“Just Before Midnight…”

A Draft flashfiction (flashback) Scene for Story Development

Widcombe, England | October 1917

From her favorite reading and writing spot, the window bench with thick cushions, she looked out over the moor. A full moon was rising. She held the book she’d found in the chest her mother bought at that odd little antique shop in Widcombe. Pages were missing in the front and what remained had been blank and mottled; stained and rough.

Lighting the candle on the stand next to her, she sat still for a moment. The book closed on her lap her fingers twitched to begin. With an uncertain sigh, she opened it to continue writing of her dreams. She had already filled pages telling of what tormented her at night. Sleepless, she wrote and wrote. Though she could not rest somehow, she felt a fulfilled, yet dreadful, purpose as line after line filled the formerly empty pages.

Just Before Midnight -- flashfiction scene by Dennis LoweryJust before midnight, a cold gust rattled the window, icy fingers reached through the looseness of the sash, invading the room. The candle sputtered and went out. She felt something in the book move. Holding it closer to the window to catch the light she turned to the page recounting the worst of the dreams… of a ragged beast slouching toward her, red eyes and fangs that shone in the dark. Looking down, its paper agleam in the moonlight, a paw came from inside the page. Transfixed she watched as it changed from the gray and black of faded ink on old paper to the color of living flesh and crimson nails. It covered her hand with its taloned fingers. She tried to scream…

* * *

The authorities came the next afternoon at the call of the servants. They arrived to find the Lord and Lady of the House were traveling.

“We don’t know, sir.” The head butler twisted his hands; white-faced at the thought of having to send a telegram to the Lord with the news. “This morning the missus…” he gestured at his wife, the governess. “She found that she… little Margaret… was gone. I turned out the lads, and we’ve looked everywhere.”

After many more questions and an investigation of the bedroom, the police began a search of the estate and surrounding land. Watching them spread out the butler told his wife. “I’m going to the village to send a message to the Lord and Lady. I’ll return as soon as I can.”

“God help them find her.” She watched the latest arrival of men from the village and then went inside.

“Mother?”

“Yes, dear?” She turned to see her own daughter near the grand stairway next to the library entrance.

“May I read this? I found it on the ground outside; I think it might have been Margaret’s.” She held an old book in her hands.

Preoccupied with the coming and going of policemen all she heard was, may I read this. “Of course Cecilia. But in your room. Stay out of the way of all these men.” Looking through the library doors, she saw one of them sit at the Lord’s desk. “You there. Do not touch the Lord’s correspondence!” She hurried toward the man.

Cecilia went to her room and read. At dinner, she brought the book with her, and it sat on her lap while she ate. She stole looks at its pages.

“Cecilia put that away.” Her mother snapped. Margaret had not been found, and the Lord and Lady were immediately returning on the morning train. “Finish your dinner and then get ready for bed. No more reading tonight.”

* * *

She had done as her mother told her but kept thinking of the book and of what Margaret had written in it. There were only a few more pages to go. The hall clock began to strike midnight. Sitting up, she lit the candle on the nightstand and pulled the book from beneath her pillow.

* * *

It was the same police lieutenant who had first shown up at Margaret’s disappearance. He looked up from his notepad at the man and woman, both crying and distraught. “And you say this morning you went to wake your daughter, Cecilia, and she was gone?”

“Lieutenant…” One of the uniformed officers interrupted them.

“What is it, sergeant?”

“I found this.” He held up a book with a worn cover much the worse for wear. “Just underneath her bedroom window.”

To Be Continued…