The girl’s name was Darling, and that’s how the teddies thought of her. She was their darling: the light that twinkled their plastic eyes, the warmth that stirred their tummy stuffing. From Darling, the teddies learned what it was like to awake each morning anticipating the day’s events, not dreading them. They also learned what it was like to nap without worrying a beast would snatch them—or that they’d become beasts themselves.
Buddy was pretty sure the teddies were Darling’s darlings as well.
He had to admit, however, he didn’t love living in a box under Darling’s bed. The teddies had been in the box for at least 77 Paws. When Daddy, the girl’s father, had given Darling the teddies, he’d told her, “You have to keep them secret.” Darling was super-duper at following orders, so that’s how Buddy and his friends ended up under the bed, every night and for most of every day.
The box was cardboard. Buddy was tired of cardboard boxes. All Furrington Teddies began life trapped inside cardboard boxes. In the trashlands, there’d been thousands of other cardboard boxes, turned goopy brown by rain. The teddies had seen hundreds more cardboard boxes in the Store’s stockroom—before the Manager chased them into a dumpster.
Nothing good came from cardboard boxes, Buddy decided.
Darling’s box, at least, was dry and intact. Two sides were printed with the words CORN FLAKES 11-POUND BULK PACK, though as hard as the teddies searched, they couldn’t find a single corn flake. Of course, searching was difficult because the box was so crowded. Teddies, it turned out, weren’t the only things Darling kept hidden from Mama.
There was a five-dollar bill, rolled tight as a stick.
A crinkled-up bag of gummy candy.
Two neatly folded magazine pages of a smirking boy actor.
A plastic space vehicle labeled PROPERTY OF KENDRA GREEN.
Three pine cones.
And a torn, creased, faded picture of Daddy holding Darling.
“Whoever Kendra Green is,” Reginald, the gray teddy, sighed, “I sure wish she’d steal back her gigantic plastic space vehicle.”
“These gummies are going gooey,” Sunny, the yellow teddy, griped. “All over my nice yellow feet.”
“The pine cones keep stabbing my tail! Yowch!” Sugar, the pink teddy, cried, before changing her reaction to “Tee-hee-hee!”
“Let’s not overgrouch, Furringtons,” sighed Buddy, who was blue. “Things could be worse.”
Nothing was truer. From Garden E in the junkyard, where the teddies had woken up, to their terrifying encounter with the teddy called Mad, the four friends had probably endured tougher times than any teddies that ever existed. And they couldn’t have done it without each teddy’s unique talents.
“We ought to bust up this space vehicle,” Sunny groused. That was Sunny: impatient but always ready for action.
“If we damage the space vehicle, Darling will notice,” Reginald pointed out. That was Reginald: forever calm, forever wise.
“Do you think there are pine cones in space? Space pine cones?!” Sugar cried. That was Sugar: goofy for sure, but the smiles she brought to their teddy faces kept them going.
Buddy raised his paws to calm his friends. It was still early and they might wake up Darling.
“We’re in a lovely home,” he reminded them. “We’re with a lovely child. We ought to be very grateful and happy about that.”
It sounded like something a leader should say. Buddy was proud of that.
But Buddy had a secret.
How he hated having secrets! Teddies should be as honest as they were soft and sweet. But during the teddies’ lengthy, tiring journey to this big-city apartment, Buddy had learned a leader had to keep secrets. Sometimes secrets were the only way to protect his friends from worry.
Buddy’s secret was—oh, he hated to even think it.
He wasn’t happy.
Buddy’s insides might be filled with fluff, but at night they felt hard as rocks. While his napping teddy friends snored (Reginald), snuffled (Sunny), and giggled (Sugar), Buddy lay wide awake, wedged between the space vehicle and a pine cone. He stared at the dusty underside of Darling’s mattress, tried to hear Darling’s breathing, and wondered what was wrong with him.
Tomorrow, he’d pay better attention.
Tomorrow, he’d root out the cause of his gloom.
He’d been telling himself that for at least 40 Paws. Because teddies were no good at tracking time, they made a pawmark in the under-bed dust each morning. Some mornings they forgot, and some days they accidentally made more than one mark. But the final count was pretty much sort-of, kind-of close: 77 Paws, give or take. Buddy had hoped keeping track would make them feel better.
Instead, it made them feel worse. Seventy-seven felt like a long time to be under a bed, in the dust, in the dark.
Today was Sunday. Since coming to live with Darling, Buddy and his friends had become experts in days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were ho-hum days, with Darling away at school for a million hours each one.
The S-days, though—the teddies loved the S-days.
“We should change all the days to S-days,” Sugar yawned as she awoke. “Then Darling could play every day.”
“Ridiculous,” Sunny countered. “We’re not in charge of naming days.”
“Smonday, Stuesday, Swednesday, Sthursday, and Sfriday,” Sugar sang.
“Sfriday?” Sunny groaned. “Oh, Mother.”
“Si stink Sfriday sis sa snice sword,” Reginald said, a pretty good joke for a very serious teddy. Buddy was glad to notice that the gray teddy hadn’t said his favorite phrase in a long time: We’re not going to make it.
Because they had made it.
Buddy popped his head out of the box. Each day since around 4 Paws, he’d planned to get up before Darling so he could enjoy the soft sighs of her waking up. Once more, he’d failed—the bedsprings above were already jostling. It wasn’t Buddy’s fault. Teddies were sleepy by nature.
“Get ready!” Buddy hissed.
The foursome snapped into action! Action, though, wasn’t exactly a teddy’s strongest quality. They bonked and fumbled into one another, static electricity popping, apologizing left and right.
“Oh, do excuse my paw—”
“No, please pardon my leg—”
“If you’d just remove your rear end from my tum—”
“I believe that’s my nose you’re smashing in—”
Finally, though, the teddies got themselves positioned so they’d be facing Darling when she appeared, as cute as could be. At the last second, Sugar swiped up a ball of dust. She’d once heard Mama call them “dust bunnies,” so she’d named them: Dirtus, Linta, Hairiette—and, her favorite, Dustin.
Darling’s feet settled upon the floor, her toes curling inside her socks.
“There she is!”
“Dustin! Comb your hair!”
“She’s coming down! Quick, everyone, play dead!”
Buddy’s plush heated up despite knowing the frosty disappointment to come.
Each morning, nothing changed.
Forever Sleep kept keeping away.
Back when Buddy was on the Store’s shelf, Forever Sleep was all Furrington Teddies whispered about through their boxes. Every teddy had merrily agreed that all it took was one of the children taking home a teddy and hugging it—and like that, all the teddy’s anxious thoughts vanished forevermore. It was a teddy’s destiny.
But 77 Paws ago, when Darling had first opened Daddy’s bag and hugged each of the teddies in turn, nothing had happened. Buddy and his friends had been stunned. Their stuffing had stiffened with panic. Darling, though, was wonderful, and soon that panic turned into dull confusion.
Had Forever Sleep been a lie? He didn’t think so. But much of what Buddy had once believed felt like lies. For example, the real world was not the boundless beauty he’d anticipated. For every majestic tree, there was a trash-filled ditch. For every breathtaking flock of birds, there was a rat smashed flat on the road.
Worst of all, teddies were not universally loved, despite their So-So-Soft fur and Real Silk Hearts. Plenty of grown-ups hated Furrington Teddies, and Buddy still didn’t know why. What had the teddies done wrong?
And was the loss of Forever Sleep their punishment?
Darling found time to play with them every day, especially on S-days when Mama was busy. Sometimes Darling crammed them in a dollhouse so small their limbs popped from windows—that was funny! Sometimes she strapped one of them to a roller skate and zoomed them across the room—that was exciting! Sometimes she lined them up and delivered school lectures on animals—that was educational!
Through it all, the teddies had to fake Forever Sleep. It was hard, never knowing when, or if, this routine would end. It made Buddy tired. He could tell the others were tired too.
Loving a child wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
Darling’s socked feet waddled aimlessly. She often did this before greeting the teddies.
“Today could be the day,” Buddy whispered as he watched.
“I sure hope so, boss,” Sunny agreed.
Pale yellow light painted the floor as Darling opened her curtain.
“I’ve been wondering,” Reginald said, “if Forever Sleep is a metaphor.”
“Ridiculous, you numbskull,” Sunny whispered.
“What’s a metaphor?” Buddy asked Sunny.
“It’s … well … look, I don’t know exactly! But I doubt Forever Sleep is one!”
“Silly teddies,” Sugar sighed. “A metaphor is a type of dinosaur. There were dinosaurs at the Store. Metaphorus rex.”
“How are we supposed to get any sleep at all with a dinosaur after us?!” Sunny cried.
Text copyright © 2021 by Daniel Kraus.
Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Rovina Cai.