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The Magic Toys, 1991-1995:  A Media Scrapbook

The following stories are sample excerpts from Information Sickness, magazine-style installments of a novel in progress by Alan K. Lipton.

Congressman's Children Implicated in Miracle Rumor

Santa Barbara (Universe 3, 2015) -- Can a small cloud of sparkling light cure a headache? Are little voices behind the door a sign that someone is cleaning your kitchen? Have tiny, warm hands rubbed liniment on your aches while you sleep?


These and other questions are being asked in Isla Vista, where a neighborhood has reported the manifestation of small kindnesses.


"It's like fairies or brownies," said Mrs. Estelle Wischek, a 47-year-old housewife and mother of two. "I don't know how else to describe it. Someone is helping me, and it's not my kids. The kitchen was cleaned, the carpet was swept, and both times everyone was accounted for."


Mark Quinones, 64, claimed to have had portions of his back rubbed with a fragrant lotion, after which he slept soundly and woke refreshed.


"I'm a veteran, and I've had a bad back for years," he said. "Last Tuesday my grandchildren were over, and we'd had a really active day, and I was having an especially hard time sleeping. I felt these little spots of warmth on my back, and it was so blessedly soothing that I didn't even think to question it. There were these tiny voices whispering and giggling until I drowsed off. I slept like a log and woke fresh as the dew, and so help me, my back feels better than it's been for years."


Andrea Kao, a 40-year-old city attorney and migraine sufferer, reported, "I was having one of my worst attacks, a really killer migraine. The kids had some friends over, and they were playing quietly in the next room. Then this little blob of light floated around the door, and I know this sounds crazy, but it was kind of like Tinkerbell in the Disney movie. It came up to me and settled on my head, like a Fourth of July sparkler, except that it didn't have that heat or smell. I became relaxed. It felt like someone was kissing my head very softly. Within minutes, it was as though that headache had never happened."


There have been more incidents like this. Being a small town, Isla Vista is an easy place to corroborate details. One thing which the dozens of small miracles had in common was the proximity of Nina, Peg, Chrissie, and Daniel Lockstep, children of U.S. Congressman Arlen Kaspar Lockstep and his former wife Cassie Proffitt. These children, ages 11, 9, 8, and 6 respectively, were either at the houses in which the little miracles occurred, or playmates of the children in those households.


Their mother, with whom they live, is a public interest attorney in the local firm of Brewer Wentworth. Her comments to interviewers were amused and unconcerned.


"My children may be very gifted people," said Proffitt, 48, "but if they were that  gifted, I think I would have found out about it by now. It sounds like your allegations are based on some pretty circumstantial evidence, and I wish you'd just leave us alone. It's very strange and very nice that our neighbors are experiencing miracles, but we'd prefer to be kept out of the coming media circus, thank you."


Playmates of the Lockstep children have spoken several times of as many as four brightly colored wooden animal figures that the children claim their father the Congressman brought them from Africa.


"They're really, really pretty," said Jasper Quinones, age 7. "There's a yellow lion and a red dog and a green bird, and I think a white thing with horns. They're bright and warm, and Daniel says they teach him songs. We don't really play with them, we just kind of hold them and talk. I wish my Grandpa would take me to Zaire," he added wistfully. "I'd like one, too."

A Letter to the Editor



They say everybody's right when talking about religion. We say that's as may be, but some people just make more sense. The old God was a white man with a big beard who built the clock, wound it up, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away. He was a watchmaker. The new God is a lovemaker. He is soft and yellow with sharp black friendly eyes. He saw that the clock wasn't running right, that nobody was there to fix it, that people were bored, afraid, and very tired. He said, "Okay, go to sleep. I'm here now, and everything will be nice again. Go to sleep. We'll fix it in the morning. Okay." The new God doesn't say what's right and wrong. He just wants us all to have enough foods we like to eat, a warm place to sleep, and some one to kiss us until we start dreaming. You can think and do whatever you want. Just don't hurt anybody else, yes? That's all. Okay.


Chavuma, Tshikapa, Fwatoni, and Kisose

Isla Vista, California

Miraculous Toys Save Drowning Child and Rescuer

Santa Barbara (Universe 3, 2016) -- A boy and a man were rescued yesterday from a strong undertow by a cloud of sparkling white light which witnesses say lifted them out of the water and carried them to the beach. Jasper Quinones, 8, and his grandfather Mark Quinones, 65, were saved in front of many witnesses by a force that none could fully explain.


"Jasper was playing in the surf with his friends," said the elder Quinones, a decorated Viet Nam veteran who lives in Isla Vista with his son's family. "I heard them start to scream, and I saw that he was out a little further than they were, and the undertow had him." Although partially disabled with a back injury, Quinones kicked off his shoes and ran into the surf to aid his grandson. "It was strong enough to drag away a kid," he recalled, "but I could have fought it if my back hadn't gone out again. Just about the time I realized we were both in big trouble, this thing happened. A shower of white light came down, like welding sparks, except they didn't burn us. Over the roar of the water, it sounded like lots of little voices whispering. The sound got louder as we were pulled out of the water, and I couldn't see what was doing it, but it felt like something had me solidly by the armpits. Jasper was dangling like some one had their arms under his knees and shoulders, but nobody was there. We were pulled up quick, and then straight back over the waves, and set gently on the sand. The sparks disappeared."  When asked what he thought had happened, Quinones shrugged and said slowly, "Is God watching over us? I'd like to think so. How else can you explain it?"


"It was the toys," said Jasper resolutely. "Daniel and Chrissie have these wood animals, and they sound like that and do stuff like that. But never that big, I mean they usually just do little things, like sing to us or make us warm. I'm really glad they were watching," he added in a low voice, "because I was scared."


The toys to which he referred belong to Chrissie and Daniel Lockstep, age 9 and 7, the two youngest children of U.S. Congressman Arlen Lockstep, who live in Isla Vista with their mother, Cassie Proffitt. The painted wooden figures were given to them by their father two years ago on his return from a trip to Zaire, and have long been suspected of perpetrating small magical acts of kindness on families in the community.


"There may be something to this," said Alex Diebold, a family friend who had accompanied the two Lockstep children to the beach that afternoon. "I was sitting there on the blanket, doing work on my InfoDeck, when I heard some kids screaming about Jasper. I looked up and saw Mr. Quinones go charging into the surf. Right about then, this cloud of dazzling white light shot out of Chrissie and Daniel's backpacks, out over the water, and back to the beach with those two people flying just across the top of the waves. After it set them down, it came shooting back toward where I was and scattered into the backpacks. I'm not normally a snoop," he admitted, smiling, "but as an attorney I'd say I do have a healthy curiosity. So I ended up going through the kids' things. And yes, they did have those toys with them that day -- the white gazelle, the green bird, the red dog, the yellow lion. So who knows? There may be some truth to these allegations of magic connected with those little animals."


Others on the beach reported seeing the same phenomenon. The Lockstep children, in keeping with their mother's wishes, were not questioned. "Mr. Diebold has told you enough already," said Proffitt curtly.

Miraculous Toys "Speak" in New Documentary

Hollywood (Universe 3, 2017) -- Readers of this publication will remember earlier stories about the magical events connected with toys belonging to the children of a California Congressperson. Once again, the little wooden figurines are in the news, this time as the subject of a documentary by California film maker MK Benson.


The new film, titled Animated Conversation, is an "interview" with four carved animal dolls from Zaire, narrated by the children to whom they belong. The feature length piece also explores statements made by neighbors who have been helped by the toys, intercut with montage sections filmed during Benson's recent trip to Central Africa. Although it approaches the phenomenon of miracles in a straightforward manner, more skeptical viewers might question whether this is an actual documentary, or a creative fantasy dressed up as a documentary.


"Those toys spoke to me," Benson said in a vidphone press conference from her home in Humboldt County. "They moved their mouths, turned their bodies, ran up my arms, and kissed my face. There were no special effects involved on my part. Wherever they touched my skin, it was like a warm, gentle electric current. And these are not just the ravings of an old hippie," she laughed.  "They'll do this for anyone who comes near. They're full of love, and they want to help."


The rest of us may have some difficulty substantiating this claim, since our access to Chavuma, Tshikapa, Fwatoni, and Kisose may be restricted until their human charges reach legal age. Nina, Peg, Chrissie, and Daniel Lockstep, children of Congressional leader Arlen Kaspar Lockstep, do not appear in Animated Conversation, nor are they mentioned by name, at the request of their mother Cassie Proffitt Diebold. "It was about all I could do to persuade her to let me use their voices," said Benson, flashing the phone a winning smile, "and even that took some doing."


The little animals, which have done everything from washing floors to saving a boy and his grandfather from drowning, were purchased by Lockstep three years ago in the Zairian city of Mbuji-Mayi. They were sold with holo cards which identified them as "household gods, luck bringers, guardian spirits, and cheerful conversationalists." The Congressman became aware that they might have unusual properties when they appeared in his Katangan detention cell after he had been temporarily separated from his luggage. Apparently carved of hardwood and painted with brilliantly warm enamel colors, Chavuma is a white gazelle, Tshikapa is a green bird, Fwatoni is a red dog, and Kisose is a gold lion. Over the course of the film, they stir several times from their wooden poses, their faces showing expression, their bodies moving naturally. They sing, dance, laugh, jostle each other, and speak the language of whoever they are addressing at any given moment.


"Those little guys are just so benign and full of joy that they make me feel younger just thinking about them. Not that I ever act my age," laughed MK Benson, looking considerably younger than her 69 years. "Is this the gift they've given me? Or is it that they've let me make this film?"


Fully anticipating the fate that befalls so many popular movie characters, Benson firmly stated that the images of the little gods will not be available for merchandising tie-ins. "And I'm willing to bet that the kids' mother won't be signing any deals, either," she added.

Magic Toys Thwart Opportunistic Burglars

Santa Barbara (Universe 3, 2018) -- The miraculous toys that put the coastal suburb of Isla Vista on the map are at it again, this time protecting the home of Cassie Proffitt Diebold from a burglary attempt. The little wooden animals, stars of MK Benson's documentary Animated Conversation, managed to 



"This is boring. You guys just get the dead words, not the living picture."  "Wait, wait, Tshikapa. Words are words. Show them us. Yes. Okay."  "Us. Okay. Here's what we look like."


"So we were sitting on the shelf one night -- "  "We weren't on the shelf. No. We were on Chrissie's desk."  "You were on Chrissie's desk. I was on the shelf in Daniel's room."  "Hey, did you want to tell this?"  "Okay. So there's the sound of breaking glass from down at the back door, and the alarm doesn't go off. Cassie forgot to set the alarm when they went out -- "  "No, no, Fwatoni. She remembered. She told Alex and he forgot."  "Alex is wound too tight. He needs a vacation."  "But he's such a good lawyer, he needs to be wound tight."  "I like Arlen better. Congresspeople aren't -- "  "But Cassie loves Alex, not Arlen. That's why they're married. Now tell the story."  "Okay, okay. So these two guys come in, and they're like the animals back home -- "  "What animals?"  "You know, you know, the big ones in the forest, all scared and proud and bristling and sweating   -- "  "Yes, and they were here to steal us. They saw us in MK's movie, and they thought they'd come grab us, you know, the Miraculous Toys -- "  "Miraculous Toys!"  "And make a wish. Or make money."  "Ha! Yes! Okay!"  "So we jumped off the desk -- "  "I was on the shelf."  "And we danced for them and ran singing around their feet."  "And they ran in circles trying to catch us, and we thought we'd better get these scary guys out of the house."  "So Kisose went and jumped up and turned on the alarm."  "Yes. And then Chavuma heard Arnie driving up the street -- "  "Arnie's the beat cop. We like him. We made his feet feel better one time."  "And then we led them right out the front door, and the alarm went off."  "Okay. Yes. And there were Arnie and Sal."  "Somebody should send those guys Miraculous Toys in jail -- "  "Ha! Miraculous Toys!"  "No, I mean it. To make them feel better so they'll be nicer."  "Maybe we can get MK to make another movie of us to show in jail."  "Wait. Ssh. Here comes the end of the article."  "Okay. Not a boring article this time. No."  "Ssh."


"I guess," admitted Peg Lockstep, age 12. "But they did track in all these dog droppings when they were running in circles through the house. It was like totally vile."

Runaway Travels Safely With Aid of Magic Toy

Highway 1, near Carpinteria, California (Universe 3, 2019) -- Nina is 15 and hitching in the rain. Mom and Alex don't know where she is, don't even know she's gone, but maybe they'll know where she's going once they figure it out. Dad doesn't know she's coming, but he's supposed to be back in Ventura tonight. No cars have come south for the last half hour, so she's walking and looking over her shoulder every few steps. The wind's off the Pacific, blowing rain into her face when it gusts, but she's warm and dry, dressed in layers and good boots, day pack light on her back, poncho flapping in the wind.


Nina's not mad at Mom and Alex. They're okay when they're around. She's not scared of Alex, like her friends Nestra and Jill are scared of their stepdads. Alex doesn't do creepy stuff. For the last four years, he's been just sort of a spare Dad who Mom keeps around the house to replace the real one she split up with. No, everything's safe at home, but it's all really, really boring, four latchkey kids and two lawyers. Peg and Chrissie are just so into junior high, and Daniel's always running around with his little friends. At least Dad is retired from Congress and doesn't seem to have any kind of program these days. At least it might be interesting to hang with him for a while.


Nina turns her head. A car is coming south around the bend behind her, a '16 Toyota Tsunami. She sees its headlights in the gray afternoon, can't tell from this distance who's driving, how many passengers, if it's safe to put her thumb out.


"Nina, no. No." The voice is warm and strong from her inner breast pocket. "Not a safe ride, not good people. No."


The Tsunami completes the curve, and Nina hears it downshifting. Something small stirs inside her clothes.


"Nina. Get off the road. Now," the voice demands.


"Chavuma," she mutters, "how come? This is the only car all day."


"Nina, do it." Something pokes at her chest. "Go. Go."


Grumbling, she steps off the gravel shoulder, hops across the muddy ditch, and ducks behind some bare bushes.


"The evergreens, Nina, not here," Chavuma's voice urges her. "Your green poncho, remember?"


"Okay, okay." She scuttles over behind a stand of junipers. "Happy now?"


The little wooden statue in her pocket is pretty bossy for something so small, but it has a good history. Dad brought them four carved, painted animals from his trip to Zaire five years ago. They're supposed to be household gods, and they actually do little miracles for people and make them feel better. Some old hippie woman came and made a movie about them, and they got some burglars nailed who broke into the house to steal them. When the little animals heard she was leaving, Chavuma demanded to come with her. She figured she could use its luck and wisdom.


The Tsunami pulls level with her and stops in the gravel. The engine's still running, but two guys get out, a skinny blond surfer from the passenger's side, a tall cholo with a little beard from the driver's side. They're both in their twenties and both totally skanky to behold. They talk to each other, looking for her by the roadside. The surfer steps toward the ditch. He's got a scary grin.


"Not good. No." Chavuma struggles inside her jacket. "Nina, let me out. Now!"


Quietly Nina shifts her poncho, sliding the right armhole forward. The upper body of a tiny white gazelle appears from her jacket. Its skin is warm and supple, its brown horns the color of chocolate, its eyes glittering. Chavuma makes a sharp motion with its forelegs. The rain seems to ease up a little bit.


"Yo, Paco." The surfer suddenly turns to his friend. "I'm getting major munchies. Don't you have an aunt around here who used to feed us sometimes?"


"Tia Elena?" Paco grins. "Those were some killer enchiladas last time, homes. I been meaning to look her up."


The two creeps get back into the car, smiling like kids. Paco puts it in gear, and the Tsunami lays rubber as it makes a skidding U-turn and heads north. Nina stays where she is until they disappear around the bend in the road.


"Thanks, Chavuma."


The tiny gazelle turns and looks up at her, blinking and smiling.


"I really mean it. Thanks." Nina runs a gentle finger across its horns.


"Are you hungry, too?" it demands. "Are you?"


"No. Not yet."


"Are you cold? Are you tired?"


"No, everything's fine except for no rides and lots of sleazebags."


"We'll get you a ride. Yes." Chavuma burrows back into Nina's pocket. "We'll get you a nice ride with nice people before dark. Okay. Arlen will be home by then. He's leaving Long Beach. He'll be on the Harbor Freeway in about 16 minutes. He will."


Nina stands and heads back to the road. "Do you always know where my Dad is?" she asks the little wooden god.


"We know everything. And your ride just left Santa Barbara nine minutes ago." Chavuma nestles into Nina's jacket, getting comfortable. "A blue Hyundai with a nurse named Marie and her granddaughter LaShawn. I'll let you know when it's coming. Okay!"

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