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Dream Quest One First Writing Prize Winner -
WINTER 2015 - 2016
of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin - USA

Underneath the sagging board and mattress, she thrives. She tried living in the closet, but the dirty hamper made that impossible. You see, she has heightened senses. If people found this out, they’d prod her with sticks, measure her brain waves, strap her to a bed and take her from home. Although she has seen more exhilarating days than this, she appreciates the simplicity of an inane lifestyle.


From under her bed, she can smell the faint smoke escaping from the candles on the large dresser across the room. The paltry, controlled flame offers a garishly bright light in this 12 x 12 space. The acrid smell of smoke is intoxicating and even more wonderful than the contrast between the flame and the dark. She breathes it in deeply… caressing her nostrils, filling her throat and exciting her lungs.


It has been too long since she lit a match. It’s no matter if it stings when she lets it sizzle down to her fingers. The nip doesn’t hurt and is much more intense than one might think. It’s like a pinch which leaves a lingering tingle and spreads from her hands, up her arms and envelopes its way around her. What intrigues her most about a match is the way the thick, gray string of smoke peels itself from the head, gracefully and with purpose. A thrill aches in the back of her stomach, thinking that maybe next time she’ll drop the flame with much more furor.


What would happen next?


But now she is beneath the bed affected by the blanket of musty, warm air - stale and uncomfortable. Beads of sweat begin to race each other to the floor, moving past each follicle. They tickle. They are persistent, these beads - living for a moment before carefully dropping to the floor, but they know what they’re doing. They have a purpose. They won’t be here for long.


Who will be her company when they’re gone?


The smoke mingling with the sensation of sweat makes her yearn for just one more match, to feel the smooth cubic stick between her fingers with its miniscule red tip. Oh, how she wished to just get a glimpse of one more. That’s all she would need – one more glance at the little red tip, with the anticipation of friction, would enliven her senses. She looks up at the bed above her lying on her back with each appendage stretched out to the corners of the bed, not quite reaching - each sweaty limb exposed to a little more air, relieving overexerted pores. Simply seeing the gleam of sweat on her arms has her feeling even more unbearably sticky.

-Page 2-

The beads of sweat aren’t falling anymore though. The ones that escaped her have pooled on the floor, not able to squeeze through the pores in the wood. The pool of sweat is obsidian against the sienna floorboards with the shadow of the mattress absorbing the dim light of the room around her. The rest of the sweat has become a second skin, or maybe this is a layer coming to the surface to relieve itself. She is congealing and sticking to the floor.


She’s warm, but it’s not as hot as it could be under here. She doesn’t want to move, just soak in what little smoke is there. The smell of her well-worn mattress is of old sentiments; the wooden floor - of camping. Lazily she lets her head lull to the left and from here she can see underneath the dresser. The legs of the dresser are plain with a number of nicks disrupting the cubic peg that holds its weight. The silken effects of varnish have worn away over the years, stripping it of its opulence, making it look more like ragged bits of firewood. Underneath this dresser is a small space, enough for a hand or mouse to creep, carpeted by a settled layer of dust. Something is there. Something familiar.


Without thinking, she’s out from underneath the bed and the immediate relief of cleaner air attacks her flesh.




On her stomach, legs loose behind her, she brings her right arm to the side, uses her forearm to balance herself as she peeks under the wooden dresser. Her long, thick hair is being pulled toward the floor. The pressure in her head builds up behind her eyes, momentarily blurring her pilot’s vision with cloudy, white spots. She hones in on the thin, red-tipped dream that has been waiting underneath this piece of unfulfilled furniture.


There it is - that yearning in the pit of her stomach pulling her toward them. An empty matchbook waits for her examination. Once she has picked it up, habit has her lift the flap. Rocking back to her knees, her left arm leans on the dresser, she wonders if this is a hallucination.


One. There is one left. Who left these here? Was it on purpose? Forgotten or lost? It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. She can’t control herself. On her feet, next to her bed and in front of the dresser she wants every sense to awaken.  Lifting the matchbook to her face, she breathes in the possibility of smoke and burning.


With purpose, she plucks the match from its book, blows a stubborn, sweaty tuft of hair from her face, folds the flap over backwards, licks her lips, and rests the match head under the flap. Gracefully she whips her hand with the match while the other steady hand holds the book in place and catches fire.


Her heart palpitates and eyes widen. Hands steady as she examines the lit match, watching the flame travel down the matchstick’s path burning brighter as it goes. From the small stick, a sweet, pungent aroma overwhelms her senses.




 Her hand opens, snaps away from the flame. Finger goes to lips so as to consume the sensation. Eyes closed hoping to have one last chance to catch the fading scent. Appeasing her, the match falls with purpose and grace.


From the unseen cracks in the wall a breeze is released that powers the flame. Her body aches from the relief of not holding back. The gnawing in her belly has spread to every end of her body and is bending these confines. She is carefree, not worrying about anything else.




The match drops on the sheets. Hopeful, she holds her breath.




The fire courts the affections of the cotton that drapes unevenly down to the floor. With much care, the radiance creeps around the bed sheets. The flame burns brighter as it slips down consuming the cotton, sidling to the floor.

 -Page 3-

The poor wooden dresser – the true fuel for this wonder – is being teased by the tips of the flare, which is working up the courage to jump from the sheets to the dry wooden furniture. While waiting, she steps back and heads for the foot of the bed, wanting to see how things looked from that angle - hoping to catch it all. She is facing the long rectangular mirror which is behind the headboard of her bed. Directly behind her there is another dresser connected to a large circular mirror. At direct opposing ends of the room, each mirror stands in a way which provides a more entire view of the happenings around her, amplifying everything.


The anticipation she thought gone is building again. A whoosh of heat blows past her from the cracks in the wall and the blaze devours her thoughts again. She catches sight of the dresser’s legs – the flame has found its courage and is prowling delicately up the edge of the dresser. She cannot look away. With her eyes on the dresser’s legs, she walks to the right of the dresser, turns around and leans against this room’s door, the only exit. She rests her back on the door, leaning with it as the lock settles into place. To her right the wooden dresser is being languorously conquered by the flames. The slow, easiness of the warm energy is being excited by short and aggressive puffs of air from somewhere in the walls. Something is playful about the cracks in the wall, like children huffing and puffing and blowing things down.


Ecstatic. Eyes wide open, chest heaving with excitement. She places her palms behind her on the door and lets the weight of her body push into her palms. This gives her the balance she needs as she is pulled from the door and nearer to the fire. Hands folded, fingers intertwined and resting below her belly as she stands in awe. The calm strength of the confident fire cracking the wood and scorching the walls. An eerie, aching moan comes from somewhere inside the walls as the house starts to feel what is being done. Brought to her knees, eyes closed - memorizing this.


Orange walls gleaming and mingling with the inferno. The dresser is letting her fire embrace it, succumbing and fulfilling its use. The fire flirts with the metal handles as they begin to glow from within. Over the bed she sees the fire taking over the bookshelf, peeling away the histories page by page and erasing recollections in ink. Some books give in more easily than others. With the flimsy paper covers melting back and revealing themselves, their knowledge and frill. Pieces of lives and memories set ablaze, invigorated and quickly flickering out. Violently ripped from their binding and incinerated; ashes and dust release from these books and float from the shelf, wafting about the room; Above her head and scattering like winter. The fire finds these playmates and, with crackling care, hot winds disperse the leftover dry, grey flecks of these fairytales, doom stories, and utopias. Some of these evaporate while others blanket the room. Dead ashes collect on the tips of her eyelashes and rest on her head, aging her hair. What belonged to her soon will be laid to rest by cinders.

-Page 4-

Breathe in what is left – history, mystery, life and romance violate her nostrils. Open mouth for more suffocating relief. Pleasurably smooth and thick the smoke eases into her lungs filling them entirely before she exhales in order to bring in more. She catches them and can taste the old words and philosophies. Bitter and stinging they coat her tongue - saliva and ash combining as she swallows. The oxygen is rude, taking up more room in her lungs than she sees fit. 


She steps near the highest flame on the bed and stretches her hands out in front of her; heat from the flame enticing the digits and palms to come closer. Slowly from right to left, her hands pass through the flame, testing it like one would a foot before a dip in the swimming pool. Both hands in, itching. Automatically her body backs her up away from the flames, crouching down with knees bent and elbows on thighs holding her wounded hands in the air.


Her hands throb in pain - with a heartbeat. Seeing her hands, scarlet and charred, doesn’t make her cringe. Only for a moment, she is brought away and taken inside her head, listening for anything, any part of her that doesn’t want this. Her head is clear, her limbs alert, her stomach flipping. Her tortured hands…


Her heart beats in time with the pulse in her hands. All of her is ready and willing, calm and steady… for consumption. Nothing around but the hot winds from the blaze that has been fueled by her allies - aged wood and the cotton sheets - burnt and soon to be forgotten remnants of this event; but friendly with her nonetheless. She kisses her hand. They are unbearably sensitive and the taste on her lips is nauseating.




Using her hands as little as possible, she slips out of clothes. Parallel to the bed, with the dresser behind her head so she can watch it give in, she lies on the floor. For ages she is here with only the heat radiating from all that is burning around her. A blanket of gray and black words releasing from clouds above are still flitting overhead. Her hands are at her sides, palms down to the floor. The dresser is used up. It has been overtaken and, from its base, the flames ease their way toward her. A glow from behind her has her tilt her head back to see the flames melting stray hairs on her head. Her hair burns quickly. Scorched to smoke in seconds and, without ready, the flames are at her ears, cradling her neck and tapping at her toes. This is not glorious or pleasant for her, but she is unmoving nonetheless. It is excruciating and extraordinary. She is alright, consumed as the fire possesses the ache in her belly and extracts it from her navel. She breathes in again, bits of relief.

Something from inside her approached her lips. Tickle and twitch. Wearily, she allows the corners of her lips to reach upward. A smile. It has come a long way to grace her face. The ache has gone, and in its stead the oddest company - a matchstick, a fire, an old wooden friend, a cotton catalyst, ashes, and a grin.


-Page 5-

- 30 -



About the author:

Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jessica writes about feminism, self-love and relationships, mainly to entertain and as a means of getting people involved in her underappreciated hometown. While she has done freelance writing over the last ten years, she dapples in editing, proofreading and publishing and is literary agent to the much-celebrated Russian author H.L. Oldie. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature and Religious Studies from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and received a Master's in English from DePaul University.