On this day last year I found a matchbox girl. I used to live in this town, but I moved into the city with my parents ever since they found new work. I didn’t want to leave the town that I had grown up with, but I knew that staying wouldn’t have done me any better. I don’t regret leaving when we did last year. I don’t regret having to say goodbye to my friends. I don’t regret meeting a matchbox girl.
I ruffled my way through the snow and pushed past the dead trees as their branches threatened to claw at my face. A twig would break someplace beyond me and I would jump at the sight of a dark-furred creature wandering about. I felt something hostile within the air of the forest. I knew exactly why, but I wasn’t the one that the forest wanted. I only had her scent. I pressed on with memory to get to the spot that she brought me on this day last year. I was happy when I had arrived, and even a bit reluctant to step forward. It was a small clearing with a single shed. It surprised me then and it surprised me now that the shed still remained. It wasn’t particularly large, but the wood seemed as if it had been taken by rot.
On this day last year I found myself in this town’s forest after getting into a fight with the local thugs of the school. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fighter, nor was I any more fit to fight them than my kid sister. However, I had a bone to pick with them. I wasn’t the best son, I wasn’t the best friend nor was I even the best brother. I was a spoiled brat thick and thin, and I wanted to prove some kind of strange masculinity to them. I hated them. I hated the way they ran around like the town belonged to them. I hated how they picked on the weak, and my stubborn attitude sought out to up rule them. I was engrossed in my own bellicose, and what came out of it was a five way beating. I managed to walk out of it with barely a foot on snow, but I didn’t back down either, and I did some damage despite my odds. It was a good day that day. I didn’t have much going for me, I figured I would drop out of school and just find some work at a pier. To finally have some kind of reason for doing, to finally be able to break the apathy in my life made me ebullient.
I was on my way out from their hangout when one of their guys stopped me. He wasn’t a part of their group but he called himself a mediator. I pushed past him, but he shoved a joint in front of me. He told me to take it, and that if I could still manage to see tomorrow than he would tell the thugs to back off. I saw no reason to refuse, and I knew that I couldn’t move about in the town after I had started a war. It seemed reasonable to accept his offer, and with how I was back then I had no one to tell me otherwise that smoking a strange joint wouldn’t be safe. I thought that maybe after doing this I would find another escape, another way for me to be unrestrained. I craved for that in this town. I wanted something to happen, but I didn’t know how to make that a reality. I was a brat who got whatever he wanted, but money can’t cure ignorance.
I wandered into the forest wondering if I could start a flame and let this strange poison take me away. I was a brat, and an idiot. It was the thick of winter, and I was trying to find rocks to start a spark. Maybe I hoped that I wouldn’t find anything, that I would simply say that I had smoked it, lying about the results. Maybe I was just tired of being who I was, but… I was so adamant on finding something. I pushed through the dead branches that day just like I did when I came back. And somewhere in the tree lines, I saw smoke. It was a very subtle smoke that was emerging, and although I knew that causing mass deforestation was hapless considering the season, I checked it out. That was when I first saw her. She held a matchbox with her left hand, and a lit match in her right. In front of her on the ground was a pile of broken flames.
My steps crunched in the snow, but she stood un-vexed by my presence. She took another match from her box once the one she was holding faded. It was almost like looking at a kid trying to burn an ant in the shade. I laughed at her. Not the arrogant laugh I used to mock people, nor the laugh I used when I was pretentious. She had bright gold hair that was tucked away inside her jacket. Her cheeks were flush red and her teardrop shaped eyes peered up at me.
“You know that it’s the middle of winter right?” I said as she threw away another match.
“What’re you even doing with matches?” She looked at the joint still in my hand, and then snickered as she drew another match.
“You planning to smoke that? I ain’t got matches for you if that’s what you want. ” Her accent was brash, hit me like a piece of hail and then shattered on my feet as I noticed the red liquid dripping from my head. But it was a pleasant pain. She wasn’t like the thugs at school. Somewhere in her voice I heard a strange sweetness. It was like tasting poisoned honey.
“What about you? What do you need to light?” I asked back. She watched as another match drifted in the torrid winds of winter. She sighed and then began walking some place into the forest, but before leaving my sights, turned and said, “You coming?” I followed her. Her figure in front of me was like chasing a dream. She was little less than perfect, and I wondered if I had known she lived in this town if I would have liked to be with her. Everything about her was alluring, and yet I remembered that it was poisoned honey. You don’t get crazier than a girl in the middle of winter trying to burn matches in the forest. At least not in this town.
She stopped in front of her shed, and flung open the door as if it was a repulsive barrier. I couldn’t make much of what was inside but she came out aptly enough to show me. I didn’t know what came first, my terror, or anger. She hung by the feet the corpse of a dead rabbit. It’s white fur was lined with red, and I couldn’t make out how it’s joints or guts had been carved out. She flung the corpse onto the snow between us, and lit a match. She brought the flame close to her face, and the reflection of it within her eyes made it seem blue. Nonchalantly she brought the flame to the corpse of the rabbit and watched it erupt. It was lined with oil. I could smell it in the air and it wafted from the shed. I wanted to run, scream for help, but I stood there unable to do anything. My body wanted to stay, and somewhere my mind wanted to stay. She smiled as she watched the corpse burn, and then looked up to see my face.
“What’s wrong? Never seen a dead body?”
“You’re a murderer, an animal killer… A psycho,” I had a way with words.
“And what about you? Waving that thing around like it’s a firecracker. The only person in this town that makes those things is–” She had a revelation and kissed her teeth, “Let me see that.” She grabbed the joint from my hands and then unrolled the contents onto the snow in front of the burning rabbit. She sighed and then looked up with pity, “You’re lucky you found me. This stuff would have killed you, you realize that right?” She pushed the contents into the flame and then snuffed it with snow.
“You shouldn’t be playing with your life like that. What’d you do? Lose a bet or something?” I told her what happened. She smiled, shook her head, then told me to come into the shed. I did so, knowing all well that I probably would have been better off losing myself in the clouds.
The inside of the shed was lined with cages, some had live rabbits, and others had been recently mutilated. The smell of oil mixed with the caged corpses. My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet, and I wished to some god that it didn’t. She took one of the cages, and then brought it outside.
“Look buddy, you ain’t got to pick fights with them. It’s not worth it. Here,” she brought me over to the cage where the fresh corpse of a rabbit peered into my eyes like a sorry toddler. It was already covered in oil. She took a match from her box, and then lit it under her palms.
“If you want to show off that badly, then why don’t you just study or something? Get a job, get a future. Maybe find yourself a nice girl. Don’t throw away your future like that. You ain’t no punk. You squirmed at a dead rabbit, you’re not fit out for that life.” There was a certain fragility in her voice, like she could barely muster her words. She played them out for me like trying to swim her way through a frigid ocean. It was hard for her to talk to me like that, and yet I thought she was right. What was I doing picking fights, trying to be someone who I wasn’t. Those thoughts lingered in my mind.
“Here,” she handed me the match, and I held it close to my face, watching as it burned under my palm. It was fickle, flickering with each of my breaths, beneath my tamed bellicose, it was entrancing.
“Look buddy, I don’t know you. You sure as hell don’t know me, but I don’t want to see you down that path, okay? Just trust me. Don’t fall for that crap. There’s more to life than that. I’ll tell you right now that if you want to pretend to be tough, you’re just gonna get shot.” Her eyes were wistful, despite being so near me, she was in a place all of her own. She was somewhere far beyond me in a place unreachable, and once I had realized that, her poison became morphine. She looked up, and her eyes glistened with worry and exhaustion.
“If you want a way to get away from the world, just burn it all down. And be the only one who can be in control of that.” I dropped the match onto the rabbit, watching as it blazed into a parasitic bonfire. She smiled at me, her smile reaching from one end of her face to the other.
“Now you’re my accomplice. If you don’t want this to spread, why don’t you go back to being a good kid. You still have a family after all, take care of them. Sure life is boring sometimes, but… Find something to do, burn that boredom away.” I had no words for her. And she took that as my understanding. She got up, threw snow on the corpse, and brought the cage back into her shed. I was going to leave, having heeded her advice, I was going to say my goodbye, but she came out of the shed with a mantra. She lit another match, and grabbed my arm. Her grip wasn’t inviting, and I could see something brittle within her eyes. She brought my sleeve up and then brought the flame to my skin. I struggled, and my heart raced a thousand miles.
“You’re crazy! What’re you doing!?”
“A promise–” she forced the flame onto my arm, and I felt tears roll down my face. She was writing something on my arm.
“A promise that you’ll keep, between you and me, that you’ll be a better person than I ever could be, that you’ll live on to be the greatest pyromaniac in the world, that you’ll live your own life.” She branded an “E” on my arm, to which I desperately poured snow to snuff out the pain and bleeding. She was panting, when she was done, and just as abruptly as she branded my arm she stroke another match and said as she brought the flame to her open arm, “What’s your name?”
“Good enough.” She brought the flame and branded an “A” on her arm without a single wince. I watched as the blood dripped onto the snow like hail striking her face, shattering at her feet. She then pressed her arm onto mine, causing me to fall back onto the snow. She laughed, her voice stifling pain and tear, “We’re bound by blood now.” Her smile was unwavering, beautiful even.
“It’s like we’re married. Till death do us part.” She looked at her own arm and closed her eyes. She was much stronger than I ever could be. But within that strength, was fragile glass. I saw that within her eyes. A glass that could be shattered with just the tiniest crack.
“Sorry I was rough, but… I want that to be the epitome of pain in your life. If you think your life is rough, just think back to this day when a matchbox girl burned your arm.” Her smile was addicting, and it lingered in my mind, and on my arm. I never saw her again.
I opened the rotting shed door, wondering if her cages were still there. They weren’t. The shed was relatively clean. No blood or guts, or oil. I wondered where she was, if she was still burning bodies. And I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed what was on the shed floor. I leaned over to grab it, and then left the shed. I didn’t bother closing the door. I opened the box, there was only a single match left. I pressed it against the flap, and then drew my hand back watching as the flame came to life.