In Which the Birthday Girl is Dead

Shiloh was exceptionally startled by the sudden shriek of a loud horn directly into his ear. He doubled over from his sitting position on the low brick wall outside of school, clutching his ear, biting his scarf to avoid any obscenities or commands to come belting out.

"Shi~loh!" Paige took the horn away from her mouth, still smiling. "Guess what today is?"

She paused and watched him slowly take his hand away from his ear and turn to her, still quiet as ever.

"Nevermind, you won't answer." Her frown was quickly replaced with another of her constant smiles, however. "Today is my 15th birthday! And you should come to my house for a party! There'll be a huge fire, and we can have cake, and sing!"

Shiloh was aware that his younger sister had a meet tonight, being the little gymnast she was, and he saw no problem in going. He figured once they arrived at Paige's house, he could call or text Dad and get the O-kay. Ever since he'd first met Paige as a young boy, he did always wonder why her house was in the middle of the woods.

Paige didn't catch the smile smile that flashed across his face beneath the scarf, but she noticed by the way his cheeks rose and his eyebrows followed suit that it was a definite yes. She grabbed his hand and tugged him around to the back of the school, taking off at a full run, dragging Shiloh behind limply.

They entered the border of the woods, getting their pantlegs snagged on branches and thistles, occasionally hitting shoulders or narrowly being blindsided by the elusive evergreen tree, but they were moving fast. Shiloh had managed to keep side-by-side with the girl, until they happed upon a small log cabin in a clearing of what looked to be hard-packed dirt, with a thin layer of permafrost.

A huge stack of logs lay a bit away in the massive clearing, far enough from the wood shack to keep it from catching fire but close enough to absorb some of the heat from the inevitable fire. Paige bounced over, lifting and turning the logs around before pulling something from her pocket. Shiloh dared not to go near her - Paige was crazy enough without fire, and he couldn't risk getting incinerated if she got careless - but watched with awe as the small object from her pocket lit the entire log stack at once. She turned back to him, triumphant, and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Check one - fire! Next, cake!"

What had it been? Maybe ten minutes? She was obviously in a big hurry, but it was her birthday, Shiloh supposed, following her into the small shack, with the glow of the fire casting a long shadow of himself.

The cabin really was smaller than it looked. Maybe one or two rooms at most. The kitchen was immediately placed in front of him, with a small section of shower curtain near the fire-facing window hiding a toilet and shower. The kitchen had a wood-burning stove and the shelves were full of cans - beans, corn, etc. The next room over there was a sturdy black table covered in blankets and pillows - which were promptly thrown off, and an old radio on the floor.

Replacing the bedspread on the table was a small cake. Vanilla, a think layer of white icing - so thin you could see the cake underneath - and two candles. One was a simply white candle, and the other was a half-melted "6" candle.

"It's not the best," She explained, shedding her yellow coat in favor for a slightly-frayed bathrobe, "but it works. I sometimes had to use the 6 candle during the winter if I was too cold to go outside. But I'm happy it's going to get some use."

She wasted no time in lighting it and blowing it out almost immediately after, ripping the cake with her hands and eating half of the small thing. Shiloh didn't touch it, cake was never really his thing being a pie-guy, but took a peice to be polite.

"Thanks for coming," She belched, looking out at the fire finally. "You should probably leave. Wolves and other weird creatures come here at ngiht, you know, this is the woods."

"Wait," Shiloh looked her dead in the face. Fifteen minutes with her and she was already done with the festivities? "What do you mean, I should leave? I've been here for fifteen minutes - hardly a party. Maybe you could come back to my house - we've got a TV and a house made of bricks." He skirted around the other things he wanted to mention, such as her living alone. That wasn't his business, but he did feel for the girl who'd stuck by him all these years.

"No." Paige said plainly, wiping a stray wisp of icing off her face. "I can't. It's against my thoughts. The sun is going down,a nd I'll be fine. I've been fine for years. You need to go, though, Shiloh." She tried to make a sad face, but Shiloh could see there was obviously something wrong with her.

The sun was sinking below the trees, and her face grew panicked. She hurried into the kitchen and put her face against the pane of glass, feeling the warmth of the suddenly dying fire.

"Just go, Shiloh!" She tried to yell, but her voice grew weak as the sun slipped away. Paige collapsed on the dirty floor, knocking over an empty can of beans. Shiloh could tell something about her - she wasn't here anymore.

Paige was gone.