The New Narnia

Chapter 1: D-List

“But I know, I know, life can be beautiful
I pray, I pray for a better way
If we changed back then, we could change again
We can be beautiful…
Just not today.”

Thomas Dean liked musicals. He liked music in general (what eighteen year old didn’t?), but he particularly liked musical theater. Music was pure expression, emotion made real and given a beat. It was joy. It was anger. It was loneliness. Horniness, too.

Most music- most commercial music, anyway- was too general, too generic, for Tom to connect with. Yes, “Rain Is A Good Thing.” And? Yes, we’re “Only Human,” and we like to dance. Duh. And every single love song or break up song wasn’t about anyone in particular, it was about “you.”

Bo Burnham (whose standup was just this side of a dark musical comedy) had it right: “I love your hands because your fingerprints are like no other, I love your eyes and blueish, brownish, greenish color.” So vague as to be universal, but the connection was lost as soon as the catchy beat stopped.

If Shakespeare was writing today, the famous line would have been. “You. Oh you. Where are you? Give up your family and I’ll give up mine.” Which, admittedly, was a sweet and hopelessly romantic sentiment, but did it have any power without people’s nostalgia and recognition of the themes of two star crossed lovers from warring families? Tom didn’t think so.

Broadway, however, wasn’t nearly as broad, and that was the appeal. Musicals told stories; fantasies and fictions that combined the raw emotion of music with characters that you could relate to and imprint on.

Tom never imagined himself hanging out with Lil Nas X or Brad Paisley. It was never going to happen, and they had nothing in common. But he could relate to Elphaba, and Tracy Turnblad, and Leo Bloom. Alexander Hamilton was MAYBE the ten dollar bill guy to most Americans before the play came out. Tom felt he knew what it was like to be an outsider looking in and dreaming of bigger things.

He couldn’t relate to Beiber telling some hot nobody to go love themselves. He’d never have his own song on the radio that would “give you hell”. In their own sad way, the rich and famous people who sang the songs were less attainable, less relatable, and less real to him than the fictional characters who strutted it out on stage.

But the fictional characters? Pasty white instead of emerald green, Tom was no Elphaba, but he sure as hell dreamed that he could defy gravity one day despite what other people thought of him. He wasn’t teased for being overweight, like Tracy Turnblad was- if anything he was almost skinny enough to be considered malnourished- but how he wished he could muster her boundless energy and optimism. Unlike Leo Bloom, Tom had no desire to be a producer; he’d buy tickets and go to New York instead of watching old bootlegs on Youtube if he ever got the chance, but that was as far as he’d go. However, he couldn’t help but nod and tear up a bit when the timid little accountant shouted at the top of his lungs, “STOP THE WORLD! I WANT TO GET ON!”

Maybe it wasn’t the music itself, but a musical character’s ability to say and sing so succinctly what they were feeling in the moment and express their true selves so well, that attracted Tom to them. A song could last only three minutes, but that high, that story, that fantasy that created the connection could last a lot lot longer.

In his fifth period math class, Tom sighed himself out of his own reverie. It was the twenty-first century, so he’d been told, and a young man liking a song and dance number was nothing to look sideways at. Shit. In most places nowadays, if you started with “Let’s. Get Down. To Business!” the next lines out of everybody else’s mouth would be “To Defeat. The Huns!” Same was true for “Let it Go” and “You’re Welcome.” Disney always got a free pass, but a body wouldn’t be looked down on if they were jamming out to Hamilton, or Rent, or The Book of Mormon, either.

Scrumpton, Georgia wasn’t most places. Culturally it was still somewhere in between 1950 and 1980. The Breakfast Club was a roadmap on how to live your life, the part about torturing nerds and duct taping their butt cheeks included. Scrumpton liked to pretend it was Mayberry from Andy Griffith, but was honestly a lot closer to Derry from Stephen King. Tom couldn’t count how many times he’d been drafted to go dumpster diving by the jocks.

It was Friday afternoon. Tom didn’t need a calendar to know that. He could have been sucked into an alternate dimension, spend years there in dank caves fighting zombies and goblins, pop back to Earth and still know what day of the week it was in Scrumpton just by looking around. Like most small towns without much to do, high school football ruled Scrumpton’s Friday nights. That meant that all the jocks wore their jerseys and all the cheerleaders wore their uniforms.

Amanda Monroe was a cheerleader. She sat in front of Tom in fifth period and had a habit of leaning over so she could snicker and whisper during Mr. Jordan’s boring math lectures. “Math math math…coefficient…math math math…sine and cosine…math math math…variables…math math.” That’s not what Mr. Jordan said (except for that one time when he did to see if anyone was paying attention) but it’s what everyone but the big brains heard on a Friday afternoon with no tests looming and yet another big game only hours away.

Haphazardly copying down Mr. Jordan’s numerical chicken scratch and praying to the weekend gods that he’d understand more of it come Sunday night, Tom’s eyes kept darting to Amanda…part of her, anyway. He couldn’t hear what Amanda was saying to her mean-girls-bestie Cameron, but he wasn’t paying attention to her voice just then.

Amanda’s cheerleading skirt was very, very short. And even though her matching bike shorts covered more than enough to meet the school dress code requirements, they were also tight enough so that Tom could tell that she wasn’t wearing any panties.

Mmmm…panties.

Unless it was a thong.

Mmmm…a thong.

No! No! No! It was perverted! It was wrong! Amanda was a person! Not just a piece of ass…a sweet sweet piece of ass!

NO!

This was wrong! Amanda wasn’t some random girl. He’d known her since they were both just out of diapers. Yeah, they’d drifted apart in middle school, and she definitely looked a lot different than she had back during their playground days. Puberty had been VERY good to her (him not so much), but Amanda wasn’t just some random stranger for him to ogle online. She was somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s sister.

Like his own sister…

Eww-eww-eww! Don’t think about THAT! That’s even grosser! Tom blinked and images of Katlynn’s bony ass flashed across his eyelids. UG! Nothing more boner-killing than thinking of your own sister. It was bad enough that they’d had to share a womb.

Scumpton was in Georgia, and it checked a lot of stereotypes for the state. It didn’t check THAT box, though…not for Tom, at least.

Tom stared back at his paper, trying to focus more on math and less on ass. His eyes flitted upward. Amanda was still bent over, whispering something to Cameron. Mr. Jordan’s spirit had long been broken and he made no move to stop people from talking as long as it didn’t interrupt his scribblings on the board….and even then the old man did his best to ignore it.

Must not look. Must not look. Must do math.

Damn it, now she was swaying her hips, wiggling, waving it. It was like a matador waving a cape at a bull.

Must do math.

He wanted to lean forward and tap Amanda on the shoulder, or cough or something to get her attention. Maybe she’d stop.

Must. Not. Look. Must. Do. Math.

Not that he wanted her to stop; not that it was his place to tell her to stop. It wasn’t Amanda’s fault that he found her incredibly hot to the point of distraction and it wasn’t her responsibility to control his impulses.

But he felt like he was taking advantage or perving on her because she might not know he was looking. She might not care, either, but how did he ask permission without drawing attention to himself and being a total weirdo?

Another showtune- My Unfortunate Erection- screamed its way into his brain.

Damn it, life was hard!

Must. Do. Look. Not. Math.

Was it even Tom’s place or responsibility to do anything other than keep his thoughts and opinions to himself? A war of teenage hormones clashing up against prudish and confused sexual attitudes raged in his brain.

Must. Not. Do. Math! Must LOOK!

Tom was still a horny eighteen-year-old boy. And sometimes, as much as he might try otherwise, Tom thought with his dick. And he was just looking, after all…right? Right. She was right in front of him, bending over for everyone to see. It’s not like he was drilling peep holes in the girl’s locker room.

He wouldn’t say anything about it, he resolved. He was doing nothing wrong, saying nothing, and putting his hands on no one. Nor did he do anything to manipulate these circumstances into being. Literally just a case of right place at the right time.

Tom would take mental notes, (not in math…fuck math) save certain images in his brain, and go rub one out into an old sock later tonight.

Case closed. Matter solved. God bless cheerleaders. God bless cheerleader outfits. God bless Friday afternoons.

“Hey! Look at D-List!” Josh Hamlin yelled out. D-List. That was Tom’s nickname since fifth grade. He’d hated it, every asshole his age knew it, and that’s why it had endured into senior year. “D-List is pitching a tent!”

All eyes within a five-seat radius of Thomas Dean were immediately on him, save Mr. Jordan who was still rambling off about some inconsequential formula that could be used to calculate the apocalypse with only a three month margin of error.

Tom looked down at his lap. It was true. His unfortunate protuberance seemed to have its own exuberance. The little guy was practically waving hello at everyone.

Cameron looked to Amanda and then over to Tom. “Enjoying the view, little guy?”

“Dude,” someone yelled, “ya ditch them khakis and get some jeans!” Raucous laughter from all around.

Amanda frowned. “You little perv!” She drew her hand back as if to slap him, but froze when Tom was already flinching backwards.

“Careful, ‘Manda!” Trevor Macintosh yelled out. “He might like it!” Amanda’s hand flopped down to her side.

If Tom had been more quick-witted, more confident, more brazen, or cool…more SOMETHING…he could have handled the moment and turned it around in his favor. He could have called out Josh Hamlin for looking at his crotch, or just own it and pass it off for laughs with him instead of at him.

He could have apologized like an adult. He could at least have shrugged it off and said…said…SOMETHING, DAMNIT!

If this was a musical, he could have broken out into song, and by the time it was done his erection would be gone and forgotten.

Tom wasn’t any of that, though, and this was definitely not a musical.

All he could do was stammer “S-s-sorry,” as he got up, covering his crotch, tears in his eyes as he ran out of the classroom.

“Awww, he jizzed in his pants, too!” Josh yelled out. “Somebody get that man a condom!”

Laughter, even though the joke didn’t make any damn sense. That was another thing about musicals; fiction in general: You had to actually be clever and witty and poignant with your jokes to get laughs. In high school all you had to do was be loud, mean-spirited and reference someone else’s private parts.

With calls of “D-List!” and “Loser” and “Perv” and yes, “Condom,” echoing behind him as he ran out of class, Tom booked it to the boys bathroom where he sat on the toilet with the stall locked; doing his level best not to cry his eyes out.
Tom liked musicals; a rare thing for a boy, especially a straight one, to like in a place like Scrumpton, but those fantasies set to melodies could articulate his feelings better than any dose or combination of rap, pop, metal, rock, or country.

Junior year, he’d gotten ahold of the soundtrack for Heathers. The opening number summed up his experience pretty well.

“We were so tiny, happy and shiny. Playing tag and getting chased. Singing and clapping, laughing and napping. Baking cookies, and eating paste. Then we got bigger, that was the trigger, like the Huns invading Rome.” And between each line the ensemble cast shouted insults at each other, like freak, slut, loser, and short-bus.

“Welcome to my school, this ain’t no high school.

This is the Thunderdome.”

That’s how it had been for Tommy Dean. Elementary school had been good enough. Kids were nice. Teachers did everything they could and cared for you like a second parent. There weren’t winners or losers unless it was a game of Yu-Gi-Oh or four square out on the playground, and then the slate was wiped clean as soon as the next game began.

Things were, as the song went on to say, “beautiful.”

But somewhere just around middle school, puberty had changed everything. Kids judged more. Teachers had less time. People suddenly cared where you got your clothes from- bought or donated- and where you lived. All of a sudden, whether Mom and Dad paid for your lunch or whether the school gave you free food impacted your social status among the cliques.

Oh yeah. Around that time, cliques became a thing, too. It wasn’t just about “Mrs. Miller’s Third Grade vs. Mrs. Sampson’s Third Grade.” Come sixth grade, it was all about Jocks, and Cheerleaders, and Goths, and Geeks and Freaks and Preps and Nerds and so on and so forth. There wasn’t a particular clique for kids who took home backpacks filled with non-perishables from the local church on weekends, save maybe “losers.”

That’s what Tom was; a loser. Tommy and Katy went from being “the twins,” to “the poor kids,” “the smelly kids,” and yes, “the losers.”

In a weird way, Tommy and Katy didn’t exist anymore. Tommy and Katy had friends.

Now they were Tom and Katlynn Dean. Tom and Katlynn didn’t really have much in the way of friends these days.

Tom heard the rumors. They were rubbed in his face. Katlynn was somehow a dirty skank ho, despite never having a boyfriend or going on a date. She was stuck at home with not much to do most nights, same as him.

And Tom was so far down the social totem pole that he was “D-List.” After this latest humiliation, there’d probably be some kind of dumb penis joke attached to his name…probably “condom”…his peers still weren’t that clever, all things considered.

The creak of the boys’ room door alerted Tom. He wasn’t alone. “Hey D-List!” Another boy called in, Trevor Macintosh by the sound of it. “You forgot your backpack in fifth period, dude!” Somehow the bell had rung and Tom hadn’t noticed. Not surprising given the circumstances.

“Go away!” was all Tom could make himself say, his throat closing up, his embarrassing erection thoroughly destroyed, but his humiliation flaring up like a bad case of acne. “I’m busy.”

“Heh…busy, right! I’ll bet!” Trevor’s voice rumbled off of linoleum. Only silence from Tom. A mean spirited perverted laugh came from Trevor, not unlike a certain pair of big headed idiots looking to score. “Heh…there are worse chicks to yank it to than Amanda.”

Tom didn’t talk. Trevor was the worst kind of bully. Trevor was the kind that pretended to be your friend, to give you a minute of false hope before making you the butt of his joke. He’d bring in you in for a hug with his left arm so he could sucker punch you with his right.

Best way to deal with bullies like him, Momma had always told Tom, was not to respond. It had never worked…but Tom didn’t see any other viable options. He couldn’t take Trevor in a fight. Trevor was a foot taller and he was wearing his jersey today. “Alright, then.” Trevor finally said. “Whatever.”

Another beat. “Look, I got your backpack. I’ll let everybody in sixth know you’re busy yanking it in here.” He would too. The corners of Tom’s mouth drooped into a desperate, depressed, nearly cartoonish frown. Tom still didn’t speak. He couldn’t right now.

Part of him wished he could at least sing. Even during a sad song, time was kind enough to stop in a musical.

“I’ll leave it here for ya, D-List.” Trevor said. From his spot in the stall, Trevor heard the slight rustling and riffling of thin plastic and a solid thunk as his book bag hit the floor, followed by the creaking of the boys’ room door opening back up. Tom didn’t need to come out of the stall and look around. He already knew that his backpack had been dumped in the trash.

Chatper 2- A Home Away From Hell

Downtown
That’s your home address
Ya live
Downtown
When your life’s a mess
Ya live
Downtown
Where depressions’ just Status Quo
Down on Skid Row

Tom didn’t slam the door when he came home. Slamming the door would have taken too much energy and the door didn’t deserve his wrath, or at least it didn’t merit it as much school did. “Home” in this case was Apartment 27 in Forrest Luxury Apartments.

He wasn’t sure why the Section 8 housing had the name “Luxury” in it; either this part of the slums sucked way less when ground first broke, or somebody had a bizarre and ironic sense of humor. Tom suspected it might be the latter.

Luxurious or not, it was home. Home was a two-bedroom one-bathroom apartment for three people. It was dirty and cluttered and reeked of cheap incense, with a different, grisly type of air that you could feel more than smell. The water heater broke often, and that was when the water could be bothered to run.

Some days Tom felt like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. He was trapped in his own personal skid row, but took a certain dim comfort from it. Apartment 27 of Forrest Luxury Apartments wasn’t the envy of anywhere in Scrumpton, but he was safe and shielded from the Josh Hamlins and Trevor Macintoshes of his sad little world.

It was a shithole. But it was still HIS shithole

Katlynn was in the three-by-five kitchenette, spreading peanut butter on a slice of white bread. Three minutes older and born at 11:58 pm to Tom’s 12:01 am, Katlynn was by the barest of definitions Tom’s “older” twin sister and one of the few people in Tom’s sad little world that he genuinely trusted. It didn’t hurt that they technically had different birthdays. That had been neat early on.

“Missed the bus home?” It was more of a statement, obviously he had, but she was kind enough to phrase it like a question. Before Tom could respond, she sniffed the air. “You smell like piss and cheap cigarettes. Hiding in the boys room again.” This wasn’t phrased as a question. Tom reddened a bit, but there was no point in lying about it. Not here. Not now.

He scratched the back of his neck, due to nervous habit more than an itch. “Yeah…I kinda…it’s…it’s complicated.” Tom had stayed hidden in the bathroom all of 6th period, only digging his backpack out of the trash well after the buses had taken off. It had been a long walk back home, but it was the only way. It’s not like Mary would have bothered to pick him up.

His sister took a bite of peanut buttered bread. “What’s so complicated about getting a boner in front of Amanda and running out of Math class?”

“How did you-?” Tom let the question and his jaw hung in the air.

“We’re twins. Duh.”

Tom twisted his mouth to the side and cocked an eyebrow, incredulous. “Bullshit.” Katlynn looked like an alternate version of Tom, one in which he’d gotten a different set of chromosomes. Same brown hair, worn just a little bit longer past the ear, same soft face and dimple on her chin, same sad eyes. They’d never gone through any kind of “twin telepathy” phase.

It was Katlynn’s turn to scratch the back of her neck. “Cameron told me on the bus,” she said. Then she looked down at the floor. “Loudly.”

Neither spoke for a minute.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No big deal.” It was a lie, but at least it was a kind one. Both of the Dean twins were lithe, thin little things, and neither genetics nor nutrition were in their favor as far as “filling out” went. With tiny breasts (Sister boobs…gross) and less than a hundred pounds of meat on her under five-foot frame, Katlynn had never grown into highschool. Those who didn’t know her often mistook her for a freshman, if not a middle schooler.

Regrettably, societal double standards were still very much a thing in Scrumpton. Katlynn was a small mousy thing, in appearance if not personality; but she was a girl, making her “petite.” Tom had a good half-foot on her and almost fifty pounds, making him the bigger twin, but he was a guy, making him “scrawny.”

Katlynn had a bare handful of friends at school, even if they never hung out after dismissal. Had better grades, too. She was on the verge of actually getting a life outside of this dump; maybe even a date. At this point in their lives, being his sister was harder than being her brother.

She gulped down the last of her bread and leaned over for a hug, laying her head on his shoulder. “Sucks to be you,” she said. Oddly enough, coming from her, it wasn’t an insult.

“Yeah, it does,” he agreed, then looked around. “Where’s Mary?”

Katlynn rolled her eyes. “It’s Friday. Where do you think?”

“Bingo Hall?”

“Bingo Hall.”

This wasn’t a twin thing. Mary Dean was Tom and Katlynn’s mother, though by most societal definitions, she barely fit the mold. A little over eighteen years prior, Mary had gotten knocked up by some jerk who promptly fucked off.

In most stories this would be the part where it’s mentioned that Mary did the best she could with what she had, but certain factors beyond her control prevented her from giving her two beloved children everything they ever wanted or needed to succeed

It is in that spirit and formula of storytelling that the following shall be stated: Mary Dean did the best she could, but she really didn’t give a damn. Possessed of an unidentifiable and therefore incurable disability, Mary hadn’t held down a steady job since her children could remember, instead living off of other people’s charity, government assistance, and a crude but clever workaround for Scrumpton’s anti-gambling laws.

Friday night was Bingo Night, meaning that Mary was living it up with the old and the dying, hoping to score BINGO on as many knick-knacks and useless pieces of junk as possible, all so that she could pack it into her beat up Sebring convertible, drive it home and try to sell it to another crowd at a “garage sale.”

Whatever didn’t get sold inevitably ended up in their home, with Mary’s room in particular being a dragon’s horde of cheap costume jewelry, white elephant Christmas gifts and other garbage that you couldn’t pay a pawn shop to take off your hands.

The twins were allowed (or required) to stay with Mary only because of an overstretched foster care system and that Mary just barely met the requirements for avoiding charges of child neglect. The last few months since their eighteenth birthdays, things had only gotten worse. Now that the twins were no longer “dependents,” Mary’s support checks were greatly diminished. It didn’t help that her children were now the same age as she had been when they were born. Existential midlife crises at thirty-six sucked for all involved.

There was a reason that the twins preferred to think of her as “Mary” instead of “Mom,” the latter word having long left a gritty taste of cognitive dissonance in their mental mouths. She was increasingly talking about the two of them getting jobs so that they could “pull their weight around here.” If she was aware of the irony, Mary never showed it.

It was a hard knock life. Little Orphan Annie had Mrs. Hannigan to deal with. Mrs. Hannigan was a cakewalk compared to Mary Dean.

Tom and Katlynn didn’t have that legendary “twin telepathy” so often depicted in popular media, yet on days like this, when they were alone in the quiet of their apartment, drained from everything life had thrown at them and with only more of the same to look forward to, they both thought the same thing.

I’ve gotta get out of here.

Tom looked around in silence. He sniffed. He really did smell like piss and cigarettes. “I’m gonna go take a shower.”

“Fine, but I get the bed tonight.”

The “younger twin” looked over to the old couch that doubled as their third bed. A pile of rumpled old clothes was strewn out over it. It was anyone’s guess if those were relatively clean clothes plucked from the laundromat and waiting to be folded, or not-quite-dirty-enough-to-toss clothes being gathered for the laundromat and then promptly forgotten. Unlike his mother, Tom was not a gambling man. “No fair!”

“There’s only going to be enough hot water for one shower,” Katlynn said. “You know how much that heater sucks.”

“If I take one now, it’ll be warm enough by the time you go to bed.”

“Then you wait to take a shower.”

Tom scoffed. “Do you even want a shower right now?”

“I don’t want a cold one,” she said.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Both whipped their heads towards the front door. Those three honks only meant one thing: an event atypical this time of day, before the streetlights had clicked on and before pizza delivery places did their best business among the drunk and the stoned.

“What’s she doing home so early?” Katlynn asked.

Tom shrugged. “Maybe she crapped out at Bingo early.”

His sister twisted her mouth sideways and cocked her eyebrow. “How the heck do you crap out at Bingo early? They only call out the numbers so fast, don’t they? It’s not scratch-off.”

Another series of obnoxious honks confirmed that they were not in fact imagining things. Their mother was waiting in the car, signaling for them to come out and help her unload.

A few fumbling steps out into the dusky sunlight, Mary’s beat up old convertible stood silhouetted against the darkening sky. “Hey kids!” Mary waved them over. “Look what I won!”

Tom frowned and looked over to Katlynn. Her expression mirrored his. “Seriously?” it said.

Serious enough, it seemed. “Come on!” Mary shouted. “Are you deaf? Help me unload it! I can’t put the top back up until we get this out!

True enough. Mary normally brought home old busts and boxes of out of fashion clothes piled up in the back seat. The passenger seat, when it wasn’t littered with gas station junk food wrappers, was home to paintings that even Bob Ross would be unimpressed with. Meanwhile, her trunk was persistently packed to the brim with novelty lamps and unwanted As Seen On TV Products that (surprise surprise) worked better on the infomercials.

This afternoon the car held none of that. Taking up the entirely of the back seat, jutting out into the open sky, was an old grandfather clock. “I won this!” Mary proclaimed. “Can you believe this was the first item they had up?”

Once they approached the car and got a better look at the thing, both siblings shook their heads in agreement. They couldn’t believe it either, though not for the reason their mother did. The old grandfather clock’s wood was notched, nicked, and gnarled by a hundred different little uneven cuts; with jagged splinters and pulp forming on the worst spots.

Glittering in the setting sun, the glass door on the front was severely damaged and barely holding itself in one piece. A lightning-bolt-shaped crack jutted down, off-center. Beyond the door, Tom could make out old gears that hadn’t moved in years; the copper rusted green and more than a hint of cobwebs ran to and from the cogs.

The old grandfather clock really should have been put in hospice long ago. “Mary?” Katlynn asked. “Are you sure that you, y’know, won this thing?”

“Of course I did!” Mary said. “Now help me unload this so I can get the top back up. Weatherman says it’s gonna rain tonight.”

“What are we supposed to do with a big ol’ clock?” Tom wondered aloud.

“We’re going to restore it.”
“We?” Katlynn asked.

Shit.

Fuck.

“Restore?” Tom echoed his sister’s misery.

Damn it.

Son of a bitch.

“Just help me get it in.”

Reluctantly, Tom walked around to the backseat, already calculating (guessing, really) the best angle or approach to lug the big rotting paperweight. With the sun at this back, he squinted and ventured a second look at the thing. Didn’t Aladdin talk about there being a diamond in the rough? Hadn’t King Arthur just been a lowly squire?

Wasn’t there at least a little something redeemable in this big box of worthless gears?

Nope.

Probably not.

The only thing that even hinted at the stately grandeur of the old timepiece was an ornately carved word, right above the clock face.

Gently, afraid that too much pressure might cause the wood to collapse at his touch and cause a nest of termites to spring out, Tom traced the letters one at a time, sounding out the strange word in his mind before speaking.

“Malacus?” he said. “What’s a Malacus?”

please show me the Narnia in this story please?

Chapter 3-For Whom The Bell Tolls
“Come with me
And you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination”

“No seriously,” Tom had repeated himself at least a dozen times, “What’s a Malacus?”

“I think it’s the manufacturer,” Katlynn had said.

“I’ve never heard of a clock company called Malacus”

“So you’re a clock expert now?”

That had shut him up. Tom had grunted and groaned and very likely pulled something getting the giant piece of timber and gears out of the convertible. At half past midnight, he’d probably still be dragging it inside (or more likely abandoned it in the complex’s parking lot) if Katlynn hadn’t thought to tie a couple of old skateboards together using a bungee cord.

Sometimes having a packrat hoarder for a mother came in handy, Tom allowed himself the thought. Then again, he refuted himself, if Mary hadn’t possessed the impulse control of a magpie he wouldn’t have to be lugging a useless clock into his already crowded home.

As Tom and Katlynn pushed and grunted the big broken box of rubbish into the apartment, Mary “Supervised”. A word which here meant pointing and clearing the path of paper plates and unwashed shirts so that the clock could be pushed up against the wall nearest the couch and then going to park her car.

Dinner had been the Elvis Special: Peanut butter, Nuttella and sliced bananas, grilled on a skillet greased with butter flavored PAM. No milk, though. Milk always ran out first at home. Tom hated bananas but the peanut butter and chocolate made up the difference. The bananas were at that critical point where the ratio of yellow peel to brown spots was shifting in the spots’ favor; leaving chunks of the inside slick and slimy like bad pudding skin.

The disgusting yellow fruit had to be eaten, though. They’d been on sale, the Deans were in no position to waste food, and the bananas weren’t going to taste any better come the morning.

“Shopping’s tomorrow,” Katlynn had reminded Mary. Friday Night Bingo. Saturday morning shopping, provided the SNAP updated at the first of the month like it should. If not, it’d be all spaghetti, no sauce, tomorrow.

That had all been hours ago. It was dark now. Dark and quiet. Half past midnight according to the digital alarm clock on the coffee table. Tom lied on the couch that served as his bed tonight. The heap of clothes- maybe dirty, maybe clean…Schrodinger’s clothes- were now decidedly dirty.

Tom had tossed them to the floor and the floor meant unclean.

The door to Mary’s room was wide open, as per usual, with Mary’s light kitten-like snoring wafting out into the living room. The door to the spare bedroom that Tom and Katlynn took turns with was closed. His sister was very likely sleeping as well.
Good.

Tom needed to be the only one awake right now; needed to know that he was alone in his thoughts.

He laid there on the lumpy couch; springs too shot to squeak. The couch was the kind of broken down comfortable that came more with familiarity and less with design. The cushions didn’t support whomever laid on them as much as they absorbed the body and sucked in their unsuspecting victim.

Feed me, Seymour! Feeeeed me!

Heh…little couch of horrors.

Good one.

Tom’s back always ached the morning after he’d slept on the couch. He’d often wake up with a crick in his neck that wouldn’t quite go away the entire next day, making him feel like an old man before his time.

It wasn’t any better for Katlynn, he knew, with her constantly needing to stretch and flex her back like a cat that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the morning after she caught twenty winks on the ol’ brown bomber.

The cushions were only part of the problem. The air was hot and humid, too, with the ceiling fan uselessly stirring the air above his head, and adding it’s constant mechanical buzz to the chorus of Mary’s snores.

The spare bedroom had the portable fan in it that Tom could aim right at his head and pass out spread eagle on the mattress. Katlynn was likely doing much the same right now.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Tom shouldn’t have taken that first shower tonight. He’d worked up quite a sweat pushing the old grandfather clock out of the parking lot and into the apartment. His own body odor was starting to get to him, but a cold shower would have ruined his evening’s plans. A real damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t-situation.

Tom thought about Katlynn and almost wished that the two of them were still small enough, innocent enough, to share a bed again.

Almost.

Not tonight.

The young man didn’t want his sister to be present for this. He had unfinished business to attend to. Clad in baggy basketball shorts and nothing else, Tom stared at the alarm clock, working up his courage.

He really shouldn’t be doing this.

At least the goddamn grandfather clock was well placed. The master and the spare bedroom were catty corner to each other. The giant block of chipped wood, cracked glass, and rusted gears was placed to the right of the couch, blocking the immediate view of either door. He’d be able to hear the Katlynn’s door opening or his mother’s heavy footsteps; giving him time to cover up, roll over to his stomach, and pretend to be asleep.

He really shouldn’t be doing this.

With his left hand, Tom pulled open the front waistband of his redneck PJ’s and slid his right hand in. A rational person wouldn’t be doing this right now. After the humiliation in Math class, no amount of mental images concerning Amanda Monroe should hold enough appeal to him to get his rocks off in the middle of the night.

But what eighteen year old dude was ever rational where sex was involved?

To quote Dr. Horrible: “A Man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do. Don’t plan the plan if you can’t follow through. All that matters is taking matters into your own hands.” Tom stopped singing to himself, even in his head. The Whedon brothers had written some catchy songs and Neil Patric Harris was a treasure, but right now Tom’s musical loving brain and his horniness were at cross purposes.

Focus. Find that right balance between quietly tuning out the world and being alert enough to stop if someone walks in. Take a deep breath. Listen for the sounds of snoring, but not TO the sounds of snoring. Listen to the voices within but also be ready to abort at the sound of voices coming from without.

He really shouldn’t be doing this.

Logically, if he was going to masturbate in the here and now, Tom should have at least relocated into the bathroom.

Sit on the toilet.

Rub one out into a wad of toilet paper, flush it, and pretend he’d taken a huge dump.

But the walls of their bathroom were somehow both very thin and very echoey. Every hum, moan, grunt would be amplified and transmitted out to anyone conscious enough to register. Tom didn’t trust himself not to make noise, so better to rely on the whir of the ceiling fan to cover anything up. Bathroom was closer to Katlynn’s room, too, so it would be more likely to wake her in any event.

Last time he’d tried the bathroom, he’d shaken himself so hard he’d accidentally rattled the toilet tank. Nothing to kill the mood like pounding on the door and shouts of “Are you okay?” and having to think of a quick lie. And unless his fantasy was getting a BJ on the toilet, (it wasn’t), something just didn’t feel right about spreading his cheeks on porcelain while he beat the one eyed monster on hard mode. The smell alone in there should bother him, but Tom had long ago gone nose blind to most things in the apartment that weren’t on his immediate person; kind of like how men’s locker room stopped stinking after a few minutes without fresh air.

He shouldn’t be doing this.

He was, though.

Hand closing around his member, Tom laid back, shut his eyes and thought about what he’d seen that afternoon, and what he’d wanted to see happen instead of what did.

Up.

Down.

Up.

Down.

His cock swelled up and engorged itself on blood. Tom was a grower, not a show-er, and he was definitely growing right now. Gripping himself, he played with the pace a little bit with the grip, finding the right balance of rhythm, speed, and tightness around himself. Gotta prep the engine before the motor started running.

Behind his eyelids, he was back in Math class. This time though, no one was around. No Mr. Jordan, or any of the other kids. Just him and Amanda, bent over her desk and wiggling her hips, giving Tom a good peak underneath her cheerleader’s skirt.

The bike shorts were gone this time, replaced with matching colored panties that just barely covered her gorgeous ass. Her gorgeous ass that she was more than willing to let him look at.

From his spot on the couch, Tom thrusted his hips a little bit as he imagined Amanda shaking her butt at him. This time, though, it wasn’t the second nature body movements of a hottie who hadn’t noticed she was being peeped on.

Here it was all on purpose. All for him. Just for him. He shuddered a bit and focused his moan into a breathy sigh instead.

Real Amanda wanted to slap him. Real Amanda probably hated his guts right now, if she thought of him at all. Real Amanda wasn’t here right now. In her place fantasy Amanda looked back over his shoulder and gave him a playful wink.

“Hey, cutie…” she said. Tom didn’t even notice that his lips were moving ever so slightly as Amanda spoke to him, her giggles showing that she was flattered, her low whisper of a voice showing that she was turned on. “Do you like what you see?”

Yeah.

Yeah he did.

No guilt. Not now. Not in this moment. None at all.

From the next row, Cameron leaned out and grinned. “Someone’s enjoying the view,” she said, not a hint of malice or irony in her voice. “I think we can help him enjoy it more.”

Unbidden, Tom’s hand picked up the pace as behind his eyelids, both girls helped him out from his desk and laid him on the classroom floor, unbuckling his pants and marveling at his penis.

The two girls stopped talking to him, and addressed each other, instead. “Math is sooooo boring,” Fantasy Cameron said to her counterpart. Tom was drooling with anticipation, even though he already knew exactly what the two mental constructs were going to say to each other. “Know what would be fun?”

They gave each other a kiss, with imaginary Amanda copping a feel on imaginary Cameron’s boobs. Mean girl had great tits. “That,” Amanda said. Then she looked down at Tom’s throbbing cock. She licked her lips. Meanwhile, on the couch, Tom licked his. “And this…”

She bent over and took him into her mouth. A little bit of pre-ejaculate leaked out in the real world. Tom doubled down and told himself that the slimy sticky stuff was saliva; not his…hers. He took his left hand, less sensitive and less dominant and wormed up the left leg of his pants. In his waking dream, Amanda had reached down and was teasing and tickling his balls while she fellated him.

“Awwww,” Cameron whined. “No room for me.” Then her eyes lit up and a mischievous grin spread out. “Or maybe there is.” She leaned in, lips puckered. Had either of his family members been present, they would have seen Tom on the couch puckering his lips. His right hand shaking like his dick was dice at a high stakes crap table, and his left one playing an invisible piano that was awfully close to his testicles.

They weren’t though. Not as far as Tom was concerned. Tom was miles away.

He savored Cameron’s lips caressing his own while Amanda’s phelated him.

More, Tom thought to himself, willing his subconscious to do his bidding instead of the other way around.

It worked. Cameron broke off the kiss, panting and running her fingers through her pixie cut hair. She looked down at her chest, and then looked up. They both got the same idea at the same time.

Slowly, sensually, while Amanda gobbled his knob and continued shaking her sweet sweet ass, her skirt swishing in the background. Cameron took off her shirt, exposing her perfectly shaped breasts. She wasn’t wearing a bra, because of course she wasn’t. He wanted to touch them, to pinch them, to squeeze them, but for some reason he couldn’t move his hands just then.

He didn’t have to.

“Open up big boy.” Her breasts came at him, one perfectly erect nipple getting ready to pop right into his mouth.

Oh god. Oh god. Oooooooooooh!

Tom yanked both hands out of his pants shivered as he spurted jizz all over the inside of his shorts, his lips curling over his teeth as he clamped his mouth down in a poor attempt to replicate the pressure of a kiss, or the feeling of sucking on a nipple. His fingers curled into the dirty upholstery of the old couch as he soiled himself.

Oh….oh yeah….oooooh….yeah.

Heartbeat slowing in his chest, Tom inhaled and relaxed as his penis pulsated, erupted, leaked and then lost steam and went limp. The wave of ecstacy was soon replaced with an almost reptilian calm.

No shame.

But no excitement, either.

It was the emotional equivalent of glass shattering: Big and loud and shocking…then silence…followed by a kind of “now what?” feeling.

And as his cum started to cool and dry and crust over his curlies, Tom’s eyes started to droop. Just like broken glass, just like everything else in this apartment, he could clean it up later. No one would notice.

Relax now.

Time to sleep.

Time to doze and drift.

Time to…

Time…

Ti…

BONG!

Tom sat up with a start. The fuck?! He looked around. Had someone seen him jerking off? Someone had seen him jerking off! Mary? Katlynn? Who? What? Had a roach or a rat tipped over a plate? Where had the noise come from? Where?!

Tom swung his legs over the side of the couch the bottoms of his feet coming to rest on dirty clothes. He held his breath and listened.

Nothing. Nothing.

Nothing but the mechanical hum of the useless ceiling fan. He strained his ears and could still hear Mary’s rhythmic snoring going on unabated.

Nothing.

No sound of a toilet tank refilling or floorboards creaking. Nothing to imply that Katlynn had been out of the room or was awake. He didn’t dare get off the couch to get a better listen.

What time was it anyways? He looked to the coffee table and saw the old digital alarm clock blinking 12:00.

Great.

Power Surge.

It could be a quarter to one. It could be just before dawn. Either way, Tom was too lazy to bother scrabbling around in the dark looking for the cheap prepaid flip phone to find out for certain.

The noise must have been a dream, the result of an unnecessarily guilty conscience. He hadn’t done anything wrong. It was perfectly natural. If Katlynn saw him masturbating, she’d at least have the good grace to razz him about it privately. Tom smacked his chops a bit and rolled over, burying his face in the back cushions of the couch.

Just a dream.

BONG!

He wasn’t asleep. He’d barely closed his eyes and counted to three. No sound from the spare room. Mary was still snoring. How had that not woken either of them up? The reverberations lingered a bit this time around, the echo swirling around his head a bit; a catchy ear worm that wouldn’t quite leave his conscious thought alone.

Had he really heard the noise? Or had he just imagined he’d heard it?

Tom closed his eyes again.

BONG!

The couch rattled that time! Now he was sure of it. Either the rest of his family had become such deep sleepers that they were dead to the world, or he was completely tripping balls as a result of eating stale peanut butter and fermented banana.

At the very least, he was sure of where the sound was coming from. He stood up off the couch, briefly two inches taller thanks to the laundry and felt his way over to the grandfather clock right by the couch.

It had been coming from the clock. Definitely from the clock. Gingerly, Tom began to feel around the side panels of the broken device, the tips of his fingers running along every little cut that had scarred the once smooth and sanded timepiece.

Carefully, he rapped on the sides with his knuckles, hoping that he’d hear some sort of “BONG” sound. If he could replicate the noise that had awoken him, then he could go back to sleep in peace. Perhaps, he theorized, he’d kicked the side of the clock in his sleep knocking some rusty old cog loose till it clanked down and rang against the bell.
(Grandfather clocks had bells in them right? Or was that cuckoo clocks? Maybe it was just the really big ones like in London.)

He knocked lightly and received a surprisingly muffled thump in reply. Barely a sound at all. Practically nothing. Despite how battered the thing looked and felt, it was surprisingly sturdy. It was more like knocking on a solid stone pillar than a hollow wooden box. A sleep kick wouldn’t have done the trick.

Eyes adjusting to the darkness, Tom was better able to make out the shape of the clock. Just like it had in the sunset, the clock had an almost regal silhouette, moreso in the dark. Tom was no more than a food away from it, and he couldn’t make out all the slashes and splinters that he’d felt a moment ago. If he hadn’t known any better, he wouldn’t have thought it was broken at all.

Maybe Mary could sell this thing at her latest Garage Sale if the garage was very very poorly lit.

Squinting as if that would help in the pitch black, Tom mimed his way to the front of the clock. Careful not to cut his fingers on the cracks of the glass panel, (or worse yet break the glass panel any further), Tom’s fingers closed around the little handle on the left side.

The highschool senior hesitated and swallowed hard. Maybe the deep rattling BONG hadn’t come because of movement outside the clock, but because of something moving inside the clock. What if a wild animal, like an owl or a possum had crawled in there before Mary had won it at Bingo and was only now starting to stir in the dead of night?

What if the moment he opened up the glass panel a bat or a racoon launched itself out and clung to its face?

Nah, that was impossible.

Any varmint or critter that had gotten into there would have started stirring way before now, or else would be making some kind of cry or noise of anger and distress. It was possible, Tom conceded, that the clock could be infested with some form of pest or another, but if it was, it was most likely roaches or mice, and they’d be perfectly at home with all the other vermin around the place.

Probably not though. Tom heard no skittering or squeaking from the clock, and any animal in there would have made SOME kind sound.

Maybe not a snake. FUCK! Now he was thinking about snakes. Why was he doing this to himself?!

Slowly, Tom pulled open the panel door hoping to get himself a looksee, ready to duck in case a swarm of bats mysteriously manifested.

Nothing. Not even a sound. Not from the inside the clock. Not even from the cracked glass door. Well how about that? The one hinge in the entire house that didn’t creak or squeak or groan and it was on the broken door of a broken clock.

Was that irony? Tom wasn’t sure, and it probably didn’t fit the strictest of definitions, but Tom thought it worked pretty well.

The door open, Tom leaned forward, his eyes to the floor, hoping to see the loose gear or fallen bell that had woken him up. Nothing. Only blackness inside. No gears. No bells. Nada. Tom waited for his eyes to adjust a bit more, thinking that any moment now, the darkest parts of the interior would present themselves as tiny little gear outlines giving credence to his sleep disturbed theories.

Nothing.

His eyes had dilated as much as they could and there just wasn’t enough light coming from the hollow compartment to take any objects in. Or there were no gears on the floor. Tom started scraping the carpet with his fingers inching ever outward, feeling for where the floor ended, the clock began, and hoping to find a loose piece of scrap in the process and as he did so. It was there, hunkered over, almost on his hands and knees groping around in the darkness, that he felt something.

It wasn’t strong like the blast from the portable fan in the spare room. Nor was it as weak and impotent as the hot and humid air being stirred around by the overhead fan. It was cool, even.

Was that wind? Wind? From inside an old clock? A fucking breeze? No way.

Jerkily, slowly, as if he was afraid he’d stub his fingers or get caught in some ancient mechanism, he leaned his left hand inward.

When he didn’t touch anything, he kept leaning.

And leaning.

And leaning.

He was left shoulder deep stepping into the cabinet and still hadn’t hit gear or bell or the wood back of the clock. Ducking his head, Tom Dean turned sideways and kept going.

Internal Addendum: He was definitely tripping balls now. There was no way this was real. The good news was, having accepted the unreality of the situation, Tom’s fear evaporated completely. No need to be afraid of something that was only in your head.

“Hold your breath,” Tom whispered, grinning. He was probably still on the couch, dreaming this. “Make a wish.” A dozen crab steps sideways and the path was widening out. He squared his shoulders and kept walking straight ahead. In reality, the clock was still sitting next to the couch, broken and busted. But that didn’t stop the little cogs from turning in his brain. This could be fun. “Count to three.”

“ree…ree…reeeeeeeee.” Tom’s voice greeted him back as a cavernous echo. A wish bouncing back from Snow White’s wishing well in perfect pitch.

Beneath his bare feet, wood gave way to well worn stone. Arms stretched out to either side, Tom walked in the dark, the pathway getting slightly wider every few feet. This tunnel, this cave, was getting bigger and bigger the further he went in.

Soon he was unable to touch both walls at the same time. Time to pick one, the other, or neither. Both wasn’t an option. He leaned with his non-dominant hand outstretched, and drew his right hand up in a protective gesture, just in case this dream had any nasty surprises “Guess I’m going left.”

“Eft. eft. Eft. eft.” The cavern echoed his decision.

There were no twists or turns, no forks in the road in this tarry air as far as he could detect. The only choice he’d made was which wall to lean on, but even that decision, that illusion of choice gave him a deep sense of comfort.

Llittle by little, slowly, he began to see light. It was no light at the end of the tunnel; proverbial or otherwise. No bright white life giving light. No yellow sun to power Superman. It was still life, however. As Tom went deeper and deeper into this cave within a clock, (A clave? A cack, maybe?”) light started to ease his aching eyes.

It came in blue. Tiny little flecks at first, just along the cave edges where the floor and the walls met. Then in blotches on the ceiling. To an entire swathe carpeting the ground. All of it glowing bright electric blue and carrying with it an almost earthy aroma. And what it illuminated was huge!

Stalactites hung from a cave ceiling that was at least fifty feet high. Blue covered stalagmites, covered with the glowing stuff justted up from out of the ground and cast Tom’s shadow across the floor. The sound of dripping water and Tom’s own breathing filled the section of cave he was in. Not that it was saying much but this place was bigger than his apartment!

Leaving the safety of the far wall, Tom walked to a nearby stalagmite and took a closer look at the glowing blue stuff. Every foot fall along the electric blue floor made shocks of light ripple out from his steps. Carefully, Tom scooped a swatch of the stuff with two fingers from the nearest rock and perhaps unwisely, took a sniff.

This stuff smelled like pool water…really bad pool water that hadn’t been cleaned. Algae, Tom realized. Glowing algae. This was impossible. Algae like this only glowed in the ocean, far, far away from Scumpton, Georgia.

What was farther away from Scrumpton than his own dreams?
Satisfied with his own explanation, Tom wandered about the glowing cave. Taking in the sights and sounds, he paced along the glowing blue walls, looking for a way to advance. At first there didn’t seem to be one. “Not much of a cave.”

“Ave…ave…ave…”

“No way through.”

“Oooo…oooo…ooooo.”

If that was true, Tom thought, then where was the sound of dripping water coming from? Where was the life’s blood for the electric blue algae coating everything?”

The answer was found on the far wall, behind a stalagmite.“Correction”

“Ection….ection…ection…”

The tunnel continued it seemed, though judging by the size of the hole in the rock face, it was almost as small as the passage near the beginning of the clock. Just above, the hole, a name was traced in the algie, fingers scratching it so deep that only bare rock surface remained, the hollow spots forming dull rock colored letters on living electric blue canvas.

It read: “Charles Watson.”

“Huh,” Tom said. “I’m not the only one who’s been here.”

“Ere…ere…ere…”

Plip. Plip. Plip. Plop. Plop. Plip. Plip. Plop.

“Dripping,” Tom said to himself.

When you were alone, and no one was around to hear your thoughts, it felt better to speak them aloud. Given enough time, Tom might even attempt to break out into song. The acoustics of this place were so great that even Thomas Dean might be able to carry a tune. Wouldn’t be funny if he were sleepwalking and this was the bathroom, the leaky shower head adding to the soundtrack of his fantasies?

“Ipping, ipping ipping ipping” the cave answered back.

As if taking it for an invitation, Tom stooped down, turned sideways, and plunged back into the darkness.

Plip. Plip. Plop. Plop. Plip. Plip. The dripping got louder and intensified. Tom realized the water was rising up the deeper he went. It was up to his ankles now.
WSSSSHHHHHHHHHH

The dripping had stopped, supplanted with a steady growl. The scrawny boy of a man inhaled, the scent of water getting stronger, palpable even. “That means something,” he said. “That means there’s water-”

Falling!

The scream didn’t even leave his throat before he hit water. Drowning! Drowning! Water over his head! Water pounding down on him. This made no sense! He had been shuffling along, one hand against the wall, and listening for the sound of running water, but then his foot came down on nothing but air and now he was all wet and couldn’t breathe. He hoped this didn’t mean he’d wet the bed in real life.

Strong arms grabbed him by the wrist and pulled Tom upward. Reflexively he gasped, coughing and choking as his body was dragged onto the grass. Eyes blurry from water, he slammed them shut in pain.

LIGHT! SUNLIGHT! Sunlight blaring down on his poor eyes even though it couldn’t have been dawn just yet!

He vomited up some water onto the grass beneath him. When his vision cleared, he stared out all around him. Instead of a cave, he was now surrounded by trees, a lush endless forest. The kind that only still existed in storybooks.

“Where in the hell am I?” Tom heard himself say, his voice disappearing into the endless forest in front of him.

From his spot on the ground, Tom heard and felt hoofbeats. He looked up. Standing over him on four powerful horse like hooves but with an upper torso of a body builder, stood a centaur, its…his arm hair still damp from where he’d dragged the boy out of the water.

“Malacus, M’lord,” The centaur said. “You’re in Malacus. And we’ve been waiting for ye.”

Chapter 4. Not His Story…

Gentle Reader,

Late at night, far away from the inside of a certain clock, Charlie Watson slept in his crib. Dreaming. Who knows what he was dreaming about? It could have been about a young man going on an unusual journey and meeting a centaur. Or it could have been about the mashed potatoes his mommy had made and spoon fed him for dinner. Who’s to say?

Absentmindedly, Charlie reached for his pacifier, dangling on the clip to his jammies and stuck it in his mouth. The boy wasn’t conscious of this. His body had long ago trained itself and the self-soothing behavior was more akin to sleep walking than anything requiring true mental effort. Still, some nights his body preferred his thumb, instead.

A rumble through the lad’s tummy made Charlie groan behind his pacifier, his hands balling up into tiny fists. His legs started to lift up off the waterproof mattress, scrunching up to his stomach so that he could clear its contents out. If his mother was still awake, she might hear him gurgling and grunting.

His diaper was already wet. He’d been put to bed dry, but that never lasted more than an hour or two, at most. Charlie always woke up wet. Tomorrow, he’d wake up messy and be perfectly surprised; though perhaps “surprise” is a bit of an overstatement. He tended to be awake when he made boom-booms, but it wasn’t unheard of for him to poop in the middle of the night.

The mass left and came out solid enough, quickly filling up the back portion in his Pampers Overnights. It spread a little bit afterwards, but not much. The diaper was still doing its job well. This was almost exactly the scenario that the good people at Proctor and Gamble had designed their diapers for.

Almost.

The stool out of the way, his bladder let loose again, ensuring that his pelvis was thoroughly wet and completely warmed. One more load into it from either direction, and Mommy would have to wash his jammies and bed sheets.

There’d probably be the usual talk from Mommy about switching him to cloth diapers and plastic pants, but that was all talk. Mommy had said it plenty of times over the years, but had never followed through. Probably because doing the wash was doing the wash. Disposable was a gamble. Cloth was a guarantee. Mommy hated doing the wash.

Charlie didn’t care about that, though. He technically didn’t know that anything had happened. His body did, however. As his legs lowered back down to the pillowless mattress, further spreading and flattening the mess, Charlie’s penis started to stiffen and chafe oh so wonderfully against the saturated padding inside his sleeper.

Charlie would never say the comparison out loud, but a wet enough diaper practically felt like a pocket pussy. One of Charlie’s hands unclenched and traveled down below his waist. Whatever Charlie was dreaming about, it now involved rubbing himself through his sodden Pampers.

Charlie pooped himself in his sleep and was now masturbating in his own filth. And in his sleep, Charlie smiled.

But that’s enough about Charlie for now, Gentle Reader.

This isn’t really Charlie’s story.

Not yet.

Chapter 5: Malacus

“A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us, “No”
Or where to go
Or say we’re only dreaming”

“The fuck is Malacus?”

The centaur spoke. “Malacus is here, m’lord.” Damn thing could actually talk! Thomas Dean looked up at the centaur and managed to power himself up to all fours before vomiting out more pond water. A little pool was starting form at the centaur’s feet, causing it (him?) to take a few clomping steps backward.

Still gasping and sputtering, Tom looked up at the thing standing on all fours in front of him. It wasn’t a proper centaur like in the story books. Deer antlers sprouted out from a human head full of long shoulder length black hair. The matching beard was long, too, but not quite Santa-Claus-ZZ-Top-Dumbledore-Fuck-Off length. It’s pelt was black but a shade lighter than it’s human hair.

Its beard didn’t strike Tom as odd, but Centaurs were supposed to be part human, part horse. Not deer. The hooves definitely resembled a Clydesdale or some big warhorse than any dainty woodland critter on the run from wolves. Tom didn’t need an A in biology to know that horses didn’t typically have giant scorpion tails arching up over their shoulders. This was more like on some metal band’s art on their demo album than a real centaur.

Tom snorted at his own absurd thoughts. Real centaurs.

“M’Lord?” It…the centaur…he seemed worried.

What did you do when an impossible myth was inquiring after your well being? Talk to it, Tom guessed.“ You’re,” he paused for breath,“Malacus?”

Antlers and hair shook in the air in an oddly animal refutation. All jerky. “Nay,” the centaur said. “Malacus is here. It is the ground you lay upon; the air you breathe. The water you’ve expelled from your lungs and stomach. That is Malacus, m’lord.”

Tom grinned. “Heh…heh…nay…” This still wasn’t real.

“Is something amusing, m’lord?” The centaur frowned.

“Besides you calling me ‘m’lord’, yeah.” Tom wheezed and laughed. “You just said ‘nay’ and you’re part horse.”

“Methinks ye had too much water from the Mana Pool, m’lord.” A hairy muscular arm reached down and offered Tom a hand up. The young man accepted and was yanked to his feet as easily as if he were a ragdoll.

Tom let out a yelp and then steadied himself, barefoot in the grass. Now was not the time to be asking stupid questions. He’d seen enough shows and read enough books to know all the basic tropes of a high fantasy world. Besides, he was dreaming. That meant he already knew the all the answers.

Dripping he turned around and pointed at the dark blue pond he’d been yanked from. “Mana Pool?”

The centaur nodded. It was jerkier. More animalistic than a human nod. Kind of like when a horse counted with its hooves. “Aye, m’lord.”

“Soooo….magic portal type thing? Links your world and Earth Realm?”

“Earth Realm?” The centaur seemed confused. “The Land of Men is now called Earth Realm?”

“Uh…yeah,” Tom said. “It’s definitely Earth Realm.” Earth Realm sounded so much cooler than ‘The Land of Men’. It was Tom’s brain. Tom’s dream. He could call Scrumpton, Georgia any damn thing he wanted.

The horse-dear-scorpion-man snorted. “Very well, M’lord. Earth Realm.” He still seemed a little off put. “I forgot how differently time moves in…Earth Realm. And how quick humans are to change the names of even ancient things.” Then he added, “And aye, the Mana Pool connects our two worlds.”

Tom couldn’t stop smirking. “And you’re a centaur? Really a centaur?”

“That is what the two legged folk call us.” The centaur stood up a little straighter, crossing his arms. Proud, but not indignant.

Tom took the bait. “What do you call yourselves?”
“Two legged folk can’t pronounce it,” the man with the horse half said. “You don’t have the hooves.” He smirked. “Or the glands. Centaur is fine, m’lord.”

The high school senior took a step closer to the centaur. There was something familiar about this fantasy creature. “You know,” he said, “you kind of look like Mr. Jordan.”

“Mr. Jordan?”

“My math teacher.”

“How so, m’lord?”

“If you didn’t have the horns, you’d look exactly like him.” Tom said. “Or the long hair. Or the beard. Or the tail. Or the horse body, of course.” Tom wiggled his ears a bit. There was a bit of a scottish lilt in the creature’s speech. “Different accent, too.”

The centaur snorted. “So if almost everything was different about me, m’lord, I’d be like your numbers instructor?”

“Aye.” Tom laughed at himself. “I mean yes.” The centaur waited. A hint of indignation on his face. “What’s your name, anyway?”

Like the parent of a child that just remembered his manners, the centaur seemed please. His facial features softened. “Equestrinox m’lord.”

Equestrinox. A play on equestrian. “Niiiiiice!”

“I think so.”

“Okay, Equestrinox,” Tom said. “I’m Tom.” He held out his hand. Equestrinox gripped it by the wrist. “Nice to meet you.”

“An honor, m’lord.”

They released each other’s wrists. Truth be told, it was closer to Tom running out of strength and giving up, and the burly centaur reading Tom’s body language. “May I call you Nox?”

“Most two legged folk do.”

It was Tom’s dream. He could call the weird ass centaur whatever he wanted. But Equistrinox sounded okay. Nox sounded badass. Good thing his dream was being so agreeable. Tom really needed a good dream after the shit day he’d been through.
Back to worldbuilding:

He pointed back at the pond. “So, Mana Pool. Right?”

“Aye, m’lord.”

“Gateway between two worlds?”

“Aye, m’lord.”

Tom pointed past the centaur to the dense forest behind him. “Enchanted forest?”

“The Wandering Woods, m’lord.”

Tom wracked his sleep addled brain for his geek credentials. Musicals weren’t the only things that made him a social outcast back in Scrumpton. “It teleports? Vanishes? What makes it wandering?”

Nox pouted out his lips a bit. “We’re on the back of a giant sky turtle, m’lord. We’re going to have to race to the head to convince it to land.” He might as well have said, “There’s a slight chance that it’ll rain today, m’lord. But I brought an umbrella for our picnic.”

Tom’s smile was a full on idiotic grin. Kickass! “And am I like the chosen one?” Tom asked, already knowing full well the answer. “Something something foretold something something?”

A shaggy eyebrow cocked. “Aye, m’lord. It is said that whenever Malacus is in peril from the forces of darkness, a human arises from the Mana Pool to conquer that evil and save the land.”

The scrawny little dork pumped his elbows. “Bad ass!”

“Indeed.” Nox said. His brow furrowed in thought. “Excuse my impertinence, m’lord, but where do you come by such insight?”

Tom’s heart skipped a beat. Don’t tell the dream creature that this is your dream. Don’t tell the dream creature that this is your dream. Mustn’t let the horse-dear-scorpion-math teacher-thing think you’re razy. “Uhhh…aren’t humans revered in Malachi-?”

“Malacus.”

“Malacus…for their wisdom and insight?”

The centaur stifled a laugh. “Humans are revered in our legends for many things, m’lord Tom. But wisdom isn’t one of them.” He turned around and lowered his monstrous tail. “Now come,” Nox said. “Hop on and we’ll be on our way. We’ve got to get off this sky turtle and procure you some suitable vestments. THEN your quest can begin in earnest.”

With no saddle or step ladder, Tom had to be helped onto the centaur’s back. A single powerful bicep curl was all it took. It was like a strange piggy back ride from when he was a kid.

The centaur started trotting into and Tom wrapped his arms around Nox’s gigantic chest for balance. Tom looked around the forest, birds and squirrel-like animals darting from tree to tree. “Narnia,” Tom said, amazed. “I’ve got my own Narnia!”

Nox looked over his shoulder and Tom could see a frown of confusion. “I beg your pardon m’lord,” he said. “But to use your own particular human parlance: The fuck is Narnia?”

Chapter 6: Meanwhile, on “Earth Realm”

Katlynn was not in Malacus. Just as her twin brother had suspected and hoped, she lay sleeping peacefully on the old mattress bed, portable fan blasting right at her head, as she lay spread eagle.

No blankets were on the bed. it was still too hot for that. No sheets either. Just the bare mattress and bare pillow. This was more a matter of lethargy, laziness, and limited resources. What was the point in making a bed if it was going to get messed up again anyways?

That made the mattress filthy, but like every other thing in the Dean home, Katlynn had gone blind to it. Slumming it was default. Dirty was only really dirty if the smell followed her out of the house. All clothing had to fail the sniff test before it went into the wash, no matter how many times it’d been worn.

Neither she nor Tommy noticed or talked about the light stain left over from years ago when she had her first period. Nor the booger wall from when Tommy went through his nose picking phase. She suspected that when a sock was left by the bedside after one of Tommy’s nights it meant that he’d done more than sleep, but that was something best not thought about.

She definitely wasn’t thinking about it now. If she was dreaming about anything, it was the coming morning and how she was going to get Mary to take them grocery shopping for the month.
Some people counted sheep. Katlynn Dean counted groceries.

The loud BONG did not cause her to stir the first time. Nor the second, nor the third. It can’t really be said if the noise was a physical noise that could be heard by the human ear at all.

Whether she could hear the noise or not is a matter of debate and as Tom went on his little adventure inside the clock, the noise ceased to matter so much, having served its intended purpose.

What mattered now was the tendrils of mist that were starting to creep over her. From out the broken heap of a grandfather clock, a thick fog billowed out spreading to every corner of the house. Under doorways and up the walls, the stuff slithered and skittered like a swarm of spiders. Curiously, none of it wafted into the air.

A standing person might be ankle deep, at best. Laying down as she was, Katlynn had the unusual, seemingly sentient fog crawling over her. Entering her nose. Soothing her lungs. Caressing and cooling her skin.

If she’d been awake, except for the anesthetic coolness of it all, Katlynn might think her home was burning down. She might scream for Mary and Tom and run for her life, buck ass naked into the parking lot calling for neighbors to dial 9-1-1. The high school senior wasn’t awake, however. Like a house fire, this smokey substance only made the girl go into a deeper sleep, impossible to stir.

Good. The mist coming through the clock did it’s best work when no one was looking. Centuries ago, it’s exploits in aiding a failing cobbler were attributed to little helper elves. If quasi-sentient smoke could scoff, it would have.

As if elves could ever be particularly helpful, those pointy eared little charlatans.

Never mind elves. Cleaning was first.

It was less of a scrubbing, what the mist did, and more of a rejuvenation. Paint unpeeled. Odors un stank. Dirt was not washed away from the piles and piles of clothes scattered around the house as much as it was…undirtied.

A certain aforementioned mattress stain ceased to exist. Certain socks become soft and uncrusted. The smell of piss and cigarettes vanished from Tom’s discarded clothes.

Next came reorganizing. Clothes were folded and lifted up on ivory tendrils into delicate stacks. Long empty and neglected dresser drawers, now in mint condition were filled with shirts, shorts, socks, and unmentionables, each with their different drawer. Drawers were itemized but not anally so. Socks and underwear were still bunched up. Dress shirts and slacks found themselves on previously empty hangers and junk piled up for years in spare closets found other, perhaps more decorative piles to join.

A few shirts, last night’s laundry, were stacked on the coffee table. A manageable handful of clothes were made not quite perfect but decidedly less scuzzy and found their way to a laundry basket by the door, just to give it that sense of normalcy.

Without moving her, just patiently waiting for her to roll over, Katlynn’s smoke soaked bed seemed to make itself, slipping a fitted sheet under her as she rolled one way and then a next.

A light sheet, less for insulation and warmth and more for the tactile sensation draped itself over her. The slight added weight would increase the girl’s serotonin levels. She’d sleep better. The portable fan was left blessedly undisturbed

Lastly, the mist traveled to the tiny little kitchenette area. The mice and roaches that scrabbled in the dark corners had a sudden urge to find new places to live in, and every crumb, food and grease stain became a forgotten memory. Come sunrise, when the Deans woke up, they’d find milk in their refrigerator, as well as some bread and lunchmeats.

The meat and the milk would be old and need to be eaten that day lest it spoil, but it would be filling. They’d still need to go shopping, but the SNAP card would have a little extra funds on it so that Mary could buy something nice, an inexpensive dessert to go with dinner that night.

They’d still be dirt poor. But things wouldn’t be quite so dirty or desperate. Their house would still be cluttered with their mother’s useless knick knacks, but it would be more charmingly disorganized than an indoor garbage heap.

Satisfied with its work, the mist billowed back inside the old clock, now seemingly in a ever so slightly better condition. It was still a broken down old grandfather clock…but it seemed nicer; the wood a little less chipped, the crack in the glass a bit shorter.

Were Katlynn awake she might have noticed all of this and gone mad. Thankfully, for her own sanity, she wasn’t awake. And the mist had soaked up inside her, too. Come the sunrise, she would awaken, and see her cleaner, nicer home, and remember it as always being so. Humble. Yet homely. Far less hellish.

That was a trick the mist hadn’t had centuries ago. That’s why those dirty elves had gotten all that undeserved credit.

BONG!

Chapter 7-Power Dynamics

It’s a Revenge Party,
A party that ends with somebody’s head on a spike!
It’s a Revenge Party with your two best friends,
A party with revenge is what it’s like!

The Halls of the Dwarven Kingdom inside Forge Mountain rang out with the sound of falling hammers on hot steel as sheets of metal were folded and refolded onto themselves with the perfect combination of hardy enthusiasm and nigh immortal patience that no other race could hope to harness. It would be more feasible for a gnome to bottle lightning twice than to craft something that rivaled Dwarven Steel. Not even the mightiest of Minotaurs when their bloodlust was fully stoked could shatter a shield forged by one of the dwarves.

Tom Dean knew all of this before walking in. Nox the not-quite-centaur told him much of it, and Tom was able to guess the rest before the magical beast with his Math teacher’s face was able to finish some of his sentences. It was Tom’s dream, so it made sense. Everything his four hooved guide told him was really just a roundabout way of the Tom talking to himself.

He dismounted from the clydesdale half of his Math teacher, and with all the confidence he could muster (a surprising amount, in fact) he pushed through the heavy double doors clad only in his basketball shorts.

The young man had imagined many things, but Forge Mountain surprised even him. One part mead hall, and one part medieval metalworks, the enormousness of the giant hall caused Tom to actually second guess himself. Could he really imagine something this…this…grand?

This wasn’t Broadway, this was the giant blockbuster Hollywood adaptation that threw money for maximum mainstream appeal and all the hipsters online would talk about how the original cast was better…unless the original cast had been invited to reprise their roles.

The air itself vibrated with each pounding of hammer on steel and the heat radiated through the great hall. The heat shot out and engulfed Tom, his sweat evaporating the second it exited his pours; the aroma mixing with the smell of hot goals and alcohol.

Deep rumbling voices sang out in a foreign language that Tom couldn’t possibly understand, the hammers keeping time. Voices joined in and added to the growing multitudes, pausing only to drink from flagons of ale that threatened to burst into flames if things got much hotter.

The idea that never in someone’s wildest dreams could something happen is an overused trope when describing the magnitude or detail of an event. Yet in this case, it was the only thing that could aptly describe Tom’s awe. He considered himself reasonably imaginative, but he would never have thought of the ornate runes carved within the very walls themselves.

The writing wasn’t gibberish, just in a pattern that Tom had no way of decoding. If this was all in his head, though, wouldn’t Tom be able to assign meaning to it? Some of it? A little of it? Any of it?

For the first time, Tom was beginning to wonder if he was actually dreaming.

The noise; the motion; the drinking songs and clacking of giant mugs of ale; the war chants and the hammering of hammers on anvils: All of that stopped within a minute of Tom’s arrival as the inhabitants of this land turned their heads and realized who, or rather what they were looking at.

“A man.”

“A child of Seth.”

“A warrior of prophecy!”

A throng of stout muscular warriors swarmed up on Tom, reaching over each other and muscling past one another to get a closer look. The only thing that kept them at bay was a rather large scorpion tail looming just behind the high schooler. Was this what it was like to be popular?

One of the dwarves, an old one based on his snow white beard shoved his way to the front. The dwarves weren’t as short as Tom thought they’d be. Tom was scrawny for someone his age due to malnutrition, but he thought he’d at least have a foot on these people.

The assembled smiths and warriors were all around the same height as him, however only their proportions were off: they had wider shoulders and bulkier, if not more muscular physiques with fists the size of Tom’s head and Popeye sized arms to hold them up. They were closer to tiny gorillas in armor than jolly craftsmen that sang “Hi-Ho”.

“It is true then,” the old dwarf said. Tom didn’t need to look back to know that his new The hour is at its darkest, then, if someone from the Land of Men” is here.

“They call it Earth Realm, now,” Nox corrected what must be the leader.

A bushy eyebrow cocked. “Really? How times change, then.” Giant fists the size of butcher’s hams played with a beard that tumbled past the creature’s beltline.

Tom looked back up to Nox. Nox crossed his arms and looked down at the dwarves, expectantly. “And yet they stay the same.”

The old dwarf took a knee and bowed his head. The assembled throng of stout, boxy artificers followed suit. “Child of man. Descendant of Seth. Mortal Savior and Destroyer of Worlds. The fate of all of Malacus is in your hands. What say ye?”

“Um…Tom.”

The old dwarf looked up. “I beg your pardon, m’lord?’

“My name is Tom.”

“The fate of all of Malacus is in your hands. What say ye, m’lord Tom?”

Heart rocketing in his chest, Tom breathed deep. This was stupid. This was stupid. This was awesome. He was getting to be the hero. He was getting to be the team captain.

Better than team captain! He was getting picked FIRST! He was wanted! He was valued! Even when he dreamed he couldn’t remember feeling this important. This wasn’t a dream. It was real.

It was very, very real. He didn’t understand it but that didn’t make it any less real.

Tom wasn’t asleep then, he knew. He’d walked through that old clock and into a very-real fantasy world where for some reason he was special. He was special and important and revered.

How could he not help this place? It was everything he ever wanted.

A voice from the crowd called out. “NO!” A single figure stood up from the bowed masses. “THAT IS NOT A MAN!”

Stepping through the masses a single dwarf trudged through. “That is no man! Where is the meat on his bones! Where is the hair on his skin?! This is no man! THIS! THIS IS AN ELF!”

Tom felt his hands curling into fists. It was the asshole dwarf’s voice that triggered him. His face and body were stretched out and distorted, but he’d heard that exact voice not even a day ago when he was crying in the boy’s bathroom. Trevor Macintosh.

“SEE?!” The Trevor dwarf thundered. “He does not even deny it! He is an elf sent to pose as a man and doom us all!” The dwarf’s finger was half the girth of Tom’s wrist. “ELF!”

It was Nox that spoke up first. “Nay,” he spoke. “I saw him swim up from the Mana Pool myself, there on the back of the flying sky turtle.”

“Elves can swim!” Trevor the dwarf argued. “You have been deceived! You have all been deceived!”

Tom’s nose wrinkled. This was his classmate in mythical form, alright. No wit. Just bluster. This might have been a dream, Tom thought, but even if it was, he felt something inside him bubbling to the surface. The confidence for him to speak for himself. “I’m not an elf, dingus. Look at my ears!” Tom pointed. He looked behind him to Nox. “Elves have pointy ears, yeah?” The centaur nodded. “Yeah! See?”

A cruel, stupid laugh bellowed out of the dwarf. “Elves are tricksy things. Ye could have shaved your ears.”

Speaking of shave: “Why don’t you have a beard?” Tom asked. A mixture of groans and chuckles wafted from the crowd of dwarves who had taken a knee. A few, Tom noticed, were even hiding laughter behind their hands.

They weren’t laughing at him, either. Tom could tell. He recognized the look of shame and panic on Trev-dwarf’s face; watched it twist and mutate it anger as a cover up.

A dagger that could have doubled for a meat cleaver was now in the dwarf’s hand. This was new. Not “good new”, either. Trevor Macintosh had never pulled a knife at school. Even he wasn’t that stupid. “The only way to know an elf for what it is is to shed their violet blood!”

There was a murmur among the assembled. Uh-oh. It wasn’t a musical, but Tom was well aware of

Tom held his hands up to his chest, palms out in a non-threatening gesture. “Easy there, Trevor…I don’t wanna…”

“I AM HOLFRED LEADSHOULDER, IMPOSTOR! AND YOU WILL DIE WITH MY NAME ON YOUR ELVEN LIPS!”

“What…?”

“SHOW US YOUR BLOOD, ELF COWARD!”
What happened next Tom couldn’t control. He meant to flinch, to cower as the steel blade flashed through the air and into his gut. But the slightest jerk of panic sent his body twisting and whirling away from the dagger thrust at him. His shove…he couldn’t even call it a shove…it was closer to a pansy slap…wouldn’t have even registered to the real Trevor.

Instead, Dwarf Trevor Macintosh…Holfred Leadshoulder…whatever…went sailing through the air like he was being shot out of a canon. The walls shook as the beardless gorilla man collided with the far end of the main chamber.

“Ye need not see his blood to know he is a man,” Nox said. “The air of Malacus itself empowers him; strengthens him.”

Dream? Fantasy? Nightmare? Tom didn’t know; didn’t want to know. He just knew that he had finally knocked someone’s block off. And he locked it. “I’ve never hit anybody before. I’m not that strong in real life.” The dwarves grumbled in confusion. “I mean in um…Earth Realm. I’m barely a man; just a kid.”

The old dwarf rose and put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Here, m’lord, in Malacus, you are a god.”

Tom jumped; not even jump-jumped, just put a slight spring in his step and sent himself flying over the dwarves’ collective heads. It was easy. With just a little bit of effort, the other side of the great chamber was a literal hop away.

There amongst the heat of still burning forges, Tom saw the crumpled form of Holfred Leadshoulder: Beardless dwarf and disproportionate asshole with the face and voice of one of Tom’s bullies. A low groan came out of him.

Every dark fantasy that Tom had of getting even rose to the front of his mind. He could destroy this weak warped little man with a flick. Cave his skull in. Tom considered it. Really thought about it.

From everything he’d heard, he was supposed to be the hero. So he reached out, just as Nox had, grabbed the dwarf by the arm and hoisted him to his feat. “Are you okay?”

“Aye…aye lad…I…I…” Leadshoulder’s vision seemed to clear and he realized. A look of pure terror flashed in the boxy little man’s eyes and he took a knee, averting his gaze. “Forgive me, m’lord. I did not know.”

“It’s fine,” Tom said. “Just…just shot up before I punch you.” Tom took a little sadistic glee at the look of pure horror in the dwarf’s face. It was only a little bit of glee, but still… “Now stand up,” he ordered He turned around and shouted at the dwarves. “Everybody, stand up! I’m a man-god-thing-hero; not a king! Quit kneeling and shit!” Reluctantly, the dwarves stood, reflexively. “Now will you answer my question?”

The dwarf didn’t answer. “Oh come on! I didn’t mean what I said about punching…” Leadshoulder or whatever his name was, just continued averting his eyes.

“What question is that, m’lord?” the old dwarf asked, having closed the distances again.

“Why doesn’t he have a beard? Everybody else does.”

“He has neither slain a foe in battle, nor forged his masterwork. He has not yet earned his beard.”

It was said as if Tom should have already known it. Fortunately, Tom had faked enough book reports. “Ah. I see.” They stood in great hall, doing nothing. No one seeming to know what to do next. This is why Superman flew off after he rescued people. “So Nox,” Tom asked the centaur, “didn’t you say something about getting me more suitable um…vestments?”

The dwarves snapped to attention. “The armor!” the elder dwarf said. “Of course! How could I forget the armor? Stations! Stations!” Tom was left to wait and watch as the dwarves scattered to their anvils and began hammering, a scattered discordant noise that quickly reached a steady tempo. Only the unbearded dwarf was left out.

Low and hearty voices rang out between the hammer blows, each voice joining in with the others. They were harmonizing. They were tuning. What was going on. The world around Tom went dark as the fires of each black smith’s forge glowed hot red.

Tom looked at a nearby forge. There was nothing on it. No steel or casing or hot metal at all. He was far from an expert, but shouldn’t these boxy bearded men be hitting something besides the anvils? Tom looked up to Nox, the only person not standing by a medieval forge. “Why are they singing?”

“How else would they craft your armor?” A magical realm of people who crafted badass weaponry through song. Tom really was home.

They sang out pounding the anvils, singing in their deep and alien language. This time though, Tom could understand it. It was a kind of knowing without knowing.

We craft this for him who comes
Unfortunate son of a wayward land
A shield to ward off battle scars
An iron gauntlet for a gentle hand.

A hardened helm for purest mind
Unbroken plate for a mighty heart
And sturdy boots to encase his feet
When feats accomplished must he depart.

And that’s when the molten steel began to flow, out of the forge onto the anvils, liquid metal made animate and flowing out into the air. It did not stay on the anvils long, though. As the dwarves repeated their chorus, the lava-like stuff flowed off of the anvils and onto the great feasting table in the middle of the room.

It formed and shaped itself into helm and plate and gauntlet and boots, with the runes from the walls leaping off the inside of the mountain and re-engraving themselves onto the armor as it cooled. When the song came to an end and the last of the smoke had cleared leaving the armor gleaming like silver, the dwarves gathered round the feasting table and Tom climbed up to marvel at the miracle that had unfolded before his very eyes.

There was just one problem: “That’s not gonna fit me.”

“M’lord,” the elder dwarf said, “we made it to the exact specifications handed down through generations of dwarven song crafters.”

The shoulders were too wide and the chest piece was the size of a hobo barrel. The helm was too big. He wouldn’t be able to bend his knees if he slipped his feet into the metal boots. Unless he gained a couple feet and a hundred pounds of pure muscle, he wasn’t filling this thing out. “This isn’t armor,” Tom said. “It’s bad cosplay. It’s a five year old putting on his dad’s shoes…”

“But…but…” the head dwarf stammered. “It’s tradition. It’s prophesized…”
“Let me try.” The dwarf with Trevor’s face called out and climbed on the table with Tom. “I can fix it.” His eyes were hopeful. Apologetic. Desperate. A kind of depth of emotions that the real Trevor had never shown Tom. “Please…”

The elder dwarf was scrambling up after him. “M’lord Tom, don’t!” he cried out. “He tried to shed your blood! Don’t let his treacherous voice be added to your song!”

Tom looked down at the other smiths from his perch on the table. Then he looked to the elder. “Yeah?” he said. “And I kicked his ass. I say that makes us even. Let him try. Give him a chance.”

The old bearded gorilla nodded and stepped down, leaving Tom and Trevor’s not exactly doppelganger alone on the makeshift stage. “Thank you, m’lord,” whispered the distorted bully.

“Yeah…well…um…just…I dunno…do something good with it, I guess.”

One giant palm went on the chestplate of the armor. The other one was on Tom’s chest. Even though he’d just knocked this guy across the room with the flick of his wrist, a tiny part of Tom was still intimidated. Apparently he had super strength, but what if that dagger had connected? Was he invulnerable?

Probably not. Ceremonial or not, invulnerable people didn’t need armor.

The phrase from out the lone dwarf’s throat was low, quiet and drawn out. Tom couldn’t understand it as easily as he he had the old dwarven hymn for some reason, but from the tone and the tears in his eyes, the meaning was clear:

“I’m sorry. I misjudged you. Forgive me.”

The armor reverted back to a quicksilver consistency, flowing and slithering over the dwarf’s stocky frame before sliding over to Tom’s scrawny frame. He closed his eyes and felt it crawl over him, oozing and dripping into place; like being dunked in pig fat. (Though he preferred not to remember that terrible afternoon in the 4H club a few years ago.)

“Let me protect you. Let me help. I can be better.”

He didn’t feel the armor harden and take shape as much as he felt it stop moving, the warmth draining out of it into a kind of icy cold. The single low and quiet song ended, and Tom opened his eyes.

He looked over himself. It fit perfectly. Damnit. He looked slender now, not scrawny, and his armor fit him like a second skin. “Well Leadshoulder,” Tom said. “I think you just earned your beard.”

The look of relief and gratitude on not-Trevors face was immense. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tom unlocked an old memory of second grade, when he’d helped Trevor study for a spelling test. Little, Trevor had had the same look when he had spelled all the silent e’s correctly.

“So,” Tom said. “I’m a badass. I’ve got badass armor. When do we rumble?”

The assembled fantasy creatures frowned in confusion. “M’lord?” It was Leadshoulder who’d voiced their thoughts. “We don’t understand your strange tongue.”

“Um…let’s save your world…?”

Every axe, hammer, and mug was raised to that.

Chapter 8: One Adventure Later…

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

BONG! BONG! BONG!

Head ducked, Tom Dean stumbled through the door, his brain still spinning. It wasn’t on his breath, but he was drunk too. Dang, those dwarves knew how to throw a victory party, and dwarven ale was nothing to be trifled with. Part of him wanted to vomit, but only on the off chance that he’d get to taste the stuff again.

The inside the house was as dark and quiet as he’d left it. Good. If Malacus was his own off-brand Narniano fuck that likely meant that only a few minutes had passed in real time while he’d gone on his epic adventure. On second thought that place was awesome…it was his New Narnia. Malacus was ‘Next-Gen’, not ‘Off-Brand’.

The Pevensie kids couldn’t catch poison arrows and then throw them back at elven assassins so fast that the wood caught fire mid flight. That had been a cool moment. It didn’t hurt that the elf had looked like a pointy eared Josh Hamlin. Also, apparently, Elves had purple blood.

Neat.

But Malacus, for all its similarities to similar and classic high fantasy tropes, might not follow quite the same rules. He was home alright. Things were back to normal. His nice silk pajamas, the only pair he owned, had reverted back from their armored form. Oh well, it’d been nice while it had lasted.

Speaking of lasted: The time on the digital alarm clock was still blinking and barely ten minutes had passed according to it. That didn’t make it true. In the C.S. Lewis books, entire lifetimes could pass in the blink of an eye and the Pevensies would come out of the closet no older than they had been. That shoddy clock shorted all the time and it would be just Tom’s luck to find out that the weeks spent routing out monsters in Malacus had passed at the same rate on this side of the clock.

He was still “Titan Tom”, in spirit if not body. And weeks of battle and intrigue had sharpened his wit. It wouldn’t do him any good to get caught with his pajama bottoms down. Only one way to figure out. Find the prepaid flip phone that his mother kept for “business”.

It should be in the kitchen, Tom knew. That’s where the charger typically was. But Mary could have very well taken it to bed with her. He wouldn’t be able to get any rest until he knew the date, however. He had to be sure. It might be easier just to jump back into the clock, but that was the coward’s way out, and Tom was no coward. Not anymore.

A step to his left and Tom had to stop himself from swearing after barking his shins on the coffee table. “C’mon Tom,” he chided himself. “You can strangle a hydragon with your bare hands, but you can’t find a cheap phone in the dark”.

Waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark, Tom lowered himself to the floor and began crawling; scraping and scrabbling around. How far the mighty had fallen, and all because of a bit of drunken homesickness. At least Nox promised that as long as he’d kept Malacus in his heart he could return anytime he liked. The dwarves and centaurs would be able to hold off for a bit without him so that he could rest and recoup here in ‘Earth Realm’.

Slaying the hydragon; now that had been glorious! He’d never even known such a thing existed: A three headed dragon, with each head spewing forth a different terrible substance. Fire. Ice. Lightning. (A lightning breathing dragon? Jesus!) Tom had been absolutely incredulous when he ripped off the middle head, and two more grew back. That’s when ‘acid breath’ got added into the mix.

If not for the safety of the satyrs, Tom would have been curious to see how many heads he could have ripped off before a breath weapon repeated itself. Instead he just strangled the monster. So metal!

It had been great and the party afterwards even greater. But even great acts required an intermission, Tom rationalized. Hence why he’d come back to Scrumpton and was now on all fours, looking for a phone.

“Tom?” his mother called out from her room. She didn’t sound particularly worried. More sleepy. “Is that you?” Tom grit his teeth. “Tommy?”

Tom did a stage whisper back, letting the hush of the apartment amplify his whisper so as not to wake Katlynn. “Go back to sleep, Mary. I’m just going to the bathroom.”

“Okay…” And Mary’s snoring continued. Huh. She definitely didn’t sound like her son had been missing for weeks on end.

Going to the bathroom: Just thinking about it made the lie turn into a truth. Tom had become a champion at holding his bladder for prolonged periods of time. The super strength he’d possessed in Malacus had passed to more than just his arms and legs. Armor was still a pain in the ass to strip off, and the magical races of Malacus, for all their mystical and eldritch proficiency had yet to master the intricacies of a flush toilet.

Just then, the young man was actually looking forward to releasing his bladder into a porcelain bowl instead of a bush. Tom’s hands hit the smooth floor of the kitchenette. No crumbs. At least his mother kept a clean kitchen. The lack of crumbs wasn’t making it any easier to find the phone.

If only he could see better without having to turn on all the light-

The last of the dwarven ale wore off, as Tom felt a greater pressure in his bladder and an increased sense of sobriety. Duh! Tom smacked himself in the forehead, stood up and opened the refrigerator door.

The dim light spread out over the entire kitchen area, casting a veritable spotlight on the little black phone under the kitchen table, it’s chord traveling up to the wall. It was nothing at all for Tom to prop the fridge door open, get the phone and check it.

The date was the same. He’d been gone for only a few minutes. Good. A rumbling in his gut and increased pressure in his bladder made Tom’s little victory feel incomplete. No time to sleep, yet. The fridge door was still wide open, Tom made a quiet and quick shuffle over to the bathroom.

Lights on! Bottoms down! Lid Up! Ass seated. Even after all that time in a fantasy realm, Tom still had the basics of potty training down pat. The ache from his bladder sang out in releaf first as liquid hit liquid, followed by a wrenching in his gut and an instinct to push.

“Ho boy!” his own voice echoed off the tile. He groaned a little bit he emptied himself out. Sometimes it was the simple things that brought the most joy.

With the relaxing of his bladder and bowls, a strange calm came over the young man. An easy relaxation. It was a little bit like cumming, actually. Just less abrupt. Definitely as tired. Maybe his body was catching up with him now.

He was all-but superman in Malacus, but back in Scrumpton, his body remembered it’s limitations. It was almost like he never went into the clock. All his body remembered was laying on the nice comfy couch, masturbating into the jammies (and that hawt fantasy about the girls), and now going to the bathroom.

His eyes closed, and he breathed deep. Just for second…just…for…a…

“Hey…” a familiar voice prodded him into consciousness. “Little brother….wake up!”

Tom opened his lids. “Huh?” His voice came out a dry rasp. The dwarven ale was definitely hitting him now…worse on its way out than on its way in. So THIS was a hangover, huh? Worth it. Very worth it.

“Wake up. I need to go.” It was Katlynn. He was home, alright.

Like a big jungle cat, Tom let out a long and low yawn. “Okay. Okay.” Tom cleared his throat. “Just a second.

“Hurry up.” She repeated. This time with a bit more urgency. “I need to go.”. Tom was already nodding back off when he felt a rough slap on his shoulder. “You fell asleep on the toilet.”

Tom let out another yawn. “I did?”

“You’ve been there all night.”

That woke him up, more than the slap. “I fell asleep? On the toilet?”

“Passed out like Elvis.”

Oh how the mighty had fallen.

Chapter 9: Shopping

Honey what you waitin’ for
Welcome to my candy store
You just gotta prove
You’re not a pussy
Anymore
And step into my candy store

Tom groaned in quiet frustration. “Mary,” he said to his mother. “Why do we have to wear this stuff?”

His mother didn’t look back. She just kept pushing the shopping cart. “Because we have to look our best.” She stopped to get a small carton of eggs. They were at the Shop N’ Go, Scrumpton’s least glamorous grocery store that always vaguely reeked of fish despite not having a seafood section.

“Why?” Tom stopped himself from broaching into a full whine. “It’s not like this is church or nothing. That got him a quick elbow from his sister. Katlynn was in a clean blouse and khakis. Tom was in a button up shirt and jeans. Church clothes for poor people.

“It’s close enough,” their mom reminded them. “Just not in any of the good ways. People know we’re on SNAP, so when we get groceries we have to look our best.”

Tom crossed his arms, wishing he were back in Malacus. “And if we don’t look good enough they’ll judge the shiiii” Mary stopped, waiting for him to finish the curse word. “-crud out of us. They’ll judge the crud out of us.”

“So it’s exactly like church,” Katelyin said. The twins shared a smirk and each playfully rolled their eyes.

Mom stopped long enough to grab some chicken thighs. They were the cheapest part of the chicken that would last the longest in the freezer. (This didn’t count the world famous nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, but the meat that still resembled actual bird was healthier.) The look in her eyes was something fierce. “Tom and Katlynn,” she said. “If you two were little enough I’d take you both over my knee for that.” She stared at them like a woman possessed, a fire burning inside of them that neither could remember seeing in her.

Katlynn averted her gaze, suddenly finding a package of ground turkey incredibly interesting. “Sorry Mary,” Katlynn said.

“What was that?”

“Sorry Mom,” Tom corrected his sister.

Hands on her hips, their mother seemed much less the lazy schemer, and much more the disciplined warrior fallen on hard times. “This world isn’t fair, kids. Sometimes you gotta play by others’ bull hockey rules.”

As had been their custom since they could talk, the Dean twins answered in unison. “We know…sorry.” Mary kept pushing the cart while the twins kept their eyes open for coupons, free samples and sales, as had been the routine.

Or had it? Something seemed odd to Tom. Had Mary had this talk with them before? His conscious brain, but some secret whisper in the back of his brain was throwing up red flags all over the place. This didn’t seem like the same woman who would have brought a broken clock home from a bingo game in the hopes to upsell it.

Maybe it was coincidence; even broken clocks were right twice a day.

“Alright, folks,” Mom said after punching a few numbers into the calculator function of her phone. “If we’ve got this right, we’ve got enough in the budget for a little extra something something. Tom you’ve got breakfast. Katlynn. Sweet treats. Go ahead and pick out something that we can share, and meet me in the toilet paper aisle.”

Brother and sister needed neither twin telepathy nor an invitation. They split from the cart and went to pick out their share of the menu. The twins always took turns. One would choose breakfast while the other chose dessert.

While he was still a few rows from the Shop N’ Go’s breakfast aisle Tom seriously considered forgoing his share of rations if it meant he could convince his mother to get better toilet paper. Mary’s choice in rolls was so cheap that it had the firmness of wet tissue and the texture of sandpaper; a store brand among store brands. The leaves in Malacus were better than the Dean’s bathroom.

He shook his head when he thought of Katlynn getting the dessert. She was probably going to get something fruity; a carton of orange sorbet or something. Ugh. There was a reason that Big Blonde and Beautiful never referenced stuff like strawberry yogurt or banana cream pie; because fruit sucked for dessert.

Quietly, so as not to disturb the muzak, Tom hummed a few bars to himself. “Scoop me up a mess Of that chocolate swirl Don’t be stingy I’m a growing girl.“ Speaking of ‘growing’, Tom noticed that his t-shirt was feeling a little tighter in the gut. He looked down and puffed out his stomach, giving it a little jiggle with his hands. It wasn’t much, but Tom was fairly sure he’d gained a little bit of weight.

He wasn’t fat, chubby, or even pudgy, by any definition of the terms, but he could definitely tell that he’d put on a few pounds. It was more proof that his time inside the old clock was more than just a post masturbation power fantasy. You eat like a dwarf, and you start to fill out like one.

It was subtle though, and Tom was likely the only one to notice. He was still skinny, but relative weeks of full meals (and exercise strangling hydragons) was beginning to put a little meat on his bones.

A rumble in his stomach made him rethink his position on the toilet paper. He needed to eat good food more than he needed quilted butt wipes. If all else failed he could hop in the shower and hose off after taking a dump.

“Pop tarts or donuts,” Tom said. “Pop tarts or donuts…?” Ah yes. The eternal question. They weren’t really ‘pop-tarts’. They were ‘Toaster-Tarts’. And the donuts were beyond day olds. They were more like pieces of yellow cake cut into a circle and dipped in preservative chocolate. On the Dean Family Budget, name brand food was pure decadence. Only the store brand of store brands would do. Things requiring extra ingredients (like milk) were out, too; so no Koko Puffs or Rise Crixp-E’s, either.

The sound of cardboard being ripped open and cardboard like-pieces of corn hitting the floor in little pellets broke Tom out of his search for something to counteract Katlynn’s inevitable lemon bars. Some asshole was ripping open boxes of cereal and pouring the contents directly into his mouth. Bits and pieces of Frosted Happy-O’s spilled over his lips or bounced off his chips and onto the floor. Cookie Monster had better manners.
After taking a few gulps of cereal, asshole would sweep the bits of cereal underneath the shelf, close the box and slide it to the back before reaching for another box. Tom had to squint his eyes. He knew this asshole. His sense of time was screwed up, but he knew this asshole.

The last time Tom had seen him he’d been shorter and stouter, with ham sized fist and his face was stretched out to cover the massive skull. The last time Tom had seen that face, they’d made amends and his first beard was being allowed to grow in in honor of the magnificent suit of armor he’d forged.

“Trevor Macintosh” Tom called out. “The hell are you doing, man?”

Tom’s classmate started a smidge when he heard his name called out, and then instantly slouched when he recognized Tom’s voice. “Oh, hey D-man.” Trevor smirked. There was a predatory, almost reptilian glint in his gaze. “Did you find your backpack where I left it for you?”

Scrawny little Tom Dean almost fell to the bait. Tom the Titan did not. “You’re shoplifting.”

“Nuh-uh.” Trevor’s mouth was already filled with another batch of cereal. “It doesn’t count if it’s in my mouth.”

Jesus! Tom had literally forgotten the pure brazen stupidity of his Earth Realm peers. Tom clenched his fist. It wasn’t fair that assholes like Trevor could seem to get away with doing whatever they want while Tom had to scrimp by on nothing. “You’re such an asshole.”

“Eh?” Trevor’s mouth was full of more cereal “Whuh awe you gaw-uh ooo abouw ih?’

Nothing. That’s what Tom was going to do about it. In Malacus he had enough strength and speed to dodge daggers and leap across chasms; check bullies across the room with back handed slap. Here? He wasn’t delusional enough to find out. “What did I ever do to you, Leadshoulder?”

Trevor swallowed the Kohrn Flakes. “Leadshoulder?”

Tom felt his throat tighten a bit. “What did I ever do to you? In what way did I harm you that made it so you wanted to hurt me so? In what way did I earn your vengeance all these years?”

The bully put the box of cereal back on the shelf. His mouth was agape, yet he remained silent. It was as if Mr. Jordan has just called on Trevor in class.

“Did I ever make fun of you? Did I hit you or throw your stuff in the garbage? Why?!” The fury was rising up, building up and building on Tom’s own words. “What did I do to deserve half a decade…” screw that… “…more like close to half my LIFE as punishment?”

“Uh…uh…um…” For the first time in forever, Trevor Macintosh looked like. He was on the defensive.

Tom took a step closer. “We used to be friends. Maybe not good friends, but we could at least co-exist. Leave each other alone. Not anymore though. Why?” Macintosh took a step back. “Why Leadshoulder? Why?” Tom wasn’t even hearing himself anymore. “Did I do something that caused you pain. Cuz if so, I’m sorry and I didn’t mean to, and if I can avoid doing it again and still live my life, I will.” Tom felt himself growing taller. Standing up straighter. Filled with righteous fury, yet keeping his arms calmly by his side, his sad and weak mask dropped into a snarl.

“Or is it just because I’m different enough for you to pick on, but same enough for you to get away with it and not feel shitty about yourself?” The muzak track stopped; switching over tracks. Tom’s voice all but boomed in the silence.

“G-g-get away from me, d-d-dude.” Travis said. “You’re freaking me out, Dean.”

Tom was keenly aware of the shadow behind him. “Awwww,” a mocking voice came from behind him. “Did D-list jizz in his pants again? I thought you liked girls, dude.”

Tom whirled around. His ears weren’t pointy, and his blood wouldn’t be purple. but he knew that face. “ASSASSIN!” He was not Tom the Titan, hero of Malacus here. He wasn’t super fast or super strong. He couldn’t make a wooden arrow burst into flames. And Josh Hamlin wasn’t an elf assassin.

He got Tom’s fist in the palm of his hand, just like in the movies. It was much less cool being the one who got your punch caught like a softball. “Bad move, D-list.” Towering over him, Josh reared back his fist. Tom was going to need a new nose….

Before Tom had a chance to make peace with any particular god, he was yanked back and shoved behind someone. “Leadshoul-…Trevor?!”

“Ease up.” Trevor’s voice was steady. Solid. Like a dwarf.

Josh’s brows knitted together. “The hell, Trev? Loser was trying to punch me.”

“You snuck up on him. He got startled and swung. It’s what I would have done.” Was Trevor Macintosh standing up for Tom? Miracles did happen.

“He started it!”

“No he didn’t.” Trevor was crossing his arms now; a bouncer at a nightclub. “You were fuckin’ with him.”

“He was fuckin’ with you!” Josh said. “I had your back is all.”

“So you don’t think I could handle myself? Is that what you’re saying?” Tom didn’t know who would win in a fight between his two bullies, but part of him was morbidly curious to find out, just then.

Josh was not nearly so eager. “Naw man. Naw. It’s just. He called me an ass is all.”

“He called you an assassin, dipshit. He thinks you’re deadly and shit.”

“I…I…I…”

Trevor was now in his compatriot’s face. In a low voice he growled to Josh. “Just take the compliment. Know you’re bad ass, and walk away. We’ll laugh about this later.”

“Uh…yeah…sure.” Was all that Josh said. “Thanks D-list. See you later.” Josh walked away.

“So?” Trevor asked Tom. “Am I still an asshole?”

“Yeah,” Tom said. The fear had long drained out of him. “Kinda. But thanks. I guess owe ya.”

Trevor shook his head slightly. “No you don’t. Not for that. See you at school, dude.”

“See you at school.”

Tom felt fuzzy and confused. How the hell had that happened? Trevor and Josh in the same room, with no adult interference? They should have pounced on him like dogs on a two legged cat. Not turn on each other. And Trevor actually defending Tom?! Maybe there was a little piece of good ol’ Leadshoulder in there somewhere.

So confused was Tom, that he didn’t even realize that he’d left the breakfast aisle without picking up any donuts or chocolate Toaster Tarts and had wandered to meet his mother in the toilet paper section.

He saw but didn’t observe his surroundings, looking off into the middle distance, even though there were shelves upon shelves and packages upon packages of toilet paper right in front of him. He kept walking, replaying the last minute and a half in his head. He’d partied with mythical races. Why did this seem less believable?

Still walking. Toilet paper gave way to wet wipes. Wet wipes transitioned baby wipes and lotion. Tom stopped. Parents’ Choice: Paw Patrol Training Pants. Chase. Sky. Marshall. He hadn’t seen or thought of them since at least the first grade. Now for some reason, here, on a box of off-brand Pull-Ups, he felt mesmerized by the sight of them.

Tom’s feet wouldn’t move. His eyes wouldn’t shift. He didn’t want them to. What he wanted to do was to pick up the box of kinda-sorta-diapers and turn it over in his hands; to stare at it as if the painted cardboard was a great work of art. Maybe take a peek inside and see if every pup got their own padded printout or if it was just the three on the front of the box.
He didn’t though. Thoughts of Josh Hamlin mocking him still rocked his gray matter, enough so that the thought of another encounter made Tom’s arms lock up. What would he say if he caught Tom looking at diapers. “Awwww…is that why you keep hiding in the bathroom D-List? Are you still potty training?”

It wouldn’t be so bad if certain other people said that to him, maybe in the right tone. Amanda Monroe, maybe. “Awwww, is that why you keep hiding in the baffwoom Tommy? Are you still wearning to use the potty like a big boy?” Tom shivered, and felt himself salivate a little. He felt…other things down below.

God! Why was THIS turning him on?!

(“Tom.”)

Tom felt disgusted by himself. Why the hell would he feel buzzed about wearing something so gross and…and…he had no words for it…

(“Tom.”)

He should stop looking at the package right now.

(“Tom?”)

Right now!

(“Tom?”)

RIGHT NOW! Why was he still looking? Why was he beginning to imagine himsel-?

“TOM!”

“Wha?!” Tom jolted out of his own daydream as his mother yelled his name.

“Did you get what you wanted for breakfast?”

“Huh? Breakfa-?”

“Did you get what you wanted?”

A tiny voice that only Tom could hear (he hoped) screamed out. “That! Let me have that! The box! I want what’s in the box! Please with the box!”

His nostrils flared out a bit as he inhaled. “No. Sorry, mom.”

“Well then what are you doing here?” she asked.

“Some guys at school were in the breakfast lane.” Tom said. “I didn’t…” pride made him choose his next words carefully. “I didn’t want to get in a fight.”

Part of him expected Mary not to care. To penalize him. To tell him “Tough luck Butter cup. I guess you’re just gonna have to stick it out till lunch on the weekends.” That part was sadly misinformed.

Instead what Mom said was, “That was a smart decision, Tommy. No point in fighting when there’s nothing to gain from it.” She motioned in the direction of the dessert aisle. “Let’s meet up with your sister and then double back. Scumpton boys are stupid, but they’re not stupid enough to pick a fight with adults watching.”

And surprisingly enough. That’s what they did.

More surprisingly, the rest of the weekend was just as sensible and nice. Comfortable. Gentle Even.

And yet for some reason, Tom couldn’t get that package of Paw Patrol Pull-Ups out of his skull, and he couldn’t say why…

Chapter 10: Bad Ideas

Don’t tell your ma, don’t tell your pop
I’m a mad mad bomber and I’m ready to drop.
MAD BOMBER!
I’m a mad mad bomber!
When a boy’s eighteen years old, he’s ready to explode!

“Awwww. Cuuuuuute!”

Tom looked up from his tray, foolishly hoping that Amanda Monroe was talking about him. He needn’t be worried about that, he realized. Once again, the popular girl wasn’t even looking at him. It was Monday, now. Cheerleader uniforms were out. Tight jeans were in. And Tom had to resist the urge to stare again. It did not end well for him last time.

Was he really that awkward? Tom sipped his chocolate milk and finished the last of his cheap school cafeteria chili, his question left unanswered.

“Look at them!” Amanda kept saying to Cameron. “Little kids are so cuuute!” Scrumpton was a small enough town that all of its public education was community based: Meaning that it’s Elementary, Middle, and Highschool were all pretty much piled on top of one another. Different buildings stretched out across a flat campus, but as soon as you were old enough to go, you pretty much stayed put until dropout or graduation.

The Highschool campus was front and center, with the Elementary and Middleschoolers going to buildings that were on the left and right respectively. Each level keeping its own schedule and operating relatively independently of each other. In this instance, that meant that when Thomas Dean and his peers were eating lunch and enjoying the warm fall weather leftover from summer, that a group of second graders were having recess not two hundred yards away on the Scrumpton Elementary’s playground.

Amanda kept drooling over them. “Awwww,” Amanda kept saying. “I want one!”

Cameron looked over to her cohort. “This isn’t how you tell me you’re preggers, is it?”

Tom’s crush snorted. “Gawd no. I want one. I don’t wanna have one. I just wanna play with them. Bounce them on my lap. Tickle them. Then give them back to their parents.” Tom’s mouth went dry.

“Babysitting…” Tom spoke up. “You mean, babysitting.” Tom didn’t believe in ‘auras’ (or dwarves until very recently) but the energy that Amanda was exuding was palpable. Were she a sorceress, Amanda would be casting a field of disintegration or something, with Tom as the target. “What?” Tom said, hoping he didn’t sound as intrusive or defensive as he found. “You play with a kid, make sure they don’t die, and at the end of the night you get paid and give it back.” Then he added, “Sorry for eavesdropping. I just overheard.”

The strangest thing happened after that. Cameron and Amanda exchanged glances, seemed to half- nod, half-cock their heads to the side, and when they were looking, they seemed…nicer. Apology accepted, Tom guessed. “I guess you’re right,” Amanda said. “But I don’t wanna miss my date night, to babysit. I just wanna bring some of them over here and cuddle with them.”

Cameron closed her eyes and rubbed her temples as if the conversation itself was causing her pain. “Most people just get a tiny dog for that kind of thing.” It took every bit of willpower Tom had in his tank to not volunteer to be that tiny dog; to be that little cuddle kid. He would sit back in his lap and let himself be tickled all day if he could.

Instead, Tom let out a dry, very fake chuckle. “Yeah. Right?” He picked up his tray and made to go drop it back off in the cafeteria.

“Oh hey…Tommy!” Tom stopped in his tracks. It was Amanda. He turned around. “Would you mind throwing my tray away for me? Thaaaanks.” She smiled at him, and he felt any resistance he had melting away. Damn it. He was being used. And he liked it.

He stood there like a dummy as two of the hottest girls in school piled their trays into his arms. Cameron didn’t even ask. Then again, with tits like those, Tommy’s adolescent brain justified, she didn’t really need to. He savored a last look as the girls walked away from them and towards the girl’s bathroom. The swish in Amanda’s hips got him looking perhaps a little longer than he should have. At least this time Trevor and Josh weren’t there to make fun of him for it.

Tom about faced and stumbled forward into the school’s cafeteria. A wall of noise and overtaxed air conditioning hit him in the face as he pushed past the doors inside. The talk and mumbling of his peers created a kind of wallah-wallah mumbo jumbo where only key words could be made out.

“Wallah-wallah-pussy-wallah-wallah”

“Food-sucks-wallah-wallah-wallah-wallah”

“Wallah-wallah-wallah-wallah-T.V.”

“Wallah-wallah-loser-wallah-wallah-in-his-pants-wallah-wallah.” Tom felt himself grunt and growl a bit. He was almost sure they were talking about him. Who else would they be talking about? Katlynn didn’t have this lunch, so friendly faces were in short supply this time of day.

Tom felt he deeply knew what it was like to be Elphaba from Wicked; irrationally hated for things he didn’t feel like were in his control. Only he’d yet to find his Glinda or his Fiyero or even his Boq. With relatively few exceptions, everyone was just so Madame Morrible to him around here.

It might be for the best that this wasn’t his magical land beyond the clock. Dwarves got second chances with him. People? Tom wasn’t so sure, anymore. Tom turned in the trays to the dish bin with a click clack and took a hard left out the side door.

Instead of open air, the muted thud of hitting another human being. “Shit!” someone’s voice called out and the scuffling sound of clothing scraping concrete mixed with the metal clangs and more muted clattering as things rolled off the walkway and into the grass. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

Heart racing, Tom stepped out and surveyed the damage he’d done. On the ground was Lunch Lady Doris, (Tom didn’t know if Doris was her real name; all Lunch Ladies were named Doris in his mind). “Oh my god!” Tom yelped. “I’m so sorry, I’m soooo sorry. Do you need help?”

The fat older woman was already picking herself off the ground and using the wall to steady herself. “Nope…nope…nope,” Doris said, still leaning with one hand on the wall.

“I’m so sorry about that! I wasn’t looking…”

Doris held out her other hand. “Nope. Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t looking either. That’s what I get for stopping to text right in front of an exit.”

“Is there any way I can help?”

Doris gestured to the ground, and Tom followed it. Packages of single serving cereal bowls littered the ground. Doris had been minding a cart and her tumble had sent the cart and its contents tumbling, with the metal cart on its side, and disposable cereal bowls scattered on the walk way and in the nearby grass. “Help me pick these up…?”

“Sure.” Tom scrambled into the grass to pick up what he’d helped spill. “It’s still good. It’s still good. No seal’s been broken; and cereal is supposed to be crumbly anyway, right?”

Dorris was busy righting the cart. “The preschoolers ran out of gram crackers for snack time, and I was gonna run this cereal over to them as a patch job.”

“Can I help?”

“No, I don’t think so…” the lunch lady started. “Shit…”

Tom came out of the grass and onto the concrete, his arms filled with cereal boxes. “What?”

“Two of the wheels got busted somehow…”

“I am SO sorry!” Tom was beginning to feel like the world’s most pathetic pull-string toy.

“Not your fault. Not your fault.” Doris started grumbling something to herself.

“Now do you need my help?”

The lunch lady didn’t say anything, but she did nod.

They walked in silence, from the cafeteria over to the elementary preschool area. Doris carried at least a dozen bits of Honey Nut Cheerios and Coco Puffs in her apron. Tom carried almost as many corresponding samples of Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp in his t-shirt. Come to think of it, this shirt was getting a little baggy on him. He must be stretching it out so that it’s nearly threadbare, he figured.

Doris took a lilting right turn as they crossed over from the high school, to the elementary campus. The preschool was near the back of the elementary building, Tom remembered. If it wasn’t obvious before, anyone would have known they had arrived from the high pitched screams and the pitter patter of little feet, and the frantic raving of the only adult in sight. Children who were little more than knee high ran around screaming, and ducking and hiding into plastic houses or chasing each other on tricycles. This wasn’t the playground that could be seen from the highschool. No steel bars or jungle gyms, here. This was for the littlest of kids.

A blonde teacher, in her late twenties to early thirties, clothed in a denim dress, motioned them over. “Hiiii!” she chirped, but the subtext read as “Heeeeeelp!”. “Normally we have snack time, then play time, but since we were in a bit of a jam, I decided to flip-flop them.” The laugh the woman gave was positively neurotic. This lady needed a day off. Bad.

“Sorry about that,” Doris apologized as they dropped their cargo on a low picnic table. “Had a bit of an accident.”

The preschool teacher nodded. “You’re fine now. Thanks!” Then she called out. “SNAAAAACK-TIIIIIME!”

A swarm of locusts on chubby human legs swarmed the table, ripping into the dry cereal as if it were their first and last meal. The mingled wallah-wallahs here were much more pleasant than what Tom had heard in the cafeteria.

“Wallah-wallah-yummy-wallah-wallah.”

“Trade ya-wallah-wallah-wallah-wallah.”

“Wallah-wallah-wallah-wallah-play after.”

Doris turned to Tom and offered her hand. “Thank you, young man.”

Tom shook the lunch lady’s hand. “No problem,” he glanced at her name dag, “Phyllis.” How about that? He was kind of close! “Just trying to fix what I broke.”

“Much appreciated. I wish more freshmen acted like you.”

“I’m a senior, actually.”

Phyllis’s mouth twisted. “Oh really? I guess you just got a bit of a baby face.”
Tom shrugged. “I guess I do.”

“I’ll be seeing you, Miss Keisha,” Phyills said to the stressed out teacher. The preschool teacher was too distracted to notice, busily tearing open cereal covers for the kids who hadn’t developed enough dexterity to do it themselves. The lunch lady about faced and started to mosey on back to the cafeteria.

“Uh-huh”.

Tom was about to fall instep behind her, but then his stomach gave him other ideas. Involuntarily, he drew his hand to his gut, as it rumbled and cramped up. The chili wasn’t agreeing with him. That kind of stuff was always like playing gastronomical Russian Roulette. Now, there was a bullet in Tom’s chamber. “Excuse me, ma’am? Miss Keisha?”

“Yes sweetie?” the teacher replied automatically. Her eyes scanned the munchkins surrounding her, before she tracked the source to Thomas. “Oh! Sorry!” she said. “I mean, how can I help you?”

“My stomach is hurting. Any chance I can use your bathroom?”

The young man felt himself being scanned. Sized up. Another cramp made itself known, and Tommy suddenly had the very real fear that he might shit his pants if he didn’t make it in time. No way would he be able to make it to the high school bathroom. “Sure,” she finally said. “You should be able to fit.” She pointed to her classroom. “Through that door and straight to the opposite corner. Just make sure to clean up after yourself.”

Tom nodded. “Yes ma’am.” He didn’t think anything of the comment about cleaning up after himself. A lady works with three and four year olds all day, some things are going to be habits.

“Oh,” Miss Keisha called out after him. “And I’ll keep everybody out here as I can, but be aware the door doesn’t lock.”

“Yes ma’am,” Tom called back, doing his best to burst through the classroom door before something else burst through him. He didn’t even look back and make sure to close the door; fast stepping his way over carpet tape for Circle Time and ducking out of the way of self portraits done in crayon that were hung too low. “Gotta-go-gotta-go-gotta-go,” he whispered to himself. “Just hold it…just hold it…”

He cut through the classroom and flung open the bathroom door. “Oh you gotta be kidding me.”

If the plastic playhouses and tricycles outside hadn’t been childish enough, the bathroom made up for it. Two toilets sat directly in front of him, but they were so small, they might as well have been training potties bolted into the ground. The urinal next to them was so low that Tom would have had to practically do the limbo to pee in it. That’s why the teacher said that he’d fit. A less scrawny high schooler might have not.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

It was even decorated. Who decorated a bathroom? Who did that? The two potty toilets didn’t have a tank, just plumbing that went right into the wall. The wall behind each was painted bright green, with stencil outlines of fairy tale characters. The left stall had what could only be the Gingerbread Man, and the right one had a decorated silhouette of what was more likely Rapunzel. Little boys would be peeing in a urinal right beneath the Frog Prince. The side wall had tiny sinks, attended to by a Pinnochio doll, its wooden hands in proper hand washing position.

Another rumble made Tom stop pontificating long enough to get his pants down and waddle over to the nearest bowl. He lifted the seat, turned around, and shimmy-shimmy-shimmied his way down between the narrow barriers of the stall. He’d forgotten to wear underwear today so that was one less obstacle.

His knees almost to his chest, his body felt the opening and let loose with an absolutely horrendous blast from down below. Tom let out a heavy groan as his body shook and a mostly water mess splashed beneath him, the rising water tickling his butt cheeks. Maybe it wasn’t the chili. Maybe it was those darn Lemon cookies that Katlyn had gotten for dessert…

Another rumble and groan before Tom gave himself a courtesy flush, trying to hold his bowels while the tiny toilet spirited away his mess. Anymore, he feared, and his own feces would float back up to kiss his cheeks. He might as well be wearing a diaper then…

It was after the flushing stopped that Tommy looked straight ahead and knew something was amiss. These stalls didn’t have any doors. And the doors weren’t locked.

A pulse surged through Tommy’s gut and he finished emptying himself into the bowl. The thought that some little kid could walk in on him caused him to push through the pain all the faster. Not that they would have seen anything. His knees were forced into blocking view of any “strategic area” that anyone might have seen.

The stalls were so small, however, that Tom had to actually stand up and step out half way so that he could wipe himself. Turned sideways, the high school senior wiped himself, again and again. He kept looking at the bathroom door, readying to throw himself against it if it were to start to open; only turning his gaze from it so that he could throw a wad of used toilet paper into the Gingerbread Man potty.

At least the toilet paper was good, not like that cheap sandpaper stuff used at home.

Another small mercy.

But small mercies weren’t getting his bum any cleaner. He was starting to get genuinely scared that he might use up the whole roll. He hadn’t been wearing underwear today, and didn’t want to risk there being a brown spot in his pants. A-holes like Josh would spring on that in a second and Tom wouldn’t live it down till Christmas. Standing sideways as he was, Tom only had to look straight ahead to get an idea.

To the right of the door he came in, now almost directly in front of him and pushed up against the wall closest to the door was a changing table. It wasn’t anything fancy. Just thick oak with a cabinet beneath it and a vinyl pad on top. There were even little retractable stairs so that a small child could climb up and down themselves instead of needing a boost.

More to the point, atop that changing table, was a spare box of baby wipes. That’d do it! Awkwardly, Tom penguin-waddled with his pants around his ankles over to the box, removing a single wipe. Only one would be needed.

Feeling like an idiot, he shuffled back over to the stalls and dragged the cool, moist towelette between his cheeks. Even nicer than the quilted toilet paper! He folded it over for one last swipe, just in case. Clean as a whistle!

Done wiping, Tom turned to the toilet and prepared to throw the used wipe in. And stopped. He thought he remembered something about how flushing baby wipes could cause the toilet to clog. That wouldn’t do. Instead, he flushed, and used wipe in his hand, he looked back over to the changing table. Maybe there was a garbage can or diaper pail nearby.

He shuffled over to where he’d found the box and looked around. Nothing. Nada. Nothing by the sides. His eyes lowered to the cabinet. Squatting down like a catcher at a baseball game, Tom opened the double doors to the compartment beneath the changing table.

A little bundle fell out at the high school senior’s feet, causing him to flinch and scoot back a little. He looked to his feet and breathed easier. Just a backpack. Quickly, his eyes scanned over the interior shelves. Diapers and Pull-Ups greeted him, and Tom felt his breath go shallow and his heart skip a beat. Just like at the grocery store the other day, the young man felt an inexplicable fixation.

He felt a pulse; a throbbing sensation. And it wasn’t strictly in his heart; and it wasn’t strictly in his brain. He shuddered, staring at the Luvs and the Pull-Ups. Purple monkeys next to Mickey Mouse’s fade when wet designs called to him. The scents of lavender perfume mingled with baby powder beckoned him.

Nervously, Tommy’s eyes shifted to the right inside of the cabinet. A bit of stainless steel gleaned from the darkness. “Bingo,” Tom whispered to himself, as he lifted the lid of the tiny waste basket and threw his used wipe away.

Baby stuff. That’s stupid. Even if it might make him seem cute and cuddly, like what Amanda was talking about: Sitting on her lap. Being tickled. And played with.

They wouldn’t even fit him. Scrawny he might be, but Tom wasn’t the size of an actual kid. Stuff like diapers and Pull-Ups were a commodity, too. The teacher probably kept track of them; probably had potty charts somewhere and would know if one or two went missing. Teachers did that, right? Right. Best to leave them alone.

The little voice in his head, that sound of himself wishing and wanting the cute crinkly things that he’d talked to in the grocery store whined, but knew that his more rational adult analysis was correct.

Exhaling dejectedly, Tom looked down at his feet… He chided himself, realizing he hadn’t even pulled his pants up. “Idiot.” He chided himself quietly. Yet for some reason, he didn’t think to correct his compromised position. “Dumb dumb dumb.”

He’d better put the backpack back in there, he knew. With both hands he carefully picked the bag up, and felt something jostle inside. What did three year olds need backpacks for anyway. Then, he took a closer look at it.

There, on the top of the backpack, just above the zipper, written in black sharpie marker, was a name: “Tommy”.

His whole body tensed up. This was his backpack. It belonged to him. Not really. ‘Tom’, ‘Thomas’, and “Tommy’ were still common enough names, but young Master Dean couldn’t help but feel a strange connection. Unbidden, going on a kind of trance-like reflex, Thomas’s hands unzipped the backpack; his eyes taking it in as each tooth in the zipper uncoupled itself while the metal buckle glided past on its track.

Slowly he opened the backpack. He shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t be doing this. But he was doing this.

He reached in, and when he withdrew his hand, out came a clear plastic bundle. Half empty, and with the top roughly opened, it was a package of underwear. Kiddie underwear. Brightly colored underwear. White, mostly, with trims in different colors.

Red. Yellow. Green. Orange. Blue.

It made sense. Preschooler. Potty trained. Doesn’t need diapers or training pants anymore, but…accidents happen. So send him to school with some extra undies just in case. Easy. Makes sense. Practical.

And this kid. This ‘Tommy’. He probably doesn’t have accidents all that often. Hence just a backpack full of spares. Just in case. Chances are that the teacher didn’t keep count of these. One single pair wouldn’t be missed. Would it? Of course not. Not by the preschool teacher. Certainly not by Tommy.

Still not thinking, or more accurately, not admitting to himself what he was doing, Tom reached into the little clear plastic bag and took out the underwear inside. The blue trim one. He unfolded it and took a closer look. A sharp inhale cut into his lungs.

Chase. It was Chase. Paw Patrol. Just like training pants he’d seen on Saturday. Still in a trance, Tom rubbed the inseam with his thumb and forefinger rather like checking a baby’s diaper. It was thicker in the front than in the back. A little extra padding woven in to contain tiny dribbles, if not outright wettings. These weren’t disposable, but they were definitely training pants.

That’s when Tom knew. He was taking these. He was taking this underwear. He flipped open the inside and checked the size.

4-5T

Pulse racing and breath catching in his chest, he slid off his shoes and wiggled out of his pants. Gingerly, as though they were made of tissue paper, he slipped his feet into the leg holes, closed his eyes, and thought skinny thoughts as he shimmied the toddler pants up his hips.

Amazingly, they fit. They probably shouldn’t have. But they did. He slid over past Pinnochio to look in the sink’s mirror. Was it deja vu, fantasy, or nostalgia that caused such a massive dopamine release in Tom?

Didn’t know. Didn’t care.

All that Tom noticed was that he was in a T-shirt and kiddie undies with Chase on the front. He looked like a giant preschooler. He didn’t whisper as much as mouth the words “Chase is on the case” and felt a silly little grin form on his lips.

He looked cute. Like something Amanda might wanna cuddle, and tickle, and play with, and let sit on her lap. Hadn’t Cameron quipped something about getting a small dog? Paw Patrol had lots of little pups. In the darkest parts of his soul, Tom fantasized about that being close enough. His penis was pressed up against him, with the tight underwear being not quite equipped for a little boy with a man sized package. It didn’t help that blood was starting to rush there, causing his member to engorge.

He reached down between his legs, and rubbed himself through the front, the extra bit of cloth making him have to press just a little bit harder. It only made the feeling that much more intense. The top row of his teeth bit down into his bottom lip to suppress a low moan.

This was a bad idea. This was a bad idea. He really shouldn’t do this.

Betting down the sides of his tongue he hustled back over to the Gingerbread Man stall and sat down on the toddler toilet. He leaned back against the wall, his shoulders being cradled by the imaginary arms of the Gingerbread Man, stretching out his legs for comfort.

Through the front of the training pants, his training pants now, he started rubbing himself, teasing himself bit by bit. This was a bad idea. This was wrong.

No. Not wrong, the little voice inside his head whispered to him. Just naughty. And sometimes naughty could be fun.

His teasing himself picked up the pace as he started to rub himself in earnest. Hrnnn…internally he grunted. Not quite right. He was chafing. If he really picked up speed, the dark clinical part of his mind told him, he’d give himself a rug burn on his dick.
He really should stop.

Tom had a choice, he knew. He could make a good decision, or have a good time….but not both.

Thinking quickly he darted to the underside of the changing table and grabbed a small travel sized container of baby powder. He pulled the front of his new shorts open and sprinkled a hefty amount down and around his crotch, letting a little puff come out as the front waistband snapped closed and enjoying the cool soothing feeling on his dick as the powder settled it.

Now he looked AND smelled like a little kid.

With no time to lose, Tom took his place back on the potty, legs stretched out and he started rubbing himself again. Oh yeah. That’s good. The baby powder was helping things slide along nicely. No chafing. No rashes for little Tommy.

Lids half closed, he still wearily eyed the door. No doors on the stall. Someone might just walk in. But that only made it more exciting, didn’t it?

That’s what this potty was for. Little guys like him couldn’t be trusted to go potty all by himself, could they? A teacher, or maybe even a highschool volunteer- one who wanted to play with cuties like him-had to be able to pop in at any second and check in on him. Make sure he was okay and that he was using the potty like he should.

Oh. That hit a good nerve.

Tom’s real eyes went hazy as he imagined the door squeaking open, and Amanda peaked in, checking to see if he had made it in time. He had been holding his pee-pee and had run off to the potty without permission. Teacher had sent in a trusted senior to check up on him since she was so busy looking after the other kids.

At least, that’s what he pretended had happened. Looking down at his pants on the floor, she grinned and shook her head, knowing the truth before even Tommy did.

Eyes now fully closed, Tommy saw his unrequited crush swish over to him and take a knee. His free hand playing with his balls and pressing them into him. He was shrinking. Shrinking there on the toddler potty. And Dream Amanda was gingerly poking and prodding at his wet training pants.

“Uh-oh. I think you had an accident, little guy.” Tommy whispered to himself, hearing it come out in Amanda’s voice. “Do you know what that means?” Tommy shook his head. He was lying. He did know.

“It means that Miss Amanda needs to get you all dry and clean. Come on bubby. Up ya go.” Tommy bent his knees as he imagined her scopping him up and carting him over to the changing table. No steps for him.

His lips moved to the imagined words. “Don’t worry, little bubby. You’re not in trouble. You did your best and that’s all that matters.” Just like in Malacus, he was small and fragile, but loved, oddly in control. The hero.

In real life, Tommy’s legs lifted higher off the floor as he imagined Amanda shimmying his Paw Patrol undies off of his hips. “Let’s see,” she said, looking under the changing table. “What am I gonna put you in, now? Diapers or Pull-Ups? Diapers or Pull-Ups?”

She brought forth a rectangular piece of folded fabric. “I don’t think Charlie will mind loaning one of his diapers with you,” she said. Still there in the open bathroom stall, Tommy thrusted his hips a little bit as he imagined Amanda lifting them and sliding a freshly unfolded diaper underneath his bum.

Her eyes traveled down to his blood engorged member. “Oh-hoh!” she giggled. “Is that what happened? Did the big boy have an accident because he couldn’t point his pee-pee down?” Tommy gripped himself all the harder. Then he/Dream Amanda said, “Here. Let me help, honey.”

Whether it was Amanda beating him off, or Tommy masturbating was all a matter of perspective. A telepath would have said the former. A security camera would have indicated the latter. Fortunately for Tommy, neither was present, and it wasn’t until he was pumped into an absolute frenzy, all but hearing the actual crinkle of the imaginary diaper beneath him, practically feeling the non-existed vinyl mat beneath his shoulders, that his self-control finally gave up the ghost and completely overwhelmed, rushed him to orgasm; hot ejaculate pumping forth into his purloined undies.

Those training pants were his now. It would have been cruel to give them back. Not to mention rude.

And not a moment too soon.

“Hello?” A voice called out. It was the preschool teacher. “Are you okay?”

Tommy scrambled off the potty, yanked up his pants and quickly buttoned them. Not even thinking of removing the ill-gotten undies. “Yeah. Sorry!” He called out. “Just having some stomach problems.” Quick as a bunny, he slipped his shoes back on and stashed the kids’ backpack back under the changing table where he found it and closed the cabinet as quietly as he could. “I’m coming…out,” he called, trying to hide the noise he must be making.

Please don’t look like a freak, please don’t look like a freak.

He opened the door, his heart thudding in his chest. Over her shoulder, the preschoolers were still snacking playing. He couldn’t even look the woman in the eye. “Everything alright?”

“Just a…tight fit.” Tom said. He motioned back. It was kind of the truth. “Chili day, too.”

Please don’t look like a freak. Please don’t look like a freak. Please let the erection have gone down.

“Ah”, the teacher said. “That’s why I bring my lunch from home.”

Tom grimaced. “No such luck. Thank you very much.”

Please don’t look like a freak. Please don’t look like a freak. Please let the erection have gone down. Please Don’t have the bathroom smell like baby powder and cum….did cum even have a distinctive enough or strong enough odor?

Tommy didn’t wait any longer. He brushed past the teacher, and weaved out “Gotta go.” He all but closed his eyes, speed walking. He wished he could have closed his ears, too.

Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught.

That was the problem with masturbation. It was the best thing ever until it stopped. Then the real world poked its head in and started meddling.

Thank goodness that whatever karma he’d earned by bringing the snacks and helping Lunch Lady Phyllis was on his side, because the teacher didn’t call out, and neither had asked him his name. Within two minutes he was back across campus in the safety and familiarity of Fourth Period English class, just before the late bell after Lunch.


Kiesha Thompson walked into the student bathroom in her classroom, sniffing around. She didn’t know the kid who’d just asked to use her bathroom, but something seemed suspicious about him. Like he was hiding something…

Trying to smoke pot in the preschool bathroom wasn’t the dumbest thing she’d heard of one of these idiot teens doing. She chuckled to herself. The teenage years really were like a second toddlerhood for some. Especially boys.

The putrid scent of improperly digested feces invaded her nose and Kiesha almost gagged. Ugh. Okay. Yeah. Never mind. Maybe the guy had just let a big deuce drop and was embarrassed about it. Definitely not weed, though.

Out of force of habit, she went over to the changing table and opened up the bottom compartment. Time to get some air freshener! Out of the cabinet tumbled a blue backpack. “How did this get here?” she wondered. It didn’t look like any of her students’ belongings, and she wasn’t one to put school supplies with the Pull-Ups.

Weird.

She found a name, written in black sharpie marker on top. “Tommy?” She read the name written on the back pack. “Who’s Tommy?”

The sound of roughhousing from outside told her she’d have to find out later. Kiesha hurried out of her class’s bathroom and back to the little makeshift playground not thirty feet away, leaving the errant bookbag on the floor.

Meanwhile, from beneath the changing table, a gentle white mist creeped out, quietly lifted the backpack on it’s smokey tendrils and ushered it back into the quiet darkness beneath the changing table.

The next time that Kiesha Thompson, or anyone, looked underneath that table, all they’d find were the usual Pull-Ups for the kids who hadn’t quite mastered the potty and diapers to go over certain underwear during naptime “just in case”.

Chapter 11: Preparations and Plotting.

So…come up to the lab
And see what’s on the slab
I see you SHIVER with antici…

“Hey sis,” Tom tapped Katlynn’s shoulder on the bus ride home.

Katlynn turned her head and looked at her twin from across the aisle in the back. She gave him a knowing look. “What do you want?”

Crud! “Want?” Tom said. “What makes you think I want something?” Crud! He’d already let his hand slip, somehow!

“Because you only call me ‘sis’,” Katlynn reminded him, “when you want something.” Tom raised his finger to interject; opened his mouth…and then shut it and put his hands back in his lap. “What is it?” she asked.

She had him. Might as well not beat around the bush. “I want to sleep on the couch tonight.”

It was Katlynn’s turn to be dumbstruck. Tom watched as her eyes went from left to right, like a kitty cat wall clock, trying to figure out what angle he was coming from. “Whhhhy?” she finally asked. “The couch sucks and it’s your turn to take the bed.”

Katlynn wasn’t naive enough to believe this was out of altruism. He was no Billy Flynn from Chicago and she was no Mary Sunshine. What he wanted was not understandable or comprehensible. In fact it might be a bit reprehensible and not so defensible.

Life-Tom was learning from his impulsive masturbation session earlier today- was complicated.

“Are you gonna sneak out?” Katlynn asked.

As a matter of fact, yes. “No.” Tom said.

“Drugs?”

Kind of…? Did being addicted to a magical realm count? “No.”

“You know it’s easier to…” Katlynn paused and made a quiet jerking motion with her hand, “in the bedroom, right? Much comfier. More private.”

Tom had to rub his temples. “I’m aware, sister, and I don’t need to know how you know that.”

Katlynn smirked, clearly enjoying making Tom feel uncomfortable. “I don’t do it that way,” she whispered. “More wiggling fingers than-”

“BACK ON TOPIC!” Tom yelled over the school bus’s engine that was not NEARLY loud enough for this conversation.

“If you’re doing it in the bathroom, we already know. Nobody has to poop that often.”

We?! “It’s my back, okay!” Tom hissed through clenched teeth. “My back’s been hurting and for some reason it’s easier to sleep on the couch!” It was a lie. A bold faced lie but one Katlynn might believe.

“The couch is probably worse for your back,” Katlynn said. “Mine always hurts the next morning.”

Tom nodded, agreeing just to hurry the pitch along. “Mine too,” he said. “But if I get in just the right position I fall right asleep. Conked out. The sore back is worth it.” What would have been obvious to any mind reader is that it wasn’t the couch that Tom wanted access to, but the old clock in their living room.

Katlynn stared at him quizzically. “What are you really doing?” It was almost like his own reflection was staring back at him and accusing him of something he’d yet to do. Another version of him; isn’t that what twins were?

“I just need sleep,” Tom insisted. “Rough day and I want to escape.” Lies and half-truths.

Tom had had a great day, in fact. People had only called Tom ‘D-List’ three and a half times today instead of the usual ten. And the three that had happened had been in classes where Trevor Macintosh wasn’t present. The half, Tom counted, was when Josh Hamlin had started it and gotten slugged in the shoulder during Mr. Jordan’s fifth period.

Mr. Jordan had even called Tom up to the board and yelled (Mr. Jordan yelled?) at the class for talking. After the initial shouting, all he’d needed was crossed arms and wise yet withering glare. It had taken Tommy everything not to call his teacher ‘Nox’ after that.

People were changing, treating Tom with more respect, being. Even Amanda and Cameron had been relatively nice to him during lunch. Tom bit down on his own tongue. Lunch. He was still wearing the oddly sized training pants he’d stolen.

He’d promised himself to ditch the Paw Patrol Undies in a more adult bathroom later in the day. Like his reasons for crashing on the couch tonight, that had been a lie, even if he hadn’t known it. For reasons he couldn’t quite explain, Tom just felt right wearing them. They were like his armor, today. Cute and cuddly padded armor.

But even Chase from Paw Patrol was no match to the hand and song crafted runic armor that the dwarves of Malacus had forged for him.

Malacus. That’s where this change was coming from, Tom knew. He didn’t know how, and didn’t care. There was a bizarre connection between his traveling to that realm hidden in the old clock and people treating him slightly better in this world. Tom wanted that. He wanted mor-

“Hello?” Katlynn snapped her fingers. “Earth to Tommy. You’re doing that thing where you talk to yourself, again. Get out of your head.”

Tom blinked the cobwebs away. “Huh? What?”

“You spaced out,” Katlynn said. “Did you even hear me?”

“No…?”

“I said ‘yeah’.” she repeated herself. “Just don’t do anything creepy and don’t wake me up.”

Yes! Victory! Opportunity!

Ambition sated for the moment, Tom’s sibling rivalry instincts took over. He allowed himself a positively ghoulish smile. “What priority would that be in?”

“Ewww! Gross!” she backhanded his arm. They were both laughing as the bus reached their stop. They walked the block and a half in amiable silence back home to Forrest Luxury Apartments.

With a tired creak, they shuffled back through the door andTom threw his backpack on the couch, officially claiming it as Katlynn closed it behind him. “Dibs!”

“You do know I still get to sit there before bed, right?”

“Sure,” Tom allowed. Not even looking behind him, Tom walked over to the old grandfather clock. His breath caught a bit when he looked at the placard labeling it ‘Malacus’. Opening the front panel, he peered inside, wanting to see the misty darkness that he’d journeyed into just a few nights ago. It couldn’t have been a dream. It couldn’t!

Katlyn crashed on the couch. “I still don’t get how you can sleep on this thing,” she said. “I’m always tossing and turning.” Tom wasn’t even looking at her. Just at the tangled mass of gears and cobwebs inside. Even a clock this size didn’t need this many gears. Maybe the last owner was into Steampunk. “Why are you looking at that old thing?”

“I don’t know,” Tom lied again. “Just trying to figure out the best way to clean it up. You know Mary’s gonna have us do most of the work cleaning it up, right?”

Tom’s sister sat up a little straighter (as straight as she could on the old, enveloping couch). “Why would Mom have us clean it up now?”

The young man sighed. He was the one wearing training pants but he felt like he was explaining things to a child. “Because if we’re gonna sell it like she wants to, we can’t sell it like this.” Tom stepped back and grandly gestured to what was now a vaguely clock shaped bundle of firewood. “And she’s not gonna do the work. We both know that.”
Katlynn’s brows knitted together and a look of mild confusion flashed across her eyes. “Why are we gonna sell it? We’re poor but we’re not that poor.” She pointed to the old grandfather. “We’ve had that thing for years.”

Tom was about to argue and then the strangest thing happened: It was as if a mist was gently wafting over the folds in his brain, a fog rolling in and leaving little droplets of memories on the front lawn of his mind. “Oh yeah,” Tom remembered.

“You’re not wrong though,” Katlynn said. “That old thing wouldn’t sell for scrap. Not even Checkmate Pawn would take that thing right now.”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “It’s pretty worthless.” It was worthless, as a clock at least. But as of last Friday night bleeding into Saturday morning, Tom had discovered the old thing’s true potential; potential that he was going to put to good use. Tonight. Tom half-promised half prayed. Tonight it would work.

It would have to. Tom didn’t know if he could handle it not working.

Chapter 12: Pickup without picking up a thing…

As Tom and Katlynn Dean were getting home, and dreams of a faraway land outside of time and space prepared to make Tom’s evening slow to a crawl, other, less fortunate (some might argue more fortunate) people were also being picked up from their place of learning. ‘Learning’ might be too strong a word to be accurate, but these locales had lots of resources about learning letters, shapes, colors, numbers, animal sounds and the like. And gosh darn it, everyone attending was just having a golly gosh good ol’ time at doing it!

For Molly Simpson of Trenton, New Jersey, it was at Happy Hearts Exceptional Student Daycare, just after she clocked out of her restaurant (and it was her restaurant) to go pick up her daughter. Her husband would handle the dinner rush, as per usual.

For Dan Buckman of Sacramento California, it was just a quick trot over from his successful used car lot to check on his son at the Institute for Developmental Delays.

The Church of Second Chances had a wonderful religious community that had practically sprung up to support Marie De Plantagenet in paris. Both of her children were afforded free care there, and she didn’t hesitate to donate a large sum of her considerable profits to it each year.

The dance was always the same for these parents and their many many counterparts. They’d come in, chat for a moment with whichever nanny-type was available about their child’s progress (not that progress was ever truly expected), and then they’d be on their way back home, their not-quite little bundle in tow, and all involved would be nothing but smiles.
All the parents considered themselves extremely lucky; not only to have been successful enough to live a life where they could comfortably support themselves and their children, but to have found such places and communities to provide care in the first place. It was all just so lucky. So fortunate. So comfortable.

So what if their child was never going to grow past four feet? Or go on a date? Or learn to care for themselves in any meaningful way, potty training included? They’d known that from the outset, and they were happy about it.

Who wouldn’t want an eternal baby to love and cuddle and care for? Deep down, they knew they were lucky. Deep down, they knew everyone loved their adult children and saw them the same way, as adorable toddlers in need of some extra TLC. Deep down, they knew all of this.

What they didn’t know was that doors to the various Institutes, Centers, Adult Daycares, Special Ed. Rooms, Church Nurseries, and so on all led to the same room once past the threshold. Regardless of name or region, it was always the same place with the same staff and the same ‘kids’.

What they didn’t know was that neither time nor time zone was a factor in this place. It was always drop off in the morning, and pickup in the afternoon, and for some reason the fact that one nineteen year old baby lived in New Mexico while their twenty-eight year old playmate spent their weekends in Japan never seemed to bother the parents, the staff, or the people in their care.

None of the parents even knew each other. They didn’t even stop to think what a strange coincidence it was that after years of enrollment they’d never encountered another parent. All just ‘coincidentally’ picking up their darling, crinkling ‘little ones’, up one at a time. Nevermind any perceived language barriers.

They were just happy that they’re children could be treated like ‘normal’ kids for their entire lives and that they had a support network of staff and peers just like them, and the money to pay for it all.

What they definitely didn’t know was that their children hadn’t always had this special condition; that their memories had been misted away and that their children once had all of the physical and mental capabilities considered ‘average’ for their chronological age and level of development. Some had even moved out of the house before this condition had taken ahold of them and thrown their identities back into the cradle.

Some might have even made something spectacular of themselves (now the only thing spectacular was the messes they made in their diapers after a stomach bug). That was before this strange condition got to them, before this affliction wiped away their personalities and the memory of everyone close to them.

But whether they knew it or not, they were just as blessed and afflicted as their eternal dependents. Ignorance really could be bliss.

Chapter 13: Making his name.
It’s astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness
Takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I have to keep control…

BONG! BONG! BONG!

Tom Dean was on his feet before the third chime rang out, with his hand clapped over his mouth so he wouldn’t scream out in surprise (or joy). This was it! It was time! He knew it! Saturday and Sunday had been completely uneventful, with Tom not hearing so much as a peep from the old clock.

But now? Now it was time. The digital clock on the coffee table flashed half past eleven. Odd. Tom thought it would have been just after midnight when he was awakened. Apparently time wasn’t a factor for the broken clock. (Heh.)

Tired of waiting, Tom superstitiously recreated Friday night to the best of his memory. He’d slept on the couch in the same position, just like Friday. He’d worn the same silk jammies- his one good pair-just like Friday.

He’d tossed and turned, waiting for the clock to call to him for close to an hour before it occurred to him that sleeping might be a prerequisite of hearing its call. Too excited with the possibility of returning to that magical world to sleep without some kind of aid, Tom quietly masturbated on the couch thinking of hot women fawning over him as they changed his…clothes….his clothes and breas…stuck their titties in his face. Just like Friday.

A slight monkey wrench in the works was thrown in on the matter of Tom’s underwear. He hadn’t been wearing any undies last Friday. Stubborn superstition (was it even superstitious if it worked) dictated that Tom should have gone commando this night, but that would have meant stripping off the oddly fitting toddler underwear he’d stolen.

A tiny voice in his head; the same one that told him to take them; the same one that had him staring at packages of Pull-Ups in the grocery store; insisted that he shouldn’t. His own guilty conscience agreed out of practicality. Tossed underwear was potentially discovered underwear. And Tom would need an excuse that he just didn’t have handy.

Instead, Tom had ‘compromised’ with himself and shimmied his pajama bottoms down to his ankles so that only one layer of clothing was surrounding his loins as he revved his own engine. ‘Compromise’ was an apt word, though not in the context that Tom was imagining it. If he had been outside his own body looking down, he would have been able to see himself mouthing the words: “I’mma big boy, I’mma big boy, I’m big, I’m big, I’m big…” and then start sucking his thumb as he climaxed into his new padded underwear.

Hadn’t he fallen asleep after that? With his pajama bottoms still around his ankles? Why were they back around his waist now? Who-?

BONG! BONG! BONG!

The clock repeated its summons. As if to hammer the point home, the front panel of the clock creaked open. Malacus was in need of him, just as much as he needed it. Time to play the hero. Screw that! Time to BE the hero!

Just one slight problem…

He also had to pee.

Pretending that the old clock had eyes, he held up a finger towards the ruined antique, calling for patience. When the portal made no reply, Tom shuffled off to the bathroom. Adventuring through magical lands wasn’t the same on a full bladder.

Tom hurried to the bathroom, leaving the door open as he fumbled for his fly so that he could pee. It was a full five seconds of drunkenly searching for a zipper that didn’t exist. These were pajama bottoms, not boxers! Like a preschooler just getting the basics down, he dropped trow and made the same mistake with his underwear. The training pants forewent the need for a dick hole to make the padding extra absorbent.

Urge rising the eighteen year old practically gave himself rug burn yanking the padded undies down to answer nature’s call.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….”

Sadly, nature wasn’t the only thing calling Tommy.

CREEEEEAK!

The door was closing! Oh no! He was about to lose out on adventure number two because he had to go number one! Skin tingling, Tommy yanked up his training pants and jammies in one swoop and rushed out the bathroom.

The door was closing. He was being barred entry! Rejected. Time slowed down as he sprinted, diving for the closing door, headlong into darkness. “NNNNNNNNNN-!” He was skidding on rocky floor, a sprinter trying to steal home before the final pitch. His body was losing composure, trying to roll to break his fall.

The door closed behind him. “OOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” His voice echoing off cavernous interdimensional stone. Trapped in darkness, but on the other side of the clock. Picking himself up off the ground Tommy heaved a sigh of relief.
“Did it,” he said to himself.

“Iddit….iddit…iddit…” his echo called back. As the heat from his body died down, Tommy felt himself growing cold…cold and damp, but only in one strategic area. He’d done it alright. Right in his pants. In his rush to make the closing door (mystical time waited for no man), he hadn’t finished peeing and accidentally released part of his bladder into his thick toddler underpants.

The complete darkness enveloping him only made the feeling in his underwear that much more obvious. Biting his bottom lip, he felt through the front of his pajama pants, detecting the slightest squish.

He’d peed himself.

Again, he patted his crotch, more gingerly this time. The wetness hadn’t bled through to the front yet. Good. Just a little pee…a tiny tinkle. Only a little more than if he’d forgotten to shake. It wouldn’t do to have Tom the Titan, savior of Malacus running around with wet pants.

One deep breath later, Tom put his hand against the nearest cave wall and trudged forward, much faster than he had that first night. He knew where he was going this time. This was a journey, not an exploration.

Quicker than the first time, Tommy found the chamber of glowing algae, the sound of dripping water greeting him. Self-consciously, he pawed at his crotch, which was beginning to feel cool and clammy. “It’ll all come out in the pool,” Tommy whispered to himself. “No one will know. Not Nox. Not Leadshoulder. No one.”

“Un…un…un…un…”

Impatiently, he strode forward to the end of the chamber, towards where he’d find the Mana Pool. Where was it? He looked around, his eyes not yet fully adjusted to the bioluminescent algae.

There!

Just above the exit, the final stretch to a land where he was a god, scraped into the wall was the name: “Charles Watson”.

Tommy stopped. Charles Watson. Must’ve been the guy who saved Malacus before Tommy; the reason why Nox and company thought the land outside their clock was called The Land of Men. He shrugged. Neat.

He took a step forward.

And stopped.

Why should Charles Watson be the only person to leave his mark on this place? Where was Charles Watson? Not here! This wasn’t Charles Watson’s place anymore, it was Tommy’s!

Index finger extended like a chisel, Tommy picked a nearby patch of algae. Sticky and wet, not unlike other things close to Tommy; though that comparison gave him little comfort. With slow and deliberate movements, Tommy carved out his name. Each movement of his finger sent rippling beautiful sparks through the wood as he disturbed it.

Mesmerizing. Positively mesmerizing. It made the simple act of scribbling his name seem all the more magical. “Thomas Dean” he read out loud. It felt better, right, to use his formal name. This time the cavern did not echo back.

Tommy waited. “Well…okay then.”

“En…en…en…en…”

Huh. Weird. One deep breath later, Tommy ducked and stepped through the hole.

A moment of blackness.

And then power!

The first time he’d come here, he had almost drowned. Now he was soaring, gliding through the depths; each kick propelling him like a shark through the water. The tiny light of the sun was a target to him and he effortlessly surged upward.

Less than three seconds later, his lungs were taking in air as he broke the surface. He wasn’t swimming, he was all but soaring. He was a dolphin! A dragon! A god! An olympic diver in reverse, Tom flipped and spun in the air flinging the errant droplets of water off of him in a blur before landing on his feet.

“NICE!” he said.

That wasn’t all that was nice. The air, the very fabric of Malcus’s reality had done more than empower Tommy, but his clothes as well. Completely dry, his silk pajamas were now hardened Dwarven Steel glowing with both magic and sunlight.

Correction: Not completely dry.

Tommy could still feel a certain dampness in the front of his crotch. In this form, his mystical armor was all one piece. He couldn’t just pull open his metal trousers and peek down or feel around now. It was an all or nothing ordeal.

He didn’t exactly need to, though. Tommy could feel it. The strange cool clamminess around his penis hadn’t reduced at all. His jammies had metamorphosed into the amazing mythical armor from his last journey.

His underwear? That was still nothing more than soiled training pants. Oddly enough, Tommy was okay with that. No one could see it, he justified. So it didn’t matter. It would do him good to stay humble here.

“M’lord!” a familiar voice called to him. “Thank goodness you’ve returned from Earth Realm!”

Tommy turned to the sound of the voice as stout heavy boots trudged toward him. “Leadshoulder!” he called back. “Your beard has finished growing in! Congratulations.”

The dwarf with the face of a (former) bully stretched out across his wide skull finished his approach and took a knee. “Thank you, m’lord. Somehow, I knew it would be me to find you. We’ve been taking shifts the last several days.”

Right. Right. This wasn’t a vacation for them, Tommy reminded himself. The dwarves and centaurs didn’t know that their entire universe was inside a beat up piece of crap. “Where’s Nox?”

“Captured, m’lord,” the dwarf answered. “Enslaved. Him and all the other centaurs.”

“Elves?” Tommy asked.

“What else?”

“Any hydragons?”

A grim chuckle came from Leadshoulder’s lips. “I believe you throttled them into extinction, m’lord.”

“Then what?”

The dwarf’s eyes went downcast. “The elves have a new queen, m’lord. A dark sorceress who bleeds dark magic.”

Tommy held up his hand. He had a strange feeling about this one. “Enrapturing voice?”

“Aye, m’lord.”
“Curvaceous hips?”

“Aye…”

“The ability to ensorcel any man that she speaks to, capable of driving them to frenzied lusts, or crushing sorrow?”

“M’lord? How do you-?”

Tommy wasn’t done guessing. “And does this Queen have a…a…” he stuttered. What was the word? “A handmaiden with huge…tracts of land?”

“We call them breasts, m’lord.”

Tommy waved the dwarf off and Leadshoulder visibly shook, afraid that Tommy might accidentally grace him. “You know what I mean. Does the sorceress elf queen have a handmaiden with huge tits?!”

Leadshoulder only gawked and began playing with his beard out of sheer nervous disbelief. “Does the Land of Men…I mean Earth Realm house such witches for you to know so much?”

“Not quite,” Tommy smirked. “But close enough.” Tommy walked over to his fantasy friend and wrapped his arm around the dwarf’s waist. “Which way is this evil elf queen and her handmaiden.”

“Do you intend to slay her, m’lord?” The dwarf’s voice had a kind of angry hope behind it. What had this witch done?

Tommy looked to the dwarf. “Is it something she did to Nox?”

“Aye,” he replied. “But I dare not speak of it. Tis’ shameful for one of his kind.”

Everything here was so amped up from reality. Nox equated to Mr. Jordan. And this evil elf queen was most likely some variation of Amanda Monroe. In class Amanda had Mr. Jordan wrapped around her finger. What could be so shameful for a centaur that his friend wouldn’t even speak of it? A terrible idea sunk its way into Tommy’s brain. “Castrated?” he asked. “Or gelded, I guess?”

“Wha-?” Now Leadshoulder looked disgusted. “No! Don’t be ridiculous. She just rides him around everywhere like a horse. Puts a saddle on him and rides it sideways. Keeps his hands tied behind his back and a bridle in his mouth.” His lip curled in disgust. “A sad sight to see a half man, half horse reduced to just a horse. Do you intend to throttle her or not?”

A blush rose to Tommy’s sheeks, but not from fury. A heat rose in his loins and his wet underwear pressed against him just a little tighter. This was a rare opportunity he had here. First Josh and Trevor. Now Amanda and Cameron. Trevor was a dwarf, Josh had been an Elf. Dwarves good. Elves bad. But did they have to be? Not every evil needed to be slain outright.

And as fun as it was to pretty much disintegrate a pointy eared, purple blooded Josh Hamlin, doing the same to two girls that he had a crush on just wasn’t in the same ballpark. Wrong sport altogether, infact. No. A different tact was needed here.

“Not exactly,” Tommy said. “Which way to this evil elf queen?”

“You go to her now?”

“Only if you’ll tell me.”

“North by Northeast, m’looooooooooo-”

Tommy didn’t even wait for Leadshoulder to finish his sentence. The moment he had a direction, he leapt into the air doing miles at a single bound, and carrying his poor stout friend along with him attached at the hip.

“Beggin’ your pardon, m’lord!” the dwarf screamed to be heard over the rushing air. “But we’re falling!”

“Aye,” Tommy said, adopting the speech patterns of his adopted world. “But we’ll land safely before we go up again.”

“Would it please you, m’lord if you drop me,” the dwarf stopped himself. Leadshoulder was tugging at his beard with his free hand. “I mean put me down safely before your next titanic leap?”

Tommy giggled. “Fine. Sure thing buddy. Sure thing.”

Darn it felt good to be back!

Chapter 14: A Battle of Wills
Draw a line in the sand
And then make a stand
Use your camera to spar
Use your guitar
When they act tough
You call their bluff

“My, my, my,” The elf queen said. “What have we here? Bust into my private chambers with nary a knock.” She laid on her lavish bed, her robe made of glistening glamouring samite, just as it had been described by Leadshoulder. Sparkly. Huh. So that’s what samite looked like. Or was it? Tommy had been told that the queen sheathed herself in robes of samite, but he’d never seen the material before, and only vaguely recalled the word from a Monty Python skit. Could Malacus, fantasy realm that it was, accurately represent or contain ideas that Tommy did not possess?

Ultimately, it was the fact that the queen looked identical to Amanda Monroe, (discounting the purple eyes and pointy ears) that marked her as the elve’s tyrannical monarch. It made sense that the queen of Scrumpton High, and his biggest crush, was the evil queen that he must conquer. “Is this what the Titan from the Land of Man looks like?” Her tone was gentle, but her face was completely blase; unimpressed.

Tommy smiled softly. . Whatever bizarre rules this magical world played by, some things were still a constant. Considering what he wanted to do, constants were a comfort… “Earth Realm,” Tommy said.

“Hmmm?”

“It’s called Earth Realm, now.”

The elf with Amanda’s face remained lying on her bed. “Why?” she asked. “Do men now live beneath the earth and shun the open sky as dwarves do?”

“No.”

“Do they fear the sea and dare not speak its name?”

“No.”

“Then why Earth Realm?”

Tommy’s brows knitted together in mild consternation. “Because I said so…?” That didn’t feel quite right. Not very heroic. It sounded like something a dumb grown-up would say when their authority was challenged.

The elf queen did not stir. “Oh? You’re a king over there, then?”

“No…I-”

“A general?” A slight smirk. Not a happy one.

“No.”

“A religious leader?” Tommy didn’t even get a chance to reply before she peppered him with more sarcastic suggestion., “Grand marshal in a parade? Nanny for a small child? Won a contest by having your name drawn from a hat? Given to you by someone who did?”

“ENOUGH!” Tommy’s voice was thunder and it echoed throughout the tower drowning out the elf’s voice. Still…the queen seemed unmoved. She just kept lounging on her bed like a cat that had been mildly roused from its nap. “It doesn’t matter what I am over there! Here? Here I’m invincible.”

“Ah yes,” the queen said. “All men who come to Malacus are dregs.” Just like the real Amanda, Queenie’s emotions seemed to range from condescension all the way to disgust. “Dregs. Peasants. Losers. Yet the air of Malacus nourishes you. Fills you. Protects you. Coddles you.” She spat the last word.

“Your point?”

Unafraid, the queen brushed back her hair and stretched. “I wonder what would happen, were our positions reversed. What if even one of my people could go to your Land of Men?”

“Earth Realm.”

“Whatever.” The queen, who had until now been laying on her back, twisted and turned so that she was on her stomach, still looking up comfortably at Tom. “Your home is something I think I’d very much like to see.”

A growl escaped Tommy. Such a beautiful face but such cutting words. And just like everyone else in his life, this elf seemed to possess the uncanny ability to know his deepest insecurities. “My air might be poisonous to you.”

“Then let me be poisoned,” she laughed. “I’d still get to see the great Tom the Titan in his natural state: No armor. No strength. Helpless. Weak. Pathetic…”

Tommy’s blood boiled. His teeth gnashed. This wasn’t going as he’d wanted it to at all. He stepped forward and saw the glimmer in his enemy’s eyes. He stopped and looked down, not at his own feet, but the foot of her bed. The bed sat on an ornate rug of deep purple. But why?

The nerdy teen from Scrumpton took a breath and thought for a moment. Amanda-elf remained silent, staring at Tommy, frozen from her bed. Not egging him on. Not speaking at all. Tension wound and stirred in her face.

“You’ve got some kind of magic circle around your bed don’t you?” he finally said. “I’m guessing something that’ll reflect my attack back at me? Maybe enchant my mind? Control me?”

Like a child that had just had their favorite knock-knock joke spoiled, the elf queen slapped her feather bed in frustration and sat up on it. “A bit of both,” she admitted. Her feet hanging over the bed, she peeled back a fold of the carpet, giving Tom a glimpse of glyphs etched in stone. “It’s primarily an entrancement spell, but your speed and strength are legendary so I wove in a barrier spell to slow you. It wouldn’t help to enslave you and have you accidentally break me in my charge.”

Tommy stroked his chin with a gauntleted hand. “Huh. Clever.”

“You would have been a most magnificent servant.”

“I would have.” Tommy agreed. “If it makes you feel any better, you almost had me. Near perfect baiting. Any less and I wouldn’t have wanted to attack. Any more and I would have known it was a trap. Can’t seem too desperate for this sort of prank.”

The elf crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. “”Where did I go wrong, then?” she asked. “I was attempting to coax you into attacking me in a blind rage; to make you think that I’d given up and wished to die by your hand.”

“Yeah,” Tommy nodded. “Almost worked.”

“Did work on the centaur.”

“If you’d taunted me while I was thinking you would have seemed too desperate.”

The sorceress queen leaned forward, her elbows on her knees and rested chin in her hands. “What was I supposed to have done?” Damn she was cute when she fussed like that.

“Should have used a dagger,” Tommy replied. “Threw it at me when I was taking too long. Make me react on instinct and charge. Same thing happened to me with the dwarves.”

A look of genuine admiration crossed her. “Oh, you are clever.”

“Tell that to Amanda,” Tom sighed.

“Who?”

“Nevermind.” Tom said. “I win. Where do you want to take this from here?”

The queen rolled her eyes. A very Amanda gesture. “I suppose this is the part where you throttle me and snap my neck like a twig, just as you did to the hydragons.”

He wouldn’t have minded his hands around her, that was true. Just not in that way. “I don’t think so,” Tommy said.

The queen smiled. “Then let’s talk, shall we?” She patted a spot on her bed next to her and scooted over, her smile was inviting. Tempting even.

Not tempting enough for Tommy to forget. “I’m not crossing that spell circle.”

“Damn,” she snapped her fingers. “Can’t blame me for trying.”

“And if you’re still stalling for time and waiting on your handmaiden slash ninja assassin, I already took care of her.”

Her eyes went wide with shock. Huh. To think that Amanda Monroe actually cared about someone besides herself, even if it was just her in elf form. “You didn’t…?!”

“What? No.” Tommy shook his head. “No, no, no, no. I just tied her up a little.” Elf-Cameron was tied up with chains, there not being any rope in the dungeon handy, but she was fine otherwise.
Elf-Amanda stood up from her bed, still not crossing her own warding circle. “It seems we’re at an impasse,” she said. “You can’t enter my circle of protection and I dare not leave it. Were I you I’d simply seal off this tower and make it a prison.”

“Yeah, “ Tommy said. “That’s not me.”

“Who are you?”

Tommy took a deep breath. He could have destroyed her in the same way that he’d destroyed the assassin last time. Put an end to this war once and for all. But maybe he didn’t want it to end like that. Maybe there was more to being the hero than strangling a few hydragons.

Trevor Macintosh had been a huge dick, but ever since Tommy had converted his dwarven doppelganger, Trevor had become halfway decent. Josh was a giant chode, but the elf with his face had tried to murder him. So maybe it was dwarves good, elves bad. But in his gut, Tommy felt it was something more.

The people in this magical land were pale reflections of his real life. But maybe, just maybe they were something more, and that by altering their shadows, he could change the real deal. He sure hoped so.

Releasing his breath, Tommy closed his eyes and called out to the runes in his armor, signaling at them to release. Like a kind of prayer, he whispered,

“I never asked for this, or planned it in advance. I was merely blown here by the winds of chance. I never considered myself a Solomon, or Socrates. I knew who I was: one of your dime-a-dozen mediocrities.” His armor liked songs, so he picked lyrics that kept him humble, even if they were dubious in their original context.

The armor didn’t fall off as much as it melted off of him and reassembled next to him. He didn’t feel nearly as powerful without it. But Tom the Titan wasn’t needed to solve this problem.

“I’m Tommy Dean,” he said.

The elf considered him a moment. “Ghilanna of the Gilded Leaf,” she finally said.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Ghilanna”

Ghilanna stared at Tommy, everything but the color of her eyes identical to his crush. “Tommy Dean,” she said. “Why do you have pups embroidered on your smallclothes and why are they soiled?”

Tommy looked down and blushed. He’d forgotten that he still had his Paw Patrol training briefs on. The urine had dried up, but the piss stains yet remained.

“Yeah…about that,” he said. “There’s a story to that.”

“Do tell.”

Chapter 15: Coupling

And you know, you know, you know
It’s 'cause you’re beautiful
You say you’re numb inside
But I can’t agree
So the world’s unfair
Keep it locked out there
In here it’s beautiful
Let’s make this beautiful!
“That works for me.”

Ghilanna, queen of the elves sat on her bed, a look of intense concentration and confusion on her face. “So you’re a student? A child?”

Tommy sat in his own chair that he’d pulled so that he could sit and talk with the now deposed elf queen. His armor remained floating by the door to her bedroom as it had been since he’d removed it. Outside the sun was starting to set. “Yes and no,” Tommy said. “I’m an adult, but I’m still learning. Not on my own, yet.”

“Why not?”

“It’s…kind of how my world works. My part of the world, anyhow.” How was he supposed to explain the social and geo-political complexities of twenty-first century Earth? Tommy barely understood high school Civics class. Most days he barely understood the societal mandates and rules of Scrumpton Georgia. To explain all the nuances and complications with living in the real world to someone literally living in a fantasy one; it was just beyond Tommy.

Ghilanna seemed to think and take in everything she’d been told. “You’re a childe?”

“What?!” Tommy felt himself tense up. “No!” The ruined kiddie undies around his waist weren’t helping his insecurities at the moment. “Like I said, I’m not a kid. I go to school but legally, I’m an adult.”

Ghilanna still had Amanda’s same pitying, condescending laugh. “Not that kind of child; a babe suckling at its mother’s teat,” she explained. “A childe is an untested knight. A man grown who has earned his armor and title, but has yet to taste true battle.” Even though looking at her made him desperately want to suckle at her teat, the idea of being compared to a knight made Tommy feel better about himself.

“Yeah. You could say that, I guess.” Remembering a poem he had to read in English class, a lightbulb went off in. “I mean yeah. Totally. This is my Dark Tower.”

“So that is why Malacus is always in turmoil,” Ghilanna said, seemingly more to herself. “We’re your proving grounds.”

Tommy hadn’t thought of it that way. “No, it’s just…yeah, that’s it.” Tommy didn’t have the heart to tell her that Malacus was basically his escape; his adventure vacation.

“And when you return to the Land of Men,” Ghilanna pressed. “You’ll be a hero?”

“Yeah,” Tommy nodded. “Exactly.” For some reason, these fantasy creatures just couldn’t, or just didn’t want to grasp that Tommy was a nobody and they didn’t exist to the rest of the world.

“But we’ll remain unknown,” Ghilanna said. “Time will pass here, we’ll be forgotten. We might even forget ourselves and you’ll pass into legend. Then we’ll start fighting the dwarves or the centaurs, or the merfolk. Monsters and abominations will be bred. Atrocities will occur.” Violet tears streaked down cheeks. “Until the next sapling of a man comes in here, saves us, conquers us, and then leaves.”

Tommy mentally corrected himself. Ghilanna understood much. “I hadn’t quite thought of it that way.”

“Why would you?” she asked. There was silence between them. Tommy had wanted to try something resembling diplomacy and had failed. Maybe this is why Amanda, the real Amanda never talked to him. He was just awful at it. “And I look like your lady love?”

“I wouldn’t call her that.” He’d never referred to Amanda in those terms. He hadn’t dared. She was a girl who barely knew he existed and what she did know she didn’t particularly care for these days.

It was Ghilanna who looked away. “You didn’t need to. I could hear it in your voice when you told me I had her face.” She tapped a pointed earlobe. “Good hearing.” She rose from the bed. “It’s interesting that so many of us seem so familiar to you and yet you are strange to us.”

Tommy shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.” It was strange. So strange that Tommy had already filed it under ‘don’t think about it’ in his brain.

“It’s like you’re a missing puzzle piece.”

Tommy looked up at her. “What do you mean?”

“What if you’re meant to be here, but not because you’re lacking something?” There was a tinge of excitement in her voice. “What if we’re not reflections of your world, but you’re the missing piece in this one?”

The young man’s mouth went dry. “What are you saying?”

“Throughout the legends, man is a destructor,” the elf said. “Sometimes benevolent. Sometimes disastrous. It all depends on which side he chooses.”

“It’s like cliques and the popular kids.”
“Exactly!” she was sounding excited now. “But what if Tom the Titan from the Land of…from Earth Realm,” she corrected herself, “What if you were a uniter, not a destructor?”

Tommy had no idea where she was going with this, but the way she was saying it was stirring up certain…feelings. Her tone was almost identical to at least thirty-five percent of his masturbation fantasies.

With one elegant movement, the elf with his crush’s face stripped her glittering robe off. “Couple with me.”

“What?!” Her body was perfect. Every curve identical to Amanda’s, every square inch of skin just as soft and smooth looking as he’d imagined while trying to develop x-ray vision back in Math. And here she was, inviting him. ‘Couple with me’ was olde English for ‘let’s fuck’.

This was a trap. It had to be a trap. His mind knew this. His penis? Ready and raring to go. The padded underwear was doing nothing to hide his excitement. “Why?” Tommy asked. “Why would you…?”

“For peace,” she said. She put her right foot out, over the casting circle and stepped out. “The dwarves already have pledged themselves to you. As have the centaurs.” Tom felt paralyzed as she dug her fingers into his waistband. “Make me your consort, and the elves shall be your friends as well.” She lowered to her knees as she slid the underwear off his legs. Tommy didn’t even quite realize it as he stepped out of the filthy things.

Tommy watched as she retrieved a bottle made of ornate purple glass. “You don’t know much about elven biology, do you?” Tommy shook his head. “Our communal instinct is overpowering,” Ghilanna said. “Once we’ve coupled with someone, their friends and allies become our friends and allies. It’s why I had…” she paused “have…had a handmaiden. Wouldn’t do to make peace if I didn’t want to.”

“Why do you want to now?”

Ghilanna shook the bottle up. “Because,” she said. “If I surrendered to the dwarves and centaurs, they’d win. If I had entranced you, they’d lose. But if I couple with their god-king AND their god-king is merciful, we all win.”

Tommy’s brain was still on the lookout for betrayal, even if his member was telling him differently. For all intents and purposes Amanda was naked and undressing him. It wasn’t even real Amanda. It was elf-Amanda. Fantasy Amanda. Masturbation dream Amanda. That made it easier to let his guard down; easier for him to lust after her. “That’s convenient,” he said.

“Convenient?” the elf said. “Hardly. Yes it stops us from killing each other living in those crowded tree cities, but it also makes little things like political rape a reality.” She stared at him. “Or didn’t your centaur friends tell you that?”

“I would never-!”

“I know,” she stopped him. “That’s why my gambit didn’t work. That’s why I’m consenting, now.”
From the bottle, she poured out a transparent green ichor and rubbed it on her hands. “A cleansing oil” she explained. “To prevent infection.”

“From what?”

“From you,” she glanced at his cock. “I don’t know where you’ve been.”

“I haven’t consented,” Tommy said.

“Part of you has.”

“Not the part that’s in charge.”

Her hand oiled up, reached for his penis. “Are you sure?”

Quicker than even an elven eye could perceive, Tommy reached down and grabbed her wrist. “What’s in it for me?”

The elf laughed. It was like Amanda’s laugh when she was trying to flirt with a guy. Tommy had never heard that noise directed at him. “Me, of course.”

“I could just kill you,” he said. “Like a hydragon. Like the dwarves want me to do.”

“You shouldn’t though. And you feel that. That’s what I’m finding strangely attractive about you.” She leaned to him and Tommy felt his heart rate double. Her naked breasts were directly pushed up against him. Only the barest of spaces separated his fully erect penis from her body. “I want to couple with you, Tommy Dean. You’d be a good friend to me. A very good friend.”

Feeling stronger than he ever did, Tommy repeated himself. “What’s in it for me?” His free hand reached down and grabbed her other wrist. This was too good to be true. He couldn’t chance it.

Softly, sweetly, seductively, she whispered to him. “I have the face of your unrequited love,” she said. “Her body, too.” Tommy shuddered in a moment of ecstacy as she blew lightly into his ear. “What gives me pleasure should give her pleasure too, yes?”

Tommy didn’t speak it aloud, but it did make sense.

“So couple with me,” she whispered. “Lay with me and I will tell you what I like and what I don’t. Then when couple with her…” She let the rest of the thought finish itself in Tommy’s head.

Tommy felt his face flush. “I’ve never…I mean…” this was so much more difficult than just fighting monsters. “You’d be my first.”

“Not your first,” Ghilanna whispered to him in Amanda’s voice. “Never your first. Your lady love will be your first. I’m just your proving ground, m’lord.”

That did it. Those last words sealed the deal. He released her wrists and allowed her to grab his shaft and rub her oily hands all over his throbbing member and tickle his balls. A warmth came to his loins and a smell of pleasant flowers mingled with the sweat accumulated in the armor. Baby oil? Was this stuff baby oil? Elven baby oil?

It was strange having part of his body feel so warm while the rest of him remained the same. Strange but good, and the smell coming off the oil only enhanced his lust. The elf moved her hands up to his shoulders and moved in pressing all of her body against his. “Where shall we couple, m’lord? I know the bed is off limits but-”

“No it isn’t,” Tommy said. Moving the elf queen to the side, Tommy raised his foot up and then plunged it back down into the stone floor. He drove his foot into the ground heel first and at an angle. The floor shook and rumbled, as a massive crack traveled the length from his foot until it disappeared beneath the rug under her bed. “Circle’s broken. Useless now. That’s how it works, right?”

Ghilanna gasped. “You could have done that anytime.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yup.”

“But you didn’t…”

“Nope. I would never.”

Her smile, Amanda’s smile, was big and bright. Genuine. Tommy was positive he hadn’ seen that kind of smile from a girl directed at him in a long time, well before middle school. “Take me,” she said. “Take me now.”

Without waiting he lifted her and gently tossed her onto the bed. A moment later, he was on top of her, kissing her neck as she wrapped her legs around him and ran her hands down his back. Their moaning became a song right before she grabbed his head and pulled him in for their first kiss.

His tongue entered her mouth clumsily, inexperienced. Elves liked mint leaves apparently. He broke off the kiss so that he could go back to her neck. “Oh! Not so hard,” she panted as he sunk his teeth into her neck. “Mark me,” she told him. “Mark me, but be gentle. I’m a peach, not an apple.”

Tommy did as she said, nibbling at her and sucking gently at her flesh. Even her flesh had a sweetness to it. “Like this?” he asked.

She reached between them and kept caressing his shaft. “Yes,” she moaned. “Yes. Now get inside me.” He could feel his heartbeat below his beltline as she commanded him.
Smiling like an idiot, Tommy said the only words that came to mind. “Yes ma’am.” He thrusted and bumped, all while peppering her face and neck with tiny, passionate kisses. He grinded up against her. Felt his sex press against hers; felt the lips between her legs on him, but couldn’t quite find the entrance.

In that moment, so much of Tom the Titan melted away, and Tommy the virgin was left fumbling around. Was it bad etiquette to pull back? Re-aim? Adjust? Amanda’s hands (they were Amanda’s hands) grabbed his hair and deep violet elven eyes stared into his. “Stay with me. Be here. With me.”

Tommy wanted to apologize, to say croon and swoon or say something smooth and sexy. “Help,” his eyes darted downward.

Deep violet eyes followed his and shone with understanding. Her lets unwrapped themselves and she shimmied beneath him, her hands snaking back down towards his cock. “Can’t have you lose this yet,” she grinned before stroking them up and down his manhood. How often had Tommy pictured hands just like those doing just this thing? Even slipping with the oil, it was so much better than what he’d imagined while stroking off on the couch.

With a slight grunt she grabbed him and guided him inside her. Tommy reflexively let out a gasp as something damn near primal awoke inside him. Tommy had spent his life listening to songs about this. How could people even write about this? There were words, but nothing so melodic that Sondheim could realistically write about and convey the meaning. Even the copious amounts of porn that Tommy had sneaked at the public library hadn’t prepared him for this.

It felt warm and wet and held him deep like a hug. Gently, slowly at first, he thrust into her. “Theeeeere we go,” Amanda’s voice cooed up at him. “Found you.” Tommy was beyond words. Tommy was beyond breathing through his nose.

He was doing it! He was doing it! Steadying himself, he started to bump and grind with her as she laid backed and closed her eyes, moaning. Her moaning only made him go faster until the two of them were skidding by inches across the bed. “Gently…” she whispered. “Gently, my love.”

Tommy slowed his thrusting and used less force. This wasn’t beating off. He had to worry about someone else besides him. Their breathing started to sync up and her hands wandered back and began to gently pinch and caress his ears. “Such curious, lovely round ears,” she said. Her moans had started to sound more like the purring of a tiger.

In and out, in and out; like waves gently lapping on the beach they were. A coupling. Not a race. A moment of shared vulnerability. “If you want you can stare at my breasts. Touch them if you like” Tommy felt himself almost happy-cry at the permission. He’d been staring at her nipples already.

Steading himself on his left hand, Tommy reached out with his right so he could cup and tease and pinch at her nipples, a kid in a candy store. Oh if only he’d been a giraffe, but he couldn’t keep his balance; he’d tease one breast while mouthing on the other. Just thinking about it made him thrust a little harder, a little deeper.

His companion seemed to read his mind. “A moment,” she said, pulling herself away from him. He had to resist the desire to wine as he slid out of her and his cock felt cold open air. Disentangling her legs from his, she laid father back and lifted them up over her head, almost like a toddler mid-change. “Try it now.”

He entered into her the second time, feeling a kind of strange relief even as a different kind of tension doubled over inside him. Her ankles rested on his shoulders this time and he shifted more of his weight onto his knees.

On instinct, he sat back onto his ankles, grabbed her thighs and pulled her in closer, eliciting a gasp of surprise. Her fingers reached out and intertwined with his, helping him to keep balance… “You like?” she asked.

“I like…I like…” he stuttered and blushed. He squeezed her hands. Maybe it was just nerves, but he heard himself giggle slightly.

She squeezed back. “I like it too, let yourself enjoy it.”

Faster then. Faster and faster. Something was building inside of him. There was an art in this, Tommy realized. A mixture of passion and control. A balance. Faster. Faster. Yes!

“Yes! That’s it…” she whispered. “Love me. Love me like you were meant to.” She pulled his hands closer to her chest, unlacing her fingers from his so that he could fully cup her bosom with both hands. “Bend me. I won’t break.”

Tommy leaned in further putting more of his weight on her so that he could feel more of her. Even faster. Even harder. Tease her. Pinch her. Thrust into her harder and harder. “OOOOOOH!” she moaned. A mean streak flashed through him, and he vaguely wished her hair was in pigtails so he could pull one. Just vaguely. But the thought was there.

“Ready?”

He nodded.

“Then finish it.”

The waves on the beach became a stormy sea as he let himself go. He forgot rhythm. He forgot pace and gentleness. For a split second, Tommy just forgot her as a person. She was just the pretty thing that made him feel warm and wet and squishy and made nice noises when he entered and wiggled around inside her. All that existed in the universe in that moment was him.

And then he exploded.

He throbbed and pulsed as the last of him squirted out uncontrollably, and the very air of Malacus seemed to take on a different hue that had nothing to do with the position of the sun. With a groan of satisfaction, he rolled off the elf, panting.

She rolled over onto him, showering him with kisses, each peck a little firework to accompany the grand explosion in his soul. It wasn’t everyday someone got to lose their virginity to an elf. “Well done, oh childe,” she whispered to him. “Well done.”

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

“Of course, my consort. My king.” She rolled off his chest and onto her back. She spread her legs again and started fingering herself. “Now suckle on me as I finish.”

Chapter 16: Curious

BONG! BONG! BONG!

Katlynn woke up in a fog. Literally. Her entire room was filled with a thick, unpierceable, soupy mist. For a moment she was positive she was about to die. House fire. Inferno. The screams of people burning alive and the crackling protests of cheap wood set ablaze.

This is how I die.

No heat, though. No acrid stench. No sizzling, flesh or otherwise. Just mist. Katlynn shook the cobwebs out of her head and rubbed her eyes, thinking that this might be some kind of trick of the dark.

When she opened them again, she caught the briefest glimpse of the smoky stuff retreating; actually retreating under her door. The heck? Peeling back her pink comforter, Katlynn slid out of her bed and walked to her door.

Her bedroom light was on before she opened the door into the living area. That hesitation cost her seeing where the mist had gone, (assuming there had been mist) but the added light helped her catch a small detail. She caught a glimpse of a shadow, just behind the old grandfather clock.

“Hello?” she whisper-called into the darkness. “Anybody there?” Breath held, she walked out and towards the couch, nightgown flowing gently behind her. Please don’t be a burglar. Please don’t be a stray cat. Actually a stray cat might be neat; Mom would have to let them keep it. How would a cat get in here anyways?

She exhaled when she finally reached the couch. “Tommy?” Her brother didn’t stir. Her hand shook his shoulder. “Tommy, get up.”

“Huh?” Tommy said, sounding sleepy. He let out a loud, almost cartoonish yawn. “Oh. Hey sis. Is it time for school?”

Her eyes still not fully adjusted to being awake, Katlynn had to squint to make out the time on the microwave. “It’s a little after midnight,” she said. “What are you doing on the couch?”

Tommy didn’t move. “Tonight’s my night for it,” he said. “Remember?”

If she hadn’t been so sleepy, Katlynn might have laughed. Instead she was just confused. “Night for what?”

“Sleeping on the couch.”

It was all she could do to just shake her head. “Okay,” Katlynn said. “I think you’ve been sleepwalking buddy.”

“Buddy?” That seemed to wake him up.

“Come on,” she said. “Go to bed.” Liking a zombie, her brother shambled off the couch and started dragging his feet with her behind him. The only problem was he was going to the wrong room. She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Wrong room,” she told him before steering him in the right direction.

“Wrong room?” Tommy echoed as she steered him towards his own bedroom.

Katlynn pushed him a little so he’d walk faster. “We haven’t shared beds since we were little, remember?” She walked ahead of him and drew back his Spider-Man bed sheets. “In ya go, little guy.”

Tommy stopped and looked up to her. “Little…?” He said, his eyes still squinting. “I’m…” He stopped and looked at her. Even in the darkness of his room, she could tell he was confused based on his posture. His gaze started at her feet and then traveled all the way up her body until he’d just made eye contact with her and kept going.

“What?”Katlynn yawned

“Bigger than you…?” Another comment that would have gotten at least a giggle if not for how sleepy she was. He was, too. Otherwise Tommy would never have thought he was taller than her. She was a few minutes older and a few inches taller. That’s how it’d always been.

“Y’know what?” he said, climbing into bed. “Never mind. I’ll figure this out later.”

“Deal,” she said. “I’m gonna make fun of you for sleepwalking tomorrow, too.”

“Okay,” he said. “Whatever.” He was snoring before she left his room.

Great. Now he was sleepwalking. At least the bed was dry when he got back under the covers. Tomorrow morning? Fifty-fifty shot. Thankfully her little twin had gotten good enough to where he could do the laundry himself; even if Mom still helped with making the bed.

Chapter 17: Unexpected Side Effects

Good mornin’, good mornin’!
We’ve danced the whole night through,
good mornin’, good mornin’ to you.

Good mornin’, good mornin’!
It’s great to stay up late,
good mornin’, good mornin’ to you.

Tommy woke up horny. Any dreams he’d been having were paused and forgotten before he’d managed to open his eyes; as were memories of the night before. Strange. He’d remembered having sex with the elf that looked suspiciously like Amanda, (did it count as losing one’s virginity if it was done to a member of a completely different species?), and he remembered getting back into his armor and leaving for the way back home. After that? Nothing.

He was in the spare bedroom. The firm mattress under his back and nice comfy pillow under his head were enough to confirm that. Weird. He’d claimed the couch that night. Whatever. Spare bedroom meant a closed door meant privacy.

Tommy slithered his hand underneath the sheets and went to pleasure himself. His hand stopped at his belly button. Why were the sheets so clammy and clingy? Tommy opened his eyes and sat up. His Spider-Man bed sheets were soaked. He’d wet the bed, again.

A bit of static, like a record scratching or nails on a chalkboard, sounded off in Tommy’s brain. This wasn’t his room. Tommy didn’t have a room. The heck was going on? Like soggy pancakes, Tommy peeled the sheets off his bed and swung his feet over the side to stand up.

This was not his room. This was not normal. Instead of the plain white of the apartment, light blue paint covered the walls, with posters of different comic book characters punctuating blank spaces. A full dresser was to one side, super hero action figures taking up the counter space. An open walk- in closet was on the other side.
A wicker clothes hamper by the door waited for him. Tommy looked down at himself. His silk pajama bottoms were soaked from the belly button to the knee. Tommy had been kidnapped. Kidnapped and forced to wet the bed. That was the only logical explanation.

At the head, the sun was just starting to crest and bring light through a window.

A window!

Tommy hopped up on the bed and peered out, hoping to get some kind of clue as to where he was. Knocking the pillow aside, he climbed up onto the bed and leaned forward, balancing himself on the headboard. Incredibly enough, it was the Forrest Luxury apartments parking lot. The view wasn’t grand, but he’d recognize the paint job of the neighboring building anywhere. One brick still had a daring “X” scribbled across it from five years ago when Tommy had thought to try his hand at teenage rebellion and found that he had neither the artistic inclinations nor the idiotic brand of bravery required to do grafitti.

“Morning, Tommy,” a voice called cheerily from behind him. “Time to get up.”

Someone had opened the door behind him. Tommy turned around. “Mom?!”

“Off the bed, cupcake. Beds are for sleeping, not jumping.”

It was Mary Dean. Only it wasn’t. Since at least fifth grade, Mary Dean didn’t exist before 11:30 AM. From the moment Tom and Katlynn had been old enough to walk themselves to the bus stop(or old enough so Mary didn’t worry about child services being called) it had been the kids’ job to get themselves to and from school. Mary slept in.

Tom scrambled off the bed, still confused. “Mom?”

“Yes, Tommy?”

“I wet the bed.”

Mom spared a look at Tommy’s soaked PJ’s. “I know. Go shower. Go get cleaned up or you’ll miss school.”

School? Shower? Mom was taking this surprisingly well. “But I woke up here,” he tried to explain. “But I didn’t go to sleep here.”

“Mmmhmmm…” Mom wasn’t even looking at him. She was stripping the sheets off the bed. “Katlynn told me she found you sleeping on the couch. Nightmares?”

Such casual concern bothered Tommy. “No…”

“Did you remember to go pee-pee before you went to bed?”
“What? Uh. Yeah?”

Mom threw the wet sheets into a crumpled pile by the hamper… There was a waterproof mattress cover beneath, Tommy observed. “Did Katlynn take you to the bathroom when she woke you up on the couch.”

The hell? “No?!” Tommy felt a burn of embarrassment flush his cheeks.

“At least she got you off the couch.” Tommy’s mother felt the mattress cover and gave a disappointed sigh. “Soaked through. You really did a number on these, big boy. That’s unlike you.” It really was! She took off the mattress protector and threw it onto the pile with the wet sheets. She turned and faced Tommy as he remained frozen in place, her eyes zoning in like a sniper’s laser to his soaked pajama bottoms.

“What…?” Tommy yelped. “I…I peed. I told you…”

“Tommy,” Mom said; a hint of warning in her voice, “Did you remember to wear your bedtime undies?”

“Bedtime…undies?”

Mom crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Tommy…”

He had no idea what Mom was talking about. No sense in lying. He couldn’t lie when he had no clue what was being discussed. “Um…no?”

“I can tell,” Mom said. She walked over and scooped up the soiled sheets. “If you’re not going to wear your bedtime undies, we’re going to have to go back to Goodnites.”

“Goodnites?” Tommy said. “Bedtime undies?” He felt like he’d just tuned into a Season 5 episode of a very complex and convoluted serialized television drama: Lots of strange character development and references to past events that he’d no inkling of. This was like coming into Cats just after intermission. (Bad example. Cats was confusing as hell anyway)

“I know you don’t like them, but it’s easier for me to wash one thing than to wash all of this.” She bounced the soiled sheets in her arm.

“I…I…I…”

“Maybe when you can go a whole week without any accidents we can talk about your regular undies” Mom said, walking out the bedroom door. “But please honey. For me.”

Tommy didn’t know what else to say. So instead he just said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And make sure to throw your jammies in the wash once you’re out of the shower,” Mom called back. “No leaving them on the floor or in your hamper.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Not knowing what else to do Tommy followed his mother out into the living room, his head on a swivel like a meerkat looking for predators. The fudge was going on? Same living room…except not.

While he couldn’t claim to have the greatest spatial memory, he’d spent enough time in this apartment to notice even the slightest differences. The differences were not slight. The place was clean. Darn near spotless. The usual pile of neatly folded clothes were off the coffee table and presumably in drawers and closets that hadn’t existed last night.

The living room was bigger too. Not much bigger, but big enough for him to notice. Big enough to somehow create space enough for a separate room between his Mother’s master bedroom and the spare that Tommy could have sworn he and his sister swapped on alternating nights. The apartment was now a 3 Bedroom 1 Bath, and Tommy didn’t know what to make of that.

From what he supposed was his door he did a u-turn and peeked into what used to be the spare bedroom. Nope. It was Katlynn’s room, now: Pink walls. BTS Posters. Carefully made bed with a memory board above it and a shelf with a few little collectibles that had passed on from toys to. Definitely Katlynn’s room. They’d never been able to take any real ownership of the spare room, but now Katlynn’s looked like what he imagined any teenage girl’s room to look like. And the room he’d woken up in looked like it was meant for a boy his age…kind of.

Tom about faced and watched as his mother opened a sliding slatted door. Right next to the kitchen area, there was now a tiny alcove that fit a washer and dryer. No more trips to the laundromat. He watched as his mother reached for a laundry pod from off a wire shelf and tossed it in. “Everything’s good to go. Get showered.”

Still in his wet pajamas Tom slinked to the bathroom. The door opened and his sister slid out, making room for him to get by. “Hey, Tommy.”

Tommy looked up at her and alarm bells rang out in his brain. He was having to look up to his sister. She wasn’t towering over him, but normally he had a couple inches on her. He’d always had the slight height advantage ever since he’d had that ‘grown spurt’ back in ninth grade. Now the ratio was reversed. Either Katlynn had mysteriously sprouted several inches or…

“You’re taller than me…” he said.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Go get in the shower.”

Tommy felt numb. “I wet my bed.”

“Yeah,” his sister said. “Go get showered.” She gave him a gentle nudge towards the bathroom. “You can talk to me when you’re clean and in dry clothes.”

Something was off. Not only was Katlynn taller, but she wasn’t making fun of his accident. Even at her most merciful she’d at least razz him a little bit. “You’re not gonna mess with me about it?”

Katlynn seemed confused. “Why would I?”

“I…” Tommy was at a complete lost for words. His family was acting like this was normal, and it wasn’t. (Was it?) He’d just confessed to his twin that he’d wet himself in his sleep and she’d acted like he’d just told her that the grass was green or that Brigadoon was a boring ass play; (it was).

“Thomas Dean,” his mother called. “Shower! Now! I do not want to be late for work because you missed the bus.”

Tommy’s bare feet moved into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. Even the bathroom looked nicer. The white tile seemed whiter. The shower rod only flecked with a bit of rust and the curtain clean; the result of use and care instead of neglect. He stripped down and got in the shower, leaving his piss soaked pajamas in their own puddle. His ill-gotten Paw Patrol Underwear was nowhere to be seen. He hadn’t wanted to put the dirty underwear back on, and so left them in Malacus.

With the time dilation effect, Tom realized too late that he could have washed his clothes and still been back home the next morning. He’s spent weeks battling alongside the dwarves. There was literally no reason he couldn’t have stayed for breakfast and laundry with the elves. Sex does weird things to a man’s mind.

He quickly washed himself, scrubbing himself down with body wash before the hot water had a chance to become tepid and then freezing. A minute passed and the hot water kept coming out of the showerhead strong. Another minute and it kept coming. And another. And another.

Was the building’s water heater not garbage anymore? With the increase in hot water, another urge welled up inside him. He suddenly remembered the feeling that had awoken him from his slumber.

The sound of the water pouring out of the showerhead created the perfect white noise. The relatively unchanged bathroom and the blanket of steam gave Tommy a feeling of security through familiarity and a sense of concealment. It was so warm in here. And wet. And clean. Time to ruin that last part.

Tommy squirted a bit of Irish Spring into his hand, backed up and steadied himself against the still cool wall on the opposite end of the shower, and started to masturbate. Closing his eyes, he imagined his tryst with Ghilanna; aka Amanda-the-elf.

He replayed it in his head, focusing on. And then something changed.

Relished memory changed and turned into unexpected fantasy as he closed his eyes and tried to block the memory. His brain flashed forwarded through the best parts of the lovemaking, turning it into a highlight real of moaning and giggling and thrusting.

The first time, they’d lain together in quiet and made pledges of loyalty and pillow talks of piece. Then Tom had gotten in his magical armor and promised to return. In his mind’s eye, Ghilana stopped him.

“Wait, m’lord,” he mouthed, hearing Amanda’s voice in his head. “We’re not done.” Tommy bit his bottom lip as he imagined her guiding him back to the bed. “You’re not clean yet.”

It was too hard to imagine both sides of this imaginary conversation, so Tom just imagined himself muted by his elf concubine’s beauty and tenderness. It wasn’t hard to do.

“We must get you clean. You can not go back to your Earth Realm in these wet and icky training pants.” Tommy’s hand increased in speed in time with his heart rate. “I must clean you.” The cool bathroom wall was now the feather bed back in Malacus.

He imagined her taking out the sweet smelling oil she’d used and rubbing it into his privates. “This will make it all better.” She whispered. “Raise your legs, m’lord.” Tommy wigged his hips and clenched his cheeks as he imagined the elf oiling his bottom. Irish Spring was starting to smell a lot more like sweet lavender perfume.

The simulacrum took some clean sheets and folded them. Tommy imagined her slipping them under his bottom and being allowed to lower his legs so she could spread them. Back in the bathroom, Tommy came, just as he imagined her pulling the front of the sheets over his pelvis.

“Doesn’t that feel better?” she’d been cooing at him right before the illusion shattered itself. His sperm shot out at an ark into the open air and mixed with the suds before washing down the shower drain.

Tommy opened his eyes and felt the cold mix of relief, triumph, and the slightest pinch of guilt that typically came post masturbation. He walked back into the shower’s stream and hosed himself off. Now it was just a matter of waiting for his penis to calm down so that no one could tell what he’d been up to.

“Hurry up Tommy!” The sound of his sister’s voice helped him in ways she couldn’t have possibly predicted. “You heard Mom!”

“I’ll be right out!” Tommy called through the door. He turned the shower off, water still warm, and reached for a towel. White and fluffy…not unlike the bedsheets he’d imagined. Tommy shook his head and forced himself to focus.

He stepped out of the shower and quickly began to dry himself off. Looking down at himself Tommy felt another odd thing. No hair. Not on his arms, nor his legs, nor his pubic area. He rubbed his chin and felt like he’d already shaved…better than shaved truth be told. He checked his armpits. Nothing. It was like he was auditioning for the swim team.

With the towel, he wiped away the steam in the mirror and confirmed using his reflection what his fingers had already told him as true. “What in the…?” Smooth as a baby’s bottom. All of him. The only hair Tom had was the stuff on his scalp and his eyebrows.

He leaned in, close to the mirror. Normally when he shaved there were still little traces of stubble that he could spot if he stared hard enough. Nothing. It wasn’t as if he’d just shaved, it was as if he’d never needed to.

“TICK-TOCK, TOMMY!” Mom called. “If I’m late for work because you’re taking too long. We’re going back to Goodnites and baby wipes.”

That was the second time she’d mentioned being late for work. Since when did Mom have a job outside of trolling flea markets and pawn shops?

Tom wrapped the towel around himself and tied it off. He picked his soiled pajamas off the bathroom floor and opened the door. Still dripping with water, he tossed the garments into the washing machine, lowered the lid and started the cycle.

“HURRY!” Katlynn said, waiting by the door. “Three minutes or I’m going to the bus stop without you, little brother. That was the Katlynn he knew. The familiarity eased his mind enough to hustle back to his new room and close the door.

Tommy dropped the towel and went over to the dresser. Top drawer. Last night underwear went in the top drawer, socks went in the drawer underneath. Tommy opened the long dresser and found some things were universal, even when the universe conspired to rearrange your home for you.

Tommy pulled out the first pair of briefs and felt like the kid who’d busted open the pinata. They were neither boxers, nor tighty whities. In Tommy’s hands he held a pair of thick cotton undies, lacking the overlapping fold that men’s underwear had, but with extra material in the front instead, in case Tommy had a slight accident. Tommy popped them open and looked inside. The extra padding went down past the crotch and well into the backside. Cloth training pants.

He turned them around. The bright blue things had a decoration. Smiling back him with a little puff of smoke coming out of his snack and the words “Toot-toot” was Thomas the Tank Engine. These weren’t just training pants, but train-ing pants.

These had to be the nighttime undies that Mommy was referring to. Still…they were undies. Tommy stepped into the underwear and shimmied it up his hips. Tommy had to fight the urge to suck his thumb as his brain registered the thickness of his new underwear. It was even thicker than the toddler pants he had snuck home yesterday, only now he suspected he didn’t need to be worried about being caught in them. These weren’t stolen. These were his.

His underwear.

Tick-tock. Not much time. The dresser drawer that had materialized overnight was wider than the one he and Katlynn had been forced to share. There were technically two top drawers; a left one and a right one. The left one had the training pants in them; his bedtime underwear. Just out of curiosity, Tommy opened the right one.

The young man’s eyes could have fallen out of his skull. Stacks of clear plastic pants were piled into the top right drawer. One stack had clear elastic waistbands, plastic underwear meant to be pulled over thick training pants in case an accident was not so little. The other stack had buttons on the front sides; something to be applied while laying down. These were the bedwetting pants, meant to be worn underneath his silk pajamas.

Meaning the Thomas training pants were his daytime underwear. He wasn’t even being naughty by wearing them just now. First slamming the drawers shut, Tommy dug through his wardrobe and stepped into a pair of shorts from the left bottom drawer and some socks from the left middle drawer. He almost waddled as he hustled into his closet and pulled a shirt over his head.

He had to sit down to put his shoes one and immediately felt the extra layers of cloth surrounding him when he set down. It was almost like how he’d imagined the thick layers of bedsheets he’d imagined Ghilanna wrapping around his waist a few minutes ago. Almost like a…

He blushed at the thought, envisioning himself wrapped up and swaddled. On the bright side, upon further examination, this new underwear was also better at concealing erections.

They were his. Malacus had given him more than he could have imagined. Within twenty four hours, he’d helped a lunch lady, ended a war, made love to a woman, and gotten his very own training pants. He really was a big boy, he thought to himself.

Tommy stopped and examined himself in his bedroom mirror, another new feature. He didn’t particularly look like a highschooler. He had a serious case of babyface, blue shorts and a Superman T-shirt. At best, this room belonged to an early middle schooler. At best…and that was not factoring in the padded undergarments that his baggy shorts concealed. Right now, Tommy Dean looked like either a late blooming middle schooler or a VERY mature and sophisticated preschooler.

And yet…

New bedroom. Clean home with a washer and dryer. Slightly nicer sister. Mom had a job. New underwear that Tommy had secretly coveted, now not-so-secret…nor shameful, apparently. This was the clock’s doing. There was no other logical explanation.

But Tommy wasn’t scared by this; not at all. If this morning was any indication, this was the start of a beautiful day. All this good stuff, not just for him but his family; that was worth a few inches in height, smoother skin, and needing plastic underwear at bedtime.

Right?

Right.

Chapter 18: School Daze
I’m not that smart
My siblings have been telling me that for years
That I’m not smart
We’re schooled at home
They see who’s bright
It breaks my heart
I’m not that smart

The rest of the morning was no less confusing for Tommy. On the bus ride to school, almost everyone was at least passingly friendly to him.

“Hi Tommy.”

“Hey Tommy.”

“Morning Tommy.”

“How you doin’, dude?”

“Sup Tommy?”

When one has grown used to what can be generously referred to as ‘casual indifference’ at best and ‘near socialized hostility’ at worst; friendly faces, kind words and a generally positive reception start to sound like a foreign language. Tommy’s peers, he had found, were a generally brooding, cynical, and mean spirited lot otherwise known as teenagers.

Was this more of Malacus’s magic?

“Why’s everybody being so nice to me?” Tommy asked his sister. “What’s going on?”

Katlynn looked confused. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Most people are nice to you. Are you feeling okay?” She reached across the aisle and felt his forehead and cheeks like an amateur nurse checking for a fever. “You’re the one who seems off today.”

Before Tommy could question any further, a familiar face turned around wearing a most unfamiliar expression. Tommy and seen Cameron smile before; but it had been ages since that smile had been directed towards him.

“Hey Tommy,” she said.

Tommy looked to Katlynn for advice. They talked sometimes, or so Tommy had figured. Katlynn was already looking at her phone. When had she gotten a phone? He looked back up at the popular girl “Hey…Cameron,” he said.

“I saw on T.V. that C.B.S. is doing one of those live musicals next week. ‘Rent’ I think it’s called?” There was something odd about her tone; how her voice squeaked up a bit when she was talking to him.

“Yeah,” Tommy said. “I’ve seen internet ads in the library. The original cast is too old for the parts and they couldn’t afford Idina Menzel, but Anthony Rapp will be hosting and there’s rumors that Jesse L. Martin will co-host.” This was the strangest feeling, yet. Tommy was talking about something he liked and someone was…listening…?

“Um…who?” So much for that.

“Um…” Tommy tried to break his geekdom down into manageable chunks. “The play is about people in their twenties…” Tommy said. “The first people to play the parts are middle-aged. The lady from the Frozen movies played a character, but she’s too expensive now.”

Something was clicking. Cameron nodded. “Okay.”

“But one guy who was in the play is in that new Star Trek show. So he’s kind of famous. And he’s hosting.”

“Alright.”

“And the guy who plays Flash’s cop buddy-”

The girl’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Joe? The dad? Adopted flash?”

“Yeah, him.” Tom nodded. “He was in Rent, too. They might get him to co-host. Talk to the live audience. Introduce the show. Announce commercials and stuff.”

Cameron seemed impressed for some reason. “Wow!” she said. “You know a lot about it!” It wasn’t quite the same as being truly impressed, more like when a dog can do an amusing , or when a child is surprisingly well versed in a bit of adult trivia.

Still looking at her phone, Katlynn said, “He knows a lot about this kind of stuff. He’s obsessed. That and Spider-Man. I think if he spent more time practicing his division facts instead of obsessing over this stuff…” She let the sentence drop off a bit. Her mouth was closed but her eyes were already apologizing?

“Division facts?” Tom said. The heck was that about? “I know my-”

“So are you gonna watch it?” Cameron asked, politely.

“Hmmm?”

“Rent.”

Tommy clenched his jaw. “Can’t.”

“Awwwww,” Cameron said. “Why not? Grounded?”

“Huh? No.”

“Past your bedtime?”

“Bedtime?” Tom blanched. “No! I don’t have a T.V.”

Cameron looked bewildered, as if the concept of someone her age not having access to a television were. Did she really not understand how poor he was? She’d made fun of him for it enough times. She looked over Katlynn for confirmation.

Katlynn looked up from her phone to Cameron. “He’s a little off today,” she said. “Don’t know why. Just one of those things. Happens sometimes.”

“Gotcha.”

That was weird. Tommy had been used to people talking about him like he wasn’t there. It was a trademark social bullying tactic. But talking about him with concern? That was new. Tommy began to suspect that more than just his physical self had changed overnight.

His suspicions were confirmed in first period Biology.

“Bye,” Katlynn said as they approached Ms. Wheeler’s class. Tommy didn’t think anything of it and followed her in. They didn’t sit next to each other or talk in class.

“Good morning Katlynn,” their Biology teacher said. “Good morning…” she paused as if searching for his name. “…Tommy. Is there something I can help you with?”

Tommy went to his desk and sat down. “Not at the moment, Ms. Wheeler.” Bits of giggles tittered at the edge of Tommy’s hearing. Tommy looked around. Confused. Why would they be laughing? Was his fly down? Could they see his new training pants? (Impossible, they looked like regular underwear, the part that might be poking out above his shorts, at least.)

“Sorry Ms. Wheeler,” Katlynn said. For some reason she looked really embarrassed. “My brother is just very…confused this morning.”

A finger tapped Tommy’s shoulder and he looked up. “Sup Lil dude?” Trevor Macintosh looked even taller now that Tommy had lost a few inches.

“Leadshoulder!” Damnit! Tommy had not meant to say that. More laughter filled morning air.

Katlynn was between them. “Trevor, I’m so sorry!”

“Naw it’s cool,” Trevor said. He smiled and ruffled Tommy’s hair, but never took his eyes off Katelyn. “It’s kind of his nickname for me. He saw me slam into a guy at football practice one time and it kind of stuck.”

That wasn’t true. None of that was true. Nevertheless, it kept Tommy out of trouble so he nodded anyway.

“Ahem.” Ms. Wheeler interrupted. “Do you mind? I have a lesson to teach.” She didn’t look to Tommy, but to Katlynn. It was an expectant look as if she’d done something wrong and needed to fix it, pronto.

“Sorry Ma’am,” Katlynn said. She grabbed Tommy by the arm. “Come on, Tommy.”

Tommy found himself yanked out of his desk and to his feet. “Where are we going?”

“Out,” Katlynn said. Katlynn didn’t look pleased. Tommy hadn’t felt this disoriented since he’d started vomiting up mana pool water onto the hooves of a certain centaur. What had he done? Where were they going? Why was he in trouble?

He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was a good a boy! A good boy! Emotions spiraling out of control, Tommy felt his breathing hasten to the point of hyperventilation. A knot was forming in his throat. He couldn’t breathe!

It was Trevor that de-escalated things. He put his hand on Katlynn’s arm. “I got this,” he told Katlynn. “Mrs. Gee, right?”

Katlynn nodded “Yeah. Thanks.” She let go of Tommy.

“Come on Little dude,” he said. “I’ll take you to class.” Disoriented and confused, Tommy followed the bigger kid out of first period Biology and into the hallway.

“What’s going on?” Tommy asked, when out of the Hallways.

“Nothing much,” Trevor said. He walked just ahead of Tommy, and while he didn’t hold Tommy’s hand, he kept looking back every couple of steps as if he was afraid the shorter man would fall behind or wander off. “You just got a little lost. No big deal. It happens. This is a big school.”
Not that big. Not big enough for anyone who’d been there more than a week to get lost in. But everyone seemed to think that Tommy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe with his new room and new clothes, Tommy had gotten himself a new schedule
All Tommy could say was say “Oh…okay.”

After they turned the second corner, Trevor stopped looking back. That’s when Tommy started sucking on his thumb for comfort. He’d take it out when they got there, even though he had no idea where there was.

Chapter 19 Late to the party…

Charlie was standing on the toy box so he could get a better look out the daycare’s one-way window. He loved people watching first thing in the morning: The suck ups and the social feebs running to class as soon as the first period bell rang; the panicked last-minute good-bye kisses from young couples that didn’t have the same class together; the loud and lazy stroll and chatter that the future deadbeats who were ‘too cool’ to show up to class quietly and on time; the consternation of tired and overworked teachers trying to maintain order without any kind of real authority to back them up.

Charlie couldn’t hear the bells, of course. Nor the chatter. Nor the kisses. Nor the blustering of teachers. Whatever magic kept the daycare hidden from the general populace, (and it was magic, Charlie had long accepted that), also made the walls soundproof.

But places like Scrumpton had a rhythm to them that persisted from day to day. Charlie might not be able to read a clock anymore, but he’d learned to tell the time based on what kids were running by the window. Funny (but not surprising) how none of the other kids ever saw what he saw. Only limitation to this method was that Summers dragged by like a sumbitch.

“Charlie,” a voice called. “Time to stop looking out the window and come to Circle Time.”

Charlie waved the teacher-lady off. “Just a second,” he grunted. Someone new was coming down the hall. A late comer. Tall guy. Tough build. Probably a football player. That was odd. The dumbest of the dumb jocks had already sauntered into their remedial math and reading classes.

“Are you pooping?” the grown-up asked. Charlie didn’t even bother learning their names anymore.

“No…” Yes he was pooping, but that’s not why he was stalling. He could empty this morning’s oatmeal into his pants anywhere. He’d gotten more than just used to it. He’d pooped during Circle Time on many occasions. Usually they let him finish the shapes song before he was ushered off to be changed.

“I think someone’s getting whiney because they need a change.”

Out of habit, Charlie stomped his feet, but kept his gaze steady. The big lug was just about to walk out of his field of vision. “I wannnaaaaa waaaaatch!” Silently he cursed himself for saying it. He loved playing this game, though. Too late to turn back. Might as well enjoy it.
As they tended to do, the grown-up ignored Charlie’s whining and did what she wanted to do anyways. Charlie had to lean up against the glass to keep his balance as two fingers hooked into the back of his shorts and pulled the back of his diaper open. Charlie gasped, feeling the front of his diaper tighten a bit, and not just because the back was being pulled on.

“Thought so,” the teacher lady said. “Baby made a boom-boom.” One of the advantages of being in Charlie’s position was that he rarely got to realize how silly he looked, objectively speaking. He popped his thumb into his mouth and started sucking on it as his waistband was snapped back into place allowing the mess in his pants to settle.

Charlie immediately lost that advantage as the teacher lady grabbed his hand to lead him over to the changing table. Some ridiculous looking kid walked past the window. He was short, the windows just below shoulder height for him, so that Charlie could see him through the window. Just like Charlie, the kid was going to town on his thumb.

Realizing how silly he looked, Charlie took his thumb back out and wiped it on his shirt. The hell was that kid doing sucking his thumb? Was he a nail biter or some kind of mama’s boy? He resisted the tug of the grown-up wanting to change his diaper so he could just a second longer to ruminate on this.

The moment was all that was needed. As the kid passed by, Charlie craned his neck and saw a flash of blue undies with red trim poking out the back. That brought back memories; memories of Thomas the Tank Engine training pants.

Thumb sucking. Training pants. Baggy shorts. Late for class and looking confused as hell.

“Come on Charlie,” the teacher lady said. She picked him up, pressing the mess up against him and spreading it around. Charlie was too stunned to enjoy it this time. Maybe later. “Let’s get you nice and clean.”

“See ya soon,” Charlie whispered to the window as he was carried away to have his body laid down, his pants pulled off, his legs lifted up, and his ass wiped.