By Alice Nuttall

He almost didn’t see the little match girl when he stepped down from the cab. The snow had covered most of her body, and she looked more like a bundle of rags than a child. It was only the sight of a small, bluish hand that made him stop and stare.

She was so tiny, and light as a snowflake as he scooped her up and carried her towards his house. In the lamplight, he could see her eyes were frosted shut, her wispy hair puffing around her face like the breath that wasn’t there.

He stumbled indoors, took her straight to the drawing room, set her in front of the fire. A pull of the bell-cord brought a servant, who stared at the girl, white-faced.

“Boil some water,” he said. “As much as you can.”

The servant scuttled off, and he built up the fire until it roared. Her clothes, stiff with frost, began to thaw, and then to stink. The smell was thick and meaty, like a slaughterhouse. He gagged, but watched her face for any change.

She looked like a statue of a cherub as she lay there, her skin marble-white except where there were patches of purple or blue. There was no drawing of breath, no flutter of eyelids. He reached out to touch her wrist, searching for a pulse. Her skin was a winter lake, frozen over, nothing moving beneath.

Then her eyes slid open.

He stared, caught. Such a startling colour! A blue so pale it was almost white.

She stared at him without a blink of fear. He smiled.

She smiled back, showing two rows of bone-white teeth.

He’d barely time to blink before they met in his throat.

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