Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Match Boy Always Hopes

He awoke gently, cuddled by darkness. Leaves had gathered over his cheek, he brushed them off. He got to his feet and stood still, listening.

Too quiet.

Where was the wind? The branches stroked by the breeze? Where were the birds?

He walked along a path not as familiar as it should have been, and lit by blades of yellow light that cut the shadows into ribbons. Some of the trees he recognised, saw the same old patterns streaking through the bark. But they seemed fewer in number than he remembered. Then he reached the edge of the forest, too soon, too soon.

A road cut across the path. It was grey and wide and obnoxiously straight. Across the other side sat squat, flat-roofed buildings of brick and iron. On top of one, the nearest, a metal pyre reached upwards, enveloped in flames that cast too-bright light and too-dark shadows upon all surroundings. The heat from the pyre felt thick and suffocating against his cheek, and he turned his back on it to let his face feel cooler air.

It was then that he noticed there was something else wrong. The sky was dark, much darker than it had any right to be. As if a heavy, thick blanket had been laid over the land, all light absorbed into its folds. To look up was to feel your soul drawn towards a void, to be assured that nothing looked down upon you, that all other living things left in this world would gaze up, shudder, and hastily turn their eyes to the ground. All light came from the pyre, no natural source from above.

He checked his pockets, and in the left one he found the old box. A shake resulted in a reassuring rattling sound. The matches were there. Yet he noticed, as he wrapped his fingers around the box to return it to his pocket, that the strip on the side had been worn smooth. No matches could be lit from it, he would need a new one.

He crossed the road and headed around the pyre building. By its entrance, a large man with a fat wooden club over his shoulder stood guard.

The matchbox came out from the pocket, a question was asked, a snarl answered and the club swung towards his head. A return to unconsciousness, quickly stuffing the matchbox back before it was taken.

 

He awoke far from gently. He shifted his head and at once it throbbed with pain. He levered himself upwards and looked around.

A cell. Brick walls, metal door. Barred window, no glass. Beyond, that oppressive sky.

Yet something had brought him from sleep. A whispering…

A hand reached through the barred window. A delicate hand, that of a young girl. Clutched between two fingers, worn rough and cut by thorns, was a strip of card, rough to the touch.

He took the card, and gasped with delight. Uttering thanks, he brought the matchbox from his pocket and held the new strip against the side. He withdrew a match, looked out and upwards at the sky, then carefully struck the match against the side of the box.

The flame sung to life, throwing dancing patterns against the walls. Then he flicked his fingers and let go. The match flew upwards, between the bars, then higher and higher, up and up, growing brighter yet remaining just a point of light. It came to rest against the heavens, hanging high, shining down.

He thanked the girl, kissed her fingers, and smiled as she laughed softly in return.

He took a second match from the box. Struck, flicked.

One by one, he lit the stars again.

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Thin on the Ground

Pete stomped into the living room. Erica was lying sideways on the sofa, blonde hair hanging over the armrest at one end, feet propped up on the other, nose buried in a book. She did not acknowledge his entrance.

“Hi,” he said.

“Mmmm,” she replied.

Pete wandered over to the kitchen area and began to assemble the ingredients for a vegetable soup. He glanced over the counter to see where Erica still reclined.

“Where’s Will?” he said.

Erica smiled. “He’s out at a concert,” she said. “The Shapeless Babies are playing at Windswept tonight.”

“Right, I remember now,” said Pete, crunching a blade through layers of leek. “He’s been on about that for months.”

Crunch, crunch, crunch. The only sound for a while, until punctuated by the rustle of Erica turning a page of her book.

“Where’s Marek?” said Pete.

“Herbal tea conference,” said Erica. “All weekend. Something about polyphenols.” Then she shook her head, as if to clear a thought.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, then the rattle of the spice cupboard.

“Have you seen the turmeric?” Pete asked.

“Yes, it’s here next to me.”

“Really? Why?! Did you need it to help you read the book?” he said.

“It’s a strange book,” she sighed, “I thought it was going to be about sexy, supernatural pirates. But it’s taken a strange turn these last few chapters. Become rather… instructional.”

“Instructional?” he asked. “How to be a sexy, supernatural pirate? With turmeric?”

“No,” she said, brow furrowed. “How to create friends.”

“By magic? By cooking?” he said. “Why not just chat to strangers?”

“Not magic exactly,” Erica replied. “More like a natural technology. Just doing things in the right order. Watch.”

Pete looked on as Erica stood up from the couch, took the jar of turmeric from the nearby table and poured a little into her right hand. Then she faced the door, and sung a few lines of a song so quietly that Pete could barely hear it. With her left fingers she drew oval shapes in the air, then raised her right hand to her lips and blew the turmeric through the oval.

At that moment, the door banged open and Will strode into the room. He was dressed almost entirely in leather, he was still dancing, and he was shouting at the top of his lungs.

“What an amazing night!” he yelled. “So awesome musics!”

“Oh no,” said Erica, shaking her head. “No, no, no. That won’t do.” She waved her hand dismissively. One moment Will was there, the next he had disappeared, leaving only a puff of yellow powder that floated gently downwards and then settled on the carpet.

“What happened?” gasped Pete. “What did you do to him?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said Erica. “I’ll get it right. Watch again.”

Once more she took the spice, sang, drew the shape and blew the powder through it. Once more the door opened and Will walked in.

This time he walked slowly, sleepily, without a word. He shuffled over to the sofa and sat down, put his head back and closing his eyes.

“Amazing night,” Will said quietly. “Awesome musics.” Then he tilted his head to one side and seemed to fall asleep.

Pete walked over to him, examined the sleeping figure carefully, then turned to Erica.

“You just magic’d Will out of thin air.” he said. “That’s insane.”

“No, it’s logical, really,” said Erica. “You just picture the person in your head, create their back-story, and then assemble the ingredients. Like following a recipe. Speaking of which, is the soup done?”

“It’s cooking now. Well, you might just think magic is normal,” said Pete. “But to me this is mind-blowing. Amazing. Are you a witch?”

“No!” protested Erica. “I’m just trying it out.”

“Not bad for your first attempt.”

“Oh sorry,” said Erica. “Wasn’t my first attempt.” She waved her hand and Pete dissolved into a dusty cloud.