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                       Mr. Cuddles
                                             By Ken Croteau


Natalie felt around for what seemed like an eternity before she came across the
familiar touch of soft material. She pulled it close to her and rolled over to get a
few more minutes of precious sleep.  Soon her Daddy would be rousing her
awake for the day. Just the comfort of her companion nestled in her arms
instantly relieved any of the separation anxiety she had previously felt. Mr.
Cuddles was back where he belonged.  “Up and at ‘em Nat” shouted Daddy
from downstairs.

Mr. Cuddles came to Natalie as a birthday present from her Mommy and Daddy
when she was three years old.  From the moment she tore open the wrapping
paper and exposed the cellophane window from which Mr. Cuddles beckoned
her, she was in love.  That was over three and a half years ago and time had
taken its toll on him.

Mr. Cuddles’ luscious light brown coat had been thread worn to the point of
near extinction.  All that existed were several large patches of matted cloth that
closely resembled faded grass than fur.  One eye had been long replaced by a
spare button that had once resided in the recesses of the family junk drawer.  
His left arm has been unceremoniously removed by Rex, the lab-spaniel mix
family dog and had been repaired by her Mother as best she could.  Mr.
Cuddles was a mess, but he was Natalie’s best friend and constant playmate.

But since her Mommy went away, Mr. Cuddles had become more than that.  Her
Mommy had died, but at five years she was not quite sure what that meant.  All
she knew was that Mommy wasn’t home anymore and Daddy had changed.

At first, Daddy was very sad and Natalie tried to comfort him the best way a five
year old could muster.  She would hug him and tell him that everything would
be alright and he would cry.  Then he would sometimes come to her in the
middle of the night and lie next to her on the bed and sob.

It was during this time that Mr. Cuddles became more than just a playmate.  
She began to confide in him her feelings of sadness over the loss of her
Mommy.  Natalie would also spend hours with Mr. Cuddles playing house, dress
up, tea party, and any other game that suited her.  Mr. Cuddles never
complained.  That was over a year ago.

Then Daddy started drinking and began to spend more time hugging and
touching Natalie.  At first she was glad that he wasn’t as sad anymore, but she
began to feel that the way he was touching her was not right.  She continued to
confide in Mr. Cuddles her feelings of confusion.  She asked her silent
companion time and time again “Why is Daddy doing this to me?”  Of course,
there was no answer.

Natalie’s Daddy soon began to touch her in her private area.  She was afraid
and told him not to do this.  Daddy explained that it was okay and that this is
how little girls and their fathers loved each other.  Although she didn’t feel right,
she loved her Daddy very much and let him touch her there.  Again she
confessed to Mr. Cuddles that she thought Daddy touching her was wrong and
asked “What should I do? As always, there was no reply. “I love you” she
murmured to her mute friend.

Over the next several weeks, her father’s drinking had become worse and his
nightly visits more frequent.  Daddy started asking her to touch his private area
and guided her hand down there against her will.  Natalie was afraid and tried
to pull back.  Her Daddy was too strong for her and forced her to do things a six
year old girl shouldn’t do.  For the first time in her short life, she was afraid of
her father.  “I don’t want Daddy touching me anymore”, she told Mr. Cuddles
firmly. “I just wish he would leave me alone” she cried as she hugged her rag-
tag bear with all of her might.

Two weeks had passed and her father had not visited her during the night at
all.  Maybe everything was okay and she did not have to be afraid anymore.  
But these feelings were very short lived.  On Saturday night after a long day of
drinking, he stumbled his way into her bedroom.  Daddy fell onto her bed and
began to paw at her roughly, tearing at her pajamas.  She begged her father to
leave her alone, this had no affect. Natalie began to cry and pleaded with her
Daddy to stop, again he was not deterred.  As she struggled, she frantically
searched for Mr. Cuddles with her hands.  Finally she found him and pulled him
toward her. Natalie’s father grasped her teddy by the leg and tore him from her
grip.  He flung Mr. Cuddles through the air and he landed crumpled against her
closet door.  It was at this point that everything became fuzzy and she passed
out.

Several hours later, Natalie awoke to find her night clothes in a tangle, but
intact.  Apparently her father had a brief moment of sobriety when his daughter
became lifeless and crawled back to his own bedroom and blacked out.  Natalie
arose from her bed, straightened out her pajamas, and went to rescue Mr.
Cuddles.  He remained in a heap on the floor right where her father had tossed
him.  She picked him up, held him close to her body, and asked him “Are you
alright?”  Mr. Cuddles stared at her with his one good eye and said nothing.  “I
hate Daddy for hurting us” she told her bear.  “I wish he would stop it!” she
stammered through clenched teeth.  Natalie crawled back into bed with her
buddy in tow and restlessly fell asleep.

Natalie’s father awoke and stared at the digital clock on the nightstand, it was 2:
32 AM.  His bladder was full and he had a dull throbbing in his head.  He would
have a hell of a hangover in the morning.  Suddenly he heard a low growling.  
At first he thought that the furnace had just kicked in, but this sounded like it
was in his bedroom.  He listened intently, there it was again.  This time he
heard a deep growl followed by what sounded like gnashing of teeth.

As he reached for the small lamp to his left, he felt a sudden weight shift as
something heavy landed at the foot of his bed.  The lamp came on and he
could not believe his eyes.  Staring at him from the end of his bed was a
strange light brown creature about four feet in length and covered in what
looked like fur bristling with dangerously sharp quills.  Patches of these quills
were missing as if torn out by the handful, this seemed odd to him.

It growled at him with a mouthful of menacing teeth that reminded him of razor
wire and foamy saliva dripped from its jaws.  He must be seeing things in his
half-drunken haze he muttered to himself as the frightening, muscular figure
crawled toward him.  Natalie’s father rubbed his eyes and then closed them
tightly.  When he opened them, the creature still stood between his feet.

The monstrosity suddenly leapt at him and landed on his chest, pinning him to
the bed, and temporarily knocking the wind out of him.  Instinctively he reached
to pull the creature off himself.  Instead, bolts of pain raced up his arms as both
of his hands were completely impaled through his palms by the monster’s spiny
apertures.  The creature’s talons dug into his flesh, holding him in place and
the pain was excruciating.  The weight of this thing was incredible he thought to
himself as he released his full bladder into his pajama bottoms.

The intruder was now inches from his face and he could smell the hot, fetid
breath as it licked its black lips with a long slithering tongue.  As Natalie’s father
opened his mouth to scream, the animal lunged down and clamped its vice-like
jaws onto his throat and ripped out his windpipe.  He could not believe this was
happening to him.  As he stared at his killer, the monster dug its rear claws into
his mid section and disemboweled him.  As Natalie’s Daddy lay dying, he could
have sworn that the creature had a button for a right eye.

Natalie felt around for what seemed like an eternity.  Today there was no
familiar feel of fabric anywhere on her bed.  She waited for the “Up and at ‘em”
call from her father that never came.  The morning sun glared through the
window and into her eyes as she struggled to pry them open.   She glanced
around the room and could not find what she was looking for.  Where was Mr.
Cuddles?

Natalie sprang from her bed and frantically searched for her precious teddy
bear.  He was nowhere to be found.  She looked under her bed, rummaged
through her closet, and tore off her sheets; Nothing.  Now panic became to rise
and her stomach twisted into a knot.  “Where could he be?” she mumbled
under her breath.  Natalie thought back to last night.  Maybe her father came
back after she was asleep and took him.  She rushed out of her doorway and
into the hall leading to his room.

She knocked on his door, softly at first.  No answer.  Natalie knocked again;
harder this time.  Still, no answer.  She slowly opened the door and crept into
his bedroom. “Daddy?” she whispered.  It was eerily dark in here and no
sunlight was streaming in due to the closed blinds.  Natalie reached up and
turned on the light switch to the right of the door.  As her eyes adjusted to the
light, she saw Mr. Cuddles sitting upright at the end of her father’s bed.  “There
you are!” exclaimed Natalie as she approached the bed and snatched the bear
into her arms.

What Natalie saw as she peered back to the bed was beyond anything her six
year old mind could comprehend.  The mattress and bed spreads were
completely soaked in blood and other bodily fluids.  Body parts were strewn
across the bed and the backside of the room as if deposited there by a large
shredder.  Natalie would not have known this was her father if his head had not
been propped on the pillow, his mouth agape in a scream that never came.  
She turned to run and fell to the carpeted floor.  As she struggled to raise
herself, see spotted the huge puddle of blood that had formed beneath her
father’s remains.

Natalie rushed from the room and down the stairs to the front door.  As she
threw open the door to escape and shout for help, she ran headlong into Mr.
Garrison the postman.  “What’s your hurry little lady?’ asked the postman.  
“Please help me!” screamed Natalie; “someone has hurt my Daddy!”  Mr.
Garrison rushed past her and up the stairs two at a time.

Mr. Garrison returned several minutes later, he looked as white as a ghost as
he passed her.  He stopped at the railing of the front porch and vomited his
breakfast into the lilac bushes.  Mr. Garrison then reached for his cell phone
and dialed 911.

After several hours of questioning by the police, Natalie was escorted to a
police car by a nice police woman named Karen.  “Poor little girl, first her
mother and now her father” Natalie heard them all softly speaking,  “We are
going to have to call her mother’s sister Sara to come down to the station and
rescue this sweet, traumatized girl”.  As she sat on the back seat of the cruiser
with Mr. Cuddles by her side, she overheard the two detectives in charge
talking about the horrific scene in the upstairs bedroom.  “This is the most
gruesome killing I have ever seen” said one detective. “I am no forensic expert,
but this man looks like he was torn apart by a mountain lion or a grizzly bear”
said the other.  

Natalie glanced over at Mr. Cuddles and she noticed that he was grinning.



                                                                                     The End