“Oh-vuh,” Evie calls out to Greg.

Greg looks up at her and nods. “Show’s over,” he agrees. “Play with your toys, Evie, have a bounce.”

Evie smiles sweetly and says, “Wanna pway owd.” She squirms in her chair.

Greg laughs and shakes his head. “Reckon you’re better behaved in your bouncy seat, chook.”

He looks back at his phone and Evie smacks the crocodile spinner with her bunched fist. “Peeth?” she asks, her voice higher-pitched, verging on a whine. And then she pulls out her joker. “Peeth, daddy?”

Evie earns a smile from Greg, but he still shakes his head. “You’ve got so many toys in your special chair, I bet you don’t even know how most of them work!” He points at the collection in front of her. “Have a squiz at them, Evie, Daddy Gregg has to send a message.” He looks down at his phone and Evie sticks out her bottom lip.

She can’t just sit here, batting at the crocodile spinner, admiring her juvenile hair-style in the elephant mirror. What next? Putting the lion teether in her mouth?

She has to get out of the chair, and when she thinks the problem over, there’s only one answer.

She’s so clever for sussing it out!

Evie looks down at her reflection in the elephant mirror and allows herself a moment of ferociousness, a reminder that she means business.

Will it be impossible, a humiliating step too far? When she looks at her reflection, her face goes red, her eyes shine with tears as she imagines reporting the news to her captor.

So she closes her eyes, breathes deeply, and reminds herself that she can pretend. She can sneak, she can hide the truth.

All she has to do is let go.

Relaxing on the cushioned seat, Evie keeps her eyes closed and imagines herself in the bathroom of a luxury hotel. She strokes her hair, and tells herself she just needs to pee and then she’ll go out the balcony to join the rich and handsome man she snagged with her perfect tits and a mouth that knows when to stay shut.

That does the trick. A daydream that pokes gently at the shadows of Evie’s memory, a picture of herself not buckled into an oversized baby seat. She’s glamorous, she’s cunning. Stealthy.

The urine comes, a steady stream and Evie can feel the trickling warmth soak her nappy.

Not so glamorous, the opposite of cunning.

But it’s okay. She keeps her eyes closed and goes with her date for cocktails in the downstairs bar, and then dinner, somewhere expensive, somewhere the man can be seen with such a prize, and then after she rewards him fully in the hotel room, he’ll sleep and Evie will…

She opens her eyes. She’ll do what?

It’s such a strange next step in her daydream that Evie shakes it away, her pigtails jiggling, and she rejoins the living room, the here and now, sitting in a wet and cooling nappy.

“Go to dreamland?” asks Greg, looking at her and smiling.

Evie giggles (a luxury hotel giggle) and shakes her head. She waves her hands awkwardly and announces, “Weh nah-pee dah-dee!”

Greg’s smile widens. “Did you?”

Evie jumps in her seat, setting off a sequence of buzzes and shaking noises from her chair.

The kidnapper stands up. “Let’s take a peek, shall we?”

Evie doesn’t protest, no scratches or screams as Greg unbuckles and lifts her out of the seat. Evie manages to smile, her hands around his neck as he checks her nappy, and there’s no question whether she needs a change.

“You’re so clever for telling Daddy Greg,” he says brightly, taking Evie through to the nursery and laying her down on an adult-sized changing mat. “Clever chook,” he says with a wink.

Evie squeals and kicks her legs playfully as Greg un-snaps her romper. “Nodda chook!” she shouts.

Greg gives her a theatrically uncertain look. “You sure? Look like a cute little chook to me.” He looks down at her crotch and says, “You got some on your clothes, you really had to go didn’t you.” He pulls off Evie’s romper and nappy and she is naked, lying on the floor with her abductor.

Good as gold? Yeah, right.

But it could be worse. It could be agony and murder.

Better than that silly daydream. That hotel fantasy didn’t belong to her, it must have been borrowed from a movie or novel. She’s not stealthy, she’s an open book. What felt like a lie, a planned mis-direct as she sat in the padded chair now seems like a perfectly natural result of drinking all that fruity juice.

Evie adds her own theatrical touch, sucking on her fingers as Greg cleans her nappy area with Wet Wipes. It’s cool but he’s gentle, and Evie has time to wonder when the last time a man looked at her body without a wolfish look, just wanting to help.

Wanting to make her clean. And why not? She’s not the hotel lady, she’s a good girl.

“There, you smell all pretty again,” says Greg.

“Aw pwitty,” Evie mumbles around her fingers.

“Pretty little chook,” says Greg.

Evie swings her legs up and smacks her nappied bottom. “pwiddy chook!”

Greg laughs. “Silly chook. But you’re all good.” He reaches for a pair of pink plastic pants that he pulls up her legs. “No more leaks for you,” he says.

Evie looks down at the crinkling sound. It happens when she moves her legs, when she twists her hips, and of course when she sits up and bounces on her bottom, reminding her of the special chair. One more trick arranged by Greg, but this time she’s not buckled in.

Greg holds up a pink dress that has a Peter-Pan collar and puffy sleeves. “Ready to be a pretty princess?”

Evie gazes at the dress that only a toddler would be happy wearing and swallows her instinctive rejection.

It’s better than being topless. Evie imagines running down the street in just a nappy, and feels a flutter of collywobbles. Let Greg dress her up like a doll. She’ll be gone the moment his back is turned.

“Pree-pree!” Evie babbles with what she hopes is an adorably infantile expression.

She can run as soon as she has the opportunity. It’s obvious Greg trusts her, believes in her baby-act. Won’t Greg feel silly when he finds her gone? Evie almost feels sorry for him.

Almost.

“Need sockies?” Greg asks, a pair of frilly anklets in his hands. He shakes his head at his own question. “You don’t need them, I think you’ve had enough walkies for one day.”

No walkies, Evie thinks to herself. Just runnies. Just escapies.

Should she feel guilty at the prospect of shattering his dream? No, come on, she’s played along for enough. What was he expecting, she’d do this for days on end?

“You know,” Greg says, “I wasn’t planning on doing this.”

Evie looks at him with wide eyes as Greg puts the socks down and picks the dress back up, smoothing the material in his hands. Is he about to tell her a story?

“When I found you, I thought, straight to the police. I mean, that’s what you deserved.”

Evie plants her thumb in her mouth to hide her confused reaction. She’s just a baby, she shouldn’t understand what he’s saying. But there’s only one person who deserves to belongs with the police, and it’s not the one wearing plastic pants.

His expression hardens for a moment and he says, “You looked so surprised when I put the mask over you face, but trust me, the last thing I was expecting to find was a some chick breaking into my place.”

“If I’d had someone with me last night, one of my specials…” Greg shakes his head, gives Evie a rueful look. “Sneaking through the window like you did, if you’d…” He exhales forcefully. “If you’d hurt one of my babies…”

Evie is breathing hard as well. She sucks on her thumb as she understands the terrible truth. She wasn’t stolen. She’s the stealer. She looks down at her legs, expecting to see scratches from the bushes underneath the windows where she broke in. Except she was wearing black jeans last night.

Burglars don’t wear nappies, or pretty pink dresses.

She touches her braided hair with her free hand; on a job she’ll tie it into a bun, like a dancer, to move without sound, to leave no evidence.  That’s data. That’s the information she was looking for but now doesn’t want.

She is a thief. She flirts and lies and then takes what she wants.

Evie’s eyes fill with tears. She’s not a good girl.

But she doesn’t hurt kids. She’d thought the house was empty.

“Hey, little chook,” Greg says softly. He pulls her onto his lap and hugs her, strokes her back and says, “It’s okay Evie, everything’s gonna be okay.  No scary police people. I had the gear, and the room was spare, and I thought, why not, teach you a little lesson.” Greg kisses Evie’s tear-stained cheeks and murmurs, “Standing there in the nursery, you looked like you belonged there.”

Evie whispers back, “Sowwy.”

“Good girl,” Greg says gently. “You don’t have to worry about any more grown-up things.” He takes something from his pocket and Evie finds a pink dummy being put between her lips.

“Mff”, Evie says, and it turns out she can still blush, she’s not finished with her embarrassment, and her face reddens as her voice is muffled by the plastic in her mouth.

And then she smiles. Because it’s all so silly and because she’s safe, despite everything. She’s forgiven.

Greg pulls away to look at her face.

“Yeah, no more pinching. Now you’re just a sweet little chook.”

Evie provides a suitably infantile smile. What a gentle man. He just wants to make her good. “Imma chook, dah-dee,” replies Evie agreeably, touching Greg’s face with her fingers. He’s not her father, but she’ll take him for a day. Someone to keep her safe, to help her back on the right track. She won’t let him down.

“Goo giwl,” Evie promises softly around the dummy.

“Sweet as,” Greg replies. “Not a naughty thought in that sweet little noggin, is there.”

Evie smiles and rests her head against Greg’s chest. And she decides, relaxing in Greg’s arms, enjoying the stroking and soft words, that she’ll stay a little longer, stay for the day. She can wait until tonight, until he’s asleep, before she runs – that’s her style anyway – but this time she won’t steal, she’ll leave a note. Something that says thank you, that she’s changed.

He laughs softly and says in a sing-song voice, “Picked the wrong house, didn’t you. Wouldn’t have stopped here if you knew I mentally regressed people for a living, hmm?”

Evie sucks on her dummy contentedly as Greg strokes her hair. She doesn’t have to think about naughty girls in hotel rooms, she doesn’t have to think about stealing. Instead, she imagines the other people Greg has done this to.

“I’ve done this so many times, chook, but I reckon you’re my favourite.”

Evie feels a giggle in her throat as she imagines a room filled with silly grown-ups acting like babies. Crawling around in their nappies, babbling and drooling. How many? And even more intriguingly, where are they now?

Evie’s eyes snap open.

Where are the others?

She looks around the nursery. An empty house, except for Greg.

Her pulse quickens until she solves the mystery herself. They’re not buried behind the house, they’re not rotting in a back room. Greg must let them go, he must let them all get back to normal. Because if you turn someone’s mind to baby mush, you can’t just-

“You’ll like the school,” Greg says, giving her an affectionate squeeze. “Lots of little boys and girls to play with. Well, they’re just like you. They’ve got big bodies but they’re all sweet and innocent in here.” And he taps her head gently. “They call it a school but really it’s just a place to play and have fun. No one really learns anything.”

Evie’s stomach churns, making  her queasy, threatening to end with a mess of orange-coloured vomit on the nursery floor.

How long to they stay at the school?

Greg gives her another squeeze and he sounds like he’s telling the climax of a fairy tale when he adds, “You’ll have fun with the other specials forever and ever, the end.”

Evie sucks on her dummy frantically.  

Take it easy.

She tries to take control of her breathing. She’ll hyperventilate, she’ll start gasping or screaming. Greg’s arms are no longer comforting, instead they feel like chains.

“No school today,” says Greg. “Probably time for you to take a little nap.”

Evie twists her head, she can’t bear to look at him. There’s the nursery window, the one she crawled through. Greg was right about one thing; she picked the wrong damn house to burgle.

As if coming to his senses, Greg loosens his grip. He puts the back of his hand to Evie’s forehead. “You’re warm, chook. Feeling right?”

Take it easy don’t freak out.

Evie looks at the man who wants to reduce her to a state of permanent idiocy and manages the biggest lie of her life. She smiles as if she trusts him, and then she grimaces and touches her throat. “Owie,” she says.

“Are you crook?” Greg asks, and then he sits Evie on the floor and gets to his feet. “Better check your temperature.”

He walks quickly from the nursery and Evie hears the bathroom door open.

Take it easy don’t-

Evie spits out the dummy.

Time to go.

She stands up,  steps lightly, stealthily to the nursery door and peers down the hallway. She can hear Greg in the bathroom, looking for the thermometer and Evie shudders as she thinks about how he plans to take her temperature.

The bathroom door is open. Run past and he’ll catch her.

Evie walks to the window and thumbs the latches, sliding it open.

A breezy, cool air enters the nursery, refreshing her mind but also reminding her that she’s about to leave the house bare-breasted, wearing just a nappy and plastic pants.

She glances at the pink dress, but really, is it any better?

The decision is made for her as Greg calls from the bathroom, “Found it!”

Forget the dress.

She’s stealthy. She’s sneaky. She’s not whisper-quiet, not with plastic pants, but she’s fast and agile, and she has no problem crawling through the window.

There’s more of that red mulch on the ground, Evie’s toes dig into it as she pushes her way through the bushes. It’s a red circle of mulch that surrounds the house, making Evie think of a protective moat.

And then it’s green grass, cut mercifully short, allowing Evie to race across the lawn and then there’s more mulch by the fence.

She looks across at the garden gate and a flickering memory makes Evie think of the shiny metal, the fumbled latch, and the red and the green she’d babbled to Greg about before.

Forget the gate.

“Evie!”

She turns to see Greg with his hands on the windowsill.

“Chook,” Greg calls sweetly. He doesn’t look angry. “Come back, let’s have a nice cuddle.” He smiles. “Don’t you want to try on your pretty dress?”

Yes, a little bit.

Evie grips the fence.

Cuddles are easier than running.

“Look what else we got,” says Greg, holding up another pink object. “Reins match  your dress.” He winks at her. “They’ll help you stay with Daddy Greg, stop you being naughty.” He grins. “No running after shiny objects, silly chook. Have to keep you safe!”

“Come on, Evie,” Greg says. He holds up the frilly outfit and waggles it invitingly.

It is a pretty dress, and Evie feels a simpleton’s smile curl her lips. She bends a leg to brush at the soles of her feet. So much of that sticky mulch.

“Good girl,” Greg says.

Evie can feel her awareness dimming, but she can still wonder why Greg doesn’t just come out of the house and get her. It’s almost as if he wants her to stay right there, standing in the garden half-naked like a shameless toddler, standing in the gummy mulch.

Does he want her to get sticky, does he want her to get all dirty so he can give her a lovely bubble bath?

And then he can dress her up properly, all pink and frilly.

Greg won’t have to run after her. He won’t have to chase. Because he’s a grown-up, he’s in charge. Because Evie’s a good girl.

Her smile broadens until Greg beckons to her with a curled finger, and Evie thinks, The way you get your puppy to come.

“Good little chook,” says Greg.

Evie shakes her head. Because she really isn’t. She’s a sneak. She’s agile.

“I’m not a chook,” she says, enunciating carefully, throwing the words at her captor. And it’s a relief to find her adult voice.

“I’m not yours,” she says softly, almost sadly. “You can’t steal me.”

“Evie, chook, come-”

She’s no chook. She’s agile, she’s a cat.

She jumps the fence.

Evie runs down the street, away from the cul-de-sac, feeling the pavement’s warm grit under her bare feet, her breasts bouncing unsupported.

What does she look like? Are people looking out their living windows, are they wondering at the blonde streaker?

Evie shakes off the humiliation. She decides to feel embarrassed later, when she’s safe, when her abductor is in handcuffs.

Ngatea, Evie remembers, a town in the arse-end of nowhere. Home to a bunch of dairy farmers, but also a service town for motorists from Auckland. A place to get picked up, the innocent woman on her own, needing saving.

“Evie, come back!” Greg’s voice comes after her, along with his body. He’ll be fast, but Evie is used to escaping and this time she’s running for her life. Her mental, adult life.

A crashing sound behind her, man against fence, and Evie knows that if Greg catches her, he might not be as gentle as before, he have her guts for garters, and she can hardly blame him.

All she has to do is find someone before Greg finds her. Anyone, any witness, no one will look at her condition and think everything’s fine, nothing to see here.

She arrives at an intersection and it’s more houses, more gardens, and no one in sight.

Which way to the main street, with all the cafes and shops and banks and…all the damn people? Her heart thuds in her chest. She’s not as fit as she was before she arrived in this stupid little town, before Greg got hold of her.

She stands on the edge of the pavement and looks both ways.

“Evie, don’t be naughty, don’t cross the street!”

Greg doesn’t sound out of breath, he doesn’t sound like Evie feels.

But Evie takes a second to look back, almost grinning, almost wanting to thank Greg for providing the answer. She does feel naughty, stepping onto the road without holding Greg’s hand but she’s not a baby, she’s not thick, and she doesn’t need Greg, she doesn’t need anyone.

She reaches the other side and races around the corner, and there.

A man and a woman walking ahead, holding hands, the man says something and the woman wearing a bright yellow dress laughs.

Evie runs after them. She hates to ruin their romantic moment – actually, she doesn’t care in the slightest – and she calls out, making them stop, and the man turns around, his eyes widening as she reaches them, while the woman continues to try and walk ahead, pulling on the man’s hand impatiently.

They will be horrified, both of them will hear her story and Evie will be safe.

She folds her arms self-consciously over her chest and opens her mouth to speak.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry, sweetie?” the man asks.

It’s not the outrage Evie’s expecting, this bland, condescending smile.

“I got…” Evie begins, and as well as being short of breath, she’s short on words, the words have gone up in smoke.

Where did her words go?

“I got…”  She puts a finger to her mouth, trying to concentrate as panic takes root in her mind.

“What, sweetie?” the man asks, and he’s nice but he’s silly, he should look much more worried.

Perhaps the woman will help, and just like she turns around, and Evie notices that it’s not a yellow dress but a yellow polo shirt, and then she notices that like her, the woman isn’t wearing any shoes.

The woman doesn’t help. She’s too busy twirling her pigtails with the fingers of her free hand.

Pigtails, just like Evie. But they’re not braided neatly and Evie feels a flush of pride. Clever Daddy. Evie giggles. And then she feels a cold rush of fear.

It’s happening again.

The woman looks shyly at Evie before turning to the man and saying, “Nakie lady, Daddy.”

The man smiles at the woman. “She’s not naked, Mia. Look, she has her pretty pink shorts on.” Then he turns back to Evie. “Where’s your daddy, sweetie?”

Evie looks down at herself as if she’s just remembered her state of undress.

“Noh my…” Not her fault. Stupid Daddy Greg’s fault. He’s the one who dressed her like this, although when Evie is honest with herself, it was her decision to leave without putting on her pretty dress.  

“Godda dwess,” says Evie, her tongue heavy, her head nodding as she speaks.

Evie covers her chest again, pressing against them with her hands, and shakes her head to clear the fogginess between her ears.

“Not shorts,” says Mia critically, peering down at Evie’s crotch. She looks to the man. “Not shorts, Daddy.”

No, They’re not shorts, they’re plastic pants. To cover Evie’s nappy. To stop her pee leaking out.

Evie peers back, looking at Mia’s bright yellow polo shirt and short navy skirt. There’s a logo on the shirt but Evie’s eyes are being funny, she can’t read the test. There’s a flash of white, a suggestion of a nappy, but otherwise Mia doesn’t look like a baby, she doesn’t look like Evie.

Mia, whose hair is arranged in childish pigtails, who calls the man beside her ‘daddy’, is still a big girl compared to Evie.

Take it easy?

Evie shakes her head again, wipes her sticky feet on the ground, rewarded with enough clarity to understand that the mentally reduced woman in front of her goes to the special school. The place Daddy Greg wants to send her.

Evie stamps her foot and says crossly, “Big girl,” and she feels a surge of confidence at how well she says the words. She nods with emphasis and repeats, “Big.”

The man shakes his head. “Too little to be out here by yourself,” the man says, looking over her shoulder. And then he waves, and Evie looks behind her to find Greg closing the distance between them.

He’ll be with them in seconds.

What’s the word she needs? Before Daddy Greg arrives and pretends everything’s normal? He’s so clever and Evie’s so stupid right now, at least until she can have a lie down, a little nap and a cuddle, and then she’ll be bright as a button again.

She wipes her feet against the ground. Stupid, sticky feet. And then, to accompany the steady loss of intelligence that leaves Evie’s world smaller and smaller, she has a flicker of inspiration.

“Stealed!” Evie blurts. That’s the word.

She points an accusing finger at the man walking towards them. The man carrying a frilly pink dress and a set of pink adult-sized reins.

She points with both hands, forgetting about her exposed chest. “He stealed me,” she whispers to the man and Mia as Greg arrives.

He’s barely out of breath and exchanges a smile with the other man, “Hey, Liam,”  and then winks at the woman in the yellow polo shirt; “G’day, Mia-Mia! Did you find my little Evie?”

“Yes, Unky Greg,” Mia says, bouncing on her feet. She wasn’t interested with her daddy talking to another girl, but she clearly knows and adores Greg. 

They all do. Probably the whole town. No one here is going to rescue Evie.

“Clever girl.” Greg smiles at Mia before he gives Evie a firm look and says, “Naughty chook, running away from Daddy Greg like that.” 

Evie whines with frustration.  “Nodda chook,” she insists, swinging her hips defiantly. She looks away from all of them and finds herself facing a shop-front with a log made up of a red circle and yellow square.  And Evie feels a sudden sadness at having left the TV man alone. What if he still needs her help?

The distracting thought leaves her mind open to the final effects of the drug she has absorbed through the soles of her feet.

“Put on your dress so you can show everyone you’re a little girl and not a chook.”

When Greg pats Evie’s head and talks to her so sweetly, Evie’s face relaxes and she smiles as the defiance and remaining intelligence falls away, leaving her with a glassy-eyed expression.

She sticks up her hands, as if surrendering, and Greg puts the dress over her head, threading her hands through the sleeves and then buttons up the back.

“There,” says Greg, “You were right. Definitely a little girl.”

Evie strokes the skirt of her dress with a pleased expression. “Giwl,” she mumbles, not caring that the dress doesn’t come close to covering her plastic pants.

“Let’s clean your footsies,” says Greg, and Evie doesn’t resist as Greg sits the mentally reduced woman down on the ground and takes Wet Wipes to her feet.

“Tick-wee!” Evie squeals delightedly.

“Need to get all that sticky red stuff off,” Greg says. “You’re getting littler by the second.”

Evie doesn’t resist, merely looks at her feet with an increasingly blank expression.

“All clean,” Greg says, running his fingernail up Evie’s soles, earning an open-mouthed chortle. “All that mulch, you’re away with the fairies, all those big girl thoughts went cheerio didn’t they.”

Evie validates Greg’s point when she lifts her right food and sticks her big toe in her mouth.

The two men and Mia all laugh, and Evie isn’t sure why, but she likes being funny and so she laughs as well.

Mia’s daddy asks, “Nummy toes?”

Evie giggles around her foot, drool running down her chin. “Nuhhh-eee!” she squeals.

It’s Mia who points out the obvious. From her standing position, she points at Evie imperiously, and says, “She’s a baby.”

Without the mental capacity to be offended, Evie continues to play with her toes.  

Greg nods. “She won’t be in your class. Evie’s going to be with the very little ones.”

Evie just smiles as Daddy Greg strokes her back and whispers to her, “I think you were only pretending back at the house.” He kisses her cheek. “But you’re not pretending now, are you chook.”

Greg gets Evie to her feet and gives her something more hygienic to suck on, her favourite dummy, and then fastens the pink reins over her dress so that she won’t get lost again.

Evie blinks slowly and runs her fingers over the reins. She wears the reins because Daddy Greg says so, because she’s just a silly little chook. 

“Thanks for catching her,” Greg tells the man, who waves him off.

“No worries. It was obvious she’s special,” the man says. “Just like my Mia.” And he pats the woman’s head affectionately. “Are you fostering?”

“That was the plan. But she’s so precious, I’m going to adopt her myself. You want to stay with Daddy, don’t you princess?” 

Greg gives the grown woman a pat on her bottom and Mia giggles when she hears the rustle of the plastic pants. Evie giggles as well, drool leaking out from behind her dummy, understanding nothing except that she belongs to Daddy Greg. Forever. That’s all that matters. She can’t imagine why she would want to try to run away.

Silly, naughty Evie.

“You’re welcome to come round and play when you want, Mia-Mia.” Daddy tells the big girl in her smart yellow top; “I know you’re bigger than Evie but you can help me dress her and feed her.”

“Just like your dollies, sweetie,” says Liam.

Mia’s eyes light up at the prospect, while Evie just smiles, mercifully incognizant of the humiliation of being a giant doll for a mentally handicapped woman.

Daddy and Evie wave bye-bye to Mia and Mia’s daddy and they head to the chemist so Daddy can buy more nappies. Free from doubt , free from uncertainty, Evie toddles a little ahead of Daddy. Her thick nappy causes her to waddle and every movement brings a noisy rustle that no longer bothers her, not even when it causes others to look at her. They don’t seem bothered either and just smile kindly, saying hello to Daddy before walking on. 

She sucks happily on her dummy, smiling and waving at passersby. She babbles nonsense which Daddy understands because he talks back to her, saying what a sweet little chook she is.

All Evie has to do is enjoy the compliments everyone gives her about her frilly dress and the occasional pats to her head and bottom. She knows Daddy will keep her from going too far ahead, just the gentlest tugs on the reins keeps her from getting lost. Daddy will make sure Evie stays a good girl from now on.

 

                       THE END