Millicent Walton pressed her face against the window. Not that she could see any better for it. The thick, wavy panes let in the light well enough, but it was nigh on impossible to make out more than the barest shape on the other side of the glass.
She was small for her nine years, barely able to reach the wide sill. Still, she could see the dark forms of their neighbors, rushing about the cobbled streets, their harsh voices strident over the clanging bell in the town-hall steeple.
They were shouting about a fire above the village — the doctor’s house in flames and a monster run amok.
Torchlight glinted on scythes and pikestaffs as the crowds searched the night for their quarry.
“Come away from the window, child. You should be in bed asleep.” Millicent’s grannie pulled a shawl from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around the girl’s thin shoulders. “Though, Lord knows how a body’s supposed to sleep through this unholy racket, and that madman’s creature afoot,” she added.
Her grannie caught the glimmer of fear in the huge, dark eyes staring up at her. “Wheesht, the noo, child. Your father’ll be home soon enough.”
For all her years so far from her Shetland home tending the children of others, and now, caring for her motherless grandchild, a bit o’ the heather still clung to the old woman’s speech.
“Gran, why are they looking for the creature?”
A deep, calm voice spoke from the hallway. “It’s nothing to concern you, young lady.”
Her father only called her ‘young lady’ when he was displeased. Millicent didn’t care. She ran to him and flung her arms around his waist. Buried her face in the scratchy wool of his waistcoat.
He scooped up the little girl in a bear hug and inhaled the faint fragrance of lavender soap clinging to her hair. “So like your mother,” he murmured into the dark curls as he tucked her into bed.
The house was quiet. In the next room, her grannie slept, her breathing deep and even. But the girl couldn’t settle, starting up at every noise as the villagers clattered back and forth with their torches and steel.
She tiptoed to her window. A dark shape loomed up. A face? She jerked back. The shape vanished around the side of the house.
Millie slipped silently out the kitchen door. The cobbles were cold under her bare feet as she crept across the courtyard to the old coach house.
She heard shouting. “D’ye see it — the mad doctor’s monster?” “Is it there?”
Millicent tucked up her nightgown and ran to the shadowed entryway. The heavy door creaked as she forced it open and slipped inside.
A shaggy, raggedy man crouched in the far corner. As he leaned forward, a beam of moonlight from the doorway illumined his face.
The man jerked back; covered his face with one arm.
“It’s alright.” Millicent pattered across the stone floor. “I won’t hurt you.”
As the massive arm slowly lowered, she gazed into dark, troubled eyes.
Millicent laid her small hand against the livid scars furrowing cheek and brow. The shaggy man flinched, but his eyes stayed locked on the girl.
“Who did this to you?” she whispered.
“Father.” The shaggy man’s quiet voice rumbled deep in his chest.
Just like Pa’s voice, the girl thought. But how could someone’s father do this to them? Her pa could be stern, as befitted a strong sea captain and fearless polar explorer. But, he would never be so cruel. She was sure of that.
“Are you running away? I would run away if anyone was so horrid to me.”
Millicent’s determined tone and the stubborn tilt of her jaw caused the man’s lips to twitch in a ghost of a smile. “Then I shall run away, too,” he replied.
Millicent nodded. “Wait here,” she said.
She raced to the house and in moments was back, only a little out of breath.
“We don’t have much time.” She pulled a bundle from her robe. “Here’s some of Pa’s clothes. He has lots so he won’t mind. And some cheese and bread. And the rest of the meat pie from dinner.”
She smiled. “Pa will be hungry tonight, but that’s alright. He says it does a man’s soul good to miss a meal once in a while.”
The shouting was closer. They’d be discovered at any moment.
She thrust the bundle into the shaggy man’s hands. “Quick. Out the back. I’ll send them the other way.”
“Thank you. I’ll not forget your kindness.” He sketched an awkward bow.
The little girl’s cheeks dimpled. “And I’ll not forget you.” She turned and ran lightly across the cobbles.
“I saw something,” she called as she reached the street. “Over there.”
“What?” “What did you see?” Where?” A breathless crowd surrounded Millicent. She pointed up the hill where flames engulfed what remained of the mad doctor’s fateful tower.
“Up there?” “Are you sure?” “Why ever would the monster go back there?” The mob pressed in, shoving and jostling.
Suddenly, her father’s strong arms lifted her. “If my daughter says she saw the monster, then she saw the monster.” His confident tone brooked no argument.
“Aye, Cap’n Walton.” “C’mon you lot.” “This way, she said.”
As the angry crowds swirled up the hill after their prey, Millie’s father stared down at his daughter’s innocent face.
“And I don’t suppose you know where my clean shirt has vanished to off the clothesline. Or my second-best suit?”
Millicent blinked and thought fast.
Before she could answer though, her father laid a finger across her lips. “I’d not have you betray a confidence. Or tell a lie. So, p’raps you’d best not say anything?”
Millicent smiled up at her father, thinking how very clever and altogether wonderful he was.
Walton’s mouth quirked. “Let’s go see if you’ve left anything in the larder for my supper. A bit of bread and cheese? A crust of meat pie?”
Her father suppressed a sigh. “Porridge and strawberry jam it is, then.”
© 2019 Elle Fredine
Elle Fredine has been writing online since 2008, mainly non-fiction articles and short stories. She writes poetry and humor, as well as articles on feminism, relationships and love. Elle has contributed adult fiction to Midnight Mosaic, and is an editor for 1-One Infinity and The Partnered Pen.