by ARthur

"Where is he?" screamed the programming director of the Useless Pictures Network (UPN) as he bulled his way past the secretary to the president of the Wanton Wrestling Federation (WWF). Inside his office, the president knew what was coming, and was trying to squeeze himself under his antique mahogany desk. But being a former pro wrestler himself, the fit was tight and his southern exposure was - well, exposed.

Slapping the ample behind of the WWF chieftain, the UPN officer growled, "Ron, you old son of a baboon, get your ugly mug out here immediately. You've got some explaining to do." Although he had at least a 70-lb. advantage on the UPN director, the WWF president meekly complied, resigning himself to another chewing out.

"Look at this, Ron," the programming director said. "This is a computer printout of the minute-by-minute ratings of last Thursday's 'WWF Slap-Down.' Things were going good until that match involving that old broad Sapphyre. Look at this. Nearly half the viewers tuned out. What're you gonna do about this?"

"Look, Steve, Sapphyre is one of the founders of the WWF and has been a draw for this organization long before we got these matches on cable, let alone UPN," the president meekly explained. "We feel that our wrestlers today can earn big money because of people like Sapphyre's pioneering efforts. So that is why we try to schedule some of her matches on your network."

"Well, it won't be our big money for long," the programming director growled as he ground his White Owl between his teeth. "That Sapphyre has to be least 40. She's no longer in peak physical condition. And she's been using the same gimmick - that business about being a foul-mouthed, red-jeweled superheroine - for at least 15 years. You tell her to get in shape and come up with a new gimmick or she's off the program for good!"

After imagining himself once more conducting federation business from behind a covered card table in a converted linen closet at Pyrite's Gym in Brooklyn, the WWF chieftain sent the grim news to Sapphyre. The order caused her entire staff no end of worries.

"Okay, this may be doable," said Sapphyre's manager Connie Szilagyi. "It says here that we have to get Sapphyre into peak physical condition and come up with a new gimmick by next Thursday. That's five days. The gimmick? I think we can do it. But getting her in peak condition…?"

"I'll try my best to get in better shape," said Sapphyre. "But if this doesn't work out, I can always go back to being plain old Helga Herrmann."

That statement almost caused the hairpins to fly from Connie's bun hairdo. "You don't mean the Helga Herrmann who dropped out of high school at age 16 to support herself after her mother's death; who was slinging hash at the Rocket Café truck stop on Route 56 when I discovered you bouncing that rude trucker out of the door?" Connie sneered. "Face it, honey, you don't have

the face or body for big tips any more."

"This is all because I'm a woman," Sapphyre sniffed. "You don't see them complaining about Hunk Hoople, and he's at least five years my senior."

Sapphyre's agent Sidney Sydney interrupted, explaining that the female wrestler could be restored to peak physical condition, not in five days, but immediately. He displayed a vial of a clear syrup-like substance he had smuggled out of a factory in North Carolina.

"What is that vile stuff?" Connie croaked in her Tugboat Annie-like voice.

"Have you ever bitten into a wintergreen Livesafers candy?" Sid asked. "If you bite into one in a dark room, when the candy cracks, you see a spark. This is the ingredient that produces the spark. They put it in the candies on purpose." To that, Connie sneered, "So?"

"It seems that this ingredient also has high rejuvenation properties," Sid explained. "And it's very potent. At the factory where they refine this ingredient, retired employees don't receive a gold watch, they get a bucket and shovel to play in a sandbox."

"Come on! I've eaten wintergreen Livesafers and they never did anything to me," Connie sniffed.

"That's because they use so little of this ingredient to produce the spark," Sid said. "They only put in enough to reduce your age by about 45 minutes per candy. That's just nine hours per roll. What I have in this vial is the pure substance, so we'll have to measure it carefully."

Sapphyre looked at Connie. "Talking woman-to-woman, do you trust that stuff?" Sapphyre asked. "No, but if we can't get you in shape by Thursday morning, we'll try it," Connie replied.

By Thursday morning, the only improvement Sapphyre made was the loss of two pounds, so Connie reluctantly decided to give her the substance. Sid poured a large glass of orange juice and added to it what he believed was the exact quantity to shave 15 years off Sapphyre's age.

But head trainer Mitch wasn't so sure that was sufficient. To assure his retaining his job, he slyly visited the glass while it was sitting on the counter and added a little more substance. Likewise, Mitch's assistant, Coral, was worried that Sapphyre wouldn't be rendered fit enough to meet the

UPN/WWF edict, so when no one was looking, she too added a little more.

Finally, the moment of reckoning arrived. Dressed in a red leotard and her bejeweled super-heroine cape, Sapphyre walked the to counter, and before Connie, Sid and her trainers, she downed the orange juice.

The immediate effects were miraculous. Wrinkles vanished from Sapphyre's brow. Her hair darkened to its original dark brown shade. Skin tightened on her face while fat evaporated from her body, leaving highly toned muscles in their place. Sapphyre looked as good as she did when she began her career at age 20.

But the process didn't stop. Sapphyre began to lose height and her ample 40DD bust began to diminish. Wrinkles appeared on her leotard as her arms and legs got skinnier. The back of her cape reached the floor. Standing with a weird smile on her face, Sapphyre could only watch as he breasts retracted completely, and she began to shrink into her costume. The crotch of her leotard reached the floor and began to fold into a neat little pile. Finally, the leotard and cape slipped off her shoulders, leaving Sapphyre wearing only one red item - her face.

Leaping out of the pile of spandex that had been her costume, Sapphyre ran to the nearest mirror to confirm what she had already suspected. She now had the body of a 3-year-old girl.

"You bastard, Sid. This is all your fault," the naked little wrestler yelled. "I can't go on like this tonight."

"Actually, you have to," Sid reminded her. "The contract calls for you to receive $60,000 for tonight's match against Big Mama. And you do need the earnings to pay off your outstanding bills to your trainers. Besides, the script calls for you to win tonight."

"Okay, maybe one more time. But I can't see how I'm going to wrestle like this," Sapphyre pouted.

"I have an idea. And this may be just the gimmick you need to please those UPN people," Connie said.

About half way through that night's telecast of "WWF Slap-Down," lovable old bald-headed referee Laine Mills began to introduce the ladies match scheduled next. He very delicately introduced Big Mama, a nearly 250 lb. behemoth who was rumored to be a former Soviet weightlifter who had had a sex-change operation. One didn't bring that up to Big Mama, due to her outstanding threat to break the question asker over her knee "like a twig."

Mills began his next intro: "And the challenger, the forever young Sapphyre!"

The crowd was greeted by the sight of Connie, dressed as an English governess, pushing a large pram at top speed down the aisle. On reaching ringside, the tiny Sapphyre sprang from under the pram's blankets, grabbed the top rope, did a 240 degree rotation, flipped in the air, did a triple

somersault, and landed on her feet with arms outstretched in a victory gesture.

The crowd was stunned! Before them stood what looked like a 3-year-old girl, wearing a scaled-down version of the older wrestler's red-jeweled crown. Instead of a super-heroine costume, she wore an ordinary tank bathing suit depicting the Angelica character from Rugrats, and a pair of pink ballet slippers. That couldn't be Sapphyre, the audience thought in unison.

"You're going down, bitch," Sapphyre squeaked in her higher-pitched toddler girl's voice.

"It's Sapphyre," members of the audience screamed as they built a crescendo of loud applause.

Big Mama stood rock solid with her mouth agape. This, she thought, is whom I'm supposed to lose to tonight? Referee Mills was less abashed. He had seen wrestlers with some mighty weird gimmicks in his career, although he agreed this one definitely topped them all.

As the match got underway, Sapphyre charged Big Mama and wrapped her tiny body around one of Big Mama's beefy legs. The chubby lady wrestler wondered how such a little tyke hoped to defeat somebody as big as herself. Then Sapphyre sprang her secret weapon. She buried her bicuspids into Big Mama's thigh.

Screaming like a banshee, Big Mama began jerking her leg in all directions, hoping to shake the reduced Sapphyre off. The crowd loved it, screaming encouragement to the baby girl wrestler.

Eventually, Sapphyre lost her grip and flopped onto the canvas. Big Mama lifted her up by the seat of her swimsuit and stared as Sapphyre began to swing her short arms in hopes of handing a few hits on her monster-size opponent. Big Mama had all she could tolerate. Script or no script, she was not going to lose to a toddler.

"Not nice to dis yo' Mama," the beefy lady wrestler growled as she toted the kicking Sapphyre to the corner of the ring where she had stored a folding chair to use as a weapon. She instead unfolded the chair, sat down, and placed Sapphyre across her knees. To the roar of an approving crowd, Big Mama's mighty hands rained powerful blows down on Sapphyre's girlish

bottom, as the 3-year-old continued to squirm and kick and utter every curse she knew.

In the control room, the UPN programming director was outdoing the Cheshire Cat in an unannounced grinning contest; his glee mixed with occasional winces at some of the punishment Sapphyre was absorbing. The minute-by-minute ratings indicated nobody was tuning out.

"Now that's entertainment," he said, before turning to the Maalox-swilling WWF president, whom he asked, "But what are you going to do to top this next week?"

As it turned out, there was no next week for "WWF Slap-Down." Both Connie and Sid taped the broadcast and gleefully sent copies to television news programs nationwide. The sight of a 3-year-old girl competing in a wrestling ring, and being manhandled by someone as large as Big Mama, was too much for the people who that same Thursday had watched Frasier, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Diagnosis: Murder, and Popular. The uproar they created prompted UPN to cancel the otherwise well-watched wrestling program and replace it with still more reruns of Filthy McNasty, Dullbrain, The Porkers, and Talcum With Teddie, the latter a leering comedy about two girls working for an escort service.

While the uproar was at its peak, Connie and Sid filed a lawsuit on Sapphyre's behalf; demanding damages from everyone involved. During the trial, they presented as evidence memos signed by the UPN programming chief and WWF president as proof that they forced Sapphyre (aka Helga

Herrmann) to undergo the treatment that reduced her from a 40-year-old woman to a 3-year-old girl. The sharp legal minds representing Sapphyre were secretly paid for by a candy manufacturer, which had just modified the recipe for its wintergreen candy. Within a month, teenage boys trying to impress their girlfriends in unlit closets were producing fewer sparks than broken fillings.

Three weeks into the trial, the sued parties settled out of court for $26 million, to be put in trust for little Helga Herrmann. To pay its part of the settlement, the WWF president sold the federation's headquarters in New York and re-occupied that linen closet at Pyrite's Gym. His only solace was that his Faust's bargain with Useless Pictures was over.

To announce the settlement, Connie, Sid and Helga held what may be the strangest press conference ever. Media people were greeted by the sight of Helga wearing a navy blue jumper, a puffy sleeve blouse, frilly white socks, and Keds kid's sneakers. She had her own podium built to 3-year-old scale. But when others were talking, her mind appeared to wander, as she mimicked ballet steps, hugged a stuffed panda doll, and at times put the panda in the large pocket on the front of her jumper and hopped around like a kangaroo.

Connie fielded the first question.

Q: "How is Helga doing, having been reduced from a 40-year-old woman to a 3-year-old girl?"

A: "Quite well, considering," Connie replied. "In experiencing such a severe age reduction, Helga lost a lot of brain cells due the reduction of the size of her skull. She still remembers personal information about her life through her 40th year and has quite an advanced vocabulary for a child her age. The cells lost were those that contained all of the book learning she acquired in school from age five forwards. As a result, she has lost the ability to read, write, spell and do mathematics. She will have to relearn all of that.

"Also, Helga lost cells that contained her adult cynicism," Connie explained. "As a result, Helga now looks at the world with childlike innocence and awe. This also gives her the short attention span of a child."

Interrupting Helga's kangaroo imitation, a reporter posed the next question to her:

Q: "So how are things different now that you've become a 3-year-old girl again?"

A: "Well, you all look so big to me now," Helga giggled, as the media men chuckled. "In fact, everything looks different now. What I used to see as a broom now looks like a horsie, a laser sword, a princess's scepter, oh and a thing for knocking the box of cookies off the top of the refrigerator. In fact, I see the toy in just about everything. That big chair in the living room makes a nice fort with a blanket over it. I also can now carry on conversations with my doll and panda. Oh and (giggle) I really like wearing underwear with Disney characters on them."

At this point Helga hoisted her jumper to reveal her panties depicting

the Little Mermaid. This prompted a dozen photographers to snap pictures that appeared on the front page of more than 400 newspapers the next morning, even The New York Times.

Returning to Connie, the reporters asked:

Q: "Is there anything about Helga that hasn't changed since she got younger?"

A: "Well, she still wants to eat too much, but now she pigs out on candy instead of the luncheon menu at Gibson's Steakhouse," Connie noted.

Q: "Can you tell us how Helga was rejuvenated into a child?"

A: "I am not at liberty to reveal that due to a legal agreement with the manufacturer," Connie said.

Q: "So what are Helga's plans for the $26 million she received in the settlement?"

A: "I'll answer that one," Helga told Connie. "As you know, the money is in trust and can only be used for normal child rearing expenses. This includes educational expenses. Within a month, Connie will enroll me in this area's most prestigious preschool. Later, the funds will pay for me to attend the best private schools right through college; maybe Harvard or Stanford. I never got much of an education the last time around, with my single mother's money problems and all. And I dropped out of high school before finishing my junior year. This time, I'm getting a good education so that the next time I'm 40, I'll be running my own business instead of worrying about a fading wrestling career."

The reporters were stunned at hearing such adult talk from a girl who minutes earlier talked about using a broom for a horse, and who had been entertaining them with her impromptu dance recital.

Q: "But Helga, now that you're 3-years-old again, don't you need a guardian? Who is going to take care of you until you're old enough to fend for yourself again? Toddlers can't live on their own."

A: "Since Helga's last known relative died when she was 16, I've offered to fill the void. That is, Sid and I are going to fill the void," Connie said, glancing sweetly at Sid. Holding up her hand to reveal a wedding ring, Connie announced, "I know I said I'd never get married, but, well… Sid and I decided it was time to tie the knot. We did so in court yesterday. As a married couple, we've applied to be Helga's foster parents. With Helga's approval, this matter should be cleared up shortly."

Q: "Aw, come on, Sapphyre. I've never heard a person yet who didn't say that if he had his life to live over again he wouldn't do it the same way. You expect us to believe you're going to be a scholar this time? Come on! Don't you really mean you'll be rejoining the WWF circuit in 15 years?" Helga wrinkled her nose and giggled. She produced an orange water pistol, which she aimed at the reporter, squirting the contents first in his face, then at the front of his trousers. Walking away, she turned back at the dripping reporter and said, "Does that answer your question? Hey, I may have a child's body and a child's sense of whimsy and fantasy, but I wasn't born yesterday."