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* The Library - Fiction for the Heart *

The Gathering
Ch. 3 - The Little Match Girl

The woman and the child spent many hours together. Little by little, as they cried together, they both remembered more and more of the child's story. Her burnt and blackened skin healed quickly in the warm waters of the pool. And she seemed to grow very quickly. Before long she looked like a child of 4 or 5. She was good company - she cried easily, dropping swiftly into old memories, but she laughed and sang just as easily. She sang to the trees, to the grasses and the hills. She filled the valley with laughter and song. Sometimes her songs were sad, remembrances of her pain. One song she sang over and over:


dark and dark and dark
cold empty black void
inside and outside and all around

alone and alone and alone
aching and longing and hunger
hold me save me bring me home

i see the warm
i see the lights bright and warm
far over there they seem to be singing and I try to reach
i can't move, i try to call
i hear my voice, i hear my screams when the darkness bites me
don't they hear me?

it's me, my fault
it's something i did

it's them, their fault
they don't want me
but why?

alone and alone and alone
forever screaming aching dark black void
please come bring me home
please come

One day as they sat and sang together on the grass, the woman looked up and saw a small figure standing on the edge of the glen. It was a girl-child, pale and thin, dressed in rags. She stared at them with her large, dark, haunted eyes, and the woman knew - another had come home.

She held out her arms, but the child stood frozen.

The woman spoke then, softly, "Welcome, please join us."

The child said, in a voice almost too quiet to be heard, "You cared for my sister. I saw you care for her..."

"Yes," said the woman.

The child looked down at the ground and said nothing.

"You need care, too," the woman said. "You're hungry and cold and alone. Come and be with us." She held out her arms again. The child hesitated, then her eyes closed and she moved forward, inch by painful step. The woman came forward and wrapped the child in her arms. The child stood rigid for a moment, and then every muscle and bone seemed to melt into a puddle of fear and terror and cold and alone… She clutched the woman and cried and they remembered together...

She fell to earth, but her memory of the fall was dim. Just pain, and a squeezing, and the terror of being unable to breathe. In her next clear memory, she saw herself as a woman in a brown ragged dress, trudging down a dirt lane between low stone walls, carrying a large bundle of sticks on her back. She was bent almost in half from the weight of her burden and with each slow, painful step she was cursing the lazy drunkard husband that brought her to this. She hated her husband, she hated her life, sometimes she even hated her children, but it was for them that she went on, day after day, toiling for pennies so they would have barely enough food and a tiny flame to warm themselves by. When they got older, they would help, she would see to that. But for now, she toiled alone. Self-pity and anger overwhelmed her. What good was living when it was all pain and cold and hunger? If it wasn't for the children she would have crawled into a dark corner and given up long ago. She hated them, too, she hated the whole world! The rage and hopelessness overwhelmed her as she became ill and withered, unable to rise from her bed, knowing she was dying and unable to help the children. As she died she cursed the world and God and herself...
What came next seemed very familiar to the woman, familiar but distant, as though she had watched the events from afar, aching, but helpless. There was the child again, this time a very young girl standing outside a window in the dead of winter, dressed in rags, her hollow cheeks blue with cold. She stood at the window, a wretched and pitiable thing, watching a family sitting together around the warm golden glow of a fire.

"Ah," thought the woman, "this is a soul in despair. She has given up. She expects very little out of life, she has no will to live, no desire to fight and survive. She is a dog that expects to be beaten, a child that expects only cold starvation and death."

Standing outside the window drinking in the warmth of the family, the child pretends for a brief moment that she is one of them, that she shares their togetherness, shares the sweets they eat, is offered a cup of something hot and steaming to drink. The colors shimmer before her eyes, now filling with tears - burgundy and green and gold - Christmas colors. For it is Christmas time and the hearts of men are supposed to gentle and open, at least for this one day. But the child knows that's a lie. She has a bitterness in her heart that no child should feel. She knows there is no Christmas spirit, and God, if he exists, is cold and heartless as iced glass.

She turns from the window and sinks down onto the cold ground. There in the snow she huddles, waiting. She waits for the cold to fill her bones, she waits for death, she knows it will come. Soon it will come.

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