A World Without Wonder

It had been a long time since she had left Wonder World!™. She had been convinced by her cross-country pen pal to join her for coffee, something the two hadn't done in years. Though the journey from one coast to another would typically be a costly and lengthy affair, it wouldn't be a challenge for the Wackiest Practioner of Whimsy, world-renown tinkerer, merrymaker, bringer of joy, and spreader of mirth; Doctor Holly Light Wondertainment.

But Holly wasn't quite feeling herself.

She hadn't for some time now, really. A lot had been bearing on her mind for longer than she could remember, and it was starting to show. Though she was happy to see her friend and finally be able to talk about what ailed her, she was not thrilled to have to step into the bitter harshness the world had become. Though she was typically a careful person when it came to leaving Wonder World!™ (after all, she had the safety of her employees, no, her family, to think about when doing so) Holly was so deeply buried in self-pity and misery that she did not notice the unmarked vehicle following her on her journey to Portland.


It was raining in Portland, as it did most days.

The streets were full of enchanted floating umbrellas keeping pace with their owners as they walked in the unending downpour. Holly was the only one holding hers, a gaudy gold and purple umbrella with a bubble pattern. It didn't rain often in Wonder World!™ (by her own design, of course), and the incessant pounding of water against her umbrella which she could not control simply added to her feeling of helplessness. She sighed in exasperation, continuing along her dredge towards the agreed meeting location.

After asking a rather androgynous individual with an impressive set of antlers for directions, Holly finally spotted the Ambrose 3P Cafe. She spotted a familiar bike tied to the street light and smiled slightly for the first time in what felt like ages. As she approached, she spotted her friend, a tall woman with very short brown hair and a tan emerged from within. She smiled, waving Holly over.

Holly was immediately pulled into a hug the moment she set foot under the cafe's awning, her feet leaving the ground as she was lifted by her significantly taller friend. They embraced one another tightly, Holly's large, mirror-like eyes shutting as they did so.

"It's good to see you, Holly."

"Same to you, Fae. You look good, darling!"

"Oh, thank you! I finally caved and bought one of those Buteo suits. You haven't changed a bit, either you know."

"Haha, thank you… "

"Come on, let's get back in. I already ordered our coffees."

The duo entered the cafe, a cozy and simple place with a rather comfortable feeling to it. The place was no doubt bigger on the inside, the ceiling seemed to stretch on forever with the darkness illuminated by what looked like the constellations. A single waiter blinked between tables, producing drinks and simple snacks from thin air and handing them to seated patrons. Fae guided them to their table by the window, which revealed a beautiful sunny day outside, no doubt some sort of spell.

They took their seats as Fae glanced to the third chair.

"The waiter said we were going to be a party of three and he was sure of it, so I figured you were bringing a guest. Looks like his crystal ball was wrong this time." She chuckled.

"Yeah… How's Alex?"

"We're doing fine. Gave my dad quite the spook when he asked permission to marry me."

"Oh, that's lovely! You need to tell me when the wedding is. And your dad? How is he?"

"Doing what he can. He's been really stressed lately, but we're all pulling together despite everything."

"I'm glad he's okay…"

The two fell into silence as Holly's gaze shifted from Fae to the window. Even though it looked lovely outside, she could still hear the sounds of rain hitting the pavement just a few feet away. Fae frowned a bit, feeling her friend's dissatisfaction.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

She turned to face her friend. The two women locked eyes for a moment before Holly's giant-cat-like orbs once again focused on the sunshine outside. A man holding a tray appeared out of nowhere at the tableside. He looked down at the women with a smile, placing two cups, a sugar cube holder and tongs, and a coffee pot at the center.

"Hi, ladies, I hope your day is going just swell. If you need anything, don't be afraid to call for me, my name is Oscar. I'll bring out your third party's order when they arrive in a little. Enjoy your coffee, toodles!"

Just as quickly as he appeared, Oscar disappeared and reappeared at another table, this time handing a three-eyed woman a phoenix club sandwich. Fae cocked an eyebrow, then reached for the cups and pot. She poured Holly a cup before serving herself.

"Look…" She dropped a cube of sugar into her own drink. "… I don't mean to pry into your business, but I've been really concerned for you. You've been sounding more and more off in your letters, and… I know this new, uh, situation can't be good for business."

Holly took her cup and stared down at the dark brown liquid. She saw her reflection, that of a saddened woman who had lost her spark. Though her hair had always been white as she considered it to be the most fun and adaptable color, now she felt it to be white with age. Her once vibrant and enthusiastic yellow eyes had dulled with monotony. She didn't quite feel wonderful anymore.

Drip.

She dropped two sugar cubes into her cup.

"You're right. Sorry I've been off lately."

"It's okay! I ain't mad or judging you. I just want to know how I can cheer up my friend."

The two exchanged smiles as Holly added another two sugar cubes to her coffee.

"To tell you the truth, you pretty much hit the nail on the head earlier. Everyone's gotten old. There's only like what, about five thousand people in the world under fifteen? And most of those are in places I can't sell in."

"You mean like underdeveloped areas?"

"Yeah. I still want to do my thing, but it wouldn't be right to sell to them. I donate the products to Manna and they distribute them. I'm trying my best for them, but soon there won't be anyone interested in my stuff…" Holly continued to absently drag sugar cubes into her cup, its contents threatening to spill over. "Just the typical customers… The collectors from the Ess See Pea and the Geo Sea and those Em See Dee rich folks."

"I can't imagine your financials are looking good right now…"

"No, and a lot of the investors are pulling out now too, and I can't blame them. But with us, it's never been about the money, you know?"

"I know, Holly."

"We've been doing this so long because we like doing it, but I need to pay everyone at Wonder World! tee-ehm. I'm sure they'd work for free, but I wouldn't do that to them. I don't know if I can keep going. Everyone's gonna grow up and forget about me. I think it's time I hung up the hat."

The addition of another sugar cube finally overflowed Holly's coffee. The two women watched the spilled liquid spring to life just before making contact with the table, then float overhead. Oscar appeared from thin air once more, this time holding a small cup which he used to nab the coffee.

"Hey, ladies! Sorry to bother you, just wanted to get this out of your way. Here you go, ma'm." He produced a small handful of paper napkins and deposited them before Holly, then vanished again.

Fae took a sip of her drink, amused by the display.

"Good service, huh?"

Her friend simply stared down at her sugary concoction.

"Holly, you've been nothing but kind to me over the years. Your donations to the Center have been absolutely instrumental in helping us build our Marine enclosure and getting critters adopted out here in Portland. But if they're hurting you, I don't want your donations any more. Worry about your employees, okay? And don't give up! The world needs a little bit of wonder, now more than ever."

"Thanks, Fae, but I really just don't know anymore… It doesn't feel the same."

A man in a handsome button-up shirt approached the table they occupied. Fae leaned forward, putting on the meanest face she could manage.

"Excuse me, buddy, but we're having a conversation here."

"I'm aware, Miss Wilson. I just need a moment of your friend's time."

Both were taken aback by the stranger. He knew who they were, but how? The man pulled back the third chair and took a seat. Oscar appeared a third time, pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, which he then placed on the table.

"Better late than never, huh? Heh. Alright you three, enjoy! Remember, call me if you need anything!"

Gone again.

Fae and Holly silently stared down the intruder with a scowl and curiosity respectively, observing his every action. He smelled of expensive cologne and was very well-groomed. The way he picked up his glass even carried a hint of elegance as he brought it to his lip and took a sip.

"Miss Light, I represent the business Marshall, Carter, and Dark Limited. I understand you are a busy woman, and it is quite rude to intrude on your get-together, but we've found no better opportunity to speak to you."

"What do your bosses want? I'm not going to make another run of Robo-Dude action figures if that's what you want. Those were a limited release." Holly brought her left hand to her chin, drumming her fingers against her cheek. This wasn't the first time she'd dealt with the stuffy old gentleman's club and their requests.

"No, we're not interested in any of that. I come to you today with a business proposal."

Holly chortled, then took a sip of her dangerously sugary (at least, for someone who wasn't a Wonder World!™ native) coffee. "I'm sorry, but my products are meant for children of all ages, not stuffy uppity old guys who wouldn't play with them and stick them in a shelf forever. No thank you." She looked to Faeowynn, who nodded in solidarity.

"If I may explain, you will see how this will benefit us both."

"I doubt it, but go ahead."

"We recently conducted a study on our members who had purchased Buteo suits or even undergone body transplants recently. Although their overall comfort levels have increased, they're still the same mentally. What a lot of those same members have been requesting is a way to feel young again not just in body, but in mind as well."

"What exactly is it you're getting at, Mister Moneybags?"

"Marshall, Carter, and Dark would like to fund the creation of such a product, one that allows our members to feel the joys of innocence for pre-determined amounts of time."

For the first time in years, Holly's eyes glistened with wonder. Such a project would allow her to know her labors would be beloved by children once more, even if only for small periods of time. She smiled.

"I've got an idea."

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