“This is why,” Cynthia Van Der Well said, pouring her fifth glass of wine for the evening as she stared at the stuffed bears, “we should not have allowed the help to attend.”
Two large Teddy Bears of the sort you might find at a carnival (“Come one, come all! Sink three balls and win the grand prize!”) rested on either side of the fireplace. One was orange with brown spots, while the other was patterned with gray-and-black stripes. They each had a tag on their left ear that read Love Bear.
“Well, you wanted to have it catered.” Clyde Van Der Well the Third tightened his smoking jacket and looked from one record to the next. “Did you think Margaret wouldn’t figure out we were having Chloe’s birthday party in her absence?”
Cynthia sipped her wine. “Who’s Margaret?”
“Who’s Margaret? Our cook, dear.”
“The cook’s name is Mabel.”
Clyde stopped perusing records. “Is it?”
“I’m almost certain.”
Clyde waved his hand and scowled. “As if it matters! Point being, Marg — the cook would have put things together if we hosted a party for Chloe without her, and she would have been an absolute bore about it.”
Cynthia finished her wine. “And how, tell me, would she have been a bore?”
Clyde threw his hands up. “Oh, you know! I’m sure she would have— you know. You get it.”
With a sigh, Cynthia refilled her glass. “I’m sure I don’t. Regardless, the issue remains. Chloe doesn’t need two slum-scraping Teddy Bears. They simply won’t look right on her shelves.”
Clyde turned back to his records. “Well, yes. Clearly.”
His record stand stretched up almost to the ceiling, and Clyde needed a bookshelf ladder to reach the top. He adjusted the record player, briefly drumming his fingers against the tablecloth underneath it before climbing up the ladder and sighing.
“Nearly full. I’ll need another stand.” He turned to his wife. “Perhaps we could repurpose a portion of the library. I don’t fancy a trip to the guesthouse every time I’m itching for Beethoven.”
Cynthia stood up quickly, wobbling more than a little and grabbing the easy chair to catch herself.
“Clyde! What about these dirty bears?”
He put his hand to his chin. “What if we made a game of it?”
Cynthia picked up her bottle of wine. Empty.
“Yes. We’ll have those stuffed bears fight. The winner will be Chloe’s present from Margaret.”
Cynthia frowned. “And the loser?”
Clyde laughed. “Cut to pieces, I imagine.”
He kept laughing, and it briefly turned into a choked squeal as Clyde lost his grip on the ladder and fell to the floor. This made Cynthia laugh, and Clyde started laughing again, and soon both of them were red-faced and wheezing as their laughter carried on. The two Teddy Bears turned to each other and exchanged a look.
“Very well,” Clyde said, getting control of himself and standing up. “Let’s get started.”
He clapped his hands together. “Listen closely, bears.
“You,” he said, pointing at the Teddy Bear with spots, “will be known as Measles. And you,” he pointed at the Teddy Bear with stripes, “will be called Jail. Measles and Jail. The two of you will fight. The winner shall be a valued toy companion for our dear Chloe. The loser will make for a rousing yarn at our next dinner party. Questions?”
Jail raised one soft arm and said in a squeaky voice, “Rules?”
“You cannot leave the room,” Cynthia said.
“Yes,” Clyde said, nodding, “and you cannot touch my record player.”
He walked back to the record stand and extracted one. “Any other questions?”
“No,” Jail said. Measles shook his head.
“Excellent.” Clyde placed a record on the player and moved the needle. “Happy fighting.”
As he and Cynthia left the room, “Flight of the Valkyries” started playing. Jail turned to Measles, his stitched face turning up in a grin. Measles gulped.
Once the door clicked shut, Jail made a mad dash for Cynthia’s empty wine bottle. Measles started after him, then turned away, instead rushing towards the ladder. As he started climbing, Jail grabbed the bottle and slammed the end of it against the wall. Glass shattered in every direction, turning the bottle into a jagged knife. He raced after Measles and was two steps up the ladder when Measles threw a record down, hitting Jail between his button eyes and sending him falling back to the floor. Jail dropped the bottle and Measles threw another record at him. It bounced off the carpet a few feet away. Jail jumped to his feet and grabbed the ladder, pulling it out from under the other stuffed bear. Measles grabbed at the shelf but missed and fell— landing solidly on Jail and knocking him back to the floor.
Jail grabbed at Measles, and the other bear swung his stuffed arm back at him. He hit Jail a couple times and rolled away from his grip. Jail moved in the other direction, and they stood in unison. Measles ran for the table, while Jail charged at the fireplace. The striped bear grabbed a poker from the mantle as Measles dived behind a table leg.
“Please, Jail,” Measles said, standing up and poking his head around, “we’re the same. We can figure this out.”
Jail advanced on him with the poker. “I’ve already figured it out. After this, we won’t be the same.”
Measles jumped away as Jail tried to spear him. He pushed himself up, and Jail swept his legs out from under him with the poker. Measles flailed in vain as Jail plunged the implement through his chest, squealing in triumph.
Stuffing blew out of Measles’ sides as he lay there. Jail turned away from him, paws raised in the air.
“It’s all over, masters! I’m to be Chloe’s treasured toy!”
Jail soundlessly clapped his paws together and started to say more, but he was cut short by the blunt end of the poker jabbing him in the back. The striped bear stumbled forward, and he turned back to see Measles standing, the poker still protruding from his chest. He ran forward, hitting Jail again and sending him falling back into the fireplace. Jail screamed and tried to pull himself out as the flames engulfed him, and Measles pushed the poker against him, keeping Jail pinned against the fire.
Measles kept him there until his screams were extinguished and Jail was nothing more than burned stuffing and a few crispy buttons.
The doors opened, and Clyde and Cynthia entered. Cynthia clung to Clyde’s arm, and he held a basket with his free hand.
“Goodness!” Cynthia said, staring at the fireplace.
“Goodness, indeed, and surprising,” Clyde said. “I thought Jail had more moxy.”
Measles rocked back and forth, the poker still sticking out of his chest.
“I did it. I won. I get to be the toy now.”
“Hmm. Well, about that.”
Clyde set the basket down.
“You were certainly sporting, old boy, but circumstances have changed.”
Clyde opened the top of the basket and reached in.
“It seems our dear Chloe’s received a late birthday present.
Clyde pulled out a clean, purple Teddy Bear. Cynthia beamed.
“It’s Chloe’s favorite color!”
Measles stared at the three of them for a long moment. Then, screaming furiously, he charged forward. Cynthia squealed and Clyde took a step back, but Measles turned away from them. He grabbed the edge of the tablecloth and yanked on it, sending the record player crashing to the floor. The record screeched before the music faded away entirely.
“Oh! Oh, how horrid!”
Clyde, red with rage, stormed forward.
“See here, you brutish fiend!”
Measles started to turn away, but Clyde grabbed the poker and lifted him up. He marched the struggling Teddy Bear over to the fireplace and plunged him into it. Measles screamed in the same way Jail had until, like his predecessor, there was nothing left.
Cynthia shook her head. “Just terrible.”
Clyde stared into the fire. “A poor sport if I ever saw one.”
The purple Teddy Bear nodded. “Quite.”