The Toy Soldier saw his world only in shades of dull shadow.
He went dutifully about his day, marching diligently along the edges of the woven carpet, that blanketed the floor. A hardwood jungle, that everyday, he never dared to further explore.
Sometimes, along his way, he would pick up a misplaced piece of lego. Lego that he could later introduce to the rest of it's family. The growing tribe lived near him in a dusty corner, under the Big Bed.
Sometimes when he was marching, he would meet the Big Train. It only came down from it’s shelf, on days when the room rocked and groaned with a comforting rattle and patter from outside the window.
The Big Train was a depressed toy and would only reply to the Soldier’s cheerful wave, with a rueful whistle, that sounded like the bellyache of broken batteries.
The Toy Soldier, had the right batteries to fix the train. Once he had seen one of the Big People sneak into his world late one night, in the middle of the Big Dark. With a cautious look over her shoulder, she removed one of the batteries from the the Big Train’s stomach, and placed him back on the shelf like nothing had happened.
After the Big Train’s operation, he got taken down less and less. And when he was taken down, he was always placed away from the carpet, on the woodwork, far from Tinker’s reach.
One day, as the Toy Soldier marched diligently, his coat fluttered. It bounced around his little button up waist and flapped away from his little wooden fingers when he tried to grab it. He looked up, to the invisible wall that kept the breeze at bay. Today it was no longer keeping her breath safe behind it.
As the Toy Soldier watched her tongue tickle the curtains a strange shadow flung itself into view. The shadow pounded against the edge of the invisible wall again and again. It tilted back and forth and with a shrill scream, the fluttering stopped and the shadow bounced to the ground on the hardwood floor, one wing lying on the woven carpet.
The Toy Soldier stopped marching. The shadow was a little bird, just like the one the Toy Soldier had seen in one of the Big People’s books. She had a dull gray coat that hugged her round belly and full cheeks that wobbled cheerfully. But that was where the beauty ended. Her wing was beant back behind her belly, at a angle that the Toy Soldier didn’t remember from his books. The other had few feathers and a strange brown sludge, was matted into what feathers that remained.
The Toy Soldier could keep marching. One of the Big People would tend to this uncommon event he was sure. They didn’t like the things that bleed and breathed. That was, apart from their own kind. The Big People even chose to replace the things that breathed in their world, with stale and frozen versions of them. Toy Soldier thought back to Mr.Teddy, that had lived for a long time, on the Big Bed.
The Toy Soldier remembered how sad Mr. Teddy had been as his stuffing was slowly pulled out, tangled around tiny fingers. Eventually, Mr. Teddy had just disappeared.
When the Big Dark came, The Toy Soldier had to close his ears to block out the sounds of sobbing that came from the bed for weeks.
The Little Bird, opened her eyes with a snap and The Toy Soldier jumped back in fright, they were deeper than all the oceans he had listened to stories about.
Everything The Toy Soldier had ever known was every shade of HB pencil, the kind that the Big Person used to scribble on the walls with, but not her eyes.
Her eyes were a shade of pencil he had never known existed.
The Toy Soldier tugged at her wings. He pulled until the Little Bird was all the way onto his woven carpet world.
Her eyes were still open.
‘Where are you taking me?’ She asked, tiredly.
‘I’m going to fix you so you can fly away.’ He said, softly.
In his little home under the Big Bed he laid her down on a bed of tissues, he usually used it as his matress in the Big Dark. She fluttered her wings limply.
‘What’s your name?’ She whispered.
‘They call me the The Toy Soldier,’ He said with a wooden shrug, ’But most everyone just calls me Tinker.’
The Toy Soldier rummaged in the box he kept near his matress. It was a box of all the things that didn’t have a home in his world. There was a big piece of string, a needle, a broken barbie arm, a coin, a comb, three actually, and about seven or eight hair clips.
He pulled the metal hair clips out and thrust them triumphantly in the air.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked remembering his manners as he rummaged once more in the box.
‘I don’t think I have a name.’ Said the Little Bird.
The Toy Soldier sighed deeply that the Big People cared enough to name himself and his wooden arms, legs and chest but didn’t seem to have enough time to name this blood in her veins, breathing, living, and dying bird.
The Toy Soldier started to wind the string around the birds broken wing, using the hairclips to brace it, and she started to tell him a story.
It was true that she didn’t have a name, but she didn’t think she had to have one, because much better was the fact that she had a place.
She told him stories about an open space, where there were no trains, woven carpets or Big Beds. It was a space completely devoid of everything. There was nothing on the top or on the bottom, and no wallpaper edges either.
And it was the same shade of pencil as her eyes she said. The Toy Soldier imagined that maybe this place she was describing had been caught inside them.
He could imagine the utter vastness of it, only when she told him about how, if you fly high enough, you never reach a wrinkled white ceiling that would push you back down. You could just keep going up.
And oh, underneath the vastness there was a jungle. Shadows and forests that rumbled when you flew through them. Noises and clouds and concrete and grass and telephone wires and mailboxes, like little ready made homes just for her.
Little Bird told The Toy Soldier how she would sometimes fly over the Big People deliberately close enough to rustle their hair, because she felt like she was much bigger than them in these moments and wanted to let them know how it felt to feel small and magically insignificant.
And maybe, she told him, if she flew close enough they would remember to look up and see that there was no ceiling to their world either.
They didn’t have to stay on their woven carpets of concrete. It frustrated the little bird that none of them would take flight towards the deep shade of darkness that was the top of the vastness.
‘Sometimes,’ She sighed,’They don’t even look up.’
The Toy Soldier spent weeks mending Little Bird. He snuck her cookie crumbs to eat and drops of water from the bright blue bottle the kept by the bed.
Eventually, the day came when Little Bird could flap her once broken wing, open and shut.
The Toy Soldier helped her climb up to the big escape which was once again open.
He hesitated as he looked around his little world. A world that did have a ceiling and until a few days ago had been painted only in every shade of HB pencil.
He grabbed the Little Bird’s wing as she prepared to take flight.
‘Please stay,’ He begged quietly, ‘How will I see without your stories?’
The Little Bird looked at him with her ocean eyes.
‘Oh Mr. Toy Soldier, how on earth could I possibly stay?’ She replied, ’I was not designed to walk the lines of a woven rug every day. I was not designed to see only in the colour gray. I was not designed to live my life locked in a cage that I’ve created myself.’
The Soldier started to pull at the arrangement of hair clips that held her wing in place.
‘That's not fair.’ He yelled, ‘I won’t let you go.’
Little Bird threw herself off the ledge and The Toy Soldier watched in horror as she plummeted to the ground. Then suddenly the wind caught her wing and with a dip she swooped upwards.
‘Just because you fixed my wings Mr. Toy Soldier,’ He heard her say, her voice an echo in the wind’s whisper, ’Doesn’t change the fact, that I’m the one who has to fly on them.’
As she faded into the distance, The Toy Soldier’s world started to loose it's colour once more. He trembled, his wooden fingers clacking, as all the shades of HB pencil leaked back into the skin of his reality.
The Toy Soldier didn’t go for his walk for a long time after Little Bird left.
He found a dusty corner under the Big Bed, even dustier than where the Lego family lived, and sighed into the shadows, whose corner of the world, he had invaded.
One day though, when the Big Person who had inhabited the Big Bed was much bigger and the wallpaper edges of his world extended to fast cars, pretty girls and anywhere he could buy a plane ticket to, he came back to breath in the comforting aroma of nostalgia. He found The Toy Soldier, whose paint had been chipped and whose wooden limbs no longer moved without squeaking, then the Big Person took down the Big Train.
He pressed the little lever that he knew had stopped working many years ago now, more for old times sake than anything else, and the train blared out a loud and strong little whistle that bounced around the room.
And maybe, if the Big Person had looked closely enough, he would have seen the smallest of smiles creak into place, around the lips of the little Toy Soldier.