Candlelight (2003)

Jan 22 2020

            Once, there was a young boy who lived in an old house in an older city in an ancient world.  He lived with his mother and father, who loved him very much, and even though they and the old land had little to offer a lonely, young, shy child, he was happy.  There weren’t many friends to play with, or song to dance to, or games to play, as the aged have little use for such decadence, but there was a river the boy loved to swim in and lay by when the air was warm, with wildflowers on its banks that waved back and forth in the whispering breeze, and they were enough for the boy.  And in his timid ignorance, the boy found comfort.

            One day, though, the boy became tired of being timid, and wanted to see if there was something beyond the old people and old buildings and lonely river he had kept to all his life.  He traveled to the farthest edges of the city, where the buildings were not quite so regal and the people were not quite so respectable, and he entered into the dimly-lit basement shop of a dirty, crippled mystic with a thin smile and tired eyes.  The mystic brought the boy slowly down rows of ancient tomes, past shelves of archaic instruments, and over piles of arcane oddities, but nothing caught the boy’s attention except a stubby, lopsided, brightly colored lump of wax that sat half-melted over the front counter of the shop.  With a weak, quiet laugh and a slow shake of his head, the mystic drew the shades, closed the lamps, and lit his strange little candle with as great a flourish as he could muster.

            The boy watched the candle and was amazed; never before had he seen such a flame!  It writhed and morphed and danced atop the wick, becoming every strange shape, every exotic color the boy had never dreamed of in his musty bed back home or napping on the lonely riverside, and he was moved.

            The boy turned to face the mystic, to ask the candle’s price, but stopped silent when he saw the man in the light of the candle.  His soiled robes shone brightly, his eyes smiled twice as widely as his mouth, and he appeared lost in dreamy, pensive thought.  Though the candle was not bright, the whole shop seemed illumed and polished in its radiance, and the small boy saw value in the heaping trinkets and understanding in the spines of the yellowed, rotting books.

            After what seemed an eternity, the candle’s soundless, flickering dance slowed and the flame died; its eerie, beautiful light reflected in a warm, blue afterglow on the walls of the shop and in its keeper’s still smiling eyes.  He gave the boy the candle for his pocket change and a promise never to lose it.

            The boy was overjoyed with his new toy.  He burned it by the riverside to watch the flowers grow large, and bright, and fragrant, and to see every friend and lover a lonely boy could never have reflected in the water’s surface.  He burned it in the quiet, dark hours in his room to watch his ambitions and hopes dance in the pristine warmth of the tiny flame.  But, most of all, the boy burned it alone, too conscious of his dreams burning in the candle to ever want to share it with anyone in that ancient world of old hearts and interred passions.  And with each burning, the candle grew taller and more elaborate, until even unlit it was a sight to behold, and just having it with him cast a foxfire innocence on the world.

            Before long, keeping such a beautiful candle hidden proved too much for the boy to bear, as he spent more and more time burning it by the river and feeling more alone than ever.  He tried showing it to passers-by and visitors in the city, but they turned their backs to him and walked in their own shadows, determined not to see the light.  He tried showing it to those he knew in the city, but they simply laughed and smiled at a small child’s silly plaything.  He even tried to show it to his parents, but their age was made young in its light, and their passions revived, and they were sore-afraid of what the child’s light could do to them.  They demanded the candle, and when he would not give it, they sent him out of their home and into the dingy streets alone.

            So the boy ran.  He charged through the streets with hot tears streaming back along his face and the candle held out as a torch before him, and in its light the manorly buildings were made to crumble, and the people’s fine clothing turned tattered and threadbare, and the townspeople chased him out screaming, wailing like frightened young children who had lost their favorite toy.

            With no place left to go, the boy soon came back to the lonely riverside, still puffy-eyed and sniffling, still clutching his pretty little candle out in front of him.  And in the reflection of its sincere light on the water, he saw people just like him in far cities in young worlds, and never before had he wanted to be with someone else so much.  And so he ran with the river.  He ran through fields, into valleys, over hills, and always with the lonely river, for miles and miles, for years and years.

            But too soon came a day when the boys legs were too tired to run, and his ears were dead to the ripple of the water, and his eyes dulled the colors of the flowers that lined the river’s banks.  Too weak to run, he walked, and then too weak to walk, he sat, and in his beaten loneliness brought forth a brightly colored stump of a candle from his pocket and lit it.  But the flame did not dance, and the flowers did not grow, and his heart was not moved.  The only things the candlelight stirred to motion were faint, familiar voices in the ancient ruins of an old city not far from the edge of the river.  And the boy cried and trembled, for the city that had run him out had drawn him in, and the river that had led him far had brought him nowhere.

            He turned his back on the crumbling, empty ruins and looked once more to the water, where he saw himself reflected young and unfulfilled, sitting in the wildflowers on the riverbank in the warm summer sun.  With a weak toss, he sent the lit candle into the river, for it belonged to the bright, impassioned boy on the surface of the weed-choked stream, and not the tattered man with a tattered heart sitting there dying on its banks.

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