December 25, 2013

The Little Match Girl

It was a terribly cold day. Snow was falling, and evening was coming down--the last evening of the year. Down the cold and darkened streets walked a poor little girl, without a coat to keep or shoes to keep her warm.

When she'd left the house that morning, she'd had a pair of slippers on.  They'd been her mother's, and had been too big for her.  The little girl had lost the first one running across the road to avoid a passing carriage, and the second slipper had been stolen by a boy.

And so the little girl walked in the snow barefooted until her feet were blue and red from the cold.  But she couldn't go back home.  Her father had sent her away to sell some matchsticks to the townsfolk so that they could buy some food for her and her siblings, and she dared not return without selling a single one.  And no matter how much she tried to get people to buy from her, nobody paid her any attention.

Finally, shivering with cold and hunger, the little girl crept down the streets while people hurried to get back to their warm houses.  From where she stood she could see the lights in all the nearby windows, and smell roast goose coming in the air, for it was New Year's day.

In a corner between two houses, the little girl sat down and drew up her little feet under her tattered apron. Her little hands were numb with cold.  Oh, if only she could strike one of her matches, it would make a world of difference to her!

With trembling fingers, she drew one of her precious matches and rubbed it against the wall.  Oh, how it blazed and burned brightly like a candle!

It seemed to the little girl as if she were sitting before a large iron stove with shining brass feet and knobs, warming her so delightfully!  The little girl stretched out her feet to warm them too, when whoosh, the flame went out.  The stove vanished from sight, and all she had left were the charred remains of the match.

So she lit another match, and when its light fell against the wall, it became transparent and the little girl could see through it to a large table laden with all sorts of foods.  There was a roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes.  All of a sudden, the goose hopped down from the table and waddled along the floor towards her.  The little girl laughed until the flame went out and left her in the dark and cold street again.

Quick! She lit another match.  This time, a beautiful Christmas tree appeared before her wide eyes,
thousands of lit candles and colored pictures hanging from its branches.  The little girl reached out to touch them, but the match went out again.  She saw the lights from the Christmas tree rise into the night sky, as if to touch the stars there, until one of them fell down towards her, leaving a long, burning trail behind it.

She remembered her grandmother then, the only person who'd ever lover her.  Her grandmother had once told her that when a star fell from the sky, it meant a soul from someone dying went up to God.

The little girl rubbed another match against the wall.  Its light grew brighter and brighter until there, in the glowing warmth of the match, stood her beloved grandmother.

"Grandmother!" cried the little girl. "Take me with you! Don't disappear like the stove, the dinner and the Christmas tree did! Don't leave me all alone!"

And she quickly struck another match before the light could go out again, and another, and another, so she could keep her grandmother near her.  She used up all the matches she had on her, and the matches burned brighter than the light of day.

The grandmother smiled at the child then opened her arms, and the little girl ran to her, filled with joy.  Together, they flew back up into the sky, very, very high up where there is neither cold, nor hunger, nor fear.

The next morning, the woman living in one of the corner houses came out and found the little girl sitting against the wall.  The child's cheeks were red, and she had a smile frozen on her lips, bunt out matches strewn about the frozen ground around her.

"The child died trying to warm herself," the woman said, sadness in her voice, not imagining what the little
matchstick girl had seen the night before, nor how happy she had been to leave with her grandmother into the New Year.

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