It was a bright, shining afternoon when Dan waited next to the fountain. He swung his legs off the edge, watching the multitudes walking about their day. Several in groups already had pamphlets in their hands and were on their way to the theater.
Dan put a hand on his satchel in his lap, half to check if it was wet, half to reassure himself. Today was the day he would say it - maybe.
He fluffed his vivid orange hair in front of his eyes, which he could still see through. The warmth of the sun heated his poppy red fur. He adjusted his teal bowtie and adjusted his suspenders.
He spotted the hulking figure walking around the corner. Navy blue ram horns on either side of his square head. Hot pink, tightly curled hair bounced with each step. His fur was saturated teal with splotches of pastel purple. He had small wings on his back peeking from behind his shoulders. He wore his pinstripe maroon overalls and a pressed button up shirt - his nicest outfit. For some reason, he had a pocket square sticking out of his chest pocket. His half-lidded eyes opened a little wider when he saw Dan standing now.
“Hey, Ron,” Dan said with a small wave. Ron formed an infectious grin before scooping Dan up in a hug. His wings fluttered with excitement and his tail wagged a little.
“Hon!” he said and kissed the side of Dan’s head. The red puppet pulled back and picked the pocket square out of Ron’s pocket. “What’s this?”
Ron frowned, “I wanted to look fancy, since we’re going to the Rancinbas Theater.”
“Do I look fancy?” a familiar voice said and the two looked to see a pastel pink rabbit in a blue, elaborate ballroom dress. Haley spun around to show off the shinning sequins and bobs. Ron placed Dan back on the ground.
She was velvet and made of stiffer stuff, unlike the bendy, fuzzy pair. But her joints were articulated and she gave a small bow when the pair clapped. Her eyes were glossy and shining in the sunlight. “Thank you, thank you.”
Dan tried to hide his disappointment at her presence. “I thought, uh, you were going to be in Jimstown?”
“I was, but my sister came over instead. We’ll see it here! Don’t worry! I won’t spoil your date! Good luck!” She briskly walked to another rabbit waiting closer to the theater. The other rabbit waved to the pair, seemed to ask about them, and Haley dragged her away.
“Haha,” Ron said. “Good luck? We aren’t in the troope.”
Dan shrugged and laughed louder than he meant. “Oh! Look at the time! Let’s go in!”
Rancinbas was a tradition - a play celebrating the new year by retelling the myths of Felt, Glitter, and Thread.
Ron and Dan shuffled in, crammed between the bottleneck of puppets - monsters, animals, and humanoids alike squeezed in between the doors. A bird next to Dan shed a few feathers onto his shoulder and face. “Oop,” the bird said before moving on. One long-legged puppet on stilt-like legs lifted a leg to try to step through the crowd, but had to keep it’s pose to find a place to put it’s pom-pom foot. Dan hadn’t noticed he was already holding Ron’s arm. He gave it a tighter squeeze.
“Everyone,” Dan heard over the din of the theater entrance, “please move along so the rest of the patrons can get in!”
The crowd dispersed after a moment. Everyone seemed to regain their breath. The stilt-legged puppet regained itself and joined it’s frineds.
Dan let out his own breath, but immediately sucked it in when his chest tightened. Oh no. He started gasping and froze in place. Why can’t I go one outing before - I’m so stupid - oh Felt, don’t do this.
Ron put an arm around Dan and guided him to a nearby bench along the wall. Ron sat him on it and knelt next to him. “Take my paw?” he suggested, offering his huge paw. Dan nodded and gripped it in his own large paw that almost matched the size of Ron’s.
“It’s nice in here, huh?” Ron said, glancing about the foyer. It was huge, with murals on all the walls. The front desk was a huge half-circle with a yellow and green crocodile behind it. Everything had a shine to it.
“Yeah,” Dan said. He felt himself regaining composure. “Thank you for steadying me.”
“No problem. Let’s turn in our tickets.”
The crocodile at the desk hummed as she tore thier tickets and handed them back. “Oh, Ron! How are you?” she asked. Her mouth was a bright turqoise.
“Ah, I’m alright,” he chuckled. Dan saw the confusion for just a second. “Can’t wait for Ranicbas!”
“Me either! Oh!” The lights flickered above. “Ten minutes,” she said in a sing-song voice. She hobbled over to a microphone and pressed a button to sing, “That’s ten minutes until the play begins!”
The pair walked to the entrance and passed into the dim, huge double doorway. The duo stepped onto the stairs beside the walkway and across to find their rows assigned on their tickets. Dan squinted to see the writing. He saw several stilt-legged puppets folding their legs at their sides. Long-necked puppets swung their heads too and fro as they hunted for their seats. Several quadrapeds sat on couches. Bulky puppets like Ron folded down the middle arm and turned the seats into double-wide ones.
Dan plopped into a seat next to Ron. His feet still swung in the air. No matter the accommodations, he felt the shorter puppets still had to deal with everything accommodating the average height.
“It says here that today is Glim Boris’ last year in the Racinbas. Can you believe it? When did they start?”
“I think when my parents were small,” Dan answered, pulling his pamphlet out of his satchel in his lap. Indeed, plastered on the front was the announcement: Renown Glim Boris retires! 45 years on the stage!
The lights dimmed to darkness. Voices hushed. Dan put his hand on Ron’s and squeezed. Today I say it, he thought. Spotlights flooded the stage. A tall, spider puppet walked into the center. All were silent. He scanned the crowd over his cheekbones and said, “This world is dull and listless.” He raised a long needle with a handle and said, “It needs a little … beauty.”
With a flick of his wrist to stage right, a flood of fabric and color danced into view. The orchestra swelled. In the wake of the colors, a puppet rose from their kneeling position. A few puppets couldn’t hold in the applause. It was Glim as Crom the First.
Crom looked about the stage as life sprung up around them - the background filling in with paintings and cutouts. A sun floated down into view over the beautiful forest and other puppets enjoying the bounty. The God of Thread descended from on high. “You, Crom, must lead the puppets through the lands. Darkness threatens. I give you the key to keep everyone safe: Song.”
It followed the tale of the first tribes of the puppets as they struggled to fend off the beasts and monsters of the world. Through the power of song, Crom strengthened the warriors and their own abilities. They passed on the ability of song to the other puppets, which in turn allowed them to bond. Because of singing, they forged alliances with other tribes. Darkness threatened them as winter closed in.
As supplies grew scarce and it seemed like the people were backed into a wall, the tribes came together in chorus. Song fended off the darkness and it’s demons.
In fact, several demons wanted to join the puppets soon after, along with dragons and monsters of all shapes and sizes. They were puppets, too, and wanted to cast off their wild lives. The deity of Felt brought them to the tribes and asked for the tribes to accept them. Crom, at first, was apprehensive, but came to think of the demons and monsters as simply one of their tribe. Crom even married one demon, Rommos.
Darkness came again, threatening the lives, enraged at the loss of it’s puppets. It ripped and tore at the tribes.
Crom sacrificed themself to save the tribes and buy them time to escape the darkness’. Rommos led the groups far away to the mountains. It was there that Rommos found the deity Glitter hidden deep within the mountain and through a Moon Gate. A precocious deity whom Rommos had to prove their determination to in order for it to help them. Glitter bestowed Rommos and the puppets with magic - a long forgotten and lost art. It was said that, along with Glitter’s odd nature, the being took away magic when it felt it was no longer needed.
With magic, song, and their bonds, the puppets built a new home. But when the Darkness arrived, the puppets destroyed it in a decisive battle.
Dan forgot all about his plans as he watched. Even during intermission, the duo were discussing how amazing the play was and looked. They said their thanks and paid reverence to the actors standing in the lobby.
When the duo left the theater, Dan was abuzz with energy and excitement. “I feel like I could fly!” He leapt into the air with arms out, testing his ability.
Ron beamed and said, “I feel like I could lift the whole theater!” He flexed his muscles before scooping Dan up. “Or maybe I could carry you all the way home!”
The red puppet covered his face and laughed without thought, “I love you!”
Ron gasped and smiled. “I love you too, Dan.”
Dan opened his bag and pulled out a cloth and stone, bracer. It had an inscription in the flat, polished stone. He said, “I know we were talking about it - but I hope this isn’t too - You know I -”
“What! I - I was going to ask if you wanted to marry me! I got a bracer for you, too. At the apartment.” Ron sniffled and teared up. “Yes! Yes. Of course.” The pair hugged.
Dan rushed, bounding down the apartment stairs. He nearly ran into Haley, who gasped and said, “You saw it!”
“Yeah!” He stopped, panting, “I can’t believe it.”
“Is Ron home? Can I come in?” Haley asked, pulling on her hair.
Dan nodded and practically dragged her up the stairs. She ran ahead of him at the top.
Ron was still on the couch, arm across the back and fist balled up. The footage was played again - a puppet with poorly dyed fur was marched through the crowd of reporters. Splotches of red showed through so it looked odd. Its teeth were cut into miss-matched points. Its pupils were tiny dots. It was on silent as a newspuppet asked, “So is there no hope of rehabilitating this puppet?”
The dragon puppet next to the footage shook their head. “We’re hoping to run some trials to see if we can help it. Mr. Rook is not beyond saving.”
The detained puppet laughed before letting out a screaming laugh and thrashing about in its cuffs. Something about it being on silent was even more terrifying than hearing it. Dan ignored the news puppet voices, entranced by the horror on television. The crowd in the footage parted to give it room as it continued it’s hysteric laughter. As it came close to the carriage, it screamed out, Dan recalling it’s hoarse screaming, “The gods! They will hear me! I will rip and tear!”
Dan shuddered and reached for Ron’s arm. They held hands as the news continued, “We believe the issue is a chemical imbalance in their brain. There have been several cases prior to this that were not as public that have yeilded promising results.”
“I’m sorry,” the newspuppet said a paw full of papers entered the screen slowly. “I’m getting an update.” He read the paper and shook his head. The arm left as slowly as it entered. “By the Thread.”
“I just recieved updates as well,” the doctor dragon said, looking at the clipboard in it’s huge paw. “I can’t believe it.”
“Puppets,” the newspuppet said to the camera, speaking in a more somber tone. “I regret to inform everyone that the detained puppet was found dead in their cell mere moments ago.”
The three in the apartment leaned forward. Images of one of the rehab cells - a single room apartment the size of a master bedroom panned across the screen - was featured as the news puppet continued: “They seem to have … killed themself. Doctors and staff of the rehabilitation center say that Mr. Rook made it clear he wasn’t going to allow their integration back into society to be a success.”
“Perhaps this was some way to fulfill their words,” the doctor suggested, using their tail to wipe off their glasses. “I think we could have learned a lot about how to help puppets like them. It is a loss for all of us.”
“Indeed. Lives could be spared with your research.”
“We will continue to find ways to aid puppets who need help integrating with society. We have made great strides in many facets, as we have come to accept and accomidate neurodivergent folk.”
The newspuppet was the only one on the screen as he turned to face the audience, “Now, if any of you are experiencing mental health crisis or want to understand how to help a loved one, here are the hotlines -”
Ron changed the channel to the Good Neighbor channel. A pair of puppets calmly discussed grief and mourning as they pushed sand about in a sandbox. One built a highway to drive a toy car through. All to the tune of relaxing electronic music.
Ron sighed and turned in his seat on the couch. “You think the gods really listened to that Rook?”
“I don’t know,” Haley said. “I don’t think the gods listen to us anymore. We don’t really need them, you know?”
Dan thought for a moment. “I doubt they would anyway - they wanted chaos and death. They’re for harmony and life.”
“Chaos and death are part of that, though, aren’t they?” Haley asked.
“Not like that,” Ron said with a shake of his head. “Not like that.”