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The Edge of Daylight by Patrick Brennan

I wake from a dream, gripped with terror and confusion. Slowly, the room comes into focus. Black and white photos of wedding days. Pale green wallpaper decorated with fading roses. A framed painting of Jesus Christ with a glowing red bulb in front like a fire's dying embers. My grandmother's sitting room. I sleep on the flattened out leather sofa when we stay with her. My mother must be in the upper room and my brother in the room beside me, where our grandfather used to sleep.

The curtains are open. The sun is barely up, the edge of daylight dim through the thick grey clouds. I untangle myself from the sheets and sit up on the hard sofa, springs poking into me, and smell something acrid, like plastic burning. I get up without dressing and run to the kitchen, ready for the sight of flickering flames, but the curtains are closed and the stove is dark and there is no smoke smell here at all. I go back to the sitting room and realise the smell is coming from outside. A grey haze has fallen.

I run to the window and pull it closed. The smell intensifies as I do so and I cough, nearly choking for a heartbeat. The haze and the smell remind me of something I can't remember. I twist the brass knob on the door to my grandfather's room. My brother is lying on his side, turned to the wall. I call his name. He mumbles something and turns over without opening his eyes, his face a healthy red. His window is closed. I go back to the sitting room and turn on the bulky black television in the corner. An old movie with Gregory Peck. On another channel, colourful, armless beings sing cheery tunes for toddlers. On another, the news from the day before. A murder trial. A car crash. The GAA results. Cloudy tomorrow. Today.

My grandmother isn't in her room. Her bed is made, her yellowing prayer books closed on her bedside table. She must already be up. In the bathroom maybe. Her window is open only a little but I close it anyway. I check on my mother, stealing into her room, but she isn't there either. Her window is already closed. They must both be up, but they had to pass through the sitting room to get to the kitchen and the bathroom. They must have done so while I was asleep.

I quickly dress and go back to the kitchen and my mother and grandmother are in their dressing gowns, sitting at the table with cups of tea. The light is on, blindingly white, and the curtains and top and bottom panes of both windows are open. I run to the windows and slam them closed and my mother jumps in her seat.

“Couldn't you smell the smoke?” I say.

“Of course,” she says. “That's why I opened the window. What is it?”

“I told you it was coming from outside,” my grandmother says. “I hope it's not one of the neighbours' houses gone on fire.”

“What is it?” my mother repeats.

A memory of something I read about how to make a simple gas mask from a plastic bottle. I check my phone, but there's nothing unusual there either. Then I realise there are no news articles more recent than six hours ago. No social media posts newer than six hours. We look out of the window.

The sky seems to lighten, but it's only an illusion. All that's changed is the colour of the clouds, from grey to yellow. A black snow begins to fall.


Patrick Brennan is a confused young writer from rural Ireland. He can be found on Twitter as both @Pat_Bren_Writer and @Pat_Bren.