‘Just Before Midnight’

A draft flashfiction (flashback) scene for a story in development

Bristol, England | October 1918

From her favorite reading and writing spot, the window bench with thick cushions, Margaret looked out at a full moon rising over the moor. She held the book she had found in the chest her mother bought at that odd little antique shop in Widcombe. “I wonder what was on them?” Her fingers brushed the bound edges—fragments—of pages that had been torn from the front. What remained had been blank though lightly mottled. She had filled the first several of them with her own delicate script.

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. To tell 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, and icy fingers reached through the looseness of the sash, invading the room. The candle sputtered and went out. Margaret 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 rough beast slouching toward her with red eyes and fangs that shone in the dark. Looking down, 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 flesh and crimson nails. It covered her hand with its taloned fingers as she tried to scream. The touch wasn’t cold. As it grabbed her hand, she felt the pulse of its blood and heard the beating of its heart as the forearm, then more of it came through the page. She dropped the book. Fumbling to get her door open, she looked over her shoulder to see what had emerged. She–.

* * *

“We don’t know, sir.” The butler twisted his hands as he faced the police constable; 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 the girl… Margaret… was gone. I turned out the lads, and we’ve looked everywhere.”

“The Lord and Lady?”

“Gone to London, sir.”

The constable lifted the custodian helmet that rode high on his head, wiping unseasonal sweat from his brow with a red kerchief. “Have you contacted them?” Without waiting, he continued as he settled the helmet squarely, thinking, all eyes will be on this one, “When will they return?”

“Not yet,” the butler replied motioning to a nearby footman. “I’ve sent for more men to help… I hoped to find her before–.” He squirmed at the constable’s hard stare. “I was just about to–”

“Tend to it then,” the constable turned from the butler to his squad of men. All he had that weren’t on strike; nearly three months now and God, he prayed it ended soon. “First, search the manor and then the grounds.” Striding toward the main entry, he called over his shoulder, “Show me the girl’s room.”

Watching the uniformed men spread out, the butler told his wife, “I’ll take him up, and then I’m going to town to send a message to the Lord and Lady. I’ll return as soon as I can.” He scurried after the constable.

“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 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 was at the Lord’s desk. “You there. Don’t 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 returning on the morning train. “Finish your dinner and then get ready for bed. No more reading tonight.”

* * *

She had done as her mother wished but kept thinking of the book and what Margaret had written in it. There were only two 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 police constable 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?”

“Excuse me…” One of the uniformed officers interrupted them.

“What is it?”

“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… as part of a longer story.