THE FOUR CANDLES
A Christmas Anthology by Wangew_Wick
The Third Candle: Better to Give Than Receive
It was an unseasonably chilly morning in uptown Charlotte. The jogger could see her breath as she ran along the sidewalk on South Davidson before rounding the corner back to her condo. There was no traffic on the roads, save for the people who would soon be filing in to the church. Her blonde ponytail bounced as she ran, and the music on her headphones drowned out all the white noise around her. Then, her phone rang.
Shit, she thought. It’s the caterer.
Chef Giannis had become a culinary superstar overnight thanks to his signature recipe: a twist on classic Greek spanakopita which used newborn fluffy pony foals (or “chirpies”, as they are sometimes known) as an additional ingredient. The spinach, feta, egg, and other ingredients are stuffed inside the chirpie until it looks ready to burst, and then the foal is wrapped in phyllo dough and baked.
But this particular client wouldn’t be interested in that dish. She had a particular aversion to fluffies.
“Christy White…hello, Giannis, how are you? Great. Ok, so the menu’s all set, then. And you’re sure you can accommodate all the extra guests on such short notice? I mean, we have two weeks until the party, and this is a big fucking deal. Oh, you’re the best. I mean it. Ok, talk to you soon. Bye!”
“Fucker,” she mumbled under her breath. The last conversation she’d had with Chef Giannis consisted mainly of her repeatedly saying “hell no” to the culinary wizard’s insistence upon a new dish he’d invented that featured pregnant fluffy mares. Christy wasn’t one to let old arguments slide.
And she didn’t care if she ever saw another fluffy pony for the rest of her life.
To the outside observer, the thirtysomething socialite appeared to lead a charmed life. Her new husband, Eric, was a wildly successful attorney now serving in his second term in Congress. She had her uptown condo, a house on Lake Norman, and now a posh Beltway apartment. And if she and Eric played their cards right, their annual Christmas party could lead to much bigger, better things.
Certain moneyed interests had approached Eric in recent months about running for Governor of North Carolina in the next election. The incumbent was an incompetent moron, and Eric would be a first-tier candidate for his party’s nomination. He and Christy had decided that the impending party would be a perfect opportunity to soft-launch the campaign.
Christy had blown her chances of a personal best on her jog, so she decided to walk the rest of her course while she sent texts to a dozen party invitees on her phone. Maybe a stop at Whole Foods for a coffee and a macaron wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either.
“You’re sure you won’t be home until the 15th? But that’s three days before the party! And Susie will get home from school on the 17th! You know how she’s been…of course I fucking know how to talk to my own daughter, it’s just…you know what? You sound busy, I’d better let you go. Love you.”
God-fucking-dammit. Christy coolly sipped her second latte as she pondered her predicament. She had two weeks to prepare the most important party of their lives—by herself—and would have very little time alone with her husband before her twelve year old daughter would arrive on break from boarding school. She chucked her half-empty up at the trash can, banking it in but splattering coffee all over the backsplash. The girl behind the counter merely watched her with disgust as she sauntered out through the automatic doors.
Christy’s relationship with Susie had been strained ever since they moved into Eric’s condo. She had left the girl’s father to be with the new man, and had overestimated her ability to lie about the situation to her then eight year old daughter. Now, she was dealing with a sullen preteen whose fashion choices roiled her innards.
I swear, how long can it really be before she shaves her head and tells me she’s a dyke now? Christy thought. But it wasn’t just her clothes and personal appearance—she also had a casual disregard for her belongings. She destroyed her laptop a few days before she left to start school, lost her condo keys when she went to her grandmother’s for fall break, and had torn up several school uniforms in a matter of a few months.
It pissed her off just thinking about Susie. Maybe she could go stay with Ian’s mom for a few days when she first gets here. That’d at least get the old bat off my back.
By the time the elevator reached her floor, she had settled it in her mind: Susie would go and stay at her grandmother’s house until after the party, giving her and Eric some much-needed time together. She was so busy thinking over party details in her mind that she almost didn’t notice the little gift box in front of the door.
The package was made of white cardboard and wrapped with an elegant gold bow. The tag attached to the ribbon simply said: From your friends at the Fluffy Population Control Association—Thanks for everything you do!
While Christy thought it was strange for anyone to leave a package in the hallway, it struck her that a friendly lobbying group might not want it known that they were sending gifts to supportive legislators. Eric had been a staunch proponent not only of cracking down on feral populations, but also of stricter regulations on fluffy retailers. The FPCA had given him substantial contributions for his efforts. But this was the first time she could remember them sending a personalized gift.
She set the box on the counter and walked through the condo to take a shower. All the while, she wondered what might be in the box. Maybe it was something super valuable, and that’s why they didn’t send it via the postal service. This would make such a thing harder to track.
Once she had dressed herself, she walked back into the kitchen to see what she could make into a quick lunch. But curiosity got the best of her, and she reached for the box. She untied the shiny golden bow, lifted the lid, and gasped.
Inside the box was a tiny pink foal with the beginnings of a red mane and tail. Its tiny wings fluttered excitedly.
“Hewwo, nice wady! Be nyu mummah fow babbeh? Gif wotsa huggies an wuv!”
Christy screamed, instinctively slapping the box across the kitchen in horror.
The blonde woman watched, terrified, as the small creature crawled out of the package and onto the tile floor. The impact had clearly wounded it, but in a blind rage she reached for the nearest heavy object—a cookbook.
“Huu huu…meanie bawks gif huwties! Pwease gif huggies, nyu mum—”
Finally, the abomination was dead. Its back leg twitched feebly, but there were no other signs of life. She swept up the mess and bleached the floor, but couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. Why would FPCA send her a foal? And, oh dear god, why did it have to be in those colors?
There was no polite way to ask a lobbyist about a gift they’d sent, and she couldn’t ask Eric for the sake of preserving his plausible deniability, so Christy resolved to keep quiet about the gift-wrapped foal. Besides, she had more important things to do.
The afternoon consisted of non-profit meetings and a phone interview with a piano player for the Christmas party. Then, her interior designer was coming by the condo at six to discuss decorations.
By the time all of that was sorted out, she realized she hadn’t decided what to do for dinner. Amelie’s was only a few blocks away, and their tomato basil soup sounded perfect for a cold night like this one. She put on her coat and heels and headed towards College Street.
Christy had forgotten there was a Hornets game that night, and so she hadn’t counted on there being so many people walking the streets. She glared at two men who catcalled her from across the street, but then smirked as she turned and kept walking away. The scale was two pounds heavier this morning than it had been the week before, and that was hardly the first time that had happened in the past few years.
One of the tall office buildings in her path had a row of bushes in raised planter boxes beside it. Christy tried to ignore the rustling of the branches, but then she heard something…chirping. And then the thing spoke.
“Pwease, nice wady, babbeh am wost! Babbeh nu can cwimb down! Nee hewp!”
Against her better judgment, she turned to look at the foal. Her eyes twitched when she saw the color scheme: pink fluff with a red mane. It even had disproportionately small wings, which shivered along with the rest of the creature’s body.
“Babbeh cowd! Pwease be nyu mummah?”
Christy ran the rest of the way to the bistro on five inch heels.
Another pound gained meant a harder run that morning. The cold air made Christy’s joints cold, too. She ached as she ran through uptown, but the alternative was getting fat.
And a Governor’s wife shouldn’t be fat.
Most men—including Eric—would describe Christy with a thousand other words before they came to fat. But with every action, whether it was lifting her arms to reach a shelf, or when her husband slapped her ass, she became acutely aware of the extra weight she carried. It all started after she moved into the condo—was she getting…complacent?
Hell no, she thought, as she poured herself into charity work, her social calendar, and exercise to forget the demons of her past. She refused to feel guilt for the way things had ended between her and Ian, and rationalized it by saying “it would have happened one way or another.”
She ran with purpose this morning, breaking her own personal records at every turn, and performing so well she decided to incorporate a couple of extra city blocks into her daily run. Instead of turning onto Davidson, she went on to McDowell, which took her by Marshall Park.
The park had several paths that ran beside a pond and a grassy area, and there were ducks and geese there for most of the year. Christy felt at ease watching the geese nibble grass by the edge of the pond. But that ease quickly turned to unease as she saw what lay under a magnolia tree next to her path.
The bloated fluffy pony rested on its tummy and chewed on a mouthful of grass. She could hear the obviously pregnant mare humming a discordant tune as she approached, and could smell where it had just soiled itself.
“Hewwo, nice wady! Wook, soon-mummah am gon’ haf wotsa babbehs! Babbehs am da bestes fing evah! Babbehs gif wotsa huggies an wuv! Wan be nyu mummah fow soon-mummah an babbehs?”
That was when Christy hit the wall. She threw up on the running path, prompting the dam to cry, “Nu smeww pwetty!”
She felt the fury building up inside her: first, because of the fluffy’s inane babbling. Second, because she was already feeling fat this morning, and seeing that happy fatass happily eating while she starved herself was just insulting, and lastly because she couldn’t stand the fluttering of its tiny…pink…wings.
Oh, god, she thought. What the hell is going on?
Before the fluffy could offer her “huggies” for her “sickies”, Christy had already kicked the dam into the water.
“SCREEEEEEEEEEE! Hewp! Hewp! Wawa am bad fow fwuffies! Am bad fow tummeh-babbehs!”
At least that was cathartic, Christy thought, as she continued the last stretch of her run.
“What the fuck do you mean, you sold my tree! I reserved the goddamn thing weeks ago!”
Christy nearly dented her marble countertop as she got the bad news from the tree farm. Her decorator had pre-ordered the perfect Christmas tree for the party, but apparently the farm had some kind of fine print rule about the duration of a hold.
“Yeah, you’d better give me the more expensive one at a discount! Do you have any idea how badly I could fuck your business over? It would make an EPA audit look like a fucking one-star Yelp review…uh-huh…ok, see that you do that. Thanks! Bye!”
The last thing Christy needed was more party headaches. With five days to go, everything should be getting less, not more, complicated. And then there was the fluffy pony mess.
She seemed to be seeing pink fluffy ponies everywhere she went. The worst one was the one she found in her post office box two days ago. The foal had been nearly dead (as there were no holes poked in the box), but it had life enough to ask her to “be nyu mummah?” After she stabbed the little fucker to death with a meat fork, she looked up the tracking number on the box (yes, the sender had gone to a great deal of trouble) only to find that the number was fake. The return address should have been a clue, too: it had come from a street about thirty feet under Lake Erie.
The congressman’s wife needed nothing more than to clear her head, and the best place to do that was in the bathtub with a whole load of bath salts. She filled the tub with hot water and added some lavender chamomile salts for relaxation.
Her worries melted away. For half an hour, there was no party. There was no politics. And, most importantly, there were no fluffy ponies.
What Christy didn’t understand was how it was always a pink pegasus with a red mane and tail. Never once had she felt guilty for what she had done to Valentine—the things weren’t natural animals, for fuck’s sake! Why was this coming back to torment her now? And who was responsible for it? Clearly, this was some coordinated effort. But who would have the means (and the motivation) to target her?
Her troubled thoughts drifted off one by one until finally she was at peace. She reached over to the shelf for her loofah, only to find it was missing.
Ah, shit, she remembered. I had to throw my last one out. Feeling the need to scrub off, she stepped out of the tub and wrapped herself in a towel. There were no new loofahs in the master bath vanity, so she walked down the hall to Susie’s room—surely there was one in there.
She grabbed a new loofah out of the top left drawer in that bathroom and then started back to her own bath when she heard a thump. At first she disregarded it as a bird hitting the window out on the balcony, but then the thumping continued.
What the fuck could that be? Christy tiptoed over to the balcony door, nervous about what she would find outside. And having a deep sense of dread as to what she almost certainly knew would be there.
And she was right.
Somehow, she expected the fluffy to be out there, in all its bright pink, winged glory. It pawed at the door with tears in its eyes.
“Pwease wet fwuffy in! Fwuffy cowd! Nu am suwe wut fwuffy du wong, but fwuffy sowwy!”
Christy let out a primal scream and flung the door open. Disregarding the fact that it was the hand that was holding up her towel, she scooped up the pegasus and flung it as far as she could, trailing her towel behind it.
“Weeeeeeee! Fwuffy am fwyiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
The woman burst into tears and slumped down, naked, on the cold balcony.
Oh my god. They got in to my home.
Christy rented a hotel room in south Charlotte for the next two nights, hoping that she would get some measure of peace. She also hoped that her harassers wouldn’t dare mess with her with Eric around.
Her wish was granted. From the time she fled her condo until the time Congress recessed and her husband returned home, there were no more pink pegasi. She didn’t tell him about the incidents for fear that he would cancel the party on her account, or that he would worry for her safety.
She threw her arms around him when she went to pick him up at the airport, and then they went for a nice dinner at Fahrenheit. All their dinner conversation was about how great the party was going to be, and about their bright future together.
After their meal (and a bottle and a half of wine) they decided they’d had enough of waiting to be together, and so they called an Uber back to the condo. They made out in the elevator until they reached their floor, and Christy fumbled around for the correct key to open the front door.
Now, no one knows the entirety of what transpired next. No one who would be willing to tell, anyway. But one can assume based on what we’ve already seen and by putting two and two together that all hell broke loose in Christy’s fragile mind when she turned on the lights.
There was a pink fluffy pony on the kitchen counter. No, not one—there had to have been four or five. All of them fluttered their wings excitedly as they played together. There were more pink pegasi on the kitchen floor, in the dining room, and throughout the spacious living room. It is doubtful that one could have made a full stride anywhere in the apartment without kicking a pink pegasus with a red mane and tail. Gender apparently didn’t matter to whoever put them there, as couples had paired off in every room, happily enfing away.
“What the actual fuck is going on here?!? Christy, call the—Christy! Christy, what is it?”
His ill-gotten wife just stood there, her eyes wide and glassy. She stared past the fluffies—all of whom were happily playing, fucking, and shitting all over her beautiful luxury condo—to the words that were written on the wall in brown fluffy shit:
CHRISTY, WE KNOW ABOUT VALENTINE
Once those words registered in her brain, she opened her mouth in a silent scream.
Naaaatum videeeete, Regem Angelooooorum.
Venite adoraaaaaaamus, venite adoraaaaaamus,
The little old lady paused her program. Whoever was calling had better have a damn good reason for interrupting PBS’ annual showing of Christmas with The Three Tenors.
“Hello? Oh, is it on? I’ll flip th’ channel right now. Thank ye for lettin’ me know.”
Mrs. Smith kept the phone to her ear and used her free hand to change the channel to the local news station. A young black woman faced the camera, looking most somber.
“Breaking news out of uptown Charlotte this evening: a woman in her thirties, now being identified as Christina White of Charlotte, is being held in police custody after brandishing a kitchen knife in her condominium on Stonewall Street. Smith is the wife of Congressman Eric J. White, who is also a prominent Charlotte area attorney. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say that Mrs. White will be turned over to crisis services, suggesting she may be a danger to herself and others. We will release further details as they are made available to us. For now, we offer our thoughts and prayers for the White family during this difficult time…for more local, breaking news, tune in tonight at 11.”
“Well, I’d say that’s a job well done, sir. Congratulations. I wish you success in your upcoming endeavors…yes, Susie knows she’ll be coming straight to my house from school. No, we’ll get her in a school around here. The important thing is to get my grandbaby back home where she belongs. No, I won’t tell her about that if you won’t—seems to me that’d only make things worse. Thank’y again. It’s been a pleasure doin’ business with ye.”
The old woman chuckled briefly, then took a sip of her coffee. She felt a brief pang of guilt for the additional trauma that would inevitably be heaped on her granddaughter, but certainly no more than if she’d continue to have been raised by that harpy her son had married. Her only lasting regret was that she hadn’t been a fly on the wall to see the carnage Christy had wreaked on the fluffy horde in her condo as her mind shattered.
“That was for Ian, you stupid bitch. Rot in hell.”