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Stubborn Little Tweety Bird

Cherry has always been stubborn. Like a bull, her mother used to say. In her mind, failure was not an option. She would work harder, better, and more intensely until she got what she wanted. She didn’t surround herself by people who brought her down, and her friends have learned that she gave up on them if they couldn’t understand.

Death wasn’t aware she would be just as resistant to his grip.
“You’re doing a great job, honey. I could just sign your hours. It’s not really necessary to do extra.”
“Mother,” Cherry said witheringly, but not releasing the grip of her eyes on the road. “I don’t want to become just another statistic. Teens are the cause of almost—“
“Yes, Cherry. Alright. I get it,” she sighed. While she didn’t say it, Cherry knew that she was disappointed, or perhaps plain annoyed with her. She just doesn’t realize that if I don’t want to take the freedom of driving for granted, she thought.
The stale green in front of the pair quickly turned red and Cherry brakes cleanly. Not a problem. When I finally get my license, Cherry thought, I’ll deserve it.
“You’re doing great,” Mom said again.
“I know I am.”
The light turned green and she looked over to the right to check for cars running their red. Cherry’s mother met her eyes and smiled. In her smile, Cherry could see a chipped front tooth, a slight discoloration from all of the coffee she drank, and crimson specks from her lipstick. As her foot pressed the gas pedal down, she examined the smile, and returned it.
Soon, however, the warm, motherly smile transformed into an open O of terror.
Cherry had forgotten to check the traffic on the left side.
The air was screaming, time was ripping apart, the sky was bleeding, and something was burning the side of Cherry’s face, right through to the bone, she could feel it…
“Hey. Come on. Open them peepers. Rise and shine, Tweety Bird.”
“Mommy?”
“ERRR! So sorry, but that is the wrong answer. Please insert one credit and try again.”
Cherry peeled her eyelids back, yet she saw nothing but blackness, as if they were still plastered in place on her eyes. “Who’s there?”
“FanTAStic question. Just smashing. Look around and maybe you’ll see, smarty.”
She struggled to pinpoint the origin of the voice. It was coming from all around her, like she was in one of the elliptical rooms that bounced the voices back to the center wherever you were. Or did it just do that if you were standing at the foci? Well, the silky, casual voice sounded young; at the youngest, sixteen, but not over twenty-five. “Maybe you should come here if you want me to see you so bad,” she snapped. “Where am I? Is it nighttime? Where are my mom and the car?”
“Oh questions, questions, questions. All answered in due time, Tweety Bird. But first, let me introduce myself.”
Cherry’s aching eyes searched the blackness until they finally found a faint outline of a man. With a pop! it became clear and opaque. The source of the flippant, churlish voice was a white V-necked, leather-clad, slouching figure with his hands in his pockets. A wooden toothpick dangled haphazardly from his pink lips, and his jet-black hear was slicked back like some character straight out of The Outsiders, rolled-up jeans and all. “I’m Striker.”
“Enchante,” Cherry said sarcastically. “And I’m Sodapop.”
“Nice try, babe. You’re Cherry Donnelly.” He rolled the toothpick to the other side of his lips.
She suddenly felt solidness beneath her thighs; she was sitting upright on a smooth surface. Without looking away from this kid, she got up. “OK, Striker. Where am I?”
“In due time, love.”
A sudden burst of anger washed over her. Who was this guy to boss her around? She clenched her fists and a determined look settled on her face. “If you won’t tell me what’s going on… I’ll find out for myself.” She spun around on the balls of her feet and stormed off into the nothingness.
Striker… he’s probably just some druggie messing with me. Was I thrown out of the car during the crash? Perhaps left in the bushes where no one could see? Cherry decided that was what happened. When the semi hit her side of the car, it undid her seatbelt, and she landed safely, but out of sight, in some bushes. Now, she was just walking down the street.
Her eyes pulsed as she widened them, stressing to see her surroundings—buildings, trees, or parked cars. Was it night? If it was, where were all the streetlamps? She stretched out a hand out cautiously and froze. Striker was now in front of her. She drew her hand back quickly.
“No, you ain’t outside. It ain’t night, and I ain’t just some druggie,” Striker said smoothly. He put an ice cold hand on her shoulder, which she immediately shuddered from. “I’ll be honest with you. I’m not just Striker. I strike people down. I’m everywhere, and I’m as close to people as the clothes are to your skin.” With this statement, he took a step in front of her, his ugly face looming inches above hers. “You got hit dead-on by a semi, Tweety Bird. That’s a hard feat to live after. Now, take a guess…who am I?”
“P*ssing me off,” Cherry muttered, turning her face away as far as it would go.
“I’m Death, sweetheart. And I’m here to get you.”
Her eyes shot back to his. They were blood red.
“Death… Don’t make me laugh. I’m not dead,” she hissed. “I have too much to do. I’m not done living my life. And anyway, where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? The gates of Heaven? Saint Peter?”
“Well, that’s not how it works. Don’t ask me; I just show up and get the ‘packages.’ Yes, there is a Big Man Upstairs, but I only do his dirty business. I don’t know nothing about saints. Oh, and only a select few get to see me.
“About you saying you had stuff to do…you do. Only not what you’re thinking of. Tell me, Tweety Bird: how would you describe yourself?”
“Annoyed,” she snapped back.
Striker grinned and began to circle her slowly. “You’re stubborn. You don’t take any cr*p from anyone, you won’t stop until you're satisfied (that’s what she said)—“
“Mature.”
“But, hon,” he continued, “you beat people down to get where you are now. You never thought about others’ happiness, because you were always close-minded. Think back; are there things you regret?”
“No,” she said quickly, flushing.
“I think you're lying. Either that, or not thinking back.” Striker stopped his circular stroll. “Honey,” he drawled. “I’m gonna have to show you.” Quick as lightning, he clawed at her arm and dragged her into the darkness.
She struggled from his icy, pinching grasp, gasping, “Where—“ before they halted in front a large, white, intricate wood door.
“After you,” he said, swiftly opening it and shoving her through.
Her lips were open wide in a silent scream and her were fingers clawing at invisible holds as she tumbled through the air beyond the door.
“Oh, don’t you give me that! You don’t do anything around here!”
“I have a full-time job and take care of the house! All you do is come home and drink!”
“I will not be spoken to like this! You have no right!”
“Screw this.”
There was the shattering sound of a screen door slamming, muffled footsteps, and soft sobbing, but not soft enough to be unheard. Cherry opened her eyes. She was on the hammock in her backyard. Its red and white fibers dug into the backs of her arms and legs. “Oh… Cherry, honey. I didn’t see you there.” Cherry looked up in surprise, expecting to see a tear-stricken face. She only saw black, starless sky. Her mother, the one that had been crying and fighting with her boyfriend, was sitting on the deck.
“What are you doing?”
“What? I’m crying? Jon is just such a—“
“I’m so tired of you guys.”
“What?”
Cherry recognized the event. Her mother and Jon’s fights weren’t going to make her cry at night anymore, make her stress and struggle in school. It was the day she was the meanest to her mother.
“Do you ever think of me? Can’t you two shut up?”
“Of course I—“
“Just shut your mouths next time. You guys are so stupid.”
Cherry saw herself stepping up from behind her mother’s body, which was hunched over in shame, and walk inside. Only her mother wasn’t the only one ashamed. She could feel the emotions from her past self: pride, exuberance. Plus the refusal to not let herself turn around, dash to her trembling mother, and throw her arms around her; self-control. Then again, present Cherry felt her face burn from the shame of what she had done to her mother. Her stubbornness had actually caused someone pain.
“Bingo, Tweety Bird.” Striker strolled out from behind one of the blue spruces. “You see? Do you regret this now? Shall we go on to the next situation?”
“WAIT, N—“
“Cherry, come on.”
“How could you do that?”
“You're the one accusing me? You stole my boyfriend!”
“You guys broke up!”
“Yes, but—“
“You said you were over him.”
“Well, I guess I wasn’t!”
Pangs of guilt, like knife wounds, stabbed at Cherry’s stomach. It was her ex-best friend’s voice screaming at her. There really isn’t any pain like losing your best friend of ten years to a stupid argument.
Of course, it wasn’t stupid at the time. If Miranda was going to argue with her and not even admit she was wrong, then Cherry didn’t need her.
“Please…Striker….” she whispered.
“Open your eyes.”
“Please!” she implored, cringing away from the yells and accusations.
“You wouldn’t stop for five minutes and apologize. You wouldn’t stop being stubborn, open your mind—“
She lurched blindly towards Striker’s voice, her hands groping the air, twisting, clawing, as if his neck would appear in them.
“Alright! Sheesh…”
The hot, angry air gave away to cool silence. Nothing. No emotion.
But there was emotion. Regret, remorse, raging pain wracking her brain.
“Tweety Bird, I have to show you one more—“
“What?” she murmured. “What now? Will you show me the time I left my little brother stranded in the forest? The time I was walking home from school with him and we took a shortcut through the forest and I insisted I knew the way home and he taunted me and said I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag so I pushed him and ran and didn’t turn around until I got home? The time I spend hours searching the dark, cold, silent forest by sunlight and moonlight and lamplight until I found him and could show him the way home? I was too stubborn to tell my mom I had found him, bloody and white and cold and dead—“ After this word, she gave a small gasp and collapsed into fetal position, trembling.
“Oh, stubborn little Tweety Bird…” Striker’s warm arm wrapped around her shoulders. “There, there.” He patted her awkwardly. “I’m sorry to have to do this, but you need to do one more thing.”
“No more. P-please.”
“You’re on a hospital bed in a coma right now. You get to go back and, for lack of a better term, say your goodbyes. Then you’re coming with me.”
Her scarlet bloodshot eyes appeared from underneath her arms, swimming with tears. “To say my goodbyes…”
“Let’s make this quick.” Striker snapped his fingers.
Beep-bip. Beep-bip. Was Striker still snapping his fingers? God, it was annoying her. “Stop…” Cherry murmured.
“Mrs. Donnelly! She said something!”
Cherry cringed from the outburst and hissed, “Keep it down.” But why was that voice so familiar?
“Cherry! Cherry, it’s me, Miranda! You’re mom’s here too! Come on girl, open them peepers!”
“M-Miranda?” Cherry squinted in the bright white lights, immediately being smothered by two pairs of arms.
“Cherry! Thank you Lord, Cherry—“
“You had me scared out of my mind—“
“W-wait…” she stammered, pulling away from her mother’s and Miranda’s embraces. Then a wave of fire washed over her entire body, pain unimaginable and unending. “Aaaghh!”
“Oh, Cherry! I’m so sorry!” her mother wailed. “I just wanted to see you open your eyes.”
“Mom,” Cherry managed to say throughout the burning pain. “I’m sorry. For e-everything. I should have b-been there for you when Jon wasn’t. Miranda…” It was unbelievable she would even show up after the way I treated her, Cherry thought amidst the torture which she squeezed her eyes shut from. “I should have realized you still loved your boyfriend. What kind of friend was I, stealing him from you? I’m sorry. Mom… I’m sorry…it was my fault Jack died.”
“Out! Both of you! She’s in pain! It’s past visiting hours!”
“But she’s awake—“ Cherry let out a small moan of pain.
“See?! She has seventeen broken bones, third degree burns, and it’s midnight! Let her rest. You can see her at ten tomorrow. Here, hon. This should stop the pain.”
Cherry peeled her eyes open for one last time, noticing she was surrounded by cards, stuffed animals, balloons, and flowers that filled the entire hospital room. Soon, whatever the nurse had given her kicked in, and the plethora of bright balloons and colorful cards blurred together, swirling together into a beautiful painting of love and forgiveness that faded into darkness.
“How’d ya do?”
Cherry smiled. “Well, I apologized. And I think they forgive me. I’m ready, Striker.”
The Fonz wannabe held out an arm and grinned. “Well, Tweety Bird, let’s go.” Cherry linked her arm in his. They started a steady trot onward, towards a growing, pulsing light.
Looks like she was getting the light at the end of the tunnel, after all.



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