Stuck

This story has been retooled from its original incarnation and is now part of A New You by Emma Finn, a compilation of transformation stories available on Amazon.

STUCK
By
EMMA FINN

1

Now I had found out what the magic stone did, another thought materialised in my head.

What if I used it and then got stuck? What if I let it transform me and then something happened – I lost it or… or someone stole it? I’d be trapped in that other form forever.

A grin flashed up on my face then vanished as fear crept into my eyes. Then the grin came back. Just to imagine that…

I turned the pebble over in my open palm. The runes on its surface were black grooves but something glistened in the crevices as I flipped it. I put it down on the dressing table, sat down and looked at it. The full-length mirror was standing to the left. I put my elbow on my knee, propped my head on my hand and looked at myself in the reflection.

I was successful and good looking. There were always friends to call and my lover was attentive and passionate. There was every reason to hold onto this life of mine – to do anything I could to prevent risking it. But the idea of putting it at jeopardy was tantalising.

I picked up the pebble and rested my hand on my knee, fingers open, barely keeping it in place. I closed my fingers around it and looked at myself again in the mirror, flipping the mental switch that I’d discovered activated the change.

The initial alterations were subtle. It would have been possible to miss them if I hadn’t known it was happening. Then the rush came as it had all the other times and I gasped.

My height dwindled, my arms and legs shooting in closer to my body, my feet going from flat on the floor to dangling above it from the edge of the chair.

My hair shifted, a dark brown fringe appearing over my eyes as the eyes themselves became bigger. My cheeks and arms took on a soft, slightly chubby shape and my clothes rippled, flapping around me as though filled with a hurricane wind. When the wind subsided they had changed. I had changed. My jeans and sweater had become a cute little short-sleeved dress. My face and body had become a little girl’s face and body – from my sandaled feet up to the ribbon tying back my hair.

I smiled at myself then laughed. I’d gone through this change a dozen times now and still hadn’t become used to it.

I dropped down to the floor and tossed the pebble onto the bed as I moved toward the mirror. It bounced off and thudded to the carpet, making me stop in mid-stride.

What if it had bounced under the bed? What if I hadn’t seen it fall and lost it? Even if it was just for a couple of days? It gave me a tingle to imagine that happening.

But it hadn’t done that and I found myself being disappointed.

I looked at my reflection and beamed. The change was so utterly complete. I was a little girl of no more than four years old. Every time the change happened it shocked me how complete it was – how small I felt – how helpless next to my normal adult self.

But I wanted more.

I’d started to think about it all the time now.

It wasn’t enough that I could change myself into a little girl whenever I wanted to. I wanted to really feel trapped – as though I couldn’t change back. I wanted to be stuck like this – or feel that I could be.

I shook my head. It was so dumb. Obviously I didn’t want it to really happen. I didn’t really want to lose my identity and be trapped in this little girl’s body. Just to imagine the difficulty I would have ahead of me if that happened…

My parents had made sure that my upbringing was a terrific one. They had paid for every advantage imaginable and the investments and contacts they had given me had ensured a wealth that would last me all my days. I would be a fool to give all that up for the uncertainty of being this little girl.

I looked into my big brown eyes and imagined how my life would progress if I really were trapped – if I really did lose the pebble.

As this little girl I had no legal identity – no family. The name I had made up for myself, Tina Tomkins, was a complete fiction. I would be taken into care if I was lucky and would wind up with some average family somewhere. True, I would gain in years but I would never be able to accrue the same kind of lifestyle.

No. Being trapped like this was only a fantasy. That was all it could be. But what a fantasy it was!

I wandered round the house, half-concentrating where I was going, imagining what it would be like to be trapped as a little girl.

Simple things like not being able to reach the cooker to make a meal or the kettle to boil water came straight to mind, but there was so much else. I wouldn’t be able to drive. Nobody would take me seriously. It would look odd if I walked into a shop and produced a lot of money to buy something and odder still if I tried to buy something a little girl wouldn’t want, so I would be restricted even on that.

So many things to consider.

But what I really wanted to consider was how far I could push the fantasy into reality.

How close could I really come to being trapped in this body and still be able to pull back?

2

I picked up the pebble off my bedroom floor and clutched it tightly, willing myself to return to my real body. First came the initial subtle shift then the rush of height and weight as I returned to my true form. My legs quivered as my balance shifted. I reached for the wall to support me.

I had an idea. This was going to work. It was a good idea. I kept the pebble in my hand and ran downstairs.

There was a high shelf that displayed ornaments running along the wall in the dining room just below the ceiling. If I stood on a chair I could just about reach it. I pulled one of the dining chairs underneath it and got up into place.

This was going to be tricky but all I could do was give it a go.

I clutched the pebble tightly, holding my hand just over the shelf and gave the mental command to the pebble again.

I felt the initial subtle shift of the change, starting to work on me and jerked my hand open.

The pebble clattered down onto the shelf.

A second later the change took hold of me completely.

The wind came, blowing through my clothes and hair, transforming them. I looked up at my hand, hovering at shelf level. For a split second the pebble was still within reach. Then my hand shot away from it, getting shorter and shorter as my body shrank, the age falling away.

After a moment the wind vanished and it was done.

I was little Tina Tomkins again. And way up above me, higher than I could possibly reach, hidden away, was the only thing that could change me back.

3

I felt exhilarated! My whole body was tingling!

It had worked! I was really stuck in that body – stuck as a little girl!

There was no way I could get that pebble back easily!

I hopped down off the chair and pushed it under the table, grinning when I realised how heavy it was and how hard to move with my little chubby arms.

Stuck like this – at least until I could figure out a way to get up to the height of my pebble.

I felt so charged. So naughty. My whole body quivered with electricity.

The shelf was impossibly high now. Even with a ladder I would have trouble getting it. And how could a four-year-old girl possibly drag a ladder in here and erect it against the wall? Was that even feasible? I didn’t know. Certainly it would be difficult.

And the ladder was out in the garage. If I went out to get it I could get locked out of the house or somebody might spot me! I’d only ever changed inside before. How would it feel to be trapped outside and have to interact with people as a child?

All these possibilities! I was so excited and energised!

I decided to wait for a while before seeing if I could get the ladder. I had my doubts and for now, that was enough.

I went through into the kitchen to make myself a drink. I fancied a coffee. But when I got there I immediately saw my difficulty. I couldn’t reach the cupboard where the coffee was stored. I started to get a chair and drag it over to stand on but stopped mid-drag. It was silly for me to be drinking a grown-up drink. I should be having something more in line with what I now was.

The fridge was more my height. I took out a carton of orange juice and placed it on the side. I reached for a glass and then stopped.

The glasses were in one of the high cupboards too.

I cursed to myself and went back to drag my chair across. It took me longer than I thought it was going to and I found myself getting irritable by the time it was in place.

I climbed up, careful not to lose balance – I didn’t want to hurt myself on the hard ceramic tiles – and took out my glass. When I’d poured myself some and gulped it down I felt a lot better but I was still a little frustrated by my limitations. I was tempted to go right out to the garage and bring the ladder in, get the stone and change back, but I tried to resist.

Part of my frustration was that I didn’t really feel stuck. The ladder seemed too accessible. It was my choice whether to get it or not. Apart from the difficulty of getting it inside, I wasn’t really stuck at all. I was still in control.

I still didn’t want to REALLY lose control but I did want to feel as though I had. It seemed like a contradiction.

I made myself some lunch, but though it was a struggle, the feeling of incapability was more constricting than satisfying. As I sat at the kitchen table eating, my mind started to wander as I tried to work out how I could do this – how I could establish a feeling of being trapped.

It didn’t take me long to think of something.

4

It took me an hour to struggle in with the ladder.

My little limbs were not built for it. For a grown man it would have been a challenge. For me it was almost impossible.

After a lot of wheezing though, and straining, I got it as far as the dining room. My limbs were aching terribly. My hands felt raw. I had to rest before propping it up to the shelf where the stone was. I felt so bad that I started crying. I hadn’t cried in years but the little body was having its way with my emotions and I couldn’t help myself.

When the pain started to subside I pulled myself up off the floor and took hold of the end of the ladder near to the wall. I worked it slowly up, using the wall as a prop, hurting my tender little muscles with every movement.

Finally I got it into place and trudged up the steps to the top.

The stone was exactly where I’d left it. I would have felt exulted if I weren’t so utterly exhausted. I picked it up and climbed down.

I’d planned to go straight through with my new plan – I had two weeks off from my job as the head teacher at Chauncy Primary School and my partner was away on business for the bulk of that time – but I couldn’t face it now. My fatigue had blunted the blade of my eagerness.

I gripped the stone tightly and gave it the command to turn me back to normal. The halting rush came but I took no pleasure from it as I had before. I trudged upstairs, still tired, and fell into bed.

5

I dreamed.

I dreamed that I was being arrested.

I was an adult and two policemen were shoving me in the back of their car.

Shouting.

Hurting me.

The door slammed shut.

I kept shouting - demanding that they let me go.

But they wouldn’t.

The door shut and I couldn’t get out. There was no handle on the inside.

And then I saw it.

I saw the pebble on the pavement outside the car.

I’d dropped it.

I’d dropped it somehow.

And someone else was going to pick it up.

They were going to take it away and I would never be able to make the change again.

I pounded on the glass but it wouldn’t break.

I screamed for them to let me out, but they ignored me.

Then the police car pulled away and I saw the stone get smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it anymore.

And then I woke up.

6

I transformed before I’d even had breakfast.

Now, as a little girl, I felt fine. The carry-over aches that had kept me sleeping fitfully vanished as the wind swept through my clothes and changed them into a little flowery dress. I mused for a moment how powerful the magic was that it could do these things, even changing the formula and the clothes from time to time. It was amazing. It wasn’t what I was concerned with now though and I dropped it out of my head almost immediately.

I ran downstairs and got an envelope, a pen and some stamps from the stationery drawer in my desk. I sat at the table and carefully wrote out my own address. Presumably because of my new little podgy hands, I had trouble writing. The letters came out malformed. I had to concentrate very hard to get them right and even then they seemed crude and babyish.

It didn’t matter though. After a couple of tries I got it good enough then I slipped the stone inside. I got a fresh buzz of excitement as I sealed it closed. This was going to be amazing. It was going to be the kinkiest thing I had ever done.

I went through into the hall and opened the front door. Before I went out I took a glance in the floor length mirror to my right. I couldn’t believe I was really doing this. I’d never been outside transformed before. I’d never interacted with anybody in this form. There were so many things that could go wrong. If I stepped outside that door then events were going to go out of my area of control very fast.

On the other hand, it was going to be an amazing rush.

Without letting myself think too much about it I walked out and closed the door behind me.

7

Outside, I felt tiny.

Behind me the house was huge. The front garden was huge. Even my car, parked in the drive towered over me.

I felt very small and nervous but I made myself walk to the pavement and turn left.

Each time a car passed I jumped out of fright. Four doors down a dog ran onto its front lawn as though it were going to attack me. I screamed, lifting my hands to ward it off, knowing I didn’t have a chance. Then the rope attached to its collar pulled taut and it stopped, barking.

I shuddered, pressing on.

At least the district I lived in was a pleasant one. Howekirk wasn’t as old as Chauncy or as upmarket as Nockton Heights but its gently sloping streets were wide and quiet, the lawns broad and well-clipped.

The postbox wasn’t much farther. I could see it: a red column on the corner of the road. My little legs weren’t getting me there very fast but they were getting me there. I held the envelope tightly in both hands, looking down at it. The writing did seem childish. Could it be that my skills were altered when I was a little girl? Would they change further the longer I stayed like that?

I was about to find out.

A group of schoolboys came round the corner and passed the post box coming toward me. I gulped. I recognised them as pupils from my school. I had even taught some of them! I cringed, feeling even smaller than I was in my shame.

They were laughing amongst themselves. They didn’t notice me at first. They almost trampled right over me. I gripped my envelope to my chest and whimpered.

One of them sullenly said, “Watch where you’re going.”

I kept my mouth shut and my eyes down. These were children I had had complete power over a few days earlier. Now they could do anything to me they wanted. They had another good laugh at my expense and then thankfully walked on.

When I got to the post box I realised I had another problem.

I couldn’t reach the slot to post the envelope.

I jumped up toward it over and over again but I couldn’t get close. At one level it made me angry but at another it was exactly the kind of difficulty I wanted to face.

After a few minutes an old man appeared. He smiled down at me and said, “Do you need a hand young lady?”

I nodded. “Yes please.”

His face was a crease of indulgent smiles as he put his big hands round my middle and lifted me up. “There you go!” It felt so weird to be carried by this giant. While I was in his arms I had absolutely no control over what happened to me.

With the letter slot in front of me I suddenly realised what I was doing. If I pushed the envelope inside then I wouldn’t be able to change back until it returned to me in the post. That was going to be twenty-four hours minimum, maybe longer depending on the postal service. My hands started to shake.

“Come on young lady,” said the man. “Put it in.”

I stuck it in the slot. He popped me back down.

“Well done.” He patted the top of my head then wandered off.

I watched him go, realising what this now meant.

There was no ladder I could fetch, absolutely no way I could change back until that envelope returned to me.

I was stuck.

And what if it got lost in the post?

Thinking about that absolutely terrified me to the bone.

But it was exciting too.

I’d never felt this good.

8

I walked home on a cloud.

Now my initial trepidation had passed I felt more ready for the surprises all around me. I felt happy and confident. The school kids seemed to have disappeared. Even the dog was gone. I started to skip, swinging my little arms, covering the distance quicker than walking would have done.

When I got home I ran up the front path, eager to get inside and start to plan what I was going to do for the rest of the day.

But as soon as I touched the door I realised something that dropped the bottom out of my stomach – something I couldn’t get my head round immediately it was so utterly horrifying.

I hadn’t brought the door key out with me.

I couldn’t get back inside.

Even when the envelope was delivered the next day, I wouldn’t be able to reach it.

I really was stuck!

9

I immediately started to cry.

I couldn’t help myself. Whatever in me that had altered when I became a little girl had wrought changes throughout my mind and heart as well. I cried and cried and cried and cried.

I couldn’t see anything through the blurry sheen of tears trapped between my half-closed eyelids. I staggered. I put my hands to my little pudgy face.

This couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have.

I hadn’t meant to really be stuck. Being trapped as a little girl for real was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I didn’t have anywhere to go – anywhere to sleep. There was no money to buy food. What was I going to do?

Totally oblivious to anything else, I plopped down, cross-legged, my face in my hands, sobbing.

Then I heard a kindly woman’s voice say, “Are you alright?” I looked up. Little more than silhouette, a figure was standing over me. A warm hand touched my head, stroking my hair. “It’s okay. Surely it can’t be that bad.”

I got to my feet and threw my arms round her legs, filled with such relief that she was there to look after me. She put her hands under my shoulders and lifted me off the ground then she rocked me back and forth saying, “There, there, don’t cry. It’s alright now. There, there.”

I continued to whimper but the wracking sobs tailed off. It felt so good to be held and rocked. The lady smelled wonderful – like flowers. She stroked my hair. “Yes. Don’t worry. It’s fine. That’s right. You’re fine now.” She was smiling at me. She looked very nice. Her face was round. Her hair was straight but only fell to the middle of her neck. It lay very close to her skin. “What’s your name?”

I suddenly remembered who I really was and what trouble I was in. The tears stopped instantly. “Tina Tomkins,” I said nervously in my little girl voice. Because I’d been crying it sounded strangled and pitiful.

“That’s a pretty name. My name’s Mrs Johnson. Harriet Johnson. I live just up the street. Across the road – there, see?” She pointed. “The one with the red door. Can you see it?” I nodded. “Why were you crying Tina? Where’s your mummy?”

I froze. What could I tell her? She must have seen the stricken look on my face because she frowned and said, “Don’t you know?”

I shook my head haltingly. I was concerned that she might act on anything I told her, and she might not act the way I wanted her to.

“Well where do you live? Can you tell me that?”

Again, I was trapped. If I said my house then she would knock on the door. Nobody would be home. If I ever got back to being myself I would have answers to give. I lowered my eyes. “I don’t know.”

“Does it have a coloured door? What colour is it?”

I buried my face in her chest. “I don’t know.” I started to cry again.

“Hmmm.” She looked both ways up the street. There was nobody about. She seemed to come to a decision. “Alright Tina. This is what we’re going to do. I’m going to take you back to my house and make a few calls – see if we can’t find your mummy. Alright? I bet she’s as worried about you as you are about her. We’ll find her in no time.”

I nodded, terrified that it was all flying far out of my control.

“And don’t worry,” said Mrs Johnson, “I’m used to this sort of thing happening. I’m a social worker. Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head but I did know. I knew full well and I realised now what a terrible mistake I had made.

“A social worker is a lady who helps children just like you who’ve lost their mummies. I help children find new families.” She laughed, trying to allay my fears. “Don’t worry. That’s not going to happen to you. When we find your mummy you can go back to be with her. I won’t need to give you to another family.”

She was trying to make me feel better but I was feeling worse and worse by the second. Because there was no mummy to find.

As she carried me up the street toward her house I realised that I was never going to be able to get away and before I knew it I would be just another lost child being placed with a foster family, miles away.

10

Mrs Johnson put me in her lounge while she made phone calls from the kitchen.

She popped me down on the settee and switched on the TV then stood so that she could see me through the wide hatchway while she was making her calls.

There were cartoons on but I wasn’t interested in them obviously. My mind was whirling round and round in wider and more erratic circles. What was going to happen to me? How could I possibly get out of it?

There was no way.

There was no way.

Mrs Johnson was talking to the police. “Her name is Tina Tomkins. She says she’s four years old. Straight brown hair and a fringe. A pretty yellow short-sleeved dress. Yes. She’s a cutie pie.”

I cringed, sinking further into the sofa. That was how people saw me now. Nothing but a little girl – a cutie pie.

I tried to shut the sound of her voice off, focusing on the television instead. The bright colours, rapid movements and funny sounds were soothing. They really helped me to relax. The more I watched, the more I started to understand the flow of the story. It was nice. A princess had been kidnapped by a black knight but she had escaped. She was wandering in the woods and was being helped by a friendly family of fairies. I brought my legs up onto the sofa folded sideways so my feet were behind my bum. Then I propped my head on my hand, elbow on the arm of the sofa and stuck my thumb in my mouth. Mrs Johnson’s chatter became a soothing melody in the back of my mind. I just drifted along with my little princess, wondering when she would find her prince.

11

Sometime later, Mrs Johnson interrupted my TV shows, crouching down in front of me.

I squirmed in my seat, trying to see past her to the screen. The Gummy Bears were in trouble. They needed to find the magic amulet or their home would be destroyed.

“Tina, I have something to tell you and I’ve brought you some lunch. Do you like ham sandwiches?”

I nodded.

“Here you go then.” She put a plate of sandwich triangles next to me on a tray with a glass of squash. “What’s your favourite flavour of crisps?”

Normally I would have said plain but I felt like something more interesting. “Salt and vinegar.”

“Well I’ll get you some of those in a moment. Are you enjoying the cartoons?”

I nodded, taking a bite of one of the triangles.

“I’m having a little trouble finding your mummy so far sweetie,” said Mrs Johnson, “but I’m going to keep trying so don’t worry. Alright?”

I nodded.

“Good girl.” She ruffled my hair. “You just enjoy your cartoons for a another hour or so and later I might take you out for an ice cream. Would you like that?”

I nodded.

12

That night I lay in the enormous double bed in Mrs Johnson’s spare room, the covers pinning me in place, listening to her talking on the phone in the other room.

It sounded like she was talking to her boss and her voice had turned from being soothing and kind to dead serious.

“It irritates the hell out of me when people do this to their children Frank,” she said. “To be perfectly honest I’d like to string up the women that can just abandon their children on the side of the road. It’s disgusting.”

She paused while he answered.

“The thing is Frank, she’s a sweet little girl and I hate to see this happen. If nobody claims her—I can’t keep her here with me indefinitely. It just burns me. I have a bad feeling about this one. I tried to find out about her family this afternoon and either she doesn’t remember anything or she’s blanking it out because it disturbs her so much. I don’t think we’re going to find the mother and even if we do she won’t be worth a damn.”

Another pause.

“You’re right. I know. And that burns me too. She’ll end up being fostered out to one of the Barton council house families we’ve got on the list and that will be that.”

Tears started to stream down my cheeks.

If only I hadn’t been so stupid.

I just couldn’t resist, could I, and now I was stuck like this and I had absolutely no control over what was going to happen to me.

13

When I was wolfing down my cereal at the breakfast table Mrs Johnson laid her hand on my shoulder and I knew it was about to come.

She crouched down to my level and I saw that her eyes were red-rimmed.

“We’re going to go on a trip today Tina,” she said, “and you’re going to meet a nice family.”

I stared down at my cereal. The crunchy corn circles were going to go soft if I didn’t eat quickly.

“I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to find your mummy yet. I’m sure she’s… I’m sure she’s out looking for you right now and we’ll find her in no time, but until we do, you need to go and stay with this nice family.”

If she took me there I would never be able to get back to my house and get the stone. “I want to stay here.”

She smiled and her eyes teared up. “I know you do honey but that isn’t possible. I’ll come and visit you though, would you like that? And I’ll bring you some ice cream.”

I started to cry and then pitched into full-blown sobbing.

I was stuck. I was stuck.

There was nothing I could do to escape.

My tears stopped.

Unless I went now. Unless I escaped.

Mrs Johnson got to her feet and went to her coffee on the counter, turning her back to me.

I looked into the hallway at the front door.

If I could just get to my house. The post had to have come by now. All I had to do was get inside.

“I’m just going to pop to the loo dear,” said Mrs Johnson. You sit tight and finish up your breakfast alright? Then we’ll be off.”

I nodded and watched her go upstairs.

Then I started to run.

I ran out into the hall and up to the front door.

The handle was high but I reached it on tiptoe and pulled it open.

Mrs Johnson’s voice came from the top of the stairs. “Tina!”

I didn’t look back.

I shot out onto the lawn, little legs pumping. A car roared past, blaring its horn as I veered short of running straight out across the road.

Behind me in the doorway, Mrs Johnson screamed my name and put her hands up to cover her mouth and nose in horror.

I darted into the road. She ran after me, waving her arms and calling. I only had a tiny body but she was overweight and her shoes weren’t meant for running. I pulled away, reaching the front garden of my house. I didn’t go to the front door., I knew I wouldn’t be able to get in that way. I sprinted for the corner of the house, jumped over the flowerbed and disappeared down the side passage.

I flew into the back garden, desperately looking at the windows to check if they were open.

There weren’t.

I got to the back door and tried it. I was hoping against hope that I might have left it unlocked but I hadn’t.

I couldn’t get in!

I pounded on the glass but my fists had no chance of breaking through. It was useless and Mrs Johnson was going to come round that corner after me any second.

I could hear her calling my name. She was close and she was getting closer. The fence round the back garden was high. There was no way I was getting over it in my tiny body.

I glared down at my useless little pudgy arms in their puffy little sleeves.

In the glass I glared at the child looking back at me, hating her.

Then I saw the spade in the reflection behind me on the grass.

I turned round.

I could do it.

It was possible. It really was possible.

I ran to it and picked it up. In my little arms it was huge – taller than I was.

“Tina! Tina!”

She was close but still not in sight.

I looked at the glass door, gauging it, testing the weight of the spade. I wasn’t sure I would be able to build up the necessary force.

But I charged at the door anyway, leaning forward, putting all the pressure and momentum into it that I could, pointing the spade directly forward, yelling.

Mrs Johnson came round the corner and shrieked.

I hit the glass.

It shattered.

My momentum carried me through.

I struck the interior varnished floor on my side and slid, crying out in pain. There were tiny glass fragments stuck in my bare arms and legs. I was bleeding.

But I had to get up. I had to get up now!

Mrs Johnson appeared in the frame of the door, cutting out the dazzle of morning sunlight. “Tina! Are you alright!?”

I struggled to my feet and ran out of her sight.

Behind me I could hear the chink of glass falling. She was trying to come through after me. I had to be quick.

I got to the hall. There were the letters on the inside doormat. I almost cried out in relief.

I dropped to my knees, skidding the last couple of feet, ignoring the pain from the cuts on my chubby arms and legs.

“Tina! Tina! Where are you!?”

I grabbed up the pile of envelopes, throwing them to the side one by one, looking for the childish writing on the one I needed.

But I got to the last envelope and I realised with absolute horror that it wasn’t there. It hadn’t come.

That was it. I was stuck.

Nothing was going to save me now.

By the time the next post arrived the following day I would be far from here and unable to make it back.

Then I saw the envelope.

It was hanging half through the letter slot in the door. It just hadn’t dropped onto the floor!

I grabbed it, looking desperately behind me. She hadn’t yet come through but I only had seconds. I tore it open.

Total relief poured through me as the pebble toppled out onto my lap. I couldn’t believe I had made it!

I grasped it in my soft little hand and gave it the mental command.

The subtle shift began, then in a flurry of wind my body grew, my clothes rippled and changed and I was left gasping on the hall floor, back in my rightful body as Mrs Johnson came into view.

14

She looked startled.

I must have looked a sight.

My jeans and long sleeves covered any sign of blood from the broken window, but my breath was coming in and out of me as though I’d just been beaten up and my hair was all over the place.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m terribly terribly sorry.” She blushed as I got to my feet, dropping the pebble into my pocket. It was weird to stand at the same level as her instead of looking up from a child’s perspective. I had never spent so long in that form before and I felt the repercussions of it in a lack of proper balance and a general all-over-body weakness. “I’m looking for a little girl.”

I improvised. “She just ran out through the front door. Where did she come from? How did you get in?”

“I’m really sorry,” she said, completely unaware that I was lying to her. She rapidly told me the story of what had happened.

I nodded repeatedly as she spoke, feeling my pulse rate slow, letting her get it off her chest. We went out together and I helped her search the streets for little Tina Tomkins for over an hour. I kept calling the name “Tina” at the top of my voice.

And every time I called it I said to myself: You got off lucky that time. You got off lucky. You can’t ever do it again. You might not be so lucky next again.

And I really meant it. When I got home, apologising to the tearful Mrs Johnson that I couldn’t help her anymore, I got that pebble and locked it away in my floor safe. I didn’t want to see it again. I didn’t want to use it to change and most of all, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck for a second time.

It was over. I told myself that again and again.

But deep down I knew I was lying to myself.

It was only just beginning.

15

To my credit, I kept away from the pebble for three whole days.

For the first day I broke into a sweat whenever I thought about how close I had come to being stuck forever in that little body. I flashed back all the time, reliving the terror of being so tiny and out of control, feeling the emotions again as though they were still happening.

During the second day I thought a lot about how it could have been worse – about how lucky I had been to be found by a woman prepared to look after me rather than by some creep who might have exploited my vulnerability.

On the third day I caught myself smiling when I thought about it, daydreaming of how powerful the experience had been – how all-encompassing. I considered how resourceful I had been to get back to my real self.

I started to think that I could get out of it again if it started to go out of control.

And that was when it had me.

On the morning of the fourth day I carefully twisted the combination of the lock into my safe and took the pebble out.

It was warm to the touch. It had been waiting for me. I realised then that I had been waiting for it too.

I wondered if I had been destined to find it on that little market stall in the Narrows – whether it had always been waiting.

I put it in my pocket and went outside to the car. I got in and drove to a children’s play park a mile or two away, close to where Howekirk merged with the edges of Mossgill. For a while I watched the children playing carelessly: boys and girls running back and forth, screaming; girls queuing patiently to go on the slide; boys pushing past them brusquely.

Twisting the rear-view mirror I looked at my reflection. Then I looked at the children again. I chewed my lip.

The pebble was hot now.

When I willed the change it pulsed. My grown-up hand was shaking as the fingers grew shorter, becoming stubby. When the rush of wind came in the car I gasped as it shook my system to the guts. It was more powerful than it had ever been before. My arms and legs quaked and shrunk, quaked and shrunk. And then it was over.

This time I was wearing a Sunday best outfit – a navy blue dress with multiple layers of underskirt, white tights and shiny sandals. I had to undo the safety belt and stand on the seat to see my reflection now. My hair was in ringlets, tied up at the back of my little head with a blue bow.

I took the car keys out of the ignition and hid them under the seat, then with trembling fingers, opened the car door and climbed out.

I crossed the street, mindful of traffic, the pebble still in my hand.

I wanted to run and skip – my pulse was racing, adrenaline coursing through me – but I didn’t let that happen.

As soon as I got to the park and stepped over the low barrier onto the woodchip ground I was surrounded by a whirl of children running in every direction, shouting. They didn’t pay me any attention particularly but I felt very intimidated. Most of them were older than me and a lot bigger. They were dressed in jeans or dungarees or scrappy clothes. They didn’t care whether they fell over and got messy. For some reason I did. I felt that it was terribly important that I not ruin my nice dress and clean white tights.

Apart from doing my best to avoid them, I didn’t pay too much attention. I was focused solely on a wooden table I saw in the centre of the play park. It had a bench attached on both sides but nobody was sitting at it. I walked up to it and placed the pebble down on one corner.

As I stepped away, the runes on its surface gave a wink of reflected sunlight.

I looked left and right. Nobody was paying attention.

I took another step back. And another.

I walked to the edge of the playground, keeping my eyes on the pebble, then sat down on the rail barrier, feet together primly, hands in my lap.

To onlookers I probably seemed to be a perfectly ordinary little girl but inside I was aflame. Fireworks were going off.

I felt supercharged; turned on fully.

At any moment somebody could see my pebble, pick it up and walk away. At any moment I could be trapped in this body again but this time for good.

I’d end up in care. I’d end up living with the dismal family I overheard the social worker talking about to her boss – growing up on a council estate over in Barton, never again glimpsing the wealth that I had once possessed.

It was like before, when the pebble had been in the post except this time, anything really could happen. If somebody took that pebble away I would never be able to find it again in a million years. There would be no prospect.

This wasn’t suicidal. There was also a chance – a huge chance – that nobody would pick it up or that I would be able to follow them or ask them for it back.

But the excitement of the possibility of disaster was orgasmic. I had never felt like this. Never never never.

A woman passed near the table with her little boy in hand. She saw the pebble. I could tell she saw it.

She detoured, going closer to look then reached out and actually touched it with her fingers.

I tensed. Every instinct told me to run over and snatch it away but a morbid desperation kept me in place. I had to let it happen. I couldn’t interfere. I needed to really feel like I could be stuck like this forever.

The woman frowned. She looked behind her to see if anyone was watching. Nobody was. She didn’t spot the little girl in the dark blue dress staring at her with crazed eyes.

She turned it over, inspecting it.

Then her son pulled on her arm and she released the pebble, turning away.

I sighed.

It had come so close.

I still felt incredibly charged.

Then a hand came down on my shoulder and I almost jumped out of my skin.

“Tina! There you are!”

I looked up and behind me with wide eyes. It was Mrs Johnson, the social worker. I couldn’t speak suddenly. I couldn’t breathe. There was a pocket of air trapped in my throat that I couldn’t dislodge.

“I’ve been so worried,” said Mrs Johnson. “I searched everywhere the other day. Where did you go? Why did you break that window? I was so scared.”

I couldn’t speak. I glanced across at the pebble.

It was only twenty feet away but it seemed so far suddenly.

“Did your mother find you?” she asked. “Is that where you’ve been?” She stood up and looked round the playground at the adults sitting at the edges and her voice became stern. “Is she here now? I’d very much like to talk to her.”

There was nothing I could say except “No.”

“Are you here by yourself again?”

I nodded, tearing up.

“This just isn’t good enough,” said Mrs Johnson, “I can’t believe how irresponsible your parents are.” She grabbed my arm. “Well don’t you worry Tina. I’m going to stop this happening. It’ll be okay. I deal with this kind of thing all the time. It’s my job.”

“No,” I said. “Let me go.” “Not this time Tina,” she snapped, “I know you’re a lovely girl but you showed the other day that you couldn’t be trusted to be left alone.” Her grip tightened on my arm. “I’m not letting you out of my sight.” She pulled me up off the bar and over onto the pavement. “Come on young lady.”

I craned back at the wooden table. “I have to get something,” I said. “Please! I have to get something!”

Mrs Johnson stopped, her patience wearing thin. “What do you need to get?”

The air pocket in my throat shifted. “My pebble. I have to get my pebble.” I was crying fully now, tears flowing down both cheeks.

“Don’t be silly Tina,” she said. “You’re coming now.”

“No please! Just let me get the pebble!”

“I’m doing this for your own good my girl. You’ll thank me in the long run.”

“No!”

We got to her car and she bundled me inside. There were child-proof locks on the back and as much as I banged on the padded interior I couldn’t get out.

My tears had become shrieks. I was getting hysterical.

I saw the pebble on the table in the playground.

Someone was going to pick it up.

They were going to take it away and I would never be able to change into my real self again.

I pounded on the glass but it wouldn’t break.

I screamed for her to let me out, but she wouldn’t.

Then the car pulled away and I saw the stone get smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it anymore.

Until I couldn’t see it at all.

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