The Youth Hostel - Part One

submitted by Gamble - Mar 17, 2005

Four kids enter a youth hostel as teenagers, intending to leave in the same state. But things don't always go as planned...

* * *

Located just off Sydney, Reminiscence came around in 1992. Rooms were cheap but nights were comfortable and relaxing, and young adults left the hostel feeling rejuvenated. And after a while it gained rave reviews as the place for a young tourist couple to stay for the night in Sydney. Business boomed; tourists visited left, right and centre.

Its residents may have entered in sour moods, only willing to collapse on an uncomfortable bed and fall to sleep. But soon enough everyone was caught up in the atmosphere; the owner and his cook made everyone feel like they were all part of a huge family. Dinner was served in a dark, somewhat claustrophobic room lit by a fire, and no amount of beer was too much.

But after dozens of complaints of sickness from spending nights at Reminiscence, the police went in for an inspection and came out with bags full of drugs.

After that the owner was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, while Reminiscence was shut down until further notice. The youth hostel every tourist in the country loved vanished from the map.

* * *

The dark lines on the road started to blur and he wasn’t sure he was driving straight. Jake had been on the wheel for five hours now.

The teens spent the last two weeks touring the country, having received positive results from their HSC. Cassandra’s parents lived up to their promise and the four kids ended up on a two-week holiday. As a result, Jake, Cassandra, Matthew and Sarah found themselves winding down from a lengthy and exciting vacation.

Matthew groaned beside him and his eyes flickered open. Grunting, he stared at the road, then the clock, then at Jake. “Shit. What happened to ‘stop, revive, survive?’”

Jake grinned. “You wanna take over?”

Matt just stared at the road, watched Jake shred his tire on the sharp rocks off the road and replied, “No, I’m right. Five hours, eh?”

“Yeah, it exhausted the hell out of those two,” he replied, indicating to the back of the car. Cassandra and Sarah were asleep, heads locked.

“Two ‘lil lesbians,” Matt said, sniggering. “Why’d they have to fall asleep like that? I hate waking up in that position. Watch it.”

Jake swerved, leaving skid marks all over the road, and just righted himself. “My parents would’ve killed me for that.”

“How much longer?”

“I dunno. Give me another hour, half hour, and we’ll be there.”

“So what’s this place like exactly?”

“I’ve only got my parents’ word for it, mate,” Jake said. “They say it’s pretty good and that it was popular in its day, but they’ve got a bit of fixing up to do first. Jeez, I hope accommodation’s free.”

Matt laughed. “Knowing your parents –”

“Matt, remember what I said about jokes?” Jake’s eyes started to glaze over.

“Yes, sir,” Matt replied, saluting. “Leave it as it is.”

* * *

They turned up at Reminiscence forty minutes later, with bumps and dents all over the car. Much to their distress, Jake woke Cassandra and Sarah.

“I was dreaming, you know,” Sarah explained as her feet scratched against the cobblestone pathway. “I never dream.”

“Yeah, and I haven’t slept in, like, three days,” Cass said. “That’s the longest I’ve been without sleep you guys just wake me up after five hours?”

“Preposterous, isn’t it,” Matt drawled. “Well, Cass, you can sleep all you want once we get inside.”

“Good. Hope your parents don’t mind me collapsing on them, Jake.” Cass was already lolling her head, sending streams of wavy hair all over his shoulder.

They stopped at the front porch, facing a neat wooden door. Jake rung the doorbell and took the time to gaze over the front yard.

He’d expected it to be in disrepair. After all, it hadn’t been used since ’94. Instead, the fence was erect, the grass was recently mowed and streams flowed around the sides of the building. It was less of a hostel and more of a holiday resort.

“Maybe they’re asleep,” Sarah said. “Maybe they’re dreaming.”

“Give ‘em a minute,” Jake said. “Knowing Mum, she’ll be cleaning the place to prepare for us.”

“‘Oh my God! It’s the kids! Dan, help me clean the house again!’” That was Matt, and the whole group laughed.

The footsteps on the other side of the door ceased and the door swung open. Out stepped a small woman in her fifties, with curled, graying hair.

“I heard that, you know,” she said.

“Hey, Mum.”

“‘Hey, Mum!’ Haven’t seen you in two weeks and all I get is ‘hey, Mum!’”

“She’s got you there, Jake,” Matt muttered.

“Bah. He never gave me any better anyway.” She flashed them a smile to show she wasn’t serious. “Come on in, kids. Glad to see you survived the trip.”

* * *

The teenagers found themselves seated in the famous dining room. Jake hadn’t imagined it would be this cramped, though at the same time it didn’t feel like a small room at all.

“So how was it?” Mr. Parker asked as he lit a set of candles.

“The trip?” Matt replied. “Great. Really enjoyed it. Cassandra slept through most of it, though.”

“I was exhausted!” she replied. “The HSC had me sleeping eight-hour nights!”

“Eight hours, eh?” Mr. Parker chuckled as he sat down. “What a blerry tragedy. How ‘bout you, Sarah?”

Sarah, who’d been staring into the fire, glanced towards him. “Hmm? Oh... the holiday. Well we spent a lot of time driving –”

“Letting Jake drive,” Cass cut in.

“– so I spent most of the time watching the scenery. The outback can get so boring. But every now and again you run across something spectacular... like the sand dunes, or the Pinnacles.”

“Dinner’s up,” Mrs. Parker said, walking in from the kitchen. Jake nudged Matt hard in the ribs in an attempt to stop him laughing at the sight. His mother, only five feet tall, was trying her best to handle two plates of chicken. She breathed a sigh as she dropped them onto the table. “Well it’s not so good as it was back in ’92, but Paul and I have tried our best to make Reminiscence into what it used to be again.”

“Well I’m really glad you ended up buying the place,” Jake says. “It looks great. Had any customers yet?”

“No,” she replied, “you four are the first. So you get to sample the place, I suppose.”

“How many hidden drugs did you find?” That was Matt, of course.

Mr. Parker grinned at him. “Actually, we could have all the drugs we wanted if we asked for ‘em. You know how we landed ourselves with Reminiscence?”

“You knew the guy who owned the place,” Jake said, hooking into his chicken without using cutlery. His mother scowled at him.

“Right you are, Jake,” Mr. Parker continued, ignoring the gesture. “You know what he said, is that he did have some drugs stored in there, but not the tons the police found.”

“Such a shame,” Mrs. Parker said, passing the chicken to Sally, who almost missed it. “He only had a bit of speed. Bad enough that he had that of course, but he didn’t deserve life in jail.”

“Anyone trying to feed drugs to their guests deserves to be locked up,” Cassandra said. “Don’t you think so, Jake?”

“Wmot?” Jake swallowed. “Oh. Yeah.”

“That’s some smart thinking, Cass,” Mr. Parker said. “My own opinion taken straight from my mouth.”

“Paul!” Mrs. Parker exclaimed. “You were always so nice to the man! Don’t stab him in the back now!”

“Bah. He stabbed his guests in the back, with speed. You know what, he manipulated them, now we return the favor. And now we’ve got this brilliant ‘lil youth hostel!”

“Cheers to that!” Matt shouted, raising a chicken drumstick. “Wait, that seemed inappropriate without the beer frothing all over the table. Got any beer?”

“You kids are too young for alcohol,” Mrs. Parker said.

“Who gives a shit about age restrictions? It’s just the six of us. No cops.”

“Forget it,” Paul said. “We’ll be driving you up to Sydney for milk in the morning anyway.”

“Jake can do it,” Matt said. “Anyway, we’re all eighteen. It’s legal.”

“Not in Reminiscence it ain’t,” Paul said. “Well, you gluttons look like you’ve finished your meals. Tired?”

* * *

The group was indeed tired. The youth hostel only had accommodation for twelve people, to Jake’s surprise, though he found the rooms themselves glamorous enough. His own cabin, though small, came equipped with a king-sized bed, a TV set and a set of board games, added onto a shelf full of books. Even more impressive, the floor, walls and ceiling were made of wood.

“Why isn’t it a hotel?” Jake asked as his mother helped him unpack. “Why is it just a youth hostel?”

“It’s too low-budget,” she replied. “Look at the place, it’s made out of cheap wood. Just about everything here comes cheap; it was just decorated to make it look expensive. An ingenious idea, though of course most families prefer the more modern house for their holiday resort. So it ended up just being a youth hostel.”

Jake nodded as he changed. “Well, maybe you could make something more of it. Turn it into –”

“A money bucket, I know. Matt already suggested it.”

“Oh. Typical of him.”

Mrs. Parker chuckled. “True, I suppose. Goodnight, dear.” She planted a kiss on his cheeks and walked out, closing the door behind her.

Jake didn’t notice it at first – he only saw it out of the corner of his eyes – but soon enough he found the picture hung up on the doorway.

The portrait of a little boy, about five years old, somewhat familiar. He looked typical – the usual smile, the usual brown hair and child’s shape – but what stood out most were the eyes. They gleamed back at him as though they betrayed the otherwise happy expression on his face. There was a higher intelligence concealed within them. Jake shuddered. He’d seen this kid before.

For a moment he pondered where from, as he set the sheets up on his bed. Then, as he crawled under the covers, it came back to him.

“No shit, you genius,” he muttered. “It’s you.”

His parents must have put it up on the door. Damnit, now every guest who stayed in the room would see him as a stupid five-year-old.

The bed felt larger than it looked. Jake almost felt it stretch out from under him as he slipped under the covers and fell to sleep.

* * *

“I wonder why it’s always chicken.”

Jake, Cass, Matt and Sarah sat around the main room table playing Scrabble. It wasn’t going too well. Jake and Cass tried their best, though Cassandra’s forte never had been English. Whereas Matt had no intention of playing seriously at all, and Sarah wasn’t concentrating.

“What do you mean?” Cassandra asked as she considered her letters.

“It’s all we’ve eaten so far. Last night’s dinner, breakfast this morning, lunch just then. Why is it always chicken?”

Matt shrugged. “Who cares? It tastes great, especially the skin. Hey, I’ve got it. D-I-C-K. Guess what it spells.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Trust you to make an obscenity out of ‘innocence.’

“Obscenity? ‘Dick’ isn’t an obscenity, it’s a name. Jake, ‘UAI’ isn’t a word.”

“Why the hell not?” Jake replied. “We just finished the HSC. It’s a tribute to our results.”

“No, it’s you rubbing in our faces that you got 83 while we were all in the seventies,” Matt said. “Come on, Jake. Think of something else.”

“Fine.” Jake tossed the blocks back into the container. “There goes my triple score.”

“You know, I think Jake might have bragging rights here anyway,” Sarah said.

“Not really,” Jake said. “I got a good score, yeah, but not good enough for what I wanted to do. I always wanted to design cars, make the next Ferrari, whatever. Now I’ve gotta sit the exam again, sometime later.”

“Yeah, and we all know how entertaining it is to sit around making blueprints all day,” Matt said, glancing at the table. “Damn, we’re all outta blocks. Could you stop winning, Jake?”

Jake smirked. “Depends. How much are you going to pay me?”

* * *

That night, Jake made sure he got a decent ten-hour sleep, which was more than he’d had over the last two weeks. This time he hit the bed like a rock.

Next morning he got up at eleven a.m. and stumbled into the shower. Sleeping for fourteen hours was more than he’d bargained for. Jake maintained a firm disbelief in sleeping in. Ever since he was seventeen, he’d decided the last thing he needed to do with his holidays was waste them in bed.

He turned the shower off, feeling refreshed. Jake grabbed a towel and went to examine himself in the mirror.

He’d grown a few pimples on his nose. And somehow he’d sprouted a cluster of freckles overnight as well.

Jake checked his suitcase. No pimple cream, which was no real surprise. He hadn’t had pimples since he was seventeen either. It was always something he’d bragged about, every other kid got pimples at some point and it usual continued into their adult years. But he’d always been an exception.

He’d have to put up with it for the moment, though. Right now everyone would be doing something fun and he’d have missed out because he slept in.

But instead of meeting up with Matt, Cass and Sarah, Jake saw only his father as he entered the table. His face was buried into the newspaper as he smeared his top with chicken.

“Hey, Dad,” Jake said, feeling his voice crack a little. Frowning and stroking his throat, he sat down and hooked into his own breakfast, which had started to go cold. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Haven’t got up yet,” his father replied. “They’re all sleeping in, and it’s almost midday. They didn’t let me do that in my day.”

Jake sniggered through a mouthful. “You promised you’d never say that.”

“Say what?”

“‘In my day.’ You always said it made you sound like an old man.”

Mr. Parker snorted. “I am an old man. I’m fifty.”

“Doesn’t mean you have to start acting like one.”

There were footsteps behind him, and soon enough Mrs. Parker entered the room carrying a fresh glass of orange juice. Looking at him in disgust, she said, “Anyone who saw you eat with your bare hands wouldn’t believe I raised you, Jake. No wonder you’ve got your pimples back.”

“Pimples?” Mr. Parker exclaimed, dropping his newspaper again. “And I blerry well didn’t raise you to have pimples either, boy. That was what we always bragged when we visited a friend’s house. ‘Look at our boy, he hasn’t got any pimples.’ That was how Cass fell for you in the first place, remember.”

Jake blushed. “Don’t remind me about –”

“Oh, hello Sarah.” Paul nodded at Jake’s back, and he swiveled to see her standing in the doorway, looking unusually alert.

“Hello,” she said. “Um – can I have a word with Jake?”

Jake paused. Sarah was giving him the same look she gave to Cass when they wanted to talk in private.

“Sure, honey,” Mrs. Parker said. “You don’t want breakfast first?”

“In – in a minute.” Sarah pulled at his sleeve and tugged him out the door.

“You wouldn’t believe this,” Jake said. “I’ve got a group of pimples, this fat group –”

“I don’t give a shit about your pimples!” Sarah shrieked, and Jake nearly bowled over. Sarah never swore, she never rose her voice and she walked around the planet as though she was half-asleep. If she was acting like this, there was something seriously wrong. “Jake, something’s not right. I woke up with a totally different hairstyle and my face looks different. It’s like it’s rounder or something –”

“Whoa. Sarah, slow down.” She paced back and forth, scratching the wooden floor with her heel as though she’d forgotten how to walk. “Calm down. You know what happened? You had a good night’s sleep, your head’s clear and you look great. Stop panicking.”

“But – but it’s more than that!” she said. “Look. Look at this. Feel my breasts.”

Jake was stunned. “What? No!”

“My bra won’t fit on them! And Cass is pretty much the same!”

She was frantic, too excited. Jake had never been in this kind of situation before, especially not with Sarah, and it was hard to decide what to do. For one of the first times in his life it felt like he had no control over the situation. “Okay. Sarah, get a grip of yourself. Whatever’s bothering you, it’s probably a part of your imagination, okay? Just take a glass of water, have your breakfast and calm down.”

Sarah glared at him as though betrayed and walked into the dining room, fuming. Jake stared after her, amazed. He’d never seen her put on such a performance, no one had.

* * *

Cass proved to be calmer. He found her in her bathroom weighing herself.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” she muttered, scrawling something onto a notepad as she got off the weights. “How about Sarah?”

“I don’t think so,” Jake said. “She was in hysterics and I dunno what it was about. Jeez, she told me to touch her breasts.”

“Oh.” Cass didn’t seem to hear him. “Anyway, I thought you might want to take a look at this. Sarah and I started recording it around eight this morning.” She tossed the notepad at him.

Cass had scrawled her usual untidy handwriting onto it and divided the page into two columns filled with numbers. One list had Sarah’s name on it, and the other had Cass’s.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

“It’s our weights, genius,” Cass snapped.

“Yeah, so why the hell do they keep changing?”

Cass opened her mouth, sputtered and sat down. “Forget it. You’re not going to believe me.”

“I’m either not going to believe you or I’m going to think both you and Sarah have gone nuts,” Jake said. “And you know what, judging by her performance this morning, it’s not all that unlikely.”

She sighed. “All right. This is stupid, but all right. Look, I’m losing weight, Jake. So is Sarah.”

Jake stood there as though waiting for a punch line, but she just cocked her head at him as though expecting him to understand. “Er... so?”

“Urgh! Look, I’m not saying I’m losing two kilos a week, I mean between now and eight o’clock, Sarah and I lost three kilograms. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

He shrugged. “Maybe the weight machine is broken.”

“It’s working fine, Jake. And I’ve been eating fine too – all my chicken, just like Matt said last night.”

“I said it,” Jake replied. “And what makes you think the weight machine isn’t broken? It’s been sitting in that bathroom since 1991.”

Cass sighed, clearly exasperated. “Latest fashion, Jake,” she said as she strode towards him. “Clothes have to be skin tight. That’s the latest fashion and I like to stay up-to-date, so when I came here these clothes were skin-tight. When I got up this morning they were skin-tight. Even look at the holiday photos if you don’t believe me.” She grabbed a tuft of her sleeve and thrust it at him.

Jake wrinkled his nose and leant back; that perfume was sour. “Okay, I believe you. You’ve lost weight. I reckon it’s happened over the holidays, though. You and Sarah didn’t eat enough, didn’t sleep enough and partied too hard. So you lost a bit of weight, all right? Nothing serious.” Women could overreact about the smallest things. What was she suggesting anyway?

Cass groaned. “Well I guess I saw the future then. I knew you wouldn’t believe me. Jake, how much do you weight at the moment?”

“I dunno. Haven’t weighed myself in a while.”

“Then I don’t suppose it’d be too much of an issue if you weighed yourself now.”

Jake smiled. “You just wanna see me in my underwear.”

Cass stared at him as though she couldn’t believe he’d said that, stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind her. “Just tell me what the hell you weigh, and we’ll see how long it stays consistent!”

* * *

Matt had the smallest room of the lot, so Jake couldn’t help but feel he was crowding the space as he entered his room. Matthew was awake, but he hadn’t bothered to get up and go downstairs. Instead he lay in bed, still under the covers as he watched the latest episode of The Simpsons.

“Hey, Jake,” he moaned.

“You’re not out of bed yet?”

Matt rolled over. “Yeah, that’s what Cass said when she came in here. She asked me to weigh myself and I told her to piss off. I think I hurt her feelings or something.” He stretched, pulled back the covers and climbed out. “Any idea what that’s all about?”

“Sarah and Cass reckon they’re losing weight,” Jake said.

“That’s what they always wanted to do.”

“I know, but they reckon it’s happening really quickly. Cass reckons she lost three kilograms over three hours.”

Matt snorted as he sifted through the closet for clothes. “What are they suggesting? That they’re going to lose their breasts? God, I hope not.”

“Yeah, you would hope not. I dunno what they’re saying, really. Sarah was really panicky though. She told me to touch her.”

Matt’s eyes widened. “And you didn’t?”

“Is that all you think about?” Jake said.

“When a chick like Sarah comes up to you and says, “Feel my breasts,” you don’t pass it up unless you’re gay. You’re not gay are you, Mr. Parker?”

Jake rolled his eyes; Matt had synchronized the line to go along with the astronaut Simpsons episode playing in the background.

“My pants are loose,” Matt said, examining them in the mirror.

“Ooh, don’t let Cass know.” Jake sniggered. “It’s a conspiracy.”

“You’re serious?” Matt said. “They’re both freaking out?”

“Cass was okay, but I’m not sure how Sarah’s taking it. You might want to check on her if Mum didn’t run her off to a hospital for telling her to put her hand under her bra.” Jake flicked the TV off and swung the door open. “At least it gave her a wake-up call.”

“At long bloody last,” Matt said, following him out. “That girl staggers around the place like she’s half asleep...”

* * *

As it turned out Sarah had calmed down, though she made an effort to ignore Jake for the rest of the day. Cass remained eccentric, and throughout the afternoon she’d drag Jake upstairs to weigh him, claiming she was still losing weight and that Matt was being awfully rude to her.

By three in the afternoon she made a breakthrough.

“Seventy-two kilograms, Jake,” she said. “You were seventy-four when I weighed you first.”

Jake shrugged. “This is bullshit. You probably rigged the thing.”

“We’re not boys, Jake, so we don’t pull off practical jokes.”

“Yeah, you spend your time gossiping and –”

“Jake! Could you try not to be sexist just this once! This is serious! Look.” She pointed at his pants. “You’re wearing a belt. You never have to wear a belt, Jake.”

“Okay, you know what, this is going too far. I’m outta here.” Jake spun and walked towards the exit.

Cassandra wasn’t ready to give up, though. She threw the notepad onto her bed and called after him, “Jake, I think we’re getting younger.”

Jake stopped dead in his tracks and turned around. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day, and I’ve heard a lot of shit from you and Sarah recently.”

“Please, Jake. I’m serious. These clothes don’t fit anymore and you and Matt have higher voices. I don’t think you’ve noticed.”

“Higher voices? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, they’re about an octave higher. You don’t even look eighteen anymore. You’d be lucky to pass off as a seventeen-year-old right now.”

At this Jake backed away. “Cass, you’re crazy. All right? Enough of the sci-fi already.” He walked from the room, eager to get away from her before she spouted another theory at him, and closed the door behind him.

But after half an hour of reading and trying to block what she’d said, Jake pulled a pen from his pocket, stood against the door frame and marked the tip of his forehead with it. “There,” he muttered to himself. “If I’m really getting younger, I’ll be shorter by the time I check this thing next. Just in case.” This was enough consolation for him, and he managed to keep it off his mind as the night approached.

* * *

Cass and Sarah persisted through dinner, much to Matthew’s amusement. Neither mentioned the idea of regression, though they made sure to point out their sagging clothes to Mr. and Mrs. Parker.

“Sure you’re not overreacting a bit, Cass?” Mr. Parker asked as she shoved a fistful of clothing into his face. “I reckon you should concentrate on eating your chicken if you’re that eager to grow up.”

“Paul!” Mrs. Parker said, then turned towards Cass. “If you’re really worried about it, dear, I’ll take you to see a doctor tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll sort it out.”

Jake watched and waited for her to back down at the idea of taking this ‘issue’ to an official scale, but Cass nodded. “Thanks, Mrs. Parker. That’d be great.”

Matt rolled his eyes.

* * *

At ten that night, Jake measured himself just to be sure and found little difference. He grinned as he compared both markers, the second only the slightest fraction below the first. Which was probably a mistake anyway. Jake chuckled to himself as he climbed into the covers. Getting younger... who’d ever heard of such a stupid concept?

* * *

Jake woke to a gentle rocking. He kept his eyes closed, feeling his relaxed muscles sink into the bed, and decided he wasn’t going to get up.

“Wake up, Jake.”

It was his mother, waking him up this early. Damnit, it was the holidays. No way should anyone be woken up on the holidays.

He moaned and rolled over, opening his blurred eyes to find her staring down at him, almost looking frightened. “What time is it?”

“Seven o’clock, dear, but we really need to get going.”

Jake sat up, rubbing the crust from his eyes, and Mrs. Parker let out a gasp. “Paul! Paul, it’s happened to Jake too!”

“What’s happened to me?” He was getting irritated now. She’d woken him at seven a.m. on a holiday and now she was talking as though he wasn’t there.

“Never mind that, dear, but we need to get you all to a doctor.” Mrs. Parker pulled clothes from his closet and draped them over his bed. “Put those on. Quickly.”

Jake heard a slight whimpering sound coming from Cass’s room, but by now he was more concerned with what had happened to himself, and why he needed to get to a doctor. He climbed out of bed, staggered a bit and rubbed his eyes. In the process, his pajamas started falling from his sides.

“What the hell –”

“I’m not looking, honey! Just get dressed!” His mother turned away, eyes slammed shut, looking like she was on the verge of panic.

Jake wasn’t sure what to think. He’d been woken up at seven a.m., his mother was fretting and his pajamas had grown overnight. This was an utterly bizarre way to wake up, and for a moment he considered climbing back into bed.

“Okay, Mum,” he said as he tightened his belt around his baggy pants as hard as possible. “What in the hell is going on?”

“Cass – Matt – look, your lot are losing weight really fast, honey,” Mrs. Parker said as she turned around. “It must be some sort of virus, okay, so we’re taking you to the doctor.” He’d never seen her this frightened before. “Are you all ready? Good. We’d better just get to the car, then –”

“Wait.” Something was coming back to him. Jake looked down at his mother... not far enough down. It was like he’d gotten smaller overnight. And his pajamas...

Jake leapt for the back of the door, lined himself up against the wall and put his hand over his head. It was a rough estimate, but it was enough. He slid away from the wall and looked up.

Compared to the 185cm marker he’d left there last night, Jake was about ten centimetres shorter.

“What?” his mother snapped. “Jake, what is it? We’ve got to go, you’ve got to see a doctor right away –”

“Mum,” Jake said, noticing now his voice was a whole lot higher, “can I sit with Cass on the way there?”

* * *

Mrs. Parker was too worried about their conditions to let them drive, so Jake slid into the back with Cass. She looked equally as panicked and her hair hadn’t been brushed, but that wasn’t all he noticed.

Compared to the girl he’d seen yesterday, Cass looked totally different. Her breasts were flattened, as though she’d just started wearing bra. Her freckled face was rounder than before and everything from the position of her eyes, nose and mouth, to the way she had trouble coordinating her expression, made her look like a young teenager. And, just like him, she dropped into her clothes, as though they were trying to smother her.

But regardless of what he thought of her, Cass seemed even more shocked to see him.

“Cass,” he murmured, checking to make sure his mother was a fair distance away, “it’s really happening, isn’t it? We’re really...”

She nodded, and he could see tears forming in her delicate eyes.

“Oh my God.” Jake felt light-headed; he dropped his face into his hands to steady himself. But even his head was weighed wrong; it was too round, and it didn’t fit properly into his hands.

But this made no sense, none at all. It was impossible to get younger, or at least, it had never happened to anyone before. Yet he and Cass were both living proof of the exception. Sitting next to him, drowning in her otherwise skin-tight clothes, was Cass, three years younger than she should be. The perfect body that should have aroused him any time he looked at her before did nothing for him now – no matter how he tried to look at her, she just didn’t come across as unordinary in any way. And it seemed he’d met the same fate.

“Jake,” she whispered in a softer voice than before, “listen, Jake. It’ll be okay. The doctor will have an explanation, or he’ll have seen this before or something, okay? And he’ll fix it.” But there was a tremor in her voice. Cass was just as scared as he was.

* * *

Since the beginning of the holiday, Jake had imagined opening the door, recognising the smell of his house and dropping the bags on the floor before collapsing onto the couch and turning on the TV. Instead, he and his mother rushed towards the back door, where they’d tracked his growth since the age of five.

Throughout the trip, Jake had examined himself. He’d lost his beard, his hair was too short and his voice, though it maintained a low octave, sounded too childish, like his voice box was half its original size. But despite watching the growing size of the car, and his parents, he hadn’t been able to measure himself, hadn’t been able to see just how bad the damage was. As it turned out, he was one hundred and seventy-five centimetres tall. Ten centimetres shorter than he should be.

Mrs. Parker sighed, cupping her eyes in her hands. “God,” she muttered, suddenly sounding more passive than usual. “I didn’t expect it to be so sudden.”

Jake was so preoccupied with the thought of losing ten centimetres, his voice box and most of his pubic hair in the space of a day, that it took a moment to register what she’d just said. He looked up.

“‘Sudden?’ What, do you mean you were expecting this?”

Jake felt enraged, as though he was just a young teenager again; the chemicals in his body ran wildly, provoking mood swings and anger at the slightest provocation. She was about to reply when the front door slammed open, and Paul bolted inside.

“What’s happening?” he asked, looking between Jake and his mother. “Is it working?”

“Hang on,” Jake said. “If there’s something you two know about this –”

“So it is working,” Mr. Parker said. “Here, let me have a look at you, boy – let me –”

“Paul,” Mrs. Parker snapped, prying her husband off Jake. “I think we owe Jake an explanation.”

Jake looked up, glaring. So they had been hiding something from him. Worse still, it seemed his parents were responsible for this whole ordeal!

“Yeah,” he said, feeling his voice quiver. “I think it’s about time you told me what the hell you’ve done to us.”

* * *

Sarah stared into the mirror with her shirt and bra down, examining her breasts. They were little more than large lumps on her chest now, with a small nipple protruding from each. The rest of her reflection stood before her, too short, too childish – and behind her sat her parents, each trying to find words to explain why she was getting younger. Right now, she was feeling vulnerable. It seemed her parents had betrayed her, and with her growing youth she was becoming more helpless by the second.

“It’s a bit of a long story, honey,” her mother said, putting a coffee mug on the bench. “It started ‘cause Jake’s parents met the owner of Reminiscence.”

“I know,” Sarah whispered. “That’s what Matt said back at the hostel.”

“Really?” her father said. “Good, then you’ll know why he was arrested as well. ‘Cause of the drugs, right?” He scoffed. “I guess you could call them drugs.”

“They made people younger,” her mother said.

Sarah turned away from the mirror, covering her tiny breasts with her massive clothes. “So I... so we must’ve eaten some... but that’s impossible.”

“Not impossible,” her father replied, “and to prove it, he got himself arrested when they found samples of it in his hotel. Except he’d hidden a lot of it, and Mr. and Mrs. Parker knew him from high school. They went to visit him in prison, so sure enough, he got generous and told them where he hid the rest of it.”

The clues were starting to fall into place. Sarah looked back into the mirror. Two days ago her face had been totally normal; the next day it was only seventeen years old. And now it had jumped again – she looked about fifteen. If her parents were telling the truth – and they must have been, since it was the only explanation for this predicament – then how did they know about this?

There was only one answer. Jake, Cass, Matt and Sarah were all victims of a plot.

Their parents wanted them to be younger.

* * *

The concept kept swimming through his head; his parents had lied to him, his parents pumped him full of drugs, his parents wanted him to be a little kid again. It echoed throughout his brain, undeniably true, but impossible to accept. He’d been with his mum and dad for eighteen years, and never once had his faith in them slipped. Now they’d stabbed him in the back with some bizarre drug that caused people to reverse... regress.

Jake collapsed onto the couch, trying to steady himself.

“Jake, sweetie?,” Mrs. Parker whispered. “Oh dear, Jake, are you okay?”

“Why did you do it?”

Both his parents glanced at each other.

“Because of your HSC results,” Mr. Parker said.

“What –”

“Don’t get us wrong, honey,” Mrs. Parker cut in. “We were proud of you, really, we were. It’s just... your father and I went the same way. Now look at us – the best we can do is run a little hostel off town. We barely got through raising you.”

“Sarah’s parents felt the same way, and Matt’s,” his dad said. “Cass’s parents, well, they both got perfect scores in their tests. And look at them now – rich and not a problem in the world. We didn’t want you to get caught up in the same rat race we did. We didn’t want you to have to go through what we did.”

Jake collapsed back into the seat. Shit. He’d just gone through high school and FINALLY reached university, and now because of some magic drug and the presumption that only the best education can make you rich...

“So what’s going to happen to us?” he said. “What, am I going back to ninth grade again?”

They looked at each other again. That look of, ‘How do we break this to him?’

Jake stared at them. Somehow, he was starting to think this was worse than he’d imagined.

* * *

Matt’s parents were ready when he posed the same question to them. They already had a graph prepared, approximating the stages of his regression right down to its end.

“First day,” he muttered, tracing the line with his torn fingernail. The same fingernail he’d stopped biting when he was sixteen. “I get one year younger. Second day I get two years younger... Wait, that makes me fifteen?”

His parents nodded.

So he was barely an adolescent, and he’d only just left puberty. Unbelievable. He hadn’t seen the world from these eyes in three years, he hadn’t spoken with this voice in three years... more to the point, anyone would mistake him for a kid. Fifteen was too young for alcohol or driving. Too young for sex. Too young to even watch an R-rated movie.

Matt’s stomach lurched as he continued onto the third day. Twelve. By tomorrow he’d be a pre-pubescent kid. And then on the forth day he’d be nine.

How would it feel to be nine? Holy shit. That wasn’t even double figures. Matt would be half his real age, about half his real size, with just about no privileges. Forget cars – the most he’d be able to do as a nine-year-old is play with models. Forget sex – sex at that age would be nothing short of pedophilia. Forget alcohol – a drunken child was a travesty, and it would probably hinder his mental development anyway. And R-rated movies? He’d need to watch a PG-rated movie with one of his parents.

The impact of what was happening was only just starting to dawn on him. Matt wondered if he’d seen himself as an eighteen-year-old for the last time. If he’d tasted his last dose of food as an adult for the last time. His last beer, he couldn’t even remember. Hell, most recent events were a little foggy now. And now, just when he’d finished whining about the HSC, just when he’d settled in to a relaxing, pre-university lifestyle – he had to do it all again, he had to be a little kid until he grew up again.

It got even worse. The line started to even out – by the fifth day Matt would be seven. By the sixth day he’d be a six-year-old, back at the beginning of primary school. And finally, by the end of the week, he’d be around five and a half.

He stared at the last figure for a minute, taking it in. “Um... five?”

They nodded again.

“So in five days, I’m just a...” Matt swallowed. Even his saliva tasted sweet with his older taste buds. “I’m just a little kid. Another week and school starts. So that makes me –”

* * *

“– a kindergartner.”

Jake wasn’t quite as calm as Matt when he finished the sentence, though. Here were his parents – here they were with a revolution on their hands. A serum that could not only save lives, but a serum that could well make the whole family rich, rich enough to expel their worries of an unsatisfactory education. And because of his parents’ ignorance, he was on his way to becoming a little kid.

“When it finishes,” Paul said, “you’re gonna lose your memories as well. Education, gone. We’ve taken the same stuff, too, and we’re moving to Queensland. All four families. We’re starting a new life up there, and we’re getting a new history.”

“So,” Jake said through gritted teeth, “if I’m losing all my memories, what is the point of getting younger at all? Did it even occur to you two that I won’t do any better this time ‘round?”

“No – Jake – you don’t understand,” his mother said. She was hiding behind her husband now; Jake’s face had gone red. “You don’t lose everything. It’s been proven before – sweetie, just listen to me!”

“No.” Jake stood up and almost lost his balance – now that he noticed it, the floor was closer than it should be. And it was their fault. “You don’t even give a shit about my education. You just want your little boy back, and you know what, I’m not getting younger ‘cause of your fantasies!”

“Sit down,” Mr. Parker snapped. “Look, Jake, they’ve used the drug before. The kid’s education is accelerated like you wouldn’t believe. Kindergartners learn at the rate of first-graders. And by the time you’ve finished first grade you’ll beat any third-grade test. You’ll be more than ready for the HSC by the time you’re eighteen again.”

“Wait. Wait.” Jake closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This whole thing – no matter how extreme it was – was starting to tire him. “Okay. So it’s been done to other people before.”

“Anyone ill enough got it. Doctors fixed ‘em up mentally so they could deal with it.”

“So how come...” He stifled a yawn. Why did he have to get tired at a time like this? “How come the owner got arrested for it?”

“’Cause what he was doing was illegal,” Paul said. “He sprinkled a bit on the chicken, so whenever someone ate it they’d get about a month younger. Just enough to leave them feeling tired and blissful.”

“He never put the mental stuff in, though,” Mrs. Parker said. “That’s what makes you lose your memory. By the time we’re in Queensland you’ll be five. And five is very young. You’d hardly know the difference between states... Jake? Are you getting tired?”

Jake didn’t answer; he was too busy steadying himself on the couch again. He heard, “It’d be kicking in right about now,” before he drifted into unconsciousness.

* * *

Jake, Cass, Matt and Sarah spent the next few days drifting in and out of sleep. Matt woke up in the car long enough to deduce they were on a long trip, and he was about thirteen. He sat a little over five feet tall and his clothes were draped over him like robes. Yet it was getting harder to tell what was meant to be normal; when he opened his mouth to ask when they were stopping for a toilet break, it sounded normal. Everything was getting foggy to the point where nothing seemed real, and it was impossible to concentrate.

Sarah first woke a few hours after Matt did, and realised she must be around twelve by now. Her breasts had disappeared and she was dressed in preteen clothes; soft gray pants and a pink top with a flower carved into it. She managed to check on a miniscule hand size with no more rings before drifting off again.

Cass woke up crying around the same time, still shocked over what her parents had done to her. Her recent memories were starting to fade; already she was struggling to remember how old she should be, and most of her high-school education was gone. Her mother stopped the car and got out to comfort her until she fell back to sleep.

Jake, on the other hand, kept quiet for the first two days, gradually getting younger as he slept. Mr. and Mrs. Parker stopped outside their new house after ten hours of driving and hoisted the incapacitated twelve-year-old from the car, dragging him into a typical little kid’s room and dressing him.

He kept to his fitful dreams as his memories faded right into the second day. When he woke up, he was only ten years old and he’d forgotten just about everything. The fact that he was meant to be older itched on the edge of his exhausted mind... but how much older? Months? Years? Lying on an unfamiliar, disproportional bed with race-car covers and seeing himself dressed in a skin-tight unrecognizable primary school uniform unsettled him even more.

Their parents had the chance to witness the most amazing scientific phenomenon in history. Their own children grew younger before their eyes, bringing on exact replicas of their childhood. Thirteen years of growth were removed in a single week, stripping the kids clean of their maturity, their history, their education, everything.

They woke up several times between the ages of ten and five, each time demanding to know where they were before they went back to sleep. Each parent’s reaction was different. Cass and Sarah’s parents both felt ashamed of what they’d done, at least until the regression was complete. Paul tried to assure Gem that this has worked out for the best, and that it was exactly what they’d wanted – no flaws in the procedure at all. Matt’s parents, being their usual selves, recorded the changes between each day, noting how every aspect of his body changed and comparing it with old growth charts. This measure allowed them to estimate his approximate age, and it was declining on schedule.

By seven their clothes were changed again. The children were now just four feet tall. The moans they made in sleep reeked with the scent of innocence, every note expressing nothing more than a sleepy child with an immaculate kid’s face to match. Jake’s black dye gave way to his natural soft brown hair, a full shade than its natural colour while he was a teenager, while Matt’s blond hair grew again, into a perfectly trimmed style that slid down to his eyelashes. Sarah and Cass both lost their breasts totally, and their faces were just midway between those of a toddler’s and a teenager’s. No sane onlooker would have seen four eighteen-year-old kids who’d just finished the HSC.

When Jake woke as a six-year-old the next day, his mind was a mess. Fragments of memories from his teenage years were still being destroyed, and larger sections of older memories still remained. If he was six years old, how come he could remember his first day in high school? Or the first day he drove a car?

But if he wasn’t, why didn’t he remember much more than basic Maths and the alphabet?

* * *

They all woke around noon of the final day as five-year-olds. Each child was tucked in with their brand new pajamas, surrounded by the usual settings of a little kid’s room: stuffed toys, picture books, dolls and action figures. Jake and Sarah both wore Dry Nights, which they were used to, having worn them since they were toddlers. And apart from the problem of a different room and a different house, none of them noticed any significant changes.

Anyway, there was no time to worry about that. They were big kids now. They’d all be in kindergarten in a few days. Their parents’ plan had succeeded. Jake, Cass, Matt and Sarah were kindergartners, and stuck as children until they passed the HSC again.

Continued in Part Two.