by Isaac Bouchard
Isabelle threw her backpack on her bed the way she always had. The binder would slip from the broken zipper, the papers would fly out of it since she never closed the rings, and she knew in the back of her head that the next day she’d shove them all back in just the same. It felt a little different in the last year, however, without Sebastian to poke a little gentle fun at her. It’s funny, the things you’d never think you’d miss. Her parents still left his side of the room in the tornado-visit style of a high school boy. She was glad they did.
The sun was shining through the window on his side of the room. It illuminated all the flecks of dust that always sprung up when she swung her door shut, tiny particles like memories floating all around her. Everything was covered in it except the windowsill that always stayed open in the summer. Maybe it was from the wind and rain that always came through, but there was never much dust there, and even the army men scattered about it never seemed to collect any.
She never moved them either, but they were never quite in the same place she left them. She assumed the breeze was knocking them around, but she liked it that way. It made her feel like Sebastian was still around, setting up their formations in mock battles.
In spite of all the times she called him names, all the times they fought, all the times they threw food across the room at each other, she really did miss him. It was her biggest regret she would never get the chance to tell him that.
“Isabelle! Dinner!” It was her mother. She closed the door and shut the light, leaving with a lingering glance at Sebastian’s old space. It was quiet as she closed the door, but it wouldn’t be for long.
There was a battle about to begin over on that dusty side of the room.
“Hold the line!”
The tiny men levelled their tiny guns, wishing they had some tiny ammunition in their tiny hands. Gradually, in a zigzag, the centipede scaled the wall, each of its legs the length of any one of the men. They held strong, their battlefield of the windowsill old, comfortable and familiar. They all knew it was about to cross into the room. It was their duty to prevent that from happening. They’d stay and guard that windowsill with their lives if they had to.
Its giant mandibles glimmered in the moonlight. “Form ranks!” the sergeant yelled, and the men fell in line, plastic shoulder to plastic shoulder. Pointy little sticks, guns that could never fire, were each aimed at the centipede.
It came at them so quickly. It doesn’t matter if you’re six feet or six centimetres; it takes bravery to stand in the line of fire. Not one soldier took a single step backwards as it came at them. They had to work as a team, and each soldier took their courage from their brave sergeant standing right in line with them. They raised their weapons, not having an ability to shoot but using the weapons to force the centipede away.
It was over in a minute, but it felt like an hour. Once the centipede realised it wouldn’t be so easy to cross over a line of sharp points, it decided there were easier hunting grounds elsewhere, and with its many legs it walked back out the window.
They each let out a heavy, relieving sigh. Some patted each other on the back, some just knelt down in exhaustion. However, just because it retreated didn’t mean it was gone. The indomitable sergeant sent one more soldier off to the edge to ensure the monster was indeed gone this time. “Holloway – once more!” he called.
“On it, Sarge!” Private Holloway hopped down on the slight edge just beneath the outside of the window to get a better look, just out of sight.
And then, unexpectedly, distracted as they were by the fight with the centipede, the light came. Brilliant, all-encompassing, and total, it flooded every corner. The whole world, dark a moment before, was bright as midday.
Each soldier froze, some aiming their rifles, some crawling. This time, maybe they weren’t quick enough. It all became so quiet. Isabelle, the child that was the owner of their whole world, looked in their direction and paused. One hand was still on the light switch, looking as if she saw something.
Breaking the silence, Holloway called from over the ledge. “Looks good to me, Sarge, think it’s gone and run off!”
Isabelle yelped, fell back, and landed on her bed. For the first time in their years on the field, their cover was blown.
“Sarge?” the private called, looking over the edge and realising what she’d done. “Oh.” She scrambled up the ridge and made a terrible attempt at a stationary pose, but it was far too little, far too late.
Isabelle slowly crept up from where she hid. She peered down on them with eyes as large as dinner plates. It’s not that they were afraid of her; they were just worried about how she’d react. This was the one they meant to protect from harm, and even to scare her would feel like a failure in their sworn duty.
She didn’t look particularly frightened, however. Instead, she just had the same expression of a kid looking at a dinosaur in an exhibit at a museum; awe and fascination, but not fear. In a voice both high-pitched and booming at the same time, she spoke to them. “Hello?” she whispered nervously. They’d heard her speak before, but on the phone to friends, calling to her parents, or sometimes speaking to herself as she wrote in her diary. Never had she said a word to them.
The soldiers stayed quiet. Not one moved, not one blinked.
“I saw you. I heard you, too,” she whispered again. “It’s okay.” A few of the soldiers, without alerting the girl, twisted their heads ever so slightly to see their sergeant and follow his lead. “I know I heard you. I know I did!” she insisted. “Just… talk to me, okay?”
The sergeant knew what he had to do. She heard Private Holloway, and there was no sense denying it. He smacked his heels together, gave a sharp salute, and said with all the pride he could muster, “Sergeant Billy Warnock reporting, ma’am!”
Well, she jumped back again so fast she nearly threw herself through the wall. Each one of the soldiers relaxed from their poses now that their secret was out. Breathing heavily, the girl returned, pushing the messy strands of hair out of her face. “You can talk! How? Am I…” She pinched herself again. “Ow! Nope, not dreaming.” After inspecting them again and seeing the sergeant still standing at attention, she managed to calm herself down. “I’m Isabelle,” she said in awe.
“I suppose it would be right to explain why we can talk,” Sergeant Warnock offered. She nodded her head so fast they worried she’d hurt her neck. “We’re stationed here to ward off any and all potential threats. If I may say so myself, ma’am, our company has performed admirably for the past two years we’ve been assigned here.” A few of their soldiers raised their chins with pride.
“Threats? Am I in trouble?” she asked in a way that only a twelve-year-old would.
“No, no, certainly not, ma’am.”
“Okay… okay… but what do you do?” she asked. She found herself playing with her pigtails.
“Well, just last August we successfully defended the Great Spider Invasion without a single loss.” A few of the soldiers clapped and shook hands. “We also poured out as much of the water as we could from the windowsill during the floods last year.” Quietly, he added, “I would advise you to close your window during storms, ma’am.”
She blushed. “Sorry,” Isabelle said with a hand up to her mouth.
“Proud to do it, ma’am.” More somberly, he continued. “Unfortunately, over the years, we’ve lost a few good men. Sucked up in the vacuum while running recon.” A few of the men took off their helmets in respect to those that were no longer with them, holding it to their hearts.
“Oh, those? I’ll get ‘em.” She stood up, stretched her back and rubbed her eyes. “Mom sucked them up, but they got caught in the vacuum. They’re in the closet.”
A few of the soldiers stepped forward. “Could you bring them back? They’re our buddies!”
“Of course!” she said cheerily. After a few moments, she returned with three more of the battalion, each a long-lost soldier. They cheered, hugged, patted each other on the back, reunited when they thought all was lost.
Isabelle smiled ear to ear, so happy to help the strange little soldiers on their mission. Which made her think—what mission? “Hey, so… you said you’re protecting me, right? Why? This is my room. I just sleep here and eat yogurt, and sometimes go on my phone.”
The sergeant suddenly looked serious. “Battalion! Form ranks!” Immediately, each and every soldier lined up, standing at attention. It was a strange mixture of impressive and silly, since they were so tiny and made of plastic. “I would ask for the honour to tell you our mission, ma’am!”
Isabelle just stared.
“Oh—you’re asking for my permission?”
“Oh. Yup! Go ahead! Or…permission granted, sergeant!” she said, putting on her best military voice.
“The name of our battalion is Sebastian’s Bastion. It is our duty to protect you, Isabelle, from all harm that we in our abilities can prevent. We have, and will continue to, perform this duty with our best efforts.” As one, the soldiers stomped their feet together.
Isabelle felt her throat tighten up. “Wait. Sebastian told you to do this? My brother?”
Sergeant Warnock took off his helmet and held it to his heart. “I know he was your brother, ma’am. But before he… went away… he gave us this solemn duty. He knew he wasn’t going to be around, and… well, big brothers always want to protect their little sister. He recruited us in his absence.” Even the sergeant looked as if the words did not come easily. Some of his soldiers looked down. “He was a good commander.”
“Yeah,” Isabelle agreed. She wiped away a trailing tear. “I miss him too.”
The soldiers each picked up their weapons, and did as best of an impression of a rough and tumble platoon that they could. They were still on duty, after all.
“So,” Isabelle continued. “What will you do now?”
“What do you mean, ma’am?” Warnock asked.
“Well, I know you’re here, so…Should I just…close the window? It would keep the bugs out.”
Warnock laughed. “And give us nothing to do? No, ma’am, please. We’re signed up here for life.” He cleared his throat. “Plus, the breeze keeps my men cool in the summer. We don’t want to, uh… melt. It’s a concern when you’re made of plastic.”
Isabelle giggled. “Okay. You got it,” she said with a smile.
The sergeant stepped forward. “If I could say one more thing, ma’am.”
“Sure,” she said.
“Sebastian. He was a good kid,” he said, getting a few nods from the soldiers. “His most pressing concern was for how you’d grow up.” Warnock paused for a moment, and cleared his throat again. “He really loved you.”
Isabelle bit her lip, and tiny puddles of water pooled in her eyes. “Thanks,” was all she could muster.
“But if you don’t mind, ma’am, we still have our duties to attend to. It was a pleasure getting to meet you at last.” The men turned back to the window. “Line up, soldiers,” Sergeant Billy Warnock called. “Sebastian’s Bastion, ready for duty!”
About the Writer
Isaac Bouchard is a teacher out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the chilly, friendly place above the United States. When he isn’t writing, he’s either reading or playing soccer—not all that different from his youth.
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Photo Credit: “rabbit 2” by Michael Cory, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.com. Modified by Veronica McDonald.