ticket for leaving your permit at home!"
"Ohhh," he said looking abashed, "I guess I don't look much like my license photo anymore. I donít look like a forty year old man, do I?"
She shook her head "no" in agreement saying, "Not by half, Honey"
Howard said with resignation, "I guess you should drive," and began walking over to the passenger side of her dark green Geo.
Anita nodded and went over to her Geo. She got in the driver's seat of her car and started the engine up as Howard entered the passenger side of the car and strapped himself in. A few minutes into the trip she asked, "Would you like to go get a hamburger and then go to Walmart to pick up some underwear?"
"Sounds good to me," he agreed. Then he put his hand on her leg and began, "Honey, I'm sorry about what happened in the bedroom." He blushed furiously and said, "I mean IÖ"
"That's okay, Darling," Anita interrupted him. She patted his leg and said, "I know it's not your fault. But Sweetheart, there is one favor I'd like to ask you."
"What is it Honey?", he asked sincerely.
"Try not to put your hands on me while we're in public," she said.
"What??", he exclaimed in surprise, "Why not?"
"Because it's unseemly for a son to be copping a feel of his mother's leg. That's why!", she replied.
"ButÖBut you're not my mother, you're my wife!", he argued.
"That's not how everyone else will see it," she countered.
"Oh, I guess you're right. I mean everyone will just assumeÖ.", he started to say.
"Exactly!", Anita finished, "And incest is a felony in this state. I'd rather not try to explain what's happened to you, okay?"
"But what if they think you're not my mother?", he queried.
"Then I'm contributing to the delinquency of a minor and have probably committed statutory rape. One way or the other, Howard, I'll be seen as breaking the law. You don't want me to be arrested right before my promotion, do you Howard? Let's just drop it and change the subject, okay?", she said grimly.
"Where are we going?", Howard asked.
"How about Burger King?", she asked, "There's one right up the road."
"Okay with me. You know how much I like beef," he said agreeably as he pinched the end off a fresh cigar and prepared to light it.
"Oh no you don't!", Anita said as she took the cigar from his hand, "There's a law about minors purchasing tobacco products, remember?"
"But AnitaÖ", he whined in protest.
"Absolutely NOT!", Anita said firmly, "Besides, you reek of cigar smoke. What have you been doing? Sitting in the bathroom and smoking cigars all day? I didn't smell any cigars in the hall when I came in. You need to air out a little before we go shopping. At least the smoke isn't in your clothes. The smell seems to be coming from your hair. Roll your window down all the way and let the wind blow some of the smell out of your hair."
"Can't I just chew on it without lighting it?", he asked as he rolled down the window.
"And have the other drivers in passing cars see you with a cigar in your mouth? Howard, you've got to realize that you no longer look like a man. You look like you're sixteen at most. If we're going to get through this period without getting in trouble with the law, you've got to start acting the part. And that means NO MORE CIGARS IN PUBLIC! Am I making myself clear?", Anita said determinedly.
"Yes, Dear", Howard grumbled.
They stopped in Burger King and pulled in the parking lot rather than go through the drive through lane.
Once inside, Howard realized she had been right about the cigars. The disparity in their apparent ages made everyone think that they were a mother and son. When it came time to place their order at the counter, the woman at the register took Anita's order first and then asked her if she would like to order anything for her son. Anita smirked a bit when the saleswoman referred to Howard as her son, but said nothing to dissuade the woman's notion. She merely turned and looked at Howard expectantly and waited for him to speak up. He ordered a burger, a drink and some fries, then turned away to let Anita pay for their meal. After the tab had been paid, the saleswoman put together a tray of food and slid it across the counter to Anita. Thy found themselves a quiet booth at the rear of the restaurant and sat down with their tray. After they ate their meal, then proceeded to Walmart to buy some underwear for him. Anita went to the fabric section first, allowing Howard to follow passively behind. She opened package with a cloth tape measure and measured his waist, then tossed the cloth tape in the basket along with the package. She looked at him sympathetically and said, "Why don't you go and look at the tools while I do some clothes shopping, Honey? I'll come and get you when I'm finished. I know you get bored while I'm trying on clothes. It'll be awhile until I get finished."
Howard agreed and went to take a look at their power tools. Within ten minutes he felt an urgent need to find the store's bathroom to relieve himself. The exercise of walking around the store had stimulated his intestinal tract and he made it to the toilet with only seconds to spare.
On the way back from the bathroom he took a shortcut through the childrens' clothing section to the hardware department. As he cut through an adjacent aisle, Howard passed by a mother who was talking in low furious tones to her little boy. From the large dark spot on the front of his shorts it was obvious that he had wet himself. As he neared the pair, the smell of feces assaulted his senses. Apparently the mother was well aware of what the toddler had done in the back of his pants. She shook her finger at the weeping tot and told him that if he couldn't learn to control himself, she was going to have to put him back in diapers. The little boy screamed in humiliation as the mother took a package of toddler-sized diapers from the nearby baby goods aisle and tossed it in the shopping cart. Then she sat the wailing toddler in the cart's baby seat and headed the basket in the direction of the bathrooms. Howard shook his head at the little boy's lack of self-control as he wound his way through the packed aisles of the store. Even though he was a hundred feet away, he could still hear the outraged screams of the little boy as his mother wheeled him to the rear of the store to carry out her threat of sartorial regression at the diaper changing station of the women's restroom. No wonder that little boy's mother was ready to treat him like a baby, Howard thought, that child had no sense of self control at all!
After an hour Anita came to find Howard. He was surprised to see that she didn't have a basket with her, apparently she had already bought what she needed and put it in the car. He followed her to the car and they drove home. After she parked her Geo in the garage, he offered to carry her bags in the house. She refused, saying that she could handle the single bag herself. When she opened the car trunk however, he saw that there were far more bags in the trunk than the single shopping bag she had mentioned. For some reason, she was keeping a secret from him, but for the life of him, he could not figure out what it must be. Most likely she had bought some new outfits that she didn't want him to see because she would be afraid that he would say something about the expense now that he was out of work. He passed it off with a shrug and went to the kitchen door with the soles of his rubber sandals loudly slapping the concrete floor of the garage. Anita came in the house and put the bag of clothes down on the bed, then pulled out a package of briefs and handed them to him. "Briefs?", he demanded in askance, "You know that I only wear boxers. Briefs bind myÖ.well you know what they bind. Why the Hell did you buy briefs for me?"
"Because those were the only type of underwear they carried in boy's sizes, that's why," she told him, "Besides, they'll hug your hips better than boxers so you'll still be able to wear them if you get any smaller. I only bought one package. If you don't like them and you stay the same size, I'll go to the Mall and try to find some boxers in boy's sizes, okay?"
"Well?", she said looking as if she was about to start tapping her foot impatiently.
"Well what?", he asked innocently.
"Aren't you going to put them on? I didn't give them to you just to look at, you know," she said severely.
"I don't know," he said obstinately, "I don't need to wear underwear with these jeans. They're nicely broken in. Look at how soft the fabric is. I really don't need to wear briefs with them. They're comfortable without them."
"Put on the briefs and quit procrastinating, Howard!", she told him firmly, "You may not have to wash your dirty laundry, but you can at least wear some briefs so you don't stain your pants! I'm the one who has to get the brown streaks out of the seat if you dirty your pants!"
Howard reluctantly doffed his pants and pulled the briefs up his skinny legs. The last time he had worn briefs was when he was in eighth grade. The first year of high school he had graduated to boxers and had worn them ever since. As far as Howard was concerned, briefs were only worn by boys and Italian gigolos. Real men wore boxers. There was something about cotton briefs that was too reminiscent of padded training pants for Howard to feel comfortable wearing them. Somehow they had the emotional connotation of being the type of underwear that a male who couldn't control himself wore. The nylon briefs favored by Italian lovers were only slightly less damning than cotton. If Howard had worn them, he would have felt like a male prostitute. The minute he had been allowed to choose his own clothes he had made a conscious decision never to wear briefs again. His hatred of cotton briefs extended to the fabric itself. He had endured polyester/cotton blends while he was in college, but once he finished graduated school and had gotten his first job, he gone out and bought silk boxers. Howard had worn nothing but silk next to his crotch from that day forward. Unfortunately, the small size of his rejuvenated body made wearing cotton briefs inevitable no matter how they made him feel. There was nothing else available.
Anita was emptying his underwear drawer as he dressed and stacking his boxers on the bed. Howard looked at the vestiges of his adult undergarments with an intense feeling of nostalgia as she cleaned out the drawer. When she had finished taking out all of his socks and piling them on the bed, she took the two briefs from the package and laid them in his underwear drawer by themselves. Just as he reached for his pants, she grabbed them from the bed and said, "Not so fast, buster! You wore these without underwear, remember? I'm going to put them in the wash right now!"
Howard dropped his mouth open at the tone in her voice. What had possessed her to talk that way to him? He wore the pants in the family! How dare she! First the cigar in the car, then the briefs and now this! What the Hell was wrong with her? Had she lost her mind?
Anita turned on her heel and walked out of the room leaving him dressed in nothing but briefs and his T-shirt. Howard put her behavior down to a temporary break with reality and went out to the family room to watch TV in his underwear. Whatever had gotten into her, she would probably calm down and then they could talk about it. It was probably only some woman thing anyhow. When Anita returned she said, "My secretary from work is coming over this morning. No, don't worry, she can keep her mouth shut about what's happened to you. We need her to notarize a document for us."
"What kind of document?", Howard asked.
"A legal document," Anita replied evasively, "Honey, have you thought ahead about your condition? You're already too young to drive and you might get even smaller. I know you wear the pants in the family, but what will happen if you have to go into the hospital? What if your condition gets worse and you can't talk or write for some reason? We need to plan for every eventuality. In case of emergency I need to be able to handle our affairs, with your permission of course. Don't you think that's a good idea?"
Howard frowned and nodded his agreement slowly. "What's she leading up to?" he thought to himself.
"I got to thinking about your condition last week and had an idea. I called our lawyer on Monday and had him prepare some documents for us to use in case of emergency. He sent the documents over to my office by messenger this afternoon and I asked my secretary to come here and notarize them for us. You don't mind, do you?", Anita asked anxiously.
"What kind of documents?", Howard asked suspiciously.
"Oh, just a power-of-attorney," Anita answered airily, "Just in caseÖ..Well, you knowÖ"
"Yeah, I know!", Howard grumped. He thought about it for a minute and grudgingly said, "I guess you're right. Tell your secretary it's okay to come over. I'll sign the papers."
"Oh, yes! I almost forgot. There was one other document I asked the lawyer to prepare I need to tell you about," Anita said causally.
"What's that?", Howard asked curtly.
Anita took a deep breath and said, "I got to thinking how high court fines have become in the last few years. The prosecutors do their best to bankrupt people so they can't afford to mount an effective appeal. I think I've thought of a way to protect ourselves in case you're prosecuted for being an accessory to the polluters. I asked him to prepare a document that assigns all your assets over to me. Don't you see, Honey? The courts won't be able to take our money if you're arrested. Of course I couldn't tell the lawyer why you're willing to assign all your possessions to me since he's technically a member of the court. If the judge who tries your case found out the real reason you assigned your assets to me, he'd invalidate the assignment. I've told our lawyer that we're separating but not getting a divorce at this time." She smiled at him and said, "If you don't get arrested, the story is still useful. If anyone snoops around, they might wonder where you've gone. This way I can say that you've taken up residence elsewhere and haven't given me your address. I'll tell them I think you're having some sort of male midlife crisis and that you're probably shacking up with some girlfriend. Isn't it brilliant?"
"Yeah,Öreal brilliant," Howard said sourly, but he had to agree that the cover story she had concocted for his absence was ingenious. If an investigator dug into his life in detail, they would discover his relationship with Barbie. Once his peccadilloes were known, it would lend credence to Anita's story. "But how about me? How are you going to explain that you have a teenaged boy living with you?", he asked.
"Oh that!", Anita chuckled, "I'll just tell them you're my nephew who's staying with me temporarily until my sister gets out of the hospital."
That evening, Anita's secretary Marge came over and witnessed their signatures, then entered their names in a large ledger she carried and stamped them with the State Seal. The ceremony was short and wordless; once Marge was done, she put her ledger and notary Seal in her briefcase and left. The whole process had taken less than five minutes. Howard wasn't particularly happy about granting Anita a power-of-attorney and was even less pleased when he saw that the lawyer had made it a full power-of-attorney rather than a limited one. It bothered him to assign all his assets to Anita, but the danger of being pauperized by prosecution for polluting was too real to be ignored. Given his deteriorating condition, he had to agree that her ideas were sound. Besides, Anita wasn't going to use his power-of-attorney unless there was an emergency. Howard had every confidence that he would remain the sole director and arbiter of their fates. A ship could only have one captain, and he intended to remain firmly at the helm to chart their course.
The next morning, Anita suggested they go to a Saturday morning matinee at the movies. The local Centrex 24 had recently replaced their ancient and much revamped Dobie ® surround sound system with the latest Sensorium ® audio/sensory system. The video was pretty much the same as it had been before; a high definition video signal displayed on multi-sync, multiple, flat-panel plasma displays that spanned six meters in one dimension and four in the other. By multiplexing the signal and decoding each part of the picture for each high resolution flat plasma display panel that was part of the total display, the effective limitations of both thirty-five millimeter film and normal television were bypassed with a depth of detail and color that was unmatched by any other technique. It was difficult for the average viewer to be able to perceive the difference between what was real and what was a simulation. Computationally the overhead of handling that much information was enormous. However, with the introduction of the thirty-two gigahertz video processors and the implementation of two terabyte chips of ultra-high speed VRAM for each panel in the parallel array, the problem had been solved to everyone's satisfaction. In other words, the video offered by the movie house was standard. The audio, however, was something else again. The Dobie ® surround techniques had been surpassed relatively early by digitally mapping the ranging and locating techniques utilized by the human brain. A nearly universal template was created that used phase and delay techniques to make sounds be perceived by the human brain as if their location was anywhere the movie director wanted it to be. That was old technology. Sensorium ® got in your head. Literally. Secret military weapons experiments with electromagnetic radiation to affect the enemy mood from the nineteen nineties had escaped the government's control and had become widely known. Unlike the slow, methodical and horribly expensive approach of government contractual researchers, the movie industry had taken the idea and had shaken value out of the technique the way a terrier shakes a rat. Using Third World prisoner "volunteers" as lab rats, they had quickly managed to discover how to induce almost any emotion into a human. Hundreds of prisoners had died of convolutions or had been reduced to mindless idiocy as a consequence of massive doses of electromagnetic radiation that resonated with the frequencies of the human brain. By shifting frequencies and changing the envelope of the wave packet, the studios discovered that certain "universal" scents and tastes could be artificially invoked in the human brain. Even minor muscular twitches could be evoked by this means. Movies were no longer made on film although the general public still referred to the augmented video productions as films. Instead, they were created on mastered video disks that outputted gigabytes of data every second. Pornography took on a whole new meaning as the studios learned how to digitally remaster old prints and give them entirely new dimensions. They could make a either a saintly nun or (more easily) a sexual pervert orgasm upon command. Personality and desire had nothing to do with the effects they could create. They could take control of the human mind and create any illusion they wanted. Movie directors discovered that they could play entire audiences like orchestras of well-tuned violins. All it took was four loops of antenna wire embedded in the head rest of each seat. Once a customer sat in one of their seats, he was theirs in both body and soul. There was nothing to compare with the experience of actually being there.
Modern movies were not merely seen and heard, they were felt, tasted and emoted. As a sop to parent's sensibilities, most movies had two disparate sensorial/emotive tracks. One set was intended for mature audiences while the other was intended for children. When a ticket was purchased, the purchaser of an adult ticket placed their right palm over a black globe that emitted a strong emotion of well-being plus a slight tingling sensation. The tingling sensation blocked signals from the nerves that would have told the customer that a infinitesimally small single-chip tuned circuit was being painlessly injected into their dermis through an aperture in the globe using a needle-less high pressure jet. When the customer sat down in their seat and put their palm on the handrest, a transceiver buried in the handrest read the circuit and determined the type of ticket that had been purchased. If an adult ticket had been bought, then the mature version of the sensorial track was fed to that seat, otherwise the children's track was played.
Subconscious queuing for the snack bar was right around the corner if only the movie industry could sneak it past the government. It didn't take the movie industry long to discover how to do it. Scenes of people eating and drinking in movies became de rigueur parts of movie storylines causing snack sales to skyrocket. Only children were spared the mental manipulation that filled the lines of the snack bars in the theatres. The movie industry had graciously demurred making children feel hungry and thirsty. The industry had no interest in manipulating the minds of small children, adults had the money and children who were hungry or thirsty were disruptive. Children tended to cry if their perceived needs weren't met. The state governments had reacted quickly to the new technology by passing laws that made it illegal for children under the age of eighteen to see "R" rated movies unless their parents were present. In most states alcohol control boards were given the responsibility to see that theatres toed the line. High fines were levied on employees and theatres that sold adult tickets to children without proper proof that they were old enough to exercise adult privileges. Overnight, the teenaged girls who worked in the ticket booths found themselves transferred to the snack bar or discovered they were out of a job. Ticket sales became a managerial function once theatres found themselves closed for a month by government fiat when children employed by the alcohol control boards were sent to theatres and induced them into selling adult tickets without proper identification.
When they arrived, they perused the list of matinee movies playing to make a decision on which one they would see. Howard wanted to see a violent action film with heavy sexual overtones while Anita wanted to see how the new effects had been applied to a vintage movie. Although she wasn't bothered by the explicit sex in Howard's movie, she had no interest in being psychically inundated in the blood and gore of an action movie. The movie she had selected was a light comedy about how a man's dearest wish got him into trouble. She wanted to experience the feelings of a man who had found himself in an untenable position much as Howard had. She thought it might help her understand how he felt even if the film wasn't serious. Howard, on the other hand, wanted blood and gore splattered all over the screen. His life had turned to shit and he unconsciously wanted to revenge himself by blowing the responsible party into chunks of splintered bone and macerated muscle with a hail of hollow point bullets from an automatic weapon. The larger the weapon and the smaller the pieces the better. If he couldn't execute his imaginary tormentor in real life, he would do it vicariously by watching the most violent movie he could find.
Howard won the argument temporarily when he made a unilateral decision that they should see the action film. When he tried to purchase their tickets for the "R" rated movie, the woman in the ticket sales booth demanded to see his identification proving he was eighteen as required by law. Howard was stymied. He couldn't show the woman his driver's license; she'd never believe it was his and might call the police. He smiled as if he had been joking and turned to Anita for help. Instead nodding in silent agreement to validate his right to buy the tickets, she blithely moved him aside and quietly bought the tickets for the "G" movie that she had wanted to see. Once the money was received and the color-coded tickets were dispensed by the machine, Anita put her hand on the globe and received the injection of the tuned circuit. Howard did the same, but since Anita had unobtrusively purchased a discount children's content ticket for him, the ticket-taker did not actuate the mechanism that injected the tuned circuit. The sphere merely blew a harmless jet of air at his palm. Since the sensations produced by the globe were the same for everyone, he had no way of knowing that his movie going experience had been preprogrammed for child's content only. Anita might have purchased a mature content ticket for him if he had not tried to bully her into seeing his movie rather than hers, but she had been irritated by his behavior and decided to play a harmless joke on him.
The salesgirl in the ticket booth thought that Howard had tried to play a trick on his mother and buy tickets for a film she hadn't intended for him to see and was gratified to see how Anita had reacted to her unruly son's behavior. Making him experience the children's version of a "G" rated movie was a singularly appropriate punishment for his attempt to overrule his mother's wishes. She had seen the infantile behavior that teenaged boys exhibited at the movies multiple times during her short tenure as an assistant manager and had had to help clean up the messes they made in the theatre on a number of occasions. As far as she was concerned, all teenaged boys should be accompanied by their mothers to the movies and strapped into their seats to keep them out of trouble. If she had had her way, drinks for teenaged boys would only be sold in disposable soft plastic baby bottles to keep them from damaging the screen or spilling their drinks on the floor. For that matter, she wouldn't have sold them popcorn unless they wore a feeding bib with a catchpocket to minimize the mess. The minute sixteen-year-old boys went to the movies on their own, they acted like they had forgotten all the manners they had learned since they were two-year-olds. In the assistant manager's humble opinion, they should be treated the way they acted, i.e., they should be babysat and handled like the unhousebroken, infantile barbarians they were.
Anita went to the snack bar and bought a big box of buttered popcorn and drinks for the two of them as Howard waited in the lobby. After taking his drink and the box of popcorn from Anita, Howard led the way to the ticket takers. When he tried to enter the movie he had wanted to see, the ticket takers politely but firmly turned him away and told him that the color coding on his ticket indicated that he had paid to see another movie and could not be allowed to switch theatres. Howard was incensed. He asked one of the ticket takers which movie was the ticket sold for and was told that the ticket could only be used for the movie "Big Baby". Howardís mouth dropped open in shock at Anita's betrayal as Anita gently pushed him aside and gave her ticket to the ticket-takers. A moment later he realized that if he didnít follow her, heíd be left behind. Howard hurried to catch up with her, fuming at the trick she had played on him. It never occurred to him that he had tried to do the same thing to her first and that what she had done was his quid pro quo.
Anita found some seats open in the forth row center where she liked to sit in movies. The theatre was almost empty for the first showing of the day. Howard settled back and relaxed in his seat despite his irritation with Anita. He hadnít ever seen the movie but was roughly acquainted with the plot. Big Baby was a satire of the transformation comedies made in the mid-nineties like "Jack", "Big", and the still popular classic, "The Nutty Professor". From what he remembered reading, the storyline was about a mature business man who wishes he was ten years old again only to have his wish backfire and transmogrify him into a one-year-old baby. Considering what had been happening to him over the last seven months, Howard thought Anitaís choice in movie for them to see was in extremely poor taste. When he discovered the Anita had treacherously purchased a child-content ticket for him, he was livid. The adult emotions and sensations had been heavily censored, but the feelings and sensations of being an infant were left fully intact. Howard could swear he could feel himself shrinking in the seat. He anxiously checked the size of his hand again and again to prove to himself that he wasnít turning into an infant on the spot. Anita of course, felt the same sensations that he was feeling plus the adult sensations and inner emotions of the adult side of the protagonist. The movie never seemed to bother her. She smiled in amusement as the protagonist became an infant and laughed at all the appropriate places in the movie, while Howard sat stunned in his seat, wondering if the fictional characterís fate was going to be his own. He could not help but question Anitaís motives to taking him to this movie. Instead of taking his mind off of his problems, Howard knew the movie would give him nightmares for weeks. Howard closed his eyes under the emotion projector's assault on the integrity of his mind as waves of infantile helplessness washed over him. By the end of the movie, he couldn't tell how old he was; he could have been sixteen or forty-four or only a year old. The movie's mental bombardment in combination with his recent regression had completely annihilated his body image. If he closed his eyes and tried to think about how he looked or how big he was in relation to his surroundings, multiple images of himself at various ages appeared in his mind. His kinesthetic sense had been wildly distorted by the electromagnetic radiation. His body felt heavy and clumsy on him as if he was wearing a body that wasn't rightfully his. When Howard staggered and tripped as they left the theatre, Anita put out her hand to steady him. He took her hand in his and held it tightly as she led him to the Suburban. Although it was a comfort to know she was at his side, being led to the car like a little boy did nothing to help his mental confusion. He couldn't tell if he was an ill adult or a toddler under Anita's care as Anita buckled him in the passenger seat of the Suburban and drove them home. The effects of the movie on Howard's self-image took hours to subside.
That night Howard had a nightmare that left him lying in damp sheets. He dreamed he was sitting cross-legged on the carpet of the living room, dressed only in a pair of white cotton briefs and a pair of thick, fuzzy, white socks, while Anita bustled about him doing chores and cleaning the house. He wondered why Anita would let him wear socks around the house like that without saying anything to him. Everytime he had worn socks around the house without shoes in the past, she had come down on him like a ton of bricks. She would complain bitterly how grimy the soles of the socks got when he wore them without shoes and explain to him in excruciating detail how difficult it would make it to get them clean. Strewn around him on the floor were vaguely shaped brightly colored objects whose purpose and function were unclear to him. For some reason, he found he was unable to speak to Anita as she walked by. All he could make were incomprehensible gurgling noises that were devoid of content or meaning. He could talk to himself readily enough, albeit in an almost soundless whisper rather than his full voice, but Anita's presence rendered him speechless. He waved his arms at her each time she passed by, hoping to attract her attention, but she would just smile at him and continue with her work. After a while, he noticed that his vision was obscured by something that surrounded him. There was a misty appearance to the lower parts of the room that baffled him. The floor of the room seemed to be inundated with a pervasive milky fog that ended abruptly three feet over the carpet. Howard could discern the outline and color of the couch, but the details of its construction were obscured the fog.
Howard attempted to get up and follow Anita to tell her about his speech difficulties, but his bottom seemed to be firmly stuck to the carpet. Try as he might, he couldn't free his behind from the carpet. He waved his arms frantically at Anita, but other than smiling and nodding at him as she passed by, she ignored him. Suddenly Howard was seized by an intense thirst. Howard tried again to get up from the carpet and failed. Howard found his helpless condition and thirst so disconcerting that he started to cry. That at least got Anita's attention. She came to the sound of his wails and stood over him with that damnable knowing smile still on her face. Then she bent over and patted him on the head to comfort him patronizingly the way she would a small child and put an object in his mouth. When he removed it to see what it was, he discovered she had put a pacifier in his mouth. He threw it on the floor in front of him and glared up at her angrily. She smiled sweetly back and ignored the evil look he had bestowed upon her. As his thirst grew, he knew he had to get something to drink before he became dehydrated. When he waved his arms in a panic and pointed to his mouth to signal that he was thirsty, she reached behind herself and brought out a glass filled with a brown liquid.
Howard reached for the glass gratefully only to find it was filled with chocolate milk. Despite his hatred of the sickly sweet stuff, Howard gulped it down in a single draught. As he drank, he became aware of a vaguely defined dark figure looming hugely over the two of them in the background. The thing had no particular outline, only a fuzzily defined semi-transparent boundary where the feeling of power exuded by its presence dropped by several orders of magnitude. Howard had the strong impression that the shadowy thing was terribly amused by his predicament. Within minutes of polishing off the glass of chocolatey milk, he realized he had to pee. The sensation of the cold milk in his stomach descending through his small intestine and putting pressure on his bladder made his urgency too immediate to ignore. He knew he had to get up then and there to go to the bathroom before he lost control of himself.
Howard tried to semaphore that he had to go immediately by pointing at his crotch with his hands, but Anita merely smiled again in apparent agreement and nodded as if she expected him to pee while he was sitting there on the floor. With a groan of failure, he felt his bladder reach the bursting stage and release its contents into his briefs. To Howard's utter amazement, he didn't make a puddle on the carpet. All his pee had been absorbed by his briefs. The feeling of heat from his soggy briefs spread down between his legs and started working its way up his behind. Although the sensation of warmth was pleasurable, Howard was humiliated by his lack of control over his basic bodily functions in front of his wife. He raised his arms to Anita to try to get her to help him to his feet, but she only stood there with a grin of triumph on her face.
A moment later, the unthinkable started happening; he felt a twinge from his lower intestine and then he sensed a tiny fart working its way free of his bowel. He stared at the ground in embarrassment, hoping the little fart was too small for Anita to detect. The baby fart was followed by slightly larger one, and then another, even larger fart before loosing a loud "burrrraap" as his intestines emptied themselves of gas. Suddenly, he felt his anal sphincter relax and open to pass a stool. He tried to clamp down on his anal sphincter, but he discovered to his dismay that he had no control over his bowels either. He felt his abdomen contract again, signaling unmistakably that he was having an convulsive bowel movement. Howard drummed his heels on the floor in frustration and anger as he felt himself fill his briefs with shit. His infantile display of anger was useless; the heels of his feet were so well padded by the thick socks that they barely made a sound as they struck the carpet. Anita made a wry face when she smelled what he had done and began laughing hysterically as if she had been waiting for his final humiliation. When her laughter died down to chuckles of amusement, she reached behind herself again and took out a tall white plastic bottle and began sprinkling a sweet smelling white powder in the air over his legs and crotch like snow. When he touched the small piles of the snow-like substance on his legs, it immediately spread over the surface of his skin and blended in until it disappeared. He touched the area where the powder had spread and discovered that his skin had transformed itself into a healthy pink, silky softness from the powder. While this was happening, Anita knelt beside him and stroked the skin on the inside of his leg with an approving expression. She nodded to herself as if she had every expectation that the powder would give his skin the delicate velvety quality it had suddenly acquired. When he looked up at her expecting some kind of answer to the odd phenomena, she ignored his plaintive expression and firmly pushed his shoulders to the floor.
Once Howard was laying supine in front of her helplessly, Anita reached behind herself again and took out a long rectangle of white cloth which she flourished before his eyes like a magician. Anita held the cloth by two corners, letting the length of it hang down in front of his eyes for his inspection. She turned it around to show him that the back of the cloth had the same snowy appearance as the front, then she turned it back to let him see the front again. With a magician's flourish, she flipped the cloth in her hands so that a third of it was folded over towards the back and carefully draped the cloth on the floor in front of his crotch with the doubled portion positioned between his heels. When he looked back up at her in askance at her strange actions, he noticed for the first time that she couldn't have possibly have answered him; her mouth had been pierced from her bottom lip through the top lip with a large pair of baby-blue plastic-headed, safety pins that had been locked in place to hold her mouth closed. Anita seemed to suffer no sense of discomfort from her impaled lips. Despite the safety pins, he saw that she was still smiling in apparent pleasure as she looked down at his soggy briefs. It was as if Anita had planned for him to mess in his undies and had seen her plans come to ultimate fruition.
Despite the odd appearance caused by the safety pins through her face, Anita radiated an unearthly aura of feminine power and unconditional love. Howard could feel its power washing over him from his position beneath her on the carpet. He had the feeling that from that point on, he could do nothing to displease Anita. She no longer needed him to perform for her; she was more than competent to take care of the both of them without his interference. Anita no longer needed the man she had married. From then on, she would tower over him and see to his every need. Strangely, he felt a profound sense of loss by the change in their relationship. While she might tend to his bodily needs, he realized that his mental concerns were no longer a part of her life. She wasn't his subordinate wife anymore, but some form of deific caretaker. It was as if his intellectual needs had become too petty and immature to justify the attentions of the Goddess who knelt at his side. She would care for him, but she never be his wife or equal again. The feeling made Howard feel incredibly small and helpless. He wanted to cry.
The sense of satisfaction from the God-like figure that hovered in the background was overpowering. Howard had a vague sense that the half-seen presence was moving him like a chess piece in a vast game whose rules were inherently unknowable to mankind. The feeling of being only a defenseless pawn in a game he couldn't understand made him feel even more like a helpless babe. Howard closed his eyes and began to wail like an infant in dire need of a diaper change. He kicked his legs futilely as Anita reached down and began to pull his filthy underwear down his legs. She crossed his ankles and gripped them in one hand, then she easily lifted his legs to slide the rectangle of cloth beneath his behind. She lowered his bottom to the floor and proceeded to pull the soft, snowy cloth up between his legs. Anita reached up to her mouth with her hand and was somehow magically able to take the pins from her lips without unlocking them. She bent over close to him and pulled the cloth tight around his hips. Howard squalled in rage when he realized that she was diapering him like an infant. He balled his tiny fists up at his sides, fearing to strike the Goddess who now controlled his life. He felt her pin the diapers through the skin of his hips so they would not come off no matter how much he struggled. There was no sense of pain, merely the sensation that the pins had been permanently affixed through his body so there would be no release in his lifetime. He reached down with his hand and tried to unlock the diaper pin, but to no avail. The warding mechanism of the plastic head easily defeated his clumsy probing fingers. He couldn't disengage the pin by main force because the steel spring of the pin was stronger than the weak muscles of his little fingers. He was trapped! Howard's fury at the ultimate humiliation of being his wife's baby boy made him close his eyes and howl in unrestrained rage. When he opened his eyes againÖ.
Howard awoke to see Anita standing over him with a concerned expression on her face. Howard was in bed instead of being on the floor. Anita put her hand on top of his head affectionately and said, "What's wrong, Sweetheart? You must have being having a bad dream. We could hear you screaming all the way out in the kitchen. It sounded like there was a crying baby in here!"
The bedclothes felt clammy as if he had had an accident in the bed. His face took on a pained, mortified look as he apologized in a small voice, "I'm sorry! I couldn't stop myself from peeing! I didn't mean to poop in my pants!"
Anita's eyebrows raised questioningly, then she put her hand underneath the comforter to check the bedclothes. After feeling the sheet around Howard with her fingers and palm, she ordered, "Roll over on your tummy!"
Howard complied willingly in acute embarrassment as she felt his bottom for evidence of his alleged defecation. The thin cotton briefs were stretched tight over his behind without any lumps that would have lent credence to Howard's claim. There was nothing in Howard's underwear but Howard. She patted him smartly on the rump and threw the clothes back to reveal the damp sheet he had been laying on. A dark stain of sweat reached from his head to his toes. She chuckled and said, "It doesn't look like you wet the bed! You're covered in sweat. That must have been some dream! What did you think had happened to you?"
Howard put his hands down to feel his soggy underwear and realized it had all been a dream. The wetness he felt surrounding him was only his sweat. The emotional effects of dream still hadn't subsided. He could still feel the invisible presence of the amused power that had haunted the final part of his dream. He shivered and wondered if it was the cold sweat on his body that chilled him or whether it was the feeling of being observed by the ghostly presence of a diabolical being that had made him tremble. He didn't want to tell Anita about the infantile dream he had; besides being embarrassing, his dream had been too distressing to want to relive by relating it to her. He turned his eyes away from her and said while staring down at the floor, "I don't want to talk about it."
Anita shook her head and said, "Well, whether you wet it or sweat on it, this sheet needs to be changed. Come on, Sweetie. Get out of bed so I can change the bedclothes. Go change your underwear so I can get them in the wash. You may not have wet them, but they're soaked with perspiration. You can go back to sleep later if you like, but I have to get this sheet changed before it goes sour."
He heaved a sigh of relief and started to get out of bed. As he did so, he put his hand behind him and patted his bottom surreptitiously to check his underwear for foreign objects. Anita smiled crookedly and said, "You don't believe me, do you Howard?"
"Y..Yes, I believe you," Howard stated flatly, "It's just that the dream seemed so real!"
"You were having a nightmare," Anita said firmly, "Now go get out of those damp briefs and into some dry ones, okay?" Howard looked up at her thankfully at her assurance that he hadn't done any thing wrong. The only odd thing was that Anita was smiling down at him in the same way she had in the dream. He shivered again as he passed under her gaze while going to the dresser to change his underwear.
"Don't go into the kitchen until you've gotten yourself completely dressed," Anita ordered, "The girls from the Sunday morning brunch are still here. Let me go out there and explain to them you were having a nightmare before you go out to see them, okay? I don't want them to make any embarrassing comments to you. After they leave maybe we can go to the park for a walk later so you can settle your nerves. You look like you've seen a ghost!"
"I think I'll go to the bathroom and sit in there until they leave," Howard mumbled sleepily.
"Good idea!", Anita agreed enthusiastically, "Since you're not going back to bed immediately, I'll just strip the bedclothes and let the mattress dry out before it mildews. I'll remake the bed later after it dries completely."
"Whatever," Howard said, taking a pair of briefs from the drawer before stumbling to the master bathroom.
When Howard finally emerged from the bathroom, the women were gone. Anita had brought him a cup of coffee and his morning paper to read while he sat on the john. The coffee increased his urine output and made him glad he had elected to sit in the bathroom rather than in a chair in the bedroom. It made for less trips to the toilet that way. He sat naked on the toilet and read the paper completely, urinating from time to time as the need struck him.
When he walked into the living room, Anita had already cleaned up the kitchen and living room and was ready to go to the park. Anita was already wearing a rather becoming forest green windbreaker in anticipation of the outing. She handed him a light blue nylon windbreaker and said, "Come on, the walk will do you good."
Howard nodded and took the featherweight, sky-blue garment from her hand. It was cool outside, but not enough to require more than a light jacket. Once they started walking, the exercise would warm them up quickly. As usual, Anita had made the right choice. They went to the garage and got in the Suburban. Howard went to the passenger side without saying a word.
The park was nearly empty when they arrived. There were a few hardened joggers out, but it was still to early in the day for mother's to bring their children to the park to play in the playground. The air was cool and dark as dirty grey rainclouds passed over the trees. Anita and Howard set out along the path walking side-by-side, saying nothing as the passed under the naked branches that were only then sprouting new buds of leaves. Spring was coming, but it was a late starter. For Howard, the world appeared as if everything was being held in abeyance until some unknowable change had occurred to set life on its proper path again. Anita accepted the world as it was; she never worried over late springs or summers. She knew that the Earth had its calendar and would proceed at its own pace. The early spring breeze was cool as Anita had expected and their windbreakers kept them warm until the exercise took the chill of early spring off their bones. They walked until they reached the playground, then rested on the swings for a few minutes before they moved over to the merry-go-round. Anita mounted the steel platform of the merry-go-round and leaned against one of the tubular safety railings that radiated out of the center and extended to the edge of the playground amusement. Howard gave the railing a push to start the merry-go-round in a slow widdershins rotation, then hopped on himself. Anita talked about her week at work, then asked Howard how he had faired at home alone during the week.
Howard looked out at the world slowly passing them by as the merry-go-round unwound and dissipated its energy. With each revolution the merry-go-round returned to its starting position, only to find the world had remained relatively unchanged as it spun around them. The experience gave Howard the strange feeling that all the action in the world was really occurring within himself and that the rest of humanity was only blurred scenery. He shook the feeling off as one of those mad thoughts that emerge from the depths of the unconscious from time to time and are ignored by the sane mind. Only in his dreams did he succumb to the deranged messages that bubbled up from his Id. Howard was too rooted in reality to understand the deep insights of a mystic or psychotic. For him, the world was a thing to be managed and manipulated by any mechanical means at hand. He knew that there were no animistic spirits in rocks or springs to guide him through the pitfalls of life. Free will and random chaos underlay the structure of his universe. Belief in the God of his childhood had been abandoned in his pursuit of mundane knowledge. Howard had long since given up searching for the supermundane in his life. For Howard, that path led to madness. Only the here and now, the hard physical reality of life mattered to him. He looked back at Anita and realized that she didn't perceive the world the way he did. Her God was a living being to her in much the same way she saw that the world was a living thing. It was all a matter of attitude and perception, Howard thought and sighed. He could never explain to her how he felt. He wasn't altogether sure he knew how he felt himself. In the end, the world was defined by the events in space-time that became the fabric of history. Anything else was opinion based on half-wishes and desires rather than logical thought. What could he tell her of his empty days watching the mindless programming on TV? Nothing. He hadn't done or accomplished a single thing that week. A week of his life had dribbled away without his making a single change in the world. He had existed and grown a little smaller, nothing else. He saw her looking deep into his eyes, trying to find a clue to his inner thoughts. Politeness required that he give her some kind of answer. He sighed again and said that there wasn't much to tell her about. Most of his time was spent watching TV or going to the bathroom. Occasionally, just to fill the empty hours before she got home, he would take naps on the couch in front of the TV. His life had come to a standstill while he waited for his peculiar condition to stabilize.
Two mothers with their children entered the playground and sat on the benches on the periphery of the sanded area while their boys ran amok on the sand. Two young boys ran up to the merry-go-round and politely asked if they might play on the machine. Howard and Anita stepped off the slowly revolving platform and gave its use over to the boys. The two boys promptly got on either side of the platform and grasped the rails, running to spin the merry-go-round in the opposite direction before they hopped on themselves. Anita and Howard watched the boys playing for a few minutes, then walked back to the Suburban. The terrifying aspects of Howard's nightmare had ameliorated with the walk in the park, leaving him introspective and brooding. He didn't say much the rest of the day.
When Barbara Shipman, a mathematician at the University at Rodchester projected a flag manifold (a type of six dimensional space) onto a two dimensional map, she discovered that the curves allowed in the projected hexagon looked suspiciously like the "waggle" bee dance that bees use to communicate the vector of a food source. When she looked further into the problem, she discovered a variable, alpha, which governed all the possible curves in a flag manifold. Shipman was later able to find a relationship between the variable alpha and the distance of the food. Somehow the bees were using a two dimensional projection of flag manifold to construct their dance. The implication was that the bee's consciousness somehow existed in a six dimensional space. That of course, was impossible! The tiny insect brains of honeybees couldn't possibly be using higher mathematics to construct their dances. At least that was what Dr. Shipman's detractors maintained.
The bees didn't care what the humans thought. They went on about their lives collecting pollen, building the comb, air conditioning the hive, feeding the queen and nurturing the young larvae. Like tiny Zen masters, each went to her appointed task without question; here was a dead bee carcass to be tossed out the hive, there was an enemy to be attacked without anger. Individual survival wasn't a concept for the hive mind. Each individual was part of a whole that existed as a timeless entity though the six dimensional manifold in which they lived. The hive's mind was/is/will be eternal. Like the famous preacher of the Middle Ages, Meister Ekhart, the bees had discovered the "Eternal Now" and happily lived within the unceasing moment. The DNA that gave them birth made the sexless sisters identical. If one died by stinging an enemy for the good of the hive, then so be it. Their consciousness, such as it was, was a concatenation of the psi field/quantum perception/reactive mechanism of the hive. Death did not exist for the hive. Neither did failure or shame. Such thoughts were for the poor individuals who were bound to the Wheel of Samsara. The hive was beyond hope or hatred. The hive existed in a Nirvana beyond man's grasp. If man choose to build "supers" for them in which the workers could raise the young of the hive, so much the better. The bees weren't exactly pleased to have their honey supplies stolen from them, but the humans built hives that suited their purposes so well that they were willing to put up with the aggravation. Besides, it took a tremendous amount of the hive's energy to construct a comb and the humans had largely removed the necessity of constructing combs in commercial hives. Once the honey was "in" at the end of the season, the beekeeper came in and "harvested" the excess honey by taking an electrically heated knife and slicing off the beeswax covers from the cells before centrifuging, washing and returning the comb to the hive. The bees didn't mind too much, after all, it wasn't as if the beekeeper took everything. The structure of the supers and the reuse of combs from the previous year had removed a huge caloric "overhead" from the hive and the bees were willing to cooperate without too much fuss. The "supers" were carefully designed to maximize usage of space within the hive without impeding the movement of the workers in the colony.
Once human beekeepers learned to provide factory made pre-formed comb substrates made of beeswax, the bees moved in contentedly. They built new combs on the substrates immediately and began the process of settling into their new environment. In most well-run bee businesses, even the entrances faced the south as they liked. In many cases, the beekeepers moved the hives on trucks out to agricultural sites to pollinate the crops. The bees quickly learned that the vibration of the truck's motor and the bouncing meant plentiful food for the hive. Most of the beekeepers were kindly souls who looked after their insect charges with all the patience and foresight of a herdsman. The design of the "super" hives restricted entry to the bees alone and kept mice from ravaging the "nursery" area of the hive and eating the larvae as well as the honey. If food was scarce in the winter, the beekeeper provided substance for the hive in the form of honey.
The early aggressive behavior of the African "Killer" bees had been largely the human's fault. In Africa, most hives were "burned out" with smoke to steal the entire hive's production, taking everything and killing the larvae, much like the technique employed in Medieval Europe. Once the hive learned that the humans would only harvest the excess and not touch the "nursery", they learned to abide the beekeeper's occasional intrusions. Unlike husbanding cattle, bees require little daily care from their keepers. The occasional incidents that caused them to attack were an instinctive reaction to the hive's perception of the human's attitude or actual physical damage to one of the workers. With time, the hives learned that the beekeepers were relatively harmless and were a value to the colony. Still, the Africanized bees were suspicious. The memory of a hive mind is extremely long due to the timelessness of its perception. Some of the hive minds had existed for thousands of years.
Unlike dogs, bees had never truly adapted to man. Man had adapted to the behavior of bees. For the bees, the sea of quantum reality was the only truth they knew. Like genetically engineered Shamans, they flitted about in the sea of possible futures without interacting with the quantum field by the act of perception. If the theorists who objected to the theory of bees being able to perceive without interaction with the quantum field had carefully considered the consequences of Bell's theorem, they might have understood. If quantum events like the instantaneous flip of coupled quantum particle pairs over large distances can happen with supralight velocity, then it should have been obvious there were other events in the universe that weren't governed by the strictures of time and space.
Having no science or mathematics, bees had no idea their ability to perceive quantum reality without affecting the quantum field was contrary to Schrodinger's equations. It didn't matter to them whether or not they had violated humanity's poor understanding of reality. Not fifty years earlier, experts in aerodynamics had solemnly pronounced that it was mathematically impossible for bumblebees to fly. The expert's erroneous opinions hadn't affected the bee's ability to fly one wit. They were at one with the world and the universe. Language wasn't necessary when they could perceive the actual reality in which they lived. They could directly sense the feelings of the Earth and how angry she was. The bees chose not to involve themselves with Gaia's reactions to the humans. Unless the hive was threatened, they didn't care. The hive was at one with itself. The hive's mind was merely another reflection of quantum reality. There was no difference between the bees and the sea of probabilities in which they flew. The thoughts and personalities of the entities around them were part of the underlying structure of the universe. No one had ever considered that the foul behavior of the "killer" bees of the seventies and eighties was a reaction to the inner feelings of the creatures that they had attacked. It was all a matter of attitude and understanding. It was really too bad that the human's were such pitifully purblind creatures.
Over the next two weeks his body continued to diminish in size. The weather had become wet again, increasing his despondence over his physical condition. Howard was starting to get a severe case of cabin fever. He felt trapped by the monotony of an empty house, the nearly continuous drizzle, and his constant need to run to the toilet. He had been right about having repeated nightmares. He had dreamed of becoming a helpless infant almost every night since he had seen the "Big Baby" movie with Anita. He was still waking in the morning with a full bladder and had begun routinely dribbling in his briefs on his way to the bathroom. Howard was thankful that Anita never said a word about the yellow stains on the fly of his briefs when she washed them. The awful case of diarrhea he had earlier abated and his bottom was beginning to heal. His stools continued to be as abundant as they had been before, perhaps even more so. Every time Howard looked in the toilet bowl after he had finished his business on the pot, he felt like he was shitting his body away. Where was all the crap coming from? His appetite had grown smaller in accordance with his size; he simply wasn't ingesting enough food to produce all the waste that was coming out of his body. His stools were firmer than they had been in the preceding weeks, but he was still voiding prodigious amounts of feces. Howard couldn't imagine how the little bit of food that he ate was being turned into so much shit. He spent at least two hours a day on the toilet relieving himself.
The next Saturday Anita took Howard to the Mall to go shopping. She parked the car in the parking lot and walked in the Mall with him at her side. Howard didn't look like he was more than thirteen years old. The shorts she had bought to fit his sixteen-year-old body were loose on him and the other clothes she had bought were too tight. He was going through a phase were nothing he had to wear really fit. In a week, if his regression continued, he would have clothes that fit properly again. In the meantime, all he had was oversized jeans and shorts to wear. As a consequence, Howard had decided to wear shorts to the Mall. At least he couldn't trip over the cuffs of the shorts like he did the jeans. He wore one of his old blue polo shirts over the shorts to hide some of their bagginess, but the camouflage wasn't very effective. The sagging spaciousness of the short's bottom was obvious from behind. The polo shirt wasn't an improvement either, it had become so large on him that the shoulder seams slide down over his thin deltoids and the hem of the shirt draped around his hips like a peasant tunic of the Middle Ages. Fortunately for Howard, the poor dress affected by the teens of the nineties had returned to style. Dirty, bedraggled bagginess was in, sharp clothes for teens was out. He would have been able to emulate the part perfectly had his footwear been an expensive brand of air-cushioned sports sneakers, but all he had to wear were the rubber zorries that Anita had purchased from Goodwill. Nonetheless, He looked like any one of the hundreds of teenaged Mall rats who spent their weekends haunting the broad walkways and atriums of the Mall looking for entertainment and freedom from parental control. His shabby ensemble merely gave him the air of being fashionably unkempt, thus validating his freedom from parental discipline to the eyes of the symbol-obsessed, self-conscious near-adults who could find nothing better to do with their time than walk up and down the Mall looking at merchandise they couldn't afford. He followed behind Anita, going from store-to-store as she made her purchases.
Howard was bored to tears. He had left his wallet and money behind in his confusion over what to wear and had subsequently arrived at the Mall in a penniless condition. Of course, Anita had her purse with its full complement of credit cards, wallet and checkbook, but he didn't see anything he wanted enough to ask her to buy as if he was an unproductive, income-less adolescent. Toward the end of the trip, she took him into a furniture store to look for a new dining room set. Howard complained that the really didn't have the money for such an extravagance, but she told him that she expected a big raise with her promotion and that she was only looking anyway. He grudgingly followed her through the store as she made the grand tour, looking at every stick of furniture that they had to offer. At one point, Anita stopped to admire a nursery suite of matching solid oak. The furniture was handsome and priced accordingly. Howard had little patience with Anita's obsession with having a baby. Every time she went to a furniture store she would gaze longingly at the nursery furnishings and tell him how adorable it looked. He snorted like a teenager and turned his attention to the enormous projection television they had on display across the aisle. Some small child had evidently been fooling with the channels; the screen was displaying a wall-sized cartoon of Bugs Bunny that had been made during World War II. As he gravitated over to idly watch the vintage cartoon on the costly entertainment center, Anita went through the furniture with a veritable fine-toothed comb. Howard wasn't surprised by her behavior, she went through the ritual of close examination of each piece of nursery accouterment every time they went to a furniture store. Finally Anita finished looking at the suite and came looking for Howard. She found him sitting indolently in one of the seats arrayed in front of the TV, apparently enthralled by the antics of a seventy-year-old cartoon. Anita bent over him and said quietly, "HHoney, it's time to go."
Howard jerked with a start at having his attention pulled so abruptly from the engaging children's diversion. He had been watching the cartoon closely and realized that the humorous material was meant for adults as well as children. There were references to people and places he dimly remembered from his history classes in college as well as figures from old movies he had watched as a child. Evidently the writers had been creating their work as part of the war effort during World War II. He had been surprised when he realized that the script had been written on at least two levels, perhaps three. At the bottom-most level there were the sight gags for children and lesser mentalities. On the next level up, the jokes had been written for the troops of the time. On the last level, he surmised that the jokes were in-house references to major notorities of the time. Some of the jokes were heavily veiled references to Hollywood's stars of the time and their minor peccadilloes. He couldn't be positive that his suspicions were correct, because he wasn't an expert in the media celebrities of the nineteen-forties. He was fairly sure he caught a joke about one of the more eccentric directors of the period. While Howard didn't understand all of the innuendo, he was able to connect with enough to find the historical satire entertaining. He dragged himself unwillingly from the plush chair and followed Anita as she left the store. Once they were out on the concourse, she quickly found a concrete bench for them to sit on and talk for a few minutes.
When they sat down, Anita said frankly, "You left your money and wallet at home, didn't you?"
Howard nodded glumly and Anita continued, "I thought so! In a way, I'm glad you did. Can you imagine what might happen if they asked for your identification? If you tried to write a check with a forty-year-old's picture on the Driver's license, they'd call the police immediately! I guess that's why you left it at home."
"Yes," Howard said despondently, "I thought about what you had said about me driving the car and realized that if my Driver's license couldn't be used to drive, then it couldn't be used to cash checks either. The same goes for credit cards. I meant to take the cash from my wallet, but somehow I forgot it. Anyway, it doesn't make any difference. We came here to buy the things you need, not things for me."
Anita's heart melted at the sweetness and reasonableness that Howard was displaying. He hadn't acted that way around her since they had gotten married. Apparently the regression in his body had affected his spirit as well as his physique. His formerly aggressive masculinity had seemed to decline along with his physical age. Despite the strain his illness had put on their relationship, she felt emotionally closer to him since the change. She put her arm around his shoulder sympathetically and said, "Sweetheart, I'm going to one of the women's stores to buy some lingerie and I know how bored you get. I'm sure you don't want to wait in the store while I buy some new bras. Why don't you let me give you some money so you can entertain yourself while I'm shopping in the women's stores? I've got a purse full of change. There's an electronic arcade down on the first level that has some of the games that I've seen you looking at as we went by. Why don't you go and play some games at the arcade while I'm shopping at the women's stores?"
"Well, I guessÖI've always liked arcade games and pinball machines. If it's okay with you..," Howard said tentatively.
"Of course it's okay!' she said as she hugged his shoulder close to hers and rummaged through her purse for spare change and small bills, "Why would I offer to give you the money if I didn't think it was alright? You donít really want to be with me while I look at bras, do you?"
"Not really," Howard admitted.
"Then here!", she said, dropping a double-handful of change and a small wad of folded ones into his hand, "Go and enjoy yourself. Don't worry about me, I can take care of myself. Have yourself a good time at the arcade! I'll probably have to go to two or more shops to find what I need. I'll be awhile. Would that be okay with you?", Anita asked sincerely.
She watched as Howard went down the escalator and waved fondly. Then she turned around and went back into furniture store to order a bedroom suite she had been admiring for years. Howard didn't have to know about her intended purchase just yet. He'd find out when the time came. She wanted it to be a surprise. Their credit was good and she knew she wouldn't have any problems buying the furniture she wanted. She knew how she was going to pay for it. She was an excellent money manager and knew how to convert unused resources to other uses. After she signed the contract for the suite she wanted, she planned go to the women's stores as she said and get some new bras. She had just gotten a prescription for a new medication and had been advised that her breasts would almost certainly enlarge as a consequence. Although Anita didn't know how large her teats would get, she wanted to be prepared when the time came. She had never bought bras of that particular type before and wanted to get a look at the styles that were available before she made her final decision. On the way to the women's store, she stopped in front of a specialty store she had been wanting to shop in for a long time. She went inside and made a number of purchases on her credit card and asked that they be delivered to her office rather than her home. The salesgirls were most accommodating, it wasn't often that women came in and spent a thousand dollars on clothes and matching accessories. They were pleased to accede to her odd conditions of delivery. As long as it was paid for, what did they care if she asked that they deliver it to her place of business two weeks hence? Obviously it was a gift of some sort.
Howard walked in the electronic arcade like he was descending into digital Hell. The dim lighting was nothing like the bright arcades of his early manhood. This was an abandonment into the imaginations of the programmers of Hades. All around him, women voices screamed in horror as their electronic heroes were gutted by the eternally sharp blades of their digital foes. Grim-faced children fed quarter after quarter into the slots of the purveyors of computerized violence and subjectivized smut. Winning wasn't merely important there, it was the only thing! The vacant faces of the compulsive players told the story to Howard. These children weren't merely enthralled, they were addicted! The arcade was rank with the smell of unflushed feces and soured urine. From the distracted looks on the children's faces it was easy see why. No one he saw looked like they had the slightest intention of letting themselves be diverted from their games by anything, including physical needs.
Howard walked around for about fifteen minutes watching the other players before he found an unoccupied game that looked interesting. It was a computerized simulation of a commando attack on an enemy fortress. The static advertising display promised in lurid letters and gut-wrenching graphics both gore and extreme levels of violence. Howard grinned to himself as he put two dollars worth of quarters into the machine and began his game. Anita wasn't there to manipulate him into selecting a more pastoral diversion like the movie she had conned him into seeing with her the other day. Howard needed serious catharsis and this was just what the doctor ordered! Halfway into the game, Howard felt the presence of watchers nearby. He moved his eyes quickly to the side so he would not miss the next opportunity to fell a foe. There were three older teenagers standing around him watching his play. They stood respectfully until he finished the game and moved in closer. Howard supposed they wanted to play the game after him, but he had already demonstrated his intention to play another game by placing the requisite number of quarters on the console in plain sight. If they wanted to play the game, they would have to wait until he was finished. As Howard's score tallied on the display, the eldest boy whistled quietly and said, "Not bad! For a little creep, you play pretty good! Gimme!"
Howard pointed to the quarters to indicate he had already reserved the next game for himself. The leader of the boys laughed and said, "That's what I mean, gimme!"
"W..What?", exclaimed Howard in surprise.
"I said gimme your money, you fuckhead!", demanded the seventeen-year-old punk, reaching for the money on the console, "I'll start with this!"
"Hey!", yelled Howard, "That's mine!"
"Not anymore it ain't!", laughed the gang leader and nodded at the boy to Howard's right to move in behind Howard.
"Give it back!", Howard demanded, "Or I'll call the police!"
"Jose," the leader smirked, "show fuckface here why he's not calling anyone!"
Howard heard the ominous double click of a ballisong's handle being snapped open behind him. The boy closed with Howard to shield the knife from public view as he pushed the point of the oriental weapon into the soft tissue to the immediate left of Howard's spine. Howard froze as he felt the point penetrate his clothing to prick the skin on the vulnerable area of his back. Howard didn't know exactly what kind of knife the gang member had poised threateningly over his spleen and kidney but the sharpness of its tip left no doubt in his mind what it was. He was afraid that if he moved suddenly or shouted, the boy behind him would stab him immediately in revenge.
"All of it, now!" said the head hoodlum, gesturing to Howard's pockets with a pointing motion from inside the front pocket his own baggy shorts.
Whatever he was pointing with, it wasn't his finger, Howard thought. The outline of something small, hard and cylindrical was clearly delineated by the short's fabric stretched over the contours of its end. Howard was certain that the semantically challenged gang leader had a pistol in his pocket and was pointing with its barrel. Howard's hands shook and his knees felt weak. His stomach was upset and he wanted to pee. Although he couldn't admit it to himself, he was terrified at the prospect of being skewered from behind and being gutted like a barnyard animal at the abattoir.
Howard reached into his pocket slowly with one hand to take out his money. He had forgotten what it was like to have the neighborhood bully take his lunch money. Youth wasn't as idyllic as he had pictured it as an adult. Sure, his responsibilities were fewer, but many of the fears of childhood were as real as the concerns of adulthood. Howard wondered what other memories of terrors from his salad days had been mercifully suppressed by his unconscious mind. Urban life for children had become more vicious that it had been when he was young. At least then, the bullies threatened with their fists rather then knives and guns. Just as he withdrew his hand with all of his money gripped in his fist, he heard Anita's voice saying from a few feet away, "Howard! It's time to go home! Don't dawdle, Dear, it's late and I want to get dinner started!"
Howard looked over the boy's shoulders to see standing Anita about ten feet away flanked by two burly men. One of them was a uniformed Mall security officer and the other wore a white polo shirt embroidered with the arcade's logo with the title "Manager" underneath. The security guard looked at the group suspiciously with his right hand lightly resting on his holstered pistol and said in a authoritative voice, "I think its time for all of you to go home, boys. You've had enough fun for one dayÖ Unless you want to come with me for a long talk in the Mall Security office."
The leader of the teenaged hoodlums shook his head "no" and gestured with his head toward the other boys. They would come back another day. He had no intention of letting himself and his members be searched by Mall security. Hell, they might even be smart enough to call the police and let them pat down the gang for weapons. In that case, they were screwed. The evidence would be sufficient to arrest them and it was unlikely the case would be thrown out of court. Not that the threat of a court appearance bothered them that much. All of them had been in juvenile hall more than once. Still, being in jail would cramp their style for a few days and they had better things to do than sit around in lockup waiting for a juvenile judge to dispose of their cases. Discretion was the better part of valor and there were other Malls they could terrorize in town. They departed posthaste, not routed but beating a strategic retreat before the rent-a-pig changed his mind.
"Come along, Howard!", said Anita with the commanding tone of a nanny, "You've gotten into enough trouble for one day!"
Howard dropped his head and filed passed the two men in utter disgrace. Not only had he failed to protect himself against the teenaged thugs, but his wife had to bail him out of trouble as if she was his mother breaking up a schoolyard fight. If Howard had been his normal size, he wouldn't have had any trouble dealing with the punks. One look from his craggy face would have convinced them he wasn't a man to be trifled with. Howard was having problems adjusting to his new social milieu. Suddenly he was helpless in a world he had conquered in his twenties. He was still the same man mentally he had been before his peculiar malady gave him the body of a teenager. Aside from appearing like an adolescent, there was nothing wrong with him physically or mentally. He couldn't understand how merely looking younger had made him so vulnerable to the travails of the world. He had a bank account and credit cards, so why couldn't he use them? He had a valid driver's license and a Suburban and suddenly he wasn't allowed to drive! His job and his mistress had evaporated like the last snow of spring in the warm sun. Even his expensive suits had become hand-me-downs from Goodwill. Anita had become more of a mother to him than a wife. What was happening to him? The iron rod of control he had exerted over his life had turned into water, slipping through his hands while he watched in horror. Howard followed Anita to the Suburban and was silent all the way home. There was nothing to say to her about what had happened. She had seen it all and done what was necessary to save him from the bullies. He felt lessened by the experience. The old Howard was gone and had been replaced by a weak-kneed teen. Somehow he had lost his manhood and never noticed. Anita had moved into the power vacuum and took over his life with the confidence of a mother guiding her naïve son through the problems of adolescence.
Over the next week his body continued to change. Gaps between appeared as his second molars and canines were miraculously sucked back into his gums. The timber of his voice changed, forcing the center of his vocal range into higher frequencies. His secondary sexual characteristics vanished one by one. The hair on his body went first, followed shortly by the hair under his arms. The wisps of dark brown pubescent beard on his cheeks disappeared, leaving the smooth velvety skin of boyhood in its place. His acne cleared up towards the end of the two weeks, but a price was exacted for a blemish free face. His regression through puberty had healed his testosterone driven dermatitis, but carried away his manhood. When he looked at himself naked in a mirror, he saw a boy of approximately eleven years with only the thinnest patch of delicate blond hairs surrounding the penis. His testicles had become small hard balls of tissue the size of marbles. His penis had shrunken until it was a slender immature promise of the manhood that it would become. When he measured it against his hand, it was only slightly bigger than his index finger and had shortened considerably. The comparison to his finger wouldn't have been so disheartening if he had been measuring his penis next to an adult hand. Unfortunately, his hand had diminished in size too. He couldn't hold his cigars between his first two fingers any longer, instead he had to grasp them with his thumb and forefinger. He had had to cut back on his cigar smoking anyway; his immature lungs couldn't handle much of the second-hand smoke even if he didn't inhale. He was down to one cigar a day.
The muscles on his thighs had melted away like a man on a starvation diet while his bottom had become thin and bony. From his shoulders to his feet, his musculature had suffered the same fate. The mature bulk produced by a wealth of testosterone, daily exercise and decades of eating a high protein diet had been replaced by the underdeveloped muscles of youth. The only positive note was that the pain in his joints and muscles that accompanied the rapid shrinking of his body had diminished along with his size. The aches were still present, but they had become less bothersome and easier to ignore. His chest had become flat and slightly sunken while his arms had appeared to lengthen in proportion to his body. In reality, the length of his arms had remained relatively constant while his torso had shortened. Though his present body bore a remarkable resemblance to his adult form, the changes his body had undergone in the past two months gave the impression of being having been subtly misshapen and contorted when compared to his former frame. The lankiness of his limbs emphasized the look of ungainly awkwardness that his slender preteen physique projected. His legs had become skinny and knock-kneed. The diameter of the aureolas surrounding his nipples had shrunk too; they had gone from one inch to only a half inch in a few days. The total impression that he gave was that he had just arrived at the onset of puberty. Even his face had changed, his forehead had become more rounded and less prominent while his lower jaw had receded, taking with it all appearance of maturity and self-mastery. In short, he looked more like a unprepossessing boy than a man with the dignity of self-determination. Howard wanted to cry, but the years of hiding his true feelings like a man had rendered him incapable of allowing himself that release. Instead he cringed slightly at sight of the weakling reflected in the mirror and turned his head away from the disturbing image. Whatever happened to his body, his mind would remain strong and constant, he promised himself.
Normally as a Philosophical Ideal Rather than a Reality
Dateline: Wednesday May 23, 2011
Excerpt From a Major Television News Program:
Dan Blather stares into the camera steadily and says in his usual opening, "Good Evening, in a few days time, the world may see what the changes in the world climate may bring."
<Cut to a video from a network filmed from an upper story of a building. As the video pans across the parking lot below, it graphically depicts the horrendous damage caused by the oversized hail. Baseball sized hail is bouncing from car roofs and hoods, leaving huge dents in the thin metal at the point of impact. Windshields shatter as heavy spheres of ice hurtle at terminal velocity through the safety glass. >
In the Northwest, hail as big as oranges will rain from the sky to smash car windshields and injure thousands of people. Residents won't even be safe in their homes, fifteen pound balls of ice will come crashing through their ceilings
<Cut to a locally provided video of a massive highway car pileup in West Virginia. An early morning soup-like fog caused a fifty car accident on the heavily traveled highway. Ambulances, police cars and fire trucks are lined up on the aprons to the highway with their lights flashing. Hundreds of flares scattered by the police mark the safe boundaries of the roadway.>
An impenetrable fog has shut down the highways and streets in the Central U.S., bringing all business to a halt. States along the U.S.-Canada highway have been hit by killer winds that approached one hundred miles per hour. Highways are blocked by trees, power lines and debris
<Cut to video montage of access roads and highways gridlocked with people fleeing the oncoming hurricane in their cars.>
Another devastating hurricane is poised to strike the East coast tonight as thousands of refuges fleeing the stormís approach clog the highways with their cars. Although hurricanes normally end in November, the storms have still been hitting the East coast this January.
<Cut to scenes of poorly dressed rioters looting grocery stores in several cities with the sound of multiple police sirens wailing in the distance. The Anchor fails to mention that the food shortage has caused a sharp rise in food prices, making it almost impossible for people at the poverty level to feed themselves. The upper middle class and the rich are not affected by the shortfalls in supply; if the consumer has enough money, food can be readily obtained.>
Food in the major cities has become scarce as the national transportation system is disrupted by the weather. In many cities, rioters and looters have taken to the streets in search of sustenance to feed their families. Supplies of drinking water have been contaminated with the runoff from rivers as rising waters top their banks and spill over into the surrounding countryside.
<Cut to a series of video clips of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding scenes.>
More than fifty thousand homes have been struck by lightning this season and more are expected to come as the bizarre weather continues unabated. Enormous thunderstorms are sweeping from coast to coast driven by the winds of El Nino Grande. Thousands of rivers have overflowed their banks causing wide spread flooding throughout the Western and Southern states, as the storms continue to move east, meteorologists are expecting the heavy downpours to continue, causing flooding in the Midwestern and Eastern areas of the country. Farmers are facing disaster as the heavy rains and floods wash away their crops. The runoff from agricultural areas is affecting fishing as well. The fertilizer and insecticides from the farmlands is being washed into the rivers and lakes and is polluting the bays and inlets of the coastal fishing areas.
<Cut to video of gridlocked highway being inundated by a massive snowfall, followed by video of an airport lounge filled with passengers sleeping in the seats. There are too few seats for all the passengers to be able to sleep in the airport furniture. Most of the passengers have stretched out on the floor, using their carry on luggage as pillows.>
In the news tonight, blizzards have blanketed the whole Eastern half of the nation, causing massive power outages and crippling transportation. Thousands of travelers are stranded in airports that have lost power. Fears that the stranded travelers will freeze in the rapidly cooling airport buildings have caused concern at the highest levels. There are rumors that the President will soon declare a State of Emergency and call out the National Guard in the affected areas to evacuate the stranded passengers.
As the next week passed in enforced idleness, his resolve to remain resolute began to wane. His life had been defined by his work and the people around him. Once they were gone, he had nothing to define himself against. Every day found him a little smaller and weaker, more dependent on the good will of his wife. His world seemed to be bounded by the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. He had to quit smoking altogether during the week. Every time he caught a lungfull of second-hand smoke he began coughing and started to regurgitate. Howard lost interest in watching the news and sport programs. They were part of a world that didn't concern him anymore. Even the improvement in the weather didn't help. The sky had become clear, although it was unseasonably cool for late May and forecasters were talking about how great the weather was for sports. Unfortunately, sports no longer interested Howard. There were no buddies at work with whom he could talk about football or politics. All he wanted was to be distracted from his boredom by the TV. He was finding it difficult to concentrate on TV programs if they lasted longer than fifteen minutes. Cartoons seemed to fill his requirements exactly; they were short, fast-moving and had been created with the idea of enthralling children with short attention spans. He took to them the way a duck takes to water. His strength was gone and his will was eroding rapidly. Except for his fascination for women's breasts, his sex drive had disappeared completely. He still masturbated once or twice a day while lying on the couch, but he didn't produce any semen nor did he orgasm. It was only a remnant of the pleasant habit he remembered having begun in puberty. He had no memories of being punished by his strict mother when he was a toddler for manipulating himself in public. There was nothing he could do, no one he could blame but himself. Resistance was futile. It was like trying to fight a giant feather pillow, all the mental blows he levied in his defense were harmlessly absorbed by his surroundings. Failure seemed inexorable. He would get up in the morning each day and eat breakfast, then lay on the couch in front of the TV and watch cartoons all day until his wife returned from work. The only breaks he took from cartoon watching were his frequent trips to the bathroom. When Anita came home, she would feed him his dinner and see that he took a bath, then she would take his temperature, chart his weight and height and it was off to bed to begin the cycle anew. He couldn't bear to watch the daytime talk shows on TV with their photogenic victims flaunting their real or imagined pains to the world. The short segments on the talk shows made them fairly easy to follow, but the mental anguish of his own problems made him less than sympathetic to other people's woes. At least the cartoons gave him some diversion from his troubles. Occasionally he would smile and chuckle at some silly antic of the inane cartoon characters. While he vegetated on the couch in front of the boob tube, his body continued to silently regress further into his childhood. One by one his teeth were sucked back into his gums only to be replaced a few days later by the smaller version of the tooth that he had had as a young child.
It was becoming more difficult for him to take care of himself. The refrigerator door seemed heavier than it had before and getting a glass of iced tea was a major production. Even the simple act of making himself a bowl of soup had become a difficult undertaking. The microwave was too high for him to reach and he was forced to drag a kitchen chair to and fro across the kitchen to accomplish each step; first he had to get a can out of the kitchen cupboard, then he had to stand on the chair to get a bowl from the over-counter cabinet. Once that was accomplished, he could drag the chair over to where the can opener was stationed to cut the lid open on the can. Then he would haul the chair back over to the microwave to put the decanted soup in the oven and turn the timer on. He would stand on the chair, waiting for the soup to heat and take it out when it was done. Howard's short term memory had continued to deteriorate as he became smaller; if he got out the container of iced tea from the refrigerator, he simply couldn't remember to put it back. His mind would focus on the problem of getting something to drink and once the immediate problem had been resolved, it would go on to other things without considering side issues like putting things away. Anita spoke to him several times about his growing laziness, but her scolding didn't affect him measurably. He wasn't lazy, he simply couldn't remember to finish the job. His worst problem was that he was becoming incredibly clumsy. His limbs were shrinking faster than he could adjust to the changes and his strength was diminishing every day.
The Beginning of the End
Dateline: Friday June 03, 2011
Excerpt From a Major Television News Program:
Ron Blather flashes his best TV anchorís smile as the light turned on over the main camera in the studio and said, "Good Evening. At the top of the news tonight is the story of renewed volcanic activity around the Pacific Rim. Like a string of firecrackers, volcanoes that were previously thought to have been permanently dormant have been exploding into activity. Japanís Izu-Oshima, Kirishima, and Asama have erupted as well as seventy-eight other volcanoes in the Japanese island chain. <Cut to a rapid sequence of videos of the most recent eruptions while Ron Blather continues to speak in the background. Vast plumes of grey-black volcanic ash are shown from a distance, clouding the sky in all directions.> The volcanoes are inundating the island nation with thousands of tons of volcanic ash, devastating Japanís once mighty economy. <A quick still photo is displayed showing one of the business streets of one of Japan's minor cities buried in five meters of grey volcanic ash. The tops of delivery trucks are clearly visible as are the ends of some of the compact cars that have been half-covered. > Mt. Penotubo in the Philippines has erupted explosively, killing hundreds of people when a thick cloud of toxic gases and ash rolled through the villages at the volanoesí base and suffocated them. Closer to home, the volcano outside of Mexico City has begun to send black plumes of ash over the city, increasing fears that a major eruption may be in progress. The falling red-hot cinders have started tens of thousands of small fires around the city straining the municipal water supplies to the limit. In many cases, fires in the poorer areas of Mexico City are being ignored to burn themselves out on their own. <Cut to long-range video taken from a telephoto lens of the Mexico City plateau from a distance. The ash cloud that is inundating Mexico City is clearly visible.> The plume of ash has closed the airport in Mexico City and we have been unable to get a correspondent into the city by air. We will play the tape of a telephone conversation we had with the editor of the daily newspaper, "El Mundo", describing conditions in that city later in the broadcast. In the meantime, for an in-depth report on the mass deaths caused by Mt. Penotubo in the Philippines, we go now to our correspondent, Thana Fraxinus, who is on location twenty miles away from Mt. Penotubo. Can you hear me, Thana?"
<Cut to a stock footage video of the eruption of Mt. Penatobo taped several hours earlier and uploaded to satellite before the program. The on-site corespondent is merely providing background audio for a now famous scene.> "Yes, I can Ron. You can see Mt. Penotubo in the distance where the tragedy happened. A small volcanic plume is still coming from the fissure on the side of the mountain where the cloud originated. At about two in the morning, a lethal cloud of toxic gas was released from the volcano and rushed down the mountain to kill hundreds of villagers and cattle. Iím told by eyewitnesses who barely escaped with their lives that even the plants in the path of the deadly cloud were killed. Standing beside me is Stan Williams of the U.S. Geological Survey team that has come here to observe the eruption of the volcano. Stan, can you describe the dangers of a volcanic cloud to our audience?"
<Video tape begins of the interview conducted two days before and uploaded as background material "Just in case".> "I certainly can, Thana," said the thin man wearing khaki shorts and shirt who was standing beside Thana, " The health hazards posed by volcanic gases can range from minor to life threatening. Exposure to acid forming gases such as sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, as well as hydrochloric acid can damage eyes and mucous membranes and the respiratory system. If the exposure is serious enough, the damage to body tissues can lead to death. Although there is some carbon monoxide in volcanic clouds, the concentration is rarely high enough to pose serious health risks. One of the greatest dangers of volcanic clouds occurs when the volcano emits a large quantity of carbon dioxide. A cloud with a high percentage of carbon dioxide is heavier than air and will collect in low spots in its path. When this happens, the breathable air is displaced and people suffocate due to oxygen deprivation. In the past three decades, hundreds of people have died of carbon dioxide asphyxiation near volcanoes. Most of the deaths have occurred in Indonesia, Cameroon, and Africa.
Vegetation can also be severely damaged by exposure to volcanic gases. Almost all types of foliage are susceptible to the lethal effects of direct exposure to concentrated volcanic gases or long-term exposure of dilute concentrations of gases. Volcanic plumes also contain acid gases dissolved in water droplets. When these droplets condense in the upper atmosphere, they fall to the earth as acid rain. In areas of high concentration, metal objects such as cars, farm equipment and utility lines and towers corrode when exposed to volcanic gases or acid rain. If the acid rain falls on tailings from silver mines or contaminates the rain cisterns made of wood and nailed together with galvanized nails, it will eat away at the surface of the metals, converting them to soluble form, leaching heavy metals into the drinking water supplies. The volcanic dust from the plume carries its own hazards; the hydrofluoric acid gas emitted in volcanic fumes can bind itself to the silica of the ultrafine volcanic glass particles. When these particles descend to earth and are ingested by grazing livestock, the consequences are horrendous. Even if the concentration of hydrofluoric acid is low, merely inhaling the particles by either humans or animals can cause silicosis of the lungs.
<An animated sequence begins showing how volcanic particles damage airplane engines. The animation department has been staying overtime for two nights running to prepare the computer generated cartoon with help from one of the network's scientific experts they keep on retainer. They had not expected to need the background footage from their remote corespondent.> Airliners are required to skirt areas with volcanic plumes because their glasslike particles can do enormous damage to jet engines. The dust is deadly to modern jet engines. On the Mho scale of hardness, glass is harder than tool steel, giving the sharp-edged particles of dust the ability to literally 'sand' the outer surface of the intake blades of the turbofan into nothingness. The abrasive damage of the glass is minor compared to the effect of the dust when it hits the blast furnace heat of the interior of the engine. The tiny droplets of highly reactive acids released by the volcano condense in the upper atmosphere and fill the infinitesimal pockets in the particles of dust formed by billions of miniscule bubbles caused by the sudden release of superheated gas. The temperatures in a jet engine are so high that if it was made of tool steel, it would melt. This temperature makes the gases a thousand times more reactive and causes the acids to etch away at the surface of the titanium alloy as if it was soft butter. If a jet engine encounters a plume in mid-flight, it will suck in the tiny particles and destroy itself in minutes. <The animated sequence ends with both engines of the airliner blowing up in midflight and the airliner falling into the sea after losing power.>
Fires from the volcanoes are spreading throughout the Pacific Rim. From Sumatra to Borneo, vast forests are in flames. For an in-depth look, we turn to our corespondent. <Cut to a real-time uplinked video of Agnes Agnie, the famous auburn-haired overseas corespondent for the network. She's dressed in an extremely becoming suit of tightly-tailored fatigues to fit in with the fleeing soldiers frantically piling into two and one-half ton surplus U.S. military trucks in the background. Wafts of dirty grey smoke drift lazily through the verdant forest clearing as she begins her report. Off-camera, a highly-paid pilot is waiting for the opportunity to lift the fully-fueled, waiting helicopter to make a speed run out of the danger area at low altitude at maximum speed. A loaded automatic weapon sits on his lap with a spare magazine taped backwards to the installed magazine to make reloading instantaneous in the event of trouble with the frightened soldiers. The safety is off on the weapon and he has a fragmentation grenade sitting in his crotch with the pin up. The helicopter's turbines have already been started and the blades are turning. The pilot is an ex-marine with years of experience of working with the press. He's ready for anything that comes his way. The minute the television transmission is over, his passengers will pile in the rear seat of the chopper and he'll throttle the engine up to whisk them away from danger. Within an hour, she and her combination sound/cameraman will be one hundred fifty miles away. > She smiles at the camera as she begins, " The smoldering volcanoes in the along the Pacific Rim have started thousands of forest fires that are now burning out of control. A smothering black cloud of smoke coming from the great forest fires that have engulfed the vast forests of Sumatra and Borneo is now over a thousand miles wide and is being blown east across the Pacific. In Sumatra and Borneo, the fires have killed over five hundred people, forced another one hundred thousand to flee from the smoke and flames and has sent over seventy-five thousand injured people to local hospitals. Evacuation from the affected areas by air has proved difficult because of the air space restrictions around the volcanic eruptions. Similarly, sub-oceanic tremors have caused tsunamis that have made extraction by sea difficult and dangerous. Environmentalists fear that if the fires and eruptions continue, the ash from the fires and the volcanoes could become suspended in the upper atmosphere, blocking the Sun and causing global temperatures to drop. They believe that a reduction in the mean temperature of the Earth could spell a world-wide catastrophe. Some scientists are even predicting that this could be the trigger that initiates a global Ice Age."
On Friday Howard got out of bed in the morning, fell flat on his face and let out a resounding fart. He had misjudged the distance to the floor and his feet had hit wrong when he slipped off of the mattress. Howard grimaced in irritation as he picked himself off the carpet. Tiny crepitating noises escaped his rear as he straightened up and rushed to the bathroom before his pissed in his pants. He barely had his underwear down when he started involuntarily urinating on the spot and made a puddle on the floor. Once he was finished on the pot, he had to get down on his hands and knees and wipe up the puddle on the bathroom floor with a huge wad of toilet paper. Fortunately, Anita was in the kitchen making the morning pot of coffee and wasnít there to witness his accident. She had grown extremely protective of late. Howard wasn't sure how he should react to her sympathetic overtures. On one hand, he was secretly pleased that she cared enough to try and help him, but his sense of independence was insulted by her attempts to mother him. He had been avoiding mirrors for days and decided it was time to see how he appeared. When he stood in front of the dressing mirror on the closet door, he saw the image of a five year old boy looking back at him. His cheeks were beginning to show traces of the chubby look of babyhood and when he opened his mouth, aside from two tiny gaps of missing dentition in his immature gum, all he could see were baby teeth. The proportions of his body had changed radically. His feet were a little over half the size they had been when the shrinking had started. His hands had diminished too. They were only about half the size they had been before the changes began. When he looked at himself in the mirror, the muscles on his arms appeared skinny and underdeveloped compared to the thick ropy arms he had had only weeks before. Although Howard was sure that his arms were normal for his apparent age, he was still horrified by how young and weak he looked.
He put his nose up to the mirror and put his hand on top of his head, then used his fingers to smudge the clean surface of the mirror. Then he got the wooden yardstick from the back of the closet and measured from his mark to the floor. He was forty-three and one half inches tall. Howard laid the end of the yardstick on the floor next to the baseboard and held the ruler at an angle up to his crotch. He laid his tiny penis on the cold surface of the yardstick and measured its length; it was just over an inch long and not quite a half an inch in diameter. His scrotum had become a small sack that contained the chickpee-sized objects that had once been a man's balls. The only part of his body that hadn't seemed to have been affected was his hair. Because the hair on his head had remained the same length while his head had gotten smaller, he looked shaggy and unkempt. Howard decided that he would ask Anita to cut his hair that night when she came home from work. he noticed that his fingernails seemed to have doubled in length overnight. He saw that the width of his nails at the cuticles had decreased in proportion to his fingers as well. Apparently his nails had been too wide for his fingers and he had grown entirely new fingernails from the diminished nail-bed to compensate. Since his old fingernails were still attached to the fingernails, he had ended up with long, delicately curved fingernails that would be the envy of any little girl. He decided that he'd have to have Anita's help with his nails too. The clumsiness of his short fingers combined with the unaccustomedly long fingernails would make it almost impossible for him to manipulate the fingernail clippers by himself. Howard saw that his toenails had changed as well; until they were clipped, he wouldn't be able to wear anything but sandals.
Howard tossed the yardstick in the closet and looked at himself in the mirror again. All definition between his stomach and his chest had been lost. A slight pot belly of extreme youth was beginning to show itself, replacing the flat washboard that had been his stomach the day before. If there had been any question that he was regressing rather than shrinking, the question was resolved. He had become a little boy.
Howard padded over to his dresser in his bare feet and took out one of the three pairs of underwear in the drawer. Anita had washed them just before they went to sleep the night before. When sat on the edge of the bed to pull them on, they seemed a little tight. Howard couldn't understand how the underwear Anita bought him continued to fit. When she had bought them, he had been the size of a sixteen-year-old, and then they had been a snug fit. He had shrunk considerably in that time and they still seemed to fit snuggly. What was going on? Was Anita shrinking them in the wash? He remembered that on at least two occasions, they had been loose, but after she had washed them, they had seemed smaller than they had when she bought them. When he put them on the next day, they had been as tight as when they were first purchased. Surely there was a limit to how much a garment would shrink in the wash!
Howard went back to the dresser to find a pair of pants to wear that day. The only thing he found in the drawer was a pair of little boy's overalls. He sat on the corner of the bed and hiked them up his legs, then pulled them over his bottom. They were a good deal tighter than he would have liked, but they fit. He left the suspenders unfastened while he found a T-shirt and shrugged his way into the cotton shirt. When he reached around to grab the suspenders, he discovered he was unable to grab them to pull them over his shoulder. As much as he despised the necessity, he would have to ask for Anita's help.
Howard went to the breakfast table with his head hanging low and the twin tails of the suspenders dragging behind him. Anita saw him and smiled at the cute barefoot kindergartner who had once been her six foot, strapping husband. She greeted him with a sunny disposition and asked how he felt. Howard stared at the floor and asked her in a subdued voice if she would fasten his suspenders for him. When she stooped over his front to reach behind him and pick up his suspenders, her breasts brushed the top of his head. Howard shivered as he thought about how big her breasts would be in his hands if he lay with her and sucked on them the way he used to when he made love to her. Suddenly was seized with the mental image of him being held in Anita's arms and suckled like an infant. The thought gave him a queasy sinking feeling in his stomach that made him feel more than a little ill. Anita pulled the straps over his head and down to his waist in front, then she knelt in front of him to fasten the suspenders to the buttons on the overalls. It made him feel like he was Anita's little boy rather than her husband. "This is humiliating," Howard thought, "I'm no bigger than a preschooler! The next thing you know, she'll be holding my hand for me when we cross the street!"
When Howard had problems getting into the seat of the kitchen chair, she put her hands under his armpits and boosted him onto the cushion. Once he had settled himself, she served him a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. Instead of his customary coffee, he found his cup filled with Ovaltine. He groused about his missing coffee and was told that caffeine might stunt his growth. Howard gave his wife a dirty look and sipped the drink from his youth. The Ovaltine didn't taste bad, but he still missed his morning coffee. Howard felt that Anita's remark about coffee stunting his growth had been in execrable taste. He felt like she wasn't taking his condition seriously. Howard poked at his food in disgust. It wasn't enough that she took away his coffee and replaced it with that damned kid's drink, but she had replaced his usual breakfast of bacon and eggs with mush! If he hadn't been so small, he would have slapped her! When Anita saw his dilatory explorations with his spoon, she told him waggishly, "Come on Howard! Eat your oatmeal. You need nutritious meals if you want to grow up big and strong."
Howard bent over his bowl and ate silently. Her attitude was infuriating and he didn't want to talk to her. He decided that he would have a few beers to wash the taste of Ovaltine out of his mouth after Anita left for work. It didn't matter if he got drunk, he had nothing better to do with his day but get drunk, watch TV and shit in the toilet. While Howard was eating his breakfast, Anita bustled about the kitchen, tidying up and tossing things in the trash. She seemed to be cleaning out the refrigerator to rid them of expired food or superannuated leftovers as she was wont to do at regular intervals. He couldn't see exactly what she was throwing away because the open refrigerator door obscured his view but she seemed to be giving the refrigerator a more thorough cleaning than usual. When she was done, she tied the top of the plastic bag before taking out the trash. Howard noticed as she lifted the garbage-filled, plastic lawn and leaf bag out of the kitchen pail and lugged it through the door to the garage, that the bag seemed to be far heavier than usual. "She must have really emptied the refrigerator this time. That's one good thing about getting smaller," he thought to himself with a secret sense of satisfaction, "At least I don't have to take out the garbage anymore."
Howard finished his meal and was attempting to get down from the chair when Anita stopped him. She rushed over to where he was and wiped his soiled face with a napkin before she allowed him to get down from the chair. Howard bore her wifely ministrations stoically and let her lift him from the chair and set him on his feet on the kitchen floor. He went to the family room and plopped himself down on the couch to watch TV as she made her final preparations to leave for work. She came in the family room and told him to have fun while she was at work, then bent over him to kiss him on the forehead. Anita noticed his long fingernails and joked, "You have beautifully long fingernails this morning, Sweetheart! Would you like me to put some nail polish on them when I get home tonight? I have a shade of pink that would look darling with your skin color."
When she saw the scowl on his face in reply, she chuckled and said, "I guess that means 'no'. Well, I'm going to have to do something about your nails tonight. If I can't put polish on them, they'll need to be cut. I'll have to do your toenails too! If they get any longer you won't be able to walk."
Anita wished him a nice day and went to the kitchen to get her purse. When she opened the garage door to go to her car, Howard heard the high pitched squeal of the garbage truck's brakes in front of their house. Apparently Anita had gotten the garbage out just in time to be picked up.
Twenty minutes later Howard decided it was time for a beer. He got up from the couch and went to the refrigerator. He had some difficulty opening the door, his small body had neither the leverage nor the strength to open the magnetic catch easily. In the end, he was forced to plant his bare feet solidly on the floor in front of the refrigerator and tug as hard as he could with both hands on the handle before the door would open. When he maneuvered himself around the door and stood in front of the refrigerator, his mouth dropped open in surprise. "Where the Hell is all my beer?", he asked himself in annoyance, "I had three six packs in there last night. Where the fuck did it all go?"
Howard started to run out to the garbage cans in front of the house but was stopped by the memory of the sound of the garbage truck. It was too late. He would be forced to sit all day at home in front of the TV without even a beer to help him pass the time. "Damn that woman!", Howard said to himself, "Whatever possessed her to throw away my beer? I'm not a fucking kid no matter how young I look! I can't even drive up to get more beer! I'm too small now to drive my car even if I wanted to. My feet won't reach the pedals!"
He frowned in irritation as he thought about walking to the store. It was a couple of miles to the grocery store they frequented. The nearest convenience store was half that distance. His frown turned into a grimace when he thought about trying to buy beer in his condition. They wouldn't sell beer to him anyway. He looked too much like a little boy for them to believe he was an adult. The store employees would probably call the police. For that matter, if he left the house and tried to walk to the convenience store, he might be picked up by the police as a runaway tot. The thought of being taken down to juvenile hall and being forced to wait in a juvenile detention facility for Anita to leave work and come for him made him forget the idea of leaving the house. The experience would be too humiliating to risk.
Howard trudged back to the family room and lay on the couch in front of the TV to watch cartoons. After a while he fell asleep and was wakened by the intense need to get to the bathroom before he had an accident. He barely made it before his bladder cut loose and he began to pee. After he finished on the toilet, he went back to the family room to watch TV. Before long he fell asleep again and didn't awake until Anita came home and woke him to eat dinner. Howard was still upset about the beer, but couldn't think of anything to say to her. If he mentioned it, they would have a fight about him laying about and drinking all day. After he lost his last job and before he went into consultancy, Howard had done just that. He and Anita had had terrible rows about his drinking until he started working again. She didn't seem to mind a few beers as long as he had a job, but if he sat around the house doing nothing but watching TV and drinking she would have a fit. Apparently Anita had decided to take matters into her own hands this time and attack the problem at its source. Since Howard couldn't drive or purchase liquor by himself, simply throwing away his beer had effectively ended the problem. Whatever changes in his body were coming, Howard would have to face them soberly.
On Saturday morning the Sun began to peek out of the black-tinged gray-blue clouds. By eleven o'clock the warm weather had dried the soil quickly and the intense green auras from the trees in their backyard cast an almost palpable impression of pleased growing things through the kitchen window. Anita unilaterally decided that Howard needed to get out of the house for a few hours, so she suggested that they go out to the park. Howard grumbled a bit, but by one o'clock the cartoons were over for the day and he agreed to accompany Anita on her excursion. Anita helped him dress in a pair of overalls with suspenders over a kelly green T-shirt and made him wear his sandals. Then she packed some sandwiches, a bag of Fritos and some soft drinks, then they trooped out to the Suburban. Anita boosted him in the passenger seat and drove out to the city park. After driving around looking for a suitable picnic spot for a few minutes, they located an empty picnic table and parked the van. Anita took the paper bag she had packed with their lunch and helped Howard down from the front seat to the hot macadam. She took his hand and they walked together over to the picnic table and sat down for lunch in a tree shaded bower. At first Howard didn't think anything about holding hands, they had often held hands over the years when they had gone to the park in the past. This time, however, Howard realized how they must look to passerby. They no longer appeared like young lovers on a lark in the park. Now it looked like Anita was taking her little boy to a picnic. Howard wasn't especially pleased by the thought.
Howard wasn't terribly pleased with the lunch Anita had prepared either, he preferred hot dogs and hamburgers to sandwiches at a picnic over the honey ham and baby swiss on rye with Djion mustard and homemade mayonnaise sandwiches she had made. Or for that matter, the Italian pastrami with horseradish mustard and New York Sharp Cheddar on pumpernickel sandwiches she had created from what they had on hand. He was even less pleased with the canned fruit salad she poured into pressed cardboard picnic bowls and served as a side dish. Djion mustard was too effete for his tastes and the pastrami,Öwell, it was pastrami and not beef. True, the touch of horseradish gave it a pleasant sweet taste that balanced the spiciness of the meat and the full bodied aroma of the pumpernickel, but it just wasn't the same as a plain old hot dog or burger cooked over an open fire. The fact that he appeared too young to be allowed to build and maintain a fire never occurred to him. There was general agreement in society that five-year-olds should not play with matches. If a park ranger had seen him building a fire in the small barbecue pit, his "mother" would have been arrested for benign neglect. Anita had foreseen such a difficulty and had eliminated the possibility by not bringing the supplies necessary for grilling. She had no intention of arguing with Howard over making a fire. She knew what he'd think the moment she suggested going to the park. He'd just assume that she would pack charcoal and hickory chips the way she always did. She hated to disappoint him, but she saw her job in the home as partly preventative. It was her responsibility to head off trouble before it happened, no matter what Howard thought.
HHHhhoward ate his meal in consternation. "What had gotten into the woman? Picnics mean barbecuing, everyone knows that!", Howard thought in disgust. He scarfed the chips and nibbled at one of the pumpernickel sandwiches until he had made a good enough showing to be allowed to quit without wifely quibbling. After lunch, Anita suggested they go for a walk. Howard agreed, but insisted that they walk separately so that he wouldn't be taken for her child by onlookers. They strolled pleasantly though the wooded area for half an hour until they came to the children's playground. Howard was tempted to skirt around the playground, but Anita insisted that she rest on the swings for a bit. Howard took a quick look around and saw that the playground was empty so he reluctantly agreed to cut through the playground against his better judgement. Howard was well aware that swinging on the playground swings was part of their tradition of picnicking, but the small size of his rejuvenated body embarrassed him. Nevertheless, he agreed to stand at Anita's side while she rested herself on the heavy canvas, chain-suspended, swing seat. Anita led the way to the sand-filled swing area and sat down for a moment while she looked at the little boy her husband had become. Anita understood why he had refused to hold her hand while they walked. She could well imagine his trepidations about holding hands with her. If she hadn't known better, she would have never that the child standing beside the swing next to her was anything but an average, unremarkable preschooler. Not a hint remained in his appearance of the adult's life he had led before his rejuvenation. As far as anyone could see, he was just a little boy who was on an outing with his mother. Anita thought he looked charming.
After a few minutes, she asked him to sit down beside her on the adjacent swing and started talking about the good times they had had in the park in the past. She told him that one of her fondest memories of their outings was when he had pushed the swing for her in the past. She told him that she had always wanted to reciprocate, but that he had been too big for her to push. Now that he was lighter, she wanted to see how high she could swing him. At first he hesitated, but finally he gave in because of the earnest look of pleading on her face. "There's no one here to see us," he thought, "Öso why not give in to her whim?"
He sat in the canvas seat of the swing and allowed her to stand behind him and push. Every few minutes he would lose his sandals, forcing Anita to stop the swing and put them back on his feet. After the forth time they fell off his feet, she put the sandals in her back pocket so they wouldn't be lost in the sand and continued to swing him without stopping. Higher and higher he went, never noticing the group of mothers and small children who seemed to appear from nowhere and fill the playground behind him. All at once, the screech of delight from a little girl filled his ears and he twisted to see who was observing him at the top of his oscillation. The rotational movement he imparted to the swing coincided exactly with the backward motion and causing the center of gravity of the swing to trace a serpentine path. Anita had stepped out of the way on the last push and was unable to stop the swing as its motion deteriorated into chaos. On the next upswing, Howard tried to counter the yaw of the swing by jerking the chain in the opposite direction and the next thing he knew, he was flying through the air sans swing. He landed face down in the sand with an embarrassing belly flop in front of all the assembled children. Anita rushed to his side to see if he was okay, letting one of his sandals fall out of her rear pocket in her haste to see if he was injured. When she arrived, he was already on his knees and he pushed her away in mortification. He got to his feet as one of the young mother's approached and said as she held forth Howard's lost sandal, "I think this fell out of your pocket. It's your little boy's, isn't it?"
"Thank you," Anita said primly as she took the sandal from the attractive brunette, "It must have fallen out of my back pocket when I ran over to check him. I shouldn't have pushed him so high. But you know how little boys are, they're always testing their limits." She knelt down beside him and brushed the sand from his clothes as she said, "I wish Howie had someone to play with. Where we live there aren't any children his age. It's hard for me to know just how far I should let little Howie go before I set a limit on his behavior."
The other woman smiled understandingly and said, "My son Joey is just over there. I think he'd be happy to play with your son. Let me call him over. I'll be right back."
Howard gave Anita a dirty look and exclaimed angrily the moment the other woman was out of earshot, "Just why the Hell did you do that? You know that I have no intention of playing with her little boy!"
"Yes, you will!", she said with an expression that clouded over in irritation. She bent down and said in low tones in his ear, "Remember you look like a little boy! You can't refuse! Everyone here will talk. Don't you realize that mothers talk to each other about their children and their children's friends? Do you want me to lose my job? I insist that you play with him, if only to keep up appearances! You have no choice!", Anita replied.
"It's embarrassing!", Howard told Anita with a dark look on his face.
"Would you like to walk home?", Anita said with a sweetly threatening smile on her face.
"You wouldn't!", Howard exclaimed with a machismo his body no longer had.
"She was being polite and offered to let her son play with you. It would be rude to refuse. She doesn't know your real age. Why don't you play along and let her son spend some time with you. It won't hurt you to be nice for once. Do this for me, pleaaase?", Anita pleaded.
"If you insist," Howard responded, "But I don't have to like it!"
"Of course not!", Anita replied with a tolerant lopsided grin, "I know it's just a favor to me!"
"As long as that's understoodÖWell then, okay!", Howard agreed graciously.
"Good!", Anita said brightly, "Here he comes! Don't forget your sandal! Here, let me help you!"
Howard sat down in the sand and let Anita raise his leg to put the errant sandal on his foot, then she took the remaining sandal from her back pocket and put it on his other foot. Once she was done with his footwear, she helped him up and brushed the sand off of his bottom. He had the funniest feeling as her hand swept the sand from the denim fabric. The presence of her hand on his behind gave him goosebumps and made him feel all tingly inside. The feeling was similar to how he felt when they made love, but it didn't make him horny. It was somehowÖ.different. It made him feel like he was wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket; secure and protected yet able to do anything because his personal guardian angel was hovering over him.
A little boy of approximately five years ran up and introduced himself as Joey to Howard, then suggested that they go play on the teeter-totter. The two boys ran off while their mothers sat down on a bench to talk. Anita smiled at the two boys playing on the teeter-totter. Howard was yelling and having a good time in spite of himself. "Men really are overgrown boys," she thought to herself as she watched her husband romping and rollicking on the playground equipment, "All they need is implicit permission to behave like the little boys that they really are inside. I guess that's what watching football is all about. They're vicariously playing out on the field with their team in their minds. What they'd really like to do is be ten years old again and be out playing football in the sandlot with their friends. All of the hype and machismo of professional sports is just to convince themselves that they're men and not little boys."
After playing tag for twenty minutes with his new friend, Howard spontaneously decided that it was time for them to play on the monkey bars. They climbed over the metal latticework like a pair of simians, hanging on with their hands and brachiating from bar to bar as if they were limbs on the trees of a densely wooded forest. Joey then suggested that they play on his favorite amusement, the merry-go-round. The two boys got on either side of the eight-foot pivoted metal platform and held on to the bars radiating from the merry-go-round's center, then they pushed counterclockwise to give it a start and ran until they had run up its speed to the maximum angular velocity that their small muscles could impart. Once they had the merry-go-round up to speed, they hopped on and hung on for dear life. Anita caught flashes of Howard's face as he whizzed by. He didn't look like he was enjoying the ride as much as Joey. In fact, Anita thought his face had a definite greenish cast beneath his cheekbones. From the sick smile on his face, she could have sworn that the circular motion of the merry-go-round was making him ill.
Howard hung on to the metal bar gripped in his hands as tightly as he could and grimly fought the urge to throw up. He had determined that he was not going to lose face in front of someone who was young enough to be his grandson. Waves of nausea hit him along with an intense fear of embarrassment. When Joey jumped off the merry-go-round and began pushing to increase the revolutions per minute, Howard sank to his knees and then sat down on the thick steel plate that comprised the floor of the merry-go-round. He closed his eyes and bit his lip as the centrifugal force created by the device's spin pulled the skin taut over the small bones of his face. The irrational terror fed on itself, forcing cold rivulets of sweat to spring from his forehead. "What's happening to me? This is only a damn merry-go-round! There's nothing to be afraid of!"
Nevertheless, the growing sense of panic mounted until he shivered in fear on the hard metal floor of the merry-go-round. Howard felt his control of his emotions spiral away under the relentless pressure of centrifugal force. The mortification of being shown up as a weak-kneed sissy in front of a playground full of kindergartners caused tears to run down his cheeks and fly off into the wind. Howard felt sick at heart. His mouth was filled with the metallic bitter copper taste of fear. He was trapped, he needed to get off the merry-go-round immediately! He needed to run away, to escape this damn contraption! His stomach heaved a few times and Howard swallowed convulsively. Sweat was running in rivers down his back. Once it reached the upper portion of his tush, it was channeled into the crevasse between the cheeks of his bottom and pooled coldly on the back of his balls. Unknown to Howard, the coldness he felt in his nether regions was caused by his body's automatic reaction to his panic attack; his scrotum had shriveled and drawn his testicles close to his body protectively while it drained the blood out of his sensitive tissues for the exclusive use of his muscles in the event of an emergency. From Howard's viewpoint, the strange chill he felt only increased his sense of fear. He had never felt such terror in all his life! Howard felt an urgent need to pee! If he didn't go immediately, he didn't know what would happen!
All at once, Howard's body gave up the fight and released everything it was holding. Howard threw up, wet his pants and dirtied them in one single shameful exhibition of his inability to cope with the sensations produced by the wildly sloshing fluid in his inner ear and the childhood terror that involuntarily surfaced from his deepest unconscious. Joey grinned to himself as he jumped off the side of the merry-go-round and dragged it to a halt. He had seen Howie getting sick and was amused by the lack of courage his erstwhile friend had shown. The weak-stomached little mommy's boy wouldn't show his face around this playground again soon! Joey was pleased by Howard's violent reaction to the spinning. It wasn't the first time he had driven one of his playmates to upchuck during one of his wild rides. Everyone at the playground knew he was King of the merry-go-round! A kid rode with Joey at their own risk!
Anita got up from the park seat with a look of concern on her face. Howard's face looked pale and wane. In addition, she thought she caught a glimpse of something brown on the bib of his overalls. The young mother with whom she had been talking got up with her and accompanied her to the merry-go-round. As they approached the slowing platform, they saw Howard slumped over in a posture of utter defeat. The bib of his overall was covered in brown-chunked vomitus and his pants had an ominous dark spot between his legs that could only mean one thing to the mothers on the playground.
Joey pulled the merry-go-round to a complete stop and stood by its side as the two mothers spanned the final ten feet in three strides. Anita quietly got on the merry-go-round as Joey helpfully held it steady for her and stood behind Howard. She bent down and put her hands beneath his arms to raise him up, saying softly, "Come on Howie. It's time to go home. I think you've had enough excitement for one day. Let's go over to the car and I'll get you cleaned up. There are still some paper napkins in the picnic bag, I think."
As she hoisted him to his feet, the smell of his accident hit her. He reeked with the musky odor of fresh terror as well as the fetid smell of feces. Although Anita had never smelled fear before, the instinctive meaning of the odor encoded in her DNA allowed her to recognize the scent immediately. He had been frightened and badly so. So much so, that he had thrown up and evacuated his bladder and bowels in his pants in shear panic. She took him by the hand and led him from the playground amidst the jeers of the small children.
"Lookie, Mommy! He went pee-pee in his pants!", said a little boy who appeared to be about three years old.
"Ooooh, he made a smellie!", exclaimed a five-year-old girl as she turned away in maternally-induced obsessive-compulsive disgust.
All the children rushed forward to witness his humiliation and formed an open path that led straight out of the playground. "Mommy, if he makes poo-poo in his pants, does his mommy make him wear dydees like me? He looks awfully big for dydees!", said a precocious and inquisitive little girl to her mother who was frantically trying to shush her.
"He's only a big baby!", said a six-year-old boy in a splendid display of masculine abhorrence to weakness in any form as they passed by. The six-year-old's derision was driven by the fact that he had only graduated from diapers the year before. As a consequence, he used every opportunity to belittle younger children who still hadn't mastered bowel and bladder control. He wanted everyone he met to know that he was fully in control of himself and would never need diapers again. The boy turned and told one of his playmates loudly in a voice that dripped with preadolescent disgust, "I'll bet he drinks from a baby bottle too!"
An eight-year-old girl ran up to Anita with a diaper bag in her hand and said helpfully, "Here! If you need a clean dydee for him, take one of my brother's! My baby brother Tommy is almost as big as your little boy is! I'll bet they'll fit him just fine! It's okay if you take just one. I asked mommy and she said it's okay!"
Anita shook her head and said, "Tell your mommy thank you for me, but diapers won't be necessary," and walked on.
One of the mothers came around the line and stopped in front of Anita and pressed a small blue plastic container in her hand and said sympathetically, "Take these! You'll need them to get him cleaned up. His bottom is likely to be sticky. You can rinse his clothes off in one of the sinks of the women's restroom. It's right over there!"
Anita looked at where the woman was pointing and thanked her for the gift. The restroom was outside of the boundaries of the playground. All they had to do was get there before Howard suffered a complete emotional collapse. She looked down at the crying preschooler who held her hand. Although copious tears were streaming down his face, his eyes had the glassy-eyed look of someone who had just experienced terror that was too great for him to comprehend. If she didn't get him out of sight soon, he was going to fall apart. His emotions were obviously frazzled and he was on the verge of complete loss of control. Any minute he might have an attack of full blown hysteria. Anita glanced at the plastic box in her hand, it was a traveler-sized box of baby wipes. Considering the way Howard smelled, they were going to come in handy. His bottom was probably a mess!
Howard walked the line of dishonor at Anita's side, praying that he'd be struck dead at any moment and be released from his humiliation. He tried to maintain a semblance of decorum but the humiliation was too much for him. By the time the way halfway through the gauntlet, tears of mortification covered his face and dripped from his trembling lips. In the end, however, they made it to the edge of the playground with the still-warm stool in the back of his undies bouncing heavily against his bottom and the warm feeling of his freshly wet pants reminding him how childishly he had behaved.
Anita guided him to the women's restroom and took him inside. She led him into one of the stalls and disrobed him, leaving him dressed in nothing but his T-shirt. The briefs weren't as bad as she had expected. His stool was firm and had remained relatively intact. She dumped out the contents of his dirty underwear in the toilet and cleansed his bottom thoroughly with the baby wipes. Throughout the process, Howard stood in the stall shivering as if he was intensely cold. She left him in the stall and took his pants and briefs over to one of the sinks to handwash them. Afterwards, she wrung them out and carried them back to Howard. Anita draped his pants over the stall's door and bent down to help him step into the wet briefs. His shivering had subsided in the few minutes that he had spent in the stall alone collecting himself. Once the warm wet underwear was drawn up over his bottom, he began to shiver violently. Anita decided that she needed to get him home as quickly as possible before he made a scene. She decided to forgo dressing him in his overalls so she could get him to the safety of their Suburban, so she threw the pants over one arm, helped him put his sandals on again and literally dragged him out of the restroom.
Howard was halfway to the van before he realized that he wasn't wearing any pants. The warm weather was drying them quickly, but the amused looks from the women with small children that they passed on the path gave him a clue that all was not right. He couldn't see the light brown strains on the back of his underwear that were obvious to the mothers who watched the grim faced woman dragging the little boy with soggy underwear to the parking lot. Most of them had been in the same situation themselves a time or two and could see the humor in the preschooler's accident.
When Anita got to the Suburban, she made Howard stand by the door until she had emptied the paper bag of supplies and laid it on the black leather of the passenger side front seat to protect it from his wet underwear. Then she hoisted him up and firmly buckled him in place before going around the van and getting in herself. As they drove away, she tried to lighten his mood by joking with him, saying, "You know Howard, if you're going to ride the merry-go-round again, I'll have to get you some diapers."
"I'm not going to ride that damn thing ever again. As a matter of fact, I'm not going for a walk in the park ever again," he replied in an angry mutter, "It's too Goddamn embarrassing! Promise me that you'll never ask me to walk with you in the park again!"
Anita looked at him and said sincerely, "I understand how you feel Howard. And yes, I promise you'll never have to walk at my side again in this or any other park if you don't want to. Believe me when I say I never intended for this to happen. I was just hoping to spend a little time with you beforeÖ.beforeÖWell you know how busy I've been at work and how much you've been changing. Believe me, I had the best intentions when I decided upon an outing."
"I know," Howard admitted with a grumble, "I don't want to talk about it anymore!"
"I'm sorry," Anita said sympathetically.
That evening Anita called her friends and invited them to Sunday brunch the next morning. Anita explained that she had been caring for her sister's son and had been too busy to have anyone over the preceding weeks. Everyone accepted her invitation enthusiastically. They had missed being able to escape the kids for a few hours once a week and sit down to talk with adults other than their husbands. It gave them a chance to "let down their hair" and talk honestly about their lives with other adults who understood what it was like to take care of screaming babies, demanding children and unappreciative husbands.
When Sunday came, Anita got up early and began baking. When Howard awoke, she fed him a light breakfast while she had her morning cup of coffee. When he was finished, Anita wiped his face for him and led him back to the bedroom. There she dressed Howard up in an adorable overall with his best green T-shirt underneath. She didn't bother to put shoes or socks on him as he wasn't going out. She knew that bare feet were best for small children unless the house was cold or they were going outside. Anita sat him in front of the TV and turned on the cartoon channel for him to watch while she visited with her friends. Howard was only a little disturbed when one of the nursing mothers brought over a traveling playpen and set it up beside him while he watched TV. She laid her baby boy in the playpen for his nap and left the slumbering baby in the pen while she sat down with Anita to eat coffee and homemade pastries in the kitchen while they talked. The other neighbors arrived one-by-one, mostly carrying babies. Their husbands might be trusted with three and four-year-olds, but the mothers weren't about to leave their little babies in the care of their husbands! In many ways their husbands were little better than children themselves.
They were seated in the living room on the couch while coffee was brought to them by a couple of the women he had volunteered to help Anita. After the pastries were served, the women with toddlers and crawling babies set them down at their feet to play on the carpet while their mother's talked. Howard was too engrossed in his cartoons to notice the floor becoming a play room full of crawling infants and tottering babies busily amusing themselves with the exploration of Anita's living room. After two of the older babies made toddling runs out of the living room area, forcing their mothers to get up and retrieve them, they were forcibly sat down on the carpet on either side of Howard to watch cartoons with him.
When the commercial broke Howard's rapt spell of television-induced hypnosis, he looked around to find himself sharing the floor with a carpet full of drooling, babbling babies. The baby seated beside him began to cry, causing the infant's mother to get up from the couch and kneel down beside him and check his diaper. Sure enough, the baby needed a diaper change. Howard watched in horrified fascination as the woman nonchalantly stripped the baby of his diaper and began cleaning the baby's nether regions in full view of everyone in the room. After she had placed a fresh disposable diaper under the baby's bottom, the woman turned to Howard and smiled as she said jokingly, "Would you like me to put a dydee on you, Sweetie? I have plenty of extra diapers in the bag."
Howard sat in stunned silence at the woman's humiliating suggestion.
She patted Howard on the head condescendingly and said in a patronizing tone, "Don't look so shocked, Sweetie! I was only joking. It hasn't been so long since you had to wear dydees too. Besides, you never know when you might have to start wearing them again. I thought my little boy was almost fully potty trained until he started wetting the bed again two months ago and having 'accidents' in his pants during the day. He hasn't had a dry night since he started bedwetting again. He's just about your age. I tried everything, including stuffing one of his brother's diapers into the front of his underwear at night. I didn't do any good at all. After he ruined the mattress I put my foot down and solved the problem. Now I put him in diapers every night like his baby brother Lloyd right before he goes to bed!"
Howard shivered like someone had walked over his grave and said nothing.
The woman smiled at his expression of absolute horror and went back to diapering her baby boy. In a few minutes she was finished and picked him up to cuddle him for a moment, then she said to Anita, "Do you think that Howie would like to play with my little Lloy-Lloy?"
Anita smiled her approval and nodded in agreement. The woman lowered her baby into Howard's cross-legged lap and went back to her seat as Howard looked at the nearly naked infant who had been thrust into his personal space.
The smell of baby powder from the infant was overpowering. Since Howard hadn't seen the baby's mother use any powder during his diaper change, he decided that the diapers themselves must be perfumed with the scent of baby powder. Aside from the knowledge that only a thin (as he conceived it) diaper separated his clean clothes from the products of the baby's incontinence, he didn't particularly object to the infant's presence on his lap. The baby appeared to be extremely clean and smelled as sweet as fresh laundry. Certainly the baby was light enough. His skin felt moist and yielding to Howard's touch. He didn't have any trouble controlling the infant in his lap. Its muscles were so weak that even Howard's five-year-old body had no problems overpowering its feeble attempts to escape his hold and go crawling off to explore. Every time the little one moved on his lap, soft, crinkling, plastic sounds came from the waterproof covering on his disposable diaper. Howard found himself oddly attracted to the little boy on his lap. There was a feeling of what Spanish speakers call "sympatico". The baby was perfectly content to sit in Howard's lap and watch the strange, meaningless, colored forms on the TV in front of him. The little one enjoyed the odd voices that the cartoon characters had. He clapped his hands together in delight several times during the program and cooed in pleasure whenever the cartoon characters spoke. The worst part was that the baby drooled incessantly; his little chest and stomach were constantly wet with his spit. Howard held the baby at his waist, trying to keep him upright and immobile on his lap while avoiding the streams of saliva that ran down the baby's protuberant tummy. After a while, he forgot about the little one and went back to watching his cartoons.
Twenty minutes later, the baby started getting fussy and the mother came over and put a baby bottle in his mouth. Howard was asked to hold it while the baby fed and did so without a word. The noise the baby made while nursing was incredible; it was a veritable cacophony of slurps, sucks, and sighs of contentment accompanied by the repeated snap of air filling the vacuum created by the absence of formula as the baby quickly drained a gulp from the bottle, released the pressure and went back for more. Howard could barely hear the cartoon's soundtrack over the din of the baby's nursing. When the baby had finished his drink, Howard took the bottle and laid it on the carpet beside him wondering what to do next. A minute later the infant moved uncomfortably and Howard grabbed him to hold him in place. He slapped the infant's back in gesture of masculine comfort and was surprised by the huge belch the baby loosed.
After a while the brunch broke up, each neighbor gathering up her baby and going home to take care of her children and husband. None of their charges, including their husbands, could be trusted at home alone for long before the house became a shambles. The woman who placed her baby in Howard's charge was one of the first to get ready to leave. She came over and picked up the empty baby's bottle to put in his diaper bag, then lifted her son from Howard's lap. Howard got up hospitably and stood by Anita to see the women off. He was slightly surprised by the warm sympathetic maternal smiles he got as the women left one at a time. The woman whose baby he held went to the door with her baby riding her hip to see the other women off. She stood off to the side as the other women left chuckling and whispering to Anita while she saw her neighbors out.
When everyone but the woman was gone, Anita looked down and said, "It looks like you've had another accident, Howie. Sara stayed to lend me a diaper if I thought you needed one."
"What are you talking about? I didn't have an accident! Just look at me! Do I look like I peed my pants?", Howard answered angrily.
"Look at the front of your pants, HHhhowie," Anita commanded quietly.
Howard looked down and saw to his intense embarrassment that there was a huge dark stain on the front of his pants. He looked up at the two women in an agony of mortification and pleaded, "It wasn't me! It was the baby! His diaper leaked! Damnit, you can't do this to me!"
"Howie, watch your tongue! Do you want your mouth washed out with soap? Any more language like that, little boy, and I'll put you over my knee for a spanking, wash your mouth out with soap and put you in diapers the way Sara suggests," Anita said resolutely.
"But I didn't do it!", Howard quailed.
"Who pooped and wet their pants at the playground yesterday, Howie? I'm not your mother, Howie! I don't have to put up with any shenanigans from you!", Anita asked.
"It wasn't my fault! It was the merry-go-round! You know that! You saw!", Howard said defensively.
"I saw a little boy who had to have his dirty underwear dumped out in the toilet of the women's restroom!", Anita said.
"That's not fair! It wasn't my fault! You're just being mean!", Howard said defensively.
"There was another little boy on the merry-go-round, wasn't there? Did he poop in his pants?", Anita asked reasonably.
"He's not me!", Howard shouted, "It's not the same! Why are you doing this to me?"
"Hush child!", Anita ordered, trying to silence him before the entire neighborhood knew what had happened to him.
"I won't and you can't make me!", Howard said defiantly.
"I'll put you over my knee and give you a good spanking if you won't cooperate," Anita said firmly.
"You're not my mommy and you can't do it!", exclaimed Howard.
"Your mommy's not here! I'm the one who's taking care of you!", said Anita as she warmed to the contest of wills.
Howard crossed his arms and said, "No! I didn't wet my pants! The baby did it! I don't care what you think!"
"It sounds to me like you've gotten too big for your britches," Sara observed from the sidelines, "Little boys who poop in their pants donít deserve to wear underwear like big boys. If you were my little boy, you'd be wearing dydees right now."
"I'm warning you, Howie!", Anita threatened, "If you can't control yourself, I'm going to put you back in diapers! Do you understand me?"
Howard was stunned by the threat of actually being made to wear diapers. He never thought that Anita could threaten him like this in front of a stranger. From the look on her face, she was ready to do it in the next instant if he didn't back down. It was time to consider a strategic retreat. He dropped his arms to his sides and lowered his head in defeat. She was too powerful, too necessary to his existence to seriously consider battling her. "Y..y..yes," Howard stammered in a subdued voice.
"Howaaard!", Anita said with a threatening rise in tone.
"Y..yes, mam," Howard answered in a little boy's defeated squeak.
"Better!", Anita said in a gentler voice, "When Sara leaves we're going to the bedroom to get you changed into some dry clothes. Okay?"
"Okay," said Howard with his head hung low.
Sara patted Howard on the head and said, "No one likes a little boy who's a smarty-pants! Just do as your Aunt tells you and everything will work out alright. She really does have your best interests at heart. If she has to stuff a diaper in your pants, it's for your own good! Would you rather have dydee rash? My little one gets it from time to time, but my older boy is the worst. He refuses to tell me when he's wet. I know he's just embarrassed, but he gets terrible cases of dydee rashes when he does it. You should see how his poor skin looks after wearing wet undies all day! He gets little pimple-like boils and his skin turns bright red! When he has dydee rash, he's miserable!"
She turned and said in an aside to Anita "His pediatrician told me that it's not unusual for little boys his age to have problems controlling themselves. He said that he had read in the Internet Journal of Pediatrics that in nineteen sixty-seven almost all children were potty trained by the age of twenty-seven months. In nineteen ninety-seven almost two percent of children still weren't potty trained by age four. He told me that the study that they did last year indicated that almost sixty percent of children weren't potty trained by the time they were four years old. The figure was much higher if little girls were excluded from the statistics. When they considered the age of potty training by little boys alone, they discovered that almost seventy percent of four-year-old boys aren't fully potty trained. Now children are five before the two percent figure is reached. In thirteen years children have lost a year's worth of development and sphincter control. My son's doctor told me that the percentage of children who are bedwetters after age six is increasing too. In nineteen ninety-seven only ten percent of eight-year-olds used to wet the bed. Seventy five percent of them never had an extended period of time when they didn't wet the bed. The percentage of eight-year-old bedwetters is close to twenty-five percent now and almost ninety percent of the bedwetters have never had an extended period where they wake up dry. The cure rate has gone down too! In the early nineties only one in a hundred had their bedwetting continue into adulthood. Now they think that ten percent of adults are chronic bedwetters. No wonder the sale of adult diapers has gone through the roof! Something's happening to the kids, Anita and it scares the piss out of me!
They're not sure what's causing the delay in our kid's mastery of potty training. My son's pediatrician told me about studies done in the nineties that said it didn't make any difference how strict the mother was or whether she worked or not. The age the mother began potty training her child didn't make a difference either. At first they thought that the differences were cultural, but later studies disproved that theory. It's happening world-wide. It's no wonder that there are so many manufacturers and types of disposable diapers available in the grocery stores these days, the market is huge! Adults seem to be having incontinence problems too. My son's doctor told me there's been an explosion in sales of adult incontinence products. I'm not talking about the senile elderly and infirm here either. I'm talking about men and women in the prime of life being forced to wear diapers like infants! There seems to be an epidemic of people who have continuous anal leakage for no known reasons. The pediatrician thinks that the pollution caused by almost a century of dumping industrial wastes into the water and atmosphere may be the reason. He told me the children he sees are becoming smaller, weaker and have more health problems every year. He said he's heard horror stories out of old Russia about the effects of pollution on child development that would curl your hair. Have you heard that intelligence in children has declined in this country for almost every year for the past forty years? We're becoming a nation of idiots! Did you know that almost half of the State budget for health care is spent for special 'hospitals' to care for the mentally disadvantaged? It's a fact! Our children are graduating high school with Certificates of Completion (Not diplomas you'll notice, I don't think the academic establishment has been able to bring themselves to be that hypocritical!) and being sent straight to 'hospitals' to be cared for the rest of their lives! Do you know that the preparation of college students has gotten so bad that every college is requiring, requiring mind you, a remedial reading course on a fifth grade level for every freshman? Did you know that almost one-half of all freshmen flunk that course?
A friend of mine is a part-time teacher at one of the elementary schools and she says the schools are at a complete loss over what to do about the situation. First grade teachers have turned into babysitters rather than instructors. They're having problems teaching kids things that were learned in nursery schools ten years ago! Do you know that most first grade teachers now are required to keep packages of diapers in their supply closets? I'm not kidding! It's the absolute truth! They keep powder and baby wipes in the storage closet of every elementary schoolroom. My friend told me that they're having problems with the budget because of all the diapers they have to buy even though they make the parents of the kids who they know to be incontinent supply diapers for their kids at school. Can you believe it? Businesses have started forming partnerships with the schools so they can use the student data they get to identify future employees. Once they do, they're giving those students 'special scholarships' to tutoring sessions sponsored by the companies so they will have a pool of employable people to draw from by the time the students graduate high school!
The teachers aren't permitted to send the chronic pants-wetters to the school nurse anymore. The school policy is that until they're in sixth grade, the incontinence problems are to be handled by the teachers themselves. Can you imagine how disruptive that is? And that's not the worst thing I've heard! Pants-wetting in class in the lower grades is now considered normal! She told me that even the middle and high schools are having problems with incontinent students! Do you know that they've had to eliminate swimming from the sports programs because of worries about fecal contamination of the pool water? So many of the high school students have problems with poor bowel control that they can't keep track of them and ease them out of the water sports programs. There are high school seniors who graduate who aren't potty trained! Can you believe that?
The elementary teachers are expected to change the children right there in the classroom as if they were in nursery school. My friend told me that when she took over the first grade class for a day, two of the boys had no semblance of potty training. They pooped in their pants like they had never heard of being potty trained! Their mothers send them to school with diaper bags expecting the teachers to be some kind of nannies. The teachers spend so much time changing wet hineys that they don't have time to teach kids how to read until the second or third grade! The only thing good thing I can say about it is that my little boy won't be the only one in class who wets himself!
What's happening to the world, Anita? What have we done to ourselves? Our educational system is shot! The kids can't learn even if they were able to! The problem is even worse in Russia! Russian employers are having problems finding people who have the intelligence to do basic service labor. Their kids are in such bad shape that they're not even fit to do manual labor. Their eighteen-year-old kids can't even dig ditches without adult supervision and most of them are too sick and weak to do the work! Even the Russian military can't find enough healthy eighteen-year-olds to fill its ranks! Even our mature citizens are finding diapers necessary. If I ever get my hands on one of those sick bastards that poisoned our planet, I'd fix him good! He'd be screaming in soprano by the time I was finished with him! I swear to God, Anita, if there was any justice in this world, those bastards would get a little of their own back! I wish to God that those SOBs would have something happen to them so they could spend the rest of their lives in diapers like the helpless infants they've made of our children!"
Sara shook her head as if to dispel the evil thoughts from her head and told Howie in an informational tone, "If my little boy keeps having 'accidents' during the day, I won't have any choice but to keep him in diapers twenty-four hours a day."
She turned back to Anita and said, "He pooped in his pants twice last week and once the mess got out of his undies and went down inside his pants. He was an absolute mess! I had to stop what I was doing and give him a bath right then and there. I tell you, Anita, I'm at the end of my rope! Do you know he still sucks his thumb? He seems to be moving backwards in his development rather than forwards. I can't go running around behind him checking him for wet or dirty pants every ten minutes, I won't get any housework done! Two more weeks of this and I swear I'm going to put him back in diapers during the day as well. Once that happens, what good is potty training? Every time he needs to pee or poop he'll just do it in his diaper and forget about it. Next year he may end up taking a diaper bag to kindergarten. He won't like it, but it'll be for his own good. I can't let him sit in wet and soiled underwear all morning at kindergarten, no matter what I think! Besides, if he demonstrates that he's not potty trained, the school will put him in diapers as a matter of policy!"
Her expression turned serious as she bent down and pointed a finger in Howie's face as she said, "Do you want to be a big baby when you go to school? Do you want your teacher to have to stop class so she can take time to pull down your pants in front of everyone to change your dydees? My friend tells me that they mark a big baby's permanent record with the fact that he's too immature for real teaching. She says once you get that on your record, you'll be treated like a retarded toddler until you're in middle school! They donít even try to teach you if youíre a big baby. They have a special section at the back of the class that's reserved for 'older' babies. You won't have to study or even pay attention! You'll sit in the back with your thumb in your mouth wearing nothing but a diaper while your friends learn to read! Most kids who are treated like that stay in diapers until they graduate high school! They're put in 'special education classes' where they practice their 'A,B,C's' and learning colors until they're too old to keep in school. Then the school dumps them on the streets to fend for themselves. If they're lucky, their parents have them declared mentally incompetent and send them to the State Hospital to be cared for like infants the rest of their lives. Do you want to be a baby all your life? They will never let you drive or do anything important. You're a smart little boy! You don't want to end up like that, do you? I've heard how you talk, you're a lot smarter than my little boy! You can make something of yourself! You could be a chemical engineer and help the world out of this mess! You understand that, don't you?
Sara's tone became firmer as she said, "Now do as your Aunt says, or you may end up like my little boy. Sometimes at night before he goes to sleep, his dydee rash is so bad that he has to crawl instead of walk. If he stands, the pain makes him whimper and forces him to the ground. He'd be much better off if he was in dydees full time and had someone check to see if he was wet. I swear, if he doesn't stop acting like an infant, I'm may not send him to kindergarten next year. He can stay at home with his mommy and baby brother until he's either potty trained or learns to accept wearing diapers. It's better to have him home for a year than to get the fact that he's diaper dependent on his permanent record. Nonetheless, if he can't learn in another year, then he'll have to go to school, diapers or no. It's the law, so I won't have a choice. I don't have the time or the training to teach him at home. His doctor says itís a medical problem and the school will have to deal with it. Now, you tell me what you're going to do! Are you going to be stubborn like my little boy, or are you going to listen to your Aunt? You're the one with wet pants! Do you want to have dydee rash like a little baby? Or are you going to act like a big boy and help your Aunt help you? If you won't help, you'll end up in dydees whether you like it or not! Are you going to act like a big boy and listen to what your Aunt says or is she going to have to treat you like a baby?"
"I'll do what she says," Howard agreed glumly.
"Good!", Sara said and took her leave.
Howard was immediately led back to the bathroom and disrobed, then had his pubes washed with a washcloth and taken to the bedroom to be put into fresh underwear. After that, Anita put him down for his midmorning nap. It was long overdue and probably accounted for his willful behavior in front of Sara. Howard complied willingly, it had been an emotionally exhausting morning. He didn't even object when Anita stuffed a cloth diaper into the front of his underwear before he went to sleep. He was too overwrought to care. Within minutes of being tucked into bed, he was fast asleep.
Over the following week, Howard's five year old body became four years old again. The weather warmed considerably under the June Sun, but it rained daily. Howard reacted by closing the drapes to the sliding glass doors of the patio and turning on the air conditioning. He no longer cared about what went on outside. The enormous amount of feces he was producing tapered off into normal if large bowel movements, but the frequent need to urinate continued as it had been before. He found himself dribbling in his pants before the first warning that he needed to pee was transmitted to his brain and he was making yellow stains on his briefs on a daily basis. His clumsiness continued to worsen until the merely feeding himself or holding a glass of milk was difficult. Anita started giving him his drinks in small plastic mugs that he could hold with both hands. His coordination was shot. He couldn't even turn doorknobs with one hand; he had to reach up with both hands and grasp the knob between them to torque the bolt back into its housing and free the door from its jamb. Howard's once firm muscles became soft and pliant as his body continued its metamorphosis into early childhood. His nose flattened and lost its definition, while his high cheekbones receded with his chin until Howard's face regained the rounded, chubby appearance of extreme youth.
Howard's bodily needs were changing too. He found it almost impossible to stay awake in the afternoons while his desire for highly spiced foods vanished overnight. Aside from pizza, everything he ate seemed to taste different to him. Nothing tasted the same as it did before his body started changing. Even his craving for cold beer had left him. He would eat the bologna sandwich that Anita made for him before she left for work and left in the refrigerator then fall asleep watching TV. She had given up on trying to make him remember to put things away after making himself snacks or drinks and had begun to leave pre-made snacks and pre-poured drinks for him in the refrigerator. At first Howard thought his naps were the result of boredom, but when he started falling asleep at eight o'clock every night while sitting on the couch next to Anita, he knew that his body's circadian rhythms had changed. His body's demands for sleep were the same as his apparent age. Howard realized that in a way, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. At least sleeping gave him something else to do other than watching TV.
On Thursday morning of the ensuing week, Anita bent over her husband's sleeping form and surreptitiously palpated his skull before she woke him. She could feel that the sutures between the bones in his skull had begun to open and separate. His anterior fontanelle had opened completely and when she palpated his posterior fontanelle, she could feel it had begun to separate as well. From the viewpoint of child development, his anterior fontanelle shouldn't have begun opening until he had regressed beyond the physical age of three years. His posterior fontanelle should have remained closed until he had regressed to the physical development of a twelve month old infant. Obviously his physiology wasn't following the precise pattern of growth in reverse. She shook her head at the changes in his physique and wondered at how young he looked. Anita had noticed the changes in his sleeping habits and had quietly adjusted his diet to match his physiological age a few days before. She had decided that his body's nutritional needs had altered and had begun serving him the same type of meals she would have given a four-year-old child. It was easier to give him finger foods that he could manage without a knife and fork than it was to clean up the mess he made when he attempted to use his increasingly uncoordinated muscles to cut his food. She wondered how long it would be until she would have to put a feeding bib on him when he ate to keep down the mess he made. He had gotten catsup everywhere on the night before when she fed him! The meals she concocted for her kindergartner-husband were simple and easy to prepare. There was no point wasting her time on preparing meals that his toddler body couldn't properly metabolize. Besides, rich adult food might make him sick! It was safer to serve him something she knew he could handle.
On Monday Anita gave him small slices of a child-sized cheese pizza for dinner and the next night she served him fried chicken tenders. She gave him miniature corn dogs with catsup for dinner on Wednesday evening. Howard never seemed to notice the lack of steak and potatoes in his meals. The physiological changes his body was undergoing had affected his tastes and he no longer had the craving for red meat that he had had the week before. He ate every meal with relish, smacking his lips unconsciously as he devoured the toddler's fare. Anita's meals remained much the same as they had always been, although she had begun privately experimenting with dishes that Howard had never liked or was too provincial to even try. She would start fixing his dinner the moment she came home and waited until he had gone to sleep to make her own dinner.
By the end of the week he had lost three inches of height while his lower spine had started to curve forward like a toddler's. His brown hair had become a sandy blonde, making his eyebrows vanish into the background of his unweathered, fair skin. Although his skull had become smaller in step with his body's diminishing mass, his eyes had remained the same size, giving his face a sweet innocent look that belied his chronological age. It was becoming difficult for Anita to think of Howard as anything but a little boy. His appearance, mannerisms, gait, even the timber of his voice did nothing to destroy the illusion that he was really a four-year-old who had somehow acquired a precocious command of adult language. On several occasions after coming home from work, she had to stop herself from sending him out and play in the backyard because the weather was warm and dry again. When Anita came home Thursday evening to find him sitting on the floor in front of the TV watching Rugrats, she had to blink her eyes to get herself to believe that the small child on the carpet was really her husband and not a precious little boy who had somehow wandered into her house.
On Friday Howard ate his breakfast of oatmeal and Ovaltine and toddled off to watch his morning fare of cartoons while Anita got ready for work. She made his lunch quickly, cutting the crusts from the slices of whole wheat bread and slapping mayonnaise on each slice before sandwiching a piece of bologna between them. By the time that lunch came, the mayonnaise would have been absorbed by the bread and wouldn't make a mess when he ate it. Anita had stopped giving him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for his lunch when she was at work. On Monday Howard had reacquired the taste for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that he had lost at the age of ten. He invariably got jelly all over his hands and everything he touched. She had decided that she would give him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches only when she was there to supervise and wash his hands for him afterwards. She quartered the sandwich into four neat triangles to make it easier for Howard to eat. Anita opened a small bag of Fritos and folded over the top, securing the opened end with a paperclip to keep them from getting soggy in the refrigerator. She had left him a small bag of potato chips on Wednesday and he had discovered he no longer had the strength to tear open the plastic pouch. He had gone into the kitchen to get a knife and had managed to pull the silverware drawer out of the cabinet and spill all of their flatware on the floor. Anita had come home to find a tangled mass of knives, forks and spoons lying on the kitchen floor next to the overturned drawer. She had thanked her lucky stars that he hadn't hurt himself in the accident and picked up the mess without scolding him for his clumsiness. Since that time however, she had taken the precaution of opening the bags of crispy snacks herself rather than take a chance that he would repeat his mistake and injure himself.
Anita put his sandwich on a plate and put it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator on top of the vegetable crisper to make it easy for her rejuvenated husband to reach. Then she poured a mug of milk for him to drink with his meal and set the Fritos and milk next to his sandwich. Once she had finished making him his lunch, Anita went to her bedroom to get dressed for work. She kissed him on the forehead and wished him a good day before she left. Howard accepted the ritual without comment and told her goodbye without taking his eyes off of the picture in front of him. He never noticed the maternal smile she gave him as she took a last look at her toddler-sized husband. "He's becoming too young to leave by himself," she thought with motherly concern for his welfare, "I guess it's time to make arrangements for someone to look after him while I'm working. I'll make some phone calls this morning at work and see what can be done for him."
Who Wears the Pants - Part 4