Snuffed Too Soon

by Chary

Unhurried flame gnawed the wick to nothing. Candlelight exhaled its last. Wooden floorboards creaked beneath Arwa’s knees as she settled into prayer. Once the attic brimmed with darkness, she closed her eyes to search the silence.

One heartbeat. Two. The rush in her ears couldn’t deafen her quite like the warning bells in her head. Turn back, screamed what remained of her soul, as if that were an option. But there was nothing left to turn back to, not after the price she paid for this candle. Above an emptied house rose summer air, wringing beads of sweat from her neck. In a space no bigger than a coffin, she grew more numb with each passing minute.

Then, from the inky shallows came a shuffle of slippers. Slow. Stilted. Scared. The matchbox in Arwa’s palm buckled as she opened her eyes, leaned forward, and whispered, “Sada?”

The slippers halted. One heartbeat. Two. A tiny voice eked out, “Mama?”

The voice carried bits of broken glass that shredded any memory of Sada’s sing-song soprano. One by one, Arwa’s heartstrings snapped with each rasp of, “Mama, where are you?” If breath could crunch like gravel against gravel, she didn’t know it until now.

“Mama’s here,” cried Arwa into the dark. “Sada, your voice, what happened?”

“My throat hurts, Mama.” Glass and gravel. “It hurts. Hell is so dry.”

Arwa bit her tongue and swallowed her sobs. “Mama’s coming to find you, sweetie. Mama’s gonna bring you home.”

“What about Papa?”

In the dark, a match stood pinched between Arwa’s fingers. It felt sticky. “What about Papa?”

“Papa’s here.” A pause, then a hesitant, “Mama, why is Papa here?”

Arwa struck the match against its box. It flamed but did not burn. Its glow revealed a candleholder, and in it, a pool of hot wax still wet with a red not unlike what dripped from her fingernails to the creases of her palms.

“Get away from him, Sada.”

“He’s calling my name. I see him, but he can’t see me.”

She twisted around, the tiny torch circling with her until it illuminated a severed head. It sat behind her on its stump and stickied the wooden floorboards. The eyes had been sewn shut.

“Sada, I won’t be able to find you if you don’t leave Papa alone.”

With her free hand, Arwa plucked a waist-length strand of her hair. From her pocket, she unearthed a sewing needle. She gripped the strand in her mouth, one-handedly threading the needle as Sada cried, “Papa, I’m over here!”

Arwa knotted the hair to the needle, then rushed to silence her husband.

Her work was clumsy. She couldn’t afford the sloth of precision while Sada continued to ignore her warnings. “Papa! Papa!” Joy seeped into Sada’s voice. He was going to find her first.

Arwa brought the head to her lap. The match and its endless fire trembled in her grasp. It cast dark, skittery shapes over the contours of her husband’s face while a particularly thin shadow bobbed up and down from his lips until they at last were sealed.

Sada had already stopped shouting by now. Arwa whispered, “Sweetie?”

Nothing. Then, the sound of slippers. A contemplative shuffle. “Mama, I don’t wanna come home anymore.”

Arwa lifted the head from her lap and rested it beside the candleholder. “Sada, what did Papa tell you?”

Small, choked sobs filled the attic. “Are you gonna hurt me too?”

“Never. I would never.” Arwa wove her heart into these words and pleaded into a space she couldn’t see. Blood candles were expensive, but no price was too steep for her little Sada, snuffed too soon. She stared into the match’s flickering, then down at the pool of red wax. “Mama’s coming to find you, sweetie.”

“No! I’m not coming with you!”

Arwa closed her eyes. “Mama’s gonna bring you home.” At the edges of the light, smoke wisped around her like the slow stir of a cauldron. Then it broke in an unexplained gust. When Arwa exhaled her last, the match fell to the floor, its flame unhurried in gnawing her to nothing.

Chary is writer who has a fear of ghosts. Procrastination, however, is scarier. She recently uninstalled League of Legends to focus on writing speculative fiction.
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