There once stood a solitary house in the wind swept flat lands of Northern Frysland.
This grand house used to be a beautiful home, but what was left of it now had mostly withered away with time.
Harsh winds and relentless weather had taken their toll.
The house belonged to an old lady, she had lived there all of her life.
First with her husband and their children.
Later, as her husband had passed away and the children flew the nest, she lived there alone.
She had become a solitary creature and did not appreciate the company of people much.
But when the day came she was too old to look after herself she took on a young maid called Annabel to help her with the housework.
One cold day in November, the old lady asked her maid to get some groceries in.
She dictated from her armchair:
“Bread and milk, eggs, coffee, tea, sugar, butter, candied ginger…
and some marmalade too!”
Just when the maid rushed out of the house, the old lady shouted after her in a high voice:
“Ooh, candles! Do not forget to purchase candles! The old ones are finished you see! ”
But Annabel had already made way into the garden.
The garden, which in winter seemed but a ghost of the abundant cheerful display earlier that summer.
Crooked shapes of branches and leafless bushes stood out in sharp contrast with the ever so pale sky.
The silence there was so thick and loud it seemed to overwhelm everything else.
Annabel had not heard her lady’s final request for candles.
She quickly walked to the small town through the frozen fields and lanes.
In her mind she repeated the list of things her lady had dictated earlier:
“… bread and milk, eggs … coffee…tea… sugar… butter… candied ginger…something else, there was something else…”
She paused for a brief moment before she remembered…
“Ah yes! Marmalade! A bitter jam for my bitter lady…”
she quietly joked to herself and smiled.
When she finally got to the shop she asked the shopkeeper for all the groceries and packed them away in a big basket.
“Now rush yourself home child!” the kind shopkeeper said
“You will catch a cold in this nasty weather!”
Outside the snow had started to fall and a dreadful wind picked up.
The maid tucked her scarf up high and with the basket held firmly in her arms she walked back home through the crisp fields and the lonely woodlands.
The bare trees had started to hang their sleepy heads heavy under the weight of the falling snow.
The occasional black bird hopped from branch to branch in search of the last remaining autumn berry.
Annabel’s eyes followed one of the birds that flew off of a branch and landed at the foot of an old oak tree.
There in the snow she noticed something.
When she looked closer she saw to her surprise that it was a precious golden object that was lying there.
She picked it up and inspected it carefully.
It was a beautiful candelabra with three curly arms and elegant feet in the shape of an animal’s claw.
She tucked it away in her basket and rushed back to the house as she started to feel faint from the cold.
When she got home she put the groceries aside and heard the old lady shout from the sitting room to bring her some tea.
Annabel boiled the kettle and as she waited she warmed her hands over it.
She noticed her fingers had gone almost completely white.
“I must have some tea myself to warm up” she thought.
And so the maid and the old lady enjoyed tea by the fire and they fell asleep there shortly afterwards.
It was the clock that struck 12 midnight that woke them.
“Donnnggg Donnnggg Donnngg…!
It sounded through the big hall twelve loud times.
“Oh dear me!” proclaimed the old lady confused and sleepy
“Can you believe the time?”
It was indeed very late and bedtime had passed by an hour.
It must have been the cold weather followed by the heat of the fire that had made her so sleepy, Annabel thought.
She got up to get her lady ready for bed when she realized how dark it had become.
The sitting room was only still dimly lit by the smouldering embers,
but all the other rooms were now as dark as the night.
“Did you not buy any candles?” Sneered the lady.
“Oooh I suppose you forgot them didn’t you? You silly girl!”
she shouted “How utterly useless you are!”
She waved her skinny old arms up and down through the air shouting:
“Did I not tell you to buy candles? Did I not tell you twice? Thrice?
How am I going to read my book? How am I going to see anything at all?”
But the poor maid could not remember her lady had asked her for candles.
And certainly not twice nor thrice!
Then she did remember the beautiful candelabra she had found by the tree on her way back through the woods.
She was going to gift it to her but had forgotten all about it when she was rushing to make tea.
“Up in the attic” the lady grunted
“You might find some old candles there still somewhere, some old stumps.
My late husband he used to collect them in this card box.
Don’t ask me why, strange man he was, just go and get them will you, quickly.”
But it is so dark, how am I to see anything? Worried the girl.
How am I to find these candles in utter gloom? And the attic is full of bats and rats and mice…
“The devil keeping you my dear?”
And so poor Annabel stumbled through the big dark manor house with her arms held in front of her like a sleepwalker.
Only the moonlight made out some of the features of furniture and doors.
The floorboards squeaked under her careful feet when she climbed up the many staircases that led to the top of the house.
She tried to imagine what the house would have been like before her lady was so old and so bitter. Would her young children have played in these same corridors that now seemed so ghostly and empty?
Was she happy then?
Or had she always been such an unpleasant and grumpy personality?
Annabel could not remember in all these years the old lady had smiled in her presence but once. In a way she felt sorry for her, but then again, she had tried all she could to make her happy,
just nothing seemed to satisfy her.
A creeping feeling came over the girl as she approached the last little door that led to the attic.
She had never dared going up, it somehow did not feel right.
As if it was the domain of others and she was not welcome there.
But alas, she had no other choice but to brave herself and climb those narrow steps up into the abyss.
There the attic stretched out under the roof of the entire house and was dressed in obscurity like a widow.
A musky smell of damp and dust hung thick in the air.
Only the shadowlike shapes of old trunks, discarded furniture and some toys stood out against the faint light of the moon that shun through the small roof window.
Carefully Annabel felt her way through the cobwebs towards what looked like a stack of small boxes.
The very thought of the many bats that hung asleep upside down above her head gave her the chills, but she tried not to think of them whilst she reached for one of the boxes.
“Then there! This could be it.”
She had found a small box made of cardboard, just as her lady had described it.
She picked it up and shook it slightly to hear what could be inside.
Tiny particles of history flew up like a starry cloud from the surface of the box.
A miniature universe made of the smallest of stars floated briefly in the air.
The contents of the box made a dull rolling sound.
The kind of sound that candle sticks would make!
Pleased she was to leave the inhospitable attic, the maid took the box downstairs to the sitting room where she had left her lady.
There she sat like a crumbling statue in her armchair, a withered monument to what she once was. Waiting for someone or something to arrive, so she could sneer at it and make it miserable.
She was staring into the fireplace where the embers had started to fade.
They reminded her of everything else in that house that was fading.
As if her old home was but a disintegrating shell desperately trying to hold together what were but the final remains of a past far gone.
“I think I found the candles my lady!” exclaimed the girl enthusiastic whilst entering the room.
She opened the box and to her utmost relief she saw that it indeed contained the old candlesticks her lady’s late husband Earl Groefe had collected before he passed away many moons ago.
Annabel lit one of them in the last burning ember and rushed to the kitchen to collect the candelabra she had found in the woods that afternoon.
She fitted three of the tallest candles in it and took them back to the sitting room.
“My lady” she said “Look what I have found”
When the old lady looked at the golden object the maid could see a faint emotion welling up in her eyes. Tears they were not quite, but something resembling a human emotion, which was quite unusual to be seen in the old lady. It was as if in her eyes there was the reflection of some painful recognition of sorts.
A memory that was perhaps better left unremembered.
“Ah” she said in a surprisingly and unusual kind voice.
“I see he kept his candelabra with the old candles then. How peculiar…
I am sure he mentioned it had been stolen that time with the burglary.
Anyhow, its nice to see we still have them then”
Before the maid could explain she had in fact found the candelabra in the woods by the tree and not in the attic, her lady returned to her grumpy old self and demanded to be taken to her bedroom immediately.
When tucked away in her bed, she insisted on reading a page from her book before sleep.
“Leave the candelabra on my side table” she said in a tired and worn voice.
“And pass me my book”
The girl reached for the book which read “The Old Nurse’s Story”
“Is it any good?” she asked
“Not quite” the old lady replied
“Now, in the morning I want you to add an hour to my rest, it is very late”
“Certainly. Good night my lady”
The maid left the bedroom and closed the heavy door behind her.
The old lady opened her book and leaned the page slightly towards the candlelight.
She had just read but a couple of lines when she heard a strange sound.
At first she thought it was perhaps the wind rustling and whistling through the cracks, but then when she listened closer she could hear the smallest of voices speaking.
No… not speaking, quarrelling rather. Distant voices yet close by.
What on earth could it be that created this eery illusion?
Surely they could not be real voices she was hearing, the old lady thought.
There was nobody there but herself and her maid asleep in the other room.
Then she sat up straight in her bed and anxiously looked around her.
There it was again! Quarrelling voices, arguing!
She took the candelabra of her bedside table and held it in front of her.
She swung it from side to side to see if there was anything, or anyone, in the room.
Now she was absolutely certain that she heard them, the little voices, voices of women, now much closer, angrily they seemed to be shouting at each other.
“You are such a stupid girl!” “Says who, look at yourself!”
“What are you but just a very silly creature”
“Eeeeewh! How dare you! You horrible old stick!”
Now the old lady’s heart was raising and she screamed out for her maid.
Annabel rushed into her lady’s bedroom to find her sitting straight up like a plank,
her old face as pale as a sheet.
The candelabra she held in front of her was clasped firmly in her hand.
“What is the matter my lady?”
she asked in a distressed voice whilst she rushed towards her.
” Ooooh it’s dreadful!”
The old woman’s eyes were as open wide like the eyes of a prey just caught by its predator. “The…the … the candles!”
She cried out in utter terror.
“They are alive! ”
Annabel looked at the candles that her lady still held right in front of her as if she was afraid to move them.
But they seemed perfectly normal to her, nothing unusual at all.
“Here” she said, and she took the candelabra from her lady’s stiff white hand and put it away on her bedside table.
“It must just have been a bad dream, you are tired.
Go to sleep now my lady, the morning will soon be here”
She tucked the old woman in firmly and left the room.
The next morning Annabel and the old lady took their breakfast in the kitchen.
They did not speak of what had happened the night before.
It was a bright day and the wind had died down.
Red Robbins picked at the breadcrumbs in the windowsill.
“It is a good day to walk to town and buy some new candles”
thought the maid.
She lay the fire for her lady and left the house dressed in her woolen skirt and cape.
She took the small path that led across the field at the back of the house towards the old church. The air was crisp and still smelled faintly of the cattle that had grazed there the previous summer. In the distance Annabel saw a man chop his firewood and his horse watched her as she walked on by.
In the town there was a lighthearted atmosphere of people buying their shopping for the weekend.
Some folk had gathered on the market square where a choir of young children were singing songs.
The following evening back home, a little before eleven, the maid took her lady to her bedroom. She lit the old candle stumps in the candelabra on her bedside table.
“Good night now, sleep well” she said, and left the room.
Anxiously the old lady picked up her book and started to read.
Every now and again she would look at the candles to see if she would notice anything unusual about them, but they seemed perfectly normal.
And so she read one page, two pages, three pages and she got tired…
But just as she wanted to blow out the candles to go to sleep, there!
She saw them again!
Three ghostly faces all of a sudden lit up from the flames, the faces of women.
The old lady bounced back into her pillows and froze in fear.
The ghostly candle women did not take heed and they started to quarrel and scream and shout, louder and louder and louder they were arguing, filling the entire bedroom with their horrid voices.
“You are such a useless silly girl!” screamed one
“I wish I did not have to sit here next to you!” shouted the other
“Oh I despise you even more, you nasty creature!” and on they went until…
“Stop it! Oh Stop it, please!” The old lady cried out in despair.
The candles turned their flaming faces towards the old woman who sat shaking in her bed, her sheet pulled over her white face.
“Stop with doing what?” They asked together mockingly, like a choir of evil.
“Are you mad?” said one
“Talking to a candle like that” said the other, whilst laughing bitterly.
“Go to sleep old woman” sneered the third candle
“And let us get on with whatever we are getting on with”
The three candles laughed disdainfully at the old lady who was now almost in tears.
“I will blow you all out if you don’t stop!” she said in a terrified yet determined voice.
Then Annabel entered the room, she had woken from all the commotion.
“What on earth is going on?” she cried as she rushed to her lady.
Her old paper-like hands were still clutching the sheets that she held in front of her fearful face.
“It’s them” she said, and she pointed her crooked finger at the candelabra.
“Those terrible candles! They are mocking me!
They are arguing most horribly! I want them to stop!”
Annabel looked at the candles but could not make out anything unusual about them.
“I see” she replied.
“I see what you mean, I shall take them away immediately”
And so she took the golden candelabra and hid them in the airing cupboard in the hallway.
She replaced it with her lady’s usual crystal candlestick holder and filled it with the new candles she had bought that day.
When she placed the candles on the bedside table she could feel the cold hand of her lady reaching for hers.
She wrapped her skinny fingers around Annabel’s soft hand and squeezed them gently.
“I am sorry”
she said in a slightly broken but calm voice.
“Sorry?” asked Annabel “What for my lady?”
“All the arguing my dear, it must have been quite a dread”
Annabel saw a tear welling in the old lady’s eyes.
It looked as if that one tear contained all of the dread and misery that had been dwelling within her for all those years and now rolled away from her over her old wrinkled cheek.
“Not at all” replied Annabel “Not at all.”
She took the book from the bedside table.
“Would you like me to read you a bit?” she asked.
The old lady nodded her tired head.
And so Annabel started reading by the flickering candlelight,
her lady listening quietly to the words that floated gently through the air.
Her eyes were still wet and heavy when she closed them in a most peaceful slumber and listened to the comforting sound of Annabel’s voice.
“The Old Nurse’s Story...
Thank you for reading my first Spooky Tale on Sunday!
I hope it gave you some shivers and that you enjoyed it.
This here original illustration of The Arguing Candles is now available in my etsy shop
Have a marvelous Sunday!
x P x