Welcome to the Hole
by Jason Mitchell
based on an idea by Andy Hollis
©2000 Jason Mitchell -- all rights reserved
"What the hell are you doing?" Corey Williams yelled as he raced across the playground. "Somebody call the police." Small kids and parents scattered out of his way.
The man beating the small boy barely looked up as Corey arrived. The man raised his arm for another blow to the boy's face as if nothing was wrong. Corey, a heavy-set man, and former football player tackled the man around the waist and brought the three of them to the ground. The boy was thrown clear, but didn't run away as Corey pinned the man's arms. Corey gagged and turned his head at the smell of alcohol and decay on the man's breath.
"I asked you what you were doing to that kid?"
The man gave Corey a glazed look, as if not comprehending what had happened. "Get off me."
"It's okay, mister," the boy whimpered. "I'm okay."
Corey looked up at the boy's bruised cheeks and turned back to the man. "I don't care what the kid did, but no one deserves that kind of battering."
"You don't understand," the man said struggling to get out from under Corey, but the larger man did not release his hold.
"My wife and I have been trying for years to have kids, but you, you bastard, have a beautiful little boy, and you try to kill him?"
"He's not my kid," the man said. "He's a demon, the Devil Incarnate. He shows you things and steals your soul. I tried to help him. Jeez, mister, let me go. I've got kids myself, but -- this one is a monster." The man struggled harder still.
"Am not." The boy, who looked to be about eight under dirty blond hair, started crying. "You hurt me, and I didn't do anything to you."
The sound of sirens made Corey relax his grip enough to let the man push away. He scrambled to his feet and started to run only to be tackled again by an uniformed policeman.
"What happened here?"
"That man hurt me," the boy said drawing closer to Corey while pointing at the other man. "He saved me." He pointed down at Corey.
Corey sat up and let the kid hug him. He held the boy close for a second. "Can you get an ambulance?"
"On the way. What happened?"
"I just finished a round of tennis with a friend of mine, and I took a short cut home through the park. I saw that creep beating up this kid. It looked serious and I stopped it." Corey looked back at the kid, and for a second he felt dizzy looking at the swirling colors in the boy's eyes.
"You're the one," the boy yelled out. "You're the one. You get it. You can have it, mister, and thanks. Thanks for everything!" The boy held Corey tighter around the neck, and faded out.
Corey looked at his now empty arms, and shook his head. "Where'd he go?"
"Beats me, mister. I just watched him vanish like a puff of smoke."
"He's the Devil, mister, told you that, but now you're the one that's lost his soul," the other man called out. "You'll never get it back now, either."
Much later, at the police station, after giving his version of the events at the park for the hundredth time, Corey accepted a cup of coffee from the officer in charge. "I haven't a clue as to what happened to the kid."
"Kids just don't vanish like that, Mr. Williams. I know what you and my officer said you saw, but let's get real here. We need to find the kid."
"I know. He was hurt and I'm sure he needs help, but I've told you everything I can."
"Okay, so you were playing tennis?"
Corey looked down at his girth and nodded his head. "I know I'm not going to Wimbeldon next year, but I do hit the ball around occasionally with my friend -- Dr. John Harris, you have his number. He's been my physician since I was a kid and a family friend before that. We worked up a sweat; he took off in his Mercedes, and I walked through the park."
"Okay, Mr. Williams, I think we have enough to go on. I know this has been hard for you, but try to understand how this is going to look to the authorities. There's a phone over there, if you want to call for a ride home."
"Thanks," Corey sighed, although he dreaded his wife's reaction to this. One more fight in a long series, but it was the last thing he needed today. He picked up the phone and dialed.
"I'm not in trouble, hon, really," he explained. "I tried to help out a kid in trouble and now he's missing. Don't know what happened. The kid just upped and vanished into thin air. I swear it. Two policemen saw it happen, too."
"I'll be right there," Debbie Williams said with a note of resignation in her voice.
Corey protested the entire way home, "But Debbie, you know the way I feel about kids. I couldn't just let that creep batter this one. He was only eight, for Pete sake. He said something that I 'was the one', and that I could have 'it', and 'thanks for everything'. After that he was just gone."
"Sure, Corey, but I am not going to tolerate that kid showing up on our doorstep like a stray puppy. No, you may not keep him -- or adopt him either."
Corey breathed in Debbie's perfume, and watched a stray, dark brunette hair, trail down her cheek as she drove. "What's that fragrance? Something new?"
"Don't try changing the subject either. We are much too old for kids."
"No, we aren't, hon, but we've always said it had to be a mutual agreement. I want kids, always have, but I'm not going to force one on you, and I still swear I don't know where that one went."
"I'm just glad that the media aren't swarming over this. 'Kid vanishes after being saved from a battering by local hero.'"
"Some hero," Corey snorted.
The next morning, Corey woke feeling that something was wrong. Debbie slept on the other side of the waterbed, and she did have a slight smile on her face. He sighed, and slid out of bed to pad over the huge, circular bedroom to his bathroom, palatial in itself, but only half the size of Debbie's. If anything was wrong in the huge expanse of a house, the dogs or the alarm system would have let him know. He stopped for a moment, and stared at the mirror. He could swear that his hair looked lighter brown, almost sandy. He rubbed it, and shook his head. Probably a trick of the light, he thought with a shrug.
For the next several mornings, Corey watched his sandy brown hair change to sandy yellow then a bright strawberry blond. He scratched his hair, finally pulled a strand out and looked at the roots -- it was the same shade all the way down.
"Corey, I told you days ago that color just doesn't suit you."
"I know that, Deb. I didn't do anything to it, either."
Debbie sighed, and walked into the bathroom to repeat the process with Corey's hair. "No sign of dye, but hair doesn't just change color like that."
"I know that. I'm going to make an appointment right now. Do you know anything that would get my hair back to normal? I'm getting teased unmercifully at work."
"Hair coloring, of course, but something's wrong here." She kissed her husband on the cheek, then ran her finger over the same skin. "New type of razor? You're skin is incredibly smooth."
"I haven't shaved today," Corey said and felt his cheeks and chin as well. "Damn, this is getting weirder and weirder." Corey looked back in the mirror. "Holy shit, what color are my eyes?"
"Brown like they've... Baby blue?"
"I'm being TG'd," Corey said shaking his head. "I know they closed down 'Fictionmania' ages ago, but I must have read one too many of those stories."
"What are you talking about?"
"I think I'm turning into a girl," he said. "Look at me, the hair, the eyes..." Corey turned around and stepped on the scale. "Look at that. Two fifty? I've dropped twenty five pounds since Monday."
"You read stories about men turning into women?" Debbie asked with raised eyebrows.
Corey blushed, "Yeah, sometimes. Okay, it's a turn-on when it happens to someone else."
"And now you think this is happening to you?" Deb asked quickly.
"How else do you explain what's happening to me?"
Instead of an answer, she pulled down Corey's boxers. "Oh my God," she screamed.
"Holy shit," Corey stammered out as he saw what was left of his genitals. He had considered himself fairly large in that department, as well as everything else, but now his privates had shrunk to a third of their size.
"Call the doctor now, Corey. This is serious."
"Maybe I had better call in sick today, too."
"What do you mean next week? This is an emergency," Corey told the receptionist.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Williams, but Dr. Harris is double booked all day today, and Monday morning is the first time I can squeeze you in."
"But I'm turning into a girl, for crying out loud. By then it may be too late."
"Please hold, Mr. Williams..." Muzak replaced the girl's voice. Corey paced the living room floor.
"Corey?" a familiar man's voice asked.
"Thank god it's you, Dr. Harris. I'm in serious trouble here. I seem to be turning into a girl," he choked out.
"Please, try to relax and watch your blood pressure. I don't know what you've read but people cannot actually change their genders without years of hormone therapy and surgery," Dr. Harris said in his most soothing voice.
"That's easy for you to say, John. My balls are almost gone and I'm losing weight like there's no tomorrow. My hair has turned into a gorgeous blond and my eyes turned baby blue. Something is going on here."
"There's no need for sarcasm, Corey, or such language, either. The correct term is testicles."
"John," Corey shouted into the phone. "My gonads are almost gone and I'm a little bit too upset to worry about niceties right now. I can get just as crude about the other appendage down there that has also all but vanished."
"Look, I don't know what happened with your hair and eyes, but there are a number of possibilities -- not life-threatening -- that can have some feminizing effects on males. It's the weight loss that worries me. After years of telling you to take off a few pounds or more, I don't want to see it come off like this."
"What do I do?" Corey almost screamed.
"Go to the ER at Presbyterian; tell them that I sent you in for a body scan then have the doctor call me. I will try and meet you as soon as I can get free," Dr. Harris added. "Look, Corey, chances are this isn't serious and when we find out what's the matter the side effects will clear up."
"Gee thanks, John, you don't know how much better that's made me feel."
"Good news, Mr. Williams," the ER physician, Dr. West, announced as he came into the cubicle and drew the curtains. "Nuclear Medicine can get you in this afternoon for the body scan, and I have the results of your labs."
Debbie reached over and took Corey's hand. Corey scratched at his chest under the hospital gown with his free hand. "And?"
"Your testosterone level is down, almost non-existent, but your estrogen and progesterone levels are just as down, for a male."
"If I'm not turning into a girl, what is happening?"
"The scan may tell us, but I've called Dr. Harris back, and he's calling in an endocrinologist for you as well. Now if you don't mind, I would like to listen to your heart and lungs."
Dr. West rubbed his stethoscope on his lab coat before slipping it under Corey's gown. He frowned, then pulled his hand away. Everyone stared as he brought his hand and instrument out covered with hair.
Corey looked down, scratched again, and shook his head. Dr. West raised the gown to find the inside covered with hair as well. Corey's chest looked piebald with so many patches of bare skin. Dr. West ran a finger down the skin only to have clumps of hair rub off as he did so. The doctor got the same result from Corey's abdomen and legs.
"This isn't funny," Corey told Debbie. "Whatever you do, don't pull of my shorts. I don't want to know."
"I'm afraid I don't have a choice, sir. Would you mind?"
Looking away as the doctor pulled down his underwear, it was Debbie's gasp that made him look down at his groin. "Oh my God. I look like a little kid. Who says I'm not changing?"
"Can't you stop this?" Debbie half shrieked.
"Not until we know what's doing this to him," Dr. West said with a shake of his head. "I've never seen such complete alopecia -- hair loss -- like this, and I'd swear... How much did you weigh when you got here, Mr. Williams?"
"I'll be right back." Several minutes later, Dr. West rolled a scale into the cubicle. "Hop on."
Feeling weak in the legs, and dizzy, Corey managed to get on the scale with the doctor's assistance. "One seventy-five? That's impossible."
"None of this is possible, sir. With your permission, I would like to take some photographs to register a baseline."
"Go ahead. One for the textbooks, that's me."
"Oh, Corey," Deb wailed as Dr. West left to retrieve the camera. "Without all that hair you look like you're twenty if not younger. They have to stop this."
"Deb, while I'm up, get my height, would you?"
"Can you stand all right? Here, hang on." Debbie stood up and hurried over to the scale. "Hold still, darling. There -- it reads five nine. Five nine?"
"The incredible shrinking man? Just don't put me in a doll house, okay?"
"Excuse me," Dr. Harris said sticking his head through the curtains. "Sorry, I must have the wrong room. Debbie?"
"It's me, John, or what's left of me," Corey said.
"Here, let me give you a hand," Dr. Harris said and helped Corey back up on the stretcher.
"Hello, Dr. Harris," Dr. West said. "I thought a few pictures would be in order."
"Probably right. You do that and let me take Debbie out for a cup of coffee."
"Thanks, John," she said.
"I never dreamed I'd be a pin-up model," Corey said as he took off his gown. "Maybe for Overeaters Anonymous, or something, but..."
"Do you feel hungry? Do you need to use the rest room?"
"No, and no. Right now I feel too shriveled to eat, and I haven't had to go since yesterday. Where does all this weight go?"
"That's anyone's guess right now."
When Dr. Harris and Debbie came back, the doctor cleared his throat while Debbie sat down by the stretcher. "Corey, I've known you for many years now, and I must say I never would have believed it was you if I had met you on the street right now. Something is going on, and we need to find out what. The scan is scheduled for this afternoon, and in the mean time the staff here will take you upstairs. We have a bed waiting, and once you get settled in they can take you down for the tests."
"Thanks, I guess."
Dr. Harris walked into Corey's room with a huge file under one arm. "Debbie? Would you mind waiting outside for a moment? I need to speak with Corey alone.
"It's serious, then?" she asked as she stood up.
"Not sure, but it's something."
As soon as Debbie had left, Dr. Harris closed the door to the room, and returned to the bedside. "We have the results of the scan..."
"And?" Corey half shouted.
"And there was no trace of a tumor or anything untoward anywhere. The pictures did show your bones and even your organs getting smaller. How tall are you?"
"I was six two for all of my adult life, John, but the scale this morning said five nine."
"I'd say it's considerably less now."
"I bet it's the tits next." Corey demanded. "Sorry, I meant breasts."
"I don't think so," Dr. Harris replied, ignoring the outburst. "I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that you are turning female, but it isn't happening. The only changes I'm seeing is that you seem to be getting younger, a lot younger. Of course, either option is medically impossible, but... Have you seen a mirror lately?"
Corey shook his head. "I don't think I want to, either."
"Come on, you need to see this. Can you get up all right?"
"Actually, yes," Corey said and swung around to the side of the bed. "I'm feeling a lot better than I was this morning. He hopped off the bed, and almost stumbled into the doctor when he realized that he now came up only to the man's shoulders. "Holy shit."
"So it would seem."
Dr. Harris half led, half-dragged Corey into the bathroom. Corey stared into the mirror and started laughing. "God, I look like I'm fifteen or something." With a sigh, he dropped the gown. He could find only a few hairs anywhere on his body. "Not even that," he added. "This makes me look like a tall eleven-year-old."
"Why don't you get into the shower, and wash the rest of those hairs off. I'm sure they itch, and when you get done meet me back in the room."
Clean, and denuded of hair, Corey pulled on a new gown that fell down to his knees. He tied it up as best as he could and went back out to the bed. "And?"
"I won't lie to you and tell you that I have any idea what's going on," Dr. Harris said bluntly. "It appears that you are actually, physically regressing in age, and I have no idea how it's happening, let alone how to stop it."
"How far do you think this could go?" Corey asked quickly.
"I have no idea. You seem to be regressing at different rates. Your genitals are much younger than the rest of you, but you noticed that first this morning. Did you have this color hair as a kid?"
"No way," Corey protested. "Nor the eyes, unless I'm going all the way back to being a baby."
"I would hope not, but that is something we have to consider."
"John, what in hell can I do? I can't go to work looking like this that is if I stay like this and don't keep shrinking. We have some money put aside, and a nice retirement account, but that would be gone in a few months if Debbie had to take me home as an infant. Even with you standing beside me and both of us swearing on a stack of bibles no one is going to believe this story."
"We do have enough hard evidence, as it were, to convince the medical community that this is for real, but even if you spent your life as a guinea pig for science I don't know if we could find the answers, and it doesn't pay well, either."
Corey nodded. "So all we have to do is figure out what did happen to me, then how to do it to other people, too. We'll be billionaires in no time flat."
"I'm afraid you're right, but... Oh, my."
"What?" Corey demanded taking in a deep breath. "What?" he asked again and cleared his throat. "My voice changed back, didn't it?"
"And you are still shrinking. I'll get Debbie in here. What ever happens to you I think she will need to be here with you."
Debbie walked into the room a few minutes later, and started sobbing the second she saw Corey. "Oh, baby, you look like your twelve. How much further is this going to go?"
"I don't know. Did Dr. Harris tell you?"
"No," she said as the doctor returned to the room as well.
"Corey, I'm having you moved up to intensive care -- pediatric intensive care. They have the equipment to fit your new size, and I want you monitored twenty four hours a day."
The monitor beeped out an alarm. Corey woke confused, and disoriented by all the wires and machines around him. He rolled toward the monitor and found out the hard way that he had wet the bed for the first time in decades. He rolled back on his bed and felt tears flowing down his cheeks.
"It's okay, sweetie," said a nurse from beside the bed. "Nothing to get scared about. The machine is just letting us know that there is a problem, okay."
"It's not that. I wet the bed," Corey said blushing,
"It's okay. We have plenty of sheets. First time away from home?" she asked with such a warm smile that Corey had to smile back.
"No. Look, young lady," he said remembering, "I'm thirty eight years old, and I don't need to be coddled like a baby. Check my chart, please."
"Of course you are. I'll be right back with some dry pajamas and sheets."
Corey looked about the bedside, but found no trace of his watch. Wouldn't fit his wrist anyway, but he wondered about the time. There, he spotted a clock face in a monitor. Only midnight? This was going to be a long night.
"Here you are, Mr. Williams, let's get you cleaned up."
Sitting up as best as he could for the bed bath, Corey let the nurse take his wet clothes, then looked down. "How old do I look now? I can't tell. Everything looks so tiny."
"About eight," the girl said. "You look fine to me," she said and proceeded to wash Corey down. "Okay, these are Nighttimes, in case you have another accident," she said.
"I'm not wearing diapers," he said, firmly.
"Not diapers at all, see? Just like regular underwear, but they will keep you dry for the rest of the night."
After a long sigh, Corey relented, and let the girl finish dressing him. "Of all the indignities."
The next morning, Corey tried to finish his breakfast of cereal and pancakes, as Debbie pushed her way into the cubicle. "Whose bright idea... Corey?" she asked covering her mouth. "Oh dear Lord, Corey, you're adorable. You look so cute, I can't stand it."
"I do?" he asked, almost pleased. "It's not that funny," he said and rummaged in Deb's purse for a mirror. He opened the mirror and stared, frozen into place. The powder from the compact tickled his nose, and he sneezed, forcing him to look away. "I'm the kid in the park," he whispered. "That little monster turned me into his twin brother. No wonder that creep wanted to kill him. I would too if I got the chance. But how do I find a kid that can just up and vanish on me?"
"Did John say anything about how long you're going to stay like this?"
"No," he said taking another mouthful of cereal. "Won't even give me coffee."
"Whose bright idea was it to list me as your mother? I had a hell of a time getting in here until I agreed that I was your mom. What's with everyone here?'
"Probably the same with everyone we meet from now on. Whose gonna believe I'm not eight years old?"
"Corey, I'm not going to be your mother, and I'm not going to raise you like a kid."
"I know that, hon, but what choice do we have? I can't get a job like this, and what are we going to do for money? The best I can do is put in for long term disability with my insurance, but I'm not even sure if this would be covered."
"Well, you can forget the idea that I'm going out to work to support you while you stay at home and play little boy on me," Debbie said quickly. "John had better find a cure for this, and soon."
"I'm eight years old again. In ten years I can rejoin the workforce at least, or go back into the Air Force."
"Good morning, Mrs. Williams," said a nurse. "It's time for Corey's bath, if you don't mind. We need to check the dressings on his I. V. and give him some clean clothes. Did you finish your breakfast? Almost? That's a good boy."
"Nurse -- Rodriguez? My husband is not a little boy, in spite of his looks. There's no need to treat him like that."
"It's okay, hon," Corey said quickly. "It's been a long night. I had to wear a diaper last night so I wouldn't wet the bed -- again. I needed it, too." Corey sat up and pushed the tray away. "It's bath time."
"You're taking this awfully well," Debbie said as the nurse pulled off Corey's pajamas.
"What am I supposed to do? Rant and rave and make everyone miserable? I'm too old for temper tantrums, hon. Until John can tell us why I turned into a scrawny little -- albeit adorable -- eight year old, I don't have a choice. I don't want to be a little kid again, anymore than you want me to be a little kid again, but there's no point in getting mad about it."
"At least, I would know that you cared about what happened. You were raging when you thought you were turning into a girl."
"Yeah, but this isn't so bad. I've never been a girl before, but I have been eight. You know, I get pretty girls to give me bed baths, and no one's going to call me a dirty old man."
"You're enjoying this," Debbie said.
"Yeah, right. I really like wearing pj's with little animals on them, and I'm way too young to really enjoy this. Oh, God. I was a late bloomer the first time around, and I hope I don't have to wait that long before I can -- perform my 'husbandly duties' again."
"If you think you're coming near me again until you're at least twenty-five, forget it, mister. I'm not into children."
Corey sighed, and raised his arms as the nurse pulled on his top. "It would be new and different, and you are my wife so it's legal -- I think. Remind me, when I get out of here, to call a lawyer and find out just what my rights are. I can't let the state think I'm really a kid."
"You aren't getting out of here until you turn back into the man I married," Debbie said firmly. "John is going to have to do something -- growth hormones or something, but this is going to be resolved."
"Deb, honey, when you get home this afternoon, look in the phone book for witches or wicca practitioners. I don't think this falls within the realm of the medically curable."
"Well, Corey, Debbie, I have the results back on the tests we ran this morning," Dr. Harris confirmed as he walked into the unit. "According to the blood work, and everything else, Corey is a normal, and quite healthy, eight-year-old boy."
"And?" Debbie said.
"The bad news is that Corey didn't age regress as I thought originally. I can only say that somehow he metamorphosed into the child you see him as now."
"I told you that this morning, John," Corey cut in.
"Yes, but without the tests to back that statement up..."
"What's the difference, and how does he change back to normal?" Debbie asked.
"As simply as I can put it, if Corey had age regressed, his body would have 'turned back the clock' so to speak, and he would be a normal kid again, just the way he was the last time. This didn't happen. He changed shapes instead."
"You mean I only look like I'm eight, but my body is still thirty eight?"
"No, not exactly. Your body is and will react as if it is eight. Your bones are just as resilient as they were as a kid, and your metabolism is the same as a regular kid's, but the difference that showed up on the x-rays this morning is that you do not have growth plates on your bones."
"What?" Corey demanded.
"What does that mean?" Debbie asked a second later.
"Corey's bones shrank. They lost mass, and turned younger, but they didn't regress. Look, folks, I'm just as lost as you are on this, but it looks like Corey will not be able to grow up again. This is now his permanent shape just as much as his thirty-eight year old shape was permanent. I mean he can gain and lose weight, but right now I'm not even sure if he is going to age at all."
"Holy shit," Corey said. "I was counting on puberty again."
"Doesn't look that way," Dr. Harris said with a shake of his head. "I'm going to keep you here, in ICU for a while, to make sure that you do not start getting younger again, but right now it looks like you were right."
"But how can he change back?" Debbie asked.
"I don't know," Dr. Harris said. "What happened here is medically and biologically impossible. This is something that will be discussed and debated for years in the journals, but probably will not be big news in the outside world since we can't do it to others.
"The only thing I could suggest would be to find that kid, and bring him in for testing and or questioning, to see if he has any idea what happened."
"I'll be at the park every afternoon," Debbie promised.
"Thanks, John," Corey said and looked way up the man. "You've really tried to help me on this, and I know what you must be going through..." Corey felt a flood of warmth through his entire system. Something seemed to reach from his forehead up to touch John's head as well. The tendril of power opened the doctor's deepest wants and desires to Corey's inspection. In fact, with just a little tweak he could... Corey pulled back terrified of what he had been about to do. With one well intentioned thought, he could have ruined the man's life for all time. The guy in the park, he thought, devastated by the boy's power -- lashing out... The Devil has power to assume pleasing shapes?
"Corey?" both Dr. Harris and Debbie called out.
No, that wasn't it, Corey decided still lost in thought. But such a power in the hands of an eight-year-old could be deadly. The kid wouldn't know any better but to use that power at will trying to thank people that helped him -- like me, but instead ruining lives. Like mine, Corey thought with a chill running up and down his spine. He thanked me by giving me all his power, and the shape that went with it.
"Corey," Dr. Harris shook the boy's shoulder.
"Huh, oh, sorry. I got kind of dazed."
"You're eyes started swirling with color, and for a second I thought you were trying to hypnotize me."
"No, not that at all. God, this is rough. I just figured out a few things, and Deb, there isn't any need for you to go to the park. I am the kid in the park. He did this to me, and he's gone for good. I'm stuck like this."
"Well, you had better figure out a way to get unstuck, or we're through," Debbie said. She turned, grabbed her purse and stormed out the door.
"Do you want me to go after her?" Dr. Harris asked.
"No, and thanks, but she needs time to cool off and get used to this. I do, too. John, could you tell the staff that I'm really thirty-eight and to cool it with the 'good boy' routine?"
"I have, and I'll try, but you are wearing big boy pajamas and, from what I understand, big boy pull ups."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot," Corey said.
"I'll be back later. Want me to turn on the cartoons?"
"Just go, before I change my mind about ruining your life."
"Believe me, young man, you already have," Dr. Harris said with another grin as he hurried out of the room.
Four days later, Corey rode the wheel chair down to a regular room in the pediatric ward. At least, he thought and grimaced over the cartoons painted on the wall, the room was private. As soon he could, he dialed his home number. No answer. After four days he expected Deb to have cooled off a little, but then again this was a bad situation. "Hi, it's me," he said into the answering machine. "John sent me down to a room in peds. It's 2085-B, and it's private. Please call. Please?"
He looked up to see a small boy, then again he wasn't so tall anymore either, standing in the doorway.
"Hi, I'm Justin. I'm here for an operation," he said slowly. "I'm seven. You want to play cards?"
Corey looked at the eager expression on the boy's face, and nodded his head. "Sure, come in. I'm Corey and I'm thirty-eight. I'm here because I changed from a grown-up to a kid again."
"Cool!" the boy said and hopped up on Corey's bed. "Do you like being a kid now?'
"I guess. Do you?"
"It's okay. I wish I was bigger, though. Everyone at school makes fun of me."
"I know the feeling. You want to play Crazy Eights?"
Some time later, Corey looked up to find his wife standing in the doorway, staring at him.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Coloring," Corey said with a shrug. "This is Justin. He's seven and in for an operation."
"Is that your Mom?" Justin asked. "She's pretty."
"You can come back later," Debbie said. "I need to talk to Corey by myself, okay?"
"Okay. See ya," the boy said and wandered out into the hallway. Debbie shut the door behind him.
"I just came in to say good bye, Corey. I'm not sure where I'm going, but if you ever decide to grow up again you can leave a message with my mother."
"Debbie, you can't be serious."
"I'm serious. I know I've threatened this before, I can't take what you've done to our marriage."
"What I've done? Babe, this isn't something I did. It was something that was done to me."
"It doesn't matter, Corey. Now you can play with your little friends, and not worry about anything. Least of all -- me. I can't live with an eight-year-old. I just can't."
"But Deb, what am I going to do? I can't stay in the house by myself. Social Services would slap me in some foster home without a second thought. I can't stay here forever. I need you now more than I ever have?"
"So I can be your 'mommy' and tell you what a 'good boy' you are. Forget it, just... forget it."
"But what happened to 'in sickness and in health?' I don't have anyone to turn to, except my mom, and the nursing home probably wouldn't even let me see her."
"That's not my problem any longer. This is it. You've ruined our marriage, and I hope you're happy about it."
"Oh sure..." Corey said but Debbie just turned and walked out the door. He fell back on the bed and didn't hesitate to cry his eyes out.
Debbie was serious, for once -- maybe? For the first time since the change he felt scared, and lonely. Maybe he should have been ranting like Deb wanted, but in some ways this whole mess had been fun, but now what? He thought he could always count on Debbie at least being there for him, but without her... She'll come back, he told himself. She has to.
"I don't understand this, John. It's been four weeks -- a whole month. She's never been gone this long. The phone was shut off, and I know we had the money to pay the bill."
"I went by the house, Corey. It's empty from top to bottom with a 'For Sale' sign out front. The Post Office doesn't have a forwarding address, and the Real Estate people just have your mother-in-law's phone number."
"Oh, great. I don't even have a house to go home to?"
"Apparently not, and your insurance company isn't letting you stay here any longer either. I've done everything I can, and then some, but they will not pay another cent for your stay. I did fill out your long-term disability paperwork, but that isn't going to be enough to support you."
"I know," Corey said bleakly. "What can I do now?"
"For about a week, I have been trying to find you a foster home..."
"A what?" Corey cut in. "How can I go into someone's home and pretend to be a little kid? What happens when I don't grow?"
"Look, I know this is going to be hard on you -- on everyone involved, but let's face it. You are, for all intents and purposes and eight-year-old. I've tried, and I've tried my hardest to present your case to my colleagues, and I get my face laughed at in return. No matter what the evidence I have, no matter how compelling the facts, no one is willing to believe that this change is possible. Looking at you, I have a hard time believing it myself and I was there as it happened.
"You, my friend, are an impossibility and one that people are not willing to face. You have no one else to turn to?"
"No, so please, John, I need to stay here then. I can't go outside looking like this."
"And why not?"
Corey half collapsed in the bed. "Because then it will be real. I've been safe enough from facing that fact while I've been in here because nothing seems to be real here. How can I go from being someone -- a force to be reckoned with -- to being a helpless little kid?"
"I'm afraid that you don't have much choice in this. Look, Corey, like I said I know this is going to be hard, so that is why I called in Social Services."
"What are they going to do," Corey said standing up on the bed. "Lock me up like some kind of freak?"
"They can find you a place to stay until Debbie changes her mind, or something else comes up."
"What about with you?" Corey pleaded. "You've got room, and we could make the lecture rounds or something. With me right there you might get an idea of how to reverse this?"
"Corey, I thought of that, and it just won't work. I don't have and can't get legal custody of you. I know how old you are, young man, so don't give me that look. You're in a rather nebulous legal state as it is. No one will believe that you are an adult and grant you the rights that you deserve as an adult, therefore, until we can work something out, it is in your best interests to be a child."
"But Social Services?" Corey half begged.
"Look, the state is the only agency that can come in here and decide what to do without worrying about the consequences. They never do anyway. You will be settled in someplace and a burden to the taxpayers rather than your insurance company. I will remain your doctor, and advocate, but that's about all I can do."
"Great, stuck in with a bunch of screaming kids..." Corey said with a grin. "Hey, I am a screaming kid now and I intend to do just that."
The lady from Social Service walked into the room, with Dr. Harris following in her wake. She sat down on her bed with a note pad open. "Hello, Corey. You know why I'm here today?"
"Yeah," Corey said with a sigh.
"Now, Dr. Harris, can we go over this one more time?"
"Absolutely, Mrs. Carter. The person you see before you is one Corey Williams. This young man has been my patient for at least twenty years, and both he and his wife have been close personal friends as well."
"I beg your pardon?" she insisted.
"When Corey was admitted, about a month ago, he was a fairly typical, thirty-eight-year old, ex-football player. He was somewhat overweight, and stood just over six feet two inches. As you can plainly see, he doesn't now. He was changed, by some agency that is..."
"The 'Unknown Animating Force', or U-A-F for short?" Corey said with a laugh.'
"The which?" Dr. Harris asked.
"Something I read online in TSAT. Never mind."
"Dr. Harris," Mrs. Carter said. "He can either be eight or thirty-eight not both. The regulations do not cover anything like this."
Corey looked up at the doctor and grinned. "This was your idea, John."
"Of course, they don't. But that's what we are trying to tell you. Corey isn't a child no matter how much he looks like one, but he does need help from the state since his insurance will no longer cover his stay here."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but the regs are strict, and there is nothing to cover this."
"Maybe I could set a precedent," Corey said. "For all persons magically age regressed please see regulation one million forty sub paragraph c. Note, refer all such persons to the Department of Magical Age Regression."
"Although I'm sure you find that amusing, young man, I have to know which you are. Eight or thirty-eight?"
"I'm sorry, Corey, I really am," Dr. Harris said. "Next time I call Social Services I promise I will insist on getting an agent that can think," he said with a pointed glance at Mrs. Carter. "You know what you have to do."
Corey nodded, and responded with a sad smile. He wiped a tear from his eyes and let his lips tremble. "I don't have a mom or dad to go home to, so I need help, Mrs. Carter."
"Now that I can understand," she answered.
The Jarvis Thatcher Memorial Home for Children, covered two acres of meticulously manicured and landscaped grounds. The building, several stories tall, spread out in four long wings with a central section making a huge 'X' in the grass.
"This looks really nice," Corey said, surprised. "It's a beautiful day. Why aren't there any kids playing out here? I don't even see a playground."
"We don't have enough staff to permit that," the director, Mrs. McGowan, said. She looked around. "The littler kids could get hurt, and no one would be there to help. There are plenty of playgrounds at school."
"I know you won't believe this, but I have an MBA," Corey said. "I could really help out with the administration here."
"Of course you can, Corey. The home is for you kids after all."
"And you're going to put me in the third grade, anyway," Corey said resigned.
"Well, the school will decide that," she said with a blank smile.
The tour of the facility fell downhill on it's ass from there, Corey decided. The dormitory rooms held two to three beds, looked spacious, and all were painted a pale yellowish white. He saw no sign of pictures or posters on the wall or even clothes and toys on the floor. The kids, for the most part played cards or read in the rooms, but nothing else. Only a few of the kids actually looked up at him, and those that did could hardly manage a smile for the new kid.
He spotted a computer center with three relatively new IBM's but none of them were in use. The library had a limited selection, but, at least, there were kids watching the Big Screen in the TV room.
Corey packed the small bag of clothes Dr. Harris had bought him in a locker, and went to settle down on his bed. This was -- just great.
"Hey, I'm Mark," said a boy flopping down on the next bed.
"I'm Corey," he said without opening his eyes.
"Welcome to the Hole."
"It's that good here?" Corey asked and sat up on his bed to take a look at his roommate. The boy looked to be about nine, and had an infectious grin over a face filled with freckles and auburn hair.
"Better. Man, we can't do anything here. You bring anything?"
"Get used to wearing them out, Corey. The staff here waits until we're bare before buying us clothes," Mark said with a laugh. "I've been here four years and I know."
"Can we go outside?"
"If you want to be punished. We can't risk messing up those pretty lawns, can we?"
"I guess not. What can we do?"
"Stay out of the way, don't make noise, and don't ask questions."
Corey nodded. "I can do this. I can stay here until John gets me out. I can do this and not make waves."
"What are you doing?" one of the ladies in her starched white uniform demanded.
Corey forced himself to look up from the computer screen. "I'm getting my e-mail, if you don't mind? I've been off line for a while and my mailbox is jammed. Mostly spam, but you know how that goes. There are other computers if someone else wants a turn."
"You kids aren't allowed in here."
"Why not? I'm sure the state paid an outrageous amount to get these computers in here for our education and enlightenment. I intend to get enlightened."
"Those are for the visitors, not you. You're new here, aren't you? Turn that off and I'm taking you to see the director."
"What for? She knows me already."
"She needs to explain the rules and regulations here," the woman said, coldly.
"Man, this is so unfair," Corey said, but turned off the computer anyway.
Two days later, Corey sat on his bed, clenched his fists and his teeth and growled. "I have never been so frustrated in my life. I passed all the school tests with flying colors on a college level, and I'm stuck in the third grade anyway. I can't do anything around here -- even play ball in the gym, and the director -- the director will not listen to me about anything. Maybe they should just put all of us in file drawers not to be opened until we turn eighteen."
"You learn fast," Mark said with his lopsided grin. "This place is a showcase for the system, man. All the big shots can come in here and see how pretty the place looks."
"Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to make waves, but something has to be done."
"Not as quick a learner as I thought," Mark said.
Corey found out that the director had been right about the staffing. He breezed into the admin offices in the evening, and spent almost a week going over the books, the payroll, and breaking into the computer system. Not one person ever questioned where he was going, or what he was doing, as long as he was in bed by nine.
At the end of the week, Corey sat down at the office computer and typed out a letter, addressed to Senator Wolf. After all the contributions he had made to that man's campaigns it couldn't hurt to call in a favor for some poor, little kids stuck in a grossly mismanaged State Home. Just wait until the auditors saw his figures, and Senator Wolf had made thousands of campaign promises about Government Spending.
The next morning, he dropped the letter in a mailbox on his way to school.
"Did you hear the news?" Mark asked with a huge grin on his face. "There's a team of big shots in the office going over the books, and groups of investigators are here for the tour."
"Only took three weeks," Corey said. "I did the books, too, and I wrote my congressman about it."
"You didn't," Mark shouted, and gave Corey a high five.
"Come on, this should be good."
Corey and Mark joined the swarm of kids that gathered to see the new visitors. Teams of people were broken up between the staffers, and lead around as the kids quickly got out of the way.
"... as you can see we have split the home into four wings. We have a boy's wing on this side for the six to twelve-year-olds, the thirteen to eighteen-year-olds are upstairs, while the girls wings are on the other side. This is the common area. The cafeteria and gymnasium are down there, the computer room and TV room are right over here, and we have the Library right over here."
"It's all beautiful, " said one of the ladies. "Too beautiful. Are you sure these kids live here?"
"Of course. Keeping this place clean is a full time occupation here," the staff lady said and tried to walk down the corridor.
Corey focused on the lady, but couldn't use his power to help the situation.
"Just a minute," said the same lady from the head office. "Would any of you kids like to give us the tour?"
After a minute of silence, Corey raised his hand. "I would. I'm pretty new here, too, but I can show you around."
"That's very nice of you, Corey, but I'm sure you have other things to do?" the staffer said with a pointed glance.
"Nope, not at all. I've done all my homework."
"Then it's settled," said one of the men. "Go ahead -- Corey, is it?"
"Yep, that's me. That lady there had it right. This is a great looking home, but kids don't live here. We sort of get shoved into little boxes until we're eighteen and then they let us go. Look at all this stuff. We have computers, but can't use them. We have a great big gym but can't play in it, and we can't even take books out of the library. Did you see the grounds? Really nice but we can't mess up the grass."
"You know the high cost of landscaping, Mrs. Shields, and we don't have the staff to supervise outside play," she smiled weakly.
"I see, so the kids are stuck inside, except for school?"
"Well, we do have some activities scheduled in the summer," the staffer said quickly.
"What about the library?"
"Well, you know how hard kids can be on books. We don't have the budget to replace them. They can read the books in the library but can't take them to their rooms."
Mrs. Shields led the rest of the party into the Library. "I have three kids of my own, and I know what books go through. You don't have any chairs or mats in here for the kids to sprawl out and read?"
"These books haven't been touched," added a man.
"Can't get them all dog-eared and dirty," Corey added.
Now that Corey had broken the ice, other kids started piping up as well.
"We're doing the best we can," said the staffer.
"Yeah, for bureaucratic robots who care more about showing the place to the suits rather than the kids that are supposed to live here. We don't count at all around here," Corey said.
Senator Wolf, as Corey expected, jumped on the corruption and mismanagement at the Home, and within a few weeks Mrs. McGowan tendered her resignation, extensive staffing changes were made, and Corey grabbed the computer system. Now all he had to do was teach the other kids how to play the stock market.
Corey sat in the director's office kicking his feet against the legs of the chair. "You wanted to see me, Ms. Neuman?"
"Yes, I did, but in a moment," the lady said with a warm smile. She finished going over the papers and then looked at the boy. "So, you've been with us for three months now?"
"Yeah, time really flies."
"And you were the one who stood up for the entire Home with Senator Wolf?"
"More or less. Just say that I got the ball rolling, and I'm a boat rocker when I have to be."
"That must have taken a lot of courage... Look, Corey, I know adjusting to an environment like this has to be hard for a boy of your age. Away from the home that you were used to, and stuck in with a bunch of other kids, but most of the staff members here have noticed that you don't even try to fit in."
"I've got a few friends, and I really do play well with others, but do you have my chart or file or whatever you keep on me here?"
"Did you read the reams of material that Dr. Harris wrote about me for you?"
"Well, not yet, but I am getting to it."
"Do it, please. In fact, let me help." Corey snatched the file off the desk, flipped through the pages and handed the file back. "Just read this top page, please?"
"It says that you are thirty-eight?"
"Almost thirty-nine," Corey said nodding his head. "In that file you will find all the tests and results that Dr. Harris used to verify that statement. But the only reason I'm bringing it up now is that it may become an issue in a few years."
"What do you mean?" she said, fascinated.
"Ms. Neuman, I don't expect you to believe any of this. I know I find it hard to believe now, too, but I really am trying to fit in. I was a grown-up," he said with a shrug. "I was married, had a nice home, a great job, and I lost it all when I changed into the little kid you see before you now. I'm used to board meetings, and stock options and the whole nine yards, not comic books and 'kick the can'. It's getting a little easier for me to relate to the other kids the longer I stay here, but I don't know if I can ever act like a 'normal' kid again.
"Now, the big difference between me, and all the other kids in this place is that I can't grow -- not another inch. I'm always going to be eight going on nine. I want you to remember this conversation because in a few years when I'm supposed to be twelve and thirteen and still look like this I don't want anyone to get hyper about it."
"But, Corey, if you really are thirty-eight, what are you doing here?"
"Where else could I go? I have an MBA but do you think some HR guy is going to seriously think about hiring me? My wife left me and took everything with her, my mother is in a nursing home, and not able to take care of me. My dad died when I was fourteen, and even if I could get a place to stay and a job to pay for it, do you really think Social Services would let me live there for long by myself?"
"No, you really do have a point there."
Corey cleared his throat. "So, here I am and here I stay. I'm beginning to make money again -- online, but I don't have the capital, yet, to do anything for real or even taxable."
"I can't stop that but you realize that it's not legal according to our charter."
"Don't worry. If I ever do hit it big, I'll donate lots to this Home."
Ms. Neuman led a small boy to the empty bed in Corey's room. The boy held her hand and sniffled as she said, "Stevie, this is Corey and Mark. They will help you get used to your new home."
The boy nodded. Stevie looked to be around five or six. He had a shock of blond hair as bright as Corey's and a delicate, almost angelic face.
"Hey, hi," Mark said and stood up. After a couple of growth spurts he towered over the other two boys. "I lost my whole family in a car accident. I know you miss your Mom."
Stevie nodded, but didn't say anything, instead he chose to focus on the suitcase he had brought with him.
That night, Corey woke to the sound of Stevie's crying. The kid wasn't loud, but Corey got up, walked over to Stevie's bed and hugged him. "It's okay."
"I'm scared," Steve whispered.
"I know. I get scared sometimes, too. It's okay to be scared," he said and hugged the boy harder.
"Can I sleep in your bed?"
Corey nodded, then frowned. "You don't wet the bed, do you?"
"No." Stevie said coldly.
"I still do from time to time. That's why I wear pull-ups so you won't get wet. Come on."
"Oh, don't the two of you look cozy," Mark commented the next morning. "Corey's got a boyfriend."
"Shut up," Corey said. "He was scared."
"I know," Mark said with a wide grin. "And I won't say anything about this, for a price."
"Aren't you a real friend," Corey said and hugged Stevie as the boy woke up.
After his first week, Stevie began moving back into his own bed, although Corey said he could stay as long as he wanted -- it was kind of nice sleeping next to someone again. A few days later, the praying began. Stevie prayed for everyone, but each time ended his prayer with, "...and God please make me a girl. Amen." Every morning, he would peek down his pajama bottoms, sigh and get dressed.
"You really want to be a girl?" Mark asked Stevie one night.
Corey nodded, as Stevie blushed and said, "Yes. It was a mistake when I was born. I was supposed to be girl, and Mommy knew it, but she couldn't do anything about it. I thought God might, but I really want to be a girl."
"You think?" Mark asked Corey.
"He really wants it, and it would be the best move he could make, but the staff here... I bet they didn't check into his records too closely when he came. We could make it work," Corey said and slapped Mark's outstretched hand.
"Then do it."
Corey walked over to Stevie's bed and knelt down. "Stevie, if you really -- really and truly want to be a girl, pray extra hard tonight and it just might happen. Okay?"
"Okay," Stevie said and threw his harms around Corey's neck.
The next morning, Corey and Mark walked Stevie in the director's office. "Ms. Neuman, there's been a mistake here -- big time," Mark said.
"Oh?" she asked with just a glance at the boys.
"Yeah, like why did you put a girl in our room," Corey added.
Stevie beamed at the lady, but didn't say anything.
"But the records said..." She mumbled as she tapped into the computer. "The records have her as a girl, but that's -- that's not right. Stevie? Are you a boy or a girl?"
"I'm a girl," she half shouted. "I'm a girl just the way God made me."
"I see. Would you two excuse us for a moment?" Ms. Neuman told the boys.
"It's okay, ma'am. We had to help her get dressed this morning and that's when we found out she was a girl," Mark said. "We didn't mean to look."
"No, but now that you do know, you aren't allowed to look either. Out," she said and walked around the desk to lift Stevie up onto it.
"Corey's my boyfriend," Stevie said as the boys left.
"He is cute," Ms. Neuman agreed as she verified for herself that Stevie should have been listed as Stephie. "Looks like you get to move to the girl's wing, right now."
"Yay," Stephie cried out.
Corey marched into the director's office waving a piece of paper. "What is this supposed to be?"
"What is it?" Ms. Neuman asked quietly.
"It's a note from my school that I'm being placed back in the third grade. I graduated from the third grade two years ago. I just passed the fifth grade in June, and now I have to go back two grades? What for?" He flopped down on the chair.
"We felt, that is the school administrators and I felt, that you might feel more comfortable with kids your own age and size."
"I'm forty years old, for crying out loud. There are no other kids my age and size. All my friends here are like ten now or eleven, and they don't care that I'm still short. I told you I couldn't grow -- remember? Two years ago?"
"I remember, but that doesn't mean you won't grow. We are scheduling an appointment for you with Dr. Jenkins..."
"I see Dr. Harris. You know that," Corey insisted.
"I know, but in this case we need the opinion of a pediatrician. We need to find out why you aren't growing -- for real this time."
"Great, just call in the shrinks while you're at it."
Two days later, Corey took in several deep breaths before he was ushered in to see the new doctor. The last thing he needed was to face this guy with a really bad attitude, but for all the world the one thing he wanted to do was throw a temper tantrum. He was overdue for one after all.
"Okay, young man, just hop up on the exam table here, tell me your name."
"Corey," he said brightly.
"Okay, and how old are you Corey?"
"Forty," he said.
"You look in great shape for someone forty-years-old. Would you take off your shirt?"
"Okay," Corey said and shrugged out of the T-shirt. "I'm a patient of Dr. John Harris. You know him?"
"By reputation, only."
"Then maybe you know about his writings? He had a case of genuine age regression, and he has published his findings in several journals now."
"I know, but age regression is... I see, that's you, is it?"
"Yep. I've been stuck like this for two years now. It's not bad, but it took me a hell of a long time to get used to it. It's weird, really, but you get acclimated after a while. I'm used to people seeing me, and treating me like a little kid. I expect it, and there are times now when I tend to forget I was an adult.
"Do you know why I'm here today?" Corey asked between proddings.
"Well, Ms. Neuman is worried that you haven't grown since you've been there."
"I know. I told her two years not to get hyper over it, but would she listen? I don't have any growth plates. Not one. My bones shrank to this size, but they stayed sealed at the ends. I can't grow."
"That's impossible for an eight-year-old."
"Take some x-rays. Come on, doc, I dare you to."
Dr. Jenkins sat at his desk studying the x-rays. "You don't have any growth plates, anywhere."
"Well, duh," Corey said. "Told you so."
"I talked to Dr. Harris while you were out, and it would seem... How did this happen?"
From the eager expression on the man's face and the sound of his voice, Corey turned inward for a second, and made the connection with the doctor... This one would give his right arm to be a kid again. One little touch, right there with his power, and he'd have a permanent friend... Corey backed away.
"I tried to help a kid. The kid had power -- real power, doctor. I don't know what it was, or how to describe it except as magic, but somehow he read something inside me, and gave that power and this shape to me." He leaned over the desk and whispered. "You want it, too, don't you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You'd give anything to be a kid again, and I can do that for you. Right now, I could make you a kid, just like me, forever."
"Absolutely. I'm like a wish-giver. Not a genie or anything like that, but one wish for what you truly and deeply most desire. I haven't used that power, much, because it would just ruin some people's lives, but think about it. You really and truly want to be a kid again, but would you give up your practice? Your home and family? My wife took everything, and I don't really blame her anymore, but are you married? Could you give up every bit of respect you've ever earned to be treated as a little kid again?"
"Yes," the man almost whispered.
"I can make that happen. I can't reverse it, or I wouldn't be here, and if I do it, it's permanent. Just take another look at those x-rays. But, you will be a kid. You can play games, watch cartoons and give up all responsibilities forever. Go to school like me. Think you could handle the third grade again? Who knows, we could be roomies."
"I have the resources," Dr. Jenkins said.
"To retire? How old are you, doc? Thirty something like I was. That's a long time without income."
"I have people. I'm not married, at least, now, but I have family that would take care of me."
"And they would let you be a permanent little kid? If so, great, but if not you could end up here, too. It's not so bad for me. I own a huge online brokerage now, and I'm raking it in. It's amazing how much business you can do over the net and never have to worry about face to face meetings. After all, my signature and social security number are the same, and anyone who does a check will find out how old I really am."
"You little..." He said with a wry grin. "Do I have to decide this now?"
"What do I look like, a car salesman? I'm not going anywhere. Just promise me one thing if you do decide to do this."
"That you don't try to get famous from it. You could video tape the whole process, have John Harris and a bevy of trained observers with you every second, and all the x-rays and scans in the world done while you change, but no one's going to believe it."
"Okay, I can understand that."
"Good, because I don't want you to come back to me complaining about this. If you say yes, it will happen and once it does there's no going back no matter what."
"Okay, but why are you telling me this? What's in it for you?"
"Nothing. But, Dr. Jenkins if you do decide to do this, it will make you happy."
"I know," the man said simply. "I know which is what makes this so hard. I'll get back to you on this."
"Oh, and nothing's going to happen until you tell Ms. Neuman that I'm healthy, okay?"
Two days later, the call came for Corey to report to the director after school. He was not surprised to find Dr. Jenkins waiting for him. He followed the man to a private office, and shut the door behind them.
"I did reassure Ms. Neuman that you are fine, and nothing is the matter with you," Dr. Jenkins started.
"And?" Corey asked quickly.
"And that little project we discussed. I want to go ahead with it. Seriously."
"Sure, Dr. Jenkins..."
"Dave," the man said, "or Davey. I have everything arranged with my family, and finances so I am all set. Maybe I could get a pointer or two about online investing?"
"Anytime," Corey said drawing inward to make the connection with the doctor. He sent out two tendrils of power, touched the right spots, and opened his eyes. "It's done. I'd call John Harris, if I were you. It took me a couple of days to make the complete change."
"I didn't feel anything," Davey said with a frown.
"Neither did I, or anyone else I've helped."
"There are more kids like you now?"
"No, you're the first person I've found that truly wanted this change, and I know it's going to be rough, at first, but it will work out for you in the long run. I wouldn't have done it otherwise."
"What else have you done?"
"There was a kid here named Stevie, about six, who prayed his heart out every night to be a girl. She moved into the girl's wing a couple of months ago, and I'm her boyfriend."
"How deep does this change go? I mean could you turn people into animals if they wanted it badly enough?"
"Yes, I could, and I almost did once, but I just can't bring myself to cut someone's life span that short," Corey said with a long sigh. "It would have worked out, too."
"And the kid that did this to you?" Davey asked.
"I don't know. Part of his essence passed on to me, and the rest must have just passed on, so to speak. He was really happy about it too, and I wonder how long I'm going to live with this power. As far as I could tell, that kid was really eight-years-old, and didn't know when to say no."
Davey reached down and picked Corey up into a long hug. "I don't know how to thank you for this. I'll get my sister to bring me over here to see you when everything is settled in."
Davey Jenkins walked behind Ms. Neuman into the room, and said nothing to the two boys sitting on their beds. He tossed a bag of clothes on the empty bed and flopped down as Ms. Neuman introduced him to Mark and Corey.
As the lady left, Corey blurted out. "Well? I thought you were just coming for a visit?"
Davey shook Mark's hand, and gave Corey another hug. "You have got to be the nastiest little creep in the world."
"Me?" Corey asked, hurt. "What did I do?"
"You told me the truth, that's what you did, and I didn't believe you. I was so sure that I was smarter than you. The whole time I changed, John Harris, my family, and a million other people were there watching, and testing and taking pictures and x-rays, but no one in the medical community believes us. If you even think about saying 'I told you so' I'll punch you. My sister -- my dear, darling sister, told me for days that I could come and live with her and my two nephews, but when she saw me really changing she freaked."
"Changing?" Mark asked. "Oh, is he like Stephie?"
"Sort of," Corey said. "He used to be Dr. Jenkins."
"Cool! Hi, doc, I'm all better from that sore throat."
"You believe him, Mark?" Davey asked.
"Sure. I've known Corey for two years now, and he's still a little shrimp but I know what he can do. When I get out of here I'm going to be rich."
"Which reminds me, kiddo," Davey said with a laugh. "I came this close to signing over everything I had to my sister for taking care of me," he said indicating with two fingers. "John got it into a trust fund for me, and he told me to ask you about managing it."
"No sweat, Davey. Take a number. But, have you ever thought of doing something online yourself? I mean, you could run a health site for kids. Kids' questions to the pediatrician, advice to moms and dads. That sort of thing."
"I hadn't thought about that, but would it make money?"
"Yeah, but give me time to work out the details and have a look at what you already have. You didn't have anyone that would take you in?"
"No, and believe me I tried after my sister backed out. She was sorry, but after a while it became painfully obvious this was the only other choice I had. So, hi, roomie."
"Hi, yourself, but are you happy?"
Davey laughed. "I'll say. This is everything I had dreamed about and more. I've been having a blast. I did get a chance just to hang out and play with my nephews, but even that was too much for Julie. But, no matter what happens, I know I'm not going to regret this."
John Harris took Debbie Williams firmly by the arm and led her into the building. "This is the place."
"You never told me he was here," she said.
"You never asked, and when you think about it, where else could he go?"
"So many kids," she said. "He always wanted a big family, and I guess he got it, but... Couldn't he get adopted or something?"
"When a couple adopts a child or even fosters one, they do expect that child to grow up eventually. Deb, Corey's been here for five years now, and he's doing very well in some ways, but this has changed him -- really changed him. Why are you here now?"
She sighed, then blurted out, "I want to get married again. I've been seeing someone for the last few months, and it's serious. Corey never signed divorce papers, and..."
"Wait in here," John said and opened the door to the visitors room. "I'll get the office to send Corey down since they know me."
A staff member did bring Corey soon enough. He ran into the room. Dr. Harris stood up and lifted the boy up over his head. "Hi, squirt."
"Uncle John, hi! I didn't know you were coming to see me."
"It's a special visit, kiddo." He put Corey down. "Corey, do you remember Debbie?"
Corey looked at the lady and broke into a wide smile. "I remember you. Hi, I'm Corey. I'm eight years old. Do you want to see my room? I got some neat stuff for my birthday."
"Corey? It's me, Debbie. YouR ex-wife?"
Corey giggled. "My wife? I remember. We were married. We lived in a great big house," he said waving his arms to show the size, then he started dancing around the room. "We had cars, and a great big TV and we played... house! Want to meet Davey? He's my best friend and roommate. He used to be a doctor like I used to be -- I used to be -- I don't remember, but I was something."
"John, what's wrong with him?"
"Nothing and everything. We've thrown him into a child's world. That's all he has left. He reads kids' books, watches kids' TV and spends one hundred percent of his time with kids, is it any wonder that he adapted? He's a typical eight-year-old now. I get glowing reports from the staff here from time to time about how well he's fitting in."
"Isn't there anything we can do?"
"Would you be willing to adopt him? Take him into your new home and re-introduce him to adult society?"
"No, I can't. Peter would never understand this."
"Who's Peter?" Corey piped up.
"Peter is a -- special friend of mine, and the reason I came to see you today. Do you remember what a divorce is?"
Corey frowned. "You want half my stuff?" he asked, appalled.
"You do remember, and no, sweetie, I don't want half of your stuff." Debbie stood up to drop down to one knee. She rubbed a finger down the boy's cheek and hugged him "No, you can keep all of your stuff, but I want you to sign a paper for me..." She looked up to Dr. Harris. "Can he sign anything?"
"In crayon, but yes, he could. The legality is questionable and this may not stand up under close scrutiny, but I'd have to read the papers first, as his advocate. I trust you aren't asking for anything besides the property you took five years ago?"
"I've got a whole collection of 'Star Wars' comics, and 'Spider Man', too!" Corey announced.
"Oh, I'm sure they are great." Debbie said. "Corey, I love you."
"I love you," he said solemnly. With that he gave Debbie a peck on the cheek. "Are we going to be married again?"
"No, but maybe after I marry Peter you might come for a visit?"
"But when I grow up you'll marry me again. I have a big stock company on the net and a million billion dollars in the bank."
"I just bet you do," Debbie said wiping a tear from her eye. She stood up. "I'll get the papers. Half the proceeds from the house went into an escrow account for Corey and I wasn't sure what would happen. I'll make sure you get it for him, okay? Is there anything we can do for him?"
"No, but you might want to talk with Davey -- our missing pediatrician. He went through the same thing as Corey, and now I have two people stuck as eight-year-olds."
"If you had another one... How did it happen?"
"I did it," Corey bragged. "He really wanted it, too. Just like you really want to live on a beach somewhere and be a bathing beauty," Corey said and giggled. "You don't want to be married at all, but you're scared to not have a husband. It's okay, Debbie. I get scared too, sometimes."
"Damn it, he's right," Debbie almost whispered. "How did you know that?"
"I just do. You don't love Peter, but you do like him, and you won't be married to him for long. I can send you to the beach, or make you a bathing beauty but not both."
"That's tempting, but you're right, sweetie. I am scared of not being married. I have to go now, but Uncle John will bring some papers for you to -- print your name on, okay?"
"Okay," Corey said and lifted his arms to be picked up. "Are you coming back soon?"
"As soon as I can." With that, Debbie gave the boy a quick kiss on the cheek, put him down and headed for the door. "I'll meet you outside, John."
"Okay, in a few," he said, and picked Corey up as Debbie raced out the door.
"I think that went over well," Corey said. "Thanks, Uncle John."
"It was mean, Corey, downright mean, but I agree with you. She would have tried to get half of your net money, and go to the beach."
"But I did tell her about it, and she can't say I didn't if she ever finds out about it. I just wish she hadn't waited five years for this. It was really hard letting her go like that. But, there's no way I could have held her either."
"You know, Corey, you never told me what my innermost desire was."
Corey laughed. "Isn't it painfully obvious, John? It's something I've always known about you and it's something I can't help you with either. Your burning passion is to be the best doctor that you can be." After all, it was just a little fib.
John Harris laughed, then nodded his head. "Right again. And you?"
"I can't grant my own wish but I always wanted to have kids and be the best dad I could be to them. And now I do have kids, lots of kids, and I'm doing the best I can for them. I'm right where I should be."
"Okay, squirt. You go play with your friends while I drive Debbie home," Dr. Harris said and let the boy down.
"Thanks! See ya, and please tell Debbie that I really don't want to come for a visit when she marries this Peter, okay? That is unless he wants to be a kid again." Corey grinned, and raced for the door to lose himself in the crowd of kids.
Dr. Harris watched the boy go, just another laughing and screaming kid having a blast no matter where he was. He did, he had to admit, have a pang of regret, but he could never have given up his life and practice as Davey had. It would have ruined his life to be a kid again, but at least it wasn't an issue now. Corey, of all people, didn't know about that -- that he, too, would give his right arm for a chance to be a kid again. Unless the little brat was lying through his teeth to prevent a headstrong doctor from ruining his own life. Someday he would ask Corey that question again, and who knows, maybe he would get a different answer. After all, Corey wasn't going anywhere.