22 February 2010
Magpie Tales #2...The Perfect Match
She holds the match vertical, and waits for the flame to die out. When the last glint of light has disappeared, she throws the charred stick into the cold fireplace.
With a sharp flick of her wrist, she lights another match and draws it close to her face.
The soft yellow light makes her dark eyes gleam. She smiles, not in a friendly way, and tilts the match to its side.
The flame flickers out.
The small room is plunged into darkness again.
The soft scuttle of vermin starts, momentarily paused by the hypnotizing flame.
She wrinkles her nose. The smell of damp penetrates everything.
She leans against the crumbling wall. This isn't her house, she just crawled in for the night. Truth be told though, it isn't any better here than outside. Outside are the stars and the moon, the smell of open space, and the warmth left by the scorching sun after its departure.
But by night all manner of things descend on the quiet countryside. Creatures that fill the clear, rainless dark with whispers that seem to come from all directions and howls that stretch to the moon and back.
She lights another match.
The empty fireplace seems like an abyss that she could fall into without warning.
She hunches against the farthest wall.
The spark of another match casts her shadow, ebony black and towering, toward the small doorway.
She lets it burn down to her fingers, then tosses it to the ground.
There might have been a candle in the first room, but it is too late to go out there now. The night has cloaked the house with a gossamer veil, and she is safe only in this room.
Outside, a wolf creeps close to the house. It presses its snout against a dirt-encrusted window. A small glow is visible for second, then it disappears. The wolf waits. Soon a bright flash abrades its eyes and then the comforting glow returns.
The wolf crosses to the front door. It is battered wood, and has a simple latch on the inside. The wolf rises onto its hind legs and scratches at the door.
From the surrounding forest, a chorus of howls heralds his action. The door collapses inward and the wolf traipses confidently inside.
She fumbles for another match. With a sinking heart she realises that this is the last one. She positions her hands close to the match box, ready to strike the final match.
The wolf sniffs the rotting floorboards. His paws pick his next move before his mind registers it.
She stiffens, listening to the soft breathing of the wolf, and the click of its nails against the floor as it approaches.
The wolf continues, its head held high, no longer needing to sniff the ground to determine its path.
She freezes as the wolf peers around the door frame. She brings the match close to the box and closes her eyes.
The wolf shrinks back as a bright flash lights up the room.
She opens her eyes. The wolf is sitting just inside the room, its gaze intent on the match. She looks down at it. The flame is still large, but the matchstick isn't burning. She opens her mouth in amazement.
The wolf lies down, its head resting on its paws, eyes still captivated by the flame.
She holds her finger over the flame, and jumps back as it is burned. Carefully she places the match into the fireplace.
Instantly a fire fills it, the abyss now a welcoming blaze.
The fire lights up the room. It is not as dirty and in such ill repair as she thought it was. The wolf is no dangerous hellhound but a shaggy sheep dog.
She picks up the match box to throw it in the fire, but pauses.
The match box is full again.
She sets it back onto the mantel, in the same position as she found it earlier that afternoon. She will move on in the morning, and sometime in the future, someone else in need will find the house and the matches.
She smiles at the thought.