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WHAT WAS STOLEN, a short story

The short story where Midnight began...

By Kirsten Nicole

July 7, 2023

Before it was titled Midnight. Before it was a novel. Before many pieces of the full story had fallen into place, Eveline and Ella were not quite the same as they are now. I hope you enjoy this peek at the original fairy-godmother story.

The clock strikes midnight…

I stand by the window, my own image reflecting in the center of the fog which tucks along the corner of the windows. Every time the trees outside my window shift, shadows from the moonlight dance across the wood floor; I strain to hear the clatter of hooves.

Only two minutes after midnight. She’ll be back.

Smoke and cinders filter from the fireplace where Ella is made to sleep each night. I wipe my hands on my apron and slide it off, hanging it on the rack before running the broom along the cracks of the floor to occupy myself for a few blessed moments. The cracks are full of dirt. Like a muddy moat surrounding Ella’s empty cot, keeping her safe and protected.

Only two minutes.

Safe and protected.

The fireplace crackles lonely conversation to a creaking rocking chair, a bare table, dried flowers, vegetables, and wheat, swaying solemnly over the dormant wood stove, Ella’s cot, and a straw mattress in the corner that I have moved from my room into the manor’s kitchen during these winter months. Propping the broom against the fireplace, I pour water into my teacup and drop leaves inside, replacing the kettle on the wood stove. Ella’s stepmother considers it excessive to feed the wood stove and fireplace. But she’s never slept in the kitchen as Ella and I have. I run my hands down the front of my dress, and then hold them up to inspect. Dirt has wedged beneath my fingernails and they are scarred by calloused years. I slide a graying curl behind my ear. Once again, my eyes are drawn to the window, though there is no indication that she is any closer than the last time.

Nothing good happens after midnight.


I remember a midnight long ago in the pumpkin patch with her father. I remember he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and leaned close as if to kiss me. Then he laughed and darted shoeless into the pumpkin patch, and I followed, picking up my skirts, slipping off my own shoes to run faster. For a moment, he disappeared behind a cluster of tangled vines. If he hadn’t been there, I would have been frightened of the fingered shadows cast by the trees and the creaks and whispers carried by the wind. As I drew closer, a reflection of white in the moonlight flashed, his tunic, as he rose from hiding like a spirit. He grasped my hands, his own too solid to be a real spirit which gave me confidence. And at that moment, the clock in the tower in the village, just over the hill, struck.


I wondered if we would get married in that church at the end of the main road.


He was so far above my lowly station, I a servant in his home.


But he didn't care.


He grinned at me, something between a boyish tease and a man’s affection.


He was already fifteen after all.


His eyes locked with mine then traveled down to my lips.


I’d never been kissed before. I’d dreamed of saving it for him.


He took both my hands in his, mine hardened, his beautiful and smooth.


His peppermint breath brushed against my cheeks, and I closed my eyes.


“I love you,” he whispered in my ear.


“I love you too.”


Suddenly, he pulled away, taking two steps back and shaking his head as if he had realized something dreadful, staring at the ground, then blinking at me, then over his shoulder down the hill.

“Avelina, we can’t ever be together.”

My eyelids fly open. His declaration rang in my ears, louder than the dying strike of twelve.

“We can’t be together.” He stared across the fields toward that old church, and I stared at his back. “I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t tell how he truly felt.

“I wish things were different.” He nudged some pumpkin vines with his toe.

Why all that time? All that time he’d let me believe…

“I don’t wish to take any more from you…when I can’t…” Finally, he turned to face me.

He drew closer and had the audacity to reach for my hand which I snatched away.

“How could you?”

For the first time, I saw the tears shimmering in his eyes in the moonlight.

“If it were my choice.…” He trailed off. “My mother would disown me if I told her about us. This isn’t how I wanted this to end.” He pulled me close into a kiss before I had the time to react. My palms pressed against him for a beat of confusion, but I relaxed. The kiss made me believe every word he said and made me hope he might change his mind. Then he pushed away, shaking his head and muttering apologies. Meaningless apologies. Clanging apologies. He left me in that pumpkin patch to cry away my heartbreak.


Ten minutes past midnight…

The stub candle on the table shudders at a light draft trickling from a crack in the wall. I stand to stuff it with something, searching for scraps of paper or cloth I might use. The fire snaps and cracks, whipping tongues back and forth, licking the air. There on the mantle is the invitation.

My fingers run over the golden lettering of the envelope which Ella had sneaked from her stepmother to keep and admire when she still believed she wouldn’t be attending the Ball. For her, this was an opportunity for escape from her life, a life inflicted with cold glares and jealous sneering. I study the invitation, trying to see it through the same sparkling eyes as Ella.

All eligible young ladies….

I’d given up that title long ago—long before Ella was born. When Ella’s mother first came to the manor….


He’d left the morning after stealing my first kiss. Ella’s father joined the Royal Navy and even his mother did not hear from him. One year, I waited. Hoped. Prayed. The letters came, but not for me. One, long year later, he wrote to his mother that he was coming home with a surprise. The house flew into frenzied preparation for the prodigal. For the first time in that year, I danced, my foolish girl hopes built on the longing that he might have missed me as much as I missed him.

He came home, beaming, a pale wife on his arm with so much paint, I wondered if he recognized her without. She glared down her nose at me in my simple, coarse, brown gown and apron. I’d left my hair in tight curls the night before, secured with ribbons so it fell into chocolate ringlets over my shoulders. I’d hoped he might notice. He didn’t. But she did.


Quarter past midnight…

The shadows on the drive are beginning to lengthen again. The moon has dropped from its position directly overhead. The fire is dying, glowing faintly and a log shifts so that a shower of ashes and cinders blanket the bed where my Ella usually sleeps. She is not home. The drive is still empty and there are no faint sounds of horses’ hooves. I throw a shawl over my shoulders, snuffing out the candle on the table. In my rush to the door, a few of the dried flowers catch on the breeze and flutter to the floor. I push open the door, and take a fistful of skirt in hand, flying down the path leading toward the village, and in the far distance, the castle.

Why was she not home yet? Hadn’t I been clear?

Nothing good happens after midnight. I must find her.


When Ella was born, I was charged with caring for his daughter. I know his bride did so on purpose. The way she arched her eyebrows and lifted her chin when I entered. The way she barked orders at me and complained about a single stitch of Ella’s clothing that I had mended poorly.

“Avelina!” she screeched from behind the curtained walls of her feather bed. “You wretch!” She never spoke to me this way when he was home. As it was, he was away and I was left to care for the woman and his little girl.

“Avelina!” She was cut off by a string of coughing.

“Yes, m’lady?” I came to the edge of the bed and paused outside the curtains.

“Take this filthy little creature and clean her up.”

I parted the curtains, barely enough to receive the baby, covered in her mother’s sour, regurgitated milk, kicking her little legs and crying as I held her at arm’s length.

Her piercing blue eyes met mine and for a moment I saw her father in them, big, round, full of tears like that night he’d rejected me. Trapped in a world, unloved.

I pulled the baby into my arms and held her close to my chest, folding in her flailing arms and legs and humming to her, not caring about the mess. And she calmed, grabbing my rosary in a tight fist. I pressed my lips against her soft, tear-stained cheek, and she smiled at me for the first time.


Half past midnight…

I run down the drive, tiny rocks and pebbles loose from no rain, like sand sliding away beneath my feet, keeping me from forging ahead. I shouldn’t have sent her to the Ball. I shouldn’t have made her the gown. I should have kept it for the celebration of her birthday as I’d planned.

But the sparkle in her eyes…was so trusting. As if the little girl had come to believe I was one of the fairies from her children’s stories. She’d smiled so brightly when I’d brought out the old, retired carriage from the stable and convinced the coachman’s son to take her as if I’d turned the very tomatoes in the back garden into a carriage. Magic. She had called it. But anything can look like magic through the right pair of innocent, young eyes.

I grip my rosary, murmuring prayers as I run. The skeleton trees cast eerie shadows on the ground. Night air ripples through my cape, begging me back toward the cozy fireplace just inside the manor. Is not the same wind tugging Ella home? Why hasn’t she listened?

I remember her fair hands running over the bodice. Infant eyelashes brushing over her cheeks with a blush of innocence. Curls bouncing over shoulders. I’d desired to decorate her hair with ribbons but she laughed, said she was “too old” for such things, when, in fact, she was much too young to send alone.

I should have gone with her as I’d intended. I’d only feared I would be recognized and spoil her night. If spoiling her night had meant she had been home safely before….

That is when I see the silhouette of an overturned carriage in the distance.

The carriage sways back and forth in the wind, a wheel, lifted off the ground, spinning in haunting circles.

“Ella!” I scream. “Ella!”

The coachman’s son is gone. The carriage door hangs open and halfway unhinged creaking at the shifting motion. No one.


I cared for Ella like my own child. In a way, she became my own. Her mother had little to do with her once she was weaned, and I was charged with keeping her clothed in white frocks and ensuring she never shed a tear or worried of anything. Her father often placed her in the infant carriage and strolled under the hawthorn trees, turning over leaves and explaining the way they blossomed and grew and changed colors to the ever-enraptured, wide-eyed little girl. The girl he seemed to love more than his own wife. The girl who started babbling back to her father and to me. Who started crawling to her father and to me. Who started giggling and playing hide and seek among the hawthorn trees with her father and with me. I kissed her blonde curls. He kissed her blonde curls. She smiled and cried and clung to me. She smiled and cried and clung to him. Then, when her mother died, at an age little Ella could barely recall, I comforted her. But what does one tell a child whose mother despised her? So, Ella’s mother faded to a memory, barely spoken of. Not for lack of things to say, but for lack of comforts to give. He left, shortly after, to return to sea, to sift his grief amongst the waves and be consoled by the rocking of the ship.

I rocked Ella.


Three quarters past midnight…

My feet follow the tangled ruts where the carriage lost control. There is a wheel in the center of the road, but no tracks aside from the carriage. That is when the moon hides its face behind dark clouds and tiny droplets begin to dot the moonlit path. The water keeps a steady beat.



Drop drop.

Drop drop drop.

Drop drop drop drop drop.

Falling faster, and faster, and faster.

“Ella!” I cry into the night, pulling my shawl closer. Tears race down my cheeks, one after the other merging with rain.

Just a moment longer, I plead with the moon, begging the light to return. “I’ll never grumble about the weather again,” I lie to the wind. “Please, just let me find her.”


I remember lying to Ella for the first time when she was ten-years-old.

“Mother….” She blushed at her mistake and pushed a shoulder-length curl behind her ear. “Avelina,” she corrected. Her thin lips tilted upwards in a half-embarrassed smile and her large, blue eyes glanced up at me and then back down to her lap.

“Yes, love?” I slipped my long needle into the loop of the second and wrapped the yarn around twice, raising my eyebrows at her on the floor beside the fireplace. I had warned her to be mindful of the cinders that would stain her doll’s dress. She obeyed, wrapping the doll in a tiny, white cloth and cradling it close to her small frame. Perhaps I would have encouraged her to call me mother if her father had not insisted that she call his second wife “stepmother.” I had no interest in making a second enemy. Though she, like the woman before, seemed intent on distancing herself above all the staff.

“What was my real mother like?”

I stared at the growing weave in my lap and set the needles gently upon it, searching my heart for the correct words. The child, my Ella, had suffered from two unloving mothers…one she did not remember. What was I to tell her?

“She was very beautiful.” I raised my needles again and began working.

The clock on the mantle chimed three times of twelve as little Ella considered. Too late for young girls to still be awake. But I enjoyed her company. And since her father was away, her stepmother did not care enough about her to wonder when she was tucked away in bed.

“Did she have a pretty voice?”

Three more chimes.

“Lovely.” I realized I had dropped a stitch in my distraction.


I slid the rings off the needle and ripped the row, beginning again.


“Was she kind?”

My throat tightened and I forced myself to swallow.


“Yes, child.”


More stitches disappeared from the wool at my fingertips, so I tskedand started the row yet again.


“And….” My little girl rocked her doll back and forth gently. Her curls glowed in the moonlight cast from the window like a halo.


“Did she love me?”

“Very much, my darling. Very much.”

My lies kept her satisfied, living in a fantasy I created. When Ella’s father drew his last breath, one hour after midnight two years later, they summoned me to the house to prepare the body for visiting the following morning. I stared at his corpse in the bed, curtains drawn back, coverlet pulled to his chin over a chest that remained perfectly still.

Ella’s first mother appeared in my mind, a sad smile on her face. I’d told the lies to Ella enough times, I’d started to believe them. The woman became a saint after her death. Time determined that her brief life would be recompensed by a long and charming memory. Ella’s father had wrinkles around his eyes, once from laughter, lately from worry, mouth drawn in a deceitfully peaceful half smile. The lies for him had begun already. Time would tell what he would become.

Her stepmother sent Ella to the servant’s quarters. She couldn’t bear to look at the child who reminded her of her deceased husband. I took her into my room and held her in my arms every night, drying her tears with the coarse quilt and humming softly to his little girl. Our little girl. And I realized she was the only one Time had left for me.


Nothing good happens after…

“Ella!” I cry again to the empty night. The clouds have streaked apart, allowing a few stars to peer down, but not enough for me to know at a glance, by the constellations where I am…or how much time, how much eternity has passed in my search. Water soaks through my cloak, through my dress, piercing my skin. My hair has fallen from the tight twist in which I had secured it, strands plastered to my forehead and cheeks. Droplets run through the rivulets of wrinkles that I’m certain have only just appeared this night from my worry.

“I’m here!” A voice calls into the wind. I draw a sharp breath of frigid air and whirl.

There she struggles, climbing the tree-blanketed hill, hair ripped from its combs, threads of dress muddy and wet several inches above the hemline, one slipper missing.

The sparkle in her eyes is from tears no doubt. I run to her, not minding the mess, pulling her into my arms.

“I’ve had the most wond—.”

“Hush. I know. I’m sorry.” I rock her. She is safe, and I will not let go ever after. Ella is a treasure Time will not steal.

And somewhere in the distance, the clock strikes one.

1 Comment

Gail Boyce
Gail Boyce
Jul 08, 2023

I'm hooked. I'll be back to finish this story. Work awaits.

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