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A Birthday in the Woods

One year ago, I was absolutely positive that no one could ever have a clue how hard it was to be me.  I viewed my life as a living nightmare.  Every morning I was awoken from my precious sleep at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM.  My alarm clock would scream at me relentlessly until I finally decided to move my limp muscles and give it a beating to make the wailing stop.  Then I would have to drag my lifeless body downstairs only to be presented with an atrocious breakfast made by my mom.  What a try hard.  It consisted of warm pancakes with sugary syrup, toast with fresh jam, two fresh sunny side-up eggs with bright yellow yolks, and - here’s the kicker - two percent milk.  I hated two percent milk.  My mom was honestly a disgrace to serve me anything other than whole milk.  After having to ingest such filth, I would have to haul myself onto a bus where Aubrey, my inadequate friend, would always have a seat saved for me.
“Hey, Liza!  I saved a seat for you.  How are you this morning?” she would squeak.  Aubrey was truly the most inconsiderate person I had ever met.  Not once did she offer me the window seat.  After arriving at school, the day would drag on with countless more affronts to me and my personal well-being.
At the age of sixteen with everything I would ever need to live a life of content, I honestly could not imagine that anyone had it more difficult than me.  Starving kids in Africa? They had it easy.  Child laborers in China?  No big deal.  Syrian refugees?  Nope.  Try again.  My life was pure hell and no one could convince me otherwise… until the fateful day of April 6th, 2016.
It was my sixteenth birthday and of course, everything was downright awful.  My parents presented me with my own BMW, but surprise, surprise - the license plate did not have my name written on it as I had specifically requested.  There were my parents for you.  It was an irritatingly sunny day and the birds were relentlessly chirping away.  I despised birds.
At around 3:00 PM, I arrived home in my piece of junk that was an excuse for a new car.  I sighed as I walked up to my doorstep because all of the lights were off inside of the house.  My mom had planned a surprise party.  Yippee.  I begrudgingly opened the door and flipped the light switch on.
“SURPRISE!” everyone hollered.  There were around fifty of my useless friends and family members with ridiculous smiles plastered on their faces, tacky decorations, and a three-tiered chocolate cake with my name written in pink frosting.  I was not amused.  In fact, I was livid.  My face turned as red as the fiery sun that was shining so obnoxiously in the sky that day.
“Honey, are you okay?” my overbearing mother asked.  It took me 0.2 seconds to hurl out my response.
“Am I okay?” My guests’ ridiculous smiles transformed into defeated frowns.  “It’s as if no one around here cares about me!  I come home and all I want to do is lay down and take a nap for crying out loud and all of you come to my house and completely invade my privacy!  Do you have any consideration at all for how I might feel about this?”
“We thought you’d be happy to have a surprise party…” Aubrey chimed from the peanut gallery.
“Well you thought wrong!” I retorted.  I was practically hyperventilating at this point.  No one knew what to say.  Dead silence and looks of disbelief encompassed the room.  I swiveled my neck from side to side.  I marched over to the disgusting cake, tore off a piece of it, and hurled it at my mom.
“I don’t even like chocolate!” I screamed.  Everyone gasped, their jaws dropping to the ground as they stared at my mother’s icing-covered face.  She began to cry as if she were the one having the worst sixteenth birthday ever.  Unbelievable.
“Why would you do that?” My dad cried, attempting to console my mom while wiping off pink icing from her chin with a paper napkin.  He looked around at all of the guests.  “All of you just… just go home.  I’m sorry.”
Everyone reluctantly filed out of the double doors.  Good riddance!  This nightmare of a party was the last straw.  I was so fed up with my inadequate life at home where no one even tried to understand me. Just as my dad was about to retort some more of his useless nonsense I made a bold declaration.
“I’m out of here.  I can’t stand you guys anymore.  I don’t need you and I’d be so much better off without you.  I’m leaving!” They must have not heard me correctly because no words were spoken as I stomped out of the door and slammed it behind me.  I took one look back at the stone mansion I spent the majority of my miserable life in, rolled my eyes, and sprinted off into the woods.
I ran for what felt like miles until my new white Adidas were speckled with dirt and my legs were sore.  I stopped in the middle of nowhere, panting and heaving. KURPLOP.  My body fell to the ground on the bright green grass dusted with tiny violet flowers.  I had successfully ran away from home, determined that I could make it on my own.  At that moment, I realized my first mistake - I hadn’t brought any water to quench my inevitable thirst nor had I brought food for that matter.  At this moment, reality hit me.  I had never stepped foot inside of the woods.  How was I supposed to survive?  Panic struck.  I yanked my iPhone out of my skinny jeans and dialed my mom’s number.  It rang.
“Pick up!  Pick up!” I urged, gritting my teeth.  The call failed.  Who knew there wasn’t any cell-phone service in the woods?
The sun was beginning to set, morphing the sky into a purple and orange gradient.  Owls made their ridiculous owl noises.  They were mocking me, calling me a stupid little girl.  Did I mention that I despise birds?
“Shut up!” I yelled.  Owls aren’t very good listeners.  “Shut up!  Shut up!  Shut up!” I began to cry.  Tears streamed down my face, creating black streaks of mascara on my spray-tanned cheeks.  I’m sure the owls found that funny.
I wailed until my head hurt and the sun had completely gone down, leaving me in complete darkness.  After becoming very aware of the dark encompassing me, I began to stifle my cries.  What if someone heard me?  What if I wasn’t safe?  What if there was some crazy person lurking in the woods?  What had I done?
I shivered as a cool wind crept down my spine.  Cool winds creeping down spines, owl noises, and darkness in the woods is a recipe for disaster.  I’d seen plenty of movies to know this.  I stifled my wailing to sniffles, periodically wiping my nose with the sleeve of my sweater.  I rocked back and forth, praying that I wouldn’t be killed.
Suddenly, a twig snapped nearby.  I heard footsteps.  Someone was walking towards me.  I froze.  The only part of me that moved was my chest, inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling.  I couldn’t be seen.  If I just stayed still, no one would find me.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.  As the steps came closer, I pictured my mother standing defeatedly with cake and tears streaming down her tired face.  I could hear her crying and see the look of disappointment in my dad’s hazel eyes.  I saw my friends’ expressions of disbelief.  The sweet scent of freshly baked cake made with my mother’s love filled the air.  In this moment, all I wanted to do was be safe in her arms in my warm house.  How had I been so ungrateful?
A flashlight flashed in my eyes and my scream pierced the air.  The flashlight dropped to the ground and flickered off. A large hand sharply covered my mouth while another held my body still.  I twisted and squirmed to no avail.  A deep, raspy voice cut through the silence.
“Listen to me carefully.” As tears dampened my face, a nervous laugh escaped from me.  Did I have any other choice but to listen? “I was carried into a room, and set on fire.  I wept, and then… my head was cut off!  What am I?”  My mouth was momentarily uncovered, anticipating my response.
“I DON’T KNOW!” I shrieked.  My mouth was roughly covered again, practically knocking my teeth in.
Slowly and deliberately, the question was repeated.  “I was carried into a room, and set on fire.  I wept, and then my head was cut off.  What.  Am.  I.”  The last three words were like daggers.  I was confused and hungry and tired.  I just wanted to go home!
“I DON’T KNOW!” I hollered again as my mouth was uncovered.  Suddenly, I was released completely and a flame was lit.
“I’m a candle!” the voice exclaimed giddily.  I squinted hard, adjusting my eyes to the light until the blur of a face came into focus.
“Aubrey?” I cried, my eyebrows furrowing.  She recoiled, fearful of my reaction.  I stared at her, perplexed until my face morphed into a smile.  “Aubrey!” I exhaled wrapping my arms around her for the first time ever.  Words could not explain how happy I was to see her innocent face instead of that of a menacing killer.  We embraced for a long time until I finally pulled away and asked why the heck she followed me into the woods and almost gave me a heart attack with her abrasive restraining and riddle reciting.
“Well the riddle was for fun,” Aubrey explained matter-of-factly as she set the candle down on the ground. “But first of all, I saw you running off into the woods alone and knew that that wasn’t going to end up well.  You don’t know how to get from the cafeteria to the library, let alone find your way through the woods.  Your navigation skills are trash.”  This was true.
“Okay, so?” I inquired, shaking my head side to side.
“So, I care about you.  A lot.  I don’t know why you’ve been so against the world lately, but I just want to let you know that the world sure isn’t against you.  What’s been going on?”  I had to think about that one.
“Honestly,” I began. “I’ve just been a brat these past few years.  Whenever things don’t go exactly my way, I’ve been playing victim and acting like everyone is out to get me.  I guess it turns out that everyone is just doing their best to make me happy.  It’s kind of sad that I had to have a near-death experience to realize this.”  Aubrey playfully hit the back of my head.
“Kind of sad?” she joked.
“Hey, I really don’t like chocolate cake and my mom knows that,” I replied with a smirk.  Aubrey rolled her big brown eyes.
“Let’s make a deal.  You start learning to appreciate everything that your friends and family do for you and I’ll show you the way out of this creepy place.”
“As long as you offer me the window seat on the bus every now and then, it’s a deal,” I said with a smile.  We shook on it, Aubrey lit up her flashlight, and we went on our way.  I could feel my bitter self being left behind piece by piece with every step I took through those woods.  I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad how much I loved them.






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