Short Story – Dinner by Candlelight
I’m still writing horror stories for October. I read this one at The Not-So-Silent-Planet open mic last night. After reading it, I decided to tweak it a little bit more before posting.
I don’t know if other writers do this, but I find reading my writing out loud has a huge impact on my response to the story. I catch things that I don’t notice when I’m just reviewing it on the page. Perhaps it is because I’m a playwright.
The story here is very dark. I mean, that’s not such a surprise since it is supposed to be horror. I think it’s a bit more nihilistic than some of my other work in this genre, though.
As always, thanks for taking time time to read my stories. Please share, comment, or simply enjoy!
Even outside the house, the scent of candle wax was thick and overwhelming. Holly could see clusters of them at every window, seemingly covering every visible surface.
She knocked on the front door again. Harder this time.
“Candace? Candace, I know you’re in there! Open the door!”
Candace had been missing from her desk for over a week. She wasn’t answering phone calls, e-mails, or texts. Everyone at work understood. When you lose someone you love that way, you need some time.
Holly was getting worried, though. She decided it would be best if she checked up on her friend in person.
She tried pounding on the door with her fist.
“I’m serious, Candace! If you don’t open this door, I’m going to call the police! I just want to make sure you’re OK!”
After a few more moments, the latch clicked and the door opened slowly. Holly was assaulted with heat and the almost unbearable odor of wax mingled with dozens of different scents coming from the candles. Candace peered around the door. She looked awful.
She hadn’t washed or brushed her hair in days. Her eyes were red and surrounded by dark circles from lack of sleep. Her mouth twitched uncontrollably. In her hand, she held a single candlestick with a candle burned almost to the stub. She stared, unblinking at Holly.
“Jesus, Candace, what happened to you?”
“I opened the door. You need to go away.”
“No. I’m not going to go away,” Holly insisted,”I’m here to help. Let me in.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
“It just isn’t.”
“Just let me in, OK? Everyone is really worried about you.”
Candace looked away from the door for a moment. She didn’t say anything but it seemed as if she was seeking some sort of approval.
“OK,” she finally said, “you can come in. But you can’t stay long.”
She opened the door and even more heat poured out of the house. Lit candles were everywhere. Some had burned out completely and new candles had been placed on top of them, fixed in place while the wax was still hot. Icicles of melted wax dripped from tables and the fireplace mantle. A cascade poured down the stairs, making them look like frozen, multicolored waterfall.
Candace walked into the living room and sat down on the couch. She stared straight ahead but sometimes she would whip her head rapidly one way or the other as if she was trying to catch sight of something.
It hadn’t been so long since she’d bought the house with Dan and they’d moved in together. Holly remembered how excited both of them were. They showed everyone pictures of the dark hardwood moldings and the strange brick fireplace decorated with sculpted heads.
When they moved in, nobody thought it was strange that they didn’t want to go out with friends any more. They seemed content to enjoy their new home. It didn’t seem strange until everyone found out about Dan.
Holly sat down opposite Candace and tried to make eye contact. It wasn’t easy. She seemed completely obsessed with identifying something in her peripheral vision.
“Candace, look,” Holly began, “I know it’s been hard since you found…I mean since Dan’s been gone. Everybody understands that. But when you just disappear like this, we all fear the worst.”
“You don’t have any idea what the worst means.”
“No. I guess not. Have you been sleeping? It doesn’t look like you’ve been sleeping.”
“Not at night. Can’t sleep at night. I sleep for a few hours during the day.”
“And these candles! The house is so hot, I can barely stand it. You’re going to burn the house down.”
Candace suddenly locked eyes with Holly. A smile began to creep across her face.
“Burn the house down! Of course! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that!”
“What! No! You can’t do that! You just moved in!”
“No, you’re right,” Candace realized mournfully, “If I burned down the house, they might get out.”
She began wringing her hands and her brow furrowed in thought. “Can’t let them get out.”
“Them?” Holly asked, “what are you talking about?”
Candace looked at Holly again, her expression pleading with her friend to help but her voice lacking the words to explain.
“They got Dan. I…I don’t want to let them have anyone else.”
Unsure of what to say but certain she needed to say something, Holly reached out and took Candance’s hands.
“Candace, honey, Nobody got Dan. He killed himself. He cut his wrists. You found his body. Remember?”
“It did look like he killed himself. That’s how they wanted it to look.”
“Oh my god, Candace. This is…I don’t know what this is. You need to talk to someone.”
Candace looked at the floor. “Who?”
“Someone who can help you work though all of this. I know someone. I can get you her number.”
Candace squeezed Holly’s hands so tightly it hurt. She pulled Holly’s face close to hers and spoke slowly and clearly, though her words trembled so slightly.
“You think I’m crazy? I’m not crazy! They killed Dan. I couldn’t stop them. He went into the dark. I told him to stay out of the dark. That’s what the candles are for. To keep back the dark.”
Holly heard some scratching on the closet door.
“Ignore it,” Candace advised her.
“What is…god Candace, where’s Jack?”
“He’s not in the closet. He’s probably in the back yard.”
“How do you know for sure? We’d better check, don’t you think?”
“I’m going to check.”
“Take a candle.”
Candace handed a candle to Holly as she walked to the living room closet. Candace stayed on the couch, staring straight ahead. The scratching was louder and she thought she heard whining.
“It’s a dog, Candace. It’s probably Jack.”
“Its not Jack. He’s in the back yard. You don’t want to go in there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Candace, It’s just a closet.”
Holly opened the door and held the candle out to light the closet. It was completely empty. There wasn’t even a bar for coats.
“Jack,” she called, “you in here?”
She thought she saw something move in the corner.
“What was that?”
“One of them”
Holly turned to realize she had unwittingly walked into the middle of the closet. Candace was standing at the door.
“I’m sorry,” Candace said sadly, “but better you than me.”
The door slammed shut.
Holly felt a cold breath on the back of her neck. The light from the candle flickered as something tried to extinguish the flame. She pulled the flame away from whatever was trying to blow it out but she panicked and dropped the candle to the floor. The closet went dark and she felt a claw scrape across her chest.
She screamed for help and pounded on the door for hours. Just as Dan had. After a while, the banging and yelling grew weaker until all Candace could hear were Holly’s pleas with them to let her die.
They would let her die. Eventually. They liked to play with their food.