"Melissa," McGigglesworth said, taking his plastic monocle from his eye and waving it in the air for effect. “I want you to make sure none of the Sylvanian Families go getting too familiar, if you know what I mean."
“And that’s how we're doing this, is it?” replied the stuffed toy tiger. “With you having a toy broom up your ass?"
McGigglesworth ignored her. "I have been put in charge," he said. "And, as such, it is my responsibility to make sure everything is in order for when Molly comes home."
McGigglesworth hadn’t seen Molly since she’d left two years ago. None of the other toys had seen her since they’d been unceremoniously shoved under the bed years earlier. McGigglesworth had been the only one who had avoided the cull. He’d been given, what felt like to him, an important place at the foot of Molly’s bed. From there, he’d watched Molly’s first experiments with the joys of make-up and the pains of exfoliation, seen her grow from a gangly awkward tweenager into something more like a woman. Only he really knew who she was, knew exactly what she would be expecting now that she was finally coming home.
He thought back to the day it had all started, the day she had pointed at him in the toyshop with the determination that only a five-year old can truly muster; he would be hers and no one else’s. McGigglesworth intended to remain faithful to that first, true love.
He remembered the time he’d been left out in the rain all night. Molly’s screams at her father’s suggestion that he might have to be thrown away. How could he forget the violence of the washing machine? The long, slow afternoon on the clothes line? He reached up and touched his half-torn ear: the one he’d almost lost during those tumultuous events. This was a once in a bear-time opportunity to show Molly just how much he had missed her, and he hadn't been this excited since, since... well gosh, he hadn't ever been this excited. He came across some farm animals that were strewn across the bedroom floor.
"What is the meaning of this?” he cried. “Pick yourselves up this minute!”
The cows and chickens huddled together, more than a little confused. They had only a minute ago been thrown out of their box by a frantic McGigglesworth, and had not quite come to terms with the fact they now appeared to be alive, or at least animate.
He left them to their confusion, bounding over to a dust-covered doll’s house to see how the preparations were coming along there.
"Good, good, good," he said, rubbing his paws together. "This is wonderful work, ladies."
A Barbie Doll moving around inside one of the rooms stopped what she was doing and came to the widow. "Why, thank you McGigglesworth."
McGigglesworth puffed up his chest and said, “That’s quite OK, Barbara my dear. We all just have to work together to make sure this goes smoothly. And I, for one, think it will." He thought for a moment. “No, pardon me," he said. "I know it will."
The temperature in the room dropped suddenly. A large spectre-ish looking thing appeared and hovered in the air over McGiggleworth's head. It had a long black hood and appeared to be carrying an old-fashioned farming implement.
"How's it going McGiggleworth?" asked The Spectre of Death.
"Oh," said McGigglesworth, leaning back and almost falling over to look at the faint figure above him. "Hey, how's it going?"
"I just asked you that.”
“Oh yes… you did... er, I’m good. Things are coming along great, I think. I'm really looking forward to Molly coming home. I can't wait for her to hug me."
"She hasn't hugged you in a while has she?"
"No. No, she hasn't." McGigglesworth looked down and wiggled his furry feet. "I dare say she’s a touch too old to hug a teddy bear now."
"Well don't worry," said The Spectre of Death. "Now that I've animated you she won't be able to ignore you any more, will she?"
"I suppose not.” McGigglesworth scratched his ear where it had been sewn back together. "Are you sure she won't be, you know, a touch upset?"
"Well, I'm her favourite teddy bear from when she was a young girl and, I don't know, it might freak her out somewhat me coming to life like this."
"Don't you go worrying about what's going to freak her out or not. You just concentrate on putting on a good show.” With that the spectre of death began floating up through the ceiling.
"Remember," it said. "Put on a go-o-od sho-o-ow."
"Ass. Hole," said Barbara, from the window of the doll's house.
"I wouldn't trust him, McGigglesworth. Why, I'd say he was up to something. And if I didn't just have all the nous of a ridiculously over-gender-stereotyped plaything, I’d be able to hazard a guess at what, too.”
"Hmmm," said McGigglesworth.
In the loft space above Molly's room, The Spectre of Death heard a muffled noise coming from one of the cases stored up there. Inside it, The Spectre of Death took out one of the photo albums and flicked through it. Within one of the pages was A Photo of Molly's Dead Father, Richard. “I know,” said A Photo of Molly’s Dead Father, Richard.
“Know what?” said The Spectre, inspecting the nails on one of its skeletal hands in a show of guiltlessness.
“What you’re up to.”
The Spectre of Death sighed. He knew that animating inanimate objects was rarely an exact science, but he didn’t need this. "Don’t start."
"What do you mean? Don't Start? How can I not start?" said A Photo of Molly's Dead Father, Richard.
"Listen Dick, I gotta keep my numbers up. This ain't personal."
"Not personal?!" cried A Photo. "First, you kill me in some crummy car-accident. And now you're trying to tip my daughter's already precarious mental health over the edge in a vague attempt to make her kill herself. Dammit, if I wasn't a photo of a dead man, I'd bop you right on the nose!"
"Calm down," said The Spectre. "Someone in your position, of all people, should be able to appreciate that everyone has their time. That, like the seasons, everything comes and goes, is born, blossoms and then dies."
A Photo would have put his hands in the air were he able to; instead he waved them around inside the plastic sheet. "Have you heard yourself lately?"
"Listen, it's just the way it is."
"If it's the way it is, as you claim, then why have you had to animate all her childhood toys?"
"I have my reasons," said The Spectre.
A Photo Molly’s Dead Father, Richard, narrowed his eyes. "Which are?" though he was now just a graphic representation of a real person, he was gratified to find he was still as dogged as he'd ever been in life.
"I dunno. I guess I'm bored." The Spectre of Death got up and floated up to the rafters. "You never wish you could be more creative? Like, sure, life's OK, there's nothing wrong with it, only..."
"Only what?" A Photo would have leant forward, if an animate two-dimensional representation of a person could show their interest in a thing in such a way.
"I dunno, maybe I wish I'd done something different with my existence, you know, something more."
"Something more? That's pretty ironic."
"You. One of the original abstract representations of existentialism having an existential crisis. Hoo-wee." A Photo raised an eyebrow.
The Spectre ignored him, and continued, "I just wanted to do something. Make something. Something real. Something amazing and beautiful that would wow people."
"Who's it gonna wow? My daughter's the only one who's going to see it."
"That's not the point. The point is I'll have done it. And what's more, because of your untimely and horrific demise, everyone will believe she's lost it, and I’ll have the chance of getting my numbers up by one. Art plus achievement. You have any idea how many of us can say they’ve done that?"
A Photo and The Spectre glared at each other.
“Well, I still think it’s pretty mean. Hasn’t she been through enough?” said A Photo of Molly’s Dead Father, Richard.
“It never rains, my friend,” said The Spectre of Death, who then closed the album, put it away, and shut and locked the case.
Back down in Molly’s room preparations were coming along well. The toys were all lined up in rows ready to greet Molly as she came in. The farmyard animals were formed into orderly ranks, the Barbies had got the doll’s house looking brand new. The train set had outdone itself, even managing to add some extra track to itself by getting the two my-little-ponies to act as a temporary bridge. Even the Sylvanian Families were behaving themselves.
But McGigglesworth wasn’t happy.
He was sitting on one of the old toy boxes he’d dragged from under the bed. Barbara came over and put one of her plastic arms around him, while Melissa came and curled herself around his furry feet “What’s up McGigglesworth?” asked Barbara.
“I don’t know. I’m not so sure this is such a great idea.”
“What isn’t?” said Melissa.
“This whole coming to life thing. What’s Molly going to think when she comes in and we’re all running around like this?”
The toys thought about this.
But then McGigglesworth leapt to his pads of his feet. “No time!” he cried. “She’s here!”
Downstairs the toys could hear Molly come in and call out. No one but the toys were in to welcome her. Only The Spectre of Death had known she would be coming home today.
“OK. Everybody hold position and wait for my signal,” whispered McGigglesworth.
Molly came up into her room. McGigglesworth looked up to see a young woman. He thought for a moment that his very stuffing might escape him. She was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen. The other toys stood in silence, waiting for the signal.
McGigglesworth stared and said nothing.
“What’s all this stuff doing out?” said Molly