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By the Candlelight

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The sun had set, and John had resolved to stay awake all night; his companions, Jesse and Lucas, were already out, curled up in a pile of blankets in the inner room. Someone always had to keep watch during the new moon; the sky was empty except for stars and the lone twinkling plane, and the power in their small, hastily built town always went out on those nights. Someone, in every shanty house would be awake at this hour, holding a thick, foul smelling candle and singing the old songs under their breath.
There were monsters in this new world they lived in, and the light kept them away. John supposed they couldn’t call it new; it was the same world they’d always had, the same earth, the same ground. There were only fewer of them, and it was a bit rougher than before, and strange creatures existed, but it was the same old world, and he still prayed to the same gods. He wondered if they still heard him; they didn’t respond when Svetlana was dragged out into the street and sacrificed in the very beginning, or when Doug was torn limb from limb three moons ago, when Jesse fell asleep and let the candlelight die.
John sighed, and sipped lukewarm water. He kept his eyes on the windows, curtains wide open, and suppressed a shudder when a dark brown blur flew past. He’d only seen one up close when Doug died, and the memory of single, bloodshot yellow eye was enough to give him shivers.
He adjusted the blankets wrapped around him, keeping him warm; outside, at nighttime, it was dreadfully cold, colder than the Maine winters used to be and on new moon nights, they always made sure to pull out a few extra. The lack of power killed the heat, and the green flame of the candles they spent the month preparing gave off none. He mused for a moment, of the old woman who gave his town the recipe for the candles and disappeared the next day. She’d just appeared one day, and found their leader, the burly man with a shotgun, and whispered into his ear a few words. Only half the town believed, but when the candles kept the monsters away the next new moon, they’d believed.
“John?” a small voice whispered from outside. John started, and stared at the door. No one could be outside now, with the sky pitch black and giant creatures running around, looking for signs of life. He shrugged it off, and started singing the old songs under his breath. His songs told of the beginning of the world, of creation. They comforted him, and came easily to him, and most importantly, kept him awake. But then he heard it again, a small tinny voice, whispering his name, coming from outside.
And then again. His heartbeat racing, he reached his hand outward, moving closer and closer to the doorknob. He tightened his fingers around it, and it was cold, so cold, sucking the heat out of him. Then he heard a bang, and released his grip as though it were a burning stove. He turned his eyes to the window, and stared.
It was one of the creatures, twice as tall as he was but hunched over, pressed against the window. Its raw muzzle, torn and mutilated, pressed against the window, leaving bloodstains as its claws raked down it, scratching patterns into the glass. This one had two eyes, although one had a long, fresh scratch going straight down it and into the rest of its face. John could not see his teeth, and thanked the empty air for that small reprieve. It stared at him, and he at it, and he could hear its ragged, raspy breath as clearly as his own heartbeat. Then it shuffled, and he heard his name again, whispered, in a sort of strange acceptance. “John,” he heard, and with a start he recognized the voice of Doug, three months lost to the mysteries of their new world and tears fell from his eyes. The creature gave one long, last struggling breath, and the faint light disappeared from his eyes, and John stared outside without seeing.
The candle never burnt out, and the next morning with the sunrise, Jesse strolled out of the inside room, ready to whisper apologies to John for missing her watch month, and instead saw the dull eyes of Doug’s body, sewn together with a thick and rotting string, pressing against the window and John bolt upright, flame dangerously close to his hand and blankets sliding off of him. He didn’t seem to notice the cold.





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