That Sad Smile

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the Creative Writing Ink writing challenge. With weekly photo prompts and no word limits, this challenge offers a fun, interactive way of encouraging new writers.


A cool, bitter wind swept through the tunnels, whipping back my hair and threatening to extinguish my precious candles. I leant over the flame before me, protective, as I fiddled with the matches I held in my sweaty palms. Lighting them was proving uncannily difficult, for, with every new flame that I placed about the circumference of the small, little cave, the more violently my hands began to shake.

Héctor Martínez.jpg
Credit: Héctor Martínez

At long last, however, the flame leapt greedily from wick to match, and I scurried off around the circle to the next open space, guarding the flame with my hand. Before I could reach my destination, however, another gust of wind swept through the cave and my little flame withered, and then died.

Sighing, I turned back to the nearest candle, heart beating wildly. If I took much longer, I might miss my opportunity altogether. I only had tonight, for this moon would not wait forever. In a few hours, it would dip below the mountain ridges behind the northern plains, and it would be too late. I’d have failed.

A new kind of determination gripped me as I plunged my match into the flame and withdrew it sharply, watching the flame quiver, and then separate in two. I rushed back over to the space along the wall, dipping the flame towards the unlit candle waiting there. Grinning with relief, I then turned to the last, and final space along the wall. With the flame still clinging to the match in my hand, I forced it down and watched as, finally, the last candle was lit.

I got to my feet, looking around at the twelve lights gleaming at me from the edges of the circle. Then I paused, hesitating. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I should just walk out of the cave, leaving my little circle and abandoning my hopes. I’d waited too long for this, though; I couldn’t let it slip past me when I was this close.

I marched resolutely to the entrance of the cave, where I stripped off my shoes and socks, shrugged off my jacket and lifted a hand to let my dark hair fall about my shoulders. I had to do this. It wasn’t a choice anymore. Making sure that my clothes were outside of the ring of candles, I swallowed, let out a long breath, and then scurried back to the centre of the circle.

The stone was cold on my bare feet as I sat there, cross-legged. It was distracting, but I was glad that I’d made them bare; I felt so much closer to the ground now, as if the stone itself was providing me with its own strength. I gritted my teeth, focussing my mind.

I reached out with my thoughts, finding each burning flame and watching it crackle. Then, I wandered further. I left the circle, and then the cave. I carried on right past the labyrinthine tunnels and the moonlit fields beyond. I searched further and further, until I saw her. I opened my eyes.

My mother sat opposite me, eyes wide and mouth smiling. She reached out to me instinctively, but I backed away, grimacing slightly.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, sitting back immediately. “I- how am I here?” I smiled, but didn’t answer. She was very pretty, with her dark hair and long, curled lashes. That had never quite come through from the photographs. I wondered what she would look like now, if her life hadn’t been halted so abruptly. I supposed there would be flecks of grey in that dark hair now, and lines bordering that smile. The eyes would stay the same, though; she would have the same eyes, and she would have the same smile.

“I miss you,” my mother whispered, her eyes looking rather watery. “Thank you for bringing me here.” I nodded, but I still couldn’t speak. My throat felt strangely constricted. I’d spent so many years writing my mother letters that I could never send, dreaming of speaking to her, or even looking at her, but now, when she was right in front of me, I couldn’t say a word. Something was wrong. It was as if the world knew she shouldn’t be here; whilst she was smiling, her arms slightly outstretched, I couldn’t help from noticing that she was pale and ghostly, her smile tainted by a flicker of sadness.

I was almost glad when a gust of wind blew out half the candles. As their smoke rose into the air, my mother faded, that sad smile disappearing into nothing.

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