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Becoming a parent in the millennium has made my living space a house of horrors, with close encounters of the slightly spooky mechanical kind.
When I was growing up in the 1960’s, children’s toys did not make noise—at least, not unless you made up the sound effects by yourself.
The world of toys was still in its silent film era and kids had yet to dream of “talkies.”
Mimicry and manual manipulation of toys was so much a natural pre-requisite for playing in our generation that I thought we were living in the fast lane when my new dolly’s eyes blinked without being pushed or pulled.
But the world of Toys has metamorphosed dramatically since then—instead of Toy Boxes, filled with an assortment of prized items, we live in Toy Houses.
Our modern houses are awash with toys and little do we consider the potential consequences of being outnumbered by a population who have ceased to feel wanted.
Now that the children are off to school and I’m home alone, I walk with trepidation through the hallowed halls of my home and think: They’re alive!
The playroom is alive with the sound of toys. But there are no children lifting them, rolling them, shaking them, or even pushing the buttons to make them shout, squeal, roar, sing or give orders.
They seem to be acting out on their own volition.
As the hours pass, I begin to wonder if the Toy community who lives here feels abandoned by the children who have moved on, like Jessie (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Jessie_%28Toy_Story%29), the cowgirl doll in Toy Story, who was donated to charity when the little girl who owned her grew up.
Are they mounting a revengeful attack—an angry rebuke—against the parent who sent their little playmates away to the dreaded scholastic institution?
Amidst their eerie antics, I begin to feel as if I’ve been teleported into the macabre setting of a Stephen King novel, the haunted Amityville horror house, and Anthony Hopkins’ 1978 psycho-thriller film Magic (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Magic_%28film%29)—where the evil puppet possesses the ventriloquist—all rolled into one.
I walk past my daughter’s bedroom, while “toying” with the idea of what I should do first—pay bills or wash the kitchen floor—when I am stopped dead in my tracks.
“Choose an activity!” a tinny voice calls out from the depths of her closet.
Quietly, on socked feet, I creep in to her room and slide the closet door open. There, on top of one of her toy tubs, is the play laptop (http://www NULL.vtechkids NULL.com/product NULL.cfm/Tote_Go_Laptop/744/?) we bought when she was 3-years-old.
“CHOOSE an activity!” the voice, commands plaintively once more. Deftly, I reach down and push its switch to the “off” position.
“Gee, that was odd!” I think to myself. “I wonder what made it do that?”
As I walk into the kitchen and begin to make myself a cup of tea, it occurs to me that the toy must have been set off by the vibration of my feet moving across the floorboards.
I begin to relax and sip from the cup. Where I am standing at the counter, I can just see the tops of the toy trays, mounted against the wall in the playroom.
They seem so still and strange piled up in the room, now silent.
Suddenly, coming from the play room, there’s a Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!
“Welcome to the land of Have You Ever Seen!”
Still staring into the play room doorway, I gently place my teacup on the counter and begin to walk towards it.
Music box notes are floating in through the doorway and then a mechanical little girl’s voice says “Turn the page and press the blue button…”
And then I see it. Lizzie has left her VTech Mix’n Match Talking Book (http://www NULL.vtechkids NULL.com/_f/_pw/_manual/My_Silly_Mix_N_Match_Pages NULL.pdf) open on the floor.
I kneel down, close it and hold it to my chest, feeling a pang of longing for my little kindergartener.
“Bye bye!” says the little VTech-girl voice.
“Bye bye to you too!” I say out loud, laughing at my silliness.
And then: “AHHH HAH HAH HAH HAH!” It had come from the blue toy tray on the bottom—the unmistakable laugh of Cookie Monster (http://muppet NULL.wikia NULL.com/wiki/File:FisherPriceGiggleGoCarElmo NULL.jpg) as gruff as the evil conductor of a carnival ghost train.
“This is FUN!” cries Elmo, who happens to share the same pull-toy box with the pop-up Cookie Monster inside.
And that was when it all began—the cacophony of eerie demands, sometimes wheedling and cajoling, at others, angry and bewildered.
The Toys were rising up.
From the bottom of the stuffed animals box, I could hear flatulent Jumbah’s wet fart—an introduction to his belligerent shimmy to the theme song for Boohbah (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Boohbah).
The fire truck in the corner sounds a harsh, staccato alarm—“EEEEEH EEEEH EEEEH!”—and begins grinding across the floor with a guttural shout: “Put the fire out!”
The Word Whammer (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/LeapFrog-Word-Whammer-Fridge-Phonics/dp/B001JTJN0O), not to be outdone, cries out: “Put a letter in the Word Whammer! Every letter makes a sound!”
And the Musical Light and Sound Ball (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Shelcore-Musical-Light-Sound-Ball/dp/B001EMVQ2Y)—foolishly purchased when Alex was only one—which is now deeply buried in a box, on a shelf, somewhere, begins spouting the manic tempo of Here We Go ‘Round The Mulberry Bush (and 12 other children’s tunes you’ve desperately tried to forget) like a crazed polka band cranked on crystal meth.
Walkie-talkies, dusty and warm from sitting on the windowsill, begin to crackle to life, as a disembodied child’s voice urgently calls out: “Are you there?”
I’m beginning to think of the “TV People” in Poltergeist (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Poltergeist_%28film%29) and frightened of taking one more step into the sun-filled room. Do not walk into the light…
Then the Lightning McQueen race car in the box by the door, seeming to sense my reluctance, begins to taunt me: “Vrrrrrrrmmmmm! I am SPEED!”
I think, yeah, and the guy who did the sound track must have been on it…speed.
Could all of these toys be activated by vibrations from the floorboards? God help us if there’s an earthquake.
That’s when I have the idea. I suck up the oxygen, deep into my lungs, like an opera singer about to hold forth, and I boom from the pit of my being:
“If you guys don’t shut up, I’m going to start my own horror movie—and it’ll be called The Silence of the Toys!”
I can almost feel the collective “Uh oh!”
And then, the house becomes as silent as a mausoleum. In fact, I’m sure I can hear the dust thinking.
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