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The Aim of All Life is Death

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People or toys, particularly with autism, are not always well equipped to deal with feelings and the annoyances that cause them, so says your therapist. You surmise this to be correct. Emotions have been complicated and rough-shod to you for the most part, you with more understanding of the texture of numbers and the colours of sounds than anything else.
Yet even you can pin "not being able to shut your invader up as he talks to you and the wall and nobody" down as one of the worst of those in all the world. Not so much the pressure points in your head that result, but the fact that you can't fix them.

If it were anybody else, those prickles wouldn't be there. Being muted by circumstances makes others see you as a good listener, to their benefit and yours; in a way it's your job to carry their secrets. You can even cope with his discursions if they have an ultimate point to them. But for the love of the Elefäntle, it is ten minutes to bedtime, can't Sly give your ears a rest?
No he can't, and you know he can't. The snake sits on the foot of your bed, looking in interest at the décor (why even be so awestruck, your room and his are alike in every respect except that you happen to have a window, not exactly a fascinating deviance) and going down a list of topics as long as his intertangling body will allow. You're only listening with half of your mind; the other chunk is making muffling white noise to put him in the background while you get on with slotting your pillows into their proper place on the bed.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa"[I can't
aaaaaaaaasee anything outside
aaaaaaathe window,aaaaaaaaLilo, it's
aaaaaaaaaaaajust allaaaa*aaaablack, I can't
aaaaaaaaaaaaaevenaaaaaasee the rock moon
aaaaaaaaaaaaaout there, do you think that
aaaaaaaaaaaaa|aaaaait's just not on the side
aaaaaaaaaaaaa|aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaright yet or did someone
aaaaaaaaaaaa/a\aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathrow paint all over the
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawall? No that can't be, I'd
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabe able to reach it if they
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadid, whatever it is that's mean,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayou're supposed to be able to
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasee the moon from wherever and
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaif you can't see the moon then
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayou won't know when it is and
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawhenever the people are here
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaato wake you up on time or
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYou nod, for lack of any other response.aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaataking sleep from you.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYes, Sly, indeed, you imply.aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI don't like it when
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapeople take sleep from me,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabecause if I don't get enough
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasleep I feel all achy and
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatired and then the mice come
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaup to rub it up in, not rub it
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain rub it in, it'd be nice if
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathey rubbed it in once in a
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawhile like a massage. Massage,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamassage, massieren, focus. I can
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaado things if I focus enough on it.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaCan you say focus, Lilo, I think
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait'd be nice if you talked, then
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe grey snake bird won't get mad
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat you and you can go home.aaaaaaaaaaaaYes, Sly, indeed. You wish Dolly was here instead of him; she wouldn't badger you to
aaaaaaaaBut I suppose if you can'taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasay anything in return. But recently she hasn't been talking to anyone, so you have to
talk then you can't tell meaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadeal with what you've been given.
aaaaaaaato go away or I'm being
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannoying and in-constituent,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe snake tells me that
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasometimes, and if you can't
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatalk you won't tell secrets.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI have a secret Lilo can I
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatell you the secret? You
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawon't tell anybody even
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawhen you start
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatalking again?
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaOkay, I think
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI can trust.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI don't
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawanna
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadie,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaLilo.]"
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYes, Sly, indeed no wait what?

The half of you that is paying attention becomes all, tripping up on the sudden confession, the morbid change in topic. You take advantage of the rare pause in speech to turn yourself fully to him. He couldn't have said what you think he said, right?

"[Sometimes,]" Sly continues when he's sure you are indeed listening, "[the mice come up to me and tell me I'm gonna die from this and that, and that it's gonna be hurtful. That it gets very dark. But that's silly, isn't it? I'm supposed to be a cuddle toy. Cuddle toys don't die, do they?]"
His voice is on the same cadence, but the easiness of it has faded. You can almost feel the negative emotions seeping out of him, and the presence unsettles you. You indicate for him to go on if he wants, just the same.

"[If they do they shouldn't. I don't think I'd like to die. If it's true and it does get dark, I don't like the dark. I can't see things in the dark, and I can't see the moon or the sun or anything. And if no one comes to get me, and if no one -]" He circles his tail as he talks, caught on the thought. "[- if no one, they're too scared for it. No, not at all. That's bad.]"

He looks between the window and his spiralling tip, as if making a decision.
"[But we don't have a no one. I'm being silly, aren't I?]" he says at last, definitively, brighter. "[We don't die. Cuddle toys get better and lots of cuddles and they live forever and ever and ever. I think I believe that better. ...Well, goodnight, Lilo.]"

And in typical Sly fashion, he bounds off the bed and slithers away, leaving you to deal with the collateral damage of his sombre thoughts. Your sleep is fitful that night.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When one starts thinking about an ultimately confusing and painful topic, such as death, it plays on your mind all through the next couple of days. You surmise this to be correct, through experience. You've had it before, by trying to consider how precisely you came to be in this mental institution, and due to Sly's unusual depth the night before, you're getting it again.

Ironically, the party that started this off appears to be just fine today... in the loosest Sly-specific sense of the word. Today, he's attempting to climb the walls of the lounge for whatever reason, using his tail as a lasso, utterly unaware of the dangers. It's as if he's never brought it up at all.
If only you could forget like that. But alas, you can't. Your blocks feel heavy in your hands, as do your thoughts. Confrontation is inevitable.

You've never stared anything resembling death in the face yourself, obviously. But you know what it is through common sense and books. It's practically compulsory to learn about such things when your human starts taking History classes, tragic as they are, or when she loses her pet budgie to next door's cat and mourns quietly for three consecutive weeks. It's a mainstay throughout human (and bird, you suppose) life, or its capstone, rather.
But are toys just as vulnerable to it?

First, you decide, you need to figure out if they are alive, if you yourself are a living creature. You parse through the species you know, for the purposes of comparison.

aaaaaaaaHumans, like the therapists (so the T piece shall represent them),
aaaaaaaaare made of bone and flesh and blood. They have brains in their
aaaaaaaaheads, pinkish greyish lumps of matter that have gorgeous patterns
aaaaaaaaon the outside, contours left by trains of thought. They have lungs
aaaaaaaathat allow them to breathe; they have hearts that keep their system
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagoing; they have whatever part
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof the body that allows them
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaato feel things, deeply and
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapainfully. The heart can stop
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaworking and the lungs can get
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaruptured and the brain can shut
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadown. So - you knock the T down
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa- humans can die.

aaaaaaaaBudgies and birds in general, like Christel (so the C part shall
aaaaaaaarepresent her), are made, you presume, of the same substances,
aaaaaaaaplus feathers. You admit you've never studied in depth the
aaaaaaaabiophysiology of anything but humans;
aaaaaaaayou have never seen the need for it
aaaaaaaato come up until now. But birds make
aaaaaaaanoise, so they must breathe; they flap
aaaaaaaatheir wings and fly, so they must have
aaaaaaaaa heart; they have sense enough to eat, so they must think. And,
aaaaaaaaas aforementioned, all of these things can fail one in an instant,
aaaaaaaagiven the wrong jolt. So - you knock the C down - birds can die.

Dr Wood is passing by you in the middle of his rounds, so he's there to watch his mortal equivalent tumble. He stops in his tracks and stands them back up, makes a note in his book while shaking his head, and proceeds on his way, unaware of his inadvertent resurrecting abilities.

What of toys, then?

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaToy hippopotamuses, snakes, ravens and countless others (you
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayourself shall represent them) are made of what can charitably be called
aaaaaaaastuff and fluff.aaaaaaaaTheir outside is fabric, they're tied up byaaaaaaaaaaaaastitching,
aaaaaaaaand theyaaaaaaaaaaaare padded out with... cotton and polyester. The eyesaaaaaaaaathey use
aaaaaaaatoaaaaaaaaaaaaaasee are sometimes plastic, perhaps ping-pong balls, sometimesaaaaaaaaaaafelt.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThey don't haveaaaaaaaaamuch room insideaaaaaaaathem for lungs or
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahearts or nerves oraaaa*aaaaarteries or veinsaaaa*aaaaor anything. They do
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanot consume food. Theyaaaaaaaaaado not requireaaaaaaaaaawater. They do not have
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavoice boxes, you know that for sure. And yet they function. They talk. They move.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThey ____ have sufficient brain to get the problems that come with ____ it, if
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe / very \ existence of this place is anything to go by. They are / alive \. If you
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacan comprehend the world around you - in a manner the humans don't approve of,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaato be sure, but a damn sight better than a budgie - then you have to be alive.
aaaaaaaaaaaBut youaaaahave heard of humans dying. You have heard of a beloved pet flying
aaaaaaaathe coop.aaaaaaaThe subject of toys going the same way didn't even come up
aaaaauntil theaaaaaaaaaaaaaasnake breached it, and no one else here is even aware
aaof theiraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapotential doom, for better or for much worse.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaSo... you try to knock yourself down,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabut you don't push hard enough
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand you spring back up.

All that lives must eventually stop. To this axiom, are stuffed toys an anomaly... or a perfect fit?

You look at the toys around you while caught in this quandary. Sly has abandoned his herculean task of scaling the room and is looking in a cupboard for something to play with, you guess. But the door could close on him and it looks very sharp and he could get cut up or locked in there and he wouldn't be able to get out again and get crushed and
You turn away from that quickly, pushing all dangerous thoughts from your mind. Dolly's sitting by the door, red and yellow sock pulled up to her eyelids, still not talking to anyone. But someone could come in and squash her flat or she could be secretly choking on that thing or
You avert your eyes again, looking at something anything everything else. But with the track your mind is on, as long as the possibility of dying remains, each last thing becomes a potential threat, to their safety and yours.

But he could trip over in the box and hit his head and be put in a coma for days on end and
But he could get tangled up in the rope and choke to death why else would they have a no rope sign on the
But you could get muddled from thinking of all this and something could pop and you'd get an aneurysm then

You need to calm down! You grab your puzzle too sharp could stab you could get stuffing all over the and get out of that room, into an area far from the dangers and closer to daylight and relief.

The next five minutes are spent bringing your boil to a simmer with your back pressed against the wall and your hands stroking the blocks, rubbing them together, feeling their oaky surface, their glossy sheen, under your hands. It grounds you. It makes you feel better. Earthy, genuine, real. It won't go away. You won't go away.

Once it's all settled down, you look through the front door's glass windows. It's very bright out today, the sun streaming through, a tree bowing and swaying in the breeze. The sky is a vivid ideal blue, cotton puff clouds passing by here and there. A bird flies overhead; a falcon, you think, not hunting right now, but simply basking on a distant wind.
Life goes on out there.

You're feeling slightly better now - not much, but slightly - so you opt to head back inside and try to put the whole mental torrent from your mind. Having this dogging your every movement can't be good for the well-being.
You turn away from the world to the place from which you escaped, but before you can take a step, your eyes flit inexplicably to the info-board to the right. Two pieces of paper are pinned up there in the cork, but that's not what stops you.

There's an etching in the board, surprisingly large. A minimalist drawing of a toy, in your design, hanging from the gallows.

You stare at it for an eon.

"[Lilo?]" A voice cuts in. It's Dr Wood. "[Please come with us. Dr Spieler wishes to see you. Now.]"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Workers with those of potentially unstable minds have a habit of assuming the worst. You surmise this to be correct, judging by the speed with which the cold-handed nurse escorts you to the therapist. She is perched on her chair in concern, watching you sort and unsort your thoughts on the bed.
The image of your execution is burned into your eyes. It smokes up your vision, like the green bits you get when you stare at a glowing lightbulb for too long. You don't even have your comfort item with you to redirect your focus; there was no time to pick the puzzle up before you were swept away.
You are lost for lack of words.

"[Are you feeling all right, Lilo?]"
She looks at you, you glance away. Your hands try to squeeze the blocks that aren't with you, but of course there is nothing.
"[Dr Wood's told me that you've been acting... troubled today. Sad about something. Do you feel sad?]" she asks, her voice tinged with worry.

Scared is much closer to the mark for you. With the threat of death still very present throughout this building, only pushed back by the open sky, who wouldn't be? But of course you can't make it any clearer than you already might be.
This - the rebounding fear of, at some point in the future, simply being gone - is one feeling you're definitely not prepared to deal with, mostly because you can't slot it into place as you would other things if you could. It's fright, you know that, but is it rational? Possible? And what percentage of it is other emotions, like anxiety or contemplation? This is why you prefer to leave that particular categorization task to the experts.
Now, if only you'd left death itself to them too. Then it wouldn't feel like there was a baby hedgehog in your head.

One of these professionals, Spieler, has picked up on this. "[Oh dear, I take it you are sad. Do you want to tal--... is there any way you can show me what's bothering you?]" she backtracks.
Unless she can bring Sly in here too and get him to voice something he might have long forgotten by now, no you can't. You're surprised she can't see the cause plain on your face, though, given the way the outline of your dead form lingers, eyes still open and looking right at...

Mercifully, the raven, passing by the doorway again, comes to your rescue. "[Not cooperating, I suppose?]"
"[No, Doctor, it's not that. I think he does want to tell me something, but...]" She makes a quiet orange sound with her mouth, shapeless.
"[If it helps, he was staring at something on the wall when I came for him. Perhaps you could get him to paint it for you. It might be an indicator to his state of mind.]"

She seizes the lifeline thrown to the two of you, passing you a canvas and various painting utensils. You hold the wooden brush in your hand, rolling it between. You haven't done any proper artwork since your human accidentally spilled dye on you in the first year of Gymnasium.
Lifeline. Dye. Even language revolves around what haunts you now. Your nerves steel. You have to get this all out of your system.
You move the canvas up to your eye level. You attempt, not at all with difficulty, to picture every detail.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAnd
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa*aaayou
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa*aaaaaaatry
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiaaa*aaaiaaaaaaato
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaala*ala*ala*alaaaaaaa(aaarecre
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaDaoaaaaaoaDaaaaaaadaaaaaaate
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaEaaaaaaaaaaaEaaaaaaaoaaaaathe
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAaaaaaaaaaaaaaAaaaaaaaanaaaimage
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaDaaa*aaaaaaa*aaaDaaaaaaaa'tayou
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaEaaaaaaaaaaaaaEaaaaaaaaaaa)saw
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAaaaaaaaaaaaAaaaaaaaaaaaaato
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaDaaaaaaaaDaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaEADEADEAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabest
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHaaaaaaaaaaaaaHaaaaaaaaaaaaof
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanaUaaaaaaaaaaaaaUanaaaaaaaaaayour
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoaaRaaaaaaaaaaaaaRaaoaaaaaaaaashaky
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaTHURTHURTHURTaaaaaaaaaaaalost
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanaaaaaaaaanaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoaaaaaaaaaoaaaaaaaaaaaagaaab
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiaaaaaaai
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaataaaaaaaaaaal
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaai
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

She looks over the picture after you've finished with it and slid it over to her. It doesn't take very long at all; it's crude, but serviceable.
"[Oh, Lilo...]" she says at last. "[Is this what you're sad about?]"
You nod, then again once she's actually looking at you. Yes, Spieler, indeed.
"[Are you scared that you're going to...?]"
Yes.

She slides the still-wet canvas onto another chair to dry, takes the paint and brush away, and sits back in thought. She goes as mute as you have always been. You once again wish you had your puzzle in your hands; you can only be secure with it, just as it can only be safe with you.

You're just beginning to wonder who even made the original etching in the first place when Spieler speaks up, her voice surprisingly light. "[Lilo, can I tell you what I think about this?]"
You wait for her to go on, needing an answer to all of the questions looping around.

"[I don't think cuddly toys can die. I think it's impossible.]"

Part of you had a feeling she would say that; the other part protests in your head, even now, that this doesn't make sense. Why would that picture exist if toys can't die? You push both segments down, waiting to hear her out.

"[Well, you see... things die because the bits that keep them alive stop working. People die when their heart can't beat, for example, or when they get really badly hurt in the head,]" says Spieler, carefully. "[That's what keeps them alive. It's the same with other things, like animals.]"
And stuffed animals like Sly. That's so far consistent with all the revelations you've carried with you.

aaaaaaaaaa"[But toys - like you, andaaaaaaalike everyone in here -
aaaaaaaathey don't have hearts. I meanaaathey do, but in a different...
aaaaDr Kindermann once told me that there's a fabric heart inside every toy,
aaaainside the stuffing.]" She comes over to you and taps you twice in the
aaaamiddle of your chest; you shrink back from the touch. "[And that when
aaaaaasomeone puts enough love into that heart, a kid's love for their
aaaaaaaabest friend, the toy becomes alive. And it, he she whatever
aaaaaaaaaait is, stays alive as long as the people who talk to it
aaaaaaaaaaaaand play with it and all of that believe that it's
aaaaaaaaaaaaaastill alive. That's what he told me before he
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawent away on that business trip, and I
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaastill believe it. That's how toys
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacan be so strong and survive
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathings that should hurt
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathem badly. It's
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabecause we
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabelieve
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathey
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacan.

...Sorry,]" she interrupts her speech, "[I'm getting all sentimental. But you see my point, right, Lilo?]"

You almost do. Not quite. But enough to agree softly to it.
There's only one thing that doesn't settle with you. If the will of humanity keeps toys alive... does that completely prevent them from dying? From being lynched like pigs? From doors slamming and sharp objects?

She seems to sense your concern, putting a enveloping hand on your shoulder. "[You're not really convinced, are you?]"
No.
"[It's okay. Thinking about mortality is tough enough for humans as it is, so I get why you wouldn't be. I just want to say one more thing. Something someone very precious to me -]" her voice splinters - "[told me a long time ago.

"[Even if you do stop living, you only really die when everyone forgets about you. And. And I don't think anybody could forget you guys, not even Kindermann. It's our job to remember you and make you better. So you're safe.]"

She smiles at you, and despite the ever looming past hour, you find yourself smiling back, one that continues all through the rest of the day.

No one is dead.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Life has a habit of taking the things you thought for sure were going to occur and exchanging them for the things you never expected. You don't surmise this to be correct. But you will. Oh, you will.

Not yet, though. Now, you wake up with the fear almost entirely gone, after the best dream you've had for some time, one where Sly snatches you from the giant falling T piece (T for therapists and the corpse thereof) and carries you through space to a small fabric heart, pulsing rich red with a memory's voice. A pinpoint crops up in your head every so often, every time you notice something that could be dangerous, but the mental institution is a protective place to be, you know that, and it fades into nothing.
Sly doesn't bring up the subject again either, even next time he heads into your bedroom to blurt a one-sided conversation at you. The only time he comes close is to thank you out of the blue for something, he doesn't specify what.

Time goes by in a day and a week. The others make progress around you, from Kroko getting properly out of the box at last to Sly discovering the 'virtue' of tying himself into ribbons and knots. The memory of your introspection stays with you, but you're certain as anything by the end of it that everyone else has forgotten all about the silly incident.

Today is another bright and sunny day, you can tell by the sunlight spilling out of the reception area into the room you are in. It leaves speckled patterns on the floor for no one to touch but the multicoloured reptile, leaping and swirling between the rays and dots seeping through his skin.
At twelve thirty in the afternoon, he manages to entangle himself so much while doing this that, in his words, "[my tail's gone all sleepy]". And quite pale, too, but you think nothing of it when you first see it. Not even the nurse can break him free while on the scene, so she and Wood take him into the therapy room for some more 'intensive care'.

He still hasn't come back out an hour later. It's about that time that you start hearing terrible noises, ones no one in here has heard before.
Loud thrums from the therapy room. Something that could be a voice or two. A sound, shrill pink, that you can't determine at all.
And then, all at once, a crackling that ruptures your eardrums. The lights above you dim, then flux, then spring back to life, and the first hum reigns.

The effect is instant. Dolly stiffens in her place, on edge. The other two retreat into their shell and box respectively. You pull your blocks closer to yourself, thinking all the while: what's going on?
The bulbs and sound short rise short settle a second time, then a third. After that, everything stops all together for the longest four seconds you've ever sat through. Then indistinct whispers, cries, hybrids thereof.

Something's gone wrong. It has to have done. Your natural instinct is to put your head against the door to hear what's happening. The sheep was pretty close to the room already, so her own ear is first up against the crack on one edge; you, puzzle naturally in hand, run to eavesdrop at the other.

"[...won't help matters!]" is the first hushed tone you hear. A dark voice, Wood's. Strained.
"[But it has to, it can't be, this can't be happening! He can't be--]"
"[I don't want to believe it either, but the evidence is right there. Sly is--]"
"[No he's not, Wood, if I can just give him some more CPR--]"
"[Well, you can't. It's too late.]"
"[It's not true, it's supposed to be impossible! God, I told Lilo-]" you listen all the closer at the sound of your name - "[all that stuff about the heart Kindermann said, he can't be, he can't be wrong on this, Sly can't be...]"
"[See, if you'd just listened to me instead of losing your head, we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?]" goes the accusatory tone.
"[I didn't think it'd lead to - it shouldn't have - no, Sly, Sly, come back, stop kidding us around please...]"
"[This really isn't helping, Spieler!]"

"[Wood, there's no need to yell at her.]" This new voice, it's the nurse, isn't it? It sounds so flat.
"[Why shouldn't I, because of her a toy is lyi--]"
"[I know you're both upset right now. This has never happened before, not in all the time I've...]"
"[And if I have it my way it won't happen again.]"
"[But staying here isn't going to bring him back. We have the other four patients to think about. Are we going to tell them about this? Can we?]"

Bring him back... Whatever's in your hand tumbles to the floor, followed by the pit of your stomach.

Even Wood, in there, is momentarily at a loss for words. "[I. Yes, I do see your point. ...I suppose we'll have to...]"
"[No, we can't, I told Lilo about the-]"
"[They're going to need to know eventually. Nadel's right. We should put their needs first. And then I need to figure out what to do with you. After all this--]"
"[Don't start that again, please.]"
"[Sorry. I'm just as... this is new for all of us. I don't know how to handle it any more than either of you do.]"
"[Wood, I'm sorry, Lilo, Sly, I'm so sorry...]"
"[...Okay. Wood, you go first. You look calmest.]"
"[Calm. Right.]"

You and Dolly back away from the door, you fiercely trying to delay the inevitable. Your insides haven't stopped falling, and you're starting to see stars dance around you, making the shape of the hippo in a noose you never wanted to see again.
The door swings ajar, and Wood comes through, slower than usual, followed by the therapist. Her skin is flushed, and there are tears welling up behind her glasses.
"[Can I have everyone's attention please?]" the raven starts up. "[We have something we think you need to know.]"

The emerging hidden toys turn expectantly to Wood, then to Dolly. But even today she hasn't been saying a word, so it is left to Kroko to inquire. "[Um, where's Sly? Is everything okay?]"

"[That is. That's what we need to talk about.]"
"[Yeah. Guys, Sly isn't... he's...]" Spieler gulps, everyone stares, you're hearing a pumping sound in your head, the sharpness and brightness of it. "[You're not going to be able to see Sly anymore.]"
"[What? Why not?!]"
"[Well, there, there was a problem, and we tried to fix it, and - and he - Sly - he...]" She can't go on, Wood has to finish for her.

"[Sly is - dead.]"

That is the last thing you hear before everything turns black.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYou wake up after
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabeing unconscious for two
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahours, and stay in your bedroom
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafter that. You aren't told off for this.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYou sit on the bed, lie down on it, and feel
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasick and horrified and numb all at once. A swirl of
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaconflicting emotions.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaEven when you have to go into the patient lounge,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasame as everybody else has to, for the 'funeral sort
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof', your feet won't take the right steps. It doesn't
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafeel right being in here, knowing Sly won't come out
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathat door again. You want this to be a dream. A trick.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHe has to still be alive. He has to.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaBut he isn't.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaCandles are lit everywhere, the electricity is off.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe staff reassure you and the others that the snake's
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadeath is equally upsetting to everyone, and that if
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathey need to talk about it tomorrow or whenever, they
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare free to do so. They all remember Sly, and highlight
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahis good bits, and admit that he wasn't so annoying
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaonce you get down to it.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaWood explains, in as simple words as he can, that Sly
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadied because he couldn't breathe. He got tangled up
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatoo tight, and his head became 'sleepy', and then it
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaajust happened.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe worst thing about all this, it occurs to you
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabriefly later on, when everyone's back in bed and the
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaroom that was Sly's is shut forever, is a selfish
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathing, but one that is nonetheless true.

 

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe one thing that you surmised to be correct, deeply
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadesired to be correct - that toys can't die -
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand therefore, that you can't die, that you are safe -

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaais wrong.