A Winter's Tale, second draft

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Christmas horror story where a soldier must confront his post-traumatic stress from the First World War.

A short film script based on Henry Williamson's short story of the same title.

Submitted: October 23, 2015

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Submitted: October 23, 2015

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A Winter’s Tale

 

 

Written by 

 

Thom Goddard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adapted from the story by

 

Henry Williamson 

 

 

Copyright: Thom Goddard

 

EXT. WESTERN EUROPE. DECEMBER 1918.

 

We look down on the whole of Western Europe. The boundary between France and Germany is in the middle of the picture, and Great Britain in the top left. The sun is setting giving the land a deathly blood-orange glow. The camera swoops down into northern France and flies slowly over the hauntingly abandoned trenches of the First World War. The fighting having ended only weeks before. The carnage of the now-desolate battlefields is frozen by the winter weather and frozen in time as well.

 

Title: A WINTER’S TALE

 

Hugging the ground, we move quickly from the trenches across northern France, the English Channel, the white cliffs of Dover and into the untouched beauty of the English countryside. The North Downs of Kent push the camera into the air and we see the whole of London.

 

The city is hugged by a sulphurous-yellow, dense, swirling fog. We race past the tops of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey; the few buildings that protrude out of the fog. Then the camera dives into the cloud. 

 

We fly up Whitehall, the pavements filled with men in dark, office suits and bowler hats, the road choked with omnibuses, and into Trafalgar Square. Nelson’s Column flies out of the fog. The National Gallery appears out of the gloom as the camera moves into Regent Street. Regent Street is also filled with people but they are shoppers enjoying themselves. We continue up to Oxford Circus.  

 

The camera moves quickly through Oxford Street to Paddington Station. We join a train leaving Paddington for the West Country. Going ever faster still, we race through the English countryside. The camera flies passed Winchester Cathedral, Stonehenge, the Roman baths of Bath and other famous landmarks until reaching Exeter. Then across Dartmoor and into a village shrouded in fog flying by a clearly-seen sign saying “Moreton Hampstead”.

EXT: MORETON HAMPSTEAD - MORNING

 

We come to rest on a young soldier walking slowly passed brightly lit shops ready for Christmas. He is dressed in his Army clothes with a coat made from a blanket and a war-torn rucksack on his back. He glimpses into a busy restaurant. The diners are laughing and enjoying themselves. He does not stop.

 

 

SOLDIER VO thinking to himself

They celebrate. The end of the war, the ‘winning’ of the war, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. I am celebrating too. After four long years of fighting I am free. Free of the Army and the old European, make-war mentality.  

 

A group of smartly dressed people appear out of the fog. They don’t notice the soldier as they pass.  

 

 

SOLDIER VO continues

With a feeling of freedom and a new life I have walked for seven days. From London to Exeter and on. But I could have walked forever as never before have I experienced such a feeling of happiness and well-being from that simplest of emotions of just being free.

 

A drunken couple veer towards the soldier. He smiles at them. The soldier walks on down the street passing jolly people carrying presents.

 

Solder VO continued

I am going to my friend’s house. I am not welcome at my parents’ house but after the servitude of the Army, home is all that is in my mind now...

 

Rosey-cheeked Lady

Merry Christmas!

 

Soldier

Oh... yes... Merry Christmas.

The soldier walks on.

 

Soldier VO

Oh yes, today is Christmas Eve. I telegraphed my friend that I would arrive for dinner. But I still have a few miles to go.

 

 

EXT: DARTMOOR - MORNING

 

The soldier walks onto Dartmoor. Black clouds cover the sky and darkness envelopes the soldier even though it is only mid-morning.

 

The soldier walks, head down, into a piercing, whistling wind. The track becomes rocky and it is difficult to walk. But the soldier strides on.

 

Soldier VO

The black wind sweeps out of the north on Dartmoor but I must endure to reach my friend’s house...

 

The soldier looks up and is shocked by the image of a soldier being shot in the back, arms flung out at the side. He is shocked but not afraid, and hurries towards the ghostly shape. When he arrives the soldier realises it is just a scarecrow.

 

The soldier composes himself and walks on but more slowly this time. He is trudging up a steep slope. The wind is battering the heather around him.

 

The soldier crosses a small frozen stream. He looks into the ice and sees a face screaming up at him. The soldier blinks and moves on.

 

Soldier VO

Every runner is frozen and the big rivers edged with ice. Can I last out to my friend’s house? Or even my family home... that is closer. 

Birch Tor looms out of the darkness. It looks like a military, concrete bunker. The soldier blinks, looks down at his map and looks back. Now Birch Tor looks like a rocky outcrop. The soldier blinks again and walks on.

 

The soldier peers through the dark clouds and howling wind to see a large white building like an angel in hell. He walks quickly towards it.

 

 

INT: WARREN HOUSE INN

 

The soldier enters. He looks at a small, peat fire but goes to the bar. After ordering a pint of beer he sits down by the peat fire. He raises the glass for a toast.

 

Soldier aloud butto himself

To comrades left with the war.

 

He drinks deeply, almost half the beer is gone. The soldier begins to warm his hands on the small fire. The camera moves from his eyes into the flames. 

 

The fire becomes a flame on a soldier’s chest in no-man’s land in World War One. The sound of machine gun fire and battle is deafening. The soldier has taken cover in a crater beside his comrade. A sudden silence grips the scene as the flames make the soldier realise his colleague is dead. The soldier stares, disbelieving, at the dead man. The spell is broken back to the hell of battle as a Sergeant stands over him.

 

 

Sergeant

Get up!

 

The soldier looks at the Sergeant as if he is a thousand miles away.

 

Sergeant

Get up!

The Sergeant jumps into the crater and grabs hold of the soldier.

 

Sergeant

They’ve got incendiary grenades. Get out of here!

 

The Sergeant pushes the soldier to his feet. But this has pushed the Sergeant’s feet into the mud. The soldier puts his arm down to the Sergeant as a grenade lands beside the Sergeant. The Sergeant realises he is stuck and pushes the soldier away.

 

The grenade explodes in a ball of fire followed by a loud “bang”. The noise wakes the soldier from his nightmare and a patron at the door apologises for slamming the door of the pub as he enters.

 

 

Landlord

Evenin’ Bob.

Come an’ tell us about that prisoner what done escaped...

 

The soldier finds a fresh pint of beer in front of him. He looks around the pub and a man in a smart suit nods towards him as if recognising a military brothership. The soldier nods back in thanks.

 

The soldier finishes his drink. He looks round the inn but cannot see the man in the suit. He shrugs and reluctantly pulls on his wet back pack. The soldier gets up and exits.

 

 

EXT: ROAD FROM WARREN HOUSE INN - MID-AFTERNOON

 

Outside the icy wind is howling and the sky is turning as black as the clouds. The soldier comes through the door and shivers at the weather. After closing the pub door he pulls up his collar and walks off following the road.

As the soldier walks along the road he passes granite boulders with ice frozen to them. As he looks the ice resembles iron plates on a World War One tank stuck in no-man’s land. 

 

Then the soldier passes a gorse hedge covered in frost. As he looks this resembles frozen battlefield barbed wire.

 

A bright light appears from over his shoulder. The soldier shields his eyes as a ghostly grey Mercedes-Benz pulls up beside him. The soldier is not sure if this is an apparition too. The driver is the smart man from Warren House Inn but he is wearing a bear-skin coat.

 

 

Smart Man

I say... Can I offer you a lift?

With us being former comrades and all.

 

The soldier hesitates. He looks at his battered boots and mud-covered clothes. And then at the impeccably dressed man in a warm bear-skin in a beautiful car.  

 

 

Soldier

Thank you but no.

 

Smart Man

Come on, I could do with a slice of army friendship... It may not look like it but I too suffered on the Western Front. 

 

Soldier

Then you will know why my mind is set and I must endure.

 

The smile vanishes from the smart man’s face as if he is offended. But he nods knowingly. The car pulls away and the soldier watches until the tail lights become a demon’s eyes before him. The soldier is taken aback and then the lights are gone.

 

The soldier walks on.

 

EXT. HM PRISON DARTMOOR - DUSK

 

The granite grey, foreboding HM Prison Dartmoor looms out of the darkness. The soldier looks at it and shudders. He pulls up his collar and walks on. There are moans and screams coming from inside the prison buildings. A team of 20 prisoners is breaking rocks outside, although inside a frost-covered, chain-link, barbed-wire topped fence.

 

Soldier VO

That appalling group of buildings must be the convict prison. Built to hold Napoleon’s soldiers; over the last few war years it’s held this country’s conscientious objectors. Fighter or pacifist, what’s the difference? To think, they mentioned in the pub that someone has just escaped from there. But is there any real escape for men upon this earth? 

 

EXT. DARTMOOR - EVENING

 

The soldier continues on the road. He stops, takes off his pack and brings out his map.

 

Soldier VO thinking to himself

I don’t think I can make my friend’s house tonight. I can only be a few miles from my parents’. But I don’t know if my father will allow it.

 

The soldier puts the map away and leaves the road for a walking track. The black clouds have gone and the stars are shining. We see the soldier as a small, solitary moving object amongst the vastness of the moor. A small stream runs to the left of the track. The soldier totters with fatigue.

 

Soldier VO

This short cut seems endless. My feet stumble as if the flesh is solid in frozen boots. 

The soldier looks to his right. He sees the devastation of a full scale World War One trench warfare battle. In silence.

 

 

Soldier VO

Bringing back the far away nightmare of everlasting wastelands, bursting shells and the crackle of gunfire...

The soldier blinks and the landscape returns to moorland. He walks on.

 

The soldier stumbles with fatigue. He trips again and falls into the leat. 

 

Instantly the soldier is back in a flooded trench of World War One. Around him are hundreds of soldiers. The soldier looks around in disbelief. The other soldiers then scream a charge and climb out of the trench.

 

The soldier forces himself up and out of the water. He can hear the hellish sounds of battle over the trench and so pauses. The soldier is alone and soaking wet. The soldier grits his teeth, pushes himself over the top and into the battle.

 

The soldier stands up and is back on the moor. There is silence and he is dumbfounded. He looks up and sees the constellation Orion shining brightly. The soldier nods as if he knows which way to go and continues walking on the path.

 

The soldier is now walking plodding mechanically. His head is down and he raises it to see a white mist coming towards him. 

 

Soldier VO

Gas!

 

The soldier tears off his back pack and rummages for his mask. In horror the soldier realises he doesn’t have it.

The soldier turns into the darkness of the moor and runs in panic. 

 

Light snow begins to fall. The stars become tracer rounds and the moon explodes like a flare. Gunfire can be heard all around the soldier. The moor has become a World War One no-man’s land battleground. He runs until he falls.

 

We look down on the soldier lying on the frozen ground. He is staring up at the tracer rounds and exploding flares of the night’s sky. The lights of battle are reflected in the soldier’s panic-filled eyes. The snow begins falling more heavily. The soldier closes his eyes and slows his breathing as if ready to die. The noise of battle diminishes. The soldier opens his eyes and sees Orion blazing above him. The sights and sounds of battle cease. Then all the stars are covered by black clouds.

 

 

Soldier VO

A black gloom is closing around me, the stars are darkening out. I am alone on the moor. And if I don’t rouse myself I will sleep into death.

 

The soldier blinks and touches his left cheek. 

 

 

Soldier

What was that?

 

He struggles to his feet. His right hand is in agony from the frost. The darkness of the night, complete silence and now-heavy snowfall give an aura of total isolation.

 

The soldier struggles to reach into his pack. He brings out a box of matches and his map. He spills half the matches into the snow struggling to open the box. He eventually manages to light one match and holds it to his map. The soldier looks up, desperately seeking a landmark so he can know his location. But there is nothing but darkness and snow.  The map is useless. The match burns down into the soldier’s fingers but he doesn’t feel it.

 

 

Soldier in panic

Which way? Which way?

 

The soldier puts away the map. He strikes a match to light his way and sets off in a random direction. All the match does is give an orange glow to his face. Ahead of the soldier is only darkness.

 

The soldier suddenly stops, drops the match and touches his left cheek.

 

 

Soldier scared

What was that?

 

The soldier looks about wildly. Although the snow is falling heavily there is no wind and no sound.

 

The soldier suddenly looks round to his left. He touches the left side of his neck.

 

Soldier

There it is again.

 

The soldier swings his left arm into the darkness.

 

The soldier reacts as if he has been prodded in the left side.

 

Soldier

Who’s there?

 

The soldier is isolated on the silent moor. He can only see a few feet due to the darkness and snowfall.

 

The soldier ticks his head to the left as if his ear has been flicked.

Soldier

What’s there!?!

 

The soldier is scared. A ghostly sigh comes out of the darkness. It is all around him.

 

 

Soldier

I must go on. On... to my home.

 

The soldier feels a force pulling him to the left.

 

 

Soldier tired

I cannot... I am too tired to fight any longer.

 

The soldier is pulled again to the left.

 

Soldier

I cannot...

 

The soldier is pulled again to the left and starts walking as if in a trance.

 

Soldier

Ok, ok.

I will follow... on.

 

The clouds part and the moon shines on the soldier like a spotlight. 

 

The snow is falling heavily and the light of the moon creates an ethereal plain where the soldier neither knows if he is alive or dead. He struggles on.

 

The soldier stumbles and falls to his knees. He is finished and ready to die. Around him is only darkness and snow.

A dog begins to bark. The soldier crawls blindly towards the noise.

 

Suddenly a door opens 10 metres in front of the soldier. It is like a light from heaven bathing the soldier’s face in salvation. The soldier is relieved and smiles.

 

Farmer (shouting in heavy Cornish accent)

Shar up ya mangey flea bag!

 

 

The dog stops barking. The door closes and as darkness covers the soldier’s face we see panic in his eyes. He pushes himself forward, groping in the snowy night. The soldier’s hand touches the door and he falls upon it with exhaustion.

 

A woman opens the door an inch and looks down at the slumped soldier on her doorway.

 

 

Farmer’s wife (speaking in heavy Cornish accent)

Wha’ do you want?

 

Soldier weak and cold

A room for the night... p p p please.

 

Farmer’s wife

No.

 

She slams the door in the soldier’s face. The soldier’s eyes begin to close as if he is dying from exhaustion. There is a murmur of voices inside the house.

 

The door opens and the farmer looks down on the soldier. The Farmer has an almost impossible to understand, deep country accent.

 

Farmer

Where you come from?

 

The soldier looks up too tired to speak.

 

 

Farmer

Where are you goin’?

 

Soldier

To... to spend Christmas. Nearby. I think. I came this way because... because I thought it was a short cut. A short cut home. Can, can I sleep in the barn? I slept in barns during the war so...

 

The soldier almost falls asleep before giving one last effort.

 

Soldier

And I can pay

 

The soldier digs in his pocket and holds up his wallet. It is filled with bank notes. The farmer reaches down as if to take the wallet but goes further and grasps the soldier’s arm. The farmer shakes his head, lifts the soldier and carries him inside the house. The door closes ominously and the farm dog whines.

 

 

INT. FARM HOUSE, LIVING ROOM

 

The farm house is the epitome of ‘cosy’ and the farmer helps the soldier into a chair by the fire in the main room. The soldier shakes as he thaws.

 

 

Soldier stammering with cold

I... I... I... ap... apol... ogise for my rudeness. I have c... c... c... come a long way.

 

The farmer and his wife look with pity on the soldier. They turn and leave the room, the farmer’s wife slowly closing the door behind them while looking suspiciously at the soldier.

 

 

 

As the fire crackles and the soldier falls in and out of consciousness buzzing voices can be heard through the wall. The soldier is awoken by the man and wife entering the room. It is clear the wife has been crying. She calms herself.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife

How you doin’?

We not wish anyone to be out there on a night like this. Would you like some supper? There’d be cold pork and pickle. And some stewed prunes and cheese for afters. If you’d like.

 

Soldier

Oh, thank you.

Can I remain by the fire?

 

The farmer’s wife leaves without saying a word. The farmer remains, standing with his giant hands hanging loosely at his side. The soldier stays in the chair. The snow is dripping off the soldier and it eventually becomes synchronized with the farm’s grandfather clock. There is a haunting tension in the air.

 

The farmer’s wife returns with a fully laden dinner tray. As soon as she places it on the soldier’s knees he ravenously begins eating.

 

The farmer sits on a milking stool by the fire, opposite the soldier, while his wife retreats to a small stool in a dark corner of the room.

 

 

Soldier between mouthfuls

Oh thank you...

I have travelled...

Walked many miles...

Through the worst weather...

Trying to get home...

Even though I might not be welcome...

 

The soldier stops eating and talking. There is an eerie silence. Slowly we hear the quiet whimpers of the farmer’s wife crying to herself in the corner. The soldier slowly turns at looks at the wife’s tear-streaked, red face.

 

Farmer’s Wife

Oh, excuse me.

 

The Farmer’s Wife stands, brushes herself down and goes to a door in the corner. This leads to the staircase.

 

Farmer’s Wife

I will prepare the room.

 

The Farmer’s Wife glares at the Farmer and turns to walk up the stairs, leaving the door open.

 

The Farmer rises, muttering to himself. The soldier watches him crossing the floor. The farmer closes the door to the staircase as he ascends. As soon as the door is closed the soldier renews shoveling the food into his mouth.

 

The soldier quickly finishes the food and sits back in the chair, bathing in the warmth of the fire. He opens his eyes and looks down to see a copy of the Bible open on the New Testament. The soldier picks it up, intrigued.

 

 

Soldier

Ha, the national literature of Great Britain.

reading aloud

From Isaiah. Yet it was the Lord’s wish to crush him and cause him to suffer...

 

The soldier becomes more serious the more he reads.

 

 

Soldier reading aloud

After he has suffered, he will see the light. 

The soldier pauses in thought. There is a heavy bump in the ceiling. The soldier quickly drops the book to where he found it.

 

 

Soldier

Oh no. What if I’ve disturbed their nightly reading...

 

The soldier picks up the Bible and tries to put it back to the place it was open. Above him the strange scratching and bumping continues as though heavy things are being moved about. The soldier worryingly looks up as he moves the pages. The sounds stop.

 

The soldier quickly finds an approximate place and gently replaces the Bible. He puts his head back into the chair and closes his eyes.

 

The Farmer’s Wife enters. She is wiping her tears away with a handkerchief. The Farmer enters but remains at the bottom of the stairs as his wife crosses the room, collects the tray and exits into the kitchen.

 

 

Farmer

If you please to come this way I’ll show you the room.

 

The Farmer watches the soldier painfully rise from the chair. The soldier tries to shake the stiffness out of his legs and stumbles. He smiles at the Farmer. The Farmer looks unimpressed and turns to walk up the stairs.

 

The soldier hobbles over to the stairs, gaining movement with each step. The soldier climbs the stairs but stops halfway. He turns back to gaze longingly at the warmth below. And begrudgingly continues upwards.

 

At the top of the stairs the soldier meets the farmer pointing into a room. The farmer leads and the soldier follows. 

 

 

INT: FARM HOUSE BEDROOM

 

A four poster bed sits in the middle of the square room with a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard in one corner. Beside the cupboard is a simple chair. Heavy curtains are beside the window and we can see the heavy snowfall outside is now a wall of white. A candle burns on the bedside table. Beside it a box of matches. A black-blue colour covers the room, smothering the candlelight. 

 

As soon as the soldier enters the bedroom he shivers and his breath becomes visible due to the cold.

 

 

Farmer

I’ll be bringin’ you the monk in a minute

 

Soldier

The monk?

 

The Farmer looks at the soldier as if he is stupid.

 

 

Farmer

Aiy, the monk. It will heat the bed for thee.

 

The soldier looks confused. The farmer is impatient, pushes past the soldier to leave the room and clumps down the stairs.

 

The soldier drops his pack and flops on to the bed.

 

 

Soldier to himself

Sleeping with a monk?

Perhaps the military had taken over the nearest monastery?

I think I will sleep on the floor.

 

The soldier is jolted from his thoughts by two thumps on the corner cupboard door. From the inside. The soldier sits up and stares at the cupboard.

 

The two thumps sound again. The thumps are in quick succession and the noise changes so we hear the soldier’s thumping heartbeat.

 

The soldier stands and walks towards the cupboard. The hairs rise in the back of his neck as he gets closer.

 

The soldier reaches for the cupboard door knob when he is startled by a cry.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife

Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!

 

The Farmer’s Wife runs and stands resolutely between the cupboard door and the soldier.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife

It wouldn’t be right.

 

Soldier

I thought I heard a sound in there.

A sound like something had fallen.

 

The Farmer’s Wife begins to cry softly. The soldier takes a step back in an awkward apology.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife whimper

It wouldn’t be right for anyone to be sleeping here.

 

Soldier

I’m sorry.

I... I... could always go and sleep in the barn.

 

The soldier looks at the window and sees the heavy snowfall. He shudders. The soldier looks apologetically at the Farmer’s Wife.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife muttering

I must find the key.

 

The Farmer’s Wife steadies herself and rushes past the soldier, leaving the room.

 

The soldier looks out after the Farmer’s Wife and is confused.

 

 

Soldier to himself

This is absurd. I’m a soldier with 5 years of fighting experience. And now here I am! And about to sleep with a monk!

 

The soldier walks to the window and looks out. All he can see is heavy snowfall and his own reflection. He talks to himself.

 

 

Soldier to himself

I can’t leave now. And if it continues like this it will be feet deep by the morning. There will be nothing to guide myself. I will be stranded in this lonely farm where they are obviously unused to strangers. This is a proper Christmas Eve.

 

The soldier sees the Farmer enter the room with a large copper pan. The soldier wheels round.

 

Farmer

It will keep off the death sweat

 

Soldier

Death... sweat?

 

The Farmer lifts the heavy quilt and puts the pan into the bed.

 

 

Farmer

Monk us calls it. Proper bed-warmer.

 

The soldier laughs.

 

 

Soldier

So that’s the monk, is it?

 

Farmer

Aiy. There be embers in the pan.

 

The soldier continues to laugh. And the Farmer smiles.

 

The Farmer’s Wife enters the room and all warmth is extinguished.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife to the Farmer

Did you bring the key?

 

The Farmer digs in his pocket and produces a large, iron key that could never fit the cupboard.

 

 

Farmer

Here it be

 

The Farmer gives the key to his wife. The wife goes to the cupboard and pretends to lock the door. The soldier is mystified. The Farmer’s Wife finishes, turns and leaves the room. The soldier smiles at her as she passes but she ignores him.

 

Farmer

I hope you’ll sleep well, my dear, I do.

 

Soldier

Erm... thank you.

 

The Farmer turns and follows his wife out of the room. The soldier is left alone in an eerie silence. He surveys his room for the night. The soldier turns to draw the curtains and is shocked to see in the reflection of the window the Farmer’s Wife watching him.

 

 

Soldier

 Oh! Do you have any objections to the curtains being drawn?

 

Farmer’s Wife

The curtains should be drawn across by right.

 

Soldier

Well... good night. Merry Christmas.

 

Farmer Wife 

serious, almost threatening

Good night, my dear.

 

The Farmer’s Wife closes the door. The only light is the candle on the night stand. The soldier closes the curtains. He shakes his head, closes his eyes and rubs them with his hands.

 

The soldier turns and walks to the bed. He takes the ‘monk’ out and puts it under the bed. He struggles to take off his boots but eventually does so and puts them under the bed.

 

The soldier blows out the candle and lies on top of the quilt in his clothes and trench coat. The camera is directly above the soldier and we see his eyes are wide open. The camera closes on his face and we see a tear run from his eye.

 

 

 

INT: SOLDIER’S FAMILY HOME - CHRISTMAS DAY

 

One tear runs from the soldier’s eye. He is dressed in smart-casual in a warm room with food, drink, presents and family. But he is standing in the doorway.

 

 

Soldier’s Father apoplectic

Get out!

 

Soldier

But father, I have been there. For two years. Two years of the misery of the war.

 

Soldier’s Father

Anyone who says those things is a traitor to this country!

 

Soldier

But father, it’s true. The German soldiers are just as brave as us and fight just as hard. 

 

Soldier’s Father

I won’t hear of it. The dirty ‘Hun’ are not brave. Maybe it’s you. You need to fight harder.

 

Soldier

Father?

 

Soldier’s Father

Anyway, get out of my house.

 

Soldier

I’m sorry father. I go back in a few days...

 

Soldier’s Father

Get out of my house!

 

Soldier

Please...

 

 

Soldier’s Father

And never return.

 

 

INT: FARM HOUSE BEDROOM

 

The soldier is brought back into his current position. A floor board outside the room creeks. The soldier turns to look but does not move. The door opens slightly and a wisp of cold air flies over the bed. A hand enters the room.

 

The soldier closes his fists, ready to attack. The hand moves around the door and takes the key out of the inside lock of the door. The hand then moves out of the room holding the key and the door closes. The door is not locked from the outside.

 

The soldier leaps out of bed. He grabs the matches and lights the candle. The soldier goes to the door and checks but the key is gone. The soldier tries the door and it opens. He is confused. The soldier looks around the room and puts down the candle. He gets the chair and props it against the door handle.

 

The soldier goes back to the bed and lies down. He blinks. And falls asleep.

 

The soldier is lying on the bed. The only movement is his steamy breath showing how the room is so cold.

 

A groan comes out of the darkness. The soldier sits upright, awake. He breathes heavily, scared. The soldier shakes his head not knowing if the noise was a dream.

 

The soldier lays down again.

 

The groan sounds once more. This time longer and more painful.

 

The soldier does not jump up. His eyes open wide in terror and his heart thunders in his ears.

Soldier VO

Someone is hiding in there. Who could it be?

 

The groan sounds again. It is like someone trapped.

 

 

Soldier VO

Perhaps it is that escape convict. The wife crying... a relative... a deserter perhaps? Got into the cupboard to hide when I knocked on the door?

 

The groan sounds again.

 

 

Soldier VO

Yes... yes. When I knocked at the door they thought I was from the prison. Told him to hide in the cupboard. And the convict had dared not leave.

 

A sound of movement comes from the cupboard.

 

 

Soldier VO

Yes, yes. I’m sure I remember hearing a convict had escaped recently. When I was at the pub. Didn’t I?

 

The movement becomes a tapping, scratching noise.

 

 

Soldier VO

But he has nothing to fear from me. I am a soldier. A soldier who’s just lived through the greatest of horrors. I know what life is and what it means. I can tell him he won’t be betrayed.

 

The soldier reaches over and lights the candle. He swings his legs on to the floor. The soldier squelches his feet into his wet boots. He stands.

 

The soldier walks over to the cupboard. The boots make a crashing thudding sound with each step that accentuates the soldier’s heart rate.

The soldier stops before the cupboard. He is paralyzed with fear. Out of the room we hear a door opening and someone running down the passage.

The soldier looks at the door and then at the candle. He hesitates and then blows it out.

 

The foot steps stop at the door. The soldier can just make out the door handle. It doesn’t move. The foot steps retreat back along the passage.

 

The soldier stands waiting in the middle of the room. He realises why he is standing in the middle of the room and slowly turns back to the cupboard. He starts shaking.

 

The soldier struggles to relight the candle. He reaches slowly for the cupboard door.

 

 

Soldier

H... h... hello.

Look... you... you can’t be comfortable in there. Why not come out? I won’t hurt you. And I promise I won’t tell anybody about anything.

 

Silence. The soldier steels himself.

 

 

Soldier

Do come out. I can’t sleep in here. And I’m sure you can’t in there. You can even have the bed.

 

Silence. 

 

The candle almost blows out. The soldier shuffles back from the cupboard, not thumping his boots on the floor. He doesn’t take his eyes off the cupboard until he is back sitting on the bed. He puts the candle on the night stand.

 

 

The soldier takes a series of deep breaths and thinks about what he can do. He looks nervously at the cupboard door. The soldier slips off his boots. He looks again at the cupboard door.

 

The soldier takes a very deep breath, moves quickly across the floor in his socks and holds the cupboard door handle with his left hand. His teeth are chattering from the cold and fear. He clenches his teeth. Hot breath comes out of his nostrils like a bull.

 

The soldier flings open the door.

 

Inside the cupboard are 3 coats and a dress on hangers. The soldier looks slowly down at a small barrel. He is confused. The top is black. The soldier reaches out and recoils in horror as he touches liquid.

 

The soldier looks wildly about the room. He runs back to the bed and picks up the candle. Very slowly he walks back to the open cupboard with the candle. He moves the candle over the barrel and looks into the liquid. 

 

A grey, upturned face with open, white eyes and gaping mouth of an old man look back at him.

 

The soldier jumps back in terror. As he does so a wind blows through the room. It blows out the candle and shuts the cupboard door. The soldier scrabbles around in the darkness. He doesn’t know what to do.

 

The soldier flings his arms around. He touches the curtain. The soldier reaches for the curtains in abject panic and throws them open.

 

Outside the snow has stopped and the first light of dawn bathes the soldier’s face in salvation. The soldier sighs in relief.

 

The soldier jumps as there is a knock at the door to his room.

 

Farmer

Be thee alright in there, my dear?

 

The soldier runs over to the door to make sure the door is secured with the chair.

 

 

Soldier

Y...Yes, thank you.

I’m afraid if I disturbed you. I’ve been walking most of the night. Very sorry. I... I got frost-bitten feet in the war.

 

Farmer

We thought you might be needing something.

 

Soldier 

Oh, no. What’s the time, do you know?

 

Farmer

It’s about six o’clock. Please, what time would you be liking breakfast?

 

Soldier

Oh, when you have it, thanks.

 

Farmer

The wife’s kindlin’ the fire now, my dear. Us be havin’ a cup of tea in a minute.

 

We hear the Farmer walk away and go downstairs. The soldier sighs in relief. He flops onto the bed.The room gets brighter as the sun rises.

 

The soldier looks at the cupboard again. He stands, defiant. The soldier does some practise punches. He shakes his head.

 

 

Soldier quietly to himself

I need something to defend myself.

 

The soldier begins to look around the room. There is nothing available. He picks up the chair on the door. The soldier realises that will not work.

 

The soldier puts down the chair and looks under the bed. He pulls at the copper pan and then draws back in shock. 

 

The soldier gets up, sits on the bed and starts laughing. He quickly becomes hysterical. He slaps his forehead in stupidity and puts on his boots. Behind his boots we see a coffin.

 

 

INT. FARMHOUSE LIVING ROOM

 

The soldier nervously enters the living room. The Farmer is sat at the table drinking tea. The Farmer’s Wife is cooking on the fire. The soldier looks at the front door and steps towards it, ready to flee.

 

 

Farmer

Won’t you stop for a cup of tea?

 

The soldier turns to face the Farmer and his wife. She walks towards him.

 

 

Farmer’s Wife cheerful

The snow’s thick but the cold spell be broken, I fancy, sir.

 

The soldier is taken aback at the Farmer’s Wife happiness. He relaxes. The Farmer’s Wife takes his arm and guides him to the table. She then exits for the pantry.

 

 

Soldier

Erm... yes, I will, thank you very much.

 

The soldier sits at the table. The Farmer pours him some tea and the Farmer’s Wife sets down a hearty, cooked breakfast.

 

The soldier dives into the food as the Farmer and Farmer’s Wife smile.

 

FADE

 

Ext. THE FARM - MID-MORNING

 

The soldier and farmer step from the farm house into a picture-postcard morning with snow covering every inch of the ground and the sun ablaze in the sky.

 

The soldier and farmer walk in silence to a wooden gate which the farmer opens and holds.

 

 

Farmer

You can’t see the track in the snow but keep to the hedge and it’ll take you to the road. Follow the road and you’ll be home before I’ve finished milking.

 

Soldier

Thank you.

 

Farmer

You heading home?

 

Soldier

Erm... yes.

long pause

Years ago I fought with my father. But I’ve had enough of fighting. And just want to go home.

 

Farmer

Here, did you find the old chap in the hogs-ade, my dear?

 

Soldier wide eyed

What?

 

Farmer

 It’s my wife’s father. Use to be a soldier like yourself. Then worked this farm ny’on forty year. He died 10 days ago, poor chap. There’s naught else to do but pickle him. The ground being as hard as iron and all. But this snow means a thaw, I fancy, and now the poor bugger can go home.

pause 

Merry Christmas!

 

Soldier relief

Merry Christmas indeed!

 

The soldier walks through the gate and off down the path. The farmer shuts the gate, turns and starts walking to the barn. The soldier turns and shouts.

 

Soldier shouting back

And peace on earth and kindness among men! 

 

We see the farmer smile but he doesn’t turn as the camera climbs to show the lone figure walking out over a stunning, snow-covered Dartmoor landscape.

 

 

Soldier VO

A wonderful Christmas morning. I went on my journey, while the full realisation came to me of what those two must have been feeling during that Christmas Eve. What I had been feeling. The wife’s thoughts of her father all alone in his silence and helplessness. The three of us waiting; waiting for a day like this, waiting the frost to break, waiting... to be able...

to go ‘home’.

 

 

The End

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Thom Goddard. All rights reserved.

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