Auburn-colored leaves whirled through the brisk October air, landing across the cobblestone streets and wooden porches of New Haven.The scent of burning wood puffed out of the town’s many chimneys, and a waft of pumpkin scents flitted out of Marple’s candle shop, filling the town’s main street with a sweet and all-too-familiar aroma.
Lantern in hand,the townspeople of New Haven stood along the main street, huddled together for warmth (and out of fear), shoulders touching, a low murmur bubbling through the crowd.
It was Lantern’s Light, and everyone from New Haven was there. Ms. Maple from the general store. Reginald Gourd from the smithery. Angus, the potter who move to New Haven just months ago.
Even Marple, the town’s enigmatic candle maker stood in her bright autumn-colored gown and maple leaf-shaped earrings, white lantern in hand. Each lantern’s candle was handmade by the eccentric candle maker, but she would never let anyone see the process she took in making the candles. The doors to her candle shop would close at night, and in the morning her shop would be full of various candles. Some scented, some not. Some tall, some short. Some colored, some white – like the ones in the lanterns.
Everyone was there…everyone but little ten-year-old Hasting.
Nobody noticed Hasting’s absence. Lantern’s Light took place every Sunday just as the sun set. Since the dawn of Lantern’s Light many decades earlier, nobody could recall a time when anyone had been missing from the event. But fear – natural and unnatural – flowed through the residents of New Haven about what would happen if a member of the townsfolk weren’t there on a Sunday eve, white lantern in hand as that brilliant orange and red sunset lit up the sky.
But Hasting wouldn’t be bothered with tradition or supernatural rules that governed New Haven. Not today. She was napping. She and the Renco boys were out late the night before, looking for spirits in the old graveyard. The graveyard which had been in New Haven since before the residents of New Haven colonized the town…
“Who do you think is buried there?” Hasting asked Marcus, the youngest of the Renco boys as they stood before the tall tombstone. An owl hooted in the distance, startling Hasting.
Marcus shrugged. Even under the pale moonlight, Hasting could make out his freckled face. Each dot looked like an ant crawling across his skin.
Hasting slid her bangs behind her ears and examined the tombstone.
To the Unknown Visitors. Plag. 1485.
“Strange,” Hasting whispered. She had seen the tombstones before, from a distance, but had never had the courage to venture into the graveyard to read them. Most all of them said the same thing, except for two which had illegible inscriptions that had worn away with age.
Timothy, Marcus’ older brother by two years, slapped his palm across the top of the tombstone. “Whoever the ‘Unknown Visitors’ were, we may never know. Unless…” He kicked at the dirt at the base of the tombstone. The ground was hard as ice.
Hasting shook her head. No way, no how did she want to dig up an old grave. Never mind it being forbidden by the town council of New Haven, but she had no desire to stir up the spectrals of the past…
When Hasting opened her eyes, she saw the sun setting just outside her window. Her mottled mind mused about how beautiful the autumn colors were on a Sunday evening.
Then panic set in.
It took only minutes for her to get dressed, and extra minutes for her to run out the door, realize she forgot her lantern, and then run back up the stairs, grab her lantern, and join the people of New Haven on the main street.
The sun set.
The lanterns lit up the street in a soft, orange glow. Each resident held their lantern at their chest, a symbol of the light protecting their soul. As the breeze grew ice cold and the leaves blackened, each person knew the Death One was walking past them, cringing at the light that held him (or her – nobody knew, as nobody could see the Death One) at bay.
It wasn’t until the black leaves and the cold air stopped at Hasting that anyone knew the error of the little girl’s ways. Hasting held her lantern up to her chest, her spirit confident that she would be protected from the thief of souls, her eyes full of misplaced courage.
And then Hasting realized that in her haste, she neglected to light the little white candle within her lantern.