This story is by Ellen Eigner and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As the bell tolled one, he appeared on the horizon. No one saw him arrive. There he was. A single knight. Clad in silver armor. On his bright white steed. A red flag in his mit. The horse pranced momentarily, then stood sideways, as if posing for the camera, flag flying in the breeze.
The brilliant green hilltop sloped down to the playground. Kimmie played in a sandbox. Rolled up jeans, yellow rubber boots, unicorn t-shirt, hair in a ponytail, surrounded by a collection of castle-building paraphernalia: Jello molds, funnels, bundt cake pans, spoons, ladles, cups and bowls. Kimmie was no novice. She was an expert. She’d been collecting containers and tools most of her life. She kept it all packed in a tin bucket in the garage.
“Kimmie, get rid of this junk!” her mother would say.
“Kimmie, you have work to do. You can’t just play all the time.”
“Kimmie, you’ll never have any friends if all you want to do is play in the sandbox!” her mom would yell.
“Kimmie, it’s not safe for you to play in the park by yourself.”
“Good bye, Mother! I’m off to save the world!” Kimmie would call back.
Every day, she trudged to the park with her gear intent on building a castle. Castles kept people safe. Castles protected you. She knew she would be ok if the castle was strong. She was intent on her work and did not see the knight arrive on the horizon.
She used a pie cutter to smooth the sides of her tower, which stood two feet high in the pit she had cleared out. The tower curved slightly to the outside. On it, she carved windows, curving the opposite way of the tower. She started to build a wall next to it. Another small child approached. Kimmie had no time for younger kids. She silently handed him a tool and continued building. The other child scooped sand over to Kimmie and she built the wall straight and sturdy. A voice called him. He stood carefully, handed the tool to Kimmie and walked away. Kimmie began the second tower.
People stopped to look at the knight. Some walked closer. No one engaged him in conversation. Some even stood next to him in mock attention. Kids circled him slowly.
Kimme began her second tower. The bell tolled twice and another knight appeared. Silver armor. Green flag. White steed. He reined his horse on the hillside 100 feet away from the other knight. They did not look at one another, just stared straight ahead as if surveying the scene.
People began to stare. They squinted their eyes, shading their eyes to look up at him. People walked around but never between the two knights, who continued to stare ahead like guards at Buckingham palace.
Kimmie looked up and saw the second knight. She looked back down and continued her work on the second tower and second wall. She was not afraid. Castles keep you safe. Castles protect you. The towers were identical, the same brick pattern, the same four windows. She piled and patted and smoothed the walls.
The two knights had moved forward. No one saw them move. Yet they were now closer to the playground. Still standing straight and staring. The crowd of people dissipated. Two children stooped down to watch Kimmie. She handed each a tool. They scooped, while Kimmie patted and smoothed the tower, now as tall as the previous tower. “The castle will keep you safe,” she told them. After a time, they dropped their tools and left. Kimmie never looked up, just continued to pile and pat and smooth.
The bell tolled three and a third knight appeared. Silver armor. Blue flag. Bright white steed. Why were they here? Where did they come from? What did they want? There they were. They now formed a triangle around the playground. The horses pranced nervously, then stood still. People gathered once again. They looked from knight to knight. Some even ventured into the triangle but never passed through. They went back out and around. Some circled the triangle, peering at the knight’s faces, hidden by the armor.
A group of women tried to motion to Kimmie to come away. She held up one hand in a stop motion and continued to build. “The castle will keep us safe,” she muttered. Piling, patting, smoothing. She completed the third tower. The structure was indeed impressive, with its awkwardly leaning towers and realistic windows. Kimmie began building the 4th tower to complete the rectangular structure.
When the bell tolled four times, a fourth knight appeared on the opposite side of the playground. Silver armor, yellow flag, bright white steed. They now formed a square. Why, where, what? People watched Kimmie and walked from man to man. No one walked between. No one motioned to Kimmie although clearly concerned for her well-being. She continued to build. With no children to help this time, her pace became frantic. Time was running out. Soon the fifth bell would toll.
Without anyone seeing it, the knights had moved closer.
Then, closer still, now standing at each corner of the sandbox.
Kimmie stopped. She took a deep breath. She smoothed the sides of the fourth tower and carved the windows. She rummaged in her pocket and produced four toothpick sized flags in four colors: red, green, blue, and yellow. She nodded to each of the four men. The horses began to trot forward. They disappeared one at a time and as they did, the tower windows lit up one at a time. No one saw them move or disappear, as if looking away for a second and looking back to find them gone. The windows on the towers vanished one at a time. For a split second, the whole structure glowed, a pale yellow light, then crumbled to the ground.
Kimmie picked up her tools and placed them in a large metal bucket. She kept the pie spatula out and smoothed the ground where her structure had been. The bell tolled five. “Safe,” she said. “You’re welcome, world!” she shouted to the wind. She got up, nodded briefly and trudged home.
No pats on the back.
You do what you are meant to do.