|Against all Odds
by Oren the Otter
© Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved
"Okay Otter." said Xander. "I've told you my story. Now what did I miss?"
"Well now..." I replied. "I hope I can weave this as a yarn half as interesting as your own, but I'll give it a shot. Forgive me if I get some of the details wrong..."
There were smiles on everyone's faces as the giant teddy bear walked through the door of the toy store. "Hey, Richie!" called Bill, the store owner.
"Morning, Bill." replied Rich as he took his timecard in his paw. He clocked in, put his uniform t-shirt on, and greeted the other employees one by one.
Rich loved working here at Bill's Toy warehouse, ever since he and Bill came up with the idea so long ago. Nearly all of the employees here were SCABs who had become some time of plushie or another. It was here that Rich had met his wife Millie. She'd been a norm at the time, but when she came down with Martian Flu, luck of the draw had changed her into an inanimorph, and a plushie to boot. She hadn't become a bear. That would have been too much to ask. She had, however, become a lovely giant mouse.
He was just getting ready to turn on the video game displays when a flash and a thundering boom stole his attention.
Almost immediately, flames shot up the wall of the board games department. Rich leapt to the nearest fire extinguisher, yelling as loudly as his stuffed body would allow.
It was over in minutes. With his co-workers gathered around, Rich held Millie close to him as they stood and watched the firefighters extinguish the last of the flames.
Bill sighed as he looked deep into the cup of tea which he held between his big, floppy paws. The face of a toy dog stared back at him, making his situation all the more poignant. "I don't know what I'm going to do." he whispered. "That store was all that I had. I sunk everything in the world into it."
"You'll come back." Rich reassured him, taking a sip of his own tea, feeling the warmth as it soaked down through his fibers. "You're a brilliant man, and I know you'll find a way to bounce back."
Bill just nodded. The rest of his visit was spent in near silence, just taking comfort in the presence of his friends.
When finally Rich and Millie were alone again, the mouse looked at her husband and said "What do we do now." Her voice cracked. "We have no jobs."
Rich rubbed his wife's soft shoulder. "We take some time off. We've got plenty of vacation time. We'll go camping in the woods, like you've been wanting to do.
After they'd set up the tent, Millie began picking some wild apples as Rich got out his fishing pole. He'd seen some fish jumping in a small pond set apart from the lake. It would be a great spot for catching dinner. As his hook flew out over the water, hey heard someone shouting "hey Hey HEY!" He whirled around to see an otter running toward him.
"What's wrong?" asked the teddy bear.
"Sorry, but this isn't a fishing pond. This is my neighbors' HOUSE."
"Theo and Annette Jackson. They're fish."
Looking very embarrassed, Rich reeled his line back in. "I'm sorry." he said. "I didn't know."
"Understandable. Hi. I'm Oren."
"Rich Muller. Pleased to meet you. You live around here?"
"Just the other side of the stream."
"In the cabin?"
"No, in the burrow."
Oren drew Rich's attention to the lake. "See those two islands out there? Right between them is a primo spot for fishing. There's bass as long as your arm out there."
"I don't have a boat."
"No problem. There's a public use raft about a half mile to the left of here."
Rich smiled. "Thanks! Say, why don't you come and meet the Mrs.?"
"I'd be honored!"
The camping trip was a long one, and most enjoyable. Finally, however, the plush couple decided that it was time to return home. When they arrived, however, they received a nasty shock. The apartment was completely empty. Everything was gone, even the bulbs from the ceiling lights. The windows were shattered, the rug torn up, the plumbing destroyed. On the living room wall, the word "SCABS" had been sprayed in bright red paint. Millie broke into crying right there. Rich stood in the doorway for hours, just holding his wife.
Evening found the Mullers at the West Street shelter. Having no jobs, no home, no possessions and very little money, it was really the only option. They spent the evening talking with a very friendly white rabbit. He seemed an intelligent fellow, and was very optimistic about the situation he and his wife were in. He turned out to be a friend of the otter they'd met out at the lake. He'd spent many hours talking about how Oren had lost his apartment and his job, but then turned the situation around with a little determination, omitting the details concerning suicidal depression. He was trying to encourage the Mullers and inspire optimism, but it didn't do much.
Millie was feeling very ill that night, and turned in early. She could not sleep, though. Every few minutes, she would hear someone yelling down the hall.
"Who is that?" she finally asked.
"That would be Splendor." said someone nearby. "She runs the place. She can be sweet when she wants to, but she can be nasty, too."
Millie lay on the bed, cringing and crying, listening to the voice of Splendor cursing and swearing about anything that came up.
The next morning, rich leafed through his wallet and determined that he had enough to take his wife out to breakfast just this once. Technically, neither of them needed food, but she had been so stressed that he felt he had to get out with her and treat her to a nice, relaxing, comforting meal.
They went to Sinclair's to eat. He knew that they catered to the special needs of SCABs, and that they could get some nice, dry waffles or french toast that would not get their fabrics greasy or sticky. Despite her illness, which had not fully abated, Millie ate ravenously.
"So..." said Rich. "What do you think of the shelter?"
Millie frowned and put her fork down. "Rich, I don't want to stay there."
"I know it doesn't seem dignified, but it's only for a little while. I'll take the first job that comes along and..."
"No, Richie. I don't like that place. It scares me. Especially that 'Splendor' woman."
"What else can we do? We can't afford a hotel. All of our friends are as broke as we are..."
"We do have a car full of camping equipment."
"You want to live in a tent?"
"We could do it. We don't need food or heat or even a potty. All we really need is each other."
Rich smiled and nodded. "If that's what you want, that's what we'll do."
Millie reached across the table and hugged her husband. "Rich Muller, you are a wonderful man!"
Rich called a waitress over to ask for the check. The waitress looked at him for a moment and said "Your meal has already been paid for, Sir."
"By the gentleman in the corner."
Rich looked over to see a bull-headed man sitting in a booth with a norm woman and a girl in a wheelchair. The man waved. He could hear the girl in the wheelchair saying "Daddy, you are such a softie!"
Returning to their original camping site, Rich and Millie proceeded to set up the tent. As she was tying off the lines, however, Millie suddenly froze and said "Honey, I just popped a stitch."
"I'll get the emergency sewing kit."
Millie looked down at herself. Two more stitches in the middle of her stomach popped. A little bit of stuffing came out, along with bits of that morning's breakfast. "Oh my gosh, Rich. I'm coming apart!" Three more stitches suddenly broke. "Stay right there!" Rich ordered. "The Otter has a phone... I'll go call an ambulance."
Then the real horror began as the reason for the damage became apparent. Something inside of Millie moved. She screamed. Rich ran.
"I heard a scream." said Oren as he came out of his burrow. "What happened?"
"PHONE! AMBULANCE! 911!"
Seconds later, Oren found himself with his head turned sideways trying to hold the phone while he examined Millie with both paws. That proved nearly impossible, so he tossed the phone to Rich and said "Here. You talk to them."
The otter spoke in soft, soothing tones as he probed the widening hole in the mouse's abdomen. "How badly does it hurt" he asked.
"I'm a stuffed animal. I don't feel pain."
"All right, then. I'm going to probe down in here and see if I can find whatever's moving."
Oren's paws went down into the stuffing. He found himself fighting the heaves, as well as a case of carniphobia. The only thing that saved him from a panic attack was the fact that Millie was not technically alive.
"I feel it." said the otter. "There's more than one in here, Millie."
"Oh gosh!" exclaimed Rich. "She's been possessed by aliens or something!"
"Will you just calm down?" Oren demanded. His hands moved through the woman's stuffing, and then suddenly stopped. He looked at the bear and asked "You two wouldn't happen to be modified, would you?"
"Modified?" Millie echoed.
"Well," said Rich, sheepishly. "We ARE married."
"I think that in this case, it's had some very interesting results." His arms slowly came up out of Millie's stomach, and with them came a small, grey object.
"What is it?" asked Rich.
Oren turned the thing around as it squirmed. It unfolded gossamer wings and blinked button eyes, uncurling itself into the form of a beautiful silvery dragon. "This," said Oren. "Is your son. Congratulations. You're a father"
"Oh my... but how?" said Rich as he took the dragon and gently cradled him. "Who knows how anything works with you inanimorphs. You walk, you talk, you eat... and now, it seems, you reproduce." As he said this, he pulled a lion cub to the surface. He wondered just how many species were going to be represented.
Over the next few minutes, Oren removed a total of eight baby plushies from Millie's body. He marveled as he did at the sheer improbability of such a thing, his mind flashing back years ago to one of the toy fads-pregnant stuffed animals with babies inside. It seemed almost funny that she'd given birth through her front, just like those old toys were designed to do.
Bob and Brian came up shortly afterward, bringing with them Doctor Philip, who was, perhaps, the only expert on plush medicine in the world. He declared the babies healthy, sewed the mother up, and prescribed stress relief techniques for the father.
"So where are they now?" asked Xander.
"Believe it or not, they're still in the woods. Rich managed to land a job ordering supplies for the new resort that's being built out there, and they built themselves a small cabin right next to the Jackson's pond. Or, if you meant in a more immediate sense..."
I motioned Xander to come and peek around the partition that separated the bar from the restaurant. Sitting in a nice big booth with eight high chairs were the Muller family, enjoying a nice meal of dry pancakes and creamed polyester.
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