Candlelight by K.C. Mead-Brewer

Strike a match, light a candle, here we go. In this version of the story, the messenger urges his horse on, faster faster, away from the blood-soaked fields of Vlad the Impaler’s latest battle, off to inform The Impaler’s beloved that he is alive, he has conquered, he will return to you soon. But only messengers bearing bad news ever reach their destination in time.

The Impaler’s enemies enchanted a lunar moth to flutter up to the princess’s window, collapsing upon the stone sill as a missive and single drop of blood. Her beloved is a man of many mysteries and horrible miracles, and so she falls upon the ominous letter at once, convinced it must be from him, until the note, its soul, it says: welcome to the end, my dear. your impaler is dead, and your window is wide open.

I think you know what happens next.

In a fit of grief, the princess leaps from her tower, determined to rejoin with her lover in death. Too bad, then, that when her body smashes against the castle moat below, she only continues to fall and fall until she reaches the other side of the water and meets air again, sitting up in a fog-chilled churchyard, the tombstones bright as teeth. She’s in search of her lover, Romeo. It’s a secret, a rendezvous, yes! She’s ready. Together they will make their romantic escape. But the tombstones tilt into a grin and the fog tightens like a noose. The moon has never cared for poetry. A gruff friar steps forward, shaking his head and saying to her, “Come, come away. Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead.”

And you think you know what happens next, you’ve heard a version of this story before: The way the young woman weeps over her lover’s corpse, soaking his doublet with tears. The way she plunges his dagger into her bright chest, intent once more on joining him. The way the wound rips through her until she falls inside herself, through the centuries of different lands, different waters, different arms and deaths and versions.

It would be so easy for this to be a dream.

If dreams bother you, consider how your lovely lips pucker to blow out a candle. Consider how the flame must feel, blushing, breathless, believing itself about to be kissed.

Consider how it may be lit anew by match after match after match.

Consider how, in some versions, the princess is elated by the news of a violent man’s death. Free of him at last. How she clutches the lunar moth’s remains to her chest and paints her lips a glowing red with its blood. How she falls into action straightaway, taking command of the castle for herself. How she flees the dead churchyard for a life on wild horseback, leaving Romeo blinking and dry in her tomb. How a woman like this, knowing Death so well, might have been a ghost all along. How she floats out to greet the weary messenger and silences him with a kiss. “No, no,” she tells him, a hand in his hair. Licking, breathless. “Let’s pretend we never heard a thing.”


K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, MD. Her fiction appears in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Carve Magazine, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Tin House’s 2018 Winter Workshop for Short Fiction and of the 2018 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. For more information, visit and follow her @meadwriter.