The thing about candles

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

This story is similar, yet utterly unlike any that I have posted so far. It is an older tale which I have taken some time to edit.

It is also the last story that I thought I would ever post on this blog.

I wrote it some time ago and although it may seem simple, its contents and its twists are extremely close to my heart.

I think that’s all I’m going to say, for now.

I hope you enjoy it.

A.G.G

She ran.

Her tired lungs sucked up ragged gulps of ash and dust for each step she took, making her choke on her own saliva. Yet still, she ran. Her pounding feet left a jagged trail through the blackened wheat, and caused puffs of grey to explode upwards.

She bounded over a dried-up creek; its oily puddles only barely reflected the light of the sick sun, hidden behind the towering pillars of smoke. Her heart beat like a broken drum, begging her with each thump to give in, give up, fall down. To let It take her. Please.

Yet still she ran. She ran for her life, but mostly because of the whispers that had carried her this far. Over the lifeless mountains, past the pestilent sea and through the graveyard of forests. All for a murmur, softly heard in the dead of night, over an old radio set:

“Come to the House.”

She was almost there. She could see it in the distance; the old mansion, rising from the wrecked landscape like a proud soldier still standing after a terrible battle.

Even as she dashed past the gate, she heard It appear behind her. It charged eagerly forwards, carried by a nightmare. It was breathless, hungry and its eyes were as dark as the void.

She dragged herself up the steps, her feet pulsing with blisters and sores. Finally, her legs gave way, abandoning her only a few meters from safety.

Howling victoriously, It reared up behind her, clutching at her life with long fingers.  

Flames shattered the night and the doors to the House opened and shut, leaving only furious silence behind. She was inside, held fast in the master’s arms.

“Come my child, you are safe here.”

She closed her eyes, letting the warm voice lull her into a peaceful sleep.

When she awoke, she found an old woman tending to her feet. As she waited for her to finish, she took stock of her surroundings.

She was in a cavernous hall. It was a large affair, resembling the arched structure of a cathedral. There were no windows, and everything was made of stark grey granite. Spread out on the floor, on every surface, were people.

They had come from all over the world, following the whisper; running from It, just as she had. Running to the safety of the last House.

As she looked around at all the grimy hopeless faces, she searched for the one that matched the voice and the steady grip that had snatched her out of the dark.

She found him at the top of the staircase that led further into the mansion. She hobbled up the stairs, feet throbbing against her bandages.

As she reached the last step, she froze.

Before her sprawled the magnificent laboratory of the Candlemaker. Gold waxes bubbled away in so many polychrome vats, while blue waxes cooled gently and dripped off wicks of a thousand different lengths.

It was beautiful.

He stooped in the centre of it all, his long grey hair tied in a ponytail behind his head. He was an imposing gentleman with long wrinkled fingers that danced as he coaxed the wax into beautiful shapes, tricking the light into wonder.

“Welcome, my child. I trust that you are well rested?” he asked, his dark eyes twinkling kindly behind a pair of spectacles.

She nodded and bowed, thanking him mutely.

“Oh, none of that, none of that. My house is yours. It belongs to all of us. Now, have you had some food? Yes? Good. Here: pick a candle. Go on, everyone gets one when they get here.”

She didn’t understand. The building was lit up with some form of electric power; what good were candles?

She shrugged.

“Don’t worry child. Indulge me. I make so many after all; I just like giving a little gift to the new arrivals. Here, take this one. It’s one of my special ones: it makes a brighter flame about half way through…magnesium coating, you know.”

She blushed happily, as she took the candle and slipped it into the pocket of her large overcoat.

A cataclysmic knock at the door made her jump and she quickly hid behind the master.

Dust drifted down from the ceiling, and the walls trembled. Somewhere below, a child screamed.

She felt her heart begin to beat painfully. White-hot fear snapped at her spine, as another knock echoed throughout the hall.

Slowly, the master changed out of his work-clothes. He discarded his apron and spectacles; he took of his gloves, and finally pulled on a tweed coat.

“Come my dear. It won’t be long now,” he said gently.

The knocks echoed louder and louder as they descended, but even as the danger grew closer, her fear slowly fled, replaced by something else that she could not name. She held his hand, as they helped each other down the stairs to the great hall and the waiting crowd.

They walked out among the people and soon reached the centre of the hall, directly opposite the great oak doors. He walked to the front, and hidden behind him stood all the rest, cowering away from the shadow seeping into the house.

There was one more knock, then silence.

Then, something ripped the door off its hinges; it flew outwards, lost to the gaping maw of Darkness.

It swarmed into the house, gusting and tearing at the walls, choking up the air, killing the power, until all that was left was a single speck of light.

The master slowly brought his match down and carefully lit his candle holding it out before him. A shield against the Dark.

“Come along then. I know you’re in there,” he said conversationally. “I thought we could have a little chat before the end.”

The shadows seemed to quiet for a moment. Then, the blackness coalesced, revealing the nightmarish figure that had hunted humanity across the plains of the world for the last two hundred years.

Atop its horrible steed, It grinned in triumph; dead hands clutched at nothing and Its tongue lashed out from between dread fangs, savouring Its next meal.

It was hungry…oh so hungry.

“There you are. Hello. A little worse for wear, I see. Now, how may we help you?”

Do you find this funny, mortal?”It said in a voice as cold as death and as noble as a king.

“Not at all. I was merely wondering if there was anything we could do for you before we send you on your way.”

Silence.

Then the thing’s laughter rumbled out all around them, like an approaching thunderstorm.

“See me on my way? Pathetic!” it roared.

I am the destroyer of Humanity, the scourge of all that is living. I have broken this planet in two! It was I who struck the moon from the sky and smote your ancestors with its’ remains; I who hunted you through all of time and space; I who danced, as you freed me and fought amongst yourselves. I killed the dreamland! I stripped you of hope and love and goodness!

With every word it uttered, the room grew darker, surrounding the lonely candle in a sea of pitch.

“That’s all well and good. But it ends now. Go from this house. Go from this planet,” said the master quietly, “and never come back.”

“Who are you to speak so bravely and so foolishly? Can you not see that you are already dead, mortal?”

The master stood up tall. In the failing light he seemed different, as if belonging to lost age when men and women were more than mere flesh and bone.

“I am the master of this house,” his voice rang out, punctuated by a forward step and the flashing of his eyes, “and these people are under my protection. By the Light I bear, I bid you leave, Darkest among the shadows.”

The light seemed to glow brighter for a moment, reflected in the eyes of the last children of humanity.

The voice in the dark sneered, and the candle sputtered dangerously, its fire weakening rapidly.

“Fool! You think a mere candle can save you? That a little flame can push me back?”

“Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness” gasped the master, as the howling wind grew in strength.

You are pathetic. Your spirit may be pure, but I have swallowed suns! Your light alone cannot hold me back! Surrender to the endless night!”

The darkness surged forward like an unstoppable wave; ready to crash down and swallow them all.

“The thing about candles…,” wheezed the master, standing up, against the crushing void, “is not that they bring light. In the end, that’s all everyone sees: pretty lights. But no. You see, that thing about candles,” he took the young woman’s hand and guided it to her overcoat pocket, “is that once you’ve lit one, you can light many, many more.”

It must have sensed the turning of the tide, because it rushed forward, desperate to kill, consume. Destroy.

Too late.

The small flame passed quickly from wick to wick, from person to person, until in the great hall there was a Light born of many people. A Light against the dark.

It howled and jerked back. But too slowly: the glow of the candles grew sharp and fierce, as flames leapt forward and stripped away the shadows to finally reveal the quivering mess within.

The master stepped forward, and hoisting his candle high, drew a misshapen creature from the miasma.

Once, it could have been human. Now it was a shell, blackened beyond recognition, and it fled the flame.

“Leave now. Go; gather your strength for your next try. In the meantime, we shall rebuild, as we always have, and one day, we shall forget ourselves. The children of our children shall betray and kill in the name of a dark Thing, and you will have your day again. But beware! You will always find the Candle-bearers ready to thwart you and cast you out!”

It slunk away and disappeared.

It took many centuries to make the Earth anew. But building and growing is good work, so for a time darkness had little sway in our corner of the solar system.

The master took on the young woman as his apprentice. In her turn, she became mistress and taught many students after he passed away.

And to each of her students she gave the gift of a candle.

She believed, as do I, that everyone should know the trick to spreading Light.-

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