Candlelight by Barry Charman

There.

Can you see it? Across the pale water? A hunched shape. A crooked sum of flesh. Is it eating? The head is making rending, tugging motions. No matter. It has grown still. Ah. It has seen you. How quick it moves. A black fleck, like something that belongs to the corner of an eye. See how fast it lurches towards you. If only you could move.

A suicide of snakes uncurls in your chest. Curious sensation. As if something abandons you. You do not believe in the soul? Just as well.

Is this a dream? An understandable thought. A necessary one, for sanity. You remember blowing out the black candle. The one you were warned not to light. You remember that the flame was black and writhed as if in an ecstasy of pain. Why did you light it? To show the others that caution was not the way. That illumination would only reward commitment? Seems foolish now. Was it wax at all—no, don’t think about that.

It is getting closer.

They told you what to do, did they not? Count backwards from six, then again to six, then back from six once more. Such satanic nonsense.

Still.

You start to count backwards. The thing has already crossed the water; now it stops. You are shaking, because you realise you have amused it. You count down to one, then begin to count to six. Oh look, it is moving again. You realise now, as you can see it a little clearer, that it owes more to a spider than a man. Your mind recoils at having to attempt comprehension. Across the water, you can smell the collapse of the dead. You catch the lullaby of maggots.

What shore is this? What glimpse of what Hell have you found? Fit for no soul, waking or asleep, it simply waits. This is a moonlit place, and yet, glancing up, you see only a pockmarked skull where a moon should be.

You look down, and see the sand is formed from a billion smaller skulls worn down by the wastes of time. Previous pilgrims. Were they each such a fool as you?

You reach six, and begin to count back once more. The thing is much closer now. It is somehow screaming inside your head, a sickeningly intimate sensation.

Six.

A fell voice is leaking from your shadow. Begging for haste, for release. Its panic infects you, just as the cloak of your degenerate skin infects it.

Five.

The thing detests you. What will it do with you? You have obtained no permission to be here. There were words, sacraments, in place to placate the creature. To pay tribute. Who are you to stumble blindly into its lair?

Four.

Sliding down the frail meat of your face, your tears divide, as if crying for themselves.

Three.

Distantly you can smell the fumes of the candle. You know you will reject everything dark if you are given a reprieve in the light. You were a good man once—oh, to be that again.

Two.

The thing is almost upon you. It is retching its own teeth, shedding whatever vestige of itself might once have been reassuring. Small bones litter its wake, playthings discarded by a callous silhouette. Its laughter is clearer now, the sound like black water trickling down a corpse’s ribcage.

You close your eyes to the vision—a final, desperate act.

One.

Now. If you dare.

Open them.


Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Firewords Quarterly, Bare Fiction Magazine, and Popshot. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in Gyroscope Review and The Linnet’s Wings. Find out more at his blog.