Historical Fiction: Walking Away from Midnight – Sample Chapters 1 – 2

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Last Updated on August 27, 2023 by ADMIN-TOM

Walking Away from Midnight
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Prologue

The teenage girl stood at one side of the bed her mother occupied. Her mother looked gaunt, worse than that, her head resembled a living skull, a nightmare figure in her mother’s bed. For a moment she told herself it wasn’t really her mother. But of course, the nightmare was real, and it was her mother, skin sallow and sagging down her face. Her once lustrous blonde hair now only sparsely tufted in grey patches across her scalp. Her mother was obviously ill and any croaking words she muttered where accompanied by a wheezing cough. The skeleton in the bed would be gone soon and the teenage girl left with her memories of a beautiful and loving mother.

The howling gale outside added to the macabre and surreal scene. Every gust conjured up in the thirteen-year-old images of witches and ghouls and malevolent spirits flying round the house in the middle of the worst snowstorm she had experienced. Her father had not arrived home yet and so the girl was doing her best to keep her mother company, keeping her frail spirits up.

The door opened quietly, and the girl looked round. Her father stood framed in the doorway, in his full military uniform of a captain in the Durham Light Infantry. He had hurried from a staff meeting at the nearby Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire.

Closing the door, quietly removing his military greatcoat and cap, dropping them to the floor. The girl’s father walked softly across the carpeted bedroom and sat on the opposite side of the bed to his daughter, next to his wife, and gently took hold of his wife’s other hand. He knew time was running out. His wife didn’t have long.

The girl shot a glance at her mother’s face again, but immediately averted her eyes. She also knew her mother was in pain and dying, but she didn’t want to see what she knew writ large across her mother’s ravaged face. She knew little about her mother’s illness except that it was cancer.

The door to the bedroom opened slowly and quietly. A younger woman, almost looking like a younger version of her mother, entered the room. The girl smiled and the newcomer smiled back. She was carrying a tray with medicine bottles containing pills and a hypodermic loaded with a clear liquid.

The father tuned to look at the young women and smiled. “Medicine time?”

The younger woman nodded and set the tray down on a bedside cabinet, turned and left the room.

The little girl watched with what she hoped wasn’t a ghoulish fascination as her father administered the medicine in the hypodermic then two sets of pills washed down with water.

When he finished giving out the medicine, he dabbed his wife’s mouth gently, with loving care, whispering, “I love you.”

His wife attempted a smile, which looked more like the rictus smile from the skull of a long dead human. “I love you too,” she attempted to say but it came out “Ah nuv oo, oo,” (I love you too) in an almost comical aside that in another time would have been funny. As it was, the cancerous sores in her mouth made her grimace in pain despite the obvious attempt at showing affection.

Her husband squeezed her hand gently and the little girl shed a quiet tear.

Two days later, the slow death ended as the grim reaper paid a visit and took the wife and mother into death’s dark embrace. The husband and daughter’s life would never be the same again.

June 1939 Cambridge University

“I’m going to count down from three, and when I shout, ‘Now,’ that’s when you throw. Ready?” The photographer looked into his lens and started the countdown. “3. 2. 1. Now!

Suddenly the sky was full of flying mortarboards and the photographer got his picture.

Jessie managed to catch her mortarboard as it fell, but others were not so lucky, and the headwear took ten minutes to be sorted out and returned to the rightful owners. The photographer waited patiently, and then individual photos and family photos were taken.

“We’re up next,” Jessie whispered to her father, “and what I would give to just walk away…”

“You can’t just walk away, Jessie. You have a responsibility. Your mother wants to see these photographs.”

Jessie said nothing, but her father could see she wasn’t happy.

“I just hate all the fuss,” she said with a resigned sigh. “Anyway, Armel is not my mother and…”

Once more Jessie’s father interrupted. “She is your mother in all but name. It was Armel who brought you up after your mother died. Don’t ever forget that.”

“She was paid to. She was my nanny!” Jessie shouted, dismissively, and stormed off.

Albert Fordham sighed at the usual turn of events.

“One day you will stand your ground and not walk away, Jessie,” Albert Fordham shouted at his daughter’s receding back.

Jessie waved her right arm in a dismissive gesture of defiance and carried on walking.

Albert shook his head. “One day, Jessie, circumstances will make you stand your ground and not run away.”

***

As the afternoon wore on, Jessie caught up to her best friend, Rose Sinclair, and draped an arm round Rose’s neck. “You dad didn’t make it again, I see.”

“No and I’m not bothered,” Rose muttered as she carried on walking. “Let’s face it. I’ve graduated, I’ve got a job offer, why worry. I’m out of here and he can’t do a damn thing to stop me.”

“Come with me and my dad,” Jessie blurted out.

“To France? To that black lake of yours? No thank you. Gives me the creeps just thinking about what’s in there.”

“There’s nothing in there but fish.”

“No, I’m off to America. I’m starting my job three months early.”

“Then, then this is good-bye?”

The pair stopped walking and Rose smiled at her friend. “I guess it is. But we’ll see each other again, one day.”

“Not if my dad has anything to do with it. He wants me to join the Foreign Office. Could you picture me cooped up in an office in Paris? Old and wizened,” Jessie said, bending over and pretending to be old. “I’m so old I can’t walk upright,” she said, staggering and laughing at the same time.

“You dad’s a diplomat, and your mother is too. What makes you think you’ll be anything different?”

“Stepmother let’s not forget that crucial point. And my dad’s a Military Attaché. I’ll be different because I’m destined for better things than the stuffy old Foreign Office. I’m heading off into the wide-blue-yonder for a life of adventure.”

Copyright © Tom Kane 2022

 

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