by Ellena Ashley 2018
Part 1 600 words E
Once upon a time, in a small village snuggled into the side of a wooded valley, lived a candlemaker. He lived by himself in his little cottage, but he wasn't lonely because he knew everyone in the village, and every day customers would knock at his door for supplies and stay for a chat and sometimes a cup of tea.
Jacob had learned to make candles from his father, just as his grandfather had been taught by his father.
Jacob took great care making his candles. He used the finest beeswax, oils, and perfumes. He would often be seen out in the fields collecting lavender and flower heads, and his fire was continually boiling a pot of something special. The smell would ooze out into the streets, and passers-by would point their noses in the air and sigh contentedly.
Jacob had a talent for writing, and he would sit with each candle, feather quill pen in his hand, and write kind thoughts and wishes in tiny letters around them before dipping them in the final beeswax to hide them from view. He made them with a good pure heart.
When the sun sank at the end of each day, the candlemaker would put on his cap and jacket and walk around the village, watching the windows light up one by one, with soft, glowing light. It gave him a great sense of peace. He imagined all of his words floating up into the sky and filling everyone with love.
It had been a long winter, with snow pushing hard up against everyone's doors. There had been few travellers come through as the roads were impassable. As a result, food was getting scarce, and people were becoming anxious. Even Jacob, who was normally so calm, was worrying about where he would find his next candle ingredients. His supplies were running out, and for the first time, he had to ration his sales.
'Morning Jacob! May I have two boxes of my usual, please?' Mr. Black held out his hands expectantly.
'I'm very sorry,' mumbled Jacob, I can only spare you one box. Otherwise, some families will have to go without.....'
Mr. Black was not expecting this and put his hands on his hips. Then he softened and said, ' Aye, you are right, it has been a long, hard winter. Let's hope the sun will remember us soon.'
This message had to be repeated with every customer, and Jacob could feel the unrest in the air. He stopped walking around the village every evening as people were shutting their curtains and going to bed early to save the candles.
Jacob tried to improvise as best as he could, sometimes using rosehips and lemons in his ingredients, sometimes nothing more than pine needles and melted down candle stubs.
The village was becoming dark and sullen.
One day, as the snow started to turn to slush, a man appeared in town.
He was dressed in black and had small pointy ears. His eyes constantly moved from left to right, and his tongue flickered against his wet lips.
He stood in the square and told everyone in a loud voice that he was a candlemaker and could make twice as many candles as they had ever seen, at half the cost! He was here to save the day and make life easy again.
'Hurray! Harrah! The people cheered.
Jacob watched through his little window with a heavy heart. He had let everyone down. He had not one more candle left. He sat in his chair by the fire and stared at the flames.
Life in the village carried on with a lot more hustle and bustle now that everyone had a good supply of candles. The new candlemaker's shop always had a line of people waiting to be served, and they came out with arms full of boxes. The shop never closed, and steam and smoke billowed from its chimneys all day and night. The evenings became busier because people would work longer and stay up later, now that there was a good supply of light. The market stayed open, and restaurants and drinking houses didn't close their doors until well after midnight.
Day by day, the village started to change.
Shopkeepers and chefs became grumpier as they had to work more hours. Mothers found it harder to put their children to bed. Party revellers would become drunk with alcohol, having more hours to consume the beer and wine and make trouble in the streets. The local policeman was run off his feet and told his Sargent that he needed more men. It was a noisy, busy place to live.
Whilst all of this was happening, Jacob stayed in his house as much as he could. He was embarrassed to go in to the market square and talk to people. He hadn't made a candle for weeks now.
One day an old customer knocked at his door.
'Hello, Jacob. How are you? Nobody sees you around anymore. Are you well?'
'Thank you, Amos. I am well, just a little slow these days.' Jacob smiled at the man at the door and saw that he had a little basket.
'I've brought you some old candle stubs from my last order with you,' Amos said. 'I thought perhaps you could make something of it.'
Jacob took the basket and peered inside. There was enough to make one big candle.
'Thank you for your kindness, Amos.'
As Jacob melted the stubs into a liquid again, the house filled with a beautiful perfume. At that moment, he decided that this last candle would be for himself. He moulded the wax into shape and took out his quill and ink. He sat for a while, waiting. Then in perfect handwriting, he wrote around the candle, 'I wish not to be lonely anymore.' He dipped it in the last layer of wax and set it on the table to dry.
When it grew dark outside, Jacob took himself up the creaky stairs to bed. He lay listening to the noise in the streets and could not sleep. His curtains lit up with the light from a hundred candles and streetlights flickering around the house. And what was that smell? He drew the curtains back and opened the window a little. Smoke and a pungent waft of something horrible drifted in, and he shut the window with a bang. Then, pulling on his clothes, Jacob quietly went downstairs, opened his front door, and walked in to the streets.
He was shocked at what the village had become.
No longer was it a peaceful place, with villagers looking out for each other.
It was noisy, busy, and ugly. The light was stark and blinding.
But most of all, it smelt really, really bad.
Jacob hurried back to his house, bolting his door behind him. To rid himself of the acid taste in his mouth, he lit his last candle. Gradually as the tiny flame burned down the wick, the house filled with flower and spice perfume again. Jacob sat in his armchair and nodded off to sleep. The words on the candle gently melting and lifting up into the night.
Jacob awoke to a knocking sound at his door. He rubbed his eyes and sat up slowly, stretching his arms out above his head and yawning wide like a sleepy cat. He shoved his feet into his slippers and creaked his way down the narrow staircase.
He opened the door. There was nobody there! He looked up the street and to the left and the right. Nobody. And then he heard a whimper. He looked down at his feet, and there in a small cardboard box, a little fluffy puppy stared back up at him with big bright eyes. A tail no bigger than a carrot waved furiously from side to side, making the whole puppy wiggle. In wobbly black writing, the words ' Feed me' had been written on the box lid.
'Hmmm,' Jacob said and rubbed his chin. 'Well, well, well.' And then, 'Hmmmm' again.
He picked up the box and took the puppy inside. He found some old meat in the kitchen, broke it up into little bite-sized pieces, and fed it to the dog. It ate quickly, as if it hadn't had a meal in a long time.
'If you are going to be my dog, you should have a proper name,' Jacob told it.
'Let me see.......Fluffy.....no.....Scruffy......no........your eyes are bright like fire, like a flame....that's it! Flame!'
Flame looked pleased with the announcement and jumped and ran in circles around the cottage.
Over the next few weeks, the dog grew larger and larger. It gave Jacob much joy and was good company. Sometimes Jacob thought the dog understood his every word. They had started to go back out into the fields again, as the dog needed exercise, and Jacob always took his baskets with him. Then, out of habit, he started collecting ingredients to make candles. Before he knew it, his store cupboards were filling up, and he decided he would find some beeswax and make a start on some new candles. Even if they were just for himself, it would make his house smell as it used to and not like the streets outside.
Weeks passed by, and three things happened.
Flame grew into a beautiful dog with a shiny coat and dancing amber eyes.
Jacob had made so many candles, the boxes filled his spare bedroom and overflowed into the hallway.
And lastly, but most importantly, the smell in the village was getting worse and worse.
It was a smell like a thousand decaying corpses. A smell that stuck in the back of your throat and made your clothes stink, no matter how many times they were washed.
People started to stay indoors more, and the marketplace and shops grew quiet.
And day by day, bit by bit, insects started to creep and crawl in. Beetles, flies, and cockroaches marched in like armies, filling up the drains, climbing up the water pipes, and living inside the walls. People had to shake their shoes before putting their feet in and check their hats before putting them on.
The local policeman came to visit Jacob for advice.
'Jacob, your house smells beautiful. As lovely as my house is, I would gladly move my bed over here.'
'It is a problem,' Jacob said to the man. 'But I'm not sure how I can help.'
'You are a great candlemaker,' the policeman said seriously. 'I would like you to snoop around and see what the new candlemaker is up to. I think he is the cause of all our problems.'
'I will try,' Jacob said. 'I will try.'
The next morning Jacob awoke before the sun lazily started to poke a few weak rays of light up into the dawn. He dressed quickly and stole out of his front door before flame his dog could get excited. He was shocked at the changes in the village since his last walk. It had become ugly and dirty. Everywhere he looked, clusters of black insects crawled, climbed, and infested the shadows. They were starting to eat into the wood, and holes were appearing in houses. Fences were crumbling, and doors had been patched up. He swatted at some annoying wasps that were buzzing around his head. The noise of thousands of insects was deafening.
Jacob could see black smoke billowing out from the new candlemaker's shop. Quietly, and with a thumping heart, he crept around the back, stood on a crate, and peered in the window. It was dark, but Jacob could just make out boxes and pots of different ingredients. He was looking into the storeroom. As he began to read the words on the boxes, his skin prickled, and his heart turned cold. He then turned his attention to the other window. Pots were boiling noisily on the range, buckets of slimy goo sat waiting on a table, and a large pile of bones sat on the floor. Black stains marked the flagstone floor, and splatters dotted the walls. The room was thick with flies, and the terrible smell that invaded the village seeped out of the cracks and crawled along the streets like a heavy fog.
Jacob could take no more and ran back to the marketplace, where he sat down with his head in his hands. He was sweating and felt a little sick.
This new mysterious candlemaker was making his candles with pig fat, ground animal bones, machinery oil, leftover food scraps, dead carcasses, and bound together with gelatine. They were so different from the beautiful candles that Jacob made.
He recounted his story to the policeman that had visited him. The policeman shook his head.
'I don't think there is anything we can actually do,' the Seargent said. 'He isn't breaking any law, there are no rules about candle making or making vile smells in this village.'
'What we can do,' Jacob replied, 'is not buy any of his goods anymore. Instead, I will offer my candles for sale again and let the villagers decide.' They shook hands.
Back in his cottage, Jacob took a large unfinished candle and sat down at the work table. He took out his quill and ink and wrote kind thoughts and beautiful words around the candle. He made it with as much love in his heart as he could muster. He dipped it in wax and let it dry. Then, after dinner, when it had set hard, he took it to the window and lit it, closed his eyes, and let the words drift away.......
Sometimes, things have a way of working out by themselves. Sometimes, events happen that you have no control of. Often, these things are for the best.
As the villagers took themselves off to bed, and one by one, the vile candles were extinguished for the night, unbeknown to everybody, an army of small black creatures flew into town. There were thousands of them. Attracted by the smell, they gathered around the marketplace, looking for the source. With their pointy ears and wings stretched with tight black skin, their tiny claws clung to the sides of houses, lamp posts, roofs, and fences. The village turned utterly black.
They had been infested with bats.
As the villagers awoke and drew their curtains aside to see a black, dreary morning, a murmur and unrest trickled through the streets. People opened their front doors and stood with hands on hips, staring left and right. Thousands of bats hung from window ledges, streetlamps, and rooftops. The noise of flapping wings and squeaks was deafening.
The children were told to stay indoors, and windows were slammed shut. The menfolk gathered in a large group in the market square.
'Our problems started with the new candlemaker,' said the Baker, a big round man who loved his food. 'I cannot smell my bread rising anymore.'
'It's true!' the Butcher joined in, shaking his head. 'My shop has screens to keep the insects out, but they are crawling up through the floorboards.'
More villagers joined the men, each agreeing that the smell was the root of the problem.
Jacob could hear raised voices and looked out of his window. His dog was staring at the front door and growling.
'Hush now, Flame, good boy,' he fondly rubbed the dog's ears.
Jacob did not like conflict and didn't want to go and join the other men. Instead, he took a chair over to the window and watched. Flame lay at his feet, eager to spring into action if needed.
By this time, the villagers had devised a plan and were collecting large sticks and pitchforks. They were going to confront the candlemaker and demand that he fix the mess. Word spread around town, and soon a mob of people set off determinedly, down towards the shop, at a brisk walk.
The bats and insects were disturbed by all the noise and movement and took to the air, filling it with buzzing and flapping wings. It was like a plague. It looked like a black whirlwind was engulfing the village.
And then a strange thing happened. It would be talked about for years to come. The details would be exaggerated, of course, and the story grew and grew, but this is what actually took place.
The candlemaker was having trouble with some candles that would not set. So he had opened his windows to try and get a breeze through. As the smell wafted out into the open, the insects swarmed into the shop, filling it with darkness. The bats had gathered into one black mass and rose upwards into the sky and then, like a diving fish, turned as one and swooped down and into the building filling every space and every corner.
'I hate bats!' cried the candlemaker. 'I hate them, I hate them. Nasty pointy ears and claws!'
He ran out into the street just as the villagers arrived.
'Help me!' he cried. 'Make them go away!'
'It is out of our control,' the Baker said. 'It is your smell that is attracting them.'
'Then I am off,' he cried, with wild eyes and arms flailing around his head.
He ran and ran, with a storm of bats following him until he was just a tiny dot in the distance. He did not come back. They never saw him again.
It did not take long for peace to be restored. All of the nasty candles and boxes were carted out and taken to a large pit, where they were burned and buried.
The bugs and flies slowly dwindled away.
Jacob gave out free supplies of his candles, and once more, a beautiful fragrance filled the air.
His place as village candlemaker was restored, and he continued to write his kind wishes and thoughts for many, many years to come.