• She stared dully at the candle, the single, red, waxy candle that you could get at a grocery store.
    She couldn't afford any cake, so she had to get a discarded muffin from the bakery instead. It was a day old, and stale (she'd tried a bite to test for mold), but it worked.
    Her long, mothbitten jacket hung loosely on her shoulders, as she tried to imagine a better time. None of this pretending or hopeless amusing. None of this halfhearted smile in the cold, dead night. No, she went back to when she had a home, a family, a life.

    "Happy birthday, Sierra!" Her mother exclaimed, bringing out the largest chocolate cake she had ever seen. Her friends surrounded her, waving party hats and noisemakers. Confetti rained from her father's hand over her head, "Stop it, Daddy." She said, grinning like a fool, "You'll get it in my cake."
    The child rushed up to her prize, blowing out all seven candles. Then, she turned to her friends and, despite the rumors, she said, "I wish for the voices to stop."

    Hah, she should've kept it to herself. Every year, every birthday, every dandelion and every three-leaf clover, she wished for the exact same thing. But every year, it got worse and worse. Tenth birthday. They told her to hide the cake so nobody else could steal it. Thirteenth birthday. They told her to start a food fight, have a little fun.

    But it wasn't always fun. No more fun and games when she hit fifteen. They told her that she was of age, and that she needed to prepare. The time was coming, and if she didn't leave when they told her, she would die from a poison of some sort. The girl began to grow serious by then. She knew that they were serious, too. Sierra was afraid of them.

    On her sixteenth birthday, she celebrated, she ate cake, then she had a quiet evening. It was that night when Sierra left. The girl packed her bags and left home while her parents slept. The voices instructed her on everything. How to attract money, how to eat, how to live. It was all preparation for what she feared would come. The poison, they'd told her. It would get into her and send her to her death.

    Now she was seventeen, starving, and desperate. In the bitter, biting wind, the flame burnt out, and it was then, surrounded by pitch black, did she realize what the poison really was. It was the voices, cooing, whispering and sneering in her head. The poison had already gotten into her. It'd been there the entire time, from when she was born, to her lonely death. The voices had tricked her, convinced her that there was something else to be weary of, when in reality, it was them. Now, on her seventeenth birthday, she lay down, staring dully at her crumbled muffin and letting this new information flood into her mind. As she felt her life force ebbing away, the strangest sensation hit her.
    It was silence.

    The voices had stopped, and when she shut her eyes for the final time, they never spoke to her again.