For more information about J. Koe and her work, visit her website justkoe . wordpress .com.

Once Upon a Time…

…a girl sat on the sidewalk wearing holed mittens and thin clothes. Snow had fallen onto her wavy blond hair and all around her on the ground. Beside her sat a small metal pail of matchboxes that she was supposed to sell and an even smaller pail for the money she was supposed to earn. The second pail was empty.

She had tried her best, but no one wanted to buy them from her. The passerby thought that she was simply a homeless waif who had nothing better to do than beg for their attention even though she was really just trying to earn money for her family. They didn't know that if she went home without selling anything her father would give her a good beating and deny her food for another whole day.

Some days she scavenged for food in trash cans if no one came so that she wouldn't get too hungry, but the lack of food was beginning to show. Even though she was nine years old, she was barely taller than the trash cans she dug through. Her parents didn't earn enough money to support themselves and their five children, so all of them were thrust out onto the street on a regular basis to sell random objects. They rarely came back with more than five dollars.

She was the youngest of the five, but age didn't matter. Her eldest brother had already been selling shoes when he was five. People pitied him because of his looks and bought his shoes in order to help the poor little child, but the same approach wasn't working for him six years later. It wasn't working for her either.

Snow continued to fall. The flakes floated down slowly before landing on the girl's shoulders. Each of them barely weighed anything, but to the weakened girl's body they collectively felt heavy. No one had bought her matches for days, and the trash cans were devoid of food. She felt miserable; she was cold, tired and hungry.

There would be no comfort for her at home. Her drunk father would not miss the chance to punish her, and none of her siblings could offer comfort; they were all in the same boat. Their mother couldn't stand up for them because she herself received the same treatment. Home was not where her heart lay.

She opened one of the matchboxes, drew out a match with her trembling fingers and struck it. Her father wouldn't notice if she had used one box, would he? The match flame was a glow of light, a glow of hope. She held it close to her for comfort; maybe better days would come soon.

Author's Note: This may be the last installment I write in a very long time, but I hope to be able to continue working on this project again someday when I have more time. I've had fun writing these stories, and I hope you've enjoyed them. Thanks for reading!