Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

The Toys in the Nursery Are Dangerous.

Be sure to urinate on them first.

by Rabbi Steven J. Lebow

"Grrr," said the old pet, when he heard the toys moving around the nursery at night. He lifted his leg on a cluster of toy soldiers and clowns. And as he growled, he retreated to a corner of the nursery and fell asleep on his cushion.

"My dog urinated on all of the toys in the children's playroom, so I rewarded him and gave him an extra treat," said the father to the Vet.

"How long have you been frightened by the toys in the nursery?" the doctor asked the children's father, the rocket salesman, Irving Vesper.

"I never said I was frightened by them," Vesper told Dr. Noah Selman. "I said that some of the toys in the nursery were dangerous. I never said that they had succeeded in frightening me."

"I stand corrected," Dr. Selman said to Vesper calmly.

Vesper could hear the skepticism in the doctor's voice, but he didn't really care. Irv Vesper was used to people not trusting him. He was a used rocket dealer, the owner of 'Lauderdale GyroBakers' near the Jackie Gleason Memorial Spaceport in South Florida.

Vesper considered himself "the universe's greatest rocket salesman." After years in rocket sales he had become used to people questioning his judgment.

"Look," said Vesper to the doctor, "People think that the toys you buy from the shops on Turner's World are the same kind of toys made here on earth by the traditional toy manufacturers 'Kent Toys' or 'The Hansan Brothers'. I guarantee you," said Vesper, "The toys that kids get from the outer planets nowadays are not the same kind of toys we used to get!"

"All toys are the same," the doctor told Vesper. "It doesn't matter where they are made, they all follow a common design."

"You're not listening to me," the used rocket salesman told the doctor. " I am telling you this and I have no fear of dispute or disagreement. The toys from Turner's World are dangerous. You should always make sure that your pet urinates on them daily!"

"Here." said Vesper to Dr. Noah Selman. "Look at this," as he handed a toy puppet to the Doctor.

The Doctor stepped back, reluctant to touch the urine soaked toy.

"Oh, don't worry about this one coming to life," said Vesper. "He can't hurt you. He has no power anymore. He's already been pre-urinated!"

"Please Mr. Vesper," said the doctor, " I am an ethologist, an animal behaviorist. Why do you think having your pet urinate on those 'dangerous toys' helps neutralize them?"

Vesper pulled out a child's small computer blackboard, commonly called a 'Sketch and Etch'.

"I will tell you the only two words you need to dis-empower errant toys," said Vesper to Dr. Selman.

"Uric acid," said Vesper. "He powered on the 'Sketch and Etch' and displayed what he had in mind:


"Uric acid is a heterocyclic compound of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen with the formula C5H4N4O3. Uric acid is created when the body breaks down purine nucleotides." concluded Vesper.

"I am quite aware of what a molecule of uric acid looks like," said Selman.. "I used to teach organic chemistry at Florida Atlantic University!"

"Here," the doctor took the computer tablet from Vesper's hands, "Do you really want to know how a scientist sees that molecule?" Selman asked Vesper.

Selman turned the dials on the 'Sketch and Etch' and produced a new picture:

Molecule 2

"That's exactly what I am talking about, "said Vesper. "That's the thing that trips up dangerous toys. Uric acid".

* * *

The toys were quiet until the doctor and the rocket salesman left the nursery.

" Why does their pet's urine paralyze us?" asked the puppet, Carlo Collodi, to the toy dancer, Sammy Toms.

"The liquid that the pet sprays on us is uric acid," said the toy dancer. "Uric acid is a substance that you find in any animal's urine, even on this world, far away from our own."

"But why does uric acid paralyze us?" Collodi, the puppet, asked Sammy Toms.

"Uric acid causes cell death," said Sammy Toms.. "And everything living, including you and I, consists of cells."

"So what you're saying," said the puppet Collodi, "is that if an animal urinates on some living thing it will kill it?"

That's what I've been trying to tell you," said the dancer to the puppet. Chuck, the other clown, and all the toy soldiers overheard the conversation. They listened carefully and without speaking they shook their heads.

"Look," said the doctor after he and Vesper went into the kitchen, "Your pet does not think that the toys are organic and dangerous. It's just typical of many animals to spray. It's how they mark their territory and establish dominance."

Yes," said the rocket salesman to the doctor.. "I read your book "Animals Favoring their Territory."

"Frankly, the reason I called you," said Irv Vesper, "is that you made it eminently clear that earth animals mark their territory through the deposit of scent marking to signal the boundaries of their personal space."

"I think you get my point quite well." said the doctor. "Earthian animals in the wild use scent-marking deposited by urination, or by rubbing parts of the bodies that bear specialized scent glands against the surface of some stationary marker."

"What about Terran house pets?" Vesper asked.

"I'm getting to that," the doctor responded. "Dogs and other canids mark their territory by urination. North American cats scent-mark by rubbing their faces and flanks against objects. The average North American tom cat sprays urine to keep his enemies away." concluded the animal behaviorist.

"But let me ask you something," said the doctor to the rocket salesman, "What makes you think the toys move around at night? Do you see them moving?

"No," said Vesper to Dr. Selman. "I hear them talking to each other at night. They are saying something I just don't understand."

"I see," said the doctor". "And how many children live here that are playing with these toys during the day, when they're not talking to each other?"

"Our daughters, Suzie and Sally, are out of the house." said Vesper. "They both live in the dorms, at the University of Miami. The only child that still lives with us full time," concluded Vesper, " is our six year old son , little 'Stevie'. He still plays with the toys in the nursery all the time."

"Don't you have an older son?" Selman asked the rocket man. "I remember an older Vesper boy who used to bring your animals into the Albert Schweitzer Clinic."

"Yes, that's Ronnie, our oldest son," said Vesper, "but he only comes home if he has a day pass from the hospital.. He lives in a dorm at the Nova University Psychiatric Hospital."

"I'm so sorry to hear that," said the doctor to Vesper. "Why was he hospitalized?"

"He's a paranoid schizophrenic," said Vesper to the doctor. Vesper's eyes had small tears. "The doctors at Nova University hospitalized him because he swore that he heard voices."

"Oh," was all Doctor Selman responded.

"Yes," said Vesper to the doctor, "I know what you are thinking, but this case is totally different than what happened to my son, Ronnie. These toys really are dangerous, "said the rocket salesman to the doctor. "The toys from Turner's World talk to each other all night long."

"Yes, of course, they do." said the doctor in a soothing voice. "I'm sure that these toys are different," he said.

* * *

The week after the doctor visited the nursery Vesper now had more immediate concerns. The parent company of "Lauderdale GyroBakers" declared bankruptcy and Vesper was forced to close his rocket dealership. Vesper was often described as "the greatest rocket salesman from the earth to the moon," but now, after twelve years of owning a dealership and working for himself he found himself going over to "Colonial Rockets of Old Miami", to apply for a lowly sales job, working the lot, hustling used rockets, like any flyer straight out of the Army Space Corps.

"I need a job," he said to the owner of Colonial Rockets, Bernie Kahn. "I have four kids to feed, Bernie."

Kahn and Vesper had known each other twenty years, going back to the time when they were both fraternity brothers of Tau Epsilon Phi.

Kahn had never really liked Vesper all that much back in the day, but now he saw a great chance to get the best used rocket salesman in south Florida.

"Sure," I can use you on the floor," said Kahn to Vesper. "You can start tomorrow. Tell me," he asked Vesper. "How are Reva and your kids?"

"Reva is fine," said Vesper. "Suzie and Sally are both studying pre-law at the University of Miami, in Coral Gables.. And little Stevie, what can I say? He is six years old and loves to play with super heroes action figures!"

"Sure," said Kahn with a chuckle, "I remember that he carries them with him, wherever he goes. And how is your oldest boy," Kahn asked Vesper.

"Not so well," Vesper admitted. "He's been hospitalized on a psychiatric unit. He claims that he has visual and auditory hallucinations. They're not clear if he will ever get any better."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Irv. A business that goes belly up and four mouths to feed. I guess this really isn't your year," said Kahn

"No," admitted Vesper. "Not my year. Not my year, at all."

"Go home and catch up on your sleep," Kahn told his newest salesman.

"I wish I could," said Vesper. "I haven't been able to get a good night's sleep in months.

* * *

When Vesper got home the next night, after working for twelve hours selling used rockets, he tiptoed in to the bedroom and kissed his sleeping wife good night.

"How did you do your first day?" Reva Vesper asked her tired husband.

"Not too bad," he lied to his wife. "I had a few 'looky-loos', but I think I have a few customers whose credit is as strong as death. I am sure that by the end of the week I will close on at least half a dozen deals."

"Do you want me to walk the dog before I go to bed?," he asked his wife.

"Irv, I didn't want to call you your first day at your new job," said Reva, "but we had to put Baron down today. He was over thirteen years old and Weimereiners usually don't live this long. He started having really bad seizures this morning after you left. Ronnie was home on a day-pass from the hospital and he was able to take Baron over to Dr. Selman's office."

"We had to put him down," she said to husband gently.

"Oh", groaned the salesman. "Well, I guess it had to be done, but you know something, Reva, I loved that dog. I had that pet for many years and you know what I always say, the more people I meet, the more I liked my dog!"

"Yes, Irv, she said. "Now go to sleep. Ronnie and I found a new pet on the internet and she is sleeping in the nursery."

By the time that Reva Vesper had said the words, "sleeping in the nursery" Vesper had entered his inner world, a place that smelled of urine and of nightmares.

* * *

"Are we safe now?" asked Colodi, the puppet, to Sammy Toms, the toy dancer. "Will the way be clear for us?"

"Yes," responded the dancing toy to the puppet.

"I overheard them say they had to euthanize their dog." said the toy dancer. "We needn't worry any longer about the old pet."

"Why did the older son, put us in this box of sand before they went to sleep?" the puppet asked the dancer.

How should I know?" the dancer said to the puppet. "I guess the older son put us in a sandbox so his brother could play with us in the morning."

When Sams, the dancing toy, was silent Chuck the clown and all the toy soldiers nodded their heads. With Baron, the family dog gone, they knew that they were safe.

A moment later a crack of light appeared as the new pet pushed the nursery door open. She entered the nursery quietly, gliding close to the floor. The new pet vaulted over the lip of the sandbox and when she landed in the dirt, she stared into the faces of the now silent toys.

As she strutted back and forth she rubbed her face against each toy. She cocked her head and stared into the eyes of every toy, as if to take their measure. As the new pet turned her back to them, crouched to relieve herself and then she kicked up some sand into the faces of the puppets and the clowns. Having done her business she uttered the only word that she knew how to say.

"Meow," she said, and then she retreated to the corner of the nursery, and curled up to sleep on her new cushion.

For the first time in months the Vespers, Irving, Reva, and their little boy, slept the drowsy sleep of those whose moon is on the rise.


2014 Rabbi Steven J. Lebow

Bio: Rabbi Steven Lebow is a congregational (Reform) Rabbi who lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He has fought for gay and civil rights for a quarter century, marched in dozens of protest marches and had his life threatened on many an occasion by the Klan and other racist organizations.  His life and work in the area of civil rights have been profiled in The New York Times and the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, CNN and NPR. He has published many articles in scholarly journals, in the area of semiotics and psychological symbolism. His most recent articles are "A Structural View of Ethnic Immigration, As Seen Through The Lense Of Professional Sports," and this spring "Separation/Individuation and Oedipal Motifs in the Genesis Narrative." (Journal of Reform Judaism- Spring, 2014.)

This is his first speculative fiction story.

E-mail: Rabbi Steven J. Lebow

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.