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The Candle

Garret walked around the corner, his shadow growing as the sun moved behind him. A large garage sale sign pointed down the sidewalk. He turned his attention in the direction the arrow pointed. A mylar balloon cluster bobbed in the breeze over a mailbox.  “Why not,” he said and ambled toward the balloons.

The yard, covered in various items, came into view. Blankets and tables displayed small items while larger items stood alone. A hand-written sign with Everything Must Go leaned against a five drawer dresser. Garret’s lips twitched and flexed as he rolled his eyes over the items on display. “Typical.”

He walked up the driveway and saw a rusting red toolbox and a hydraulic floor jack. “Now we’re talking.” Garret rummaged through the tools and pulled out different sized sockets. He grabbed the long pole with grooves on one end, then poked it into the floor jack. With a smooth motion, he pushed it down. The resting surface didn’t move. Twisting his wrist, he pumped again. This time the jack raised small distance.

“You need a jack?” A woman with a round face and tight curls approached him. Her light blue eyes sparkled as she smiled.

“Yeah,” Garret answered. “Do you have any jack stands to go with it?” He looked at her and returned the smile.

“No,” the woman said, shaking her head, her curls bouncing. “A couple of kids came by earlier and bought them.”

“Early bird and all,” Garret said with a small smile and sigh. “I’ll take these and the jack.” He held out the sockets.

“Excellent,” she said. “It looks like the tools are going to get snatched up.” She pointed with her chin at two other men walking up. “That’ll be twenty.”

“Wow!” Garret unfolded his wallet and handed her two tens. “Cheaper at twice the price.”

“Yup,” the woman said. “It’s my grand parent’s old stuff. They passed away a few months back and I can’t afford to put it in storage.”

“That’s sad to hear,” Garret said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” The woman handed Garret a small brown bag and smiled. “Do you need help with the jack?”

“No.” He jammed the handle into the hole and pulled. The device lurched on small metal wheels. “It’s almost like walking a dog.”

“A heavy, metallic dog,” she snorted.

“Thanks again.” Garret waved and walked toward the sidewalk, pulling the jack behind him.

A small end table stood where the driveway met the sidewalk. It was covered with candles and wine bottles. A tall, wide candle with odd colored lattice work caught Garret’s attention, and he stopped. He looked at the candle and let go of the jack handle. His fingers bounced over the designs on the candle. “Weird. Almost Celtic.” Straightening he turned to the woman. “How much for the candle?”

“You can have the entire table for five,” she said and tilted her head.

“I just want this one,” Garret said and put his finger on the large candle.

“Hmm…Two then,” she said.

Once again, Garret fished out money and handed it over. Taking the candle, he worked the bag next to it and set off for his house.

The walk took longer than expected, especially dragging a heavy five-ton floor jack. He stored the tools in his garage, then went into the cool, air-conditioned comfort of his house. Garret drank a glass of sweetened tea and placed the purchased candle in the middle of the sideboard.

“This thing looks brand new,” he said. Picking the candle up, he flipped it over. On the bottom, a round piece of wood was embedded into the wax. He saw a large, blackened circle with an odd glyph in the middle. “Strange.” Using his phone, he took a picture. A few finger swipes later and he was searching for the image on the internet.

The results were overwhelming, but most were just places to have work done. None showed him the image or what it might mean. It was the eighth link he tapped. Gypsy Runes and Curses.

The link landed on a forum site. Scrolling through he saw the various topics from hand gestures to how to spit like a Gypsy. Taping on a few different links always took him to a sign-up page. In frustration, as well as curiosity, he signed up. After verifying his account, he became a member. Going back through the forum, he saw more content. Using the search features, he searched for candles with runes. Four results were returned. He read each one though they contained less than six posts. One covered Gypsy candles and their uses. Reading the four posts, all by the same person, Nuri, Garret discovered Gypsies used candles for more than just illumination. From the posts, they used them in some of their curses and their boons. None of the posts had the glyph he had on the bottom of the candle.

The last post was dated five years ago. After a beat, he touched reply. Filling out the body of his message, he attached the picture of the glyph and tapped post. Touching the button on his phone, he darkened the screen and dropped the device in his pocket. Next, he went to the kitchen and pulled open the fridge. His phone beeped. Pulling the handheld computer out, he swiped in his password and saw the message forum. There was a reply to his post.

“That was amazingly fast,” he said as he tapped the message.

The glyph you have on the bottom of that candle is one of prophecy. Supposedly, only the most powerful of casters could use it and then only in a limited fashion. It is rumored it could show the future that could be. It was up to the caster to determine what it meant. I would not use that candle if I were you.

“It’s just a candle,” Garret said. He looked at the bottom of the reply and saw Nuri’s signature. It led to a website. Following the link, he saw she did spiritual readings and would cleanse you of curses. She also sold various potions and wards. And three books. “OK.” He smiled at himself. “Now I get it.” Darkening his phone again, he set about making a lunch for himself.

The next few days went normally. Garret would go to work, come home, and set about his evening routine of three episodes on a streaming service and some random house chore.

As ten in the evening crested on Thursday, the lights and television went out. “That can’t be good,” Garret said. He moved to a window and peered out. No porch lights or streetlights were shining. None of the normal late night TV flickers appeared in the windows. Grabbing his phone, he checked for issues on the web and found the cause. A car crashed into a substation making a several square mile blackout. Emergency crews were already dispatched and making repairs.

Using the light from his phone, Garret went to the drawer where he kept his flashlight. Once in his hand, he touched the button and nothing happened. A quick check and he saw it had batteries, but he didn’t see any spares. He did see a small box of wooden matches and a collection of various sized candles. The largest group was thin birthday cake candles of different colors. There was one in the shape of the number five from his nephew’s birthday he had hosted. Three small tea lights were at the back of the drawer. “These’ll have to do,” he put them on the counter and grabbed a small saucer from a cupboard. Putting the squat candles in a cluster, he struck a match and transferred the light to each one.

He picked up the small plate and made his way back to the living room. As he passed through the dining room, he spotted the large candle and put the tea lights on the table. Pulling another match, he ignited it on the roughened side of the box. Lowering the flaming stick to the wick of the thick candle, he saw the flame jump from the match to the candle. Just the burnt stick remained in Garret’s hand without the orange glow.

A wisp of pale-gray smoke drifted up and looped around Garret’s head. The scent of fresh strawberries run under his nose and his eyelids fluttered. “Oh, man,” he said. Dropping the small box of matches, he staggered. He reached out to the table and grabbed a chair for support. When his knees hit the floor, his body followed. “I need to clean under the table,” he muttered as his head connected with the wooden floor and his eyes closed.

Dreams washed over him. Each with a rainbow of color and sound. The images flowed past him like roadside billboards outside a car window. The images slowed, and the color became clearer. Distinct sounds reached his ears. “What is this?”

The image of Keith Doherty, the guy in the office next to his at work, came into sharp focus. His eyes were blinking fast and tears ran down his cheeks. A snot streak rolled over his lips and dropped off his narrow chin. “I don’t have any money,” he said with sobs. “I’m married and have three kids. I don’t have cash to carry.”

“This doesn’t sound like your day,” a heavy voice said. “You took out a loan and agreed to pay it.” A hunk of black metal pressed into Keith’s temple. “Today is the day you are supposed to make a payment.”

The image panned back and Garret made out a dark room with cardboard boxes in the background. Different shapes and emblems were on the boxes and they looked like food company logos. A smell of sweat and vegetables crawled up Garret’s nose. The cold draft splashed across his face, making him shiver.

“I know,” Keith said. “Carley had a birthday yesterday. She turned ten. I bought her a present, a laptop. For school.”

“Oh,” the rough voice said. It floated from a tanned face with large lips and a wide nose. “Carley turned ten. Good for her. Imagine the present I might give her. Seeing her father with a broken leg.”

“Please no,” Keith stammered. “My insurance won’t cover all that and it’ll make it harder for me to work. So then, I won’t be able to pay you at all.”

“Interesting logic,” the man said raising his eyebrows. “You fail to realize that if you don’t pay, I’ll be back and take collateral. Plus break an arm.” The man punched Keith in the jaw.

Keith staggered with the blow. He sprawled over several boxes. Dark leafy produce scattered across the damp cement floor.

Keith rolled over, working to a sitting position. His lip oozed blood and bruise bloomed on the side of his chin. “No, please. I’ll pay you. I can get today’s payment and extra. I just need to sell something to get it.”

“Really,” the tanned man said. He squatted down next to Keith, shifting his bomber style jacket out of the way. “How much you talkin’?”

“I don’t know,” Keith said as he wiped his lip on the back of his hand. “Some things left over from when my parents passed away.”

“Pawn shops aren’t gonna give you five G, let alone more.”

Garret choked at the mention of five grand. What did Keith have that was worth over five thousand dollars? More importantly, where could he go to sell it?

“I can get it,” Keith said. “Just let me have two days.”

“You got one,” the man said. “Now get.”

The television noise pulled Garret to a sitting position. He rubbed his head then his eyes. He smelled smoke and looked around. The box of matches lay on the floor where he dropped them and the candle on his sideboard was extinguished. A fading gray trail of smoke disappeared into the air. Leaning on the sideboard, Garret stood.

“What the hell?” He looked around and saw his TV was on, displaying static and a menu asking if he wanted to turn the TV off. “Power outage. Ugh.” Running his tongue over his lips, he focused on the wall.

The images he saw in the dream slammed into him. “Keith!” He grabbed his phone and ran through his contacts. Keith wasn’t in them. “Work intranet.” Taping his browser, Garret pointed it to his employer’s website. He entered his credentials and then browsed the employee’s address book. He found Keith’s entry. It had his work number, fax, and email, but no cell. Next, Garret scanned emails, thinking he might have sent it out. After an hour, he turned up nothing.

“Dammit.” Garret paced in a circle around living room. “I’m never gonna get to sleep.”

Published inSerialshort storySuper Shorts

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