3rd Place-Halloween Story Contest: “Donner Candle Co.” by Hannah Robideaux

3rd Place-Halloween Story Contest:

You come to in a room filled with wooden boxes. Crates, you tell yourself; must be a storage room.

The first thing you smell is lumber, for obvious reasons, but after that comes an onslaught of perfumes.

You sit up and crawl over to the nearest crate, looking for some indication of where you might be. This side upwarning: fragileproperty of Donner Candle Co. Am I in one of their facilities? Wait. Could this box have… You press your face next to a crack in between the boards and sniff. Just as you guessed…their yet-to-be-released Pumpkin Spice scent, projected to be extremely popular.

That’s great and all, but I really should be looking for a way out of here. You fumble between the crates until you get to the door. Thankfully, it’s not locked. The room on the other side of the door is clearly a factory production line, there’s enough moonlight coming in to see that, but not much else. You briefly complain about not being able to see anything before you realize, I ‘m in a candle factory.

To your right, you see what appears to be employee lockers. There are a few open ones. Nothing, T-shirt, cigarettes, nothing – wait! You go back to the locker with a T-shirt and cigarettes. Under the T-shirt, you find a lighter.

Walking back to the nearest conveyor belt, you pick up a sealed candle and go about opening it. The glass is cool in your hands and the plastic comes off without too much work. Cinnamon. You click the lighter a few times before it takes, and you get a clearer picture of the room. Not perfect, but better. The first word that comes to your mind is abandoned. The rows of machinery have candles at various stages of completion just sitting there, chairs have jackets draped over the back, and a cold and dusty mug of coffee rests on a table.

What happened here?

You walk around the large room and try a few locked doors, a couple of useless light switches, and a control panel with unidentifiable buttons and levers. Upon pressing a few of them you think you hear something whir to life, and hope that the room will light up, but you have no such luck. You continue surveying the room before noticing a row of candles hanging to cool, and reach out to touch them. They’re cool and smooth, but they also feel almost…rubbery? When I grab them they give a little bit like a balloon or an eggplant. Strange.

Finally you climb up the metal staircase to the top of the machinery. The catwalk runs across the room and into another with large vats of colorful wax. Over the intense smells of lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and pine, you’re starting to smell something more…rotten.

You press on through the factory, looking for a way out. The rotten smell gets stronger, and you know you should turn back – try some of the doors in the main room – but…you can’t.

There’s a door at the end of the catwalk; there’s a faint humming sound, and the vats of wax all have tubes connected to this wall. I wonder if this is where they mix the wax. Maybe there’ll be a back entrance. You reach the door.

The rotten smell is strong, but so are the perfumes from herbs and oils. Each almost masking the other with every breath.

You grab the rusty handle of the metal door in front of you. It’s unlocked. For a moment the rational part of you whispers in the back of your head, don’t do it, but this quiet voice of reason in a sea of impulses is lost to the screaming within you to the
 maniacal voices begging, Open the door! We need to know YOU need to know you but you already do and you don’t want it to be true but you know it is-some part of you already knows what horrors you’re going to find back there! You want to see you WANT TO SEE.

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You open the door.

The red, cinnamon candle in your hand casts light on the large vats and tanks and tubes in front of you, and the humming is more noticeable. The catwalk descends a few feet and then changes direction at a landing. You make it as far as that landing before the smell nearly knocks you over. It is a smell of rot, of decay, of road kill on an empty street, of burnt flesh.

Making it down the rest of the staircase will require both hands. You set the candle down on the outer railing of the platform; it still illuminates enough of the room for you to see.

There are many machines—I suppose is the best word for them—set across the room, each with a tube funneling the wax into the previous room. At the bottom of each machine is a tub where the dye and fragrance get mixed into the raw wax. The said raw wax is descended into it by a tube, connected to a funnel, connected to a strainer, connected to what looks like a water tank with earmuffs.

By this point you’re practically on autopilot as you read the CAUTION: HOT” signs on the earmuff devices. It is then that you turn your attention to the most jarring anomaly in the room. The piles of bones tucked away in the corners.

The realization of what you didn’t want to admit hits you square in the chest and you think back to the smells, the leathery texture, the fact that candles used to be made with animal fats. OH GOD!

You turn on your heel and race up the rattling staircase. You try to make a sharp turn on the landing, but you collide with the railing – sending your light source overboard. All at once it goes dark and you falter and then the room bursts back into violently glowing light. T he oils and the wicks were all flammable everything is flammable. Oh god, oh god!

The clicks and hums you heard before magnify as the once rock solid wax melts and allows the machines to move again. You shoot up the staircase to the catwalk – arms and legs and wrists and feet grasping and slipping on handrails and guardrails until you’re back on the catwalk where the rail isn’t a rail but a chain with poles periodically propping it up.

The fire spreads and crackles and you try to hold your balance but you’re slipping and the catwalk is slipping and cracking and bending and you fall to your stomach and slide. First you slide down the platform, and then you slide off of the platform.

Out of the fire and into the frying pan for once.

You splash into the preparation tank and the ironically scary earmuffs are heating the water and oh god something just touched me.

Something alive would be scary, but something dead would be worse.

You slowly turn your head, terrified of what you’ll see, as the water burns you and a half decayed and stretched out head floats to the surface. You scream bloody murder and try to climb out, but the walls are high and scalding and you’re swallowing and coughing up the water and more body parts with bones and melting flesh are stirring to the surface, and as you’re losing consciousness you realize there is no way out.

The next morning Donner Candle Company released a new scent, Spirit of the Season, with the slogan “Curiosity killed the cat.”

It has hints of red cinnamon in it.