Copyright is held by the author.
AT THE top of the bedroom bookshelf, Didi the sock monkey could see faint grey streaking the sky outside. Night was drawing to a close in the Kingdom of Home.
Below him, Didi could see the other toys assembling on the shag carpet: G.I. Joe the action figure, King Tut the museum replica, Ned the polar bear, and a legion of little Warhammer dudes that Jacob, the teenaged prince of Home, planned to sell on eBay.
The motley toys were a small part of the prince’s realm. Jacob had played long hours with Joe and Tut and Ned and especially Didi. But that was a long time ago; the boy was practically grown.
In sunlight, the toys would be immobilized. Before the darkness broke, the toys planned to sneak aboard the southbound Value Village truck.
Didi’s eyes looked worriedly on the chaos below. Amid heaps of stinky clothes, the milling toys tried to avoid the empty chip-bags that would wake Jacob with their crackling. And he regarded his nemesis: The Giant Eye, which saw fantastical battles in all realms and beamed them into Jacob’s land. Why, the beleaguered prince had to battle for hours each day, simply to stay alive.
Didi weighed the question: leave with his friends and comrades or stay with Jacob and The Eye?
Jacob used to cuddle Didi, but now he manhandled him, administering squeezes that compressed every fibre of his stuffing. Although no squeeze was as bad as what happened to the Empathy Baby. As part of learning about healthy families, Jake’s entire class was assigned 10-pound doll-babies that they were supposed to diaper and feed every four hours and cart around everywhere — just like real babies. But the class rebelled and smashed the Empathy Babies like pumpkins against the brick walls of the school.
“We must not ignore the writing on the wall,” GI Joe announced when the news surfaced.
But Didi was a sock monkey — resilient to the core. Made from Grandpa’s old socks, Didi was a humble toy destined for life in the shadows of Jacob’s room — and he did not find that life wholly undesirable.
“Ahoy, Didi!” cried Penzance in the loudest whisper possible. Dear Penzance, that gorgeous velvet pirate with purple breeches. He was swashbuckling and debonair and sometimes Didi wanted to just go and rub his rough woollen legs against Penzance’s underwired limbs . . .
Penzance had led the toys last time, when they tried to pull out the cord that tethered The Eye. But they ran out of night-power, and Jacob awoke to see a clump of lifeless toys piled under the desk. “How’d all this stuff fall down here by the power bar?” said Jacob. “Could-a had a fire!”
The grey behind the trees in the yard was becoming lighter, more insistent. Didi watched Jacob snoring lightly, wound up in his bedclothes like Lazarus. He’d grown into a gangling teen, a galumphus with an Adam’s apple the size of a grapefruit. His cheeks were pitted with acne. His skin was unusually pale — too much screen time indoors — and his body smelled goaty, despite the lengthy daily shower.
“Come, Didi!” Penzance called. He had a French-cocked hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin. Oh my, so fine. So fine.
Jacob slumbered on. Didi suddenly recalled Jacob the premature baby, who’d lain in an incubator for months. Mom and Dad had smuggled in Didi, a little creature with a wise face and soft warm limbs. They wanted Jacob to be comforted even when they couldn’t be there. What was it they said when they put Didi there? Be there for him.
And Didi had been there. At first he was twice the size of Jake. So many pictures showed the two of them together: little hats, little squinty faces. Jacob’s skin, as thin as paper, appeared red in the pictures, and his chest was dotted with ugly heart monitors.
The throng of toys began chanting for Didi to leap down and join them. “Di-di! Di-di!”
“Avast ye Didi! The dawn approaches!” Penzance cried. He raised his fabric cutlass.
Didi threw himself from the shelf to the nightstand. Enough of silly, empty nostalgia! Make way for the future! He and Penzance would take L.A. by storm, playing their Toys2Boys rap show at every hot nightclub.
Jacob rustled the bedclothes.
“Come!” Penzance cried again. More feebly this time, because the night-power was fading.
Didi said an urgent prayer to the Almighty Jenga. How could he turn down Penzance?
“Affa-affa-blech!” snaffled Jacob.
It felt like the cotton batting inside Didi was being torn every which way. Why could he not leave Home for an exciting future in the limelight with Penzance? What was wrong with him, what held him rooted in the Prince’s room, competing for love and attention from the execrable Eye?
The first shaft of sunrise broke through the drapes. Didi’s bright eyes no longer saw the crowd.