Fluffy by Bader Shehab

Nothing has ever felt softer on my weathered skin. It’s a trick, like the inner workings of a wizard’s dream, that something – a lifeless object could be so tender and welcoming. A man made “Mr. Cuddles”,  as it’s written here, would bring me a piece of warmth. In subzero temperatures, a cold frigid nuclear winter and the daily battle between sunlight and fog. This stuffed animal motionless and yet so colorful. My eyes trained for so long on recognizing no more than the grey and black of what’s left of the trees and ghosts. Never seen so many colors concentrated on one matter… “Mother base, there are no signs of any survivors in zone B113.” I reported my last findings to our forward operating station and… I couldn’t take my eyes off this teddy bear – I wanted to bring it back to base for one of the survivors’ children but I could risk contamination. I have never locked eyes with an object for so long. As if they were eyes; two dark and hollow dots of plastic flanking a bear-like nose all wearing a faint smile.

I never had a teddy bear, growing up, we were all plugged into the system like a battery. As if we powered this machine-made nervous system that was dug and sustained deep into Earth. We were taught, fed and instructed only in war, cast iron and medicine. My hands only knew the cold touch of a weapon or a syringe. Or, the iron spoon for machine-cooked porridge. At some point, we were tired of it all – doing the wet work for the machines. But, if my brothers and sisters were to stay alive all of us must submit to authority. If one of us in the population rebels then we all suffer, we all get punished and even risk death until the machine finds the “glitch”, as the engineers call it.
Just as I was rising to head back to base I hear a strange noise, I look around and draw my weapon instinctively. I flick the safety off and tighten the hold against my shoulder… the noise comes back on and it sounds like an ancient radio chatter with a lot of white noise. I look down and it was coming directly from the teddy bear. I crouch back towards the stuffed animal and hold it up carefully, it could be booby trapped. I decided to aim the noise at a nearby window to perhaps get a better signal and possibly toss it out if it were to go off. Expectedly, the signals pick up a strong wave receiving chatter from somewhere nearby.
I often frequent this area between now and then, hoping and praying for any survivors from the last test launch, but to no avail. But, this time, it surely felt like someone other than me  was here. The white noise settles slowly and as I wave it around for a better signal, nearly sticking it out of the window – rather risky. My eyes widen, as a woman’s voice comes on, I’ve only heard of this name in the talks of legends. We were programmed in our history tapes to antagonize this name. We engraved this name on the back of our tin cans for pass time. I ripped away the material skin around the kid’s toy and revealed a radio receiver with an attached satellite beacon. This time the repeating broadcast message was loud and clear as I felt adrenaline rush through my veins. The woman’s voice said: “This is Katniss Aberdeen, if you are receiving this message then you are the resistance. I repeat, if you are receiving this message then you are the resistance.”
After all these years… the so-called secretive resistance group managed to make contact with me with a… fluffy teddy bear. The rest of the soft texture was no longer heartwarming. But, it was this young and powerful voice of leadership and valor that was to take me on a journey. Could be the end of me. I descend onto the apocalypse.

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