Western Short Story
The Cowtown Candlemaker
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

 “You blow out that candle, pardner, and we’ll be in the dark ‘til kingdom comes. No two ways about it.”

“Hell, just light it up again.”

“I don’t have no more matches. You carryin’ any?”

“Not a one. How’d you get hold of a candle?”

“I always carry one in the crown of my sombrero. You could say I have a history with candles, so don’t blow out that candle or we’ll never get out of this cave. Why’d ya think they stuck us in here, for fun? Those Indians mean business all the way through, and they are a funny bunch to boot.”

“How do we get out of here? And they got our horses, too. We could never just walk away even if we get out of here.” The despondency showed sure in his voice.

The tallest man of the two, Chuck Collins, said to the other gent, Pete Marvin, “Them’s some weird injuns who don’t even take our guns, and they sure think we’ll never get out on our own. This place is probably their first home, before any of us come this far west. They’re older than the hills, I’ll wager.” There was sufficient curiosity in his voice that dwarfed any fear, as though he was poised enough to take on whatever came up in his way.

“Well, I’m the one they wanted, Pete, and you just happened to be near me, so you got grabbed too. You could say that was your bad luck, but I don’t carry good luck like it’s in my saddlebag or sittin’ the saddle with me. Luck is made by yourselves in most matters, and you can take that to your next session of doubt.”

“Whatta they want with you? You got no gold, no money, Hell, not any matches either. Why’s that? Whattayou got they want?”

“I make better candles than they do, simple as that, so they’re doing it this way to see how I make my candles so good, least better than the one’s they make, and then steal my idea. Steal my candles too.”

“What makes this candle so much better than their candles? A candle’s just a damned candle far as I see it.” He chuckled at his own joke, but halfheartedly at that. It really said he wanted to know the difference in candles, as far as he could see. It seemed so silly to hm, yet here he was in a cave without his horse but had his guns, and with a man who called himself just a plain old candlemaker. He tried to reach for some old dreams sitting on the edge of his mind, but nothing surfaced,

“I make my candles with beeswax,” Collins said, his voice suddenly mysterious, “and not plain old animal fat or tallow like they use. My candles last longer, throw light better, make it worth the while for all the differences twixt the two kinds.”

“This candle doesn’t shine any deeper in this cave, that I see, so what’s that gain us?”

“We’ll have light longer than they think we will. They probably don’t think of it that way, just that we’ll die eventually I here without anything to eat, and they’ll just walk in here then and scoop up anything and everything we have, including the makings of my kind of candle. It’s plain as all that.”

The candleholder nearly tripped, nearly dropped the candle. Shadows flickered on the wall of the cave with that misstep.

“Like I said, Pete, don’t let that one go out ‘cause we’d just stumble around in here until we die.”

Pete Marvin, a plain old cowboy, almost not believing the stories being told him by this still alive candlemaker, this obviously plain old cowboy named Chuck Collins. They had plain bumped into each other on the trail. Now he thought he best listen to this other man who’d done more things than him, knew his way around in the dark, so it seemed, and who might, even now, have an idea on how to get out of this fix, this dark cave that might have no other way in or out except the one they used to get away from a band of Indians chasing them right into the mouth of this cave, this tomb of tombs.

Marvin, in all reality, feared they were in a prison. And for the rest of their natural lives. until the end of darkness when this single, simple candle burnt down to his fingertips and he’d have to drop it. In a quick turn, he couldn’t imagine how much time was allotted to their lives. Darkness, ahead of them, behind them, befuddled him, where-as the new casual friend appeared to be in some control of his own destiny.

Things too big to measure had always bothered him, stretched his mind further than it could go with reason, yet darkness was real, and imprisonment was real and death, of course, was the most real of all possibilities.

It began to crush him. Time began to compress. He could feel the squeeze as it made its way through the cave, just as thick as the darkness.

Then, by all the graces one could muster, a puff of air, fresh as a newborn, touched at the candle in his hand and made it flicker, at which the candlemaker jumped to immediate attention, and said to his companion, “Hold on for dear life, Pete, and go ahead of me down this way,” and he pointed into the deepest blackness.

An hour later, as might be guessed, they saw a slim band of light slide out of harsh darkness and elongate itself as tall as they were. It was a tall slice of daylight.

“Now,” Chuck Collins said, “snuff out that candle. We wait here until it’s dark outside, then we’ll get the Hell out of here, find a couple of horses, perhaps our own, and plain skedaddle on our way,”

“What should I do with this candle?” Pete Marvin asked, as he wet thumb and forefinger and snuffed out the fluttering flame.

“Toss it in the corner where they won’t find it in a hurry. They probably know the difference in makings already, or should by now. It didn’t take me long, but the ideas have been around a long time, at least somewhere else besides here with me.”

Collins managed to peak around the outside of the cave and when he came back, he said, “You won’t believe this, Pete. But our horses are out there in a small village of tepees and saddled up as if they never took those saddles off. And I saw something else very interesting.”

He held onto tat revelation until Pete said, “What the heck are you talkin’ about now, you got me so twisted up I can’t think straight.”

“There’s a huge bee nest they haven’t seen yet or just don’t pay any attention to, but I’m thinking the bees might just help me, help us, in another way. Let me think about it for a while, then I’ll tell you what might get us out of here.”

“How the heck are bees gonna help us get away? That’s all I’m interested in.” He leaned back and decided to keep his mouth shut.

An hour later, dusk starting its early invasion into low spots and valleys, and around the small Indian encampment, Chuck Collins flung a stone into the midst of the bee’s nest and a cloud of bees flew, like a black cloud, directly at the Indian village.

The Indians fled, the dark cloud of bees buzzing after them like they meant business, and the two cowboys ran out the rear end of the cave, leaped onto their horses and were out of sight in a short haul, not a single bee after them.

“That,” Collins said, “is two times bees have had a hand helping me, or a thousand wings.”