Short Fiction – The Candle Lights (By Melissa R. Mendelson)
The Candle Lights
by, Melissa R. Mendelson
A soft glow slipped across the darkness. It chased the shadows away. All the unwanted emotions like doubt and fear became silenced. Peace was no longer a dream, and the body would know no war or struggle but a beautiful rest. And the eyes flashed open, mirroring the soft glow, and she drew in a long, deep breath, knowing what today was going to be.
She had a choice. Stay in bed all day today, which was a tempting thought, or she could get up, get dressed and get on with today. Staying in bed would not avoid it. She knew this as she curled around her pillow, grateful for no more nightmares but blissful sleep. She could sleep forever like that, but sleep like that was a rarity. And she was now completely awake, so she would get on with today.
He waited by the stairs near the front door. Today was her day. He could see the soft glow around her, and she knew that he was waiting for her. What would she want for breakfast? What would she like to do today and then tonight? How would she like to spend her day? This was a day often cherished by most others, but as time moved forward, she started to hate this day. It was a lie, thinking all the world was her stage, but she could see right through the façade. Still, she put on a happy face, a face that she no longer recognized, but today, it was her face.
“Don’t say it,” she snapped, not wanting to bite his head off, but the glow was enough. Yes, today was that day.
“Beth, we talked about this. It’s your day. You should be happy.”
“Can we just talk about something else, David? Please.”
“You know the rules,” David responded. “Today is your day.”
“But tonight,” and Beth trailed off, shuddering deeply. “Let’s go outside. Take a walk.”
“And then breakfast?”
“Sure. Pancakes. I would like to have pancakes.”
“Anything you would like, Beth. Anything you would like.”
The morning melted away too easily. It was cold outside, but not too cold. It felt like it was in the forties, and the sun was shining. And she was glowing. Everyone saw it, and when they saw her, their faces lit up. They forgot their own troubles for a moment, wishing it was their day, and she thanked them to return the good vibes. But those vibes died slowly like a cold breeze that lingered too close to her skin.
The afternoon came, and Beth watched the clock slowly tick by. Try not to think of tonight, she thought, but she was. She knew it was coming. There was no escaping it, and the crap on television was not helping. Lately, there was nothing good on television, and she refused to watch the news. It just broke her heart, and on this day, she got to watch whatever she wanted. But she didn’t want to see anything. She just wanted today to be over with, and she got up suddenly, maybe a little too quickly, which startled her husband.
“You okay,” he asked before trying to become interested in the Reality program playing out before him, but he hated it. So did she.
“Yeah. Just going to the bathroom, and then I’ll be right back. And then we can watch something else,” and that made him smile.
Once in the bathroom, Beth closed and locked the door. She turned toward the mirror. Lately, it was a stranger that stared back at her. Lately, she would battle her hair with tweezers in search of the gray. It was a losing battle, but she wasn’t done fighting. But her face. She did not recognize her face. When did it become someone else’s? Today, she could see her old skin, her old look right there as if she was a porcelain doll, but like porcelain, it would easily break. Tomorrow, her face would be different, and she hated that glow. It bounced off the spots, where there was once and will be wrinkles. It shined in her eyes and lit up her smile. She was beautiful, but it was a lie, a façade. And tomorrow, all this beauty would be erased.
“You okay,” David asked as he stood on the other side of the door.
“Yeah. Be right out,” Beth yelled as she continued to stare at her reflection. “It’ll be okay,” she whispered to herself. “It’ll be okay,” she repeated, still wanting to believe those words.
Dinner was perfect. She loved Italian food, and there was a lovely restaurant a few miles from their home. They got the table that she wanted right near the large, crystal chandelier. The waiters saw the glow and bowed to her will, which she once found amusing but not anymore. She asked for a few more minutes, looking over the menu, knowing what she already wanted, but what she needed was a drink. A good, strong drink.
“Glass of Merlot and the Fettuccine Alfredo, please,” Beth ordered. “And a house salad. Thank you.”
“I can’t believe today went so fast,” and then he saw the look on Beth’s face. “It’s alright,” and he reached across the table, touching her hand. “It is what it is.”
“I hate that expression,” Beth said. “You know, a coworker of mine just celebrated her birthday last week. She had a blast, and I wonder if she knew. After her day, she never had another one. It was her last day,” and Beth nearly downed the Merlot, which arrived quickly to her table. “Another. Please,” she said, and the waiter disappeared.
“It was her time,” David said. “We don’t make the rules.”
“No,” Beth said. “We just follow them.”
Eleven p.m. One more hour to go, and the glow was already fading. If only she could make it stay, but how could she make something so supernatural stay? She couldn’t put the glow in a jar, even though she tried with the empty mayonnaise jar. It was stupid, but what if it worked? It didn’t. What else could she do? Nothing, and now the ticking of the clock was deafening. There was no point in racing upstairs into her bed and throwing the covers over her head. It was going to happen.
“You staying downstairs,” David asked. “Baby, it’s late.”
“I’ll be up soon,” Beth responded.
“Well, don’t sit there on the couch in the dark. Watch some television, if you can find something good to watch. I’ll be upstairs,” and he disappeared into the dark hallway.
He didn’t want to see it happen. Nobody did. This was the part that everyone hated and feared. There was no escaping it. Like a dying candle, the glow was ending, and in its absence was cold, dark. That breeze that lingered across her skin earlier returned with a vengeance, and as she waited, curled up on the couch and watching the last five minutes of her life, she barely heard his soft steps enter into the room.
He never said anything. He must have a busy schedule to keep, and his hollow eyes now turned to face the clock. 3. 2. 1. The glow was nearly gone, and he reached out toward her with that pale white hand. It was like in those movies, where the spirit is ripped from the body into the monster claiming it, but this was just a layer, a long layer of warmth that now left her cold and vulnerable. She shuddered as he leaned forward like he was going to make a wish, and like he was going to make a wish, he blew out the lingering embers of that glow. And she shuddered again as he quietly left the room.
They say to never look at his face. If you see him, stare at him only out of the corner of your eye. If you look at that face, you will see the abyss, and it will drive you mad like it has driven so many others mad. And that woman, her coworker stared into his face. What did she see? Whatever she saw was the last thing that she would ever see, and that made Beth shudder more. But then she realized that he was lingering nearby, staring at her.
“Yes,” Beth gasped, not wanting to meet his gaze.
“Do you want to know,” he asked in a hollow tone.
She never heard him speak before, and his voice was like a bullet to the bone. She swallowed hard, wondering what he was asking exactly, and did she want that answer? He was staring at her, and she felt herself disappearing underneath his gaze. Please, go away, she thought, but he wasn’t. He was waiting.
“What,” she nearly choked.
“How much time you have left,” he answered. “Do you want to know?”
“No,” Beth cried.
“Are you sure,” he asked.
“Just tell me that I will wake up tomorrow,” and now she was crying. She couldn’t stop the tears. “Will I wake up tomorrow?”
“Yes,” and he moved away. “See you next year,” and he was gone.
Beth hurried into the bathroom and gripped the sink for support. She refused to look in the mirror. What the hell, she thought. Why would he ask that? Why, and she drew in a long, jagged breath and tried to silence her tears. But those unwanted emotions broke through, nearly bringing her to her knees, but she did not want to know. If she knew, then it would be over, and it can’t be over. Not yet. She had not done anything with her life, and if she goes now, who will know that she was here? But he did say that he would see her next year. If this is her last year, then she would have to do things differently, but could she? She finally looked at her face in the mirror, and the stranger smiled back, which only made her worry more about her future. But today was over, and tomorrow would be another day.
Melissa R. Mendelson graduated college with both an AA in Liberal Arts and BA in Mass Communication: Critical Analysis. She was a Long Island news reporter from 2002 to 2004 and later went to work for the State of New York. She has written a variety of writing that continuously is published by the Antarctica Journal News, and she recently finished writing her first Horror/Sci-Fi novel, Lizardian, which can temporarily be found as an E-book on Amazon Kindle.