Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Not-So-Guilty Pleasure l Part 3: Fight or Flight

Returning to the game was a pretty traumatic experience. For one, Angie apparently hadn't considered the fact that the temperature was approaching the negatives when she chose my outfit - the jeans were fine, sure, but I was running around barefoot and in a flimsy t-shirt. It wasn't quite so noticeable inside where it was sheltered from the elements, but the minute I took my first step into the open the reality of my situation began to dawn on me. Stepping out onto the exposed concrete was like walking out onto a frozen lake. It was wet from the rain and cold from the wind, and to be blunt, that pretty much summed up the entire world and it was fucking terrible. I drew my arms around myself as best I could as I entered the stands to ward off the chill, but it was really no use. At the tender age of seven, I was all skin and bone, and it was going to take a hell of a lot more than Ben 10 and his army of freaks to protect me from Antarctica's cameo in Australia.

It sucked a fat one, but even with that said, returning to the game would have been fine...if the game itself was going well. It would still be traumatic, but it would be a bearable traumatic.


But it wasn't. We were losing, and that was something worse than any storm could ever be.


When I had last laid eyes on the scoreboard, we were more or less tied. We'd just caught up with the visitors and were in the process of creating a buffer zone...but Jesus, something had gone very, very wrong while I was busy dealing with my psychotic girlfriend.

Eighty four.


To.


Thirty.


Three.


My face went pale as I found an empty seat and sat my tiny ass down in the puddle that had accumulated on it, and it wasn't from the cold.


What had happened? How could this happen? All thoughts of Angelina, of my current predicament, of the fact that hypothermia was a very real possibility abruptly fled my mind as I grappled with the fact we were losing. We had gone undefeated for a long, long string of games this season, and this was how that was going to end? With mounting horror, I quickly analysed the situation as I tried to rationalise how such a shit day could meander further down the shitter.


There was twenty minutes left on the clock (naturally, the fourth quarter had only just started) and our guys were exhausted. I was miles and miles away from the action, right at the very top of the stands where the players looked like little more than colourful ants, but that much seemed blatantly clear all the same. We had been struggling to draw into the lead when I left, and apparently that struggle had only gone downhill in my absence, because right now I could see the men of my dreams lagging like I never thought I'd see them lag. As I watched, the umpire flung the ball back into play from the out-of-bounds ring, and before I could so much as open my mouth to scream a well-honed battlecry, the opposition had snatched the yellow dot that was the ball from the air, kicked it away, and...and...


And then they scored. Six points to the visitors.


Ninety.


Fifty-seven points ahead.


Maybe it was the cold. Maybe we were so far behind that we'd just given up. Maybe the game was rigged. Maybe the opposition was taking their 'supplements' again. Whatever. It was with great sadness that I shrank into my seat as visiting fans around me exploded with euphoria, enthusiastically waving their black and red paraphernalia in what looked like a group attempt to shake their limbs free of their sockets. I made myself as small as possible as the world erupted with joy, because I, Joel Stone, was losing.


I felt like crying.


I was trying to tune the cruel world we live in out of my mind, but it didn't escape my attention that the guy next to me seemed as joyless as myself. I analysed him without much interest as the visiting fans gradually settled down and returned to their seats (why were they so fucking excited anyway? They'd already won, really) with soulless eyes. He looked traumatised. Like he'd just seen a ghost, to coin a phrase.


You and me both, buddy. You and me both.  


He was a tall, grizzled man with a two-day-old stubble and short, cropped hair that made him look like he'd done a stint in the army. His face was scarred and leathery and he was wearing a thick coat that obscured any bodily information I might have been able to derive otherwise. The sight of that coat forced me to realise that I was sitting out here in Hurricane Essendon in next to nothing. I eyed it enviously for a moment. Suddenly, that black padding with the gold crest seemed like the greatest thing in the world. God, wouldn't that be nice to have on right about now?


Hang on. Gold crest?


I had been in the process of looking away, but my head snapped back. Gold crest indeed. That was the stadium's logo...he was security.


I suddenly realised he hadn't been there a minute ago. I'd had to walk past that seat to get to mine, and it had been empty when I'd done so.

My next realisation was that I was a seven year old kid, underdressed for the occasion...

...and alone.

There might have been icicles growing on the ceiling, but I began to sweat.


At that moment, Mr Security turned to look at me. I instantly turned away (not looking sir, I swear, honest!) but he must have noticed, because from the corner of my eye I saw a faint grin cross his face. He didn't look away.


"Enjoying the game, son?"


Hesitantly, I turned back to face him. He was smiling gently, and although I was sure it was meant to be comforting, it was perhaps the most terrifying expression I'd ever seen on another human being's face. He saw a lost kid, and he had every intention of doing his duty as an upstanding citizen of society to hand me back over to my psychopathic lover. She'd thank him, chastise me for running away from and scaring my 'dear mother,' and then she'd hand me over to her lesbian friends to re-raise as a legit kid, and that would be the last anyone ever heard from Joel Stone. All because this guy had to stick his nose into business that didn't concern him.


A true hero.


Still. If I played my cards right... "Can't say I am," I answered with a forced smile. My heart was about to implode. "We're sixty points down, mister."


He nodded, and the way his face fell at the mention of being so far behind on the scoreboard instilled a faint hope inside me. Maybe he had just happened to drop in on the game. Maybe this was all a coincidence. "I'm with you," he said with a sigh. He turned away from and slumped down into his seat, his hands clasped in his lap. "I thought we'd go all the way to the finals unbeaten. The fuck is this?"


I smiled politely.


There was an awkward moment of silence, and I decided that it was as good a chance as I was going to get. "That's my dad's seat, mister," I improvised. I twisted my smile into something I hoped looked apologetic. "He'll be back in a minute, so you might need to move."


Mr Security's smile dropped a little. His cheek twitched. "Is he now?"


"Yes sir."


He turned away from me to look at the game, but he didn't move. For a long, long minute, we both turned our attention to the field. The opposition scored again as we watched, inspiring another dramatic flourish from the black-and-reds.


"You're not really a kid at all, are you? This is actually happening."


I froze.


He chuckled softly. "You thought I was here to take you away, didn't you?" he said gently. "I'm sorry, it wasn't my intention to lead you on. I just had to be sure you were the guy I'm after."


He knows who I am?


I met his eyes, suddenly feeling a lot more than faint hope. Could...could I actually be in the clear? Was it possible? "And how do you know I'm not some seven year old waiting for his dad to get back?"


"Because you've only just rocked up," he answered promptly. He pointed down the steps towards the railing, where an usher was watching the game from the balcony. As I watched, I noticed her throw a curious glance over her shoulder...and when she saw me looking, instantly flicked her head back around. "Because she's been here all night, and she saw you come in just now, and she saw you do it alone. That means your dad doesn't exist, and that means you're lying to me, and because you're lying to me, I think you're the guy I've been keeping an eye out for. I think you're scared someone's going to try and reunite you with your lady friend."


Holy shit. Everything was going to be ok.


I didn't know what to say. "I don't think I've ever been so happy to have someone tell me they know they're being lied to, Mr...?"


"Reece," he said. He smiled genuinely at me, and I returned it. I don't think I could have stopped myself even if I wanted to. "Dennis Reece."


"Joel Stone. Pleasure."


We shook hands.


The smile had totally disappeared from his face by the time he slunk back into his seat, and he suddenly looked deadly serious. "Mr Stone, I'm sure you're wondering how in the hell I managed to find you, so let me do my best to explain my role in all of this. I'm the head of Event Security here. At the beginning of the second quarter, we were contacted by a concerned lady who seemed to think the woman sitting in front of her had drugged her husband. She said the man made a scene over something his partner gave him, then he passed out, and then the woman in question dragged him away. She seemed to think it was odd this lady would physically carry him off instead of contacting First Aid and having them organise a stretcher."


As you would.


"Well, we did too. We brought up our CCTV footage and checked it out," he went on. "And lo and behold, that's exactly what appeared to have happened. I haven't got the faintest idea how she was planning on getting away with that - hardly subtle, don't you think? - although I s'pose she simply assumed she'd be out before someone intervened. She probably would have been, too, if she was a little more careful when you came to."


He paused. "While we're on the topic, we couldn't make out exactly how she drugged you purely because of the video angle. Could you - "


"She spiked my drink."


"Ah," he enunciated flatly. "Ok. That makes sense. Anyway, we followed her from the stands to the woman's bathroom on camera...and would you believe me if I said the man she was carrying appeared to be getting younger as she did this?"


I would indeed.


He wasn't bothered by my lack of participation and went on with his soliloquy all the same. I was perfectly happy to let him - he was basically explaining why I was a free man, after all. I was beginning to feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, as you might imagine, and I was well and truly content to let him lay it all on the table. "It sounds crazy, and it looked crazy on tape, but there was really no other explanation for it," he said. He shook his head wondrously, as if he couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth. "The person she was carrying was shrinking, and by the time she was in the women's toilets, it looked like she was carrying a young kid."


He looked at me pointedly.


"Mr Reece," I said weakly. "I think I love you."


He smiled faintly. "Glad to hear it," he said. "We'll come back to the shrinking later, though. The fact you've somehow been turned into a kid isn't the important thing at the moment."


"While we were watching everything up to there on camera, you must have been on the run in real time," he went on. "This looked like an attempted kidnapping, and naturally that's the sort of stuff we're going to investigate, so we put out a word to all staff to keep an eye out for unattended children - especially ones going around barefoot - and a woman that matched the one we saw on camera and to bring them in if they were located. It just so happened the unattended child stopped for a breather where I was stationed."


"Did you get Angie too?" I could hear the eagerness in my voice.


He grimaced. "Not yet."


He hesitated then, and physically moved his body to face mine. He leaned down to my level before saying, "Mr Stone...judging by the fact she drugged you and by the way you ran away, I think it's pretty obvious this was against your will and that this was indeed an attempted kidnapping. Can you confirm that?"


"Consider it confirmed."


"Ok. Good. Well, before we go after your friend for answers - "


"She's not my friend." It was out of my lips before I could stop it. Angelina was no friend of mine. Not anymore.


"Yes yes yes," he waved his hands impatiently. "Before we go after her, whatever her relation to you, I need to know just what in the hell is going on, because quite frankly, we're all scratching our heads behind the scenes trying to piece everything together. People don't just grow younger, and yet you're living proof that's not true. Would you mind coming backstage with me to clear some things up?"


"No problem whatsoever," I answered without pausing to give it a second thought. I gave him a grateful smile. "You're saving my ass, dude. You've got no idea what she's trying to do to me."


He didn't smile back. "No, I don't," he said. "Which is why I'd appreciate some answers, because...Jesus, son, were you really an adult an hour ago? Is this for real? I can't quite believe you're not a little kid, and if this is some joke..."


The world exploded around us as we were scored against yet again. I smiled grimly at him through the cacophony. "Mr Reece," I said. "This is about as real as it gets."



*

We had just clambered to our feet when a mindless jingle that could only be a ringtone announced its presence from deep within Reece's voluminous jacket. He grimaced and gave me an apologetic smile before opening himself up and pulling out an old-fashioned flip phone.


"Carlos? What? Yeah, it was our guy, he's with me now. Look, I appreciate your interest, but don't you have other things to be looking - huh? Really?"


I raised a questioning eyebrow. He ignored it.


"I...don't believe it. Jesus, that's fantastic! And you thought we were looking for the needle in the haystack, eh? We'll be right there."


He hung up and closed his phone with a dramatic flourish. A wide grin began to cross his face.


"What?"


He finally looked my way, and I could see the disbelief on his face. "Mr Stone," he said. "If this were a story, this is the part where the audience screams dues ex machina and writes it off as having jumped the shark. We have one Angelina Black in custody. She's just been dropped off and Carlos - he's the guy holding the fort while the rest of us are out and about - is taking care of her."


He shook his head a barked a short, shocked laugh. "You're a lucky man."


I stared.


Holy crap. 


They had Angie. Everything was not only going to be okay...it was going to be better than okay.


Reece laughed again, this time in genuine amusement at the look of my face. He clapped me companionably on the shoulder. "Come on little man," he said with a wink. "Let's go pay our resident witch a visit."


Things moved very quickly from that point onward.



*


As it turned out, Security was based on the far side of the stadium (almost directly opposite where we were sitting, in fact), and so it took us a good fifteen minutes to make our way around the grounds. We didn't talk much as we walked - Reece said he'd rather wait till he had a notepad in front of him so he could review my story later - and as such, we trekked our way through the corridors and down the stairwells in an agreeable silence. I liked it that way. It gave me the opportunity to ponder the situation for the for the first time without the stress of being caught or the exertion of my flight hanging over my head, although admittedly I did have to walk a little faster than was comfortable to keep up with the Head of Security. I only had little legs, after all. 

The final siren went off right as we arrived, and I felt my heart sink as the visitor's theme song immediately began to blare at stupendous volumes throughout the stadium. We'd lost. We'd gone unbeaten for so long, and yet we'd lost. Lost bad, in fact. When we'd set out tonight, I hadn't expected anything more than another victory for the boys that I could drink to. It was something I had started to make a habit out of - nine games unbeaten, nine post-game sessions at the pub. Now I wasn't going to get the opportunity to do that a tenth time, and it wasn't because of the lack of curly hair where curly hair grows. We'd been undefeated for so long, after all. Why would that change now?

What an abysmal night this had been.

I was so immersed in the depths of my depression that I didn't notice Reece try the door...and find it locked. I heard the metallic rattle of protest from somewhere seemingly far, far away, and it wasn't till my new best friend grunted in surprise that I fully returned to the situation at hand.

"Locked," he muttered. He began to dig through his pockets for the keys.


"Shouldn't it be?"


"Well...no, it shouldn't," he said. He produced a keyring and began to examine them one by one, flicking them out of the way as necessary. Each repetition of this produced a distinct 'clink!' of metal on metal, a cold, lifeless sound that did little to lift my spirits. "People need to get in to report their problems, and we need to get in to take care of those problems. I guess Carlos figures it's best to keep everything under wraps for now, considering the - um, we'll go with unusual, shall we? - unusual nature of this case."


He found the right key and finally unlocked the door. It swung open without fanfare. "He's a bit of an odd one," he added, looking back at me. "Carlos, I mean. He's the 'let me help even if there's nothing to help with' type. You know? The well-meaning-but-clumsy guy that has a tendency to fuck things up when their trying to help. 
He's not the guy that I'd like in on this type of situation, but unfortunately he was the one monitoring the camera feeds when we needed to look through them. I was content to have it be just me and other Head of Security - Daniel, you'll meet him later when he's back from his rounds - know exactly why we were looking for you and Miss Black, but I guess it's too late now, eh?""

I looked up at my saviour, not entirely sure why he was telling me this.


He sighed. "Moral of the story, he's going to be all over you," he revealed. "
He's going to be thrilled that he's involved in something he normally wouldn't be invited to be involved in. Consider yourself warned."

"Oh. Right."


We went inside.


Security Headquarters were remarkably less interesting than I had been expecting. It was a drab, concrete room lit by the cold glare of fluorescent strips overhead and consisted of a lobby furnished with three rows of seats and a reception area protected behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass on the far wall. There was an opening on the left of this desk which led to a steel-plated door, and on the right of it was was a hallway that meandered off deeper into the bowels of the stadium. From where I was standing I could see an empty cell behind tarnished metal bars through there.

The room was empty.


"Carlos? My man, where are you!" Reece called out, pushing the door shut behind me as I walked through. The background noise abruptly fell away as he did so, leaving us beneath a blanket of silence that suddenly seemed remarkably oppressive. Our footsteps echoed ominously through the nothingness as we began to move to the reception area, each step clicking through the quiet like the cocking of a shotgun.


"Hello? Carlos? You can't have just locked up and then go for drinks, surely. You're better than - "


That was when Angelina stepped out of the hallway.


She was holding a gun.

It was pointed at us.


My first thought was that Angie looked terrible. Her hair, normally the most immaculate, regal mane of lusciousness, was frazzled and eccentric, framing a face that was far too pale and bejewelled with wild, staring eyes. She looked half out of her mind, high strung and ready to snap at the slightest inclination...and quite frankly, we could very well be that inclination. An ambush gone wrong would easily provide all the justification she might need to pull the trigger. In that moment, everything went very quiet and very still, and it was easy to see that this was a woman far gone enough to prove she could use the weapon she held.


I also noticed (more unconsciously than not) that since I'd last seen her, she'd dumped her jacket, and was now wearing only her jeans, a thin t-shirt, her backpack...and, oddly, her gloves. Not suitable for the weather, at all, but when you got down to it, the weather wasn't really the thing concerning her at the moment. It was convenience.


All the better to hunt down a runaway child, huh Angie? I thought with growing horror. You've totally, totally lost it. Holy crap. 


"Hands up," she barked. "Don't you dare radio for help, Mr Security, or I swear I'll put a bullet between your fucking eyes. Hands. Up."


Reece was clearly thinking the same things that I was. All the blood face visually drained from his face in the time it took for my crazy ex to make her dramatic entrance, and suddenly he didn't look like the muscle-bound hero he'd been just a minute ago. He looked terrified...but he took a protective step in front of me all the same. "Ma'am, I assure you - "


"I said put your hands up, and don't you dare take another step. Trust me, I am not fucking around." To prove the point, she cocked the gun. It clicked audibly in the silence, and she laughed. It was a sound like breaking glass. "I've never shot someone before, but I've never had reason to do it, either. Are you going to make this easy or not?"


There was a very noticeable shake in my rescuer's arms as he slowly raised his arms in the air.


"Good. Now, you," she turned her attention to me, peering around Reece's body. "Get over here where you can't run off, will you?"


I didn't budge, paralysed by fear. Jesus. Had it really come to this? I mentally tried to calculate the distance between myself and the door. Could I make it? It wasn't that far, and Reece was between us, and surely there would be -


She turned the gun on me. " So help me, you get one chance, Joel. Move."


Yep. It had come to this.


I began my walk, doing my best not to shake in the process.


"Good boy," she said as I crossed the distance between us. The mockery was clear in her voice, and without taking her eyes (or the gun) off of Reece she ruffled my hair with her free hand as I passed. I instinctively recoiled. No fucking way was she going to touch me.


"I never would have picked you as the batshit insane type, Angie," I said nervously to her back as I assumed my position in the doorway leading to the holding cells. I was aware as anyone else that it sounded ridiculous coming from my pipsqueak voice, and they were incredibly brave words for someone on the brink of wetting themselves out of fear (and considering the size of my bladder at the moment, that wasn't as far fetched as it sounded), but I didn't care. My girlfriend was holding a gun on me. Some things needed to be said. "What the fuck is this?"


She laughed without humour, never looking away from Reece. "'This' is what happens when you treat your girl the way you have," she said. "Now you wait right there, okay?"


"You threaten them at gunpoint?"


I was promptly ignored.


Quick as a darting snake, she crossed the distance between herself and Reece, pinning him in place with the gun's sights all the while. He took a step back reflexively, and for a second I had the horrifying thought it might be enough to cause her to twitch on the trigger just a little too aggressively...but she just shook her head and jabbed the barrel in his general direction. "Jacket off and empty your pockets," she sighed. "Make it quick."


"Would you mind telling me what you did with Carlos, ma'am?" Reece asked politely as he shed his jacket. It crumpled to the floor between the two adults in the room, and Angelina quickly kicked it away into the corner. I watched it fly with dismay. This wasn't going to end well.


"Carlos?" she questioned. "The guy you had in here? I did nothing at all, it was his own damn fault. He figured it was his prerogative to go through my backpack, and being the absolute paragon of intellect that he is, decided that he'd have a sip of my Coke while he did so. All I did was tell him that I'd fix him up if he let me out to help him."


I winced. Right. They hadn't been able to see how she'd regressed me on camera and he wouldn't have seen it coming. Terrific.


"And did you?" there was a definite quake in the voice of my hero. She didn't have to answer for both of us to know the answer. She was holding his gun, after all.


"You'll see," she sighed again. "Look, contrary to popular belief, I like this as little as you do. If your new best friend hadn't have opened his mouth and ran for help, none of this would have had to happen. No one would have had to get hurt. Just get a move on."


There was something about that comment that struck me as odd, but I was too deep in the throes of terror to question it too intensely. I mentally tucked it away for future examination, busy praying she didn't get impatient and decide a bullet was faster than waiting for Reece to undress.

Angie continued to strip the man before her of anything that might interfere with her plan, and a minute later, she decided that she was done. She waved Reece over to me with a flourish of her gun. With not a small amount of despair I noticed that she'd successfully relinquished him of his phone, his walkie-talkie and his own gun. All three items sat on the floor where they'd been placed, gleaming morosely in the harsh lighting as if to laugh at our predicament.

I stepped out of the way as Reece joined me, letting him stand beside me in the doorway, but Angie wasn't done. "No, keep going," she said to the Head of Security. "You're going to stay here with your idiot co-worker, and I'm leaving with the 'boy.'" She made air quotes with the fingers of her free hand on the last word. "In...and Joel?"


I nervously looked up at her. She stared back without a hint of remorse.


"Don't you dare think of going anywhere. A bullet in your back works just as well as the alternative, you hear me? I'd rather you dead and not able to testify against me than anything else right about now. Got it?"

I gulped and nodded agreeably. I got it, alright. She'd crossed a line and she knew it.


Angelina herded Reece down the hallway at gun point, his hands still quivering in the air above him, and I trailed along just a step behind. I had never had the slightest cause to suspect Angie of being...well, this. This was crazy. Had you told me this morning that she'd drug me, attempt to sell me off to her friends and that she'd threaten a security guard at gun point, I'd have literally laughed in your face. This was Angie we were talking about! How did I describe her earlier that evening? "The most docile of beings?"


I stared daggers into the back of the woman in front of me.


"Still there Joel?"


"Unfortunately."


Well, I could honestly say that I hadn't seen this coming.


We stopped at the far end of the hallway, Reece and Angie standing directly in front of the very last cell and me a few steps back. I couldn't see inside, but Reece apparently could very well, because I heard his sharp intake of breath and his muttered curse. "Is that really - " he began.


"Yep," Angie said, and I could hear the genuine regret in her voice.


Reece was apparently speechless. Curious (although I was admittedly already 99% sure of what I was about to see), I took a few steps forward with a sinking heart to get a glimpse of the infamous Carlos.


The overly-enthusiastic security guard sat with his back in the far corner of the cell, apparently trying to make himself as small as possible beneath the stares of his new company. He was, sadly, quite a pathetic sight. His face was flustered and his eyes rid rimmed, and snot was dripping down his face in rivulets of clear fluid. He'd been crying, and I could see shame dressing his face as we wordlessly watched him from the other side of the bars. He began to sniffle quietly beneath our stares, trying to hide it but failing miserably.


He was a mess, but the more important detail was that he was a baby. It was one thing to have been magiked into a seven year old, but Carlos couldn't have been any older than two or three at the most. He was probably even younger. My jaw dropped a little, not entirely believing what my eyes were presenting to me but powerless to present a better alternative. He was stark naked, and there was no denying that he was little more than an infant. Baby fat clung to his body in sizeable deposits, and he certainly wasn't a man where it mattered anymore.


He was in every conceivable way a genuine baby.


Jesus.


"You couldn't find some clothes for him?" I said sharply. I glanced up at Angie, not entirely sure what I was looking for but displeased with the stone I found all the same. She didn't even look at me. "Really? It's bad enough you do this, but you have to parade him around naked as well? What's wrong with you?"


"Because baby clothes are easy to come by at a sport venue. No, Joel, I couldn't find some clothes for him. It wasn't exactly my top priority."


I looked back at Carlos, who had covered his tiny junk while I chastised Angelina. We made eye contact for a second, and he quickly looked away, well and truly humiliated now. Apparently the details in the cement were as interesting to him as his state was to us. He refused to look back, and I felt an instant stab of pity.


It was accompanied by not a small amount of anger, I turned back to Angie. "This is fucked up, Angie, and you know it. You can't do this!"


"I know it is, and I know I can't. At the end of the day though, Joel, this is your fault. Not mine. If you hadn't have pushed me, we wouldn't be here now would we? You have no one to blame but yourself."


I was speechless. My fault? My fault? "You can't be - "


"Yes. I am." She turned on me, and her eyes were blazing. I took a step back, thinking she was going to hit me, but she just glared with those furious, raging eyes. I suddenly felt as small as I actually was for perhaps the first time - Jesus, we were all totally at the mercy of a madwoman. How were we going to get out of this? "This is your fucking fault. Do you think I, Angelina Black, wanted to turn this poor man into a kid? To turn you into a kid? Fuck no, that's ridiculous. I'm as nice as they come, thank you very much."


She glowered at me a moment longer before turning back to our company. Reece hadn't looked away from Carlos, either too fascinated with the naked infant or too petrified at the notion of getting a bullet in the brain to take advantage of Angelina while she was distracted. She looked at him scornfully for a moment before re-leveling the gun at him. "Look, you can tell me later how you're totally innocent and how horrible I am, okay?" she said to me over her shoulder. "We don't have time for this. Right now, I want you to go into my bag and grab the bottle for me. Can you do that?"


I felt my heart skip a beat. The Coke bottle? She still had that?


"I asked you a question, kid."


"I - yeah, sure. Whatever you say, mother."


She crouched down so her backpack was within reach of my diminutive body, and with some trepidation I unzipped it and peered curiously inside. What I found was underwhelming - the child-sized shoes she never got the chance to put on my feet, a wrapper full of pills, and the Coke bottle. I'd only had a mouthful earlier, but evidently Carlos had had quite a bit more before getting the message that it was bad news. It was half empty.


My eyes were drawn to the pills.


That's what she shrank me with. 


I felt a cold sweat break out on the nape of my neck as I admired what must be the pinnacle of humanity's scientific development. They were tiny green capsules, eight in all (with two missing), and appeared to be totally innocuous and innocent. Had I not been standing here in a child's t shirt and jeans looking at a naked baby that had once been a security guard, I would have assumed they were Panadol. How could something so small cause so much trouble? How could so little change so much? 


How did she even get these?

"The drink, Joel."


Come on, get yourself together. Don't make her pull that trigger. 


I swallowed nervously and withdrew the Coke. I noticed my hand was trembling as I did so.


I gave it to Angie, who snatched it from my hand fast enough to hurt my fingers. I stepped away as soon as my job was done, suddenly feeling sick. This was wrong. So, so wrong.


"Mr Security Guard, I'm going to give you a choice," Angie said flatly. "You can drink some of this, or I can shoot you between the eyes and leave you for dead. That's entirely your choice. I really don't want to kill you, but if you'd rather die than end up in diapers, that's totally your choice. As long as you're not talking and there's no evidence I was ever here, I'm happy. Whatever works."


Reece turned around, and his face was aghast - worse than that. He was crying. I felt like screaming at the sight. "Lady," he said. "Please. You can't do - "


Angie held the gun up a little higher, pointing it directly as his face. He twitched unconsciously but held his ground. She looked at him sadly. "I have a suspicion no one will hear a thing," she went on. "Everyone's on their way out of the stadium and making a hell of a racquet, your soundproof door is closed, this isn't a particularly strong gun...really. No one will hear a thing. No one will save you."


"Angie - "


"I'm not talking to you, Joel. Stay out of this."


Reece looked at her a moment longer...then muttered perhaps the most profound statement a hostage can utter when his life is at stake.


"Fuck."


A strange combination of relief and victory crossed Angie's face as Reece snatched the bottle from her hands, looking positively disgusted with himself as he did so. To see my saviour reduced to an animal in a trap was both terrifying and infuriating. He was a broken man, everyone could see it, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to kick her in the shin as hard as my little feet could...


...but she had a gun.


There was no expression whatsoever on Reece's face as he examined the bottle. He went blank.


"How much do I drink?" he asked. He looked up at his tormentor. "Is it going to hurt?"


She shrugged. "Let's say three mouthfuls," she answered. "It's not a precise science, but that should be enough...and no. It won't hurt anything but your tastebuds, and certainly not any more than a bullet."


Still, he hesitated. He stared dully at the drug in his hand. It slushed around inside the bottle without a care in the world. Inanimate objects can't harbour a guilty conscious, after all.


"You've got five seconds, mister, and I'm pulling the trigger. I don't have time for this. Four...three..."


"Okay, okay," Reece protested. He held up his free hand in an exasperated surrender. "I hope that there's a special spot in Hell reserved for you, lady. A particularly hot one at that."


There was no more banter, and after that it was all over incredibly quickly. With one final, fluid movement, he uncapped the bottle and chugged down exactly three mouthfuls. The guttural sound of each swallow reverberated through the hallway. He maintained eye contact with Angie all the while, who stared back with an expression that could only be pity.


Carlos and I watched slack jawed and horrified as Reece first drank, then grunted and ripped the bottle from his lips seemingly more furious than scared. He thrust it towards Angie, who took it wordlessly and slipped it over her shoulder into her bag. She suddenly looked incredibly tired and incredibly miserable. Like she had the right to be.


"That was as vile as your soul, lady."


"I'm sure it was," she retorted in a dead voice. She fixed the Head of Security with a sad smile. "Look, I'm sorry it came to this, but it won't be so bad. Really. I imagine the diapers and everything might be a little embarrassing at first, but you'll get used to it. Think of it as a vacation from all the duties and responsibilities you have as a grown up."


She hesitated, then added, "Besides, you'll be an adult again eventually. It's not permanent."


As if that was any consolation.


"You're a monster," Reece growled in response. "And...and..."


"I'm sorry," Angelia said softly as his voice trailed off and he swayed noticeably on his feet. I noticed that there were tears in her eyes. "Really, I am. I'm so, so sorry."


"You...won't..."


Reece looked confused for a moment, just as I was sure mine had when I drank Angie's drug earlier that night. He tried to finish his sentence, his eyes practically bulging with the need, but he was too far gone. A moment later, they eyes rolled back in his head, and without further adieu his body collapsed beneath its own weight. It crumpled lifelessly onto the floor just like his jacket had earlier, and for a moment it seemed like everything was done with. Like everyone had escaped physically unscathed. I was in the process of exhaling, disgusted but relieved it was all over...


...and then Dennis Reece's head rebounded off the concrete with a monstrous "crack!"


And everything went very still.


For a good five seconds, none of us said a thing.


Did...did he just...

"Angie," I said at last, not entirely sure if I had just seen what I thought I'd just seen. "Did you...did he..."


The words weren't coming.

"He'll be fine," Angie whispered. I turned to her and saw that she looked a little faint herself. "His body will grow younger and repair any damage that just did. That's how it works, right? It has to."


She looked about as sure as she sounded.


"You killed Reece," Carlos squeaked, piping up for the very first time. He was looking at his boss' body with an expression of terror far greater than any real child should have to experience. It was appalling on the face of a baby. He crawled across the floor of the cell as fast as his stumpy arms and legs could take him and knelt by the bars, pressing his face against them and watching with abject horror. "YOU KILLED REECE."


"He'll be fine," Angie repeated weakly. Her eyes never left the unconscious man's face. A thin smear of blood was beginning to trickle out of the Head of Security's mouth, dripping down his cheek and pooling on the ground beneath him.


I didn't think he was going to be fine.


"Angie - "


She turned on me then, and she was crying. She was actually crying. I took a step back, and she matched it, and then she reached out and took me by the shoulders. Her fingers dug into my skin like the talons of a harpy. "THIS IS YOUR FAULT," she shrieked, and began to shake me violently. I shrieked myself, instantly terrified beyond reason. I tried to pull free, but had no luck. She was too strong, and my attempts to break away only inspired her to shake me harder. My head flopped stupidly atop my neck, and I had the thought that it might just fly clear off by the time she was done. "THIS POOR MAN IS DEAD AND IT'S ENTIRELY YOUR FAULT. HIS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS, JOEL, YOU HEAR ME? NOT. MINE. I NEVER WANTED ANY OF THIS."


With that, she physically flung me away, eyes leaking all the while. I collided with the far wall, and for a moment I saw stars...and then I was the floor, my side flooded with pain and my head swimming. I lay there gasping and struggling to capture the air that'd been easy to come by just a moment ago, staring up at the girl I once shared a bed with in disbelief. The girl that was now a murderer.

She didn't even look at me. Instead, she turned her attention to Carlos, who squealed out of fear and threw himself backwards. In record time, his back was against the far wall, and he looked up at Angelina with terror etched into his face with the clarity of fire.


"Oh, shut up," she moaned. She waved the gun in front of her face, and Carlos screamed louder than I thought a baby's lungs were capable of. "I don't how much use it is to you now, but you can have - "

"DON'T SHOOT ME!" he shrieked, cutting her off. "DON'T SHOOT ME GOD PLEASE I'M BEGGING YOU DON'T SHOOT ME I'M JUST A BABY YOU CAN'T SHOOT A BABY DON'T SHOOT ME PLEASE DON'T SHOOT."


And then he was peeing.


My horror, which I'd thought couldn't have deepened further into the abyss of humanity's depravity, did exactly that as I watched from where I lay prone on the cold, cold concrete. Under other circumstances, it might have even been funny to watch something like this happen, but right now it was anything but. The man in the baby's meat suit kept on shrieking as his underdeveloped body voided itself all over the floor of the cell, too terrified and too physically weak to do anything else. 


I couldn't even bring myself to feel disgusted. 

I was just horrified.

 "I'm not going to hurt you. I was going to say you can have the gun back. Christ, it's not even loaded. I emptied it after I put you in here so there were no accidents."

With that, she threw the gun through the bars of the cell. It clattered off the wall, and both Carlos and I flinched, expecting it go off...


...but apparently Angelina hadn't lied. It wasn't loaded, and it didn't utter a peep.


My girlfriend gave Reece's body one last, miserable look before storming off back to the Security lobby, leaving the two of us alone to stare at each other and wonder just what in the hell we'd got ourselves into.


"Dude," Carlos said. His breath was ragged and hitched, and I could tell he was about to start bawling. His cheeks were twitching, and if that wasn't a surefire indication, I didn't know what was. The poor guy had been through even more than I had today. "She...but...Reece..."


That was when the dam broke.


With no further warning, he began to bawl with the intensity only an infant can manage. I staggered to my feet, wanting to help, but I was crying too, and really, what can a seven year old do? I made my way over to him and pulled at the cell door, but it was predictably locked. Angie might not have cared to lock Reece up, but she didn't need to. She'd be long gone before he woke up, and by then someone else might have stumbled in anyway. I swore explosively all the same.


Angie, you're going to pay for this, I lamented as I instead made my way over to my rescuer's body, Carlos' wailing symphonic in my ears. 
Reece's mouth was still dripping like a leaky faucet, blood pooling around a head that just didn't seem to be shrinking. He was sprawled out spread-eagled and precisely nothing was happening. Maybe Angie was right and the process was just slower than I realised...but it didn't look that way. Reece's body looked eerily lifeless. You need help, bad, but first you're going to pay. You won't get away with this.

She wouldn't. I was going to make sure of it.


She was a monster. 


Continued and concluded in Part 4: The Price You Pay

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