The great stuffed-animal purge

Ted drew a heavy breath through his Camel unfiltered, a half-empty bottle of Scotch held tightly in his right paw. It might lessen, but he knew the horror would never go away, no matter how much he smoked or drank. Sometimes, though, these vices dulled the knife just enough. Sometimes he could not hear the voices, raised in fear, anger, horror and finally terror-stricken resignation. Then his head would clear, and he would return to that day the skies turned black, the day of the Great Stuffed Animal Purge.

Ted and Lion were sunning themselves on Tony's shelf. Lion had removed his Alf T-shirt as everyone was away at school and no one would notice. Ted joked that Lion's chest looked pasty, not king-of-the-jungley.

Up on that shelf right next to the closet, they could hear the gang behind the closet door. Mike's shouts of "I'll show you a belly flop" followed by raucous laughter reminded Ted that he missed hanging out with the boys. Not that he minded Lion, but Ted was old-school – his paws and nose were socks – Lion was a prize for selling patrons. But he was Tony's and Ted was happy to sit on the shelf.

That was the last thing he remembered thinking before Tony's bedroom door creaked open. He hoped it was Tony's mom – she would probably not notice that Lion was not wearing the Alf T-shirt. Ted never forgave himself for that thought.

It was Tony's mom, but Ted immediately felt a shiver and knew something was not right. She was carrying trash bags.

Mom glanced at Ted and Lion on the shelf and Ted couldn't understand why she started to open one of the trash bags. Then she shook her head and opened the closet door.

With his sharp stuffed animal ears, Ted heard some scuttling as the gang realized the door was opening and they hurried to the stuffed animal box. Seconds later, the screams started.

He heard Buffy the Buffalo utter a single cry before terrified silence reigned for a moment. Then it sounded to Ted's ears as if a nightmare had come to life in the closet.

He and Lion stared at each other, plastic eyes wide.

Ted then heard Billy Bear, his partner in crime for many years – both had spent as much time under the needle as in children's hands, it seemed. Billy yelled in a voice that threatened to puncture Ted's eardrums. He yelled the words all toys feared: "She's cleaning up; it's a purge!"

Ted never saw Billy's face again, his funny, little sewed-up face. Ted thought he saw Billy's paw grasp the closet door in a vain attempt to escape the garbage bag. If Billy could make it to Tony's room, Ted knew, Billy would have sanctuary. It is much harder to throw away your children's toys if they are on a shelf. But Billy didn't make it. Ted saw the paw go limp and rise off the ground, then it disappeared.

Tears were welling up in Ted's eyes. What could he do, he thought frantically. He heard heaving, then silence and knew Barf Bear had thrown up for the last time.

Through the fog of the massacre, Ted dimly heard Mike's voice. "To me, to me; take to the upper shelves and hide." Iron Mike, the red hippo, surely he could do something, Ted thought.

Knickerbocker, Emily's favorite dog, must have heard the screams from down the hall and he poked his head in Tony's room. Ted sat transfixed by the horror, unaware of Knick at first. Seeing Knick, Ted recalled Knickerbocker had survived for years in a suitcase. Knick could help them hide, Ted thought. They just had to distract Mom enough to get Knickerbocker to the battlefield.

Breaking the situation to Knick quickly, Ted laid out his plan. He and Lion would knock something off a shelf and when mom came out, Knick would duck in. It wasn't a risk-free plan, Ted knew. If Mom came and saw Knick by the door, she might just pick him up and toss him into the bag. Knick saw the same danger and backed hurriedly and wordlessly out of Tony's room.

"Damn," Ted thought. He knew Knick had not been all right in the head since the suitcase event; he should have known better than to propose such a risky plan. Maybe one of the Diego brothers could help, but who knows where they were.

They were daredevils, Ted knew, hang-gliding on kites out windows, but they had disappeared some years back. For all Ted knew, they could have been purged themselves.

Ted cursed again. Time was growing short, he knew. The closet wasn't that big. He thought he heard the despairing laugh of Clown Dog before he joined his brethren in the bag.

"Good lord, how did you get back there?" The words chilled Ted's already frozen heart. Mom was discovering the hideaways. He thought he heard Mike yell "Freedom," but the cry was cut off. Ted could only imagine the lovable red hippo disappearing into the bag, his metal nostrils forever cold now.

Few were left now, Ted knew. He listened numbingly to the cries of the Orcs and Pooky. Underwear Bear went with little more than a whimper. One of the Lions left with a curse on his lips; the other uttered a prayer to the stuffed animal god.

Then it was over.

Ted gagged when Mom left the closet, her bag bulging with his dead friends. She could not smell the death, the blood on the bag. She was sure she had just eradicated some clutter in a dirty closet. Ted knew the reality; what she eradicated were the lives of his friends.

The Scotch was gone, and Ted's cigarette was nothing but ashes. He and Lion had made a pact years ago never to discuss that day. It was too painful. They just dealt with it as best they could. He knew Knickerbocker had trouble coming to terms with that day still. He saw a therapist and had spent time in a mental home trying to deal with his "cowardice." Ted didn't think he needed therapy; he knew what to do: He reached for a full bottle of Scotch.

Blog Archive