In celebration of #WorldLionDay, here’s a first look at my novel-in-progress, The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion. On an island-based afterlife for toys, the plush lion Bartholomew struggles with the grief of his former life and tries to find a way back to the human world to be loved again — which means taking on the fashion-doll dictator who wants to isolate the island forever.
Standard disclaimer: Work in progress, so the text isn’t in final form and will probably be revised before publication. (The chapters might not be this short, for one thing…)
To get updates on Bartholomew and my other projects, sign up for my mailing list here.
A white beach with no sea. But if there was no sea, what was the endless roar in his head?
Voices now, far away and then closer:
“…haul today, huh?”
“…smell like fuzzer all day…”
Laughter. Bartholomew knew laughter, though this was harsher than he was used to. Jamie had laughed so much, before…
Before what? But the thought, the name, everything was gone into the white, the mist, the blankness.
He was being lifted, being carried. It wasn’t gentle, but that was all right. He was soft. Nothing would break.
Then, at last, he didn’t know how long after, he was being spoken to.
“It’s all right. You mustn’t be afraid. You will be taken care of. There’s a place for you here.”
The words, he guessed, were meant to be soothing, but the voice was brisk, as if it did nothing but recite the same phrases all day.
Gradually Bartholomew’s senses returned, each one interlocking like a puzzle being put together. Once the last piece was in place, he looked around at the picture.
He was sitting in a large white room, on a kind of table. The voice belonged to a prim-looking doll, a lady with chestnut hair in a bun, wearing a long dress with a high collar. Everything about her looked starched, even her powdery porcelain skin. A fine crack edged along her cheek.
Jamie didn’t have any dolls. His sister did, but they were soft with dimpled faces — nothing like this lady. What was this place? Where was Jamie?
“It will come back to you,” the lady said. And then, as if her words had been a magic key, it did. There was no Jamie, not anymore. There never would be again.
If he had been able to cry, he would have. Jamie had cried that night in the hospital, snuggled in close, hot tears soaking into Bartholomew’s plush fur. But stuffed lions didn’t have tears inside them like boys did, so all he could do now was sit very quietly, eyes down, yarn whiskers drooping, while great dark chasms opened up inside him, each one deeper and colder than the last.
Eventually the lady’s voice came back to him. He wondered if she’d been speaking the whole time.
“We have a place for you to go. You can still be useful.”
Useful? What was that? Had he been useful before? He wanted to ask, Will I be loved? But he thought he already knew that answer. Never like that, no, never again. He shivered in that certainty.
The lady pursed her lips and watched him a moment. “You do understand, don’t you?”
His own voice sounded hollow. “I think so. Where am I, then?”
“The Island of the Forgotten,” she said crisply. “In the capital city of Mitziville.”
“But I wasn’t forgotten.”
“All the same. When we don’t exist to a child anymore–for whatever reason–we come here. And we begin our new lives. As you will.”
As the lady finished speaking, Bartholomew realized there were others in the room, farther down almost out of sight, stuffed animals and dolls, action figures, plastic animals. All around was a low murmur of voices, probably having the same conversation Bartholomew was having now.
A shriek cut through the room. The lady winced and put an elegant hand to her temple. “So high-strung. Terrible on the nerves. But a few days in the fields will calm her down.”
She gave Bartholomew a too-bright smile. “Now, come with me, and I’ll get you settled in.” She offered him a hand, and he placed his paw in it and followed.
“My hair! My beautiful hair…”
Razzleberry stared into the compact mirror, horrified but unable to look away. Her lovely raspberry-pink mane with its streak of purple–someone had cut it, and not very well. The chopped ends stuck almost straight up.
She gave a hopeful look to the fairy doll holding the mirror. “It’ll grow back, won’t it?”
The doll shook her head and closed the mirror slowly.
“Listen,” Razzleberry said, “if you could just tell me the way back to Rainbow Valley–I know they’re wondering where I am by now. I was supposed to meet Starsweeper and Daisydew at Friendship Falls for a picnic today. We were going to have apple tarts and lemonade and…”
The fairy doll in her shimmery green gown was looking at her with something like pity.
Razzleberry shook herself. “Fine. Just fine. I’ll find it myself. You probably don’t even know where it is anyway. Bet you can’t even fly with those puny little wings. Starsweeper could fly figure-eights around you in her sleep.”
Razzleberry shoved past the fairy doll, who had to flutter her dragonfly wings to keep from losing her balance. Razzleberry stormed out of the little alcove to the main part of the room… and stopped, staring.
There were long rows of alcoves on either side, some empty, some full–stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, even another pony she didn’t know.
Slowly, like water soaking into a sponge, understanding seeped in, filled her, changed her. She trembled.
Rainbow Valley–it had been real, hadn’t it? Had she dreamt it somehow–but no, no, she’d tasted Daisydew’s apple tarts before. She’d felt the cool mist from Friendship Falls. She’d played hide and seek with the other ponies in the Peppermint Palace, and snuggled into a cloud-shaped canopy bed at night.
She felt her world crack, felt the pieces shiver, ready to fall.
The fairy doll laid a gentle hand on Razzleberry’s neck. “It was all real, to you and to the others. But that time is over now, and you cannot go back.” She stroked the pony’s neck. “Easy now, easy. It’ll be all right.”
Razzleberry would have kicked the stupid doll across the room in that moment if she’d only had the strength. But there was nothing left in her stunned mind now but a name, and not even her own.
“Moonblossom,” she choked out, and crumpled to the floor.
If any of the flying toys had ever been able to get high enough to see the whole island at once, they would have been able to locate its capital in an instant. Mitziville lay near the island’s eastern coast, and Mitzi’s Mega-Mansion rose like a giant pink pimple on the island’s green face.
In Mitzi’s estate, everything was pink–the mansion, the cars, the stables, the private jet, the touring bus, the water park, the Ferris wheel, the tennis court, the concert stage where she sang every year at Mitzimas. Pink was her color now, and Mitzi luxuriated in its glow. Here, at last, she had found the one place the blond bitch didn’t rule, the one place Mitzi wasn’t always coming in second, always a “friend,” the extra, the backup, the anonymous fashion doll who would never be a household name. Except here.
Here, she was queen.
Of course, it was because the other doll was rarely forgotten. From time to time, a leggy blonde would wash up on the island’s misty shore–always the ones with hair chopped off, naked, maybe an arm or leg missing. Mitzi lived for those days. She loved seeing those sparkling blue eyes go dull and cloudy as they realized what their lives would be, as they prepared to serve her forever. She never dressed them, never repaired them. Sometimes, when she thought too much about how things used to be, and black moods overtook her, Mitzi would call them all in to stand before her in the pink-tiled courtyard with its circular driveway like a frosted doughnut. She would make them stand there–or lean, since most had no shoes and some only one leg–for hours while she gazed happily at them, basking in their brokenness, reveling in every missing part.
Mitzi was resting on a float in her heart-shaped pool when Major Mayhem arrived to deliver the day’s report.
Despite his name, the Major was not a military action figure, though he wore an Army-style uniform stretched across his ridiculously broad chest. But even though he’d been a wrestling action figure in his first life, here he was a born commander, and all the Freedom Force soldier figures had fallen in line behind him quite conveniently.
Besides, his headlock action came in handy for less confrontational applications as well.
He handed her the little chalkboard with the day’s tally of new arrivals.
Two ponies; good. They needed some fresh backs in the fields; she’d been wanting to step up production.
A handful of action figures, with a separate column tallying their weapons. New recruits for her army, perhaps even a few with leadership potential.
Her gaze locked on the last number. Nine stuffed animals of assorted species. Nine. The highest number so far this year for a single day.
She looked back up at the Major. “Are you sure these numbers are right?”
“Yes, ma’am. Double-checked them myself.”
She tapped a manicured pink nail on the edge of the board. At this rate, the filthy fuzzers would overrun the island. Something would have to be done, and the sooner the better.
“Increase production by ten percent.” She dipped the chalkboard in the pool and lazily watched the numbers fade away, then handed the board back to him. “Oh, and Mike…”
He hated when she called him by his first name while he was on official duty. Hated it–and loved it–and that was why she loved doing it. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Come by later when you’re done,” she purred. “I’ve got a brand-new marker that needs breaking in. Green apple’s your favorite, isn’t it?” They always gave her a raging headache the next day, but one had to make a few sacrifices to keep things running smoothly.
“As I’m able, ma’am. Good afternoon.” He turned crisply and strode away, and she smiled as she watched him go. He was so predictable, so easy to manipulate… in short, such a wonderful toy.