(Note: So the whole point of this one of course is, why the rabbit? It was sweet and everything, but what if some of the not-so-sweet toys became real?)
He had the kind of high coloring associated with little Dutch boys; his cheeks wore a rosy blush and his lips were pale, set in a firm line of perseverance. His hair was blond and neatly trimmed, kept under a military cap that could be taken off and put back on; presumably, the toy manufacturers had thought that such a brave soldier would lose his hat crawling through the mine fields and gas-filled front lines at Argonne. His eyes were painted a piercing blue that in a later age would be taken for bits of plastic in Real people but were only the result of the overzealous hand of the toy painter at his bench.
His uniform was an Authentic Reproduction, according to the box, and the bayonet could be removed and put back on his rifle.
He stood firmly at attention, awaiting orders, and when the Boy opened up his gaily-wrapped box on Christmas Day, he eagerly took him from the package and examined him thoroughly, taking off his hat and putting it back on, and poking the bayonet at his little brother until he cried. Then the grown-ups told him To Put It Back and he had to open his other toys.
Then there were visits and more grown-ups, who hugged and kissed him and his little brother, and Christmas dinner to eat and sweets to nibble on and the toy soldier was abandoned among the wrapping, flat on his back and helpless, his rifle removed from his hand and out of his reach.
He felt quite bewildered. He had stood on the shelves in the store for only a few days, since he was one of the Newest Toys and so was in great demand, and saw as one by one his comrades taken off the shelf, wrapped, and taken away. Now here he was, and he was not exactly sure what he was supposed to be doing but determined to do his best at it.
“Oh dear,” he thought. “I hope my orders won’t be too difficult to carry out. I’m only a toy and a very new one at that!”
Late that night both children were carried up to their beds, very sleepy and sticky. The Boy had wanted to bring his Toy Soldier outside with him to play, but his parents said No; it was snowing too hard and they were afraid the Boy would lose the Toy Soldier in the drifts. The Boy had to settle for riding his new sled alone; sadly thinking it would have been grand to ride down the steep hill with the Toy Soldier sitting in front of him with his bayonet sticking out.
The grown-ups soon removed the bayonet from the rifle and put it away, for Safekeeping, they said. That made the Toy Soldier a little worried; he hoped an officer did not come by and ask him why he was disobeying orders by not having his bayonet. Á9p<Á“I will just have to tell him it posed a danger to the children,” he resolved at last, and was a little comforted; he was not much more than a child himself, having been designed to look like a very young man just drafted.
The Boy played with the Toy Soldier often, organizing elaborate campaigns involving his set of cowboys and Indians and a variety of stuffed animals as well as his little brother. Since the Toy Soldier was grander than all the others, he was often appointed general, which amused him but secretly appealed to his martial spirit. He often longed to have been an Authentic Reproduction of a general, or even just a lieutenant.
“But a private can always be promoted,” he thought optimistically, never allowing his spirits to fall, even when he considered that there were no officers to promote him. One never knew.
His days fell into a pattern. In the morning the Boy went to school and the Toy Soldier spent the day in his bedroom with all the other toys.
The Boy had all manner of toys, some very fine that ran on batteries, and the most expensive of all, the flat booklike (or so they seemed to the soldier, who was only a reproduction and not modern at all) toys that were inserted into the television and created all sorts of marvelous images. The latter knew they were the most expensive, and they often boasted about it, talking among themselves about how much they cost and how often the boy played with them. They snubbed the other toys, even the ones that ran on batteries, as backward and childish, and called the Toy Soldier a doll.
“We’re realistic,” they said to the Toy Soldier with a sneer. “Look at how bright our colors are and how our pictures move and jump. And the noises we make are just the same as in the real world!”
“What’s realistic?” the Toy Soldier asked the Teddy Bear who sat on the top shelf in the Boy’s closet. “Is it making loud squeaking noises and having bright colors?” The Bear was the oldest of all the animals, quite shabby from having been the Boy’s first toy. He was losing all of his stuffing and was missing a shoe-button eye, which gave him a squint. His fur was bald in places and he had many sutures where the Boy’s mother had to sew up his scrapes and bruises. As part of his exalted status, he was wrapped in plastic and saved “for when the Boy has children of his own.” Only the best toys were saved like that; the Toy Soldier had even heard himself being referred to that way. It gave him a queer excited feeling in the pit of his stomach, as if he were going to be promoted.
“Realistic means looking like something that’s Real,” the Bear said.
“Like an Authentic Reproduction?” the Toy Soldier asked excitedly.
“Yes, quite like that,” the Bear replied. “When you are realistic, you look and move and sound like you are supposed to be Real. Realistic toys, though, never seem to last very long. They usually break easily or their battery packs or computer chips lock up.”
The Toy Soldier was crestfallen at first, until he realized that he was specially made to be strong and sturdy, and he didn’t have a battery pack or a computer chip. “Why, I’m Realistic,” he though proudly, and he never let the computer toys’ teasing bother him again.
In the afternoons the Boy came home, slamming doors and dropping his books on the kitchen table. He ate a snack and then went out to play in the snow. At night, after dinner and bath, he was allowed to play with his toys until bedtime. That was a wonderful time for the Toy Soldier, for then the Boy would set up exciting night time raids, making caves and tunnels under the bedclothes and letting the Toy Soldier rappel down the side of the bed to the floor using a shoelace.
When the weather got better, the Boy took the Toy Soldier on foreign wars in the woods and on the lawn surrounding the house. As they played through the summer, he never realized that his uniform was becoming quite shabby and his face and hands were smudged with from the dirt. He lost his hat and his painted hair shone almost white in the sunlight until it, too, got dirty.
It all came to an abrupt end. The grown-ups, seeing the condition the Toy Soldier was in, swooped down and took him away, telling the Boy they wanted to keep the Toy Soldier “nice for his children.”
His promotion had come. Excitedly, the Toy Soldier endured a good washing. “Perhaps I will get my bayonet back!” he thought. Someone found his hat and it was cleaned and dried and pressed and put carefully back on his head. Sure enough, the bayonet was taken from the box on the mantel where it had been saved and mounted on his rifle. Then he was carefully wrapped in plastic and placed up on the closet next to the old Bear.
A little sadly, the Toy Soldier waited. He missed the days of playing with the Boy, planning and executing campaigns, ambushes and war raids. It had all been quite exciting. He sniffled a little sadly and tried to see out the crack of the closet door.
Suddenly the little point of light in front of him grew and grew until the Toy Soldier was blinded. He tried to close his eyes but they were painted open and so he stared resolutely ahead. The light suddenly winked out and there glowing in front of him was a little man, dressed in khaki with a black beret sitting at a jaunty angle on his close-cropped pale hair.
“Who are you?” the Toy Soldier asked, astonished.
“I am the Nursery Magic Fairy,” the little man barked, his olive drab wings fluttering. “It’s time to report for duty, soldier.”He gathered up the Toy Soldier in his arms and off they flew. The toy soldier didn’t like leaving his post, but he was not unhappy to be leaving the dark closet. The Fairy set down with him in the woods and tore away his plastic wrapping. Then he tapped him with the butt of his gun and the toy soldier felt a very strange shiver all through his body. He sat up and realized he was big! Awkwardly the Toy Soldier scrambled to his feet and looked all about himself, taking in his hands, his hair, his soft, real skin. The nursery magic fairy shook his head with disgust. “Ah nuts,” he said, and clenching a cigar between his teeth, he flew off.
Shouldering his weapon, the Toy Soldier set off through the woods to try to find a commanding officer.
Many years later, there was a war, and the Boy, who was all grown up with children of his own, was watching the news on television. As the five-star general explained the campaign and talked about bombs and mines, troops and tanks, he thought,
“Why, he looks like my Toy Soldier, who was lost when I was little!”
He never knew it was his own Toy Soldier, who had gotten his promotion at last.