We Just Make Toys
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The colorful crowd beamed up at me, smiling their toothy golden grins. It felt great, because it went very well. Like it always does. I eyed my pals coming down from the stand, gathering my laptop and unplugging it from the projector. They gave me those knowing looks they always give me, the wordless good-jobs and well-dones. Felt good, felt really really good. These are the types of moments I live for. They conveniently happen once a month. I descended the spiral staircase, bounced over on the springy pads on the carpet, and took my seat next to the 13 meter tall window that looked out on the taffy colored cityscape of Wonder World!™. I sat next to my friends and acquaintances, gave a smug smile to at least half of them, and felt my seat shake a little as the Wonder Tower Frite Lite Roller Coaster passed by. Opening my arm rest, I popped out a strawberry cherry flavored lollipop. To be honest, I preferred kiwi watermelon; but at that moment I couldn't care less. I could already feel that Jelly Whale Emperor was going to be a huge success.

Thomas Timothy Thompson — also known as 3T — looked a bit nervous. He was eyeing me. He sat with his permanent frown; the bells on his shoulders jingling too much as he bounced his leg in anxious waiting. He wasn't always so uneasy. It brought me a little down. As the next presenter began to ascend the stage I sidled my way over to him, careful not to block people's view with my velvety stovepipe hat. I took a seat next to him and began to inquire.

"Pal, what's got you down?"

"Nothing, Brainy." But it was clearly something. I gave him the look, communicating that thought. He only pouted stronger. "You'll see in a second, Brainy. It's bad, oh it's bad, it might be the baddest bad thing that's happened in either of our careers. It's bad, Brainy. It's bad."

Now 3T had gotten me worried as well. Baddest of bad things to happen? Badder than when we had a marshmallow flood and had to shut down work for three days? Badder than when we had an entire shipment of Batty Badgers sabotaged? Badder than when we had to remake Wonder World!™ because the old property had been overrun with trick-or-treaters? Wait, badder than when I got locked in the bathroom overnight? I had come to my conclusion. It must be bad. Very bad, in fact. 3T had passed his anxiousness off onto me, and we hate anxiousness here. I'd have to talk to him about it later.

We sat, anxiously, through three more presentations (Gummy Bear Action Figures, Turbo Tracks, and Dog Caller Collar) before I heard a squeak from 3T. I turned to look, and he was wincing. He turned to catch my eye, and I caught his intention. Worry, unfiltered worry. It got me to worrying, too. What could he be so worried about? He motioned towards the stage, and I saw Polly Gary Ashley ascend the steps, carrying their wool covered tablet and plugging it into the system. They looked nervous. No one here ever looks nervous. What could possibly have been going on? Polly's screen popped up, and it showed a big, toy piano. That's odd, I had an idea for a toy piano that looked just like that. The title of the slideshow read "Polly's Piano Plant!", and she started describing how it would slowly grow to incorporate more and more keys and introduce children to more and more concepts of music via a talking flower at the top. Now, that's very odd, because, see, I had the same idea. The same exact idea, actually, but I shelved it for the clearly superior idea of Jelly Whale Emperor.

Because Jelly Whale Emperor. What child could resist the jiggly allure of Jelly Whale Emperor? It had over one hundred features. The most important, of course, being that it was entirely edible, but its ability to rule a sovereign nation of sugary treats was a close second. It was even able to maintain complex political relations with other Jelly Whale Emperor governments, such as declaring war, creating currency exchange rates, or setting up trade routes through your kitchen. It even came in four distinct flavors — Cucumber Communist, Cocoa Capitalist, Apple Autocracy, and Fruity Fascist — for dynamic foreign policy fun!

But it did upset me a bit. Seeing an idea I made up on screen. My idea exactly, actually. I could pick out some phrases in there that I had written down at some point. Polly had never had an idea this good; she was always a sort of newbie. Wait, had I drawn that? I remembered distinctly having drawn that very same thing — I remembered distinctly having made that blueprint. Oh no, it was happening. I was starting to feel angry — you're not supposed to feel angry. We were a clean company, we all loved each other equally, and my feelings towards Polly were indecent. Polly Gary Ashley and her stolen idea. Polly Gary Ashley and her my idea. Oh no, it was bubbling out wasn't it? It was, it was it was, I couldn't stop it. I made eye-contact with 3T, and he gave me the same worried look. We exchanged knowing glances, and I was glad I had a tiger paint on, or else it might show just how red my face must have been. And that would be incredibly indecent. Increasingly indecent.

Polly finished up, curtsied, and flung her pigtails every which way. The audience started clapping, as usual. And the audience started cheering, as sometimes happens. Oh, and the audience rose in standing ovation, which never happens. Standing? Ovation?! Oh no, oh no oh no, I was going to make a very bad decision. I couldn't, I can't even, it just had to happen. I rose, furrowed my brow, and pointed at her, yelling over the crowd.

"You stole it!"

First, it was the few people closest to me. Then it was the people closest to them, and then the people closest to them, and then it was Polly Gary Ashley, and then it was the entire audience who was looking straight at me, finger raised still accusingly at Polly's big, red nose. I flushed a bit, but nobody noticed. I looked around, I wondered whether it was worth it, I saw my arm still extended… and I stood my ground.

"You stole the Grow-N-Know Piano Plant!"

The entire room turned from me to look at Polly, wearing concerned expressions that I hadn't seen cross the face of anyone in this room ever before. I was glad to get the attention off of me, and onto the culprit. Onto Polly. Onto her stupid pig tails and her big dumb forehead and her unnecessarily large fluffy shoes. Off of me and onto her guilty face. She looked at the audience, then at me, then at the audience, then at me.

"I… I did not!"

"You did, Polly!" I looked at the audience, "She did! The Grow-N-Know Piano Plant was my second choice for my toy design this month, but I went with Jelly Whale Emperor!"

The crowd broke into murmurs for a split second, and they reverberated around the stadium like some twisted nervous orchestra. Polly and I held eye contact, her mouth half agape, the sweat slowly smearing my face paint. After a couple of seconds, a big round man with a green and purple pinstripe suit came onto the stage and swiped the microphone from Polly's hands.

"Gosh I am so sorry that the presentations started going like this, I am so so sorry that you all had to be here for this, but I-I-I'm going to take Polly and Brainy aside and have a short discussion and you guys can continue your presentations okay? P-P-Please? Forget this ever happened, oh golly, just forget this ever happened. Brainy, get up here, you're coming with me." He almost set down the microphone, but - "Oh I'm so sorry, also, uh, Thomas Timothy Thompson is next, please welcome T-T-Thompson!"

The crowd remained silent for another couple seconds, before someone broke it with the clapping that should have been there. A couple people followed suit, and then another couple, and then another couple, and then the whole crowd was clapping like they normally would be while 3T picked up his phone and took it with him onstage. I took off my hat and cat ears so as to not block people's views and followed close behind to meet Mr. Ribbit and Polly by the east exit. I walked around the stage and left 3T going up the steps, his head hung low and his eyes glancing at me. I tried to assure him that everything would be okay by giving him a weak smile. I think it was too weak, because he just frowned harder at me.

Mr. Ribbit was wringing his hands whenever he wasn't wiping the sweat off of his forehead with his handkerchief, and Polly just held her eyes wide open and was standing straight as a nail. I thought to myself that if I had a big hammer I could pound her into the ground with how stiff she must be. I tried to keep calm, and be the one normal, happy calm funny person of the group, but I caught myself growling once or twice, and my hands played with invisible stress balls. I knew eyes were on us, but I didn't want to turn around. I must look like a disaster. Mr. Ribbit finally had the courage to look into my eyes, and then into Polly's, and motioned us to follow him. I made sure to glare at Polly as little as possible. I didn't want to glare, I don't know how I look when I glare because I've never glared before. It might make my face paint look hideous, and image is everything.




I sat opposite of Polly Gary Ashley, which only put us about a meter apart. I wished I was farther, so I didn't have the urge to kick her. On the other hand, I wished I was closer, so I could kick her. Either would have been good. As it was I was in this awkward want-to-kick-but-can-not-kick zone. Sitting to my left and to her right were all the managers: Mr. Ribbit, Golly Molly, Mrs. Ribbit, Dr. Quack, Judy the Tongue, and some other people that I didn't know. They must have worked with some other part of Wonder Tower, but I wasn't sure why they would be there. I must have made such a scene to attract people I didn't even know. Everyone sat for a second in uncomfortable silence as some tall, spindly woman explained the situation to Tongue in a whisper. I stopped the small, baby-faced assistant in their tracks and asked them for a stress ball. They nodded, and dashed off, waddling with their bow legged gait.

"What you're thaying, Brainy Brian, ith that Polly Gary Ashley thtole your idea for the Grow-N-Know Piano Plant?" Tongue asked, her eyebrows lowered in a calm confusion.

"Yes."

"And you, Polly Gary Ashley, did you thteal Brainy's idea?"

Polly blinked many times, and twitched her nose. She glanced between Tongue and I. Her cheeks were bright red.

She looked like she could do with a good push off a roof.

"…I did not."

"She's lying!"

"Pleathe calm down, Brainy, we're trying to work thith out diplomatically."

I felt a nudge on my thigh, and looked down to find the assistant back with a little yellow stress ball. I smiled at him, pat him on the head, and mouthed "thank you". He just wiggled back and forth and then waddled off again.

"Tho… uh…" Tongue licked her lips, and then let her signature feature hang out the side of her mouth. "We've never had a thituation like thith before." The room went uncomfortably silent. Like the very beginning. "Maybe we can hug it out?" Some smiling faces turned to face me.

"What? Tongue, everyone — no! This is beyond hugging it out! She stole my idea and claimed it as her own! If that goes into production, she makes money off — she gets recognition off of my idea. And that is not huggable." I looked directly at her, her cheeks more flushed than ever before: "You are not huggable."

"Gosh, it's not about money, it's about having f-f-fun, Brainy…"

"I corrected myself didn't I? Clearly she thinks it's about money, she's — she's stealing my idea!"

"Well, wait, I know Polly, and she'th an upthtanding little girl, and I don't think she'd thteal an idea, are you thure you made that up?"

"I — Are you serious? I am certain! I haven't been more sure about anything in my life!"

"W-W-Well, we can't take action against Polly if we don't have p-p-proof, right…?"

"I'm — Ribbit, I'm Brainy Brian. Do you want me to name all of the products under my belt? All of the gifts I have given to this company?"

"I-I-I don't think -"

"Let's see here… oh yes, I have made the Tattletale Truffles, do you remember Universal Controller?
Oh, and hey, I was the brain behind Dragon-Snails, and I was a major contributor to that little gift of ours — I have never been anything but a major benefit to this company. I have been nothing but an asset to you, and this is how you treat me?"

"Brainy, you're getting erratic, it'd really be the betht for everyone if you just calmed down -"

"Calmed down? Polly has never had a good idea in her life! Polly hasn't had a single successful idea! She's flunked every single toy presentation that's been thrown her way! I get throwing a dog a bone, but by this point she's consumed a whole gosh darn skeleton! I mean, how can you really expect her to come up with something like Grow-N-Know Piano Plant? After her fantastic designs, such as the 'Teamons', the 'Pretty People', the, oh yes, the 'Fruit Fly'? Guess what, Polly, that's already a thing."

"Brainy, I think it would be betht if you thlowed down a -"

"Wait, there's more — how about 'Hemingway Happy Times', or literally just 'History' — oh, and let's not forget 'Candy Gore'!"

"B-B-Brainy, p-p-please -"

"Oh, shut your damn trap Ribbit."

The entire room gasped. I forgot how much I sharpened my nails this morning; the stress ball's beady contents had spilled onto the table. I stopped squeezing, looked around at all their mouths half agape, and felt my face soften and match their expression. I turned and saw Polly crying, her eyeliner running down her face. The little assistant stood in the door, staring at me wide-eyed. Seeing me loosen, he came up slowly and began to scrape the stress ball's remains into a small pan.

The room was tense. My chest hurt. I felt slightly nauseous. The only sound was Polly's soft crying in the corner. I was standing, but I didn't remember standing up. Sitting back down, looking at where the beads used to be, I was awestruck at my own behavior. I didn't think I did that anymore. I liked Mr. Ribbit. He was always such a nice old man. I'd never had problems with Tongue. I suddenly felt very gross.

"I'm… I'm so sorry." I looked around the room. I could see Ribbit's eyes watering. His wife had come over and was rubbing his back. "I'm… Ribbit, I'm so sorry. I didn't… I've always liked you, you're such a nice old man. And Judy, I just… I don't know what came over me."

Tongue exchanged glances with the people I didn't know, sighed, and then looked back at me. She motioned to Polly, and I turned to face her. She had her head in her arms by this point. Polly Gary Ashley. Idea thief. I could feel my fists tensing again, and had to look away.

"I'm so sorry, Tongue. I can't. I can't forgive her."

We all hung our heads at once. Mr. Ribbit was escorted out of the room by Mrs. Ribbit, and were shortly followed by everyone else. The towering, spidery woman came to guide Polly out of the room. Soon, it was just me and Tongue. Tongue sighed, got up, and walked to where Polly was sitting. She bagged up her sleeves, and wiped the wet spot that Polly Gary Ashley left. Then, she looked at me solemnly.

"Brainy, we like you. A lot. You've always been a fantathtic toymaker, and we think you're one of the motht dedicated to making children have happier liveth. Tho we aren't willing to let you go. But we jutht don't think you can thtay here right now. You've cauthed quite the thene. Um…" She licked her lips again, and then massaged the bridge of her nose. "I think we can thend you on paid vacation to the Touritht Trap. Maybe you could calm down there…? I don't know, you didn't theem to like my last thuggethtion…"

"No, no, it's good. I'm… I'm so sorry I caused a scene. I own that. I'll take paid vacation to Tourist Trap, as long as it takes for me to get back on my feet. Or, as long as you're willing to pay me for paid vacation."

We both awkwardly chuckled, not really because it felt natural but just to lighten the mood. I felt another nudge on my thigh, and looked down. It was the little assistant again, and he appeared a little nervous. His eyes rose to meet mine, and then pulled a green stress ball from behind his back and offered it.




This was my first time on a bus. It felt weird. It felt very weird and uncomfortable. I think they were looking at me, all of them in their business suits and shawls and dresses and coats and jackets and hoodies and jeans and small shoes. I felt naked without my face paint, and I had never been anywhere so colorless. As far as I could tell, it was just green in every direction. Grasses grazed upon by sheep and the occasional tree came into view. It was dull… but I guess that's okay. I was feeling dull. I was forced into a brown sweater and denim pants, and I was wearing grey shoes with laces. My hair was combed back and orderly. I wore some cheap kind of cologne. My suitcase was at my feet because I didn't trust leaving it alone; if anyone were to see my stuffies, watercolors, and risperdal I'd feel terribly judged. Well, I already felt judged. I had felt judged since yesterday evening. I tried not to think about it, because it would make me look nervous, and I already looked nervous so I didn't want to look more nervous. At that moment I was supposed to be an upstanding citizen… or something like that.

The bus turned a bit too sharply and I leaned into the woman next to me. I apologized profusely afterwards, hoping that would be enough, but eventually she scooted over one seat and stopped responding to me. "I'm a child," I thought to myself, "everyone here thinks that I'm a child." I looked out into the countryside and started seeing more and more trees. My stop was coming up, and I needed to be ready. I stood up and hung onto a pole. It made me feel more central, and thus made me feel like there were more eyes on me. I sat back down. Oh gosh, anyone who saw that must have thought I was such a wreck, they must have thought I was — was that my stop?

I looked back, and saw the overgrown bus stop sign get smaller and smaller. That was my stop. The driver blew right past it, what the — "Hey!" Everybody was looking at me now. "Hey, driver! Sir? Please, sir -" I picked up my suitcase and walked up to the front of the bus to address the driver, "- that was my stop! Could you pull over, can I…?"

The fat, smelly man looked up at me, and scared me with his dark angry eyes. "Eh?"

"Oh, please sir, my stop was back there?"

"That was your stop?"

"Yes, now please, please please could you stop the bus, I need to -" I almost fell over as the driver pulled over abruptly.

"Nobody ever has that stop, we've been petitioning to get rid of it. There's nothing out there, you know. You sure that's your stop?"

"Oh, I assure you, sir, there's something out there. You just gotta follow the trail!"

He grunted, and shifted the toothpick from the left side of his mouth to his right. "Alright. Could I let you out here and you can walk back there?"

I didn't like that idea, with how heavy my suitcase was, but I didn't want to bother him. "Yes, I'll get out here. Thank you so much for listening, I have no clue why nobody else stops there, it's such a nice forest. Thank you, thank you so much." He made the door squeak open, and I heaved my suitcase out onto the dirt. "I'll be off then, and take care!"

"I will." He paused, and shifted his toothpick again. "Stay safe, y'hear? I've never heard of anyone stopping at that bus stop. Thought it must be a relic of some kind. Wherever you're going must be ancient."

Before I could respond he closed the door, and the bus was off again. I was left in the dirt on the side of the road, surrounded by forest. Dirt? Oh jeez, that was mud. I sounded like a boiling teapot as I tried scraping it off of my shoes and onto a tree trunk. That was gross. I had only ever heard of mud — it looked like melted chocolate almost. I almost wanted to taste it, actually — but no, it was wet dirt. I shouldn't. Realizing that I still hadn't moved, I shuffled in place for two seconds before heading in the direction of the bus stop. It was only a little ways, but carrying this suitcase made it feel like a mile. By the time I got there, I had almost forgotten what I was doing. Thankfully, it was only almost.

"Two hours off from where you are,
Never near but never far,
Can't find it upon your map,
Let's all go to the Tourist Trap."

Nothing seemed to change. I stood there for a second, and I repeated it a couple of times. It really was meant to be spoken by multiple people. I contemplated turning back, but where would I turn to? I was in the middle of nowhere, with no cars coming from anywhere, surrounded by woods. Maybe I had to grab the bus stop sign? I tried holding onto it, and saying the phrase, but that didn't do anything. I started saying it louder and louder, wandering a little out into the woods. Tried yelling it, and that didn't do anything. Tried hugging the bus stop sign, and that didn't do anything. This was bad, this was very very bad, and I was beginning to panic. I had mud on my shoes, I was carrying ten tons of suitcase, I was alone in the middle of the woods, and I had no cell phone or mobile device. It was crumbling. All of my world was melting, it started with my work and now it was going to end with me starving in the — wait.

"We have been wanting to travel the world,
And though we can not find you on any map,
You've promised some haven to us boys and girls,
We know you exist, you're the Tourist Trap!"

Some underbrush moved out of the way, and a small path made of yellow bricks went off into the woods. Aw, that was sweet. A Wizard of Oz reference. I should have expected that. I should have also remembered the new pass code sooner. I forgot that somebody found that one out, too. We came to the house and found it all TP'd. It was a disaster.

I grabbed my suitcase and started up the path. It was getting dark out, I must have been in a bus for a long time. Packing this morning took a lot out of me as well. I only could fit five different colors of paint. I was assured that there would be more at the Tourist Trap, but I really wasn't sure. I wasn't sure of anything anymore, really. My social standing must be in tatters by now. Gosh, this suitcase was heavy. I thought that if I didn't want to hold the suitcase for so long, I had better run. So I did. I ran and ran and ran, and it felt like it took ages, but then I remembered; Tourist Trap is always two hours away from anything. I groaned, loudly, now realizing that it didn't matter how fast I went. Two hours of carrying a suitcase was my fate. I moved at snail pace towards Tourist Trap, dreading all my decisions that had led me to this point.





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