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The Tin Soldiers - Prologue

by Stephen N 

Posted: 10 April 2003
Word Count: 1279
Summary: This is obviously the beginning of the Tin Soldiers. It might have been wiser to upload this first, but wisdom has never been my strong point. Once again, comments would be much appreciated.

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Nineteen Forty Two.

Albert couldn’t sleep. He lay on his back, his eyes wide open, the back of his head cradled in his hands. The darkness was almost complete. He could just see the outline of the lampshade that hung in the centre of the room. Mary’s dressing table stood against the far wall, a dark shape with an arched mirror. The mirror frame reminded him of a gothic doorway from an Elizabethan house. Dark and brooding, the shadows providing hiding places. He pictured a dark wild night, the wind howling. A carriage drawn by six black stallions careering up to the front of the house, gravel spraying from the wheels. The horses reigned in, spittle flying from their mouths as the coachman pulled them to a halt. Hooves pawing at the loose stones, massive ribcages rising and falling, sweat and wild staring eyes. A man dressed in a black cloak jumps from the carriage and runs to the door.

Mary shifted in her sleep and pulled Albert back to reality. What would she have made of his daydream. She always said he spent too much time imagining things. Her arm fell across his chest. He held her hand and brought it up to his lips and kissed her fingers. They had been married six months. She was the most precious thing in the world to him.

He heard a plane flying low. The drone of the engine was close. A single spitfire. He could tell planes by their engines. Probably from the airbase near Truro. Out on a reconnaissance mission. Following the coast, always watching.

He gently lifted Mary’s arm from his chest. She moaned and shifted her position again, but didn’t wake. He slipped as quietly as possible from under the blankets, gathered up his clothes and went downstairs. He dressed in the darkness before checking the windows, making sure all the heavy blackout curtains were in place. He checked them twice to be sure, then turned on the light. He momentarily shielded his eyes from the intense glare. The clock above the sideboard said two fifteen.
He always woke up in the middle of the night. Sometimes he would just lay awake, thinking. Other times, like now, he would get up and go for a walk.
Jasper, Albert and Mary’s five month old spaniel leapt from his bed by the stove with all the vitality and energy young dogs possess. He jumped up at Albert, his tail wagging furiously. He ran in excited circles, Albert was constantly whispering “Shh, slowdown, don’t wake your mum.”
Jasper took no notice and scrabbled and slipped on the slippery flagstones, his claws unable to gain a decent foothold. Albert turned off the lights and unlocked the door, he put the flat of his hand over the mechanism to dull the metallic click. Jasper whimpered and scratched at the doorframe.
The sky was heavy. Dark clouds slipped by a dull moon. The rain fell steadily. Jasper ran down the path, momentarily came to a halt to sniff then catapulted him self forward and disappeared into the blackness of the night. Albert followed, pulling the collar of his jacket up and the brim of his hat down. The wind was not strong, yet it had enough force to tilt the angle of the falling rain.
Jasper came galloping back, his little legs splashing through the puddles. He ran behind Albert then came along side him, his initial excitement was subsiding. Albert limped down the lane that ran in front of their isolated cottage. He cursed at having to almost drag his damaged leg behind him. Before he turned off and joined the path to the cliff edge he could hear the sound of an airplane. Another Spitfire, or the same one returning. The weather was so bad the pilot had probably given up and was returning to base.
The sound of the waves crashing onto the shore was lost as the plane roared by, flying low a few hundred yards out to sea. Always, when he heard the sound of an aircraft engine, he said to himself ‘that should be me flying that.’ At one time his resentment at the accident was all consuming. Shot through the shin on a training exercise three days before he was due to start flying. From the very second the bullet tore through skin and muscle, before completely shattering his bones, his war was over. The only thing that had given him hope was Mary. If the bullets trajectory had shifted by no more than an inch and passed through soft tissue, he would never have met her. For that he was eternally thankful.

Jasper ran to the cliff edge and stopped dangerously close to the seventy foot drop. Albert caught up and turned toward the steep path that led down to the shore. Albert had spent all his childhood exploring the cliffs and paths. He knew them so well he didn’t need any light to guide him. The near total darkness did not deter him from starting the slow descent. The path was slick underfoot. The rain ran down the path turning it into a small stream. Albert slipped and skittered most of the way down. He arrived on the beach breathless and sweating. He took off his hat and tilted his head back to meet the cool falling rain, he closed his eyes and let the droplets caress his face.
The small waves crashed back and forth. The tide was nearly high, Jasper ran to greet the incoming waves, chasing them back into the sea.
Albert stood and eased himself into motion. His lazy leg dragging on the soft sand. Jasper ran back to him, his white teeth smiling out of the gloom. The rain eased off and splinters of light from the moon filtered through the thinning clouds.
The beach closed as a promontory of cliff face jutted forward. The tide almost swept up to the rock. Each incoming wave left a strip of shingle about a foot wide undisturbed. At low tide the beach reinstated itself leaving yards of dry sand between the sea and the cliff. Now Albert and Jasper had to inch past the rock face. Jasper didn’t so much inch, more charge past. Albert put his hand on the wet rock to steady himself and gingerly moved forward. Each incoming wave just washing over his boots.
The beach on the other side swept away in a long curve and Albert was about to start walking when something a few yards out to sea caught his attention. He couldn’t see clearly what it was but there was definite movement about two hundred yards ahead of him. He flattened himself against the cliff. Jasper ran forward then came back. Albert called “Jasper, Jasper.” Through gritted teeth. As soon as the dog was within grasping distance Albert swept him up under his arm. Jasper struggled and wriggled and licked Albert’s face. Albert looked, straining his eyes as what little light the moon was giving was lost behind a cloud. The cloud broke and there it was again. A dark shadow on the sea moving closer to the shore. Jasper whined and wiggled, but Albert held firm.
The rubber dingy closed rapidly on the beach, riding an incoming wave. The occupants leapt from boat and hauled it across the sand. Albert could make out five or six figures, dark shadows moving quickly, unloading whatever was in the dingy. Then they began to deflate it.
Albert had seen enough. He turned and hurried back round the cliff, not concerning himself with holding on. He let Jasper go and started to run as best he could back toward the cliff path. Cursing his leg with every stride.

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Comments by other Members

Hilary Custance at 09:35 on 11 April 2003  Report this post
I enjoyed the detail and clarity of this writing. I found it very atmospheric, full of tastes, smells and sensations. I wondered whether a more experienced reader (this is my first comment) might jib at such continuous description and I might find a whole novel written like this a bit overwhelming. As an opening, though, it really worked for me. I was there with Albert, wet, slightly alarmed, resentful of my restrictions but warmed by love. I realise that this is not the only piece of Tin Soldiers, but as it is the beginning, it seems OK to start here.

Stephen N at 16:00 on 11 April 2003  Report this post
Thank you Hilary, I'm glad you enjoyed it. personaly I don't think you need to be an experienced reader to know what you like. I was quite heavily criticised by one member for the chapter from the same story I uploaded a few days ago. He seemed to think the ammount of detail was tedious, others seemed to enjoy it though.

roger at 07:29 on 12 April 2003  Report this post

Well maybe there is quite a lot of description, and possibly too much. But isn't that the case with most fiction? Isn't it true that the average 350 page novel could be told in 100 pages? I thought the prose was well done. At the end of the day, there's only one thing that matters with the opening of a novel...does the reader want to know what happens next? In this case, my answer was yes, so the prologue did its job. Who were these guys in the inflatable? And what was Albert going to do about them? - once he got his legs back in shape!

Shadowgirl at 19:26 on 12 April 2003  Report this post
Personal opinion - I adore the detail and think it works well - not been bored for a moment!

Becca at 09:07 on 13 April 2003  Report this post
Hello Stephen,
I liked the way you built up the picture of Albert slowly. I really appreciate, as a reader, not having to work to understand the essentials about a character. I loved the moodiness of the scene,I could see the man, I really enjoy being able to do that. One thing: 'Jasper didn't so much inch, more charge(d)past?

skyblue2 at 14:28 on 13 May 2003  Report this post
Very good. Well written.

I agree with other comments that you have to be careful with long passages of description but you seem to have pulled it off here.

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