mind-wiper

    Story idea by Galloway2017

    Witness Protection

    They called him Vinnie the Mouth because he talked a lot, but in the end his mouth was their downfall because he squealed.  It wasn’t like he wanted to be a rat, he had been given no other choice.  Jimmy Marconi, his long-time boss, had put a hit out on him, all over his running a tiny little protection racket on the side.  He was taking initiative, they should have been impressed.  

    In any case his career in organised crime seemed to have come to a screeching and permanent end.  Two months stuck in a flea-bag motel off the interstate had been followed up by a stellar court performance.  He made sure they knew they’d fucked with the wrong guy.  He knew where all the bodies were buried… literally.  After all he’d put a few of them there himself.  

    The kind of shit he admitted to in court would normally get a guy a lifetime sentence.  But he’d gone to the feds himself.  They had nothing on him, so they had to pay a high price for his full cooperation.  Full immunity, and a guarantee of witness protection somewhere far away, and somewhere with a warmer climate than Chicago.  

    But to be honest when he asked for somewhere warmer, he’d been imagining California, or even Florida.  Which is why he was more than a little disappointed when Special Agent Garcia pulled off the highway and headed deep down some winding, country roads into the most backwoods part of Appalachian Tennessee.  This was major redneck territory.  He’d have to set up a moonshine operation to make money here.  

    Things were looking down already, but then the car turned down a dirt driveway, winding up through a thick stand of trees that hid the property from the small country road it sat upon.  

    “Here we are!” Agent Garcia announced happily.  Too happily in Vinnie’s opinion.  

    Garcia didn’t like Vinnie, that was no secret.  It would have been weird if the fed had liked the gangster.  So if Garcia was happy, Vinnie knew it couldn’t be good for him.  

    “Where the fuck are we, Garcia?” he demanded.  

    “The ass end of nowhere, Tennessee,” Garcia replied cheerily.  “This is going to be your new home for the foreseeable future.”  

    “This is bullshit Garcia, and you know it.  I’m going to talk with Landau,” Vinnie threatened.  

    “Go ahead, he approved the assignment.”  

    Shit, Garcia seemed pretty certain.  This was going to suck.  

    They cleared the trees, revealing an old farmhouse, a small barn next to it, surrounded by an expansive yard.  Vinnie saw a couple chickens pecking around the dirt in front of the house.  Wow, this really was the worst.  

    And then it got even worse.  

    A man came running out of the woods just to their right.  He was a tall, strongly built man, probably in his thirties, with a shaved head.  He was wearing a pair of blue-jean bib overalls, shirtless, with the legs cuffed up over bare feet.  He was grinning like a fool, racing to keep alongside the car, waving frantically to them.  He looked mentally challenged.  Or perhaps seriously inbred.  Vinnie wondered if the man had many teeth.  

    “This is some Deliverance bullshit Garcia!” Vinnie roared.  

    Garcia just laughed and laughed, pulling the car to a stop in front of the house.  

    The bald man in overalls planted himself alongside Vinnie’s window, patting it with his palms and hopping up and down on those bare feet, giggling and saying, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”  

    Vinnie was a bit nervous to get out.  The man was even bigger up close.  Sure Vinnie was a tough guy, but he usually let his gun do the talking or sent in one of his enforcers.  This guy probably had the strength of the stupid.  

    The door to the farmhouse opened and another man emerged.  This man was older, likely in his forties, well built but only average height, with a full head of dark hair but graying temples.  He was also wearing overalls, but he had on a long-sleeved plaid shirt and workboots as well.  

    “Well hello there!” he greeted them.  “Bobby, get yer butt back and let the poor boy out of the car!” he called to the bald man.  

    Bobby pouted like a small child, but stepped back as instructed.  “Yes Pa,” he said.  

    “Good boy,” the older man praised him, like he really was a small child.  

    Vinnie got out of the car, feeling the oppressive heat and humidity wash over him at once.  God, the AC really had hidden their descent into the South.  

    “Welcome home Vinnie,” the older man greeted him.  

    Vinnie awkwardly extended his hand, feeling the touch calluses on the other man’s dirty hands as they shook.  He reflexively wiped off some of the transferred grime on his thigh.  

    The man chuckled.  “Oh boy, you best get used to gettin’ dirty.  You ain’t gonna be all clean like this again for a long, long time.”  

    Bobby giggled at that as well.  

    “He’s awll cwean Pa!” he chimed in.  “He gonna look diff’rent when he awll dirty!”  

    Vinnie looked the man-child over more closely, seeing that he was in fact much dirtier than the father.  His body odor smelled even from a foot away.  His hands looked like he’d been making mud pies.  His bare feet were absolutely filthy, grime caked under each toe.  God he was a mess.  

    “I take pride in my appearance,” Vinnie cooly replied, running a hand through his well styled black hair.  

    “Well, we’ll just see how long that lasts,” Pa declared.  

    “Okay Vinnie, you’re all set,” Garcia jumped in, dropping the one bag he’d been allowed at his feet.  “You keep safe now, and if you have any problems at all, feel free to call us.”  

    It was an odd thing to say, but obviously totally insincere.  What did that mean then? That they wouldn’t take his calls?  If they wouldn’t, he’d have no choice but to walk away from witness protection and take his chances.  He couldn’t stay here long term.  

    Garcia got back into the car, wasting no time in pulling back down the driveway, smiling the whole time.  

    “Okay then, let’s get you inside and get you changed out of those city clothes,” Pa declared.  

    Vinnie shook his head.  “Look Pops…”

    “It’s Pa,” the man corrected.  

    “Whatever.  You’re only what, ten years older than me though, so it’s a little weird to have me calling you Pa, don’t you think?”  

    “All my boys call me Pa.  Bobby’s about the same age as you.  He calls me Pa,” the man explained.  

    All his boys?  

    “Are there more of you here?” Vinnie asked.  

    “Oh yes. Jason and Chris are around here somewhere.  Jason! Chris! C’mon out ‘nd meet the new boy!” he called.  

    Two more men quickly emerged from the barn and Vinnie’s jaw actually dropped.  He’d seen a lot of fucked up stuff in his time in the maffia.  But this… this took the fucking cake and then some.  

    The first man was a bit younger, maybe twenty-five, skinny with buzz-cut blonde hair.  He was wearing a pair of undies that seemed to be covered in dinosaur designs, like a little boy’s.  That was all he wore though.  The rest of his body was bare and he was every bit as dirty as Bobby.  

    Right behind him though was a tubby man, somewhere between the skinny man’s age and Bobby’s.  Like Bobby his head had been totally shaved.  He was also completely naked. He’d been shaved all over in fact.  His balls had been shaved too, he was all smooth down there, his penis just bouncing free.  All tubby and smooth and naked, he really looked like a massive toddler.  

    “Daz da new boy Pa?” the man in the undies asked, pointing rudely right at Vinnie.  

    But Vinnie could see the man was oblivious to manners of any kind.  His eyes also lacked any flicker of intelligence.  They were dull and glassy, and yes he was missing several teeth, visible as he stood there slack-jawed.  

    “Yes Chris, this is Vinnie, he’s our newest little family member,” Pa answered. 

    The naked man, who had to be Jason, suddenly and inexplicably blew a big, wet raspberry at Vinnie, before grinning at his joke, spittle dribbling down his chin.  

    “Don’t be silly to the new boy, Jason,” Pa chided him.  

    “Sowwy Pa,” Jason said, twisting his dirty toes in the soil and nibbling on one of his fingers.  

    “So, all your boys are…” he almost said retards, but reminded himself he needed to stay here at least a little while.  Don’t piss them off right away if possible.  

    “They’re all disabled?” he asked.  

    “Oh we don’t think of it like that,” Pa told him.  “They’re special boys, that’s all.  And they’re all very happy, very good boys for their Pa.”  

    All three of the men grinned and squirmed like hyperactive little boys, drinking in what they evidently took as praise.  

    “And you let them… um… wear whatever clothes they feel like?” 

    For a moment Vinnie was sure the redneck bastard would be offended.  But Pa just chuckled again.  

    “Well not exactly.  They have outfits for if we got to go to town and a special outfit for church.  But at home, well I’ll explain the rules to you shortly.  We got to get you inside, show you your room and get you changed into your home clothes.”  

    “I’m quite happy dressed as I am, thanks,” Vinnie told him.  

    Pa looked him up and down, clearly finding that very funny.  Okay, so the expensive Italian shoes and suit he was wearing weren’t for a farm.  And he didn’t really want to mess them all up walking around here.  But he wasn’t putting on any clothes this guy thought was more appropriate either.  

    “Just c’mon in and we’ll get you settled,” Pa said, leading him up the steps onto the porch.  

    Vinnie followed him inside.  The house was pretty clean actually, better than he’d expected given the outside.  

    “So you expect me to help you with taking care of the… special men?” Vinnie asked, not really prepared to deal with retarded inbred rednecks like that.  

    “No, no, not at all,” Pa assured him right away.  “That’s my job and mine alone.”  

    Vinnie breathed a sigh of relief.  

    They entered a bedroom and Vinnie saw there were two beds in the room.  One had clearly been occupied for some time by one of the boys, as Pa called them.  There were small children’s toys cluttering the floor between the beds and the sheets were car and truck themed.  

    The other bed was clean and made up.  And lying across it was a single item, a simple white tank-top, a wife-beater some would call it.  

    “There you go Vinnie,” Pa said.  “That’s your bed, and you can leave your bag downstairs.  I’ll deal with it later.  Everything you need is right here in this room, in the closet and dresser.  I got some clothes in there for church and town.  But I don’t want you going in there, gettin’ them on, gettin’ them dirty.”

    “I’m sorry?” 

    “It’s natural for farm boys to be messy, to get themselves dirty. They’re always playin’ in the barn, wrestlin’ with each other, and with the pigs too.  They get messy doin’ their chores, the get messy eatin’ their dinner.  And four boys means a lot of laundry if they’re gettin’ their clothes messy.  

    “So, y’all got one outfit for home, but y’all got to share it,” Pa told him.  

    Vinnie was totally confused now.  “Share it? Share an outfit?”  

    Pa nodded. “Today Bobby’s got them overalls.  Chris got the undies and I saved the shirt for you.  Jason don’t mind though, he liked bein’ nekkid more ‘n anything else.  With four boys there always gonna be one a you nekkid.  Well at least one.  No rule that you gotta wear your part of the outfit,” Pa explained with another chuckle.  

    “You can’t mean… you, don’t expect me to take off all my clothes and put on that wife-beater and what, that’s it?” 

    To his utter shock, Pa nodded instantly.  “You get changed out of those city clothes before they get ruined.  I’ll take them down to goodwill when we go to town in a couple days.  Get changed quick, then come on down to the kitchen and we’ll give you a haircut.”  

    Vinnie jerked backwards reflexively, as thought the scissors were coming for his hair right then.  

    “Look man, I got my hair just how I like it.  No one touches my hair, you got that,” he warned, using his most menacing tone.  This guy didn’t know who he was fucking with.  

    But Pa wasn’t deterred at all.  

    “Hair on little boys just gets filthy, gets matted, gets infested with lice.  It gets in your eyes, gets all sweaty when you’re playin’, when you’re explorin’ and doin’ yer chores.  Easier to get rid of it.

    “Now hurry up, we got to go on our walk too.  The boys are all excited for it.”  

    “Walk? Where are you planning to walk to?”  

    “Oh we have a nice trail that goes up onto the mountain behind the house.  It’s real quiet, no tourists or anything around here.  It’s a rough one, but that’s just the point.  We need to start getting your feet toughened up.  It’ll be sore at first, sorry to tell you, but it won’t take no time at all ‘nd you’ll be able to run over gravel like the others.  

    “But we gotta get your feet used to it, so a nice long walk up the mountain will get you started.  It’s gonna feel so nice Vinnie, especially since you’ll be nice and cool in your new outfit, no hair to get in your eyes.”  

    “Get my feet used to it? What does that even mean?”  

    “Well none of my boys have shoes, not even for church.  Around here it’s pretty much expected for little boys to be barefoot.  Keeps ‘em surer on their feet, makes climbin’ the trees easier and saves buyin’ boots for the barn.”  

    Vinnie had heard enough.  The old bastard wanted him to be like these morons he cared for.  He actually thought he’d enjoy a half-naked, barefooted walk in the woods.  

    “Just stop right there man.  None of that is going to happen.  I’m not stripping naked and walking around with my cock flapping in the breeze for you to see.  I’m not letting you touch my hair. I’m not going for a stupid walk, and definitely not barefoot.  

    “You don’t seem to get that I’m not a retard like those other guys.  I’m not an inbred hick with an undeveloped brain.  I’m actually a pretty smart guy.  I ran a lot of rackets back in Chicago.  People knew not to fuck with me.  I don’t need you to take care of me.  I can take care of myself just fine!”  

    “Okay, okay, okay, just calm down now,” Pa urged.  “Look, I know you aren’t like my boys.  I get that Vinnie, I do.  And I seen your file. I know what you done, what you can do.”  

    Vinnie nodded, finally glad to have a little respect.  

    “I’m not a rich guy like you.  The only valuable thing I even have is this pocket watch, passed down from my grandpa to my pa to me.”  

    He fished the tarnished, old pocket watch out of the pocket of his overalls.  Pa held it up for Vinnie to see more closely and Vinnie wondered what the piece of junk would bring at a pawn shop.  Probably not nearly as much as this idiot thought it was worth.  

    “I cherish this pocket watch, mostly for the sentimental value,” Pa admitted.  “But also because it has helped me to build a loving family.”  

    Pa pressed a button and the lid of the pocket watch flicked open.  But inside it wasn’t a clock face.  It was a digital screen, something much newer than the outside of the watch.  And it was filled with these strange swirling colors.  So bright, so eye-catching.  Vinnie didn’t even hear Pa still talking, he was just looking at the swirl of colors.  

    “It’s so pretty ain’t it?” Pa whispered.  

    He was standing next to Vinnie now, patting his arm gently.  Vinnie found himself nodding.  Yes, it was very pretty.  

    “Each of my boys saw my pretty pocket watch on their first day here,” he went on.  “They weren’t so different from you before that.  They were smart, they were all so independent, so confident.  And then they saw this pretty watch.  Don’t worry Vinnie, it feels good, doesn’t it?”  

    Vinnie did feel good.  It felt so peaceful now. All his other thoughts and worries were just gone.  There was just the pretty watch and Pa’s voice, echoing around his head.  His muscles were all getting nicely relaxed too.  His whole body was just losing its tension.  

    “Yeah,” Vinnie mumbled, so relaxed now, it was hard to even speak.  

    “Yes, it feels lovely. They all saw the pocket watch just like you.  And then they changed out of their city clothes into farm boy clothes.  They got their haircuts, they went for their walks and they became a part of the family.

    “Jason was the last one to join us.  He was a banker before.  He didn’t want his farm clothes either when he saw them.  But after he saw the pocket watch he still didn’t want them, but for a totally different reason.  After our lovely, sleepy talk, he didn’t want clothes at all, silly boy.”  

    Somewhere in his head Vinnie felt alarm bells going off.  He needed to stop looking at the watch.  He needed to get out of here.  But his body wasn’t responding.  His muscles were all relaxed, all asleep, his arms and feet heavy as stones.  

    “Don’t… don’t wanna forget…” he managed to slur.  

    “Oh you won’t forget everything, I promise you that.  No, you’ll still know who you used to be.  I won’t take that away from you Vinnie.  But you are going to need to forget a lot about how to be that person.  You’ll need to forget things a simple farm boy doesn’t need to know, like how to drive, or how to read, or how to tie a pair of shoes.  Course you won’t have any shoes to tie anyway.

    “We need to make sure that you need your Pa.  Make sure you mind your Pa, appreciate your Pa.  Make sure you only got the simplest of thoughts, ‘bout playin’ with your brothers, doin’ your chores, gettin’ nice and messy.”  

    Vinnie managed to shake his head.  It took a lot of effort.  His eyelids were drifting half closed, but he still couldn’t look away from the swirl of colors, even as his chin came closer and closer to resting on his chest.  

    “That’s it Vinnie, you’re almost there buddy.  Just let go buddy, let your eyes drift shut and let it all go.  You’ll have the most lovely nap, it won’t feel like long at all to you.  And when you wake up, you’ll be special just like the other boys.  Your head will be nice and empty, nice and clean, the opposite of how your outside will be from now on,” he added with a laugh.  

    “I know you think you can fight it honey, but you just can’t.  All the other boys let their chins touch their chests, let their eyes close and when they woke up, they were silly and simple and ready to be my good farm boys.  

    “It’s much better this way.  They don’t even remember the naughty things they did before.  Now they’re innocent.  It’s a relief for them, and it will be for you too darling.  Soon you’ll have the most innocent of eyes.”  

    Vinnie felt horror flashing through his mind.  He didn’t want to be innocent and utterly helpless.  Jesus, others would see him too, when they went to town, or church.  And Agent Garcia had made a point of telling him he’d visit from time to time, see how he was enjoying his new life.  He understood what he meant now.  He was looking forward to seeing Vinnie reduced to idiocy.  

    That couldn’t be his new life!  It just couldn’t.  He wasn’t going to go to sleep.  He wasn’t going to let this fucker do this to him.  

    “Deep sleep Vinnie.  Deep peaceful sleep,” Pa whispered, gently pressing his head downward until his chin touched his chest and his eyes got so heavy and they drifted closed.  It felt so good to finally drift off to sleep.  

    **

    Vinnie’s eyes fluttered open.  He was still standing up, but no longer in the bedroom.  They were in another room, facing a mirror, so he could see what he looked like now.  

    He gazed into the mirror, looking first at his smooth head, his hair all shaved away.  His fancy suit and Italian shoes were gone too.  He was wearing the tank-top now, but that was all.  It was a bit small for him, only just reaching his belly-button, leaving his penis fully visible, soft between his legs. It was smooth too. Pa had shaved him all over apparently.  

    Vinnie looked down at his feet, wriggled his toes experimentally against the wood floor of the farmhouse, feeling it under his soles, getting used to it.  

    Pa’s hand pressed the middle of his back.  

    “What you looking at there Vinnie?” he asked.  

    “Toes,” Vinnie answered.  

    “Oh yes, toes are interesting.  You should have a closer look, honey.  It’s okay, go ahead and sit on your bum.”   

    Vinnie sat on his bottom, feeling the floor under it as well.  He took one foot into his hands, looking at it, wiggling the toes again.  His eyes widened.  Toes were so interesting.  He wanted to do something else with them, but he stopped.  That was silly.  That was dumb.  

    Pa got down on his level, put a supportive hand on his shoulder.  He looked over at Pa, confused by his urges, by how fascinating he found his toes.  

    “It’s okay Vinnie, go ahead,” Pa assured him.  

    It’s a huge relief to know it’s okay.  He pulls the foot to his mouth, puts the big toe between his lips and tastes it, explores it with his tongue, jams two more toes in there, slurps at them as Pa watches and nods encouragingly.  

    Finally they come out with a pop, a line of drool slips out too, he feels it running down his chin, dripping on his chest.  

    “Why I wike toes Pa?” he asked the man.  

    Pa ran a hand gently over his smooth head.  It felt lovely to Vinnie, felt so soothing.  

    “You were such a good boy for me Vinnie.  You looked at my special pocket watch and had a wonderful, long nap.  And we took away all the smarts in your silly little head.  So now you’re just a little boy honey.  

    “You’re a very little boy inside a big boy’s body.  But it’s okay because I know you’re all little inside.  And it’s okay to do little boy things, to enjoy little boy stuff, like playing with your toesies,” Pa explained. 

    Vinnie nodded his head.  He remembered going to sleep now.  He’d had a nice nap and Pa had helped him forget all his naughty things.  He was certain he’d been a naughty boy before.  But he couldn’t begin to recall what it was he’d done that was so bad.  Pa had taken the burden away.  And now he was little inside.  Yes, he felt little. Pa was telling the truth.  

    “Okay honey, let’s go for our walk now. After that your feet will be awfully dirty and those toes will taste different when you eat ‘em next time,” Pa said, helping Vinnie to stand up.  

    That did sound good! What would his toes taste like next time?  Vinnie wanted to know.  And walking sounded fun too.  He was going to be such a good boy for his Pa.  

    **

    Special Agent Garcia pulled the car around the final bend, exiting the woods and sighting the farmhouse he’d last seen two months ago.  He hadn’t even parked it when Chris emerged from the barn, rushing over in a pair of shirtless overalls.  

    “Garcia hewe!” he announced brightly.  

    Bobby appeared right behind him, beaming ear to ear, wearing a tank top and dirty looking holey undies.  The two giggling idiots were eager to say hello to their visitor, but it wasn’t them he’d come to check up on.  

    “Where’s your Pa?” he asked them.  

    “Pa’s feedin’ the hogs.  Bwudders is hewpin’,” Chris answered.  

    “Right, well maybe you should go tell them I’m here.”  

    The man in overalls nodded like a bobble head and rushed off.  

    Moments later he returned, hopping along, hand now being held by Pa.  A moment later two more men emerged from around the side of the house.  Tubby looking Jason, nude as always, and right behind him Vinnie.  

    Vinnie was just as naked as Jason now, his whole body deeply tanned, his hands and feet brown with dirt, head shaved, body smooth like the others.  Garcia couldn’t help but smile.  The former gangster had been such a smooth operator, such a good liar and manipulator.  They called him the Mouth, but it was really his brains that made him so good and so dangerous.  

    Garcia had worried that those brains would have found a way out of this end.  That he’d have slipped past Pa somehow.  

    But as the naked man came closer he could see in his eyes the same vacancy, the same blankness as in the other boys.  His face had a slackness to it that utterly transformed his facial features.  He had worn a near permanent sneer before.  Now his jaw was slack, his chin shiny with drool.  

    “Vinnie, do you know who this man is?” Pa asked him. 

    Vinnie gaped at Agent Garcia, his eyes looking at him, but still not focusing.  

    “Pow-ees-man!” Vinnie declared after a moment, his lips then tugging upward into a pleased smile.  

    “That’s right Vinnie,” Pa praised him.  “He’s the policeman who brought you here to Pa.”  

    Vinnie looked stunned for a moment, then hurried over to Garcia, grabbing his arm.  

    “Pa made me hab a nap,” he told Garcia, clearly excited to deliver this news.  

    For a second Garcia was worried.  Was Vinnie trying to break through, trying to get out of this after all?  

    “He did?” 

    Vinnie nodded.  “Made me all spethal ‘nd widdle,” Vinnie told him seriously.  “Widdle inthide.”  

    Garcia swallowed hard and nodded.  

    Then Vinnie’s lips tugged up again, that silly smile reappearing on his face.  

    “Now I go nekkid!” he announced, grabbing his soft penis and yanking it upward to show to Garcia.  

    Garcia laughed out loud.  

    “I see that.  It’s nice being all nekkid then?”  

    An emphatic nod from Vinnie.  Then he turned to Pa and urged him, “Show da pow-ees-man Pa! Show ‘em da spethal watch!”  He turned back to Garcia and assured him, “Feews so good!”  

    Garcia ran his hand over the man’s smooth head, looking into his eager, peaceful eyes.  

    “I’m glad it felt so good for you.  But I have grown-up things to do.  I can’t let Pa empty out my head and turn me into a dumb little nudist redneck like you, okay?”  

    Vinnie blinked, his mouth still hanging open. 

     “Otay,” he said, not a flicker of insult taken at the response.  

    Then he sat down with his bare bottom in the dirt, grabbed his foot and slipped his toes into his mouth, sucking on the filthy digits even as he gazed vacant eyed up at the two grown-ups. 

    mind-wiper

    Brian had always been a good student. In primary school he looked forward to report days, eager to race home to show off his top marks and glowing comments to his parents. He prided himself on being well behaved and mature for his age. He kept his clothes clean as he could, picked up his toys when he was done with them and kept his room neat.  

    His good self-control served him well in high school. He focused well on his studies even as his parents fought more and more, their marriage falling apart. As the only child he had no one to share his anger and fears with as he hid himself away in his room to avoid the shouting. It was just him and his books. They became his companions from early in primary school and in his teens he threw himself into reading, escaping into more pleasant worlds. 

    Brian’s Mum and Dad finally separated when he was sixteen and he went to live with his father. His Dad wasn’t the most loving man but he urged his son to keep up his studies and was very proud when he won a full scholarship to university.  

    Brian enjoyed being a student. He was good at it. At age twenty-four he had finished a Bachelor’s and his Master’s in English literature and was embarking on a doctoral programme.  Reading and writing was his life. He regularly attended a local poetry slam and a writers club.  The bookshelf in his little apartment had run out of room.  

    Before he could start his dissertation though, he had one matter to attend to. His Mum kept leaving him e-mails begging him to come for a visit, insisting it was of vital importance she speak to him in person. He ignored them at first, even considered changing his e-mail. But finally he decided it would be best just to get it over with so he could concentrate on studying.  

    That was how he found himself driving out of the city and along three hours of winding country roads to the small town his Mum now lived in. He hadn’t been to visit in over a year. He didn’t feel comfortable around her new family at all. He wasn’t comfortable with her second husband or with how much she had changed since she was his Mum as a kid. 

    Back then she’d been career woman, managing raising him with working as a dentist. She was a city girl, born and raised, university educated of course, well-groomed and with high expectations for him.  

    But within a year of the divorce, while Brian was still trying to finish school, trying to be his year’s Dux, Mum remarried. And immediately, things got weird. Her new husband, Ted, was nothing like Dad. He was a counselor of some sort, out in some middle of nowhere town. He was a rough-looking guy, didn’t seem educated at all. They had a barefoot wedding, the guys wearing shorts even, outside in tent.  

    Then it got really awkward when Mum went and had kids with the guy. She was early 40s by then, but still managed to have two boys. And she gave up her career as a dentist and became a simple stay at home mother. That made Brian very uncomfortable. Sure the boys were technically his brothers, but he’d always seen himself as an only child and with them living so far away, it just didn’t seem real. 

    When he did visit, he didn’t see things he approved of. Mum wasn’t treating the boys like she’d raised him at all. She’d chased after him to keep his helmet on when on his little bike, insisted he wear a coat in mild weather, always made sure he had his shoes on before leaving for school.  No sugary treats for little Brian of course, what dentist would let their kid get cavities? 

    But with her second family things couldn’t have been more different and it just felt so wrong to him. That’s why he didn’t visit, unless he had to. Like today. 

    The house was modest compared to the place he’d grown-up. He pulled his car up the short driveway, just fitting it behind Ted’s pick-up. Ugh, he would drive the ultimate red-neck vehicle.  

    The boys were already out playing in the front yard. They regarded his car with some curiosity but didn’t approach. He wasn’t too surprised, a year was an eternity at their age so they probably barely remembered him. 

    The older one, Craig, was six. He was a wild little kid with a mop of black hair currently standing in the grass in just a pair of short bright red rugby shorts. It was no surprise. Mum always seemed to let the kid run around in nothing but shorts. Last time he was there she let the kid go to the supermarket like that, no shirt, no shoes. 

    His little brother, four year-old Eddy, was squirming around next to him wearing just his birthday suit.  Craig rolled his eyes. Never in a million years would Mum have let him run around the house that way even as a toddler, never mind in the front yard, in full view of the street. 

    Brian steeled himself for the weekend then got out of the car. To his surprise Craig seemed to instantly recognise him.  

    “Brian! It’s Brian!” the little boy yelled, running straight over and throwing his arms around him.  

    “Wow, okay, hey there Craig. Good to see you too buddy,” he said, feeling incredibly awkward as he patted the boy’s back. He wasn’t used to little kids at all. 

    Eddy then added to the awkwardness, copying his brother by cuddling up to Brian with his skinny little arms.  

    “Hi there Eddy, aren’t you a big boy!” Brian tried to enthuse. 

    “I four now!” Eddy announced. 

    “Wow, you’ll be in school before long.” 

    “Like Cwaig!” the little boy agreed. 

    Brian managed to free himself of the hug eventually, letting the boys lead him by the hand over to their toys. 

    “Dis is my big twuck,” Eddy demonstrated, squatting down and pushing a big yellow plastic Tonka truck around the grass, looking back up at Brian for approval. 

    “Trucks are for little kids! Lookit my ball!” Craig insisted, holding up a rugby ball. 

    “Do you play rugby?” Brian asked, really shocked. Mum had always said it was a dangerous and barbaric sport and forbid Dad enrolling him in it.  

    Craig nodded eagerly. “I love rugby!”

    “Oh, okay… and how does Mum feel about you playing?” 

    “She’s always there when I gotta game. She takes us for Maccas after.” 

    “I gonna play! I c’n tackle!” Eddy announced, rushing his big brother and trying unsuccessfully to wrestle him to the ground. 

    “Don’t Eddy! You’re too little!” Craig told him, roughly pushing the boy away. 

    “Don’t be too rough now,” Brian warned, trying not to upset them but also afraid Eddy could actually get hurt. 

    “Do I hear a familiar voice?” 

    Brian looked over to see Mum had emerged from the house.  She looked pleased to see him and he tried his best to smile back. But it was hard when she’d changed so much. She was wearing a simple t-shirt and leggings, casual wear she’d eschewed before. Her hair was tied back in a simple bug and she had no make-up on.  

    “It’s been way too long honey,” she declared, walking into the yard as barefooted as her little boys and pulling Brian into a big hug.  

    “Good to see you too Mum,” he managed to say, feeling tight and trapped in the hug. 

    “I know you didn’t really want to come this weekend Brian, but I promise you’ll feel different by the end of it,” she whispered to him. “Now, let’s head on inside and I’ll get you some tea.”  

    “I ate on the way down.” 

    “Not Mummy’s cooking you didn’t. Now let’s go.” 

    **

    The house was a bit cluttered with kids’ toys left here and there, dirty dishes in the sink, papers on the kitchen table.  But Mum didn’t seem to mind the poor presentation. Maybe because he was family, maybe because she didn’t care about such things anymore. 

    While she got something ready he checked out the photos on the living room wall. The obligatory wedding and baby photos of course, one of the two boys in the bath tub together, a recent one of Craig in school uniform standing at the end of the driveway. Brian couldn’t help but notice the one missing item of the boy’s bright new uniform, he was barefoot. It shouldn’t have surprised him, had he ever seen the boy in shoes? Even once? No, nothing came to mind. Still it was more evidence of how Mum had changed. 

    “He was so proud to be in his big boy school uniform,” Mum commented, appearing behind him with a plate of food. 

    “Oh, yeah, he looks really cute.” 

    “What’s wrong?” she asked bluntly. 

    “Sorry? Nothing, I said he looks cute, that’s all.” 

    “Brian, don’t bullshit me. I know you honey. Spit it out.” 

    “I just noticed he didn’t have shoes on. I guess that’s a small town thing. It’s nothing, like I said.” 

    Mum shook her head. “Not a small town thing. As I recall your friend David, he used to walk to school with you in his bare feet every morning, summer and winter.”  

    Brian frowned. She wasn’t going to let him get away with making an excuse for her.  He was just trying to avoid another argument so early in the visit. But no, that was not allowed. Fine. 

    “Yeah, he did. But you never let me, even in the summer. You called it trashy. I think you said David’s parents were bogans.” 

    “And you wish I had let you?” 

    “What? No! I didn’t mean it like that. Just, I mean, I’m surprised you’re letting Craig go to school looking like David did back then, like a bogan.” 

    Mum didn’t look upset at being called a red-neck though. She just smiled, seeming actually pleased that he’d said it.  “Well, I reckon I was a bit harsh on David’s parents back then. As I recall his dad was a lawyer so he was hardly a bogan. I just said that because I was a snob. I’m over that now and I’m sorry I didn’t let you have a real boyhood as a result. I’m fixing that with Craig and Eddy. I encourage them to get messy, play rough, and yes, go to school barefoot as long as they still want to.”  

    “And run around naked in the front yard,” Brian practically spat. 

    Her resolve faltered slightly. For a second he saw a chink in her armour. But it was gone just as fast as it appeared. 

    “I’m sorry that I gave you such body issues when you were little. It was wrong of me. Little ones shouldn’t have any concept of modesty until they get to school age. So if Eddy wants to play in his natural state, that’s what I let him do.” 

    Brian just shook his head. “What happened to you Mum?” he asked. 

    “Eat your tea Brian, before it gets cold. There’s plenty of time for discussion later.”

    **

    Ted joined them not long after tea. Brian was less than pleased to see the man he viewed as responsible for all these changes in Mum.  But he forced himself to be cordial, shake the guy’s hand, watch while he cuddled the boys then got himself a plate of food.  

    “So, your drive okay?” Ted asked him, sitting on the couch, eating. 

    “Yeah, it was nice to get away from the city,” he answered, watching the two boys climbing all over the couch around Ted, rolling off it onto the floor. It was loud and annoying, but Ted seemed oblivious. 

    “Yeah, it’s so much nicer out here in the country isn’t it? I don’t know how you life up there in Jafa-land. There’s no room to breathe.”  

    Brian cringed. He couldn’t stand provincial towns like this one, with their weird hatred of Auckland. 

    “Actually I like the city. It’s just good to get away from my work, I meant.” 

    Ted nodded. “I can only imagine. I don’t know how you can stand all that studying. I was so happy the day I left school.” 

    “I like school!” Craig interjected, looking up brightly from the floor. 

    “Of course you do buddy. But Brian’s school isn’t like yours. There’s no colouring, no recess, no play time at all.” 

    Craig’s jaw dropped. “Not even jump jam?” 

    “Nope,” Ted confirmed to the boy’s horror. 

    “We even have to wear shoes,” Brian added with deep sarcasm that of course went right over the boy’s head. 

    “That’s awful! I don’t wanna go to that school. I don’ like shoes,” Craig informed them. 

    “I bet Brian would love to go to your school buddy,” Ted suggested. 

    Craig lit up. “Yeah! You could pay with me.” 

    Brian had to smile at the little boy’s innocence. It never ceased to amaze him how gullible silly little kids were. “Your Daddy’s kidding you Craig. I’m way to old for your school, and besides, I actually like wearing my shoes.” 

    The little kid looked more shocked than ever. “You’re weird,” he told his older brother. 

    “Come on now Brian, surely it wouldn’t be so bad. You get to colour, and no one expects you to produce any real work. No deadlines, no responsibilities. Wouldn’t it be nice for a day?” Ted suggested. 

    “Still think I’ll have to pass.” 

    Mum walked in from the kitchen, dishes apparently cleaned, sitting next to Brian. “It’s my fault,” she said sadly. “I raised too uptight, too obsessed with school.”  

    He frowned. “I don’t see how you can consider my school success a bad thing. Most parents would be over the moon at how well I’ve done.” 

    “You were always so bright honey, even as a little one. But you missed out on so much fun as a result. The way Craig and Eddy are growing up, I’m realising all the mistakes I made with you. And I want so badly to fix them.” 

     His food finished, Ted got up and moved across to the other smaller couch, sitting on the other side of Brian.  He found it a bit odd being between them. It just didn’t seem a normal arrangement. He also felt a bit weird being the best dressed person in the house. He was still sat there in his button-down shirt, jeans and shoes while even Ted was in a t-shirt, faded old jean shorts and bare feet.  

    “Brian,” Ted began sounding a bit more serious. “The reason we asked you over here this weekend is your Mum has been feeling really bad about how things turned out with you. The fact you don’t have a relationship has really been hurting her.” 

    Brian looked over to see Mum was tearing up. He was upsetting, but he wasn’t here to be guilt tripped. 

    “That’s not my fault,” he answered coldly. 

    “No, that isn’t what I’m saying at all,” Ted assured. 

    Mum patted his leg. “It’s all my fault Brian. I know that. And I want to fix it.” 

    “Exactly,” Ted went on. “You see I helped your Mum get on her better path when we first met.” 

    “It’s been so much better,” she added. 

    “Yes, and now your Mum wants me to do the same for you Brian. We want to give you a fresh start, a do-over.” 

    Brian shook his head. “I don’t need a do-over. I’m working on a doctorate for goodness sake!” 

    “But you could be so much happier, I just know it,” Mum said. 

    “You really can be. Do-overs, they’re sort of a specialty for me. Usually I work with people in the justice system, in rehab. I’d been reluctant to work with you, I’ll admit it, because of your superficial success. But your Mum has convinced me,” Ted explained. 

    Now Brian was confused. Mum wanted him to get therapy, from fucking Ted of all people? He was the last counselor he wanted to sit down with. And he didn’t need therapy anyway!  

    “This is nuts!” he told them. “If this is really why you dragged me all the way out here, I’ll just drive right back tonight.” 

    “Please, don’t do that,” Mum urged, grabbing his arm. 

    “And why shouldn’t I? Give me a real reason.” 

    “I want you to know your brothers,” she answered. 

    Brian paused at this. He couldn’t really argue with that.  “Well, of course I’d like to know them better,” he agreed. 

    “Then let Ted help you,” she urged. 

    “Help me how? I don’t understand.” 

    Ted put his hand on Brian’s shoulder. He looked over to see the man had his hand held outstretched right beneath his mouth. Brian was very confused by this until he saw there was a little mound of white power in the palm of his hand. But before he could react Ted gave a sharp blow, like he was blowing out a candle, and Brian got hit right in the face with the white stuff.  

    “What the hell?!” he demanded, sneezing and inhaling the stuff.  He wiped at his face, blinking his eyes to clear it away. 

    When he opened them full again he saw Ted was nodding happily to his wife. “He took I nice deep breath,” the man said. 

    “What? I took a breath of what?!” 

    Mum patted his shoulder. “Don’t be afraid sweetie, it’s going to be so much better now.” 

    “What are you talking about? What’s going to be better?” 

    “Calm down buddy,” Ted directed, a hand firmly on his hip now. 

    “Stop telling me it’s going to be okay! What was that stuff?” 

    “It opens up your mind, makes it malleable,” Ted explained. 

    “You drugged me!” 

    “You should feel it kicking in very soon. I promise it will be quite enjoyable. As I’ve said, this is sort of a specialty for me. I’ve never had an unhappy customer, once it’s finished.” 

    “You’re going to change my mind? So what, you’re gonna brainwash me to come visit more? Make me happy you let Eddy run around buck naked in full public view, think it’s just great that Craig plays rugby and has filthy bare feet. Make me proud my Mum’s gone full-bogan?”  

    “No honey, we don’t want to that. We want you to be happy,” Mum told him. 

    “We’re giving you a total fresh start Brian,” Ted explained. “I’m going to take your right back to the start, let you be a happy little boy this time.” 

    Brian paused, terror dawning on his face. “Wait, what?” 

    Mum continued. “You’re going to be a little one sweetie, just like Eddy. Actually, a bit littler than him. We decided it would be best to go back to well before school age so we settled on three years old.” 

    Brian shook his head violently. “Are you absolutely nuts?!” 

    “No baby, we just want to help you. I promise it’s for the best. You’ll get to have all the same fun as Eddy and Craig. You’ll be following them around like a puppy, getting into the same messes, playing with the same toys. You won’t have to be a lonely only child this time. You’ll have big brothers.” 

    Brian wanted nothing to do with this. But then he felt it, an odd floaty sensation. It hit very fast and strong. His head was swimming and he couldn’t stand up.  

    Ted patted his back. “That’s it, you feel it now don’t you sweetie? Just let it sink in, let it relax you all over.” 

    Brian shook his head. “I’m going to be a professor. I have to write my dissertation.” 

    “I’m afraid you won’t be writing or reading much of anything for a bit sweetie,” Ted cooed. “We can’t really have a three year-old who knows words like dissertation, can we? I’m afraid I’m going to have to clear all those big boy ideas out of your sweet little head. All your thoughts are going to be so nice and simple though, it’ll be a wonderful relief.” 

    The world seemed to spin and Brian had to fight to keep his train of thought. “You can’t! I’m too smart!” he argued. 

    Ted chuckled. “You won’t be for much longer buddy.” 

    “We don’t want you growing up too mature this time baby. Ted’s going to make sure you’re a bit more simple this time. Not too dumb of course, just less academic.”  

    “No, please…” 

    “No point in a reset of course, a complete re-do. The point is to start fresh and make the right changes. We don’t want you to be upset when we pack away those shoes, we want you happy to be in bare feet. We want you following Eddy out front to play in your birthday suit without feeling any silly modesty,” Ted went on. 

    It was a nightmare. All his learning, all his work. They weren’t just making him a little kid, they were going to take away his intelligence too, strip away his manners, his modesty, his work ethic, leave him a dumb redneck boy, a silly nudist. 

    “People will see me. They’ll know…” he tried to explain. 

    But Ted was shaking his head. “You’re a special boy, Brian. Your Mum and I took you in after a drug overdose burned out your once brilliant brain.” 

    “Stop fighting it sweetie, there’s no reason to,” Mum whispered, stroking his hair now. 

    Brian tried not to give in. He didn’t want to forget, to lose all the things that made him who he was. But the drug was very powerful and his eyes were going glassy and vacant, the world blurring, dimming.  

    Ted leaned close and whispered in his ear. “Just listen to my voice Brian. Everything I tell you is the truth. You know it with all your heart and soul. Listen carefully to every single word now…” 

    **

    Two Weeks Later

    It was children’s story time at the local library. Mums arrived with an assortment of small children and Susie, a librarian’s assistant greeted them and directed them to the right area. 

    A woman walked in leading two young children with her. One boy of about six wearing a rugby uniform and his little brother, not yet old enough for school, wearing just his board shorts. She was used to that, the woman was a regular and her boys were often in just shorts. 

    But this time she had another charge, a fully grown young man with messy long hair and a short beard. He was holding the six year-old’s hand, but not as though he were in charge of the boy. No, it seemed clear that the boy was leading him. He was wearing a pair of simple short shorts, perhaps boxer shorts. That was all he wore. The man was barefoot and shirtless. He gazed about the library with empty, innocent eyes and a curious expression. 

    “Well hello there,” she greeted the odd little family. 

    “Hi, we’re looking for story time,” the mother said. 

    “Yes of course. It’s just around the corner. The children can sit on the mat and we have some chairs for grown-ups.” 

    “Lovely, thank you.” 

    “And, um, is he here for the story?” she asked awkwardly. 

    The mother smiled. “Oh yes, he’s a special boy, you understand.” 

    “Oh, of course. I was just going to say he’s very welcome to sit on the mat with the other little boys and girls.” 

    “Why thank you. Did you hear that sweetie? Can you thank the nice lady for helping us?” she cooed in the most saccharine sweet voice to the nearly naked man. 

    The ginger man looked over and smiled a simple child’s grin. “Tank-you,” he said brightly. 

    “You’re very welcome dear.” 

    “My name ids Bwian,” he informed her with a bright smile. 

    She couldn’t help but chuckle at how silly the man sounded. 

    “Well, it’s nice to meet you Brian. And I must say you look very comfy on this warm day.” 

    The man giggled. “Mummy gibbed me shorts. But I wan be nakey!” 

    Susie had to cover her mouth to stop from laughing out loud. The mother didn’t look embarrassed at all though. She just patted the man’s bare back and nodded. “But we can’t go nakey in public, can we?” she prompted. 

    Brian shook his head. “No-ooooh,” he answered in sing-song. “Not awwowed.” 

    “That’s right, so we’re going to keep our shorts on like a good boy until we all get home. Right?” 

    “Yeff Mummy. Bwian be good.” 

    Susie watched the young man toddle off after the little boy pulling his hand, noting the soles of the fellow’s feet were pitch black, like he hadn’t worn shoes in days or more. Poor fellow, she thought, he probably didn’t know any better. 

    **

    Brian sat on the floor of the library amidst the other young children. Grown-ups sat in seats. The librarian sat in the biggest chair of all, reading from Mother Goose, doing lots of silly voices. Little children liked silly voices. He liked silly voices too, because he was a little boy. 

    It was perfectly clear that he belonged down here with the other children, even if he was older than them and bigger. The grown-ups were all so smart. They sat in chairs, they wore big people clothes. Being at their feet, it felt right. 

    He sat cross-legged and looked at his own feet. They were all dirty, all black. He got a smile on his face. It felt so nice to have icky little boy feet, all messy and silly. There was another little boy next to him. He was the same size as Eddy, and he also had bare feet and his were all dirty too. It made Brian feel good to be like the other boys, like his big brothers.

    After story time Mummy took Eddy to the toilet. She told Craig to watch Brian. His older brother frowned and then took his hand. “Guess I gotta watch you again,” he said unhappily. 

    Brian frowned. “Dun gotta watch me,” he told Craig. 

    “Yeah I do. Cuz you’re too little to be alone now. Daddy made you too little.” 

    Brian squirmed and wiggled his toes on the soft carpet. “Wike bein’ widdle,” he said. 

    Craig nodded and patted his arm. “I know Brian. Daddy helped you get happy. It’s just, I wanna… hey, let’s play hide ‘n seek!” 

    Brian got even more excited at this idea. For a brief second he thought that would be a bad idea. He was supposed to stay here. Then a voice in his head seemed to come from nowhere, reminding him he was a playful little boy, he was too silly and little to follow the rules. 

    “Yeah! Pway hide ‘n theek!” 

    “Okay, do you want to count to twenty?” Craig asked. 

    Brian nibbled on his finger, trying to think of numbers. But there were none. Daddy had taken them all away. “Umm… I ‘unno.” 

    Craig chuckled. “I’m just kidding silly Billy. I know you can’t count. Okay, you hide and I’ll count! One, two, three…” 

    Brian squealed in glee and hurried off, racing through the library on his nimble bare feet. He raced up the stairs on hands and knees, then hurried right to the end of the stack, dropping to his bum against the wall, rough-soled and dirty bare soles outstretched.  

    Brian waited for big brother to come find him. He hoped it would take him a long time. He was such a good hider! Then he looked over at the books. He remembered something about books. He knew grown-ups read them. But not him. He was too little. He looked at the titles. Nothing made sense. The symbols were meaningless to him, just scribbles. 

    A flash of memory hit him. It happened now and then. He saw himself as a graduate student, living in the city on his own, reading advanced books like these, no, bigger than these. And he was all dressed up, and so smart! And he remembered now, he remembered coming here to this little town, coming to visit, driving himself, a full grown-up able to drive a car like Mummy and Daddy. 

    “There you are!” 

    Brian looked up to see Mummy walking along the aisle to him. He picked himself up, standing and feeling clearer by the second. And also more embarrassed. He remembered so much now. He remembered waking up after Ted drugged him, understanding he’d been made little, but not what that really meant.  He remembered waking up completely nude and then going right out into the yard that way, playing with the boys just as naked as little Eddy, and passersby could see him and he hadn’t covered up at all.   

    He remembered flashes of the last weeks. Walking to school with Mummy and Craig, marveling at the boy’s “big” uniform while he wore only his shorts. Letting Mummy lead him by the hand everywhere, letting her parade him around sucking his thumb, prattling nonsense. And now he was in the library, in public, in boxer shorts.  It was horrifying. 

    “C’mon sweetie, we need to get going,” she said now, reaching out for his hand again. 

     He shook his head, and gave her is angriest look. “I wemembah,” he insisted. “I’m big! I’m gwown-up!” 

    Mummy gave him a sad look, then stepped sharply forward and grabbed his boxer shorts with both hands, shoving them down, exposing his penis and bottom in one fell swoop. 

    Brian’s eyes widened as he felt the air on his privates. 

    “What?” he managed. 

    “You’re not big sweetie. You’re not a grown-up. You used to be one and Daddy took that all away.” 

    Brian tried to shake his head no. But Mummy put a finger to his lips. “Sweetie, you’re my little jaybird.” 

    He wanted to tell her no, tell her how he was remembering things. But when she said those words, something changed. He looked down at his naked body and felt, so silly, so little, so very, very good. 

    He hopped up and down on his bare feet, making his pee-pee floppy.  “Imma jay-biwd!” he repeated. 

    She nodded, smiling now. “You certainly are,” she agreed. 

    “Is everything okay?” 

    Mummy turned around to look at the pretty library woman.  

    “Oh yes, I’m sorry but I’m afraid he just got out of his shorts for a moment and I was about to help him get them back on. He just doesn’t know any better I’m afraid.” 

    Silly Mummy. He didn’t take his shorts off. Did he? He was a silly nakey jaybird. And his pee-pee was extra nice and comfy all free. Yes, he must have taken them off. He was a very silly boy after all. 

    “No problem,” the woman answered, though she looked concerned. “Would you like some help?” 

    “Oh certainly, thank you dear.” 

    “No worries.” 

    The library lady came over. Brian liked her. She was very pretty. 

    “I nakey now,” he informed her with a grin. 

    “I can see that dear. But we need to get your shorts back on, okay?” 

    “Otay,” he chirped, completely forgetting about his brief lucid moment. 

    A few minutes later, his shorts back on, Brian padded across the lovely warm pavement of the car park, enjoying the sun on his back, his Mummy gripping his hand tightly, sure everything was just perfect.