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                -- t. e. lawrence

    riding with the sun, music and stories by david soubly

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  The Toy Home.                                                       Page 4 of 12
 

              When next he awoke, the little bear struggled to understand how the darkness was not cool any longer but warm, and not the same darkness, either, but pierced with small flashes of light, and -- now the little bear was sharply, confusedly awake, hearing crashing sounds and rumblings.  His eyes darted to the witch, the clown, the rocking horse, but -- something kept coming between them and him, something like little clouds, and a roaring sound, the darkness getting warmer and --

            “Fire!” the Punchinello clown shouted.

            The little bear felt a stab of fear.  Fire!  And they were helpless!  “What do we do?” he squeaked.

            “Do, dearie?  There’s nothing to do except hope that it passes us by!”

            “Boy, it’s times like this I wish I was made of metal, like one of those trains or something,” the clown wailed.  “They’ve got a good chance of making it through something like this!  We might make it too, though!”

            “How?” the little bear squeaked.

            “If the fire doesn’t come too close, we might not get too scorched, dearie!  And if it does, well... At least we won’t feel anything!”

            “How do you know we won’t feel anything?”  The little bear’s voice cracked, and he looked wildly about.  The darkness was getting hotter, the smoke thicker.  He wasn’t able to see the clown or the witch anymore, and he could just barely make out the rocking horse.

            From the smoke the witch’s voice said, “Because I once knew a plastic soldier, a parade leader, who stood straight up with his hands on his hips, until one day he was set too close to the fireplace, and his right arm melted away.  He didn’t feel a thing!  He told me!”

            “What happened?  Did they fix him?”

            “No, they -- “ the witch’s voice could barely be heard over the growing commotion “ -- they threw him away.”

            The words sank like stones into the little bear, despite his fear of the approaching fire.  To be thrown away.  That was the worst thing that could ever happen to a toy.  He would rather be burned away.

            He could hardly see anything now, the smoke was so thick.  All the sounds became louder and clearer, especially since he couldn’t see.  He could hear sirens, and people’s voices, a roaring sound.  He resolved that he would be brave, brave -- but in spite of things, he felt as though he was going to cry.  He blinked, blinked again, hearing through the crashing the clown’s voice as he shouted, “The firefighters are here!  The firefighters will save us!”  -- blinking yet again, wondering if it was true what the witch had said (because he could feel it getting warmer, and if he could feel that --); trying to be brave but feeling very frightened and alone --

            Suddenly, through all the smoke, he saw a single golden gleam, shining like a beacon, piercing the darkness.  It was a golden eye, and it was looking directly, steadfastly at him.  It belonged to the rocking horse.

            And then the voice, low, sweet and strong, gathered him in:  “Be brave, little bear, be brave.  And don’t give up hope.  Remember what I tell you:  I know you will be taken home, someday.”

            “But rocking horse, what about you?”

            “Be brave, little bear!  Set your heart to hope, and remember to wish for things, and wish wisely!  This is all that toys can do, but even this means so much.  Who knows, maybe we’ll see each other, when -- when -- “

            “When will we see each other, rocking horse?” the little bear shouted.  But at that moment, he heard a loud CRACK!, and a sudden flash almost blinded him.  A huge chunk of flaming wood fell from the ceiling and landed with a crash in a shower of sparks.  For an instant, flames seemed to be everywhere, as the smoke was whipped away to reveal both the Punchinello clown and the witch with the broken broomstick glowing eerily in the firelight.  Through the fire gleamed the single golden eye of the rocking horse.

            Just as suddenly, an even larger crash exploded behind the little bear, followed by a huge and powerful stream of water that roared through what was once the room they were in, snuffing out the fire on the floor and scattering toys in all directions.  The little bear felt himself slammed upward by the force of the water, leaving clown, witch, horse in a sudden spinning escape, right through a burning mass that was once ceiling, roof, through timbers and out into a nighttime world full of fire, heat, water, cold, toys, people -- spinning now and falling for what seemed ages, as the spray left him and the firestorm wind carried him down, down to the water-soaked street.  He hit with a jarring thud and knew no more.

***

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