Mark didn’t really mind when his mom shooed him and Katie out of the house. Katie, his girlfriend, had met his parents less than a week earlier, and he explained that one sure way to tell that his mom was becoming comfortable with someone was when she started bossing them around. Katie just laughed and nodded. “This explains so much about you.”
They decided to drive to a small park several miles from the house, and now they sat on a park bench, with their bodies pressed against each other, lips locked together. The park was quiet but for the dry leaves crackling in the wind, dancing over the concrete. Fall had arrived and, the youngsters that had crowded the faded, red jungle gym just days before were now sitting in desks, staring out the window. Mark and Katie too would soon resume classes, both in their 3rd year of college. Mark tried not to think about it, focusing on Katie’s lips against his, her dark hair swirling around his face.
The moment was so serenely silent, the stillness so palpable that he wasn’t quite sure what to do when Katie’s tongue darted back into her mouth like a frightened fish. She pushed him away and held him at arm’s length, her black eyes suddenly unable to meet his, flitting around the empty park.
“This is wrong,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” Mark asked.
“This,” Katie said. She pulled back from him and crossed her arms nervously, hugging her own shoulders against the evening chill that was just beginning to taint the air. “You can’t kiss me.”
Mark sniffed. “Why’s that? I didn’t think my breath was that bad.” He waited for her face to crack into a smile, for her to tell him that she was just messing around, but her lips stayed tight.
“It’s very inappropriate, and you know that,” she said like she hadn’t heard him. “I won’t be able to be your tutor anymore if this keeps happening, and that would suck, wouldn’t it?”
“Tutor? What do you mean, by ‘tutor?’” he said. She was staring at her feet. Why was she staring at her feet?
“I’m going to take you home, okay?”
She pulled away as he reached for her, and he fell forward onto the rough bench, his hands shaking. “This isn’t funny anymore.” he said. “Please stop acting like an insane idiot!”
Katie lept off the bench, hands balled into fists “You can’t talk to me like that,” she said. A familiar flush was washing across her cheeks, but there was a strange sharpness slicing through her words that felt utterly alien to Mark. Her body was a taut chain and her shadow loomed over him, long and dark in the light of the setting sun. Then, a sad smile crept to her lips. She turned towards the parking lot, her earlobe pinched between her thumb and index finger. “C’mon, I’ll take you home.” she said.
“We came here in my car!”
“You know you can’t drive yet,” Katie said without even turning around. “But have it your way. You can walk home if you’d prefer.”
“How exactly are you going to leave if you don’t even have the keys to my car,” he shouted after her. She was half-way to the parking lot now, and his voice drifted away in the wind. He patted his pockets and sat bolt upright, a deep hollowness creeping through his body. His keys and wallet were gone.
Breathing hard, he groped around where he’d been sitting, dropped to the ground beside the bench and raked his fingers through the damp grass, but his keys weren’t there. He stood up, his legs flimsy noodles beneath him, and stumbled down the sidewalk towards Katie. His heart pounded through his chest, deep and explosive as thunder.
“Wait! I can’t find my keys,” he shouted. And then he saw them in her hand, glinting in the maroon hues of the sunset. She must have slipped them out of his pocket while they were making out. She turned towards him and put her hand on the trunk of his red Carola. As he approached, he was struck by how tall she was, meeting his gaze without looking up at him.
“We need to have a talk with your mom,” she said. “This simply can’t continue.” Without saying another word, she unlocked the doors of his car, and climbed into the driver’s side. Mark stood there for a moment, trying to understand why this gorgeous girl who’d been wrapped in his arms less than five minutes ago was now acting like a complete stranger. She started the engine and let it idle without even looking at him. There was nothing to do but open the door, stoop down and slide into the passenger’s seat. Only he found he didn’t need to stoop down. He slid into the seat with plenty of head room to spare.
His thoughts whirled in the silence of the car as Katie pulled out of the parking lot into traffic. She didn’t head towards the highway but made for the back streets that would skirt the rush hour traffic. He didn’t remember explaining this alternate route to her, but perhaps he had. She stared straight ahead blankly, and as he looked her, he was struck by how beautiful she looked, her brown hair glowing in the golden light.
“I’m your boyfriend,” he said softly.
She looked confused but only for a moment. “You are my friend,” she said. “My tutoree.” A tiny smile flickered across her lips. “I don’t think that’s a word. That’s why I tutor math and not English.”
She believed it, Mark could see. There was no doubt in her features, no hesitance in her hands gripping the steering wheel. He groped for a medical explanation. Some sort of amnesia, a concussion? Although it was clear she needed medical attention, it was equally clear that she wouldn’t seek it voluntarily. Perhaps his parents would know what to do.
His hand brushed against his cell phone in his pocket, and a possibility suddenly sprang into his mind. He pulled his phone out and began to swipe through his pictures. He was looking for the selfie he’d taken with Katie in front of the golden gate bridge. They were sweating in the 90-degree heat, the blue water below blindingly bright with sparkling sunlight. He’d tried to take the selfie with the bridge in the background while simultaneously kissing her, a feat that was more difficult than he had initially imagined. It had taken several tries, but he’d finally framed it perfectly. If he showed her the photo, would she remember?
Scanning through the photos, he couldn’t find the one he was looking for. There was one of his first girlfriend, Megan, at the prom, another of him skateboarding, showing off his ollie. These were old pictures that should have been deleted ages ago, and he couldn’t find a single photo of Katie. His mouth was dry and pasty as he set down the phone and tried to keep his hands from shaking.
In the fading light, he didn’t notice the strange, inky blackness creeping into the car. It floated, suspended in the air for an instant before swooping towards him, slithering across his skin. A chill filled the air and turned his insides to ice. He saw it then, stretching over him like a dark, translucent veil. “Stop the car!” he said, only partially successful in keeping the panic out of his voice. The blackness swirled around him like a tornado, pouring down his throat and choking him.
“What’s wrong?” Katie turned her head towards him, but she looked through the blackness as if it wasn’t there.
Mark’s hands shifted, a certain stubbiness crawling over the length of his fingers. The roof of the car arched over him like a cathedral dome, and he screamed. His jeans wormed across his hairless legs as if invisible fingers were rolling them up. His sneakers shivered and crumpled, jumping erratically until his toes burst through and Velcro straps curled around his little feet. Katie pulled over to the shoulder of the highway as cars whizzed by them, a worried confusion painted over her face.
“What’s happening to me?” Mark said in a strangely shrill voice that sounded nothing like the rich baritone he expected. The icy tendrils of blackness reached into his mouth, behind his eyes, deep into his gut. He fell into Katie and buried his face in her shoulder, clinging tightly to her shirt, the fabric of her sleeve wadded in his fist.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Katie said softly, petting the back of his head.
“Get it away from me. Make it stop,” Mark said, his words muffled. He wanted to cry but was too scared, wanted to scream but couldn’t draw in enough breath.
“Shhh,” Katie whispered. Her arm was tight and unyielding against his face, her torso leaning away from him slightly. He cricked his neck to stare up at her, and when he saw the blank unrecognition in her face, he understood that his life had suddenly and violently veered off a cliff.
“You didn’t see the black wind?” he said, staring at the dashboard that now almost completely blocked his view of the highway. The cold chill had vanished as if it had never existed, dissipating into the warm, humid air of the car.
“What black wind?” she asked.
Mark didn’t speak. He could feel the sobs and hysteria rising like a fevered animal, but he took deep breaths and closed his eyes.
“I have to get you home,” Katie said.
Mark fell back against the seat and felt it swallow him, his head barely reaching the headrest. His thoughts ran in slow motion. Katie’s strange behavior, the swirling blackness, the world growing around him. His stomach churned and he swallowed down bile.
“I think I’m getting younger,” he said,.
“What makes you say that?” she said too calmly, something straining just beneath the surface of the words.
“My voice is as high as yours, for one.”
A forced giggle. “It will change.”
“I’m twenty, Katie. In college.” When she didn’t respond, he looked over and saw her hunched over the steering wheel, all the color squeezed out of her knuckles.
“Do you know what’s going on with me?” he asked.
She turned and smiled past him like he was a patient she was visiting in the hospital. “I don’t exactly.”
He waited for her to continue but she drove on in silence. The possibility that he was the one losing his mind hung over him, as thick as the blackness that had invaded the car. Perhaps none of this was real, a mere hallucination that existed only in his own consciousness. Instead of parking in the garage, Katie pulled up along the curb and sat for a moment with her hands resting on her thighs, her outline barely visible in the faint light of dusk. “I’m going to speak to your mother,” she finally said, clambering out of the car.
“Please give me my keys,” he said but knew it was no use. She shook her head, face frozen, and strode up the walkway towards his porch. He jogged after her, closing his eyes and feeling tears wet the insides of his eyelids. He wished with every part of his body that his mom would set his girlfriend straight. Look at him, his mom would say. Something is clearly very wrong, can’t you see?
Darkness was beginning to encroach on the golden glow of the sunset, the yard swathed in shadow. Mark stared down at his sandals, wiggling his chubby toes as if to make sure they actually belonged to him. The ground was so much closer than usual, and he could make out the rough texture of the concrete even in the darkness. His yard seemed huge as they approached the house, the small shrubs that lined the walkway towering over his head. Katie was a giantess, her rear end a huge mountain of denim swaying in front of him.
Katie rang the doorbell and stood in front of their austere white door as if she hadn’t been staying in the house for the past five days, her luggage packed neatly into their guest room. “We can just go in through the garage,” he said, but she waited, tapping her foot to some inaudible rhythm. When his mom answered the door, she didn’t seem shocked. She didn’t bend down to his level and ask him why he was so short all of a sudden. Instead, she greeted Katie with a cheery smile and asked if she wanted to come in.
“It happened again,” Katie said gravely.
His mom’s smile faded into an expression of worried concern in a matter of seconds. It was like watching a cloud pass over the sun.
“Go to your room, Mark,” she said, and he was about to ask why when he noticed something odd in her arms. It was an old, wooden picture frame that held a photograph of him as a kindergartner on the first day of school. He stood on the front porch just in front of their white door, his hair parted on one side. He was hugging a tiny lunch pail to his chest and smiling in a way that clearly suggested that he had not yet realized what school actually was.
The picture itself was not odd. He remembered it well, but now it seemed to almost glow as if a bright light were scanning across it, shining from the picture itself. And then he saw it; the dark wind swirling up from the picture frame, ruffling his mother’s sweater, ripping through her hair, and finally plunging towards him, a hurricane swirling ominously through the doorway.
“Mom!” he screamed, brushing past her and lurching up the stairs towards his room. The blackness chased him, rushing over the steps, swirling around the banister. He climbed the steps in leaps that felt gigantic to his short legs. Behind him the wind was gaining, reaching out its gnarled fingers, twisting and grasping the air. The coldness of it stained his clothes and sank into his skin, an icy frost pricking his insides. Just as the wind had almost reached him, he scrambled into his room and slammed the door shut behind him, ramming his shoulder against it with all his strength.
He stood panting in the quiet of his room, lit only by the crescent of the moon, throwing long shadows on the walls. Light seeped in the cracks underneath the door and illuminated a small sliver of carpet. He heard nothing but the sound of his own breathing and his mom calling distantly, but suddenly in the dim light, he saw the blackness creeping underneath his door, wet and dank like a tentacle tightening around his ankle. He screamed and ran to his window, pulling it open and looking down two stories to the rosebushes below. The ground was nearly invisible in the darkness, and it was easy to imagine that jumping into the night would be like flinging himself into pit with no bottom. The cold tentacle was sliding up his leg. He clawed at it, fingernails raking across his flesh, but it only clung to his hands and crawled up his arms.
Had Mark been able to leave his own body and observe himself, he would have seen his legs jolting shorter like a time lapse in reverse. He might have noticed his belly becoming rounder and his face pudgier beneath the swarming blackness. But from his perspective, he saw only the window sill growing closer and closer to his chin, and he knew that it was pointless to jump. The darkness would slink out of the window, whisk down the edge of the house to his broken body, and envelope it.
The biting whirlwind tore his clothes off, and he shivered, his baby teeth clicking together like castanets. The frigid gusts blew through him, and an icy terror filled his gut and overflowed into the scream of a helpless child. His genitals wore away, the harsh wind chiseling his penis into a stubby, little icicle, squeezing his balls until they were tiny peas burrowing up into his abdomen. His skin was soft and translucent, and it flapped loosely over muscle that was blowing away like so many piles of powdery snow.
He didn’t know how long he fought with the black wind, writhing and spitting, but after what seemed like hours, he found himself in his mother’s embrace, one gigantic arm running the length of his back, her fingers caressing the back of his head. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she kept whispering.
““I’m turning into a little kid,” he sobbed, gasping for breath.
“I know it’s scary, but everything’s going to be okay. Remember what the doctor said? You sometimes see scary things when you get tired or hungry, but they’re not real.”
She looked down at him piteously. “Dr. Werner, sweetheart. Don’t you remember?”
He wriggled out of her grasp and stood up, his face hot. “I’m not crazy. When I left this house, I was twenty years old, and nothing you or my girlfriend or anyone else says is going to change that.”
“Who’s your girlfriend?” she said, forehead wrinkled with worry.
“Katie?” His mom got to her feet with a grunt and walked over to his closet. “Katie’s a lot older than you, and I think she already has a boyfriend. You may have some competition.”
Mark closed his eyes and tried not to picture Katie with someone else. How could this be happening? The world he’d been a part of for his entire life didn’t exist anymore, snuffed out like a candle. He didn’t understand this new place, where his mom thought he was mentally unstable and his girlfriend barely knew him.
When he opened his eyes, his mom was standing over him with a white t-shirt and a red pair of flannel pajamas with brightly colored airplanes covering them.
“Are you ready for bed?” she said
“If I was really a crazy, little kid, would I know how to find the derivative of a vector function? Because I can do that. I took Calc IV last year.”
“Oh did you?” his mom said.
“Let me show you,” Mark scanned the room for a pencil and a piece of paper.
“You need to sleep right now,” she said firmly. She held out the pajamas, but Mark just stared at them, these symbols of his body’s age. “I’m trying to be patient,” his mom said, “but you’re not acting like a big boy right now.”
Mark shook his head and grimaced. “Mom, you’re not listening to me. You know what, forget it. I’m going downstairs to get rid of those picture frames.” He walked towards the door, a distance of what should have been two steps but was more like six now.
“It’s past your bedtime, Mark.” Motherly authority swelled in her voice, but Mark could think only of the picture frames lying downstairs like bombs waiting to go off. “Marcus Anthony Tiffin,” she shouted as he reached for the doorknob. “Don’t you dare take another step!”
He pulled open the door and started to walk out of it. In an instant, she was on top of him, her hands like the pincers of an enormous crane, hoisting him by his armpits.
“Put me down!” he yelled, shuddering at the pitch his voice was capable of reaching.
“It is time for you to go to bed,” his mom said through gritted teeth. “If you don’t want to wear your nice, new pajamas, that’s fine, but you will take your pills, and then you will sleep.”
“What pills?” Mark tried to wriggle free, but her hands were strong, and he could barely even move in her vice-like grip. She fell onto his bedspread and held him in her lap with one arm while reaching for a bottle of pills on his bedside table with the other.
“I’m not taking any pills!” Mark said. He tried to pry her huge arm off him, but it was like a tree trunk pinning him to her and all he succeeded in doing was scratching her with his sharp, little fingernails.
“Honey! I need some help!” his mom yelled, and there were footsteps on the stairs. She was trying to open the child-proof bottle while simultaneously holding Mark’s little, squirming body.
The huge figure of Mark’s dad strolled into the room, grim and unsmiling. “What happened?” he asked.
“Let me go!” Mark yelled. “You don’t understand.”
“There was a problem with the babysitter, she got him riled up somehow, and now he won’t take his pills.”
“Find a new sitter then,” Mark’s dad said, kneeling down and taking the bottle of pills from his mom.
“I don’t want to discuss this now, okay?” his mom said, her voice tight. “Let’s just get the pills in him.”
Mark’s dad shook two pills out into his broad palm. They lay there, clear plastic shimmering dangerously. Mark squirmed and kicked, even biting his mom’s arm, but she held him firmly. His dad waited patiently for an opening, but Mark kept his jaw clamped shut, a tight wall against the invading pills. His dad grabbed his nose and pinched tight. Mark’s little lungs heaved pathetically, trying to draw in a breath, but his dad’s fingers didn’t move. Just when Mark thought he was about to pass out, he opened his mouth, gasping for air, and his dad flicked the pills down his throat with one deft motion of his wrist.
“I’m sorry bud,” his dad said with a grim shake of his head.
Mark looked up at him, eyes shining. “You don’t know what you’re doing.” He kept struggling against his mom’s arm, but a dim haze was drifting over him, his arms falling limply by his sides
His mom kissed the top of his head gently, and her grip around his waist was firm but tender. He fought against it with all the strength in his body, but his clawing and kicking was weakening. His eyelids drooped heavily, the edges of the room closing in like the end of a movie, and he fell back against his mother’s soft breasts, his breathing growing deeper and more even with each rise and fall of his little chest.
The next thing he knew was warmth and a quiet hissing, like a hot tub with pressurized jets bubbling above the surface of the water. He smiled and made little smacking sounds with his lips as he rolled over. Then the smell of urine slammed into his nostrils, and awareness jolted him wide awake like a slap across the face. He lept out of his bed, drops of warm liquid streaming down his thighs, splashing out of his pant legs onto the carpet. He tried to hold it, pressed his hands over his crotch, but the water kept whizzing out of him as his pants grew more and more soaked.
The dark wind had returned, wrapping around him like an icy cloak, but he forced himself to run towards the door, little feet pattering across the carpet. He grabbed the doorknob, barely registering that it was above his head, and stumbled out into the light, leaving little wet patches wherever he stepped. The blackness followed like an angry ghost, tearing his hair out in clumps and squishing him down, chubbier and clumsier. His legs were plumping into the stubby legs of a baby, thighs creasing with fat. He toddled over to the stairs and began to tumble down them, overwhelmed by how enormous they looked, the steps of some Aztec ruin.
He didn’t even recognize he was clenching his sphincter until it began to relax, a low, growl bubbling through his stomach. Poop leaked into his underwear, and every staggering step he took forced out a little more. Warm slipperiness rolled against his butt, but he charged on without slowing. More and more stinky, brown mush oozed out of him, and his underwear began to soak it up like a sponge, soft and puffy behind him. A swishing grew in his ears, and his briefs bloated like a cancerous tumor swelling, pushing his legs apart. It squished beneath him as he fell onto his rear end and bumped down the last few steps.
His mom stood above him in her pajamas, gasping in horror. “Are you okay? What are you doing?” She bent over to pick him up, and her shirt fell open, huge, unbound breasts swinging like wrecking balls above his head. On the floor lay a frame with a picture that had only been inserted part of the way. Even though it was upside down and his eyes were still adjusting to the bright light, he recognized it. In the picture, he sat in front of a blueberry cake, a solitary candle still perched atop it like a little flag. His hands were buried deep in the cake, purple frosting smeared over his grinning, chubby cheeks.
“Why?” he screamed at his mother, but she tried to hush him, held him and rocked him with a gentle urgency. Though he pushed against her breasts with all his might, her arms stayed latched securely beneath his diapered bottom.
“How did he get out of his crib?” his dad asked.
“I don’t know,” his mom said, sniffing his diaper and wrinkling her nose. “I’ll check after I change his diaper. Would you mind finishing putting those pictures in the frames?”
“No!” Mark howled. “Smash the picture frames! Why won’t you believe me?” His tongue felt lazy, dragging over his teeth and dribbling a bit of spittle onto his chin.
His mom made little cooing sounds and wiped his mouth. “You’re talking so well!” she said brightly.
“Put me down!” he screamed, the blackness filling his open mouth and rushing down his throat. His mom lowered him onto the counter, undid the tape on the diaper from around his middle, and pulled it off with a rustling sound.
His legs and arms were going rogue, oblivious to his commands to jump off the counter. He managed a weak kick and a flail of his arms, but his limbs were liquefying into little more than dead weight. His mom wiped his poopy butt and cooed in a fruitless attempt to console him but he only struggled harder as his limbs fell asleep. He realized that he was incapable of smashing the picture frames, would only be able to bite them if he ever managed to pull himself close enough to them. As if to spoil his final hope, his teeth began to recede, and he ran his tongue over the smooth rubbery surface, feeling tears form in his eyes. He fought them back, blinking hard, and straining to lift himself into an upright position as the black wind continued to whip around his helpless body.
“Help me!” he tried to scream, but his tongue felt detached from him, a piece of useless meat lolling around in his mouth, and all that came out was a piercing wail. The sound seemed to gush out of him, blaring from his body. He sucked in a tremulous breath and then wailed again and again, involuntarily. He tried to say something, anything, but all he could do was make that sound, that gasping, nasal wail that rose and rose until it seemed to drown out even his thoughts. His legs began to jerk reflexively.
“Is my baby boy hungry?” his mom said. She held his legs firmly while she strapped a fresh, clean diaper around his waist. He looked up at her smiling face, big as the sun beaming down at him. She lifted her shirt up until it rested on her bare breasts. Mark just managed to turn his head away to stop himself from seeing his mom’s nakedness, his chubby cheek mashed against the counter. Though his little tummy growled with hunger, he tried not to think about what was coming next.
“Wheee,” his mom said, lifting him and swooping him through the air. Her bosoms drew closer until they completely filled his vision, huge mountains of flesh shifting and jostling as she settled herself into a chair. His mouth began to fill with saliva at the sight of a single drop of whiteness dotting on her left nipple. It dribbled over her bumpy areolae and down the curve of her breast before dripping into her lap.
Mark kept trying to turn away as his mom pressed his face into one of her soft breasts. Milk ran down the outside of his cheek, but he refused to suffer this indignity. He was not a baby and so would not act like one. In front of his eyes, her breasts stretched like slowly filling balloons, her veins exploding toward the surface. His eyes followed a particularly large blood vessel as plumped and throbbed, oozing down her breast and cutting across her areola.
“C’mon baby,” his mom pleaded, holding him firmly, tickling his tiny lips with a dark nipple that stuck out longer than his nose. She pushed it into his mouth, and though he tried to spit it out, her hand was the size of his head and as strong as all the muscles in his body put together. The second the nipple touched the back of his throat, his mouth contracted, and his lips sealed tight to her rough areolae. Milk ran down his throat and into his stomach in great, warm spurts of goodness, and the muscles in his throat began to gulp it down before he could even think.
He tried to talk around the nipple, and tell his mom that he loved her, and he was sorry this had happened. He wanted to see his girlfriend and kiss and hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. But instead he suckled feebly, the warm, nutritious milk filling his stomach until it was round and full.