2015 -The Toy Maker
A favorite doll, a cherished toy;
countless hours of childhood joy.
Cuddled close as night hours toll;
a stitched on smile steals your soul…
The hours he spent with his mother in her German toy shop were the best of Wilhelm’s young life. Before the war, before his father’s anger, before the nightmares, before the voices, before…
One of Wilhelm's earliest memories was of his father, hurling his mother’s precious jewelry box across his nursery room. Each night she would bring her precious musical box, carved of the finest wood, into his nursery and stroke his face as the tune put him to sleep. When the box was opened, a ballerina would move back and forth, round and round in a jerky but graceful dance and, more often than not, he would fall asleep, dreaming of his mother as the ballerina.
But one night, the scene changed. Just as he was drifting off, his father, a high ranking official in the German army, entered the nursery. He was angry – always angry – and drunk. He accused Wilhelm’s mother of “babying the boy” and insisted she leave the room and take the box with her. In her soft voice, she pleaded Father to leave, that he was scaring his son, but it only angered Father more. He swiped the box off the nightstand, smashing it against the far wall. The tune came to an abrupt halt and his mother was dragged from his nursery. That night, Wilhelm snuck from his bed and retrieved the broken ballerina, hiding it and the broken bits of box at the back of his wardrobe.
He worked painstakingly, piecing together her broken ballerina with bits of metal from the toyshop, and gave it to her the next week. As her tears fell on the necklace, the ballerina seemed to take on a life of its own, glowing with all the tenderness and purity of his mother’s heart. The next day she was gone and his father told him that she had simply left. Wilhelm at first missed her but over time it became resentment for her leaving.
Years later, as the war was in full swing, Wilhelm’s father took him away from his mother’s toyshop to teach him a new craft – the creation of torture devices. The engineer in Wilhelm couldn’t help but be intrigued. The creativity used to extract the most pain using a piece of machinery without killing the subject was something Wilhelm took to, and to his shame, was excited by.
Eventually, Wilhelm began to accompany his father on his “missions”. Inflicting torture became their bond. For the first time in his young life, Wilhelm sensed his father’s pride. Chasing that approval became the thing that drove him. It wasn’t long before Wilhelm was the one they called in when there was a “hard case.”
Such was the call on the night Wilhelm entered the chamber to discover a woman, battered and bloody. Women were not a new element in Wilhelm’s world of torture. He knew the enemy used them for purposes of deceit and that they were among the most treacherous of creatures. This one had been tortured until she was almost unrecognizable. Almost. But as Wilhelm closed in, his breath caught in his chest. Mother.
She lay there, pleading with her eyes for help, her fragile hand, the nails ripped from their beds, reaching toward him. “Leave us!” he bellowed at the officers.
He couldn’t touch her, couldn’t look at her. He walked to the door and turned his back on her, an act that said more than words could have. Then Father entered the room. Leaning in close, he filled Wilhelm’s heart with his version of what his traitorous mother had done - of her treason to her country, of her infidelity, of her betrayal. And as Wilhelm allowed the words to soak into his bones, a madness overcame him. Wilhelm was too far gone, unable to separate lies from the truth, unable to control the hatred that rose up within him.
Rage at his mother for leaving him in that cold, dark nursery with that monster. At Father for poisoning his young mind. At himself for not overcoming it, burst forth. With dead eyes, he looked at his Father, “Remove yourself.” For the first time in his life, Wilhelm saw Father’s confidence waver and fear replace the cruelty. They both knew the unspoken thing that lay between them. That the next time Wilhelm saw his Father, it would be in the old man’s last moment on earth. Father rushed from the room and Wilhelm turned his anger on his mother.
Tears, mingled with abusive words poured forth as he punished her for the perceived betrayal, using every form of torture he could imagine. Demanding she tell him the truth, that she had never loved him, that she was everything his father had said she was. All the while, she looked at him with love. Finally, she reached out and caught his hand. With her other, she pulled the necklace from under her collar where she’d kept it all these years. She put his hand on the chain and looked deeply into his eyes and said these words, hardly audible through her suffering, “If there is any love for me left in you. End my pain. I forgive you.”
His mind was ragged, his thoughts scattered and hard to collect. Was she everything his father had convinced him she was or the mother he had loved as a boy. Her eyes told him the truth and he did the only thing he could. Wilhelm kissed her forehead and clutched the chain around her neck tighter and tighter until her color changed and her breathing stopped. Her hand never left his arm, her love clear until her very last moment. He slipped the ballerina charm into his pocket and walked away.
The years after those moments meant nothing to him. His father disappeared and even the mighty German army could not discover what became of him. Only Wilhelm knew. After his father’s death, Wilhelm inherited everything he never knew was awaiting him. His mother’s fortune. Father’s hatred of her made sense to him now. He despised her success, her place in society, all that he would never be. Father had needed to paint her a traitor to get his filthy hands on it without her oversight and Wilhelm had made that possible for him.
So Wilhelm immersed himself in the war and in the machines and in the torture, punishing himself each time he punished his enemies. Every event a reminder of what he had done. He researched ancient forms of torture and brought them back to life with clever new devices. He became a Master in knowledge of all forms of suffering from past wars until present in order to exploit the past for the present’s gain. Even the men who revered him for his torturing prowess began to exchange their respect for fear. As his cruelty increased, his sanity left him.
But it wasn’t until coming to America, in an attempt to remake himself, that he stumbled onto a patch of land in Southwest Missouri. He couldn’t have said what brought him there except that he dreamed about it in his sleep. The land called to him. So, settling into the old farmhouse, he sent for all of his mother’s things, determined to remake himself and find the peace she had always wished for him.
The day Mother’s things arrived, he pulled them from the trunks one by one. Jack in the boxes, dolls, monkeys playing cymbals, wind-up toys. Treasure after treasure Wilhelm pulled from those trunks – things they’d built together, memories of the days he spent in his mother’s toyshop – before the Voice, before the violence. And as he pulled each toy out, it’s voice became a part of him, whispering a memory that brought a tear to his eye.
At the bottom of the trunk, he pulled out a set of twin dolls. A boy and a girl. The boy was made to look like him as a child. His mother had always said that since he had no sibling, she’d made him a sister – a twin soul and that when he got lonely, he could play with the two of them and never be alone. He hugged them to himself, an old man feeling silly to be holding onto dolls.
Keeping them in his arms, he pulled the last box from the last trunk and opened it. Soldiers. It was full of toy soldiers.
Every smell, every scream, every melted face, every dismembered corpse – it all came back to him. The toys seemed to take on the face of the men he had tortured and killed.
“You killed her.”
Wilhelm looked around. There was nobody there but him.
“She loved you and you killed her. You are just like your father.”
Fearing he was losing his mind, Wilhelm searched the house, but the hissed whisper was coming closer than from another room. It was coming from the dolls he clutched so tightly.
“She was your mother, Wilhelm. She was our mother. You killed her.”
“No!” He answered back. “She wanted me to. She was begging me for the mercy of ending her pain. It was my last gift to her. I loved her.” He pulled from his pocket the ballerina charm on the chain that had choked the life from his mother. It burned his hand and he dropped it quickly to the ground where it began to glow. This time, it didn’t glow with purity, but something else…something darker.
“You are like your father. You believed everything he told you. You tortured her just like he told you to.” Wilhelm could not argue. It was all true.
That was the last night Wilhelm was ever alone. From that moment on, there was no longer a Voice, but many voices. They reminded him daily, moment by moment of his crimes. And most especially of his crime against his mother.
It was shortly after this that people began to disappear into the forest of Wilhelm’s land. Rumors abounded. At first authorities scoffed at the things the townspeople said about Wilhelm and their suspicions. There were those who believed he was trying to resurrect toys and give them souls using live people who wandered onto his land. This, of course, seemed far-fetched – too ridiculous to allow any credence.
There were even whispers that he had found a way to recreate the mother he’d once murdered, but something had gone horribly wrong and the weight of his shame was giving the creation more power than even the local priest could combat. As long as that ballerina charm hung about her neck, she was invincible. All of this seemed straight out of a horror story and the sheriff tried to assure the townspeople that the priest had simply left because the small congregation could not support him.
But when the twins, Ben and Madeline Swan disappeared, the sheriff had no choice but to check out the rumors. He never returned. Search parties went into the forest to find the children, returning with stories of Ben and Madeline dressed as life sized dolls with dead eyes. Eventually other children began to disappear and stories returned to town that Ben and Madeline were luring children into the woods to join them. When their parents would follow to save them, they were lost to the forest as well.
The forest continued to darken and grow. Groans, growls and maniacal laughter could be heard at all times of the day and night. Eventually, the town around the forest died away, the children and their future depleted.
This is the legend of the Forest. The town that used to surround it can be found in history books, but no explanation of why it disappeared. Legend and lore or an accurate description of the events that took place on this land? These days, the only visitors to the forest are those who want to prove they are brave enough to face the land. Skeptics, naysayers, and every now and then, someone searching for a loved one. Many report the vision of a women who warns people away from the forest, begging them not to enter and all the while asking them “Forgive him. His heart is twisted. He was once only a boy.” One can only assume it is his mother, even now, fighting for his soul; trying to ward off the evil that surrounds him and once again, find her little boy.
But another mother exists. One of Wilhelm’s own creation. As long as she wears the necklace, she is queen of the evil that seeps up from the forest floor. With every new toy he creates and presents to her, hoping to gain back her love and maybe someday her forgiveness, her power grows. She feeds off the souls sacrificed in Wilhelm’s effort to surround her with the toys from his youth, hoping to recapture what they once had in the toyshop. He will never be free from the sins of his past. He will never be free of Mother.
Now you know the whole story. Is your soul pure enough to resist the forest or will you remain here forever to play? Enter or not – the choice is yours.