It's not like he actually liked Jal. But we figured it would be a good idea to throw him a party, seein' as he was the only one of us who had a birthday. Who knew it, I mean. And Gilton went along, like he always does.
Jal was hard to like, actually. We always figured it was because he was the only one who could remember another kind of life. Rest of us all grew up to it. But Jal kept forgettin', didn't know what we took for granted. He'd never've made it without us.
But Cindra was soft on him, and the rest of us were soft on Cindra, so we all treated him nice. 'Cept for Gilton, who wasn't interested in much besides scavenging. And Hex 'n Lanord, who were gay, but treated Jal all right anyway.
So, anyway, these balloons. Gilton can read, or so he says, but he said the place he got 'em from, they had all this weird writing that he couldn't read. It was in that weird part of town with all the buildings with weird roofs, so it figured they wrote weird too. They were in a box that was buried deep, before the Blast, anyway. The things people kept out and used everyday, they all got toasted, but the stuff they hid away and buried deep, that's still there just waiting for Gilton to stumble over it.
We'd had a few balloons before, but these were different. They had some guy's face on them. He looked kinda like Baolin, sort of. More than the rest of us. Gilton asked Baolin if he could read the weird letters but Baolin just shook his head. He doesn't talk much. Only reason we knew his name is because he could write normal and Gilton read it.
So, while Cindra was distractin' Jal, we all blew up these balloons--we took turns, 'cause this took real lung-power--and hung 'em up all over this old bunker that was pretty intact, and that we stored most of our stuff in. The plan was, Cindra brings Jal over and then we all surprise him and yell 'Happy Birthday' and stuff. One time Cindra asked him about this birthday stuff--long enough ago that he wouldn't get suspicious--and tried to think of some stuff to do. Most of the stuff we couldn't find, but we made some sorta pins from sharp bits of metal, and made a 'Pin The Tail On The Dog' from cardboard and stuff. Hex grumbled we'd be better off makin' darts to pin the real dogs, but that's just 'cause Lanord got bit real bad a while back and is still pretty sick. Now he'll kill anything on four legs, even rats.
So, anyway, we finally get the balloons up and put these stupid hats on our heads--Cindra couldn't remember what Jal said they were supposed to look like so they were all different--and wait around a while. There's a fight but we hush it up real quick, 'cause this is supposed to be a party. Finally, we hear Cindra whistling outside and all get ready. She comes in with Jal and we all yell "Happy Birthday", except Baolin, and Jal starts cryin' and stuff. Then he turns around and runs off, leavin' Cindra there lookin' all surprised, but she goes after him, and damned if Gilton didn't go right after her.
So finally they come back with Jal, who's a bit red-eyed but startin' to smile, and we start to have a real party. We didn't have no real cake, but Cindra'd made up some sort of pie with rat meat and stuff, and we stuck a cigarette in it. He tried to blow it out and it didn't work--he just blew ashes all over the place--and then we cut it up and ate it. It wasn't a whole lot, and the ashes made it a bit gritty, but it was special.
We asked Jal how old he was and he said he couldn't remember. We weren't big on keepin' track of time, and Cindra said she thought it was five winters ago that we found him, but then Hex said it had to be six because Gilton found that generator the next year, and he thought that was five. We never did figure that out.
Later, we brought a slice of the rat pie back to Lanord, who must've been getting a bit better because he didn't throw it up right away. And after that Jal was okay. I guess Cindra has some good ideas once in a while after all.
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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org