The door to the Clockspin Den was kicked open, sending a round of cries rippling through rotted, nearly desiccated corpse of a building. The voices were deeper, more developed and adult than any child could produce, but had the same kind of wailing rhythm of an infant. These weren’t cries of pain in direct connection with any major physical stimulus. Nor were they the sudden cries of shock that suddenly abated when fear either died down or when survival instinct kicked in.
It was the wailing of a maternity ward; a nursery; or a daycare. The cries of scared and confused children who did not know yet how to process the sudden burst of emotion and adrenaline, and so they cried as a kind of instinctual signal for help; praying that some adult or caregiver would come and give them comfort.
Flanked by his fellow police officers, William Harris wished the voices were higher pitched and pre-pubescent than the bellowing cries of men and women… Not because William enjoyed the sound of children crying; God that was a low bar to clear; but anyone who was cognisant enough to heighten their voice was very likely faking it and sober. Sober people were easier to interrogate.
It’s how he’d caught the last Clockspin dealer. That had been just under two months ago, about a week after the Detective had disappeared.
“POLICE!” William called out again. “EVERYONE PUT YOUR HANDS UP!” More panicked cries and uncomprehending wails. “NOW GODDAMNIT! PUT YOUR HANDS UP, NOW OR I WILL PUT A BULLET IN YOU!”
It was a lie; or at least William hoped it was. Nothing more than a cheap intimidation tactic. The people who could still speak English, read social cues, and knew what a gun was might just react appropriately and give themselves away. The ones that were too far gone wouldn’t be able to.
Not one of them got up. Some of them laid on the sticky floor working their limbs like puppets who just figured out how to move without strings… Others sat against dirty walls, ready to fall over with just the intervention of a stiff breeze. A precious few may have been able to crawl since they were stuck on their hands and knees screaming like infants who had just realized they’d had an accident in their pants.
It was possible that some of them had had such accidents. More and more spinners were padding up before getting their fix lately; sometimes temporary incontinence being a side effect along with the intense euphoria as the drug rewired their brains.
Teams came in in twos and threes, and the raid continued unabated. It was sad to say but the crew were getting it down to a science.
“Okay sweetie,” one officer, this one a lady, cooed at a suspect, “Just hold real still while I put these special bracelets on.” Simultaneously two other officers flanked her with flashlights in one hand and weapons in another.
So far, the approach had worked very well; with most of the spinners too out of their gourd to put up a resistance. The ones who did were swiftly put down. In a few hours, these folks would come to handcuffed in a hospital bed, likely in a pissy diaper. Unless they didn’t come to. There were fewer and fewer ‘baked potatoes’ as the task force was calling the ones who were so far gone they were practically catatonic; but plenty remained at the cognitive level of a pre-verbal one-year old even after the drug worked its way out of their system and into their pants.
Officer Harris took some small amount of grim pride watching all these addicts and users be dragged away safely. Part of cop culture was being a problem solver; a real life superhero. William was able to get to sleep better feeling like he was acting the part. So far there had been no casualties on either side of these arrests.
Correction: No casualties on the suspects’ side. All the suspects and spinners were taken in alive. Gingerly,the young black man touched the still healing scar on his face. Not all suspects were mindlessly regressed. And they hadn’t found a body, but one of their number had disappeared at the start of this war.
Officer Harris took it all in: The sights; the sounds; the smells; two months of feeling like he was chasing his own tail; and mixed it in his mind into a bitter brew so that he could properly express his disappointment. “Fuckin’ disgusting.”
A heavy hand fell on William’s shoulder. He didn’t flinch. “She’s not gonna be here,” Captain Monroe said. “No one who knows her is gonna be, either.”
William’s eyes lowered to the dirt covered, unwashed floor. He knew it was true. Hope’s a fickle bitch though. His nose recoiled at the smell of old piss and fresh shit barely masked by lavender scented baby powder. His eyes landed on a nearby stage populated by an animatronic band. “You think their fuckin’ with us?”
The old doberman of a man followed William’s gaze. “You mean by dealing in an old kids’ pizza place?” He grunted. “Probably. Smart though. Meet up, deal out; wait for them to shoot up, pick up the evidence, and leave.”
William finished the thought. “Anybody who can walk out the next morning can be a repeat customer. Anybody who can’t, gets left behind and found by us.”
A sad growl, more than a sigh, rumbled out of the Captain’s throat. “Pretty much. They’re turning us into janitors.”
“Worse,” William muttered. “They’re turning us into nannies.”
“Yup…” That’s all Monroe was going to say about the matter.
William gritted his teeth. “Why didn’t they leave her?”
Monroe knew who he was talking about. Everyone did. DeSousa had been like a daughter to the captain. Everyone knew it. She could have been something more to William, but that bridge had never been crossed in time. A crush or not, DeSousa had been well known and even better liked. It was always hard when one of their own went down; even harder if they disappeared.
The captain jerked his head and motioned for William to follow him outside. “Come on,” he said. “They don’t need us here.”
The fresh air was nearly intoxicating after just a few minutes in that dump. William let out several coughs just to clear his lungs. “Yes, sir?” William asked after he’d caught his breath.
“DeSousa’s dead, Harris,” the captain said. “It’s time to face facts.”
William felt like he’d been slapped. “Sir?”
“It’s been two months and we’ve got no leads. It’s time to grieve, mourn, and then finish the job she started.”
The young cop’s nostrils flared. “That’s bullshit, Captain, and you know it. She’s out there.”
The old doberman didn’t flinch. “Careful Harris. I let DeSousa talk to me that way. You’re not DeSousa.”
“Then let me find her so she can talk to you that way!”
“What makes you think she can be found? No body. No contact. No call. The clockspin dealers disappeared her.”
“No.” William insisted. “They didn’t.”
“What makes you think she’s still out there?”
William waved his arm at the abandoned Willy’s Wonder World. “The dealers don’t disappear people! They just leave them to fend for themselves. Why wouldn’t they do the same to Natalia?”
“Maybe she didn’t come back because the dealers wanted to send a message.”
“Or maybe,” William said, “maybe the dealers aren’t the ones that disappeared her.”
The night sky is starless in the big city. Too many bright lights low to the ground. Too much smog up above them. It got to the point where someone who’d never been out of the city might look up at the night sky and see only an endless void of black. That very same void possessed the captain’s eyes. “And who do you think did disappear her?”
The Captain’s reply was too quick. “Get the fuck out of here with that,” he scoffed. “Next you’re gonna be talking about Amazon spreading chem trails or cell phones giving brain cancer.”
In a strange way, the Captain’s reply made the hairs on the back of William’s neck stand up. It was so fast it was almost prepared. The fact that he had an answer prepared told William that this wasn’t even close to the first time the old man had heard about Genesis. “Captain…”
“We’re police officers, Harris,” the old dog said. “We follow leads. We follow proof. We follow procedure. We get warrants. We use evidence. Facts and procedure. Facts and procedure.”
William squared his shoulders and looked the captain in the eyes. “It’s a fact that before DeSousa vanished into thin air she was having suspicions about G.I.”
The captain rubbed his temples. “Jesus, Harris I don’t need to hear this.”
“If we were investigating the disappearance of literally anyone else,” William pressed, “we’d be following up with leads like, ‘What were they doing before their disappearance?’ and ‘Who might wish them harm?’. Motive and opportunity. Like you said, sir, it’s basic procedure.” Captain Monroe seemed unmoved. “Captain. Why are you sitting on this? One of us is gone!”
“You wanna know what’s gonna happen, Harris?” The captain snapped back. “Lemme tell you. We’re going to apply for a search warrant. A judge isn’t going to give it to us, or if they do, it’s gonna be for something so narrow that even if they’re connected to this clockspin shit or even if they know where DeSousa is, we’re
William was on the verge of seeing red. “Captain!”
“NATALIA’S GONE WILLIAM!” Monroe was right up in the rookie’s face. “GONE! SHE POKED HER NOSE INTO SHIT AND GOT PULLED UNDER IT! I AM NOT GOING TO LOSE ANOTHER COP WITH HIS WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE IN FRONT OF HIM!”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW?”
“BECAUSE WHEREVER SHE IS THEY DIDN’T WANT HER FOUND, DAMN IT! AND I’VE BEEN TRYING!”
Finally! An admission. “Let me try, Captain.” William’s voice became eerily calm. Eerily quiet.
The captain was still swept up in emotion. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GONNA DO?”
Unblinking, William grabbed his commanding officer by the shoulders. “Something stupid. The trick isn’t to find out who took her or where. The trick is to get taken.”
Something about that seemed to resonate with Monroe. “What did you have in mind?”
“So…” Yitzhak said. “I do this thing for you and maybe you forget Yitzhak’s name for few years? Forget that he is not exactly legal medical practitioner? Yes?”
Two days later the smell of dirty diapers and the sound of crying was replaced by animal musk and the barking of dogs.
“You’re not a legal medical practitioner,” William reiterated. “You’re a patch man for dumbass goombas to avoid going to the ER.”
“You’re not even a licensed veterinarian,” Monroe added. “Literally not fit to operate on fuckin’ dogs.”
The big Russian in the white doctor’s coat used to be a leg breaker for the Mob. Chances are still could have crushed the Captain’s skull with his bare hands. In his prime Yitzhak was the kind of enforcer that nothing short of a sledgehammer could have knocked out and nothing short of a bullet to the brain. Fortunately he’d mellowed in his old age and lacked the scruples to go to jail for anybody else.
Mob doctor and part time informant was a weird retirement plan, but considering what he was about to do William wasn’t one to judge. The rookie sat on a white countertop that passed as an examination table. Cats and dogs needed less space and less comfort before they were going to be poked and prodded. Whatever. His shirt was off and he was gritting his teeth; already finding himself sick of the song and dance that two old schoolers like Yitzhak and the captain were going through.
“This is true,” Yitzhak addressed the captain. “But approximately forty-five percent of my clientele does not know this. The other sixty-five? They do not care so much as long as I stop them from bleeding out.”
“Just put the tracker in me.” William spat. “Swab me up and chip me.”
Captain Monroe looked back behind William’s shoulder. “You sure this will work?”
“It helped my sister find her lost cocker spaniel. Might work here.”
“Yes,” the mob doc agreed. “You get short range tracker chip. You go looking where you shouldn’t.” He indicated the captain. “If you get captured, captain hones in on you like lost little puppy. Such a maneuver could be filed under ‘just stupid enough to work’.”
“I don’t like it,” Monroe said. “But I’m going along with this because we’re out of options.”
The golem of a man put in his two cents. “Normally, chipping human being like this would be considered, how you say, ‘grave violation of human rights and privacy’. But with consent, is okay with me.”
“Glad that the guy practicing two types of medicine without a license approves.”
“I took oath,” their informant said with complete seriousness. “First do no harm. I am healer now. I fix bodies instead of break them. What other people choose to do to their bodies is not my concern.”
“We’re on the clock,” William hissed. “Just do it. And yeah, Yitzhak, you do this and every detective in the precinct officially forgets where you practice and the type of animals you like to patch up.” His cohort in this plan grunted his own form of consent.
If this dumbass plan worked, no cop would be within a mile of this place.
The coldness of a sanitizing alcohol swab grazed William’s shoulder warned him of the coming pinch. The pinch as the chip was injected into him caused him to wince. The wincing was the part that hurt the worst. The scar on his cheek had yet to fully heal. In time, doctor’s told him it would fade and barely be noticeable. Right now, it still felt sore every time he blanched or grimaced or even smiled.
That or the pain was all in his head.
“I put it right in your left shoulder, just by collar bone.” Yitzhak reported. “That way if big bads chop off limbs or head, Captain can still find torso and identify you. They have to put your body in big tub of acid to get to chip.”
William touched the scar. He had a grave feeling that this would become a habit. “Yitzhak. Not helping.”
“What if they just dig it out of him?” Captain Monroe asked.
“Highly unlikely.” Yitzhak replied. “Chip is very subtle. Scar tissue already in shoulder from…I’m going to say broken collarbone…childhood injury perhaps?”
“Damn,” William remarked. “Guy’s good.”
“Spasibo.” The Russian smiled, genuinely. “I do good work, yes? For anyone to find chip, they would have to know where chip is already.”
William slid off the counter and put his shirt back on. “That’s what I wanted to hear.”
“Come on Harris,” the Captain clapped him on the back. “Let’s give this shit show a shot.”
“Officer. Captain.” Yitzhak called out to them. “A word to the wise?”
The pair of cops stopped and regarded the charlatan surgeon. “You are on clockspin taskforce, yes?” The pair nodded. That much wasn’t a big secret. “I patch many bad people up. I do not patch up anyone involved with clockspin drug. ”
“How nice.” The captain turned to go. “Glad that you don’t have that on your conscience.” He kept walking
“You misunderstand.” Yitzhak said. “Bad men with not much connections come to me. Bad men with many connections…? Maybe clockspinners they are less accident prone, or…?”
“Yeah,” William agreed gravely. “Or they’re being supplied by people with better connections.”
The smile on Yitzhak’s face somehow transformed into something nastier as he shrugged. “Am wishing you safety and luck only because if we are right about clockspin; I do not want them to find dog tracker in your shoulder. Not many people in city who would do that to man. I don’t want them finding me.”
Will was roused from his nap when to the sound of silly baby babbling.
“Gagagagagaga! Nat-Nat! Blurb Blurb Blurb. Mom. Mommy. Maaaaaah…meeee!”
The boy groaned and stirred in his big boy bed, not yet even awake enough to puzzle where the sound was coming from. He definitely wasn’t awake enough to start to wonder why the baby babble didn’t sound quite like it was coming from a baby. Babies had squeaker voices, didn’t they?
The bellowing cries of men and women…
Anyone who was cognisant enough to heighten their voice was very likely faking it…
Several sensations bombarded Will’s brain all at once. The first and most obvious sensation was that he was falling. It was like in those dreams he sometimes had where he was dropping and then he kicked himself awake. Little Will Harris was awake alright, but the loud thump and the owie from hitting the floor was more than just him kicking in his sleep.
“OW!” He yelled out less than a second after his tangled up form collided with the floor. He breathed in for a second, his eyes already starting to water, and his chest already threatening to heave, but he bit his tongue and held his breath. The most that came out of him was another “OW!” and then a few more, each one quieter than the last.
Daddy said big boys don’t cry, and Will was doing his very best to be a big boy. Getting up from the floor, Will rubbed his shoulder. It wasn’t the one that he landed on, but it still hurt. Daddy would’ve said something about Will ‘sleeping on it funny’, but Will never understood what that meant. Funny things were supposed to make him laugh, not go ‘Ow’
Scar tissue already in shoulder from…I’m going to say broken collarbone…childhood injury perhaps?
That was when the next sensation fully kicked in. Will was tangled up in the sheets, and his legs were cold. Very cold. And wet. They clung to his skin and made him shivery, almost like a bucket of water had been tossed on him and he’d been allowed to nap in it.
The feeling was familiar though, just not too familiar. It wasn’t until he succeeded in peeling the wet sheets off of his body that he fully understood what had happened. “Pee-pee?”
He looked down at himself and felt his mouth hang open in surprise. He’d gone pee-pee in his sleep, that happened enough but he was wearing grown-up underwear. Boring grown-up underwear- plain gray with a big ol’ dark patch where he’d had his accident, and it was uncomfortable how it stuck to his skin, but they were grown-up underwear alright.
Like Daddy did when something confused him, he muttered, “What in the-?” but started to go to work, undressing himself. It was harder to get the wet undies off, but Will had lots of practice using his big boy pants and pulling them off and on.
Mommy said that he’d get his own grown-up underwear soon. He just wasn’t ready for that. Daddy would sometimes give Mommy funny looks about that, but Mommy would just say that ‘boys took longer’. Took longer to what, Will wasn’t sure, but that wasn’t going to stop him doing what he knew how.
It wasn’t until he had the wet grown-up undies and the wet sheets all together in a pile, that the little boy became more aware of his surroundings. A toddler’s spatial awareness and presence of mind is not the stuff of legends; at least not for its acuity.
“What in the-?” This time, Will meant it. He looked at the foreign four walls, and felt his upper lip curl in disgust and his bottom lip pouted out showing off pearly white teeth. This wasn’t his room!
His walls weren’t purple and didn’t have girly flowers up close to the roof. His bedsheets weren’t pink, neither. The little boy looked at what he’d been asleep in and his eyes widened in shock and horror. Pink! Pink! Everywhere!
THIS WAS A GIRL’S ROOM! GROSS! GROSS AND AWFUL! GROSS AND AWFUL AND YUCK!
He looked down at the plain white t-shirt he was still wearing, searching for pink, as if the girliness might have jumped out and leapt onto him, robbing him of his boyness.
Little ears wiggled and Will turned around to the sound. Seeing the rest of the room. Lots of pink and purple stuffed animals. A big wooden rocking chair was in the far corner, a rocking horsie was placed in the opposite corner.
Little Will looked off to his right, and saw the big table with the padded mat and all the diapers stacked up underneath with the powder and the wipes. He looked down to the left and saw the crib straight across from it.
This was worse than a girl’s room. This was a baby’s room. A BABY GIRL! YUCK!
Despite his disgust, Little Will still had what Mommy would call ‘more curiosity than sense’. She’d laugh about it though so it was okay. Babies could be fun, too, Will knew. Even baby girls. He liked to hold his baby cousin when his Aunt and Uncle came over to visit. He was even allowed to hold her if he sat down on the couch and they laid her on his lap. Sometimes she’d giggle if he made a funny face.
Knowing that there was a baby in the room made Will feel a little bit calmer, too. Babies were safe. Anybody who would have a baby was safe, too. Will was safe. Maybe, he could play with this baby, too. It wouldn’t be so bad.
Completely unconcerned about his own state of nakedness, Little Will Harris walked up to the crib and peered through the bars to the babbling baby within. “Hello, bay-beeeeeee!”
The thing in the crib giggled at Will’s shock, laughing as he screamed and backpedaled away.
Too late, Will found out that that wasn’t a real baby in that crib. It was a grown-up lady. He could see her titties and everything. She was in a crib, though. And her dark hair was tied up in pigtails like a lot of little kids. And that white thing with cartoons on it that was taped around her waist sure looked a lot like a diaper.
“Sounds like someone’s up!” A new voice echoed from down the hall.
Heart thump-thumping in his chest, Will looked around for a place to hide. The girly bed that he just woke up in didn’t have any kind of bed posts or anything lifting it off the ground so he couldn’t hide under it like his real bed. The crib that the big baby lady was giggling in seemed high enough off the ground to where he could take cover.
Quickly, Will dropped to the ground and crawled on his belly underneath the big baby bed. The footsteps were getting louder and louder. Will held his breath when they got close. The the…person above him started to squeal and clap her hands by the sound of it. “Mommy!”
“Thaaaat’s right!” The newcomer said. “Iiiit’s Mommy!” Two new legs entered Will’s sight. The lady started talking to the diapered woman in the crib like she was a real baby. “How’s my widdle Nat-Nat? Did you have a good night’s sleep? Did you? I bet you did! I bet you did!”
Will bit his tongue and covered his mouth to keep from giggling. The lady sounded nice enough. Part of him wanted to come out, but another part of him told him to stay put and watch. It was fun hiding, anyways. “Let’s get you up and dressed for the day, sugar.”
The hiding place underneath the crib became a cage when the crib rails lowered all the way down to the floor. A wall behind him, and the head and foot of the crib didn’t have enough space for him to crawl out of, Will was officially trapped.
“Up we go.” Will heard springs above him creak. “Ooof. Giving Mommy a workout, aren’t you?”
From his spot beneath the crib, got a better look at the two while they crossed the room, and just like a real baby, the white lady took the brown lady and laid her down on the changing table. Then just like when his little cousin came to visit, Will watched the white lady change the brown lady’s diaper.
The little boy kept his hand firmly over his mouth to keep from giggling. The wiping, the powdering. The little noises and baby talk. The new diaper being slipped under and taped up. It all looked a little silly; a little wrong on a grown-up. Will felt a little wrong watching all of it.
More and more spinners were padding up before getting their fix lately; sometimes temporary incontinence being a side effect along with the intense euphoria as the drug rewired their brains.
“There. Now Nat-Nat is all clean and dry!” the white blonde lady said. She picked the almost naked lady up and put her down on the floor. “Are you ready to come out now?”
Will gasped audibly before he remembered to hold his breath. Was she talking to him?
The lady bent over, and looked under the crib. “I said, ‘Are you ready to come out now?” Will didn’t say anything. He was too shocked that he’d been found out. “Yes, I knew you were there the whole time you little stinker. I saw you weren’t in bed.” She had the same sing-song happy voice that she used when talking to the diaper lady. “I’m going to lift up the crib rail, and you’re going to crawl out of there. Okay?”
The white lady’s face changed. Will wasn’t sure whether it was a good change or a bad change. “So you can talk! Good!” At least she still sounded happy. “What’s your name, honey?”
“William, ma’am.” Will said to be polite. Mommy always taught him to be polite to strangers. Especially to strangers.
“Do you know your last name, William?”
Will thought about it real hard for a second. “William Joshua Harris,” he recited. He was still practicing. He didn’t know how how to say his last name without saying his first and middle name before. It was kind of like a song, that way. You couldn’t just start in the middle of the ABC’s or Twinkle Twinkle.
“Well, William Joshua Harris,” the stranger said. “How about you come on out of there?”
“Okay…I mean, yes ma’am.”
She slid up the rail and Will crawled back out and stood up. The lady looked him real close in the eyes like she was trying to see something; maybe an eyelash. “William Joshua Harris,” she said. “My name is Dr. Emerson Lawson.” She stuck out her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
Minding his manners, Will took the lady’s hand and shook it, averting eye contact, and staring at the floor. Accidentally, his eyes wandered past the white lady and over to the almost naked lady who just got her diaper changed. Diaper girl was pushing herself up to her feet and walking past them like there was nothing important going on. “Stuffie….”
Why did she look so familiar?
“You can call me Dr. L if that helps,” the grown-up bent and pivoted into William’s line of site. “Does that help.”
“Yes…” William.hesitated. “Yes Dr. L…”
“Good boy!” Her eyes.looked up and down and giggled a little bit. “Oh wow! Your underpants are gone. You must really be a big smart boy to know how to take your clothes off!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Will smiled. “I can dress myself.”
“But why did you take your underwear off?” Dr. L. asked him.
The little boy felt the blood rush to his cheeks. “I hadda accident,” he admitted. “I wet the bed.”
“That’s okay,” the doctor lady said. “Accidents happen at your age, I’m sure. Do you know how to go potty all by yourself?”
“Yes ma’am,” William said. That wasn’t a fib. He did know how to go potty. He just forgot a lot of the sometimes. That’s why his big boy pants were still Pull-Ups.
“Do you know how old you are?”
William held up several fingers and counted them carefully before answering… “Three.”
“Oh wow,” Dr. L. remarked. “Was that counting I saw? If you’re three, you must be a very big three.”
Little Will smiled. He was starting to like this stranger. She was real nice. “How about I give you something to wear so that you don’t go walking around half-naked.”
Will waited and looked to the pile of stuffed animals. The naked diaper lady was flopping into the pile like it was leaves again and again and again, giggling like it was a game. He didn’t have to wait long, though. Dr. L came back from the changing table with two things in her hand.
“Which do you want?” In one hand was a big white diaper just like the one the funny looking lady had on. In the other hand was something a little bit smaller, but also blue for boys.
“Pull-Ups?” He asked. His question was taken as a choice. The lady put down the diaper and opened up the Pull-Up for him. “I can do it myself,” he said.
She did not waver. “I’m sure you can, big boy, but let me help.” Reluctantly, he stepped in and stood still so she could pull them up for him. “Oops!” She stopped halfway up his knees… “Hold on just a second.” She ran back and grabbed some wipes.
Knowing what was coming, the little boy reached for the wipes “I can do it myself,” he said.
“I’m sure you can,” Dr. L. said back, “but I want to make sure to clean you up right. Now hold still.” Will held still, but he frowned so hard, part of his face hurt and he didn’t know why. “I’m so used to changing Natalia’s diapers over there that I forgot to bring the wipes,” Dr. L said, clicking her tongue.
“I’m notta baby!” He insisted. Then he echoed. “Natalia…?”
NATALIA’S GONE WILLIAM! GONE! SHE POKED HER NOSE INTO SHIT AND GOT PULLED UNDER IT! I AM NOT GOING TO LOSE ANOTHER COP WITH HIS WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE IN FRONT OF HIM!
Unaware of the strange thoughts in his head, Dr. L. pointed to the lady giggling at the stuffies. “My baby.”
“That’s not a baby,” Will said immediately. “That’s a grown-up in a diaper!”
Dr. L. made a funny face. Almost angry, but more like confused. “You think that’s an adult?”
“Yeah,” Will was so sure of it he forgot to be polite.
“Nat-Nat,” Dr. L. called. “Come here, please.”
The diaper girl stood up and crinkled over to them. “Mommy?” She didn’t wait to give the blonde woman a big hug. “Mommy!”
“So affectionate,” Dr. L. said, giving the woman a cuddle and a nuzzle like she was a real baby. “Does this look like a grown-up to you, William?”
“Uh-huh.” Will said. He pointed at the girl’s chest. “She got boobies.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s a grown-up.” Dr. L. said. “Look around the room. Does this look like a grown-up room?”
Will already knew the answer to that. “No, ma’am.”
“And do grown-ups sleep in cribs?”
“And do grown-ups wet the bed?”
Will was a smart enough little boy to know that the lady was directing the comment to him. “No, ma’am.” He wasn’t a grown-up either and shouldn’t be arguing with one. Something about this was bothering him though. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Natalia wears diapers. Do grown-ups wear diapers?”
He violently shook his head at that. “Nooooo…” That was a fact. Only babies wore diapers. That’s what both Mommy and Daddy had told him.
Dr. L. lightly grabbed Will’s wrist and brought him closer. “And look. You’re taller than her.” It was true. The diaper girl’s eyes only came. Could a three-year old like you be that much bigger than an adult?” He it couldn’t be so.
“See? Natalia’s a baby,” Dr. L. said. “Just a special kind of baby.” She separate herself from the baby girl and took her hand. Then, she reached her hand out to Will. “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
At the mention of breakfast, Will’s stomach answered for him. He took the grown-up lady’s hand and let her lead him and the baby (he guessed she was a baby anyways) out of the room and down the hall.
Will looked up and down. It certainly was a big house. Very fancy. Much fancier than the little house where Mommy and Daddy and him lived. This one had stairs and windows.
“Scuse me,” another grown-up lady scooted by and went into the hallway. “Got a mess to clean up?”
Dr. L. “Yes please, Monica,” she said. “There are wet sheets and underwear. Also a mattress needs scrubbing. She added, “The diaper pail needs to be emptied too. If you call the supply depot they’ll have an extra crib.”
“An extra crib?” The grown-up called Monica asked. She looked at Will as if she were seeing him for the first time. “Here?”
“We’ll see,” Dr. L. answered.
“You’ve got it boss.” The newer grown-up (so many new grown-ups) Gave one last look to the diaper baby and waved. “Hi Natalia,” she made her voice go squeaky.
The baby laughed and looked away. Will on the other hand, ever curious, looked up at the blonde lady.
Up? No. Not quite up. Down even. Was this a short grown-up?
The blonde lady saw the expression on Will’s face and answered his question; (one of them anyways). “That’s my housekeeper. She helps me keep the house clean and watches my baby sometimes when I’m busy with work.”
“Wow,” Will said. “You’re a boss?” Daddy had a boss. Sometimes he said good things about him. Sometimes not. He looked at the fancy house with it’s big rooms and fancy rugs. “You must be rich.”
Dr. L. smiled politely. “I’m not very rich. But my employers help me pay for a lot of things.”
What Will meant was ‘What does that word mean?’. What the lady thought that meant was ‘Who are they?’.
A shadow creeped over the blonde lady’s face. “Genesis International. G.I. for short.” She stared again at Will really hard, like she was trying to guess what he was thinking.
It’s a fact that before DeSousa vanished into thin air she was having suspicions about G.I.
All of these voices Will was hearing inside his head sounded like memories, but they felt really really far away like dreams.
“Come come.” And just like that they were forgotten and Will, the baby, and the lady were in the kitchen. William could tell it was the kitchen because besides the highchair, there was the fridge, the oven, and the table where the grown-ups and the big kids got to sit.
“I don’t have to sit in that, do I?” He asked, pointing to the highchair.
“I mean, no, of course you don’t. Can you sit at the table and wait patiently?”
“Yes ma’am.” Will went over and sat at a round wooden table as big and tall as he could, folding his hands in front of him and resting them on the table.
Dr. L. beamed and led the baby. “Good job. Nat-Nat!” Will watched as Nat-Nat was given a boost up into the highchair and then fastened her in. She shifted a little bit and gurgled while her Mommy slid the tray into place and locked it in. “Such a good baby!”
“Goo’ baby!” Nat-Nat echoed. There was a crinkle as she shifted in the seat and got comfortable. There was a crinkle with every step she took. Will had the same sound coming from beneath him too. Consciously, he didn’t recognize it. It was just the sound of his world, like air conditioning on a hot day.
Subconsciously though…something about that was wrong. Why was it wrong?
“Ooooh,” the grown-up remarked. “Monica made waffles for us this morning.” She placed a paper plate and squirted syrup on. “Heeeere’s Nat-Nat’s. All cut up for her and with the syrup already on top.”
“Waffles!” the baby girl smiled. She started digging in with her hands.
“I really should have waited to change you after breakfast,” the grown-up laughed quietly. “You’re just going to get all sticky with syrup anyways.”
She placed a plate with one of the biggest waffles Will had ever seen in front of it. “And our unexpected guest can have mine. Do you need help cutting it up?”
Will picked up the fork and knife before the stranger could. “No ma’am! I can do it!”
As it turned out, he could. It had nothing to do with any skill or dexterity on his part, however. The waffle was so light and fluffy that Will was able to just tear it apart by stabbing in to separate directions and pulling a piece apart.
“That’s one way to do it,” the doctor lady said. Weird that she was a doctor. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat. Daddy didn’t always dress in his work clothes when he was home.
Speaking of which…
“Dr. L.?” Will asked while still shoving bits of waffle into his mouth. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, little guy. What is it you want to know?” She went over to the fridge and took out a sippy cup of juice. “Almost forgot.” It went on the table.
Will took a sip from the cup and licked his lips. Mmmm! Orange! It wasn’t exactly orange juice, but it was very sweet and orangey flavored. Like Kool-Aid or Hi-C. “Where’s my Mommy and Daddy?” he asked.
“They brought you here last night while you were asleep,” the lady answered. She was ready for that question. “They had some important errands to run.”
Will stopped eating and took another sip. Delicious! Something wasn’t sitting right about that. “Really?”
“Of course,” the white lady said. “They wanted you to be taken care of. We’re old friends.” He didn’t know about that. Mommy and Daddy always made sure he met their friends before he took care of them. The doubt must have shown on his face. “Oh me, oh my,” the lady said. “You really don’t remember me do you?”
The way she said it, like he was being silly, made Will feel incredibly silly. “No…” he admitted.
“Oh you poor thing,” she gently laid her hand on his shoulder. “I’ve known your Mommy and Daddy for years, Willy. I knew them before you were born. The last time I saw you, you were.just an itty bitty baby. Tinier than Natalie. That’s why you don’t remember me.”
That part might have been true. Will couldn’t remember a lot of things from when he was a baby. So maybe…? He finished the juice, still thinking.
“Why didn’t I wake up in my jammies?”
“Excuse me?” his baby sitter asked, even though she hadn’t burped. “What do you-?”
“I always go to bed in my jammies.” Willy said. “Why wasn’t I wearing my Pull-Ups?” He didn’t have any big kid underwear. Who dressed me?”
The babysitter puckered her lips and stroked her shin. “I thought you said you could dress yourself.”
“I was asleep.”
Dr. Lawson looked worried. “Are you sure you finished your drink?”
Speaking of babies, the one that Willy could have sworn up until a few minutes ago was a grown up started squirming in her seat. “Hrrrnn…!” Nat-Nat grunted from her highchair. “Hrrrrn!”
“I know what THAT means!” Dr. L beamed. She unlocked the tray and got the big baby out of the highchair. “Come on baby. It’s okay. Get it all out. You just had your breakfast so your guts are all awake and ready to get rid of dinner! Let me make it easier for you, sweetums.”
Nat-Nat stopped. Stood up straight, and toddled right over to Willy. “Hi!” she waved sloppily.
“Uh…hi.” Will’s entire train of thought had been interrupted. Despite knowing that this was actually a baby, he was having a hard time accepting her as such. Her leaping forward and licking him in the face kind of helped.
“EWWWWW!” William wiped his cheek. He’d turned his head at the last second. The thought of this woman baby licking him on the lips really grossed him out.
Not as much as what happened next.
“Awwww!” Dr. Lawson seemed excited. “She likes you! Such a good baby!”
Natalia giggled and turned around to the source of her praise. That gave Willy a good and plain look when the girl stopped in her tracks, widened her stance, and squated down. “Hrrrrnn….!”
“Is she…?” Willy started to ask.
His question was answered by the sound of gas loudly coming out of her. The diaper crinkled as it puffed out behind her. The crinkling of the diaper added to the sound track in the kitchen. So did the loud, almost proud shout of “POOOOOOOOOOOPIE!”
“THERE IT IS!” Nat-Nat’s Mommy said. “Good girl!” She walked up behind the girl and spun her around, checking her diaper by first patting it, and then pulling back the waistband and peaking inside. Nat-Nat seemed completely oblivious to it. “That’s my good baby, going right in her diaper just like she’s supposed to! That’s Mommy’s special girl she is!”
Special girl? Special girl? She was almost as big as Willy and she just pooped her pants right in the middle of the floor with everybody watching. On some deep, visceral level, Willy knew that was wrong even if he couldn’t quite vocalize why. He could vocalize something though.
Willy took it all in: The sights; the sounds; the smells; the strange feeling like he was being lied to; and mixed it in his mind into a bitter brew so that he could properly express his feelings. “FUCKIN’ DISGUSTING!”
He instantly regretted it. Those were naughty words. He wasn’t even sure where he’d heard those words from. They just popped out of him from somewhere like he’d invented them. He really wished he hadn’t.
Dr. L. let go of the baby and marched over to him. “Ooooo no!” She grabbed him by the ear and twisted. “Not in my house, little mister. Not in those words!” These words and this treatment on the other hand, was very, very familiar. Maybe she did know Mommy and Daddy for real. “I don’t care if you’re about to be eighteen months, you are NOT getting away with that kind of language coming out of your mouth!”
Only only one more word was able to come out of Willy’s mouth as he was dragged across the big person’s lap. “NOOOOOOO!”
The spankings rained down on him in a flurry. Some landed on his Pull-Ups and didn’t hurt as much. It didn’t stop him from screaming and crying. “No, no, no, no, no!” He kicked impotently, powerless to stop the punishment he’d earned. “I’ll be good! I’ll be good!”
His promises only made the lady madder. Her hand stopped spanking his bottom and started slapping his unprotected thighs. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! I’m sorry! I’m sorreeeee! I won’t say it again! I’ll be gooooood!” He was bawling with tears squiring out of him with every attack to his legs. The spankings hurt a lot, but the slaps to his thighs are what really stung.
“I’m sorry! SORRY!” HIs next few screams just came out as bouncing, sobbing cries.
“I’m SOWWY! SOWWWWWWWY!”
The grown-up started to slow down. “What was that?” The lady asked. “Say that again, dear?”
Willy was too busy crying. He just laid there across her lap and cried, even though the spanks had stopped. She gently patted his back. By the time his breathing had slowed down he’d forgotten what she’d wanted him to say.
Good thing she was there to remind him. “Willy,” she said. “Can you say ‘I’m sorry’?”
“Sowwy,” he said back, wanting to be good. The baby boy very much wanted to be good. Being good meant the spanking wouldn’t start again.
“Can you say, ‘I’m…sorry’?” She made the words slower and clearer to him.
He tried his best. “I’m…” What was the second word?
“Good baby.” She said and then let him stand up.
He echoed her. “Good.”
Nat-Nat sat on the floor kitchen, sucking her thumb. That looked like a good idea, so Willy copied her. What had he said that got him that whoopin’? For the life of him, Willy couldn’t say. He remembered thinking something was wrong with the other baby, but he couldn’t remember.
“Hmmm…” The lady said, looking at Willy. “Seems to be working well with no loss of consciousness.” She motioned for them to follow. “Come on, babies,” the grown-up said. “Let’s get you dressed for the day and then you two can get reacquainted and play a bit.”
“Dwessed,” William agreed. Though in truth it was the prospect of playing that Willy was thinking about the most. He liked playing!
Nat-Nat pushed herself up and toddled along behind. “Dwessie!” It was an easy transition back to the nursery.
The single bed had been stripped and a non-baby powder (though still pleasing) fragrance yet lingered in the room. Air freshener, Willy vaguely thought. The helper lady had done her job while Willy and Nat-Nat had been eating their breakfast. While Nat-Nat was catching up, her Mommy checked Willy’s diaper.
Willy didn’t flinch when she squeezed the sodden padding that was even now threatening to slip off his waist. “Oh wow,” she remarked. “That went through you fast. I could have sworn your Pull-Up was dry a few seconds ago.”
It had in fact been bone dry until less than a minute before being checked. The front of his diaper had just warmed up remarkably fast while in transit to the nursery. He didn’t even need to stop walking to do it. Words like ‘accident’ or ‘potty’ were already losing meaning to Willy as nothing more than a collection of random sounds. He could make them, but he was losing the prerequisite vocabulary to assign meaning to them.
Willy stared closely at his babysitter’s lips, feeling almost like there was a thick layer of absorbent cotton wrapped around his brain instead of a thin one barely hanging onto his hims.
“Pull-Up…” he said. Not even a question in his intonation remained. Willy knew ‘pull’ like if he wanted to open a door or yank something out of a big pile of balls. He knew ‘up’ like when Mommy or Daddy picked him up. But ‘Pull-Up’ was suddenly foreign to him. He looked down at where Miss Nat-Nat’s Mommy was looking. “Diaper.”
Miss Nat-Nat’s Mommy grinned and gave him a pinch on the cheek. “That’s right, sweetie. We’ll get you into a nice clean diaper in just a minute. That soggy old Pull-Up was only good for one wetting. You must have still been holding some pee-pee in from before.”
“Hold…? Pee-Pee?” Willy parsed out the words. He stared at his hands. How could.he hold pee-pee? How did he hold wet? It was like nailing jelly to a wall. And Pull-Up? Was that another word for diaper? Sometimes there was more than one word for something. That was a thought that had never occurred to Willy (that he could remember). “Pull-Up”.
“That’s right, you pee-peed in your Pull-Up. I’ll change you into a diaper. Oh, I like them so much better at this age,” Miss Nat-Nat’s Mom said. Nat-Nat had already followed them into her nursery. “But ladies first.”
She picked the other baby up and deposited her back on the changing table. Willy, meanwhile, looked away and eyed the rocking horse. It’s not that he was being respectful; concepts like modesty were completely nonexistent to the baby boy. He was simply uninterested in looking at such a normal and everyday thing.
“Wooooh!” Nat-Nat’s Mommy waved her hand in front of her nose. “How did you turn cinnamon applesauce into that, baby girl?!” She laughed wiping the baby girl down.
Of course she was a baby. She acted like one. She was being talked to like one. Her Mommy called her one. It was funny how just a short while ago, Willy had thought, that his friend looked so strange in her diaper and highchair; like a grown-up.
It wasn’t funny ‘ha-ha’, but funny in a way that made the baby not want to think too hard about it. Mercifully for him, those thoughts weren’t going to be around much longer. Now though, it made perfect sense that Nat-Nat was a baby. There were babies and then there were grown-ups like their Mommies and Daddies and they were treated and dressed differently. That was about as much of the difference that his toddler brain could sus out. Other things such as size and shape were kind of beyond him.
“All done!” Nat-Nat’s mommy said. Willy looked away from the rocking horse that had suddenly gotten much closer. “All fresh and clean and pretty!”
It was true. Nat-Nat did look very pretty. She’d been dressed up in a periwinkle onesie, with a with a matching skirt attached that was purely for decoration. To complete the look, her Mommy nestled a plastic tiara on her head. “Now my little princess looks the part.” She helped the girl down on the floor and Nat-Nat started bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“That’s right, Natalia!” her mommy cooed. She looked across the nursery to Willy. “William!” she called. “Your turn.” The horse was all but forgotten in the sudden beckoning call of attention. Willy toddled forward, going eagerly forward. He hoped that Nat-Nat’s mommy did tummy tickles and sang songs like his mommy did. “That’s right!” she said. “Come to Mommy.”
William stopped. What was she saying? “No Mommy,” he said, not unkindly. It was true. She wasn’t his mommy.
Nat-Nat’s mommy twisted her mouth to the side. “Hmmm…not yet, apparently. It took a while for Nat-Nat to learn too,” she said to herself. Then back to him. “Okay sweetie. I’ll settle for Auntie Em.”
“Em?” Willy repeated. He was pretty sure that was a letter. He liked letters! “Em!”
Em patted the padded mat of the table. “Good enough for now. Come on. Hop on up.” Much to his own surprise, Willy did, not even needing a bit of uppies from the grown-up lady. “Arms up,” she showed him. Like it was a game, Willy copied long enough for her to take the plain white shirt off of him. “Okay. Lay down.” He did.
His Mommy’s friend leaned over and just like every other diaper change he could remember having, started taking off the sides. There weren’t any tapes, however, so she grunted and growled a little bit while she ripped open the sides. “Should’ve…pulled them…off…first!” She reached for the otherside. “Didn’t…think…this part…through!” She breathed a sigh of relief after his diaper opened all the way up like it was supposed to.
“It’ll be much easier from now on,” she told him. She took out a couple wipes and started gently wiping his penis and all around. Willy didn’t mind. That’s what the wipes were for. “After I perfect this treatment,” she said, “there won’t even be a need for Pull-Ups.”
“Pull-Ups.” Will said. “No. Pull-Ups.” He was really just saying the words that he recognized.
She looked like he’d said something funny. “Not anymore, officer.”
That made Nat-Nat’s mommy throw back her head and laugh like she’d been tickled. He didn’t know what was so funny, but the baby boy laughed with her anyways.
After he was wiped both in front and in back, Em balled the old Pull-Up diaper up and tossed it out. He really hoped she didn’t get another one. Putting the first one on had been super tough. He didn’t think he would be able to do it again. His prayers were answered when a nice, regular diaper got unfolded. “Butt up for me,” she cooed.
“Booty,” Willy said. He planted his feet down and raised his hips so that the new diaper could be placed underneath him.
“Butt. Booty.” Miss Em said. “Same thing. Oh yeah! There could be more than one word for one thing! Like ‘butt’ and ‘booty’! He felt like he had just taught Miss Em a new word! He felt really smart and clever and good.
He giggled and not just because of the funny voices Miss Em was making, or how the baby powder felt on his booty. When Miss Em finished changing his diaper by fastening the tapes on, Willy reached between his legs and gave the nice firm padding a pat. “Diaper.” It felt much better, much comfier than what he had been wearing.
Miss Em didn’t seem to understand. “No, no, no, sweetie,” she said. “We don’t play with that.”
“Play.” Willy wasn’t arguing as much as he was saying the word, hoping she’d let him get on the horse.
“Not with your diaper you won’t.” She kneeled down to get something while mumbling, “Difference between boys and girls…” She stood back up with the brightest, prettiest most orangest onesie that Willy had ever seen. “This should fit. It’s a little big on Natalia, so it should be just about the right size on you. Maybe a tad snug.”
It wasn’t snug. The onesie fit just right on the baby boy’s body. He got up and started walking. Neither his gate nor his stride were thrown off by the crinkling mass encasing his loins. As far as Willy could remember, this was how he’d always walked. “Play! Play!” He said. “Plaaaaaay!”
“Oh yes! Oh yes!” Em clapped her hands. What shall we play? She pointed to stuffed animals. “How about cuddling with the teddies?
“No.” Willy simply said. No was a fun word.
“Oh,” Miss Em sniffed. “So you know that word. What about the stacking cups?” Nat-Nat was already spilling them out onto the nursery floor. Making towers and castles like they were building blocks was about the only use she had for those things.
“What about the rocking horse? Do you want to ride on the rocking horse?”
“No.” Had Willy the attention span of even a two year old he might have remembered that the rocking horse was exactly what he’d wanted mere moments ago. His attention span was not that of a two year old however.
Em tapped her lips in thought. “How…about…?”
Ever the energetic toddler, Willy solved the problem for her. “Car!” He waddled over to a nearby toy chest. The chest itself was filled to the brim with things that buzzed and beeped.
To the side of it, however, untouched by little girl hands, were a tiny fleet of plastic cars. Each had big black wheels and electronic lights that lit up should a grown-up know which button to push. These weren’t the tiny matchbox cars that Willy might choke on if he swallowed. No single piece was small enough for even a professional sword swallower or streetwalker to choke on.
As if it were second nature to him (it was), Willy lowered himself to all fours and grabbed the car that had caught his attention. “CAR! POWEESE! CAR!” Bright white and shiny with dark blue trim.
Miss Em put her hands on her knees and leaned over so as to look into his eyes. “Are you in there, Willy?”
That made the lady chuckle. “Fair enough. You play nice with your car, now. Okay? Don’t break anything.”
But baby Willy was already lost in his own fantasy land. He crawled along the nursery floor rolling the toy police car as if it were the focus of his entire world. In a way it was.
He lacked such complex onomatopoeia’s as “vroom” and “zoom” and “beep beep”, but he was able to growl and hum and coo while he played; which in Willy’s not quite eighteen month old mind was close enough to the sounds he heard from the cars he saw in real life and on T.V… It was pretend play, which made it good play.
He also lacked the coordination for such sophisticated fine and gross motor control as grabbing the car with one hand crawling with the other three limbs. That would come in a few months he would likely never get back. Instead, he enjoyed pushing the car as hard as he could and then crawling after it. Sometimes it would careen wildly ahead of him, the poor boy literally not knowing his own strength.
That just made it more fun for him, giving him an opportunity to push himself back up on his feet and run to catch up to the toy vehicle. Sometimes…it would crash. Those would be the best times.
CRASH! Into the bottom of the changing table. “Careful, Willy.”
CRASH! Up against the bottom rail of Nat-Nat’s crib. “Willy…”
CRASH! Straight through the tower of cups that Nat-Nat had just finished stacking. “OH NO!”
Natalia repeated her Mommy’s phrase. “OH NO!” The difference was, when she said it, she sounded happy instead of scared. Nat-Nat giggled at it so hard that she fell down and rolled back, clutching her sides. “AGAIN!” Unbeknownst to either baby, the mommy visibly untensed at hearing her daughter’s jubilation. “AGAAAAIN!”
And so they did it again. And again. And again. It’s quite remarkable how easily entertained- to the point of obsession- a young mind can be. Natalia would stack the cups, William would knock them down with his toy police car, and the two would laugh as if it were the very first time. Granted, unlike the first time, the stacks only got two to three cups high. Neither adult toddler had the patience or internal grit to wait longer than that.
Speaking of patience…
“Nat-Nat!” Willy called out to his playmate. Natalia didn’t respond. She was too busy bending over, stacking the cups as high as she could. “NAT-NAT!” Willy frowned. He’d just found the button that made the sirens go and he wanted to show his friend how it worked. How to get her to pay attention?
Her bobbing pigtails, like tassels on an old curtain. The way they moved when she bent over or picked her head up and wagged. That gave Willy an idea. They looked fun, like something to catch.
So, Willy pushed himself up, waddled over to his best and only friend that he could remember, caught both of them, and pulled!
Nat-Nat hit the floor and started rolling. Both babies started crying; Nat-Nat because she’d been surprised, hurt, and had her hair pulled and Willy because Nat-Nat was crying.
Nat-Nat’s Mommy raced to her side and cradled the girl’s poor head in her lap. “Shhh…shh….it’s okay sweetie. It’s okay. Mommy’s here.”
She planted quick little kisses on Nat-Nat’s head. Then stared daggers right into Willy’s still bawling soul. “I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone with her, even for a minute!”
Willy started quaking. “NOOOOO!” He was going to get spanked again! Not again! The first time was bad enough! So bad that it felt like it was permanently scarred on his brain! It was so vivid it felt like it was his very first, very painful memory. “NO! NO! NO!”
He was already on the floor, cowering and curled up into a protective ball when the grown-up lady stood up. He cried so hard that for some reason the side of his face hurt. Nat-Nat’s mommy seemed a little bit sad looking at the baby boy. “It’s not your fault,” she sighed. “Boys your age are just very rough and I’m not ready for twins.”
Poor Willy had no idea what she was talking about. He barely understood half the words that were coming out of her mouth. What he did understand was that he wasn’t getting spanked and that she was walking away. What he did understand was that Nat-Nat’s crying was getting softer and softer. Someone was carrying her away.
The room was quiet just long enough for him to hear those same footsteps coming back. Almost immediately, he felt his head being lifted up and his body turned around so that he was lying on his back. Good. He couldn’t get spanked that way. “Come on,” the babysitter said. “Open your mouth.”
He did, and a bottle went between his lips immediately. Willy opened his eyes when the first drops of orange drink hit his tongue “It’s okay,” she said in pleasant comforting tones. “It’s okay. This will make it allllll better.” He believed her too.
Down, down, down the delicious stuff went into his throat and tummy. When the ba-ba was half finished, however, Nice Lady pulled it out of his mouth.
“Urrrr! Urrrrr!” He whined. The word ‘more’ seemed very hard to say just then. “Urrr!” Feebly, he kicked to show his displeasure.
“Not too much,” the nice lady said. She gave him a pacifier instead. “If you need more, I’ll give you more, but I’m still working on the dosage.” The rubber nipple attached to the mouthguard didn’t taste as good to Willy but he liked the feeling of being able to suck. It helped him calm down.
Once she set the bottle aside, the nice lady started petting his hair. “Good baby. That’s right. Just let it happen.” Willy didn’t know what she was saying but he liked the pleasant and gentle way that she was saying it. With a little boop, she touched the side of his cheek.
“Mmmm!” he whimpered. That was an owie! Owies were bad. He started to sniffle and whine, but the nice lady started making shushing noises, so Willy calmed down and kept suckling on his pacifier.
“We’ll have to take care of that,” she said. Instead she gave him a nice kiss-kiss on the forehead. That didn’t hurt so Willy smiled. The nice lady looked down at him. “Are you happy?” she squeaked. “Or is that just gas?”
Gently, very gently, she removed the baby’s head from her lap and stood up. “Can you follow Mommy?” she asked. She took a few steps away but bent over, her hands resting on her knees… “Follow Mommy?”
“Ma…” Willy repeated. “Ma…ma…” That was the name of the lady who took care of him! Maybe this was a Mama too! “Mama.”
The Mama shook a little bit like she was being tickled. “Oh, yes.” she said. “That’ll do. Mama will do. Can you follow Mama? Follow Mama.”
Willy rolled over and pushed himself up to all fours. “Mama…” One arm in front of the other, he started crawling. It was a new trick, but it beat rolling. Rolling was fun, and Willy wasn’t likely to give up rolling anytime soon, but he liked crawling better because he could look where he was going when he felt like it. “Ma…ma…ma….ma. Ma-ma-ma-ma!” Willy liked the word because he could say it and still suck on his pacifier.
The Mama make a big happy face. “VERY GOOD!” she squealed. “Come to Mama!” He didn’t know exactly what she was saying, but Willy could tell she was getting happier as he got closer. That made Willy happier too!
The Mama got down on her knees and wrapped him up in a big ol’ hug! “Sooooo cuuute! Yes! This will work out just fine!” With super duper speed she got up and went over to the toy box. “Come on. Where is it?” She started flinging bits of plastic and funny shapes everywhere. “I could have sworn I put it in here somewhere.” Willy’s only opinion on the matter was that a lot of those things looked like they had fun and pretty colors and that they might be interesting to chew.
“Ah!” the Mama said. “Here it is.” She took out a bright green blankie and rolled it out onto the floor. It also looked like there was something different about the corners. As if in answer to that question, the Mama grabbed a couple of tubes and pieced them together, sticking them into the corners of the blanket.
Willy didn’t know where he got the word ‘tent’ from, but somewhere in his mind, the way the tubes criss-crossed reminded him of a tent without the outer covering. The Mama patted the middle of the blanket. “Come here, baby! Come here!”
Understanding her body language and tone, Willy crawled forward to the center of the blanket. “Now, lie down, Willy!” Lie down!” This…was harder. He didn’t know what she meant. He assumed. When she pushed him lightly on his side, he didn’t know what she wanted. “Hmmmm…” she made a funny sound.
She reached into her pocket and took out something shiny and clingy and clangy and started jingling them in Willy’s face. The baby boy’s eyes lit up and he slowly reached out for them. “Oh-ho!” The Mama said. “You like the keys?”
He didn’t know the words. He barely listened to them, and instead focused on the shiny musical things that were juuuust out of reach. The Mama lowered them to the ground, and Willy reached down for them. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with these.
Willy laid down so that he could be more comfortable, spit out his pacifier, and rolled over onto his back. There was only one place where these beautiful shinies were going. “There we go!” the Mama said. She quickly took the shinies away.
“Urrr! Urrr! Urrrr!” the baby whimpered. He wanted more! More! He wanted to put those things in his mouth! No fair! No fair!
The Mama started hanging some things, on the criss-crossing poles above the blanket. They weren’t as shiny but they were much more colorful. Bigger too. Willy reached up and hit it, making it dance.
Shiny balls were added, and they made the same kind of jingle jangle sounds whenever he batted them.
Tiny little soft things were placed above besides He hit one a few times and it just kind of flopped. But ohh! If he reached up and grabbed one, gripped it in his little hands or rubbed his thumb along the outside! It was heaven!
He couldn’t pull any of them to his mouth, not and remain laying down, which was comfortable. But it felt good to stare and bat and jingle and feel. He could suck on his paci…or hit thumbs…or maybe his toes. That would do. That would do.
“This. Is. Perfect!” The Mama said.
Willy looked past the fun dangly things above him. He’d almost forgotten that the Mama was here. “Mama…”
“Good! Good! Wait right here!”
And the Mama was gone. Not that Willy minded so much. He didn’t need anything. He wasn’t hungry. Or thirsty. Or bored. Or lonely. She’d be back. Mama’s always came back. All he’d have to do is cry if he needed her.
In the very short meantime, Willy was already learning new things about the dangly bits above him. Like he could kick them with his feet. It was almost as good as hitting with his hands. The only thing that wasn’t as fun to hit was the soft fuzzy things, and they were still pretty good to grip with his toes nonetheless.
Speaking of feet: Willy stopped kicking briefly, and lifted his legs up to closer to his tummy. Willy didn’t have the word for ‘push’, and even if he did, he’d think of pushing as a more of an external thing like a throw and not something coming from inside him. Not having the word or fully appreciating the concept didn’t stop Willy from doing it, though.
He pushed and grunted while at the same time the inside of his diaper filled up with something warm and mushy that was spreading out. Willy wasn’t uncomfortable with it. He didn’t really even know what it was. The smell didn’t bother him either. It’s just that sometimes his diaper would feel that way. A simple fact of life.
Willy let out an unconscious giggle at the relieved pressure and lowered his tired legs back down, smashing and spreading the mess. Honestly, he liked that part. He liked how it felt and the fact that it made his clothes fit better. Nothing felt like it was sticking out or anything.
Less than ten seconds later, he was back to playing and using all four his limbs to bat at the fun dangling stuff.
“Look Nat-Nat,” Mama said. “Meet your new baby brother.” Willy smiled up at them, already starting to drool.
Distracted yet again with this new stimulus, Willy rolled over and pushed himself up. He crawled over to the other baby, the taller baby, the bigger baby, and nuzzled his head against her knee.
“I think he likes you.”
The room didn’t smell nearly as bad as he thought it would. There was an underlying scent of dirty diapers, air freshener, and baby powder, but that was nearest the changing garbage cans. Captain Monore suspected that if he spent longer than five minutes in here, his brain would filter out the smell and he’d go noseblind to it. Overall very clean. Good.
Same went for the noise. The place was as big as the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark; just instead of boxed up alien artifacts or whatever it had adult sized cribs. The poor dumb bastards stuck inside them weren’t crying though. Some were conked out yeah. A couple might not be able to move. Most though were quietly mumbling to themselves and babbling to teddy bears or batting at mobiles.
Men and women in white checked on them and talked to them like they were actual children. That was kind of fucked up, but not unexpected.
Monroe put on a kind of tunnel vision. Officially, he didn’t see any of this. Not unless he wanted a bullet in his head, or worse a dart full of medical grade clockspin. “Medical Grade” would have been a very loose descriptor in this case.
“Captain,” an all too familiar voice called out. “Over here.”
Dr. Emerson Lawson, clad in a bright blue dress, wore a fancy white lab coat over her shoulders. Town the seemingly endless rows of cribs. On either side of her an aide pushed an adult sized stroller- the kind that were coming into vogue now that it was no longer socially acceptable to institutionalize developmentally disabled people. The wheels were bigger, and it was a tripod design, and both were a stylish black instead of infantile pinks or blues, but they were strollers all the same. The Captain was very much the type of person to call a spade a spade.
“It’s a pleasure to see you, Captain Monroe,” Dr Lawson said.
“Likewise,” the Captain lied. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
“Of course,” Dr. Lawson said. “A deal’s a deal. Also the NDA you just signed before coming onto the premises is extremely legally binding.”
Captain Monroe grumbled something that vaguely sounded like “Fair enough”.
Dozing in the stroller to his right was former rookie cop, William Harris. He was dressed in a footed sleeper and was sucking on a pacifier with his eyes closed. He looked…peaceful. That’s how they described corpses at funerals, didn’t they? Just as well.
In the stroller to his left…
“Is that Natalia?” He almost didn’t recognize the girl. The pink dress covered in purple hearts was not something she ever would have worn if given the choice. Neither was the bulging diaper with cartoons printed on the crotch, nor the frilly socks and velcro fastened sneakers. None of it reminded him of the woman he used to know.
The little girl that she used to be, however. Behind the pacifier, her eyes seemed so bright, though…so alive. Maybe she was more than just brain damaged. Maybe that was her in there; or at least a version of her.
“You don’t keep her here, do you?”
Dr. Lawson puffed air through her lips and scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m keeping both of them at my private residence. Right where I found them,” she added. “I’m just having a ‘bring your babies’ to work day so that you can have a little visit.”
Monroe ignored her and took a knee. “Hey, Nat-Nat,” he said in a low stage whisper. “How are you doing?”
“She’s doing very well, thank you.” Dr. Lawson answered for the babied woman. “I take very good care of her and her new little brother.” Monroe must have shot her a glare something awful. “What? She’s functionally a year and a half at best. You don’t think she’s going to be terribly conversational do you?”
Natalia was more conversational than either of them anticipated. With one swift motion, she popped out her pacifier and asked. “Daddy?”
Captain Monroe smiled despite the fact that it felt like the corners of his mouth were pulling towards the floor. He told her what he’d said all those years ago; the first time she was in diapers. “Naw, kid. I’m not your Daddy. Daddy’s not coming home. But I’ll look after you. Always.”
It was true, and he did, in his own way. Life was complicated. So much more complicated than either he or Efren had thought when they were young and dumb rookies. Young and dumb like Harris had been; now Harris was even younger and dumber, functionally speaking.
Harris was an acceptable casualty.
“Thanks for letting me see her,” he stood up and said to Dr. Lawson. “I appreciate knowing that she’s being cared for.”
“And I appreciate the tip you gave me regarding a certain tracking device in Willy’s shoulder.” She looked lovingly at the sleeping man to Monroe’s right. “I really appreciate it. The initially involuntary subjects tend to be better adjusted compared to the spinner leftovers we get. Almost like something wasn’t missing from them to begin with.”
Captain Monroe supposed that something would have to be missing or broken to want this to happen. To want to be a baby again. He lied to himself and said that meant he’d done right by Natalia…at least until he’d betrayed her to save his own skin. “What are you gonna do with all of these…” Captain Monroe gestured to the rows of cribs. “People.”
“The less you know the better,” Dr. Lawson said. “They’ll be taken care of though, if you’re worried. Not as well cared for as Willy or Nat-Nat, but that comes with being the best.” Her voice leapt and octave as if she were cooing at real children.
“If you’d like to see Natalia more often,” Dr. Lawson offered, “I’d be willing to revisit the terms of our agreement should you be able to get me more test subjects. Get me a few more like these, and I’ll let you move in as a Nanny.”
A bit of bile leapt into Monroe’s mouth. “No thanks.Too many cops go missing and things get a lot tougher…for all of us.” There was no helping Natalia anymore, not with everything that had been done to her. Best he could do was keep tabs on her and know she was being well cared for. A specialized nursery was better than an institution. That’s what he told himself.
“Then once a week it will be,” Dr. Lawson said. Then she baited him with, “Would you like to play with her a bit before you go? Change her diaper? Feed her her ba-ba?”
At least he hoped she was baiting him… “No. Not today.” This was going to take some getting used to. The sad part is, like so many things in this messed up world, part of Monroe knew he could get used to this.
“Very well then,” Dr. Lawson said. “We’ll see you next week. Say Bye-bye, Nat-Nat.”
Captain Monroe turned around to go and went straight out of Genesis International’s private holding pens. He didn’t look back. If he had, he might not have been able to make himself leave this time.