THIS STORY IS being written on a dark and stormy night. You know … the kind of atmosphere that begins hundreds of different stories the world over:
“It was a dark and stormy night … ”
However, the actual weather isn’t the main focus of this particular tale.
Rather, it is the time …
That’s all anyone ever fears, really.
Since time immemorial, what lurks ‘out there’ – during the hours when the sun sleeps – has been the stuff of horror. Terrifying tales of obscene creatures, events too powerful and too evil to contemplate with the rational mind claw at the subconscious.
Those selfsame forces – said to be responsible for all that is wrong with the world – lurk on the edge of your dreams, in the time before the dawn, in the dead of night.
In the unknown.
This story (if you choose to accept it, to believe it) could be about a facet of those unknown forces, those unspeakable demons that drive weaker beings in the daylight world to commit atrocious acts of depravity and sadism.
It could be a story about devils.
It could be a story about blood sacrifices.
It could be a story about murder.
It could be a story about an old stuffed toy.
To whom it once belonged is … unknown.
The old toy bear, once some happy child’s plaything, now cast out under the elements in the old, deserted woodlands near the outskirts of the small country town. Its once orange-coloured fur long ago transformed to a sickly yellow ochre under the wind and rain, its once cute button eyes now staring lifelessly, unwillingly … out into the world beyond this one.
During those lonely hours between the dusk and the dawn, when most people have barricaded themselves (subconsciously, for the most part) into the relative safety of the home, away from the horrors alive in the night …
… what do you suppose this old toy bear (assuming it possessed some small sliver of sentience) …
… could have seen?
Of course, such a thought is purely and plainly irrational. Stuffed toys aren’t sentient, and only contain as much life as the child to whom it once belonged imparted to it.
But suppose …
… just suppose that it was sentient … that it was alive … the energies of its previous owner building and building until the old stuffed bear possessed – however rudimentary – the first stirrings of a life of its own …
… of consciousness.
Not in the same manner as people, of course.
But … in some special – unknown – ‘stuffed toy way’ …
… suppose it was alive.
After all, toy bears are crafted with anthropomorphism in mind, aren’t they?
Assuming that could possibly be the case …
… assuming it was alive …
… just what do you suppose that old toy bear might have seen in those dark hours, where the unknown reigns, cast – as it was – out into the night?
If one could witness such events in the middle of the deserted bushland, with eldritch forces swirling ’round and ’round the poor stuffed bear, do you suppose that one would see the once-cute button eyes suddenly appear to widen … as if terror gripped its plush little heart?
Do you suppose that one might see the old toy attempt to move its shabby paws up to its mouth …
… as if to stifle a scream?
A reaction to terrors only it could witness?
Of course, nothing like that could ever happen, you say.
It’s just an old stuffed toy.
But suppose …
… just suppose …
… that the unknown was enough to terrify even an old stuffed bear …
If it was so, then just what manner of inconceivable horrors would be out there? And what effect could those nameless terrors have on the toy besides its fitful, fearsome shuddering?
Would it surrender to the maddening forces assaulting it during those dark hours?
Would it turn from a simple child’s plaything …
… into something that would do almost anything to keep those arcane powers at bay?
Would it turn, and – fearing for its nascent soul, its elementary sanity – desperately bargain, turning to some unknown horror to do so?
Of course not.
Who’d even think such a thing, you’d say.
That’s why, when the child saw the bear, he instantly picked it up … overjoyed at his newfound prize.
Little Adrian was only five years old, after all, and something like the old stuffed toy bear – found, abandoned in the bushland as he explored it while his parents held their picnic nearby – represented (to him) a most valuable treasure indeed.
Of course, he would have to keep his newfound treasure hidden from Mum and Dad. Grown-ups didn’t understand such things, and would only make him throw it back where he found it, saying that he had ‘no idea where it had been’.
But little Adrian knew better … and – according to him – there was nothing wrong at all with the old toy bear.
That’s why he didn’t give a second thought to picking it up and hiding it in his jacket to take home. And – of course – he didn’t even consider for a moment what the old toy bear might have ‘seen’ during the dark hours.
Perhaps, sometimes, children don’t know more than their parents, after all.
Upon arriving home, little Adrian raced upstairs to his room and closed the door behind him. He wanted to find a safe hiding place for his newfound toy. Somewhere his parents would never find it.
Ah! The cupboard where he stored his clothes!
He put the toy bear under a pile of size three t-shirts, closed the door, then went downstairs to watch TV.
The afternoon passed, the dark coming early due to the heavy clouds in the sky that were pregnant with imminent deluge. The night – when it came – was dark and stormy …
Stormy enough to awaken little Adrian from his slumber.
Ordinarily, he would have asked if he could stay with his parents until the storm had passed …
… but not on that night.
That night, little Adrian knew that he had something that could protect him against the storm.
Or so he thought.
Lightning spat with thunderous tongues as little Adrian headed from his bed and over to the cupboard to fetch his newfound toy.
He reached under the t-shirts and grabbed the bear by the paw.
Quickly running back over to his bed with his toy bear protecting him, little Adrian thought that he wouldn’t have to worry about anything ever again.
And with that, he fell asleep.
An explosion of thunder reawakened him barely ten minutes later.
He wasn’t half as startled by that, though, as he was by the fact that his toy bear was … gone.
He didn’t even notice the tiny roar – a roar a bear might make if it were the size of a small, stuffed toy – as the lightning flashed through the window and the thunder bellowed overhead.
His only focus was looking around his room frantically for his new toy.
And suddenly …
… he saw it.
His little stuffed bear was leaning up against the door of his clothes cupboard where he had put it earlier that day … to keep it … safe.
It seemed to be … pawing … little arms held in the air, mimicking the actions of someone pounding upon the door … as though …
… trying to get back in?
Little Adrian didn’t think of any of that, however.
He only wanted his toy back, and rushed quickly over to retrieve it.
As he reached out to grab it …
… he yelped.
A tiny roar had protested his lifting the toy from the floor …
Turning the bear over, little Adrian saw the cute button eyes … eyes that were now wider than he remembered them.
Eyes that were laced with a horrible fear.
And the tiny protest roar sounded again.
Unknowingly, little Adrian padded back over near his bed, closer and closer to the window … to the storm outside … to the night … holding the toy at arm’s length as he did so. At this, the bear’s tiny roars grew more and more frequent as the distance between it and the cupboard grew.
Little Adrian didn’t know what to make of this at all.
But he did know one thing:
The expression on the toy bear’s face was unnatural, and nothing like it had been when he had found it that afternoon.
In a burst of panic, little Adrian surged forward, tore open the doors of the cupboard and threw the toy bear back in before slamming the door.
He spent the rest of the night awake – the covers pulled as high as he could – with his eyes glued to the door of the cupboard, his young mind desperately trying to fathom what had gone wrong with his newfound toy.
Eventually, however, fear gave way to exhaustion (or, indeed, exacerbated it), and – as dawn pushed through the clouds and into his room – little Adrian gave way to sleep.
That day, little Adrian was troubled.
His problem, of course, was the bear.
It had changed.
He didn’t quite know how – or why – but he accepted it without the scepticism of an adult.
And he feared it.
Bustling to and from his room during the day, little Adrian gave a wide berth to the side of the doorway closest to his cupboard. When in his room, little Adrian was afraid that the toy bear – now no longer a toy but something horrifyingly different – would somehow close the door to his room behind him, cutting off the protection offered by the mere presence of his parents downstairs.
Nonetheless, he entered the room when he had to, but always hurried out again.
He was careful not to let his parents see him doing this, of course. He didn’t want them to know about the toy bear. It was his way of protecting them from its evil.
However, such a thought – that he might somehow protect his parents as they were (even unknowingly) protecting him – barely kept the fear at bay.
And that night, little Adrian didn’t sleep.
Instead … he thought.
His mind’s eye spun over the details of what he should do to alleviate the problems posed by the toy bear.
He knew that it wasn’t the same plaything he’d thought it was when he’d found it on the picnic.
And he knew that he had to get rid of it.
Especially without his parents knowing.
And there, staring at the cupboard doors in the dark, long into the night, he finally came up with an answer.
And a plan.
Little Adrian waited a few interminably long hours until after his parents had gone to sleep. He peeked out through the door of his room to check that all the lights were off and stood for several minutes listening to the regular sounds of his father snoring. He then dressed in some warm clothes as quietly as he could.
And picked up a towel.
With trepidation, little Adrian snuck over to the cupboard where the toy bear hid.
Mustering up all the courage his heart could find, little Adrian quickly (but quietly) opened the doors of the cupboard and threw the towel over the bear, trying to hide its evil from him, trying – somehow – to shield himself from its snarling face and terribly, horrifyingly wide button eyes.
The towel was thin, but – perhaps because little Adrian believed it would – it protected him, at least long enough for him to wrap the bear up further and stuff the horrible toy into his knapsack.
Then, with all the quietness and skill he could manage, little Adrian scampered out the window, down the drainpipe and out into the yard, before heading off in the direction of the picnic grounds …
… and into the night.
The picnic area was only a few kilometres away, but by the time little Adrian had reached it, he had been away from home for nearly three hours. He was cold, and knew that it was because he was scared.
Nearing the edge of the picnic area, little Adrian decided that all that would be needed to rid himself of the cursed toy would be for him to merely throw it back where he found it.
Gingerly, he took it out of his knapsack, nearly dropping it in fright as it squirmed in his hands.
And then, with all of his might …
… he hurled the towel-wrapped toy bear into the bushland that ran alongside the picnic area, before turning and running away as fast as he could.
But … within a few metres …
… he stopped.
And turned back.
The little toy bear had landed just outside the bushland.
And – with a desperate sinking feeling – he knew what needed to be done.
His mind told him that he’d actually have to take the toy back to exactly the spot where he’d found it – back to the very middle of the bush where it first caught his eye – or else it was sure to follow him home.
Timidly, he stepped back over to where it rested on the dew-soaked grass. The towel had come adrift somewhat, so that the bear’s horrible, terrified eyes fixed upon him.
Fighting against the instincts that screamed at him to run, little Adrian carefully picked it up (only touching the parts of it still covered by the towel).
Breath coming in gasps, he started off at a run, wishing only to get his dreadful task over and done with so that he could go home.
He ran faster than he ever thought he had run before, despite the pain lancing up his shins.
He ran and disappeared amongst the trees …
… into the night.
What was it in that old bushland that little Adrian ran into?
What happened to him in those cold hours before the morning?
What caused his parents to simultaneously wake up at that exact instant, sweat cold on their brows and fear pounding in their hearts?
Could they have heard little Adrian’s screams?
That is … unknown.
Not a happy ending, was it?
Of course, happy endings are for fairy tales … and stories of the unknown are never that.
… to possibly bring some sanity to an otherwise insane tale …
Several townsfolk reported to the police the sighting of a homeless man, lurking around the area of the picnic grounds once word of little Adrian’s disappearance had spread. Barely the day before, they had said. However, the day after, he was nowhere to be found.
Of course, the police and SES searched the area, but the only trace of the transient’s passage through the bushland was an empty bottle …
… and an old, tattered trinket.
The trinket was something the police couldn’t fathom. Nevertheless, they suspected that it could have meant a great deal to the apparent homeless man.
It was a toy.
More specifically, it was a small stuffed toy bear.
Something the homeless man had found somewhere, no doubt. In a Lifeline bin, perhaps, back in the days when the doors on such things weren’t configured to keep people from climbing in and sleeping in them.
Certainly, little Adrian’s parents didn’t recognize the thing.
Left in the bushland, one night had passed before the police found the toy.
During those hours, between the darkness and the dawn …
… what do you suppose this old toy …
… assuming it was sentient …
… could have seen that night?
That, of course …
… is unknown.
Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.
Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).