“Velcome,” I exclaimed as I opened my front door, booming laugh echoing throughout the foyer. I gave a smile upon seeing the person standing there, lips slowly curving up to reveal a pair of fangs. “How… lovely of you to join me. Vould you care for a… bite?”
“You are such a dork.” Nancy couldn’t keep herself from giggling, though, pushing past me as I held the bowl of candy out to her, though not without pulling out a mini-Reese cup while passing by. “I thought you were going as yourself.”
“I was going to,” I confirmed, setting the candy back down and shutting the door before following her into the living room, where she had already tossed her overnight bag, embroidered with a small “N. Thompson” on one side, onto the couch and begun digging through it, “but it turns out that I’m a bit of a whore.”
“Well, obviously,” she replied, deadpan until she caught my unamused glare. She giggled with a shrug. “Were you really expecting to find a non-children’s Alice in Wonderland costume that wasn’t meant to be sexy?”
“They do exist,” I insisted, as I had when I’d originally told her my plans, only to have her give me a strange look and ask if I was planning on working a street corner for some extra cash after we finished trick-or-treating. “They were just out of them when I got to the costume store. But there was a place for them!”
“Whatever you say,” she shrugged. “Dracula’s a better choice anyhow. Very classic.”
“Why, thank you.” I twirled a bit, though I was pretty sure that was something Dracula wouldn’t do, letting my cape flap a bit behind me. It was black on the outside, of course, but lined with purple. I wasn’t sure that Dracula would have picked that, either, but such is life for the undead. It was held shut by a pair of silver clasps, connected with a similarly silver chain, which matched the buttons on the dark red vest I wore over a plain white dress shirt, and black pants. I’d found a bat shaped bow tie, but I hadn’t yet decided whether that was a little too much, or just campy enough.
By then, looking at Nancy’s black hair, I was kind of wishing I’d gotten some hair dye after all, at least the spray on kind. I had my hair slicked back, but it just didn’t seem right as blonde, while I was sure that if it was just Nancy’s color, it would look so much better. I considered running to the store while Nancy got into her costume, but I knew I’d feel silly going into any place around home all dressed up - that was, after all, part of the point of our little escapade.
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re gonna be pretty cold in that,” I said, eyeing the dress, if it could even really be called that, when it was barely longer than the shirt she was wearing. It was a light pink sailor dress, the collar and lace trim at the hem white. A pink ribbon tied in a bow sat at the center of the chest, where the corners of the collar met, and above the lacey hem, which I only then noticed was cut in the shape of waves, sat a pair of simple pink and white sailboats.
“It’s not bad out,” she pointed out. “I’ll live.” I was glad to see that there was, indeed, more to the costume, as she continued taking things from her bag, including some more lace, this time wrapped around the top of a pair of socks, a pair of black Mary-Jane shoes, and what looked like very baggy, -very- short shorts with elastic and ruffles on the leg holes, though as she pulled out the next item, I realized with a giggle that it was meant as a diaper cover. Presumably to cover the thick cloth diaper she’d just gotten from her bag.
“A baby!” I pointed out, feeling a little dumb as soon as it was out of my mouth. It probably shouldn’t have taken me quite so long to wrap my head around it, but most of the baby costumes I had seen while shopping were just those footed pajamas, and maybe an oversized pacifier.
“Thank you, Miss Obvious,” she stuck her tongue out at me.
I shrugged sheepishly. “I wasn’t sure…”
“Can you think of anyone other than a baby who would actually wear something like this?” She held up the dress again and, of course, I couldn’t.
“I see it now,” I told her. “And I’m sure if you’d had it on, I would have figured it out right away.”
“Yeah, sure,” she teased. “I don’t know, I thought it was kind of cute… And it seemed appropriate, kind of, you know?”
I nodded; I did. That had been part of the reasoning behind my original costume choice, beyond the obvious joke that I shared the same first name as her. We had decided a couple years ago that we were far too old for trick-or-treating, and yet, as Halloween approached each year, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were missing out. It just didn’t seem like autumn without spending afternoons laying under the oak tree in my back yard as its leaves slowly died and tumbled downwards on top of us as we talked about possible costumes, and what the best trick-or-treating route was. But we’d made our decision, and it didn’t feel right to go back on it, especially now that we were even older.
I think it was Nancy who came up with the solution, as simple as it was - we didn’t go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Now that we had our driver’s licenses, we could go wherever we wanted, like, say, the rich neighborhood, someplace where nobody knew us, where in all likelihood, we’d never have to see the people again. We could recapture our youth, without letting everyone who knew about our decision know that we had relapsed. When my parents had decided to go for a little three day weekend getaway, leaving me in charge of passing out the candy, we knew that it was fate, that we were meant to do this.
Honestly, it fit in with our intentions so well, if she’d bothered to share her brainstorm with me, I might have joined her in babyhood. Though I probably would have went with the more traditional version of the costume, since I wasn’t about to show that much leg, even to people I didn’t know. That, and I wouldn’t know where in the world to find something like she had on in anything other than toddler size. I hadn’t seen anything like that in any of the costume shops I’d scoured, and I was pretty sure I’d searched them all. “Where did you find that?”
“Some new place,” she said, pulling her pajamas for the sleepover that her parents thought was the real reason she was at my house from the bag and setting them on the couch so that she could get to her brush and ribbons, down at the very bottom of the bag. She set her hair things down with the rest of her costume, put the pajamas back into the bag, and then tossed it down onto the floor by the couch. “Kind of.”
“You kind of got it at the new place, or the place is kind of new?” I was leaning towards the second option, though neither made a whole lot of sense. There hadn’t been any new costume shops in town that I was aware of.
“You know that empty store on main street, by the deli?” I nodded, though she hadn’t answered my question at all. The store had been empty for years - I don’t think there had been anything in there but dust since before I was born. “Well, I was walking past a couple days ago, and I saw that there were blinds up in the window. I thought that was kinda odd, so I went a little closer, and there on the door, there was a little, handmade sign saying ‘Halloween Costumes On Sale!’”
“And you went in?” I raised an eyebrow; Nancy, bless her heart, didn’t always think to look before she leaped, but even she should have been wise enough not to wander into what sounded very much like some creepy trap.
“Actually,” she said, noting my disapproval, “some guy came out. He was kinda old, but in a cute way. And he had a cool scar through his right eyebrow.” Because that, of course, is a great reason to trust somebody. "‘Are you looking for a costume?’ he asked me. ‘Nobody’s been in all day… I guess I should have ordered that sign a bit sooner, huh?’ And he winked at me.
“He seemed nice enough, and I could see past him into the store, to see that he actually did have costumes, and not freaky bondage ones or anything, some really beautiful stuff, so I told him that sure, I was looking for something. And I told him I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on it, which he didn’t seem to mind too much. He showed me a few things, kinda old fashioned looking, but not too bad. There was this beautiful ball gown, but he didn’t even bother having me try that on. I bet it was really expensive.”
“And then he suggested you try on the skimpy baby outfit, and you did, hmm?” I rolled my eyes; she could be so naive.
“It’s not skimpy! A real baby would wear it! It’s not much fault my legs are a little longer than theirs. And he didn’t suggest it, either… It just kinda caught my eye from one of the racks. He did say he thought it was a perfect choice, though. Not really sure what he meant by that.” She shrugged, apparently not too bothered by the mystery. “Anyway, I did try it on, and he told me I looked so cute in it, he’d give me a discount.”
“I’m sure he did.” I rolled my eyes again… Honestly, there was just no way I could stop myself.
“Would you let me tell the story?” she snapped. “You’re making him sound like some pervert!”
“No, you’re pretty much doing the work for me,” I smiled, ducking as she grabbed a pillow from the couch and launched it at me.
“He was very sweet! It was actually a bit on the expensive side, but with the discount, it wasn’t too bad, so I decided to go with it. But then, a few days later, I was walking past there again, and the store was empty again. So I guess he went out of business already or something… So it isn’t really a new store, since it’s not there anymore.”
“So, this old guy,” I asked, waiting a moment to be sure there was no more to her tale. “I don’t suppose his name was Ethan Rayne, was it?”
This time, she rolled her eyes at me, starting to gather her costume up into her arms. “I’m gonna go change now.”
“Aww. does the baby need a new diaper?” I teased. “Did she have an accident?”
“You’re not funny, Hardy har,” she informed me, playing off my last name in an apparent attempt at being humorous herself, while heading to the bathroom. She turned back at the living room door to ask, “Don’t you have some bugs to eat?”
“That was Renfield,” I corrected her retreating form, feeling a bit like the dork she’d accused me of being earlier.
“So, what do you think?” Nancy asked a few minutes later, coming back down the hall with a bit of a waddle from the thick cloth diaper between her legs. I couldn’t help but giggle, looking at her like that. She had always been far prettier than me, even if she never seemed to be consciously aware of it herself, and despite being a month and a half younger, always looked more mature than me. And yet, here she was in a very babyish dress, pink ribbons standing out quite clearly against her black hair, wearing a diaper.
“Cute,” I replied simply before noticing the look she had been giving me since I started laughing, and I realized she hadn’t been finished with her question. “Sorry, go on.”
“On or off?” she finished, holding the diaper cover in front of the diaper, then pulling it away.
“I don’t know…” She repeated the action, not that it helped me make up my mind any. “It’s cute, but it might make it less obvious that you’re actually wearing a diaper, so people might not get what you’re supposed to be…”
“I doubt that,” Nancy rolled her eyes. “What else would I be?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Try it on and let’s see how it looks.”
“All right.” She stepped into the diaper cover, gently working her already shoe clad feet through the lace-ringed leg holes. She pulled it up her legs, tugged on it to get it high enough to cover the whole diaper, then let it snap into place. She stared down at it for a second, then gave a brief giggle before putting her thumb into her mouth.
I assumed that meant she liked it better that way. “Yeah, you’re right… The diaper still fills it out enough to be pretty obvious.” I glanced over at the clock, surprised to see that it had gotten so late already. “Well, I’m gonna hit the bathroom, then we’ll get going, okay?” As I walked past her, I reached up and patted her on the head, to which she giggled again, not quite like her normal laugh… More high pitched, kind of, certainly more baby-ish sounding.
I decided she must be getting into character; she wasn’t a theater nerd, but she’d been in a couple plays at school, and she wasn’t too bad at it. This wasn’t quite the same thing, but since it would likely be our last true Halloween hurrah, I wasn’t going to begrudge her attempts at getting fully into it. I hadn’t really planned on forcing anyone but her to listen to my terrible Romanian accent, but, really, since we were going to be around total strangers, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Maybe I’d let myself loosen up a bit, too.
Using the bathroom was somewhat more of an adventure than I’d anticipated, since it hadn’t occurred to me at first that I should take my cape off first. I made a couple attempts at finding a good way of holding it up before coming to that realization, and then after I was done, it took me a couple minutes to get it back on just right, even though I knew that I’d likely wind up screwing it up driving to our trick-or-treat spot anyway.
“Sorry it took me so long,” I said as I passed back through the living room, after ducking back to my room to get my keys, and make sure that I had my desk light off. Nancy didn’t seem to mind - rather, she looked quite happy to see me, hopping down from the couch and toddling over to me with a smile, grabbing my hand with her own slightly warm hand.
“Awice,” she declared, using her toddler voice.
“Yep, that’s me,” I played along with her, flipping off the light in the living room as I led her out to the garage. She seemed to stumble over her own feet a couple times, making me have to stop while she regained her balance. “It must be pretty hard to walk with that diaper,” I observed. Maybe her costume choice wasn’t as inspired as I’d thought, at least when it came to the practical part of actually trick-or-treating in it.
“Hawd to walk,” she agreed.
I let go of her hand when we got to the garage, hurrying down the steps to unlock the doors on my parents’ ancient car - it didn’t even have a remote! Talk about the dark ages… I peeked into the backseat, confirming that our candy bags were there and waiting, along with a back-up pair. I looked up from that, halfway wondering what was taking Nancy so long, before seeing her still at the top of the stairs, one foot lifted uncertainly. She stayed like that for a few moments, staring down at the step below her, before setting her foot back down. Whether she was actually trying to make it to the second step, or to go back to the first, I’m not sure, because she eneded up about halfway between the two, for the split second before she tumbled down to the garage floor. She sat there, stunned, and then her bottom lip began to quiver.
“Oh, Nancy, I’m sorry!” I hurried over to her, kneeling down in front of her to give her a hug. It seemed a little ridiculous that a single article of clothing could make getting around so much more difficult, but then, I hadn’t worn a diaper in years, so it was possible. Her knee was a bit scratched up, no big deal, but it was better to be safe than sorry. “I’ll be right back,” I told her, leaving her there, sniffling softly, while I went back to the bathroom to fetch a couple Band-Aids.
“I don’t know why we got them in the first place,” I told her as I sat down on the bottom step, un-peeling the first, “but I saw that we still had a couple Strawberry Shortcake Band-Aids left, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to use them.” I reached down, gently putting the bandage over the little scratch. I put the second one on over that, in an X formation. “There, now your costume is complete!” I helped her to her feet, which might have gone a little easier for her if she hadn’t suddenly decided to start sucking her thumb again rather than using that hand to help herself up, brushing the dust off the back of her diaper cover and dress.
I went around the car, hopping into the driver’s seat and starting the engine, but still, Nancy hadn’t gotten in. I looked out the window, only to see her standing out there, staring blankly at the door as if it were some alien device. “Nancy, come on,” I rolled my eyes; her little act was cute at first, but we weren’t even out the door yet. Maybe she should save it for the customers. After a couple seconds more, I gave an annoyed sigh, reached across the car to push her door open. “Come on!” I repeated.
She half stepped, half fell into the car, scrambling around in her seat for a bit before managing to get into the right position. “Do I need to buckle your seat belt, too?!” I asked, a little too harshly. She stared at me, her big, blue eyes starting to fill with the tears that had threatened to spill when she’d fallen. “Sorry,” I mumbled, feeling as if I’d yelled at a real toddler. “But, seriously, buckle up.”
I turned back to the steering wheel, mentally going over my to-do list, not getting far before finding something I couldn’t check off. “Crap! Be right back!” I got back out of the car, running into the house to the front door, quickly setting the candy bowl outside of it.
Nancy still hadn’t put her seat belt on by the time I’d gotten back to the garage, which cause a brief wave of annoyance to wash over me. But she was probably just getting back at me for having snapped at her, so I went along with it, reaching in to do it for her, and shutting her door before going back to my seat. “All right,” I said. “We’d better get going, or all the good candy is gonna be gone!”
Nancy smiled and clapped her hands. “Candy!”
Nancy was pretty quiet during the drive. At first, I thought she was still mad at me, and giving me the silent treatment, but when I turned to her to ask whether she preferred taking the back road or the freeway, she seemed to be fast asleep, cuddled up in her seat with her head against her window, still sucking her thumb. I had to admit, it was pretty cute, plus it made my decision easier, since I didn’t have to worry about what scenery she’d prefer to look at. The freeway was a little quicker anyway.
I parked in the elementary school parking lot, which was probably frowned on, but hopefully nobody would care enough to try to get the car towed, since it wasn’t a school night or anything. And, really, it was in a nice spot, pretty much smack in the middle of the neighborhood. It looked like a fairly standard school, all brick and glass, though the windows were decorated with various Halloween-ish silhouttes, with paper jack-o-lanterns peeking out, and witches riding their broomsticks.
Nancy shifted a little in her seat, so I assumed she’d realized we were there, and just grabbed our bags from the back seat and got out of the car. She had changed positions, sure enough, but she was still sleeping. I tapped on the window, which startled her up, glancing over towardsme with a look of terror in her eyes.
“Bad dream?” I asked, opening the door. She nodded. She didn’t make any attempt to undo her seatbelt, so I just went ahead and did it for her, having decided to just go along with her.
She took her bag, though I had to practically shove it into her hands, then suddenly seemed to wake up, remember what we were doing there. She looked around at the houses lining both sides of the street around us, all decorated up, most with at least one group of little terrors standing on the porch, in various stages of getting their trick-or-treat on.
At first, I wondered if we’d fare any better here than at home, as it seemed all of those in costume were about 6, but after a few moments, I saw a group of teenagers, dressed up like characters from Sweeney Todd, making their way down the road. A quick, worried check showed me that they weren’t from our school, or at least anyone I knew from our school. Probably had all grown up around here, and long ago went to that school we were standing in front of.
“Well,” I said, smiling over towards Nancy, “let’s do this thing.”
Only, she wasn’t there. I looked around, strangely frantic, for someone well old enough to take care of herself. After a few moments, I caught a glimpse of her, staring in awe at the scarecrow guarding the nearest yard. I ran over to her, smiling at her and admiring the decoration myself. It wasn’t anything special, really, just some old, ratty clothes with a grinning jack-o-lantern perched on top, but it was oddly effective for its simplicity.
“Come on,” I told her, grabbing her hand. “There’s no candy in there!” I ran to the front door, though I had to slow a bit for Nancy, giggling, feeling like a kid again.
“Well, aren’t you a cutie?” the woman at the door cooed at Nancy. She smiled shyly, grabbing my cape and hiding behind it. The woman chuckled, then turned her attention to me. “Oh, that’s very nice,” she said, cocking her head to one side slightly.
“I’m Dracula,” I explained.
“Oh, of course you are!” she exclaimed, in a voice that told me her guess had been nowhere near that. I bared my fangs, figuring that would help, but she was back to admiring Nancy’s costume, having lured her out from behind me with her candy bowl. “That’s an adorable dress,” she observed. “Did you make it yourself?”
Nancy glanced from the woman, over to me, then nodded slowly, her thumb working its way back to her mouth. The woman smiled, dropping another piece of candy into Nancy’s bag. I started to hold out my bag, only to nearly bump into some little ghoul who had apparently sneaked up beside me. The woman turned to this new visitor, and I sighed softly and headed to the next house, not wanting to seem greedy, though I hadn’t actually gotten anything yet.
“My costume isn’t that hard to figure out, is it?” I asked the empty air beside me, before going back to grab Nancy. It was starting to feel a lot like babysitting, to be honest. If I’d wanted that, I would’ve just taken the neighbor’s twins out… And gotten paid for it.
It took a couple more houses before someone got my costume right on the first guess, an early twenties, scrawny guy who looked every bit like an average nerd, dressed as something I had too much of a life to understand. “Cool,” was his comment. He didn’t really have anything to say about Nancy’s costume, just kind of continued the nod he’d started with me.
Nancy kept getting distracted by some thing or another, usually forcing me to go back for her, at least until I got used to it. After a while, I decided to just let her catch up on her own - after all, I was going in a straight line, and even if she somehow got lost, she could always get directions back to the school. Of course, thinking that and doing it were two completely different things. But every time she’d bend over, staring with an open, and, after a few houses, chocolate smeared, mouth, looking at some decoration that was just the same as the million or so others we’d already passed, I got a little closer.
Even at the rather uncharacteristic rate she was eating her spoils at - though the clumsiness with which she opened each piece, and the fact that she felt the need to stop completely while doing so, slowed her a bit - Nancy’s bag got pretty well filled by the time we got about three-quarters of the way down the first side of the street. She started whining, dragging the bag beside her, until I relented and picked it up, along with my own half-empty bag, giving her one of the back-up bags from the hidden pocket on the inside of my cape.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little jealous. I’d known she’d be the center of attention - when wasn’t she? - but that would have happened anyway. Did she really need to show off and steal the spotlight completely?
“Could you maybe dial it down a bit?” I finally asked, as we were going back up the street, just on the other side. She didn’t seem to hear, but then, I hadn’t really had the guts to say it too loud.
“Oh, a father and daughter?”, guessed the old woman at the next house. I managed to stop myself from rolling my eyes, wondering what kind of dad she thought I was that I would be wearing a cape, and bared my teeth, deciding to take a page from Nancy’s book, hissed and reared back, as if about to bite Nancy. But she couldn’t let me have my moment. She gave a shriek, dropping her bag and running a few awkward steps before falling down, which elicited a sniffle and then a wail.
“She makes a very good baby, doesn’t she?” the old woman asked, bending over slowly to get Nancy’s bag, and add a little something to it, then handed to her, patting the top of her head. Nancy was still staring up at me, though she had twisted around, sitting on her padded bottom, legs splayed in front of her. “And you’re a fine monster. You two are just adorable together.”
“Come on,” I told Nancy, after the old woman had gotten back inside. I held out my hand, but she tried to scoot away, still sniffling and acting scared. “Look, she’s not gonna give you anymore,” I rolled my eyes. “There’s still plenty more houses.”
She didn’t make any move to stop playing around, so I retracted my hand, gritting my teeth. “Fine, I’ll meet you back at the car.” I walked on to the next house, shaking my head, whispering under my breath, “Greedy bitch.”
I felt free, having cast off my burdens, so to speak, much more available to truly enjoy the evening, on my own. The next house even figured out my costume without any hints - people must have been assuming our costumes were connected somehow, not that I could’ve coordinated without knowing what Nancy had planned.
But as I moved on, I started to feel more and more guilty. I found myself lingering longer and longer outside each house, glancing back the way I’d come from, but there was no sign of Nancy.
Maybe she’d gotten mad at me for my outburst, and went back the other way, I mused, though a quick glance up and down the other side of the road didn’t reveal her. I could easily have missed her, though. I tried to convince myself it didn’t matter, that she’d get over it by the time I got done.
“Hey, watch it, dude!” some rude little boy snapped, awakening me to the fact that I was standing, motionless, in the middle of the sidewalk. He came around in front of me, in his hockey mask, through which I could make out a touch of surprise when he saw that I wasn’t, after all, a dude.
“Oh, screw it,” I sighed quietly, turning back and walking quickly back in the direction I’d left my friend. We’d always gone trick-or-treating together - it just wasn’t the same without her. So what if she was showing off and getting more candy than me? The candy wasn’t really the point this year, and even if it was, we’d always split our candy at the end of the night, every year before that. She liked all the stuff I wasn’t fond of, and vice versa; it was the perfect arrangement.
I was starting to worry I’d have to go all the way back to the car after all, until I got close to that old woman’s house again, from which I heard crying that sounded oddly familiar. And, sure enough, when I’d gotten near enough, I saw Nancy, still sitting in the same spot, in tears. The old woman had gone outside again, and was watching Nancy nervously, as if unsure just what she should do.
I wasn’t either, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem. She saw me nearly as soon as I’d seen her. Having apparently forgotten my “threat”, and my outburst, she got to her feet, getting onto all fours and then lifting herself, diapered bottom first. By the time she’d shakily lifted her torso and head up off the ground, I was over at her side, to save her from having to toddle over, and probably wind up falling over. She clung to my arm like a vise, sniffling.
“I don’t think you should leave her on her own like that,” the old woman advised, lowering her voice a bit, as if that would keep Nancy, only a few inches further from her than me, from hearing. “She seems a little slow.”
“She’s just acting,” I assured the woman, apologizing for leaving Nancy in her front yard unattended, but as we walked off, I couldn’t help going over those words in my mind. Nancy had been behaving quite strangely, ever since she’d put that costume on… Sure, I’d joked about it, but, to be perfectly honest, it almost seemed as if she really had become the baby she was dressed up as.
I shook my head, giving a single, discordant laugh. “That’s just stupid,” I said out loud, all the better for convincing myself. I was just getting a little too much into the Halloween spirit. Like Nancy. “You haven’t really become a baby, now have you?”
She stared up at me, one hand removing itself from my arm and slowly finding its way back up to her mouth. “I big giwl!” was her answer.
“Seriously, Nancy, stop it for a second, okay? I know I’m being stupid, but just… Just tell me everything’s fine.”
She didn’t even dignify it with a response, which was probably for the best. I knew that it was a stupid question as I was asking it, I just couldn’t stop myself, somehow. Still, it would have been nice for her to at least acknowledge my question, instead of just walking on. It would have been more comforting, anyway, and would have helped dispelled the last traces of doubt from my mind.
She stuck by me after that, though, perhaps having finally gotten the hint that her antics were a little much. Having her permanently attached to my arm wasn’t as much of an improvement as I might have hoped for, but I could live with it. It did make it a little more difficult to navigate the crowd of other trick-or-treaters, and I found myself apologizing on her behalf to a few little kids.
However, it was me who ran into the first grown-up, too busy looking at a pretty hot, but unfortunately married, guy with the same costume as me, who’d just given us each a full sized Snickers bar. His porch was pretty nicely decorated as well, with skeletons sitting in rocking chairs, and spiderwebs draped about, partially obscuring the number 1428 beside the door. I felt Nancy shiver slightly, but I assumed she was just getting chilly after all, despite her earlier protests. I didn’t even bother turning my head, before I felt myself bump into something not too much bigger than me, though pretty obviously not a child.
“Oh, sorry!” I said automatically, looking up sheepishly. He wasn’t a particularly tall man, and pretty thin, yet there was an air of danger about him, somehow. I found myself shivering a little, too. “I wasn’t…”
“It’s fine, little lady,” he smiled, giving a little mock bow before slipping around us and continuing down the street.
Nancy began to tug on my arm, and finally I blinked, throwing a quick glance behind us before cutting across the road, back towards the car. ‘Don’t be a dumb-ass’, I tried to tell myself, to no avail - my mind was stuck on the memory of the man bending over, showing off quite clearly the scar running through his right eyebrow. Nancy didn’t protest our sudden departure, either.
“Was that him?” I asked a minute or two later, slowing down. She didn’t make any move to answer, or give any indication that she even understood the question. My heart began to beat faster, as I glanced behind us nervously. “Nancy, we’re done trick-or-treating, okay? You can give up the act, all right?”
“Ooo, swings!” she exclaimed, suddenly pulling free for the first time since we’d reunited, toddling away from me towards a chain link fence around a large, dark yard. I followed after her, afraid that she’d wake up whoever lived in the house, only to notice the sign declaring it “Forest Green Daycare”.
“Sorry, but I don’t think you’re gonna be able to get in there,” I told her, following her to the gate. Sure enough, it was locked. “I think there was a playground at the school, though… Maybe we can play there for a bit if you’re a good girl. Can you be a good girl and wait until then?”
She nodded enthusiastically, taking my hand, though not without a sad look back. ‘It’s just an act’, I reminded myself, the image of that man flashing before my eyes once again. Luckily, the school wasn’t too far from there, and, sure enough, there was a playground. Nancy wanted to go straight there, but I made a pit stop at the car to drop off our bags, and to make sure that the man wasn’t following us after all. That must have just been a coincidence… It wasn’t like there was only one person in town with that kind of scar or anything.
“I’m sorry, I think I’m just going crazy,” I told Nancy, sure that she must have been thinking that I was acting almost as oddly as her, and with a lot less reason. I realized I had been squeezing her hand pretty hard, so I let go, which prompted her to start off towards the playground. “There’s something in the air, you know? It just feels like the kind of day when weird stuff would happen.”
I sat down on one of the swings, letting it carry me slowly back and forth, as Nancy clumsily scrambled up the stairs of the smallest of the three slides, giggling happily as she got to the top and propelled herself down. Why couldn’t I be like that? It was so easy for her to just let go of her inhibitions, embrace this super-brief second childhood in ways that I would never have dreamed of.
After a few more trips down the slide, she came over to the swings, sitting herself down on the one next to me, then staring at me. I smiled over at her, trying to show her that I wasn’t mad at her anymore. “Push?” she asked after a few moments.
“Sure,” I shrugged, hopping down from my swing and going behind hers. I gave her a light push, enough to produce a giggle from her. It was easy to get into a nice rhythm, and relaxing, in a strange sort of way. I found myself nearly getting lost in the repetitiveness of it, even as she started to squirm a bit, throwing off the angle of the swing slightly. “You getting cold?” I asked her. “It’s probably about time to be heading back anyway.”
She seemed amenable to that, though she stayed on the swing after I stopped pushing, until it came to a rest. She hopped down, starting to come around the swingset to me, when I noticed a wet spot where she’d been sitting. I glanced over at the other swings curiously, though mostly at the one I’d been on, to be sure I hadn’t gotten anything on the back of my cape when I sat down, but they were all dry.
As she waddled towards me, though, I could see something dripping down the inside of her legs, and it was easy to tell that the diaper cover was definitely wet. It took me a few moments to put two and two together, and even longer to try to bring myself to believe it. “Did you…?” I started to ask.
But it wasn’t like she’d bothered to answer any of my other questions that night. She had that same, blank look on her face, and I could tell that I wasn’t going to do any better this time. So I marched over to her, and pulled up the hem of her dress, expecting that, at last, to shock her out of her role. When it didn’t, I tentatively reached up for the waistband of the diaper cover, which she also didn’t respond to.
“Nancy, I’m going to check your diaper,” I announced, in case she hadn’t gotten my drift. She still gave no response, other than starting to look bored, so I pulled away the front of the cover. Sure enough, the diaper inside was pretty obviously soaked, and from the smell of them, it was from the usual method. “Nancy!” I let the diaper cover snap back into place, dropping the dress and stepping away from her. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
But, even as I said it, I knew that it wasn’t her fault. Surely she wouldn’t have gone that far, would she? Who would do something like that? Other than, of course, someone who couldn’t help it. Like, for instance, a baby…
“This can’t be happening,” I told myself, suddenly finding myself sitting on one of the swings, head spinning with the sheer impossibility of what I was thinking. “It can’t be…”
Before I could say it enough to convince myself, I saw, from the corner of my eye, movement in the parking lot. Nancy reached out and grabbed my hand. I looked up, breath stopping short as I saw, moving towards us, the man with the scar. “Son of a bitch,” I swore under my breath. I jumped out of the swing, made sure I had a good grip on Nancy, and then I started to run.
The side door of the school was, no surprise, locked tight. I banged on it a couple times, glancing frantically behind me, Nancy squirming and fussing at my side. When I turned back to the small window set into the door, I thought I saw a flash of movement, a janitor perhaps, in a striped shirt, and then the halls were still again, devoid of any help.
I dragged Nancy further around the building, looking for another door, a window left a hair open, anything I could work with. It was shut up tight, either from plain ol’ good security, or to prevent any potential pranksters from doing anything too fun. I’d seen plenty of TV shows and movies where breaking into schools seemed quite easy, but in practice, it was turning out to be impossible. If I’d had to, I suppose I could have found a rock, or chunk of asphalt, but I was hoping not to break in my police record with a breaking and entering charge.
Luckily for us, the man with the scar was quite slow, apparently, as, even with all my scrambling and searching, he still hadn’t caught up. In fact, I didn’t see any sign of him at all. For a split second, I thought about sticking my head back around the corner of the schoolhouse, but that seemed far too convenient a way to get it chopped off.
I took us the rest of the way around the building instead, keeping up a fairly quick pace. I left Nancy behind, peeked out into the parking lot. There was no sign of him, so I retrieved my charge and dashed across. Unfortunately, Nancy missed a step, likely tripping over her own Mary Janes and fell. For a real toddler, it wouldn’t have mattered as much, but, no matter how she was acting, or what - if anything - she may be thinking and feeling, she was a teenager. Her fall dragged me down as well, and for a few moments, we lay in a tangled pile. Nancy’s face crumpled, so I shoved my hand over her mouth to keep her quiet.
Slowly, I stood back up, scanning for any other activity. It was still clear; I helped her up and gave her a hug before holding a finger up to my lips in the hopes that she’d be able to understand that at least. She nodded, mimicking the motion for a moment, then began giggling.
Rolling my eyes, I grabbed her hand and went through the lot, as quickly as she could manage. As things still appeared safe enough, I left her outside the car long enough to open the trunk, throwing aside frisbees and tire irons and old grocery bags to get the blanket folded up at the bottom. I spread it out on her seat, helped her up on top of it, being sure her wet bottom was squarely set on the blanket, then buckled her in.
As we turned off that street, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, as I nervously turned the key and made my way away from the school. I let myself believe that everything was fine, for a second or two, until I looked over at Nancy, a reminder that thing were certainly not back to normal, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to change that.
And speaking of things I didn’t know how to change, Nancy giggled innocently in the seat beside me, not seeming bothered by the wet diaper between her legs. I’d spent a rather minimal amount of time changing babies’ diapers - I couldn’t say that I had any experience with those of my best friend. I assumed it was similar, though on a larger scale, though, of course, it would seem to require another diaper that would fit her. Should I stop on the way and buy her some? Were they a one size fits all kind of thing?
Or should I trust that, once I had her home and got the costume off, the curse would be broken? I could have tested it there, I suppose, but I doubted that, if it did work, she’d thank me for stripping her in the car in the middle of Springwood Street. Then again, thinking back, it hadn’t seemed to take effect until she had the whole thing on. When we got to a stop sign, I reached over, tugged at the bow she’d tied in the ribbon around her left ponytail. She turned her head at the feeling of my hand.
“Nancy?” I asked hopefully. She smiled over at me, vacantly, before her attention was grabbed by her own hand, covered in chocolate. “Let’s put that away for now,” I suggested, hearing another car pull up behind us, and hoping they wouldn’t mind a tiny delay, reaching behind me and pushing the bag on the back seat further away from her hands. I nearly pulled over so that I could get the hand wipes from the glove box - fortunately, she took care of that by herself, sticking a couple fingers into her mouth. Probably not too sanitary, but I figured it would be all right.
As I straightened back up, I caught a glimpse of the car waiting so patiently behind us. It was a truck, actually, brown, big and old, a touch banged up, with patches of different colored metal, and a large, heavy bumper that was surely not the original. I stared upward, above all of that, to the windshield, and who, or what, sat behind it.
I sat back up quickly, turning my head to the road in front of us and hitting the gas, for a split second until I heard the horn of the car whizzing by in front of us. As soon as it was past, however, my foot was back on the pedal. I had to slow somewhat while I passed another car, then swerved back into the right lane. But there was the man, still, in the rear view mirror, a lighter in his hand now, as he idly flipped it on and off, for no apparent reason, as I didn’t see any cigarettes or anything.
“It’s just a coincidence,” I told myself, out loud. “He just happens to be going the same way…” So I decided to go another way, pulling over to the left lane, then turning onto the back road I was fairly sure came out somewhere near home. There were a few houses there, near the end, before they started to give way to the woods. I thought I’d heard once that there used to be an old girls’ school somewhere back there, long ago, though I couldn’t say I’d ever went looking for it.
“Shit,” I spat at the sight of the truck in the mirror, a little half-heartedly. Like I’d really thought it’d be that easy. As I hit the gas, tugging sharply on the wheel when the road took a sudden turn, I began to regret my choice. I could have tried to lose myself in traffic on the freeway. On that road, my best bet would be to outrun him, and hope that, in the few times I’d been in the car while my parents drove, I’d learned more about the road than he knew.
Nancy slipped across the seat, bumping into my arm as I made the next curve. She looked quite confused, on the verge of tears. That was just what I needed… A moment later, as the next turn threw her into the door, the floodgates opened. I rolled my eyes, not daring to take a hand off the wheel long enough to try to comfort her. “Why didn’t your costume come with a pacifier?” I grumbled.
The truck was keeping pace easily, so, despite knowing what was ahead, I felt my foot push further down. “Hold on!” I warned Nancy, but of course that meant nothing to her. I flung out an arm, as the road suddenly dipped, keeping her from banging her head on the dashboard, then frantically untangled it from her, brought it back to the wheel to bring the car around the curve at the hill’s foot, so that I didn’t crash into the tree there. I made it, though the rear tires nearly slid into it anyway, just to prove me wrong. Then it was back up another hill, and, for a short time, straight.
My heart felt as if it were going to beat out of my chest. I allowed myself a brief moment to close my eyes, clearing my mind. We were pretty deep in the forest by then, no houses visible for a while, but a couple driveways had popped up here and there. I opened my eyes, a feeling of relief washing over me to find that I was alone on the road. One of those driveways must have belonged to him, I reasoned. Nothing to worry about - just getting myself worked up over someone who happened to share a scar with the person who’d turned my best friend into a toddler. A coincidence, nothing more.
Then those headlights came up that hill, blazing towards the car. I went faster again, but the truck kept gaining, getting closer and closer, filling the car with light, nearly blinding me. “Damn it, damn it, damn it!” I squinted, leaning forward. Where the hell were we now? I might be able to navigate the road all right, but not blind.
There was a jolt, and a moment later, a mailbox came tumbling across the hood, slamming into the windshield and then over the top of my car. I gasped, swerving back onto the road, then back again after over-compensating. I had enough time to hope the mailbox would at least slow him down before we was right back on my tailgate. In the passenger’s seat, Nancy was wailing, her gasping breaths sounding just as scared as I felt. I wished I could comfort her - even grown up, she hated roller coasters, so I had a feeling her reaction wasn’t far off from what she’d have been like if I had managed to fix her, just more extreme - but I had my hands full keeping us on the road.
In fact, as I regretted being unable to calm Nancy, the street seemed suddenly, a few feet in front of the car, to vanish, ending in a group of trees. There was that sharp turn, I mused. Now, which way did it go? I didn’t have long to decide; I went with my gut, said a quick prayer that went something like, ‘Don’t let me get us both killed like this,’ and turned left.
I had chosen poorly. The car jolted a bit as it went off the road, and then again, much stronger, as the front tires slammed into the ditch. I fell forward, throwing my arms in front of my face to avoid slamming it straight into the steering wheel. The truck zoomed past behind us as a scream that I was pretty sure was mine echoed through the car, followed by panting that I knew for sure came from my lungs.
I glanced over at Nancy, seeing something wet, shining on her forehead. I reached over to her still shoulder, the sound of the truck’s engine growing fainter and fainter. I must have imagined it all after all, and now…
And then the sound stopped for a moment before starting again. It took a second for me to realize it was getting closer. I threw the car into reverse, hit the gas, but the tires just spun uselessly, as the man with the scar got closer and closer.
I stared at Nancy for what felt like years before I finally saw her move again. She just shifted in her seat a little at first, then started to reach up towards her head. I felt a weight lift off my heart - I hadn’t killed the poor thing after all.
“Stay here, sweetie,” I told her, leaning across the seat and giving her a hug. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
It wasn’t a lie, exactly. I certainly hoped that was what would happen, though I had my doubts. But I had to do something… Nancy may have gotten us into this mess, but I was the one who’d crashed the car and trapped us here. And, besides, Nancy was helpless now, innocent. Looking over at her, in her little dress and her wet diaper, I couldn’t bring myself to blame her for anything that had happened.
So I got out of the car, making sure to lock all of the doors before closing mine, and hiked up the ditch to the trunk. I wasn’t sure how much good it would do against this guy, since he obviously had some kind of magic mojo working for him, but the tire iron made me feel a little more confident that I wasn’t just blindly heading into his path, a lamb to the slaughter. I didn’t bother to close the trunk before running off down the road, towards the sound of his engine, wanting to keep him as far away as I could.
How exactly I was going to do that, I hadn’t quite figured out - I didn’t so much have a plan as a general desire to keep Nancy safe. I knew his truck was big enough that it could probably run me over without a second thought, but I was hoping that he wanted a little more than to just kill us. Then again, I didn’t know if he cared about me either way; he could just be after Nancy.
I guess I could have tried to hurl the tire iron through his windshield as he drove by or something, but I didn’t trust my aim enough to risk my one weapon that way. So, as I saw the headlights coming around a corner, I simply stood there, in the center of the road, staring them down. I could feel my teeth rattling in my skull as the truck grew nearer and nearer. “Come on!” I screamed at it, half wishing he would just run me down and get it over with.
As if reading my mind, he decided to defy me, instead opting to pull over to the side of the road. It sat there, rumbling, a beast ready to pounce. I didn’t give the man the satisfaction of watching him, chancing he would see the fear in my gaze, though from the corner of my eye, I saw him moving about. Was he deciding whether I was worth getting out for? He did seem the sort that took the time to think through his decisions, the kind who had a plan that he liked to stick to, and hated it when somebody, like me, threw a wrench into it. I could only hope that was the case, and I had pissed him off, even just a little. A few moments later, the truck turned off, and the door opened.
My fingers tensed around the tire iron, as I tried to prepare myself for whatever he could possibly throw at me. He stepped out of the truck, gliding effortlessly towards me, looking taller in the darkness, at least until he banished it by flicking on the lighter again. Then he looked taller in the faint light sent off by the flame,.
“Well, little lady,” he said, a smile playing across his half-lit face, fire reflecting off his too-white teeth, “are you two all right? I saw you run off the road up there, thought I’d come make sure everything was fine.”
“Leave us alone!” I demanded. “Haven’t you done enough already?!”
The lighter clicked off, and then on again. In the brief darkness, he seemed to have changed faces, now wearing a mask of concern and kindness that I’d have bet was close to the one he’d used to snare Nancy. “I haven’t done a thing yet, honey. Now, why don’t we go get your friend…”
“You’re not going anywhere near her!” I told him, taking a tentative step forward into the darkness, as the lighter went out. “You tell me how to fix her, and then get the hell out of here.”
“I’m sure she’s just fine as she is,” he grinned, lighter flicking back to life with him standing much closer, his eyes traveling up and down my body as if they were already ripping off my costume, and the skin underneath. “But you…”
He started to move his other hand over towards the lighter. I wasn’t about to stand there and see what he could do with that, so I leapt forward, swinging the iron back, and then into the side of his head. The lighter clattered on the road as he stumbled back, towards the front of his truck. I held my weapon out between us, threateningly.
“What do you think you’re doing, you little bitch?!” he yelled, ignoring the threat and launching himself at me. For a few moments, we wrestled in the dark, until I had gotten both hands on the tire iron, and managed to push him backwards, past his truck and into the ditch beyond it. He stumbled at the edge, though he might not have fallen had I not followed him, hitting him again. I had planned on aiming for his chest, but my swing went a little high.
“Come on, asshole!” I screamed down at him. “You wanna fuck with us?! This is what you get!” I heard my breath hissing out into the night air as I stood there, chest heaving, staring down into the ditch. For a while, there was no other sound, nothing, so finally, I started to turn, to head back to the car.
Then I heard the crackling of the dead leaves that filled the ditch and littered the road, and I spun, all of the force of my turn channeled into my arms as they brought the tire iron around one more time, slamming into him once again with a wet thud. He fell again, his body sounding much heavier this time, more limp.
“H-Hey,” I said quietly, bending over a little. “Hey, are you okay?” It was kind of a silly question, I knew, to ask someone I’d just bashed in the head a few times. He wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t hear him breathing, so I moved a little closer, poking at his body with the tire iron, the end of which was glistening wetly. He rolled over, revealing a similar wetness on his temple, and splashed all across the side of his face.
I felt my fingers start to uncurl, threatening to drop the tire iron to the road with a crash, but I forced them to stay closed, to grip tighter. Had I really…? It certainly looked like it, and in that case, I wouldn’t want to be leaving the murder weapon just laying around with my fingerprints on it.
But no, it wasn’t murder, was it? I mean, I had done it to protect myself, and Nancy. Would anyone believe that, though? Maybe they would if the spell didn’t wear off Nancy, yet if it did, even if she remembered the whole thing, everyone would think we were just making the whole thing up. And what if she didn’t get better? I’d just ruined any chance, however small, we might have had to get him to change her back. It looked like I had royally screwed us both over this time.
My gaze darted up and down the road, searching for anything, any light, from a car or a house, or whatever. There was nothing. Maybe there was hope, then… At least, as long as I didn’t do something stupid, like stick around and get caught at the scene. I stumbled back to the car, freezing as each gust of wind shook the tree branches, freeing them of the last few leaves still trying to hang on, my heart thumping faster and faster as my head started spinning. More than a few times, I found myself tripping over my own feet like I was Nancy, and each time I barely kept from falling. About halfway back, as the realization of what I’d done continued to wash over me, I lurched over into the woods a few feet, and bent over, as what felt like everything I’d eaten in the past week forced its way back out of my mouth.
I paused, resting against one of the trees, gasping for air; luckily, once I’d gotten a lung-full of it, I felt quite a bit better, as with it came reason. I’d done what I had to do. It was over now, nothing I could do to change it, so I might as well just make my peace with it and move on to more important things, like getting back to the car, and getting it out of the ditch. If Nancy was better, she might be confused as to where she was - if she wasn’t, she was probably scared to be all alone in the dark. Either way, I needed to get back to her.
I stuck the tire iron into one of the plastic bags in the trunk, making a mental note to wash it off in the garage sink sometime before my parents got back from their trip, then went around to check on Nancy. She was laying still, but after a few tense moments, I noticed her chest moving in and out, and realized she was sleeping, sucking her thumb, and not dead. I told myself that wasn’t necessarily a bad sign, she could have just been sleeping before the man had died. It would have been nice to have her awake and re-grown, though, to help me with the car.
I reached slowly past her, into the glove compartment, where I had several napkins tucked away, and a bottle of water. I wet one of them slightly, then bent over to clean the blood from her forehead, being careful not to press too hard. After a little scrubbing, I saw that the source of all the blood was a fairly small cut that was beginning to bruise a bit, nothing that looked too major. It wasn’t even swelling up like her little brother’s head had when he’d tried to catch a baseball with his face. I knew I wasn’t a doctor, but I was willing to believe, unless I saw evidence to the contrary, that she would be fine, at least in regards to that.
As it turned out, luck was still with me when I got out and set to the real work, and just a few pushes had the car mostly back out of the ditch. I climbed back inside, crossing my fingers, and was pleasantly surprised when it did the rest of the work for me, grinding a bit, then jolting backwards, and up onto the road. The motion woke Nancy, who gave a little stretch and yawn while I got the car aimed in the right direction, then hit the gas, just wanting to get the hell out of there as fast as possible.
“Home?” Nancy asked, popping her thumb right back in her mouth.
I sighed, staring out the window as we rocketed by the truck, half expecting the man with the scar to come popping up out of the ditch again. He didn’t. “Yeah, baby,” I told her, with as much a smile as I could muster, “we’re going home.”