“The Force Action Squadron! These five high-quality plastic soldiers will turn your little boy into a real soldier! Fully articulated! Accessories included. Heavy Artillery pack sold separately.”
I stopped reading the back of the box. They seemed to be good enough, and they didn’t look damaged. Still, it’s not the sort of thing you usually find in dusty curiosity shops such as these. I was looking for a present for a friend of mine for Christmas, but these toys would suit my seven year old son to a tee, as I hadn’t gotten him anything yet. It was starting to get harder and harder to guess what he’d want. He was getting around that age. I paid for the toys and left.
Sure enough, he loved them. He took them to his room after Christmas morning and I practically had to drag him downstairs for the dinner. The next day he brought them into the living room and I watched as he played with them. He was usually quite violent with his toys, making them ‘fight’ with each other by banging them together, but with these, he was treating them all as if they were on the same team, himself acting the role of the drill sergeant. Maybe he was finally starting to value his possessions to the point of treating them with care.
That’s when his face changed. Apparently Private Rogers said something back at him because his face and voice suddenly twisted into an ugly mask of rage that I’d never see him come close to before, even during his tantrums. He shouted at the doll, but not in the way a seven year old would shout as he plays. He sounded like a genuine drill sergeant. There was real authority in his voice. I flinched. He was starting to scare me a little.
He then took a shoelace from his boot and started to ‘lash’ the toy. This wasn’t funny anymore. This wasn’t playing. I got a feeling in my stomach, as if I was somehow watching a real lashing. I just wanted to turn away until it was over, but then I remembered that I was his mother.
“Harry!” I yelled as I stood up. “That is not how you play with your toys! Go to your room!” This seemed to snap him out of it. He looked sheepish, mumbled an apology and gathered his toys up. But I could sense that there wasn’t just embarrassment in his eyes. There was confusion. As if he himself didn’t know why he acted like that.
The next day I listened outside his door, and it was the same thing, but outside his room, there was no change about him so I decided to let him be. He can play however he wants, as long as he knows the difference between real and fictional.
This carried on for a month or so, until he started telling me that his toys were finally ready for field duty, and that he needed the Heavy Artillery pack. For the next few days he relentlessly pestered me as if that’s all that mattered, so I relented and bought it for him. I was not ready for what came next.
He took them into the garden, and lined them up. He then gave a very moving speech about valour and victory, and then led them into battle against an unseen foe. I let him do it. Running around in the garden is good for a kid.
Half an hour later he came in holding a mud-covered doll with an upset look in his eye. It didn’t look like he was about to cry. No, it was a world-weary look. A look that belongs in the eyes of veterans. A look that did not belong in the eyes of my little boy. He told me he was going to give his toy a funeral and a burial. I insisted that he was not going to dig up my garden. Then he started to yell at me, calling me a monster and shouting that I had no respect for the dead. I sent him up to his room.
The next morning he didn’t come down. His other four toys were still in the garden where he left them. I went up to his room to check if he was ok. When I opened the door, I discovered him sitting up in his bead, staring teary eyed at the doll, which was laid in the middle of the floor. He turned to me, and I could see his grief. He wasn’t having another tantrum. I knew what grieving looked like. A shiver went up my spine.
“Why didn’t you let me bury him?” he asked me quietly. “He stinks. He reeks of the dead. Look at him! He’s crawling with maggots, and he STINKS! He stinks of death! How could you make me sleep in the same room as him, mom? How?!”
I should have said something, put my foot down on this silly behaviour, but he scared me. I left the room. For the next week he didn’t leave his room other than to eat and go to the toilet, and he definitely didn’t say a word to me. He was taking these toys far too seriously, and with his school starting back in a week, I had to do something now.
I gathered the four toys from the garden and the one in his room, then shutting them in the cellar and locking the door I'd told him what I'd done.. There was no reaction. He just nodded and said “okay.” I was taken aback by his calmness and apathy regarding the situation, but I thought it a good thing so I let it be. I should have known that he was up to something.
That night, when I got back from work, the lights were all off in the house, even though I’d left a few of them on. My son had turned them all off. I knew it instantly. I searched the hall, then the living room. As soon as I entered the kitchen, he appeared from the back door, and he hurled all four of his ‘living’ toys at me, before rushing at me himself and punching and kicking me. It hurt, but as a grown woman I could handle one angry little boy. I did something that I never do then. I laid him across my knee and smacked him several times, until he cried, and then locked him in his room. Foolishly, his toys were in there as well.
I sat in the living room for half an hour, calming myself down and slowly starting to regret what I’d done. I went back up to apologize to him and make up, but I could hear shouting from his bedroom as I approached. He was rallying the troops.
“Soldiers! We know our enemy! She has disrespected our dead! She has taken you all prisoner! And she defeated us during our counter-offensive as if we were nothing! This is war, people! And this war ends tonight! Will one swift stroke, we will kill our enemy!”
My anger returned, and I left his door. I wasn’t going to apologize to him after that. I was awoken that night by noises coming from downstairs. I checked my alarm clock. It was three in the morning. This was the last straw. Tonight I would put a stop to this once and for all.
I descended the stairs silently and in darkness, but once I reached the bottom, I trod on something. It was one of the toys, laid on its back at the bottom of the stairs, a rather sharp gun accessory sticking upright in its hand. I couldn’t stop myself from yelling out from both the surprise and the pain. The noises stopped, and then I heard the sound of somebody running to the kitchen. I followed it.
The moment I set foot in the kitchen, the lights suddenly flashed on, dazzling me in the process, I narrowed my eyes so I could still see, and what I saw haunts me to this day. My own son was running at me with a kitchen knife, screaming at the top of his lungs with the intent to kill his mother clear in his face. He looked crazed, as if he was possessed. I instinctively dived sideways but the knife still slashed through my dressing gown and cut my stomach. I looked down to see the red pouring from my wound. My son turned around and came at me again, but this time the element of surprise was gone and I grabbed his wrist. Crazed though he was, he was still a seven year old boy and I was a grown woman. I managed to wrench the knife from his grip, and then restrain him as I grabbed the phone from the hall and rang the police, my son still writhing and screaming in my arms.
My son went to several doctors and counsellors, but they quickly all checked him as clear. My son came back to me, the same as he always had been, except he had changed somehow. He was more withdrawn, and cringed whenever the toys were brought up, so I stopped mentioning them. A week later, he approached me and told me he wanted to burn the toys. He told me that he was sure they were somehow responsible for his behaviour.
“Oh honey,” I replied, “I sold them. They’re gone now.”
Looking back, I wish I had burned them. They’re still out there, these objects of evil. I see stories on the news sometimes of horrific acts at the hands of teenagers. They’re written off as mental illness but I recognize the behaviour patterns far too well. I caused all these tragedies and massacres. I did. I should have burned the toys when I had the chance.
I wish I had known.
Written by Cyanwrites