by ANNIKA KINTZEL Jan. 10, 2020
Riley owned a set of stuffed animals: a little dragon that she named Phillip, after the prince in Sleeping Beauty; a black cat with green button eyes named Midnight, because he looked like midnight; and a tawny owl she named Logan, after her super smart brother.
Riley loved her stuffed animals almost as much as she loved her brother and mom, and she insisted on keeping one in her backpack when she went to school. She claimed that they were her best friends.
She insisted that they were real, that they came alive and played with her when nobody else was looking.
One day, one of Midnight’s eyes fell off, and Riley was devastated. Wailing in dismay, she begged her mother to fix it. She didn’t have any green buttons, so she took a purple button out of her tin, and she sewed it onto the cat’s face. Riley was so happy, and she took Midnight right back up to her room to show “the others.”
Logan came from around the corner. “Why do you humor her?” he asked his mother.
“She is still young. I wish I had that youth when I was her age.”
“But you were that young then. I don’t understand.” Logan furrowed his brow, confused.
His mother laughed. “You always take things so literally, Logan. I just had to grow up fast, that’s all.”
Logan nodded in understanding.
Riley grew older, of course. But she didn’t stop playing with her stuffed animals, still utterly convinced that they were real.
Riley was in the fifth grade and Logan in his junior year--when teenagers know everything--when their big fight happened.
“You have to grow up, Riley! They are stuffed animals! Your delusions of their being real are getting old and frankly, they are embarrassing!”
“No, they are more than just stuffed animals! They are real, and I’m not embarrassed by them!” she screamed at her brother. “Shouldn’t that count for something?”
“You just need to grow up. You’re being an immature brat!”
“You’re being the worst brother ever! I hate you!”
With that, Riley stormed off, wiping tears escaping from the corners of her eyes. Logan simply huffed, but he couldn’t ignore the tightness that had formed in his chest when she called him a terrible brother. It hurt more than it should have.
Later that night, Logan knocked on the door to Riley’s room.
“Riley? I need to talk to you.” He paused, prompting a response, but none came. “Look, I just want to apologize for what I said. I stand by the fact that you have a lot of growing up to do, but it was wrong of me to yell at you. I just want you to know that I am truly sorry.”
There was no response again.
Logan turned the knob and pushed the door open. Looking around his sister’s room, her green painted walls, her tie-dyed throw rug that she had made with their mother, the jungle bed sheets lying bunched up as if Riley had been crying into them.
The fact that Riley had been here was well supported, but Logan didn’t see her anywhere. The window closed, he opened the wardrobe. “Riley?” he called. “Riley!”
He looked around her room, skimming over the faded curtains, the colorful posters, and the drawings of animals on her dresser until his eyes landed on her stuffed animals-- Philip, Midnight, Logan, and…a teddy bear that Logan had never seen before. Picking it up slowly, he ran his fingers carefully over it, the brown fur soft under his fingers. He stopped as he felt crooked thread sewn into the back of its head. He turned it over and almost dropped the bear.
Clapping a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming, he caught the color of Riley’s eyes in the black glass of the bear’s. He saw her smile in the sewn-on mouth. It was even wearing her clothes. He loosened his tight grip on the bear, suddenly wanting to handle it so gently, as he used to hold Riley when she was a baby.
He couldn’t form words for a moment, a choked gasp escaping from his lips.
“I’m sorry,” he managed, almost sounding like a broken record as he continued. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”
“Sorry won’t fix anything.” Logan turned to investigate the source of the voice to find the small stuffed dragon staring up at him. “It’s all your fault.”
“No, I-you-“ Logan couldn’t find any words to express his thoughts. For once in his life, he was speechless.
“We can’t be real, can we?” This time it was the cat that spoke, sitting on Riley’s desk, tail flicking back and forth. “Your mind is too logical for us?” Midnight hissed.
Logan simply stared down at the bear that had been Riley. He didn’t trust himself to say anything. The last time he’d spoken to Riley, he’d hurt her. He had no defense.
“You know we’re right, Logan.” The owl, now perched on his shoulder, dug very real talons into his skin.
“It was her choice,” Philip said, flapping his wings until he was hovering at Logan’s eye level as the latter’s eyes opened widely. “We offered her an eternity with us, and she took our offer.”
“No,” Logan managed as he could swear the bear’s face shifted into a frown. “No, this can’t be real.”
“You can join her too, if you’d like. Abandon your life to spend eternity with your sister.” Midnight rubbed up against his legs.
The offer was tempting. Placing the bear gently beside Philip, Midnight, and Logan, he walked through the open doors as if they were a portal to another world.
2 years later
“Why do you have that stuffed bear, Logan?” his roommate Roman asked, staring inquisitively at the cream-colored bear on Logan’s desk.
“It holds…great value. It is my last memory of my sister.” Logan smiled a bit at the bear, and he could swear Riley smiled back at him. The clothes on her plush body were washed with Logan’s other laundry, and he had bought more doll clothes for her to wear.
“Oh, sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”
“It’s no matter. I will tell you the story, but only if you promise to believe every word out of my mouth. I am perfectly sane, and I was not on drugs in my junior year of high school.”
“You have my word. I would never laugh at anything you say, Specs.”
Logan shot him a skeptical look. Roman winced.
“Except for all of the times that I did. But I swear on my mother’s grave that I will believe you.”
Simply nodding, Logan took Riley from off the desk and wrapped her in a pseudo-hug.
“My sister Riley owned a set of stuffed animals: a little dragon that she named Philip, after the prince in Sleeping Beauty, a black cat with green button eyes named Midnight, because he looked like midnight, and a tawny owl she named Logan, after….” Logan took a deep breath. “After me.”
art by PAIGE KUPER