Birthday Wishes

The cake was one of those Barbie eyesores from Piggly-Wiggly with little plastic figures atop and way too much frosting, but the children adored it. They sang “Happy Birthday” in their party hats and beamed at the celebrated girl when she blew out the candles.

One puff was all it took. Seven flames bowed as one and vanished into a wisp of black smoke, a heady aroma that breathed through the room and was gone as quickly as it came.

Elizabeth screamed.

To some, that was the friendly smell of souvenir matches and jamboree campfires. Not to Elizabeth. Not to a child who had seen the inferno.

One sniff brought it all back. The acrid stench of bookshelves burning, of melting paint peeling from the walls, of fiery beams tumbling from the ceiling and lighting the girl’s bed ablaze. A room bathed in searing orange hues in the night, familiar shadows dancing perversely across the walls and crumbling to ashes before her eyes.

A memory of a happy life snatched away.

A reminder of parents she’ll never see again.

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