Late one night, while Ned was completing a model of a Ju.87 Stuka and eating a 10-sack of Donkey Burgers, he noticed an odd ache in his knees. He had been sitting at the table for a couple of hours and stretched his legs to make them feel better. The ache did not go away. Ten minutes later his toes began to feel cramped inside his slippers as his nails rubbed against the lining. He kicked them off thinking he would clip his nails later.
Ned had only to adhere a few decals and his Ju.87 Stuka would be complete, ready to dogfight with his P-39 Airacobra that hung from the ceiling. He felt hot, wiped his forehead and pulled his long blonde dreds off of his nape. A labored breath of air escaped from his mouth.
He placed the last white cross on the back section of the fuselage – done!
“Yes!” Ned said as he pumped his fist and made a face as if he had just confidently and capably defeated a Sumo wrestler. He turned away from the model plane, leaving it to cure until morning. He walked to the bathroom making noises that, to him, resembled the noise of an airplane engine that was straining into a steep climb, needed a gallon of oil and was misfiring one piston. Anyone else would have thought he was just making noise. As he brushed his teeth, the plane engine continued, except now it flew through a rainstorm.
Ned walked to his bedroom, took off his clothes except his underwear, set his alarm, turned off the lights and slipped under his covers.
“Ugh!” Ned thought as his job began to make its way into his consciousness.
“I don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” he said to his ceiling. He thrashed about in his sheets. He plumped his pillows. He turned from side to side.
“God, I hate my job!” Ned yelled at his nightstand. In the dark, he could see the clock read 12:10 am. A dull ache permeated his bones. He thought about when he was eleven years old and how his bones and knees would hurt when he was in a growth spurt. One summer he grew an inch and a half. While lying in bed, he calculated he had grown one eighth of an inch per week that summer. Ned tossed and turned until 12:30 am before he finally fell asleep.
“…baby, your karma is so large and it’s thick as can be. She’s got large karma, large karma…” blared from the radio. Ned didn’t stir. “..large karma, large karmaaaaaaaaaaah…”
Ned rolled over to swat the radio’s sleep button and fell on the floor.
Startled, he quickly got to his knees and looked at his bed. He rubbed his eyes. His bed had shrunk overnight. He looked around the room and everything seemed to be normal, but smaller. Ned thought he was imagining things, but then he realized that his underwear must have shrunk overnight as well. He stood up and walked to his dresser. He tried on a few more pairs of underwear, but they all were too small. Ned found a pair of athletic shorts with a draw string and tried them on. They would have to do.
Ned ducked under the doorway and walked to the kitchen. He pulled out some Toxic-Puff cereal and ate the entire box. He was still hungry. He downed the carton of milk – still hungry. He ate three slices of leftover pizza, five pieces of toast, and something leftover from days gone-by which he didn’t recognize. He was still hungry, but Ned decided to stop eating before all his food was gone. Heading back to his room he ducked even further than before under the doorway. That’s when he heard it. His shorts split right down the crotch and Ned was flapping in the wind. At the thought of having no clothes that could possibly cover his body, Ned said “Shit.”
He looked around his bedroom for something to cover himself. He could barely get around his room without knocking his head on the ceiling light or banging his knees on furniture. The mattress went flying off his bed as he grabbed the sheets and pulled at them to remove them. In moments, white sheets were wrapped around Ned’s waist like a giant diaper. Now too big to use the mirror, Ned looked down at himself.
“What is happening?!” Ned half yelled to no one.
“Well, I guess I’m not going to work today,” he said thinking that a giant diaper was inappropriate to wear to the office.
Ned contemplated calling a doctor. He reached for the phone. But as he thought about it, he was pretty sure that a doctor wouldn’t be very helpful in this situation. They don’t make “don’t-grow” pills. Maybe he should call his parents. What would they do? No, either he would grow bigger and bigger and explode…or he wouldn’t. What could anyone do to help in this situation?
By noon, Ned’s head was hitting the ceiling. He made his way to the kitchen and realized he could not stay in his apartment much longer or he would never get out of it. Visions of grotesquely overweight dead people being cut out of their homes flooded through his brain. He decided he would have to leave the apartment now, even though he was only wearing a big diaper. Autumn was beginning, and, although the days were warm, the nights were beginning to get chilly. Where could he go? Maybe he could hide in the apartment garage. His car had its own stall. He could push his car out and then hide in there until he could reason things out. He decided that would be his next move.
Ned quickly grabbed his keys which seemed ridiculously small in his hand. He quietly, as quietly as a newly nine-foot tall person could, stumbled down two flights of stairs and out to the garage. Ned froze in his tracks as he heard laughter behind him. He turned to see a crow in a tree chuckling to itself. No one else was watching – good. Ned quickly opened the garage door, and ducked in. He reached in the car window, put the keys in the ignition, shifted the car into neutral and rolled it out the door. As he was walking back into his garage stall he heard a gasp and a slight shriek. A face appeared in a second floor window. It was Mrs. Katie, the apartment building gossip. Ned dove into the garage and pulled down the door with a slam.
After some time, the darkness and the smell of oil and gas were starting to get to Ned. He wondered if he should open the door a bit for fresh air and to look and see what was going on outside. He decided to wait. As he sat there waiting – for something – his body didn’t stop growing. Ned was sitting on the garage floor but felt that his head was running out of room and that soon his legs would be too long to lay flat on the floor. He realized that not only was his apartment too small, his garage would also soon not be big enough. No matter what he wanted, he was going to grow up and up… and up.
Ned didn’t want to be so big and he didn’t want other people to see him big. If they saw him big they would see what a real big loser he was. He estimated that now the mole on his back was probably the size of a manhole cover. He imagined women running away in disgust at the sight of his gigantic penis and hairy scrotum. Ned hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet, but imagined his turds would be enormous, smelly and disgusting – causing others to vomit. His own vomit would be like a river. His stream of urine would create a lake. His body odor would be pungent from five blocks away. People would see how disgusting – how unlovable – he was. Perhaps worst of all, because he was so big, it would become obvious how dumb he was. Everyone thought he was smart because he wore glasses and liked science, but there were many things Ned did not know. He did not know how to talk to girls. He did not know how to move his gangly body without stumbling over something. He didn’t know how to talk to guys who didn’t like science. Actually, he wasn’t sure how to talk to guys who like science. He didn’t know how to build things with his hands. He knew nothing about art or music. He knew nothing about sailing. And he knew nothing about what to do if your body suddenly triples in size.
Three sharp wraps on the garage door startled Ned.
“Anybody in there?” asked an authoritative voice. Ned didn’t make a sound.
Three more wraps on the door. “Is anybody in there?”
Someone tried to pull the garage door up, but it was locked. Ned heard the sound of keys and then the sound of a key being inserted into the lock. He did not move.
The light of the day blinded him as the garage door rose. He heard many voices gasp and a murmur run through a crowd that had gathered.
“Ned, is that you?” asked the familiar voice of the building owner, Gerald.
Ned shielded his eyes from the light with his hand and answered, “Yeah.”
“I don’t know, Gerald. I just started growing and I can’t stop,” Ned said with the words catching in his throat. He felt tears come to his eyes.
“Well, you can’t stay in that dark car stall forever. Why don’t you come out and someone else can help you?” said Gerald.
Ned crawled out of the garage and slowly stood up. He stood eighteen feet and three inches tall. A crowd of about forty people had gathered outside the garage. Everyone was still for a moment as they took in a sight they had never seen before. All was quiet. Ned looked around. He could see in the window of his third floor apartment. He could see over the garage to the block of houses behind. He looked down and could only see the tops of people’s heads or their upturned faces. If he wanted, he could reach up and pet the laughing crow in the tree.
Then, Ned’s sheet-diaper fell to the ground. Suddenly, everyone responded. Mrs. Katie began to pray to God for protection. Gerald pulled out his phone to take pictures and calculated out loud how much money he could make selling the photos and turning Ned into a sideshow freak. Ned thought both of them ridiculous. He wasn’t going to hurt anyone and he certainly wasn’t going to become a sideshow freak.
Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey, who were out on their daily constitutional, held hands and began to sing Puff the Magic Dragon. Mr. Wannamaker, who was closest to Ned, peed in his pants. Several people fainted, someone whistled a long note, a few people uttered “think of the children” and a group of people screamed and ran to get away but ended up running into each other and falling down.
Like the snap of a hypnotist’s fingers, when Ned’s diaper fell, everyone began to act out a suggestion that was given to them. Suddenly, everyone woke up and went around acting odd and out of step. He was still Ned, just big – really big. These people were so silly. Ned saw Mrs. Katie look up at him in terror as she rifled through her rosary beads as fast as she could. Ned began to laugh. He laughed hard and everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him. The people who had fallen to the ground, looked up at him while rubbing their bruised heads. Ned laughed even harder.
With each huge laugh, Ned began to shrink a little bit. The more people stared at him and the more they reacted, the more he laughed and the more he shrank. He eventually reached his normal height. Ned bent down picked up his sheet and wrapped it around his waist. He looked at Mr. Wannamaker, mouth open and wide-eyed, standing in a puddle of his own urine. Ned let out one last loud laugh and walked through the crowd and went into his apartment._______________________________________________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Matt Wells