“To write is human, to edit is devine.” – Stephen King.
Last year, for one of my first university assignments in the Bachelor of Arts, I wrote a short story which combined my interest in family history research and the possibility that when we attempt to search the internet for details of our ancestors, perhaps the power of our thoughts have the strength to summon an ancestral “spirit helper” to guide us in our search.
I received a distinction for “The Midnight Hour”, along with quite a substantial critique on ways in which I might improve the story.
Recently I have read several accounts of authors re-writing their stories, to both update the style of writing as trends change and to improve the content of the story line, so nearly a year after writing the story I have edited it, for the umpteenth time, and may even edit it again at some stage in the future.
For now, this is how the story of “The Midnight Hour” stands.
The Midnight Hour
A grey Persian cat with burnt-orange eyes purred loudly as the apparition glided around the room, her hand flitting gently across the red velvet fabric covering the reproduction nineteenth-century chaise lounge.
I had an original chaise many years ago and thousands of miles from here. Hannah reached for her attentive feline companion, Luna. Closing her eyes, Hannah caressed the cat’s thick fur, savouring the feeling of the animal’s sleek body. Luna appreciated being caressed and her steady purr thundered in the silent room. If only Amelia knew of my presence as you do.
“What are you so happy about, Luna?” A female voice from the other side of the room cut through the stillness of the night like a knife. Hannah floated delicately across the room, pausing beside the desk where her two-times great-granddaughter Amelia puzzled over vertically positioned hand-written records, back-lit by the most astonishing screen Hannah had ever seen. The cat followed, jumped onto Amelia’s desk and began nuzzling her owner, purring in delight, completely blocking the girl’s view of the information before her.
Amelia set Luna gently onto the floor. Peering over Amelia’s shoulder, Hannah read the words on the screen, realising that Amelia had somehow accessed records from nineteenth century England. How odd the birth, death and marriage records appeared, illuminated by this strange light! Hannah recognised the names of several close family members and she began to understand the reason behind Amelia’s furrowed brow and the intensity of her quest – she was determined to discover who her two-times great-grandparents were. Hannah understood now why Amelia had unknowingly willed her to be near her today.
Oh, how I wish I could tell you the story of your heritage, Amelia. If only you could see me and hear my voice. I could answer every question you have.
Gazing at her descendant’s furrowed brow, Hannah understood the urgency Amelia felt in wishing to discover her lineage. Hannah’s mother had fallen victim to tuberculosis when she was just nine years of age, and her father soon remarried for the sake of providing a carer for his children. Hannah’s step-mother turned out to be an unpleasant woman who made it her business to keep the children away from their mother’s family, the Turners. Hannah knew very little about her maternal family and often wondered if she had passed family members in the street, not realising who they were.
Staring at Amelia, Hannah marveled at the resemblance between this girl and her own siblings and children. Gliding closer to observe her, Hannah recognised features passed through the generations, the fair skin and long brown curls, even the earnest way in which she frowned as she read, considering the information with the tip of her tongue protruding from the side of her lips. One-hundred-and-seventy-years ago, Hannah had carefully arranged her flowing curls, which were identical to Amelia’s, in an elegantly contained swirl. Apart from the different hairstyle, she could have been seeing herself in a mirror, so striking was the resemblance between herself and Amelia.
Spotting a familiar name on the bright screen gave Hannah a jolt. Richard? Richard Parker? Oh my, yes Amelia, that’s him, that’s my Richard! She willed her descendant to understand. This record contained the information Amelia needed, the answer to her questions. The name before her belonged to Amelia’s ancestor – her two times great grandfather.
“I wonder who he married?” Amelia pondered.
Hannah was unsure whether she had heard Amelia’s voice or felt her question and she speculated whether they could communicate through a sixth-sense. Dropping onto the red velvet chaise as gently as summer rain, Hannah curled up beside the cat sleeping contentedly on the chair, urging Amelia to hear and feel her thoughts. She intuitively guided Amelia to the correct family records contained amid the maze of names and dates before her.
Amelia stretched, inhaling deeply as she did so. “Is that lavender I can smell?”
Floral fragrances appealed to Hannah, but mostly she wore lavender. She knew instinctively that Amelia had detected the lavender fragrance that continued to inhabit her psyche.
Deciding to test her telepathy theory further, Hannah directed an intense gaze across the room to her granddaughter and replied, yes, my dear, it’s my favourite fragrance. I always wear lavender.
Amelia’s sudden movement startled Hannah. Amelia swung around, her eyes wide with surprise, staring straight at Hannah. Within moments, her gaze dropped to the cat sleeping beside Hannah.
“Oh, I thought someone was here, but it’s just you, Luna.” The disappointment in Amelia’s voice hung heavy in the cool air of the silent room.
Determined to assist Amelia in the search for her forebears and now realising her susceptibility to fragrances, Hannah’s thoughts returned to a day many years ago – although it seemed like only yesterday – to Richard, her husband, the love of her life.
Smiling, Hannah pictured the memorable day she and Richard first spent time alone together. Young and giddy and so in love, she recalled the intoxicating spring scents of earth, grass and blossoms, while seated beneath the white lace of her parasol. She had been imaging how it would feel to be introduced as Mrs. Richard Parker when he appeared. Blushing with youthful innocence, she offered Richard a seat beside her, beneath the green canopy of the sycamore tree. Comfortable in each other’s company, the couple soon relaxed into a steady rhythm of easy conversation. Being so engrossed in one another, neither had noticed the grey rain clouds gathering. Hannah and Richard ran to her home, hand in hand, drenched and laughing, their talk continuing before the warmth of the fireplace in the parlour. The next day, Richard returned to ask Hannah’s father for her hand in marriage.
Hannah visualised the day of their wedding at St. Lawrence Church, remembering the sound of the bells ringing in the tower, the fragrance of lilacs and roses filling the air, and the warmth of Richard’s body laying close to her own later that night.
Emotions overwhelmed Hannah as she recalled the day their son William was born. What a bonny lad he was; the image of his father, always smiling. Hannah’s heart ached with longing for the feeling of her baby’s soft cheek pressed against her beating heart once more.
Overwhelmed by emotion, Hannah lifted her hand, gently wiping the invisible tears she believed had escaped from her eyes. A strong odour of baby powder emanated from Hannah’s memories, encompassing the room and for the second time that night Amelia turned toward the chaise in surprise.
“Now I can smell a baby! What is going on – is someone here?” Amelia demanded. The groggy cat sleeping soundly beside Hannah on the chair lifted her head, gazing toward her owner with hazy eyes.
Ah, so she suspects I’m here, that’s good! Hannah’s memories continued.
Hannah pictured William’s birth certificate, memorising the neat cursive writing on the official beige document. Details of the image appeared clearly to her – name of the child, William Turner Parker – name of the father, Richard Parker – name of mother…
“Hannah Turner!” Amelia’s excited shriek splintered the silence.
The clock on the wall chimed twelve.
Hannah immediately moved, standing close beside her descendant to peer at the image before them both – William’s birth details, just as she had remembered them moments before.
Speaking to the still room, Amelia announced, “Richard Parker and Hannah Turner: my two-times great-grandparents on my father’s maternal side of the family.”
You are a product of the deep love Richard and I shared, dear girl, ours, and many other people who loved one another as we did and still do. I will love Richard Parker until the end of time.
Amelia sighed contentedly upon noticing the return of the now familiar scent of lavender. Smiling, she turned towards Hannah, her eyes glowing with excitement and gratitude.
Luna jumped down from the chair, purring, slinking across to Hannah and Amelia, lovingly nuzzling against the hem of Hannah’s long skirts.
Amelia watched bemused as her pet walked in figure eights, around and back again, rumbling contentedly. Luna’s strange manner was all the confirmation she needed.
She understood. Amelia knew she had been guided that night by an unseen force. A force of love. She felt no fear. Amelia decided to speak to her ancestor.
“You know I can’t see you, but I’ve heard about the psychic abilities of cats.” Amelia paused, feeling slightly foolish as she spoke to the presence of an invisible being.
That’s right. Luna knows I’m here.
“Who are you? Are you Hannah?” Amelia laughed. “I don’t think Richard would bring a lavender fragrance with him.”
Hannah smiled. Yes, it’s Hannah. I’ve been helping you tonight as best I can. Recalling my memories while you searched for your family.
“I don’t know for sure that it’s you, I guess I’ll never know, but I’m sure I can feel your presence. You helped me tonight; we worked together, didn’t we?”
Yes, we did. We make a wonderful team.
“We make a great team, you and me. I wish I’d known you. I’m sure we would have been close friends.”
We are close. I’m here, I’m with you. You can feel my presence. Not everyone senses the unseen as you can. Not everyone knows when I’m around.
“Thank you,” Amelia whispered.
You are so very welcome.