Chapter 1: Swallowed

Most days you don’t expect to catch a monster in a jar. For starters, monsters are usually rather large. They don’t fit in normal jars. At least, not the monsters I know. Not that I know very many monsters. They’re not real, right? So how can you catch a monster in a jar if monsters aren’t real? Of course, catching a monster in a jar is nothing compared to being swallowed by a monkey. Especially a stuffed monkey. Things like that just don’t happen. But when something like that does happen, when you actually find yourself being swallowed whole by a stuffed monkey named Garrote, it makes you rethink everything you’ve ever known. And you wonder if Garrote still would have swallowed you if you hadn’t caught that monster in the jar.

As you travel down the stuffed monkey’s throat, feeling the warm, fuzzy, brown fluffiness surrounding you, you really get to thinking about the most important things. And by the time you land with a soft plop in the fluffy tummy, you realize that all of those questions don’t actually matter. The only thing that matters is that you are in stuffed monkey Garrote’s stomach. It’s dark and really hot, and the fluffy filling is starting to tickle your nose. Stuffed animals aren’t as comfortable on the inside as they are on the outside. I know because this is me. This is my story. It’s incredible and hard to believe, I know. It took me a while, even sitting there in the soft, hot, furriness of Garrote’s stomach, to believe that I was really there. There needs to be a word that’s a little stronger than unexpected. Something more like impossible, but with the connotation of being a solid fact. And as I looked around in the dark, trying to see anything, I knew that I was, in fact, in a stuffed monkey’s stomach and that I was, without a doubt, having a bad day. So next time, I will let the monster go. Or maybe I’ll just catch him in a net instead of a jar.

They always say that when you tell a story you should start at the beginning. (And who are they anyway? Why do they always have to have an opinion about everything?) Why do you have to start at the beginning? What does that accomplish? Oftentimes, the beginning just confuses you. And where does the beginning really start anyway? Do you have to start at the beginning of someone’s life? What if there is more than one person? Do you have to start at the beginning of the life of the person who is older? Or do you just start at the beginning of all the pertinent information? But how do you know what exactly is pertinent? Sometimes, you don’t realize how one simple, seemingly harmless action (like catching a monster in a jar) will change everything. It doesn’t usually happen in one moment, or even day. Sometimes, it takes a long time to affect anything. And by the time the rest of the story starts to happen, you don’t really remember how it all started. Or maybe you don’t know. So, instead of starting at the beginning, I’m just going to start telling the story. It makes more sense to me that way. When Garrote swallowed me whole, that’s the moment I knew I was in a story. He just opened up and there I was, falling down into that dark jungle of synthetic fur.  And things like that only happen in stories.

I had probably been in Garrote’s stomach for about 15 minutes when I realized I wasn’t blind. It could have been longer, or shorter. The next time you get swallowed by a monkey, see if you have the foresight to time how long you’re in there, that is, if you have a watch. But I’m telling this story, and I decided that a nice arbitrary amount of time for how long I was sitting there in the dark was about 15 minutes. I mean, you get swallowed by something fuzzy, you tend to think it’s going to be dark inside, but not so dark that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. So I figured I must have gone blind, that the fluff has scratched my eyeballs on entry. I sat there that entire 15 minutes, bemoaning my fate to not only be swallowed by a toy but to then end up blind, when I blinked. Or rather, unblinked. I guess it was more like opening my eyes, then shutting them again. Then I opened them again. I could see! I could see! I could… open my eyes. Oops! That scratchy fluff on the way down must have made me close me eyes, and in the jumble of everything I didn’t realized they were closed. Kind of like those dreams when you can barely see, but when you wake up you realize it’s just because you really did have your eyes closed? Yeah. So, after sitting there a while trying to get used to being blind, I opened my eyes. Then I noticed her.

She wasn’t sitting very far away from me. I was sitting on a lump of white fluff, and she was sitting on a fluff of blue stuff. She was about my age (which is the best age – a whole decade!), and she was wearing a pale pink and white striped dress with a white pinafore (I didn’t know what a pinafore was until I saw it, and then the word just popped into my head and I knew what it was). She had long, blonde hair, styled into tight little ringlets. Her lips were rather pale in comparison to her rosy cheeks, and her black button eyes peered off into nothing. She was quite a lovely little doll, except for her socks. Her socks were puce. Raise your hand if you know what color puce is. It’s a color that, in my opinion looks about as nasty as its name sounds. It’s kind of a grayish, purplish, pinkish, brownish color that simply has no business being worn. Now, the puce would have been bad enough by itself, but there is a color that is even worse. And whoever had designed this poor little dolls socks had covered them in chartreuse flowers. Chartreuse, of course, being that sickly color you get when you accidentally get a little black mixed in with your yellow. The combination of puce and chartreuse was nauseating. I felt like I wanted to hurl some chartreuse something on those socks. No way would someone in their right mind ever intentionally design something like that. I mean, the only person who would even think that kind of combination was cool was my sister. Although, come to think of it, they did look suspiciously like something said sister had once owned. But she didn’t play with dolls anymore.

I would have continued to stare at those horrific socks for who knows how long if Little Miss Stockings hadn’t suddenly turned to face me with her little black button eyes. I mean, getting swallowed by one inanimate object is enough for one day, but coming face to face with another supposedly inanimate object that has also been swallowed by the larger one was almost more than I could take. Her pasty smile widened as she stood up. In a quick jump she landed next to me on my puff of fluff. I somehow managed to maintain my composure as she stuck out her hand.

“Pleased to meet your acquaintance. I am Serlena Shogbottom. And who might you be?”

“Uh… I’m Taylor. Taylor Trent.” She had a distinctly British accent. I half expected her to start pouring tea.

She confirmed my suspicions when she said, “Very nice to meet you Taylor Trent. Are you from England as well? I know many families with the surname of Trent, but you seem to have an American accent. I myself am from Hampshire. Or at least, that is where I was made. Where were you made?”

Made? I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that one, but I knew where I had been born. “I was born in Anaheim, California. You know, by Disneyland?”

She probably had no idea what Disneyland was, but that was my standard response.

“You are a Disney-made?” There was a look of awe on her face and for a moment, I almost thought she was going to kneel and bow to me.

“No. I was just born near there. Disney did not make me… At least, I don’t think so.” I was starting to wonder if somehow I’d gotten stuck in a Disney flick.

“Oh,” she sounded so disappointed. Maybe I should have pretended to be Mickey Mouse just for her. Too late. Maybe I could bring back a little smile though.

“I have met Mickey and Donald and Goofy. And even a couple of the princesses, like Jasmine and Cinderella. I think Buzz Lightyear was there too, the last time I went to Disneyland.”

It worked. The smile spread back across her face. “You have really met them? Did you really meet Buzz?” She sighed. “Oh how lucky you are! Did you actually get to… touch them?” She sounded like a crazy teen grilling a friend for details on the Justin Bieber concert.

“Uh, I think I have a photo of me and Mickey when I was three or so. And I gave Goofy a high five. Buzz was off in the distance. I didn’t get up close.”

She flopped down on the fluff, a dreamy smile on her face. Good thing I hadn’t told her about my Toy Story socks.

“So,” I ventured a question (or two, or three), “what are we doing here? How long have you been here? Is there any way out?”

“Out? Why would you want to leave? It is safe in here.”

“Safe? From what? I just got eaten by my little brother’s stuffed monkey! I don’t call that a very safe environment. What will it eat next? I’m not a big fan of bananas.”

“Safe from the Wog, and the other monsters, of course.”

“The Wog? What in the world is a Wog?”

“You do not know the Wog? You are definitely a blessed creature. The Wog is a vicious monster. It feeds on imperfection.” Her pasty smile faded. “Too many tea parties washed away all the paint from my lips. I knew the Wog would be coming for me soon. I woke up one day and found myself on his platter. So I sought out the mystical monkey, the only one who has the power to shield us from the Wog’s all-seeing evil eye. Here we are safe. The Wog cannot sense us.”

“O-kay.” I felt like I was in loonyville. Did I dare mention that I wasn’t actually a toy? That I hadn’t sought out the “mystical monkey” for protection? Probably not. At least, not yet.

“What does this Wog thing actually do?”

“Do?” She shivered. “They say that it takes you apart, and each piece becomes part of a gruesome collection. Arms and tails and eyes. It has a different collection for every unique piece.”

“What does it do with all these pieces? Just store them somewhere so it can look at them?”

“How is you do not know any of this? How can you not have heard? The Wog does not merely store the pieces of its victims. It uses them. It changes them. It creates,” she took a shaky breath, “monsters.

So apparently everyone is afraid of monsters. I ventured another question.

“Do you know where this Wog came from?”

“No one is certain. However, it has not tormented us for long. We used to live a peaceful life, with the Great One’s taking care of us when we got worn. But then suddenly, a monster appeared! A most terrifying creature! One night, a Twistini captured it in a jar. Soon thereafter, toys started disappearing and we realized the truth.”

“Twistini? Truth?” I asked, totally confused.

“A Twistini is a creature that exists merely to stir up trouble for other toys. That the monster captured in a jar had been the first creation of the Wog. And its capture angered the Wog, who began to take revenge on all toys.”

“What does this Wog look like?”

“It is most terrible. It is very large. It has piercing blue eyes that can stun and freeze any toy. It whistles a dastardly tune as it rounds up its victims. And it has a great scratchy beard that hides its hideous fangs.”

A blue-eyed, bearded, whistling monster? That combination sounded familiar for some reason.

“So, this Wog goes around collecting toys that are in disrepair, pulls them apart, and creates monster toys out of the pieces? Have you ever actually seen this Wog thing?”

“I personally have never seen the Wog. But my dear Sister, Serena, told me she once glimpsed it in the process of snatching a dear Dalmatian pup right out of the Room! The poor pup had some faded spots and one ear was slightly torn. But he was still useful! The evil beast just came in, grabbed the dog up and carted it off to its laboratory to perform all kinds of treachery. She did not know what was happening until later. That was before the monster, the one the Wog created, was captured in a jar.” Serlena sniffled. “If only we could have freed the first monster, maybe the Wog would have left the rest of us alone. One monster we can deal with, but many? And a demon creator?” She sighed.

The description of the Wog was still nagging at something in my mind. The Dalmatian as well. It sounded a lot like Rover, an old toy of mine that I had lost interest in years before. I had given Rover to…

“When you say that the Wog snatched this toy dog out of the Room, what room are you referring to?”

“The one right next to the one in which this mystical monkey inhabits, of course. That is the room where most of us live, until the Wog swoops down to carry us off. I knew it was only a matter of time before it would come for me, so I came in search of this precious primate to seek safety.”

“How exactly does Garrote, er… this monkey, keep you safe? How do you know that the Wog won’t ever come for him?”

“You know the true name of this amazing ape? How is you can know so many secrets and not know the nature of this blessed beast?”

“Uh, Garrote and I are old friends. But you didn’t answer my question. How do you know Garrote won’t get carted off by the Wog? What makes him so special?”

“This choice chimp is one of the Originals – one of the first toys of the Great One. He has been reserved, nay, restored to his former glory and sits in a place of power, where not even the Wog will ever feign to visit.”

Suddenly, the pieces all came together in my mind. I knew where Garrote was stashed – in the Collections Room, which was of course, right next to the Play Room. Said Play Room being where my siblings and I kept all our toys. The Collections Room was where our favorites were stored to keep them from falling apart so that they could be “passed down to the next generation of toy lovers”, or so my father would say. And thinking about my father, I realized something about the Wog. Blue eyes, check. A beard, check. Always whistling, check. That was my dad alright. My dad, the toymaker. The one who was always giving us new toys, usually something he had created. We were all getting older and instead of fixing up our older toys for us to continue to use, he would salvage them for parts or whatever he could. We had a store on the main floor where my dad would sell his creations. People would also recycle their old things there. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, my dad would load up a dozen boxes or so of old toys, usually broken ones he had fixed, or donated items, and take them to a homeless shelter, or Goodwill, or some other such place. My siblings and I always went along to hand the toys out. As I thought about the smiles on the faces of all the kids, even those my age, as I handed them the toys, I had a hard time picturing my dad as a monster of any kind.

Yet somehow, he had become a legendary evil in the eyes of the toys of the household. I guess none of had ever thought about how the toys would perceive his actions. Another one of those things that doesn’t usually cross your mind as something you should consider – not until you have to. It sounded like a lot of rumor and hearsay was going on among the gossipers and rumormongers that were our toys.  They had no idea what was really happening to their old friends. Serlena, with her faded lips, would never get torn apart. She would get a fresh coat of paint, probably have her clothes washed, get all polished up, and sold or given away. My brothers and sisters and I knew that our toys would always end up in good hands elsewhere, and although we had our favorites (mostly those that ended up in the Collection Room), we had no problem letting go of the majority of our other toys. Often, Dad would use us as his guinea pigs – testing out how well the toys held up under our playful hands, and how popular they might be. So when he would ask for donations, we would let him know which ones were okay to give away. We even had a special table we would put them on by the door of the Playroom. It was an old birdbath, converted into a table. That must have been the platter Serlena had mentioned. I guessed Tamsyn had gotten tired of her and was ready to give her into the hands of someone else more appreciative.

Then I remembered what Serlena had said about the first monster the Wog had supposedly created from pieces of other toys.

“Um… you told me about the first monster that the Wog created. How do you know so much about it? Did you ever see it or is it something else you’ve heard about?” I wasn’t about to let on that I knew anything more about the true identity of the Wog, not yet. I doubted that would be a safe choice.

“I did indeed meet that monster created by an evil master. From a distance, she looked like a beautiful butterfly – multicolored, shimmering wings. But up close I discovered her for exactly what she was – a monster, created from bits and pieces of several toys I once knew. There was a very suspicious black and white piece on the back of one of her wings that I am certain originated from my sister’s Dalmatian friend.”

Butterfly? Okay, this was starting to hit way too close to home.

“Where did you see this butterfly?”

“She sat in her glass cage on the table in the Room. She was only there for a short amount of time, I am sure because a Great One must have discovered her and taken her to destroy the abomination that she was.” She huffed slightly and stuck her dainty nose up a little into the air.

“So, let me this straight. This butterfly you saw is considered to be a monster merely because she had the misfortune to be created from bits and pieces of other toys? Did you actually talk to the butterfly? What did she think about any of it? Or did you just automatically assume that she was a monster because of how she looked? She looks different and so she’s evil?” I was really getting worked up about this all of sudden.

“Of course I did not talk to her! Not that she could have even heard me through the thickness of her glass cage. Why would I droop myself to such a level as to talk to such a worthless, ugly creature? As for being evil, I don’t know if she was. Not all monsters are evil. The Wog certainly is, but it is a different kind of monster. A powerful monster who can do things of its own free will. The butterfly was merely a creature who wanted to be thought of as a toy. As if a creature like that could ever be cared for by one of the Great Ones!”

I had figured out that by “Great Ones”, she was talking about us kids – the ones who played with the toys. I was starting to get irked by her “I’m-better-than-you” attitude. It reminded me way too much of certain kids at school. Certain kids who liked to tease me because my dad made toys, as if it wasn’t a good enough job. Personally, I thought it was a awesome! But Roy Francis never did want to see the good in it.

I was getting tired of talking with this prissy little doll. I still didn’t know how exactly I had ended up in Garrote’s belly, or why, or how I was going to get out. I couldn’t think of anything to say to Serlena that wouldn’t either make her angrier or give away my secrets, so I chose to change the subject.

“How does the monkey know to swallow a toy? And how do you get out of here?”

“Get out? Why did you come in the first place if you want to leave? I have never heard of a toy that wants to leave. I do not know if there is a way. And the Mighty Monkey does not just swallow toys willy nilly. You must request to be hidden, present your plight, and enter willingly. How do you not know this? Surely this is how to arrived here.”

“Not quite. At least, I don’t really remember. I think I bumped my head on something on the way down.” I wasn’t about to tell her the truth on this one. I valued my life and this doll seemed capable of just about anything.

“That explains much.” She sighed, and she seemed suddenly relieved, like all my questions made more sense. “There are other toys here, if you would like to meet them.”

“That would be great! I’d love to!” It would be interesting to see who else had run away from the evil Wog and ended up stuck in a stuffed simians stomach. And maybe I’d find out some reason why I had ended up here as well. And a way out.

Serlena launched herself off our fluffy bump over to an adjoining lump of stuff and beckoned me to follow her, then bounced off in another direction into the vast wasteland of fuzz. I carefully made my way across the sea of stuffing after her.

I thought about the butterfly “monster” Serlena had told me about. If what I suspected was true, she was talking about the beautiful patchwork butterfly my dad had helped me make for a school science project a year ago. We had been studying butterflies and had to do a final project. I had spent weeks collecting a bunch of the scraps of different fabrics and things my dad had been using to make other toys. He had recently redone a Dalmatian pup for my cousin and there had been a nice sized piece of black and white fabric left over. My dad then helped me “metamorphose” the scraps into the butterfly. A butterfly which I had taken to school in a large glass mason jar to show off. I almost tripped on a mound of down when I realized the absurdity of it. I was the one who had created and then captured a “monster” in a jar.

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