[Story] Story a Week 51

[[ Prompt: A story set at Christmas

This is actually a re-working of a story I wrote when I was uhh like 12? I know it’s kind of similar to Toy Story but I swear I thought of it before that. The main difference is in the original, the conflict was between Bears and Not Bears, instead of Animals vs. Electronic Toys. ]]

Caesar watched the snowflakes flutter by on the cold winter breeze. “Call the animals for a meeting,” he announced, when the doors were locked and all the lights shut off. Excitement buzzed among the shelves; those who had been here for some time knew what time of the year it was, the newer animals were filled with restless curiosity. They gathered, as they always did, on the rug in the play area, as it was large enough to hold all the animals. Some balanced on the cardboard blocks, while others perched on the wooden train table. Caesar took his place in the center of the brightly-colored rug and addressed the gathering.

“Animals,” he announced. “It is nearly Christmas. Some of you may not know what that means.” Caesar was not only the largest, but by far the oldest of the animals in the shop. He was Not For Sale, and had stood in the shop’s window since shortly after its opening, more than twenty years ago. He was from Germany, and very expensive. He knew a lot about almost everything, and all of the animals looked to him as their leader.

A murmur of excitement went through the gathered animals. “Christmas,” Caesar continued, “Is a time when all children receive gifts. It is your very best chance to have a home. Thus it is vital in these coming weeks that we all do our share to ensure that as many of us are bought as possible. Keep your ribbons straight, your fur unmussed, no dirt or stains–”

A sharp clatter emitted from behind the animals, and they all turned around to look. It was one of the electronic toys, an imposing dinosaur robot. Every surface of him was hard and metallic, his eyes small red points of light. Though it wasn’t the name on his box, the humans usually called him Rex. “Hah!” he scoffed, stomping toward the animals. Each step clattered the floor and sent a shiver through them. “You’re antique. Out-dated. Nobody wants stuffed animals.”

Caesar frowned, drawing his head up proudly. “On the contrary,” he said. “You are the one who will be out-dated. Next year there will be a new electronic toy that everyone wants. Animals are timeless, enduring, classic. We are the  best friends of children, their comfort and confidants. We keep them safe at night.”

Rex sneered, showing his rows of jagged metallic teeth. “Sounds boring! I’d rather stomp and knock things over! And so would they!”

The tip of Caesar’s tail twitched, irritated. “Now look here, you weren’t invited to–”

“Yeah?” Rex demanded, drawing higher onto his hind legs. “This is our store too! Look around, old man. How many shelves do you dusty old animals have?”

It was true. In the past, there had been an entire wall of animals, eagerly waiting for children to take them home. Then, as demands changed, they had given up their shelves to new kinds of toys. Now they occupied only one section, on the back wall of the store, under the words “Animal Friends” painted on the wall.

“It isn’t about how many we are,” Caesar said, shaking his head. “But how loved. What will become of you if a piece falls off? Or your batteries run out? How much do you think your child will love you then?”

Rex pointed one of his gleaming metallic claws right into Caesar’s muzzle. “I think you’re scared. You know what’s coming, but you can’t stop it. We’re the future. You’re nothing but an antique, meant for a box in the attic. Let’s see who gets bought and who doesn’t. Then we’ll know for sure.”

Just as Caesar had said, more and more people came into the store in those next few weeks. Tinsel and garlands were hung around the store, and a snow scene painted onto the window. Cheerful music played while the store was open, but even so, the animals watched anxiously as more and more of the new electric toys were sold. Robot dinosaurs, skittering mechanical insects, miniature flying machines, and chirping electric birds were set up on the counter and disappeared into boxes, to be wrapped up and put under a Christmas tree. Now and then an animal would be picked up, but often they would be put back down again.

Sooty was a black bear who had lived in the store for almost a year. He worried that he might be there forever. “We should do something,” he urged Caesar one night. Outside, the snow glittered in the glow of the street lamp.

“What do you propose?” asked Caesar.

“Sabotage,” said Sooty, his voice low.

Caesar said nothing, but blinked slowly and looked back out into the night. That wasn’t a no.

Sooty snuck over to the electric toy section. Everything looked so harsh and unfriendly, made of metal or hard plastic. But in this case, that was good. Sooty pulled himself up onto the shelf and crept behind the boxes on the shelves. One good shove, and an electric toy went clattering onto the hard tile floor. They beeped and whirred in anger, and Sooty escaped back to Animal Friends. The next morning, the workers picked up the broken pieces on the floor and gathered them back into the box. A broken toy couldn’t be sold, not even On Sale.

But if Sooty believed the electric toys would simply accept this outrage, he was wrong. Two nights later, a squad of robots found one of the animals alone, and their sharp edges tore a hole in his seam. Again the workers didn’t know how an animal had been damaged — perhaps an over-eager child in the store — but he could no longer be sold. He went into the trash bin with the broken electric toy.

It was only three days until Christmas. The shop bustled with last-minute shoppers looking for the perfect toy for their child or niece or nephew. It seemed that every time Sooty or the other animals looked, Rex was grinning triumphantly. Maybe he was right. Maybe no one did want animals anymore. Sooty was surprised by a woman picking him up. She smoothed his fur and read his tag. He felt his heart race — people only looked at your tag if they were thinking about buying you.

“What do you think, honey?” She lifted Sooty, showing him to the man next to her. He was wearing a fuzzy scarf.

“Every kid needs a teddy bear,” the man said, with a smile. He took Sooty carefully and held him in his arms as they looked around the store. Was it really happening! If a person carried you, it was almost guaranteed they would buy you. Not always, of course. But the chances were good, especially if it was a grown-up who carried you. The couple walked over to the electric toy section. Sooty was forced to look at that smug look on Rex’s face again.

“This is cool,” said the man, picking up a miniature helicopter. No! Sooty thought. If the man picked up the electric toy, surely he would put Sooty down. But he didn’t. He took both of them up to the counter. Sooty and the helicopter looked at each other doubtfully. But sure enough, both of them were wrapped in tissue and put into a shopping bag. Sooty heard the shop door jingle as they walked out, felt the cold wind blowing outside.

The man and woman drove home. Sooty watched as the helicopter was put into its box and wrapped up in colorful paper. The woman tied a beautiful ribbon around Sooty’s next, and set him beneath the Christmas tree.

“Can you hear me?” asked Sooty, once everyone had gone to bed.

“Yes,” said the helicopter. “Just barely.”

Sooty looked up at the Christmas tree. Tiny lights sparkled all through its branches, the tinsel and ornaments reflecting their glow. It was probably the most beautiful thing Sooty had ever seen.

“They liked both of us,” Sooty said, thoughtfully.

“They did.”

“Maybe Rex was wrong. Maybe Caesar was too.”

“Hmm?” said the helicopter, inside his box.

“Maybe it’s not either or. Maybe there’s a place for all of us.”

The helicopter was quiet for a while before it answered. “I like that idea,” it said.

Sooty smiled, and nestled down among the presents to wait for Christmas morning.

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