I Believe in Isaac

The Candlewick

Posted in Uncategorized by isaacmcphee on November 3, 2010

That the Candlewick was kept burning at all times was seen as a symbol of something grand.  Something of such profound importance that it could not be spoken of but in hushed whispers, with eyes glancing constantly in fearful anticipation of perhaps being seen; being caught in the unthinkable act of speaking of the candlewick.  That the modest tongue of flame should have held any such importance to such a community as this stood as something of a mystery to outsiders – men who saw only the narrow strip of waxed cotton, lapping up oil from a frequently-replenished reservoir, burning with no more brilliance than the candelabra upon a common dining room table.  Though the town itself had grown far beyond the state of rampant superstition, the Candlewick had yet taken on a sort of unintentional mythology – it was worshipped by way of silence, by way of utter neglect.  It was attended to by its caretakers alone – two elderly men who had known nothing else throughout their lives, having been born into this calling and raised for this one purpose; men who conveyed no regrets about their station.  They were high priests of the irreligion of the Candlewick.

It was no national sensation when the town awoke one morning to find that the Candlewick had been dowsed.  None of the national papers bore even the slightest mention of the occurrence; for indeed, no one outside of the town cared that a single, meaningless flame should be kept burning.  Nor, indeed, was the incident mentioned aloud within the town itself.  No crowds gathered in the vast, red-brick circle surrounding the Candlewick, no prayers were offered aloud to any deity concerning the tragedy, no tears were shed.  That the Candlewick, now hanging limp and flameless, had been ordained to occupy the center of town and upon a frequently traveled path meant that almost the whole of town was forced to pass by that place upon that day and every day thereafter.  They had to, each of them, look upon that empty Candlewick and understand that the symbol had faded; their minds telling them that whatever the symbol represented may have died as well.

No one spoke of it.  No one wept.  And no one dared undertake the obscene act of relighting it.
In its death the Candlewick had been robbed of its symbolism, but not of its mysticism.  Its caretakers stood in silence, staring up at what had once been their glory, unspeaking, unfeeling, uncaring, until they both died.  Their bodies were hauled off without ceremony and buried under blank headstones, no one having ever known their names.

The clear oil beneath the Candlewick grew old and cloudy in the months to come, and in due time it was gone as well.  The town yet struggled along, the hearts of the people still harnessed by intangible straps to the burning of the Candlewick; their minds ever occupied by the apocalyptic revelation that whatever had snuffed the light of the Candlewick remained ever in their midst, and that their own fates were inextricably tied to that of their fiery golem.

That the world should have been oblivious to the slow dying of the town ought not to be surprising in the least.  A traveler passing through the town might have noticed no distinct change from one week to the next.  A town which once took wordless, expressionless joy from the presence of a burning Candlewick now writhed in wordless, expressionless agony from the loss of the same.  That the town itself was fading into obscure nothingness would have caused man to think nothing particularly dreadful, for man had never given the town much thought at all.  One year it simply was and the next was not; it was only the hard shells of buildings, hollowed out by hasty departures and the encroachment of the surrounding forests into the streets and homes once trod by a community.  It was only a place which might have been spoken of in hearty mockery.  A place whose superstitions might have been ridiculed, had they ever been known or understood.  As it was, when the town ceased to exist, when roads were built around it so that no traveler would ever have to pass through its vacant streets, it became as the Candlewick had once been – something that was never spoken of.

It was never fully understood that the Candlewick had been a symbol of the world’s wellbeing.  No, this would never be understood.  That this obscure town had formed the final wall of defense between the world and its very lifeblood was something no one would ever truly acknowledge.

That a young man, acting upon the impulsive power of a dare, should have skulked into the temple of the Candlewick that night and, with one powerful huff of breath, extinguished the tongue of fire forever was something one can perhaps understand without any great difficulty.  That as a result of this one action – a rash decision of youth – the town should have come to utter ruin seems remarkably tragic, but not impossible.  That the loss of the town should have precipitated the loss of others, immediately surrounding it… that the county should then have been driven to ruin in a year… the nation set ablaze after five the whole of the world itself after ten… that seems somewhat more difficult to believe.

And yet, that is what happened.

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