Oh hi! Happy Friday!
The kids' school had a professional day today so there were no classes. This means I'm getting a bonus long weekend this month! Yay! My hubby works nights and usually goes to bed around the same time I'm taking the kids for school, so I got up at my usual time for getting out the door for school, left the kids sleeping and him awake, and got to go shopping by myself! Without a time limit! Because once the kiddos are up and fed he can leave them with a movie and go to sleep. He texted me when he was going to bed, and they watched a movie until I get home.
In case you're worried, I'm not a jerk who sprang this on him last minute, I asked if this would be possible last night during his first break and he said sure. He ended up staying awake later than usual due to hating the feeling that the kids are 'alone' (even if he's there to wake up if something goes wrong for them), but he wasn't up a lot later. And I got to leave the house for Alone Time Shopping without needing to clock watch. There's also a happy ending to this story: we have groceries again, I could hit four stores easily in one shopping trip, and Canadian Tire had indoor / outdoor strings of 100 purple – PURPLE! – Halloween twinkle lights. (This last thing may not be a big deal in your house, but I just scored tree lights in the favorite color of both kids and we can use them for Halloween through to New Years. WIN!)
My creativity died this week under doctor appointments, school volunteering, weather-change pain, and the general, failure-feeling anxiety which, for me, rears up whenever I don't get much writing done. That only means it was an editing week. :) Hope you have a great weekend!
4. Fluffy, Safe... Toys
Felix thought Luis was growling, but then Luis stopped advancing and glared around the clearing for the source. The growl didn’t sound like anything from the normal night noises. The bear that had carried the shoe box to Felix had collapsed to its back when all the toys had stopped. Now, its arms dangled and its legs jerked stiffly as it rolled to its belly. Then to its back. Then to its belly. It ended the jolting movements in the empty space between Felix and Luis.
Felix’s vision flickered and… he had to be having another breakdown episode. That bear was a pink toy with loose stitching and fluff coming out where one ear used to be. That’s what it had been when it delivered the music box. Felix closed his eyes and shook his head quickly. When he looked again, the toy was wobbling upright to stand in the fluffy, clumsy way it moved since however long Felix had been here, its belly rising from a patch of tall weeds hiding its legs.
But it was still growling. And when his vision flickered again its back legs were shifting in steps that kept the bear’s feet high above the tops of the tallest grass as the toy’s arms swayed, hanging loosely from its sides. The front legs of the walking thing protruded from the remnants of the bear’s chest. Felix blinked again and saw only the bear wobbling toward Luis on its back legs. The tracks it was leaving between the patches of weeds were clearly made by something walking on four feet. Every new scar showed four claws scraping the earth for each footprint.
The flickering way things looked made everything around him confusing to see. Felix knew the toys didn’t have antlers, they had soft ears. They were slightly worn but still fuzzy pastel colors, not fabrics long rotted into earthy hues. They had stumpy, round, soft paws, not long, sinewy arms ending in claws and hands with only fingers and no thumbs. Every time he blinked, the flickering cleared and they were what he knew them to be: every day, soft toys that people put in cribs with babies when they were new and didn’t get that forgotten look until after a first camping trip where they got left out in the rain. They didn’t have pointed teeth and gleaming eyes that stared out from the wrong places in the last of the stitching. These weren’t nightmare things, they were just old, forgotten toys.
They were silly, soft, safe toys.
He squished his eyes shut and curled tighter. The unicorn with the glitter frozen in its scratched up eyes thumped a sequined front hoof to his chest and then wiggled out of his arms to flump beside the fallen music box. Felix’s gaze dropped to watch it, the sounds of Luis’s feet stumbling backwards fading quieter in his ears. The unicorn bounced to peep out one squeak and then hugged the music box. The adorable way it cuddled the cube enchanted Felix’s lips into a smile. He picked up the music box in one hand and the unicorn in the other and then folded his legs criss-cross applesauce so he could set both of them down, one balanced on each of his legs.
“What the hell is…?” Luis’s voice tightened and strangled off the last part of the question.
Felix looked over at where Luis was backing away from the toy-wearing things jerkily rolling and lurching to collect between where Felix sat with the unicorn and Luis. Except Felix knew the toys weren’t things, they were only a bit worn out. He blinked. They were fluffy toys. Blind rage was slowly turning to blind panic on Luis’s face. The soft toys flickered as Felix watched, revealing impossibly long limbs suspending the toys and Luis staring in slack-jawed terror. Felix blinked.
The unicorn bounce-squeaked and patted Felix’s hand; pulling his attention back to the items in his lap and then nuzzling against his forearm. The unicorn looked so much nicer since he’d gotten it tidied up, and its plastic fur was soft against his skin. Felix twisted the peg on the side of the music box, leaving the lid up to listen to the song start when he finished. A rush of small animal noises hurried away, the quiet peeps of squeakers fading out of the clearing behind him as the first notes tinked and plinked up from his lap.
There was something that sounded like distant roars, maybe far away screaming, but the tune from the box was louder. The little unicorn snuggled against his wrist and he petted it gently. After a moment, the penguin he’d retied the flipper arm for came and sat with them, swaying to slowing pace of the song. Felix quietly sang words he hadn’t remembered until seeing the little unicorn bobbing its head along with the beat:
“If you come into the woods tonight, you’re in for a big surprise.
If you come into the woods tonight, their truth will be in disguise.
Fey wear the cloak of any old toy and gather here in the clearing.
To play is fun, but the hunt’s begun, and the Teddy Bears want their picnic.”
Felix wound up the box again, smiling at the antics of the unicorn that had been – for lack of a better description to fit the shuffling, dipping and popping – dancing on his knee while he sang, the little penguin clapping its flippers. As when he’d first gotten to the clearing and the toys had shuffled out to see him, he realized this breakdown wasn’t too bad. He turned a bit and set the unicorn on a patch of clear grass, smiling as it danced with the penguin, the rest of the toys forgotten.
This breakdown was safe, soft and friendly. Not at all like the bloody ones that Mom said his real dad had.
The unicorn was warm when he snuggled to sleep with it, blanketed under stars. The music box played along with his dreams, all the toys returning and becoming lovely, person-sized versions of their forgotten selves in his imagination. He dreamed of dancing, and slept with a smile on his face.
I think I'm at the point were I just have to accept that things are going to remain too busy for the next while. Plus the kids are sick again. This time just colds, but good grief there have been a load of viruses this school year! And we're only half way through October! [sighs in mom] This is the fourth illness to come through - yes, they've each been different enough to know they're separate strains - and I'm hopeful a weekend at home with blankets, hot tea, and silly movies will do the trick for getting everyone feeling better.
3. The Music
The toys leaned closer as Felix studied the contents of the shoe box. There was just an ornate little cube inside with a peg sticking out from a circle of fancy inlay. He lifted it out. The unicorn hanging over his leg wiggled and then spun, its front hooves reaching for the cube. Felix held the cube closer to it, watching as the rounded, sequined hooves repeatedly clapped onto and slipped off of the peg. It stopped trying to hold the peg and looked up at him, the glitter in its eyes twinkling like tiny stars in a scratched-up sky.
Felix turned the cube a few different ways to look at each side of it and found a pair of hinges. He changed his grip and pulled the cube open. Protected in a plexiglas case, the bottom half contained the guts of a music box that were attached to the peg the unicorn had been trying to grab. The top half was a plastic lock box; a treasure vault for a small child painted with old-timey teddy bears that looked like they were… dancing? Maybe. Nothing was inside the vault. The unicorn put one hoof on the peg.
“You want me to wind up the music box?”
They all nodded agreement, each toy holding up the round-ended arms they each possessed. None of these toys had proper hands. Felix smiled at them and snapped the music box closed. He twisted the peg, listening to the ratchet, and nodded to himself when it clicked.
“Do you want to open it?” he asked, holding the cube down to the unicorn. He held the bottom secure as the unicorn’s floppy arms lifted the lid.
The toys leaped and played, silently cheering, as the first few notes tinked. The song paused, signaling that it had wound down at the end, and then strongly clinked into the first few bars of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The toys danced around, bopping and spinning in time with the music as the song repeated over and over. Felix wound it up again before it stopped, timing the winding so it didn’t interrupt the tune.
The toys flopped as the music started again, all of them returning to the state of crumpled disarray that had to be reality. The footsteps of a much larger animal were close and approaching quickly. So much for a pleasant breakdown, Felix thought.
Luis stomped into the clearing. The look on his face made Felix very clearly aware that being found here, as a fifteen year old boy playing with dolls set around like they were at a luncheon, the sweet plinking of the music box providing a childishly girl song, was among the top three worst things Luis had ever seen. And that Luis seeing it meant that Felix was the one to blame for causing the images to be seared into Luis’s brain.
The old music box wound down to silence. The rage in Luis’s eyes was making his expression as blank and staring as the toys. Felix’s chest heaved and his heart raced. The unicorn in his lap moved, its head twisting to stare up at him and its front hooves pressing into the back of his hand. He jerked his head down to stare at it and it touched its horn to the peg on the side of the music box before twisting to stare up at him again. It was time to wind up the music box again so the toys could keep dancing.
“I’ll show you,” Luis muttered.
Felix’s eyes snapped up to look at his step-father, the boy shaking as he realized that the man was there. Luis’s hands were slowly working the button at his waistband loose. His second stride landed on one of the tattered kitties with a squeaker, and was the same toy that had played catch with the penguin Felix had retied the stitching for. The peep was truncated and wheezing.
The unicorn in Felix’s lap tapped his hand. He startled so bad that he dropped the music box. The notes it had paused on twanged loose in a harsh chord that shattered the breakdown vision and made Luis’s footsteps sound louder than only a moment ago. There wasn’t anywhere to run away to out here… Felix picked up the unicorn and held it tightly, wrapping his arms around it protectively as Luis kicked through six toys that had slumped over in the middle of a tea party. Felix’s heart was pounding so hard that he thought its beat would bruise his ribs. The unicorn hugged against him so closely that he could feel it turn its head and nod.
Something started growling over in the direction the unicorn was now looking.
I think that maybe, hopefully, the crazy amount of busy from the past few weeks is finally winding down in to the normal amount of busy. I haven't even been getting much knitting done. Next week is looking up, which means getting some of these characters in my head back into conversational tones rather than the yelling they've been doing
My characters usually get louder when I have to ignore them for what they consider is too long. Story developments are very intrusive for day-to-day life. Especially when I have to interrupt the stories to exist in this 'reality' place that everyone is so keen about.... lol :)
Overall, I'm just happy this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and there's an extra day off. Hope you have a great weekend!
2. Lost and Found
It was a unicorn. The scratched eyes were those oversized ones with glitter frozen into them and the horn was sewn on at that weird angle of mass production. Felix picked it up, surprised that it was dry. He brushed off the leaves stuck to its butt and picked dead grass out of the clumped, short, plastic fur on its stomach. The hard eyes felt like they were staring at him.
“I’m just trying to make one of us look better,” he told it. “But I guess we’re both going to have to stay stained.” He turned the toy as if he was showing it the bruise his dad… the bruise Luis had left on his arm. The unicorn’s arms and legs hung forward. It was a floppy toy. It still felt like the arms were hugging his hand.
Felix pulled the toy close, tucking its head into the corner of his chin and his neck, closed his eyes and hugged it tightly. The floppy arms rested perfectly on either side of his throat. When he relaxed his arms and looked at the toy in his hands, part of him felt better.
One floppy arm patted his fingers.
Felix yelled and dropped it. He tripped on his own feet and fell back onto his butt. Part of his brain reasoned that he was having an episode after a traumatic event and the toy hadn’t really moved. Most of his brain was freaking out because the unicorn was rolling around where he’d dropped it and pushing up to balance on all four of its floppy legs. All of his brain was frozen in watching the toy limp forward to stand between his shoes and then lean on his leg to snuggle against his pajama pants.
It had to be a breakdown. He was having a breakdown.
The toy flumped to sit between his feet. Felix reached forward and touched its head. It rubbed into his palm like a friendly cat. He chuckled nervously and let it rub on him. The unicorn was seriously creepy, but as far as breakdowns went this one was pretty friendly. It limped a few steps closer and then stopped, one hind leg flipping in all manner of directions. Felix leaned a bit further forward and, using one hand to hold the leg steady, picked off the dried leaf that had gotten stuck in the sequins meant to look like a hoof.
“There you go,” he said, smiling nervously at the toy as he let go of its leg. It looked up at him, its head cocked sideways, and then it rushed forward. It scrambled up and over his thigh to hang in the crux of his hip with a contented squeak.
Rustling around the small clearing pulled his eyes up to stare out at more perfect circles reflecting back at him. All the small animal noises he’d been hearing accompanied more and more stuffed toys sitting or standing up, some of them peeking out from behind plants, forming a nearly perfect ring the entire way around the clearing.
“A teddy bear picnic!” Felix whispered. His imagination was off the charts tonight, but this was a lot better than the war flashbacks Mom said his real dad had.
Unicorns, ponies, bears, penguins, kitties, puppies and bugs… soft dolls of every type stared at him, unblinking. The unicorn in his lap braced its hooves and did a belly bounce on his hip. A little squeak peeped out from some kind of rubber squeaker its stomach. The lost and forgotten toys stumbled and tripped forward. Some helped others limp ahead. The ring of them closed tightly around Felix, limbs and bodies littered with thorns, branches and dead leaves.
One by one, he cleaned them up as best he could. The affectionate ones piled around his legs as the others went and sat in small groups to play. Some tossed stones like balls to play catch while others picked up smaller toys and treated them like dolls, to the apparent delight of the smaller ones. The nearly silent picnic continued as a happy event, only a few squeakers peeping at random intervals when toys with them fell or were hugged too tightly too quickly by another.
Once all the toys were cleaned up, Felix joined in the games. He played gently with the creatures, helping a penguin to catch because its stitching had come so loose that one flipper arm dangled uselessly. After the game, he carefully pulled the loose threads tighter and knotted them off as best he could. The flipper still didn’t work well, but it did work again and the little penguin hugged around his wrist.
One of the bigger bears ambled off to the edge of the trees and kicked under a pile of sticks and leaves. It bent down and picked up something square shaped before turning and dawdling toward where Felix was snuggling with the little penguin.
The first unicorn hadn’t left his lap. It belly-bumped a squeak as the big bear got close. Felix looked around as the toys circled him.
“What’s wrong, guys?” he asked the ring of staring eyes. The bear held out the box.
It was an old shoe box. He took it carefully, expecting the soggy cardboard to give way and dump out whatever the heavy thing was inside. Surprisingly, the cardboard held. Felix set the box on the ground between his knees and pried open the lid.
1. Running Away
Felix stayed where he fell this time and simply curled up. Pulling his knees to his chest felt like the right thing to do now. He wanted to cry but he was still too angry.
How. Did his dad. Even think that was an okay thing to do?
Scratch that. Luis was just the guy his mom had married. A dad by default.
Felix’s real dad was living in a military induced PTSD nightmare in an alley network somewhere on the other side of the country. He would call during lucid moments. The phone calls were getting closer together, so maybe there was a possibility that if Felix could get out there, his dad would recognize him enough of the time that it would be safe… tears burned his eyes.
Scratch that. His mom would freak.
Anger flared and the tears stopped before they could start. Luis had hit her! Obviously she hadn’t known about him being that kind of a jerk or she wouldn’t have married him.
The scene flashed through Felix’s memory: sitting on the sofa with his mom after coming out and comparing which guys on TV they each thought were cute, laughing, and Luis barging in yelling every slur he could spit. Mom getting mad and standing up. Luis punching her. Felix standing up and yelling back. Luis grabbing Felix’s arm hard and yelling about ‘showing him what them faggots do’ while undoing his pants. Mom coming up off the floor, growling, going for Luis’s eyes with the manicure she’d just had done that morning. Blood. Luis punching Mom again and Felix getting free.
“Run!” she’d said. He had. But he’d stopped in the kitchen and called nine-one-one on the land line his mom had insisted they keep.
“He’s going to kill us!” he’d yelled as soon as the operator started talking. Then he’d yelled their address. Then Luis had heard him and he’d left the phone call connected and bolted out the back door, leaping over the railing to get off the porch and racing into the forest behind their neighborhood.
The first time he fell, he’d been able to hear a distant siren. He’d also been able to hear Luis yelling and crashing after him, so he’d scrambled to his feet and gotten back to running. Every step he’d taken away from the house added a new crack in the glass covering what he’d thought was a picture-perfect family. Sure, they’d had fights and problems, but splashing through a creek cold enough to make his balls ache and then scrambling up the far bank to keep running had been the shattering moment that there was an unfixable issue.
Felix had figured out a while ago – around the same time he’d figured out and gotten the key vocabulary about himself – that his dad… that Luis was on the phobic, normative side of genders and sexuality. Lots and lots of people were. That didn’t mean they’d beat their wife and try to rape their kid… their step kid about it. Felix wasn’t even gay! As if that made a difference. He knew he was bi, or pan maybe. It had only come up because he was taking Allen as a date to the Grade 9 Formal and he’d been honest when his mom asked who he was planning on going with.
Tears finally came. Anger leaked out in salty drops as the usual forest sounds returned. Small animals doing whatever small animals do at night when they’re not sleeping. Felix had stopped being scared of the dark years ago. The quiet noises around him felt safe because these little animals felt safe enough to resume whatever they’d been doing before he arrived and crashed their party.
He sat up, sniffling, and wiped his face with his shirt. No watch, no phone, no socks and no jacket. He was only wearing shoes because Mom had asked him to take the garbage out and stopped him to ask about the dance just as he was picking up the bags. It was her favorite way to ask any hard questions about things, waiting until someone was carrying something, as if she knew people needed a thing in their hands to fidget with whenever she asked anything that was or could be personal. He’d dropped the garbage and perched on the arm of the sofa beside her when she’d offered a smile and her hand to hold onto instead.
Then his dad… then Luis had ruined everything.
Felix looked around. Something was looking back at him. Two circles that were too perfectly round glinted in the light of half a moon. The shape around the circles was distorted; a bloated head slumped atop a body of equal size. By squinting a bit Felix could see one rounded ear was hanging askew. It was just somebody’s old stuffed toy, forgotten on a family trip or dragged here by an animal. He stood up and walked over to it.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!