Log 32: The Flames in the Forest

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      The Audiobook:

Weather: Chilly winds and clear skies.
Encounters: Traveling vendors and the Candlemaker.
Expenditures: Jacket from a passing caravan.

Our day was spent trudging through the woods. At a crossing of paths, we met a passing caravan selling hand-stitched clothing. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. I bought an olive jacket stitched together with golden thread. The thread looks so sturdy that it could practically be metal. We stopped to pitch camp when the afternoon was still pretty young and the sun was still high above the trees. The trees in this part of the woods are thinner. It’s easier to see a distance away. The ground is saturated in a thick springy moss.

We ate and I took inventory of the items we own. I polished the parts of Senelala’s shell that had become dull. The sun had just set and our fire had faded to ember when I noticed something strange in the distance. One by one warm lights sprung out of the ground. They started eastwardly from us and seemed to be making a line out in front of our camp, moving westward. Senelala glanced up at me, silently begging me not to investigate.

“Wait here.” I whispered and pulled my hood up over my head. I crept toward the lights. As I got closer I realized they were flames. Each flame danced parallel to each other creating a path through the woods. I entered the path and my heart sped up. Each flame sprung out of a tall and thick white pillar candle. It wasn’t the flames that quickened my pulse; it was what danced above them. Around each candle hovered a translucent person. They looked like mist in the night air. There were young and old, men and women, rich and poor. Some of the mists sat cross-legged or sprawled beside their flame. Some bent over to chat with each other. I saw a couple reach out to join hands; the mist seemed to sparkle where their hands met.

I crept along the path, following the shadow that lit the candles. I could see the figure bend down to each candle, the flame bursting to life. I was gathering the attention of the spirits around me. Some whispered behind hands, some pointed my direction. One man cracked a nearly toothless smile at me. A shiver ran up my spine. I followed the shadowy figure for a few minutes. I tried to ignore the curious misty faces on either side of me.

I could see the end of the path the shadow was creating. The shadow disappeared, almost directly into the ground. I heard a crunch of twigs and leaves on the ground behind me. I spun around quickly. Senelala was creeping up slowly. I rolled my eyes and let him follow.

The candles and misty people led us to a carved out basin in the forest floor. The trees surrounded the basin like tall guardians. We crept up to the edge and I peered in. The shadow was actually a woman, who sat amongst hundreds of lit candles. Her head turned suddenly and looked in my direction. She looked disappointed to see me. She motioned sullenly with one hand for us to join her.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” I stammered as we crept down into her basin. “We set up camp not far away and I saw the candlelight.”

“I suppose you got a good look at the spirits, too?” she said and dipped wicks into melted candle wax. “Did you recognize anyone?”

She didn’t turn to face us, just continued working.

“I didn’t recognize anyone.” I said and noticed her small shelter built into the edge of the basin. She lived here. It seemed clear to me that she kept a solitary life in the woods; her clothes were sturdy and utilitarian. Her hair was extraordinarily long and she kept it braided.

“Not everyone can see the spirits.” She said and whispered something inaudible to the new candles she created. A small spark of fire burst out of the wicks. “You were probably drawn here like I was. What was it? A feeling? A whisper?”

“I suppose it was a feeling.” I recalled the flutter in my stomach when I first saw the newspaper ad for Home Sweet Home. “What brought you here?”

“My mother was a Candlemaker just like me.” The flames seemed to move in time to the cadence of her voice. “You see, these candles are a portal between the living and those who have passed on. They can choose to visit us if they wish.” I glanced behind me and saw the spirits hovering in the night air.

She continued, still looking forward at her work, “My mother sold her candles to the grieving, always hoping to bring them closure. Usually, spirits move on after one encounter or two, but these spirits you see are wandering endlessly in the woods.” My heart grew heavy at this news. “My mother walked that path to a nearby town, but a group of people in the town feared her focus on remembering the past. They wanted to only move forward. Always forward.”

I feared where this story was going.

“She disappeared one day when I was young while walking this path. I took up her work, but I’ve left a trail of these candles in hopes she would find me. She may have moved on, but I’m not certain.” She finished her story and rose, one small candle in her hand. She extended out to me.

“If you wish to see you have to whisper…” I can’t write down what she told me, it wasn’t a tongue I recognized. I hear it in my mind, though. It’s hewn in my memory like a tablet.

The candle sits beside the timepiece in my bag. The path of candles burned all night and they kept my mind from resting. I sat in silence and watched the misty people converse, cry, and dance. I hope they can find peace.

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