Match was cold. And pressed up against his friends, well some were friends at least, he paid no mind. He would often find himself lost in thought, an uncomfortable realisation for one whom has no clear biology. ‘Where am I thinking?’ he would often ask. The God-Hand had no answer, it was more interested in selecting the saved. So he busied himself with pondering other things, and unlike many others of his kind, asked big questions.
The life of a match called Match was not special. He was just one of many, and his universe was very small. Two long sides, two short, and two big, the very boundaries of his existence were defined within his line of sight. On occasion he would see heaven, a flicker of lights high above. Only when the God-Hand visited, and it rarely did this more than once at a time. Twice maybe, but never thrice.
Match had considered himself over and over in the dark. He was not especially tall, in fact he was a little shorter than his immediate neighbour, Match. His head was slightly bigger, which he guessed meant that he could think more. Not that Match had a brain, or eyes, or a mouth. But he could talk, listen and learn. It seemed that his presence was enough. Match considered himself a thinker in a world waiting to explode.
Today was to be his last day of thinking.
Long ago, or so it was said, the Universe had been created. In a great grinding of godly machines he had been formed, and within tiny glances of the machinations of the universe, he had realised that he was only a small part. A tiny part at that. There were millions like him, all sent to different universes, riding giant paths into the darkness. He could remember giants talking in unfathomable languages.
The proud and the priestly spoke oft of their singular purpose. A match, like Match, existed for one reason. To be devoured in holy fire, become one with the greater heavens. To be in service of God (or Gods, interpretations differed!) and to live in waiting. In their early days his community had talked, but now they were mostly silent. Waiting in silence was calming for the indoctrinated. But not Match.
The Priests offered a holy message; one Match (and Match left, right and all others were taught very early.) ‘
We are made in the service of the Great God. He is ours and we are of him. By unity and sacrifice we build, our world made for us and us alone to await his judgement, his salvation. We know not of God, his true form or his design. But it is good. From the great machine we come, and through the righteous fire we go, to become one in all God’s creation. A match unto an other, in service unto God’.
Of course matches understood the message differently, and little groups worshipped in different ways. But in the end, the text was Holy. But no one had seen it, so they couldn’t question. Faith was important to Match, order important to the Priests.
He had once asked Match (to the left,) whether they could be wrong. What if the God-hand was not picking the saved, but the cursed? What if above was not heaven, but hell? The concepts of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ seemed rather arbitrary, made up, not-real. They seemed designed by Matches, the zealots, and not of the Universe or the heavens. Match (to the left) had not replied, but begun to mutter.
It was on that day that Match had been labelled a Heretic. Thankfully, for Match, the other matches could do little but twitter and mutter, for none of them had limbs. He was ‘dangerous’, a ‘deserter’, ‘lost’ and ‘full of sin’. The God-hand would ‘show the way’ and he had ‘turned away from it.’ Match himself still believed in the God-hand, it was all he knew, but to question came naturally. And the answers were uncomfortable.
Why create Match? Why place him in the dark? Why only show him the nature of reality when all control was lost? In a split second before (holy?) annihilation? What did this God want, why must he devour Match to become whole? Why split his spirit into millions if only to bring it back together? Why ‘test’ them? In his small wooden body he felt alone, just another amongst lambs to the slaughter.
But the Priests said the ways of God were beyond a match’s comprehension. So, there.
He considered the Universe. It was bound by strong walls, but seemed to move in the heavens. Sometimes they would all fall one way, then the other. Like the Universe was thrown about. Once there had been a great flood, and many had been lost. Their corpses were now holy, a reminder of God’s power. They had sinned in their corner, so the priests said. Aside from this, the Universe was unremarkable.
But the Priests said, it was wonderful. Just for them.
In the heavens Match had often heard many things. The Gods would talk, scream, cry and laugh. Not entirely unlike matches. Mighty explosions would come, often met with indignation. Sometimes the God hand would be covered in blood, other times simply ash. The heavens would be blue, red , orange or black. Far away there were matches up above, the saved burning down. Placed above. The faithful, unto God.
Or perhaps something else?
The God-Hand itself visited rarely. It was as if it came in desperation, eager to find solace in its flock. It was written that it could never visit more than twice at once, or a great cataclysm would befall the heavens. It had done so only once before, taken three of his brothers, and great panic had set upon them. After what seemed eons, it had returned, bloodied and shaking. It had clearly averted the end.
Glory be to God-hand, the priests had chanted.
So Match pondered. His big head full. His little body useless. What was to become of him? Was he to be saved by a generous creator, seeking unification? Or was he something else, something he could figure out for himself? Was the God-Hand holy, or simply another creature? Was he prey or kept? These were the questions of a heretic.
He wondered in the dark. Perhaps there was no God hand, but just a creature. Perhaps their creation was not holy, but of nature. Perhaps this universe was not theirs, but shared. Perhaps the heavens were not heavens, but the universe. The two the same, and former a lie. Perhaps he had been lied to. They had all been lied to. Order was more important than the truth.
Match shivered, cowed and fearful in his quiet revelation.
But lo, and then, the God-Hand came, as if in anger. The universe opened and the above was black. The saved burned brightly, and the gods spoke in hushed tones. The cold whipped in, a great trial. The first of his brothers was taken, but no light was found. A sinner. The congregation muttered eagerly, for it was time. The hand came again, picking a priest. And as it rose, Match saw fear in the Priest.
And felt fear for himself.
There was no flash, no salvation. And the hand came again. The great cataclysm was upon them, and Match stood firm. He had questioned the God, and now it was time. Dare he select him? Root him out for his sin? Cast him asunder, or take him into immortality? The God-hand froze, and then with mighty fingers, pulled Match from the Universe into the heavens.
Match became enlightened. He saw the heavens and found the truth. The Gods were many, but they were scared. They cowered in an infinite valley. They huddled against friable walls of their own making. They each held weapons, their hands shaking and their knuckles white. The floor was littered with the dead, matches, thousands. Between them there was mud, stirred up, blood, stirred in, and curious gravestones of burned paper.
They wore uniforms. Had logos, the God’s were not all powerful. They were subjects, serving a greater master. But they were fearful. And with terror Match learned why. A ‘God’ lay dead, its great being rendered mortal and ended, its face calm but broken, at the foot of the valley. The others, not ‘Gods’, creatures, subjects, fearful, powerless, paid no heed. They were scared. This was no glory.
He was turned to face his own ‘Universe’, and in the second before it closed, saw the hopeful faces of his brothers. He could not call out. He had seen the truth, and they couldn’t handle it. They would reject it, call him a liar, see it as a ‘test.’ Oh what fools!What mercy could he grant them? Would it be better to live a comfortable lie? Perhaps. It had worked since the dawn of time.
One of these creatures spoke, and the ‘God-Hand’ paused. It seemed pensive, considering. The face of his ‘God’ was set, grim, but within if flickered desperation. And Match was struck. The warmth was immediate, the great ‘Holy Flame’. If burned him, eating away at his thoughts. They became frantic. He saw a giant maw approach, and in it something long and pale. It beckoned him. This unity was not holy, but animal.
Then the cataclysm fell. A great explosion, a sickening thud, a mighty booming yell, and chaos rained down. The ‘God-Hand’ fell slack, as the great red flood came from above. The burning matches above were spinning, the ground coming ever closer. Match was extinguished, and with great fortitude, the ‘God’ Fell. The ‘Universe’ under him, crushed, broken, lost. He was alone.
In his last moments he watched the great valley torn asunder in holy fire. And as he became dust, one with all, his enlightenment wore heavy. The truth was unknown, but the lie was clear. In his last thought he found solace, that others may one day realise the truth, and with it, become empowered.
A match unto a match, unto eternity.
The idea of this short story came to be in the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had been wondering through the mud (although most streets were paved,) and watching the locals. They had watched back, most smiled. Many of them smoked. Local brands, not the expensive stuff. Even cancer sticks had a hierarchy. Matches were still used widely.
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Image courtesy of David Gavey