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Ever since Noah could walk, he loved exploring. I'd look the other way for a second and turn back to see Noah perched high on the counter giggling uncontrollably as he reached for the decorative cookie jar.
"Noah, you know you can't have cookies before dinner. Get down from there."
I'd casually make my way to our kitchen counter and set him back to the floor with his toy firetrucks and fighter planes. Wherever you could find trouble, you'd also happen to find Noah. About his third birthday, Noah became infatuated with Winnie the Pooh. I always enjoyed ole' Pooh bear myself as a child, and I was glad that my son gained interest in him.
"Play Pooh! Play Pooh," Noah would shout.
He had been watching the same VCR tape of The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh for several months. I watched the same tape as a child, and I felt the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. It brought back heartwarming memories of my youth. With his fourth birthday arriving, I decided I would try and get a Pooh toy for Noah. I searched Walmart. Nothing. Dollar General. Nothing. Even going to local garage sales. Nothing. Just as my hopes of finding Pooh were diminishing, I came across an old weather beaten Pooh doll in my basement. I remember this doll. Mom had hidden it for some reason but I couldn't quite remember why. I know what you may be thinking, I could've just looked on ebay for the Pooh doll. Well, I haven't had tons of money lately. You see my wife, Joyce, lost a raging battle against ovarian cancer. I was more of a stay at home dad, and she a bank clerk at our local bank. Money didn't come easily in the first place, but now without her, I've been working odd jobs around town trying to pay the bills and put food on the table.
I crept to Noah's room, quietly cracking the door open and I found him watching the Winnie the Pooh tape once again. He was a wiz with the VCR and had no problems working it. I stepped through the door with the doll behind my back, out of sight.
"Daddy!" he yelled as he ran to me and hugged my legs.
"I have a surprise for you Noah." I revealed the bear and Noah jumped with glee. He immediately grabbed the doll from my hands and embraced it, holding it close to his face.
"Pooh!" he affectionately murmured.
I smiled briefly and said, "Happy birthday son." I left Noah to his new toy and slumped onto the couch. Today was a long day. My eyes started to flutter and next thing I knew, I was asleep.
I woke up feeling groggy and disorientated. My alarm clock read 3 AM. Geez, I was out for a while. I lazily stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. My lips and throat were very dry from the nap. I was taking a sip when I heard something. It was quiet but loud enough to hear very clearly. I could hear Noah's voice. He seemed distressed. Noah's not the kid to stay up late, always being knocked out cold by at most 10 PM. I rushed to Noah's room and swung the door open. His room was very dark and was only illuminated by the T.V. which displayed static. I could make out two shapes in the darkness: one was no doubt Noah, but there was another shape huddled near him. I crept a little closer. It was the Pooh doll I had got him. I was relieved, but still unsettled by the second voice from earlier.
"Noah, who were you talking to?"
He looked up at me and smiled. "I was talking to Pooh bear daddy!"
Must've been hearing things I suppose. "Get to bed kiddo, it's way past your bedtime."
Noah groaned with displeasure and climbed into bed with the Pooh bear doll tucked under his arm. The next few days, all Noah could do was play with the doll; he took it everywhere with him, and he continued to stay up late to talk to Pooh bear. He didn't want to go outside and play anymore. He stayed inside, playing with Pooh nonstop.
My curiosity was overwhelming, so after I tucked Noah in, I pulled up a chair near his door and sat. I was going to eavesdrop on their conversation tonight. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes turned to hours, and not a single noise emanated from the room. Two AM rolled around and I considered calling my wait off, but then I heard something come from the room. It was the familiar pitter-patter of little feet. I paused my breathing to listen. I heard whispering. I could make out a phrase.
"Pooh, I'm tired. I wanna sleep Pooh!" There was a pause. I could hear the T.V. playing in the background, static noises again. Nothing else could be heard. "I wouldn't do that to him Pooh. I don't want to do that." Noah had distress in his voice, this was against his will. I cracked the door open and an unsettling draft hit me like a ton of bricks. The window was open. The T.V. illuminated Noah's form sitting criss-cross in the center of his room, turning away from the window towards me. "Hi daddy!" Knowing I was caught, I casually walked into the dark room. The Pooh doll was in Noah's arms, held tightly against him.
I was so disturbed by the situation that I grabbed Noah and said, "You're going to sleep with me tonight." He reached for the Pooh doll, but it was out of his range. On his arm were... bruises. Not in the shape of a hand, but in circular forms. "No more Pooh for you tonight." I carried him to my room and tucked him into my covers. I sat in bed and looked at the ceiling. Who was talking to my son? Every kid has imaginary friends, but no one has ever had an imaginary bully.
The next morning I awoke not to Noah, but an empty bed. I got up and patrolled around the house for Noah. He was sitting neatly on the floor in his room talking to Pooh again. "Won't that hurt Pooh?" I strolled in the room. Time to get to the bottom of this.
"Noah, what has Pooh been asking you?" Noah paused, and furrowed his brow.
"I can't tell you, it's a secret." Noah and I were very close, even close for father and son. Why wouldn't he tell me? The rest of the day continued very boringly and nothing of interest occurred. That night, I decided not to eavesdrop like I usually did and went to bed. I faded to darkness and lost consciousness.
Over the next few weeks, Noah's condition worsened. He stopped leaving his room, stopped playing with his other toys, stopped telling me he loved me. Noah wouldn't even eat on most days. He lost 10lbs in weeks. I tried force-feeding him but all he did was scream and fuss, "I don't want to eat, I want to play with Pooh!" Getting rid of the doll didn't help either. I'd throw it in the trash to only find it removed and back in its place by Noah. The doll started to age dramatically as well. Seams were ripping, dark stains appeared on the doll, and even an eyeball was hanging loosely like a ball and chain. Dark rings appeared under Noah's eyes caused by sleep deprivation. I didn't know what to do. The doll was driving me to drink. I dozed off, giving into sleep's tempting offer.
I awoke to a loud thumping noise. It was so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Thump. What was that? My doorknob rattled and opened very slowly, almost at a turtle's pace. I opened the blind next to my bed, unleashing the moonlight's illuminating presence. The door to my room was open, and something silver glinted in the darkness. I squinted my eyes, hoping to spot something. At that moment the glint moved. It was moving towards me. I reached over to the lamp and pulled the string down, brightly illuminating the room. A huddled mass was revealed: it was Noah. In his hand he clutched a Phillips-head screwdriver. His eyes opened, like two giant almonds. He darted out of the room and into the dark hallway. He dropped something. It was Pooh. Enough's enough, I'm keeping the doll in here from now on. I sat the yellow bear on my nightstand under the lamp. God, Noah has destroyed the little bear.
Noah bugged me and bugged me asking where the bear was, and I always replied, "Pooh went back to the hundred-acre woods to visit his friends." Weeks went by and Noah's health was improving dramatically. He gained his weight back, the bags under his eyes were going away, and he started eating again. He even starting telling me he loved me at night before bed.
I lay on my bed looking over the worn doll. I even picked it up and tossed it back and forth in my hands for a while. I like how this doll feels. Despite its aging, the doll was still as fuzzy as ever. I started putting the doll into my bag before work. On lunch-breaks I pulled the doll out and stroked its head. I quickly shoved it back into my bag when a coworker would walk by. Eventually, I stopped going to work. I need more time with Pooh. I spent my days clutching the weathered doll in my hands, caressing it, and taking care of it. I love you Pooh.
"Dad, there's nothing to eat!" Noah would moan.
Stupid kid. He's interfering with my time with Pooh. "Can't you see I'm busy you little cretin?!" Noah would hang his head and scurry back to his room. He doesn't know Pooh. He doesn't know the time needed for you. I started confiscating his V.H.S collection of Winnie the Pooh, bringing them to my room so I could watch all day, and all night. I stopped sleeping. If I slept, Pooh would be angry. I don't want him to be angry. I hadn't even gotten up to relieve myself. My room was blanketed in the putrid smell of feces and urine. I don't care. As long as Pooh is happy.
Noah eventually left, but I can't exactly remember when. Was it yesterday? Was it weeks ago? Good riddance, I'm free of him for good. Eventually, my electricity went out; I hadn't paid the bill in months. I'd gone from a 180lb man to a tiny 100lb man. As long as Pooh loves me I don't care. I was forced to eat bugs and rats that unfortunately scurried across my path. The paint on the walls started to peel, and mold covered the ceiling. I don't care. I do it for Pooh. He needs my time more than I do.
Much time has passed and I haven't been in great shape. I think I'm dying. I can't die, Pooh doesn't want me to die. My beard and unkempt hair reach below my chest, my clothes are in tatters, and my fingernails have grown unreasonably long. I sing to myself occasionally to please Pooh. Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff, he's Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, willy nilly silly old bear...
There is a knock at the door. People have knocked before but this knock was persistent. It was hard but I got up and stood. I looked through the peephole and a man in his late twenties was outside. He knocked again. He shouted something:
"Dad? Are you in there?..."