“What’s this?” Elizabeth asked, picking up the tiny little keychain ornament up from among the clutter encased in cardboard boxes. She squinted at the almost egg shaped disk in her palm and the tiny screen on it as if doing so might give her more clarity. “Jericho?” she repeated herself. “What’s this?”
Jericho looked up from his spot on the couch, blinking himself back to life. He’d zoned out again. The T.V. was on, but her roommate wasn’t really watching it. Just zoning it and looking off into the distance. Elizabeth bet that if she’d turned it off, though, the first words out of his mouth would be ‘Hey, I was watching that!’
“Huh?” Jericho said. “What’s what?” Elizabeth dangled the not even palm sized bauble between her thumb and forefingers. It was just compact enough to where it could be put on a keychain or worn on a belt loop. “Oh,” Jericho said dismissively. “That. Yeah. You can have it if you want it.”
“I didn’t say that I wanted it,” Elizabeth said, still knee deep in computer parts, action figures with mismatched parts, old comic books, CD-ROMs, and model airplanes that at one point actually flew. “I just wanted to know what it was.”
“You know what a Tamagotchi is?” Jericho asked. “Little pet simulator game thingy?”
“It’s that. I built it a couple months ago. Was going through a retro phase.”
The fact that Jericho had built it did not at all surprise Elizabeth. Her roommate was something of a creative and technical genius. He could whip up gadgets, games, gizmos, and gear seemingly overnight. The chairs that they ate meals at were carved and assembled by him in a little under a week when he went through a ‘carving phase’. Jericho was literally the kind of human being who could do literally anything he set his mind to.
Problem was he didn’t set his mind to much for very long. He’d flare up, become something of a savant at a hobby or activity, then it would flare out and he’d never touch it again. It vaguely reminded her of Sherlock Holmes’s brother, Mycroft; a man so incredibly smart that he dwarfed the detective’s intellect yet was so confident in his ability that he was lazy and never felt the need to prove anything. Jericho would set out to do something, do it, then never do anything like it again. His brain just moved too fast for the rest of the world around him.
“You can keep it if you want,” Jericho said again as if he didn’t remember saying it the first time. His eyes hadn’t left the screen, currently at a commercial for laundry detergent. “I’m done with it.”
Elizabeth picked herself up and dusted herself off. “You mind helping me clean?” She gestured to the piles and piles around her feet. The floor was so littered with random useless crap that Elizabeth had to high step through a kind of minefield just to walk around their shared living room.
Jericho’s eyes had already glazed over. “Yeah. Just…in a minute. After this episode.”
“You said that last episode.”
Elizabeth’s roommate shuddered and he sat up, like waking from a dream. “I did?”
“And the one before that,” Elizabeth said. “You know most of this is your stuff that needs throwing out, right?” When Jericho’s room hadn’t been able to contain all his useless knick-knacks that he’d lost interest in, Elizabeth had been gracious enough to let him use a coat closet. Now it was the floor. “You said you were going to help me clean up.”
Jericho stood up, seeming dreadfully embarrassed. “I’m just…my executive function is really high today. I…I…I can’t focus. On anything. It’s…hard…” The pendulum was swinging very hard on the unproductive direction today. Last couple days in fact. This is why they were just roommates. Jericho was just as flakey as he was hyper focused and Elizabeth didn’t want to put in the emotional investiture into someone who might literally forget she existed the moment she was out of sight.
“No,” she lied. “It’s fine…it’s fine. I’ll do it.”
Her roommate put a hand on her shoulder. “No. Stop. It’s okay.” He took his hand off and said ‘Tee-Vee! Voicelock. Off for two hours.” The screen winked off and Elizabeth just now noticed that Jericho’s laptop had been hooked up to it, a red light blinking picking up Jericho’s voice commands.
“You voice programmed the T.V.?” Elizabeth asked.
“Why don’t you make like a quirky Youtube channel or something? Then you can show off all these random little things you build to somebody.”
“Huh. I haven’t made a youtube bef…” Jericho’s face scrunched up. “Not important!” He said to himself. “Not important! Take a break.” he said. “Go hang out in your room. I’ve got this.”
Elizabeth looked around at all the garbage and clutter around their living space; most of it caused by Jericho. “Are you sure?” She felt like she was talking to her little brother: Well meaning but incredibly unreliable.
“Okay…” Elizabeth said. “But I’m going to be pissed if I come out in two hours and hardly anything.
“I’m going to be a machine,” Jericho said. “Promise. Guilt fueled cleaning purges just became my next phase.”
Elizabeth didn’t need further prodding. She retreated to her bedroom and closed the door behind her back to the one little corner of order that she still felt was distinctly hers. She went over to her desk to open her laptop, only then realizing that she still had the little egg shaped gadget in her hand.
“Hmmm…” she said, examining it further. There wasn’t a tangible on-off switch. A feature of such devices were that they were extremely difficult to turn off and on and kept a running record of everything. Way back in highschool, her health class had forced all the girls to walk around with these things for two weeks in an attempt to ward off teen pregnancy. The game could become a twenty-four seven obsession by its very design. As if dealing with a beeping bit of plastic compared to a flesh and blood child. As if a sixteen year old would think about either right before sex.
The one thing that crappy ‘lesson’ did was jog her memory enough to know to look for a paperclip and find the tiny rubber button near the bottom to reset and start the darn thing. What could she say? Jericho was a genius, and he’d forgotten to show this off to her however long ago he’d made it. Maybe it was time for her own ‘retro phrase’.
“Boo-doo-bee-dooooo-boop!” The tiny game beeped to life, playing what kind of sounded like the first five notes of Rockabye Baby. The screen blinked on and Jessica felt her breath catch in surprise. This? This was really good?
For starters, it was in color, not just in simple black and white. It was still pixelated, but still had a sharper image than the level of technology warranted. Nintendo and Sony wouldn’t be breaking down any doors to get this, but it was still very good considering. “Awwww!” Elizabeth let out a little cooing noise accidentally.
The child sprite that manifested on screen looked exactly like Jericho, too! It had his dark spikey hair, his brown eyes. It looked like it even had that cute little mole on the side of his face. It was a little rounder than he was, but that seemed to be the game’s aesthetic, with more corners being rounded out than jagged edges. Kind of how Luigi still looked kind of pudgy even if he was the tall and skinny Mario Brother. It made sense that Jericho would use himself as the basis for the game’s avatar. By what had to be sheer coincidence it was even wearing a baggie purple t-shirt and blue jeans, exactly like what Jericho had worn today.
“Hey Jeri?” Elizabeth called through the door.
“I just started playing with your Tamagotchi thing. It looks…” Cute? No. “Neat!”
There was a pause. “Thanks!”
“Is there a way to change the avatar?” She asked. “What if I wanted to make it look like a mini me?” She could just imagine a little pixel version of herself, made of long brown hair for her pixels and the green eyes shining back, looking smart with the outline of her glasses. She wasn’t sure how her breats would look in Mario form, not that she had much in the way of breasts to show off.
“Nope,” her roommate said flatly. “Just me. Didn’t have time to program another one in. Got bored.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth muttered. The way he said it reinforced the notion that he’d never even considered to show this to her, yet alone include her in it. This is why they never dated.
Behind him the mini-Jericho avatar had a pretty generic looking bedroom: A bed in the background. An empty shelf. Not much else. With her index finger, she poked the little sprite of Jericho.
“Something funny?” Elizabeth called through the door of her room. It sounded like something had left Jericho positively tickled.
“Huh?” Jericho called back. “No. Nothing. Just cleaning. I don’t know why…” he let the sentence trail off. The flimsy crinkling of a plastic trash bag signaled that he hadn’t completely zoned out staring at a wall or something.
Turning back to her new toy, she pushed a button on the little gadget, and saw a readout of the little sprite’s stats in meter form. The stats were, “Happiness”, “Hunger”, “Boredom”, “Potty”, “Rest”, and “Hygiene”. Pretty standard stuff, to be honest, impressive mostly because her friend had made it from scratch.
Like most digital pet games, the stats were displayed in little graph bars instead of concrete numbers. Looking at the. “Hey Jeri?” she called.
There was a pause before Jericho answered. “What?”
“How does this game work?” Elizabeth called. “Like, do I want the little graph bars to stay low or high?”
“You want happiness high. You want everything else to be low.” Jericho said through the door.
The twenty-something woman suddenly noticed another bar that she hadn’t noticed before. “Even age?” That was strange. Normally age, at best, in these games was a measure of the passage of time. It wasn’t a variable that could be decreased or increased through other means.
“Huh? What?” Then Jericho said, “Nevermind. Don’t worry too much about that. That was an experimental mechanic I was working on. Just don’t let the Happiness Meter fall to zero. That’s how you lose.”
“How do I win?” Elizabeth called back.
“Not gonna happen, but hypothetically? Get the Happiness Meter to max.”
Elizabeth looked at the Happiness Meter. It looked to be stuck at a little under half-full. That seemed a lot like Jericho. For being so creative, he was often restless. “Okaaaaay…” Elizabeth mused. “Thank you.” Jericho didn’t answer back. Thankfully, the reason he didn’t answer back was because she heard the sounds of more clutter and hobby materials from months and years past that had gone untouched being put in garbage bags.
Looking at the stats of the mini-Jericho, she saw that while the need for hygiene was relatively low, though crawling forward slightly. The Hunger, Potty and Boredom Meters were both over half full, with the Hunger Meter inching closer to about three fourths full.
“Let’s take care of that one,” she said. She touched the meter on the screen, and the background changed to a brown cupboard, it’s contents suspiciously similar to the contents of their own. Was this why Jeri had never shown her this game? Was he embarrassed because he’d incorporated a bit too much of reality into the game? If so, that seemed silly. “What to eat, what to eat, what to eat?” She clicked her tongue and settled for a bowl of sugary cereal. It was well past lunch in the real world but mini-Jericho didn’t know that. The real Jericho regularly skipped breakfast too; sometimes forgot to eat. His miniature version could do better at least.
She dragged and dropped the cereal into a digital bowl and when given the option added some milk. “Eat?” The screen prompted her. “Yes or No?” She selected ‘Yes’, then she watched, in real time, as mini-Jeri walked to the table, sat down and fed himself a bowl of breakfast cereal normally marketed to kids. The real deal was oddly quiet as well, Elizabeth noted.
“Drink milk from bowl?” Elizabeth read. “Sure.” She watched the cutscene continue. “Wow,” she said. “This is pretty detailed!” The level of commitment to minutiae was actually kind of neat. This kind of reminded her of some of the Sims games, more than Tamagotchi. Come to think of it they were kind of the same game with one just being less portable but more advanced. “Jericho! This is pretty cool!”
No response. Jericho was either too far away to hear her or too in the zone.
She went back to the stats. As predicted, the Hunger Meter had gone down substantially, well out of anything that she’d consider a danger zone. The Happiness Meter was now approaching half. Well done! The Boredom Meter looked to have been decreasing, too. “Huh,” Elizabeth remarked, “I guess some people eat when they’re bored.” The ‘Potty Meter”, though. “Let’s take care of that.”
A touch of the ‘Potty Meter’ brought the screen to the background of a bathroom. From the light blue tiles, this was another adaptation of their shared apartment space. She pressed the button and sent mini-Jericho to the mini-bathroom.
The sound of the bathroom door closing caught Elizabeth’s attention. She looked down and selected the toilet. Jericho’s avatar sat down on the toilet. It was…tasteful…but pants around the ankles and no privates on screen, but Elizabeth still felt a little weird watching this part. At best, she felt like she was taking a small child to the bathroom. “Go Potty?” the screen prompted.
She selected, “Yes”.
Feeling like a peeping Tom, Elizabeth exited out of the bathroom screen and watched the Potty Meter go rapidly down. Coincidentally, she could hear sounds coming from the bathroom too; liquid hitting liquid and gassy hints that Jericho was also sitting down on the toilet. Interestingly enough the Age Meter ticked back up a little bit. Mini-Jeri was being a big boy.
She went back to the bathroom screen, and was given a prompt. “Wipe?” Guiltily, Elizabeth looked at the door. She knew that the right choice, but part of the fun of these things was breaking them and doing to imaginary people what you’d never have them do in real life.
Elizabeth selected “No.” The Age Meter ticked down a bit.
“Flush?” The gadget game asked.
“No,” Elizabeth selected. Again, the Age Meter ticked down.
“Hmmm…what next…?” Elizabeth wondered. She heard footsteps and the bathroom door opening. “Jeri!” Elizabeth opened the door and called out. “Did you forget to flush?”
“Huh?” Jericho called back. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. My bad.” The sound of rushing water greeted her ears. Good. From the sound of things that would have been gross to let that fester. Pulled back into her own head, she looked at the stats for Mini-Jericho. The Potty Meter was down to zero. The Happiness Meter ticked up, but so too was the Hygiene Meter. While the sounds of scuffling and scraping continued outside, the game’s meter for Boredom and Rest started slowly to increase. But everything was well below fifty percent, so she let it go.
Feeling that sudden rush of dopamine, Elizabeth refocused herself and put the silly game down. She did have work to do, afterall. Game or not, she was an adult.
“Boo-doo-bee-dooooo-boop!” Hours later, the first few notes of Rockabye baby pinged and Elizabeth looked up from her work.
She picked up the off-brand Tamagotchi toy and checked on Mini-Jeri’s stats. The Happiness Meter was going down again. The Boredom and Rest Meters were well over fifty percent. Hygiene wasn’t great either. “Oh. Yeah.” She quickly touched the screen and interacted long enough to send Mini-Jeri into rest mode. “Couch or bed?” She chose ‘couch’ and watched with some satisfaction as the tiny computer version of her friend started snoozing on a digital recreation of the same couch he regularly crashed on. Just as gratifyingly, the Hygiene Meter had frozen and the Rest Meter was decreasing. Boredom too, albeit at a significantly slower rate. Mini-Jeri must be having sweet dreams. “Better check on the real deal.”
Exiting her room and out into the common area, Elizabeth was markedly impressed. “Holy cow,” she whispered to herself. “This…wow. He did turn into a cleaning machine.” The place was completely spotless! The young lady inhaled and then regretted it.
The place looked spotless. Didn’t quite smell spotless, however. She saw Jericho, napping on the couch. He didn’t have the little anime snot bubble, but he was softly snoring. She crept up to him and got a whiff that she wished she hadn’t. He stunk of sweat and…and…had he not wiped himself or something? Gross!
It didn’t smell THAT bad from far away, at least. The piles of garbage bags left in the kitchen for garbage day proved that he had become a cleaning machine, at least for an afternoon. Better than nothing. A lot better than nothing.
Her stomach grumbled, and she walked over to the phone. “Looks like my own Hunger Meter has filled up,” she joked. Time for a pizza. “Hello? Big Nero’s? I’d like a…” her eye caught something still soaking in the sink. “Bowl of cereal?”
Three in the morning did not find Elizabeth any happier than one in the morning had. That had been when she’d finally been able to get to sleep. Earlier that night had been spent with her combing the apartment, and especially her room, for hidden cameras or transmitters or something.
Jericho was fucking with her. He had to be fucking with her. It was the only logical explanation. When he got up off the couch, Mini-Jericho’s Rest Meter had gone all the way down to rested. Same with the Hygiene Meter when he went back into the bathroom and took a shower.
“You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?” She’d outright said as soon as he was out of the bathroom. She held up the Tamagotchi as though it were a piece of damning evidence.
Jericho was still dripping. “Huh?”
“This thing’s got like,” she searched for words, “.a twin receiver that tells you everything I’m doing on the game so you can copy it. Why else wouldn’t you wipe?”
The flash of red across Jericho’s cheeks was sudden and from more than the hot shower. “You knew I forgot to wipe…?”
Elizabeth growled. “You know what? You wanna play this game? Fine.” She pressed a few commands into the game. Without further comment, and still wearing nothing but a bath towel, her roommate went to the kitchen, ate a slice of pizza and then went to his room. Just like the game avatar that she’d commanded.
Then he went back to his room, and got dressed in the gag footie pajamas she’d gotten for him last Christmas. She’d selected “jammies” from a few available clothing options.
More to the point, she’d seen everything, too. Dude was in his birthday suit. There was nowhere for him to hide a monitor beyond even more ridiculous methods one might hear in a tarantino monologue about prison.
Neither did he comment. It was like he was in some kind of fugue state. As soon as Jericho had caught up to his digital counterpart in terms of fulfilling the command, he sat on the bed and looked around as though slightly confused. “Hm?” Yet he did not try to take off the childish pajamas.
Looking at the Mini-Jericho avatar, Elizabeth marveled at the SNES version of her roommate. Reviewing his stats, she also noticed that the Age Meter had decreased slightly upon the addition of footie pajamas. Prank or not, she was still having trouble wrapping her head around this; especially the Age Mechanic.
The Boredom Meter started blinking in time with the Age Meter. “NEW TOY UNLOCKED” the screen told her. She went to the screen and saw a rattle.
“Really?” No way did Jericho have a rattle. To prove a point to herself, she selected it and had the avatar start playing with it to reduce boredom.
A sneak peak into Jericho’s room showed that he’d started playing very enthusiastically with a maraca from when he went through a music phase. Elizabeth felt her pulse kick up. He was laying on the bed, his feet up near the ceiling, holding the rattle and shaking it; looking at it as if it were his entire world. Jericho wasn’t this focused. He wasn’t this committed to a bit. Jericho wasn’t this committed to anything
Boredom Meter was going down, though. Happiness Meter was going up.
It had freaked her out so much that she’d spent the rest of the night half-examining the device and half-searching for hidden cameras around the apartment until she passed out. Because of her split attention she did neither well, but she fell asleep positive that there were no hidden devices. Jericho’s thorough cleaning job had made it harder for him to hide anything.
Now it was doing it again. More notes too. Blurry eyed and exhausted, Elizabeth picked up the little egg thing and looked at Jericho’s stats. The Potty Meter was all the way up and blinking red. “Huh?” She rubbed her eyes and stared at it.
“Warning” it read. “Bladder full. Toileting will disturb rest.” Then it gave her the strangest option. “Wet Bed? Yes/No”
“Fine. You wanna play Jericho? Let’s play.” She pressed “Yes”. The Potty Meter plummeted in relief, the Hygiene Meter practically skyrocketed back up in equal measure, the Rest Meter continued to slowly dwindle back down, and the Age Meter…went down a bit as well.
Elizabeth woke up late the next morning to the sound of the washing machine being run. The scent of stale urine still permeated the air in Jericho’s room, practically making a fog that hit Elizabeth in the face when she stepped out. “Jericho?”
Jericho was fully dressed, out of the footie pajamas and looking flustered. His hair lay flat, unspiked. “Oh. Hi.” He said. “Just doing some laundry.”
“Did you…?” Elizabeth asked. “Did you wet the bed?”
Jericho blushed. “Yeah…”
His roommate returned the blush and ran sprinting back to her room. Holding the door back she looked at the device she’d been playing with. “Did I do that?” She looked at the stats of Mini-Jericho. Everything added up to what she was seeing outside. Both Jerichos had their hair laying flat and were wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“Holy cow.” Elizabeth marveled. “I’ve done it. I’ve hacked my roommate!”
A devilish thought entered Elizabeth’s head. Possibilities were beginning to stir. She had a devilish grin to match.
“What are you doing?” Jericho asked her later that afternoon.
“Just switching out your laundry,” Elizabeth assured him briskly. “You forgot to switch it out from this morning so I’m doing it for you.” With shopping bags still at her feet, she put Jericho’s laundry into the dryer. She normally wouldn’t have, but she had a feeling that the link between Jericho and the gadget he gave her went both ways. This was a nice, hopefully subtle way to fill out.
Oh,” Jericho said. “I just got distracted. I’m going down this one rabbit hole about-”
It’s okay, honey,” Elizabeth interrupted. “I’ve got you.”
“Honey?” Jericho blanched. “Are we dating and I forgot or something?”
“No.” Elizabeth said. “Why do you ask?” She didn’t give him a chance to answer. “Here, if you want to be a help, you can do some chores for me. Put these away.” She pointed to some grocery bags on the floor.
A quiet, “Boo-doo-bee-dooooo-boop!” told her that she had an alert. She took out the doohickey and started putting in commands. Quickly, Jericho’s eyes glossed over and he entered a fugue state. He started putting the bags and started putting them away.
The baby bottles she’d bought from WalMart were put in the cupboards first, right next to all of Jericho’s cups. The diapers from the pharmacy went into his underwear drawer, next, as many of them that would fit anyhow. The powder and the wipes went on top for quick and easy access.
The Age Meter was decreasing and blinking. Good. She was getting the hang of this game.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” Jericho asked. He was lying naked and beet red on his remade bed.
“This is just in case.” Elizabeth lied. “You don’t want to wake up in a wet bed again, do you?”
“No, I guess not.” Jericho admitted. He lifted his hips while Elizabeth slid the diaper beneath him. “This is probably just for tonight, unless…”
She didn’t answer his question. Rather, she taped on the thick diaper, keeping it snuck and tight, checking it for leaks. “Here you go,” she handed him the bottle of milk. “I warmed it up to help you sleep.”
Jericho cocked an eyebrow. “But isn’t sleep a bad thing? Like if I sleep to deeply,”
“Just drink it, sugar,” Elizabeth cooed at him.
“Is that that game?” Jericho asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Elizabeth checked it and smiled. “Go on. Drink up. You need your sleep.”
“Can I at least sit up and screw the top off?”
Elizabeth fiddled with the electronic toy. “No.”
Jericho’s eyes clouded over, but just long enough to get the nipple between his lips. “Mmmm…!”
“See?” Elizabeth asked. She started maneuvering the diapered boy underneath the sheets and tucking him in. “Feels good, doesn’t it? The taste? The warmth? The positioning?”
“Mmmmhmmm!” He started to say more, but his mouth wouldn’t stop suckling. He kept his talk to gentle humming noises so that droplets of warm milk wouldn’t trickle out of his mouth.
“Muuuuuch better,” Elizabeth said. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and turned out the lights.
The Age Meter was going down. So was the Rest Meter. So was the Hunger Meter. The Potty Meter was slowly starting to go up. So too, was the Happiness Meter. She went into the age settings and found a new feature unlocked. “Diapers at night?” The screen prompted. Of course, Elizabeth bit her bottom lip, and pressed, “Yes.” Easier than getting woken up in the middle of the night to force him to pee himself.
Better yet, when she woke up the next morning and checked his stats:
Happiness had not decreased.
Rest was not needed.
The Potty Meter and filled and emptied.
The Hygiene Meter had ticked up a bit, but not nearly as bad as last night.
“Time to go wake the baby up,” she chuckled.
“Liz!” Jericho whined, pounding on the bathroom door. “Hurry up! I gotta go!”
About time. She looked at the Tamagotchi-like gadget. The Potty Meter was full to bursting. Jericho’s tendency to zone until his bladder was close to bursting anyways played in favor, but he’d almost made it to lunch.
“Drink water,” she’d ‘reminded’ him. Not even using the device to force him. She wanted to ease him into this next part and not have him suspect.
She’d likely need it to do this part. “Go watch T.V.!”
A few button presses, and she heard the T.V. on. Something childish and cartoony from the sound of it. Interesting, since she hadn’t figured out how to weave that level of detail into Mini-Jericho’s commands. With baited breath she watched as the potty meter flashed and flashed and…
Went all the way down.
She examined the Age Meter. “Turn off Potty Training?”
Another glance. Happiness was falling! She had to act quick. Pocketing the gadget she left the bedroom. “Okay Jeri!” She said, “All…yours?” She caught him desperately trying to clean up his own puddle. “Jericho? Did you have an accident?”
“NO!” Tears were streaming down his face. His pants were still wet. Like a little kid, he’d been so panicked that he started trying to clean the mess up without cleaning himself up first, making it more than obvious that he’d been the source to start with.
She went up to him, and grabbed his wrist. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She whispered. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” Gentle now. Had to play this right. “Let’s go get cleaned up.
“I’m not a baby!”
“I didn’t say you were.” There was an unspoken and implied ‘yet’. She carefully led him back to his room, and laid him down on the bed. His knees buckled as soon as the backs touched the mattress. “Let’s just get these off for now.”
She slapped Jeri’s hands away as he pathetically tried to keep her from unbuttoning his pants. She slid them off and tossed them aside. He wouldn’t be needing them for a while. Maybe not anymore.
Quickly, she went and got the wipes, powder, and what would end up being the first of many more diapers to come. She didn’t know what undoing Jeri’s potty training was going to do to him, but she didn’t want to chance getting peed on if she took too long.
She shushed and cooed at him, gently wiping him down between his legs. First unfolding the new diaper, she crossed his ankles and pushed back his legs to force his hips to lift. Just like a real baby. Slipping the diaper underneath him, she didn’t let up until she’d dusted powder on his bum. Letting his legs settle back down, she spread them, gave his front side a good dusting, and then set the powder down.
“You don’t have to do this,” Jeri whimpered.
“I know,” Elizabeth whispered. “But I want to.” That and she kind of did. No potty training meant anything less than diapers would make for much more clean up. As though it were programmed into her, Elizabeth yanked the front of the padding up over Jeri’s privates and taped it on, making sure to tuck in the front while pulling the back so that it was nice and snug. She gave each tape a firm and final press as she secured them. “There. All done.”
That would most likely be the Hunger Meter. “How would you like some mashed potatoes for lunch? Fill you right up?”
“Yeah,” Jeri sniffed. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
“And maybe some milk to wash it down?”
She didn’t catch it, but she wouldn’t be surprised to later find the Happiness Meter rising in direct proportion to the Age Meter shrinking.
The next day…
“Jeri!” Elizabeth scolded. “Language!”
“Sorry, Ma- I mean Elizabeth!” Jeri stuttered. “But look!”
Elizabeth looked up from her own bowl of un-frosted mini-meats. Jericho was drenched in orange juice. That would mean the Hygiene meter would be rising soon. “Ugh,” she said. “And I just changed you and got you dressed for the day.”
Dressed for the day: A phrase here which means a t-shirt, a diaper, and socks to keep Jeri’s footsies warm.
“I’m sorry!” Jeri sputtered, “I just-!” Jericho’s protestations were cut off by Elizabeth yanking his shirt off him and wiping his face and chest with a dry washcloth. “I don’t know what’s happening!
A round of baby wipes followed. “You’ll need a bath now,” Elizabeth told him. Didn’t want any of the meters to get too high. “Don’t want you getting icky sticky.”
“Okay,” Jeri mumbled, “I’ll go take a shower.”
Elizabeth’s hand weighed down on his shoulder before he could stand up. “Breakfast first. Then bath. The tubby will feel better if you have a full tummy.”
“Bath? I don’t wanna take a-”
“You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before,” Elizabeth bowled over his words. Simultaneously, she was pouring the rest of the orange juice into an empty baby bottle. “I just changed your diaper a few minutes ago, remember?”
Something terrible clicked behind Jericho’s eyes. “You mean you’re giving me a-?” He was.
“Drink up. Use both hands. I want you to stay hydrated.” And for the Hunger Meter to go down. Elizabeth had to admit. This was getting addictive. As part of the game, Jericho was so much easier to deal with, too. No more messy, inconsiderate roommate. The only messes Elizabeth wanted were the ones that she could control. The ones that stayed in his new absorbent underwear.
Jericho glugged down the remaining orange juice. Elizabeth stirred around the cinnamon sugar oatmeal she’d cooked for him and held it up to his mouth.
“I can feed myself, you know,” said.
The spoon did not waver. “Can you?”
Reluctantly, Jeri opened his mouth and Elizabeth gently slid it in between his lips.
His eyes widened in pleasant surprise. “Mmmmm!” He swallowed and opened his mouth for the next waiting spoonful.
Somebody’s Happiness Meter was going up!
“That’s right,” Elizabeth encouraged him. “Get it all down.” She let him take another sip from his bottle. “Fill your tum-tum up and then we’ll slip you into a nice warm bath. If you’re good, we can make it a bubble bath.”
And another day…
“I don’t want a nap!” Jericho stomped his foot on the carpet
It was actually really cute. No more excuses. No more vying for control. Not even a full on tantrum. Just a little bit of fuss at the inevitable. And it was inevitable. “I didn’t ask if you wanted a nap,” Elizabeth explained patiently. “I said you needed a nap.”
“I do not.” He didn’t stomp his foot.
Elizabeth didn’t need to look at the Rest Meter to know that her little man was tired. It was in the way he drooped and carried himself. (Speaking of droop, he’d need a change before his nap, too.) Thanks to another quick trip out to WalMart on her part he’d rediscovered hollow non-chokable blocks and had gone from stacking them up as high as he could (greatly reducing the Boredom Meter) to haphazardly sliding them around the floor. “You don’t need to make a fuss about it. It’s just a little nap.”
“I want…!” He stopped. He really didn’t know what he wanted anymore did he? Did he ever?
She reached into her pocket and dangled out a pacifier she’d snagged at the store and dangled it in front of him. “If you’re good,” she tempted him. “I’ll let you take your paci to bed.”
His eyes looked at her breasts, then back up to the nipple on the pacifier. He was obviously thinking of doing the same thing to both of them, and the temptation, she felt, had nothing to do with the feelings a man might have for a woman. A boy? Perhaps.
“Okay,” he said. “Can I hold Mr. Bear, too?”
The lack of prompting over a stuffed animal delighted Elizabether. It felt like winning. “Of course you can hold Mr. Bear.” She got up and cupped the front of his diaper, giving it a good squeeze. “You can cuddle your stuffies and suck on your pacifier. Right after I change you.’
“I need changing?”
“Shoot!” The blocks crashed to the floor with the hollow clicking and clacking of tumbling plastic. “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” Jeri swore.
“Jeri,” Elizabeth called from the kitchen. “Are you alright?”
The man-baby called back. “Yeah! Just frustrated.”
Elizabeth looked at the mini-Jeri avatar. Boredom was fine. Rest was fine. Hunger was rising but she was taking care of that now. The Happiness Meter, so close to being full, was starting to flag. Darn it! “Bout what, hun?”
“I’m trying to stack the blocks as high as I can reach, but they keep falling over!”
“Why don’t you just stack them wider but lower?” Elizabeth offered.
“Because the point is to stack them as high as I can get them!” he whined. “That’s how I wiiiin!”
The gamer girl’s mouth twisted “As high as he can get them, huh?” She pressed a few buttons and messed with the settings. “Jeri! Take a break! Come in and get some num nums!”
An exasperated sigh came back. “Okaaaaay….”
The sound of crinkling signaled Jeri’s approach. Elizabeth didn’t see him until he looked down. Jeri was crawling now. Skinny as he was, it didn’t take much for his roommate to boost him back into his chair.by scooping him up under the armpits. “Hold on just a second.”
She positioned him by slipping his arms into the safety harness and pinning his back to the chair. It was the same kind of harness used for special needs children who couldn’t be trusted to sit still on the bus. The result wasn’t quite a highchair-no feeding tray-but Jeri was buckled in so that he couldn’t escape on his own.
Jeri didn’t complain. He knew it was for the best when he’d almost fallen out a few days ago. Same for the safety railings on his bed; even if they did make it look more like a crib. Little by little he was adapting. And little by little, his Happiness Meter went up.
Elizabeth stirred the bowl of grits she’d made for lunch and he opened his mouth to accept the mush. Just like a good baby. The meal went smoothly, and the terry cloth bib caught any spills made from overfull spoons or bits of lunch dribbling out of the corner of his mouth. “MMMMM!”
“Now I bet, you’ll be able to stack those blocks as high as they can go,” she assured him. In a way she was telling the truth. Like so many of the little changes, Jeri didn’t seem to notice them anymore or question his lack of abilities. It had seemed like ages since he had whined about naptime, or bathtime, or going to the potty.
Speaking of which. “Still dry,” she announced after checking his diaper. She gave him a bottle of apple juice. That’d take care of that soon enough.
She unbuckled him and guided him to the floor. His cute padded behind waggled a little as he crawled back into the living room. He wouldn’t be able to get off his knees, she knew. As high as he could stack them would be very very possible. She was doing him a favor really.
Three weeks later…
Elizabeth laid lounging on the couch, reading a good book. Jeri crawled on his pastel blanket watching cartoons, more focused than he’d ever been. He wasn’t focused on particularly productive things, but he was focused.
According to the device, little Jeri was very happy, not bored at all, only slightly wet, and not hungry, but he might be due for a nap in an hour or so. His Age Meter was barely a pixel.
There was a certain amount of clutter in the living room; assuming baby toys were cluttered. It was still nothing compared to Jericho’s normal mess. This took five minutes to clean up every night, and Jericho didn’t have much say in it. He didn’t have any say in it, technically, because Jericho couldn’t say anything. All he needed were giggles and cries, and it was for the best. Same with the crawling. It would have been dangerous to let him keep toddling around with all the sharp objects that were above waist height.
Easy to keep him happy too, since baby brains didn’t need much to entertain them. The diapers were a lifesaver for the Hygiene Meter. Good odor control, absorption, and rash prevention. These new ones she’d found had little cartoons on them, too. and if he just lounged around all day, lower expectations made it so that Elizabeth found she wasn’t nearly as exasperated with his executive dysfunction. Big babies didn’t really have executive function, so executive dysfunction was a non-factor.
She went to work, but the game was a better Nanny Cam and babysitter than she could have hired. She got alerts anytime something bad might have happened, and a few button clicks sent her little Jeri back to playing.
Without looking up from her book, she reached over to the coffee table and grabbed a fresh diaper. She’d need this in just a minute. His Potty Meter was about gone.
As Jericho pooped his pants on the carpet, he exalted and thrilled at how everything had gone exactly according to his deepest darkest fantasies. When he’d figured out a way to turn his life into a video game of sorts, he craved EASY MODE. But the trick had been that he just couldn’t operate the device himself.
Thankfully, he’d done research into the psychology of game design to make turning him into a baby just as addictive as being one. But Elizabeth was stubborn and wouldn’t have played if he’d told her. It was a delicate matter frustrating her to the point of being sick of his worst habits so that treating him like this would be easier. It was even more delicate tricking her into cleaning up his mess and “finding” the device he’d made.
But it worked.
As the mush slid into the back of his diaper and it ballooned out, he let out some happy gurgles to let his new Mommy know what he’d done. Well, as far as that sort of thing went. He’d never let her know what he’d really done.
Happiness Maximized. Game Over!