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The Matchstick Killer

An Original Work of Fiction

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According to Mrs. Watkinson, it was "dark and stormy" that night, but we all know that's bullshit because every night is dark and furthermore it was a full moon. The storm she may have been referencing — look, I'm giving her something like credit, OK? — was a blizzard earlier that day, made the whole place glitter by sunset. So it wasn't dark or stormy but it was cold, cold as a penguin without feathers, cold as a naked bear. On my notepad, I write, "Real cold." I cross it out, write, "Real f—-ing cold."

I've got to take this back from the start of it all, which is fine by me — case never sat right with me in the first place — but Old Sissy's been sore about it all day. Just this morning Old Sissy was all, "It's like you want a headache," and I was like, "It's new evidence," and Old Sissy was like, "You just want them to be connected," and he was right: I yearned for it, for him: the Matchstick Killer.

Here's the way my story goes, right? The Matchstick Killer always comes out lurking around Christmas time, and he picks a special little girl as his victim. I don't have all the details worked out just yet, but somewhere in there he freezes her to death, burns her fingertips away because he thinks this is 1995 or some shit, and puts her outside of a random family's window. His calling card: a pile of used matchsticks.

Used to be I had a couple problems with what Old Sissy calls my theory. First, there was only one. Can't exactly be a serial killer with just one kill. Next, lack of evidence. But let's just think through this logically, OK? Coroner says the girl died of hypothermia and when I asked her for it plain speak she went, "She became like Frosty," and so I followed, "Ho ho ho," but neither of us laughed afterwards. But today, everything's changed. Today, there's another girl.

Last night, like that night last year when the first girl appeared, was cold, real cold. Old Sissy couldn't even get his smoke lit for all the wind, and the snow was so new it felt like cotton candy.

I cross out "f—-ing," and Old Sissy knocks my head and says, "You writing a novel or what?" I look up all mean eyes, but Old Sissy doesn't care much about my eyes, so he goes, "Enough writing, Sherlock." Old Sissy laughs. He loves it when he gets to call me "Sherlock" because that's actually my name and the irony is so great it kills him. Most of the time he calls me "Sheryl." He swats the pencil out of my hand.

"Hey," I say, and pick up the pencil, honestly offended, and then I notice something about Old Sissy, something I've never seen before. His fingers, the tips were blackened, just like the girls'. My brain starts doing some flips, and I'm putting one against one until they pop into a bigger one, and then I go, "No way."

Old Sissy looks confused and I don't have the time to explain my head to him so I say, "Look at your fingers," and he does and he doesn't see anything so he shrugs to show me he doesn't get it and I go, "No one burned them."

Old Sissy still looks confused and I can't believe he's so dense: it's like he needs me to admit I was wrong, that there's no Matchstick Killer and it's all just a coincidence. "They were just cold!" I yell. I pull the hat off my head and throw it down. I turn around so no one can see my eyes start to sheen, and Old Sissy goes, "Bat's hell, they weren't," and he throws a fresh manila folder onto my desk.

With the eraser end of my pencil, I open the folder. ♦

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Lily Hoang is the author of four books, including Changing, recipient of a PEN Open Book Award. She teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University.