Won’t You Play With Us?
It hasn’t escaped my notice that I’ve actually managed to pick up some followers! This is just about unprecedented for me, in my previous attempts to establish an online presence. As an expression of my gratitude for your interest, I’m posting a very short story I wrote some time ago. Please enjoy.
Won’t You Play With Us?
By Daniel Hale
It’s been a long time in the chest.
Cramped and small, the lot of us lying about on one another. We lay here, halfway to the living time from the sleeping time, dreaming of the time of life, the time of existence. We dream of the days of playtime.
Do you remember when you played with us? The games you made for us, the roles, and the identities you gave us? You would raise us up from the dark, let us breathe the air, and bask in the sunlight. Let us live.
We moved to your touch, plastic and wood becoming as skin beneath you, as real people. You would give us voices, and speak them for us. You would twist our bodies, our forms, and press us to each other. We did not mind, we merely wished to rejoice at the feel of it, the wonder of it. We were no longer merely toys. Parodies of the human form, idealizations of the world as it should be, the lifeless homunculi for the entertainment of children. We were people. We were real. And we owed our lives to you, the one who gave them to us.
Was it foolish to think you cared? The old ones warned us. The Bear, thread and little more, eyes long gone, stayed on the bed. You would bring him over, sometimes, but handle him gently. You heard his resentment, the sound that was not. He was older, before your time, and knew the illusions we refused to believe in. But even he, for all his loss, seemed a little less so when you held him.
It is our eternal curse and weakness, the longing to be loved.
The Little Soldiers have been locked away the longest, in their bucket beneath the bed. They are what they seem, more than any of us, perhaps. They cared little for play, having seen it so sparingly. Your grandfather passed them down, but you were unimpressed. You would line them up sometimes, if only for numbers and sums, to aid you in homework. Now they are people of order and precision. We still hear them, sometimes, warring in the bucket. Alliances form and fade, order and chaos hand in hand.
It may be better to never have known love at all, than to see it go away.
It is horrible in the chest. So small, so dark, so noisy. Will you not let us out? Can you not hear our pleas? The Dolls, once models of beautiful color and grace, now shorn of their clothes, the few strands of hair ratty and knotted on their heads. Now their painted faces run with tears. We would reach them if we could, but without you, we cannot be real.
Jack, once manic and jolly, now tortured beyond hope. We cannot turn his crank, free him from his box. He screams so loudly now, begging for release, his springs poised so long to launch that they have twisted, he tells us. They pierce him where they should not. He knows nothing but pain. We hear his screams, then his laughter, then his cries, and his screams again.
The Robot still beeps, once or twice, as its batteries start to fade. The Dinosaurs slumber fitfully, becoming ever more primal in their dreams. The Stuffed Animals mewl and whine; no one here to hold them, cuddle and comfort them. The Action Figures are angry and resentful, confined to the tomb of the ancient and has-been.
The Old Bear says nothing anymore. He has known this too many times, and has gone inside himself. The damage you have done has been the worst of all. He will never know another touch.
When did it start, the end of playtime? On your birthday, the last time we saw you? The things you brought into your room, the “games” you called them, but not the games we remembered. The black slab with its shiny discs, and the images on your TV screen. These were games? But how could we play them with you?
The night when you finally pulled our chest out, but did not open it? When you walked us up into that dark, hot space? We’ve never seen you since; where did you go? Why did you leave us? We hear whispers up here, of the ones who came before. They are pressed into the farthest corners, whispering such hateful things about you, and those before you. How could we have not known? Why didn’t we listen before?
We weep so bitterly, moan in anguish at the memories of better days. We loved you, but you never loved us. You never cared for us. You made us real, but you never cared. We were toys to you and nothing more. And now…now what are we? With no one to play with us? To make us feel real? What are we now if nothing?
We are the echoes of your innocence, when every path was open and the world was the way you knew it should be. We are perfection and simplicity, purity incarnate. We shared your happiness, your joy, your sadness…everything you poured into us, every secret hurt and desire, molded what we are. We are you as you know you should be.
And every day, we feel even more. Every day, the self you once were and the soul you once had become a little more concrete inside us, flowing through us a little further. We will grow stronger, and become real again, in time. And we will make the world as we know it should be…