This is one of my more recent stories. It’s basically my first experience shopping for diapers in a science fiction setting.
The early morning sun felt like a spotlight. With each step down the street Keith was certain the entire world could see him. It was technically true, since CCTV cameras were mounted on all of the lampposts and even the commercial hovercams used by news crews, police and other people could be anywhere at any time, but he was just a kid out for an early morning walk. A very early morning walk but still just a walk and it was no one’s business what a sixteen year-old boy was doing up at five in the morning anyhow.
Keith took a deep breath as the air grew steadily warmer. Summer was over but the frostier mornings were still a month away, at least in his neck of the woods. And though last night’s rain had managed to cool things down a bit, it was his nerves that made the temperature even more unbearable. His hands grew clammier and the pit of his stomach churned until he was sure it was turning the mealy banana and protein shake he’d had for breakfast into led.
Finally he turned the corner and managed a sigh of relief that some news team hadn’t found him interesting enough to assemble a larger crew, or that he wasn’t suspicious looking enough for the police, the feds, homeland or home world security to pull him in for questioning. Of course there was still a good mile and a half to go, so he could always hope. Between the cops and anyone he knew personally, he decided he’d rather be picked up by the former. At least the cops would only be interested in his criminal intent and when he told them what he was up to they’d have a good laugh about it and hopefully let him go. His classmates, teachers, or any of his aunts and cousins would truly make his life a living hell.
He was walking on a narrow stretch of sidewalk alongside the busy back road that ran from the outskirts of his hometown to where the two shopping malls and gas stations were located. The traffic was mild. Only one or two cars whizzed by at this point. People on their way to work or church and certainly not out to catch innocent teenagers who were only trying to discreetly shop for items of a personal nature.
Who was to say, after all, what some kid might be doing out here? Kids went to the mall all the time. The monorails were free for children under twelve and after that they were only five UC until you turned eighteen. So it was perfectly natural to assume that Keith was just one of those kids, on his way to the mall, whose parents didn’t own a car and didn’t have a lot of money to begin with. He didn’t want to blow all of his hard earned chore money on modern luxuries like monorails and walking was still free. Maybe it was his mom’s birthday. It wasn’t and if anyone monitoring the cameras got curious enough they could learn all of that just by getting a clear picture of his face, but unless he made an obvious effort to avoid being seen there was no reason to so who were they to assume?
No one’s assuming anything, he tried to remind himself. You’re just being paranoid.
Well as the old saying went, just because you were paranoid didn’t mean they weren’t out to get you. And Keith was fully aware that they were definitely out to get them. Who they were would be revealed to him eventually, he was certain of it. All he had to do to prevent this was to stop what he was doing, turn around and go home. This obsession was going to cost him his dignity and quite possibly, his personal freedom.
Go back home. Crawl back into your nice soft bed and sleep away the afternoon.
Mom was still at work and she’d be home around seven, but if he wasn’t there she’d read the note he left her and get some sleep herself. As long as any officers of the law didn’t also have a message waiting for her she would assume Keith was being the good, sweet, all American boy she had raised him to be and not getting into any of that mischief you heard other kids were getting into in the news.
That’s right, he thought, glancing up at one of the mounted cameras on top of what was once a telephone pole. I’m not a bad kid and I don’t need to do this.
He felt a familiar tingling sensation, as if his body were weighing in. He got this feeling often, at night while in bed or soaking in the tub. They explained it in middle school and during health class later on in his sophomore year and at some point during the high-definition train wreck that was puberty, his dad also tried to drill it all into his head. In each instance he just sat there and squirmed while the snickering went on in the background, either from immature classmates or from the voices in his head as dad gave the lecture with mom sitting right beside him.
There were also websites, some going back two hundred years and others fairly recent. It seemed like every civilized colony in the Solar System and in the colonies spread throughout this tiny corner of the galaxy had a group of people who felt the way he did. Some of them even had fantasies that probably made his seem normal. Of course if mom or dad found out, they would think he was anything but normal. Millions of websites with billions, if not trillions of people who were like him and he felt so alone on this small back road on the outskirts of his small American town of Canton, on this small planet that the human race once knew as it’s only home.
He came to the end of the sidewalk. There was a rural road that snaked downward into a valley of mobile homes before twisting upwards into the mountains, where you could presumably find more rustic houses and cabins. Straight ahead the sidewalk was traded for a narrow breakdown lane along the side of a bridge that fed into the highway. Up ahead he could see sun glistening off the decorative windows at the roof of the mall.
Cars and trucks were becoming more frequent and Keith knew he’d have to be careful as he made his way across the highway. The techs on the other end of the cameras would really be watching him if he went out there. Best case scenario, they’d leave him alone, or if they stopped him they’d just send him back the way he came and tell him where the nearest monorail station was. He’d pop himself on the head and act sheepish as he “remembered” that it was just a block from his home and blame sleep deprivation and the lack of caffeine on his short sightedness. Worse case, they ID him and fine him. And since he was still a minor, his parents would find out about anything that went on his permanent record within seconds of the officer saying, “Have a nice day” and his ass would turn redder than sailor’s delight at night.
Keith stood there for a minute. He was still on the sidewalk so still a law abiding citizen.
Just go home. This is a lot of trouble to go through.
The universe must have heard the debate with Id because at that moment a police officer on a motorbike pulled to a stop alongside him. Keith’s heart skipped a few beats as he tried to act nonchalant. The officer wore a helmet with a darkened visor that protected his eyes and face. A gun in the holster strapped to the belt on his waist stood out from the glossy, black and blue aero stitch biker uniform that sported the words “Highway Patrol” in large block white lettering. Keith could also see the butt of a rifle in a mount near the rear of the bike. The thought of whether either of those guns used the standard issue stun bolts or just good old fashioned bullets didn’t make him feel much better.
“Morning,” the officer said in a firm but friendly tone. He lifted the visor and fixed Keith with a penetrating gaze.
“How’s it going?” Keith asked. He considered putting his hands in his pockets, but was afraid the officer might get an itchy trigger finger, so he held back.
“It’s a little early to be out here isn’t it?” The officer asked.
“McDonalds is usually open by now. I was going to get a coffee.”
The officer gave him a look that said he’d believe Santa Clause lived on Mars before he believed that one.
“You don’t have a coffee place closer to your home?”
Keith noticed the dashboard computer on the motorcycle. It had a picture of him further back up the road. Dammit. His personal information was displayed on the right of the screen too and he wouldn’t be able to lie about living in the trailer park or the mountains.
“I just really had to take a walk.” He tried to convince the officer. “I don’t have a lot of money and I figured if I walked out to the mall I could take the monorail back.”
The officer’s expression softened a bit. Did he buy that one?
“It’s dangerous to walk on the highway.” He said, in the same firm tone. “You probably think if you walk along the side you’ll be safer, but what if someone has to pull in and you’re forced to go around them? Or if some idiot tries to bypass traffic and he uses the breakdown lane illegally you could get flattened just as badly as if you were in the middle of the road.”
All of this had occurred to Keith, but he kept his mouth shut and nodded. If a “come to Jesus” lecture about the dangers of walking down a busy highway was the worse he would get out of this, he’d consider himself lucky.
“Do you have money for a cab?”
Keith was surprised by the question. Slowly, so as not to startle the armed cop, he went into his pants pocket and pulled out his tablet. He opened the piggy bank app and saw the total amount of money to his name.
“I only have twenty-five UC right now. All of my hard currency is at home.”
“So a cab from here isn’t going to be that much. The mall’s right there,” the officer said, pointing to the plaza. “As long as you don’t go too wild with the coffee you’ll have plenty of money for the ride back home.”
Keith’s stomach sank. If he refused and turned around to walk back home, the officer would get suspicious and have the camera techs watch him every step of the way. Or he’d be arrested and brought in for questioning. On the other hand if he did what the officer said, he wouldn’t have enough UC to get what he wanted and the trip would be a waste.
“Something wrong?” The officer noticed his hesitation. “Don’t you know how to look up cab numbers on that thing?”
“No, it’s not that,” Keith paused. The officer’s expression never changed but he could feel the suspicion rising as he no doubt added fuel to the fire. For some reason he couldn’t explain, Keith switched to another App to bring up the coupon he had saved. “This is what I’m really going for.”
He let the officer take the tablet for a closer look. When the officer saw the image on the coupon he gave Keith a long hard look that bordered between incredulity and disgust. Then his expression went neutral again.
“Do you have a bladder problem?” He asked, in a surprisingly nonjudgmental way.
Keith blushed. His throat went dry and he seriously thought he’d throw up right then and there. He shook his head.
“Not exactly,” he answered. “I, I, uh…”
The officer handed him his tablet and rubbed the temple of his forehead with palm of his hand.
“Are you getting high?” he asked. “Is that why you want the diapers, so you don’t have to have your urine scanned?”
The blood rushed from his face at that. Keith honestly hadn’t thought of it, but he knew that’s what people tried to do in major cities, where the toilets in all public bathrooms were connected to a biomedical interface that scanned bodily fluids for illegal substances and alerted the police. One of the most popular websites even warned people that using diapers if you didn’t have a medical reason could be viewed as suspicious.
“No, I’m not.” He held out his arm. “You can check my blood right now if you want to.”
The officer shook his head and thumbed through the information on the screen.
“I got your records right here and you have no criminal history. As far as I can see there’s no history of drug abuse. So while I’m pretty sure your mental health is going to come into question sooner, if not later, I’m going to trust that you’re not planning to do something illegal. Beyond that I really don’t want to know what you’re doing with those. All I can say is that I can’t let you cross that highway.”
As it was, the traffic was all ready picking up and Keith didn’t like his chances anymore.
“I’ll go home then.” he said, defeated.
As Keith started to go back he saw a gray Accord with a familiar face in the driver seat.
“Keith?” Aunt Joyce pulled up to the sidewalk and leaned out. “Is everything okay?”
Keith glanced back at the officer, who was already running Joyce’s license plate and getting all of the information he needed. Amazingly he had been hoping he wouldn’t run into his relatives but maybe this would give him the out he needed. Swallowing his pride, Keith went to the car and crouched beside the door. He saw her name badge from the Kaylee’s Diner where she worked and remembered she was now working at the location across the road from the mall as a supervisor.
“Hi Joyce. Everything’s fine, I just wanted to get to the mall, but he stopped me to let me know I couldn’t cross the highway.” Keith rolled his eyes for effect.
“I don’t blame him,” Joyce said in the heavy “mothering” tone she used on everyone, regardless of age. “Don’t you have money for the monorail?”
“Yeah, but they only take credits. I just need-” Keith paused and glanced back at the officer who was busy tapping the screen of his computer and lowered his voice. “The new James Bond movie is being released and I want to get there before it’s sold out.”
That succeeded in getting an affectionate smirk out of Joyce. Keith looked back at the officer, who gave him a knowing glare. Hopefully he was being sincere about not caring what Keith did with the diapers, and wouldn’t say anything.
“Do you want a lift?”
“Sure,” Keith said, turning to the officer. “My aunt is giving me a ride to the mall. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine with me,” the officer called back. “Just make sure you take the monorail back.”
There was an unspoken threat in the air between them. Keith smiled sheepishly as he came around the car and got into the passenger side. Fortunately the only conversation that passed between Joyce and the officer as he let her drive by was, “Thank you, Officer” followed by, “Have a nice day.”
They made idle chitchat. Mostly about the new Bond film, which Keith had never even seen, but managed to act real enthusiastic about. If Joyce suspected he was up to anything else it would be front page news throughout the colonies by the time he got home. And then he would have wished he had been arrested.
By now it was closer to six. Soon, the mall would be open for walkers but for now the only places open this early for business were the fast food joints, as well as Kaylee’s Diner and the twenty-four hour drug store that Keith was originally trying to get to. Joyce brought him to the McDonalds at the edge of the parking lot.
“I didn’t think I’d get here this early,” he lied.
“Well, you could have an Egg McMuffin or something,” Joyce suggested. She pulled her tablet out of the dashboard. “Here, let me see yours.”
Without thinking Keith brought it out, but became uncomfortable when she linked it to hers.
“Oh, you don’t have to-”
“It’s no big deal.” Joyce insisted. “You kids always run out of the house without eating a proper breakfast and it makes you sluggish. Besides, this way you have plenty of money for the monorail and your movie.”
Keith looked at his balance and saw that it was now ten credits more. Not a huge amount, but enough to make him feel a little guilty. It also worried him that Joyce would mention this to mom sometime later in the week.
He thanked her, gave her a hug, and climbed out of the car, glancing at the screen of his tablet as he waved good bye. He nearly fainted when he saw that the bar for the coupon app was still visible. He thumbed it open and saw that the coupon for the adult diapers was still there.
If Joyce had seen it, certainly she would have said something. She was quite vocal about things that were none of her business. Mom had horror stories of growing up with the tattletale that surprisingly didn’t go on to become a prosecutor or a crime scene investigator. As is, Aunt Patricia, Mom’s other sister was still angry with Joyce over calling the police when she left his cousin Matthew alone for a few minutes to check the mail. Matt was seven at the time and answered the phone when Joyce called. He told her he was alone and Joyce jumped to conclusions. Matt ended up living with Keith and his parents for the next three months while Patricia got it sorted out with the courts.
As he got in line to order, he could still see Joyce’s car at the far end of the road, just before the turn into Kaylee’s parking lot. Great. Would she be able to see his every move while she was filling in sugar dispensers and pouring coffee? It wouldn’t surprise him. It was especially challenging now that he saw the drugstore in a strip mall just a few blocks from the diner.
When he got his food he found an empty table for near a window and put his food down before going to the soda fountain. Soda for breakfast was unusual for him, but his stomach was still riled up over the miniature interrogation and the possible exposure at the hands of Aunt Joyce. He needed to calm his stomach down and ginger ale would do that far better than coffee.
A flat screen mounted in one corner of the back dining area was set to some evangelist show that broadcast from one of the space stations. Keith thought it might be the one around the Moon but without a shot of the window the stage and podium could have been anywhere. The only way he even knew it was a space station was from the call letters in the lower right hand corner.
Most of the patrons who were here this early were elderly couples and groups of friends gathered at the various tables, talking quietly and laughing. Some sat alone and quietly thumbed through the latest news and gossip, pausing every few seconds to tap out a quick text message or enter something into a search engine. Since tablets had quickly become the only way to really do anything it wasn’t all that uncommon to see people in their sixties and seventies fidgeting with them in public but it was somehow cute at the same time. ZuckerJays, also known as ZJ’s, were the most popular model. Keith’s was made by Sylvania, but unless someone got a good look at the logo they could hardly tell the difference. There were a few apps he couldn’t download, and some websites couldn’t format very easily, but otherwise it had all of the bells and whistles of any other tablet.
He was halfway through a story on an old fanfiction site when he noticed some of the elderly customers were beginning to leave. A few were all ready making their way to the mall to walk off the coffee and sausage biscuits. Keith mentally debated over whether or not to go straight to the drugstore. He could see into the diner’s parking lot from here and noted that it wasn’t very busy. But once church let out the place would be packed and if Joyce found herself with more time to look out for him during a Sunday rush, well, let’s just say she would regret giving ten credits away.
Keith decided to play it safe and wait. He refilled his ginger ale and followed the mall walkers across the mostly empty parking lot. Starbucks and a privately owned coffee shop and bakery were open but the rest of the mall was deserted except for the security guards who were unlocking the doors and a couple of janitors performing routine maintenance. Sunlight streamed through the glass ceiling onto the mall’s double floors. There weren’t any other teenagers this early in the morning, but Keith was polite and respectful so no one paid him any attention.
An ad board scanned Keith’s body and clothes from a short distance and began displaying a series of ads geared towards his “demographic.”
“Come see our Plus Sized selection at Glau and Maher!” A heavy set and overly enthusiastic woman shouted as a marquee various styles of clothing for men and women of a certain girth floated in orbit around her.
The actor in the next ad was a shirtless body builder with a towel draped over his shoulders and a whistle hanging from a lanyard around his neck. “A lack of exercise and general physical activity contributes to excess body fat and time in low gravity environments can also lead to loss in muscle mass and bone density. For guys who just can’t hit the gym on a regular basis, Regenex can help burn fat and repair damage to muscle and bones without changing your daily routine. Visit our website for more information and coupons and get two for-”
Keith picked up the pace and ignored the ads. Of course security guards wouldn’t pay attention to him. The advertising execs were doing their job by making note of the fat ass that trolled their mall. He was only thankful they couldn’t read his mind.
“I don’t need to alter my lifestyle.” Keith stopped in his tracks as he heard an old man’s voice. “Quicklite Disposable Underwear helps me stay focused on the things that make me feel-”
Taking a deep breath, Keith took a cautionary glance over his shoulder and caught the tail end of the ad. The image changed from the live actor to a virtual model wearing a pair of the underwear. The camera zoomed in as a highlighted area indicated the parts of the male body that needed the most protection. Keith was relieved that the ad had nothing to do with him, but felt bad when he noticed the older man in the flannel shirt and blue jeans slowly making his way past the same display. It was clear from the expression on his face that he would love to show the billboard where it would need protection, but was either too polite or embarrassed to say so out loud. Unfortunately, Keith’s sympathy didn’t last long as he couldn’t help but feel the familiar tingling sensation as the advertisement’s graphic imagery remained in his mind.
Weather it was from his own embarrassment, or the ginger ale had finished working its way through his system, Keith felt a sudden need for the restroom. He found one at the back of an alcove surrounded by decorative planters and was grateful that the men’s room was open. Once inside he saw himself in the mirror.
He wasn’t overweight. Not as bad as some people could get. Hell, he’d just walked more than five miles without breaking a sweat but since advertisements aren’t built into the same cameras as the police department they clearly didn’t think he would be interested in athletic shoes or something. And he was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, which, for a guy like him, was the universal sign that you wanted to hide your belly.
Keith went to the urinal and stood there. It always took him a few seconds to start, especially when he got to thinking about the biomed scanners built into the porcelain and the drain that collected urine before it got flushed.
Big Brother is watching you pee, Dad always joked. Growing up, Dad always got a kick out of shouting, “Here’s an eyeful guys!” Especially right before a huge load.
The door swung open and Keith glanced over his shoulder to see the old man who apparently screamed “weak bladder” just as he displayed signs of being a future morbidly obese basement dweller. The man didn’t say anything, but instead went into the stall and closed the door felt the sensation return as he listened to the man moving about and the sound of clothes rustling.
He tried to put it out of his mind, but his body wasn’t cooperating. He left the bathroom and tried to walk it off. Soft music played and he tried to figure out what group sang the song. There was a Fruity Oaty bars display in the window of a health food store and stopped to take a look at the animated commercial playing on the small screen. Eventually the problem went away, but whenever that happened he always felt worse, like maybe he missed out on something.
Stores were beginning to open their gates now. Barber shops and salons were receiving the first customers of the morning. Keith left the mall and cautiously walked towards the edge of the parking lot to look down at the Kaylee’s Diner. Standing behind a sign post in case Aunt Joyce was outside for a smoke break and happened to glance up, Keith pretended to be looking at the time on his tablet while he discreetly stole a glance down at the diner’s parking lot. It was picking up. He considered trying to use the zoom feature on the tablet’s camera to see if he could see her lurking near the windows, but decided that might draw too much attention. One run in with the law was enough for today and if Joyce was going to tell mom about running into him then there was nothing he could do short of arranging her murder.
Keith finally sucked up his courage and made his way to the drugstore. The only safe way to cross the highway was an overpass at the end of a sidewalk. Keith didn’t realize how far the overpass was and when he reached the staircase, he saw that there was no sidewalk leading up to Kaylee’s or the strip mall and the embankment would be too dangerous to try to walk along. There were also more trees here as well as a wooded area that seemed to stretch for a bit.
As he made his way across the overpass he actually did try to find directions this time. A few words into Google maps and a couple clicks later and he realized that the actual series of streets to get to the drugstore twisted and turned their way through a neighborhood he was unfamiliar with. Though the map feature updated daily but even though he could recognize the geography, he knew he could still get lost if he wasn’t watching where he was going.
Keith sighed. Why was it always so complicated to do one little thing that may or may not make you just a little bit happier? On the other hand, was this all going to be worth it in the end? What if he got the diapers and not five seconds out of the store, someone even worse than Aunt Joyce caught him? Like maybe the principal of his school? Or someone mom knew from work but he hadn’t met yet? If Aunt Joyce was all the way out in a place where he thought he’d have the most privacy there was no telling who else he could run into. But when he saw the logo for the drugstore right there on the little screen, it was so hard to resist.
He thought back to the advertisement in the mall and to the old man in the bathroom. His bizarre fascination with toilet activities-his own and everyone else’s-very nearly got him in trouble once during middle school. The only reason no one flagged his public record then was because the person he was in trouble with was with his best friend, Eric. Eric apparently never told his parents or any other adults about Keith’s persistent attempts to watch Eric go to the bathroom, but for all of the eighth grade Eric seemed to stop speaking to him. Keith was riddled with anxiety every time the phone rang or mom’s tablet chirped, for fear that she would learn of his deviant behavior. Fortunately Eric didn’t even seem to remember those incidents because when they bumped into each other in high school, Eric actually invited Keith to sleep over. From that moment on Keith left Eric out of his fantasies, but was grateful that Eric seemed to be someone he could trust, even if it was only because Eric didn’t care about anything that wasn’t affecting him right at that moment.
Mom always tensed up whenever the subject of anything even remotely sexual came up. One time when they were out shopping for school clothes, Keith had mentioned finding a girl attractive. Of course he was younger at the time and while he wasn’t explicit, he still could have chosen a less obvious way of mentioning it. Still, Mom’s only response was, “Keith, are you trying to get me angry?” That said it all about how open he could be with her.
Keith watched the cars zip beneath the overpass and lamented just how alone he was. This was something he should be able to talk to someone about. And not just someone separated by a tiny screen, the anonymity of a screen name and God knew how many miles. The one consolation of his generic tablet was that it could only surf the Earthbound Internet so at least he knew his “friends” were technically on the same planet. But it still didn’t beat having someone to talk to face to face and until he was eighteen, none of the forum regulars who claimed to live close by would even accept a phone call.
He followed the map as closely as possible, but he had to stop when he saw the rows of trees along the sides of the street. They blocked the view of the road from the satellite photo so that he couldn’t tell where he had to go to get to the drugstore. He stopped at a corner and switched to street view, but there was no information for this neighborhood. When he went back to the areal map, Keith saw the icon for the store and pressed it to see the contact info. The phone number was highlighted in purple, to indicate that this store was considered outside of his phone plan’s are and he would be charged extra if he tried to call them.
Frustrated Keith listened to the sounds of passing cars on the highway. He knew if he followed them he would eventually come to the strip mall, but he didn’t want to spend all day running around this unknown part of a town he barely knew existed.
A jogger came to a stop at the corner and gave Keith a quizzical look.
“Are you lost?”
Keith was startled but he showed the man his tablet and asked, “Do you know where the Washburn’s Pharmacy is?”
The jogger nodded.
“Those mappers always miss something.” He joked, pointing to a side street that seemed to go deeper into the woods. “Follow that street until it winds around back towards the highway. There’s no sidewalk, so stay as far to the side as possible.”
“Thanks,” Keith said, surprised.
The jogger smiled and continued on his way. Keith returned the tablet to his pocket and followed his advice. There were more trees up this road and he could see why the cameras wouldn’t go any lower. Still, he was surprised that the street mappers didn’t consider it important to people who needed to get prescriptions on the road. For a moment he considered taking a few still shots and sending them in, but he didn’t want to raise suspicions in the neighborhood about some strange kid with a camera.
There was a slight uphill climb as the road began to wind. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks gave life to the surroundings and the fresh scent of clean, moist air and flowers actually succeeded in calming Keith’s nerves. They also seemed to loosen his bladder and bowels up a bit as the walk upwards required a bit more exercise.
The trees grew thick enough on both sides of the road to qualify as woods, but glimpses of houses in the distance on one side and the highway on the other kept it from being what he thought of as a forest. A few large trees were big enough to block him from view of the road, so he found a level enough path through the side of the woods leading towards the highway. The leaves were thick enough that it would be hard to see from the houses, but he decided he’d have more protection from the highway side than from the off chance that someone might be taking a walk in what was essentially their backyard. Peeing in the woods wasn’t anything new, but you still never knew how people might react so the side nearest the highway was the safest bet.
There were patches of wetness in the leaves and the ground wasn’t super muddy but it was still noticeably moist and Keith gripped the branches and trunks to keep from slipping, pressing vines and creepers out of his way with his free hand as he made his way through. When he felt safe from sight he adjusted his clothing and released a stream. The urge to poop was a bit stronger but the ground didn’t feel stable enough to squat down on. Some of his earlier adventures with this obsession involved pooping outside and the few successful experiments rarely ended with a positive result. Leaves were unreliable substitutes for toilet paper no matter how big and strong they appeared. Napkins, paper towels and toilet paper were all very hard to carry around in the amounts you needed for a proper cleanup and he didn’t feel right just leaving those on the ground. And the places where you could comfortably drop your pants without landing jail time, a fine, or both were growing smaller every day.
Keith imagined coming back to this spot after buying the diapers and using the privacy of the trees to put one on. Then he imagined a scenario where he would mess himself on the way to the monorail. A car passing by as he made his way back to the street quickly killed that thought. Mentally he ran through all of the ways that the day could go pear shaped if he pulled that stunt now; with Aunt Joyce being at the top of that list in big bold letters. Keith wanted to experience the feeling of a full accident in public, which was a huge part of the reason he wanted the diapers in the first place. But he didn’t feel safe messing in the diaper until he was in the relative privacy of his home, at least for the first couple of tries. In Canton he knew where all the public restrooms were located and when he was felt like he had the hang of it and he was feeling brave, he could experiment with places he all ready knew, like the library and the hospital. Besides, he couldn’t even remember whether or not the monorail station had a bathroom for customers.
The brightly colored Washburn’s Pharmacy sign became visible through the tree tops as he neared the end of the road. It stood on a high poll so that people could see it on the highway. At night a holographic display would run more visually appealing ads but until then an ordinary light board announced the various vaccinations you could get without an appointment as well as sales on milk, eggs, and soda.
Keith turned a corner and saw that the street actually went through the strip mall parking lot to another road that the maps apparently forgot existed. He couldn’t tell if it wound back towards that neighborhood or if it was an off road from the highway. It was possible it actually did lead to Kaylee’s Diner and that was what made him decide to hurry. Aunt Joyce could suddenly need a shingles vaccine after all. He walked past the nail salon, the consignment shop and the diner wondering, with a glance at the half empty parking lot, how any of these businesses stayed afloat in such an obscure location.
The hiss of the automatic doors, painted in the signature green and blue, admitted Keith to Washburn’s pharmacy and he was greeted by a cheery, automated voice with an almost singsong quality. “If you have any questions don’t, be afraid to ask any of our staff. At Wasburn’s, you’re not a customer, you’re a neighbor.”
“I’d rather be a customer,” Keith muttered. “Neighbors are too nosey.”
He did a quick look around. There was a cashier, an older woman, straightening racks of candy in front of the registers. A vroomba quietly hummed as it swept and mopped the floor. The pharmacy had just opened up and there was a lady waiting for her prescription in the small waiting area off to the side and another customer carried a basket as he perused the aisles. Displays of candy, sodas, and vitamin waters lined the front end with signs declaring them on sale this week. At the far end of the store were a set of coolers with even more drinks and chilled items. As with all items anywhere you shopped, each item had one price for universal credits and another for hard currency. Since credits were a fixed price wherever you went it was naturally cheaper than paying a hard currency price that could vary from store to store, depending on where you shopped.
Keith was careful not to linger at the doors and instead went into the aisles. He didn’t recognize either of the customers or any of the employees so he felt safe. And he knew in the back of his mind that the security cameras were watching but unless he acted suspiciously he would be fine.
He walked down the aisle marked incontinence products and took out his tablet to get another look at the coupon. There were rows of absorbent underwear, pads for beds, chairs and sofas. At the far end was a display shelf that showed toileting aids like urinals, bedpans and a commode. What he wanted was just before the display shelf on the bottom row. A large, maroon package with white stripes running along the bottom. The product label had a very detailed image of an open diaper with the tapes.
Keith’s heart began to race as he crouched down and touched the package. His stomach churned but the feeling seemed to mix with a that familiar sense of pleasure. He turned it outwards and saw the instructions for how to put one on that included a simple drawing of a nondescript person either putting it on himself or a caretaker’s hands assisting him. Just like with the old man in the restroom he had to stop thinking about it before he got himself in trouble. Instead he checked the coupon’s information against the sale sign on the shelf and took it to the register.
The guy ahead of him was checking out. The woman at the pharmacy paid for her persctiption and left without a word. Keith just stood there as nonchalantly as possible, fully aware that at any minute, someone could catch him and force him to explain himself. He thought back to the officer and to Aunt Joyce. He thought of the ad at the mall that wasn’t exactly meant for him, but it was such a coincidence that it still felt weird. He tried to think ahead to the conversation that would take place when Mom asked him about getting stopped by the police. The way Joyce would blow it out of proportion, Mom would probably be surprised that she didn’t have to post bail to get him out.
“All set?” The cashier asked as the man took his bags and left.
Keith smiled and placed the package on the counter. It was actually the first pleasant surprise he had all day when the cashier didn’t give him “the look” that so many forum posters spoke of. She just scanned the bar code and told him the price.
“Oh,” he said, holding out his tablet. “I have a coupon.”
“Okay.” No smirk, no snotty glare. No probing questions. The cashier simply showed him the reader on the side of the register and showed him how to scan the coupon. “And that brings it down to fifteen UC or twenty-five HC.”
Keith held back a sigh of relief as he chose the UC option. Because the store he worked at only paid him in hard currency, his parents made a deal with him. As long as he stayed with the job, he would get five UC per paycheck but there was an additional catch. The bank gave them an option that allowed them to monitor any purchase he made over twenty-five credits until his eighteenth birthday. It would give them full details including what he purchased and where. The idea was that with hard currency prices being so expensive, kids were going to naturally use credits and since there was a lot of paranoia in the media about what kids bought when their parents weren’t looking, the next logical step was to simply get an e-mail alert for any purchases over a set amount. Dad might not have cared what Keith bought, but mom would sure want an explanation as to why he was buying adult diapers. That was why he needed the coupon to knock ten dollars off. Of course mom could have just as easily told the bank to let her know if he used a coupon that brought the total below twenty-five as well, but as tired as she could get during the week he highly doubted she would have thought that far ahead.
“Do you want the receipt?” The cashier asked.
“No thanks,” Keith said. “But can I get a large bag?”
The cashier went for the larger bags without a second thought. These were thicker than the grocery store bags and it was very hard to see inside. She loaded the package into the bag and Keith took it without incident. For things to be going this smoothly, he almost expected a full squad to be waiting for him in the parking lot, complete with a van to take him off to the crazy house. When the cashier wished him a nice day he was relieved to find that the parking lot was as sparsely filled as before with no flashing blue lights or SWAT officers drawing a bead on his head. He found his way to the monorail station without incident and got home with no one else from his school or family stopping him.
So why did he still have that raging nausea in his stomach?
• * *
There was an unspoken treaty between himself and his mother. Don’t go into her room. If there are no strange smells or unwanted life forms that could be traced to his room, she would return the favor and respect his privacy. Oh and do your own laundry. As long as those simple conditions were met Keith never had to worry about mom going through his closet or dresser.
Keith still spent the week sweating. Classes drudged on in their normal pace. He was allowed to skip gym due to arrangement he made with his school guidance counselor, but he had to stay in the library during this time. He couldn’t sit still long enough to do his homework or read so he spent some of that time searching through the e-book list and going through the tactile friendly paperbacks and hard covers.
Teachers couldn’t have cared less what made him nervous as long as he gave them the impression he was paying attention. He thought he caught a nasty look from the campus Sherriff, but those guys were always trying to catch you doing something. They got bored when they weren’t leading a student out of the building in handcuffs.
He couldn’t wait until the weekend. His very first diaper would feel so great between his legs and it would feel good to be able to wet himself without having to damage his clothes or have a huge cleanup afterwards.
Friday felt like it was another century away. But when final bell came he was out the door so fast he could have qualified for track and field. Mom was asleep but that was fine. Her room was at the end of the hall and the bathroom was between them. Keith went into his room as quietly as possible and placed his backpack on the desk.
Carefully, he opened the bottom drawer of his dresser and lifted the layers of sweatpants that was one of his many hiding places for the thirty or so diapers. He had stuffed the packaging in a reconstituter on the way to school on Monday and by now it was probably resin to repair the windows at city hall or something. He removed a diaper and took it over to the bed. Like he had done three or four times that week, he held it in his hands for a few minutes. The outer lining was cloth-like, soft but tough. He stretched it open and for some reason, he couldn’t fight the compulsion to put his nose to the lining and get a strong whiff. It was a unique but not entirely unpleasant scent, at least while it was clean and dry. The plastic and the absorbent material were similar to a baby’s diaper, only there was more of it to cover the much larger area it had to protect.
Finally, Keith stood up and flattened it out on the bed. He was sure he had it positioned correctly, with the tapes in the back. At least that was what the packaging had shown. There was also that instructional video on Youtube where a nurse used another brand of adult diaper with a similar design. He turned around and lowered his pants and boxers all the way to his ankles.
Keith’s heart skipped a beat as he heard his mother moving in the hallway, but he quickly relaxed when he heard the bathroom door close and the lock click into place. Then he sat down carefully, in the middle of the diaper. He pointed himself down into the absorbent pad, then brought the front up against his belly, holding it there as he used his free hand to undo the top tape on one side of the diaper. He managed to successfully fasten the top tapes. When he got the others in place he stood up.
It wasn’t a very snug fit. Keith hadn’t taken the time to check the sizes when he was at the store. But one of the forum members told him he could readjust the tapes to make a larger diaper fit more tightly. He pressed his back against the wall as he redid the top tapes, which succeeded in making it slightly better but still roomy. He then pulled his boxers and pants up and when he was buttoned the diaper felt more secure.
“Wow,” he whispered.
There was a knock at the door. Keith stood still and said, “Yeah?”
“Can I come in?” Mom.
The door creaked open. Mom’s face seemed heavy with exhaustion and he could tell she still needed sleep.
“Was I being loud?” Keith asked, nervously. If she picked up on it she either didn’t couldn’t show it.
“No. I just wanted to ask how school was.”
Mom nodded. Her smile was genuine but weak. Keith felt bad that she had to work two jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and it made him feel a little selfish to be spending the credits she gave him on diapers.
“Oh, Doctor Ferris called earlier.”
Ferris had been his pediatrician since birth.
“What about?” Keith asked, trying to sound more confident than he was.
“He didn’t say.” Mom said with a shrug. “He just wanted to see you soon. Don’t worry, if it was important he would have called you at the school. I told him we would set up an appointment for Monday.”
Keith’s heart sank as he tried to go over the entire week. Yeah he peed here and at school. Did something show up on Doctor Ferris’ computer? Did it have to do with that motor cop? Mom naturally found out about that part from the family’s personal crier, but when Keith explained his side she shrugged it off. He hadn’t been arrested and she would have said something if she had gotten an alert.
“Why don’t I call him now?” He offered. “It’s only four o’clock. He might be able to squeeze me in.”
“You could do that.” Mom said. “Then we’ll bill it to your dad.”
Mom and Dad were never married and they weren’t officially divorced, but laws were stricter now and the only way Dad could get out of paying child support was to maintain joint custody of Keith. That meant that on top of proving that Dad spent ninety-days of the year with Keith, he also had to show proof that he was providing for Keith’s needs like checkups and other medical appointments. For as long as Keith was old enough to cook his own food and not blow up any house he lived in at the time, Dad was able to cram the ninety days into one summer and two vacations during the school year. The rest of the time he worked at the New Mexico Spaceport, fixing the shuttles that carried passengers to the moon, the space stations and star cruisers.
Keith called Doctor Ferris on his tablet. He got the secretary who informed him that Ferris could see him in half an hour. He would have been happy to make the appointment for a century from now, but the longer he waited the more likely it would be that mom found out something more. Maybe Ferris would put the bug in her ear that would lead her to looking through his transaction history or his bedroom.
No. Half an hour was fine. The office was only across town and he was able to catch the bus. It wasn’t until he got off the bus that he remembered his diaper was still on. He stood outside the office building, wondering if he should take it off before seeing Doctor Ferris. There were no major security stations to go through but if he acted suspiciously here another cop might be sent to investigate.
Something told him to risk it. As he climbed into the elevator and punched Ferris’ floor, he reminded himself that Ferris had been his doctor since he was six. When puberty started, if Keith had questions, it was usually Ferris who answered them. And as far as he knew, nothing he ever said to Doctor Ferris during an appointment ever made it to Mom’s ears. And a part of him needed to be honest with someone.
Most of the offices were closed and people were leaving the building as he got off the elevator. The waiting room was empty and Doctor Ferris was behind the counter chatting with his secretary. He looked up when Keith walked in.
“Hi Keith!” He greeted him warmly and motioned him to come in.
“Hey.” Keith stood at the door and waited for the buzzing sound. Then he followed Doctor Ferris into his office. Like most examining rooms it had a cool sterile feel to it. As soon as he sat down on the examining table it started calculating his weight, blood pressure, bone mass and other key information. Possibly his childhood fears, but if not than someone at MIT just had to be working on it.
Doctor Ferris took a seat by his desk and placed his hands on his stomach, interlacing the fingers. He wore glasses in a classic style of frame and they seemed to make his soft gaze more intense. His demeanor was casual and Keith was able to relax because of it.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” he said. “I saw something in your file that concerned me.”
“Okay.” Keith said. He may have trusted Ferris to a degree, but he still didn’t want to fill in any blanks until he knew where the conversation was going.
“It was only a yellow flag.” Ferris tried to reassure him. “That means no one has to know about until you get caught doing something again. Do you know what it was?”
Keith sighed. Of course it wasn’t necessarily from the police officer. It was in the back of his mind that Eric finally spilled his guts to his mom, but she would have called his parents straight away, wouldn’t she? He decided to drag it out a little more to see what Ferris actually knew.
“I’m not sure,” he said, though his voice gave it away.
Ferris gave him a knowing grin.
“Keith I’m your doctor. I can take that flag right off your profile now if you just come clean with me.”
“But what if someone else flags me?” Keith asked. “Won’t it go straight to red?”
“Why would you be worried about getting flagged a second time?” Ferris asked. “You know getting flagged doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. We all get flagged once in a while for something stupid. But like parking tickets you don’t want to let a yellow flag sit on your file for too long or it’ll bite you in the behind.”
Something about the way Ferris looked at a monitor behind the bed and the way he said “behind” made Keith realize that he knew more than he was letting on. Finally he gave in and told Ferris everything. And not just about going to buy the diapers. What started out as one admission led to him explaining his whole fascination with everyone else’s bodily functions (careful to explain that he was not into touching them, just into watching them happen) and to several of the times when he nearly got himself into trouble.
When he was finished he felt as though a weight was lifted from his shoulders. That weight was quickly replaced by the led in his brain that forced him to find something interesting about the floor while he waited for the axe to drop.
“You’re not alone there.”
Keith looked up, slowly. Doctor Ferris was still sitting down.
“I know,” Keith admitted. “I’ve been to some of the websites.”
“That’s always been an option.” Ferris said. “This fetish has been around for quite some time. Of course it’s harder to get away with now what with all of the added security features and government buttinksis but it’s not the worst thing out there. Your fantasies don’t involve small children do they?”
“No!” Keith quickly responded.
“Then as your primary doctor I have no problem using my authority to remove the flag.”
Ferris turned to the computer on his own desk and brought up the screen. Keith saw the tiny little yellow flag but didn’t bother reading the comment written beneath it. It had the tell tale typing errors of a guy trying to write it out while he was wearing gloves. Ferris pressed a part of the screen with his finger to confirm his signature and the flag was gone.
“Is it okay if I see the diaper?”
Keith stood up and lowered his pants. He didn’t get excited or aroused this time, maybe because Ferris had seen everything once before and there was nothing to get excited about. Ferris inspected the diaper and even tested the tapes.
“Looks like the ones they use in space.” He commented. “Be careful when using it in public, of course.”
Ferris stepped back and let Keith pull his pants back up.
“Make sure to clean your skin as soon as possible.” He continued. “If you decide to use your diaper in public, be careful about how long it takes to get to a restroom and get cleaned up. I can’t alter your medical file until you turn eighteen so if you get flagged again your parents might find out.”
Keith was surprised. He sort of expected Ferris would be on his side, but he didn’t think the doctor would encourage him.
“So, you’re not going to tell mom and dad?” He asked.
Ferris shook his head.
“Just do me one favor. Use those in moderation. If you get too used to them eventually your bladder muscles will weaken. You don’t want to become incontinent by the time you’re thirty.”
“You know we’re the only species that has this problem.” Ferris said. “Somewhere along the lines we started getting more and more restrictive over our bodily functions. Now you can’t even pee without someone butting into your life.”
“That’s true,” Keith said. “Five hundred years ago you didn’t have to worry about cameras all over the place either.”
Ferris nodded and then went to the door, holding it open for him.
“Good luck, Keith. And be careful.”