Benchwarmer, a short story written by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn and available from 40K, is about imaginary friends from their point of view. In particular, the story follows Mr. Paloobi, a teddy-bear-like father figure wished into existence by a little boy who has long since grown up. For the past seventy years, in fact, Mr. Paloobi has been sitting on the sidelines enviously watching the other imaginary friends (like a fairy princess and a lion) as they are “called in” to play with their owners.
Warming the bench gives Mr. Paloobi plenty of time to recall his days with his young friend. Through flashbacks we see how they bond, the sad reason why the boy wished for an imaginary friend, and how they grew apart as the boy aged. As you may guess, this makes for some poignant scenes. But the authors also do a superb job at making you care about the characters and their relationship because they show that it means something to each of them. The themes that pervade the story carry weight. It’s not just loneliness, but also a feeling of being loved and being needed. It helps that the story’s straightforward prose whisks the story along. All of this conspires to give Benchwarmer an emotional strength that, while reminiscent of the Toy Story films, stands quite well on its own merits.