PodCastle 57: In Ashes

by Helen Keeble.
Read by Marie Brennan.

From the time my twin brother and I were four, our mother only gave us raw food. Before then I can remember sometimes eating cold, cooked things—porridge congealed onto the bottom of my bowl, soups with a white floating scum of fats—but that stopped after our fourth birthday, when my brother laughed and said “Hot!” as he tasted the cake that my mother had spent an hour baking and three days cooling. She whipped him for that, while I howled and hung onto her arm, and sent us both to our beds in the cowshed. Later she came out with two handfuls of dried apricots and hugged us in the dark, her great rough hands pressing our faces against her chest—but the next day there was only raw food for dinner, withered apples and sliced turnip, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The next time our birthday came round, I whined for a cake, but she said we could only have one if my brother would blow out a candle. For me, he tried, drawing in huge breath after huge breath while I gripped his crippled hand under the table, squeezing encouragement; but each lungful of air trickled out unused as he stared rapt at the flickering light. My mother sat opposite us, expressionless and still, the flame reflected in her eyes. The candle burned down to a melted pool of wax and went out. My mother never made another cake. I never saw her cook anything ever again.

Rated R. Contains potentially disturbing imagery and unkindness toward children.

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10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    scatterbrain said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

    A good story, but a bit more explanation about some events would have been nice.

  2. 2

    Asio said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 12:38 am

    I really enjoyed this one. I liked the fact that everything wasn’t spelled out, and felt this was a refreshingly “new” concept. It gave me plenty of food for thought, and I was left thinking about the whole elementalist idea deep into the night…..

  3. 3

    Reed said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    A very dark, very impressive story. I think presenting it from the perspective of the young sister gave it a very intense twist, especially in regard to the character of the mother. It was quite heart-wrenching how being an elementalist sealed the fate of the boy – and his sister, his mother and the rest of the family.

  4. 4

    Natasha said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

    Great story, well told and well read. What a great introduction for me to this podcast!

  5. 5

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

    Nice twist ending. I liked the definite perspective of the narrator- not unreliable, but definitely having her own interpretation of events.

    Well done!

  6. 6

    Elizabeth GM said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    Wow: both Podcastle and Escape Pod had amazing stories this week. This one felt like it came out of the same twisted, unsentimental world that the original fairy tales emerged from. Kids: life is pain and never, never go into the woods!

  7. 7

    devora said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    Fabulous story, well read. I enjoyed being confused throughout much of it b/c the final explanation is so terrific. The removal of the usually simplistic “this is the good guy/this is the bad guy” was exciting. Certainly a twisted world, but an intriguing one!

  8. 8

    Gwen said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 12:01 am

    I took a long time to warm up to this story, but it stayed with me for days afterward. Very deeply effecting.

  9. 9

    Super_B said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    WOW! What a haunting story.

    Sometimes authors surprise you. This time I found myself listening with my mouth open, awestruck.

    Narrator was perfectly matched, too. Very well done.

  10. 10

    A Short Story Omnibus Edition | James Reads Books said,

    January 31, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

    […] of my favorite stories from Podcastle is Helen Keeble’s “In Ashes” first published at Strange […]

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