Friday, January 18, 2013

Story of the Week: The Forgotten

“… tick … tick … tick …” Hear it? That's the sound of your life ticking away. A timepiece, but not just any timepiece, plays a central role in “The Forgotten,” Derrick Eaves' story of death and burial on the frontier in eighteenth-century Canada.

Sarah's brother-in-law James arrives at her cabin one day to say that her sister Catharine has died and to ask for help with the preparations. James can dig the hole and fashion the coffin, but he can't bring himself to prepare the body. That task falls to Sarah, who lovingly dresses her sister in her wedding dress and brushes the corpse's hair until it's perfect. Catharine's few possessions that had made the trip from England to upper Canada are stored in a trunk. Underneath the wedding dress is a curious clock.

Sarah looked back down at the clock. It was made of solid cherry and had six oval faces encased in glass, each with a single spidery hand. One was clearly a second hand that ran backward. Sarah watched the hand in the next oval and noticed a very slow but clear movement–the minute hand. She wasn’t sure if the other four faces worked, as they appeared stuck in the twelve o’clock position. It must be broken, Sarah thought.

James and Sarah talk about Catharine's illness, the stillborn children, and Catharine's obsession with a fortuneteller. The burial is anticlimatic. James doesn't see the need for a prayer. He doesn't suspect God can hear them out in the wilderness. James tells Sarah that she can take what she likes of Catharine's possessions. Sarah's attention returns to the clock, which is still ticking.

Eaves evokes a subtle kind of horror with this quiet narrative that builds to a shocking climax. Do you really want to know how much time you have left? Would it make a good difference? If you like Edgar Allan Poe's stories of prematural burial, you'll love “The Forgotten.”

Photo Attribution: By Museumsfoto (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum) [CC-BY-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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