Authors: Josephine Cox
Tags: #General Fiction
This is for my Ken, as always
This book is very special to me. During the writing of MIDNIGHT, my darling sister took ill, and never recovered. It was one of the most traumatic times of my life, because a sister is extra-special, a gift to be treasured. And I treasured her far more than I can ever describe. Winifred was my best friend, my confidante and soulmate. We did girlie things and talked naughty as only two women can. We cried together, laughed together, and shared every intimate moment from when we were children.
She was there when I was born, and she will be with me forever, though sadly not in person. My first memory of her was when she was pushing me in my pram and it tipped over. I remember screaming for my ‘Mammy’ and I recall Winifred picking me up in her little chubby arms and rocking me quiet. My Mother never knew where I got the scratches and bumps.
Growing up, we were mostly inseparable. We played tricks and were wonderfully naughty. We laughed and cried and fought anyone who hurt the other. Our Winnie was kind and fierce and gentle and harsh. She did not suffer fools gladly, and she said what she meant. We all loved her without condition; her brothers and sisters; her many lovely children; and the men she gave her heart to; especially dear Mick. We will all miss her. She was a one-off. The like of which we will never see again.
My sincere condolences to all of you who have lost a loved one. Keep the memories close. They will comfort you when you’re low. And for those of you who have fallen out with family, please make up if you possibly can. The family is the most precious gift you could have. Cherish it. Because you never know when it might be snatched away.
ISTURBED FROM HER
sleep, Molly shifted across the bed to him. ‘Wake up, Jack. I’m here. You’re safe now.’ Wrapping her arms about him, she kept him close.
Lost in the darkness, Jack heard her faraway call. Beneath his body the earth was soft and pliable. He was not alone, though. Something else was here. Something shocking.
He heard Molly calling, and he knew instinctively she was his only way back. ‘I’ve got you,’ she promised. ‘I won’t let anything hurt you!’
With each crippling nightmare, Molly was there for him. ‘I have you safe, Jack,’ she murmured. ‘I won’t let you go.’
For as long as he could remember, Jack had fought his demons. They were always there, in his sleep, in his dreams. Always in the darkness. Hazy, shifting shadows, hiding in the moonlight. And all around him, a sense of evil and the eyes . . . cold, unmoving.
He could hardly breathe.
He needed to get away from here.
He could hear Molly calling. He knew she would save him – but for how long? So many times he’d escaped, only to be drawn back, time and again, to this lonely midnight place.
The darkness and the images had haunted him forever; almost to the edge of madness.
From far away Molly’s insistent voice quietened his heart, ‘Wake up, Jack . . . wake up!’
Desperate to leave, he was instinctively compelled to stay.
Why had the visions plagued him all these years? Why would they not let him be?
‘Ssh now.’ Folding the corner of the bedsheet, Molly wiped away the beads of sweat that poured down his face. ‘Listen to me. It’s just a dream,’ Softly she coaxed him, ‘Open your eyes, Jack. Come away now.’
Most times she could waken him, but this time he resisted. Closing her fingers about his flailing fists, she spoke sternly:
‘Jack! You need to open your eyes and look at me.’
Suddenly, without warning, the fight went from him. His clenched fists fell heavily by his sides and Molly felt his whole body tremble and shiver. He woke up and turned to look at her, his eyes scarred and heavy with what he had seen, back there, in that place.
‘Midnight, ’ he whispered brokenly. The remnants of horror lingered like a cloak over his mind. ‘Where is it, Molly?’ he murmured. ‘What does it mean?’ He gave an involuntary shiver.
‘Why won’t it let me be?’
She searched for an answer. ‘It isn’t real,’ she said finally. ‘It was just a dream – a bad dream – and now it’s over.’
When he slowly shook his head, she placed the palms of her hands either side of his face. ‘Let it go, Jack. Don’t think about it now.’ Like many times before, she saw how deeply it affected him. Tenderly, she kissed him, once on each cheek, much as a mother might kiss her child. ‘It’s gone now,’ she comforted him. ‘Maybe it won’t ever come back.’
‘Maybe.’ He leaned into her embrace. ‘. . . Maybe not.’ He knew it
be back. Molly meant well, but she didn’t know what it was like. How could she?
All his life the nightmare had haunted him, and not only when he slept. Sometimes in the daylight hours, something evil carried him back there. Something urgent. Something deep in his psyche.
As a boy he might be playing in the street with his pals, when the darkness would suddenly come over him and he would creep away to hide in some quiet corner. The other boys began to tease him. They said it was no good having Jack Redmond on your side, because halfway through the match he would suddenly run away to huddle in a dark corner. He never told them the truth.
He never told anyone
If he had, they might have thought he was ‘off his rocker’ and should be locked away – like that poor soul on Tamworth Street who had drowned her newborn twins before killing herself. He heard the cruel talk, about how she should ‘rot in Hell’. The thought of it filled him with a different horror.
Jack Redmond had never betrayed the awful secret he carried with him. He began to believe he must have done a bad thing. If not, then why was he afraid to close his eyes and sleep?
And what about the drawings he’d made at school?
Those frightening images that appeared on the paper, almost as though something – or
– else was making the pictures and not him.
The teachers were annoyed. They took the drawings away. They said he should pay attention and listen to what was asked of him, instead of allowing his imagination to run riot.
They never understood – but it wasn’t their fault. How could they see what he saw, trapped in that lonely hellhole, so real and terrifying? Was it his warped imagination? Or was there really a place like that somewhere?
What a shocking thought . . . that it might actually exist outside of his nightmares. He shuddered. Surely that could never be.
Or could it?
As the years passed, the fragmented images remained, as did the feelings of helplessness. He had so many questions, and no answers. Jack wondered if he would ever know the truth, and more importantly – did he really want to?
All he had ever wanted was for it all to go away, and for him to be normal, like other people. Instead, the nightmares were growing stronger, more persistent. He wanted to know, but he was afraid.
Jack took a deep breath, thrusting the images from his mind. Outside, the early-morning sun in Leighton Buzzard was already spreading a brightness over the day. Soon, the alarm would go off and he would get up and go about his business. For now though, he felt halfway between that place and this. It was a strange, disturbing feeling.
He heard Molly speaking softly in his ear. ‘Feeling better now?’
A quietness came over him as he gazed on that wide, pretty mouth and troubled brown eyes. Molly was everything to him. She was his woman, and she kept him sane.
He had always believed that he and Molly were meant to be. To have her as his wife, settle down and raise a family was his dearest wish. But he dared not make any plans for a future together. At least, not until he was rid of the demons that tormented him.
Drawing her close, he kissed her tenderly. ‘Yes, I’m all right.’ He needed her, but he did not deserve her. ‘Thank you, Molly,’ he murmured. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Ssh.’ Running her fingers through his unruly mop of brown hair, Molly thought him to be a fine figure of a man. He had such strength of character in his features, particularly his eyes, which could be very mischievous at times; yet even when he laughed, those eyes were brooding, as though hiding a secret – a cruel, unforgiving secret that haunted the mind.
‘Molly?’ Jack leaned forward, to bury his face in the softness of her neck, ‘I’m sorry.’ He drew away, but kept his arm about her. ‘None of this is fair on you.’
‘No, it isn’t!’ Her quiet anger was fuelled by a pressing desire to get on with their lives. ‘You’re right. What’s happening is not fair – on either of us.’ It was time to say what she felt.
His silence made her feel guilty, but she continued: ‘It’s been going on for too long, and I’m afraid.’
‘Afraid?’ Jack thought it an odd thing for her to say. ‘Of what, exactly?’
‘The nightmares . . . the way they affect you. I’m afraid for you, Jack.’
She was also afraid for herself. Angry too. Why would he never listen to her?!
Jack remained quiet. He was used to her sudden bursts of anger, but this time he believed she was right to speak her mind.
‘You need help,’ she insisted, ‘Surely you can see that?’
Shrugging her off, Jack replied, ‘It was just a bad dream and now it’s gone – maybe for ever.’
Molly grew impatient. ‘You must see what’s happening to us! The nightmares . . . the lack of sleep, and the fear of where it’s all leading. We can’t go on like this – it’s eating into our lives. You have to see someone!’
Impatient, Jack moved away. ‘I’ve heard it all before, Molly. I don’t need to hear it again!’
‘Oh, but you do.’ Clambering up, she stood before him, deliberately blocking his way. ‘I see what it does to you, Jack, and this time it was worse than ever, because this time I was beginning to think I would not be able to bring you back. I was frightened, Jack. I was really frightened!’
‘You needn’t have been.’
Her voice shaking, Molly gave him a warning, ‘I can’t put up with this, Jack. Can’t you see? This
is taking over! You can’t sleep and when you do, you go to a place where there is no rest, no peace, and sometimes lately when I talk to you, you’re not even listening. You’re back there somewhere . . . lost in a place I can’t go.’
‘Oh, now you really
But Jack knew she was right. Sometimes in the evening, when he sat down after a hard day at work, he felt himself drifting into the darkness. Up until now, he had not realised Molly was aware of it.
In a stern voice Molly told him what was on her mind. ‘These nightmares . . . the lack of proper sleep – it’s only a matter of time before it affects your work, and mine too.’
Jack was adamant. ‘That won’t happen!’
!’ Molly was relentless. ‘I mean, it’s definitely beginning to affect our relationship.’
In that moment, a sobering thought came to her. ‘Oh my God! Maybe it’s not the nightmares or lack of sleep that’s taking you from me!’
‘What d’you mean?’ Jack was shaken. ‘Nothing is taking me from you!’
‘Don’t fob me off, Jack! Every time I raise the question of marriage, you’re full of excuses. You need to save more money first, or you want to wait until I’m absolutely sure I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Well, I can tell you now, I’m beginning to think you want rid of me but you don’t have the guts to tell me, so then you worry, and the worry plays on your mind and you have these bad dreams. That’s the truth of it, isn’t it?’
He was genuinely shocked. ‘No, it isn’t, and I can’t believe you’re even thinking that.’
‘So what am I
to think? Tell me, Jack. I mean, we don’t talk at any great length, do we? We don’t even go out any more. We don’t have friends back – and we haven’t made love in weeks! Can you blame me for thinking you don’t want me any more?’
Wrapping his capable hands about her small shoulders, he drew her closer, ‘I love you as much as ever. You’re a very special part of my life, and always will be.’ He kissed her full and longingly on the mouth. ‘You and me, we belong together,’ he whispered. ‘I knew it from the start.’