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    riding with the sun, music and stories by david soubly

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  The Toy Home.                                                       Page 5 of 12
 

             The little bear awoke to flickering light.  He felt cold more than hot:  the fire had by now died down, although he could still see lots of smoke -- and a gaping ruined mass of broken glass and charred wood.  That, he supposed, was where the Toy Home had been.

            He was afraid to look at himself, afraid of what the fire had done to him.  Would an arm or leg be burned off, or worse?  He didn’t feel any different, but the thought frightened him so much that he shut his eyes tight.

            Then, from somewhere inside himself, he seemed to hear the rocking horse’s voice:  “Be brave, little bear.  Set your heart to hope...”  What had become of the clown, the witch?  And especially, what had become of the rocking horse?  She had been so brave, so strong!

            He decided then that he would be brave.  Somehow he felt that the rocking horse would know if he behaved like a brave little bear.  Yes.  He would be brave.  He opened his eyes to take a hard look at himself.

            Now he had two missing buttons.  He decided that that wasn’t so bad:  almost any spare button would make a simple repair.  Then he noticed that his left arm was scorched, and that the once-soft light brown fur from upper arm to elbow was now curled and black.  This was much more serious.  What child would ever want a burnt-up old bear?  Still, he resolved to hope such a one existed.

            He looked toward the smoldering ruin where the Toy Home had been.  On the remains of the front wall, a large and broken white sign, its edges charred, hung at a crazy angle.  The little bear could recognize letters -- he had spent lots of time around wooden blocks -- but didn’t know what they meant.  Still, he said them to himself, one by one:

            S-T-V-I-N-C-E-N-T-D-E-P-A-U-L-S-O-C

            He wondered if that was the name of the Toy Home.  He shut his eyes again.  He heard the sound of heavy boots.  Two firefighters, tall and busy, rushed by.  Then, silence.

            “Little bear.”

            The little bear opened his eyes.  Had he been dreaming?  That had sounded like the rocking horse!  Could it be...?  He looked eagerly about.  And then he saw her!  “Rocking horse!” he squealed.  “But what’s happened to you?  What happened to your rocker?”

            “Oh, I’ll be all right,” the rocking horse said.  She was lying off to the left of the little bear, leaning against the curb of the street that ran in front of the Toy Home.  She almost looked as though she was ready to ride, propped up as she was, except --

            Except that her cracked rocker was gone, torn completely off from the force of the water blasted from the fire hoses.  Her two left legs remained frozen in space, and jagged pieces of splintered wood showed where the legs had once joined the rocker.  She had lost a bit of her wooden mane as well, chipped off.  But her eye still comforted the little bear with its warm, steady gaze.  “I suppose it will be a very long time before someone takes me home now,” she was saying.

            “But we’re on the street now!” the little bear protested.  “How will we ever be taken home now?”

            A long, low whistle came from the sidewalk to their right.  “Holy smokes!  Whatever happened to you two?”

            It was the Punchinello clown!  He was sitting slumped over on the sidewalk, peering impishly at them from under his yellow jester’s cap.  “Boy, it sure looks like you caught the worst of it!  You all right, little bear?  How ‘bout the horse?”

            “I-I’m okay, I guess,” the little bear said.  “And the rocking horse’s rocker’s been torn completely off.”

            “Wow, tough luck! ...Anybody seen the witch?”

            But nobody had.

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