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The Toymaker

Most people don’t believe in magic anymore. It’s hard to blame them in this world of cold glass and steel and concrete. Of scientific wonders making the previously impossible commonplace, and things even more fantastical on silver screens before us, known to be false. But I’m here to tell you magic is very, very real, and hiding just where you’ll least expect it.

I didn’t used to believe in magic, mind you. At least, not until things changed for me, my family, and my business. Our lives used to be quite mundane, with an unvaried routine produced by generations of tradition. Inherited from my father, and his father, and his father, and on, my profession was that of the toymaker, bringing joy to the hearts of children and putting smiles upon their faces.

We owned a quaint little shop, its front facing out onto a cobble-stoned street, in between the Cotton Candy Clouds candy store and a corner pub named Wonderland. Typical of such hand-me-down places of business, our home was in the back of the store, so we never had to worry about commuting through the busy London streets to get to work. No dodging trolleys or lories for us. That was quite nice, though sometimes the pub next door did get a little bit rowdy, and the noise would pound through the walls, drowning out whatever conversion or telly-watching we might have been doing. Truth be told, though, it seemed to have gotten quieter after they changed management, which happened a mere fortnight before fortune started favouring my household.

Before that, business had been dwindling steadily over time. For a small independent toymaker, it was difficult to compete with the fancy products the big corporations were spitting out. We specialized in figurines, and still lovingly crafted each miniature creature by hand. This was a long, painstaking process, but produced what I like to think were superior results, if not the fully articulated action figures kids these days seem to prefer. And certainly our goods completely failed to compete with the video games of today. That is, until things started changing.

It was starting to look pretty grim for the family. Finances were horrible, and debt was piling up as I took out loan after loan just to keep us supplied with the materials needed to pursue our craft. Slowly I was coming to the realization that I might have to sell the store and seek employment with one of the big toy companies. As dreadful as that prospect seemed, it was looking like it was going to be necessary to feed my folk.

Low on supplies, I had made a last-ditch effort to obtain yet another loan from the banks, but was rejected. Because of that, our dwindling stock soon vanished. The miniatures in our windows weren’t moving. We had pretty much given up hope.

But one morning, all bleary-eyed from just waking, I stumbled into the crafts room that stood between the storefront and our living quarters, and, much to my amazement, the table was covered in statuettes. Convinced I was seeing things, or, rather, not seeing things so clearly, I rubbed the palms of my hands into my eyes in an attempt to clear them. I looked again.

Sure enough, tiny little figurines covered the crafts table. Astonished, I stepped forward and leaned with both hands on the table, bringing my gaze as close to the miniatures as I could. I dared not touch them for fear of dispelling their presence, or, worse, ruining their perfection.

And perfect they were. I had never seen the likes in all my life. Each one bore flawless resemblance to that of which it was a replica. One was a tiny policeman, whistle in mouth and truncheon in the air, as if he were waving traffic along. The silver badge atop his bobby’s cap shown with a high polish, and he even wore that hideous yellow and silver monstrosity that is the high-visibility jacket of the Metropolitan Police. Now there’s something I wouldn’t have done.

There was a fireman, a clergyman, two Queen’s Guards complete with their giant bear-skin hat. The detail of the latter two was amazing! The fur seemed to be actual real fur! I couldn’t help myself and reached forth a finger to lightly brush it, and, indeed, it was real fur. Amazed, I jerked back my finger lest I damage the seemingly delicate figure. And there was more! A high class waiter, resplendent in his all black finery, construction workers dirty and grimy, street punks from Camden Town with hair spikey and colourful, a barrister still in his robes and powdered wig, and more. Before my eyes lay a veritable sampling of the citizens of London, and, next to them, a whole platoon of British squaddies, assault rifles at the ready.

Still in disbelief, I ran back to the kitchen to fetch my wife and show here the wonder I’d discovered.

“Do you know how these got there?” I asked as I waved my hand at the table. She stopped, gape-jawed, and stared for some minutes before responding.

“I haven’t a clue, darling, but they’re incredible! We must put them on display immediately!”

I agreed, and we set to arranging them prominently about the store, our breakfast completely forgotten. Not an hour had passed before customers started trickling in, attracted by the statuettes we had placed in the window, and by midday, the entire inventory had sold out completely. This had certainly never happened before in our shop’s existence, and we were elated. Closing shop early, we found a little note upon the crafts table as we headed back to our flat. The words upon the tiny scrap of paper were so minute, I required one of my crafting lenses to make heads or tail of them.

All it said, was “Cake, please.”

Puzzled, I hadn’t the foggiest notion what to make of the note. Shrugging, I placed it back upon the table and we continued to the living room and what we felt was a well-earned repose. On the telly that night, the news told us how contact had been lost with some soldiers in Afghanistan. And of course, it also told us about the usual list of crimes in the city. Nothing unusual. Soon the news was over, and actual entertainment ensued, then, satisfied, we were off to bed.

The next morning the crafts table was once more covered in fantastically fashioned figures, only this time, there was another note on top of them, bigger than the last, with the words “CAKE PLEASE!” in bold print.

“Perhaps we should leave some cakes out on the table tonight?” My wife Deborah suggested. I shrugged and began carefully picking up the statuettes and took them to the storefront for display. Soon everything was in its place, and I reopened the store. Business went similarly to the day before, and we simply raked in the money. That night went much like the last, only with slightly different news stories. Deborah made some little muffin-sized cakes and left them out on the crafts table before we went to bed.

Once again the table was crowded with the incredibly realistic replicas come morning, with the cakes nowhere to be seen. As it was every morning for the next several days, just as Deborah left cakes out on the table each night. Word spread around London about the fabulous pint-sized figures, and soon our store was swarmed with patrons as soon as we opened the doors every day. Even with the volume of miniatures increasing daily, we could not meet the demands of our customers, and every day we were forced to close well before noon. Within a fortnight, we were able to pay off all our debts. Life couldn’t have been better.

For us, anyway. The news soon began to talk about a rise in missing persons cases, most of them mysteriously occurring in and around London proper. Something was happening in London, but no one had any clue what it was.

For a while, we were complacent about our mysterious benefactors. We really didn’t question how the figurines got there, or where the cakes were going. In hindsight, it really should have spooked us that someone was apparently breaking into the shop, and our home, and depositing random toys, but for some reason, we just didn’t think about it. At least, not until our financial troubles were gone. By then, Deborah had been photographing the miniatures, and one night while we were watching the telly, she said something startling:

“I think I’ve seen that man before.”

It was an article on one of the missing persons, this one with his photograph prominently displayed on the screen before us. It was one of those punks from Camden Town, with a rather noticeably identifiable tattoo of an exploding sun over one eye, and purple and black spiked hair shooting in all directions.

“What do you mean you’ve seen him before? We’ve never been down Camden Town,” I replied.

“No, really, I’ve seen him,” she said, and she immediately leapt up and veritably pounced the pile of photographs she kept on the mantle. She careless scattered them on the floor as she swiftly sifted through them, clearly looking for a particular one.

“See, see, this is him!” She excitedly shouted as she pulled one free from the others and waved it in the air.

“No, I can’t bloody well see if you keep waving it around like that, now give it here and I’ll have a look at.”

She thrust it at me triumphantly.

I looked at it, then looked back up on the screen just as the image disappeared as they moved on to a new story. Sure enough, it was the same bloke.

“Well, I’ll be… you’re right. Huh, odd he should be one of those figurines. When’d you snap this one?”

“Just this morning…” she trailed off as she said it.

This got me to thinking – just where DID those statuettes come from? Who was making them, and who was dropping them off in our shop? The more I thought about it, the more the curiosity bug ate at me. I had to find out, and there was only one way to do so. Well, a couple ways, I suppose, but I only thought of the one at first. I suppose it was the most obvious way, anyway.

So I had Deborah make me a giant pot of copy, propped the door from the crafts room to our living room open just enough so that I could see inside, and set to an all-night vigil in my recliner, wrapped up in a thick blue terrycloth robe and feet ensconced in matching fuzzy blue slippers. Just as I should have seen then, any bloke could see this plan was clearly doomed to failure. Naturally, I fell asleep halfway through an until-then uneventful night.

After the morning went as it had the past three weeks, I was determined to catch whoever it was that was delivering the propitious parcels, so I made to get to sleep early enough that I might wake in the middle of the night and thence make my watch. Armed once again with fuzzy slippers and strong coffee, I took seat upon my watch post. Not sure what to expect, I was still quite surprised by what I did discover.

I had still somehow nod off before our benefactors arrived, but a soft clicking sound snapped me awake just in time to see them as they rushed out of the house, table already proudly displaying the latest shipment. What I did see, was something akin to what one might even call a little green man dashing and disappearing around the corner. In the brief instant I glimpsed him, it, her, whatever, I managed to spy that it was no taller than knee-height, was quite green of skin – rather a myrtle – and it had quite long, pointed ears pointing straight out from the sides of its squat, flat head. Little wisps of white hair extended from the ends of its ears, which was about the only place I saw hair on its entire nude body. Its arms were long and ape-like, almost scraping the ground, and it stooped forward ever so slightly. I had the impression there were more. And they were fast. Around the corner before I could get out the chair, and leap out of it I did, in hot pursuit, determined to corner the bringers of boons.

Bounding out into the cobble-stoned street, still in my pajamas and robe, I barely witnessed the little creatures as they dashed down an alley not 3 store-fronts down from mine. I raced after them as best one can in flapping furry slippers, but give chase I did. Into the alley I sped, again just in the nick of time to catch them as they turned another corner, and soon, so did I. Around one bend then another we went, winding a mad dash through narrow Hackney byways. At one point, one of my slippers went flying off behind me, but I dared not stop for fear of losing the gremlins. Perhaps I should have.

It was not long before we’d made our way to the Manor House tube station, and all five of the green forms whom I’d been chasing fled inside. In I went as well, and down the stairs I plunged, heedless of the fact that, at this early time of morning, the station should well have been closed. Yet no barriers nor bobbies blocked our way and down we went. Off the platform and down into the suicide pit they leapt, and so did I, just as they dashed down one of the passageways under the platform. Continuing my pursuit, I soon lost sight of them, but was able to follow the echoing patters of their little feet.

A few twists and a few turns, and soon I came across a dimly lit room, whereat I skidded to a halt, much to the dismay of my poor tortured feet. Before me, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, despite the wonders of the daily delivery that had been occurring upon my crafting table.

In the middle of the room, several of these verdant beasts were gathered around a clearly unconscious form which looked quite familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. He appeared to be in his early to late thirties, and was quite athletic of build. Even lying supine, it was clearly he was around 6 feet in height, and he possessed a rather strong jawline and cleft chin. Though I could not discern their colour, closed as his eyes were, I was able to note his shortly-cropped dark-brown hair. He wore an old World War II woolen officer’s greatcoat and jackboots, but I couldn’t see much else before one of the creatures turned to face me.

Having not yet seen their faces, I was quite taken aback. Though I clearly should not have been expecting anything human, I found its visage to be quite alien, and quite fearsome. It seemed to have no nose, nor even slits for nostrils, and its long lipless maw was filled with triangular interlocking teeth. Enormous yellow eyes sporting black crosses for pupils started at me unblinkingly. As it took a step for me and reached out with a clawed, three-fingered hand, I turned to run anew.

By now, you’ve probably figured I didn’t make it. You’re probably also wondering how I’m recounting this tale as I clearly must have bought the farm. Well, you’re right, and you’re wrong, sort of.

I had scarcely taken two steps before cold clammy claws wrapped around my lower leg and, with surprising strength brought me to a sprawling stop face first in grimy subterranean mud. Desperately kicking to free myself, I failed to do just that, and found myself being forcefully dragged, clawing and screaming, back to the room and the moribund mob. They gathered around me, their emotionless razored grins leering at me from above. Terrified that I clearly was about to be eaten alive, I screamed my throat raw and futilely flailed all my limbs in effort to strike out at my benefactors turned captors.

But, no, I wasn’t destined to become the lunch of some fey creatures that day. After all, I still had to share the tale. No, instead, before the anticipated bite of fang into flesh pierced me, a dull heavy thump upon my head turned light into dark and panic into dreamless sleep.

When I awoke, I at first couldn’t make heads or tails of my surroundings. Everything seemed completely foreign. I clearly was no longer underground, as brilliant light streamed in through the most enormous window I had ever seen. And I was standing in it. Around me were arranged a multitude of motionless people, standing as if on stage-marks for some pre-planned scene. I tried to turn my head, but I couldn’t, nor could I move my arms or legs. I seemed frozen in a pose of one taking a casual stroll down the street, my hand neatly tucked in my robe’s right pocket. Then a giant strode past, just outside the glass, some hundred feet tall, and another, and another. And then it dawned on me where I was. And what I had become.

And now I knew where the miniatures had come from, and how.

For I had become one.

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