Most would say that Walter Klammer never had a ‘proper’ childhood. Littles rarely did. Tweeners and Amazons got that luxury: that innocence; that period of soft and cuddly; that ability to make mistakes and grow and learn and be just wonderfully silly and self-indulgent. When childhood is something that is natural, and normal; and outgrown as one’s interests, emotions, and capabilities expand; it is a most pleasant thing.
When childhood is something that is forced upon you, and it is perpetual, involuntary, and penalizing, innocence and childhood becomes something to be avoided. It is a ball and chain that will drag you to the bottom of the ocean unless you cut off your own foot to escape and swim up to get more of that life saving air.
Amazons, arguably, have the longest natural childhood. Childhood becomes a right when you’re on top of the world. In some ways, Walter would grimly suppose, Amazons never really had to grow up; never had to learn the hard lessons of scarcity, fear, respect, consent save for perhaps with each other. Who the heck had the gall to tell an Amazon ‘no’ when they wanted something?
Tweeners tended to keep that innocence right up until puberty. He’d had Tweener friends growing up who just ‘didn’t get it’ until middle school. When their voices started changing and Amazon peers, now significantly bigger than them, started learning to browbeat them and threaten them with spankings or forced ‘sleepovers’ where they’d have to wear ‘protection’; then they got it. Oddly enough, Walter had enjoyed middle school for that reason. His friend group nearly doubled when the Littles weren’t the only demographic sweating bullets over being strapped down to a changing table.
If only that Tweener awakening blossomed into a kind of open defiance instead of self-serving compliance, Littles and Tweeners might be better friends. Such revolutionary thoughts were better not expressed out loud with one’s actual face, however. Much safer behind a computer screen.
For Walter and so many people like him, he never had a ‘proper’ childhood. There was a point where biologically he was a child, but it wasn’t ‘childhood’ as much as it was ‘pre-adulthood’ or ‘larva stage’. In a Venn Diagram of his early years and that of other, larger folks, the overlap might be on age and the fact that in general his parents did their best to shield and lookout for him.
Here was Walter’s childhood in a nutshell: No non-educational toys or games that didn’t develop a skill of some sort. No media that didn’t directly relate to academia, safety, or education. No costumes, pretend, or non-functional clothing. Few, if any excuses for misbehavior. ‘Misbehavior’ also included anything that might jeopardize his or his parent’s adulthood.
“Don’t question us in public,” his mother would warn him. “Unless you want some Amazon thinking we’re bad parents. Then we’ll all end up back in diapers forever. Giants don’t let you grow up.”
Childhood was the threat; so Walter never felt like he had one.
One of the thirty year old Little’s earliest memories was his first day of Kindergarten.
Up until then, Wally had been allowed to keep a single rattle from infancy. It was a wrist strap rattle, light pastel blue with a tiny elephant head as the decoration. Whenever he’d shake it, a little jingling noise would tinkle out. In the quiet of an otherwise spartan room in the middle of the night, when Wally was just starting to be plagued by the thoughts of giant hands scooping him up and forcing him into a crib for eternity, ol’ Jumbo gave him the measure of comfort he’d needed for sleep.
No giant Mommy or Daddy would snatch him from his bed at night, he’d told himself. If they did, he would shake his arm as hard as he could and Jumbo’s high pitched alarm would sound, allerting Mother and Father, who would somehow protect him.
That simple tiny bit of comfort was all the childish indulgence and security that Wally had needed.
Kindergarten changed that. After over five years of use, -even if the use got limited to only inside the apartment, then only at bedtime- the security toy was more than well worn. Walter could still remember the way some of the stitching had started to come loose, or how bits of fabric were just barely flaking off of the top Jumbo’s head. The velcro was fraying and because the bauble had been designed with an actual infant Little in mind, it had been held on by a prayer at the very edge where the two sides of the soft cloth bracelet met. That last summer, Walter recalled sleeping with the rattle cupped in his palm or cradled to his chest like a stuffed animal more than strapped to his wrist. The bell inside was still loud and clear, though, and that’s what mattered.
It had mattered so much to poor young Wally that he’d snuck it into his backpack on his first day of school. That ringing jingling tingling bell had almost sealed his fate. Teacher thought that a Little Kindergartener with a babyish rattle like that wasn’t quite ready to grow up.
It hadn’t mattered that his Amazon classmates had brought in tiny teddy bears and special blankets for nap time. It didn’t matter that a Tweener girl still had a nervous thumb sucking habit. Wally had been the one put back in diapers ‘just in case’; not them.
That was the only time Walter could remember being in diapers; that traumatic first day of school. The towheaded Little in Kindergarten had been potty trained for so long that he didn’t even think of it as potty training by that point. He could never remember a time where he didn’t dress or bathe himself or brush his teeth without aid.
So the feeling of being diapered- the vulnerability as a stranger laid him down and took his pants and underwear off; the cooing reassurances; ankles being crossed and legs being lifted up over his head; the dry chill and sweet scent of baby powder; the softness of the inside of the diaper contrasting with the stiffness of the outer shell; the feeling of being dressed and having the garment take shape around him as the front was tucked in and taped down; or how the diaper crinkled and forced him to waddle when he walked -none of it was nostalgic to him. None of it was eerily familiar as much as it was completely alien and traumatic.
Wally had rattled Jumbo as much as he could, but Mother and Father couldn’t hear it from outside the school. It had taken a heroic amount of effort for young Wally to keep that diaper dry all day, (not his diaper…never his), but he’d managed to hold his burning aching bladder until after the bus had dropped him off back home.
If he hadn’t, Mother and Father told him that night, the Amazons would have taken that as evidence that he wasn’t mature enough for using the toilet and he’d be back in diapers for at least the rest of the year. And that was if he was lucky.
Mother and Father had scolded him for being careless and plopped him, diaper first, into a tub of cold water. Amazon-strength tapes were nearly impossible for Little fingers to undo, so the quickest, least dangerous way to get it off had been to oversaturate the absorbent pulp and let the damn thing slip straight off his hips.
It wasn’t until years later that Father let it slip over drinks that Wally could have likely gotten that Monkeez off himself. The diaper had been sized for Little and Tweener children, not Amazon, so five year old Wally very likely could have gotten it off himself had he thought to try.
Didn’t matter by then. The baptism of plastic, pulp, water, and a sprinkling of his own piss had transformed the child. Child Wally had gone into the freezing tub. Young Walter had come out. The diaper and Jumbo had been balled up and thrown in the garbage and all childish things had been put away in service of survival. Walter went back to school the next day in his big boy pants and his record in all things Grown-Up as well as his undies, had been spotless ever since.
That had been well over twenty years ago. Walter blinked himself awake from his dreadful daydreaming and saw his own ash blonde reflection mirrored darkly in the computer screen. It had been the sudden flickering of his monitor that had brought his brain screaming back to the present.
“Damn power surge,” he mumbled. Standing up from the cushioned seat in his apartment he punched the power button on a computer tower that came up to his belly button. “I really need to get a laptop.”
Little sized apartments were notoriously poorly rent controlled. What Little would dare call maintenance? Someone might see a leaky faucet or bad wiring as a sign of neglect on the tenant’s part, and there was only one cure-all for such ‘irresponsibility’.
It wasn’t so bad, though. Walter’s landlord couldn’t afford to see him be moved out and try to rent to another Little. Not in this economy. Safer for both to use a system of benign neglect.
He stretched his neck, touching the side of his face to each shoulder and felt the uncomfortable itchiness of his own neck stubble. “I need a shave, too,” he grunted. That was the drawback of working from home; he was in less danger and didn’t need to keep up his public appearance as much, but it also felt like he was getting rusty at such things.
Walter found it was boring work, being a ghostwriter for an advertising firm. His primary duties consisted of listening to podcasts of rich and successful Amazon dentists, accountants, lawyers and the like talk about how rich and successful they were, take detailed notes of each episode and then summarize and advertise each episode on half a dozen social media platforms all while writing in the voice and pretending to be the host. Being rich and successful wasn’t enough for these giants; they also had to pretend that they were influential media stars, and so they paid Walter’s employers to live out that particular fantasy.
Whatever. It paid Walter’s rent and grocery bill, delivery fees included. His bosses didn’t particularly know or care that he was a Little, provided that he delivered a well written and edited finished product. The job allowed him to set his own hours as long as he delivered the finished product on time; and said hours gave him the leisure of not shaving everyday, and being able to schlub around in jeans and t-shirts, sleep in, and stay up ridiculously late. These lifestyle privileges were The Dream for a lot of Littles.
It also allowed him to procrastinate and zone out after particularly boring episodes about real estate investiture until the power flickered. At least working from home also gave him the feeling of security that job termination wouldn’t immediately result in ‘adoption’
MistuhGwiffin.web was rife with tales: Spouses talking about how their significant others didn’t come home from work one day. They’d been fired and ‘maturity clauses’ in contracts had been invoked. Adult children would reminisce about how they’d come home from school and find out that one of their parents had met with a terrible ‘accident’ in their pants and didn’t make it out of work that day. Down at the bottom of the feed was mention of some poor schmuck who used to be a pre-school teacher and was now supposedly re-enrolled as a student at their own school. How fucked up was that?
Fucked up enough that it had sent Walter Klammer spiraling into his own past, back when he was still just innocent Wally.
“Come on, come on!” Walter muttered as the old desktop finally finished booting. He reopened his browser and auto-loaded everything that had been exited improperly. Again he rubbed his cheek and thought about shaving. It never helped to have facial hair around Amazons. They took it as a dare; a challenge. Going clean shaven ‘baby faced’ was ironically the only safe option for a Little like him.
Walter got back on MistuhGwiffin.web ‘one last time’ and checked his private messages. He’d gotten on ‘one last time’ approximately twenty times this morning. He’d been waiting for half a month for this one girl to message him back.
Hilda had been local. They’d connected and chatted each other up in DMs. MistuhGwiffin wasn’t supposed to be a dating site, but one found love where they could. They’d managed to go on a date and hit it off over a game of mini-golf.
She was a few inches taller than him, even taller in heels, maybe had some Tweener in her family tree, and Walter had been smitten. Her flowing auburn hair that danced down past her shoulders, her expressive and soothing voice, the curves of her face. Even the slight tummy she had. They had chemistry and it was one of those dates, those rare times when something just ‘clicked’. They hadn’t even talked about Amazons. A night not thinking about getting snatched up; that was a rare gift for any Little.
And she’d never messaged him back. Damn. He really thought they’d connected. Maybe not. Maybe Walter was one of those know-it-all jerks that only thought he was interesting and hadn’t realized it yet. The last thing he’d said to her was he promised to message her that he’d made it home safely. He had. No message had come back.
Not for two weeks. Feeling kind of creepy, Walter went to Hilda’s profile and scanned it.
No updates. Not for weeks. A terrible, all too familiar thought wormed its way into Walter’s gray matter: What if Hilda had never made it home herself?
He sent the third ‘Are you okay?’ message that week to Hilda before clicking back over to his work tab like he was supposed to. He had six hours left to make a rambling incoherent mess of a podcast starring an ER doctor sound halfway palatable beyond the guy’s friends and immediate family. He’d almost started working when he thought he saw an update on MistuhGwiffin. No such luck. Just his imagination.
“Fuck.” Walter cursed. “I need to clear my head.” He rubbed his chin. “And a shave.”
It might have been fate that brought him to that park that day so quickly after thinking about his one major brush with permanent infancy. It might have been that when faced with uncomfortable truths such as a system that is rigged against them some Littles develop self-destructive habits that put them in vulnerable situations. The one thing that didn’t bring Walter there was the bus. The quiet little park with the duck pond was just across the street from his apartment complex and the Little man had more anxiety and energy than work ethic and common sense at the moment.
To be accurate, that assessment’s not entirely fair, but neither was the world.
Walter eyeballed the playground wearily from the parking lot. Children, real ones, played tag running around the jungle gym and raced on monkey bars. Good. Their mothers and fathers would be too tired to worry about a lone Little walking the fitness trail along the periphery. A hundred feet away from the playground, a dozen ducks and the padded silhouettes of two captured Littles waddled around. Their Amazon wardens were already getting their baby fix, poor bastards, but it made Walter feel safer.
More importantly, Walter noted that there was a complete dearth of self-proclaimed Mommies and Daddies on the path he was considering. No exercise strollers or backpack style diaper bags. No Amazons going for walks at all that he could see. Good.
Still stuck mostly in his own head and the terrible fate that might have befallen yet another Little, Walter strolled along the fitness trail, his sneakers kicking up dust as he walked and talked to himself.
“She’s fine,” he said to himself. “You’re overthinking it. She’s just busy at her job. What was her job again…?” He shook his head as if that might somehow rattle the bit of information loose. “Damn,” he cursed. He really didn’t know what Hilda did for a job. “Maybe I am just a boring date.” It was a weird, perverse comfort thinking that he’d been ghosted as opposed to her being disappeared, but it helped.
As was his habit, Walter paused by what he called the ‘Rowing Exhibit’. The fitness trail had a bevy of outdoor exercise equipment along its red dirt path. They were designed for Amazon and even Tweeners to run up to, exercise, do a few reps of pull ups or leg lifts or pushups; to really feel the burn; and then to jog away down the dusty road to the next station… To a Little like Walter they weren’t much more than twisted beige and leaf green works of modern art.
Almost like he was proving a point to himself, Walter took a seat on the outdoor rower and reached up for the built- in ‘oars’. If he stretched his arms he could just barely grasp handles. The thirty year old Little wasn’t a doctor but he was positive this wasn’t sized for someone like him. No way would this thing exercise the intended muscles. Walter never questioned why there wasn’t Little specific exercise equipment available; as far as most folks were concerned, that was the playground. Most Amazons liked their ‘babies’ a bit pudgy, anyways.
Pudgy. A bit of a tummy. Like…
“Fuck.” Walter dropped his head and whispered to himself. He let the handles go and closed his eyes. “I just made myself sad.”
Something caught Walter’s eye on the very periphery of his vision. Something bright and yellow with shades of brown, but the exact hues signaled to Walter’s brain that it wasn’t something quite natural; similar to how the beige and green of the ‘Rowing Exhibit’ didn’t once ring true as something belonging in nature.
Turning his head and reaching down, the jingling wrist rattle was in Walter’s hand before he knew what he was doing. Those happy earliest memories overshadowed by the one bad one screamed back into Walter’s head. Walter’s consciousness screamed at him to drop the damn thing; encouraged his eyes to develop heat vision and burn it right then and there. His subconscious however, wasn’t quite ready to let it go.
It wasn’t a replica of his old Jumbo; not even close. Instead of a gentle blue elephant, the soft fabric and mold was presented as a light brown wristband and a bright yellow sunflower. It’s fastening device was different too. No safe and easy to remove Velcro; just several rows of snap bottoms on the left side and a single row of tops on the right to ensure a tight fit. There was a good chance, Walter assessed, that those snaps would be very difficult for a Little to undo without help. Last but not least was the size. Besides being much newer and in much better condition, this wrist rattle was also much larger. It was scaled for an Amazon baby…or a Little who had been forced into the role.
Feeling more than a hint of disgust, Walter tossed it back over his shoulder. Sadly for him, it was that toss that sealed his fate. The soft, almost plushy thing struck the ground immediately behind him and let out a piercing metallic jingling sound, quiet yet distinct enough to be heard over the chirping of birds and the light breeze wafting through the trees.
“Huh?” Walter mumbled turning around off the seat. Suddenly something felt different yet familiar to him. His eye lids felt a bit heavier, though not tired. His skin tingled ever so slightly. It was almost like when he tried his first beer; a not quite buzz as a foreign substance he’d yet to grow tolerant of coursed through his veins The barest hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. And for some reason, Walter’s eyes zoned in on the giant rattle he’d just tossed aside.
Feeling guilty but overwhelmed by simple curiosity, Walter leaned back down and picked the Amazon sized toy up. The bell inside jingled slightly and Walter felt another rush; another sip of strange almost drunken pleasure. “What in the…?”
Was he getting buzzed? From a rattle? He gave it another shake, a good one. The bell inside the sunflower rang out and Walter’s eyes rolled into the back of his head. “HAAAAAAA!” his laughter rang out as the world spinned and he momentarily lost his footing. He shook it again, practically feeling the pleasure centers of his brain light up.
He held his breath involuntarily, letting his eyes roll back again and his tongue press up against the roof of his mouth. It was the rush of a rollercoaster and the aftershock of a really good shot of whiskey all rolled into one. All because of the high pitched ringing of a bell in a wrist rattle. “I gotta get me one of these…” he hissed to himself.
Speaking of involuntarily…
Speaking of hissing…
“Hello,” a large feminine voice brought Walter back to full consciousness. “Are you okay Little boy? Do you need help? Did you have an accident? Where’s your Mommy or Daddy, baby?”
Baby? Mommy or Daddy? Who did she think she was talking to? Even the worst of Amazons weren’t so brazen as to talk down to a Little like that out of nowhere. Not without at least a surface level reason…
Walter looked down at his pants and the spreading wet spot on the front expanding out and darkening his jeans, flowing and dripping down his inner thighs and moistening his socks.