Every day for the past two weeks now, Marta had seen it. The dim flicker of a candle, dancing softly in the high bright window of the house next to her own. She watched its subtle tricks as she walked home. She couldn't see the candle itself, but it was there, casting shadows in the dead of night. It was somewhat comforting, but as far as Marta knew the house had been empty.
Had always been empty.
She usually saw it late in the day, as she walked all by herself home from school. Or she would see it in the morning on her way to school, if she bothered to look up from her shoelaces. At eleven, Marta was already afraid of the world. After school, it was straight to her room to sit and stare at the ceilings, ambient soundtrack on the headphones, unconscious of the passing time. For her this was bliss.
Once she snuck out in the middle of the night to stare at the candlelight. She sat down in front of the house, gazing at the high bright window that looked as if it was host to a thousand tiny faeries fluttering their gilded wings. She fell back on the grass and fell asleep on the lawn. In the morning when she awoke, the faeries still danced, time but a fetching memory in their endless days.
Now it had been a month, and Marta's curiosity had finally gotten the best of her. With slight trepidation, she ventured up to the front door and rang the bell. No answer. She buzzed again, and again noone came. She tried the doorknob, but it was locked. She stepped back and stared at the brilliant window. What could it be that shined forever? she thought. That night her ceiling seemed particularly dark.
It was not much later that Marta came home from school late one evening and saw that the light had gone out. The room sat in still dullness awaiting her arrival. She stopped and dropped her satchel to the ground. The mysterious window revealed no secrets. Again, Marta approached the door and rang the doorbell - nothing. She tried the door-
It swung open with a pristine bow.
Marta stepped inside the empty house next to her own, not knowing what was in store for her. The floors were white marble, casting a murky reflection back at her. When she shut the door, it seemed reluctant to close, perhaps sensing danger. A small wooden staircase led up to the second floor, with the window. Marta thought about calling out, but decided not to tempt fate. Her footsteps echoed in the house - there was no furniture about. What was it? As she made her way up the stairs, all of her private fantasies about the hidden candle began to resurface: was it an angel? A star? An entire universe, collapsed into one brilliant ball of energy? Marta reached the top of the stairs. It was a single hallway, with a single door at the end.
The door that led to the high bright window.
As she approached the door, she thought she heard the sound of crying coming from the other side. She paused, and the sound faded quickly, as if it sensed her presence. Suddenly from under the doorway a small ray of light squeezed out, illuminating the darkened hallway. Marta gasped, and turned to leave.
All along the hallway were pictures in frames of identical sizes.
Pictures of Marta.
They progressed in age, from one when she was just a few days old, to one taken about a month ago, when she had first seen the light in the high bright window.
In every picture there was a faint ball of light. Usually off in the distance, out of focus, but present in all of them. Now Marta slowly turned back towards the door. The rays of light that poked out from the bottom seemed to call to her. The dull brown tones of the hallway pulled her in slowly. And as she turned the knob, Marta realized somewhat belatedly that it was not crying she heard, but laughter ...
In the tiny hospital room, the thin drone of a flat line resonated more deeply than one would expect.
"I'm sorry, baby," the young woman leaning over the bed whispered through hoarse tears. She wiped the face of her daughter Marta one last time. It was all over quickly.
Later as she was led to a side room to sign one more piece of paperwork, the chief doctor came to meet her. "It was a difficult decision, we know. But she was basically dead in there. She would just languish in a coma forever." The woman was inconsolable. Finally, the doctor got up and left, but not before adding, in his most reassuring voice:
"You did the right thing."
From Court's brain to my keyboard. Thanks, you.