Chapter 2: Imaginate

Serlena bounced onward for what seemed like hours. Of course, when you’re the size of a pea bouncing on synthetic white fibers, any amount of time can seem forever. I had decided that I must be about the size of a pea, unless Garrote Monkey had suddenly grown as big as Los Angeles. And I doubted that. Although, how much stranger would that be compared to being swallowed by a stuffed animal in the first place? I certainly didn’t remember shrinking or anything. I had merely gone into the Collection Room to visit Garrote and the next thing I knew, his mouth was opening, and I was falling into it. Who would have guessed there was another world inside my old favorite stuffed toy. Definitely strange.

After an indeterminate amount of time, (were we really still inside the monkey? This thing was huge!) we arrived at what looked like a hospital. It was a sprawling one story, flat roofed building, painted sterilized white, with a myriad of windows on every side. As we got closer, I noticed a crudely painted sign in front (and by crudely I mean half the letters were backward and the words were severely misspelled) stating that we had arrived at none other than the Strawberry Hills Resort.

Serlena led, skipping her way up to the front door where four garden gnomes with spears were guarding the entrance. She smiled at them, said something that sounded like pure gibberish and then Serlena traipsed in without so much as a backward glance to see if I was coming. I had a sneaking suspicion she’d actually forgotten about me.

I approached the menacing critters warily, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the sharp end of their weapons.

“Hi!” I said brightly.

All four pairs of eyes bore into mine. Scowls appeared on the bearded faces and the spears leveled at my belly button. This was going well.

“My name is Taylor. I’m new around here. Serlena Snogbottom brought me here and I think she forgot…”

The fattest of the four (who looked comically like a melon ball) loudly interrupted with a snort.

“If her Highness had really wanted you to follow her, she would have told us about you. We saw you following her in from the Bounding Mounds. You might just be chasing her. So, Taylor, unless you can give us the password, you cannot enter here. You have 5 seconds to say the password or we will skewer the stuffing out of you. That is,” he grinned as he cocked his head suspiciously and I noticed a chipped tooth, “if you have any stuffing.”

“Well I…” Her Highness? Was Serlena some kind of toy royalty? I had no idea what to say. I didn’t have any stuffing, and I was sure that pointy thing would do some damage no matter what I was made of.

“Come on Fred, he’s obviously new. You know how forgetful Madame Snogbottom is. Likely she led him here but forgot he was following her. He was coming a bit slowish,” the skinniest gnome said. He was just as tall as the fat Fred but seemed to have nothing but skin on his bones.

“I don’t know Ned, I don’t like the looks of this one. He seems different,” replied Fred.

Another of the three, the tallest (who just came up to my waist), spoke out.

“Well, we’re all different. What’s that matter? We didn’t know the password first time we came either.”

“That was because we invented the password Ted. There were no gatekeepers when we came,” huffed Fred.

The last of the four hadn’t said anything. He had kept his spear training on me the entire time without so much as moving a muscle. Fred turned to him.

“What do you think, Zinga?”

“Uh… potatoes,” replied the shortest gnome as he turned his head and blinked at Fred. He barely came up to my knee.

“Exactly,” said Fred and looked triumphantly at Ned and Ted. All four spears inched closer to my stomach.

“Oh, there you are!” Serlena popped her head out the door. “I was wondering where you had gotten to. Been having a nice chit chat with the four brothers? Aren’t they darlings? And they are such good guards. For the life of me, I cannot remember how we ever got along without them.”

The four gnome brothers lowered their weapons and gazed worshipfully at Serlena.

“Your majesty,” groveled Fred as he knelt before her. The other three quickly followed suit.

“Yes, yes. Thank you. Do hurry up, Taylor. I have some most interesting friends for you to meet.”

“Coming,” I said as I hurried past the still kneeling men. Fred glared at me as I shuffled past.

“Your majesty?” he called.

“Yes dear?” Serlena said, turning to face him once more.

“The newcomer has not given us the password. Even you must speak the password upon entering. Why does he not have to?” I could tell Fred and I weren’t going to be friends any time soon.

“You are quite right, uh… Ted? Or is it Ned?”

“It’s Fred, Madame.” He looked slightly put out.

“That’s right. I am always getting that confused.” She turned to me. “Repeat after me and memorize the password. I would hate to have to let Fred and his brothers have their way with you.” She winked. “Glubsnickerty fingoogledom,” she said.

“Uh… glubsnickity foongiggledom?” I tried.

“No, no. You must say it right or it will not count. One more time.” She spoke a little slower this time, emphasizing each syllable. Glub-snick-er-ty fin-goo-gle-dom.”

“Glubsnickertyfingoogledom,” I repeated.

“Very good! Satisfied Fred?”

“Yes, your Majesty.” He and his brothers turned to face the Bounding Mounds again, waiting for the next creature to come along.

“Come along now Taylor.” Serlena skipped off, her garish stockings all but blinding me.

As I reluctantly followed, I glanced back quickly at Ned, Ted, Fred and Zinga. Ned, Ted and Fred were staring off at the horizon, but Zinga had turned around to glare after Serlena. He saw me watching and glared briefly at me then shook his head sadly before he whipped around to his guard duty. I looked ahead at Serlena, who was completely unaware of her guard throwing imaginary daggers at her behind her back. Although I didn’t know why Zinga seemed to dislike her so much (although maybe it was just the socks, they were hideous after all), I knew I’d have to stay close to her. If I ever left this place without her, I would have a hard time getting back in (if I really wanted to). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to remember that password.

******

The Strawberry Hills Resort looked as much like a hospital on the inside as it had from the outside. In fact, it was starting to resemble what I would imagine a mental hospital to be like. The sterile hallways lacked decoration of any sort. There were doors lining the hallways, however none of them were marked or numbered. Serlena kept on skipping along, turning left at one corner, right at the next, until I was sure we were either going back the way we had come or had gone in a complete circle. There was no way I’d be finding my way out of this place without some help.

Eventually, she stopped at some double doors. A small, yellow plastic teddy bear with one ear chewed off sat slumped in a chair by the doors. Serlena clicked her foot impatiently on the floor and the bear jumped up, startled, and grabbed the closest weapon to him – a banana.

He jabbed it at Serlena as if it were a steel sword. She stepped back quickly.

“Garrison! Do you dare fall asleep on the job?” she glowered down at the little bear. I swear he turned faintly orange.

“No ma’am. Just focusing, that’s all. I was practicing my sword fighting moves in my head.” He reached up to scratch where one ear had been chewed off.

“Well, open up then! At once! I have brought a newcomer and I am taking him to meet the rest. Glubsnickertyfingoogledom.”

Garrison finally noticed me.

“Another candidate, hmm? Glad to hear it. Password please?” I guess having Serlena saying it right in front of me didn’t quite count. They sure were strict about it around here.

“Um… glubsnickertyfingoggledom, er… googledom,” I stammered.

The bear frowned slightly, then with a sweeping motion, pointed with his arm for us to pass through the doors which now stood wide open. I still couldn’t believe all the security. Granted, getting past Garrison wouldn’t be too hard for anyone, and I’m sure the gnome brothers could be disarmed without too much of a struggle. The question was, what were these toys so worried about in here? Who or what were they trying to hide from? Was it simply to hide from the Wog? Serlena had said that the Wog couldn’t sense them in here and that they were safe. So what was with all the guards?

******

We passed through the doorway and almost immediately entered a lavishly decorated room of large proportions. It was like a huge living room mixed with a library and cafeteria. There were lot of couches with lamps next to them, several sofa chairs, a rug, two big screen TV’s, numerous bookshelves lined with books (most looked like children’s picture books, but there were a few novels scattered here and there), and a small kiosk in one corner with a few umbrella covered tables (we were in a building, so I didn’t quite get the purpose of the umbrellas) where sad looking toys were slumped over plates of plastic food. They didn’t appear to be eating it, just pretending or licking it. I guess that did make some sense. Toys eating toy food.

As soon as Serlena entered, the room got very quiet. A few muted whispers buzzed here and there, but all eyes were on us. Mostly on me. I felt like a circus spectacle.

“Dear residents of Strawberry Hills Resort,” began Serlena in what I thought was a very regal tone. “I have returned from my journey to the Bounding Mounds. And I have found a stranger. He was made near the Disneyland,” at this, there were several gasps of awe and few tittering giggles. “And although he is not a Disney-made toy himself, he has met many of our illustrious stars.” The giggling increased, followed by several blushes as I met the eyes of a couple Barbie’s. “His name is Taylor Trent,” continued Serlena, “and he has no memory of how he arrived here in the Mystic Tropics. He has no memory of the Wog.” She turned to me and to my utter surprise, dropped to her knees and bowed to the ground. The other toys quickly followed suit. “He is our Rescuer!” She said in an exultant tone.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I certainly wasn’t a toy rescuer. I had been somewhat of a tormentor many times when I was younger – pulling toys apart merely to figure out how they worked. Hey, I was a boy! Boys are rather hard on their toys, right?

All the toys looked up at me expectantly. I knew I had to say something.

“Uh… like Serlena said, my name is Taylor. I’m not quite sure how I got here, my memory is a little, well, fuzzy.” At least that was the truth. It sure had been a fuzzy ride. I decided to keep up the pretense that I had hit my head. Hopefully no one would ask me on what. “As for being your Rescuer, I’m not so sure about that. I’m not sure what you need rescuing from. You have a rather nice place here. Seems safe enough.”

Serlena coughed a bit. It was one of those coughs where it’s supposed to mean something and not just be a cough. I looked down at her (everyone was sitting on the floor, that is, the toys that could sit). She shook her head slightly. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me.

“But I’ll do whatever I can to help!” Serlena smiled. She stood.

“We thank you for your kind service,” she said to me. Then, turning to address the toys again, “I will take Taylor to his chambers so that he may rest after his long journey!”

“Hold it right there,” said a low, menacing voice. Serlena’s simpering smile disappeared. We slowly turned around. Over in the corner, at one of the cafeteria tables piled high with fake food, stood a slender figure. As I focused my gaze, I realized I recognized this toy. It was a bendable Easter bunny. It’s long ears were posed at right angles away from his head. His lanky limbs had been twisted so many times that the plastic around the wire could no longer be straightened out. The yellow and white paint had been completely rubbed off in some places. And the big white toes on one of his feet had been painted with bright pink nail polish. My sisters and I had all gotten one of these creatures in our Easter baskets, just mere months ago. From the looks of his half painted feet, he had belonged to Bianca, who, at 13 was sure everyone, especially herself, looked better with nail polish at all times. It looked like her shade of Blushing Blooming Petal Pink.

“How do we know he is who you say he is? Begging your majesty’s pardon, but I think he needs to be tested. That’s the only way we’ll know if he’s even capable of doing what we need him to do.” The spindly character slithered one wobbly arm over to the table and grabbed a bunch of plastic grapes.

“What kind of test are we talking about here?” I asked nervously. “I’m usually not very good at tests.”

“Just the usual Imaginate kind of test.”

Before I could ask him to clarify, or even explain what the word “imaginate” meant, he wound up his arm until it was a blurry of spinning rubber, then stopped and hurled the grapes toward me. In my mind, I knew they were plastic, and probably wouldn’t really hurt, although the rabbit had managed a stunning velocity with his wind up stunt. I wasn’t looking forward to being pelted with plastic fruit. Real stuff would make a mess, but would probably feel a lot softer. Almost as soon as I thought it, the grapes hit me and splattered across my yellow t-shirt in a slurry of purple juice. Dead silence ensued while every face in the room registered shock at the fact that plastic had just turned real. I think my face was still frozen from the first shock of discovering myself swallowed by a furry toy, but I felt something in me shift. The silence lasted a total of three seconds before I found myself hollering, “FOOD FIGHT!”

It was all out chaos after that. Every food imaginable came flying across the room from one end to the other. Felt fruit turned real as it flew across a frenzied sky of hot dogs, hamburgers, cakes, donuts, loaves of bread, and assorted vegetables. Various cups and pitchers of water, milk and orange juice splashed on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and on anyone in between. I watched as a handful of asparagus spears transformed from fabric to fresh midair as they flew toward a particularly tubby teddy bear. I reached over to a table near me and found a box of fruit shaped candies. I had a curious idea. I opened it, nearly missing being pelted by an upside down cake (not pineapple, it was just flipped over), as I pulled out a green watermelon candy. As I threw it towards the nearest moving object (a small but muscled figurine from some action movie or another), it began to swell and grow. The real watermelon, now larger than my head, was smashed by the powerful fist of my target and seeds and juice splattered deliciously in all directions. He looked at me, smiled, then lobbed a fist full of mashed potatoes (no gravy, but very buttery yellowy) straight at my face. I didn’t even have time to duck. As I licked the spuds from my lips and wiped them from my eyes, I surveyed the pandemonium. Isn’t it every kid’s dream to have a food fight? And here I was, surrounded by every edible imaginable, having the time of my life. I smiled contentedly, hoping the fun would never end. As a particularly saucy smudge of spaghetti slathered my shoulder, I bent down to retrieve another candy, a banana this time, and tossed it, peel and all, into the middle of the melee. Serlena stood nearby, shrieking and laughing as she tried to stand amidst a shower of soggy cereal. She spotted me looking at her and managed to crack an even wider grin. Suddenly, I felt myself being pulled off my feet and into the air. A white gloved hand held me up and I found myself eye to eye with Mr. Bendy Bunny.

“Congratulations,” he drawled. “You have passed the test. Do not let us down.”

He dropped me in a pile of pickle spears. Not the softest landing, but definitely tasty! I had no idea what I was in for, or what I had to do as the new toy superhero, but at the moment, that didn’t matter. Mr. Bendy Bunny couldn’t scare me. I scooped up a nearby pumpkin pie and hurtled it as far as I could. I heard a satisfying thwack as it made contact with someone and I looked up just in time to see an extra large pepperoni and banana pepper pizza plowing its way through to me. This is the life, I thought as I attempted to disentangle myself from the gooey mozzarella.

*****

Eventually, the food fight wound down. Not because of lack of food, there seemed to be a never ending supply of that. Rather, it was because we discovered that there is such a thing as too much fun. We were all covered in sticky, gooey, smelliness, and although it was great, after a while, the novelty of flinging food all over the place just wore off. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t love to have another food fight. But that one was just done.

The cool thing about imagination and being in a toy world was that I managed most of the clean up without any real effort. I simply tried to remember what I had looked like all clean, and I suddenly was. The room took a little more imagining. I hadn’t necessarily seen it all before the fight began, so even though it looked fairly clean, the ceiling was still a colorful canvas, as were many toys. Mr. Bendy Bunny came in with a hose after a while and washed everything off and down the drain (if I ever build a house, I’m going to have a dedicated food fight room with a drain in the corner and hose in the other). The television screens glistened nicely after we were done. Apparently, lime soda can work wonders!

Serlena took me to my room. It was definitely reminiscent of a hospital ward, but at least there were some nice turquoise curtains. There was one small bed with metal rails around it, a white lamp table beside it with a white lamp on it, and a small white stool. There was a small white table with metal folding chairs. On the table was a white wooden bowl with random balls of wooden twine (at least, that’s the only way I can think to describe them – they looked like someone had taken some thin twigs and made them into hollow yarn balls) which were, of course, white. The sheets and blanket on the bed were also white. The floor was white. The walls were white. And the curtains were the color of the ocean in Cancun. Go figure. I had a serious urge to ask Serlena for some crayons and just go nuts on the walls and floor. At least it was a clean room. I decided to just wait and see what would happen next.

What happened next was wholly unexpected. Not that anything that had happened so far had been very expected. I should have just learned to stop being surprised at all. But Patrick was a surprise.

As soon as Serlena left, with instructions for me to rest a little, a small blue head popped out of the wall. Yes, out of the wall. Apparently, there was a door into the next room, but I had missed the white doorknob in the glare of all the other whiteness of the room. My teeth felt decidedly dingy.

“Do you have any jellybeans?” asked the blue faced creature. His head (or her head? How do you tell with some toys? Or does it even matter?) was like a slightly squashed tomato, with two green button eyes, a yellow fuzzy pom pom nose and an orange yarn mouth.

“Jellybeans?” I repeated.

The rest of the creature followed the head. “Shhhh! Yes, jellybeans,” the voice dropped to a whisper. Its body was made of purple felt in the shape of a glove, stuffed with stuffing. At the tip of each “fingertip” was a bright pink painted nail. I had a sneaking suspicion this was another of Bianca’s cast offs. Probably something she had made herself.

“Sorry, fresh out of jellybeans,” I replied.

The creature sank to the floor, its mouth pulled into a tight frown.

“Of course you are. No one has jellybeans.” Suddenly, it stood up as tall as it could and glided over to me. “However, I NEED JELLYBEANS! I can’t stand it. I need some. Just one? You can’t give me just one? I MUST HAVE JELLYBEANS!”

Suddenly, it flopped to the ground, convulsed a few times, then lay still. I popped my head out the door to see if his shouting had drawn any attention so I could ask for help, but the hallway was silent and empty.

I knelt beside the small figure, and reached out to touch a fuzzy fingertip.

Immediately, it sat up, glaring at me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” It shook its finger at me.

“You collapsed. You were shaking on the floor. I was just trying to help,” I stammered.

“Likely story,” it harrumphed. “Probably knocked me out and dragged me in here so you could pick my nose.” It pointed to the bright yellow ball. “Can’t do it though. It’s a very precise art it is. Not just anyone can pick a nose.”

It leaned over next to my ear and whispered. “I am the Expert.”

“The expert what?” I whispered back.

“Why, the Expert Nose Picker, of course!” it said, as if it were as plain as the nose on its face.
“Okay, sounds like an interesting job,” I said. “Are you an expert in picking just your nose, or others as well?”

“Mine, of course, but I have worked it down to science. Nose picking isn’t something you can just do. For example, some don’t have fingers. Makes it a little tricky, right? I can see that you do have several fingers. Nice and slender. Makes it easier to insert them into the nostril. No nails though. That makes it difficult. You’ve got to have at least a bit of a nail or you won’t be able to grab anything.” Using the part of its anatomy that I would have considered to me a thumb on a normal glove, it inserted the appendage into the bottom middle of its nose. It looked like it must only have one nostril. It continued to talk as it demonstrated its perfect nose picking technique. Its voice came out flat and stuffy, but that wasn’t very surprising since it had its finger shoved up its nostril.

“You must gently clean every surface inside the nose. If the mucus is liquid and wet, a good tissue and blow can usually get most of it, although, some picking may be required to break especially stringy ties.” It pulled out its finger and demonstrated with a bright orange handkerchief. Then the finger went back in.

“However, when the mucus is dry, it can be a terrible nuisance, especially when breathing or in cold weather. If a booger will not come loose with a small amount of pressure from the nail, a small amount of water or saliva may be applied to the finger to help soften it up. A hot shower can work wonders! Be very careful not to pull too hard on a stubborn booger or you could end up with a bloody nose.” It withdrew its finger and a large dried booger was on the tip.

“Once the booger is withdrawn, one must dispose of it correctly.” It pulled its hanky back out of its pocket and tucked the snot inside.

After this absolutely disgusting display, I only had one thing left to say.

“Awesome!”

The mysterious creature blushed faintly (his blue cheeks turned slightly purple). “You are too kind sir,” and it bowed (a funny thing to watch since its body was a glove.

“What’s your name?” I asked the being.

“Patrick. Patrick the Expert Picker. And who might you be?”

“I’m Taylor, Taylor Trent. I’m not sure what…” I was suddenly interrupted by Patrick flinging himself onto my arm and sobbing.

“Just one jellybean, please? It’s really not that much to ask. I’m sure you can spare just one! Truly, I feel as though I will die without it!”

He started shaking again, and his tears reached hysterical proportions. I had no idea what to do. This critter had a serious jellybean addiction.

I pulled my pockets out to show that they were empty. Patrick lunged for the piece of lint that fell to the floor and gobbled it up before I could stop him.

“I knew it! You have jellybeans!” He yelled. “And I got one!” He started laughing and ran back through his hole in the wall and slammed the door. That dude has a serious addiction, I thought. I was too tired to go after him or try to figure anything else out. So, I curled up on the white bed and fell asleep.

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