by Seth Furman

On September 2, 1988, Billy woke at exactly 7:45 in the morning with an enormous smile spread across his face. He leapt out of bed and scrambled into the kitchen, stopping briefly to tap one of the ten balloons hanging from the ceiling in the hallway. “Happy Birthday, baby,” his mother shouted. “Ten years old! You’re into double digits now! Are you ready for your birthday breakfast?”

Birthday breakfast was a longstanding tradition in their family. You could have absolutely anything you wanted to eat, and it was always ice cream. Not just ice cream but an ice cream sundae. Not just an ice cream sundae but the biggest ice cream sundae you could conceive topped with fudge sauce, marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, Hershey’s Kisses, sprinkles, piles of whipped cream and anything else you could dream up. The idea was to build a monster you couldn’t possibly finish. His mother looked him over. “My baby’s getting old!”

Every year she wrote a birthday poem and taped it to the back of his chair. This year it read:
Billy Billy ten years old
Full of life and oh so bold
Dad and me glow bright as pearls
Thinking of all you’ve brought to this world

At 4:30 in the evening Billy wore a knock-off Stetson hat. There was a big plastic sheriff’s badge pinned to his vest and a gun strap hanging from his hip, six-shooter cap gun and all. He was ready for his “Old West” birthday party. “Ya look good, Champ,” said his father. “Ya ready to lay down the law?” Billy grinned as his father wrestled him to the ground, held him briefly and then flipped over in submission allowing Billy to pin him down. “Ya got me!” he said. Billy squealed with joy, “I’m taking you to the slammer, mister!”

The party was a mixture of Billy’s friends, donning a child’s vision of western gear, and extended family members doing their best to share in the spirit of the evening. At 6:00, after everyone had their fill of pizza, Billy heard his mother yell from the den, “Everyone come quick, there’s a fire in here!” He knew exactly what that meant but he feigned horror and ran into the room where his Mother held a cake adorned with little cowboy and Indian figurines and eleven candles burning brightly–always one extra candle for luck. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Billy, happy birthday to you.”

By 7:30 the last of his friends were gone and only a handful of his family members remained chatting lazily in the dining room. There were shreds of wrapping paper strewn about the floor and Billy played with a fire truck he had been given by his buddy Daniel. He pushed it along the carpet down the hall and turned the corner into the living room where he ran the truck into his father’s foot. His gaze trailed up his father’s leg and met his eyes, strangely bright, and he was suddenly taken by the man’s size. His hair brushed against the ceiling. Billy stood up.

His mother was by his side looking down at him sadly. “I’m so sorry, baby,” she said. Billy cocked his head to one side. “But Mom, the party was great.” She held her fingers over her eyes. “I know, baby; I know it was.” Her hand fell away from her face and Billy’s legs began to tremble. Her eyes glowed green and her brow was full of swollen tumors. “It’s gotta be fresh, Margie,” his father said. “I know, Mike,” she replied. Billy couldn’t move. His father reached over; his hands were scaly and white, his fingertips bloated and pulsing with blood, his nails cracked and drawn into his flesh. His tongue hung over his lips as he tore off a piece of Billy’s ear and sucked it ravenously. Billy heard a faint grumbling in their stomachs as his family closed in slowly around him.


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