Bet you thought I’d forgotten about this project. Nope! Just been distracted by other things. There’s still more relentlessly upbeat fables to tell! If you’re just tuning in, you’ll probably want to head back to the first one, but long-time readers will be happy to jump right into our fifth story of seven:
Fighting for What Matters
Once upon a time, there was a small plastic soldier named Private Joseph Mandella.
Joseph was born in a toy factory in 1956 when hot green plastic was pressed into a metal mold. Other soldiers were born as sergeants or captains or generals, but Joseph was pressed into the mold of a private. And so a private he would remain.
Literally created to fight, Joseph waged war across a thousand battlefields, defeating tan armies curiously similar to his own, legions of superheroes with deadly articulated joints, and the occasional gigantic stuffed animal.
Joseph and his men slept in a tin box between battles. Joseph lived for the thump that accompanied the unlocking of the tin box, stirring him from his sleep and foreshadowing the thrill of combat.
He and his men would stir with excitement. “Who do we get to fight this time?”
Vicious rubber ducks. Plastic monkeys with numbers to blot out the sun. A gang of mutilated, undead Barbie dolls. Joseph reveled in it. In those days, he believed the exhilaration of war was all he would ever need.
The battles became less and less frequent. Weeks between engagements, and then years. It hardly mattered. Joseph knew nothing of age, and the sleep that visited him in the dark of his tin box was dreamless and instant.
But then one evening, Joseph got left outside his tin box. With nothing else to do, he simply stood in the sandbox and waited for the next battle to happen.
The sun went down and crickets began their stridulation. The sound tickled at his subconscious, and Joseph realized he must have heard it hundreds of times in his sleep, dulled through the layer of tin against his face.
Then the stars came out, and Joseph had never seen stars before. For the whole night, he watched as they wheeled overhead, and by morning, something had changed inside him. Something had broken, it seemed, but had been made right in the breaking.
Morning came, and Joseph watched the birds. He wondered what it would be like to feel the wind against him and to look down, to see the things below as he now understood them to be: very, very small.
By the time Joseph was returned to the tin box, sun had bleached him and rain had weathered him. His men asked for tales of his adventures, but Joseph didn’t have anything to say.
More years passed, and more battles. The attrition of countless Beanie Babies, and then Pokemon, and then fearsome Furbies and Teletubbies and Bratz and Zhu Zhu hamsters.
One after the other, Private Joseph Mandella and his men slew them. But when they woke again, their enemies returned. Some the same, some new.
Joseph grew weary. It didn’t seem to matter if they won; it didn’t seem to matter if they lost. The fights just went on and on.
Although he slept in the tin box, he knew the stars were out there somewhere. He touched the cold tin and imagined them on the other side. He couldn’t help but think that nothing could matter, if there were stars.
One night, Joseph resisted sleep. He listened to the faint sound of the crickets, and he strained and strained to think up a single thing that would matter. Some fight that would mean something against all those stars. Rain beat against the tin lid, and Joseph felt himself drift away in spite of himself.
He dreamed for the first time. In his dream, generations of toys rose and fought and fell, and rose to fight again. While they fought, the sun grew swollen and hot until all the plastic melted and all the fur burned away. Eventually the sun receded and everything grew cold and dark, and nothing was left but the stars. Then, one by one, each of the stars went out, and soon it was just black. And the black was quiet, quiet.
The box’s lock thudded and startled Joseph awake. The soldier sighed, pushed up against the lid, and stepped into the sunlight once more.
“Who do I have to fight this time?” he asked.