“2 minutes and 12 seconds.” Mary muttered to herself as she caught her breath. “Not as good as last time, but there’s still room for improvement”.
She’d been running the perimeter of the inside walls of the Workhouse to pass the time. Mealtimes had been scarce for weeks and so she took up running to focus her concentration and make her forget about the pangs of her empty stomach. Her last meal was two slices of bread, which felt like it was weeks ago.
As she regained her composure, she got up from her crouched position and saw little Dorothy Wainswright in the corner of the dormitory she shared with countless other girls. Mary had been sharing a bed with Dorothy, Emily and Charlotte for six weeks ago and they all slept somewhat soundly, except for the coughing from the other residents.
“Dotty! What are you doing there?” Mary asked, seeing the spots on fear in Dorothy’s eyes.
“I saw him again Mary.” Dorothy said,
“What? Him … the ‘orrible man you saw last week?”
“Yes Mary, he was standing over our bed when I came back from the dining hall. Char … Charlotte was asleep, and he … he …. he was standing there looking at ‘er.” As she spoke Dorothy’s eyes began to swell with tears.
“Well, what happened? Did you shout at him like we said?”
“I tried Mary, but nothing would come out. So I ran here and squirreled myself away.”
“Good girl, you remembered what we said. He ‘ain’t real y’know. I’m starting to think the lack of grub has really made our brains wander.” she said twirling a finger against her temple making Dorothy smile just a little.
“Here, you come with me Dotty. It’ll be time to get back to work soon. We musn’t make too much fuss, otherwise the Guv’na will split us up again. He already heard me moaning about how much Charlotte snores.”
Mary offered her hand to Dorothy and gripped it tight. She pulled the little girl up onto her feet and dragged her close, protecting her from the nightmare. They walked, close together towards the workhouse floor where the other girls had already got back to work, save to provoke the ire of the Governor.
– – –
As the daylight faded, Mary looked around. She couldn’t see Charlotte. She was two tables away a few hours ago, she was sure of it. Her eyes darted around the familiar perimeter of the bustling workhouse looking for the copper coloured hair. Nothing, Charlotte had gone.
Mary felt her empty stomach flip. A fear rose up inside her, she knew Charlotte was in trouble. She nudged Dorothy who was busy alongside her.
“Charlotte’s gone.” Mary whispered.
“Gone?” Dorothy proclaimed, unaware that her volume would catch the attention of the Governor.
“Shut it! Keep it quiet. Look I need to sneak off … “
A scream broke the whispered tension. A shrill piercing sound that came from the dorm where the girls ‘slept’.
Mary ran, instinctively her feet carried her away before she had time to process what was happening and before anybody else had time to react.
“Charlotte!” Mary screamed.
As she turned the corner into the dorm, a flash of green light disappeared into the wooden floorboards. The rags they used as bed clothes were stained crimson and Charlotte’s hair bow lay on the bed.
She couldn’t speak, she was too late. He’d taken her. Dorothy was right, whatever she saw had to have been real. Charlotte was … gone. Mary stood in shock, her empty stomach somersaulting and making her feel sick.
“MARY TAYLOR, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” screamed the voice from behind her. Mary span on her heels and saw Governor Rosebud looming over her, one long arm moving forwards to grab her wrist.
“NOW COME HERE YOU VILE WRETCH.”
Without any thought, Mary ran…