Ngatea, New Zealand
It’s not nothing, it’s not a black void.
There’s plenty of data.
Far off, Evie can use her eyes to catch the pastel shades on the walls.
Up close, she can use her fingers to touch the wooden bars.
Closest of all, she can use her ears to listen to the tan, muscular man with his hands between her legs.
“Pop, pop, pop! Choice, ready to take on the world, aren’t you.”
No. That data is incorrect. Evie feels the opposite. Hung-over, a spinner, her memory is full of holes.
She lifts her head and learns something new; she’s wearing something pink and frilly, showing off her arms and legs.
Pop, pop, pop.
The man has fastened the snaps at the crotch with knowing, gentle fingers.
Additional data; the snaps make changes easier.
Evie squeezes her legs together, feels the bulk of a nappy.
So there’s that. So there’s mad.
“Let’s get you up and about, baby girl,” says the man, who’s good-looking but not right, who’s wrong every time he opens his mouth.
It have been easier if Evie had woken up a real baby. She could fall into that, she could let it take her mind as well as her body. Too insane to make sense of, the data would overwhelm her mind.
Looking down, it’s the same old body, five feet of physical assets that have gotten her out of difficult situations (difficult men) in the past. She looks good and she moves fast. So why does she feel so tired, so knackered?
The man reaches down. “Daddy Greg lift you out?”
How about this bloke? Evie doubts she can wink and flash her way. Because the looks he gives her is miles away from turned-on. Because this bloke is clearly nuts.
Evie opens her mouth, and for a moment it’s obvious that she won’t be able to speak, that her vocabulary will be reduced to nonsense sounds.
“Where am I?” she whispers, a sawdust croak. Her throat is dry but her question was clear enough.
She doesn’t get an answer.
“Here we go!” the man says brightly. He picks her up and Evie should struggle, she should kick and punch. She tenses her rusty muscles, ready for whatever comes.
Nothing. Nothing comes. The man lifts her over the sides of the cot and then she’s standing on the carpet in her bare feet, looking up at the man who has at least twelve inches on her.
At least. He must be six-three, six-four. And he must work out, or play rugby, or both, and it’s fair that Evie imagines the man out of his red polo shirt and blue jeans and in a male nurse’s uniform, someone kind but no-nonsense. Psychiatric nurse, someone to keep order at the funny farm.
Except it’s the man, not Evie, who’s forgotten to take his medicine.
“Hungry, baby girl?” asks the man. “Time for your bottle?”
Take it easy don’t freak out.
He’s too big to fight, unless she takes him from behind with something heavy, a blunt force to the head.
She’ll have to wait for an opportunity and hope that he doesn’t decide to rape her and cut her into pieces in the meantime.
Evie looks up at the man. “Where am I?” she asks again. Her voice is still gritty.
The man smiles down and brushes the back of his hand against her face. “Thirsty, Evie?” he asks, as if she’s asked him nothing, as if she never even opened her mouth.
He knows her name, which doesn’t mean much of anything. He must have her belongings, her phone and I.D.
Evie runs her tongue around her dry mouth. She needs something to drink, and maybe she does need a bottle. Something to take the sand from her throat and then something glass to smash over the man’s head.
Take it easy don’t freak out.
“Please,” she says, managing not to claw at his hand as he strokes her cheek. “What happened? How did I get here?”
Not What do you want? Not What are you going to do to me?
Those questions are asking for bad news, they’re asking for trouble. The man’s expression isn’t murderous, he seems a mixture of friendly and amused. But that can change in an instant, surely, with someone who has dressed her like this, who has kept her captive in his house…somewhere…dammit, Evie can’t even remember what town she’s in.
“Let’s get you some juice,” says the man, taking her hand, swinging it as if, for a moment, he’s the one who wants to play like an overgrown child, and then Evie feels a flutter of confusion as she smiles down at their hands, because swinging…is…fun.
Evie closes her eyes to blink the idea away.
They walk out of the adult-sized nursery and down a hallway.
She opens her eyes to keep from tripping and looks up as they pass a bathroom.
“Hey,” she says, digging in her heels and staring at her reflection. “What did you do?”
The man looks over her shoulder and it’s as if he finally understands her when he grins and says, “Your piggy-tails are beaut! I worked hard on those!”
Evie touches the hair tidily arranged in two braids, tied with pink ribbons that match her romper.
She groans. “I look like a giant toddler.”
“A sweet little princess,” replies the man, in the tone of someone confirming a toddler’s babbling.
She turns to face him. He hadn’t understood her after all, just connected the dots of her own line of sight combined with her hands touching her hair.
So if he treats Evie’s English like a foreign language, maybe he’ll understand gestures.
Evie points at herself, the pink outfit, the pigtails. “Why?” she asks bluntly. “Why?”
“Such a pretty girl,” the man says, nodding, and that could almost be an answer.
I’m making you pretty, and then I’m going to rape and murder you.
Evie stares around the hallway, looking for that blunt object. Her heart races and she forces herself – take it easy don’t freak out – to note that he didn’t actually say that. Bad, bad data.
“Come on.” She can feel a red flush of frustration fill her face as she waves at the chunky underwear between her legs. “Why?”
“Oh,” says the man, and he gives her an understanding nod. “Gotcha.”
He crouches in front of her and his fingers are between the cotton of her romper and her skin, poking under her nappy.
Take it easy don’t freak out take it easy don’t freak out-
“No!” Evie bats at the man’s hand, enough to make him stop, but only long enough for him to laugh and put an arm around her as he goes in again with poking fingers.
“Stop! I said no! Don’t touch me!” No blunt object. Just words and fingernails . She draws them down his arms, she is claws and screaming, she is a cat (a kitten) the man tried to pick up and put in a cage.
He will react badly to this, the mad man. He will drop his friendly expression and sweet tone, he will strike her, wind her, throw her against the wall. And then he will do whatever he was planning in the first place.
As his grip tightens, an arm around her shoulders, Evie knows she won’t play dead, she won’t hang limply and wait for it to be over. She doesn’t know how she got here, she doesn’t know how this man found her, but she does know that she’s a fighter.
“Ow,” the man says, and in one fluid action he swings her around and over his shoulder.
He will take her to his bedroom now, or to a ditch behind the house. Wherever he’s most comfortable. Wherever he keeps all the dead bodies.
“You scratched Daddy Greg,” he says, and his tone is all pique and zero crazed-anger. He sounds like he stepped on toy that hadn’t been tidied away, he sounds like Evie just spilled ketchup on her new dress.
He walks through to the living room and Evie can swing her arms and kick her legs, but it’s nothing, it just exhausts her in seconds. Her body is like a un-wound clock, she’s got nothing in reserve.
“Daddy needs to check your nappy, baby, although I can’t believe you tinkled, I just changed you.”
Evie she shuts her eyes tight in humiliation as the man reaches underneath her nappy. She must be drugged to be this weak
“Nice and dry,” he announces brightly, and then he chuckles. “Not for long, I expect.”
When the man smacks her bottom, it’s less a spanking and more a series of calming pats. Evie can feel the sensation but it’s not painful, just one more filling in her shame sandwich.
She looks over his shoulder and finds the living room looks ordinary, nothing special, unless you count the adult-sized baby furniture and equipment, the enormous baby-bouncer. A room made for an adult-sized ankle-biter.
If you count all that, then it’s insane.
The man sits Evie down in a plastic chair decorated with Dora the Explorer and the clicks on the TV with a remote.
“There,” he says, “It’s just started, perfect timing.”
Evie sits in the inflated chair and looks straight at the screen, anything but back at the man who has just touched her, assaulted her, who treats her like an infant.
She doesn’t even look when he hands her a plastic baby bottle, keeps her eyes trained on the TV.
“Take a shufti at this,” says the man, “It’s very educational. Daddy’s gonna put some cream on these scratches you gave him, and then he’ll be right back.”
Once he’s out of the living room, Evie examines the baby bottle. It’s filled with an orange liquid.
She sniffs at the nipple. A hint of fruit. She tries to unscrew the top but it’s too tight. She is as weak as a child.
Probably just juice. She should have a drink, put up with the ordeal of drinking from a baby bottle. Just enough to soothe her throat, to rehydrate her body and mind.
Probably just something to keep her weak and confused.
Before he rapes her. Before he chops her into bits.
Evie puts the bottle down and looks at her pink romper, the telltale bulge around her crotch.
She looks at the TV, startled.
And Evie knows, if it was the same man as the one keeping her an infantile prisoner, if the man on the screen was Daddy Greg, Evie’s not sure if she could keep her mind from falling apart entirely.
How about if the TV man said her name, what if he looked straight at her and said, “Hi, Evie!”
‘Daddy Greg’ would return to find his captive drooling and gibbering.
And then he’d probably rape and murder her.
It’s a different man on the TV. He’s wearing red overalls and a striped T-shirt. He’s smiling at her.
“Ready to play?” he asks.
Evie doesn’t answer, she’s not a real toddler.
“Awesome,” the TV man says, as she did answer him, as if she’s bouncing on her Dora chair with a moronic grin.
“I’m looking for a red circle,” the TV man says. “Can you help me find it?”
Evie replies, “Bugger off,” but she says it quietly, a whispered rebellion. Not loud enough to bring Daddy Greg back to the living room.
She sighs as the TV man wanders around his primary-coloured set, looking for something that couldn’t be more obvious, a painted shape on the wall of his fake house.
Or maybe it’s not painted, Evie thinks, peering at the shape, Maybe it’s a window. She groans, waiting for the TV man to find it, refusing to point with a helpful finger, refusing to call out and end his confusion.
She looks down from the TV, blinks at her crotch. The bulge between her legs.
“There it is!” say the TV man, but Evie doesn’t look up, not even when he says, “Thanks for helping!”
Because she shouldn’t be waiting for idiots to find red circles.
She should be waiting for opportunities to escape.
Like this one.
Evie stands up, wincing at the squeak of her legs on the plastic surface, and looks towards the hallway.
No sign of the man, but she can hear him, whistling to himself in the bathroom.
Maybe he’s not the bad guy. Perhaps he’s a victim just like Evie, except he’s been hypnotized to see her as a baby. Maybe this all someone else’s sick joke, someone watching her on hidden cameras.
Maybe. And maybe not. Evie doesn’t plan to stay and find out.
The front door is right there.
She should walk over, try the handle. It’ll be locked, but it’s important data.
Because what if it’s not locked?
But she can stand, right? No trouble there, and then as she walks over to a picture window, again, no trouble, just enjoying the view.
More whistling from the bathroom, more requests for infantile assistance from the TV.
Evie walks across the carpet, feeling the tickle of the carpet fibres on her bare feet.
The TV man doesn’t call her back; he’s not a magic trick, just a bad actor.
Greg doesn’t burst out of the bathroom.
Evie reaches the front door, and with her heart ready to burst in her chest, she tries the handle.
It turns, and the door opens without a squeak.
Evie looks out into a well-tended, fenced-in garden.
She hesitates, looks behind her.
What’s enough to be in trouble? What’s enough to go straight to Daddy Greg’s end-game?
Walking across the threshold, guaranteed.
But then something comes to Evie, data she hadn’t known existed; she’s used to taking risks, she’s used to be being sneaky.
As soon as she remembers this, her anxiety reduces.
She’s no piker. She’s not going to just sit in that ridiculous chair and wait for the rest of her live to happen.
One more look behind her, and Evie knows she’s leaving.
Her body may be weakened, but she can still walk, she can still run for her life.
She walks outside, closing the door gently behind her that might give her a few more seconds.
Evie she runs down the garden path, a few feet of red mulch that feels soft on her bare soles, and in a handful of seconds she’s at a gate.
There will be a lock here, of course, but she will climb over it, she will clamber and hoist herself in her pink, frilly, nappied glory, and she doesn’t care who sees her, as long as it’s not the maniac inside the house.
The gate isn’t locked. A simple latch that she can flick down with her thumb.
Her thumb poised, she takes a second or two, no more than that, to brush flakes of mulch from her feet and then look up and down the street.
Is it familiar?
She smiles. It’s a cul-de-sac. Only one way to go. She takes one more moment to look back at the house, a one-story home with a bushes below the windows before she thinks abruptly, Seen those before, and then her legs buckle and she falls back onto her bottom as she sees a satellite dish on the roof and barely has time to think, All the better to watch the TV man! before the other logical thoughts flash out of her mind and she blinks in confusion.
What is she doing? She spins around on her bum and paws at the wooden gate, reaching for the metal latch that no longer explains itself beyond reminding Evie that it’s shiny and that maybe she wants to taste it?
No, that’s yucky. She wants to go away, she wants to go home, but the nasty gate won’t let her.
Evie pouts, pulls herself up on wobbly legs, and the gate helps her now, something to hold onto, and she smiles. Good gate. It’s green. Green like the grass, not red like the path, and Evie wants to tell her news to someone, so they can smile and tell her what a clever girl she is.
So she just grins and giggle when the man opens the front door and comes jogging down the path.
“Silly chook,” the man says, “What’re you doing?” He crouches in front of her, wiping the leaves and bark from her feet and then looks at her face, his eyes filled with concern. “You can’t wander off without Daddy, Evie, you’re too little.”
Evie would register his concern, it might be contagious, making her lip wobble and eyes leak, but she’s far too busy telling the man about the green and red, babbling at him and pointing clumsily, only stopping when Greg picks her up as if she weight nothing and carries her back to the house.
“At least you’re sounding happier,” he says, “Thought you were going to pack a sad all morning.”
Inside, Evie looks around the living room, and she stops babbling about the path and the gate, the data no longer seems pertinent, as understanding about her situation returns and she struggles weakly in Greg’s arms.
“Daddy can’t have you wandering around like that. Better get you nice and secure so you can’t get into trouble.”
He’s so strong. And here’s a memory, like the bushes underneath the windows but far more alarming; hands pinning her arms to her sides, and then, an oxygen mask clamped over her face, except it wasn’t just oxygen, it was something else, a fruity scent making her arms and legs go to sleep, and Evie remembers using the last of her strength to turn her head and look into the face of her abductor.
Greg’s face. And she had heard Greg’s voice, and he hadn’t talked to her like she was a baby then, his tone has harsh and threatening.
You’re going to be sorry.
I’m going to make sure you never do this to anyone else.
“I’m sorry,” Evie whispers, “I’m really sorry, please don’t…”
“For your own good,” says Greg as he carries her past the Dora chair.
“Please!” Evie cries. Evie can imagine the ropes and shackles, and the feeling is so claustrophobic that she gasps for air, even though there’s no pressure on her chest.
“Duh..don’t tie me up!” yells Evie. Because that’s what the others look like, the bodies pushing up daisies behind the house, the bodies mouldering in a back room, a mound of skin and bone and rope and gags.
“There,” Greg says, and he lifts her into the baby bouncer, Evie looking at her new seat with wide-eyed surprise, feeling the cushioned plastic of the white chair against her skin, as she hears a clicking sound around her waist.
This is her new prison? This is how Greg will restrain her?
Her feet aren’t flat on the ground, she can lift her legs or let her balls of her feet rest against the carpet, making her feel as if she’s shorter, even though it’s plain as day, from the shape her body to her chest pressing against the front of her romper, that she still has her adult body.
Greg turns and goes over to the Dora chair, and Evie feels blindly around the bottom of the seat. If there are buckles keeping her in place, there’s also a spring cover that’s stopping her reaching them.
On the plus side, she discovers that the seat spins 360 degrees, allowing her full view of the living room and a way not to watch the stupid TV show, where the TV man is still looking for coloured shapes.
However, Evie’s spin provokes a tinkling noise from the seat, a melody like the slowest, gentlest of lullabies, accompanied by blinking lights.
“Not sure you deserve all those toys,” Greg says, returning with the baby bottle and gesturing to the collection of plastic animals – a spinning alligator, a lion teether, an elephant mirror.
“You were a naughty girl, running off like that. Daddy was worried!”
Evie looks down at the toys on the ledge in front of her, and it’s as if Greg interprets this as an act of contrition or sadness, because he puts a finger under Evie’s chin and says softly, “It’s okay, chook, you didn’t know any better.” He smiles at her and says, “Watch your TV show and be a good girl, okay?”
Evie nods, manages a thin smile, and is rewarded by Greg’s hand patting her on the head. “Beaut!” he says, and he pushes the bouncing chair on its wheels so that it’s in front of the TV.
“It’s educational,” says Greg, repeating his promise from earlier. “Soon you’ll be bright as a button.” Greg puts the baby bottle in her hands and gives her an approving nod before sitting down on the sofa and taking out his phone.
Swipe, swipe. He seems focused on his apps.
But he’s not going to leave Evie alone again. If she moves, the chair’s lights and music will let Greg know.
Evie looks at her bottle. It’s either drink or endure a raw throat, become even more dehydrated, wait for another episode like the one at the gate.
Evie puts the nipple in her mouth and for a moment she’s sure she won’t know how to drink from it, until a steady stream of fruit-flavoured liquid rolls along her tongue.
Nothing unusual or chemical. If anything, the flavour is natural but weak, as if the juice has been diluted with water.
Evie drinks more confidently, sucking thirstily, pressing down with her tongue, and the liquid is a cooling relief on her throat.
It’s also noisy, proved when Greg looks up from his phone and smiles at her.
“Corker,” Greg says, “what a good girl, drinking all your juice,” and Evie can only keep drinking, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment.
She watches the man in the red overalls and to her relief, she finds some new, and helpful, data.
First, she’s recovered from whatever struck her at the garden gate. She had been destabilised, unable to coordinate her thoughts or body, it had come from nowhere and affected her in seconds.
Her memories of her life before Greg are still a jumbled blur, but her thinking is clear and her hands relatively nimble. She spins the alligator toy on her chair to prove the point.
Second, while Greg refuses to recognise Evie’s English, he’s quick to respond to any childish behaviour.
He has pinched her memories, he is holding her prisoner, but he doesn’t seem to want to harm her. He looks neither lustful or murderous.
So if Greg is looking for a woman who behaves like a toddler, she’ll give him one. She’ll keep him happy, and just as importantly, she’ll lower his guard.
Another opportunity will present itself, as long as Evie stays in Greg’s good books, as long as she avoids another of those breakdowns she suffered in the garden (a combination of anxiety and dehydration?).
Evie finishes the juice, solving the latter problem, and takes a series of deep breaths to alleviate the former.
Be a good girl.
She can act. That’s more data. She is sneaky, she is used to lying.
Evie grins. Maybe she’s a lawyer. In which case she’ll prosecute the case against Greg herself, as soon as she gets out of here.
She puts on the sweetest of voices and waves her baby bottle, announcing to Greg, “Dwunk my boddle.”
She blushes again – that was too much, too silly – but Greg’s expression can only be described as one of delight.
“Brilliant!” he says. getting up from the couch long enough to take the bottle and kiss Evie on the forehead.
Evie makes herself smile at him, this kindy monster.
Amazingly, things could be worse. She could be dead. She could be raped. When she looks at Greg’s smile and kind, brown eyes, Evie knows that this man isn’t capable of either. He’s a gentle giant, one that just happens to want to keep an adult-sized baby in the house.
That’s all. No big deal.
“Wha-ching man,” says Evie, pointing clumsily at the TV.
“Good girl,” Greg replies, stroking Evie’s pigtails and arranging the braids so they fall down neatly over her chest. “What a good girl you’re being.”
He sits back down and Evie keeps her promise, watching the TV presenter.
“Will you help me?” the TV man asks, looking directly at her. “I’m looking for a green square.” He makes the shape with his thumbs and index fingers, and Evie would like nothing better than to bowl a cricket ball at his patronising face, but instead she bounces lightly in her chair, setting of a series of rattling noise and blinking lights.
“Me hep!” she calls over to the TV, and she watches Greg in her peripheral vision, sees him smile.
Make him happy. Make him trust you. And when it happens, take your chance.
Evie smiles too, spotting the green square without any trouble. The simplest of tasks, only the most weak-minded of children would be taxed by it.
She points with what is designed to be the most eager of hands. “Deh! Deh!” she cries, and when the TV man looks at her quizzically and then looks over to his left and gives an open-mouthed nod of recognition, Evie can’t help but feel the TV man understands her better than Greg does.
“You found it!” the man in red overalls says. “Thanks for helping!”
Evie feels a tingle, a silly tremor of pride that she shakes her head it dissipate. Christ, spend all day in this stupid chair with this stupid TV show and she’ll be a babbling mess for real.
Yes, just imagine. She’ll be stuck watching the stupid man who can’t find anything. Why does he need to find all those shapes anyway?
Evie narrows her eyes at the TV. What a stupid show – even when they find the shapes, they don’t do anything. What’s the point? She winkles her nose. The TV man is just being silly.
And yet, when the TV man says it’s time to say goodbye, when he waves at her and sings his goodbye song, Evie feels a twinge of regret.
It’s a silly feeling. She doesn’t know the man, he’s just on TV, he’s not really, real, just like the shapes aren’t really real.
But as the man’s image fades to black and the music fades, Evie feels sad all the same. What is she supposed to do now?
She looks down at her reflection in the elephant mirror and smiles at herself. All she has to do is be a good girl and Greg will be happy. All she has to do is pretend, and she’s good at that. She’s sneaky. Evie giggles through her fingers, such a tricky girl, and she admires her blond hair, those expertly-braided pigtails.
A good girl, just like Greg says. Greg’s much cleverer than the silly TV man, and Greg doesn’t disappear, he’s still there on the couch.
She feels pressure between her legs, a heavy bladder after the fruity juice.
Evie considers the absurdity of reporting this to Greg, of asking permission to use the toilet. What will he say?
Isn’t it obvious? Babies don’t need the dunny.
She smiles at Greg. He’s nice, even though he’s silly for thinking she’s a baby. Look at her! She’s got a big girl body, why can’t Greg see that?
Evie pushes out her chest proudly. She should tell him, tell him that she’s got big girl boobies and then he’ll believe she’s all grown up.
But that’s the funny thing about Greg. He’s not like other men, he doesn’t seem to care about Evie’s body. All he wants to do…
Evie blinks. All he wants to do…
Is keep her captive. Is turn her mind to jelly.
Was it something in the TV show that distracted Evie’s mind, sent it down a childish path? What on earth has she been thinking about?
Remember the plan. Be sneaky, be quick. Be good.
Be a good girl!
Evie twirls a pigtail with her fingers and feels her lips tug upwards into an innocent smile.
She reaches down and presses on her bladder, feels the hot tension.
Greg abducted her. He’s dressed Evie like an infant and expects her to piss yourself.
Evie flinches at the truth.
Greg stole her history, she can’t remember her old life.
She hardens her jaw.
The man is a thief, and even if Evie can’t remember what came before, she’s not going to let this man steal any more.
Get out of the chair. Be a cute sprog for Greg and then get the hell of here.