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Inspirational Sad Fiction

It was so terribly cold: I struck a match, but its tiny flame could never warm me.


Snow was falling: dreaming of food and a life of plenty, I lit another match; but flame and dream spun into smoke. 


It was almost dark: the third match sparked, but a complete and final darkness enveloped me. 


I lost consciousness, gripping my final match. 


Four matches: four life chances, just waiting to blaze bright, however briefly. Friction made them burn, life affording me plenty of rough surfaces upon which to strike my ephemeral incandescence. Cold chafes, hunger gnaws and at the end I was nothing but bones for poverty to pick clean. The Little Match Girl with her life’s book of matches, all spent- but one. 


I lost consciousness, forgetting the icy streets where I was forced to walk, escaping the frozen stare from my father’s eyes; once loving, now hardened by loss. I forgot the snow, which fell every winter; a shroud, cloaking the heart of my city, one long resigned to suffering. And finally, I lost all sense of the dark, which had crept in ever-lengthening shadows, deepening into that which descends when eyes close for the last time. 


Yet, when I opened them once more it was like I had blazed my way to glory: light, radiance, eye-watering brilliance, was all around. And in this blinding white, what did I see? Three spent matches, one left- a final chance- gripped in my small hand.


Shading my eyes from the glare, I made my way barefoot to the source of that dazzling illumination. There, bathed in light, was a beautiful maiden almost as lovely as my mother had been. She was tending a fire, feeding it with sticks, and as I approached she smiled. 


“Little Match Girl, I have long expected you. Come and warm yourself by my fire.”


Holding out my hands, the warmth of the flames embraced me, a comfort I had almost forgotten. I remembered my grandmother collecting sticks, stooping to lay the fire in the grate; my mother clasping the bellows, blowing life into the kindling flames. 


“We used to have a fire at home.”


“Yes, until your grandmother and mother passed and you let the hearth fire go out.”


I bowed my head guiltily. 


“Without the hearth fire, cold can creep into the house, snuffing out the family flame; and so flame sinks to embers, embers darken to ash; remnants of love charred to despair."


I blinked back the memory of the empty grate standing at the heart of our house, our ashen home.


“But come, Little Match Girl. Do not be down-hearted at one life not well-lived. For I am Hestia, keeper of the eternal hearth fire. Take this new match,” she held one out, “light a new and stronger fire in your hearth, and do not let the love of family be vanquished, not even by death.”


I reached out and took the match, putting it in my apron pocket. 


“Your way lies over yonder,” said Hestia, gesturing towards a deep golden light, “and strike well next time, for each blaze, however short, is precious.”


I thanked Hestia and made my way to where she had pointed. With each step the heat intensified, scorching my bare feet that were used only to the cold. The source of the inferno was a fireball of a man, rounded about the girth with bands of gold; atop his head was a coronet of flames. In his own heat, he was roasting meat on a spit, and the smell of the cooking would have made me faint, if mortal longings weren’t something I had left on earth.


“Little Match Girl,” he spoke with a mouthful of meat, juices glistening from the golden threads of his beard, “I have been expecting you. Come and join in my feast, for here there is enough for all.”


Despite his dazzle I stared at him, licking his fingers with lip-smacking delight. 


“And who are you,” I asked coldly.


“Me?” He looked surprised by my question. “Why, I’m Helios of course. You know me: the racer of sun’s chariot; bringer of heat, light and plenty.”


I remembered my life: so terribly cold, snow falling, dark always descending, and glared at the guzzling, greedy radiance before me.


“Where were you when I needed light; when I needed warmth?”


He shifted uncomfortably in a shower of sparks. 


“I used to strike my matches and dream of stoves, of roast goose, of a family Christmas gathered around the light of a tree. And do you know what came of these dreams? Nothing. They burnt to ash.” 


I kicked the embers smoldering at his feet and they shot into a flurry of flames as he hung his head in shame. 


“I’m so sorry, Little Match Girl. I never noticed in my sun chariot just how terribly cold you were. I should have seen you needed the power of the sun to give you strength and halted my horses, even if just for a while, above you. But now I can make amends.”


He reached into the lustrous folds of his brilliance and pulled out a match.


“Take this, child. When next you light it, I promise that you will never be cold or hungry again. For in this phosphorus is the heat of a hundred roaring suns, ready to give and give and give.”


I thanked Helios for his belated gift, pocketing it in my apron, before looking about me. 


“I think there is one final fire you must visit,” said Helios, gesturing to a deep red light, burning in the east and I made my way to it without a backwards glance. 


At the third fire stood a lady with long flowing black hair. Behind her a fire roared, burnishing her limbs as if she had been dipped in molten gold. It seemed she had been waiting for me too as she spoke immediately.


“So Helios has released you at last. Come Little Match Girl, for time is short; my fire wants to burst forth and summon the new day and you must be gone before it does so.”


“Gone?” I asked confused, “but where?”


“Back to your mortal world. You have two new matches, I will give you a third and with the fourth you already have, it will be in your power to start, to strike out, anew.”


I remembered the cold, the snow, the dark and must have shivered despite the warmth she was radiating. 


“Do not fear Little Match Girl- take this.” She held out a match, the tip frosted with the color I saw blazing from the fire and her eyes. 


“I am Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. I summon order out of the chaos of life, separating the days from the nights. Trust me: just as the fireball of the sun sinks every day, but rises again, so must your hope spring eternal. When the time is right, light this match and trust in a new day, a new beginning, stepping out of the shadows into a blaze of possibilities.”


I swallowed my doubts and fears and took the match she held out to me, pocketing it in my apron with the others. 


“And what should I do now?” I asked, unable to stop the quaver in my voice.


Amaterasu looked at the ball of fire, burning ever brighter, and bobbing like it wanted to fly up, and nodded.


“Simply shut your eyes; the power of the new day will do the rest.”


I did as I was told, opening them only when the warmth I had basked in vanished so quickly it was as if a hundred snowstorms had come and blown every fire out. I was back in the cold, the snow, the dark of the only city I had ever known.


I refused to cry, turning over the four matches in my apron pocket, imagining the power at their tips.


Walking the street I had traipsed in my former life, a place of work not play, I made my way to the narrow house I’d called home and summoned my courage to push open the rickety old door. The house was indeed as cold as outside, with only the roof to cover it, but I hardly noticed; for inside, head stooped in grief, sitting in a chair near a long-spent fire, was my father. I watched him for a moment, lost in his mourning; eyes seeking for his wife- my mother, perhaps searching for me too, in the depths of his memory.


Purposefully, I crossed to the room’s grate. It had been so long since a fire danced in the family hearth that nearly only ashes dusted the stones. Still, I scooped the charred fragments of twig and paper together, making a little pyre. I dug into my pocket and pulled out Hestia’s match. Let the remnants of love burn once more: and I struck the match on the flagstones. The flame leapt, the kindling caught and from the flames I felt the warmth of my grandmother’s smile; the heat of my mother’s hug. 


My father looked up, amazed and bewildered. I crossed to him and taking his worn and callused hands in my own, led him closer to the fire. For a few minutes we stood in silence, enjoying the heat in that cold cold space; the crackle of the dancing flames; the comfort of memory warming us both. Finally, he spoke.


“Forgive me child, I have been no father to you at all.” 


I kept his hand in mine. 


“But now you can be.”


I left him staring into the hearth fire and crossed to the stove. Pulling open the heavy cast-iron door to the firebox, I filled the cavity with wood. From out of my apron pocket, I took the second match, the gift from Helios. I thought of the aroma from his roasting meat and my stomach murmured its approval. Striking the match, I made a wish and tossed it in. In a matter of minutes, the room filled with the rich scent of a goose cooking.


Father joined me, breathing in deeply. 


“Last time we ate goose was last New Year’s Eve, before your mother died.” 


He didn’t say it, but I thought of the other losses: his job, my freedom; how he’d sent me off to scavenge for pennies, selling my childhood for a copper coin. 


“There has been precious little for us to eat these last months. Forgive me child.” I stroked his arm and then began to set the table. Catching his eye as I laid the two chipped plates and mugs, I rejoiced to see the hard, cold look had finally gone and sparking now were glimmers of new hope: of warmth, a warm meal, a new tomorrow.


“We will know plenty once more,” his warm smile lights a reciprocal one in my face, “tomorrow I am going to go and look for work, to heap this table high!”


He took the steaming goose from the oven and began to carve as I poured water from the earthen jug. Together we sat, acknowledging the empty places: Granny’s chair with the old patched blanket she used to wear about her knees; mother’s place at the other end of the table, facing my father, next to me. Their absence was still huge, but no longer a pit we might both fall into. The kitchen was warm with the heat from the hearth fire and stove; to sit with my father was, for the first time in many moons, a pleasure. No sparkling christmas tree graced the room, but in the sky, streaking stars made me think of Grandma and Mother, watching me from above.  


Quietly I pulled the third match from my pocket and lit the stub of the candle which last burnt when both had been alive. I thought of Amaterasu and her words; as the wick caught I asked, whatever the rising sun of the new day brought, that the sense of my mother and grandmother’s spirit would abide. 


When we had eaten our fill, bellies stoked for another day, I crossed to the shelf and pulled down the book with its crimson cover; a beautiful binding to mask a story of great pain: The Little Match Girl.


I reached into my apron pocket. It was time for a new story, one with a different beginning, middle and end. I took the last match, from my old life, the one I had kept just for this. 


It was so terribly cold, not any more as my fingers purposefully struck the last match.

Snow was falling, perhaps outside, but here in the light of the hearth fire, as the cover caught, nothing could extinguish the steady flame.

It was almost dark, but the blaze of the kindling fire in my hands was a beacon, spilling warmth and light and hope.


I tossed the book into the hearth and the flames grew higher, fiercer, an incandescent roar, as the story of poverty and missed chances burnt, fueling the fire of my bright and brilliant tomorrow. 








March 16, 2023 16:49

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37 comments

Michał Przywara
00:05 Mar 17, 2023

A reimagined continuation of the classic - and it aims to address all the things that made us squirm in the original; all the injustices. Here, fire is a healing force, a restorative force. In the original, her memories of her grandmother were the only good ones. But here, by means of fire, she reforges bonds with her father, and repairs her living family. And then, she commits her past life to the flames, but this is also seen as a healing act. Particularly ironic, since we are talking about book burning (and on a site filled with writers)...

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Rebecca Miles
15:05 Mar 17, 2023

Talk about a medley of myths eh Michal. I decided I might as well go whole hog and tip a fair few on the fire! The meta story: yes, normally I'd never condone book burning, but as this was her story she was taking a match to, I figured she could do with it what she willed! And you're spot on; the original is just so terribly sad as she needed so desperately little. It felt good to give her a second chance and send her soaring out of the ashes of fairy tale. Third twisted fairy tale from me; I'm sort of hoping to get an anthology together to ...

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Irene Duchess
02:22 Mar 23, 2023

awww. this was a great story to fit this prompt. this was a sad/sweet mix, although a happier ending then the original. :) thank you for writing! :D

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Rebecca Miles
10:49 Mar 23, 2023

Thanks Lilah. I love a dose of sad but the original is too bleak even for me so this felt great to give it the inspirational treatment!

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Irene Duchess
21:50 Mar 23, 2023

Yes, I agree. :) sometimes stories are just… overly sad.

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Edward Latham
14:13 Mar 22, 2023

A story full of finding what was lost, hope and rejuvenation. Told in a heartfelt way that was delightful to read. Glad to hear this will be going in your fairytale anthology!

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Rebecca Miles
10:47 Mar 23, 2023

Ah Edward, great to see you pop up on my stream! And so glad to see you've submitted. I'll head over to take a little look later. Yes, number 3 here for the anthology. Better than just 2 but hardly a collection;-) Do you want to weigh in? If I rewrote another ( as I should) which should it be? I've started teaching a creative writing course at my local Uni which is exciting but I think Reedsy, Ludwig and the respun fairytales are all going to take a hit!

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Basil McCulloch
19:22 Mar 20, 2023

Beautiful story! Aren't mythological characters such brilliant tools for writing? Masterfully done!

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Rebecca Miles
10:45 Mar 23, 2023

Thanks ever so much Abel. Yes, myths generally are fascinating, and so many great opportunities to retell them!

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Laurel Hanson
12:06 Mar 20, 2023

This is classic for the form: a fairy tale (sort of not an appropriate word for The Little Match Girl) reimagined with a contemporary use of the multi-cultural deities and a greater sense of self agency. Some lovely writing here: "flame and dream spun into smoke" and the motif of fire to weave the tale into cohesion, not to mention the fantastic metaphor: "Friction made them burn, life affording me plenty of rough surfaces upon which to strike my ephemeral incandescence." Thinking of friction as the element necessary for us to come alive, li...

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Rebecca Miles
20:37 Mar 20, 2023

Hi Laurel, thanks for your lovely engaged comment; you've got me trying to unpick my own motives! My initial idea was to have her transform her life story and I knew that I wanted something powerfully symbolic: a last match, a final chance. I knew I wanted it be more redemptive than sacrifical and thus it shouldn't have the Christian/ heaven as your succour, message of the original. That got me thinking about alternative mythologies and how ultimately, the power to change her story lies with her. Taking it all together, it seemed logical (as...

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Laurel Hanson
21:22 Mar 20, 2023

I hope it's OK if I respond here (I'm not Viga and I am pretty sure Viga is as advertised, very well read). But I did teach Intro to Lit 200 for a local college and used quite a few short stories so I'd love to weigh in. I found O. Henry's "The Furnished Room" fantastic for discussion of setting, details, characterization, and the use of allusion. Though quite gothic. Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" was pretty great for 1st pov unreliable narrator. Probably also gothic. Wolfe's "The New Dress" for close narrative distance and symbolism. Not ...

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Laurel Hanson
21:30 Mar 20, 2023

Really, all day. So I just remembered that O'Connor's "My Oedipus Complex" is mildly funny and might work. Gaiman's "The Troll Bridge" is funny too, but as a living author and that one being more recent, maybe it's a bit uncool to use it. On a different note, Carver's "Popular Mechanics" is pretty stellar for minimalist style. Very dark. And because structure is a thing, no one tops Harlan Ellison's "Repent! harlequin, Said the Ticktockman."

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Rebecca Miles
21:48 Mar 20, 2023

Wow. I'm going to have to get reading! That's great you taught that intro course; it sounds like you're going to be a hive of information. I forgot to say it's at a German university so perhaps easier language might be good. I've got to hit the hay now but I'm going to look over all your suggestions tomorrow. I'm particularly interested in the O' Connor's story. Thanks so much. I'll be back in touch.

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Rebecca Miles
06:24 Mar 21, 2023

I was wondering if we could be penpals and exchange ideas by email. My address is girtoncollege78@gmail.com No pressure if you'd rather not. Off now, very excited.

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Samantha Evans
03:26 Mar 20, 2023

Your symbolism is beautiful, the ties to mythology are splendid, and I felt so many feelings. I loved reading every word.

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Rebecca Miles
16:53 Mar 20, 2023

Thanks so much Samantha! I'm glad you enjoyed the mythology. I got a bit carried away with Helios at least🤣

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Chris Campbell
01:10 Mar 20, 2023

Rebecca, Despair, hope, grief, and love. This felt like a classical Greek Tragedy, with scoops of Dickens added to Andersen's original tale. You made me thankful for a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and the means to survive. Nicely done.

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Rebecca Miles
16:55 Mar 20, 2023

Yes, definitely a hint of Dickens with those three gods🤣And I suppose the whole little match girl in her apron has Tiny Tim vibes. Just shows, the tropes aren't original, you can only hope to seesaw them into something new! Thanks for checking it out. ( Me hearty!)

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Viga Boland
20:39 Mar 18, 2023

Ah…what a way to resurrect, revamp and retell a timeless old tale and give it a positive spin. Bravo 👏👏

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Rebecca Miles
07:47 Mar 19, 2023

Thanks Viga. It felt good to lift it out of the bleak original.

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Viga Boland
12:10 Mar 19, 2023

You’re most welcome.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:40 Mar 17, 2023

What a lovely and hopeful tale this was, and so heart-warming to read of a better ending for her! I cannot tell you just how much I enjoyed this story, as the other analyses have done it far more justice. I did notice one possible fix when Hestia's speaking: "...remnants of love charred to despair.["] I could be mistaken on that, though, but either way, fantastic read!

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Rebecca Miles
14:55 Mar 17, 2023

Thanks Wendy for stopping by on your week off! I've been on a whole spate of sad stories ( well angry and vengeful too) so it was so nice to slip in a happier one, give the poor little match girl a second and better lease of life! That line stands as is, I wanted the little bit of love left in her life ( and her father's) to be darkened by their cheerless circumstances. I did rather let the fire imagery run amok in this🤣Glad you enjoyed it!

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Wendy Kaminski
15:10 Mar 17, 2023

Oh, sorry for the lack of clarity! I just meant I think there's a missing quotation. Loved the line itself. :)

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Rebecca Miles
15:13 Mar 17, 2023

Ah, I see it now. Thanks dear. Missed quote marks much easier to fix than missing sense🤣

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Wendy Kaminski
15:14 Mar 17, 2023

hehe The latter, never, in your stories. :)

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Rebecca Miles
15:14 Mar 17, 2023

That really is very sweet of you 🙏

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Delbert Griffith
11:34 Mar 17, 2023

So, we have a little Danish girl, two Greek gods, and a Japanese deity. Sounds like a Rebecca Miles tale to me! What an amazing adaptation to the original tale. A sequel, really. The happy ending doesn't take away from the horrors that the family had faced, nor from the anguish of the deaths encountered. In fact, it amplifies the suffering that the family had experienced. I think you did a masterful job of creating something totally new from the ashes of the old. The burning of the book was beautifully symbolic, almost Phoenix-like in na...

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Rebecca Miles
14:57 Mar 17, 2023

Thanks Delbert! I went all out with the fire imagery and thought I might as well throw a bit of phoenix out of the ashes onto the blaze as it was already smoking with all those myths! I'm glad the symbolism worked for you too.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:23 Mar 17, 2023

Rebecca, How well you have woven the tragic element of the original with the transformative power of hope and support to effect an ending that’s not heartbreaking but heartwarming. Excellent work embellished with beautiful language. Thanks for sharing.

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Rebecca Miles
14:59 Mar 17, 2023

Ah thanks Suma, tragedy and transformation would be the two tags I'd also go for if we got to choose! I know you love beautiful language too, writing and reading it, so I'm glad this worked to heartwarming effect.

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Amanda Lieser
04:27 Mar 17, 2023

Hey Rebecca, Oh my goodness! What a beautiful piece. I’m so glad you chose this prompt and ran with it to create poetry. I thought that you did an excellent job of creating a secondary story from this primary one. My favorite line sent shivers down my spine: The Little Match Girl with her life’s book of matches, all spent- but one. I like that this story ends with hope and life. It felt like a beautiful chance. Nice work!

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Rebecca Miles
15:00 Mar 17, 2023

Hi Amanda. I rather threw the dictionary at this so I'm glad poetry and not a headache was the result. Second chance stories are just so lovely to write and share. Thanks for supporting me!

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BRUCE MARTIN
02:59 Mar 17, 2023

Rebecca, Wow, this is an absolutely beautifully written story. You are a very talented writer. It contains such poignant imagery and artistic phrasing. My congratulations.

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Rebecca Miles
15:01 Mar 17, 2023

Thanks so much Bruce. It took a while to write as the syntax was quite complicated but I'm pleased with the result and doubly pleased that you appreciated it!

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