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Murder, Dysfunctional Families, and Purple Guys: The Larger Story Behind the Five Nights at Freddy's Games [Updated 11/16/17]

When you peer behind the jump-scares, the narrative driving the Five Nights at Freddy's games is dark, disturbing, and sad.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

Welcome, Freddy Fans (and a special welcome to parents who are trying to figure out what the heck their kids are raving about). This guide to the lore behind the Five Nights at Freddy's games aims to make the over-arching story as digestible as possible.

When I first published this guide to Scott Cawthon's wildly popular horror-adventure series in 2015, Five Nights at Freddy's 3 had only just been announced. Since then, we've had a fourth and fifth game, two novels, a strategy guide that doubles as a lore premier, and an RPG. In other words, some of the story points I talked about previously have been expanded upon. Some have changed. Others have flown out the window entirely.

Here, I use all available information to summarize the Five Nights at Freddy's storyline as simply and plainly as possible. I talk about the kids who were killed, who killed them, and the killer's motivations.

Bad end.

The lore behind Five Nights at Freddy's is dense and intimidating stuff at first glance, but when you focus, it isn't too hard to follow. With a little effort and tenacity, you'll uncover a twisted tale that not only involves murder and deceit, but also a broken family that tries to project itself as normal with depressingly limited success.

Hardcore fans will certainly notice I omit certain plot threads and side-facts, like Michael Afton's possession by Ennard. That's by design: I try to keep things simple here. You won't find irrelevant information about the characters, nor will you find much in the way of fan speculation and theories. While I touch on some of the points MatPat makes in his extremely popular Five Nights at Freddy's videos (specifically his "Final Theory" videos [Part One] [Part Two]), most of what's here is based on fact—or at least widely-accepted fan theories.

Cawthon has a very dry sense of humor, and he enjoys stringing his fanbase along. Even though I've tried to focus on hard facts for this summary of the series' story, "hard facts" don't mean a whole lot in the Five Nights at Freddy's universe. Take everything here with just a pinch of Fazbear-brand garlic salt.

Eat your pizza, don't get too close to the stage, and enjoy.

"All right you little smart-asses, any requests that AREN'T 'Freebird?'"

"Let's start at the start. What is Five Nights at Freddy's?"

Five Nights at Freddy's (FNAF) is a series of point-and-click horror games for PC and mobile made by independent game developer Scott Cawthon. The game's settings and characters vary from game to game, but the premise between them remains the same: You, looking through the eyes of the games' protagonists, must stay alive for five or six days against an onslaught of animatronics who want your blood.

At the time of this writing, there are five mainline FNAF games:

  • Five Nights at Freddy's (2014)
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 2 (2014)
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 3 (2015)
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 4 (2015)
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location (2016)

There are also a few supplementary works:

As you can see, Cawthon produced the first four FNAF games very quickly, but he's since slowed down his output in favor of applying polish and new ideas to the series. Sister Location, for example, frequently changes up the nature of the hazardous situation you need to survive. By contrast, previous games just make the existing animatronics act more aggressively night after night.

"What parts of Five Nights at Freddy's are canon, and what aren't?"

FNAF 1 through Sister Location are all canon, and their stories tie into each other. FNAF World isn't canon. On the Steam Community for Five Nights at Freddy's 4, Cawthon explained that The Silver Eyes and The Twisted Ones are sort-of canon, but it's not meant to fit snugly with the games. Rather, the books are an alternate retelling of the first game's events.

FNAF World isn't part of FNAF's story canon. Can you tell?

For the purposes of letting everyone hang onto their sanity, this guide focuses on the story points revealed through the mainline FNAF games.

"Who's the protagonist of the Five Nights at Freddy's games?"

Even though the FNAF protags are invariably mute and featureless (with very few exceptions, you never see anything except what's directly in front of you, including physical characteristics or markings), they're different people.

The first two games put us in the roles of security guards keeping an eye on things at night. The third game casts you as a teen working at "Fazbear's Fright," a horror attraction based around a burned-out Fazbear Pizzeria location. In the fourth game, you're a frightened child trying to fend off nightmare versions of the popular FNAF animatronics from your bedroom. In Sister Location, you play as a young man named Mike who's been tasked with freeing his sister's remains and / or soul from the shell of one of the animatronics.

I'll say it for you: "Wow. That escalated quickly."

Regardless of whom you're playing as in any of the games, your only real job is to survive. Depending on the game, your method of doing so varies. You may have to monitor cameras and lock your security doors when appropriate, or you may have to listen for audio cues and perform certain actions to ward off the animatronics when the time is right. In most games, your range of movement is limited, and you certainly don't have access to any weapons.

"Do all the games take place at the same pizzeria?"

No. There's more than one Fazbear Entertainment-branded pizzeria, including the titular Sister Location. But not all the games revolve around a restaurant or some other variation of a Satanic Chuck E Cheese-style venue. FNAF 4 takes place in a kid's bedroom, and Sister Location takes place in an underground bunker populated by animatronics that are queued up for repairs and reprogramming.

"I've heard the animatronics in the Five Nights at Freddy's games are haunted by the ghosts of dead kids. Uh, is that true?"

Yes, for the most part. Though FNAF is a bloodless series, it's pretty dark and grim. As stated above, there are several Fazbear-branded pizzerias, and most have been struck by accidents and tragedies—including serial child murders.

Using hidden newspaper clippings and delightfully retro mini-games / cutscenes that emulate Atari CES sprites, FNAF and FNAF 2 hint that several children were killed at the restaurant and had their bodies hidden inside animatronics backstage. This caused the angry souls of those kids to possess the series' most recognizable animatronics: Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie Bunny, Foxy, and Chica the Chicken.

"Hey. Hey. You up? I can't sleep."

There are a couple of lesser-known animatronics, "Golden Freddy" (sometimes called "Fredbear") and "Marionette," who were also possessed by dead children's souls.

Interestingly, the mini-games in FNAF 2 indicate the animatronics are driven to protect other children and find their killer. Consequentially, the animatronics are mistrustful of adults, i.e. the player.

FNAF 4 and Sister Location focus less on the dead kids, and instead offer us a profile about the man who committed the crimes.

"How did the kids die?"

Horribly, presumably. But there's a little bit of good news. Like FNAF 2, FNAF 3 has supplemental Atari-style mini-games that let you play through several connected scenarios. If you complete them successfully, you learn that the ghost-kids who possessed Freddy, Bonnie, Foxy, Chica, Golden Freddy, and the Marionette get revenge on the man who killed them, then move on to a better place. So, that's a cheerful bit of closure for a series that tends to lack anything in the way of cheerfulness or closure.

When you're the restless soul of a murdered kid, "Happiest Days" are in short supply.

"Who is Five Nights at Freddy's 'Purple Guy?' And why have I heard so much about him?"

Now the fun begins.

There are actually two "Purple Guys." The most important one is William Afton, a genius animatronics engineer who designed and built the series' animatronics we know and (kind of) love. He's also the one behind the child-killings mentioned in FNAF 1, FNAF 2, and FNAF 3.

The second Purple Guy is Michael Afton, William's son. Michael is the main character in Sister Location.

The first Purple Guy, William, got his nickname because his first appearance is in FNAF 2's mini-games, where he appears as a purple Atari-style sprite. He wasn't given the name William Afton until much later, however. Purple-William is surrounded by dead children when we first meet him in FNAF 2. The dead kids are also represented as simple Atari-style sprites, but they're still pretty unsettling to see.

The second Purple Guy is William Afton's son, Michael Afton. Though Michael is the protagonist of Sister Location (more on that below), we didn't see him take on the form of Purple Guy #2 (hereafter referred to as "Purple-Michael") until Scott Cawthon made a new Atari-style cinema scene for players who beat the Custom Night in Sister Location's Very Hard mode.

Neither William nor Michael are literally purple human beings. Their purple hue is simply a stylistic choice Scott made when creating the characters who, again, were introduced through retro mini games purposefully designed to look like Atari 2600 titles. Scott's work is filled with tributes to very old games, a fact that usually sails over his young fans' heads for understandable reasons.

Never mind the murderous fox animatronic with the hook-hand, watch out for the other guy.

Purple-William's weird grin is befitting of a child murderer. He also seems to understand the spirits of the kids are haunting the animatronics, and he therefore has a vendetta against them. In fact, he receives an ironic death in the last FNAF 3 mini-game, where he tries to hide from the kids' ghosts inside an animatronic shaped like a yellow bunny, only to have it snap shut and impale him.

But Purple-William didn't die. His zombified corpse, now tangled up in the mechanics of the rabbit animatronic that skewered him, "lives" to haunt the player as an animatronic named "Springtrap" in the events of FNAF 3.

Note that while the events of FNAF 3 take place 30 years after the events of FNAF 1 and FNAF 2, its mini-games are set in the past and show you Springtrap's origin.

"So the first Purple Guy, William Afton, is the one who killed the kids? Did the second Purple Guy, Michael Afton, kill any?"

William is outright seen killing children in the FNAF 2 mini-games. His son, Michael, is innocent—mostly. Michael did kill a child, but it was an accident. In fact, the events of Sister Location suggest he's trying to find redemption for what he did.

More on that below.

This bunny hungers for flesh and blood.

"So the Afton Family is responsible for all the bad things going down in the Five Nights at Freddy's Series?"

Pretty much. It's not surprising, either. Despite William Afton's genius, and despite the fact they all live in an idyllic neighbourhood and project an outward appearance of being normal, they're a dysfunctional bunch.

FNAF 4 and Sister Location link together to give us an idea of what the Afton family is like. There's William Afton, the patriarch and owner of at least one Fazbear Pizzeria. There's Michael, his older son. There's also a nameless, perpetually fearful little boy who fans call "the Crying Boy," and a nameless little girl who fans call "the Ice-Cream Girl."

The opening cutscene for Sister Location indicates William Afton has a thing for designing and populating his restaurants with animatronics that kill children. In fact, one of his most popular animatronics, a female clown called "Circus Baby," kills his daughter, the Ice-Cream Girl (so named because Circus Baby lured her close with an ice-cream cone), even though William warned his daughter to stay away from the animatronic.

"...I bet I get blamed for this."

William's youngest son, the Crying Boy, died in a similar fashion. Despite being terrified of his father's animatronics (hence his perpetual crying), Michael put his little brother's head in Freddy's mouth. The mouth unexpectedly clamped down, and the boy died some time later.

(Popular fan theory even suggests Crying Boy is terrified of animatronics because he witnessed Circus Baby murder his sister, but there's no confirmation one way or the other.)

"What's William Afton's motivation for killing those kids?"

We don't really know. Some fans speculate William went bananas after his daughter, the Ice-Cream Girl, died. That doesn't add up, though, because Circus Baby, the animatronic that killed her, was clearly built to kill and collect small victims when the girl was still alive.

Chances are good that William Afton is simply a mad genius. If he loves anyone, it's daughter, hence why he was strict about not letting her approach Circus Baby. He knew what the animatronic was capable of, and he didn't want her to get hurt. "Sweetie, don't let the crazy death-contraption I built kill you" is a low bar to measure a caring father by, but it's the only indication that William Afton is any kind of a human being.

What's more, William clearly cares nothing for his sons, Michael and the Crying Boy. Michael tortures his little brother in FNAF 4's mini-games by destroying his toys and constantly scaring him while wearing a Foxy mask. In time, Michael's pranks go too far and kill the Crying Boy. William doubtlessly knows his younger son is miserable—all the other neighborhood kids make fun of him for his constant weeping—but he does nothing to stop the torment. In fact, he schedules the Crying Boy's birthday party at the pizzeria, despite the Boy's obvious fear (yes, the Crying Boy was mortally wounded on his birthday. Uplifting!).

More unsettlingly, before his death, the Crying Child spends time in a comatose / dreaming state that sees him fend off monstrous versions of the animatronics he fears (this makes up the gameplay portion of FNAF 4). In Sister Location, we learn William Afton has—or had—surveillance of his son's sickroom beamed down to a secret room in the bunker where he built and fixed his animatronics.

Bad dream, or psychological torture inflicted on a vulnerable child? Maybe we don't want to know.

Was the Crying Child comatose and simply dreaming about fighting his worst nightmares? Or was he semi-lucid and his father set actual animatronics after him as some kind of twisted psychological experiment? We don't know, but the implications are deeply disturbing.

Finally, William sent his eldest son, Michael, down to his old work-bunker to free the Ice-Cream Girl's soul / remains from Circus Baby, even though William probably had a good idea that his son would get wrecked by vicious animatronics and / or vengeful spirits (Michael's act of freeing Ice-Cream girl's soul is what makes up the events of Sister Location; since he shows remorse for getting his brother killed by apologizing to him in the ending of FNAF 4, there's a strong possibility he follows his father's orders to redeem himself) . When Michael monologues to his father (who we see for a second as Springtrap) at the end of Sister Location, it's clear he's not happy about being deceived.

Will the next FNAF game involve a throw-down between Michael Afton and William Afton / Springtrap? That might be cool. Father-son conflicts are always compelling, but when the father is a vicious child-murderer and the son is a zombified human who's suffered years of abuse at his father's hands, the spat promises to escalate beyond a few sharp words.

"What's in the locked box shown at the very end of Five Nights at Freddy's 4?"

Scott Cawthon knows. The good Lord knows. I do not.

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for JohnnyBarnstorm #1 JohnnyBarnstorm 2 years ago
    Penny Arcade's podcast posited that much of this game's popularity is its role as an almost urban legend in terms of terror for kids, especially those addicted to YouTube videos. Something forbidden that children can, if they have the computer while parents aren't around, access to... but are freaked out by the idea of it.

    I thought it was an Amnesia style game, but... uh... it's Night Trap, isn't it?

    Also thanks to Nadia for helping me actually comprehend what the heck these games are about. Dumb question: are they actually gory?Edited 2 times. Last edited February 2015 by JohnnyBarnstorm
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #2 nadiaoxford 2 years ago
    @JohnnyBarnstorm Nope, not at all gory. Which is good, because I can't stand gore but I love psychological horror, so...
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  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #3 SpoonyBardOL 2 years ago
    FNAF is kind of Night Trap done competently, yeah. Not gory at all, just really tense.

    It's weird to see people say the games are 'just full of jumpscares', I think they handle jumpscares really well. They're the fail state, not something you keep encountering in a single play session. You have it in your power to prevent the jumpscares and because of that you're more likely to over-react and mess up.

    Knowing a bunch of jumpscares are coming that you can't do anything about is par for the course for a lot of scary games (welp I have to go down this long hallway to progress, I wonder if anything startling will jump through the window, aaaand there it is, time for a chase event to the next obvious jumpscare), but a single jumpscare that you're doing everything you can to prevent? That changes things quite a bit, it's all about the anticipation.

    Even when you know how all the animatronics work and you know what you have to do, playing the FNAF games can be tense in a way games rarely get.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #4 metalangel 2 years ago
    I can't take this game seriously thanks to the VG Cats strip.

    I'm also a little tired of seeing Freddy Fazbear's smug eyes.
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  • Avatar for franciscovillarrealh #5 franciscovillarrealh 2 years ago
    @JohnnyBarnstorm You see that image in the article of the Freddy costume with the visible eyeballs? The one before the first question?

    That's as gory as it gets.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    This series has completely passed me by, but I think I'll check it out. Sounds like something I could play with my wife, she's a big horror fan.
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  • Avatar for brianalbers08 #7 brianalbers08 2 years ago
    Count me in the camp that just isn't interested in FNAF. Tried playing it, but frustration from lack of even simple instruction or description of the mechanics turned me off very quickly. It all felt very cheap and manipulative, and not well implemented.

    More interesting than the game itself was the reaction to it from my young nephew and niece, both preteens. They are fascinated by this game, and just could not stop going on about its crazy theories over Christmas. I think Johnny Barnstorm has it right: this game fills a niche for kids that campfire ghost stories and urban legends did when I was young. There's a real urge to be confronted by scares at that age in a controlled way, and this game really resonates with them. But as a game... meh.
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  • Avatar for Bauul #8 Bauul 2 years ago
    I'm in the "fascinated by it" camp. I've never played the game (too much of a wimp), but the story and atmosphere really grabbed me for some reason.

    I think the camp-fire-ghost-story theory is likely very true. The game's popularity is almost entirely word of mouth, so having it a game you discover as opposed to being told about by the industry probably really appeals to kid's imaginations.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #9 nadiaoxford 2 years ago
    @brianalbers08 The Internet has definitely birthed an age of potent online urban legends (or "creepypasta," if you want to use the vernacular). Most are pretty dumb, same as the "SHE WAS A GHOST THE WHOLE TIME" legends of the pre-Internet age, but some are pretty good.

    The "Candle Cove" tale gives me a bit of the shivers, since there's something very relatable about it. Cheap, locally-produced kids' show that borders on nightmare fuel - yeah, we've all been there. Probably the reason FNAF resonates with people of all ages. When you get right down to it, Chuck E Cheese's animatronics are low-budget enough to be all herky-jerky and weird looking.
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  • Avatar for nathankelly91 #10 nathankelly91 2 years ago
    Very nice!

    I'd like to add what I think happened at the end of FANF3


    I believe the mini-games in FANF3 are, like in the second one, a glimpse into the past. It shows the "purple bunny" leading the animatronics to the safe room where they can't go and then chops them up, suggesting that the purple man (who is an employee of Freddy's Pizza, and murdered the children) made a fake suit to lure them into a trap where he can dismantle them since they were haunting him (presumably possessed by the children he's killed, or out of some cosmic force to right his wrongs.)

    Finally, after he dismantles all the suits the actual ghost of (at least one) of the kids he killed appears and frightens him Ebenezer Scrooge style. He tries to trick the kid by retreating inside of Spring Trap... but you know... Spring Trap.

    So that's why there aren't any other ACTUAL deaths from the other animatronics, they're set free since the bastard got what he deserved. However, you see the hallucinations of Spring Trap because of the guy who was killed inside. It would also explain why he doesn't jump at you. He isn't trying to stuff you in a suit, he's literally a re-dead murderer. Which ALSO gives reason to why he follows the audio you play to lure him away (a child's voice).

    So the only question is about the actual ending. My guess is that completing all the mini-games shows you how the character suits actually comforted the kids, whether it be in spirit or otherwise... which could also be a metaphor for the kids' souls' possessing the suits. Which also makes sense as to why there are 5 crying kids when the purple man dies. The ghosts of the kids possessing the suits are blocking from exiting, and the one frightens him enough to accidentally kill himself.Edited April 2015 by nathankelly91
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  • Avatar for Jon- #11 Jon- 2 years ago
    Ok I get fnaf and fnaf2 and 3 but I played fnaf 4 and it makes no since because it's in a child's house and all the others are at the fazebear pizzeria place and at the others ur a security guard and at fnaf 4 ur a child in ur home and ur trying to protect your self from Freddy bunny chica and foxy and I got to say there good game but at fnaf 4 make no since to me at all
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  • Avatar for Jon- #12 Jon- 2 years ago
    Ok I get fnaf and fnaf2 and 3 but I played fnaf 4 and it makes no since because it's in a child's house and all the others are at the fazebear pizzeria place and at the others ur a security guard and at fnaf 4 ur a child in ur home and ur trying to protect your self from Freddy bunny chica and foxy and I got to say there good game but at fnaf 4 make no since to me at all
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  • Avatar for Jon- #13 Jon- 2 years ago
    Deleted August 2015 by Jon-
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  • i will write this down right now
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  • Avatar for joshunderhill72 #15 joshunderhill72 A year ago
    So, no explanation about springtrap or nightmare forms? Still don't know what that mess is about...
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  • Avatar for MilquetoastStew #16 MilquetoastStew 5 months ago
    Wow! Well written, Nadia! Down to only a few minute details, I can agree with you almost completely on this theory/analysis. However, there are just a few things that I'd like to comment on, particularly when it comes to the subject of Michael.

    First of all, I want to commend you for coming to the conclusion that Michael is indeed Springtrap-- but did not kill the children. I do have the sneaking suspicion that he's probably not as bad as we give him credit for, even when he's stuck in the animatronic suit. Sure, when he catches us in the third game, it ends in a game over screen. However, his animations are probably the least aggressive of any animatronic in any of the five games. He doesn't jump at you, or try to grab you. He does have a jumpscare sound, but he only ever walks toward you before the game over screen occurs. It's also only ever assumed (without confirmation) that he kills the player upon catching them. Of course, it's only natural that we assume he kills, given that in every other game the animatronics genuinely do want to kill the player. There's actually also audio from within the game that can occasionally be heard -- where he looks at the camera, and quietly moans 'help me.'

    Secondly, I do want to address his role in the dysfunctional family. Speculation from his favorite television show gives us a clue into his childhood. A woman desperately tries to convince a man that he's the father of her child; the baby has his looks, and even acts like him. It's apparent to everyone but the father that the child is entirely legitimate. Most people seem to think that this was directed more at the Crying Boy. I believe this is actually a representation of Michael, and it would explain his resentment toward his younger brother. Even though he is certainly his father's son, he's treated differently... And that causes him to lash out in some very unhealthy ways. Upon his younger brother's death, however, he felt immense amount of remorse. There's a specific instance in the fourth game, though I can't recall on which night, in which somebody says "I'm sorry." Michael was solely responsible for the death of his kid brother... And that definitely is going to mess with a teenage boy. Especially one who is so desperate for paternal affection and familial love. In the end, he'll do anything to make up for his past mistakes. What he wants most is redemption, which is why he doesn't bat an eye when his father sends him to the underground maintenance bunker to finish his dirty work.

    Lastly, I do want to argue the point that he wasn't necessarily a bad person. I think he was young and stupid, and made a massive mistake that would change him for the rest of his life. In fact, when we play the custom night mini games in Sister Location, we see that all of his neighbors seem to genuinely like the guy. They all smile and wave, until he starts looking a little ill. I don't think he was ever out to hurt any body. Even in the game 3 mini games, there is a chance that he was just trying to save the souls of the children from the fate his father sealed for them: by dismantling the animatronics they were trapped within. But in the end, he had to atone for the sins of the father-- existing miserably, undying, as a conscious corpse. Damned to walk the Earth in a trashed rabbit suit until his soul is finally laid to rest. The day that he finds peace. The day that he kills his father, avenges the children, avenges his fallen siblings, and redeems himself. Then he can be free, just like the rest of them.

    I do think the next game will definitely have a big showdown between the true killer and his three children. I'm really hoping for Springtrap, Circus Baby, and Golden Freddy to ban together to track him down and finally end him.

    I do hope this post was at least somewhat coherent :0 this is just my take on the whole thing. Other than these few points, I agree with you entirely.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2017 by MilquetoastStew
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  • Avatar for davidwurzel94 #17 davidwurzel94 A month ago
    As someone who is as intrigued by the Freddy lore to the same degree with which they abhor the Freddy gameplay, this article was the perfect thing to stumble upon as I sit down with my coffee.

    Great stuff.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #18 nadiaoxford A month ago
    @davidwurzel94 Cheers! Don't run afoul of any angry animatronics.
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