Rebecca Harrison

The Candle Cradle

On the edge of a forest, a family lived in a wooden hut. The son and daughters played in tree shadows and green hollows. Their days were bright with skies and seasons, their dusks warmed by their father’s stories. Starlight mingled with their mother’s rhymes and songs. In woodland corners, they whispered secrets, and within the warm walls, they huddled together beneath the night storms.

One day, as the mother walked through winter winds, she swallowed a snowflake. She chilled in her deep furs. All evening, she shivered in firelight and blankets while she rubbed her cold hands. As her family slept through night snows and wolf cries, she cowered in ember glow. The children saw her white breath pattern the shadows. They helped their father collect wood and boil broth. In fields of frost and sky, they whispered of her icy hands.

Winter thawed, but still the mother sat by the fire. Outside the wooden walls, the children’s days unfolded with blooms and sunbeams. When summer lit the skies, the mother gave birth to a baby. She cradled it and felt it cold in her arms.

All day, she wept at the baby’s white breath and swaddled her in furs. She felt herself grow warm once more, but the baby stayed cold. When night gathered the forest, she whispered the name “Holly.”

Weeks passed. The hut sweltered with firelight and sun, but Holly shivered in her mother’s arms. At night, the children lay awake through dark winds and owl calls, watching her white breath. In mornings, they walked fox paths collecting leaves and feathers. They placed pieces of the warm forest by their cold sister. The father saw the days shorten and dim. Fearing the chill seasons ahead, he built for Holly a cradle of candles. He laid her in it and she warmed below the flames.

As the days darkened and cooled, Holly babbled among the candles. The wooden walls were golden with cradle-light. In the evenings, the children fell asleep gazing at flames and shadows, but their mother waited through night hours fearing dying candles. The children walked woods of mist and birdsong, wondering if Holly would ever join their games. When winter glinted on the fields, the father hoarded candles in the hut corners.

All winter, the father took candles to the forest deeps. In a clearing there, he built a hut of candles between snow and sky. Gilded light swayed through icicles and branches. He carried Holly in her cradle beneath white winds and along frost paths, while the children followed in his steps. When dusk clasped the shadows, he placed the cradle in the hut. The children lingered in candle glow, looking for their sister around flame edges, until the father led them home.

That night, the wooden hut seemed small without the cradle-light. The children huddled in the still dark and counted wolf cries while their mother sat at the window gazing towards the frozen forest. At dawn, the children trekked the woodland depths seeking candlelight through falling snow. They followed the soft glow to their sister’s hut and murmured her name through floating embers.

Every morning, the children wound their way through dawn winds and forest tangles to the hut of candles. The brother whispered their father’s stories to wax and ember walls while the two older sisters placed frosted leaves along the clearing edges. Then they made shadow shapes in candlelight and listened to Holly’s gurgling beneath the icy hush. They saw candle-glow dim and vanish as they walked pathways round burrows and roots back to the wooden hut.

Seasons seeped through the forest. The father carried candles thick as oak trunks to the clearing and mended his daughter’s hut. The mother lingered behind wide trees and watched candlelight and shadows: she didn’t want to see her Holly between the fiery walls. The children played in the glow of amber flames. They peered through gaps in the wax walls to see their sister’s face. As Holly grew older she stayed warm within the walls while her brother and sisters roamed field shallows. They collected eggshells and stones from places Holly couldn’t see and sat them in the clearing. When the walls melted low, Holly stretched her small hands to meet her siblings’ grasp.

As the years passed, candlelight drifted through the forest dusks. Holly glimpsed the clearing edges from behind the warm walls and knew the woods only as birdsong and wolf cries. Her mother stayed in the wooden hut and no longer looked for candle glow in the woodland nights. Holly’s brother and sisters told her tales of forest secrets, and she longed to wander green ways beside them. In her dreams, she followed their steps through tunnels of candles, with the woods as darks glints beyond the flames.

When winter storms shook the candlelight, Holly murmured her sisters’ songs. She peered out at a whirl of embers and snow. Her sisters no longer lingered chill days in the forest, but she still listened for their steps in the ice. Her brother helped their father carry the great candles and mend the wax walls, but he spoke of seeking faraway towns. In the spring thaws, the sisters came alone. Holly saw them pluck pale blossoms. They stopped telling her stories of their wooden home and chattered about dances and gowns.

All summer, Holly listened through sunlit winds for her sisters’ steps, but they stayed afar. The forest rustlings were full of pathways she had never walked. She watched the green dark when the walls melted low. When her father came to mend the hut, he said her brother was now living in a distant valley and her sisters were busy in the town. Soon, the days began to chill. Candlelight stained the autumn fogs. Holly listened through leaf-fall and hail but never heard her sisters’ steps.

Years sank through the forest. The pathways Holly’s brother and sisters had walked to her narrowed and vanished. She peered out at leaves and light. She listened to bird wings and cloud drift and guessed at how much time had gone. When the woods were crisp with winter, she remembered her sisters’ songs. In frost and candlelight, she saw her father mend the wax walls with slow hands. When she asked for her sisters, he told her they each had wed and moved to the village. He said her mother had passed away.

Holly saw the seasons on the clearing edges green and fade. Embers floated from the candle hut through summer shadows and winter snows. Her father struggled beneath the great candles and wearied when he mended the walls. When she looked through the flames, she saw his face was old. He built the walls thicker and they melted more slowly. He visited her less as she waited deep in the flames for his steps. The night winds felt full of stories she couldn’t remember.

One day, Holly looked through a gap in the wax walls and saw the clearing bright with flowers. She remembered the colors of the eggshells and pebbles her sisters used to bring her. She peered beyond the clearing: sunlight wafted among blue flowers. Pale leaves trembled in soft winds. She thought of how her brother’s voice had sounded when he told her stories through the flames. She longed to hear him again. She thought she could see the path her father had walked. She took a candle from the wall and stepped through the gap in the wax. In the spring air, her breath became white once more. She clutched the candle harder as she moved between the trees. Candlelight fell on bluebells and shadows. Her steps chilled and stiffened as she searched for the pathway to the wooden hut. Her breath became icy mist. The candle went out. She sank into a sun patch and tried to feel the warm air. She stopped shaking. When her father came to mend the hut, he found her frozen among the flowers.

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Rebecca Harrison writes fairy tales, hunts bluebells, and can be summoned by a cake signal in the sky. Her stories have been published in Rose Red Review, Axolotl Magazine, Wild: A Quarterly, Quail Bell Magazine, The Story Shack, and The Teacup Trail.

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