On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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When they’re not yet quite two years old, their speech is still rudimentary.
Phrases of a few words are common, but pronunciation is wooly and fluid. The intention to communicate is evident and strong, but vocabulary and enunciation are self-limiting. That will change quickly enough, but it’s a necessary phase.
To the one under my care, for example, while the names of simple farmyard animals are recognisable enough when vocalised, many other things require the ears of his parents. Or of me.
Bus is more like bah, and is similar enough to ball and bear to sometimes require context or clarification. Two-syllable words are occasionally rendered intact, but more commonly with consonants homogenised, in order to create a syllabic alliteration which makes them easier to say. Such is the case for myself.
From the eyes of his mind, I know that I am approximately thirty centimetres tall, and made of synthetic fabric with non-toxic stuffing. I am a light powder-blue in colour, and there is an attached label which he has never turned his detailed attention to, and so its contents remain beyond the reach of my perception at the moment. I expect that it gives washing instructions.
My ears are long and soft; my limbs slightly less so. My features are sewn on for safety reasons, and I am also available in a dozen or more additional colours, and various sizes. He possesses two more, each smaller than myself, one in grey and one in lavender. I am a plush rabbit, suitable for children from six months old onwards.
To him, though, I am Bubby.
It’s important to have a name. Much more important than he knows. He calls out for me if I’m left upstairs when he awakens and is taken down to eat, or if I’m left downstairs when he’s taken up to sleep. Sometimes, and more frequently in recents weeks, he’ll insist on taking me along on outings, and his mother will ensure I’m not lost along the way.
There are other toys, of course. There is Monkey, and Bear, and the two smaller bunnies. There is Rarr, who is a lion, and there are Giraffe and Mouse. There is Frog, who is made of plastic instead of fabric, and there are some electronically-enhanced toys designed to promote the development of his intellect.
Of them all, though, I hold a special and sacred position: I was the first that he named himself. And so the covenant was struck.
It has always been this way, since the template was forged long before the light of civilisation. While their minds remain unbroken by a rigid perception of the world, they have the ability and the right to appoint a guardian, and by convention, it is the first being they choose to name. Even a bundle of stuffed fabric is a being to them; even an image can be so. Their minds are pliable, and they don’t impose artificial limitations upon things without due necessity.
That will change quickly enough, too. The time will come when my power is lost, as the creeping realisation sets in that I am fabric and thread and his own projection of emotion. He will come to quietly doubt, and then ultimately to be ashamed. He will feel loss within his reframing of my existence, and he will resent that loss. He will never entirely forgive the world for taking me, alongside his innocence, away from him.
But that is for the future. For now, I exist, and I have a duty — because the door swings in both directions. All of their darkness, from which they seem to be inseparable, lives too. It is their curse to create it over and over again, with each new young mind, giving it life and the power to harm them. I don’t pretend to understand why. I can only undertake my task to fight against it.
Beasts slithering below the bed. Fiends lurking in closets. An evil tree, its gnarled fingers tapping upon the window, intent on snatching a small, sleeping form away into the night. And then whatever they read about, or watch in their own entertainment, all made to horrify. The killing clowns, and the men turned into wolves, and the bloodsuckers, and the maniacs escaped from confinement. By knowing of it all, their young minds make it real, and it’s all out there in the darkness. It is genuinely coming for them. The creak in the closet is truly a withered and hideous foot. The shifting shadows upon the floor are indeed the coils of a vicious and poisonous snake. It is all real.
But so am I. There is nothing amongst all of the evil that can ever be my match, or with any hope of defeating me, because he has given me the greatest power of all. I am comfort beyond even that of his mother, and I am protection beyond even that of his father, because I know that it’s all true.
He needs only to close his eyes and clasp me to his neck, and my power is unlimited. I can banish it all; boogeymen and killer clowns, and snakes and fiends and monsters, and all the rest, incinerated in the purest light. They can never reach him. They can never touch him. They can never harm him at all. Such is the power he has given me.
The day will come when he no longer has any need of my protection, because he will have stopped creating the horrors that come for him at night, and then I will revert to being an artefact of his lost youth. I will decay, and I will cease to live with all but an ember of myself. But those days are still far ahead.
For now, the hour grows late, and he’ll be brought up to bed soon. I already hear the things beginning to be called into their hideous existence. It doesn’t matter. I will destroy them all for him, as I do every night, as is my reason for existence. I am his guardian, his defender, his talisman. His plush powder-blue rabbit.
I am Bubby.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you; I'm @mattgemmell on Twitter.
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