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Horror Drama American

Daniel Maron took the toy from a mound of rubble outside Berlin. He did not know which poor child it had belonged to previously, and he did not much care. The Führer, long may he rot, had already taken his coward’s exit. The Allies had won and, as dictated by the old saying, the victors had a right to collect their spoils.


Other men had chosen their souvenirs: this man a red armband, that man an iron cross, that one an officer's tongue. Daniel did not seek anything so morbid. He did not seek anything at all, and he might have returned home empty-handed had the toy not called his name.


It stood tall and proud in a field of ash and charred shapes: a tiny bronze suit of armor, a handspan tall, gleaming through the smoke. Daniel bent down carefully and held it in his hands, stupefied. It sat among glowing embers, so it should have been coal-hot, but no, it was cold to the touch. The little soldier stood on a small triangular platform, his sword and shield at ease. He looked like a regular Don Quixote in miniature. Daniel smiled, imagining the excitement this find would bring his young son, Matthew.


He just needed to wipe away a little blood...


Matthew never played with the little soldier. In fact, he hardly looked at the thing after his father presented it to him for the first time. Small wonder: its limbs were not opposable, and its sword and shield would not budge. This made it a poor opponent for Matthew’s other toys, which were Supermen, and pistol-wielding cowboys, and fighter jets. That was one reason he left the soldier alone. The other was the little slit of darkness in the soldier’s mask, right where its eyes should have been. Whenever Matthew looked at the suit of armor, even out of the very corner of his eye, the hairs on the back of his neck would stand on end. Although he knew better, he felt watched. Observed.


Matthew never played with the little soldier at all. He tried keeping it on his dresser, but while it was there, he could not sleep. Next he put it in the closet, then the trunk with the rest of his toys. Both spots were preferable to having it out in the open, but the comfort in hiding was erased by the inevitable. In the morning, after the scrape of the sliding closet door, or the creak of the opening trunk lid, the soldier would still be there, too close for comfort. Waiting. Watching.


Then one ruddy dusk, Matthew's parents found him dead, face down in the bloodied garden pond.


Matthew never played with the little soldier, yet there it stood at the edge of the garden pond. Mrs. Maron, the mourning mother, wailed and weeped. When her voice became too tired to scream, she whispered Spanish prayers, slapping the still surface of the pond. Blood and water splashed up in cones, soaking her slip and seeping through the surrounding soil. 


Daniel looked everything over, unsure of what to feel as blood splashed against his trousers. As a matter of survival, he had long ago numbed himself to death—of course, this was his son, his flesh. He saw himself every time he looked in the boy’s eyes. But no… he could not open himself up to this pain. If he felt this death, he would have to feel them all. That, he knew, he could not survive.



After the child-sized coffin had been paid for and the funeral had been suffered, life for the Marons snapped into a most peculiar routine. 


Mrs. Maron had quit her job after Daniel's discharge. So, while Daniel was at work, she generally kept the house and tended the garden out back. But there was only so much of that to do. The tables, the counters, and the little soldier on the mantle were all dusted. The hedges were clipped and the flowers were watered. She had to keep moving, or she would be forced to remember what she had seen. Without meaning to, without even realizing, she prepared a sack lunch for Matthew. She did it every day while Daniel was at work, and she threw the food away before he returned. She envied her husband's strength and did her best to put on a brave face.


Daniel could not stand the sight of the little soldier any more. He slid it under Matthew’s bed. He hid it behind the couch. He threw it in the trash. Each time, it returned to its spot on the mantle. Finally, he assumed his wife wanted to keep it for some reason or another. Unbeknownst to him, his wife assumed the opposite.


Though the waking mind conceals much, the sleeping mind reveals all. Mrs. Maron was sleepwalking. Every night, without fail, she walked out to the pond and rested there, clutching the daisies that lined the edge of the water. Daniel became aware of this habit early on, and though it scared him, he understood. He took to rising before dawn to carry his wife back to bed.


One night, like all the rest, he awoke to an empty bed. So, he yawned and stretched and stumbled down the stairs to retrieve his beloved somnambulist. But this time, when he reached the pond, she was not at rest. One hand held a gleaming object. The other clawed savagely at the earth. Suddenly she stopped and lifted her digging hand to inspect it in the moonlight. Her fingertips were covered in a very dark liquid: a mixture of mud and Matthew’s blood. Daniel called to her, but she would not be distracted from her task.


She took the little soldier and lifted his mask as high as it would go, just to the tip of the nose. A grin was revealed, wicked yet relaxed, with teeth even sharper and shinier than the bronze around it. Mrs. Maron took her bloody fingers and wiped them across the soldier’s mouth and—was Daniel deceived? Did the soldier’s grin grow wider? No; that was an idea only a mad person would entertain.


He was not mad… but it seemed Mrs. Maron was.


My God, he realized. She's returning to the scene of the crime. She killed him! In her hysteria, she killed our Matthew. I should never have left her here alone. The war... did something to her, something worse than what it did to me.



Daniel sent his wife away. The place was a hospital in name, but Daniel knew people who went there never got better. He did not visit her, not once. She wastes away there, even now.


As for the toy soldier, Daniel wiped it clean of blood. He placed it in a small lunch pail, which he secured with a padlock. Then he locked the pail within a jewelry box, and the jewelry box within Matthew’s trunk. There it lay, behind three locks, rusting among matted stuffed animals and broken action figures. 


...


Years passed.


Daniel remarried. Her name was Anita Renoux, and she did not care to take Daniel’s last name, thank you very much. She had two daughters, Amanda and Amelia, who grew to love Daniel as their own father. Together they revived the garden. Daniel built a little blue bridge over the pond. The girls watered the flowers. Whenever Anita was not at work, she made crustless sandwiches and sweetened her lemonade with scandalous amounts of sugar. All was well, or so Daniel thought.


In the night, while the adults slept, Amanda and Amelia dared, then double-dog dared each other to sneak through the off-limits door. Inside, they found Matthew's bedroom. The bed was still unmade, and fighter planes littered the window sill. Of particular interest to the girls was the old toy trunk which sat by the foot of the bed.


One of the girls--and they argue to this day about which of them did it first--pressed her ear to the lid of the trunk. A voice from inside, faint but clear, whispered them secrets. Secrets so scandalous, the girls kept asking for more. Only when the telling was done did the voice inside the trunk reveal his price.


One summer evening, while Daniel was out shopping, Anita and the children disappeared. There was no conversation, no note.


The abandonment disturbed him, but it was not the most disturbing part of his day. For when he returned home, the toy soldier had returned to the mantle. Heart thumping, fingers numb, Daniel ran to the Matthew's room. All three locks were still intact; the one on the lunch pail had even rusted shut. He could not have opened the box if he wanted to, and yet the soldier was free. It was impossible. Wrong.


That night, Daniel’s neighbors did not sleep. At the same time, they did not dare voice their discontent. The sounds they heard emanating from the Maron house were wretched. A steel axe striking bronze. A chainsaw screeching against plate armor. The crackle of a great fire. The screams of a man at his wit’s end. Then, after a few hours of silence, they heard a car start up and squeal away.


Daniel drove right up to the edge of the towering cliffs near Manzanita and exited his car, leaving the engine running. There he stood at the brink of oblivion, hundreds of feet over the angry ocean. Tying the soldier to his torso, he felt the anguish he ought to have felt for his son. Somewhere deep within, a floodgate opened. He felt pain for every brother he lost in the war; he felt pain for all the innocent lives he had taken; he felt pain, most of all, for the death of the good man he had once believed himself to be.


With the little soldier’s sharp edges scratching at his chest, Daniel dove from the cliff. Most folks assume he met fate on the toothy crags below. Perhaps not; perhaps he washed ashore and survived for a time, but surely not for long. His body was never recovered.



Months later, a young family acquired the Maron house at an extreme discount. The patriarch was not quite established in his practice. A house this grand, at this price… the Smiths could not believe their luck. The previous owners had even left behind furniture, and to Mrs. Smith's surprise, it suited her taste perfectly. 


The children, too, loved everything about the place—except, perhaps, the toy soldier on the mantle.


Watching. Waiting.

February 02, 2021 11:47

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24 comments

N. N.
13:20 Feb 03, 2021

Very intriguing! Loved the overall plotline, and the concept. Thrilling, and gripping, till the end.

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Mango Chutney
20:39 Feb 13, 2021

Wow.. very interesting read.. And well written. You can turn this into a book maybe :)

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Josh C
09:55 Feb 12, 2021

Very interesting, a very unique take on the prompt. Most people use the prompt as the inciting incident or climax of their story, but you managed to use it differently. Very well done. I really enjoyed this story, I really felt for Daniel, especially towards the end as he started to lose it trying to destroy the damn toy soldier, and you did a great job leaving me with a horrible feeling seeing the thing still on the mantlepiece knowing the cycle would repeat.

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Courtney C
18:05 Feb 09, 2021

Wow! This was incredibly well written, and so riveting.

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Skyler Woods
11:37 Feb 09, 2021

Hey A.g. I loved your story. Do you mind if I narrate it on my YouTube channel - After Dark Fairy Tales? The video would premiere next week and I would send you the link.

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A.G. Scott
15:53 Feb 09, 2021

Go for it!

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Skyler Woods
06:56 Feb 18, 2021

Hey A.g. here's the link to your story! https://youtu.be/-plbBfcq-I4

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A.G. Scott
07:30 Feb 18, 2021

Wow! My first adaptation! I got chills. It's so incredibly cool to see someone make something out of something I made (if that makes sense). Did you do the artwork as well? Either way, the whole thing is awesome. I really appreciate it, and I'll write you something even creepier when the prompt gods provide for it.

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Skyler Woods
08:05 Feb 18, 2021

Yes, I did the artwork! I was hoping that I captured the wonderful essence of your story!

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Skyler Woods
18:02 Feb 09, 2021

Great! Hope u like it!

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Keri Dyck
19:21 Feb 08, 2021

Very thrilling! The phrase "child-sized coffin" has always been among the saddest I have ever know. On question though: when Mrs Maron is digging beside the pond, her fingers have mud and blood on them. How is there still blood there? It's been days. Or is that simply in the same category as the soldier's grin widening?

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A.G. Scott
19:29 Feb 08, 2021

Remember, Matthew lost a LOT of blood. I assume blood can remain in liquid form if it mixes with mud. In case that is not true, then yes, same category as the grin. All bases covered. There are all kinds of things like this in my writing; I like to idiot-proof against myself.

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Vox Inanis
07:32 Feb 08, 2021

Absolutely wonderful and well written! Thank you for sharing this and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it to my girlfriend as she fell asleep. If you were to make a book of this, I feel as though you could make it on par with Stephen King!

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A.G. Scott
07:51 Feb 08, 2021

Well, you just about made my month. Thank you so much for thinking to share my story with someone else. I really appreciate the kind words.

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Tom .
02:47 Feb 07, 2021

I love this. So much fun. I am a massive fan of old pre code horror comics. This was straight out of one of them. I had sketches in my head of the anguished father trying to destroy the figure. Good Job.

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Tom .
02:53 Feb 07, 2021

I read your bio about the judges. They seem to pick 70% of their stories to be of the emotional, heart string type. Maybe 10% silly premise. 20% anything goes. Don't write for them, your stuff is too good. The emotional stories they tend to pick although good, would be lost in the sea of the outside world. Let us know if you want some links to some outside stuff. It wouldn't even have to be new material, you can remine some of the gold you have in the bank.

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A.G. Scott
04:40 Feb 07, 2021

Glad you liked it, really appreciate the support. Don't worry, I don't intend to write for them. Simply don't have the attention span to write something I find boring.

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Zilla Babbitt
15:31 Feb 04, 2021

First of all, love your bio. I've been feeling that way for a few months and you captured my feeling perfectly. Here are my thoughts while reading this, in generally organized order. " He did not know which poor child it had belonged to previously, and he did not much care." This is an awkward sentence but has the potential to describe some things you wouldn't be able to before. "He didn't know its previous owner, and he did not care." And then you could go off on a tangent describing the dust on the toy, the cracked ground, the ugly sky...

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A.G. Scott
18:26 Feb 04, 2021

I struggled for a long time picking a point of view for this story. There was too much content, so in the end I decided to go for more of a bedtime/campfire story vibe that allowed me to collapse everything. Naturally, that's going to lead to more telling. I clarified Anita leaving (thank you)

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H L Mc Quaid
13:01 Feb 04, 2021

Hi A.g., Well done on a creepy, creepy, creepy tale. It's well-written, with vivid characterisations. A few personal observations. In my head, when Daniel finds the solider, I pictured a tiny soldier, like the size of a finger. As the story progressed, I think the solider was bigger than that. So maybe reference that earlier (could just be me, but when I think of toy solider I think of the little plastic or metal men about an inch-and-a-half high). And I didn't quite get the end of this paragraph. I think you could make it clearer t...

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A.G. Scott
18:27 Feb 04, 2021

Made some of those changes. Thanks for the read and the help!

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H L Mc Quaid
19:02 Feb 04, 2021

Nice. Glad some of it was useful 😁.

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Emily R Bellas
21:57 Feb 02, 2021

What an ending! The solider was a great metaphor for Daniel's own problems and how it affected the people in his life. Such an interesting twist on the prompt too. Well done :)

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Christina Marie
14:24 Feb 02, 2021

This is fantastic! Unsettling and classic scary story vibes from start to finish. Really loved how you used the soldier to showcase his attempt at locking away the trauma but ultimately couldn't keep it from creeping into his life and hurting everyone around him. Great job!

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