“Those bastards took Lefty.” The scruffy voice barely penetrated the cardboard barrier. “They gnawed right through the tape and jerked him out by his good arm.” A cough interrupted the speech. “I tried to save him, but my joints aren’t what they used to be.”
The years hadn’t been kind to Tank. Dry rot had set in causing the rubber to crack. With each movement he felt like a leper playing loose limb roulette. He wasn’t smart, if he were, he would have known leprosy didn’t cause limbs to fall off. But what do you expect out of a plastic doll.
This was the latest wave of attacks on the wily veterans. They weren’t rookies. This wasn’t their first war. Lefty, an astronaut, who lost his right arm in a previous battle with a destructive twelve-year-old boy, was taken prisoner by the squirrels. The furry killers invaded the attic every fall, pillaging through boxes like pirates taking a ship hostage, in hopes of looting enough stuff to make it through the harsh winter.
“Lefty was a good soldier.” The voice bounced off the splintered wooden floor. “Don’t beat yourself up over it, Tank. We all have to die. They probably took him for his clothes. His suit will make for good nesting material.”
Death was nothing new to the Doomsday Infantry, a hodgepodge of children’s toys who came together to combat the violence inflicted on them many years earlier.
As foes, the squirrels were child’s play. Casualties were minimal and if the gods were smiling on the day of attack, one of the squirrels would chew into an electrical wire. Battle scars of the past were what traumatized the Doomsday Infantry. It was the enemies without any purpose of violence who held nothing but a desire to wreak carnage that turned the Infantry into an army. The War of 1978 was the worst to date. The first hint of bloodshed came in late ’77 after the boy named Johnny tore apart Stretch Armstrong just to see his insides. A senseless killing that only fueled the bloodshed. The attack was labeled “The Armstrong Incident” and it was a prelude of the hell that was to come. Fortunately, not many witnessed the horror as Stretch’s left arm was sliced at the shoulder. Those present turned away in disgust when goo oozed from the wound. Most chalked the murder up to Johnny’s curiosity, but General knew better. General, a knock-off soldier with partially working kung-fu grip, knew this was the first act of war. Many would lose their lives as Johnny, or the Death Dealer as General dubbed him, grew older.
Being an eyewitness to such violence instills an inferno of fear in you that can never be extinguished. Even for a toy. Once you’ve seen the utter disregard for life, you’re always on guard.
“You think they’ll come back, General?” Tank asked.
Not one to sugarcoat, General said, “You bet your ass they’ll be back. It’s a waiting game now, soldier.”
Years ago, Tank was the epitome of strength — a soldier with bulging veins protruding from his plastic arms, a stare that warned “Don’t fuck with me,” and a scar over his eye to prove the point. But the years and the heat of the attic had eaten away at Tank’s body. The slightest movement, and Tank felt like the rubber bands holding him together would snap. He was a sitting duck for the squirrels. The only thing he had going for him was his lack of clothes. But the squirrels were vicious; they could take him just to serve as a chew toy. With the cardboard box breached, he knew his days were numbered.
“So, we just wait? That’s your plan, General?”
“Get control of yourself, soldier. Do you remember what happened after Stretch’s execution? We must stay calm. Panic is our biggest enemy now, not the squirrels.”
The General referred to the silent walk back to the toy box after seeing Stretch butchered. The toys remained quiet in Johnny’s grasp, even Tank, who had Stretch’s innards all over him. He wanted nothing more than to slice Johnny’s jugular and watch him bleed out.
“Everything was fine until Monkey yapped,” General said. He paused to cough. Attic dust was lodged in his throat. “Everyone believed that it was jelly on your chest. Remember?”
“And then Monkey broke down. It was mass hysteria. Wheels refused to crank. Monkey’s meltdown was the end of Wheels,” General said.
Wheels, a wind-up stunt car, was Johnny’s favorite toy. Every Saturday Johnny would take Wheels to the backyard to attempt the death-defying trick of jumping over a stack of green, plastic Army men. The candy-apple red car, with yellow flames on the hood, always cooperated. It would take a few dings here and there on impossible jumps, but Wheels liked performing for Johnny. Until Monkey blabbed of Stretch’s demise. After that Wheels refused to wind up. Johnny had no use for a hot rod that wouldn’t run. He took a hammer to Wheels in front of Tank and General. They never spoke a word of what happened to the rest of the toys.
“With all due respect, General, that was many years ago. None of us are in fighting shape any more. I think we need to warn the others. At least they can brace themselves for the end.”
“We will not speak of this. That’s an order, soldier. We are fighters. We are all going to die. Some in this war. Some in the next. But we are not quitters. We will not give up. Telling the others of the squirrels’ attacks will give some the opportunity to roll over and die, just like Wheels did. I just need some time to devise a plan. Remember how the troops reacted after the slaughter of the Micronauts?”
For the most part, the violence was held to a minimum after the demise of Wheels. Occasionally, the little green, Army men would go missing, but that wasn’t unusual. When a hundred soldiers go to battle, you’re bound to lose a few.
Then Johnny got a BB gun for his thirteenth birthday.
It was a breezy, October afternoon. Johnny grabbed a handful of Micronauts and General and went to the backyard. He scattered the Micronauts in different positions. Some were in trees. Some were hidden in a flower bed. With General by his side, Johnny opened fire on the toy robots. Shards of plastic flew across the sky as one-by-one, Johnny assassinated the Micronauts. The sound of gunfire echoed off the trees as the last Micronaut crashed to the ground, with only a torso and right arm intact. General watched with waves of nausea crashing in the pit of his stomach. An entire platoon fell in front of him and he was helpless to save them. But General knew he would lose soldiers in battle. Succumbing in battle didn’t mean losing a war. And General wasn’t going to lose this war.
“I saw the unimaginable in the Micronaut onslaught, Tank. And to this day I have still not spoken of the details. But we did retaliate.”
“We sure did, sir.”
Two weeks after the Micronaut massacre, General spoke to the troops. He told them Johnny would be coming for more. Once a killer has tasted blood, it’s a thirst he has to satisfy. “It’s like oxygen,” he told the toys. General informed his army that they were about to go on the offensive. The next objective would be kamikaze — a suicide mission. Johnny had acquired some M80 fireworks in a trade for a few die-cast cars. The sadistic kid planned to blow up some of the troops with the firecrackers.
General told his army that the next batch to go to war would likely be blown to bits. There was nothing they could do to change their fate. But they could deal the enemy a devastating blow in return. He asked his troops to be brave and not to die without a fight.
Johnny came and grabbed a handful of the little green Army men — the bravest of the frontline soldiers. He took them to the backyard, dug a trench, and dropped the toys in the hole.
Johnny lit a firecracker and tossed it on top of the Army men. The sparks from the flame melted the squad into one heap of soft plastic. Before the M80 ignited, a mangled soldier mustered his last breath and blew at the flame, causing the fire to go out. Johnny lit the wick again and turned to run. Another soldier blew the flame out. This cat-and-mouse game went on until the wick was a stub. Determined to blow up the troops Johnny lit the wick one last time. The only soldier still alive smiled. Johnny didn’t have enough time to toss the firecracker into the trench. It exploded in his hand, taking off the tip of his ring finger and his entire pinky.
“That was a glorious victory,” General said, beaming with pride. “I’ve never been more proud of a unit.
A scurrying noise interrupted General.
“You hear that? They’re back,” Tank said.
“Stay calm, soldier. Hold your position. Look the enemy in face and do not flinch.”
The sound of scratching grew louder against the top of the cardboard box.
A nose pushed through the yellowing tape, followed by a pair of beady eyes. General could smell Lefty on the squirrel’s breath. You bastard, he thought, as the squirrel inched closer. Its hot breath singed General’s beard. He felt wetness against his flesh when the squirrel sniffed his neck. The bastard’s going for my jugular, General thought. I have a clear shot at his throat. I’ll rip it out. But that was just wishful thinking; the kung-fu grip hadn’t worked in years.
The squirrel backed away and starting sniffing down General’s arm. He wants my coat, General thought. The squirrel bit the cloth, exposing the plastic flesh of the soldier’s arm. A stabbing pain radiated up General’s forearm. He gritted his teeth, but didn’t utter a word. Not even a moan. The squirrel gnawed away at the plastic. General closed his eyes trying to block out the pain. You can’t react soldier, he told himself. Take the pain, your troops are depending on you. You’re a prisoner of war, don’t show the enemy any weakness. General felt relief. The chomping of flesh stopped. Without moving a muscle, his eyes drifted toward his arm. The squirrel sat next to him with General’s hand, locked in a partial kung-fu grip, tightly between its razor-sharp teeth. Bits of plastic and cloth hung from the points of the enemy’s teeth. The squirrel tore the hand clear from General’s body.
You haven’t won you son-of-a-bitch, General thought. I have another hand. He looked at the squirrel’s belly. There was a clean shot to rip its intestines from its gloating body.
Knowing that the squirrel intended to kill him, General had no choice but to attack. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and pictured how it would go down in his mind.
When the squirrel moves its front paws to get a better grip on my hand, I’ll shove my other hand, with all of my force, into its gut. If I don’t break the skin, at the very least, it will startle the bastard, long enough for me to get out from under it. Then I’ll break its neck.
General clinched his fist and opened his eyes to see the squirrel pouncing on Patty, a cloth sunflower. It was a precise strike, like a shark lunging at a seal. Patty didn’t have time to react. There was a shrill and then she was gone.
The top of the box flapped in the wind caused by the squirrel’s movement. Then there was silence.
“You OK, sir?” Tank asked.
“I’ll live,” General said, rubbing the nub that used to be his right hand.
“Did it take Patty?”
“I’m afraid so, Tank. I guess she made for better bedding.”
“I liked Patty.”
“I did too. Patty was a good soldier. But war is hell. You’re going to lose plenty of good soldiers,” General said, tying a piece of torn cloth around the nub.
“Its’ funny, sir, I’ve always heard that attics are where old toys go to die. I always pictured it as some sort of retire home. A place where old age would be the death of me, not some furry, bastard squirrel.”
“There’s always going to be a fight for our kind, soldier.”
“So, what’s our next move?” Tank asked.
“We wait for the squirrels to play all of their cards.”
“But, with all due respect, sir,” Tank paused to reassure himself that he wanted to question General’s plan. “Waiting isn’t working. We’ve lost Lefty and Patty.”
General sat up.
“And we will lose more. That’s a product of war, soldier,” he coughed, trying to extract the dust from his throat. “But we will win.”
General looked through a hole in the top of the box. Sitting in the corner of the attic in a broken rocking chair was the skeleton of a man. One arm was tied to the chair with yellow rope, the other arm dangled with frayed yellow fabric entwined with the bones, an obvious squirrel attack. Plastic daggers protruded from the eye sockets, a blue bandanna wedged in the skeleton’s mouth, the free arm swayed as a fall breeze made its way through a cracked window. The hand clanked against the wooden chair. Noticeably missing were the tip of the ring finger and pinky.
“We always win,” General said, as he fell back and rubbed his stub of an arm.