'Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.'-H. P. Lovecraft
Amongst the sundry tales I narrate of the preternatural origin, there is one in particular that has fascinated the minds of the curious readers. It is a distinct tale of unspeakable horror that began within the familiar setting of Toulouse, in the year of 1928. The name of the individual that I shall then introduce is Guy Monnier, a former French soldier of the Great War. Perhaps his name is irrelevant to you, but his incredible story is not mere fiction to be taken, as a foolish act of aberration. I know that from within the world of the living, the dead do roam the Earth in eternal ubiquity, as in the evident case of our uninvited guests that you will soon meet in this story. Verily, I admit that I was a sceptic ere, until I had encountered the wandering souls of the dead, who are concealed in the world that we occupy as mortals. It is a world of a portentous nature that has evolved, into the endless myths and legends that have endured the lore of innumerable centuries.
The day began with the morning sun that had reached the window of the residence of Guy Monnier, with a bright shine of the French summer. He was in the patio absorbing the rays of the sun to enliven his pale complexion and to take his casual stroll of the morning, when I had visited him on that Monday. He was glad to see me and converse, about his interesting theories on an array of topics that had included science and politics. My patient was an intellectual man of medium stature, but he spoke little, about his old days of soldiering in the past. The Great War was a delicate topic he did not wish to expound many details to me. This was manifest in his eyes and mien that I had detected conscientiously. Guy had an obvious limp that was noticeable in his gait, as he walked. It was attributed to a bullet wound he had suffered, in the horrid trenches at the Ardennes region in France. I first met him a year ago, when he was returning to Toulouse from the war. He had been experiencing serious effects of delusions and anxiety, when he had become my patient. His previous doctor had declared in his report that Monnier had become an addict, and that his progress was slowly advancing. I was a reputable doctor by occupation, with the name of Olivier Joubert. I had been treating him, for his ongoing addiction of morphine and opium. His terrible addiction was common, amongst the soldiers of war, and his continuous dependency on the drug was no different than the other men of the battlefields. The undesirable tendencies of war had left behind, a consequential effect to not be easily forgotten or effaced, by the written pages of history.
He was in a jovial manner and had wanted to visit Paris, since the war had ended. He requested that I joined him on that trip and I had given my solemn word. It had been several years, since he had left his home or travelled outside of Toulouse. Since I had business to attend there in Paris, I agreed to take him with me. I could not refuse his admirable petition to regain his vim and verve anew. After all, I had seen my patient languish, in the profound depth of the abyss constantly. I had told him that we would visit Paris in a week and that I had a house there. Meanwhile, he waited in great anticipation of the trip and was excited to travel. I was not certain what had caused this desire to see Paris, but I was expectant of his enjoyment, as a welcomed distraction for him. The war had occupied his conflictive thoughts and emotions consistently. His recuperation into society was my main concern at the time, and the city of Paris was an idyllic setting. I had been treating some patients, who were former soldiers of that despicable war, and I had seen the tremendous scars inflicted on them afterwards.
Upon the day of the trip, my automobile had stopped to pick up Monnier to take him to the train station, where I was waiting for him. We had arrived at Paris within the midday, and the rapid bustle of the city was heard, throughout the rampant Parisian streets. Monnier had wanted to see the Tour de Eiffel and then the Place de la Concorde and I agreed. We had visited an art gallery and then, we went to the theatre and saw the recent version of the comedy play of La Vertu de ma femme, by Pierre Berton that evening. I could not recall seeing him so excited, at every place we visited. The trip to Paris had activated his enervated and frail constitution that reflected his dejected mood suddenly. The placidity had reflected in his countenance would only be a brief expression emoted. But it was an immediate token of satisfaction for me. Monnier was content and as his head doctor, this was sufficient enough to take notice of this fortuitous change in him that was absent before. Paris was the temporary remedy to his anguish and despair. My hope was that in Toulouse, he could find a measure of mental stability.
Thereafter, we had returned to the house to retreat for the night. During the late hours of the night, Monnier began to experience a horrific nightmare that awoke me with his loud screams. When I had arrived at his chamber, he was drenched in a heavy perspiration and shaking, within uncontrollable chills that had startled me to the core of my amazement and perception. Quickly, I had subdued his dreadful episode, with an injection of morphine. Although he was an addict of morphine, this was the only viable manner that I could prevent a serious convulsion from occurring. The injection of morphine had eventually reduced his unsettling episode of fear. It was sufficient to cause him to slumber for the rest of the night and early hours of the morning, with relative calm seen. This was the first time that I had witnessed these unparalleled phantasmagorias of Monnier with him. However, I had seen these incidents with other patients of mine. My research on the topic was extensive and punctilious. France was plagued with numerous cases of this nature, ever since the abatement of the war was ultimately finalised in the year 1919. The internal scars were more profound than the external ones, and I had to deal as a medic, with those type of visible scars quotidianly in my profession.
In the morning, I had noticed his recovery, and we had gone to the main streets of the centre of Paris to look around the stores and other known establishments that were busy. Monnier was enamoured with the colourful glamour of the city. We had passed a toy shop on the corner of the Rue de Rivoli, where he had seen something that was familiar to him, a set of tin toy soldiers of the French Foreign Legion. He had related to me the fact that his father had once brought him an entire set of tin toy soldiers as a gift, when he was a small child. He wanted to purchase them, for what reason I did not know. He had never shown me any discrete emacity, for any singular object of his proclivity that was not associated to art. Anything that dealt with war, I had surmised was an odious reminder of his ghastly ordeal spent, within the trenches of warfare day and night. His precise motive for the purchase of these soldiers was purely nostalgic in its essence. There was a thing of sentimental value in these remarkable pieces of tin that had characterised the valour of many fallen and forgotten soldiers of war. They had reminded him I believe of his fellow comrades on the battlefield, who had fought and bled with him, during the intense battles. I attempted to use psychology to comprehend his reaction and stimulation to the tin toy soldiers. What would compel a grown man to be drawn so passionately to an iconic symbol that had represented death and destruction? Perhaps it was the actual representation of the courageous soldier in uniform, with his Lebel rifle at hand and Adrian helmet that intrigued his heightened interest in the first place. I did not insist on knowing about the inducement and thus, I had desisted in my queries.
After we left the store, we had returned to my home and prepared ourselves, for the long trip in train to Toulouse. During the trip we had an engaging discourse at length, about our magnificent time in Paris. I had perceived the time spent there was therapeutic to his mind and body. He had been struggling since the end of the war with his habitual addiction, and I was satisfied to see him distracted, from this major problem. When we arrived the next day in the afternoon, we had resumed our daily lives. Monnier returned to his home, whilst I returned to my ample duties as a doctor at the La Grave Hospital in the city. There were many administered patients there, who were either poor beggars, injured or disabled former soldiers of the war. Historically, it had been the centre, for the treatment of the reported victims of the plague, in the 15th and 16th centuries.
I did not see Monnier for about a week and when I did it was exactly in front of my hospital situated, in the Saint-Cyprien quartier. He was not in fine fettle and he had demonstrated a disconcerting disquietude expressed, on his visage in absolute discernment. His speech was not coherent, and he mumbled an utterance of words that I had failed to understand. I had observed evident symptoms of hysterics in his conduct and these signs had troubled me instantly. I managed to appease his anxiety and took him inside to examine and sedate him. Once inside and in my consulting room, I sat him down and discussed with him, what had caused his sudden burst of apprehension. What he would disclose to me was of an inconceivable nature. According to Monnier, he was being tormented not by any living soul, instead, by the dead souls of his companions, who had died and had entered the tin toy soldiers he had collected. Of course, I was flabbergasted and did not believe his account at all.
Perhaps, I had misheard or misunderstood his disjointed words and thus, I asked him to repeat what he had divulged to me before my question. He had proceeded to repeat his story and this time, he was even more revealing in his version. I remember so vividly the expression in his eyes and mouth, as he insisted on describing his ineffable horror. He was very convincing in his affirmation, but it could not be reasonable or credible, since it was irrational. The sedative had started to take effect and allowed me to contemplate the real problem that was affecting Guy Monnier. I had a cab escort him home, and I had informed him that I would visit him in the morning as soon as I could. He had confided then in my words of assurance and assistance. Until I examined and spoke to him, I could not make a proper prognosis at that time. But his impractical story had seemed to be a definite sign of some experimental hallucinations of an undetermined derivation. My immediate suspicion of his frantic episode would have to be confirmed, with my next visit to his residence.
When I visited him on that day, he was at his private library standing, before the window staring off into the sky. I had addressed him and when he turned around, he had presented himself, with a horrendous indisposition and aspect. He was fretting and had the urgency to talk to me at once. I presumed that he wanted to explain what had been occurring to him so mysteriously. I was correct in my assumption, and he began to relate his unimaginative story of the tin toy soldiers, who came to life. As I heard him speak, his circumspect guise was reflective of his harsh torment. His expression was not what preoccupied me, instead it was his state of mind. I listened to him tell me that every night he would hear the boisterous sounds of the soldiers marching together simultaneously, and he could see their daunting movement in action. My main concern then was maintaining his necessary sanity, from the delusions that were haunting him. Could these episodes be connected, with the lamentable nocency that had burdened him, since the war? Afterwards, I had attempted to grasp his mindset and determined the best method I could apply effectively. The analytical approach was better to utilise in his case. Therefore, I preferred to deal with his incidents with the toy tin soldiers, as obvious symptoms of the hallucinations he was experiencing. How much of his addiction was to be at fault? The origin of this distress was important to resolve, if I was to restore his mental faculties. His unstable behaviour could be controlled with medication, but it was not a final solution to his real problem. What he needed was to rest and remain then tranquil, amidst his nightly aversion. I told him that I would return to see him tomorrow, after I had finished with an appointment at the hospital. This was enough to calm him down and cope, with his nocturnal fright.
At the hospital, I had pondered the case of Guy Monnier and the cause, behind his mental aberrations. The consequence was of a discomfiting nature, and the outcome was predictable, his certain death or his madness. I was not even confident that I could cure him or recuperate his debilitating mind. That would require the extraordinary process of deep retrospection and exploration. The undeniable hallucinatory episodes of Monnier were present and a constant manifestation of his hysterics, at an invariable degree of incongruity. I had studied countless methods of treatments for mental patients, including shock treatments, but I was against that primitive form of subversion and not an exponent of that theory. If I could only pinpoint the exact episode in his past that evoked this trepidation in him than I would be able to assume a more practical and effective solution. I had calculated that any successful treatment applied would take the duration of months if not years, along with the need of careful sedulity. The plentiful scars of war were extremely difficult to analyse, since they were not only external but internal in their unique comparison. Monnier had been exhibiting the internal affliction of surviving the brutality of a war. Were these aberrations only a pretext to his denial of the truth? This fact could not be disregarded, when describing his bizarre case. I had decided that I would supervise him in the hospital for about a week, so that I could observe attentively his evolution. Naturally, this would require to an extent his acceptance, and I was not certain he would acquiesce to that demand. Notwithstanding, there was no other option in the matter available or plausible. Simply, I could not afford him inflicting harm to himself or to another innocent person of society.
Before I had visited Monnier the following day, I was contacted by his brother, who was living in Paris. He wanted to see me in person, and I had telephoned him acknowledging my interest in speaking with him. He came to the hospital afterwards to confer, about the mental condition of his brother. If there was someone who could disclose more information on his past and present, then it would naturally be a close kindred of Monnier. When he spoke, I had recognised an unsettled look in his eyes, as if he had taken into consideration my professional opinions as his brother's doctor. His name was Maurice, and he was a prominent architect, who had inherited his father's occupation. He was a well-attired fellow and a polyhistor, but I had sensed that his brother's illness had brought shame to him and to his superbious family. This was then substantiated by him and his solicitous expression was a sign of his telling argument presented that had no opacity in it veracity. He had also mentioned the fact that as a child Monnier would balbutiate. This revelation I was already apprised of my patient. I was more interested in his personal trauma and the obsession that led to his evolving hyperprosexia and agonous quassations than his brother's prestige. My curiosity to know about his knowledge of any of the members of Monnier's regiment was exceedingly of imperative significance to me. He had never met any of them in person and Monnier spoke nothing of them, as if he was hiding a secret in respect, to the fate of his comrades on the battlefield. The only thing of pertinence that his brother was able to vouchsafe of that signification was the fact that he had kept a letter that was written by Monnier, during his wearisome days in the trenches. In this specific letter that he shared with me, I had read the discomposing words of the harrowing nature of his diurnal tumult in action.
The place was in the hilly and forested region of the Ardennes. Monnier was part of the French Fifth Army that had attacked the Germans, through the Ardennes forest in support of the French invasion of Lorraine. The Germans had launched a counter-attack, against the French advance into Lorraine. Their massive armies had ultimately defeated the French armies and forced them to retreat. In this letter was the mention of several of the orgulous soldiers of Monnier's regiment who had died in that battle. The names were Antoine, Bastien, Clément. Édouard, Enzo, Gabin and Gaétan. These were the unforgettable names of the tormenting demons of Monnier. Before Maurice departed, I had thanked him and swore that I would help his brother return, to his prior lucidity and stability; although I could not promise that completion, amidst the sombre truth of his brother.
In the morning, I went to the home of Monnier and found him in the garden pacing in the voisinage. Apparently, he had been waiting for my immediate arrival. His visible appearance had troubled me, and his words would trouble me even more. According to him, he had buried the tin toy soldiers in the early morning, but what he mentioned left me absolutely speechless. He told me that after burying them in a mound nearby the garden that the tin toy soldiers had returned to their place in the house. He wanted to show me the mound and then the soldiers, but I wanted to examine him at the hospital. He refused and suggested that I spent an entire night with him at his house. If I had agreed, then he would come with me to the hospital. I sensed that it would not be detrimental, if I stayed the night. This would allow me to supervise his status and conductual actions in person closely. The issue of his delusions was something that had begun to obsess his mind incessantly.
I went back to the hospital to make the preparations for Monnier's stay there. I had spoken to the nurses, who would assist me in this endeavour and had given them the concise instructions to deal with Monnier. I could not foresee his outbursts, but I was fully aware of his combative spirit. I took that into consideration, when speaking to them. Once that was truly finalised, I returned to the residence of Monnier. When I had arrived, he was within his room, resting in his bed, like a helpless infant. I did not disturb him, instead, I asked one of the servants, where he had put the infamous tin toy soldiers. The servant promptly escorted me to the room. The room was shut tight and required a key to open it, but only Monnier had the key. I said that I would enter the room afterwards, when Monnier was awake. I took a glass of Parisian wine in the meantime, as I waited for Monnier to awaken. His family had been loyal members of the French democracy, from the fervent days of independence.
It was around evening, when Monnier had risen from his bed to see me. He was eager to have a lengthy conversation, and I was willing to hear him. He was restless despite his repose, and I had perceived that he needed to make another revealing disclosure that was unknown to me. I had listened as he spoke to me, with a strange look of urgent desperation in his fearful eyes. I had supposed that his persistent dread was contributed to his untamed hallucinations. What he wanted to tell me was that he was going to burn the house down into ashes, in order to burn the tin toy soldiers. This was the only way to destroy them that he had conceived in earnest, but it was sheer insanity to hear him suggest that audacious possibility. Who in their right mind would burn down their house? I had attempted to dissuade him, through my logic and persuasion. However, he was committed to do exactly what he had referred to. He was very adamant on disproving my incredulity, and told me that when the hour had befallen, he would finally prove his story to me. I doubted the veracity of his statement and had mentally prepared myself, for a terrible display of a mind at its susceptible stage of conjecture. When the dreaded hour of the truth as he had implied arrived, I followed him to the door that had closed the room, where the tin toy soldiers were at. I had instructed one of his servants to be present, when we would enter the room near the stairway. As we had reached the door, a strange noise was audible to my ears. The sound stirred and had increased in heavy volume, by the second. Monnier had warned me that what we were about to witness was real and not staged by anyone. He had entrusted me to help him, in the total destruction of the tin toy soldiers.
He took out from his pocket suddenly, a gun and had uttered the memorable words of, 'Can't you hear them? Listen closely and you will. They are marching, behind the door. I tell you they are coming for us! We cannot let them escape. They must be stopped!'
His erratic behaviour was unstoppable, and I had feared for my life, 'What are you doing Monnier? Put that gun away and allow me to sedate you with medication. I can help you be rid of the constant demons and the voices in your head as well, but you must permit me to sedate you. I can treat you at the hospital, if you come with me now!'
He kicked the door open and there before us stood indeed, the tin toy soldiers. He screamed, 'They will not get me! Believe me doctor, when I tell you that they are alive. Look, you did not believe me before. Am I mad now?'
I was in utter shock to see them moving and above all alive, as we were. They had marched towards us and then charged, with a yell and fury. I had frozen in my bewilderment, whilst Monnier began to shoot at them instantly. The tin toy soldiers shot him, and Monnier fell to the ground forthwith. But before he fell, he shot at the lights of the chandelier above. The chandelier had fallen on many of the soldiers and caused the curtains to catch on fire swiftly. The fire spread through the whole room and on to the rest of the property. The servant who was with me had hastened to the nearest door outside to escape the rising fire. But before we escaped, my last haunting impression was seeing the house burn down. The tin toy soldiers had melted with the fire completely and had perished. At first, I could not reconcile the surreal incident with our eventual reality. However, the indisputable facts could not be truncated or gainsaid. I had realised that whatever supernatural agency I had witnessed was not for the public consumption of the daily newspapers. Thus, Guy Monnier's was dead! His unbelievable story would die with him and remain an inexplicable mystery forever.