Before the Wake by Francis Kirk

On the 3rd of October 1896, Edward Clements stood over the casket of his mother. The little living room that he had been born in almost twenty years ago was bare. The hearth, stained black with soot, held nothing but ash. Decaying paper peeled from the walls and mould bloomed around the one dewy window that looked out onto an abandoned grey street. 

The service had been a lonely one. One after another his brother and sisters had gone; now he was the last remaining member of a family of eighteen. So, it had just been him and the priest, standing either side of the box, mumbling his mother into the afterlife. 

He wasn’t sure if he had done the right thing letting the stranger into his family’s home. His mother wasn’t a godly woman by nature, she never attended church, and she never preached virtue, but Edwards had seen her pray every night. It was this faith, Edward believed, that when his father had been laid to rest had given her the strength to lead the family through two decades of misery. 

He looked at her now. Her hard features had softened in death, she looked almost relaxed and the way her skin had discoloured almost made her look rosy. The frown she had worn in life had twisted into an eerie grin of anticipation. 

The wind blew through the house, stringing a long low discordant note and a chill graced Edwards neck like icy fingers as his stomach growled like a starved dog. The ashes in the hearth sparked into life and in his ear, Edward heard a rasping voice, like tearing canvas, whisper “Are you going to eat that?”

Published in Issue #23

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