October 16, 2017

A Flicker of Time, by R.A. Goli

The height of Death's candles are equal to a life span, but even Death can't measure the depth of a father's love...

Merrick Chandler worked tirelessly, rendering down beef fat to make the tallow. He had a busy day ahead due to an unusual number of women about to give birth. He’d already been cooking it for a few hours and his workshop stunk. Fortunately, the quality of fat was good and he knew how to cook it so it wouldn’t smell once the tapers were lit, which was a good thing considering how many candles there were.

While he waited for it to cool, he shifted to his large oak desk and consulted the list. Death had written the names and candle sizes for each baby to be born that day, so Merrick began preparing the wicks by cutting them to size and securing them in the mold.

Once the tallow had cooled a little, Merrick poured it into each section of the mold according to the length of the wick. He remembered when he’d first started candle making, he’d used the technique of dipping the wicks in the tallow repeatedly until the tapers had formed the desired shapes, then trimmed them to the appropriate length. Death had commissioned a blacksmith to make a mold so Merrick could craft hundreds of candles at once. It was physically less demanding and each candle was uniform in width. The height of each was of course based on the life span of each individual.

Once they’d set and hardened, he removed them from the mold, and took them to the candle room where Death waited. Calling it the candle room was not accurate. It was more like a tunnel that stretched for miles, with built in shelves in the brickwork, which housed a million candles, all lit and burning brightly.

“Good evening, Merrick,” Death said when he arrived, for it was now early eve.

“Good evening, Death. How fair thee today?”

“Busy as always.”

Merrick pulled his candle-laden cart to the empty section of shelves and began placing the unlit tapers beside the appropriate name plaques. When he was done, Death approached, handed him a scroll for the next day’s crafting, then set to work lighting the wicks. Merrick watched as Death lit the candles as each child was born, saddened by the number of short ones there were in the day’s batch. Death also noticed.

“There’s a pox raging through North Larkhurst,” Death said.

“Such a shame.”

Bored with watching Death work, Merrick went for a stroll through the tunnel of lights, comforted by their warmth and calmed by their flickering glow. He saw the large candles of the healthy children and young adults in their prime, and saw the shorter ones belonging to older folk, those who’d lived many years already, with lives coming to an end.

He smiled when he reached he and his wife’s candle, burning so brightly, both with many, many years to go. He realized how lucky he was, Amelina was in full bloom, almost ready to have their first child. Tired as he was, Merrick almost jogged out of the candle room, suddenly eager to get home.

* * *
When Merrick unrolled the list of names for the day he almost jumped out of his skin. His son, Renick Chandler was on the list.

“Today, he’s to be born today!”

Merrick’s shouts of joy reverberated around his work space, until he read the rest of the entry. He swallowed down rising bile and felt the pulse at his neck jump under the skin.

“No. It can’t be.”

A hard knot tightened in his throat as he stared at the scroll. Then anger washed over him like grey waves and he rushed to Death’s office. Death was seated at his desk and Merrick threw the scroll down in front of him.

“What is the meaning of this?”

Death reached a skeletal hand forward and grabbed the scroll, then turned to him, sympathy was written across the man’s pallid face.

“This is the way of the world, Merrick. You know that. It’s the cycle of life and death. I cannot change it.”

“You must! I know you can.”

Death shook his head. “It is not the way.”

Merrick dropped to his knees and clasped his hands together. “Please Death, you have the power to make this right.”

“I’m sorry, my friend. You must make your son’s candle along with the others.” He handed Merrick the scroll and placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.   

Merrick shook it off angrily and snatched the scroll, then stood and left without a word.

He went back to his work room, sat at his desk and cried for an hour. How would he explain it to Amelina? That their son would only be with them for such a short time. She’d be devastated, as he was. Eventually he prepared the tallow, sorted the wicks and poured the molds. Once the candles were set, he loaded his cart and took them to Death and once again pleaded with him.

“You must do something, it’s so short. It’s not fair!” He sobbed as he looked at his son’s candle, so small, a few days or weeks’ worth of wick and tallow if he was lucky.

“Life and Death aren’t always fair, Merrick.” Death said as he began lighting the wicks.

“Can’t you give him an extra candle?”

“I cannot. I suggest you go home now if you wish to be there for the birth of your child.”

Merrick stared at the back of Death’s cowl as he bent forward, lighting wick after wick. How can he be so cruel? But Death wasn’t cruel. He knew that already. Death paused in his work and turned to Merrick.

“You may have tomorrow off to spend with your wife and child. I’ll make the candles myself.”

“At least tell me how.”

“The bloody flux,” Death said.

Merrick nodded and turned away, the flickering flames forming a large orange blur through his watery vision.

* * *

Merrick didn't go home to Amelina as Death had suggested. He sat in his work station trying to come up with a way to trick Death. When he did find a solution, it didn't exactly make him happy, but it was all he could think to do. He waited until he was sure Death had retired for the evening and snuck into the candle room.

He stood in front of his candle, watching its happy flickering flame, Amelina's flame the same. They seemed to lean towards each other. When Merrick removed it, his wife's flame shrunk a little, then stood straight and still. He walked to where Renick's sat, so short, its flame so dim compared to a healthy newborn's. He took his son's candle and replaced it with his, tall and strong, though not a full life left, but at least he'd given his son many more years.

He walked back to his own name plate and placed the short candle where his used to be. Amelina's flamed leaned down towards it, and he choked back a sob. Such a difference now. He left the tunnel of lights and headed home. He'd need to tell her what he'd done. She'd be heartbroken, but he'd done the only thing he could.

He'd given a mother more time with her son.

R.A. Goli is an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, speculative and erotic horror short stories. Her work has been published by Broadswords and Blasters, Fantasia Divinity Magazine, Grivante Press, Deadman’s Tome, and Horrified Press among others. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional walk, and annoying her dog, two cats, and husband.

Check out her website: https://ragolifiction.wordpress.com/
or stalk her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ragolifiction

Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff


Lionel Ray Green said...

What a beautiful and heartbreaking story. Well done!

Joan said...


Lissa Sloan said...

So touching!

Unknown said...

That is just too sweet and sad. Can I not cry at the office.