It was perhaps my eighth birthday when it all started. It’s hard to recall from this far in the future. My grandfather, a gentle old man, bought me a doll to play with and together we sat around a small cake with only four candles upon the top. They weren’t the fancy candles that you see on all the cakes now a days. We didn’t have the money for such fanciful things when I was a kid. No, they were just small nubs of candles that were nearing the end of their usefulness.
I remember one of them was actually rather pretty. It was deep red color that my grandfather told me he had used to use on his ‘date nights’ with grandma. I had blown it out like the others, but when he moved to throw the small thing away I had pleaded with him to let me keep it. He assented in the end but made me promise not to light it when he wasn’t around for fear I might burn myself. I had agreed wholeheartedly and stowed the small thing away.
After a long day of celebrating with him I went to my room to prepare for bed. I reached into my pocket to remove the candle only to find it gone. I searched the other, but it too was empty. I rushed from the room and asked if my grandfather had seen it. He shook his head, but gave me the strangest look. I suppose he thought it was strange to make such a fuss over a used candle.
Eventually I accepted that I’d lost the thing and went back to my room. I would cuddle my new doll and try to forget the loss. I had left the small doll on my bed, directly in the center, but when I returned she was nowhere to be found. In her place was the candle… lit and sitting there innocently. I panicked at the thought of the open flame so close to fabric and snuffed it out hoping my grandfather would not come to check on the smell of smoke.
I forgot about the event for several years, and like the mind of a child so often does I neglected to think on the strange circumstances surrounding that night.
Time passed, and so did my grandfather. I lived alone for the first time at the age of eighteen shortly after his death. I moved houses soon after taking refuge first in a dorm room at college while I studied to be a nurse and then in a single bedroom apartment after graduation. All through that time my possessions remained at the old family home.
I retrieved them when I was twenty three; just several weeks ago now. Imagine my surprise when I rifled through the old boxes and memories to find that same red candle unchanged by the years. I held the thing, just three inches long, between thumb and forefinger and smiled down on it.
I had glanced about the room and then placed it on the counter with the other candles. There was no electricity in the old home I was buying now. I had just moved and it wasn’t due to be turned on for several days yet. So candlelight was my guide in the darkness.
Night swiftly approached and I flew through the regular routine; dinner, bath, book. That evening, as I sat looking down on the old pages of a faded novel a strange feeling overcame me. It was almost like the prickling feeling one gets along their skin when they’re being watched. I lifted my eyes from the book and cast a glance around. The old place was still unfurnished but boxes littered the floor creating a labyrinth the even the least stealthy of people could have hidden in. I felt a surge of uneasiness take over me at the thought. Still, I forced it down sure that I was being silly.
The flickering of the candle cast dancing shadows across the walls as I stood. It was late at that point. I should have been in bed ages ago. As I crossed the entrance hall I heard a skittering sound coming from somewhere off to my right. I turned in that direction moving the candle holder to see better and expecting a stray cat to have gotten inside. Nothing moved in the faint light and I thought that perhaps a flashlight would be better suited to this cause. The candles did little in way of lighting a whole room.
I knew I had left the flashlight in the bathroom and moved that way only to hear more skittering, like something was desperate to stay just outside of the candle’s faint light.
The flashlight was not where I had left it. It was sitting in the doorway as if waiting for me to find it there. My eyes flicked to the sides nervously before I reached for it. I had flicked the switch and was immediately relieved when bright light lit the hall revealing dark wood floors. More skittering was followed by a loud thump. It had come from the kitchen. Swallowing past a frightened lump I grabbed the nearest blunt object, an old umbrella, and made my way forward.
I rounded the corner brandishing my mediocre weapon to find the strangest sight. In the center of the room, a pile of books.
It might have been an accident, a box set too close to a ledge or some such. If the books hadn’t been arranged in a perfect little tower.
I had been completely unsure, as I am now, what had caused my distress upon seeing those books, but it faded quickly into a calm so absolute it was, in itself, terrifying in retrospect.
I moved with certainty back to my room where I fell asleep without any further thought for that night.
Almost every night, just as I was beginning to feel drowsy noise would startle me. Each night I’d make the trek down to the kitchen and find something new stacked there. The police were convinced someone was either playing an elaborate hoax on me or I’m playing one on them. Either way they’ve been useless.
I’ve deduced one thing for sure. The candles draw it, or them. Who, or what, ever is stacking the things in my kitchen only shows up on nights when I’ve lit a candle. I don’t know what significance the candles hold though. Perhaps it is just some sort of coincidence, but something tells me it isn’t.
I stare at the nub of red candle to my right. I only have it and one other left now. I’ll need to make a trip to town tomorrow to buy more. I light the last full candle.
Despite my theory that the candles are drawing it I can’t find it in myself not to light them. Without their halo of light I feel defenseless.
The scuttling sound starts somewhere near the kitchen. I almost don’t want to go down and find whatever’s been left for me this time. Morbid curiosity drives me to my feet anyway.
I pause halfway down the hall when my eyes catch the outline of an odd figure just outside of the candle’s light, but then it’s gone and I’m left to wonder if it wasn’t just a trick of the light. I carry on to the kitchen and find myself faced with ten bags of flour. I don’t even have ten bags of flour in the house, but there they are regardless proving me wrong.
One of the bags has split and spilled part of its contents on the floor. Nestled in the midst of mess is a footprint. I blink in shock. It’s the first solid proof I’ve seen of my tormentor’s presence other than the stacked objects.
I survey the odd thing. It’s long and narrow and the toes are far too long. Perhaps it’s a joke?
I turn quickly brushing the flour to remove the print and sweeping away from the scene. I nearly drop the candle when I spot the figure in the corner.
I clamor over a box in the hall and bolt for my bedroom so I can close the door.
The door crashes closed behind me and I pant in fear. Did I imagine it? I must have. There’s no one here. There’s no one here.
I clutch the umbrella closer to me anyway and push myself into the corner by the bed.
I cast my eyes to the candle that has somehow burned itself down to little more than a half inch. It should have lasted longer. Desperate to keep light I search for the flashlight and find nothing. Where is it? I’m sure I left it in here this morning. Something shuffles in the corridor beyond my door.
I panic, dropping the umbrella and nearly snuffing off what little candle light there is left. My side hits the dresser and the small red candle hits floor and rolls in front of me, tauntingly. It’s just a bit of a candle itself, barely anything, but I transfer the flames from the dying bit to it anyway.
The light spreads a bit further as the larger candle flares to life. I glance up and freeze.
He’s standing there, in the corner. Short and thin with a neck too long for him. I’m not sure why I know it’s a him. His mouth is wide, too wide; like it’s stretched in an eternal smile. It splits his face almost in half like deformed nutcracker doll. And his eyes are pits that reflect the candlelight and nothing more. His arms hit the floor, too long for his short body, and as he shifts they make a familiar scuffing sound.
My breaths are coming in short gasps. Hyperventilating, I realize from some distant, clinical part of my mind.
My eyes meet his and I’m lost in his gaze. My breathing slows and I feel almost as if I’m going to fall asleep. He extends his hand and I start to lift the block of granite that is my own arm.
That smile grows larger still. Curling at the edges but never disturbing the smooth skin.
Will I die if I take that hand? No, surely he just wants to show me a wonderful secret. I’m sure I can trust him. Look how happy he is. He must know such wonderful things.
My hand meets his and it’s so wonderfully warm. He pulls me along. We walk from the house and into the street. The candle is still firmly wedged in my hand. I can feel its wax rolling over my fingers but I barely care. His eyes still hold mine. I follow him towards the woods just behind my neighbor’s home.
Perhaps we will go camping and there will be a bonfire. Perhaps we will tell stories by candlelight. Perhaps we will find more friends in the forest. And perhaps he will tell me his name.