Welcome to my format Rock Bottom Stories! Writers get inspired by many things like a picture, a quote or a conversation. In this format, I write a short story while listening to a song on repeat. By listening to the song I usually imagine a scene that inspires me to write a story. This short story is inspired by the song Rusted from the Rain by Billy Talent. I recommend listening to it before you start reading. Let’s go!

A tin soldier's dream: A short story by Mila Oaks.

A Tin Soldier’s Dream by Mila Oaks

The pickaxe makes a scraping sound over the floor as I drag it behind me. Arms as heavy as the metal of the floor below. Steps as slow as the wagons that we push through the mines every day. The smell of metal fills my nose, the only sense distracting me from overwhelming exhaustion. 

Every damn day ends like this. Shoulders hunched, head hanging low and pickaxe scraping over the floor until I get out of this damn prison made of metal and stone, of sweat and rust. 

Rain starts to fall. It runs down my neck and into the collar of my uniform. I shudder. This had been another exhausting day. I don’t know how many more of them I can take. Swinging the pickaxe day in, day out, and for what? For the rich to get richer and for the workers to be too exhausted to complain. I snort. 

Once I imagined stealing a gemstone we found on a lucky day. I imagined taking it home to my wife and buying her a dress, seeing her smile. I imagined buying a car and driving far away, to a city on the coast, to never look back. But I would have been dead before I left the mine and I would have never been able to get past the city wall. The damn metal wall. 

I look up and see that I almost made it to the gate. A guard is waiting to collect my pickaxe. I take all my strength to lift it one more time and take all the defiance I can muster to push the pickaxe into the guard’s arms as rough as I can without drawing attention. It is a very fine line. A fine line to a point of no return.

The guard takes no note of me as he places my pickaxe into a wagon on which tools pile up. I wonder if I have enough energy to get home tonight. I walk towards the gate, steps moving faster now that the additional weight is gone. Puddles have formed on the ground and my steps bring splashes of water up my legs. I need to be careful.

The streets are dark, only flickering lanterns light the way. The houses around me are made of metal. Even here I can’t escape the stench. They stick out of the earth like rugged teeth, slightly broken and rusting on the edges. 

I see others in front of me finding their way to their homes but I can only focus on keeping my steps steady and not tripping over the mix of splintered wood, pipes and tin cans on the floor. 

At the end of the street, I lift my head just as much as I can manage. The stop costs me, I know. My vision gets blurry for a moment. But I stand here on the platform at the bottom of the mountain looking defiantly over the city. Fires are lit all throughout its streets leading the way to the platinum palace.  The house of the queen of pain.

While we are her tin soldiers and wind-up toys she sits in her castle of platinum counting her riches. As long as you use your energy to work, she will ignore you. But if you defy her, you find out where her name comes from.

Once I heard about a fellow mine worker who had tried to escape. He did not show up for work one day and guards went to search for him. His energy had run out halfway up the mountain range and he woke up in the queen’s dungeon. After weeks he came back but he never spoke a word again.

The only small victory I have every day is to come to this spot and look down at the platinum castle. One day life will be different, one day we will decide not to work in the mines and instead turn against her. And I will be right there leading your tin soldiers to your castle gates, I promise you that. The cowards will be brave one day, I promise.

I turn to the stairs and start my descent to my home at the edge of the city. I feel each step in my legs, the stairs slippery from the rain, the stench of metal in my nose, the night dark around me. If I slip I fall and I will never get up, I will never see my wife again, I will never see the soldiers breaching the castle gates, I will never see a different life. So I hold on and walk down step by step.

At the bottom I see another mine worker standing on the side of the walkway. His eyes are closed, his head lolling to the side. His energy had run out. His family will need to find him and bring him home if he has one. 

My vision blurs again and I feel like my body moves slower, like a clockwork that needs oiling. My muscles are cramping. I am so close. Just one more street. Just a few more steps. 

My foot steps on something soft and I look down. In the dim light it is difficult to make out but I am almost sure that it is a flower. A rare sight this far away from the palace. A single plant that was strong enough to grow through the dry soil, finding a gap in between the plates of metal on the floor and then was able to grow with the little light that fell through the tall buildings all around. Until I stepped on it. All this effort, for nothing. 

I know I don’t have much time but I bend down to inspect it. The rain falls harder now. Through my blurry vision, I see the remains of the dying flower, petals squished and stem broken. I pick it up and take it with me. A symbol of strength. A rare beauty in a dark and cold world. 

As if the sight gave me the strength I am able to make it to my house. I walk up the fire ladder to the second floor and open the door. But I only make it two steps before everything goes dark.


I wake up looking into the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The eyes reminding me of strength and wilfulness, something I lose all the time and need help finding again. That’s why I cannot get enough of this sight, why I need those eyes and the person they belong to in my life. 

Thank you, Daisy.” I sigh as I get up from the couch she has placed me on.

They let you work way too hard in there. I keep saying it. I don’t want you running out of energy again before you get home. It was close this time, I know it was.” She replies moving away from the couch towards the kitchen table. 

What would I do without you?” I say mockingly, not in the mood for an argument about my work arrangement. As if I had any choice or any influence over the working conditions. I move closer to her and kiss her on the head.

The apartment we share is small. A kitchen with a dining table and a small room with a couch, a bed and a bookshelf. It is small but we don’t know it any other way. Rain still pounds against the window as I sit down at the dinner table. I warm my hands on the black liquid inside a bowl in front of me.

“How was your day?” I ask. Daisy works in the office of the city guard, writing reports about arrests every day. Even though she does not have my energy problem, she is not allowed to do hard work in the mines, none of the females do. I am glad about it, but I also wish she had the freedom to choose her work.

“Same as every day. Although they made me employee of the month. Not that I care much about it.” She smiles at me mildly and sighs.

“Congratulations,” I say. 

The black liquid runs soothingly down my throat and makes me feel more energetic immediately.

“Have you seen the posters?” Daisy asks nervously.

No. What do you mean?

“They are looking for someone, apparently he got away. They call him the red runaway. Anyone who sees him is supposed to steal his key, inform the guards and lock him up until he runs out of energy.”

“The red runaway. That sure sounds catchy. But I don’t believe he can get far.” 

“Rumours in the office say he did not only run away but also rally a group of rebels behind him, wanting to start a rebellion. There are a few missing mine workers, they are supposed to have joined him.” Daisy looked at him dramatically.

“I wish this was true, Daisy. But they would not be able to do anything.”

“Perhaps. But is it not worth it to try?”


Dawn creeps in sooner than I wish this morning and I get up from the bed slowly. Daisy stirs on the other side of the bed.

“I wish you still had all the energy like me.” She said sleepily reaching for a giant key on the side of the bed. She lifts it and I turn around. It makes a clicking sound as she attaches it to my back. I sway slightly. Energy rushes into me as she turns the key around. 

It turns and turns until it stops. Then Daisy removes the key and places it next to the bed again. “I hope this time you’ll make it home again. I’ll be waiting for you.” 

I kiss her on the cheek before I leave the house. Life is repetitive inside the tin city. This was not always the case. When the queen of pain came to reign she offered her most loyal followers and soldiers surgery to make them stronger. She presented them every Sunday on the town training grounds in dramatic fights claiming that whoever won against them would win a diamond as big as an apple. No one ever won.

And over the month more and more people wanted the surgery until half of the inhabitants of the tin city were turned into wind-up figurines loyal to the queen. At this point the wind-uppers were mocked on the streets but soon enough the economical situation in the city worsened, jobs were scarce and riots started. 

Nothing was ever achieved as the wind-uppers working for the queen were always stronger. Until one day the requirement for working in the mines was to become a wind-upper. No other work was available for me in this area of the city and I was unable to afford a living anywhere else.

Most of the rebels had come from this area of the city, the poorest one. As they all needed the work in the mines they all needed to undergo the surgery. Once they were wind-uppers they had no energy left after work for rebellions. 

I think about how the queen of pain tricked us while I walk up the stairs to another day of gruesome work. On top of the stairs, I stop, looking down at the city all the way to the platinum palace. The sun rises slowly over the mountains.

One day it will be different, and I will be breaking through the castle gates,‘ I think defiantly.

I get the pickaxe and get in line to the elevator of the mine. But this time something is different. There is no murmuring between the workers and the line to the elevator is longer than usual. It is unnaturally silent and the miner behind me shifts on his feet, looking around nervously. 

I ponder whether I should run out of the building and risk getting caught by the guards. But then a figure steps through the gate and it closes behind him with a loud PANG. All heads turn towards him. He wears a miner’s uniform but not only that. He wears a red cape that billows in the slight wind. 

“To my comrades who have suffered enough under the reign of the queen. Follow me and you will see her fall.” He shouts over the silent yard and draws a pistol from under his red cloak. 

The guards immediately break out of their silent watchful positions at each side of the yard and run towards the figure. Six against one. But then at the same time the men who are waiting in line before and behind me swing their pickaxes and run towards the guards. 

Everything happens too fast. Shots fire towards the guards. More guards run out of the building. Pickaxes smash into tin soldiers. Spears pierce through mine workers.

I can only stand and watch. Overwhelmed by the scene. After the initial shock, I move backwards, closer to the elevator. The only possibility to get away. 

I try to be as silent as possible. But a guard spots me anyways. It does not matter that I do not attack, it does not matter that I try to get away. He runs towards me, spear in hand. I hear people screaming, I hear my fellow mine workers running towards the elevator. 

I look around and back at the guard. I am too far away to make it to the elevator. And the doors slowly close. I need to make a decision: Running or fighting. Both options seem impossible. But I need to decide, now.

The ground is slick from rain or oil or sweat or rust. I stumble towards the elevator as I see the doors close. No one tries to hold it open, everyone wants to get away. There are two others running with me. For one second I think that I will make it. Just five more steps. Four more… But then I slip.

My head splits into two from pain and the noise it makes as I fall to the ground. Tin on metal, sweat on rust. I lift my hands to the guard who comes running. I hear the elevator doors close and silence behind me. The other two must have made it down. But I didn’t. 

I am an easy target as the guard reaches me. I have full energy but no experience in fighting. I try to roll out of the way but the spear hits me in the chest, drawing the breath out of my lungs. 

Black oil leaks out of my insides over the floor. Black on grey. The guard already turns away and runs back to the group of fighters. My head clanks back on the floor.

In my last moment, I think of the eyes that give me strength and I hope that Daisy will be ok. I think of the Platinum Palace and how I won’t be storming the gates. But maybe my death was not in vain. Maybe because of me, the others could flee into the elevator and maybe I was part of a revolution. The beginning of a new world.

The rain starts again. I wonder if my body will lay here until I rust. A tin soldier, forgotten. A dream never fulfilled. I think of the flower I found yesterday and hope that one day when this city is forgotten and only the rusted tin soldiers are lying on the dirty ground, flowers will grow, bringing back beauty and hope, and erasing the shadows of a greedy platinum queen.


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