Each month, we post a photograph as a writing prompt. Post your 100-word story in the comments section, and we’ll choose one to feature in our next issue. To see examples, read photo stories we’ve published in the past.
Photo credit: Wendell
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A box mountain, chili cans, and an ancient sewing machine clutter the room: a hide-n-seek paradise.
“…26, 27…” Grandma echoes. Squeezing under the sewing table, I knock over a picture; he’s in uniform, she’s in white.
15 minutes. She’s terrible at this. Bored, I lift the sewing bench lid. There he sits, smaller than my thumb. Cold in my hand, tin imprisons him. Where are his brothers?
I search. One kneels on piano music, another between two books. One hides in plain sight on the windowsill.
I count them. 30. Crouched and armed, they circle me, standing guard. I’m ready.
He sits alone in his den, eyeglasses pushed back, form hunched over a low wooden table. The small figurine is cold in one of his hands, his other twirling what’s left of his long-grayed hair. Shaking fingers, monstrous in comparison, trace the delicate curves of the toy, the miniature gun, the intricate details of sure hands and unaccustomed shoes and smooth helmet. He muses that they must be new recruits. His sister had bought them when he first enlisted so long ago, had shelled out a whole $5 for the real iron men. They were wonted to being handled now.
He opens his eyes slowly, feeling exhausted already.
Like most mornings, grogginess lingers and sleep inertia follows him throughout morning routine: minimal grooming, cat feeding, black coffee sipped by the sink while aimlessly staring out the kitchen window.
In the hallway, he briefly sits and laces up his shoes. He rises up lento. Endlessly looking at the crooked hanging cluttered cork board, he burdens himself dispiritedly picking one post it note holding an unremarkable chore.
Before heading out the door, into the battlefield of his mundane life, with yet another inescapably painfully predictable move, he chooses his weapon – denial.
The silent grey men crouch softly over the shining wooden surface, a colorless gun perched upon their unmoving shoulder. Those shielding the cowardly are called brave, though it does not matter for they cannot hear those words of praise. With protests which left unheard by those who possess vitality, the soldiers shoot their bullets, hidden by the effervescent, dancing light which they can neither see nor comprehend. Blinded to even their own reflections, which become dark as they are abandoned, they continue to shoot.
A soundless cry rings through the air, the sound of a forgotten soldier as he falls.
Die-cast figurines were the only keepsakes left from my father, steel Gunny Sergeants serving in place of pictures or notes.
As a child, we’d re-enact great battles on our linoleum kitchen floor. Trafalgar. Stalingrad. Waterloo. Stationed upon high as God, I would align my pawns.
“Once more into the breach,” I’d scream. “Take no prisoners!”
When my mom left for work, however, leaving me with old Mrs. Robbins, it was only then I’d play a different game.
“Hop into bed,” said the daddy soldier to his son. “I love you. Kiss, kiss, kiss.”
These were the battles I never won.
An army ready to fight. Larger in numbers but smaller in height. All through the night ready to fight. As the animal approached. The large warm hand moved us in aim. As time became a blur, I woke up in a box. I didn’t know where I was. Those large hands turned even larger. My friends not in sight. That once big animal gone. The sound of laughter from the little boy faded. As the hand dropped me in a box. The unfamiliar toys greeted me as we questioned the next time we will see light.
Frozen in their never ending battle, the men have no room for peace. They are repositioned over and over again, yet each battle, none are ‘dead’. He may fall over and he may seem ‘dead’, but the frozen men will always be reset and placed back in their rows, waiting for the ‘bigger man’ to pick them up and store them away. Their guns are always pointing front, pinned up against another. But once it’s all over, there starts the beginning of another.
“Jackson, hurry Aunt Jen is on her way”
Jackson was cleaning out his room for college. He looked at the last thing left in his room. An army of metal toy soldiers sat up on her dresser. Aligned and ready to charge. Today would be their last mission. He was giving all his toys to his cousins. He picked up the dusty soldiers and held them in his hands. What he really held in his hands was his childhood. Jackson would have never thought something so simple and small could mean so much to him. He grasped the toy soldiers in his hands and let go of them one by one into a box labeled college.
Arranged in a line their feet marched together to a rhythmic drum. Left-Right-Left-Right. Their bodies moved in sync like the crashing waves that reached high then slumped back into the blue abyss. His waterproof boots tied tight to his feet sunk into the wet sand as the world pulled him closer to the ground (a fear many men had). Time stood still as he threw himself up the sandbanks dodging every metal shard lit by fire the enemy through. Not all could be invisible. Like him, many were swept away like shells in the sand tumbling through the purple waters.
Glancing at the plastic army men scattered on the worn out carpet, I remembered how much I used to cherish them: naming the one with a broken gun Dale and the one with a chipped face Joe. But now, they had to go. They were the closest thing I had to my father. He would return from fighting, give me one these guys, and leave again. I must part with the past, if only my father were here with me. Holding them tightly, I walked towards the fire, threw them in, and walked away, never looking back.
Little toy soldiers. My baby brother looks in awe as he plays with the little green men. He saw toy story once and ever since that day he was in love with them.
“Mommy I want that. Mommy can I please have that please.”
Mom would always give in every Toys-r-us trip. It became a routine. And having a little brother meant always going there. He became a compulsive collector. In his 3-year-old mind it was normal. To everyone else it was adorable. If he only knew the meaning behind those toy soldiers and everything those real men go through.
When they landed, all hell broke loose. Their plane had a punctured fuel tank. Stranded, they had to work with the guns, and the rest of the gear they had on them.
A suicide mission with one goal: reclaim the island. A team of soldiers with all odds against them, would have to do the impossible. Outnumbered, all they had was skill and strategy. They crept towards the enemy stronghold, they spotted lookout towers. Snipers didn’t spot them, they started placing charges.
All at once they would detonate and recapture. Legends of their time, my three brothers. They made history.
As he lay there in the cool wetness of the mud, he began to wonder – if his body could talk right now, what would it be telling him?
Then his thoughts were adrift, like a pendulum clock, or the medic’s frantic hands.
He could feel the prickling heat of Louisiana, Mary’s hands in summer, the creak underfoot of his mother’s porch; the look on their faces as the train arrived. He wished that it could have just remained a silly game, that he could whittle it all back down to just a boy in his bedroom, playing with toy soldiers.
Davis pressed his face into the moist dirt at the bottom of the crater. It was cool and soothed his burnt skin. A constant hum filled his ears punctuated by an occasional cracking sound. The last shot had been close. It hit Sergeant Sands in the face, a crimson spray before the tumble.
There at the bottom of the crater, where the road of sanity ended. Davis heard his father.
“Plastic soldiers don’t win wars son.” He said clumsily stepping on the toys in the hallway.
He was never kind but usually right.
Davis grabbed his rifle and crawled forward.
They were just toys. Little green pieces of plastic, created from polymers of carbon and hydrogen and other elements. His hand brushed through the little men kneeling and pointing their weapons and suddenly the smell of fire and death surrounded him, and panicked cries pounded in his ears. He tasted the metallic blood in his mouth. Why did he have to remember when all he wanted to do was forget? He pressed his eyes closed and begged his mind to let him return to reality. When it finally obliged, he pushed the small bits of plastic back into their corner.
WHAT WAS AND WILL BE
Years spent dreaming of being wrapped in melody, I look at the city, loud and blaring, wondering, when I became a part of the noise.
Perhaps when promises gave way to greed, tears reigned and the land turned red. Time refused to heal and hope turned the colour of camouflage. Action’s consequence was loss. Even before that, when the first apology travelled from the tip of the tongue to the back of the mind.
Or the first time I pulled the trigger.
I killed a child today.
The city had taught me love but I’ve lost my heart to longing.
They were the Chess pieces of my childhood, and as a child, I moved them around. Always inventing new ways for them to fight. The battles were simpler in Elementary school you had time between ice cream summers and snowball winters. Boys called you cool in elementary school if you had an army, and a baby in middle school if you still commanded your troops. There was a myth that the child was a child at graduation and an adult by the end of a summer. So the armies held their positions and waited for orders that would never come.
This is so good. Perfect.
My brother Joe assumed Soldier was his first name. He, Bret, and Jesse shot me dead more than a hundred times before I reached nine.
“Bang, gotcha” reverberated through my brain.
I’d laugh them off. “You punks wouldn’t kill me. I’d haunt you good.”
“Oooooh, you scare us. See, we’re shaking in our boots.”
Real guns replaced fake ones. Bambi’s relatives weren’t the only ones with something to fear. The triumvirate reigned until the first bullet struck.
I appeared to them not long after. Joe, Bret, and Jesse looked right through me.
I willed chills down their backs.
The headache pulsed through his skull as he carried the groceries to the house, holding plastic bags in either hand. The man struggled to raise one of his full hands into his coat’s breast pocket with the handles of the plastic digging into his palm. He retrieved the keys from the bottom of the pocket, and unlocked the door. As he opened the door, he sighed with relief that he was home. He kicked off his shoes and walked to the kitchen. He foot descended onto the hardwood floor and landed on one of his son’s toys.
The man screamed.
“PEW PEW!” the boy yelled, launching his army men around his room. “Get down, Johnson! We’re cornered!”
The boy’s mother stood in the doorway, watching her son ram his toys against each other. She wondered whether he dreamed of these situations, the one’s his late-father had told him a few years ago. She wondered if he would grow up wanting to be like his father, joining the military at a young age and going off on tour after tour.
“Bombs away!” screamed the boy before he looked up at his mother. “What’s wrong, mommy?”
“I just love you so much.”
The child takes a closer look at the slinky.
“‘ana la ‘urid minhum.”
“Here you go, kid, take it.”
The child recoils back to the father.
“He say he does not want it. Now would you please leave us?”
The father wipes dust from the child’s face as they wait for the next available doctor or nurse.
The soldier returns to the base, placing the slinky back in the outreach room. Toy soldiers sit on the shelf above the slinky and the cases of water. He laughs in disgust, then closes his eyes as tight as he can.
Her disfigured visage morphs in and out as she teeters against our dining room table, pushing her soldiers closer to mine. I hear her pig-like laugh, snorting and squealing, somewhere off to my left: “You have no chance!”
In false defiance, I smile arrogantly in the direction of the mossy figurines, scattered haphazardly in front of me. Carefully, I move one of mine toward hers. She cackles and knocks it to the ground. “I win!” A quick pause. “Why do you always let me win?”
I smile mischievously, “I would never!”
I just can’t really see the pieces anymore.
That’s us three old guys. Sergeant Sutherland on the left, Major Monk in the middle, and me, Captain O’Connor on the right. As battle-hardened veterans of Emperor Eddie’s basement play-space, we all saw some shit.
Sergeant Sutherland’s stresses started subsequent to seeing Eddie strap sparklers to innocent spinjas.
Major Monk’s mentality’s marked malignity matured after Eddie measured maximum plunging depth of Monk into his nose.
I haven’t been able to sleep right at night since that fight rife with the ruin of my platoon doomed by the nebulous black garbage bag.
Damn, these old pictures dig up memories best forgotten.
The room was still in a quiet suburban sort of way. It was mid-afternoon. Soon the window of the room would rattle slightly as school buses drove down the street dropping off young rambunctious passengers. The room was altogether tidy. The bed was perfectly made with pillows fluffed. The desk organized, the shelves items perfectly arranged, the pictures nice and straight, no dirty clothes to be seen on the floor. However, the only odd ball out was the pile of green army men scattered on the floor, covered in thin dust. A muffled sob could be heard down the hallway.
“What are these?” Aramiel asked, picking up one the figures scattered before him with armored fingers. They resembled men dressed in foreign garb wielding strange armaments and made from an even stranger substance; one solid yet neither metal, wood, nor stone.
“That boy states that they are his toys,” answered Kordiel.
“Strange, they remind me of the battalion figures from the commander’s war map.”
“Odd.” Muffled and unintelligible words came from a woman bound against center pole of the tent, her head covered with a bag. Aramiel walked to her, boots crunching against gravel.
“Now, to learn what she knows.”
They were just little green men he got from the Woolworth many years earlier, 20 green and 10 he had spray painted brown a long time ago. Much older with a full head of grey hair now, he was a church elder, a grandfather, and a respected man in his community. Each day he set up those figures. 20 were he and his men and 10 were the enemy Each day he replayed and relived a forgotten battle, where many of his men had died. He had been in command, when he lost so many friends. His guilt was overwhelming.
His dead buddies blurred in the background but he knew they still had his back. The brutality burned, damned if Clayton would be defeated. As he grabbed his rifle, aimed and focused, he knew he wasn’t going to march proudly in his hometown parade, too scared to worry about scars, but scared for the scar that would be inflicted on his son. An unheard shot, Clayton dropped.
The doorbell rang. Joey dropped his toy soldier, scurried to the window, pushed aside the green curtains, saw a lieutenant salute and handed his mother a telegram. She dropped the telegram and sobbed.
His backpack slapped against him; he trotted off the bus, up the driveway, and through his front door. His backpack crashed into the railing of the stairs as he raced up upstairs. In a comfortable spot on the floor of his room he sprawled out his army figurines. “Drop and give me 20!” “Reporting for duty!” They sat there frozen on his dresser for years as he learned that men don’t play with toys. She picked them up throwing them in a garbage bag, as tears ran down her cheeks. She eyes an American flag in a triangle box.
You think you know what war is because you play with toy soldiers, then one day you realize none of the guns point straight and none of the men have faces, so you close the bucket forever; then you think you know what love is because he tells you that first night he knew you’d be fun in bed by your pictures until one day you realize none of his words point straight, and so you tiptoe out after midnight for the last time, and you always think you have time for more (games, lovers), until one day you don’t.
I’ve discovered this war game in the basement.
Just need to find some players.
Everyone wants to play. They came all dressed up in military uniforms, looking real cute.
Sometimes I wish I had a uniform.
We’ve been playing for five days. They really live it, they keep saying. “It’s not a game.”
They think I will lose.
I’ll show them how to win a war. I’m going to press that red button.
Hurried note: My Gawd, there is no time now for tweets, television or stupid games.
Someone just started a nuclear war.
I need to hide.
Grandpa died, Mom said. I was indifferent. You always smelled of cigarettes and your frown grew deeper whenever you saw us. Your house was dilapidated and old, like you. Mom told me to start in the basement, where I was supposed to gather some of your things as mementos. I didn’t want your things much like you didn’t want us. While digging, I found old Folger’s coffee canisters filled with toy soldiers, untouched for what looked like decades. If I had known you liked war so much, perhaps I could understand why you enjoyed the war you created between us.
In hazy blue a plane traces across the eyes of an old woman. Behind an unfamiliar window its sound no longer carries her regrets. Vapour
trails. Shadows sketch the walls a moment. A careworker moves unseen.
She had married a stranger in uniform. Lights out under a thin moon
and air raids echoed. She was heavy through summer though he never would return to see. Her child grew searching, alone. In a bottom drawer a father posed, frameless, beneath a worn secret.
Across a continent a grandchild plays over lost truths. His toy
soldiers aim at nothing with their guns.
‘This one over here?’
‘Tank got him.’
His brow furrows and he repositions several other men in the sand tray. He scratches his grubby plaster-cast with his good hand.
I refocus, breathing in now quiet office space.
Client continues army narrative. Themes: death and injury. Nurses say still non-verbal outside our sessions.
My phone interrupts, vibrating on the heavy oak desk. Maybe I’ll pick up this time and deal with Dan’s desperate undertones as he pleads with me to come home for supper. I bite my lip and consider which of my arsenal of strategies to use tonight.
The Worst Thing to Ever Happen to a Boy
Sick in summertime, noon, friends’ laughter outside his window, where Bobby is condemned to rest. Nothing worse has ever happened to a boy.
Disobeying orders, he slides out of bed, jammies damp with sweat, and hauls out the Army guys. They crouch on the dusty desk, against the fuzzy warm rainbow of grandma’s afghan over the window, softening the sun.
Bobby coughs, shivers, blows hot breath up and over his face. His head pounds. Bang! He makes them skirmish, fall.
Back to bed, mom calls. His hand lingers. He pouts. It’s the worst thing to ever happen to a boy.
Fercrisakes, he’s with those toys more than he is me. We eat dinner on the couch because the table is sprawled with plastic army men. He’s a grown man! He even makes the sound effects. Kboosh! Kpow! Today he told me he was looking on Craigslist for a ping pong table he could put in the garage. More real estate, he says. I suggested he just put them all in a box like every other adult did, and he tells me he’s trying to remember the things that make him happy. Oh, you can bet I took offense to that.
This is how it starts. Just pieces on a gameboard. My guys against your guys. Bang-bang, your guy’s dead. OK, Mom, coming for lunch!
Smart and handsome in their uniforms, all too soon they’ll learn that war is about killing more of them than they of us. After our side’s deity has answered their prayers, they’ll return home (if they return) shocked and shaken. Their nightmares will explode with dismembered buddies and wide-eyed, lifeless enemies. Moving in a trance amid the football stadium’s roar, they’ll stare at the star-spangled encomiums flashing on the scoreboard. Maybe then they’ll remember they’re heroes.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Three more sorties this week. Sarge said we advanced almost three quarters of a mile. But marching through the rain and mud and smoke, I’d have thought we’d be half way to Paris. I know there are beautiful hills out there, but all I see are trenches and shell craters. And the colour. It’s all grey. But sometimes, stepping through the grey mud, a shallow red rivulet stains our boots. It smells of copper, like the shipyard back home. Anyway, don’t worry. Please keep my room together. I’m home in three months.
Your loving son,
How did you get your picture next to your name?
I don’t remember.
As a young man in his twenties, he saw the world turned inside out. Fire, blood, and tears enveloped everywhere he stepped. Bones in his flesh felt so brittle yet distant from his nerves. The only thing he sensed was sight, and the weight of the gun he pointed in front. “Why did I join the army?” he asks himself occasionally, as he gazes at a collection of bronze, army statuettes. Sometimes he feels as though the statuettes are pointing their little guns straight at him. He can sometimes feel the ghosts of his regrets whispering in his study room.
As a young man in his twenties, he saw the world turned inside out. Fire, blood, and tears enveloped everywhere he stepped. Bones in his flesh felt so brittle yet distant from his nerves. The only thing he sensed was sight, and the weight of the gun he pointed in front. “Why did I join the army?” he asks himself occasionally, as he gazes at a collection of bronze ground army statuettes. Sometimes he feels as though the statuettes are pointing their little straight at him. He can sometimes feel the ghosts of his regrets whispering in his study room.
Michael had his destiny laid out before him. It was sprawled out on tabletops, littered on blue boyish shelves.That’s where his soldiers took their positions. And in his arsenal stood rows of clicking type guns propped up against pairs of forgotten sneakers. He led with no apprehension, valiantly into the fog of battle. The smoke descended around him until he could feel his lungs gasping for air. His eyes grew wide and he fell into a trance of disillusion. When he awoke he was no longer a boy, but a grown man lying,waiting for the sound of footsteps.
I brought these little safety hazards out in the hopes that it would make me feel better about all this. It’s funny how much we bickered over these little things, he loved them as a kid and he loved sharing them with our boys. I thought laying them out how would’ve would have brought back memories, all it’s done is remind me of one of the idiosyncrasies that made me love him. It hurts to look at them, but in a way it’s therapeutic, like he’s still around fiddling with those damned things. I wonder how he’ll arrange them tomorrow
He was drunk again.
He could hear them through the closed door. “Play with your soldiers, Sam.” Mum had urged, as she had closed the door behind him. He heard his father’s heavy steps approaching. “Don’t you go in there!” Mum yelled frantically, “Don’t you touch him!”. She cried out as his father laid into her for blocking his path.
Sam dropped the soldier he had forgotten he was holding, eyes squeezed shut, hoping his father would give up or pass out. He sat as rigid as the toy soldiers at his feet, trying not to cry.
Michael had his destiny laid out before him. It was sprawled out on tabletops, littered on blue boyish shelves.That’s where his soldiers took their positions. And in his arsenal stood rows of clicking type guns propped up against pairs of forgotten sneakers. He led with no apprehension, valiantly into the fog of battle. The smoke descended around him until he could feel his lungs gasping for air. His eyes grew wide and he fell into a trance of disillusion. When he awoke he was no longer a boy, but a grown man lying, waiting for the sound of footsteps.
War is more than death. It is mud, bugs, the weight of the packs, and the burden of innocence. Death itself was welcome. Often men looked around for the grim reaper, hoping to see him beckoning for his gesture meant the end of personal suffering.
Huddled in foxholes, we watched and waited until time to push all thought aside and shoot the enemy. The enemy looked just like us; decked out in military gear with faces covered in mud, they shot back.
Finally, the grim reaper beckoned. From here, the enemy advances. Dolls, dinosaurs, and dump trucks face our troop.
Regret to Inform
I’m sorry. One seven-gallon garbage bag, per person. That’s the shelter’s rule. No exceptions, not even for the decorated dead. With only two bags between us, we can’t keep his artwork, his engineering textbooks, most of his effects returned to us after the attack. His toy soldiers, though, will fit snugly in a sandwich bag nestled between your clothes. Display them, but if your roommate has young children, keep them away. Keep them safe.
Leave one soldier out for me, please. I’ll keep him on the headboard of my bunk over on the men’s side. I’ll see you at dinnertime.
Liquid metal is poured into molds on a line. Once cooled, it hardens to the set shape. Any deviation from this cast is corrected or discarded. The soldiers are packaged before they’re shipped to stores for purchase. A little boy positions them carefully on his dresser. They’re ready for war.
Their bravery blazes as they form into lines. Once trained, they harden into proper men. All of them conform, regardless of their own thoughts. The soldiers are given their orders, sent to faraway lands, and prepare for combat. The world positions them carefully on the battlefield. They’re ready for War.
I am a powerful and brilliant sorceress in command of an army feared by all. We fight monsters and never lose. Our first glorious victory forced a hulking, snaggly toothed beast out of the closet, never to return. Our second foe, a hideous slimy creature, obscured himself behind a dresser and attacked only at night. The battle lasted three weeks; he fled broken and barely alive. Now we are at war with an invisible demon beneath my bed. He is strong, but we are stronger. My magic is without equal and my army bloodthirsty. On to victory!
On the Nature Table I had set up the nativity scene. As far as I could tell, the handmade wooden holy family had been ignored this Christmas. I removed the cotton-wool sheep, for aesthetic reasons.
The kids loved their presents. Travis was thrilled with his green camouflage helicopter and army truck. I had a nap after the roast turkey and plum pudding. I woke to the siege. Mother and child, wise men, shepherds and animals, surrounded by metal soldiers – seems they’d been deployed from the helicopter nearby. Some green plastic personnel were conferring behind the truck. But where was Joseph?
They are not toys, soldier. They represent something. They are molds of a specific make, here because we brought them here, to this exact sand table. They will enter the city from the north and exit from the south. They will act as if by our hands. Just like you. And you. And even you, Skinny. But you know how I know they are toys? Anybody? Matthews? Sanchez? No? Blood. No blood. There is no blood. Come oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning, all that’s going to change. Come oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning, and we will know if we brought any real soldiers here.
They are not toys, soldier. They represent something. They are molds of a specific make, here because we brought them here, to this exact sand table. They will enter the city from the north and exit from the south. They will act as if by our hands. Just like you. And you. And even you, Skinny. But you know how I know they are toys? Anybody? Matthews? Sanchez? No? Blood. No blood. There is no blood. Come oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning, all that’s going to change. Come oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning, and we will know if there are any real soldiers here.
We’ve been fighting this war for days on end and it’s now starting to look like we’re gaining the advantage.
The enemy’s numbers diminishing, little by little.
The enemy is at retreat and we’re making the final push to victory,
When a tank blasted away our infantry, the enemy now charging, killing my comrades.
I heard thunder off in the distance and time stopped, as the anarchy of war stood still, the thunder, closer now, then far away, as if communicating…
Time sped up and we were all on our way back home, everyone was alive.
I couldn’t believe it.
Thank you, Mr President. Thank you for honouring my husband publicly. You’re right, he was a proud soldier. He was dedicated to the humanity of our country and gave his life for it. For us.
Fragile, threadbare visions of all other families who wonder and worry about the relationship between service and security keep me awake at night. But I hope, sir, you sleep well knowing that the decisions you make between the Caesar salad and the Carbonara – decisions about when and where to attack – will give you a platform to stand on the next day. Good night, Mr President.
I played at war with plastic dinosaurs and soldiers. The one who’d lost a leg to a T-rex had a special voice among my mutters; I could find him blindly, pinky caressing the stump that marked him the hero.
Until another soldier came home. An angry hand that forgot where it was overturned my table. Little men, disproportionate dinosaurs — all flew through the air, some coming to rest under the couch. I could have found my lost soldier by touch as I always did, but there was a new broken hero in my house, and I didn’t need two.
She stifled a chuckle. The whole situation was surreal. Her daughter, after moving on to another activity, had left her army men in ready formation on the dining room table. From where Eliza now sat, it seemed like they were aiming their guns in her direction. Her husband sat behind the men; unarmed and firing verbal blows that cut through her like bullets from a gun.
Boom. I’ve been unhappy for a long time.
Boom. I’ve found someone else.
Boom. I’m leaving.
She reached out and knocked the army down. They had all just been slaughtered by a surprised attack.
I like the set-up of this story. It’s clever.
They were the tip of the spear.
The elite battle-hardened metal toy soldiers that fought countless battles. They’d defeated the dastardly brown army men and banished the evil Star Wars figurines to a galaxy far, far away.
But nothing prepared them for the carnage that lay before them.
Jack had been ripped mercilessly from his box. GI Joe had been torn limb from limb. Mr. Snuggles had been disemboweled, stuffing protruding from his furry abdomen. Their green plastic brothers chewed to unrecognizable green pulps.
Moving into a defense position, they prepared for the assault.
Ollie the Dachshund was getting close.
The boy looms over the table, his toy soldiers arranged across the surface into two opposing militaries. With brows furrowed, he surveys the battlefield like a general, a dictator, a god.
Reggae hiccups through his speakers, befitting his shirt, which displays the Rastafarian flag’s colors: green, yellow, and red. He hums along to the music as he makes some final adjustments to his formations of army men.
At last, they’re ready.
The boy smiles and moves three soldiers forward. It begins. The sounds of gunshots and explosions are periodically interrupted by his singing.
“Let’s get together and feel all right.”
We need to fight them over there before we need to fight them over here.
We know for certain that they have weapons of mass destruction and that they intend to use them.
We know that we’ll be welcomed with open arms once they realize we’re here to free them.
We need to bring freedom and democracy to them.
When you take your first life you justify it with those words.
When you take your last breath, you realize you were noting but a toy soldier.
You’ll never get to go back in the bucket.
You’ll never go home again.
Logan was a kid, that would never grow up
People dream of being a kid their whole life
Logan was born in a bright blue hospital room that slowly turned to grey with his arrival
He was born autistic, his best friends were the army men he got for his 15th birthday
People always talked to him behind his back
Logan never noticed or frankly gave a shit because he was always stuck in “lalaland”
He would lay on his bedroom floor everyday and play with his army men all day
He was one of a kind, he was SPECIAL
“Johnson! Cover me!”
Even Johnson’s trained ear has difficulty making out the shouted command over the cacophonous mortar fire.
“Yes, Sir! I’ve got your back, Sir!”
Johnson redirects fire, helping Sir reach a more tactical position. A shell explodes as Sir reaches new cover. Without hesitation, Johnson ducks Sir’s flying leg and sprints to help. Sir, dying, forces a grenade on Johnson. Johnson spots the offending mortar, pulls the pin, draws back to throw, and—
Johnson, Sir, their comrades, and the Enemy are swept up by a giant hand and dropped into a bucket to fight another day.
My name is hayley and today the memory of his toy soldiers play foggily in my mind strangely enough seeing my own body was comforting and laying cold didn’t feel strange. Thinking hard i try and remember what reason I could possibly have for this foggy memory of a boy and his toy soldiers. what possible meaning is there? Studying my surroundings i notice the cold lipped boy standing unnoticed asking if they see him as everyone moves around us sluggishly i spot my mother’s face lined and cold with grief in her hand gleams a shiny green toy soldier…
If a sword is an extension of the arm, a gun is one of the mind. It’s like magic. A mere thought sends a message, and that message tears through the air, sending its recipient reeling backwards with a crimson bosom or bindi.
War did not curb my enthusiasm. Neither did prison.
But when I got back, all my darlings had been confiscated. The racks that lined my walls sat lonely, unadorned. My friends had abandoned me.
Now I am forced to settle. I’ve settled for memorabilia and metal men, but they aren’t any fun. Metal miniatures do not bleed.
The three soldier Terry, Jeff, and Dan decided to go to Medusa cave and finish the ongoing war. They were smart, strong, and sneaky. The leader of the army was so fed up of the war, he let the three go. Before they could look around, medusa turned them into small statue.
Only 100 soldiers were left, and they wanted to give this one try, and this time they would all go and surround the cave and attack. They went together and they saw the three soldier, completely frozen, and they got even furious and finally, they defeated the medusa.
Cody came home with a plastic bag.
He made a beeline for his bedroom. This was the third time in a row he’d been home late. Sneaking by was easy as Mom and Dad spit bullets and glared knives at each other.
Cody closed the door and locked it tight, throwing his backpack onto the bed and turning to the table in the middle of the room. He emptied a bag of little army men onto it, arranging his soldiers in ranks, ready for battle.
A tear rolled down his cheek. If only he could march forward just as easily.
The boy played with his little green army men. That was the last thing his Father gave him before heading to the war. Every so often the boy asked his Mother,
“When’s Dad coming home?”
Mom would always reply with the same thing every time
“He’s in a better place”
The little boy never understood the meaning behind this.
The boy would reenact the war his dad went to go fight in every day with his army men, he always made his dad “the good guy”.
He would do this everyday until his Dad would come home
This was improbable
“Oh no! Five men down sir!” Shouted one figure.
They were swiped off the table.
“Troup One move in!” Demanded the Sergeant figure.
Seven men advanced toward the Monster Teddy.
POW POW POW
“Sweetie I have your snacks ready.”
“Okay Mom one second! We are about to win!”
“Get the rocket launcher! Aim! Fire!!!!!!”
He grabbed the teddy bear and made it fly up in the air in slow motion.
Suddenly someone had grabbed him and put him in the air too!
He screamed, then started laughing.
“Daddy you’re home! Hey you look just like my toys!”
Side by side, we all stand lined up ready for the call to war. Heavy breathing, hearts beating. We’re all paralyzed, waiting for the enemy to come over the horizon. My mind is blank, I can’t think straight, everything is becoming a blur. The giant tells us what to do and we listen, even if we disagree. I pray that God will be merciful and not have us face godzilla again, or the army of Monkey barrels. Suddenly we’re picked up and thrown into a box. It’s our worst fear come to life. Hopefully he’ll remember us, unlike the others.
Our boys went from playing with little toy soldiers to becoming little toy soldiers. They fought in our war with a promise of glory. Our little toy soldiers we shipped over seas came back broken, melted down, remolded into war torn, scar covered G.I. Joe dolls with no help from their mold makers. Our little toy soldiers fought epically against our neighbor’s set, they came out victorious! Or so we’re told to believe. But our G.I. Joe dolls came back broken in half, missing arms and legs. The salesmen said not to worry about buying the extended warranty.
“Baxter, you and your troops will move here,” the general instructed, moving the toy bits to a certain point across the map. “We’ll meet you here…” – he circled another spot several inches away – “and attack the enemy here…” – he set down a red token. “Together we’ll win this battle and bring honor to our country! Are you with me?”
“Attaboy, Baxter!” the boy praised, scratching behind his partner’s ear.
“Eddie! Dinner’s ready!” a distant voice called.
“Coming!” the seven-year-old replied as he ran to his mom, his dog following his feet and his battle plan intact on the floor.
My sister doesn’t bully me anymore.
We took her Barbie captive. Riddled her movie poster with pellet-size holes. Bayonetted her plush bear until the stuffing fell out. Added red lipstick for effect.
Last night we attacked her.
Her Poo Bear night light illuminated our beach landing, Alpha Platoon to the left, Bravo to the right. We strung dental floss restraining cables across her body, secured to her mattress with safety pins. We tied her blonde ringlets to dad’s plastic fishing worms, a dead cricket, and a treasure from the cat box.
At seven that morning reveille blared from her iTunes.
With “Small Soldiers” one of my favorites, this was right up my alley.
Time moves slowly beneath the glare of the summer sun. The green army moves into place, hiding in the grass. Baking on the concrete beyond are their targets, a force of black, white, green, and pink aliens. Their leader is the fearless Roger Buck, a dashing hero holding a ray gun and wearing an impenetrable helmet. Beside him is his trusty sidekick, a hulking pink alien grasping a laser rifle in his arms. Today the aliens will win because it’s their turn, and because Roger Buck is the coolest and because life seems full of limitless possibilities when you’re five.
Numb with fear, sobbing gently, vision blurred by tears, I’m trying to focus on my son’s much loved toy soldiers. He’s been in the hospital now for two weeks, lost in a coma that he is not expected to survive.
Reluctantly home today for a short respite from the pain and fear of the exhausting hospital vigil, I am strangely praying to my son’s army for a miraculous recovery.
The ringing phone shatters the silence, “You need to get back here right away.” My heart stopped, I began to black out, and then I heard, “He has opened his eyes.”
He always kept them lined up just so. Yet, when he died I found no emotional strength to move them. So, I kept them as he did on the table facing the sun. The light coming in, hitting each figure. They looked as if they were aiming into the sun, forever fighting the fog of time where the things of childhood are kept.
He would never know that feeling of how time gradually removed childhood from the child. He climbed the rafters in the barn one too many times. He fell away from life and into the pages of history.
My baptism of war occurred during the Battle of Dirt Clod Ridge in 1962. My molded plastic unit, defensively deployed on an earthen mound in my parents’ backyard, were no match for the barrage of desiccated soil artillery drizzling down.
The skirmish paused as I squatted in the dirt to reposition the platoon. It was then I felt a gush of warm fluid impact my back. I howled. I turned to see the old bastard cocker spaniel in retreat. His name was Zipper. He lifted a leg to the futility war. Looking back, I can’t help but think: “Good boy!”
The beautiful reds and oranges of sunset rested like moth-eaten silk over sharp bones while the deadish bodies twisted across the field—brown capillaries occasionally splitting themselves open.
“Ever wish we could have just wiped them all out, Captain?” asked the bug-eyed lieutenant watching from the ridge.
“Everyday, soldier. Filthy animals. But war hasn’t cost us one single life since we started importing these alien pawns.”
“Captain! One of them is running! He’s heading for the mountains!”
“Human brains are strong. Sometimes consciousness pushes through the drugs. He won’t get far. We’ll find him.”
“Poor guy,” said the lieutenant, smiling.
She wore army men as earrings, stretched t-shirts into skirts and blew through a can of AquaNet every two weeks maintaining a rooster comb hairdo of her own design. She hummed Blister in the Sun while unzipping my fly. God I loved her, despite the braces on her teeth that delicately cut me no matter how gently she tried.
She comes to mind after another fight with my wife crying upstairs about how I don’t look at her the same way anymore. I stick a hand down my pants and turn up the volume. Tora! Tora! Tora! is on TV.
Pow pow he had once lain in the snow with his tongue out as brother laughed and his father stared with ghosts in his eyes.
He read his dead mother’s copy of the Lone Ranger until the pages cracked and tumbled away. Toy soldiers, pow pow you’re dead, I win. Stuck his tongue out, giggled. Brother said he had the strongest tongue. Heart, too.
Pow pow, shot out of his mouth, tumbles. Ouuuuut…
Hi-yo buddy, back to the war. He will never go back because brother lies beside him and he can’t even say “I love you” before he’s gone.
This is peculiarly wonderful.
a blur of war
paralysis of action
fingers on triggers
not on the individual
nor on the whole
but on the part
that will not hold
like so many
prisoners of war
at the hands of a child
mimicking destiny without discernment
carrying a price
of the enemy
a camera lens
and my words
at the direction
of their aim
Marilyn watched the couple from the wall. She wondered why they would waste their time living with one mate while meeting another in secret in a room like this.
She was tired of existing in the sun streaks, the small smears of reflection you see when light catches glass just right. She never met another like herself, had no memory of any other life. After years passing in silence, after all the words that have fallen from her lips with no audience, no lie would be uttered for another’s comfort if she were, by some means, to earn her freedom.
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