PodCastle 57: In Ashes
Rated R. Contains potentially disturbing imagery and unkindness toward children.
by Helen Keeble
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.
About the Author
Helen Keeble is not, and never has been, an angel. She has, however, been a teenager. She grew up partly in America and partly in England, which has left her with an unidentifiable accent and a fondness for peanut butter crackers washed down with a nice cup of tea. She now lives in West Sussex, England, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a variable number of fish.
About the Narrator
Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She most recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to Turning Darkness Into Light, a sequel to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and nearly sixty short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. Together with fellow author Alyc Helms, she is the author of the upcoming Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, which will be published under the joint name of M.A. Carrick.