Nick slept peacefully and dreamed about people he didn't know. There was a guy in his dream that looked a lot like him and several girls, as well, and all of them knew his name. When he woke up in the morning, the baby was still asleep. Nick looked down at her and marveled at her tinyness, fighting the urge to make silly, cooing sounds. It was amazing to think that humans came in such compact form.
Watching her, his mind wandered back to the night before, and Nick examined what had happened with the refrigerator: The first time he'd opened the fridge, it had been empty. He recalled the sinking feeling with which he realized that there was no food and knew that he couldn't have imagined its emptiness. But then somehow when he reopened the door, the unit was completely filled with food, lots and lots of delicious, real food. How had the food gotten inside there? A thought occurred to Nick and it seemed so bizarre, and yet he couldn't discount it because everything about this place was bizarre. Nothing different had happened between the time he closed the refrigerator door and the time that he opened it again except…
Except the toddler who was currently asleep beside him had reached out and grabbed the door handle then wailed for Nick to open it again. Somehow, she had put that food in the fridge. It was incredible to think that this little girl could have that ability, and yet this neighborhood (this world?) was so bizarre that anything was beginning to seem possible. Books were blank, people seemed to live here but had disappeared without a trace, lawn gnomes came to life… So to top it all off, this little girl that he'd run into wielded strange powers. Nick decided that he had to test them out, not only to figure out whether his explanation for the refrigerator was true or not, but also to determine the extent of her powers. Was her power only limited to fridges? Could she do other things as well?
And if the baby had powers, should he worry? Would she attack him like the gnome had? It didn't seem likely. Nick felt in his heart that there was nothing malicious or threatening about this child. They had bonded from the moment they first saw each other, and he knew that he could trust her. In fact, she was probably the only thing he could trust about This Place. (Besides, she was the bringer of yummy food, the filler of empty fridges, and one couldn't just take a girl like that for granted.) Nick looked down at the child fondly. She slept on her back with her mouth open, breathing peacefully. Nick thought that she looked as calm as he had felt when he slept, and he didn't want to wake her. He recalled his dream from the night before, the first dream he'd had since he came to This Place. Who had those people been, how had they known his name?
And that guy who looked like Nick, had that been him? If so, why had he spoken to himself, called himself by his own name? It didn't make any sense. Nick was getting used to his questions going unanswered, so he tried not to let it bother him. Somehow, he would figure this place out and find a way back to Kansas, or wherever it was that he belonged.
The baby finally stirred and opened her eyes, working her dry mouth with lip-smacking sounds. She blinked at Nick, and her eyes brightened, though they were heavy with sleep. The toddler cooed in delight and reached out for him. Smiling, Nick gathered her into his arms.
Later the two of them sat on the floor of the nursery, looking at each other. The infant clutched a new bottle in her hands, and Nick was munching on more cold leftovers from the fridge. He told her about himself and his story, as far back as he could remember it – how a few days ago he'd found himself walking down the street, knowing nothing but his name; how he'd kept making excuses for all the unusual things that kept happening; how he'd eventually given in and chalked all the peculiarities down to the strange nature of This Place; and, finally, how he'd met her.
"Okay," Nick said. "You probably don't understand me right now, since you're a baby and all, but I have to say something. I think that last night you put that food into the fridge with some crazy, but really cool, powers."
The infant babbled at him, her mouth opening to form happy baby gibberish.
"You know, that /does/ sound really dumb out loud," Nick admitted. "But, anyway, kiddo, I want to test this idea out." He shuffled across the floor on his knees towards a diaper changing station with cabinets built into it. He opened one of the doors so the little girl could see inside. "See? This is empty. Since this is a nursery and all, I figure that some sort of baby care stuff should be in here, like diapers and whatever. And since you're a baby, we really need those things at the moment because you're starting to… smell like a baby does." He couldn't think of any nicer way to put it.
"So, I want you to put your hands on this here door, kid, and do your thing. Fill this cabinet with all the stuff that belongs inside of it, okay? Or if your power is only limited to filling empty stuff with food, that's okay, too, because I like food."
The baby's head lolled to one side and she giggled. Nick wasn't sure whether she was reacting to his words or the comic expression on his face. "Come here," he beckoned with his hands, and the toddler clambered to her feet and walked towards him. The hem of her fancy white gown brushed the top of her feet, and Nick worried that she might trip and fall, but she crossed the room with no problem and joined him before the changing station. "Okay, let's do this."
The toddler stood there and stared at him.
"Come on," Nick prompted, "do it like you did last night." He was beginning to feel silly. Nick reached out and took her hands in his, pressing them up against the cabinet drawers. He held her hands there for a moment, giving her powers enough time to kick in. "Allright," Nick decided after a while. "That should do the trick."
Letting go of the infant's hands, he opened the cabinet and found it completely empty. It was his turn to stare now. "Okay… I feel really lame right now," Nick told her. "You must think that I'm a freak, don't you?" Disappointed, he shut the door and sat back, frowning. "None of my theories about this place are right. What the heck was I thinking? You're not a super-baby; you're just a regular baby after all…"
The little girl looked at Nick and cocked her head to the side. "Gah?" she asked.
"Yeah, gah," Nick repeated. "That's how I feel right now."
The baby sat there watching him for a moment and then reached out and grabbed the cabinet handle. She turned to look at Nick expectantly and bounced, squatting up and down at the knee.
"What, you want me to open it again?" Nick pulled the door open and fell backwards in surprise. The cabinet wasn't full, but there were now packs of diapers, a bottle of baby powder, and containers of wipes inside.
"You really do have magic powers!" he exclaimed. "This is incredible. I wonder what else I can test you out on…"
The baby started crying, and Nick realized that he still needed to change her diaper. He lifted her onto the changing station and did so, marveling at the fact that the act seemed to come naturally to his hands, even though his brain had no idea what it was doing. Once the baby was all powdered and in a fresh diaper, she squirmed and gurgled with delight. Nick threw the rolled up bundle of waste in the garbage and scrubbed his hands with a sanitary wipe. He was glad that the gash on his palm from the gnome bite was healing over but still wished he could properly wash his hands with soap and water.
"Do you do bathrooms, too?" Nick asked jokingly, tickling the infant's belly. It didn't seem like a bad idea, though, so he carried her into the bathroom and set her on the counter by the sink. "Here," he indicated the medicine cabinet and opened the mirrored door for the baby to see inside. "Can you put stuff in here? I need soap to wash my hands."
After some cajoling, Nick got her to set her hands on the medicine cabinet. She babbled as she did so, as though she were holding a conversation with him. When she removed her hands, Nick opened the door and look inside. There was a razor, a can of shaving cream, and a collection of bottles filled with an assortment of pills inside but no soap. "Soap?" Nick asked the infant. "No soap?" He rubbed his hands together, mimicking the act of washing them.
She clapped her hands together, trying to copy the motion
"What am I doing," Nick wondered, "trying to communicate the idea of soap to a one-year old?" At times he thought that she might actually understand what he said, and other times she was just a baby, albeit one with magical powers.
Nick spent another night and day in number 1503, testing the extents of the toddler's abilities. He took her to one of the bedrooms where her powers summoned women's clothing and some oversized men's clothes. Nick threw on a baggy shirt for the sake of wearing fresh garments, but he was still stuck in the same jeans. All in all, he was having no luck with getting the kid to fill the dressers with the things he actually wanted. The food and the diapers seemed to have been lucky results. Nick realized that they couldn't stay in the house forever, even though there was food in the refrigerator and a medicine cabinet full of pills for which he didn't know the use. He had to find his way back home and decided on his third night there that it was about time to get moving again.
The problem was how to take the infant – Nick didn't want to name her, so he got by with just calling her "Kid" – with him. She could walk but not very far or for too long, so that was out of the question. But if he had to carry her, along with all the other stuff he wanted to carry, his arms would get tired and they'd have to stop for frequent breaks. Nick tried to get the kid to use her powers on some of the drawers in the nursery, but none of them turned up a baby carrier that he could use.
Instead, she filled one bureau drawer with clothes, another with toys. Nick decided that in lieu of a baby carrier, he would just have to fashion some sort of sling. He pulled a sheet out of the little nursery crib, and threw it over his shoulder, tying it across his body like a sash. He'd place the kid in the sling, and even though he'd still need to use his arm to support her, at least it would be more comfortable than cradling her in his arms.
Before they left the nursery, Nick grabbed a pack of diapers, the bottle of powder and the container of wipes. Then he went into the bedroom where he slipped a pillowcase off one of the pillows to use as a sack. He stuffed an oversized sweater that he'd found in the bureau into the pillowcase as well. All that was left now was the food.
Nick lifted the baby into his arms and carried her downstairs into the kitchen. He set her up on the counter as he chucked baby bottles, bottles of water, and some fruit into the bag. Nick didn't know whether the containers of leftovers would travel well or not, but he also packed them anyway. On a whim, he decided to leave an apology note in the house out of habit, though he doubted that anyone would ever see it. He wondered again where the owners had gone and why. Nick had so many questions about This Place, and they were all unanswered. What had happened to this neighborhood? Now that he'd seen the kid's powers there was another possibility: had it been magically emptied?
"Sorry I raided your fridge," Nick wrote on a slip of paper he found lying around. He remembered to add, "You forgot your baby here, so I took her with me." He signed the note with that same barely-legible signature and left it in the kitchen.
"Ready to go?" he asked the infant and slipped her into the carrier securely against his chest. They left by the front door, and Nick made sure to lock it behind him.
Back on the street, he walked at a steady pace and made good time. Nick could see no end on the horizon but prayed that it was just a trick of the eye or a blind curve that kept him from seeing where the road led. He felt a little bit silly, wearing a baggy t-shirt and carrying a baby in a bed sheet sling, with a pillowcase full of food slung over his shoulder, but at least there wasn't anyone around to laugh at him. It was probably the only time Nick ever felt glad that This Place was deserted.
The toddler babbled from her carrier, and Nick talked back, pretending that she was actually asking him questions.
"Where are we going? Honestly, I have no idea, kid. Out of this place, though," he said. "I feel kind of bad for taking you away from your home in case your parents come back, but I couldn't just leave you there. I mean, what if something happened to you?"
"Anyway," Nick continued on, "My destination is home, wherever that is. I started having dreams again the other night, you know – which, now that I think about it, I wasn't able to do until I ran into you – and in my dreams there are all these people talking to me. I don't recognize any of them, but they all know who I am. There was even this one guy who looked a lot like me. I'm starting to think now that maybe that was my family."
"Aaaahh?" was all that the baby said in reply.
"Yeah, family. You know, when I arrived here the other day all blank and confused, I couldn't remember anything but my first name. I still don't know who I am or where I'm from, but I think things might just be coming back to me."
He smiled down at her, shifting the sack of food to sit more comfortably on his shoulder, "The moment I ran into you, kid, things didn't seem so strange or scary anymore. I mean, I'm not going crazy anymore – though I'm still talking to myself – but at least I'm not alone."
Nick's mind wandered back to the people from his dream, the people who might be his family, and then his thought turned to the infant who was now his responsibility. "I wonder who your family is," Nick said. "How could they have forgotten you? No offense to you, since that's your family and all, but whoever they are, they can't have been too nice since they were able to abandon a defenseless baby." The very thought of it made him angry. "But at the same time, I'm kind of grateful that they forgot you. I mean, if you weren't there, I don't know what would have happened to me. I might have gone crazy from the isolation or died from hunger or who knows what."
"How did you survive so long on your own without anyone else?" Nick asked the infant. "Did you just stand there for days and days in your crib, crying your head off until someone came for you? Maybe your powers kept you alive…"
Nick thought out loud like this as he walked down the street. He didn't stop anywhere, didn't try to enter any more houses. He'd decided that from now on, he would continue down this road until he found out where it led. And he would only stop at night when he got tired and had to rest. Besides, it would be too hard to frequently break into houses and climb in through windows with a baby in his arms. No, it was best if he just put off the breaking-and-entering until night set in.
After a couple miles worth of travel, Nick stopped by the side of the road and sat on the curb. He set down the pillowcase of food beside him then held the baby in his free hand as he untied the bed sheet sling. Then he laid the blanket on the hard ground and set her down on top of it because he hadn't found any shoes for her. The toddler gurgled with happiness at being able to move around and walked to the edge of the sheet.
"Hey, stay on the sheet," Nick told her. "I don't want your feet to get all dirty. After all, there isn't any water to bathe with."
He pulled a bottle out of the food sack and handed it to her. "Here, you're probably hungry." Nick leaned in close as she drank and put his nose to her belly, "You smell fine right now, so I don't think I have to change your diaper for a while."
He sat back and pulled a half-eaten sandwich out of the pillow case. The sandwich had already been partially eaten when he'd found it in the fridge, which – like everything else – did not make any sense. The bread was a bit dried out, but it tasted delicious, and the sandwich was filled with something thick and creamy and something sweet and fruity. Nick closed his eyes, "Mmmm, this is good… Peanut butter and jelly… I ate this a lot when I was a kid."
With a jerk he sat upright, realizing that he knew what he was eating and that it had unlocked a memory of his childhood. "Peanut butter and jelly!" He showed the sandwich to the baby. "Look! It's peanut butter and jelly."
She pulled the bottle out of her mouth and copied his intonation. "Ee-aaah-ahh-ehhh-eeeee!" she squealed.
How much more could he remember? Nick went through the bag, but nothing else seemed to unlock any memories. Maybe he would have to eat some more to recall anything.
When he finished his sandwich, Nick stretched his legs out. "Ah, that was good… How about your bottle, kid?" he looked over at her. The baby had finished before him and was toddling back and forth on the sheet. She gurgled and moved towards Nick, climbing into his lap.
"Oh, I get it," he teased, wrinkling his nose. "You need a diaper change." He set her down on her back and took care of the business. When he was done, Nick cleaned his hands with the baby wipes and stared at the dirty diaper. He had no idea what to do with the garbage. "Well, I can't take this with us. I guess… I'll just leave this here?" he said awkwardly, leaving it beside the street.
Nick packed up, lifted the little girl into his arms, and retied the baby carrier sash around his body. "Here we go again, kiddo…"