It had been a long time since I had cried this much. If you've followed the story so far, you know that, normally, I'm a 12 year old kid who just happens to be friends with a djinn. When I wished that I didn't have to go to school, Omniar turned me back into a four year old and part-time kindergarten student, so I spent yesterday at home. This morning, just I was about to be taken to preschool, I was made even younger. Now, instead of a 12 year old kid, I'm a baby-- a 12 month old baby.
If I could get my hands on the wishing ring, I could undo the damage. Unfortunately, that ring is locked up in a box that sits on the shelf of my bedroom closet, and now it's out of my reach. Earlier today, when I was still four, I had talked Mom into bringing the safe down, but not long enough to get the ring. She had decided to tell Dad about it, so I'm waiting for him to come home this evening. Until then, I'm stuck at this size.
I finally stopped wailing. Mom understood, better than I did, how to calm down a crying baby with different tricks: a hug, some rocking, and a steady tapping on the back. Soon, I was okay, back at the window and wishing I could be outside. This time, at least, Mom let me wear some pants. Ugly plaid pants with an elastic waistband were better than being seen in diapers. Dad's car had pulled into the driveway, and Dad and Lyric were throwing snowballs at each other. "Look, Dad, wave to the baby!" Lyric said, and the were both waving to me. "Omniar," I said, "I hate you for this." My djinn friend said only, "I understand." Right now, of course, he was the only one who really did understand, because I couldn't put my thoughts into words. I've heard of stuff like that, where someone has a stroke and they can't talk. It's frustrating to know what you want to say, but you can't.
Dad came in, patted me on the head, then got himself a beer. Now, it was his turn to watch me. I had been waiting all day for him to come home. Just this morning, Mom had said she was going to talk to him about the lockbox in the closet, and I had it all planned out. She would mention it to him, he would bring the lockbox down, and would have no reason to put it back in the closet. The first chance I got, I would open the combination lock, even if I had to climb out of a crib in the middle of the night. The only thing I hadn't counted on was the chance that Mom might not mention it to Dad at all.
At supper, as I sat in a high chair, I listened closely to everything they talked about. An hour and a half had passed since Dad had come home, with not one word about a lockbox. I followed Dad for another half hour, and still, nothing. Time to call my neighborhood djinn.
"Omniar, Mom and Dad never mentioned it at all. It's like this morning never happened."
"From your mother's point of view, it never did happen," he replied.
"But it did! I was there!" I protested.
"Even so, she does not remember. Nobody remembers that you were born in 1992, including your mother. If a person asked her, she would tell them that she had been childless until your sister Lyric was born, and that she had another baby in 2003."
"Me? I was born in 2003?"
"People believe this. If they remembered that you were really 12, your family would be frightened at this development, and likely seek medical attention for you. Your wish to be a baby would not work unless people believed that you had only recently been born."
"I did NOT wish to be a baby. I didn't really wish to stay home from school. It was just something I was saying to myself."
"Nevertheless, as far as your mother is aware, she has never had a conversation with you; not this morning, not ever."
So Mom had forgotten that there was a lockbox on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. All my old worries, and some brand new ones, came back. I had nothing but time, and those "what if" questions were hitting left and right. Earlier today, I had worried about things like what if Mom finds the ring? What if she puts it on her finger? And what if she says something dumb like "Oh Kevin, I wish you would always be this little," or worse? With Omniar's track record, he'd probably screw that up too, but what if he only messes up MY wishes? What if he picks today to start getting things right. And so on.
And now, what if Mom found the lockbox before I could tell her about it? I could just picture Mom cleaning the place up, finding the lockbox, and asking everybody except me where it came from. And what if she threw it out? The last image was really awful. I could see myself now, in diapers, looking out the front window and banging on the glass as the garbagemen hauled away my chance to return to 12. It's amazing what you worry about when you have lots of time on your hands. Looking back on it, that last worry made no sense. Nobody throws out a locked box without wondering what's inside. At the moment though, I wasn't thinking straight. All those fears hit me at once, and I started crying again, then bawling.
"Kevin! What's wrong, honey?" Mom came running, while Dad just scoffed.
"Sweetheart, do you think you should pick him up every time he cries?" Dad commented. "He'll grow up to be a whiner!" The heck of it was, Dad was practically whining when he said that. Hypocrite.
"Dear, this is NOT normal crying," Mom said, "Something is wrong."
"How can you tell?" he asked.
"I just know," she said, using that logic that only works for Mom. They seem to know things like that. She was correct that something was wrong, but she didn't know what, and I couldn't explain it. I cried and cried, and, once again, she dropped everything she was doing, just for me. I was surprised, but it made me feel better just to be held in Mom's arms while I boo-hooed on her shoulder.
"You're going to turn him into a Mama's boy," Dad complained. He was right about that. Even at 12 years old, I'm still a "Mama's boy", but so what? Dad didn't seem to worry that Lyric is a "Daddy's girl".
"Lyric," Mom called, "do you know where Kevin's blanket is?"
"It's under my bed," my sister replied.
"What's it doing...oh never mind. Can you get it for us?"
That's what I should have done with that lockbox, put it under my bed. Why did I think I needed to put it up so high? It had a lock on it! What did I think would happen? What a dumb mistake. That made me cry some more.
Mom rocked with me and said, "Everything's going to be okay, Kevin. We wouldn't get rid of something so important to you."
She was talking about my blanket, of course, not my lockbox, but she somehow sensed my fear that I would lose something. Maybe she's psychic. I don't think I'll ever figure Mom out.
Once the blanket was located, Mom handed it to me. It's hard to imagine that this worn out thing would be so important to me, but I felt better having that blue blanket now. "Are you going to be okay now?" Mom asked me. If only I could get her to ask some more yes-or-no questions! I smiled and nodded my head. "Then go back to Daddy while I finish dinner," she said. Soon, it was back in the baby chair for me. At least I got to have french fries and ketchup like everybody else, even if I couldn't have steak.
After supper, another diaper change, and then Mom dressed me up in pajamas-- those baby pajamas that cover your feet. It was kind of embarrassing to wear a "sleeper", especially one like this that was covered with stars and crescent moons. I was expecting to be dumped into the crib for another early bedtime, so it was a surprise when Mom didn't put me to bed right away. Instead, I sat on the couch between her and Dad while they watched TV. I was really sleepy....
The next thing I knew, it was morning again. Sometime during the night, I had been placed back in that crib. A new day, and I was still small. I pulled my thumb out of my mouth, which was not a good sign.
"What now, master?"
"Omniar, why am I still a baby? It's Thursday isn't it? Shouldn't I be back up to four years old, since there's no preschool today?"
"No. That is not logical. Your wish was that you did not have to go to school. You were transformed in order to prevent that from happening, and no further transformations are necessary."
"So I'm still going to be a baby, even when it's Saturday?"
"The reason you were reduced to this age was to make you too young even to be taught the skills to make you ready to go to school, such as how to use a bathroom."
"Yeah, I'm not allowed to do that."
"It will be more than a year before she would try to teach you."
"I can't handle another day of this, let alone a year!"
"You must admit, however, that you have not had to go to school. Your wish continues until you fix it."
Until I could "fix" it. Everything Omniar did needed to be fixed. I remember when I had gotten Omniar to find a way to make me "turn invisible". What kid hasn't made that wish? When I finally got him to make me invisible even when people were looking right at me, it caused problems I never expected. People were bumping into me, knocking me down, even trampling me, and all because they saw no reason to go around me. Now that I had been turned into a baby, it was like being invisible again, in a different way. People looked at me, but had no reason to talk with me. They talked at me, which entirely different. At least when I had been invisible, I had been able to undo the wish, but not before a rough trip home.
Anyway, I went through the baby routine again, the same old stuff and some new events that I would rather have missed. The worst was to have a stomach ache and then to end up with messy pants. I learned that morning that there is something even more humiliating than running around in a clean diaper. By now, my time away from school had gone on way too long, and I couldn't help but think of what I would normally be doing.
For instance, while my first hour science class was studying magnets, I was watching "Clifford the Big Red Dog". As Mom was giving me a bath, my friends were in Coach Tabb's health class learning about good hygiene. When they were in geography class, talking about the construction of the pyramids, I was sitting in a playpen, stacking blocks and knocking them down. Sometimes it was on purpose, but mostly I was clumsy. I was bored, and blocks was more interesting than most of things available.
Lunch today wasn't at the cafeteria or at McDonald's. I was in the high chair, being fed Spaghetti-Os one spoonful at a time. Mom had a bib on me, but it was still messy. Everytime I wiped my mouth, my awkward hands were smearing my face with tomato sauce. At least she used a wet paper towel to clean me up. After lunch used to mean 6th grade math, but today, it meant naptime. As I laid in that crib, I couldn't stop thinking that I would rather be in school. Never again would I complain about how boring school was, because I had seen a lot worse.
Three fifteen came, and I was sitting in the playpen when Lyric came home. Naturally, she walked right over to me. "Hi, Kevin!" she said, lifting me out. Over the past few days, I had gone from being her big brother, to her annoying kid brother, and now...
"This is Kevin, my little baby brother!" she shouted.
Who was she introducing me to?
"Oh, he's so cute," said a girl who had walked home with Lyric, "How old is he?" I recognized her now. Tricia Kirby, my friend's little sister and Lyric's friend.
"He turned one year old a few weeks ago," Lyric said, proudly.
"I have a baby cousin," said Tricia, "but I wish I had a baby brother."
Good thing for Ronny Kirby that she doesn't know Omniar, I thought.
"Would you girls like a snack before you start on your homework?" Mom asked.
"Sure!" said Lyric, lowering me back into the playpen. By now, I wished I could do homework. How was I EVER going to get out of this situation? People watched my every move, and if they couldn't watch, they put me behind bars. The one bright moment had been when Lyric switched from Mom's decorating shows to Nickelodeon, and that didn't last. "No TV!" said Mom, turning it right back off. Instead, I got to listen to the girls work on their science. I could have told them the answers, if I could talk.
Finally, the doorbell rang, and Lyric's friend was going to be going home-- but not just yet. It was Mrs. Kirby, but the girls weren't finished, and I knew from experience that she and Mom spent a lot of time talking. Worse than that, Mrs. Kirby wasn't alone.
"This is Ronny," I heard her say, "Tricia's brother I was telling you about." Ronny Kirby, my friend from school, as in "Ronny, I wish you would get lost!" from earlier this week. And here I was, dressed only in diapers. I knew Ronny had no idea that, in another reality, he and I were friends. From his point of view, he had never met me. Still, it was embarrassing when he looked over at me. I sat down and covered up in my blanket.
"What grade are you in, honey?" Mom asked him.
"Sixth," he said. "Do you have any boys my age?" Before Omniar, yes, but now...
"No, sweetie, I'm sorry. I have a little boy, but he's only a baby." She pointed in my direction, and I looked away.
"Cool. A baby." Ronny walked right over to where I was, and started quizzing Lyric about my name, age, and so on. "They have a baby cousin," Mrs. Kirby said to Mom, then to him, "Ronny, why don't you keep baby Kevin entertained while we talk?"
"Can I pick him up?" he asked my mother. No, I thought, no, he's too little, he's...
"Sure," said my mother. "He might be wet, so be careful." She just wouldn't quit.
So, Ronny picked me up and out of the playpen, lowered me to standing, then took my hand. "Why don't you show me around?" he said to me, as if I was a tour guide.
"Be careful with the baby, honey," Ronny's mom cautioned him.
As embarrassing as this was, it might be my lucky break. I started walking toward the stairs, and he followed. "You wanna go up there?" he whispered. He probably knew that if had asked permission, the answer would have been no. "C'mon," he continued, and I started climbing, step by step. It wasn't easy. Why in the world did Ronny want to go up there?
I soon found out when I led him into my room. Ronny is one of those kids who has to look at everything, which is part of why people find him so annoying. He picked up a music box and listened to it play. "Let's see what else we can find," he said, walking away. Uh-oh. If he left this room, he probably wouldn't be coming back in. I ran over to the closet, standing on my tiptoes, and stretched my hands up on the door. "Is there something in there?" he asked, and slid the door open. I pointed to the shelf. "Bok." I said.
Ronny stepped back to see what I was talking about. "Oh! A box! I get it. I thought you meant a book." A responsible child would never have followed up with pulling a chair over, or climbing up, but Ronny was not a responsible child. In the next moment, he had it down. "Cooollll. It's a safe! I wonder if there's money inside!"
He set it on the floor and started to inspect it.
"Ronny, are you up there?!" It was Mrs. Kirby.
"Busted," he said to me. If I had been prowling around, I would have tried to return the safe to where I found it, but Ronny didn't seem to care if he left a trail. Instead, he tried to pick me back up, and I actually punched his arm. My baby fist didn't pack much of a hit, but it was good enough for an "Ow!" He was surprised, but he wasn't about to hit me back, of course.
"RONNNYYYY!" his mother called again.
He walked over to the door, giving me my chance. A good kid would have said, "Coming right down!" but this was Ronny, so he answered "What is it?!"
A few turns to 34 right.
"Do you have baby Kevin with you?"
Past zero, 26 to the left.
"Yeah, we're playing in his room. Do you want me to bring him down?"
Oh please, not now. Back to 36... and the lock fell open!
"No, you stay right there. We're coming up."
Ronny was back over with me. "Hey, it wasn't locked!" he said, pulling off the lock and throwing the lid open. "Cool! A ring!" He was reaching for it, and I actually bit his arm hard enough that he shouted in pain. It fell with a heavy clunk to the floor, and I wasted no time in putting my tiny fingers into the ring.
"OMNIAR! Undo the wish! I wish to be 12 years old again, right NOW!"
And there was a flash of light.
"Wow! Where did you get that ring, Kevin?"
It was Ronny talking, only now he was my size. And no, he hadn't been shrunk to baby size. We were both sixth graders again.
"The Bahamas," I answered. I glanced down to make sure I wasn't still wearing a diaper. Whew! I had on jeans, a T-shirt, an unbuttoned shirt, and... I had to see the band... FTL underwear. My room looked as it should look-- my unmade bed in the corner, and a Playstation instead of a playpen. I was home.
"Thanks, Ronny." I meant it.
"Thanks? For what?"
"For getting the lockbox down from the closet."
"You just got done yelling at me for looking at it!" he said, puzzled, and I guess I probably had done that in another reality.
"Let me put this back up," I said, locking the ring back in the box, and then I changed my mind. "Maybe not 'up', but under the bed this time," I said.
After the Kirbys went home, I was glad I could drink a Pepsi straight from a plastic bottle that didn't have a nipple on it, and to eat food with a knife and fork, and to be able to stay up past ten o'clock, and to see the top of my sister's head. It was great to be back to normal. Plus, I had learned from my mistakes. I put a sticker on the lockbox and wrote out a label: "Property of Kevin B. O'Bryan. KEEP OUT!!!" I used red marker, and extra exclamation points, to show that I meant business. From now on, that safe was staying under my bed.
I wish I could say that I learned to appreciate my mother more, or that I would be nicer to my little sister now. Not me, though. I'm still a bit mad at them after these last three days.
"Well, master," said a voice, "You have homework to do."
"Yeah, and no thanks to you, Omniar."
It's strange, but I wasn't mad about homework, even though I was mad at everybody in my house. I'll get over it.
"As you know, by having removed the ring, you get a bonus wish tomorrow," Omniar said. "Have you given it some thought?"
"As a matter of fact," I replied, "I have. And it involves sending you off on vacation for awhile. This had to be the absolute worst wish of all time."
"You could banish me back to the ring until someone else let's me out," said Omniar. "It has happened may times before. Are you thinking of doing that?"
"I ought to, Omniar. But after a week, I would want you to come back home. You're the only djinn I know. So I figure that I'm going to wish you on a round the world trip for a week."
"You are most merciful, and I thank you, master," he said.
Knowing Omniar, his round the world trip is going to mean that he spends seven days in orbit around the Earth. That is, if I don't forget to make that wish tomorrow. When you have a djinn who grants your wishes, you really do need to be careful about what you wish for. You might just get it.