A Candle for Imbolc
Copyright © 2003 by Julie Ann Dawson
February 2, 1922
“Dear God, which angel did I so offend that I shall die without grandchildren?” exclaimed Mother. The thunder outside echoed her sentiments, but gave her no reply.
“Mother, your hysterics are unbecoming,” said Nicolette.
“I am entitled to my hysterics, as I have been cursed to be the mother of spinsters!”
Natalie and I scolded each other for mocking mother behind her back as she feigned collapsing into her chair. It really was not funny. Well, it was a bit funny. Mother had set her heart on Nicolette marrying Dr. Crossman. Why else would he have given her employment at the clinic? It apparently never occurred to Mother that he simply needed another physician.
“There is a gentleman here to see Miss Natalie,” said Samuel as he cautiously entered the room. He is so dreadfully timid for a man, but working for Mother all these years has that effect on some people.
“Really?” said Mother.
“A Detective Harper, Mrs. Collins. Concerning a Professor Maritan.”
Natalie followed after Samuel. Nicolette and I attempted to stall Mother’s pursuit long enough for Natalie to handle whatever business it was the detective had with her. But mother can smell a potential suitor at 500 yards, and we were unsuccessful in detaining her.
“Any information you can offer would be most appreciated, Professor Collins,” said Detective Harper as we followed Mother into the reception room.
“Good evening, Detective,” said Mother as she waved off Samuel. The poor man hurried out of her path. “I am Gloria Collins, Natalie’s mother. Pray tell what brings you to our home on such a frightful night?”
“I did not mean to alarm the entire family. I apologize.”
“No alarm. Please, do not apologize. I owe you an apology, as obviously my servant did not offer you any refreshments. Would you like a drink?”
“Ah….no…I am on duty. But thank you.”
“Perhaps another time when you are not on duty.”
“Mother…” said Natalie.
Detective Harper looked between Mother and Natalie for a moment and realized the situation at hand. He quickly began buttoning his overcoat.
“To answer your question as to why I am here, a colleague of your daughter’s was found dead in his office this afternoon. At his desk, we found a partially completed letter addressed to Professor Collins. I was hoping she could shed some light on the matter. Now, if you will excuse me, I must be going.”
Samuel escorted the detective to the front door. As he left, Tabitha let herself in. She passed through Samuel, causing him to shake slightly from the chill.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“A detective,” I thought to her. “Someone Natalie knows died under peculiar circumstances.”
“Death is not exciting.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad.”
“What happened, Natalie?” Nicolette asked. “Was the poor man murdered?”
“They do not know yet. Only he was found dead in his office. He was very pale and cold when they found him, as if he was scared to death. He apparently was writing me a letter regarding an item that had come into his possession. A candle holder, of all things.”
“A candle holder?” asked Nicolette, almost disappointed.
“Two, actually. They were discovered at a dig in Iran. A gold candle holder with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, and a black one with some unknown inscription. He had mentioned it to me a week ago in passing, that perhaps I should stop by his office to examine them.”
“Well, perhaps if you had accepted the dear man’s invitation he would not have killed himself in distress,” said Mother as she walked away.
“What!?” exclaimed Natalie as she rushed after Mother to pursue an argument. Nicolette followed to referee the situation.
“We should go talk to him,” said Tabitha.
“What ever for?” I asked.
“To see why he died. We could help that nice detective and I’m sure that poor professor would appreciate the closure.”
“It is such an awful night, though.”
“Sven can drive. He can drive through anything! Remember when he drove you and Nicolette through that snowstorm last winter?”
Sven is my bodyguard. Father hired him to drive me around and watch over me while I am at the University, where I teach philosophy and religion. He was in the military before Father enlisted him, so I suspect he can drive through anything.
I found Sven in the den reading a book on firearms.
“Sven, please take us to the campus.”
“You cannot possibly have a class tonight,” he said. “And this weather is terrible.”
“I know. I need to…I need to do some research…for an article on the religious beliefs of Northern Africa.”
He closed the book and rubbed his eyes.
“You need more practice lying, Natasha. Now, why do you want to go to the campus?”
“Just tell him!” said Tabitha.
“Let me handle this,” I said out loud.
Sven raised an eyebrow as he looked at the area next to me. “Who are you talking to?”
“Tabitha. She is a little adamant about the whole thing.”
Sven picked up the writing tablet next to him and wrote down some notes. “Why are we going to the campus?” he asked without looking up from his work.
“Well, a colleague of Natalie’s died this afternoon in his office and I thought I might be able to talk to him and find out why.”
“You want to talk to him?”
“And he’s dead?”
Sven finished writing and closed the tablet.
“I don’t suppose there is any use in me arguing about this?”
“Let me get my coat.”
I retrieved my coat and a towel from my bath for Tabitha to sit on in the car. Tabitha drowned some time ago in a boating accident. Ever since then she drips terribly.
We arrived at the campus around 8 pm. As we approached the main building where the professor’s office was, I felt a sudden chill. Not the normal chill of a February storm, but more the chill of being near the anxious dead.
The office door was locked. I asked Tabitha if she could go on the other side and open it for us. I grew lightheaded as she manifested on the other side of the door. She is normally ethereal, but can materialize by drawing on my own strength.
Tabitha unlocked the door and dissipated before Sven could see her. He jumped as the door cracked open on its own. I saw his hand reach for the revolver he always wore under his jacket.
“Your father will surely fire me if he finds out about this.”
“Then we will not tell him.”
“What if the police or campus security should show up?”
“The door was open. We walked in. No harm done.”
“I do not like this one bit.”
“Then go watch for trouble down the hall. You will probably just be in my way in here.”
Sven left Tabitha and I alone to locate the deceased Professor.
I stood quietly in the center of the room and tried to locate him. There was not even a psychic residue to be found. Normally people deposit faint energies in places they frequent, and it is possible sense them.
“Something is wrong here,” said Tabitha. “I do not like it one bit.”
“Go check on Sven. Keep an eye on him for me.”
“I do not wish to leave you alone!”
“I will be fine. But Sven has never met a ghost. If the professor is wandering about and introduces himself, Sven will be quite upset.”
“I think we should go home.”
“I think I shall finish what I started. Besides, this was YOUR idea. Now go check on Sven.”
Tabitha left the room. I really was not worried about Sven, but something has absorbed all traces of the professor’s energies. I did not want anything to happen to my little Tabitha.
I found a wooden box on the desk. It possessed the faint energy of Rowan wood. I sat down at the desk and opened the box. Inside were the two candle holders in question. The gold was dormant, but the black one radiated cold. I could see the stub of a candle and remnants of recently melted wax on it. I picked it up gently.
The door slammed shut.
The room filled with a green haze. My eyes burned from it. I dropped the candle holder to the floor. It began twisting about like a snake. Then it grew to about three foot long. I backed away from it as it sprouted three tentacles from the base. It used the tentacles to push itself toward me. A mouth formed at the front of the candlestick and began reciting strange cantrips in an alien tongue.
“WALL!” I screamed in my head. I felt a cold energy beat against my mental defense. It was as if a vacuum of space was attacking me. Something cold and wet slithered around my ankles. I almost tripped into the bookshelves.
I could faintly hear Sven banging on the door. But the door and walls had been covered by black and green slugs climbing all about them. I struggled forward against the things wrapping about my calves.
“WALL!” I screamed again as another flurry of cold crashed against my mind. The room grew darker. I felt about the desk looking for the other candle holder. A slug fell from the ceiling into my hair. It knotted itself into my locks. I grabbed and ripped it and a handful of hair out of my head.
“WALL!” I screamed as I finally found the other candlestick. The lashings continued. I felt a crack in my mental wall.
Another slug fell and landed on my forehead. I tore it lose before it could firm up its grip, but a bit of flesh went with it and I was bleeding. A touch of blood fell upon the candle holder in my grip, and it grew warm. Then, I heard a soft voice in my mind.
“One to subsume the light, one to revive. One is dead, the other alive.”
I held the it in front of me. The cold lashed again at me, but was intercepted by an explosion of white light. The force of the collision threw me backwards into and over the desk. My lower back slammed against the desk as I fell to the floor.
I heard the office door thrown open. Sven rushed over to me.
“Natasha, what happened? Can you hear me?”
“I hear you just fine. Stop screaming.” I looked around to see the room empty of slugs and haze.
Tabitha also rushed to my side. She stepped through Sven to reach me. He shivered.
I clutched the candle holder in one hand and used Sven’s strong shoulder to pull myself up with the other.
“You’re bleeding. Your father will kill me.”
“Not if I stop bleeding before we get home.”
“You have a bald spot,” said Tabitha as she pointed at my head.
“It will grow back.”
“What will grow back?” asked Sven.
“Never mind.” I looked around and found the black one. I used a letter opener to push it back into the rowan box.
“Take us home, Sven.”
We told mother I slipped and fell in the rain to explain my bruising. Nicolette suffocated me in her medical treatments. I finally escaped to my room with the box and the gold candlestick hidden in my coat pocket.
I have found a white candle and placed it in the gold holder. I rested the candlestick in my windowsill and lit it. The storm has subsided, and the moon shines beautifully through the window to accent the light of the flame.
The other is apparently quite cursed. It absorbs life energies and consumes them. The professor must have accidentally activated the power within by putting a candle in it, and paid for it with his soul. He did not have the means of protecting himself from the mental assault, or more likely was in denial the entire time his soul was being devoured.
I shall have to find a means of disposing of the vile thing before some other innocent is destroyed over it. As for the other, I believe I shall keep it. There is a power within it that saved my life. Perhaps one day I will decipher its goals and be able to repay the debt.
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