A dark kitchen with table and chairs dimly lit by a single lamp

Second Place, Spring 2022

Picture by Ehud Neuhaus at Unsplash

When The After came to stay, it brought a cloying, wispy texture to our days. Like strands of spun sugar, it wrapped itself around the chair legs and tugged at our untidy pigtails each time we tried to push its unseen hands away.

The After invaded our mealtimes. Sitting, untroubled and uninvited at the kitchen table; sliding a filmy grease over sausages, eggs and chips. Until everything tasted of swamp, earthworms and the blackest part of the night.

The After closed our throats and stopped the words we occasionally tried to form, burning us from the inside out with the sounds that never came.

The After turned out our lights, curdled fresh milk and chased the cat away. The After followed us to school, hiding in our book bags, where it sat, knocking at our ankles during lessons. Before breaking our best pencils and firing them like arrows amongst our few remaining friends.

And as the three of us lay awake at night, stone-still in sagging beds, we heard The After slither blindly across the hall and lift the latch; before mingling seamlessly with our mother’s hidden tears and silent, creeping shame.

The After divided and fragmented us. Grabbing at our hands, sending us spinning in a thousand different ways. It whispered in our ears and wove its silky black ribbons  through our dreams. Each story it told was handpicked, a bespoke, ebony fairytale of lost children and wicked shapeless things.

The After worried, gnawed, spat and chewed at the edges of our lives, until finally its point was made. And The After’s breath of blame that hovered, cloud-like near the ceiling, floated down and settled next to me.

For it was the spilling of my secrets that transformed  The Before into The After.

And decided what we all became.