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Candles This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The match makes a soft, short fizzing sound as it lights. A small burst of bright blue light grows into warm, golden flame. When it jumps to the candlewick, it morphs into a two-headed creature, and then splits. The match smokes when it hits the water, and floats there, forgotten, its red ember already dark.

A sweet, flowery scent floats off the melting candle wax, the light from the flame in the middle glittering off the shiny areas of the candle. I stare at it until my eyes hurt and my vision gets dim. I keep thinking, maybe if I just stare at it long enough…

There was a lot of noise and bustling once band let out, with everyone all crowded in the little entryway, waiting for the bell to ring so we could burst out to our next class. When it finally did, a thick stream of high school students flowed out, and immediately scattered. Some of us went straight, others to the left or right, and the rest went up and down the big red staircases. The hallways were vibrating with the sounds of shouting and laughing and the thunder of footsteps.

I ran up the stairs with my best friend so we’d have time to slip into the bathroom before World Studies. It’s a girl ritual to check your makeup as often as you can, and stress over the way your hair will never fall exactly into place. But we looked and felt great, despite the few fly-aways and smudges. My friend went to the stalls around the corner, and once she came back and washed her hands, she shoved them under the air-dryer.

“Sarah, come ‘ere,” she half shouted over the hot air.

“What?” I mouthed at her.

“First, promise me you won’t tell anyone.” I nodded, checking that no one else was in the bathroom and thinking that she was probably going to tell me something about her and Alex, her soon-to-be boyfriend. But instead she frowned, and said; “Lena’s friend got stabbed to death yesterday. She just found out.”

I get why people think souls look like burning candles, I think. The rest of the room is dark, so the single flame burns bright and alone. Maybe that’s how she felt. Alone. I’d learned that her name was Mell. She was blonde, had small eyes, and was fourteen, just a few months younger than me. She lived and died in the suburbs. I don’t know if she died right away, or if someone had tried to save her. But she was murdered; she died, whether or not someone had tried to rescue her. She lost her life anyways. No…it was stolen from her.

Did the murderer know her? Or did they just randomly decide on her life to take? Who was she thinking of when she died? Did she feel alone? Did she see her life pass by her? It must of hurt…hurt so bad she’d probably be crying for days if she’d gotten them. But she only got a few moments, hopefully. I hope she didn’t hurt for long. I hope it was quick.

I get why flames look like souls…they’re so bright and beautiful, but so easily blown out. So easily taken by the wind…

I’d put my hands over my mouth, my eyes wide, my gut shrinking into a tiny ball of shock and sorrow. “What?” I gasped through my fingers, “Where?”

“Suburbs,” Marie answered, her eyes filling with tears. Neither of us knew the girl, but our hearts were tearing anyways.

“How old was she?”

“Our age. Lena only just found out. We were at lunch when she got a phone call. Anna was the first one to see her, then Violet, and then I did. Poor Lena, she was crying so much. Her mom came and picked her up.” My fingers had dropped to my chin. My head was spinning with questions. How could someone do that? How could someone stab a person to death? Didn’t they know that someone would cry for them, that a part of someone would die with them? How could they? How?

We stood there for a minute, just trying to breathe.

“Marie, we’re gonna be late. Come on, let’s go.” My voice sounded shaky and far away, like someone else was speaking. We left the bathroom and made our way to the classroom in silence. I’d never heard it so loud before.
The halls still had stragglers running through them, but I didn’t hear them, I didn’t see them. All I heard was the silence, the shock, the sadness. All I could see was a faceless, nameless girl being stabbed by hands with no body, with no soul…

I don’t know really why I’m sobbing, my back pressed against the wall, my knees curled against my chest. The first tear was for Mell. The second was for Lena. The third was for Mell’s family. The fourth was for everyone else she touched. I think the rest were for all of them.

All I know is that my eyes feel tight and puffy, there’s a hole somewhere deep inside me, and that Mell was killed yesterday. I don’t know who she is. I don’t know why it was her. I don’t know why there’s a hole inside me when there was nothing there to take from. I don’t know why life is so fragile, so unfair. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever really meant that until now.

I keep thinking about yesterday. Yesterday, I was thinking about college, about what I want to be when I graduate. I was dreaming about dating, about everything that’s sure to happen this year. The World Series. My first kiss. The school play. Tests. Grades. Friends. Not a funeral, not a death.

And now I’m thinking about Mell – what was her life like yesterday? Did she watch baseball? Was she rooting for the Cardinals or the Rangers? Was she going to watch the seventh game tonight? What kind of music did she like listening to? Did she have a crush, or a boyfriend, or was she happy to be free and single? What were her plans? Was she planning to go to her friend’s house tomorrow? Or maybe a dance or a party? I bet she was dreaming about something…and now she isn’t. No, now she isn’t. She’s just…gone…

There’s a soft fizzing, and a gentle glow surrounds the candle. It’s followed by another, and another, until the dark, starless sky is filled with what seems like millions of motionless lights. To me, they look like a million fireflies, all gathered here to shed a million wax tears. A million wax tears all shed for her, for a girl unknown to many of us, but mourned just the same. We’re gathered here, like those wax fireflies, for her. And real tears spill from the eyes of everyone, even the hardest of faces. Because we’re all thinking the same thing – that could have been my best friend, my sister, someone I know. That could have been me.

But it wasn’t. It was her. And yet, after she was murdered, nothing seemed to have changed. Time didn’t stop. People kept laughing and joking and running, because they didn’t know. They didn’t realize that someone dies every thirteen seconds. That someone cries every thirteen seconds. That, somewhere out there, another faceless Mell is succumbing to a disease, dying of old age, or being stolen too young, too close to home. Someone like you out there is dying, is dead. Someone like you, someone like me.




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