The Toy Castle, chapter 3
As they were climbing down the stairs, Snowcone holding Wawa’s tail while Reddy held Snowcone’s, Wawa decided to speak up. “By de way, how many babbehs am Snowcone wooking fow?”
She couldn’t answer right away, of course, but she thought about it. It was far more foals than she could count to, and she needed a way to break them into smaller groups. When they reached the bottom of the stairwell and she could once again feel safe, Snowcone exhaled and dropped Wawa’s tail.
“Fouw tawkie babbehs,” she recounted. “Thwee mowe. An’ chiwpie babbehs… Dewe’s um…” She closed her eyes as she tried to recall, double-checking so her numbers were correct. “Thewe’s thwee bwue babbehs, an’ fouw gween babbehs, two wed babbehs, two yewwow babbehs, one owange babbeh … One gway babbeh, one puwpwe babbeh, an’ two pink babbehs.”
As she listed all the colors Wawa listened dutifully, but the longer she went on the more his expression changed, his smile growing uneven and worried.
“Ah,” he finally said, failing to hide just how uneasy he was. “Dat’s a wot of babbehs!”
Snowcone nodded. “Am aww babbehs in hewd.”
Wawa’s gaze darted aside, but what he looked for Snowcone couldn’t tell. Then he pushed himself to calm down and let out a thoughtful sound. “… Wawa thinks… fwuffies shud spwit up.”
Huh? That came out of nowhere. “Why?”
“Weww thewe’s su many babbehs!” Wawa pointed out. “An’ de castwe is weawwy big. Fwuffies can seawch much fastew if spwit up!”
He had a point. There were so many places to search, and she only had one day to do it. Not having Wawa’s protection worried her, but the thought of being left behind by her herd was much worse. “… Otay. But, Snowcone wan cawwy babbehs.”
Wawa paused. “Awe yu suwe?” he then asked. “Snowcone nu am huwt anymowe?”
The sharp pain of the wound in her back had dulled to a vague ache. She didn’t know if it had healed or the adrenaline of her near-death experience had blocked it away, but it didn’t matter; if they split up, Snowcone wanted to keep the foals safe. They were so tiny, helpless, and she didn’t dare let them out of her sight. Especially the wounded one.
Maybe it was stupid, when Wawa was by all rights more equipped to deal with this place than her. But she couldn’t help feel that the children were her responsibility.
As Snowcone confirmed she was okay, Wawa pulled the three foals from his fluff and piled them onto her back. She stiffened as one of them touched her wound, but did her best to ignore the new shard of pain.
“Thewe,” Wawa said and pointed a hoof first at one door, then the other. “Wawa take dat doow, an’ Snowcone take dat doow.”
“Otay… Wiww meet Wawa back hewe aftew,” said Snowcone, and as they agreed on that, the two fluffies went their separate ways.
Beyond Snowcone’s door was another hallway, dotted with vases and paintings and new doors. Most were closed, impossible for her to open, but a few stood ajar. She found one foal in what appeared to be a crowded storage room, and another was in a tall vase she had to knock over to reach.
When she reached the end of the hallway there were two doors, one on each side. She checked the left one first and found a closet of some sort, thick darkness coating what appeared to be a nest. It should have been scary, but something about it felt comforting - sheltered, not unlike the safe spots her smarty would hide the herd in.
Carrying five foals on a wounded back was taking its toll, so she gently offloaded them into the nest. Just for a moment, she reasoned. Just until she had checked the other room. Only Reddy, old enough to walk on his own, stayed by her side as she left the foals and entered the opposite room.
She only had to stand in the doorway for the dread to creep in, crawling across her skin like bugs in her fur. Somewhere deep within she knew what this final room was: A saferoom. At least, that was what it pretended to be.
The walls were splashed with light pastel colors and the floor had a colorful checker pattern. Painted across the walls were drawings of playing fluffies and happy things, but the colors had run down the walls and lent the art a melting, bleeding look. Worst of all were the toys - sure, there were some real toys pushed into the corners, but randomly scattered around the room were what could only barely be called stuffed toys.
They were stuffed fluffies, life-sized and much too realistic. More than anything they looked like taxidermy projects, thick stitches obvious even through the fur and their colors faded and gray from age. Instead of eyes they just had black holes, staring at nothing as they stood there like twisted statues. A few even had torn seams, but neither blood nor fluff came from the resulting holes.
Beside Snowcone, Reddy began to whimper. She snapped out of her stunned state to give the foal a little nudge, despite feeling like she’d throw up any moment. “Wun back tu othew babbehs,” she whispered. “Go hide.”
At once Reddy ran, making a bee-line for the sheltered room, and Snowcone felt tempted to follow. Yet, beyond the horrid visuals before her, she heard a quiet voice. It wasn’t a foal - it felt too deep for that - but it meant someone was there. Someone alive.
“Hewwo?” she called as quietly as she could, her voice not much more than a whisper as she carefully stepped further in. She listened as hard as she could, trying to make out the words or source of the quiet voice. “… Hewwo?”
She had to go much too deep into the room but finally she found it; sitting near one of the walls was a fluffy. Not a toy but a real fluffy, pale brown and beige. He seemed to be talking to himself, a tiny smile on his snout despite the eyes squeezed shut and tears running down his face. He was repeating the same two words, over and over, interspliced with hiccups and sniffles. “Wub fwiends… Wub fwiends…”
“Hewwo?” Snowcone tried again as she walked closer, daring to raise her voice just a smidge. The toy fluffies frankly terrified her, but … they weren’t moving. They were awful, and she took care not to even brush against one, but they seemed content just to stand still. The brown fluffy didn’t seem to notice she was there, and even when she stood right next to him all he said was a quiet mantra of ‘wub fwiends’.
“Awe yu otay?” she asked, but again got no reply. Carefully she reached out, nudging the fluffy with a hoof, but despite noticably cringing he didn’t respond to her. He just sat there, sobbing and whispering to himself, and finally Snowcone’s heart broke. She wrapped her hooves around him and hugged the stranger close. “Is otay, nu haf to cwy!”
It took a moment, but the brown fluffy hugged back and buried his snout in Snowcone’s fluff. “Jus’ wanned fwiends,” he sobbed. “Fwuffy ask fo’ fwiends but, nu wike dis… Nu wanned dis…”
At the last part his voice dropped to a whisper, and the fluffy sniffled. “Nu shud haf asked… Nu ask fow anything…”
Snowcone couldn’t claim to understand, but her heart ached for this stranger who cried alone in a room of creepy dolls. “Come with Snowcone. Fwuffy can be fwiends, and hewp cawwy babbehs.”
“Nu can weave,” the brown fluffy whispered, shaking his head as he dropped the hug. His eyes were puffy and reddened, trailing over the many toys. “Fwiends get mad if twy to weave.”
Friends? Was he … referring to the dolls? They were scary, but…
“Is otay,” Snowcone tried. “Fwiends wiww undewstand.”
But the fluffy just shook his head. “Nu can weave,” he repeated. “I-Is otay. Wub fwiends. Wub fwiends…”
… He fell back into his little mantra. Snowcone tried a little longer, but it was clear she couldn’t get through to the fluffy and so she had to give up. Willingly staying in a room like this made no sense to her - just walking between the many dolls made her fur crawl. But as she left the fluffy, her eyes passed over a doll much smaller than the others, and she realized it was no doll at all.
Nestled between the forelegs of a gray toy fluffy slept a foal. More than that, it was a talkie foal, rust-red in color.
“Wusty,” Snowcone whispered as she carefully weaved between the dolls to reach the foal. “Wusty, wake up, is time tu go now.”
Rusty just yawned and stretched, then cuddled back up. No wonder; out of the talkie foals, she’d always been the laziest. Snowcone sniffed at the doll standing over her just to be safe, but it only smelled of dust.
Snowcone pulled Rusty out by the scruff, lifted her head, and was met with two glowing pinprick pupils.
The toy fluffy lurched forward, and Snowcone scrambled back with a horrified noise. Sounds beginning to echo all around her, she quickly found that the doll she had stolen from wasn’t the only one to come to life. All of them were beginning to move, stiff limbs creaking to life as their bodies lurched unnaturally. The formerly empty eyes held glowing, soulless pupils, and as Snowcone tried to parse what was happening one of them slammed its hooves into her back.
This time she screamed, dropping Rusty as she was knocked down. Her very spine ached - another hit like that, she realized, and it would break her back. The doll was already rearing up for another hit and despite the tears blurring her vision, Snowcone forced herself to move.
She snatched Rusty in her jaws and ran. Where to, she didn’t know - navigating the dolls had been easy enough when they stood still, but weaving around them as they tried to attack her was different. The brown fluffy who had spoken to her lay cowering against a wall, his sobs louder than ever.
As she backed up to avoid getting struck by one doll, then another, Snowcone soon found that there was no way out. Any path she tried to take, a doll was there. Was she really to die like this? Had it not been for Rusty shivering in her grip, too frightened to even cry, she would have given up. But even if she were to die, she had to at least save the foal.
Swallowing her tears, Snowcone backed off from the dolls once more and tried another path. Again there was a doll in the way, but with hitched breath she realized this one was torn. The seams on its face were only half there, and a deep split had caused one of its legs to almost come off. If there was any doll she could pass, it was that one.
She gathered all her strength and ran, not past the doll but into it, slamming the toy to the ground and stumbling as she ran past. Through the doorway and into the hall, she tripped over her own hooves but somehow managed to keep moving until she reached the sheltered room from before. She fell on her face as she passed through the door, once more dropping Rusty.
“Awe yu otay!?” cried Reddy as he rushed to her side. Her back ached more than ever and now that she was safe, the tears wouldn’t stop coming. Her breaths came in quick bursts and she couldn’t seem to slow them down for a good few moments, but finally she nodded.
“Am… Am otay.”
Monsters were real. Wawa was wrong.
She had to get out as soon as possible.