MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Buddy woke up.
Nothing was right, or as hoped, or as promised. He knew that instantly. The silky, humming, fluttering overhead lights of the Store had been replaced by unbroken yellow light. It was hot against his plush. It was dizzyingly bright. He covered his glass marble eyes with a paw.
Wait, that wasn’t right either. He was able to move his paw to his eyes?
So far, Buddy had spent all his life inside a box. He knew its every inch. It had been narrow and rigid, with white plastic cords cuffing his paws to the cardboard. He’d been able to waggle his paws and feet, and turn his head a little, but that’s it.
Now he was free.
It was a nice word, even fun to say: freeeee. All the teddies in the Store had wished to be free. All night, they’d whispered about being let out of their boxes. They deserved it! They were a very special kind of teddy. None of the other stuffed toys moved or talked. Even now, shielding his eyes from the sizzling gold light, Buddy felt good about being special.
Naturally, all the teddies at the Store had gone still and silent whenever a person entered their aisle. A grown-up shopper, a child, the people who mopped the floors at night—it didn’t matter. Seeing a teddy move or talk might scare a person. That might make a teddy less likely to be chosen. And being chosen was all the teddies wanted.
Buddy wished teddies knew how to cry so he could release his longing to be back at the Store. The Store had been a vast castle stocked with rainbows of toys. Posable dolls with brushable hair. Sneering warriors throttling swords. Metal cars that—don’t tell anyone!—were secretly robots.
Each day at the Store had been like fifty birthday parties at once. Children paraded down aisles. Buddy remembered his box had a circle cut through the front so children could pet his fur. Pick me, he used to pray. Pick me because I pick you.
Children had begged. Parents had peered. The orange teddy on Buddy’s right: into a cart. The golden teddy on Buddy’s left: into a cart. Buddy’s turn had been coming. To a teddy, this was the meaning of free: being selected off the shelf, taken home, and embraced by a child.
When a teddy got that child’s first loving hug, the teddy entered Forever Sleep.
Buddy yearned for it more than ever. Life was too rough for soft little teddies. What Buddy recalled of his birthplace was scary: a large, clattering room jostling with people handling more teddies than Buddy could believe. After that had come a dark, rollicking truck bed loaded with teddy boxes. That was even scarier.
Forever Sleep would make all scares float away. Teddy rumor had it that Forever Sleep felt like a child’s hug that never ended.
Nothing of the sort had happened yet. Buddy didn’t remember a shopping cart, a child, a hug, any of it. He realized he was nervous to move his paw off his eyes. Wherever he was, it sure wasn’t the Store. It sure wasn’t a child’s room. Something else had happened.
Buddy’s plush was getting hotter.
There were no children here.
He peeked down at his body. It was strange to see himself outside his dark box. But all his parts were where they should be. His pudgy teddy limbs. His round tummy. His blue teddy fur. A tag was sewed to the seam at his side. MY NAME IS BUDDY, it read. Seeing his name printed like that made Buddy feel stronger.
He was still gazing at his belly when he detected a swishing sensation along his back. It felt like children petting him through his box’s petting hole. Could it be that a child—his child, whom he’d somehow forgotten—was right behind him, playing a silly prank?
The swishing changed direction, messing the plush of his belly.
It was wind. Buddy had never felt wind before.
He was outdoors. That explained the hot yellow light. He’d seen the sun only once while being transferred from the shipping truck to the Store. It had been startling and beautiful—but now it frightened him. If only his box was near so he could scurry into its familiar darkness.
Yes, that was it! Maybe the box was near. If he waited inside it, surely someone would carry him back to the Store. Buddy had never liked the plastic cords strapping him inside his box, but now he missed them.
Being safe, he decided, was more important than being free.
The first step, though, was to look around. Buddy ordered his frightened, fluffy brain to do it. He let his blue paw slip off his glass eyes, stared through the sun, and saw the world.
Copyright © 2020 by Daniel Kraus