Actions

Work Header

The Teddy Bears’ Graveyard

Work Text:

Her name is Jessica Sorrow and she doesn't believe in you.

You should be frightened of that. She is. At least she is on those rare times when sanity breaks through and she remembers why she's clutching a patchy, one-eyed teddy bear to her shrunken chest. And remembers why she chose to forget it all at the beginning.

Her name is Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever and she walks through the Nightside as if it isn't there, striding down the dark streets, waiting for the clocks to chime four. They won't. They never have and they never will. Because in the Nightside it's always three o'clock in the morning. Three o'clock, when it's the dark before the dawn, the hour of the wolf, the time when all good people are asleep in their beds and the rest of us are staring into a dark room wondering where it all went so wrong. Three o'clock when that shadow outside your window just might be Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever here to unbelieve all your problems away. You'd go with them, but she doesn't care about that. She doesn't care about anything.

Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever doesn't feel and she doesn’t care. All she does is unbelieve and she does that with a will that could topple the Nightside if she wanted to make that happen. She doesn't, and we all hope she never will.

She wears leggings and a leather jacket. Bare feet, bare hands, bare chest. She has no hair and her eyes are urine-colored, the dark orange-yellow of sickness and oncoming death. But there's something inside those eyes, something big and powerful and terrifying. Something that is strong enough to carry the leather jacket that weighs down her scrawny shoulders and drags to her knees. Something strong enough to clutch that teddy bear in her tiny hand, digging her dirty, ragged fingernails into its fur.

Her teddy bear is nearly as frightening as she is. It's brown, or it's just filthy, and it has one button eye, the shine all worn off it, maybe because of what it saw. Because it was there when Jessica began to unbelieve. It was there Before. John Taylor Found it for her with his Private Eye. He found it in the teddy bears' graveyard and he brought it to Jessica Sorrow in the safest place he knew. But in the Nightside there is nowhere safe, and there's no safety to be had from Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever. But John Taylor did it anyway, because the Nightside needed him to. And because the Nightside paid.

John Taylor found that teddy bear but he knows as little about it as the rest of the Nightside. Only that it's the one thing that reminds Jessica Sorrow of the little spark of sanity she can touch if she wants to. It's the one thing that might save you if you come face to face with Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever. Julien Advent the Victorian Adventurer thinks that the teddy is more than just a toy, that it might be part of the humanity Jessica Sorrow left behind when she learned to unbelieve. The Collector would steal it in a second, hide it in a dusty box, in a dusty room, on a dusty world, if Jessica Sorrow wouldn't just unbelieve him before he could try. Razor Eddie, the Punk God of the Straight Razor, finds himself opening and closing his razor whenever he stares into the bear's missing eye.

Shotgun Suzie, aka "Oh, shit, it's her, run, oh, God, run, run!" doesn't talk about the teddy bear. But once, when Jessica Sorrow was as near to sanity as she gets, Suzie stretched out a finger and touched the teddy, a gentle stroke on the blotchy fur of its back. Jessica Sorrow stopped, swiveled, and fixed her yellow eyes on Suzie, who stood there and looked back. Jessica's hand spasmed once around the bear, she nodded, Suzie nodded back, and all of the Nightside took a collective breath as the moment of danger passed.

There's no map to the teddy bears' graveyard. Jessica Sorrow hasn't found it yet, but she's trying. And tonight she's trying in Strangefellows, the Nightside's worst bar, built over the resting place of an ancient evil, and the place where John Taylor is closing out his night with a drink.

"You found my bear," she said to him. "I told you that you shouldn't talk to me again but I'm talking to you instead. And I remember you." Jessica brandished that teddy bear at him. "I remember you."

John Taylor rose from his seat at the bar and wrapped his long, white coat around him. Behind him, Alex Morrissey began putting away the snacks and the better quality liquors, muttering about magic and how everything goes to shit in the Nightside. Jessica Sorrow glanced toward the bar and Alex shut up. He takes complaining to Olympic levels but he's nothing if not protective of his own life. The last thing he said before vanishing into the back room was, "You'll get a bill for this, Taylor."

"Hello, Jessica," John Taylor said carefully. "You're very... here today."

"I am," she agreed. "And I'm here for you."

There was a small sound as Shotgun Suzie readied her guns and a smaller one as Jessica Sorrow unbelieved them. "I'm sorry," she told Suzie. "I... I can't remember to not do that."

"That was very precise," John observed. For her part, Shotgun Suzie glared at the empty space that used to contain guns.

"I need your help," Jessica said. "I need you to find something for me."

"Do you know what it is?" A good question. The last time Jessica Sorrow had been looking for something, she'd unbelieved a good portion of the Nightside searching for it. Probably because she didn't know what it was, only that it was missing, lost in the dark corner underneath the Nightside, where all lost things go and where all squirmy things crawl.

Jessica Sorrow held her teddy bear in the air in front of her face, moving its arms and legs as if it were walking toward John Taylor. To his credit, he didn't flinch. "The teddy bear's graveyard," she said in a high voice from behind its head. "We're going to have a picnic."

He opened his Private Eye and took her there, John Taylor did, the two of them striding through space and time as if neither existed. And maybe when Jessica Sorrow stared upon them they didn't. The air cried when they passed by, the earth trembled, and even Shotgun Suzie shed a tear.

There were no gates at the graveyard. Nothing to fear in the dark of night because in that place it was day. Around eight o'clock, John Taylor thought. Morning. The sun sparkling upon the dewy grass, the sky glowing blue, bits of pollen floating through the air. Five hours different from the Nightside, but a world or a universe away.

Jessica Sorrow took a step over the threshold, then another, and another. She reached around her with one hand, guiding herself while she kept her eyes mostly closed. She knelt, that scarred teddy close to her chest, and ran her fingers through the grass. When she lifted her hand there was blood. "Oh," she said. "I understand."

She slowly walked through the graveyard, moving past swing sets with things tangled in their chains, and picnic baskets overflowing with ants and the smell of dead things. John Taylor stayed behind her, but carefully out of her view.

"Where did you find her?" she asked.

He pointed, away, to the corner of the yard, where there was a little house with a little door, and a little window, and little boards nailed over both. The house was bright yellow, the door and window frame white, and it moaned and screeched as if in pain. "It was there," he said. "In front."

Jessica Sorrow stared at that house. She stared and glared and as she did the sky roiled and the earth shook. The air around the house turned colors and became thick, the land heaved, but through it all the house stood. "I don't know why," she said, frowning. "I don't know why it was there. But there's as good a place as any."

She sat in front of the little door, her back to the little house, and motioned for John to join her. "Time for our picnic," she said. "A teddy bears' picnic." In the same way she had in Strangefellows she walked her teddy bear to the ground next to her and moved it into a sitting position. "Mustn't go too far," she whispered. "Mustn't wander off."

They sat there, Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever, John Taylor with his Private Eye, and the patchy, one-eyed bear, with the sun never rising, never falling, always eight o'clock in the morning when the children come out to play. And somehow, John Taylor slept.

He woke when Jessica Sorrow clapped her hands. "That was a nice picnic," she said. "We can go now." She didn't need his help to return to the Nightside--once you've been there you can always find your way back--but he walked with her anyway.

"It's dark," she said, when they reached the Nightside and entered Strangefellows.

"Always is," he responded, sparing a look for Shotgun Suzie still waiting for him at the bar.

Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever reached under her heavy leather jacket and pulled out a doll, all blonde curls and rosy lips. Its dress was pristine, white apron over palest pink, and its tiny, black shoes looked as if they'd never touched the ground. It lay on the bar, its blank smile shining up at them. "She came to our picnic," Jessica Sorrow said. "Now she's come home."

Shotgun Suzie made a noise, like something in pain, like something they'd heard at that house in the teddy bears' graveyard. She made a noise and touched the doll the way she'd once touched Jessica Sorrow's teddy bear. She made a noise and Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever was gone.