Response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt, Candle.

All candles must obey one rule: never look down. Never. This is the story of the candle who did.

Candle felt more snug in his waxy mold with every passing minute. He liked the way his core was solidifying quickly around the shiny wick and imagined how luminous he’d look when it was finally lit. He could not wait to fill the air with his scent! What would it be? A spicy aroma? Maybe cloves or cinnamon for winter, or a menthol blend with pine and eucalyptus. Oh yes please! Something therapeutic would be nice, watching the humans inhale him and relax. He tried to smell himself for clues.

“No use,” said a tall, thick candle on the work bench freshly popped out of her mold. “Too early to tell. You’re still hot. Gotta wait until the aromatics settle in your solid wax.”

“Really?” he said, admiring her deep purple body not yet adorned with sales labels or plastic wrap. “How do you know?”

“Uh, look at me? I was just created. I’m speaking from experience. I couldn’t smell my lavender until I totally cooled, just this overwhelming sweet mulberry and I thought, well shit, no one’s gonna buy me smelling like cheap perfume. Then a big musky fellow a couple rows down told me to be patient, complete the process and then I’d know for sure. And that handsome brown pillar was right, just like I am.”

“Hmmm, well we’ll see. Just seems like we would smell more when we’re hot, you know, like when we burn.”

“Look, I don’t know the chemistry of it all nor do I want to. I just know what the dude told me was true and I’m passing it on to you, like a teacher, you know?”

“Yeah I appreciate that. I’m just the kind of candle who likes to find out for myself. No offense, though.”

“Pfffft. Boy, our lives are too damn short to be like that, all stubborn and suspicious. You ought to trust those who been there and take guidance to heart. Ain’t nobody got something to gain by telling lies here on this table. What for? Hell no. To the contrary, I saw a gal ignore the pillar’s advice this morning and she is dead, fool.”

“What?”

“Uh huh. You heard me. She was so anxious to know her scent she inhaled so deep she split her damn self in half right in the mold. The crafty girl came along to snap us out, saw that nasty crack and tossed her ass straight in the trash. PLUNK, PLUNK, that’s what I heard when she hit the bottom. Left this world without lighting up even one night for someone. Just sad.”

The crafty girl came over to the table with a stack of product stickers just then and placed one right over Bossy Mulberry’s mouth, twisted her up in plastic wrap and took her away. Candle was relieved. Now he could focus again.

That poor cracked candle just went too far. He knew better. He wiggled gently and only felt a few bits sloshing around. Almost solid! He took another sniff. What’s that? Mint? Peppermint!”

The crafty girl’s quick hand appeared, snapped him free of the mold and rolled him in a gritty pile. She shook him off gently and stood him upright, leaving him to dry completely.

OH MY GOD.

Candle nearly melted at the sight in the mirror on the wall. He was covered in fine gold glitter, a sparkly halo reflected off the glass. He could hear the others gasp. Astonished, he dared wonder, was he a….a….Christmas candle? He shook with excitement at the honor, little pieces of gold flicking off him.

“Hey, HEY!” said an older candle on the shelf. “Buck up, eh buddy? That’s real great and all, but don’t get so emotional and draw attention to our special secret world, understand? The humans think we’re just a bunch of waxy decorations. Ironic, huh! Well we wanna keep it that way, so chill brother.”

“Sorry! I’m sorry! It’s just, well, it’s my dream to light up someone’s night. And to brighten their holiday? It’s my biggest wish.”

Some eyes rolled behind him, some glistened with tears, but all their little candle hearts swelled with pride and understanding, wishing the same for themselves and their batch mates.

A short while later, Candle was carefully packed into a shipping box with two green girls and a red boy his same size. The aroma of them all together was intoxicating and he looked forward to their journey.

“Okay listen up,” the box bellowed before Candle could even get acquainted. “Listen up, kids!”

“Where are we going!” the red boy asked.

“Never mind that right now,” Box said.

“Aw come on. I just wanna know so – ”

“Quiet! Quiet or I’ll collapse my corner and damage you, you cheeky cranberry. I tell you, it’s always the cranberries causing trouble. Every time. I heard this way back when I was still a flat piece of cardboard.”

“Well you shouldn’t believe everything you hear,” Candle said. “I’d like to know where we’re going too. What’s the harm in telling us?”

“Oh, right, the special gold one. The agitator. Everything is your business, isn’t it?”

“Wow, why so angry? And don’t bully the cranberry. He’s just excited, like me.”

“No. He’s impatient and disrespectful, is what he is, like you. Like all you youngsters these days. Now shut it so I can impart the instructions before we reach the post office and need to go silent again.”

Box rattled off all the tips and tricks for the best burns and how to be the longest lasting, most amazing candles possible. Then he cleared his throat and squeezed his sides inward to make his voice louder in the smaller space.

“Now hear this, youngsters, there is only one rule and this rule you must never, ever break: do not look down. Do not look down to see how long you have left. Do not look down. EVER. There is nothing you can do about it anyway so live in the moment and enjoy your life. Now, any questions?”

“But what’s wrong with knowing how long we have left? Wouldn’t that help us be better?” Candle asked.

Box sighed. “Right. The brand new sparkly kid knows best.”

“Hey! Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we don’t know anything at all…sir,” the cranberry said.

Box let some air out of his seams. “No, no I suppose you’re right,” he said, thinking of his own little boxes at the warehouse. “But sometimes older things know better and this is one of those times. Listen, if you look down and see how many burning hours you have left, you’ll be anxious and preoccupied, maybe even terrified to burn out. In any case, you’ll be distracted from the now and miss everything. You’re going to burn out, everyone does, why ruin your time by obsessing over it? Don’t. Don’t look down.”

Candle and the others arrived on their buyer’s porch that afternoon. To their delight, the small, cozy home was already decorated for Christmas, including a short, stout tree with pink and gold lights who opened his fragrant pine needles to welcome them. The candles were displayed in different areas of the house, and all were wild with anticipation of being lit soon.

The girls were first that evening and happily filled the room with the sweet scent of forest chestnuts as the family ate dinner. When they were blown out after many hours of lighting up the fun night, the girls focused on keeping their wicks straight and melting neatly in their stands. They felt so fulfilled and never even considered looking down to see how much of them remained.

Next was Candle’s turn. The lady struck the match, it sizzled with mesmerizing blue and orange fire. It was finally happening for him! Candle stood perfectly still as she lit him, his fresh wick popping a little as the glorious flame warmed his head. The lady smiled as his minty aroma wafted around and his glitter sparkled in the orange glow. She stood back and admired him.

THIS IS MY MOMENT! Candle thought. It was more glorious than he ever imagined and he never wanted it to end. He burned slow and steady for the next few hours and loved his view of humans enjoying each other’s company. Some came up to sniff him during the party and asked the lady where she bought him. He’d never been so proud. How special it was to be a candle! He loved his life. How much longer would it last?

Box’s raspy voice returned in his memory, barking warnings not to look down. This first burn had been so wonderful. But what had it taken from him? Just a little? A lot? Half of his wax? He had no idea. Did he really want to know? No. Yes. The good memories of the evening were suddenly pushed aside by panic and worry. Candle did not look down but tried to see the green girls in the dining room. How much shorter had their burns left them? They were too far away to see.

He tried to find his shadow on the wall in the moonlight. Rocking slightly he saw the dark shape move along with him. It was a giant tower, distorted by the room’s angles and no help at all. Discouraged and anxious, he fell into a restless sleep.

In the morning he awoke with a sense of dread and was shocked to see a bunch of his gold flakes on the mantle. He’d had bad dreams and must have thrashed around in his stand all night. He felt horrible. And sad.

Across the house in the kitchen, the little cranberry boy burned bright and happy while the lady prepared food for tonight’s party. She sang Christmas songs and brought him along with her to different areas of the room. He got to see her make pudding out of bread and watch her baste a giant turkey. It smelled delicious but she kept smelling him, and smiling. He was so joyful and content, he did not even realize he was nearly burned all the way down and died a very happy candle, never even experiencing one unpleasant thought.

That night different guests arrived for another party and Candle felt nervous on the mantle.

“That’s a lot of people,” he thought. “I wonder how long they will stay. Will she burn me the whole time? I hope not. Oh I really hope not. I don’t want this to be my last time. Not yet, please not yet.”

He worried about it all through the dinner and when the group moved into the living room, he was so distracted he did not even notice two small children pointing at him in delight. This time when the lady struck the match, he thought he saw it laughing at him. The warm wick he had enjoyed so much yesterday felt like a deadly inferno atop his head tonight. His wick sputtered and popped along with his frantic thoughts and he swore the tree pulled his branches away from him. He wished it could talk and tell him how much of him was left. Useless tree.

“Stop looking at me!” Candle hissed at him.

The tree’s lights flickered slightly. Nobody noticed but one little girl who came over and pulled his branch to her small face. “You’re pretty,” she said. “I love you.”

The tree nearly lost his needles from shock. He didn’t know he could do that, get into a human’s heart.

Candle missed the sweet moment. He was trying to see himself in the window. A big man with a drink in a tiny glass blocked his view. Stupid man! Candle wanted to scream. He was so hot and sweaty. He could not even smell his mint anymore, only the pungent odor of melting wax.

No. No! He was melting so fast, too fast.

The people were singing songs by the piano now. COULD THEY JUST BE QUIET and let him think. Think. THINK! What could he do? Yet more people arrived, oh no, NO!

A cool breeze drifted in with the open door carrying a familiar whiff from the mulberry trees.

Candle calmed down a little. Maybe there was no reason to worry. If he could just see…

Before he knew it he was not only looking down but bending to see better. He bent a little more, a little more and just a little bit more before tumbling off the mantle. His glass stand bounced away, thudding along the carpet. He landed hard on his side, disoriented. The flame shot off his wick and onto the rug, igniting a line of laughing fire heading straight for the tree.

“Oh no! HELP!” Candle screamed in his little voice as the hungry flames engulfed the tree in seconds. “I didn’t mean to!” Candle said, crying. “I’m sorry!” were his last words.

The next day, local headlines read, “Two Killed and Four Injured in Christmas Eve Fire,” subheading, “Blaze appears accidental from child knocking over burning candle.”

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