The March of the Stuffed Animals

stuffed animals

Image: weplayreplay.com

The Fifth Story in the Adventures of the Ambrosial Dragon: A Children’s Fantasy Series

One by one, the plethora of stuffed toy animals in Landon’s bedroom came alive. It was late at night and the seven-year-old boy was fast asleep. Everyone living at his Grandpa’s house, Grandpa, Daddy, his baby sister Dani, and even Buddy and Ambrosial Dragon, was enjoying pleasant dreams and resting up for the coming day.

But in Landon’s room, it was virtual pandemonium, if you’ll pardon the pun. A stuffed dragon was flying and puffing out smoke clouds. A stuffed crab was crawling on the floor in search of a tidal pool. Stuffed bears were dancing together, a giant stuffed dog was huddled in a corner not sure if he could believe his eyes, and all manner of other stuffed creatures were roaming, walking, spinning, sailing all over Landon’s room.

And then the little boy woke up.

Everything was quiet. All the stuffed animals were exactly where Landon remembered them being when he went to bed. The only thing missing was Buddy. What was his best friend at this time of night?

Buddy was soaring high above the landscape in the silence and darkness. He had risked it a few times, but it was generally too dangerous for the dragon to fly in broad daylight. There was too big a chance that he would be seen, and who knows what people would do if they realized that dragons were real and one of them was their neighbor.

So after Landon and the rest of the household fell asleep, on most nights Buddy would take the opportunity to sneak out of the house and fly and fly and fly to his heart’s content.

In the night sky, everything was clear and peaceful. There was nothing to interrupt the dragon’s thoughts. He was free to be exactly the dragon that he was supposed to be.

Not everything had been going smoothly at home recently. Over a month ago, Tarmreiboth, the Dark Wizard of Setioval had kidnapped Landon right off of the playground at his school and held him prisoner in the Castle of Moaning Summit, forcing Buddy to go after him and to pretend to surrender to the wizard.

Buddy was able to rescue Landon, but in the process, the child had been caught in the crossfire of different magic spells resulting in magic being imbued into Landon’s being.

Landon’s Grandpa and Daddy weren’t happy at all that Landon was kidnapped because of the dragon, and they questioned the wisdom of continuing to let Buddy live with them. What if someone else got hurt or worse because of an attack by one of the dragon’s enemies?

But that was just the half of it.

In order to prevent the magic inside of Landon from taking control of the boy, Buddy had been training Landon in using magic spells. So far, it was just a light spell, although the child had put it to good use rescuing his Uncle from muggers last Thanksgiving.

Teaching Landon magic was a big secret from Grandpa and Daddy.

Landon had become proficient at that spell, and the dragon was deciding what his next spell should be. It couldn’t be too dangerous, because human children weren’t disciplined enough to handle dangerous spells.

Suddenly, Buddy smelled something on the wind. It was very faint and brief, but it smelled like magic and it was coming from back home.

The dragon went into a nose dive and then abruptly stopped his flight in the backyard. He used a spell to get back into Landon’s bedroom without opening a door or window. He saw the boy just falling back to sleep.

“Oh, there you are.” Landon rubbed his eyes as if trying to wake up, but instead, he laid back and started sleeping.

Buddy looked around and he smelled around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but once you’ve smelled magic, you never forget the scent. It would be bad if the Dark Wizard or some other mystic foe were to invade their home again.

******

The next morning was a school day. Grandpa dropped Landon off in front of his school as usual and the boy got into line waiting to go into his second grade classroom. Billy, a boy who Landon didn’t like, got into line behind him. Billy always liked to tease Landon. Today, he was poking his sides with his finger.

“Stop it, Billy!” Landon protested.

“Stop what?” Billy poked him again.

“You know what.”

“Make me, sissy.” Billy was a little bully, but if Landon hit or pushed Billy to make him stop, both of them would be sent to the principal’s office.

Landon felt something that almost made him lose his balance. It was like his backpack jumped at Billy.

“Ouch, what did you do that for?” Billy was rubbing his hand like it was hurt. The movement in Landon’s backpack stopped.

Just then, their teacher came out and told the children it was time to go inside.

Landon went to his cubby so he could pull his school folder out of his backpack and then put the pack away. He checked on “Baby,” his stuffed toy giraffe resting at the bottom of the backpack. Baby was Landon’s favorite stuffed animal. He’d had Baby as long as he could remember, and still liked to take him to school with him. Once Landon was finished checking his backpack, he zipped everything back up and put it away.

On the way to his desk, Landon had to pass where Billy was sitting. He could see the bully’s right hand now and it looked like there were some tiny red marks on it, sort of like something had tried to bite him. How did that happen?

When recess began, Landon checked his backpack and sure enough, it had little holes toward the bottom in the same shape as the marks on Billy’s hand. Landon opened his backpack but couldn’t find anything inside that would poke out to make those holes. All he found was Baby.

******

Night time. Landon was dreaming about all his stuffed toy animals being alive again, but this time, he dreamed he was standing on his bed waving his arms and weaving the spell to make them come alive. They were all happy and dancing, and they all loved Landon.

Buddy the Dragon wasn’t there. He was flying high in the sky, enjoying the night-time. There was another kind of magic keeping Buddy from smelling the spell Landon was using so Landon could keep on practicing what he was learning.

Landon didn’t know about the other spell, and he didn’t even know he was learning new magic. He just thought he was dreaming.

******

“Are you sure you want to keep taking Baby to school? What if you lose him?” Grandpa was worried that Baby would get lost and they’d never find him again. He worried how it would make his grandson feel so sad if Baby were gone.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I take him to school lots of times and I never lose him. He always stays in my backpack.” Landon would have had a hard time explaining how keeping Baby with him makes him feel safer, especially since the other day when Billy poked him in line. Ever since Billy’s hand got hurt and Landon found tiny holes in the back of his backpack. the bully hadn’t bothered him.

Why did Landon feel protected by a stuffed toy that wasn’t alive and couldn’t do anything?

“Okay, it’s your Baby. Just take good care of him.”

“Okay, Grandpa.” Landon sometimes felt, at least lately, that Baby took care of Landon. Why didn’t the boy feel so dependent on Buddy anymore? Weren’t they still best friends?

“It’s time for me to take you to school. Let me get Dani in her carseat so we can go.”

“Okay, Grandpa.” Landon picked up his backpack with Baby tucked safely inside.

******

At school, at the start and end of each recess, Landon went to his backpack to check on Baby, but he didn’t know why. Every time he checked, he found that Baby was still in the same place in his backpack. Being a stuffed animal, where else should he be?

When Landon got home that afternoon, he went to his room to take Baby out of the pack and get his school folder. He dropped the backpack down on the floor so he could take his jacket off. As the pack hit the floor, Landon heard an “oof” sound and then the backpack squirmed for a second.

Cautiously, Landon unzipped the main compartment of the backpack and peeked inside. There was Baby standing and with a scowl on his face. “That hurt. Be more careful next time.”

“Yah!” Landon ran out of his room like he was running for his life. “Grandpa! Buddy! Baby is alive!” In his imagination, living stuffed animals were fun, but in real life they were very scary.

Buddy was playing with Dani in the living room as Grandpa was coming back out of his own bedroom.

“What?” Grandpa was half-laughing at the notion, but Buddy took it way more seriously.

“I think, I think…” Then the dragon took flight (even though it was against the rules to fly inside the house) and zipped straight for Landon’s bedroom. When Grandpa, who was carrying Dani, and Landon got there, they found Buddy with his head inside the backpack.

“Found him.” They heard the dragon’s muffled voice from inside the pack. Then he pulled his head out and stuck one of his front limbs in. He pulled it out again with Baby in his claw.

The stuffed animal was just a stuffed animal.

“But Baby stood up. He talked to me.” Even though he knew he was awake, Landon felt like he was in the middle of a bad dream.

“Baby looks just the way he has always looked, Landon…just like a stuffed animal.”

Grandpa took Dani back out of Landon’s room. Buddy was sniffing at Baby.

“Anything?” Landon was desperate to find out what happened.

“Hmmmmm. Faint, very faint.”

“Faint what?”

The dragon whispered back. “Magic.”

Buddy wasn’t sure but he thought he caught a whiff of the same smell that Landon’s magic smells like. But Landon only knew the light spell. How could he have made Baby come alive, and if he had done it, why would it have scared the boy?

******

Friday night. TV night. Dani was visiting her Auntie overnight, so the guys didn’t have to worry about waking her up if they stayed up late. They watched two episodes of “Star Trek,” one episode of the old, black-and-white TV show “The Invisible Man,” and then one of Landon’s favorite movies, “Ant-Man.”

It was past eleven at night when they all finally went to bed. Everyone was really tired but they’d had a good time, eating lots of pizza for dinner and then hot buttered popcorn while watching TV.

When the people were fast asleep, Buddy, who doesn’t need as much sleep as a human being, took to the skies to exercise his wings.

Inside his bedroom, a sleeping Landon had another dream about using magic to make the stuffed animals come alive, but this time, the dream changed again.

As much as Landon was using magic on the stuffed animals, the stuffed animals were using magic on Landon. He was standing in the middle of his bedroom in his pajamas and the animals were walking around him in a circle. Landon was reciting the words of the spell that made them come alive, but they were saying the words of a spell, too.

The room around Landon got all fuzzy and began to fade away.

“What’s happening to me? What are you doing?” It was like Landon was waking up, but the dream wasn’t going away. This time it wasn’t just a dream. It was really happening.

“Baby. Help me.” Landon made eye contact with his favorite stuffed animal, the one he had since he was really little.

“I am helping you, Landon.” Baby’s voice didn’t sound nice at all. “We’re all helping you. We’re helping you learn more magic.”

Landon wanted to learn more spells. He was getting impatient with Buddy because the dragon was taking so long to teach him more. He wished there was some way of either making Buddy hurry up or learning magic on his own somehow.

The room got even more dim and the only things he could see clearly now were the marching stuffed animals surrounding him. Landon somehow knew if he tried to get away, they wouldn’t let him.

All of a sudden, a big bright light exploded and a loud sound like lightning and thunder went off.

Then Landon and the animals were someplace else. They were still surrounding him in a circle but they were standing still. Landon could see his Daddy and Grandpa standing outside the circle and Buddy was hovering overhead. Landon, Daddy, and Grandpa weren’t in their pajamas. They were dressed like it was daytime.

“I had to advance my timetable because your dragon was getting suspicious.”

Landon whirled around to look behind him and saw it was Tarmreiboth, the Dark Wizard of Setioval speaking.

In an instant, everybody knew the same story. Even Grandpa and Daddy had their minds filled with the adventures of Buddy and Landon when they were in Setioval as well as the details of Buddy teaching magic to the lad. The Dark Wizard saw to it that there were no secrets between any of the people from Earth.

“Necessary.” Buddy landed in-between Grandpa and Daddy. “Had no choice. Training Landon in magic.”

“We’ll talk about that later, Buddy.” Landon knew that tone in his Daddy’s voice. It was how he sounded when he was really mad.

“Where are we?” Grandpa’s instant memory implant told him they weren’t in the nether realm of Setioval.

“A neutral setting, old man, or should I call you young man, since I am centuries older than you are.” Tarmreiboth almost referred to Grandpa as “human,” but then he remembered that he was still mostly human himself.

“You stop teaching boy.” Buddy advanced on the circle of living stuffed animals but as he got closer, they started glowing with a black and sinister light.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, dragon. If that circle is broken or even threatened, the dark energy generated by the mystically activated creatures will automatically tip the scales to my side.

“Buddy, what’s he talking about?” Now Daddy was both mad and scared.

“Me know, me know.”

“Allow me to explain it to them dragon, since I am more fluent in their tongue than you are.”

Buddy was simmering with anger inside, but right now the Dark Wizard was in control.

“You see, the dragon is quite correct. Once the boy Landon was infused with magic and the magic was found to be permanent within him, it had to be controlled. Uncontrolled magic consumes the person, either turning them totally evil or just eating him from the inside and out.”

The image was repulsive to both Grandpa and Daddy and for the first time ever, a vision of what might happen to Landon if he lost control of the magic appeared inside his head. It was really ugly and scary.

“The dragon trained the boy in a simple spell in order to give him the discipline to control the magic, to protect himself. However, it’s a problem deciding what sort of magic to teach a child on your world.

“In my realm, a child talented in magic would have become an apprentice of a Wizard of Mage by this age and would know at least a dozen spells, but in a world such as yours where magic is rare and children are undisciplined in the mystic arts, teaching them the wrong spell could be dangerous.”

“So you teach Landon spell.” Buddy looked at the Wizard with hate in his eyes.

“Yes, indeed. I couldn’t enter your realm without you becoming alerted to my presence dragon, so I gained control of the child through the dreaming world. It’s more difficult to detect magic in dreams than in the waking reality. I became the boy’s instructor in magic and now he knows two spells.”

Tarmreiboth looked directly at Landon. “I have no sons, Landon. Become my apprentice and I will teach you more magic than you ever dared imagine.”

Landon opened his mouth to scream “No” at the evil magician but then stopped. Something was happening inside of his head. He wanted to say “no,” but he also wanted to say “yes”. He wanted to learn more magic. He wanted to learn more and more and more and to become super powerful. He didn’t think Buddy would ever teach him that much, even when he got older, but he knew the Dark Wizard would teach him everything.

“No, Landon. Resist. Resist evil. Tempting dark evil.”

Landon collapsed to his knees and grabbed his head with both hands. “I can’t decide. I want good and I want bad. I don’t know what to do. Buddy, help me!” A big, big pain, like the biggest headache he’d ever had started screaming inside Landon’s head. Then he passed out and lay on the floor as if he were dead.

Grandpa and Daddy ran toward him, but the dark magic light of the animals flared up and pushed them back, sending both men flying through the air.

“We fight.” The dragon was ready to do battle.

“I suppose it’s inevitable, dragon. Very well. We will enter a conflict, your magic vs. my magic. What’s at stake? The boy’s soul. If you win, he will permanently be in the world of white magic and will always use his abilities for good.

“If I win…” the Sorcerer chuckled at the thought. “If I win, Landon becomes the Dark Wizard’s apprentice, and he will forever more be in the thrall of dark magic, using all of his power to serve the forces of evil.”

Dark magic held Grandpa and Daddy back from getting to Landon or doing anything else. The evil living stuffed animals still made a circle around Landon’s unconscious body, keeping anyone from helping him.

Buddy the Ambrosial Dragon and Tarmreiboth the Dark Wizard faced each other on a flat plane in a world that was neither day nor night, a place in-between the worlds and realms, a place very near to where the Shadow Dragons ruled, a neutral dimension belonging to no one and nothing. The perfect place for a duel.

The Dragon and the Wizard marshaled magic energy within themselves. They were ready.

“Let the battle begin!” Buddy and Tarmreiboth went to war, one to save Landon, and the other to enslave him.

I’m writing these stories for my seven-year-old grandson Landon. This one is the fifth in the series. If you’re interested in the earlier ones, start with the very first tale, The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us, and then click the available links to find the other short stories.

I read this story to him yesterday evening and he liked it just like the others. He wanted to help write the resolution to the cliffhanger and we came up with several options not including the obvious one. The fate of Landon may not be as clear cut as you believe.

The story is resolved in part sixth of this series: The Apprentice.

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