Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
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The Last Dawn

by Susan Anwin

His last night on this earth he spent contemplating the stains on the bars of his cell, and the murk beyond the bars. He was acutely aware of the coldness of the packed earth under his naked feet, the sharp edges of rust flakes against his palm, the musty smell of dung and old hay.

He didn’t count on any sleep. Even if he did have a last dinner he’d have no appetite.

It was the most subtle way of torturing, letting you know the exact moment of your death. And after that? Will he really just wink out of existence? It was the question that bothered him most even back when he was still free. Is it possible that that’s it, all there is? He just couldn’t accept that, nor could he sign up to the belief systems of any of the dogmatic religions.

He was past grief and anger, past mulling about the "could’ve beens" and the "should’ve beens", resigned to spend the rest of his time with such contemplations. He was only sorry for the pain he’d cause to his family. He thought of his mother, his sister’s laughter on a sunny morning, then stopped himself. At least he died for a good cause, a cause worth dying for.

He had no way of telling the time, but his guess was it was nearing to midnight. Soon his very last day would begin. As the minutes trickled down, he began composing a goodbye letter in his head.

‘Dear Mother,

I did my best to keep you all alive and well. I risked my neck to keep you well fed-‘

No good. It sounds a bit like he was blaming them, which he was not. Was he?

It was all his fault; he let himself be tricked into this jam.

‘tell my sister to take care of herself…’

Too prosaic. Then again he was no writer, just an ordinary guy trying his best to look after his family. Well, not his burden anymore, come dawn. At that thought his insides turned to water. All his forced calm evaporated as he shook the bars of his cell in renewed panic. "Please, I won’t steal again I swear! Just give me another chance. Please!" He howled until his throat hoarsened, then just slumped in the middle of his cell in exhaustion. There was no one here, nobody heard him, not until it was already too late.

He dozed off after a while and the next time he woke up he could make out the faint rectangle of the only window looming high above.

The only thing left to do really, was to die with some semblance of dignity.

* * *

The farmer opened the door of the barn. The gray light fell on the mousetrap, and there he was alright; a good-sized little fellow. The man lifted the cage. The mouse raised his head, and for a second there the farmer had the impression that the little chap was looking straight into his eyes. Then the moment passed, and the mouse went back to cleaning his whiskers. The man shrugged, and carried the cage out into the frosty dawn.


2018 Susan Anwin

Susan Anwin was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. Her flash-fiction "Talk of Armadale trees" was featured in the anthology My Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. Her short stories "Fog-People", "Eddie's Lousy Saturday", "You'll die as fish", "People of the Green Cloud", "Dragonfly-man", "Daddy is Driving the Car", "Soul for Sale", "Dark Sister" and "The Man Who Broke Time" were published by Aphelion in 2016 and 2017.

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