The early morning sunlight creeps through the thin blinds that cover the window and splashes over my limp body like a pool of warm water. The carpet that I’m lying on is thick and grey. The walls are a pale blue and decorated in posters from movies like Toy Story and Up. It’s what you’d expect an eleven year old boy’s bedroom to look like.
There’s a gash across my stomach and my insides spill out through the wound. I’m thankful that all of my limbs are still intact but it’s my hindered sight that worries me the most. My left eye dangles from my head and rests against my soft cheek. I’m surprised and, admittedly, a little disturbed to find that I can still see through it. My right eye is missing entirely. If I can find it, maybe it can be reattached.
I slowly turn my head, doing my best to avoid detection. I struggle to scan the floor for my missing eye. I can see rather clearly through the one I still have but the way it dangles makes the search nearly impossible. I quickly give up and wait for my rescue. The life of a teddy bear isn’t easy but I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.
A voice rings out from somewhere in the house. “Al! Time to get up!”
There’s a moan of protest in the bed high above me.
“Now!” the voice says. It’s a little more shrill this time but I can still hear the playful undertone. Moms are funny like that.
Allan stirs and I can hear the sound of shuffling sheets as he wiggles his way out of bed. The springs creak as two bare feet touch down on the carpet next to me.
“Wow,” he says. “What happened to you?”
I can’t answer him of course. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. It isn’t something a small boy should know. It’s my burden to bear.
His giant hand scoops me up and everything else fades away. I’m happy and I’m safe. My only real sanctuary is in the arms of my boy.
My eye rolls from my face and dangles by a thin piece of black thread. It focuses on the receding carpet as I’m lifted high into the air. I can feel his fingers brush along the white cotton that threatens to fall from the wound in my stomach.
“I’m sorry, Zeek,” he says. “Did I hurt you in my sleep?”
He holds my glass eye between his finger and his thumb and brings it close to his face. I can only see his concerned expression for a moment before he tugs and snaps the thread. Everything goes dark.
I bounce around a little as Allan carries me down the stairs. After a short journey, I can smell freshly cooked bacon and can hear the sound of running water. We must be in the kitchen.
“Breakfast?” Mom asks.
“Mom,” Allan says. “Zeek’s torn up again.” There’s a touch of annoyance in his words that stings briefly but I ignore it.
“Again?” Mom’s words are always peppered with light hearted sarcasm. It was never mean. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body. “You must have had one heck of a nightmare.”
“I don’t have nightmares,” Allan says.
“I’ve never had a nightmare.”
Hearing this fills me with pride. Of all the bears I know, I have the highest record. Not a single loss – nothing gets to Allan. But after last night’s fight, I’ve started wondering how long I can keep it up.
I’m pulled gently from Allan’s hands and rolled around by Mom as she assesses the damage.
“What happened to his eyes?” she asks.
I can hear the sound of hands rustling through pockets.
“I have one here,” Allan says. “I couldn’t find the other one.”
My vision slowly recovers as my glass eye is pressed against my face. Before anything can come into focus, it’s pulled away again.
“I can probably get this one back on,” Mom says. “But I’m not sure what we’re going to do about the other one. We’ll have to buy a replacement.”
“Can we go today?”
I fear for her answer. With just one eye, I’ll never be able to withstand another attack. After what happened last night, I’m sure word of my injuries have spread and there’s no telling what will show up tonight to take advantage of the situation. There is a bounty on my head on the other side but it isn’t just that. It’s the bragging rights. Every Nightmare wants to be the one that finally takes down Zeek.
“I’m sorry, Al,” Mom says. “I don’t think we can go today. I have too much to do.”
“Are you sure you aren’t ready to shelf him?” Mom asks.
“What?” Allan squeaks. I can feel a touch of fear emanating from him at the thought of giving me up. It is nothing compared to the fear I feel.
“Well, you’re eleven now, Al,” Mom says. “Aren’t you getting a little old for teddy bears?”
Al didn’t respond and I could feel his fear changing to sadness. After his father had left, Allan decided it was time to grow up. He had to be the man of the house and felt “Allan” was a child’s name. From then on out he demanded to be called Al. To me, he will always be Allan.
“We could fix Zeek up real nice and sit him on the shelf above your desk,” Mom says.
“Just fix him,” Allan says. “Please.” I can hear his footsteps as they leave the room. It isn’t long before they stomp up the stairs to his bedroom.
It’s later in the afternoon and I’m sitting in Mom’s lap. My eye has been reattached and I can see again. She rocks back and forth in her rocking chair as she pierces me with her sewing needle, covering me in dark, threaded stitches. I’ve been wounded many times in battle before and the pin pricks no longer bother me. The pain I’m feeling now comes from something else.
The conversation from earlier plays over and over in my mind. Maybe Mom is right. Maybe Allan is getting too old for me. When I start to think about what happened last night, I begin to think I might be too old for him. Maybe I’ve outlived my life expectancy? Most bears are shelved or given away by now and I’m not as strong or as fast as I used to be. The nights are getting longer and my enemies tougher.
“There you go, Zeek, good as new.” Mom says. She looks at the dark stitches across my stomach. “Well, mostly. Don’t worry, Zeek, chicks dig scars.”
She brings me to her face and kisses my nose before smiling. Her smile is bright and warm but there’s still sadness behind it.
At a young age, Mom had been forced out of her parents’ home. Her father did not agree with her choice of men and considered her an embarrassment. His opinion wasn’t always justified but, this time, it was.
She had met Darryl only months before. He was a pathetic excuse for a man but Mom was in love. It was the kind of love that was fuelled by the desire to rebel against her overbearing parents. But love is love and it’s one of the most powerful things on the planet. Her father kicked her out, telling her to only return when she’d come to her senses. Her mother kept quiet about the whole thing, as was in her nature.
It wasn’t long before Mom was pregnant with Allan. The only good thing Darryl had ever done was growing inside of her and he detested it. Once Allan was born, the responsibility that came with a wife and child was too much for Darryl and he quickly turned to alcohol. He was ready to give up and leave when a package showed up at their doorstep.
Mom’s mother had learned of the pregnancy and sent a care package. In the small, brown box was a cheque for a large sum of money, a letter, and me. Whether or not Mom’s father had anything to do with the package is uncertain. He wasn’t mentioned in the letter.
Of course, once Darryl saw the cheque, he’d quickly decided he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, he chose to try and drink the money away, thinking enough alcohol would help get him through anything. And the thought of having to work to provide for himself was almost as bad as having to look after a child.
He was an aggressive drunk, to put it lightly. At night, Mom would creep in to Allan’s room and tuck him in, careful not to wake him. Once she was sure he was safe, she’d scoop me up from the bed and carry me out of the room. She’d squeeze me tight and hold me against her bruised face. Her tears would dampen my cotton head as she’d tell me the exact story I’m telling you now. She couldn’t leave him. She didn’t have anyone else. When she was all cried out, she’d give me back to Allan.
I’ll never forget the night it all changed: The sounds of the police sirens. The rush of people through the house. I didn’t know what was happening in the rest of the house, only what had happened in Allan’s room. But what happened there, on Allan’s bed, will never leave me.
I was helpless. If a bear were to interfere with the real world, the consequences would be dire. I could only watch until Mom finally heard the screams and ran into the room, tearing Darryl away from a crying Allan. She dragged him downstairs where he didn’t hesitate in taking his frustration out on her until the police finally showed up.
Later that night, when it was all over, Mom dragged herself into Allan’s room looking for me. I could hear him crying from her bedroom and ached to be there to comfort him. She plucked me from the foot of the bed and, for the first time that night, she cried. She hugged into me and sobbed into my head. Then her eyes glazed over when she saw the blood on Allan’s bedsheets. The reality of what had happened struck her. It was as if everything was playing back in her mind. She used me to muffle her screams and fell to her knees.
I love her, but I can’t help her. It’s Allan that I’m here to protect.
Mom carries me up the stairs to Allan’s room. He’s sitting on the floor, playing with a set of action figures.
“All ready,” Mom says.
“Thank you,” Allan replies. His voice is sombre and he doesn’t turn around.
Mom places me on Al’s bedside table. I sit there and watch as she makes his bed, humming to herself. Once she’s done, she places me on his pillow and walks out of the room.
Across from the bed, above a desk, is a shelf filled with toys. Some are plastic, others are stuffed like myself. If I got moved there, someone would have to be taken down to make room for me. It would be placed in the toy chest at the foot of the bed or, worse still, the attic.
The toys are a little out of focus. My vision is much poorer with only one eye. I try to focus on each one individually, wondering if I will soon share their fate. A stuffed dog sits in the middle of the crowd. He was a gift from Darryl years ago. He’s a fantastic stuffed companion with soft fur and a warm heart. But, because of where he came from and what he represented, Allan shelved him right away. He was never even given a name. My gaze lingers on him as I realize he’s staring directly at me.
“Al, dinner,” Mom calls from downstairs.
“Just a minute!”
Allan sighs and pushes himself to his feet. He hunches out of the room and closes the door behind him.
“He’s ready, Zeek.” The voice is coming from the dog on the shelf. “It’s time to let him go.”
“No,” I say. “You’re wrong.”
“You can’t protect him forever. He needs to grow up. The older he gets, the harder it will be for him to do it alone. He needs to face his own fears – fight his own nightmares.”
I know he’s right but I refuse to respond to him.
“We all know he can do it,” the dog says. “You know he can do it. It’s you who isn’t ready. It’s hard to let him go, I know, but we will help you.”
Some of the other toys on the shelf nod in agreement.
I turn my head until my good eye can no longer see them.
“Not yet,” I say.
The dog keeps quiet and I rest, waiting for bedtime.
Allan snores softly in the bed next to me. He sleeps with his back turned to me and even though he’s only inches away, it feels like he isn’t even there. He hasn’t held me at all tonight or even spoken to me. I’m a little thankful that I don’t have to struggle out of his arms but, at the same time, I’m hurt.
The night has gone on for hours and there’s been no sign of an attack. Still, I won’t let my guard down. I find it difficult to watch the entire room from my position. My missing eye proves to be more of an inconvenience than I’d feared. I untangle myself from the sheets around me and rise to my feet.
I manoeuvre my way across the crumpled blankets and cautiously step to the end of the bed. From here, I can see everything.
The small night light next to the bed casts long shadows throughout the room. In the dark corner, I see glowing, red eyes.
Before I can react, the Nightmare attacks me. I’m struck hard and I tumble through the air, landing on the floor. I spring to my feet and scan the room for my attacker. I find it near the nightlight. I can make out the outline of the form it has chosen for the night. Its body is long, black, and curls around itself like a snake. The Guardian inside of me comes to life and a golden light takes the form of a sword near my right arm.
A Guardian’s sword is as strong as the bond between him and his child. Last night, mine had nearly lit the entire room. Tonight, it’s much dimmer. The conversation I had with the dog earlier creeps back into my thoughts, causing the light to waver. I force it out of my mind. I can’t let the Nightmare know I’m weak. But its hoarse laugh tells me I’m too late.
“Why fight me, bear?” it asks. It’s voice is low and raspy. “Your boy doesn’t want you anymore. Let him fight me himself.”
I spring from the bed towards the corner so quickly that the rest of the room blurs around me. The Nightmare dashes away from me but not before I can catch a piece of it. My sword slices along its back, leaving behind a golden wound that resembles the other ones on its body. Most of them there from our last fight.
It hisses loudly and disappears under the bed as my feet land softly on the floor. I can’t see it from where I’m standing so I cautiously walk towards the bed, my sword shimmering at my side. But I can only see darkness so I walk into the shadows.
It only takes a few seconds for me to realize it isn’t here. It must have crawled back out the other side before I could have seen it. I barely have time to curse myself before it hits me from my blind side.
I’m not tossed this time. Instead, it drags me across the carpet, and stops directly under the centre of the bed. The impact tears the seem of my right arm and my sword vanishes in a puff of golden smoke.
The Nightmare pins me to the floor with a force that doesn’t require physical touch. It leans in until its face is an inch from mine. Aside from its eyes, its face is featureless. It has no mouth but I can still hear it laugh under its breath.
One by one the fresh stitches in my stomach snap and the Nightmare lets out a sigh of satisfaction. It toys with me, ripping the cotton from my insides without ever touching me. In an instant, my left arm is ripped from my body and the mouthless monster howls with laughter.
I sigh and turn my head from it. I can’t escape. I’ve allowed myself to fall for its trap; something I’ve never let happen before. How could I be so careless?
The Nightmare’s laughing stops and it whips its head to the side, staring towards the window that we can’t see. I realize what it’s thinking. It’s been so distracted with me that the night has neared its end. It has to make its move.
I realize that with the line of sight broken, the Nightmare has no power over me. I can move again. Without wasting any time, I summon my sword back into existence and thrust it into the Nightmare’s underbelly. It howls in pain for a moment before glaring at me. Its eyes flash and it hisses before turning into smoke that quickly rises upwards through the bed.
I struggle to my feet, using my single arm as leverage. A lot of my stuffing has been torn out and my legs can barely hold me. I grab my other arm from the floor and drag it behind me as I hurry out from under the bed. It leaves a trail of small cotton pieces behind it. I need to get to Allan.
Once I get out from under the bed, I let my severed arm drop to the floor. I make sure it’s in the open so Mom will easily find it in the morning and reattach it. I use my single arm to pull myself up the bedsheets towards the surface of the bed. The climb is frustrating and takes longer than it should. Several times I fall and am forced to start over.
I get to the top and stare in horror at the dark figure hovering over my boy. The Nightmare has gotten to him and its smokey body engulfs him. Its head slowly begins to take shape but it isn’t the featureless one I had been fighting. Now it’s human. It’s the face of Darryl.
Allan tosses and turns under the Nightmare. He begins to grunt and beads of sweat form on his forehead. He’s a part of it now.
I look up at the shelf above the desk. The dog looks back at me with sadness in his eyes. He slowly shakes his head, telling me to let go. I raise my arm and stare at my sword. Its glow is barely visible. I know now that I will never fight again. I collapse onto the bed and turn my good eye away from Allan as he fights the Nightmare on his own.
It’s the following night and I miss the bed already. Mom has restored my vision with a new eye and my stitches have been replaced with a thinner, lighter thread that matches the rest of me. My scars are barely noticeable. I’ve been re-stuffed and look almost new as I sit on the shelf with the other toys. Some of the toys comfort me, others refuse to speak to me – their jealousy getting the better of them. The dog is gone – moved to the attic to make room for me.
I watch Allan as he sleeps. I take some comfort in knowing his dreams will be pleasant tonight. Nightmares rarely feed two nights in a row. But I wonder what will happen when it returns. Will I be able to watch it, high from the shelf, as it feeds on my boy? I know Allan is ready. He doesn’t need me anymore. But, without him, what do I have left?