There was a present on his desk when Isaac returned after the team meeting. It had a tag that said “to: Isaac, from: Secret Santa”. It was a little puzzling, because Isaac was fairly certain they weren’t doing a secret Santa gift exchange this year. He’d better go check. He hoped he hadn’t missed something.
Isaac hurried over to the office manager’s desk while trying to think of what he had in his desk and car that he could rewrap and gift to someone if he needed to. His stapler? The emergency flashlight? Maybe he could duck out really quickly and go to the antique store.
“No, we’re not doing a secret Santa thing this year,” the office manager said when he asked.
That was a relief, but also puzzling. “Then why did I get a gift?” Isaac asked.
“Who knows? Maybe someone wanted to do something nice anonymously,” the office manager said.
Isaac returned to his desk and looked at the gift again. It was a simple red gift bag. He sat down and started taking the white tissue paper out of the bag. Nestled inside, he found a little bulbous glass candleholder.
The glass was textured, and four smooth heart shapes were pressed outwards in a row around the holder. Inside, there was a little purple candle. It looked cute and cheerful. Isaac smiled.
They were sent home early for the holidays. Isaac stopped at the grocery store for marshmallows. Once home, he arranged a ring of pillows on the floor of Charlie’s room and placed the candle in the center. They could use chopsticks to roast marshmallows over it and tell ghost stories.
Isaac went back to the kitchen for chopsticks and slipped a box of matchsticks into his pocket. Next, he gathered a water bottle and a book of not-too-scary scary stories. He assembled the treasures in Charlie’s room.
Would the candle be bright enough to read by or would he need a flashlight? He should probably test it out. Isaac closed the curtains and lit the candle. The flame flickered and cast shaky shadows on the walls.
The heart shapes must not be as smooth as they looked. The shadows they cast had menacing faces that seemed to be laughing as the shadows flickered in time with the candle flame.
Isaac looked at the candleholder. It was still cute and cheerful. He looked at the shadows. He could still see the laughing, menacing faces. He heard a murmur, as though there was a radio playing in another room or maybe outside a few houses away.
It was rhythmic, like chanting. The faces were moving in time with the faint chanting. Isaac couldn’t quite catch the words. It was strange. His head started to feel like it was filled with buzzing bees. He opened the water bottle and filled the candleholder with water until it spilled over the edges in little dribbles.
The shadows vanished. Isaac’s head felt clearer. He carefully took the candleholder to the bathroom and left it in the bottom of the sink, still filled with water. He grabbed a hand towel to mop up the spills.
He wanted the creepy cheerful candleholder out of his house as soon as possible. It probably wasn’t safe to just throw the thing away. He didn’t want to give it away either, not when he wasn’t sure if it was safe. He didn’t want to just break it or bury it either. For all he knew, that could cause some ghastly reaction.
Thank goodness for Great-Aunt Bethyl. She’d know what to do. He called her right away. “Great-Aunt Bethyl, it’s me, Isaac,” he said. “Someone gave me a candleholder that chants when you light it. What should I do?”
“Isaac, it’s nice to hear from you again,” Great-Aunt Bethyl said. “I know someone who studies oddities like that. I’ll send him right over.”
“Thank you, Great-Aunt Bethyl,” Isaac said.
“Of course, Isaac dear,” she said.
A man wearing sunglasses and an ugly reindeer sweater appeared at the door twenty minutes later. He was holding a little green gift bag. Isaac brought the candleholder with him when he answered the door, water and all.
The man held out a hand. Isaac handed him the candleholder. The man handed him the gift bag and left without saying a word. Isaac watched him turn the corner, then closed the door. He looked down at the bag. The tag said “In exchange, G-A.B.”.
He cautiously opened the bag. He found a scented candle in a glass jar. The label said “roses”. He took off the jar lid. The candle smelled nice. It reminded him of his grandmother.
Isaac took it back to Charlie’s room and lit the wick. The shadows were normal. Isaac smiled. The sleepover could continue as planned. He’d have to send Great-Aunt Bethyl a thank you note. But first he needed to find the flashlight so he could make funny faces and read the stories in his book to Charlie.