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Happy Birthday to Me

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“…and Dad gives us those ‘useful’ gifts that most of the time would only be useful if we ever got dropped in the wilderness, like that time Allison got a survival wrist kit. Maybe Dad’s planning to drop us in the wilderness at some point. He probably is, yeah, that would be just like him. But you know, I once got a Swiss knife and I sure wouldn’t mind having it right now.”

The scraping sounds of something being dragged. Sand and rubbles grating underfoot. A muffled curse and the slish-slosh of liquid moving around in a glass bottle.

“We usually get—ha—a half-hour of fo—of free time and on a Saturday that means we get a full hour, but that’s—this has happened only twice so far. Next time’ll be—alright, there you go.”

Five stops and admires his handiwork. He’s dragged a table out of a half-collapsed house and has set stools and chairs around it. Seven of them. At the center of the table he’s placed in a circle the Umbrella Academy action figures that he dug up from some nerdy kid’s destroyed bedroom. Luther flexing his arms. Diego about to throw a knife. Allison with her hand cupped around her mouth. Klaus with his arm raised like he’s waving at someone. Ben with tentacles bursting out of his abdomen—God, Ben hates that toy so much. And to stand for Vanya, Five has taken off the cover of her book and folded it so he can see her picture without the title. He hasn’t bothered taking the Number Five action figure from that nerdy kid’s bedroom. Stupid, useless Number Five, running toward his own doom like a moron. Not to mention that he doesn’t need anything to stand for himself, since he’s here. He’s stuck here, the last one around as far as he can tell.

Five takes a swig from his bottle of tequila. “This’s some good shit,” he says. It burned at first, but now his mouth and throat are coated with numbness and he can’t feel anything. “This—” He tries taking another swig, moves too forcefully and sloshes half of what he intended to go in his mouth on himself. “Shit,” he says, giggling as he rubs inefficiently at the wet spot. “’M sure the others don’t get to drink this for their birthday. Dad would shit a brick if they sug-sugas—asked for it. They must be having cake. Mom always bakes us a cake. We each have a small cake, our favorite one, with our name written with icing on it, and we eat it for dessert at lunch. I always get peanut butter and chocolate, and Ben gets a strawberry cake and Allison says that cake isn’t good for you, ‘cause, uh—”

Five coughs, a wet, gravelly sound, and then spits a dirty glob of phlegm at the ground. His lungs are rotting inside, clogged by the ash that continues to sprinkle from the sky and makes the air hard to breathe. His face is streaked with grime and rivulets of sweat; it itches and he scratches a cheek with a grimace.

“Luther gets a carrot cake, Diego a chocolate sponge cake,” he recites like a litany. “Klaus gets a, uh, shit, I can’t remember. Can’t remember, fuck. Something with chocolate too. A chocolate fuj—uh, fudge cake? Vanya gets a lemon curd cake.”

A few feet away from the table, Five has put in an armchair the mannequin he found on his first day in the Apocalypse. The armchair is missing two legs and listing to the side like a sinking boat. He’s named the mannequin Dolores. Dolor, douleur, dolore, his pain is a torrent that runs through him day after day, relentlessly. The mannequin’s painted face looks serene, but her expression is a little wry too. Coolly judgmental. Look at you, getting drunk on your birthday. You’ve only just turned fourteen!

Behind Dolores stands an intact section of wall from the house whose garden they’re squatting. It’s covered in equations, Five’s pathetic attempts at figuring a way to get back. Needless to say that nothing he’s tried has been successful so far. He has run into a wall—ha! He’s running repeatedly into a wall, like one of those wind-up mechanical toys. He’s always thought he was so clever, his mind so quick it was running ahead of him, but it’s not doing him any good right now. Bet Diego could do better. But Five isn’t giving up, of course he isn’t. He’s always had a hard head. He has one year to come up with a solution before their next birthday.

“And Mom—ugh.” His stomach lurches with nausea. He hasn’t eaten anything—no cake, nothing else either—in a few days and the alcohol is burning a hole in his insides. “I think I’mma—”

He drops to his knees, turns to the side and throws up bile and tequila, which hurts like hell, then dry-heaves for a few more minutes, feeling like his stomach is trying to squeeze itself through his throat. When the spasms have eased, he sits down heavily on his ass and drinks more from his bottle.

You’re being a self-destructive dumbass. You’re dehydrated and at high risk of alcohol poisoning.

“Shut up,” he mumbles. “So, the cakes. I’m pretty sure that Klaus had chocolate fudge last year, but he changes his mind all the time about what he wants and thas—that’s why I can’t remember his preference. Yeah. And then Mom puts a candle on each of our cakes, and we’ve to make a wish before we blow it. I don’t have any candle. But I wish—” He swallows hard. He feels like he needs to cough again but manages to contain it. “And then we sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s silly. And we do it once for each of us, so it takes a while.” Five laughs to himself and starts singing in a raspy voice, “Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday to you, dear Luther. Happy birthday to you, dear Diego. Happy birthday to you, dear Allison. Happy birthday to you, dear Klaus. Happy birthday to—"

The bottle slips from Five’s grip, hits the ground with a clunking sound and rolls away from him. There’s so little tequila left in it that it doesn’t spill out. Five pulls his legs to himself, hides his face in his hands and starts crying.