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The Tin Soldier

A Ghost Story for Christmas

By Simon CurtisPublished 3 months ago 32 min read
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The Tin Soldier
Photo by Mirsadra Molaei on Unsplash

Carl Taylor was a mediocre middle manager in a local government planning department. He had gained his promotions through longevity rather than talent, and while he held the title, he didn't really manage much. But this role suited him; it paid him a reasonable salary and didn't require anything beyond his nine-to-five. What kept Carl occupied were his many side projects, each with the promise of making enough money to bring forward his retirement. None of them had managed to bring him closer than a night out or two. He had made diaries, sold T-shirts and mugs, and even tried Forex, but it had been short-lived and low-returning. The only thing he managed to make any kind of success with was his eBay store.

Every weekend, he would tour jumble sales, car boot sales, and charity shops, picking up odds and ends that could make a couple of pounds here and there. He made the most from crockery. He was no expert, but he had a lucky habit of finding things that others would want. The problem was, it just wasn't enough to justify the increasing time it took to find the items, advertise them, sell them, and post them. As a result, he started taking more risks and buying more unusual items. This had resulted in his flat becoming increasingly cluttered to the point where he had employed a cleaner to keep on top of the general tidiness; the cost of whom had almost completely swallowed up any profits. He had become very fond of his cleaner, Elizabeth, who had become something of a surrogate grandmother and not only cleaned but would often leave him homemade cakes and pies.

Heading towards December, Carl had become slightly less discriminating in his shopping and had collected a few boxfuls of what could only politely be described as miscellaneous junk. He knew deep down it was, but it had cost him very little, and all he needed was for two or three to be sellable for him to break even. The only difficulty was that for each item, he had to spend time sprucing them up, taking attractive photographs, and then advertising them. This was the part he liked least. He had set aside the last Saturday in November to do this and had cleared all of his appointments and tasks, especially.

He started with the box of plates and bowls. He was certain a couple of the plates would be big sellers, so he took extra time preparing them and getting the pictures just right. Then he moved onto the old books; he double-checked for first editions before sprucing them up and taking photographs. Finally, he moved onto what he regarded as his lucky dip box—things he thought might have value if the right buyer turned up. There were vases, candle holders, thimbles, and the odd bit of branded merchandise. Among it was an old toffee box. Carl picked this one up because it reminded him of the sort of thing his grandmother had in her house when he was a child. He took the books out of the pile and placed it on the small felt cloth he had positioned for his photography. As he lifted it down, he noticed it rattled. He hadn't paid much attention to that when he initially bought it. In fact, he thinks it was part of a collection he got from a very miserable-looking old woman who had driven a very hard bargain. He pushed the stiff lid off, and inside he found a very small but very well-made tin soldier. He wasn't much of a history buff and therefore could not place the era it was supposed to be from, but his best guess was that it was from before the 20th century, as he had paid a little attention during his history lessons on World War I, and the uniform looked much older than that. How old the soldier was itself, he had no idea. He decided that he would sell them separately, as he felt the little tin soldier might have some value to the right collector. He took his photograph of the tin, and then one of the soldier before placing the soldier on his shelf on the far right-hand side.

The rest of the day was spent finishing off photography and then placing the adverts online. Some of the adverts placed a deadline for the middle of December. He left them open a bit longer in the hope he could get the largest possible profit. For some reason, he completely forgot to put the soldier online.

That evening, Carl rewarded himself with a takeaway pizza and two bottles of beer while watching the highlights of the day's football. As he sat in his comfortable armchair sinking slowly into his very soft cushions, he began to doze off. As he hovered just above sleep, he felt a jolt as his ears noticed a sound. There was someone at his door. Carl shook his head to clear the haze and focused on the sound. There was certainly someone at the door, but they hadn't got round to knocking or ringing yet. He lifted himself up groggily and lumbered down the corridor towards the door. In his slightly unsteady state, he placed one hand on the door to lean against it and flicked the latch with his other hand. It clicked open, and as the door swung towards him, Carl noticed that the light flashed on. This was a surprise to him as the light was movement-operated, and when there was someone at the door, it would come on and stay on for at least a minute. He opened the door wider to look out; there was nobody there. Had someone been at his door, the light would already have been on, and the path up to his front door was long enough to ensure he would have seen any visitor walking back towards the road. He took a step out onto the path and double-checked that there wasn't someone around the side of his front door, and when he was certain there wasn't anybody there, he concluded he must have been mistaken and returned to his chair to finish watching the last game before retiring to bed.

The following day was largely uneventful, but Sundays generally were if he was not wandering round a car boot sale. Today he was uploading photographs and details to the various selling sites that would bring him his fortune. He had slept in and made himself a hearty breakfast of sausages and eggs on toast. He had gone for scrambled today; he didn't usually choose scrambled eggs as he hated washing the pan afterwards, but he was feeling motivated enough today to give it the necessary elbow grease. The other thing he knew he was going to do this particular Sunday was a lot of pottering, and this was something he was highly skilled at. Most of the pottering took place between the living room and the kitchen as he completed little housekeeping tasks like finding errant socks or moving cups to the sink with a promise to wash them up. But he sometimes ventured to the spare room or bedroom with grander plans like dusting, filing, or changing the sheets. As he wandered into the spare room, just for a moment, he thought he noticed something unusual with his shelf. In the back of his mind, he thought he had put the tin soldier on the far-right edge of the shelf, but when he looked now, it was a few inches further along. He didn't dwell on it and, very soon, it left his mind. To break the monotony of his day, Carl decided he was going to walk to the corner shop to pick up a few bits and bobs so he would have something for breakfast and maybe even something for his lunch on Monday. Most Sundays, Carl resolved to make himself sandwiches for work, but more often than not, by Wednesday, he was back to picking up something from the local Deli, where he knew he was going to overspend on something he could probably have made himself.

It was getting gloomy as he zipped up his jacket and shoved his wallet into his pocket. He picked up his keys from the dish by the front door and stepped out into the chilly autumn air. The corner shop, which was not truly on the corner but had always been known as the corner shop, was about 10 minutes' walk from Carl's front door. He was a regular there as he consistently forgot to do himself a full weekly shop, so most nights he would stop there on the way home to pick up a spectacularly unsatisfying meal. The street was quiet and grey, and other than the odd car that drove past him, he did not see another person. He got to the shop, made his purchases, paid, and was out within 10 minutes. Carrying a bag in his hand, he straightened his coat and headed back out into the street. As he walked down, he noticed that the sky was even darker now, and the street seemed even quieter, but as he strode towards home, he was certain he could hear somebody behind him. Not close, but close enough that he could hear their footsteps. For some reason, this unnerved him to the point that he turned to see who was there. To his surprise, there was no one. He shrugged this off and continued to make his way home, not hearing the footsteps again.

It was a very ordinary Monday, and Carl got on with his job as effectively and unspectacularly as ever. He was eager to leave by the end of the day as it was a very boring start to the week. His walk to the bus was as familiar as any part of his daily routine, and he knew exactly what time he needed to set out to get the bus back home. He was particularly focused on this bus as the other option, which came 25 minutes later, left him with an additional 20-minute walk, whereas the number 40 bus was guaranteed to drop him off right outside the corner shop and give him a simple walk home with the option of popping into the shop. The other benefit of this bus was that it was very rarely busy, as it only stopped at a few of the local stops before heading out towards the town he lived in. There were occasions when he had the whole bus to himself, which he quite liked as it gave him the opportunity to catch up with his family phone calls. This Monday was another quiet bus day, and Carl had chosen, as ever, to sit at the front on the top deck. This was a habit that had never left him since childhood. He sat looking out at the roads with the cars slowly moving through the busy city streets. Today the evening was cutting in, and all the headlights were on.

He sat as the bus slowly filled, then emptied again, and by the time it was pulling clear of the city, he was alone on the top deck. He decided to use the opportunity to call his younger brother. Carl double-checked he was on his own before lifting his phone to his face and tapping the video call button. Carl’s younger brother, Liam, was a web developer, and this meant he was always available for a chat. He inevitably answered immediately and cheerfully greeted his brother. They chatted briefly, catching up on the ins and outs of their lives. This didn't take long, as in the two weeks since the last call, very little had happened. Carl was telling Liam about a conversation he had endured with their mother about both of their lack of significant others when Liam stopped his brother.

“That guy behind you isn’t impressed with our conversation, is he?”

Carl paused and looked over his shoulder towards the back of the bus. As he expected, it was empty.

“Who are you talking about? I’m the only one here.”

Liam moved his face closer to the screen and squinted.

“Well, that’s bloody weird. I was certain there was a miserable-looking bloke sat at the back of your bus.”

Carl shrugged and started a description of what he was planning to do for the rest of the week, completely disregarding his brother’s observation. Inevitably, the conversation petered out, and the brothers said their goodbyes as Carl took a glance out of the window to see how close he was to his stop. He was pleased to see it was only a couple more streets until he would be getting off and making the inevitable visit to the corner shop. He packed his phone away, adjusted his coat, and stood up. He made his way down the stairs from the top deck and took his place near the doors. It wasn’t long before they reached his stop, and he climbed down, walking a short distance into the shop.

After buying yet another uninspiring dinner, he made his way down the street towards his house. About halfway down the road, he began to get the sensation that somebody was following him. He turned his head slightly as he walked to see if he could hear footsteps behind him; he thought he did, but he wasn’t 100% sure, so he continued on his way. The steps continued, so he stopped for a moment, made it look like he was adjusting his bag, and took the opportunity to turn and look over his shoulder. There was nobody there; he grunted to himself and made his way back home.

Monday was a good day, mainly because he knew that when he got home, it would be clean and tidy as Mrs. Lonetti came to clean. As expected, as soon as he opened the door, the smell of polish and bleach hit him. His house looked new again. He shut the door behind him, locked it, and flicked on the lights. As always, his house was spotless, and he felt slightly guilty bringing the tiny amount of moisture issues into his own home. He placed his work bag and coat on the hooks by the door and carried his shopping into the kitchen. As he walked past his spare room, he took a glance in and noticed that Mrs. Lonetti had ironed and folded his clothes for him. This was not something she was contracted to do, but she always did it anyway, as she was keen to ensure Carl was well looked after. He smiled and internally thanked his motherly benefactor. At this point, he spotted that she had obviously dusted the house as well, as the little soldier had been moved from its spot a quarter of the way along the shelf to more than halfway along. He shut the door and went to prepare his dinner.

Carl didn’t do too much that evening, as he always felt a little bit jaded on a Monday. He had eaten his microwave curry and washed it down with a bottle of overly sweet, carbonated, marketing rubbish. He flicked on the television, hoping to find something worth watching. Despite paying for numerous streaming services, he rarely found anything he genuinely wanted to watch. He found that there was a football match with two teams he had no interest in, but the game was engaging enough to stop him from flicking around the channels.

At half time, he got up to make himself a cup of tea, and as he stood in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, he was certain he heard somebody at his door again. This time he was on his feet and got to the door within the noise, but when he got there, it was silent. He came to the conclusion that it must’ve been a cat of some sort climbing across the canopy of his porch. He returned to the boiled kettle and poured the water into his cup. Suddenly, he heard the noise again, but this time it sounded as if somebody was in his hallway. He wasn’t as quick to turn around as his apprehension began to weave pictures in his mind.

He cautiously crept to the door and peered around and into the corridor. To his relief, there was nobody there, and the front door was clearly shut and locked. This left him feeling quite unnerved, but he had no reason to do anything as drastic as call for the police. It was likely that he had misheard a creak in the radiators. He completed his cuppa and moved back to the living room to finish watching the match. He didn’t feel like doing anything at the end of the game and retired to bed, first double-checking that his front and back doors were both locked. This is something he did every night, but for some reason tonight he felt he needed to be 100% certain that they were both secure. As he lay in his bed in the dark, he listened carefully to the silence. His house was empty. There was no one there. He shrugged, turned to his side, pulled the blanket over his shoulder, closed his eyes, and tried to drift off to sleep. This made this much more difficult than it needed to be, and as he lay trying hard to relax, he became more aware of the small sounds of his house. The heating slowing down for the evening, the whirr of his non-digital light timers. Then he heard what could only be breathing from the corner of his room. He leapt up and put the light on. It was empty. He was alone. He scolded himself for being so stupid; of course, there was nobody. Things were playing on his mind, and it was causing him to hear things. He just needed more sleep so he turned the light back off, closed his eyes, and this time pulled the blanket right over his head.

For the rest of the week, the pattern was the same; every time Carl found himself alone, the sensation that this was not actually the case grew. By Thursday, he hadn’t slept through a whole night. The breathing in the corner of his bedroom greeted him every time he turned the light off, so by Tuesday, his bedroom lights remained on, but this did not help. He was increasingly tired and becoming increasingly paranoid. As he sat on the bus on that Thursday evening, his phone rang. He was not in the mood to speak to anyone, but as soon as he held it up and saw the name, he knew he couldn’t hang up. It was his mum. Fortunately, the top of the bus was empty, so he clicked the green button, and his mum‘s face filled the screen. Within seconds, she was aware that something was wrong. She spotted the dark ring below his eyes and his pale skin.

“It’s a bank holiday weekend this weekend. You are coming home, and I will cook for you, and you can have a rest.”

Usually, he would resist this kind of offer and make some excuse about work or meeting somebody he hadn’t seen for some time. However, he needed to get away. He didn’t know what he was getting away from, and he certainly hadn’t told his mother why he was coming. He agreed that he would get the train straight after work on Friday and be there for his dad to pick him up.

Carl’s parents lived in a quiet seaside town. It was not the town he grew up in, but they had retired and found the perfect little bungalow within walking distance of the beach and a selection of rural walks deep into the countryside or right along the cliffs out across the ocean. During the summer, it was lovely, but in the winter, it became cold and very bleak. They were as happy as he could remember them ever being, and their home was filled with positivity, warmth, and a great welcome on the darkest day. A trip to see them was just what was needed to clear his mind and warm his heart. The trials of the walk home seemed less troublesome as he could see a light at the end of his worries. He was tired and overworked, and a restful weekend being looked after by his parents would recharge him, and he would come back ready to face work again.

He hurried home, ignoring the footsteps he knew were getting closer, and after a thoughtlessly thrown-together meal, he bundled some clothes into a holdall and threw it into the spare room. He turned to head back to the living room to try and distract himself. Before retiring to bed, he glanced into the spare room and carelessly at the shelf. Everything was as it should be, though the tin soldier was three-quarters of the way along the shelf. Had he been less fatigued, he might have noticed this, but the fog of his exhaustion blinded him from the change. He lay in his bed for an hour without any prospect of sleep, so he decided to head downstairs and watch television. He trudged into the living room and slumped into his armchair. He flicked the television on, and within an hour, he had drifted into an uncomfortable sleep. He stirred once or twice, waking with the sensation that there was someone standing over him so close that he could feel their breath, but his lack of sleep held his body heavily to the chair.

When his alarm bleeped into life, Carl was already awake, dressed, and onto his second coffee. He kept his focus on the simple tasks required to get himself to work, remembering to grab his holdall and get to the bus on time. He only had eight hours to endure before he would be on a train and on his way to the coast, but as he sat on the bus, he felt that was a long way away.

The day inevitably dragged, and he was spectacularly unproductive. By the time the clock reached five, he was not sure he really knew what he had done in the previous eight hours. He pulled on his coat, shoved his phone into his pocket, swung his bags over his shoulder, and made for the door. He bustled through the busy town centre towards the train station, hoping he had timed his route well enough that he would make the 5.35. The hustle and bustle of the streets leading to the station soothed his troubled imagination, and he could have been mistaken for having no cares by the time he made his way down the platform. He was feeling as at ease as he had done all week. With only five minutes to spare, he stood looking down the track, waiting for the train to pull up and take him to the safety and peace of his parents' home. He was grateful it arrived on time and that it was quiet enough for him to get a seat, but not so quiet he would feel alone. He shoved his bags in the overhead rack and shuffled across to the window seat, putting his forehead against the cold window. The train pulled away, and he prepared himself for the hour-long journey through the countryside and finally to the tranquillity of the coast.

The sky was almost completely dark as the train pulled out of the station, and the lights in his view diminished as they moved further from the town centre and towards the rural expanse beyond. Within fifteen minutes, there were very few signs of habitation, and the darkness, along with the rhythm of the train, began to rock him gently to sleep.

He woke with a start as the train pulled into its first stop. It was a reasonably sized station but not a particularly modern one and very poorly maintained. He looked out onto the platform where a few passengers were getting off before shutting his eyes again to return to his snooze. The same pattern was followed with the next couple of stops, and it was getting harder to go back to sleep. After the fifth occasion, he gave up and stared aimlessly at the platform. This one was even emptier, and it seemed the train was getting quieter with each stop. As the train began pulling away and speeding up, he kept his eyes on the same spot on the glass, allowing whatever scenery that crept through the gloom to catch his eye.

Suddenly, right next to Carl’s face, there was another right against the glass, staring at him, its pale haggard face almost as close as if it was embracing him. Its skin was grey, almost translucent, its eyes glazed and lifeless but seeming to peer in at him. Carl jumped back, nearly falling into the aisle of the train. Sweat poured from his brow as he stared at the spot which was now black, with just the occasional hint of a distant light. It took him a moment to realise where he was and what was going on; when he did, he got to his feet and embarrassedly climbed back to his seat. Thankfully, nobody had noticed, and it wasn’t long until his stop. He stood up again, took his bags from the overhead storage, and moved over to the aisle seat ready to get off the moment he arrived. He moved to the end of the carriage as soon as the station came up on the train’s screen and impatiently tapped the button to open the door. He was grateful to see his father standing on the other side of the immaculately painted metal fence that enclosed the platform of the beautifully maintained Victorian station. His father’s cheery wave was like a beacon; he jumped down onto the platform and hurried round to see him. Within minutes they were in the car and darting down high-sided country lanes towards the sea, which occasionally crept above the land through the windscreen. By the time they reached his parent’s bungalow, the sea was the majority of the view, and the moon was trying hard to illuminate the busy waves.

Carl’s mother had been waiting to hear the car, and as soon as they reached the drive, the front door was open, and he was ushered inside. He was met with a warm smell of savoury food; he had no idea what it was, but it made him feel immediately hungry. His mum took his bags and coat off him and pointed him straight through to the small kitchen where the table was made up, and a hot beef stew sat waiting for him. He sat and was joined by his parents, and immediately he relaxed and felt completely at ease. He ate and talked, and for the first time in a week laughed. He filled himself on his mother’s wonderful home cooking and was about to tuck into the sponge pudding she had prepared when there was a knock at the front door. He froze. His father grumpily rose to his feet.

"No, just leave it, Dad, please," he said with a tremble in his voice.

His mother looked at him with shock. "Are you okay?" she asked with genuine concern.

"Yes," Carl said shortly. "I just think it’s probably kids."

His father crumbled in agreement but still went to the door. He opened it, shut it, and came back into the kitchen. "Bloody kids, nobody there."

The rest of the evening was spent in the living room, with Carl’s mother fussing around him with questions about his health and his mental well-being. He was filled with cakes and drinks. By the time it was his parents' time to retire, Carl himself had relaxed to the point he was inclined to head to bed despite the early hour. He moved into the spare room, into the soft, clean bed; within seconds, he was asleep. Carl managed an entire night of relaxing rest for the first time in a week and was awoken not by an alarm but by the smell of cooking bacon. He made his bed and walked down to the kitchen. There was a large sandwich waiting on a plate for him, his mother making tea, and his father sitting at the table reading a newspaper.

"Are you okay, son?"

"Yes, I feel great."

"I could hear you wandering around outside our door all night, just pacing up and down. I thought you were unwell."

A cold shiver ran down Carl’s spine. He hadn’t left his bed; it wasn’t him walking through the hallway.

Carl’s unease was slightly diluted by his constant company all through Saturday. He helped his father repair his garage door, and the three of them took a walk down to the beach in the afternoon. As the night drew in, Carl started to get nervous again, but did his very best not to show it to his constantly vigilant mother. They sat together watching television and then all retired to their rooms. This time Carl was unable to fall asleep. He lay waiting for the footsteps he knew were coming. Midnight, one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, nothing; he relaxed and began to feel he had perhaps been mistaken and gradually decided to close his eyes. Just as he could feel himself falling asleep...

Tap, tap, tap.

It was clear it was there; it was outside his door right now.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and pulled the blanket over his head. "Go away," he muttered under his breath, "go away." The handle began to turn. There was the click as the mechanism was drawn back. Then the door slowly slid open over soft carpet with a fizz.

"You all right, son?"

"Dad?"

"Yeah, I could hear you milling about in the corridor again. I thought I’d check up on you."

"Did you tap on my door?"

"No, but I heard tapping; it must be trees against the back door. See you in the morning, son."

While those answers were supposed to be calming, Carl did not find them so. He pulled his blanket back over his head and tried desperately to fall asleep soundly enough that he wouldn’t be disturbed.

Carl spent much of Sunday checking whether the front and the back door were closed and locked. He jumped at every creak in the house. Any noise in the garden, even the sounds of his parents moving around their own house, was an additional reason to feel uneasy. He even jumped at the sound of his own phone when Mrs. Lonetti called to say she would clean his house despite the bank holiday. Carl’s restful weekend had been anything but; he had barely moved from the house and was beginning to sense that the prospect of going outside was going to be a challenge to his courage, but he was going to have to do it tomorrow to get back home. He had already decided to make the trip during the day and therefore not have the walk back from the bus stop to be done in the dark. He spent Sunday evening trying to distract himself with his pretense he was cheerful with his parents, watching their dreadful TV programs and playing a game or two of cards. That night he prepared himself by moving the large chair from the corner of the bedroom to sit against the door. He placed his headphones in his ears and sat upright in the bed, watching videos on his phone. Every so often, he would glance at the door. He did not know what he expected to see, but he still double-checked. Eventually, his exhaustion got the better of him, and he fell asleep.

He woke suddenly and noticed his phone was still playing, but light was streaming in through the window. He looked at the door; the chair was gone, it was back in the corner of the room, and the door was slightly ajar. He snapped his head round, looking to see if there was any sign of who had been in the room – there was nothing. He jumped out of bed and darted down the hallway to the kitchen, where his parents were already awake and sitting, waiting for him.

"Morning, you okay?"

"Did either of you come in to see me this morning?"

Both his parents shook their heads nonchalantly.

Carl shook his head and sat down as his mother poured a cup of tea from her large brown teapot.

"You need some fresh air, son, I think you should go for a little walk down to the beach. I’ll cook you a nice breakfast, and your dad is going to make a quick run to the DIY shop. If you’re back by 11, we can have a nice breakfast together."

Carl nodded; he really didn’t want to go outside, but he knew his mum would persevere. He also realized he had to go outside at some point, and it was light outside; this was his opportunity to prove to himself it was safe. He took a large slurp of tea and then picked up the cup and returned to his room, where he changed and readied himself for the walk.

The road his parents lived on was called Beach Road; this was because it was the main road down to the beach. At the bottom of the road was a small car park, and beyond that were paths down to the shoreline or along the cliff top in either direction. Carl grabbed his father’s warm walking jacket, pulled on his father’s walking boots, and stepped tentatively through the door. As he walked down the drive and onto the road, he began to feel increasingly confident as the light, crisp atmosphere woke and invigorated him; perhaps, he thought, this was a good idea after all. He increased his pace and looked down at the car park, where he would have to make a decision about which path he was going to take. When he arrived, he was surprised how quiet the car park was; not one car there and no sign of anyone milling about. He walked through and towards the gap in the fence, which gave access to the paths. He made it to the top of the path where he was faced with the choice of left or right along the cliffs or straight ahead and down to the beach. Initially, he had thought about going to the beach, but then as he looked, he could see a figure standing, completely still in the middle of the deserted beach, the sand completely undisturbed. As he looked, they appeared to be facing him and looking back, but he was at such a distance he couldn’t be sure. He was also unable to make out what they were wearing; he was unsure, but he thought whoever it was was wearing a large blanket or cloak as it seemed to flutter and flap with each gust of the increasingly strong breeze. Something about them did not feel right, so Carl decided he would go left and take a short walk along the cliff.

The path along the cliff was well-used and had been recently upgraded from a dirt track to a gravel one. The views along the coast were stunning, and Carl began to enjoy his walk more as he moved away from the odd figure. He took a few photographs and began noticing things like the plants and birds, but then something caught his attention. He was sure he heard someone on the path behind him. He turned to look; he was right; there was, about 200 meters down the track was the odd figure he had seen on the beach, unmoving but its clothing fluttering silently in the wind. Carl turned and continued walking down the track, the quickening crunch of his own footsteps being matched by those of his pursuer. The steps behind him were louder now, and as he looked back, he could see the figure had closed half the distance. He turned back and began to run; as he did, he noticed the path was becoming thinner and thinner, the gravel gradually being replaced by sand and grass. He looked over his shoulder, and the figure was closer still. He turned and ran; the path was no longer distinguishable, and the edge of the cliff was perilously close to the direction he was running in. One last glance, and the figure was only a few strides behind him. He looked ahead again and stopped dead in his tracks; he had run right to the very edge of the cliff; he had nowhere left to run. He knew what this meant; he felt two hard hands press into his back, and then...

Nothing.

He had braced himself for the inevitable fall, but he was still there, still on the top of the cliff. He turned his head slowly and saw there was nobody behind him. The cliff-top was clear; he was alone as far as he could see in any direction. He knew there had been someone there, but they were gone. He stepped away from the cliff face and fell to his knees, sobbing in a haze of fear, relief, and exhaustion. Suddenly, he felt the atmosphere clear, as if something had been lifted from him. He stayed on the ground for a while before clambering to his feet and making his way back along the path and up to his parent’s house.

Carl enjoyed his breakfast and relaxed a little as he helped his father with the tasks he was completing before they drove back to the station together, said their goodbyes, and Carl climbed onto his train home. The journey back was uneventful, as was the bus and the walk back to his house. When he got in, he was hit by the smell of fresh cleaning; he had forgotten Mrs. Thing had said she would be there today. On his kitchen table was a huge cake wrapped in plastic with a note on it.

“I baked you a cake; I hope you like it. I have cleaned and done your washing, but there was not much. I also dusted your spare room shelves. I noticed the little tin soldier was about to fall off your shelf, so I put it back in the little box in case you wonder where it has gone.”

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