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As I set my weary eyes on the sorry sight that was Orville’s Old-Fashioned Oddity Outlet, I couldn’t help but resent the old bugger a little for not selling his wares online. Maybe it was because I had driven all the way from Toronto just to pick up a doll that the guy may not even actually have, but something about the weird little city of Sombermorey was rubbing me the wrong way. I wouldn't even have known the town existed if Orville's shop hadn't shown up on Google Maps saying it carried the old brand of dolls I was looking for. All the old Victorian houses that lined Albion Avenue were a little creepy, and the one across the street from Orville’s in particular looked like a Witch lived there, but Orville’s was by far the least well-preserved.

Still, it didn’t look like it would collapse in on itself just yet, and I was already there. So, with a tired shake of my head, I preceded to the front door. Even though it was a business with an open sign, I knocked on the door instead of walking straight in. I noted that the glass on the door read Caveat Emptor, and I felt like that was a phrase I should’ve known. For a second, I considered taking out my phone and looking it up, but the door swung open and the issue was immediately shoved to the back of my mind.

Before me was an elderly, white-haired man who still managed to possess a youthful vitality in his eyes and movements. He was wearing a pastel suit and fedora, and held an ancient-looking hickory cane in his hand.

“Welcome, stranger. I’ve been expecting you,” he greeted with a broad smile, revealing a gold crown on one of his upper teeth.

“I know. We spoke on the phone. Whatever bit you’re trying to do here, just please, knock it off,” I said irritably, immediately regretting it and sighing in frustration. “I’m sorry; it’s just that I came a long way even though this seemed like a long shot. No offence, but it’s a little suspicious that you weren’t able to send me a photo of what I’m looking for. I’m not entirely convinced that you didn’t just lure me out here so that you can try to sell me whatever toy you actually have, so can I please just see the doll so that I can know if it’s the right one or not?”

“Well, since you said please,” Orville said with an ornery roll of his head, standing aside and holding the door open, gesturing with his cane for me to come inside.

The inside of Orville’s shop had a strong, musty odour; the smell of old books and old men. I caught the briefest of glimpses at what I thought was a hooded figure of some kind, but it vanished into the shadows so quickly it was easy to dismiss as a trick of the light. The aging wooden shelves sagged and groaned under the weight of all the bizarre items that were on offer, but none of them held any interest for me. I was there for one thing and one thing only; Whimzy.

“So, you’re trying to get ahead of a trend, are you?” Orville asked as I followed him towards his back office.

“What?” I asked.

“The Fluffy Friendz! They’re making a comeback, I hear. It’s these Nifts that are doing it, I think,” he rambled. I just assumed that by Nift he meant NFT, but I didn’t really care. “These speculative bubbles, they're all the same. It doesn't matter if it's cartoon apes, Beanie Baby knockoffs or tulip bulbs. The trick is to sell your merch to a greater fool before the bubble bursts, which is why you gotta jump in early.”

“Are you implying then the person you got this from was a lesser fool than you?” I asked dryly.

“You could say that. She’s a Clown, as a matter of fact. She belongs to a circus I used to work for, and we still hook each other up now and then,” he explained. “She already owns a cursed doll though, and according to her they didn’t get along.”

By now we had reached his back office, and he paused just as he came up to his desk.

“You do know these dolls are cursed, don’t you son?” he said with an over-the-top slasher smile as he turned his head around as far as it would go. “Ow! Jesus criminy, my vertebrae!”

“Yes, I know the Fluffy Friendz are cursed," I said with an exasperated eye roll as the old man rubbed his arthritic neck. "They were taken off the market because of a string of tragic incidents, allegedly. As far as I can tell, it was just sensationalist news trying to create some kind of Satanic panic around the dolls to drum up ratings. There’s no need to invoke the supernatural to explain why some off-brand Beanie Babies didn’t sell too well.”

“Oh, they’re cursed alright. The previous owner swore to that,” Orville insisted.

“The Clown? We’re talking about the Clown still?” I asked.

“Clowns are eldritch horrors son; they know cursed when they see it!” he claimed. “Old Gods have a long history of idolatry; imbuing totems adored by mortals with some of their essence so that they can feed on those mortals’ devotion and grow stronger, granting prayers to their followers to encourage more devotion and more growth in a re-enforcing cycle that can potentially go on forever… but inevitably comes crashing down. A bit like a speculative bubble in that regard, now that I think about it.

“What was I… oh, right! This doll that I’m about to show you, she’s got something not quite of this world about her. Maybe all the dolls are like that, maybe not, I wouldn’t know, but if you walk out of here with this doll, I am not responsible for the consequences! I’m actually going to need you to sign a waiver saying that I’m not responsible for any negative repercussions that may or may not –”

“Just show me the doll!” I demanded, growing impatient with his bizarre sales tactics.

“Whatever you want son… but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said ominously as he reached under his desk and pulled out a small cardboard gift box. He set it on the desktop, and slowly pulled off the lid to reveal its contents.

And there, in that velvet-lined box, was Whimzy.

She was a little plush doll, a few inches high. It wasn’t entirely clear what species she was supposed to be, but she was definitely mammalian and probably some kind of rodent. Her coat was a dark purple flecked with fuchsia, with her belly, paws, snout and the inside of her large pointy ears all being a solid heliotropic shade. She had a big fluffy tail, long whiskers, and her eyes were big and sparkly like looking up at the Milky Way. Clipped to her left ear was a spade-shaped tag that said WW’s Fluffy Friendz.

With one hand, I reached down and gingerly picked her up. With the other, I slowly opened the card so that I could read it. On the right side, it said:

Whimzy (Mysterious Creature)

Birthday: February 29th

What I am is a secret.

Where I’m from, no one knows.

Why I’m silent is my regret.

Who I’ll tell, time will show.

But it was the left side of the tag I was really looking for. It said To Matthew, From Mom With Love. Adoption Date March 15th, 1997.

“This is my Whimzy,” I said quietly as I stared at her in disbelief.

“How’s that now?” Orville asked, leaning in to read the tag as well.

"It was a gift from my mother when I was a kid," I explained. "She wanted to get me a real Beanie Baby, but because of the craze at the time, she couldn't get a hold of one. I told her I loved Whimzy anyway, and that she was even better because she was so special. She was a centerpiece in my stuffed animal collection for years until I started getting too old for them and they all got bagged and tossed in the basement. I honestly forgot all about her until I saw online that the Fluffy Friendz were making a comeback. I went home to see if she was still down in the basement, but she wasn’t. My mom doesn’t remember what happened to her, but figured at some point over the years she must have rummaged through the bag to find anything suitable for relatives or Goodwill. I don’t know why, but since then I’ve just been kind of obsessed with finding another one. I’ve found people selling other Fluffy Friendz, but you’re the first one with a Whimzy, and she’s mine. Somehow, she’s mine.”

For a moment, I just stood there staring wonderstruck at my old doll.

“Heh. Small world, ain’t it kid?” Orville asked rhetorically. “Doesn’t change my asking price, though. Five hundred dollars, and she can be yours again.”

I left Orville’s shop in a considerably better mood than when I arrived, despite being five hundred dollars poorer. Orville’s wasn’t the best at closing a sale, though. He kept trying to upsell me on random items he tried to peddle as ‘accessories’ for Whimzy, as well as a warranty and a surcharge for an ‘underworld underlining’ that he said would help with the supposed curse, but I held him firm at five hundred.

“And remember, don’t feed it after midnight!” Orville shouted to me as I was about to get back into my car.

“It’s always after midnight!” I shouted back.

“Then you shouldn’t have a problem remembering!” he insisted. With a groan, I climbed into my car and slammed the door shut.

“I don’t believe it,” I smiled, holding Whimzy up and setting her on my dashboard. I had thought that just finding any Whimzy doll would be a long shot, and I had never even imagined that I might find my own Whimzy doll again. “Mom’s not going to believe it either. But we’ll keep how much I paid for you between you and me, okay? I can’t help but wonder how you ended up out here though. Let’s get you home.”

I had thought – hoped, rather – that finally getting a hold of Whimzy would be enough to stymy the strange obsession I had developed over her.

But it only got worse.

It started small, at first. I’d be looking at her or holding her, and it just really started to bug me what the heck she was supposed to be. The tag said she was a mysterious creature, and mysteries are meant to be solved, aren’t they? These thoughts were intrusive, sure, and nothing I could shove aside when I had to, but no matter what, they kept popping into my head.

It was the last two lines of her poem that were keeping me so spellbound, I figured. The penultimate line was the most confusing. Did it mean that she regretted her silence, or that she was silent because of something she regretted? But that last line, the last line was equal parts tantalizing and infuriating. It implied that she would tell her secret to the right person, meaning that it was possible to discover what she was. Why else would her creators have said that?

When I could resist these thoughts no longer, I literally took a magnifying glass to Whimzy and sketched her out in as much detail as I could manage, jotting down any information that I deemed potentially relevant – which turned out to be quite a lot. I knew that she couldn't just be a random imaginary creature – far too much care and detail had gone into her design. There had to be some lore or backstory to her, and some way for me to discover it.

I went back to the Discord server and Subreddit where I had first been reminded of the Fluffy Friendz and started asking if anyone knew anything about Whimzy, even going so far as uploading my sketches and notes. This turned out to be counterproductive, however. Not only did no one know anything about Whimzy, but they started inundating me with questions about her. They gushed over how rare and amazing she was, and pressed me for every last detail they could get. It was like they were as obsessed with her as I was. When someone offered to buy her off me and an impromptu bidding war broke out, I got spooked enough to ghost them.

In the end, it was Whimzy’s tush tag that finally gave me some information to work with. While the ink was greatly faded from years of love and sun, I could just barely make out that the company that had made her had been called Wonderchild’s Wonderworks, which is presumably what the WW on her ear tag stood for.

Aside from the aforementioned Discord and Subreddit, typing Fluffy Friendz into a search engine had yielded what I would politely refer to as 'unproductive results’. Typing Wonderchild’s Wonderworks Fluffy Friendz into Google yielded nothing, but I wasn’t willing to give up yet. These toys were from the nineties, so there was every possibility they didn’t have a web presence at all; but if they did, the site probably hadn’t been maintained and was no longer indexed by search engines.

On a hunch, I tried typing WonderchildsWonderworks.net directly into the address bar, and I ended up at a minimalistic 90’s-era website. Other than the banner, it was mostly plain text against a bright yellow background with an abundance of hyperlinks. There were some small thumbnails of their products though, including the Fluffy Friendz. The page bragged that the Fluffy Friends were all handmade at their American factory, with an update stating that production had been temporarily suspended due to a labour dispute which they hoped to resolve quickly.

Nothing had been posted to the site since.

I clicked on Whimzy’s thumbnail, which took me to her product profile page. Frustratingly, it didn’t contain any information that I didn’t already know, but there was one small sliver of hope at the bottom of the page. It said ‘Got Questions? E-mail us at FluffyFriendz@hotmail.com, and our team will get back to your as soon as they can!’.

It was a long shot that anyone would get a notification when such an ancient account received an e-mail, if it was even still functional at all… but finding Whimzy had been a long shot, too. I decided that just sending a quick e-mail couldn’t hurt.

“Hello

I’ve recently re-acquired my old Fluffy Friend, Whimzy, and I was wondering if there was any additional lore or backstory to her. What is she supposed to be, where’s she from, stuff like that. It’s been driving me a bit crazy, truth be told. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Matthew.”

Triple-checking that I had the e-mail address right, I hit send. I waited anxiously for a moment as I expected an alert telling me that the address wasn’t valid or something like that, but as far as I could tell the e-mail went through.

“Probably to sit in an unread inbox until the End of Days then,” I remarked to myself as I spun around in my chair and reached over to pick up Whimzy.

I reflexively froze though when I noticed that she looked slightly off from before. The stars in her eyes seemed brighter and more numerous, and her stitched-on smile looked more delighted instead of merely friendly. These were subtle changes to be sure, but I had been examining her so intently that I couldn’t help but notice them. I double-checked my notes and sketches, and there was no denying the changes.

“Are you happy I sent that e-mail, Whimzy?” I asked. She of course didn’t reply, but I swear I saw her eyes sparkle just a bit more intently for the briefest of instances. “Well, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. That e-mail account is about twenty-five years old. I’m probably more likely to get an answer out of you than them.”

I eyed her carefully then to see if any more subtle changes would come over her, but she of course gave no indication that was she anything other than an inanimate toy.

“I’m tired. Seeing things,” I muttered as I set Whimzy down on my desk. I needed a good night’s sleep to clear my head and get my mind off of that silly doll.

Much to my chagrin, however, my sleep was anything but easy that night. In my dreams, I remembered what Orville had said about Whimzy being an idol for some kind of ancient malevolent god. In the unfathomably deep recesses of her sparkling eyes, I no longer beheld the Milky Way but the Outer Planes of Creation, the likes of which no mortal was ever meant to see. From those depths, something reached out wispy, ethereal tendrils that crawled forth from Whimzy’s glass eyes and blindly felt around for anything that may be of use to them.

And what they found was me.

They had found me before I even stepped into Orville's shop. Hell, maybe they had even found me when I was a kid and had only recently managed to conjure up the strength to affect me, but it was clear that the obsessive curiosity I had been displaying over Whimzy was their doing. They fed off my wonder, but they knew that my wonder would have to be fed in turn for it to grow.

And they were going to fatten me up before it came time to slaughter.

When I awoke, my laptop was still on. Not too unusual in and of itself, but Whimzy was sitting right in front of it. I didn’t remember leaving her like that. I gently set her aside to use the keyboard, and I saw that I had one new unread e-mail.

It was from FluffyFriendz@hotmail.com.

“Hello Matthew

We here at the Wonderworks Factory are aware of the recent rise in interest regarding our old product line. Whimzy’s mysterious nature was part of a promotional campaign that regretfully went unresolved due to the Fluffy Friendz being discontinued. I have a whole manilla folder here filled with all the information we have on Whimzy, including how the campaign was supposed to end. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to divulge that information. However, if you were able to come down to the Factory, participate in some workshops and focus groups and sign some NDAs, I’m sure I could arrange for you to have a look at that folder.

Kindly come at your earliest convenience, and come alone. Except for Whimzy, of course. I’m sure she’d love to see how her old Factory is doing after all these years.

Regards, Wellesley.”

There was an address and a Google Maps link right below the signature. The dream from the night before hadn’t yet faded from memory, as dreams so often do. Framed by its ominously prophetic tone, the otherwise innocuous e-mail seemed outright sinister. I tried to be rational and weigh the risks of this being some kind of scheme or worse against the only benefit of learning more imaginary backstory of an old stuffed animal. The choice should have been obvious.

But then I looked down at Whimzy, at those brilliant sparkles in her unfathomably deep eyes and the unnamed horrors that lay beyond them, and I knew what I had to do.

I’m heading to Wonderworks now, Whimzy sitting on my dashboard again and keeping a close eye on me, making sure I don’t chicken out. She’s looking forward to seeing the other Fluffy Friendz again, and I'll finally get to find out what she is. Surely, no matter what it is they mean to do to me, they wouldn't be so cruel as to deny me that knowledge, would they? It's the only reason I'm doing this. The only thing that matters anymore.

Maybe I should have let Orville sell me that Underworld Underlining, after all.



Written by The Vesper's Bell
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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