The first time I saw it, it was sitting near my bathtub, encircled by a crown of melted wax. It caught my attention for no other reason than how out of place it was. My girlfriend preferred the large tub in her apartment, so I knew it wasn’t hers, and I certainly hadn’t bought it. As I approached, I noticed the smallest hint of smoke slithering out from its wick. A dark vapor danced through the air currents in the room, before dissipating into nothingness. For smoke to escape the candle, it must have been lit not long before I entered, yet I was certain I was alone, and the wax was matte and seemed solid. I reached towards the candle, unsure whether it would be warm or cold to the touch. It was neither. When I pulled my hand away, the candle suddenly lit up without the aid of an external force.
With a surprised yelp, I bounced back as a twilight veil was cast over my bathroom. The first thing I noticed was the smell. The stench of iron was so strong that my eyes welled up as though I were cutting onions. The next thing I became aware of was the woman in my bathtub. I nearly passed out in fright when my eyes caught sight of her naked form, bathing in reddened water. Her body was slouched back and her face was pointing towards me, wearing a vacant expression. Her skin was unnaturally pale, as though every single bit of blood had been drained from her body. The wavering light in front of her casted eerie shadows, like those of a spooky storyteller at camp. I thought she was dead, but the candle’s flame swayed from an unseen gust that could only have been her breath.
A knot lodged itself firmly in my throat, as I stared in shock at the woman. I wish I could tell you that I attempted to help her, but I’d be lying if I did. No, I just stood there, as useful and as self-aware as a garden gnome. I couldn’t even say what was going through my mind at that moment: my brain felt numb. Out of nowhere, the motionless woman twisted her head up, and shot me a look of pure loathing, as though I were a cockroach.
The flame jittered harder, and went out. As soon as the candlelight faded, so too did the stranger in my tub, the blood, and the smell. I brought a hand to my forehead, mumbled something about coming down with the flu, and exited the room. I wanted to bury my head in the sands of denial. The candle was gone by the time I returned to the washroom.
A few weeks later, my boss asked if I could install a banner over the side of our building. It was Chad’s job, but the guy wussed out when he heard it meant going on the roof. Typical Chad, I thought to myself as I headed to the elevators. They were out of order. Typical freaking elevators. Dragging with me a heavy toolbox and the large rolled-up ad, I climbed all twenty stories to the roof. I was unraveling the banner when I spotted the familiar red candle atop an electrical panel.
“Relax, it’s just a candle,” I whispered to myself.
It wasn’t just a candle. It was THE candle.
Before I could even reach it, a small flame burst into existence. Though the candle lit the immediate area, the world beyond its soft halo seemed to disappear into a dark abyss. I was afraid of what would happen if I stepped outside the light. It was as though I was completely isolated from the outside world: I couldn’t even hear the sound of traffic on the street below. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed someone at the electrical panel. Judging by his orange vest and hardhat, he was a construction worker. He had his back turned to me, arms stretched into the tin box.
“Hey, bud!” I called out, as I walked towards him.
My nose caught a strong whiff of barbecue. It made my stomach turn, because I knew what I was about to see before I even reached the silent man. I wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run, but where would I go? If I escaped the light, who knew what would happen to me? With the stressed pace of a cat sidestepping a threat, I walked around to the other side of the panel.
The man’s face was black, his teeth were clenched, and his nose was curled upwards in a snarl. The electrical current had frozen him in place, and still seemed to be surging through him, preventing him from releasing his grip on the control panel. I wasn’t sure whether he was dead or alive, but I had to do something. Touching him meant becoming part of the electrical circuit, so I had to find a way to knock him loose without making direct contact. That’s when I remembered the hammer I brought. Luckily, half of it was bathing in candlelight. As I grabbed it, I made a startling discovery: the other half was missing, as though the edge had been chewed by the darkness.
I didn’t have time to worry about it: I had a job to do. I ran to the construction worker, and whacked his arms firmly with the wooden handle.
His body fell back to the ground, but his pitch-black hands stayed behind. I absolutely lost it. Screaming, I shifted my gaze between the man’s stumps, and his charred hands. He had to be dead. There was no way he could have survived being electrocuted like that. He HAD to be dead…but he moved. The man stood up, and my body froze. He took a few steps, his severed arms outstretched towards me.
The candle’s flame faded, and the rest of the rooftop returned to normal. The man and his hands were gone. The electrical panel was closed and padlocked. I was left frazzled, but relieved.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I saw the candle again. This time, I was waiting to pick up a friend at the train station. I was reading a book when I felt a chill run down my spine. I looked up, and there it was, at the edge of the platform. The crimson candle seemed unaffected by the rumbling trains speeding by. If not for the constant ticking of the station’s large clock, I would have thought time itself had stopped. A flame emerged on the tip of the wick, plunging the rest of the world into darkness.
The clock continued its rhythmic calls while I cautiously approached the candle.
I felt my blood run cold. The sound was getting louder, yet I was moving farther away from the station. Ants crawled under my skin as I turned to face the clock. It was gone.
I wasn’t hearing the clock…
The sound was a lot closer. It was coming from the tracks below.
I had to see. I had to know. I braced myself, preparing for what horror I may find below, and stretched my head out to peer onto the tracks. The sight of it nearly made me lose my lunch. Blood drained from my head and pooled to my extremities, leaving me feeling dizzy. There, at the foot of the platform, was a severed torso desperately slapping against the concrete wall, as though trying to climb it. It had no legs or head, just a chest and arms with blood gushing from its mangled wounds. I felt woozy, and found myself staggering several feet to the right. The tapping sound suddenly stopped.
I looked over the edge again, and saw the torso slowly following me. It was trying to reach me. That was why it wanted to get onto the platform. I snapped my head towards the candle, wishing with all my might that it would go out.
The torso, having arrived at its destination, was trying to climb up again.
I begged the candle to go out. I would have blown it out myself, but I could barely get enough oxygen in my lungs to stay conscious.
Mercifully, an unknown force extinguished the flame. In an instant, the platform filled with busy commuters. A man rammed into me and cursed at me for being in his way. The candle was gone.
A month later, I saw the candle at the grocery store. It was in an empty cart in the cereal aisle. There was barely anything left of it: just a tiny wick in a circle of wax about half an inch tall. This time, I didn’t want to stick around. I dropped everything, and ran towards the end of the aisle. Just as I was about to turn the corner to safety, I heard the ripple of a fire. I managed to stop inches from its boundary. It was too late to escape. I turned, and saw a young woman slouched over the cart. I knew what to expect now, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. If anything, it made it worse.
I waited under the many watchful eyes of cereal mascots, as the woman pulled herself straight, and turned to face me. I could see a bullet hole in her head. She glared at me furiously, launched herself in my direction, and pushed me against the shelf with inhuman strength. I fell to the floor. Boxes of cereal came crashing down on the both of us, yet my attacker seemed unfazed. She clawed at me while I screamed, squirmed, and thrashed around trying to break free. While her long nails tore at my flesh, she brought one leg over me, and sat on my chest to immobilize me.
I thought I was going to die, like a helpless rabbit caught in the jaws of a ravenous beast. Just as I was about to lose all hope, I felt her weight lifting off of me. I dug my bloodied form out from under the pile of cereal boxes, and saw a group of shoppers giving me the stink eye. I don’t know what I must have looked like to them. A drunk, maybe? Feeling my cheeks turn red with embarrassment, I sped out of the grocery store.
That was the last time I saw the candle, and I’m confident I won’t be seeing it again. I caught a glimpse of it as I was making my escape from the grocery store: it had melted into a semi-solid puddle of wax, with no wick in sight. Now, you may think that would come as a relief to me…but you would be wrong. You see, since that day, I’ve been getting deep scratches and bruises seemingly out of nowhere. It’s not that those things are gone, no. It’s that they can only be seen in the light of a crimson candle, and now, I have no way to defend myself.