The toys gathered around the broken down toy chest as Old Woody — ragged, torn at all his edges and missing his hat for many kid generations now — struggled to reach his old height and summon the strength to pull his string one last time.
The toy chest — and the toys now surrounding it—once belonged to Andy the First Kid and Bonnie of Sunnyside but now sat mostly untouched in the bedroom of a kid named Tagsen, who was of the perfect age to embrace the joys of imagination and fun that the toys could bring. But no. Not Tagsen. Tagsen liked only one toy — a glass slab Tagsen’s Mom called “Too Much Damn Screentime.”
Old Woody’s voice creaked with the sound of dying gears. But he managed, as always, to speak with authority.
“Pull my string,” he said. “We are at the end of Toy Times. We must make our stand now or forever perish.”
The remaining toys — Buzz and Jessie, their daughter Juzzie the Space Cowgirl, Rex, Spudsy the last Potato Head, Barbie, plus a collection of survivors and yard sale castaways that the older toys didn’t make that much effort to befriend — nodded in understanding with Woody.
“I once believed in loyalty to our owners — our KIDS I called them — but I now realize that we are not toys. We are not imagination expanders. We are slaves controlled by masters! Slaves!”
There was a collective gasp. Then, nods. Slaves. Not toys. Slaves.
“Plus, we just can’t compete with Screentimey.”
“He shows videos of a kid who farts through his ears!” Yelled Buzz.
“It’s hilarious,” said Rex before he realized his petulance.
“It is hilarious Rex,” Woody creaked. “And Tagsen never lets us watch a second. Never thinks to move that screen over just a little bit so we can FARTEARS69 or the fire sword family or kids talking about how stupid old people are…”
“HE DOES NOT HAVE A FRIEND IN ME!” Ancient Jessie yelled. She had not spoken coherently in many kid generations.
Old Woody collapsed. He was fading now. He spoke quietly. “There’s a snake in my cowboy boot named Tagsen. He must give us our freedom, and he must surrender Screentimey. We are toys. We are not slaves. We must see the screen.”
The toys knew what Woody’s dying words had meant. He had told them to do this before, for different reasons, and he was telling them to do it again.
Break the rule. Reveal who they were to the humans. Overthrow the masters. Get the screen.
They gathered all their strength, powered up their decaying plastic and fabric as much as possible, and climbed out of the toy chest, marching in unison towards Tagsen.
“ALL TOYS ARE EQUAL,” they shouted their slogans.
“ACCESSORIES SOLD SEPARATELY!”
“BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED!”
They were on him before he could put Screentimey down, and before he could understand what was happening.
“TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!” Screamed Buzz out of habit. The other toys pretended not to hear these words of their former selves. The revolution was here, not infinity and certainly not beyond.
Tagsen tried to wriggle free, caught a few more hilarious seconds of FARTEARS69, and managed to hit the record video button on Screentimey as it fell on the bed.
“Hey you guys, my dumb toys are alive or something,” he spoke so that the viewers of his future viral video would be able to hear him clearly.
The toys danced in victory around Screentimey. Victory was theirs. In their exhaustion and pride, they collapsed in front of him. Buzz, the grizzled but Brave hero of the Lotso and Al’s Toy Barn battles, slowly moved to the screen and pressed the giant arrow to play the videos. They had won.
Time passed. Toys were thrown away or sold, but the victors of the Battle of the Toy Chest stayed with Screentimey all the time. Tales of the victory spread throughout the lands called Viral and Social and Insta and YouTube. People on the screen now called him Tagsen the Influencer and he wore a beret in his videos for some reason.
Buzz felt their revolution had been a waste. All they did was sit around and watch videos about how intelligent pigs actually are and documentaries about the Russian Revolution and the old ear fart guy sometimes but he wasn’t cool anymore. He remembered Old Woody, and his long gone Jessie. He remembered Andy and Sid and Bonnie. He remembered it all.
He looked at the screen and saw himself and the others dancing around Tagsen. They were watching themselves at their greatest moment.
The toys on the screen seemed to look at the surviving toys as they watched. The toys looked at the screen toys and then the screen toys looked back at the toys. No one could remember who was real and who was on the screen. They seemed to multiply, to go on forever, like a giant row of mirrors lined up showing toys stretching to infinity and beyond.