“Have you seen her? Tell me, have you seen her?”
She struggled with the urge to throttle the stuffed rabbit dancing in front of her. It wouldn’t do any good. Eviscerating him might be enough to stop the Chi-Lites rendition, but her sword was made of molded plastic and worthless for such activities. Instead she grabbed the bunny by the ears and lifted him from the floor. “I hate singing.”
The rabbit squeaked and stared at her with guileless googly eyes.
“I’m tired. I’m cranky. And I’m a hare’s breadth away from plucking your whiskers out one by one.”
Despite his precarious situation, the rabbit snorted a chuckle at her inadvertent pun.
She scowled and placed the tip of her plastic sword against what would have been his windpipe had he possessed lungs. “Now have you seen the Persian Princess or not?”
The rabbit in her hand wriggled, causing the black circles of his eyes to agitate in their tiny plastic containers. “Who’s asking?”
“Thora the Viking, fool!” She gave him another shake and held him out arm’s length to afford him a better view of her statuesque form. She wore brown boots, black leggings and a rich tunic of bold red. A yellow clasp fastened a thick fur-lined, hooded cloak at her throat. Her golden hair was plaited to perfection and flowed down her back. She’d seen herself in the mirror after Jessica had finished fiddling with it three days ago. The new hairstyle made a much better statement than the braided pigtails and that ridiculous helmet with the horns projecting from its sides. She was privately glad the helmet had gone missing months ago.
The rabbit seemed unimpressed with her introduction.
Grimacing, Thora brought him close and sneered into his face. “Answer my question before I spread your stuffing all over Toy Box!”
“All right! All right!” The rabbit held up his paws in concession and burst into song. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.” He gave her the distinct impression of a blink though he had no eyelids. “Put me down, please.”
Disgruntled and dubious, Thora set him down and released his ears. “Start talking.”
“My, not much in the patience department, are you?” Rather than hop to, so to speak, he paused to straighten and groom his ears before he answered. “Well, Sister Golden Hair, surprise! I haven’t seen her in days.”
“You know, that’s annoying.”
The rabbit cocked a dapper ear. “Eh?”
“Breaking out into song in the middle of a conversation.” Thora sheathed her sword at her hip. “I said I don’t like singing.”
He shrugged as he nonchalantly stepped backward and out of reach. “That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it.”
Thora tugged the sword a quarter inch out of its sheath and loomed over him.
“Sorry! Sorry.” The rabbit cringed. “I can’t help it. I’m Radio Rabbit. You know!” He rapped his paws on something hard in his middle. “Battery operated. All the local stations. Volume and tuning are back here.” He turned and revealed controls embedded in his back.
Thora stared, nonplussed. “Huh.” She shoved the sword back into place.
Rabbit nodded agreement. “The tears of a clown when no one’s around. Just be glad Jessica doesn’t listen to death metal.”
Thora didn’t know what death metal was but took his words under advisement. “Look, I’ve been searching for three days now. I know the Persian Princess is here; I saw Jessica put her in Toy Box with the rest of us. Someone has to have seen the her since then. I have to find her!”
“I’m on your side.” Rabbit hopped over to a Lincoln Log and sat down. He patted the space beside him. “When times get rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.”
“What does that even mean?” Thora stomped over and sat beside him.
Rabbit wiggled his nose in thought. “I’m not sure. But it sounded good, didn’t it?”
Truth be told it had, but Thora felt too grumpy to display congeniality.
“So! You’ve been searching three days, huh?” Rabbit rolled his googly eyes. They audibly rattled. “How come? What’s so important that you find her?”
For once Thora thanked Odin that she was made of plastic. The heated flush she felt inside never revealed itself upon her creamy plastic skin. “That’s none of your business, mister.”
“I’ve been takin’ care of business—it’s all mine—takin’ care of business and workin’ overtime.”
Thora ignored Rabbit’s slight flinch away from her. Threats didn’t seem to be productive against him. She searched for some other way to elicit the information she needed. By now she’d normally have pushed on, but the Oracle had told her to follow the white rabbit. Radio Rabbit was white. Well, actually his fur was sort of gray from dust and age but it had been white once upon a time. And he’d been the only rabbit Thora had yet found in her search.
Maybe honesty was a better policy here. Deciding to switch tactics, she slumped. “She’s the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Rabbit’s ears twitched. “Now you’re quoting song lyrics.” He waved a paw at Thora’s sharp glare. “Never mind.”
“Jessica got a Barbie Doll & Hair Accessories play set for her birthday. She had all of us out to play. That was the first time I’d ever seen the Persian Princess.” Thora paused as she recollected that magical moment when their eyes had met across the desk that Jessica had set up as a beauty salon. The princess had given Thora a coy smile while Jessica added purple and pink extensions to her glossy black hair. Thora’s view had been dazzled by the golden necklaces and the purple satin of the princess’s dress.
“Oh what a night. You know, I didn’t even know her name but I was never gonna be the same,” Rabbit interjected.
Thora nodded. “Exactly! Jessica’s mom insisted she put everything away before she went down to dinner, and here I am.” Her frustration returned and she fumed. “I’ve been searching ever since.”
Rabbit preened his whiskers. “What makes you think I know where she is?”
She figured that his facial hygiene was an act. It hadn’t made a difference to the rest of his dingy fur. “Oracle Gabby on the Fisher Price Smart Phone told me.”
“Well, ring my bell.” Rabbit laughed aloud. “Gabby’s once, twice, three times a lady. I haven’t heard her sexy voice in awhile.”
Thora raised a painted eyebrow. The one true constant of Toy Box was that it was in a total state of flux. When Jessica lifted the lid and rooted among her toys, everything in Toy Box shifted. As Jessica became older, the disruptive chaos had minimized but there were still friends who hadn’t seen one another in months. Somehow the thought of Rabbit Radio and the Oracle being an item seemed vaguely indecent. “If you tell me what I know, I’ll tell you where Gabby is.”
“Really?” Rabbit scrutinized her expression. Then he looked away. “Go away, little girl. I’m not supposed to be alone with you.” He clapped a paw over his mouth, eyes rattling with the force of it.
“You do know where the princess is!” Thora leapt to her feet, her hand on the hilt of her sword. “Tell me! Tell me now! Where is she?”
“What have you done for me lately?” Rabbit asked. He frowned in thought. “Whoa. Must have jostled my tuner somehow. That wasn’t a seventies tune.”
Thora growled. “I’ve left you in one piece. Speak up before I change my mind.”
“Point in your favor, but I can’t go for that. No can do.” Rabbit inched away as Thora advanced on him. “If you’re that adamant about finding her, you need to travel to the other side of Toy Box. It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight.”
“What? A quest?” Thora halted. “Quests aren’t real.”
Rabbit pursed his furry lips. “Duh. We’re toys of plastic and fake fur. What difference does reality make?”
Put that way she had to agree with him. She looked into the distant darkness. “I haven’t been over there in years. Is that where the princess went?”
“You’re every move you make, so the story goes, owner of a lonely heart.”
Even though she didn’t like Rabbit’s singing, that lyric seemed to have been written just for her. “Is that it then? Just cross Toy Box and I’ll find her?”
“That’s it. A love like yours is rare—it must have been sent from up above—and I know you’ll stay this way for always. The Persian Princess is holding court at the Great Adventures base in the southwest corner.”
Rare excitement flowed through Thora, something she hadn’t felt since she’d shared a glance with the Persian Princess on the desk. She smiled for the first time in days. “Thank you!” The idea of taking on a quest seemed ludicrous, but if that’s what it took to meet the princess so be it.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Rabbit gave a little hop. “The road is long, and you know that every rose has its thorn.”
“She drives me crazy, and I can’t help myself.”
Rabbit snickered. “There you go quoting lyrics again. Keep that up and I’ll be out of business.”
Thora growled again. She pointed back the way she came. “Gabby’s back there, about a day’s travel. She’s hanging around with the Army soldiers and the John Deere tractor.”
“Oooo…Gabby always liked walking on the wild side.”
Two days of hard travel passed slowly. Thora had struggled through the Broken Slinky Forest, her determination severely challenged by the sharp points and edges that gouged her smooth plastic skin. When she continued onward, she left shavings of plastic behind as testament to her survival. It was fortunate that she hadn’t lost a limb to the tangled metal. That was the ultimate sacrifice to a prefabricated being like herself. Toy Box was littered with the missing limbs of dozens of formerly popular toys.
Thora had stumbled across and taken her ease at a Lego Minifigure village a day’s travel back. For some reason the little people there had built a shrine to Batman, complete with the Wayne Manor and the Batmobile. The famous minifigure himself hadn’t visited his home in months. Personally Thora thought him an ungrateful bastard. Had a toy village decided she was to be honored in such a way, she’d have shown some appreciation. She’d heard rumor that Batman had been seen drinking tea with the Mad Hatter sometime last March, sobbing into his cups about his dead parents. What a whiner and a disgrace.
She was wise enough to not reveal that opinion to her hosts.
The Lid had been opened twice since she’d begun her quest, the illumination from the ceiling light washing all with its golden brightness. There’d been voices too—Jessica and another child conversed as they swept through Toy Box, devastation left in the wake of their grasping hands. The areas where Thora had been remained undisturbed. She prayed that the Persian Princess had been left alone as well, that she yet remained at the Great Adventures base in the southwest corner, her beauty ruling over all and her supplicants kneeling at her feet.
Thora picked her way through a Pre-School Necropolis. The ground was littered with bright colored plastic shapes, abandoned jigsaw puzzle pieces the size of her sword and wooden blocks. Each had evidence of being gnawed on by wild animals or toddlers. Some even still had the strength to whimper when she placed her feet wrong. And then she saw it.
In the distance rose the gray faux-stone wall of the Great Adventures base. Thora picked up her step, mindful to not trip or cause undue pain to the victims of childish hubris. The end of her quest was in sight. She was almost there!
“Halt! Who goes there?” A fat egg-shaped being rolled haphazardly out from behind a plastic fence and blocked her path. He gently swayed back and forth as Thora stared at him. “What’s the password?”
Thora studied the interloper. His clothing—if you could call it that—was in shades of blue and painted onto his body. He had a permanent smile, happy brown eyes and freckles on his cheeks. There was also a yellow badge painted onto his chest. “Are you a police officer?”
His wobble had slowed but now sped up. Thora wasn’t sure but it looked like he’d attempted to stick out his chest, and his entire body had moved with the effort. “Yes, I am! I’m also Captain of the Guard. What’s the password?”
“I don’t know. I’m a visitor from the far side of Toy Box.” Thora stood tall, turned slightly to show off her heroic profile. “I am Thora the Viking and I’m on a quest to find the Persian Princess.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatevs. What’s the password?”
Thora slumped and glared at the egg-cop. “I said I’m from the other side of Toy Box. How would I know the password?”
The egg-cop wobbled with stern decisiveness. “Then you shall not pass!”
Why did that phrase sound familiar? “Have you been talking to the Gandalf action figure?”
Startled, the egg-cop shivered. “What? No, of course not! I don’t know what you mean!” He produced a sword proportionate to his size and brandished it at her. “If you cannot give me the password, you must leave. Back the way you came, wench!”
Thora hadn’t traveled all this way to be turned back by a round pipsqueak with a straight pin. “Like it or not, I’m going to go forward. Get out of my way.” She marched forward.
The egg-cop waddled into her path, the top of his painted hat barely reaching past her knees, and stabbed her in the foot with his tiny sword.
“Ow!” Thora hopped back and looked at the pinhole in the top of her foot. She’d obtained any number of scars through her travels, but those were her favorite boots. “All right. Now I’m mad.” She pulled her sword, the long plastic weapon almost as long as the egg-cop was tall, and attacked.
The fight was a vicious one. Her opponent knew how to dance about, his ovoid body rocking from side to side as he avoided her blade. She was forced to keep her feet out of range of his weapon. As with every hand-to-hand fight, exhaustion took its toll. Several minutes later both of them panted and heaved as they circled about one another, the egg-cop swaying drunkenly. His attacks had become erratic as the battle waged on. He looked more like an orchestra conductor spinning on a top as he swung his sword about.
Thora had landed far more strikes than he and had done more damage to his shell-like exterior. But every time she knocked him down, he rolled back up. “Stay down, dammit! Yield!”
His response was a helpless wail. “I can’t! Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!”
His words gave Thora pause. She stepped back out of the fray. “I could do this all day. Can you?”
The egg-cop’s eyes rolled around to gauge his injuries, his exterior no longer smooth. Dents and even a gouge marred his streamlined form. He was scarred for life. His cheerful painted smile looked the worse for wear. “No. I cannot. You have bested me, fair maiden.”
Well, that was better than “wench.” Thora relaxed and sheathed her sword as the egg-cop did the same. “You fought gallantly.”
“Thank you.” He swayed about as if to determine his range of movement. “But I’ll be honest, I’m a cop, not a sword fighter.” He tossed the short sword aside.
“Then why were you armed with that?”
“The squirt gun in the armory is too big for any of us to handle.”
“Huh.” Thora doubted that a squirt gun could have stopped her in any case. She didn’t have a power pack or electronic parts. Feeling magnanimous, she gave the egg-cop a bow, secretly happy she was articulated at the waist and could do so. She couldn’t imagine living life as a Weeble. “You were a formidable opponent, sir. I shall regale the Persian Princess’s court with the tales of our epic battle.”
“Really?” His painted smile seemed more sincere. “Thanks!” He wobbled aside.
Thora saluted him and strode past, her eyes locked onto the faux stone of the plastic Great Adventures base in the distance.
The base looked like a castle with three turrets on a mound of green plastic. The drawbridge door was bright red and in the raised position. Above the door was a large cannon, armed with a ping pong ball and manned by two pirates. Thora supposed the ambiance would have been more threatening if she wasn’t a 1:9 scale action figure. As it was, she was twice the height of the pirates on the parapet and could probably reach their position with a small jump.
“Yaarrr! Who goes there?” one called out with authority. He had an ugly scar painted across his left cheek.
His companion wore a red bandana on his head. Bandana nudged Scar. “It’s ‘Halt,’ ye git. Stick to the script or the Cap’n will keelhaul us.”
The scar on the first pirate’s face twisted as he scowled. “Halt! Who be ye?”
“Halt, who goes there, ye bilge rat!” Bandana slapped Scar on the back of the head.
Scar turned to his mate and punched him in the nose. “I ain’t a knight and I’ll talk like I want!”
Before the fight could devolve into a brawl, Thora said, “I’ve traveled far across Toy Box, sent by the Oracle and guided by Radio Rabbit. I’ve come to see the Persian Princess. Open the drawbridge.”
The two pirates glared down at her. “What’s the password, hen?”
This again? Thora growled to herself. She should have forced the egg-cop to tell her what the password was. It was too late now. “Obviously I gave it to the Weeble who let me through.”
Bandana leaned over the battlement, face scrunched as he looked past Thora. “Where is the landlubber then? Has he abandoned his post?”
Scar used a hook to shade his eyes as he did the same. “Blimey! I don’t see ‘im. Did you blow the man down?”
“What?” It took Thora a moment to understand his slang. “No! No, I didn’t! He’s a Weeble! He can’t be blown down.”
Scar scratched at his scar with the hook, leaving Thora no doubt as to how he’d received the initial injury. “Hen’s got a point.”
“Look, do you think I could have gotten to your very gates without a password? Let me in!”
“Think we should?” Scar asked Bandana.
Bandana shook his head. “Cap’n said only let those through what had passwords.”
Scar shrugged. “You heard the man, hen. What’s the password?”
Thora huffed. “You’re not going to let me in?”
“Can’t do it. Against orders and all that.” Bandana patted the cannon. “Give the word, pet, or move along. Don’t make me use force.”
She crossed her arms over her ample chest. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Scar and Bandana traded perplexed looks. Neither seemed eager to use the cannon, yet their orders left them no other choice. “You sure, hen?” Scar peered at her. “We’ve seen this weapon blast holes in fences and knock folks down.”
“Not Weebles though,” Bandana interjected.
“Not Weebles,” Scar agreed. “We don’t want t’ hurt you.”
Thora menacingly drew her sword. “Open the door, or I’ll come up there and open it myself.”
Bandana’s ugly face twisted into an expression of offense. “Fine then, hen. Your funeral.” He pushed a reluctant Scar away, lifted both both fists above his head and slammed them down on a large button.
The ping pong ball belched from the cannon with a loud pop!
Thora had barely enough time to brace herself before the projectile hit her, full force. Had she been the size of the pirates or had her feet attached to a narrow base she would have been in serious danger. Instead, she braced for the impact, thrusting her chest forward to take the brunt of force. Her chest stung and her balance teetered before she regained her footing. The ping pong ball bounced away.
She pointed the end of her sword and the surprised pirates. “My turn.”
Scar and Bandana howled in fear as they crossed the parapet. Both of them dropped from sight as Thora approached, but their voices could be heard inside the Adventure Base.
“Call the Cap’n! We’re being attacked!”
By this time Thora had reached the front wall. She sheathed her sword and hopped up to grab the edge of the parapet. As she began to pull herself up, the plastic stone walls began to shake and shiver. The rumbling scrape of plastic filled her ears. Uncertain what was happening, she dropped to the ground and stepped back, mouth open in awe.
The entire castle trembled, and the front wall seemed to approach her. Thora moved farther away as she stared. The entire front wall pushed forward and to one side, as if there the Adventure Base was seated on a giant swivel. Dust from years of Toy Box neglect rose up to obscure her vision.
As the noise faded, Thora waved her hand in front of her face to dispel the cloud. Through the haze she saw another action figure, 1:9 scale just like herself, emerge from the base. Her vision cleared and she saw strange purple clothing and brown leather armor with golden highlights. The warrior’s head was swathed in purple cloth, his face obscured by a veil and his skull protected by a golden helmet. In one hand he held a wicked curved sword.
“Who dares disturb the Persian Princess?”
Thora had spent days on her quest, suffered through heartache, seventies music samples and the dangerous edges of the Broken Slinky Forest. She’d battled Weeble cops and pirates with cannons. She’d be damned if she’d turn back now in the face of a true opponent, one who at least matched her for size if not skill.
She proudly stepped forward. “I do. I, Thora the Viking, have come to see the Persian Princess.”
The warrior settled his gauntleted hands on his rolled linen belt. “Why?”
“I saw her across the desk on Jessica’s Birthday. I’ve come to witness her smile, to look into her eyes and adore her. I come from the east and have searched Toy Box high and low. I was told by Radio Rabbit that she was here.”
“And what makes you think you’re worthy enough to be in her presence?”
Thora turned at her articulated waist to give him her best profile. “Because I am Thora the Viking!”
Movement behind the warrior drew her gaze for a brief moment. From this side Thora saw there were two levels of rooms on one side. Scar and Bandana cowered in the far corner of the Adventure Base, each fighting to hide behind the other. The castle was fully open to her view and she saw no one but this warrior and his craven companions.
The warrior drew his sword. “Leave this place, never to return.”
Rather than be intimidated, Thora responded in kind. “Where is she?” She pointed her blade at the castle interior. “Where have you taken her?”
“It is none of your affair. The Rabbit was wrong. The Persian Princess was never here.”
Thora’s eyes narrowed. Something about his voice was odd, but she couldn’t place it. “You’re lying! When I’m finished with you, you’ll tell me where she is, you nithling!” Without ado she charged her opponent.
The warrior was swift as he dodged. Her sword missed him by millimeters, and he spun on one foot, sweeping his blade upward at her head like a scythe through tall grass. Thora jumped backward, the speed of his attack a surprise. For all that the armor and the veil blocked his vision, he seemed much more formidable than she’d initially thought.
But Thora was determined. This warrior had absconded with the Persian Princess, and Thora had come to save the day. She would beat her enemy into the ground, discover where he’d imprisoned the woman Thora loved and then give him the option of an honorable death.
She sprang forward with a thrust. Though the warrior attempted to knock her blade aside with his own, she hit her target. The point of her sword dug into his chest, the force of the blow pushing him back.
Not to be outdone, he rallied, spinning about to deliver a powerhouse high kick. She winced away and raised her forearm to take the brunt of the force. Had he connected with the side of her head, she might have found herself relegated to the Pre-School Necropolis. Instead she was able to roll with the kick, and her forearm remained attached to her body.
“Is that the best you can do?” Thora performed her own version of his spinning attack, right arm outstretched as she turned. He leaned back, but the tip of her sword caught in his veil, pulling it and his helmet from his head. Scar and Bandana gasped from their haven as the golden helmet, purple veil attached, sailed aside.
Victorious, Thora held her sword to the warrior’s recently revealed delicate throat.
Tender brown eyes regarded her from an oval face. Long lengths of glossy black hair hung down the warrior’s back, striking against the pink and purple hair extensions Jessica had applied several days ago.
The smile drained from Thora’s face as she stared at the Persian Princess. “You!”
The Princess smiled, arching one elegant eyebrow. “Me.” Her voice was warm, her accent exotic. She slowly pushed Thora’s sword aside with her own.
“I had to know if you were worthy.” The Princess batted her eyes. “Are you?”
Thora dropped to her knees, once again pleased she was an articulated figure. She held her sword out to the Princess.
The Princess accepted her gift and helped her to her feet. She returned Thora’s sword. “Keep it and use it to defend me.”
With a lump in her throat, Thora nodded. “I will.”
“Oh! This calls for a song!” Radio Rabbit hopped out from behind the Adventure Base.
The emotional moment dashed, Thora gaped at him. “How did you get here so fast? I’ve been traveling for days.”
Rabbit shrugged. “Jessica, of course.” He gestured at both women. “Closer please. It’s time for a photo op.”
Thora debated refusing, but the Persian Princess moved herself closer and all of Thora’s arguments fluttered away. They both still held their swords but now the Princess’s arm was about her waist. Thora could smell the perfume Jessica had applied, and the aroma went straight to her head and heart.
Scar and Bandana struggled with a large yellow and orange VTech KidiZoom camera. With Rabbit’s help they chivied it into place. Once all was ready, Rabbit called, “Say cheese!”
The flash blinded Thora. She felt the Princess’s lips on hers before she could visually register the kiss. As her heart thumped and the flash bulb created fireworks behind her closed eyes, she heard Rabbit singing.
“Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you.”
Author’s Note: Yes. You’ve been Rickrolled. No. It wasn’t the reason for Radio Rabbit. That just sorta happened.