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Fantasy Middle School Coming of Age

The girl who holds the candle never showed up.

Scarlet was supposed to be done at five. The manager promised her that by five o’clock, she’d be all set, because the girl who works the night shift never bails. That was three hours ago, and Scarlet’s arm is beginning to grow tired. She’s allowed to put the candle down, but only for a minute. Then, she has to pick it back up again, and somehow, after resting for a moment, it always feels heavier when she retrieves it.

Short, sputtering breaths dribble out from the woman lying in bed. Scarlet didn’t ask her name, which is unusual for her. Typically, she likes to know their names. She finds that if she can speak to them, it helps pass the time, and she likes to know the name of the person she’s speaking to. One time the person in bed woke up, but that was only the once. The doctors told Scarlet that she must be some kind of angel. She told them it was a coincidence, but she wasn’t entirely sure she believed that. When she was a little girl, her father cut himself very badly, and Scarlet kissed the wound. When she pulled away, there was blood on her lips, but her father’s skin was clear. He smiled at her and bought her ice cream. They never spoke about it again.

This time around, Scarlet wanted to know as little as possible. She only had two more shifts before she’d be transferred to Morning Light. That was the team everyone wanted to be on, because you could put the candles down for up to three minutes at a time. Their office was spacious and it had two windows. You couldn’t see out of them, because the dust in the air outside painted them a gray color, but it was soothing to know that they were windows nonetheless. One of Scarlet’s co-workers commented that a window wasn’t a window if you couldn’t look out of it. She was reprimanded by a manager, and Scarlet knew that even a verbal citation would result in never being allowed to go to Morning Light. That girl with her fresh mouth would be on Evening Light forever. She’d hold a candle for hours and never put it down, because what good is a minute? 

It goes by too fast.

The rooms for Evening Light were converted storage rooms. The beds took up the bulk of the room, and the holders had to stand in whatever was left. At times, you were standing directly over the person in bed. Even so, if any wax dropped onto them or the blankets covering them, you’d be labeled as a Reassign, and then nobody knew what happened to you. Morning and Evening Light were all that were known. Some joked about an “Afternoon Light,” but that was a tired joke that never sparked a laugh or a smile. There were no more afternoons. There was the beginning of the day and the end of it, and lately, it was becoming hard to tell the difference. Only work orders helped distinguish.

Scarlet needed to be moved.

It didn’t matter that nobody ever slipped under on her watch. Death wouldn’t bother her, but the boredom might drive her mad. How could the other girl simply not show up? She must have been labeled Reassigned. That was the only reason a girl would miss her shift, and if she wasn’t Reassigned, she would be for the absence. There’d be no apology given to Scarlet. She’d be told to blame the selfish girl who put her in this position. Management never showed any remorse for conditions or environment. Nobody was happy with the current circumstances, and so there was no point in complaining or expecting sympathy for your plight.

Just hold the candle a little higher.

The breath stopped before it steadied. Scarlet thought her luck had run out. There was no overt disciplinary action for a death, but everyone knew it meant a week’s worth of forms and interviews. If the candle was lit, why did the person die? If there was light, how could there be darkness? How many hours in the chapel would be needed to atone for the dissonance? Things needed to add up. One plus one. It was all there in the manual you received the day you were old enough to read.

If the candle stays lit, all will be well.

But people did die while the candle was lit. Everyone knew that. Death could not be prevented, but the Management said that was negative thinking derived from the selfishness that had gotten everyone into the present catastrophe. Management pointed to the manual where it says death is a choice the same way life is and sickness and wealth and starvation and all of it. All of it. Scarlet memorized the manual when she was a child. She had no choice. Her eyes ran over the words, and they implanted themselves deep inside her. Name a page and she could recite it for you. Her father used to have her do it at parties when the Management would come over as though she were a wind-up toy. The parties were enjoyed by all until Management stopped attending. That was a month or two before her father was arrested.

After that, she was made to hold a candle. Her father had told her that she would never need to do such a thing. She was the daughter of an Executive. The child of fortune. It turns out fortune is a flame just like anything else.

And flames run down.

It took her a moment to realize the breath had not just steadied; it had improved. The woman in bed seemed to be catching a rhythm. Another miracle, perhaps? Scarlet did not relish the idea of receiving more attention. Even the positive sort put a target on you. It meant that when you were finally moved to Morning Light, you’d go there with people believing you have a chip on your shoulder. They’d mock you behind your back, or even to your face. You’d be given two candles to hold to break any ego they assumed you’d brought with you. It was Hell until it was Heaven. You had to pay dearly for Heaven.

The woman in bed opened her eyes. She reached out her hand for water, but there was none. Scarlet put her hand on the woman’s shoulder so she’d know someone was there. Someone was always there, but with only the light from a candle, the person waking up might believe they had crossed over into a darker place. Even darker than where they were when they were alive. Even darker than the place surrounded by metal and concrete. Where windows only showed you dust and wax was running out.

“Are you an angel,” the woman asked, the crust around her eyes breaking, and a tiny bit of blood appearing in the middle of her lips.

Scarlet touched that spot, and the blood came away on her fingertip, but the woman’s lip was still chapped and split.

“No,” she replied, “I’m not.”

January 05, 2024 22:14

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25 comments

Kristi Gott
01:17 Jan 19, 2024

This is very creative and unique. The sensory details and descriptions pulled me into the story. Your writing is very skillful and this is an interesting result from the prompt. Well done!

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Story Time
06:26 Jan 19, 2024

Thank you very much, Kristi.

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Alexis Araneta
10:41 Jan 15, 2024

Wow ! I absolutely loved this one. What an imaginative response to the prompt. I loved the imagery!

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Story Time
04:17 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you so much, Stella. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Hannah Lynn
02:22 Jan 15, 2024

This was a really interesting read with a lot of intrigue. I have questions, there’s a lot to think about. But that’s what a good story is, it makes you want more!

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Story Time
04:17 Jan 16, 2024

I'm so glad. I feel like it definitely has expansion possibilities.

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A T
01:43 Jan 15, 2024

This was intriguing! You should consider expanding on it for a book!

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Story Time
04:18 Jan 16, 2024

A book! If only I had the strength, ha.

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A T
23:44 Jan 17, 2024

Understandable! It takes so much time & energy. If you did though, even little by little, I think it would be an amazing creation!

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Lindsay D
15:29 Jan 14, 2024

I enjoyed reading. very cool how I feel like this story stands alone by itself so well but could also turn into a longer work. Thank you for sharing!

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Story Time
04:18 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you so much, Lindsay!

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Sara Thomas
04:29 Jan 14, 2024

I like the subtle hopelessness of their environment. The wax running out etc.

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Story Time
04:18 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you, Sara. Appreciate you reading it.

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Kailani B.
17:08 Jan 12, 2024

On the one hand, I want to know what's going on here. But on the other, I enjoy mysteries. Thanks for sharing!

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Story Time
18:55 Jan 12, 2024

Thank you Kailani!

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Trudy Jas
05:17 Jan 12, 2024

There are many sci-fi/ futuristic/dystopian stories where I say What? Why? I never did here. Yes, you did not explain where we were, why there were there, what had happened, Why she was holding this candle. But somehow it made perfect sense (okay, that could have been the wine). Wonderful read. Thanks

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Story Time
05:41 Jan 12, 2024

Thank you so much, Trudy!

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Jan 09, 2024

That's a really neat story! Much is going on under the hood that's only hinted at - some great calamity happened, the outside air is filled with dust, people are ill and somehow light plays a key role, some are conscripted into candleholding, a faceless organization seems to run things, Scarlett's father was involved in some kind of conspiracy - but that's fine. The story isn't really about that. It's about Scarlett herself, and like a lone flickering candle in the dark, she's just trying to get by, living by the rules and beneath scrutiny...

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Story Time
04:36 Jan 10, 2024

Thank you, Michal! I like leaving a lot for the reader to interpret and fill in using their own perspective. Always appreciate your thoughts.

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01:22 Jan 08, 2024

Very well written!

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Story Time
01:48 Jan 08, 2024

Thank you, Melissa!

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Michelle Oliver
00:54 Jan 08, 2024

Interesting concept, I am intrigued by the idea of candle holders. You leave us many questions to think about. I love the opening line, it immediately grabbed my attention.

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Story Time
01:21 Jan 08, 2024

Thank you so much, Michelle.

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Mary Bendickson
00:33 Jan 07, 2024

Interesting though no questions were answered. Maybe part of a larger work?

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Story Time
04:18 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you for reading, Mary!

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