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MATCH-STICK MAN, 

A CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE


by

Rich Logsdon



Secretly, I called him Match-Stick Man, his body slender as asapling, his arms and legs like thin iron rods. When he blinked, lizard-like, his lids shot back, eyes nearly popping from their sockets. I had known him for a very, very long time. Frightened, he often wondered if he had no soul. No one aside from me had ever claimed him.

A grotesque fixture in the dimly-lit college complex, which consisted of twelve untidy and cramped offices, Tom Hancock had taught psychology for seven long and lonely years before offering his heart to Dr. Leslie Drubb, one of the kindest people on earth. The romance between the freak and the saint came about in this way.

Before the beginning of his seventh year at the college, Tom underwent a six-week hospitalization in one of southern Nevada's newest medical facilities. Rumors of mysterious diseases filled the greatest minds in the college like pesky gnats. When he returned an early September afternoon, a sputtering ghastly invalid with red splotches on his face and arms, he reminded everyone in the office of a bloody scarecrow. When anyone approached him, Tom clinched his fists, held them at his side, and refused to discuss the condition that had led to his confinement, even going so far as to condemn one prominent but spineless administrator to the Pit of Hell. And so most everyone in the office avoided this creepy, hacking convalescent.

Dr. Drubb, however, proved to be the exception, for she could talk to Tom, and he would talk to her. An Ohio woman who claimed a strict and fundamentalist religious background, Leslie Drubb had told most of us, at one time or another, that God had called her to serve the afflicted. That's why she taught; that's why she spent extra hours down at the soup kitchens serving the homeless; that's why, in her spare time, she volunteered for the Red Cross. After much thought mixed (I am sure) with fervent prayer, she baked and brought Tom a rhubarb pie, which she boasted was her specialty.

It was later in September, a splendidly sunny day, when Dr. Drubb dragged herself out of her office, clutching the pie with both fat hands, and offered the treat to Tom. As usual, Tom was sitting in one of the black plastic chairs that the state legislature had so generously purchased for our faculty, slurping coffee and muttering to himself.

I can only reconstruct the moment in my imagination, for I was huddled in my office, pretending to prepare a lecture, but I see Tom slowly rising to his feet, his eyes growing big as saucers(and memories of his dear departed Mother bringing his cookies after a hellish day at school), and grinning hugely, revealing no doubt several teeth missing in the front of his mouth. Certainly, then, delighted beyond his wildest expectations, Tom eagerly accepted the pie that splendidSeptember afternoon after classes were finished with a loud "Yum!" and quickly retreated to his office, where my colleagues and I overheard him devouring the treat. ( The sucking sounds reminded us all of a beast.) Not since his lengthy hospitalization had Tom been treated half so well. Dr. Drubb's charity touched Tom's twisted heart, and as he pondered the woman and dreamed of her image night after night after night, black lust finally invaded his soul. Alone in bed at night, in the cold room next to mine, he began feasting on thoughts of Leslie just as he had devoured the delicious pie.

When October fall set in and blustery winds ripped through the Nevada desert, particularly on the days when he didn't teach, Tom could be seen and heard coughing and muttering to himself as he hobbled about the complex. Though I didn't tell the others, I knew Tom was in love. In Leslie Drubb's absence, he would even occasionally blaspheme, cursingthe Creator of heaven and earth. When this occurred, the rest of us sat in our offices and trembled, not even thinking about venturing out save to consider going to class or the restroom. When Dr. Drubb returned from class, Tom's spirits would brighten, and at times he even began singing faint praises to Leslie, a regular Mother Teresa who saw herself as a suffering servant dying daily to self. When Drubb returned, we knew it was safe to come out and pretend to socialize, feigning normalcy.

Unbeknownst to everyone else but me, Tom's lust for Dr. Leslie Drubb steadily increased like a fire fanned from the Pit of Hell. "Hell's fire, Jacob, I crave this babe," he rasped in a whisper one late afternoon in my office's dark, prayerful privacy, "because she is so fucking ordinary. Besides," he added, smacking thick lips, " the rhubarb pie was delicious."

Always a bit afraid of him, I nonetheless listened to Tom, as I always did, my mind's-eye on God. Twitching almost uncontrollably, he wore a greenish tweed jacket, patches on the elbows, baggy khaki pants, and his usual wire-rimmed glasses, which always gave the impression of squinting. This attraction of his, I had concluded even before my meeting with Tom, was not good. As Tom waved his thin arms and sang the woman's praises in my office, and as I listened, I thought of Leslie. Dr. Leslie Drubb was middle-aged and had graying brown hair, which she unfashionably tied in a bun. An incessant eater, she was at least fifty pounds overweight. Beyond this, she wore those thick, dark-rimmed glasses that went out of style long ago, and always hideous purple dresses. Students and colleagues alike associated her with the color purple. It should be noted that, because of a crippling child-hood accident involving her father's tractor, Dr. Drubb walked with a limp.

"It's your sickness," I told Tom, finally, as he started to leave my office. I think, at the time, no one else was present in the complex. "Listen to me, Tom. This is your sickness. You must leave this woman alone. She has three children and two large dogs. Her husband, a dealer at the Stardust, left her five years ago for a show girl. For the love of God, man," I pleaded, "leave this woman be."

Stopping at the door and turning and glaring back at me, Tom argued. "She is, I think, perfect for me, an extraordinarily ordinary woman. She dotes on me; I dote on her. What more is needed to light the fires of hellish passion? In short, I must have this woman. Certainly, her gift of the rhubarb pie indicates that she is meant just for me." As he spoke these words, he never stopped the horrible twitching.

Over the years, I had grown quite used to this twisted line of reasoning. Although I considered myself an unusually bright man, trained in the logic of Aquinas, I could never get around Tom's logic which, as he spoke, seemed flawless. At times, Tom showed traces of brilliance. Nonetheless, I had to try to steer him clear of this woman, whom even I admired.

"Look. You'll get over it, Tom. Trust me in this; we've traveled this road before, I believe--several times I think," I said. "This women is very, very bad choice. The planet is wrapped in cords of evil; let this good woman go. Choose someone else, for the love of God."

But, of course, Tom did not get over his hungry infatuation with the one person at the college who served to remind me that an infinitely and eternally loving God may in fact exist. Predictably, following this conversation in my office, furious that I did not agree with him, he stormed out of the college, walked in big loping strides out to his truck and, as I watched from the entrance doors, drove hell-bent-for-leather out of the parking lot and onto the street, where he nearly collided with a black semi. From this point, black passion began growing like a malignant tumor in Tom's heart, his love moving into what only I recognized as a form of demonic possession. There was nothing I could do but watch and wait.

Finally, some weeks later, things began to come to a head, Tom's darkly romantic feelings for Dr. Drubb bursting forth like a dark and furiously blazing star. As his stunned colleagues listened and observed, cowering as usual behind office doors, Tom began regularly flirting with dowdy Dr. Drubb as she limped about the office. Tom, in fact, waxed quite poetic, quoting Shakespeare, Petrach, Edgar Alan Poe, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. After the two had teased each other over steaming cups of fresh coffee for two or three weeks, even exchanging small tendernesses that would get neither in trouble with the college, Tom broke the ice one February afternoon and, falling to one knee in an attempt at gallantry, asked Leslie on a date. I heard the whole thing, hidden in the sanctuary of my office, and I am sure the poor woman's heart leapt from its cage, as she uttered, pathetically, "Oh, my, yes. I'd love to spend an evening with you, Tom."

"Then, I shall drop by tomorrow," he said, his voice trembling in a dark anticipation that I alone understood. "My dear, darling woman," he exclaimed, "I shall take you to one of Las Vegas' finest casino restaurants!"

She sighed a heart-felt sigh. I heard that much and wanted to weep.

"I'll treat you like a queen," he added, and I cringed as I listened.

Of course Tom had lied. Boldly. He had no intention of treating this pathetic paragon of goodness and virtue like a queen. As I pondered this, I knew that soon Tom and I would have to be moving on to another state or to another country, assuming further new identities to hide our past ones in hopes that we would never be apprehended. Southeast Asia was a possibility.

You may have read the story of what follows in one of Las Vegas's cheap underground newspapers. The incident that occurred on the date was as spectacular as a nuclear explosion. The evening he picked her up, both dressed as if they were going to an inauguration ball, Tom drove Dr. Drubb in his rattling 1984 Ford pick-up fifty miles north to the far dark shore of Lake Mead, where according to local legend beautiful nude witches used to sing and perform ghastly rituals in service of the dead.

The drive to the lake, I imagine, was uneventful, save for a quick and convenient stop at a Burger Kind, and surely Dr. Drubb expected nothing but a wonderful surprise from the one man in the office who had paid her the slightest attention. The drive, Tom later told me, was absolutely stunning, the setting desert sun bleeding the sky with reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows. "Sweet Jesus," he confided in me, "it couldn't have been more perfect. I felt a oneness I haven't known for some time."

As Tom's truck bounced onto the rutted dirt road leading to a beautiful but uneven patch of ground on the north short of Lake Mead, darkness fell with the suddenness of death, and Dr. Leslie Drubb found herself alone with the person that I often jokingly refer to as the Match-Stick-Man. For an hour or so, they sat next to each other in the front seat of his primer gray Ford pickup, holding hands and looking out over the huge man-made lake and discussing various things: literature, vampire movies, favorite foods, childhood heroes, and so on. The full moon overhead made for a dazzling, romantic scene. Strains of Mozart poured from the radio as Tom studied the woman's neck and waited for the thing in his heart to tell him what to do.

One thing they had been discussing was religion, and apparently Tom had just confessed that, while his brother (a defrocked priest) held faith for both of them, he believed in nothing at all. "My brother, Mr. God," he sarcastically intoned, emphasizing his contempt for the God his brother worshipped, "wants to save me from an eternity of Hell fire."

Drubb said nothing in response to this. Perhaps, she did not believe in Hell.

"So where are we exactly, Tom?" Drubb finally asked, still infatuated, I'm sure. Apparently, she had never been to this side of the lake. I don't think she'd ever been much of anywhere.

"At the end of the world is where we are," he answered, guttural, his sweet hour (as he called it) steadily approaching. He was already beginning the metamorphosis which clinical psychiatrists had attributed long ago to a flawed DNA code. If you weren't looking for it, the change was unnoticeable. Certainly, Drubb didn't see it, nor could she hear the still dark voice that commanded Tom from his heart.

"This night," he added, almost singing, momentarily manic, "I have a present for you. Oh, yes, yes, yes, I do." The dramatic mood-swing was very typical of Tom, particularly when he felt himself reaching another apotheosis. At this point, Tom leaned over and kissed Dr. Drubb lightly on the cheek.

I imagine that Dr. Leslie Drubb, completely taken by this man, did not notice the bell-curve of Tom's emotions. "Oh," she reportedly squealed, delighted, heart hitting the moon. "What is it? Whatever could it be?"

Attempting to reconstruct the story as it was told to me, I imagine Leslie knew that Tom understood her single greatest passion: the novels of Jane Austen. Days before, I remember that he had promised her a collector's set of the works of one of the nineteenth century's greatest authors.

"Step outside with me," Tom cajoled in a voice wavering between guttural depths and insane heights. Pressing a button on his arm rest, he unlocked the doors of the truck.

Dying to see the gift, hoping for a late-night embrace from the only man who had shown her any affection in the past five years, Leslie struggled out of the pickup, jumping down onto the freezing ground and nearly falling on her face. The winter air was frigid, the desert winds shrieking. Ice cold waves must have lapped the shore. 

Carrying a bulky package, Tom leaped anxiously out his side, bounced around the front of the pickup like a gigantic praying mantis, his heart feverishly racing, and joined the woman that his black bestial heart desired. He felt like singing a hymn.

Glancing at the full moon handing suspended like a pendulum over the vast lake, he spoke, his voice surely like iron: "Walk with me a bit, Leslie."

Taking her fat hand in his thin bony one, Tom led the limping woman towards the lake, showing the great patience as Dr. Drubb struggled with the rocky and uneven ground. Filled with compassion, he supported her as one would an elderly person. Two feet from the dazzling, moon-algow water, they stopped. There, as Dr. Drubb stood slightly in front of him marveling at the moon and clouds reflecting off dark, glassy water and quite blinded by love, Tom reached into the package and, probably hissing, slowly withdrew a huge, glistening, serrated hunting knife. The light of the moon reflected brilliantly off the freshly polished blade.("That blade," he told me later, "literally sang for blood.")

Stepping forward, quick as a snake, Tom seized Leslie around the forehead and, at crushing light-speed, in the grand tradition of our father, slit the fat throat of Dr. Drubb slick as a whistle. Leslie never made a sound and put up no struggle.

"Not exactly Jane Austen," he muttered tenderly to the woman, holding the slowly dying Drubb in his strong, match-stick arms. At that moment, contrary to what you may think, I am quite sure he loved her.

"It was the cleanest and deepest cut ever made," Tom confessed to me afterwards, "blood spurting like a geyser from the wound. The night turned crimson. It was wonderful."

And Leslie expired steadily as he set her gently on the ground, removed her white evening gown and then her underwear, rubbed blood over her body, kissed her nipples and inserted his fingers between her legs. Next, he inserted the knife just above the sternum, and with all the strength he could must he slit downward. Finally, joined to ritual, he set the bloody knife aside and removed his own clothes. He was, according to his own description, aroused beyond words.

The next part was crucial to his survival and sanity. Reverentially, Tom knelt next to the body, reached forth with match-stick hands, grabbed the fleshy sides of the cavity, and yanked the wound apart. Steam gloriously rising from torn flesh and internal organs, Tom paused, licking blood from his hands and then glancing towards Leslie, her eyes still though barely open. I think he thought that Dr. Leslie Drubb was dead.

"Better than your rhubarb pie," he uttered, "which, by the way, was quite delicious." He did not mean the remark disrespectfully. Not at all.

"You fucking freak," she burbled, blood bubbling from her mouth. Her words hit him like stones, and he almost fell over backwards.

Tom had never heard a foul word from the mouth of Dr. Drubb. None of us had. We all considered her the saint, and so Tom was stunned and wounded deeply. It was as if Hell's portal had suddenly opened and nearly swallowed him, extinguishing his precious existence.

He silently, even prayerfully composed himself. Gradually, as he prayed over and over again, the peace and ecstasy that always accompanied these grisly performances returned, and Tom knew he could continue. Now, Drubb's life nearly expired, Tom reached into the cavity, grabbed the woman's still-beating heart, and yanked it forth. Dr. Drubb gave forth one last ghastly hiss as he did so. Taking up the knife, he severed the heart's arteries and veins. The deed was nearly done. Soul filling with joy, he held the bloody object in front of him with both hands, as if making an offering to the moon.

It was time. Putting the still warm heart to his lips, Tom opened his mouth, said softly, sobbing, "I love you, Leslie," and bit. The sensation of his mouth filling with warm liquid, of bathing face and hands and body in warm blood, offset the chilling winter cold and a bad cough that he had carried out to the lake.

The thrill surged through him like fire, and Tom felt himself on the edge of flight. Weeping, glancing upward towards the moon, he saw his own dark soul leap from his body and begin soaring over the majestic lake in large angelic spirals. Tom claims that, at that moment, he swore that he could hear choirs of angels singing and thought of the poems of Emily Dickinson. The screaming desert wind beat against his soul, as it flew like a great black bat toward the moon, and as it descended and entered his body, Tom howled and howled and howled, knowing he had touched God to live boldly and grandly until I found him another victim.

It was over. Tom was reborn.

Naked, caked in blood, flesh and soul quivering in ecstasy, Tom walked back to his truck, climbed in, put it in gear, inserted his Pachelbel CD. He sped along the dirt road toward the dark highway, thrilled to the masterful concerto that, three centuries before, had set Europe on fire. He felt himself cleansed by the fires of bloody passion and knew he was alive.

Once on the black patch of highway, Tom gunned the accelerator, taking his pickup up to ninety, still tasting the blood of the kill. When he reached his dilapidated one-story house on the outskirts of the city sometime after midnight, he called me to his room, explained what had happened, told me how he had poured lighter fluid on the body and then, using match sticks, had set the corpse on fire.

"I danced around the fiery corpse," he exclaimed, "as Dr. Drubb snapped, crackled, and popped like a bowl of rice crispies. Glory to God, I am now made whole." He imitated the dance, arms and legs flailing spastically in the air. 

"O my dear sweet Jesus," is all I could say as I pondered the murder to the only truly saintly woman I have ever met. Tom's act was almost like killing God.

A defrocked priest masquerading as a professor of psychology, that very night, as he knelt next to my bed, I held him and did confess and forgive Tom, the Match-Stick Man, as manic joy gradually gave way to dark weeping sadness and horrible, hellish guilt.

"Oh, God, God, God, help me," he moaned and vomited on my wooden floor as he crumpled to the floor. The cycle was complete and would, as it must, begin again. Tom was in Hell again.

But at least I had performed my part of the ghastly ritual just as I had done for years, God be praised, hoping beyond hope that the hands of forgiveness extend to the base and the depraved.

 

   


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A college English professor teaching in Las Vegas, Rich Logsdon has been
published extensively on and off the net. In his spare time, he edits the print
magazine Red Rock Review

Contact Rich Logsdon at  RandJLogsdon@aol.com



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