The Last Dawn
He spent his last night contemplating the stains on the bars of the cell, and the murk beyond them. He was acutely aware of the coldness of the metal floor under his bare feet, the sharp edges of rust flakes against his palm, the musty smell of dung and old hay.
The prisoner didn’t count on any sleep. There were some crumbs scattered in one corner, but he had no appetite.
It was the subtlest form of torture, making sure you’re aware that these are the very last hours of your existence. And after that? Would 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 all there is? The prisoner 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 his family, remembered his mother, his sister’s laughter on a sunny morning, then stopped himself. At least he would die for a good cause, a cause worth dying for.
He had no way of telling the time, but his guess was it was nearing midnight. Soon his very last day would begin. As the minutes trickled down, the prisoner imagined bidding farewell to his mother, wished his thoughts would reach her somehow.
‘…I did my best to keep you all alive and well. I risked my neck to keep you well fed-‘
No good. It sounded a bit like he was blaming them, which he was not. Right?
It was all his fault; he allowed himself fall into this trap.
‘…tell my sister to take care of herself…’
He found himself out of thoughts, out of things to say in a final goodbye. He was no lofty soul, 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 became hoarse, 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 grey 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 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.
This short story was first published in the Aphelion Webzine in February 2018.