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Candle Burns

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Estimated reading time — 5 minutes

It’s a pretty universally known truth that having rich neighbors sucks.

When I say rich, I mean Jeff Bezos probably sent these guys handwritten birthday cards along with the rest of his billionaire friends. That’s how much money they were sitting on.

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But what sucks so much infinitely more than having rich neighbors— orders of magnitude more— is having rich neighbors at Christmastime.

I could attempt to describe the luminous monstrosity that my neighbor’s mansion transformed into during the holidays for entire lifespans, but to save time, just imagine if the song Friday by Rebecca Black gained physical form— incredibly annoying, impossible to ignore, and causing significant pain to all who come in contact. That’s the best analogy I’ve got for the billions of flashing rainbow-colored Christmas lights draped over every foot-high shrub on their expensively landscaped front lawn, along with the gargantuan inflatable Frosty the Snowman, to say nothing of the same 5 Mariah Carey songs they blasted at supersonic levels 24/7. Think permanent retinal and eardrum damage. You get the gist.

Every year— every single year— I had to grit my teeth and live within 200 feet of this crime against humanity. And as if the music, the lights, and the infuriatingly grinning Frosty weren’t enough, the vast jingling eyesore attracted the attention of every middle income citizen with too much free time in a thousand mile radius, which meant that my neighborhood was a tourist destination from mid-December to the end of February. If I had a dollar for every furious platinum-blonde mom of three kids that laid down on her horn when I tried to leave my driveway, I could probably compete financially with the fanatics next door.

I’m not Ebeneezer Scrooge, I promise. I am, however, someone who can’t sleep without pitch blackness— and my new extra-thick blackout curtains hadn’t arrived yet. The fact that I was constantly sleep-deprived, working extra shifts at my job to keep up with the holiday rush, and surviving mostly on instant ramen probably played more of a part in the events that took place than I’m ready to admit. Maybe you can be the judge of that.

It was Christmas Eve, a dry, charcoal-colored Christmas Eve. Snowflakes the size of my thumbprint drifted like ash in the stillness. The earsplitting speakers partially hidden behind light-choked pine trees were silent for once; I hoped someone braver than me had come and bashed them in with a sledgehammer. The green digital clock read 2:42, flickering slightly; as usual, insomnia had grabbed my sleep schedule by the throat and squeezed. Work tomorrow was gonna suck. When I found myself awake at hours like this, I often ended up drifting towards the window facing Eyesore Manor. Just to stare. Seethe. Envision throwing yards of Christmas lights into the hot tub while my neighbors were using it. From this particular spot, I had the perfect vantage point to discover that on top of the seizure-inducing Christmas light show, the millionaires next door had also placed an electric candle in every one of their windows this year— and the one sitting in their attic window flickered.

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I can’t explain why this bothered me as much as it did. Maybe because I knew they could buy eight billion replacement candles, and then ownership of the candle company. Maybe because the flicker was so annoyingly erratic, and I would’ve sworn on my life it only started up when I was there to see it. Maybe because their attic was barely more than a crawl space, made only for storage, and it made zero sense to put a candle there in the first place. Whatever deep psychological cause, all I knew was that watching it made me itch to commit first degree homicide. You know when they say “eat the rich?” Yeah. That’s what the stupid candle made me want to do.

A friend of mine was in town and staying with me, and as it turned out, sleep wasn’t in the cards for either of us.

This friend was one of those unfathomable people who you think you know, and then they’ll casually mention something that completely resets everything you assumed about them. I’d found out in this way that she’d served in Iraq, that she’d been on America’s Got Talent, and that she was directly related to Danny DeVito. We sat by the window in general, she didn’t talk much, or else these important facts would’ve likely come to light way sooner; for this reason, I didn’t think anything really of it when she kept dead silent as we sat in front of the window and I rambled about the candle in a tangential way that’s only achievable via alcohol or 2 in the morning.

“I don’t know, man. It just— it makes me wanna punch something. It’s such a small thing. I can handle everything else— I mean, it’s not my electricity bill— but the stupid candle, and it flickers—“

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“It’s not flickering.” There was a deadweight in her voice that made my voice falter immediately.

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“…what?”


“That’s Morse code.”


I opened my mouth to say something, but she’d already stood up from her seat. Her sharp footsteps struck my linoleum floors as my mind reeled.


Morse—?

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I looked back at that crawlspace attic, at that candle, still sputtering from dark to light, and my gut churned. Morse Code.

The brisk voice of a 911 operator on speakerphone from the kitchen registered vaguely in my mind, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the window. It was far away, and my vision sucks, but when I looked close— was that the silhouette of a finger, passing over the light when it went dark again?

No. That couldn’t possibly be right.

But now that I looked closely— what I’d assumed were black curtains hanging over the little window looked to be something more solid, plywood, maybe. Like it was hiding something that might object to being hidden.

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I felt sick.

The police came in a dizzy rush of lights and sounds, unsurprisingly fast— no one ever ignored my friend. The reds and blues on the tops of their cars blurred with the flashing rainbow of the neighbor’s house, and still all I could feel was numb. The sirens, the shouts, the moving bodies fracturing and bleeding before my eyes, all faded to black eventually. My best guess is that I passed out.

I swear I’ve read the report a hundred times. Three victims, one adult and two minors, found chained to the wall. The neighbors were charged with abduction, imprisonment, and first-degree homicide in two cases; there was one survivor, who declined to speak with me or my friend. Other details included small, non-fatal cuts over the arms and legs of all three victims, suggesting torture to the police. The official cause of death was listed in both cases as starvation.

The prisoner closest to the attic window, one of the non-survivors, was found with severe third-degree burns on his hand, which the investigation didn’t officially state a cause for, but I know that man stretched to the limit of his bonds to see my dark silhouette in the opposite window. I know that he passed his hand over the overheated electric candle again and again. I know that he saw me watching. I know I did nothing.

What I don’t know is what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He’s dead now, and I never will.

I asked my friend, though, what his Morse code translated to. She hesitated before telling me, drawing dots and dashes on a piece of printer paper.

P-L-E-A-S-E. Please.

Credit : Nora Redding

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