Georgina Webb passed the carts filling the market square. They were empty now, the ripe tomatoes all sold, the fresh cabbages boiling away in various stew pots. Everyone had returned back to their camps for the night and she was left alone, stomach rumbling and cold.
Georgie was barely twelve but her face was drawn and haggard, hardened by her years on the streets. As she walked through the market she stumbled more than once. She had managed to sell a couple of her matches for a slice of bread this morning, but she hadn’t sold any since. Her feet were beginning to feel numb as she walked.
She missed her Grandma. On days like today when the frost lingered in the air and the fog closed around them, she would have pulled Georgie close and tucked her under her arm. They would have hurried home, vegetables in hand and made soup together, that when sipped, warmed Georgie from her head to her toes.
It didn’t take long to reach the war-torn street she usually sheltered in, scarred from the explosion of a distant bomb. She was glad for that, her legs were beginning to feel weak and she wasn’t sure how much further they could have carried her. From a stash in the side of one of the buildings, she retrieved a canteen of water that she had collected from a nearby river, drinking it all in one gulp in hope that it would stop her stomach from cramping with emptiness.
She pulled her blanket from a makeshift sack she carried over one shoulder and huddled down into the doorway of a crumbling house to rest. Sleep didn’t welcome her, it was too cold and she was too scared, being alone at night still felt strange. Instead, she watched out for any stragglers that might want to buy some of her matches to stave off the frigid night air.
Out of the deep winter fog, a figure emerged on a white horse, not stopping to look at the young girl, but swiftly disappearing around the corner. Georgie could have sworn that she saw a bow on the rider’s back that reminded her of the weapons used in the later stages of the war. She shrugged it off. Her eyes had been playing tricks on her for days. She was getting used to it now.
She huddled down further into the doorway of the abandoned house. Her hair was matted and her clothes were rags. Beside her, she placed her box of matches, still three-quarters full.
Winter had hit hard this year. It had been about six years since every electrical item in the world stopped, due to the electromagnetic pulse weapons used in the Great War. It was like the epic floods in the stories Grandma used to tell her, seas cleansing the Earth of everything bad. In these stories, the good people were allowed to live and bad people had to die. But then Grandma died and Georgie didn’t really believe that anymore.
Ever since the Great War, the winters had been getting colder. Global Warming had started to recede in the absence of modern technology and industrialisation and temperatures were dropping dramatically. The remaining population were not acclimatised to it yet.
As the months had gone by, Georgie had grown accustomed to finding frozen bodies littering the street. When she had found Grandma all those months ago, sitting in her favourite armchair, stare blank and lifeless. She had been sad and scared. She grew angry at the world. But, since she had lived on the streets, there had been so much sadness, so much death and so much anger that she had grown accustomed to it and she didn’t feel as scared anymore. She found at least one dead body a day, most of them her own age. She called the nearest adult to help clean it up then moved on with her day.
Tonight she understood how those dead children must have felt in their last hours. However hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to get warm. Georgie had lost the feeling in her toes many hours ago and the blanket from her bag wasn’t making much of a difference. Although summer always came around eventually, it felt like this time it wouldn’t.
She tried to stand up, to walk over to the nearby tree and gather some branches to make a fire. But her legs failed her, she crumpled into a heap in the doorway.
The harsh winds brushed against her cheeks as she nursed her bruised elbow. Her heart ached, the branches were so close, yet she couldn’t reach them. Her toes had started to go black with frostbite as she tucked her blanket around herself again to try and keep out the chill.
Only a few travellers were passing through the streets, all of them hurrying home to their families, carrying various supplies they had gathered in trade. Each one walked past, and each one ignored her. Her stomach was in agony, her skin growing colder. She would have traded a match for the tiniest scrap of food or the tiniest moment of warmth at this point, but not one person even glanced in her direction.
The numb feeling was spreading and the pain was getting worse, in desperation Georgie grabbed one of her matches and lit it, holding it close to her frozen fingers.
Early this morning, Georgie had come across a traveller. He was on his way to deliver matches to a nearby family but spared a box in exchange for Georgie’s shoes. His daughter’s feet were cold and he was afraid of her getting frostbite. Georgie had given up her shoes readily, even if it meant taking the girls pain onto herself. The traveller completed the trade, put the shoes on his daughter, and rode away on his red stallion. Not even offering to take the desperate girl with him.
If Georgie could have sold the matches, she could have pulled herself out of starvation, if only temporarily. However, no one had seemed to need matches today, they were all buying animal fat from a stall in the market instead. Fuelling their gas lamps instead of lighting their fires.
Most of the travellers who walked past only had limited resources, and they wanted to hold onto these supplies for their own families. They wouldn’t waste their last slice of bread on a lost cause like Georgie. Food was more important to them than trading for a match to light their fire, they already had roofs over their heads.
Georgie found herself staring into the match’s flame as the warmth spread across her stiff fingers. Anger boiled inside her, Grandma had always told her she was a good person, but if she was so ‘good’ what did she do to deserve a life like this?
Grandma had been stolen from her, and all the travellers were passing by without a backwards glance. She was starving, she was cold, and she could no longer feel her blackened toes. She watched the flame sink further down the match.
“Oh Telepinu, let your wrath melt into nothing, just as bitter snows disappear in warm sunshine”
Her Grandma’s voice resonated in her head. A remembered line from a forgotten story. The message was clear, there was no point being angry at her situation, there wasn’t much she could do to change it. Grandma had always hated her temper anyway. Instead, she chose to remember her Grandma and hope blossomed in her once again.
“Matches! Come and trade for matches!” Georgie called, but her voice was a faint croak. The woman in the rich fur coat rode past in her carriage drawn by tall black horses, not hearing the girl’s call.
The match’s flame finally burnt out. The cold began to seep in again instantly. She reached aside and scratched another match against her tinder box. The flame licking at her fingers. She held the match close to her face, trying to soak up the warmth.
As she stared into the flickering warmth of the match, three figures emerged from the depths of the flame. All three haggard and old, they were fearsome creatures, but Georgie wasn’t afraid. One of the figures was spinning out a line of gossamer thread that moved with the flickers of the flame. The old hag standing next to her was measuring the gossamer thread as it tried to escape from the clutches of her hands. The final woman stood watching on the side, her expression the most sinister of all. She stood with scissors in her hand, but before she could cut the beautiful thread in two, the image merged into a kindly face, the face of Grandma.
“Oh, Grandma” Georgie found herself whispering. “What have I done to deserve a life like this? Why did you leave me?”
The kindly old woman smiled, her hair as neatly pinned back as Georgie remembered, her green eyes just as twinkling.
“Oh, darling, you are not being punished. Just remember ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.”
Grandma’s eyes lit up with love.
“To be good, is to have a spirit full of love, and you have that my beautiful girl. To suffer doesn’t mean to be bad, it shows your strength and faith. You remind me of your mother at this age. I am proud of you, my beautiful Georgie.”
Georgie was about to reply when the match burnt out with a final sizzle.
“Grandma, come back!”
“Grandma!” Georgie wept.
“Don’t leave me again!”
Fumbling with her frozen fingers she snatched another match from her box and struck it against the tinder. Grandma’s soft features returned to the pale light.
“Tell me a story Grandma” Georgie whispered. “I love your stories” the young girl found her head growing heavier so she rested back against the old wooden door.
“Of course my dear, what story do you want to hear?”
“Tell me about Pandora! You used to read it to me by the fire before bed. It was always so warm there.” Georgie croaked, holding the match closer.
“As you wish” Grandma chuckled.
The flame flickered in a sudden gust of wind and died out with a fizzle. Georgie hurriedly lit a new one from the slowly decreasing supply, not wanting to miss a second with Grandma.
“Once upon a time there was a god called Epimetheus. His brother Prometheus warned him to never to trust a gift from Zeus, the old god was still trying to get revenge. But Epimetheus never listened. Just like your Uncle”
Grandma chuckled, talking of Georgie’s late Uncle Ned. He’d had a bit of a reputation in the family before he had died with her parents in the bombings.
Georgie pulled her blankets closer under her chin, grabbing another match in her stiff fingers ready to light it as soon as this one died. She didn’t notice the pain so much anymore, but she felt very tired. She couldn’t sleep yet, she wanted to know what happened.
“Upon mount Olympus, Zeus was pondering a plan. He called on the god Hephaestus to fashion a new human out of clay, one quite different from the last.”
“The first woman, Pandora!” Georgie croaked, having heard this story countless times. Her head rung as she spoke and she winced.
“That’s right my dear. Pandora was the loveliest of all maidens and sent to Earth with a large jar.”
“Or a box in some stories” Georgie was barely even sure that her voice came out that time. Her lips were so numb. But Grandma seemed to hear.
“Yes, that’s right sweetheart. Epimetheus fell in love with Pandora and decided that he must wed her at o…”
Grandma’s voice faded away, but Georgie managed to find an ounce of strength to slash another match and hold it close to her face.
“He must wed her at once”
“The men were jealous of Epimetheus and the women of Pandora, and all the while the jar was forgotten in a field where Epimetheus had left it, distracted by Pandora’s beauty. Then one day, Earth’s women discovered the jar. They believed that the jar could make them as beautiful as Pandora. But when they opened the lid, all kinds of evil crawled out”
“Oh no!” Georgie whispered. She felt her eyes close for a moment, but she needed to hear her favourite part, so she forced them open again.
A pale horse crashed passed, pulling a carriage. Georgie didn’t have the energy to speak up, not that the carriage even paused.
“You always did hate that part, didn’t you? But I bet you understand it more now. You have grown up so much since I left you…”
Grandma’s eyes brimmed with tears.
Georgie didn’t hear her, the match was dying and in a panic to hear the end of the story, Georgie had grabbed every match that was left and lit them all at once.
Grandma’s image burned brighter than ever before. The warmth washed over Georgie’s face, but it was too late. The cold had taken over inside.
“The jar was full of every bad thing you see around you today and it spread out across the world.”
“But there was something left” Georgie tried to say, in anticipation for her favourite part. But her voice was only heard by Grandma.
“At the bottom of the jar was the feeling of Hope. One morning a sad girl discovered it, still stuck in the jar. She brought it home with her, bringing hope back into everyone’s lives.”
Georgie smiled, this is the point where Grandma would pull her against her chest and kiss her forehead.
“Never forget my dear, that regardless of whatever happens, hope always remains and I will always Love you. Now come and join me, my sweet girl. You can let go now.”
The flames slowly faded to the sound of a trumpet playing somewhere far away, and so did the little girl. Her arms falling to her side, her hand clutching at the burnt ashes in her palm. On her face rested a small smile as her eyes closed for the last time.
 Parker, V. Myths & Legends (Essex: Miles Kelly Publishing Ltd, 2013)
 Carroll, R & Prickett, S. The Bible: Authorised King James Version. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) Galatians 5:22
 It has been re-worded but the tale was heavily inspired by; Sacred-Texts Pandora http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/omw/omw32.htm