What does happen to favorite stuffed animals from childhood?
The stuffed animal was one that a child would love to own if only a parent could retrieve it. Placed inside the arcade game just a few moments earlier by the teenage attendant, it waited with the others for someone to drop in quarters and move the claw to pick up it or another toy. It would be claimed by the lucky person would remove it from the hopper after it was gently dropped.
The father walked up to the machine and joyfully dropped a quarter into the machine, his young son at his side. The two were at the mall, enjoying their time together. This was their first outing using public transportation, and they wanted to experience everything possible. It was late in their day; they needed to catch the return bus in a few minutes. This would be the last thing they would do. As the quarter set off the game’s functions, the child, a 3-year-old, became excited.
“The gray one, daddy,” he said, pointing joyfully at the small bear. His father shook his head and chuckled.
“The gray one then,” he whispered, though he would have tried for a larger animal. He moved the joystick and the claw responded. He placed it directly over the bear’s head and pushed the button, causing the metal fingers to drop on the toy’s head. As the claw closed, the boy jumped in his stroller: it looked as if they had won. He was right. The bear was in the claw and carried to the hopper. It dropped into the hole and able to be collected by the father.
“Oh, thank you, daddy,” the boy gleefully cheered as the bear was handed into his tiny hands. “Thank you so much.”
There was an instant attachment by the boy to his new friend. He named it Gray Bear, a simple name, but one he loved. Whenever the boy traveled, whenever he slept, whenever he played cars or building blocks, the bear was by his side. The two were inseparable. As the years rolled on, the boy grew fonder of his friend. They were best buds, almost inseparable.
However, with everything, things change, and with their relationship, such as it was, changes occurred. It was not until the boy was 10 that he had forgotten about his friend. The boy neglected the gray bear when his parents purchased another bear, one that was larger and fuzzier. Placed on another bed, it sat and forgotten about, left with other toys and stuffed animals the boy had left alone.
The night air was cool and refreshing. The solitary figure sat on the porch, relaxing as much as possible. He had the nightmare again, as he has dreamed for the last month. ‘Just the product of a teenager’s mind’ was the explanation he received from his parents and the school’s psychologist when he told of it. He wanted to them to end, but no one could give a solution beyond ‘You’ll grow out of it’ or ‘They’ll stop on their own. Samuel Austin just wanted to stop dreaming it.
The teen - Sam to his friends, Sammy still to his parents - sat in his mother’s rocker and stared up at the stars, something he did each time he had those dreams. It was soothing for him to look up at the twinkling lights and let his mind go free. Sam did not think back to what made him awaken in the middle of the night, his clothes soaked with sweat caused by the night terror. As he began to finally dose off, he picked himself up and walked back into the house, the small grandfather clock chiming 3 AM.
“Sammy, did you have another one?” his mother asked as he walked up the stairs to his room. He nodded sleepily as he passed wordless. She put a loving hand on his shoulder, a comforting gesture he met his a few taps of his own hand.
“I love you,” she whispered as he entered his room. He made no comment as his bed creaked under his weight. He was asleep within moments, a dreamless slumber he welcomed in the morning.
“Had another nightmare last night?” the blonde girl asked, her baby blue eyes trying to look into his light brown ones. His face was looking down at the table, Sam not wanting to acknowledge anyone’s existence. Caitlin Reynolds had been a longtime friend, the literal girl-next-door for most of their lives. The two were close, and now, a few weeks shy of the Junior Prom, they were even closer. With this closeness came caring, and she cared enough for him to worry about his health. His silence answered the question.
“I was reading in my sister’s book about dreams that the nightmares could be a warning.” She grabbed his hands from across the lunchroom table and held them. Caitlin pulled hard, trying to get him to look at her. All he did was release her hands and turn 90 degrees. He looked out the windows and sighed heavily. “Hon, I know,” was all she could do, helpless that she could do nothing to help.
“Thank you,” he whispered moments later as he stood and walked towards the exit. He stopped after a few steps and turned back. He smiled broadly and held out his hand. She stood and quickly walked to him, embracing him as the two went back to class.
“So, you think these are warnings?” he asked, his mind wondering if it could be an explanation.
“Whole-heartedly,” she answered, stopping in the middle of the hall. “The book said nightmares so vivid and realistic were warnings of impending doom. And the more life-like the dream is, the more possible that the nightmare will come true.”
A chill ran through Sam’s body as she finished commenting. He hoped that this was not true; the nightmares were just the product of his over-intelligent mind and imagination. His body and conscious could not be warning that he was going to be harmed, to be violated by some unseen and unknown intruder. He shook his head.
“No way,” he quipped as he walked away from his girlfriend. “No way,” he said to himself trying to forget her words. She ran after him and pulled him close. With her arms tightly around his body, she kissed his cheek.
“No way,” she whispered, a soothing comment meant for both of them. She realized that her statement had made both of them uneasy.
He stood in the shadows, observing the house. For the last week, he stood outside and watched the Austin family, learning their habits. He wanted, needed, to know when would be a good time for him to slip inside the home and look for it, the object he was hired to collect for his benefactor.
Dave Nichols was a private investigator of some note. He was instrumental in finding several missing objects and recovering moneys owed people. But his claim to fame was recovering missing and kidnapped children. And this was for what he was hired. The man that hired him to recover his son, taken from him when his wife past away and he was out of the country.
Nichols had enough information now to tell the man that he could take back the boy from the people that stole, the man had explained, from him. As he slipped out of the backyard and to his car, Nichols pulled out his cell phone and called the man: He would act the next night.
On the other end of the conversation, the man smiled. A large man in his late 50s, Bertram Cummings had never married, never had a child. He had lied to Nichols, pulling the honest investigator into a devious plan that was hatched 17 years ago. It all began the day his then private secretary Sharon Austin told him that she was pregnant and could no longer work for him.
Jealousy overran him. He had always wanted her, in the Biblical and the matrimonial ways. Now, with her carrying a child by another man, he knew it would never come. Cummings put on a good face, wished her luck and sent her off with a grand party. He knew he would never forget her, he placed what he thought was her love for him into a dark place in his heart, to be pulled out later. And now it was time for him to act.
“Don’t do anything just yet,” Cummings told Nichols. “Let’s meet so I can understand your plan better. I’ll send my driver over for you at 9 and we’ll talk over coffee.” The detective nervously agreed.
He stood in the shadows, his face and body covered in black. Good fortune smiled on him as the full moon hid behind a deep cloud cover. Tall and thin, loyal to a fault, he had been in the employ of Bertram Cummings for over 25 years. Hired immediately after his release from the Navy, Harold Fine did more than drive. He was Cummings’ right-hand man, his Man Friday. It was Fine Cummings sent to perform an underhanded or illegal action. Without a word of protest, without a second guess, Fine did as his employer requested. This action would not be the first he would question.
As the private investigator had told, the Austins were all in bed and long asleep by 3 AM. This would be, Nichols said, the most opportune time to slip into the house and save the child from his long-time abductors. Fine laughed silently as he walked to the house. ‘If Nichols knew the truth, he would have never helped’ he thought to himself. The information was correct; the backdoor was unlocked, and he walked in. Creeping slowly and softly through the kitchen and to the stairs, Fine thought nothing of what he was doing. Though illegal and ghastly, it was just another job for Cummings.
He reached the top of the stairs with no one in the house the wiser. To the left slept Sharon and Michael Austin, to the right was his quarry, Samuel. Fine smiled and slid off the backpack, removing the rope, vial of Ether, and roll of duct tape he would need to remove the teen from the house. With a few quick and silent steps, the intruder was at the bedroom door.
Sam slept quietly, no nightmares racing through his mind. He long forgot the discomforting words Caitlin spoke. He slept like a baby.
A gloved hand woke him with a startle. He wanted to scream, but the man pushed down with all his weight, leaving no room for sound to escape. He was back asleep in a moment: A chemically treated cloth was under the stranger’s glove.
Working quickly, Fine taped Samuel’s feet and hands. He tied the rope around the teen’s waist in anticipation of lowering him to the ground. Fine’s plan was moving perfectly. He and the child would be out of the house and on their way to Cumming’s private plane in less than 20 minutes. The man would receive his handsome pay, enough to leave the employ and retire to the woods somewhere in the South.
Legends say that a child’s love can be stored in the toys, released later when the toys left the care of their owners. Gray Bear sat silent on the shelf with several other stuffed animals of Sam’s youth. Caitlin set up the animals, remembering Gray Bear was his favorite.
Fine pulled Samuel off the bed and dragged him to the middle of the floor. Leaving him, he raised the bedroom window and looked around. No one was up in the neighborhood. As he moved back, the intruder brushed against the shelving, knocking Gray Bear off. The animal lightly rubbed against Fine’s back, causing the former Navy man to jump.
“Nerves”, he thought to himself as he looked at what touched him. He laughed to see it was just an old, faded gray bear. He picked up off the floor and placed it back in the empty spot. He turned to Samuel, finding him struggling against his bonds.
“This is impossible,” Fine said as he rushed back. He thought the kid was waking from the chemically induced sleep: He did not know about the nightmares. Thrashing violently, Sam ripped apart the tape binding his legs. Fine jumped on the teen and reached for the roll. Holding down the wildly tossing boy with all his weight, Fine quickly circled the legs again with the silver adhesive. Satisfied it would hold, he stood, confident that he could return to his task.
“Who are you?” the soft, angelic female voice asked. Startled, Fine pulled out a knife from a hidden sheath on his belt. He pointed the blade at the source of the question. Fine looked and was awed at the vision: A woman with alabaster skin, long red tresses, and green eyes stared back at him.
“None of your business. And it would be good for you to come here.” He motioned with his free hand for the woman to come to him, the knife menacingly held out. The stranger, a warm lovingly smile came to her face.
“I cannot allow you to harm Samuel,” she said, the voice still loving. Fine laughed.
“Missy, I hold all the cards here.” He slashed the air with the blade. She showed no signs of intimidation. She walked to him, her hands held out. He slashed at them, the knife cutting both hands. “I told you,” he added expecting her to scream out in pain. But there was no such event.
“Leave my Samuel alone,” she said, the tone of her voice changing to be more forceful. She held out her hands: there were no cuts. Puzzled, Fine lunged toward the woman. She caught him, picking him off the floor.
“I warned you,” she softly said as the two began to float to the ceiling. Fear gripped him as he realized he was no longer touching floor. He punched at the woman, trying to break her hold. It was to no avail. He sliced at her arms with his knife, but the blade passed through, the metal not touching skin or bone.
Dread began to sweep over him as the hold became tighter. He punched at her, kicked, head butted, but nothing worked. And then panic set in as her visage changed. Gone were the angelic features, replaced by those of a great gray bear. The hug encompassing the man caused all breath to escape. Fine tried to scream but it was impossible. Tighter and tighter the bear squeezed, Fine began to feel his life escape.
Like a fish on a hot, sun-drenched deck, he flopped, hoping this last effort would remove him from the death grip. The last sight the intruder witnessed before his death was the anger snarl, teeth exposed, of the bear.
Bertram Cummings sat in the back of his Cadillac, waiting for Harold Fine to return with Samuel Austin. He wanted his revenge to be complete. Since Sharon Austin hurt him years ago, he wanted her to feel that pain. He gazed out once more, looking for signs of his able-bodied employee. There was none. He turned back and looked at his watch. That is when he noticed the small gray toy bear.
“What’s this?” he half laughed as he picked up the faded toy.
“You are going to be safe, Sammy,” the angelic woman whispered as she removed the tape from his feet. Slowly, she removed it from his mouth, not wanting to rip it from his face. Groggy from the anesthetizing, Sam slowly focused his eyes. Shocked at the beautiful woman, he pushed himself away and into his bed.
“Do not worry,” she whispered, her voice soothing the teen. “You are safe now, and always will be.” With that, she softly kissed his cheek. Her lips were warm to the touch, and Samuel felt a great serenity to it. He closed his eyes and welcomed the peace and safety she gave him. When he opened his, she was gone. All that was in the room was Gray Bear in the middle of the floor where the woman once stood.
“I could have sworn I heard a bear,” the old woman told the police officer as she and others had gathered around the Cadillac, its contents shielded by blue plastic sheets the fire department.
“Are you sure there’s nothing to identify the body?” the reported inquired of the fire department chief. The chief only managed a slow nod.