[We are only certain of one thing: everybody was once a child.]

CHAPTER 1: We Just Make Toys

rating: 0+x

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 Lenny 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 Lenny and her stolen idea. Polly Gary Lenny 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 Lenny, 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 Lenny, 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 Lenny thtole your idea for the Grow-N-Know Piano Plant?" Tongue asked, her eyebrows lowered in a calm confusion.


"And you, Polly Gary Lenny, 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 Lenny. 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 Lenny 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 looked a little nervous. He looked at me, and then pulled a green stress ball from behind his back and handed it to me.

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.

CHAPTER 2: To Think I've Spent My Whole Life Waiting

The house was massive, and had a… well, it doesn't sound like a beautiful color scheme, but trust me. The dark brown and red were very artfully done. It would have made me happy if it weren't for the big face painted on the top. It felt like it was looking at me. I didn't like it at all. I climbed up the hill and out of the forest, up into the clearing around the house. The yellow pathway up to the house winded unnecessarily, but I followed it anyways because it was a charming detail. The flowers out front were bright purples and oranges and blues. Did anyone take care of them, or was it another product? The Ever-Bright Flowers or something like that. Nobody lived here, right?

I walked to the back porch, opened the chair, and pulled out the key hidden in there. This key let me get to the Tourist Trap from anywhere on earth. Pretty cool, really. More important, though, was that it opened the door and let me in. Going through the back entrance, I walked into the upper middle class looking house. It smelled like freshly baked goods. It always smelled like freshly baked goods. I wondered if it always contained freshly baked goods. I began my search for such a bounty.

I was right, there were fresh cinnamon buns in the oven. They smelled delicious. They tasted delicious. Were there more in the oven? Oh, oh there were! I had another batch of four before I realized my mistake. My stomach hurt like someone had dropped a boulder into it from a great height. I didn't feel like being in the kitchen anymore, with its pink counter tops and infinite cinnamon buns. What else was in this place?

The living room had a great curved HDTV, a semicircular yellow couch, plenty of photos of the great times had in this place — oh wow! There was Tongue as a lass. She looks so young and pretty. And I think that's Mr. Ribbit, but back then he wasn't Mr. anything. He was just Jim. Jim Herring. He looks so average. He was neither portly, nor was he jolly. He looked a little uncomfortable, if anything. There were eight other people I had never seen before huddled around in the picture, and all of them wore these skin tight peppermint suits. A small golden plaque was hidden at the bottom of the image.


The Candy Catalysts? Woah, one of these guys could've been my dad. I looked up and down for someone short with jet black hair. Ugh, there were two people who fit that description. Mom never showed me any pictures of Dad. Always was a little agitated about that. Stepping back, the entire wall was covered in Candy Catalyst memorabilia. There were the annual department hockey games from 1989. Candy Catalysts won that year, with the Publicity Puppies coming in close second. That was the closest the Puppies ever got to winning the hockey games — I had a few good pals in the Public Relations Department, and I know it's a sort of inside joke that they always train the hardest and lose the worst. There it was, though. The big medal. It wasn't even inside any sort of glass case — oh, aw, they filled it with peppermints. Was I allowed to take some? It probably replenishes like the cinnamon buns. I stuffed my pockets with a couple dozen peppermints.

What else was there? The entryway at the front was phenomenal. It glittered with some rainbow-y gemstone and reflected you in a thousand different colors. There was a very ornate small wooden table for you to put shoes on, and under it was… wow! That was three tubs of legos! I'd have to check that out later. There were the stairs to the second level. I think that my bedroom was up there. Well, there must be about five, and I could pick whichever I wanted. Going up the stairs, I came upon a hallway with seven doors: three on either side and one at the very end. The two closest to the stairs were the boys' and girls' bathroom. There was a small landing around the top of the staircase, and circling it there was a door that led out onto the roof.

Coming out onto the roof, I looked over the landscape of dense, extradimensional forest. It was funny to think how this didn't really exist anywhere. I wondered aloud to myself how tree seeds spread into the Tourist Trap's territory, or how small animals got here, when you had to say a mantra to get in but not to get out. Maybe all the magic just applied to people. I wouldn't know, big scale things like this weren't my forte. Even on the board game, I only ever designed individual cards. The huge, sprawling hallucinatory landscapes were all the Building Bullies Team, or the Construction Department. Everybody first assumes that the Building Bullies are both mean and menial. They aren't. They have been at the forefront of some of Wondertainment's most impressive projects, including the house that I was in at the moment. They had found a way to woo the mister of the third dimension, and he would do whatever they told him to. This time, they told him to be two hours from anything, and so he obeyed.

I had gotten up to the roof in time to watch the sunset — what time zone must I have been in? — and it was astounding. The reds and oranges and pinks that faded into a long gradient of light to dark blue to black all across the sky. "The biggest stage light to grace the earth. Behold! The universe's electric, heat lamp magnificence! Feel every day is a part of a long, unending show, and you know what little kid? You're the star!" I was getting emotional. I needed to get off of the roof. Turning around, I was startled half to death by the face I forgot about. It really was looking at me, I swear. It's pupils weren't painted there before.

Inside, I leaned over the railing and stared down the stairwell, hoping that I wouldn't throw up. The cinnamon buns weren't helping. My head swam, and I suddenly got the feeling that I might tip over and fall. I sat down and leaned against the wall. My head hurt like hell. Maybe someone did live here — I needed help. I needed someone to help me. I needed to yell for someone to help me.

"Is anyone here?"

I thought I might have heard a response, someone down under the house. Somewhere deep below the floorboards — under the couch in the living room.

"Help me, please, I'm aching!"

"Do you see the sun, kid?"

I began vomiting. All over the carpet, too. I wondered if this place self cleaned. Could they do that? Oh gosh, if not this was going to be terrible to clean up.

"Get me my pills! Please, I need them, I need my pills."

"You see that big ball of gas and fire? Look at it."

I started pulling myself towards the stairs. I needed to get to my suitcase. I needed to get to my prescription.

"It's circling you, kid."

"I'm on the stairs, please! Sir, please, I need help!"

I had to pause and hold onto the railing, watching as more and more bile came out of my mouth and started dripping down the steps.

"Please, oh dear god, please…"

"You're the star, Brian!"

"I don't want to go back!"

"Life's a show, kid."

"Please, get me my pills, I don't want to go back! Please!"

"Life's a show, and you're the star!"

I slipped on my own fluids, and tumbled down the stairs. There was a loud thump as my jaw hit the post.

My stomach burned. My jaw felt like it was trying to make me a snake. A pitter patter on the roof told me it was raining. I loved rain. The sound was calming. My neck was also bending and trying to make me serpentine. I must have banged my elbow, because it was sore as well. My whole body was conspiring against me. There was rain here? How did clouds get in here? Did this even exist on earth? My knees could be doing better. I think I soiled my pants, they felt wet. That was embarrassing. Though, it was pretty far down my leg. I want to go out and feel the rain on my skin. What else could have made my leg wet? It's lovely weather. Oh wait, barf.

Oh no, I must have eaten too many cinnamon buns. That's probably what it was. I ate myself sick, and fell down the stairs. That's definitely what it was. Nothing to worry about. Oh my, I needed to brush my teeth. And change my clothes. Actually, I needed to go take a shower. I really needed to go take a shower… but I also didn't want to move. I was pained. Moving was pain. Everything hurt. Especially my head. My head hurt a lot. Heheh, heheheh, my brain. I was Brainy Brian, and my brain hurt. Heheh, heh, heheheheh. Ow. Ow ow ow. Shower. Right.

It was probably good to have hot water wash over me before going out into the rain. I needed to go do something in the rain. There wasn't much to do in the house, from what I could tell. To its credit, it wasn't meant to be the attraction. It was meant to be two hours from any attraction. Big difference. How long had it been since I took a shower? It can't have been that long, I always kept a good face at work. No, I shouldn't have thought about work. That was a mistake. I should have just kept thinking about the rain. Morning routine. Back to my morning routine. I stepped out of the shower, and stared at myself in the mirror.

While I brushed and flossed my teeth, I stared at my naked mug and thought of how I could color it. The management told me I shouldn't paint my face before going out into public. "This isn't Wonder World!™, you need to blend in." Blend in? If I blended in, then how would people know it's me? How would I maintain my signature Brainy charm? Maybe they had a point though. There were people who don't like weird things, and we always sort of had a love hate relationship. However, I was not magic, my designs were. I should be fine. I mean, if I had painted my face, what would it look like? Well, if I was going in public, I'd be confronted with people. I didn't feel like interacting with people. Oh, perfect! I could have been a mime. I wasn't supposed to though…

Oh screw management. They could go sit on their high chairs and chew their big candy cigars and stop interfering with my life — I was my own man. I was going to be a mime, and that was that. It would wordlessly communicate that I didn't want to talk with people. Yeah, yeah it was perfect. Management could go shove it. Though, it was raining outside. I would take an umbrella, so my paint didn't run.

There! Ah ha, I was beautiful. Black and white, I had a frowning facade and two black tear marks running down my face. I looked absolutely wonderful. The mask felt very fitting at that moment. I was ready to face the world! I could go anywhere! Literally, literally I could do that. Where should I go? I walked out of the bathroom, flicked off the light, and — no, there was something I had forgotten. Was that really my entire morning routine? I had taken a shower, used shampoo and conditioner and wiped soap all up and down myself… I had brushed my teeth, flossed my teeth, applied deodorant. I gelled my hair in a way that I liked it, and I made myself a mime. There felt like there was something missing. Something… important…? I flicked the switch on again, and surveyed the room. The bathroom was so big, and colored this pretty white and gold. There was… the sink. Was that it?

That must have been it. I was worrying over nothing. I flicked off the light, and moved out into the hallway. Oh, hey, I hadn't noticed, but this place really is self cleaning. I had suspected as much. Where should I go to begin with? I didn't have that great of a grasp on the world. I pretty much grew up in Wonder World!™. Where should I go? Well… I supposed I should start somewhere familiar. Start small and build up. I did know one place in this world, and I should go there. Should I try out the car sitting in the garage? I didn't even know where the garage was, I hadn't been able to finish my house tour yesterday. Had a full day passed? I decided I should just walk. I wanted to be out in the rain anyways. I grabbed a big rainbow umbrella out of the entryway and walked out into the world. Heheh, look at all that mud! Wonderful. I started down the driveway, and held my arm out from below the umbrella. The rain felt good on my skin. Anyways, no more games. I closed my eyes while I walked, and held my old neighborhood in my head.

There it was, the old colorless houses and dirty grey street. My old stomping grounds. Or, maybe not stomping. My old treading grounds. It was familiar, to say the least. The sidewalks must have been fixed, they were much smoother than I remember them. They didn't have all their signature cracks. However, the road was still pocked full of holes. I guess some things never change. I never knew my neighbors, so I guess I only had one place to go. I walked for a while, turned a corner, and saw my old white house. It really hadn't been repainted? White was such a boring color. I wondered what the living room looked like, or if the kitchen was as I left it, or maybe what my bedroom was like. I really wanted to go in. Would anyone mind? There wasn't a car in the driveway, and all the lights were off. I turned around, and thought that the streets and nearby houses looked very empty as well. Nobody would mind. Was the front window lock still broken like I remembered?

Yes, it was.

I climbed in, careful to make sure I never got my face wet in the process. The last thing I wanted was for my face paint to run. Once I plopped into the kitchen, I stretched and felt at home. It was a long time since I really felt at home. I mean, Wonder World!™ was my new home, and now Tourist Trap was my temporary home, and I didn't feel uncomfortable there — well, I didn't feel uncomfortable at the Tourist Trap. I hadn't noticed that I didn't feel at home before, but it really came back to me as I stood in my kitchen. It really was the way I left it. Untouched, almost. The countertops were just as bland as always, the oven was still an ugly pastel green, and the TV could be seen from where you stood to wash dishes. I had never seen my house from this angle, I was much smaller when I lived here.

I moved into the living room. It was covered in new pictures. Pictures of whoever lived here now. They weren't as good as my family. As my mom. Nobody could live up to my mom. She was a wonderful mother. Nobody could say otherwise. Not my dad, not the neighbors, not the police or my guardians. Not even those jerks at Wonder World!™. Nobody. She did everything right, all the way up to the end. And nobody could take that away from her. These pictures were inadequate. Mom was stunning. These people were bland. That was an unfair comparison — everyone was bland in comparison. She shone like the full moon.

I walked around to the bathroom. I almost opened the door, but I really didn't want to. Never liked the bathroom in that house. Always bothered me. I decided that it wasn't worth the nostalgia. Moving on, I looked up the stairs towards the master bedroom. Wasn't ever my bedroom. Didn't want to go up there either. Actually, I realized that I wasn't interested in any of the rooms except one. I opened the door to my old bedroom.

It had changed significantly since last I left it. It used to be blue, and now it was painted with a bright purple. There was a bunk bed where my single bed used to be — the top bunk was pink, the bottom sky blue. There wasn't my old bedside table, or any of my book collections. I suddenly felt a strong want for a Dr. Seuss book. They must have those, this is a kid's bedroom. No kid's bedroom can survive without Dr. Seuss books. I began to search through the bookshelf next to the door, and sure enough, there one was.

Oh the Places You'll Go, by Dr. Seuss. Did they have Dr. Seuss back at the Tourist Trap? I hadn't seen any. I might just take that back with me. I sat down on the lower bed, set down my umbrella, and began to read…

"You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself,
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

I sure was. I loved these books. They were my childhood. I never imagined I'd be a part of Seuss's world eventually — that came as a mighty surprise. They found me on the streets, selling some little knick-knacks I had made out of the trash in the alleyways. I was creative and bubbly and innocent: all the things they looked for.

"Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite,
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite,
or waiting around for Friday night,
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake,
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break,
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants,
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the next big product. Waiting for the next big project. Waiting for that next promotion, that next holiday, that next hang out, that next break through. Waiting for the next night, then the next day, then the next… the next whatever comes after that. Months, years? Lifetimes? Waiting to meet that one special person, to settle down? What was I waiting for?

"I'm afraid that some times,
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win,
'cause you'll play against you.

There was a glimmer in the closet, between the slats in the closet door. What made that? Was it — it looked wet, and shiny. It twitched and went away. Were those kids?


That was definitely a rustling. I think I caught a "shh".

"Are you playing hide and seek?"

I got up off the bed, and began towards the closet at a glacial pace. They seemed afraid. What of?

"What are you afraid of?"

Opening the closet door, I took a boot to the face. I got knocked back, and caught myself on the wall. That was my jaw. Again. I resisted my jaw's urge to move sideways, and held it in my hand. There was a girl, about half my size, who was holding two little kids behind her back. She was heaving, and stared at me, still half in the closet.

"Oh, oh I'm sorry, I must seem weird. I know it's not typical for mimes to talk — but, but I'm not actually a mime, I just dressed up this way today! I am so sorry for the confusion, can we be frie -?"

Another kick to the side sent me curled up on the floor. I had the wind knocked out of me, and coughed struggling to catch my breath. The girl was closer now, and hovering over me. Those kids looked very scared. What was it? I told them I wasn't a mime, what could…?

"I wasn't going to take your Dr. Seuss book! I was just looking at it… I used to live here, you know. This was where I grew up — I slept in that bed — augh!"

She kicked me in the navel, and saliva spewed out of my mouth. I felt some bile coming up. Oh no, I had barfed enough yesterday. I can't barf again! I could get stomach problems! What was her problem? I wasn't stealing — oh my, is that blood? — and I wasn't a talking mime. What else could there be? I looked up at her, and saw her angry. She was getting ready to kick me again. Her phone was in her right hand, and the children's hands were in her other. They looked terrified. They were silently frightened. It couldn't have been me, it must have been — they were scared of her. She reeled her leg back, but it never hit me.

I didn't know I could hit people that hard.

She was sprawled out on the ground. I hat hit her right in the temple, and it sent her into the wall and then knocked her to the floor. She wasn't moving. The kids were safe.

"Was she hurting you? Did she harm you? What did she do?"

The kids only cried, and suddenly the room was very loud. Tears streamed down their cheeks, and their mouths were agape in wet yelling.

"Shh, it's okay, she's gone! I'll… I'll uh, I'll give her a stern talking to when she wakes up, and uh…"

What was that noise? I had been ignoring the sirens in the distance, because you get used to that when living in an urban environment. But they got close, stopped, and then there was a loud bang in the other room. More of them? More of her?

I leaned down and put my arms around the children. Another couple bangs. Those were doors. Those were doors getting knocked down. I sweat, what could I do? I fondled around my pockets for the key, the key back to the house. Back to Tourist Trap. These kids were in danger — I didn't know why, but something bad was happening here. I found the key.

"We have been wanting to travel the world,
And though we can not find you on any map -"

A bang. A bang.

"You've promised some haven to us boys and girls,
We know you exist -"

Bang. Bang. BANG. A massive, muscular man blew the door open with his shoulder, and pointed a, a gun at me!


"- you're the Tourist Trap!"

A hole opened up below the kids and I, and I hear a loud pow.


A bullet caught me in the ankle while I fell down the rabbit hole, two kids under my arms.

CHAPTER 3: I Don't Get It, I Functioned Before


CHAPTER 4: You Can't Win Them All

Stop reading ahead.

CHAPTER 5: Be Strange or Be Forgotten

Will I keep that title? Hard maybe.