Fandom: Professor Layton
Characters: Luke, Flora
Prompt: #74: dark
Word Count: 2349 words
Author's Notes: I do not own Professor Layton or his Top Hat of Awesome.
Extra Notes: This drew heavy inspiration from an episode of a Japanese TV program.
Summary: The professor goes out of town for a night, leaving Luke and Flora alone. After all, how much can happen in one night?
"Are you sure you'll be all right?"
Flora managed to keep from rolling her eyes as she handed him his briefcase. "Professor, it's one night. You'll be back tomorrow evening. We'll be just fine. Now go enjoy the conference and don't worry so much."
At her side, Luke was nodding emphatically. "We can do it. Now go, and remember that you promised to bring us lots of stories!"
Still, Layton hesitated a bit. It wasn't that he didn't trust the children - he did, truly. They were growing up into young adults and become more mature and more responsible. Mentally, he knew that they would be fine while he was gone for one night. But still…
Luke seemed to sense his reluctance, and let out a perfectly pitched teenage sigh. "Professor, you're going to miss your train." To emphasize his point, he picked up the professor's suitcase and held it out to him with a pointed look.
Finally, Layton relented. "All right, all right, you've made your point." He took the suitcase, but paused at the front door. "Make sure you lock up the house after I leave. There's cold things in the kitchen. I've asked Edith next door to keep an ear out for you - if you have any troubles at all, go to her and she'll help you. Keep an eye on each other." He paused. "Have I forgotten anything?"
"Emergency numbers are by the phone," Flora piped up with a smile.
"Don't burn the house down," Luke added.
"No parties while you're gone," Flora grinned.
"If we do have a party, make sure it's all cleaned up before you get back," Luke rallied.
"All right, all right!" Layton laughed and raised his hands in surrender. "You've made your point. Well then, I suppose I'm off. Be safe, and I'll see you both tomorrow night." He gathered his things and headed out the door, down to the street where a taxi was waiting to take him to the train station. After throwing them one final wave goodbye from the curb, he vanished into the car and was gone, off into London's morning traffic.
Once the car was out of sight, Luke and Flora ducked back inside and locked the front door behind them.
They were on their own for two days and one night.
The day itself passed uneventfully and with only mild arguments. But for the most part, they spent the time more or less behaving themselves (after all, they had promised the professor, and they were sure he would forgive the "more or less" part), and as darkness fell, they sat in the kitchen and put together their dinner - the professor had made sure there were plenty of things that could be eaten cold.
After all, even Flora couldn't mess up making a sandwich, and Luke's cooking prowess was limited to boiling water - if there were things floating in the water cooking, however, he tended to get confused.
"I wonder what they're talking about at that conference," Flora said. "I've never been to one, but it sounds important!"
"I saw the pamphlets and stuff on the professor's desk. It's about history and archaeology," Luke said between mouthfuls. "They have sessions - the professor said they were like little classes. And they talk about new discoveries, new technology, problems and how they can be fixed…"
Flora brightened. "I had never heard of half this stuff before I met you two. I hope he brings back stories for us."
"He will! He promised!" Luke said, this time not bothering to wait until he was between mouthfuls. Flora wrinkled her nose at the sight - honestly, boys! Luke made a face back at her (after he swallowed), and the conversation quickly gave way into a contest to see who could make the goofiest face, which led immediately into a massive giggling fit as their makeshift meal drew to a close.
The last plate had just been washed and placed in the drainer to dry when there was a knock at the back door. They both hesitated and glanced at each other. Luke carefully lifted a corner of the curtain and peered out. Immediately he relaxed. "It's Edith, from next door," he said, relieved. That was good enough, and Flora undid the deadbolt and the chain lock and opened the door.
Sure enough, the elderly woman from next door was standing there, smiling at them. "Hello, dears," she said. "I just thought I'd come over and make sure you were all right before I turned in for the night. It's almost my bedtime."
"We're all right," Flora said. "Thank you for coming over, though."
Edith seemed satisfied. "All right, dears," she always called them dears, "I'm in for the night, then. If you need me, come and wake me up. I know it's early, but when you get to be my age...well, that's what you do. Good night!" She waved and headed back down the short path that connected her yard with the professor's.
Flora shut the door and flipped the deadbolt. "She's so nice."
"Her husband died a couple of years ago. The professor was worried about her, and he stops in and visits her sometimes to make sure she doesn't get too lonely or see if she needs anything," Luke said, hanging the dishtowel back in its place. "After all-"
"That's what a gentleman does?" Flora interrupted.
"Yup!" Luke laughed. "To tell you the truth…" he leaned in and whispered the next part with a grin, "...I think she's a bit sweet on the professor!"
Now they were both laughing as they left the kitchen and headed back towards the study.
Much later, Flora was still awake. She had turned in at something of a reasonable hour, deciding that she would read for a while before she went to sleep. But no matter how many pages she turned, she just didn't seem to feel tired. There was a tiny knot of anxiety in the very pit of her stomach, and although she tried to ignore it, she knew what it was.
It was nighttime. It was dark. Every single stupid story she had ever heard about things going bump in the night was coming back to her. And the professor wasn't here.
She felt a little bit silly. They were safe in the old brownstone. This night was no different from any other. Yet there was that little sense of 'what if' niggling at her. Flora gave herself a shake and a mental scolding at her own silliness and turned back to her book. A few more pages, and then she would sleep, she decided.
Three chapters later, she jumped when there was a knock at the door.
"Flora?" Luke's voice came through the heavy wood.
She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "Come in."
The door opened partway and Luke's disheveled head popped in. "I saw your light was on. You can't sleep either?"
"No. I'm wide awake."
"It shouldn't be that different without the professor here, but it is."
"Oh, thank goodness. It's not just me." Flora was relieved to hear her own thoughts coming out of Luke's mouth. It made them seem less silly.
"I'm going down to get a snack. Want to come with me?"
She glanced at the clock on her nightstand - it was just shy of two o'clock in the morning. A perfect time for a snack.
"Why not?" She crawled out of bed and grabbed her robe off the chair before the two of them toddled downstairs in pajamas and slippers in search of some late-night nibbling. Everything was exactly as they had left it; somehow, that was reassuring. It only took a minute to rustle up some meat, cheese, and crackers, and they tucked in.
As they were finishing, Flora finally felt her eyelids starting to droop. In the entryway, she heard the clock finally chime the hour of two o'clock in the morning. "Do you think it'll matter if we leave the dishes until the morning?"
"Nope." Apparently Luke felt exactly as she did. "Mind if I head up?"
"I'll put these in the sink, then," Flora gathered up the two plates while Luke yawned and started towards the stairs.
It was then that they heard the noise.
Both children froze and looked around before their eyes came to rest on the back door. Beyond that, there was a thumping noise, like heavy footsteps, and a growling noise that sent chills down their spines. The air in the room seemed to stand still.
Then doorknob turned, slowly. Then the door started to shake.
It was only then that they both noticed something - the deadbolt on the door was locked.
The chain lock, however, was dangling free and unfastened.
"Flora-" Luke started to speak behind her, but he was interrupted.
The locked deadbolt flipped, right before their eyes, and the door started to open.
Flora was closer, and she was older. She dove at the door and grabbed the knob and pulled back, fighting desperately to close it against whatever was growling out there. At the same time, she screamed in a way that she never had before, "Luke, run! Hide!"
Instinct took over, and Luke didn't need to be told twice. He dove into the first hiding place he found - the closet under the stairs. He burrowed back amidst the coats and boots and waited, heart pounding and head spinning, breath coming in hurried gasps even as he tried not to breathe.
A second later, he heard a crash, followed by a terrible scream.
Luke held his breath and waited.
Seconds passed in silence.
Then the doorknob to the closet jiggled, and started to turn. Luke's eyes followed the slow movement…
The door flung itself open, and then--
Flora's eyes snapped open, and she was out of bed before she even realized what she was doing, nearly going head over teakettle as she wrestled free of the bedding. Her eyes darted around every corner of the room, searching for a sign of what had happened, of the growling and the noises and the shadow…
Nothing. It was just her room. Her book lay on the floor beside her bed - she must have fallen asleep while reading and had that horrible dream. She stood there for a few seconds while her breathing started to return to normal.
The sound of a door opening in the hallway caught her attention, and she rushed to her own door, opening it to find Luke coming towards her. In the glow from her lamp, she could see that he looked terrified. She instinctively opened her arms and he ran right into them for a hug. "Luke, I just had a horrible nightmare!"
"Me too!" Luke said, muffled against her shoulder.
A trickle of unease slid down Flora's spine. "What did you dream about?"
"There was a shadow. It came in the back door and killed us!" Luke all but wailed.
Flora froze. Luke sensed her tension and leaned back to look at her as he seemed to realize what was wrong.
Downstairs, the grandfather clock rang out, filling the silence.
It was two o'clock in the morning.
As one, the two children bolted down the stairs. Flora actually jumped the last three steps and used the railing as leverage to whip herself around into the corridor that lead to the back of the house. The dash from the upstairs hallway to the kitchen downstairs took mere seconds.
The deadbolt was locked, but the chain lock was still undone.
Flora's fingers were trembling, but she managed to wrestle the lock into submission and shoot it home. As soon as it clicked into place she stumbled back a few steps, bumping into Luke. The two of them stood there for a long moment, staring at the door. Then they turned and looked at each other.
Luke broke first, and let out a tiny, nervous laugh. Flora responded with a giggle of her own. The tension broke, and they both slumped over a little bit, feeling relieved and a bit silly. "Come on, let's go back to bed," Flora said. "It was just a dream."
They took one step.
And heard the growl.
Both spun around and stared at the door.
Then, exactly as both had dreamt, the doorknob began to twist ever so slowly.
Luke wrapped both arms around Flora's waist, and she instinctively clung to him as well as they stared, transfixed. It was just like the nightmare...
The deadbolt flipped.
The door whipped open-
Stopping after only inches. The chain was holding, keeping the door from opening the rest of the way.
In that small opening between the doorframe and the door, there was pitch black. In London at night, there was always some sort of ambient light - streetlights, taxis, cars, neighbors' windows. It was never truly dark in the city. But what they saw beyond the door was true darkness. And it seemed to be watching them.
For a long moment, they neither moved nor breathed.
Then, from the blackness outside, a voice came - a gravelly voice that sounded exactly like the growling they had heard earlier.
"This isn't how it happened in the dream."
The door slammed shut.