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The Unlit Candle

Part One: Prologue

By Chris Rivera

 

***  Note:  The short story, "The Unlit Candle," is an epilogue to Raymond

Benson's novel The Facts of Death.  References are made to his original

story, and my story is intended to be original except for the references to

Benson's novel.  There is no intent to plagiarize, and any conflicts will be

met with complete cooperation.  ***

 

            Waves of deep indigo licked at the dark shoreline as the sea breathed a cool, misty breath over the island.  Wispy cottony puffs lazily drifted in the moonlit sky.  A multitude of stars sparkled radiantly as jewels.  Beneath the still night sky, the island slept.  The only movement was the tropical jungle trees which all swayed in unison to the soft breeze.

      Further inland, some of the underbrush suddenly parted, and two anonymous figures cloaked in tight black emerged unseen. They continued walking steadily through the thick forest for several minutes until they reached a break from the trees and foliage.  Night-vision goggles covered the eyes of both, and they slowly scanned the area.  One of them let out a small gasp in surprise, and the other turned to face her.

      In the small clearing, a black helicopter waited, which was odd; civilization wasn't for several more miles inland on this side of the island, and the region was predominantly occupied by Cuban jungle.  Apparently, the forest hosted some visitors.

      Both were secret agents working for the British Secret Service.  They had been dispatched here to Cuba on a reconnaissance mission to investigate unconfirmed reports of a massive illegal substance stash.

      Each crouched down and simultaneously pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and fitted it with a silencer.  Both inspected their weapons as the female pulled out another small device.  They then moved in close, face-to-face.

      The night-vision goggles quietly came into contact with each other.  They both grinned and pulled them off, revealing their full faces.  The moonlight faintly highlighted the faces of each.  The male had thick black hair and a recently clean-shaven face.  His eyes were chocolate colored, and they were calm and determined.  His slender companion was beautiful; her smooth, flowing hair waved with the breeze, and her eyes and face seemed to glow.  He stroked her cheek and gave her a passionate, gentle kiss.  They forgot about the mission for this moment, and they smiled and looked into each other's eyes.  Hand in hand, they finally rose and took in a deep breath of the crisp, fragrant air.

      "I'm ready," the female stated.  She was determined as her partner, and she focused on the area ahead of them.

      The team put on their goggles once more and cautiously advanced with their weapons drawn.  The female approached the helicopter and attached the small device, a tracker bug, to an inconspicuous corner of the aircraft.  Peering into a window, she was able to identify several items as wooden crates hidden in the blackness.

      They decided to wait for a moment and returned to the edge of the forest.  After about ten minutes, two unidentifiable men exited the forest, entered the craft, and the engine started.  The rotor blades began to revolve and pick up speed, and the helicopter finally roared to life.  The surrounding area was blasted with the intense wind as it steadily rose to the air and sped off away from the island.  Within a half minute, the drone of the blades had died down to a whisper.

      The man found the partly hidden wooden doorway, from which the two men probably exited, built into the slanting ground amidst the foliage, and he held it open for his partner to enter.  They descended the stone steps together with their guns pointed forward.

      The steps were cleanly cut, as if they had been built within the past few years, and the walls were fairly smooth.  The light was dim, and it seemed like the cold, black earth was swallowing them; an aura of uncertainty emanated from the ebony.  The night-vision opticals, however, displayed their environment clearly.  After about twenty steps, the passage leveled.  The agents slowly passed the area in complete silence.  They could even hear the deep breaths each took as they walked along.  Finally they had traveled past the halfway point in the narrow corridor.  The air had become much colder and drier than before, and they could now just barely detect a vague orange glow eerily seeping into the passageway ahead.  It appeared as a bright white blur to both with the goggles on, so they turned down the amplification.

      At last, they entered the chamber at the end with their guns drawn and with full alertness.  A set of flickering candles in the center of the room bathed it with fiery light.  There wasn't any furniture or carpeting in this hole cut out of the earth except for wooden crates that lined the perimeter of the small area.  Shadows danced wildly against the walls like spirits or ghosts.

      The man stepped toward the candles, then froze in realization of what he had just found.

His companion curiously came to his side and looked at the candles.  She too became transfixed with the shock of their discovery.  Their eyes went wide behind their goggles.

      Set upon ten four-foot brass intricate candle stands were large red candles which formed an equilateral triangle, in the formation of bowling pins.  All the candles burned furiously except for one at one of the triangle's points.  It had been lit at an earlier time, for the wick was blackened.  The candles seemed to have been maintained well because their sides were smooth.

Perhaps they had been placed there within the past day.  Such a formation- ten points forming an equilateral triangle- was the sign or "logo," in a sense, of the Decada.  What was this here, and why?  Was the Decada alive?

      Both secret agents had been informed of the terrorist actions of the Decada, which took place a few months earlier.  They were based on the Greek island of Chios.  Thanks to the heroic effort of James Bond, the elite group of ten had been eliminated and their final strike was halted- a nuclear missile attack on Turkey that would plunge much of Europe into chaos.  The Decada believed that ten was the number of perfection, and their conspiracy would be complete after successfully performing their tenth, final, and most devastating strike.  Their first nine attacks generally consisted of assassinations using chemical and biological warfare.  Apparently, the original Decada had been replaced, for all the events had occurred much earlier, but the items found in the room seemed to have been placed there recently.  Most likely the new organization was all Decada loyalties who were not originally official members.

      Each candle on the triangle represented a successful strike if it was lit.  The extinguished flame was what frightened the two agents.  When would a flame burn upon its wick once more?

      "Good Lord.  Remarkable," the man said under his breath.  His partner heard it though, and detected a hint of excitement and apprehension that she too felt.

      He jumped to life with his gun ready, not trusting anything.  Gently, he removed the wooden lid from one of the crates and was once again captivated by what he saw.  He stood still as shadows leapt around the two alone in the room.  His eyes were fixed on several metal briefcases that were neatly packed inside the crate.  It was the same type that the chemical and biological weapons were stored in for transportation.  He was all too certain of what he would find within.

      The Decada had been sleeping.  Soon, they would inevitably awaken.

      Meanwhile, his partner had flipped open a modified Ericsson Q-Branch cellular phone, revealing a small, glowing blue screen on which she now wrote on with an electronic pen.  She would look up every few seconds, ready to fire if she saw an intruder.  She felt all too sure that whoever inhabited this place thought the same way.  After writing, she took several pictures of the room and candles with an electric eye on the device.  She went over to her partner and put her arm around him, and she too saw the metal briefcases; her hold tightened as she also realized the meaning of the discovery.  She resumed her writing and picture taking of the contents of some of the crates.  With a press of a button, she sent the information as an e-mail to the MI6 in London.  She warily looked around the room to see if they were both safe, and she curiously crouched behind one of the larger crates to inspect its side for writing or markings.

      The man suddenly stiffened.  Something was pressed firmly into his back.       Another man had coincidentally entered the room from another entrance at the opposite side of the passageway at the same time the female had crouched behind the crate.  An oddly shaped pistol was grasped in the hands of the assassin pointblank to his target.  The woman rose from the crate but instantly went back down.  However, she had managed to lock eyes with her dear companion.  His eyes had sadness from the realization of his most probable fate.  His eyes were also full of love and told her to stay down.  He wanted her to live, and he would gladly sacrifice himself to make sure that she did.  He didn't want her to live solely out of care for her, but their mission had drastically changed to eliminating a potential worldwide threat.  At times like that, it was the mission, not your friends or loved ones.  His eyes had revealed the pain of that sacrifice as well, and his companion understood with deep sadness.

      She felt a rush of adrenaline surge through her; she was captivated by fear and concern for her beloved partner, who now was at the point of death!  She prepared to make her move.

      She was ready.

      Three... Two...

      One....

                 

      She lunged out from behind her cover and rolled on the ground to a firm shooting position.  The assassin involuntarily lost concentration as she had hoped, and his intended victim spun around and hit him forcefully with a high jump-kick to the sternum.  However, his position prevented his attack from reaching maximum power, and the assailant merely fell to the ground rather than breaking that vital bone in his chest.  At the same instant as he was knocked backward, the female fired, but her shot crumbled bits of stone off the wall instead.  Hopefully, her silencer had muffled the shot enough to prevent calling more attackers into the room.  She fired once more and the shot caught the unknown man in the chest, who fell back against the wall.  His gun was still pointed at his target, however, and as the man's arm became limp, his finger squeezed the trigger.

      A deafening shot pierced the air.  The bullet had hit the woman's friend right below the neck.  He now stood motionless for a few seconds.  For his companion, it was an eternity.  The man slowly leaned back and lifelessly collapsed onto his back.  Only the two dead men, the woman, and the dancing shadows remained.  The woman just stared blankly at them both.  Her eyes showed no sign of emotion yet.  She barely had even realized what had happened.

      It gradually became apparent to her what had just occurred, and tears began to appear under her beautiful eyes.  She helplessly crawled over to her dear friend and took his hand.  She stroked his cheek, removed her night-vision goggles and bent over to kiss him as he did earlier.   

      The resounding sounds of footsteps suddenly poured into the room from the dark hallway, thankfully not the one by which she and he had entered.  She was rendered motionless and hopeless as her emotions exploded to the surface.  Simultaneously, loud beeps sliced into the air.  The footsteps were no more than several yards away from the room now.  Her instinct forced her to her feet and pointed her to the passage from whence she came.  The air was now filled with emotion, footsteps, and the high-pitched beeps that were becoming overwhelming.  The shadows dancing in the room seemed to be mercilessly tormenting her now.  She glanced at her dead friend one last time and raced toward the passageway.  Several men burst into the room with AK-47s blasting fiercely.  At that moment, the explosives that they had armed in the room came to life.

      The woman fought back tears and ran for her life as fire and sound tore across the area.  She was thrust forward a few feet and tumbled across the ground and into one of the walls on her side.  A surge of heat swept over her.  She willed herself to get up, but the physical and emotional pain was simply unbearable.  Fiery orange illuminated the hall and rapidly consumed the area behind her.  At last, she found the stairs.  The light had died to darkness once more, and the sound turned to silence.  She despairingly stumbled up the stairs.  Without the aid of her night-vision opticals, she managed to find her way to the open door.

      The cool, peaceful island landscape outside was a cruel mask of the real world.

 

 

 

 

 





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