The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Birthday Wishes

Bright red candle wax had melted and hardened into pools on the white birthday cake.

It looked a bit like blood, honestly. And the icing, it looked a little like snow, but outside, there was no snow. It was gray and miserable, and if there had been any blood, the ceaseless rain would have washed it away.


And inside, well, there are different ways to bleed.

The birthday cake sat on a dining table laden with pretty china and heavy, ornate silverware. The china was littered with sandwich crumbs, the knives and forks smeared with butter and jam. Napkins crumpled like fallen roses beside each setting.

It had been such a lovely party.


“Where am I?” asked Agnes Agnew, who hated her name and her shoes and had hated her birthday party, which was why she’d made that wish. It had all been so boring, and her mother’s sandwiches had been dry and they’d still had the crusts on. Both her parents forced her to give pretty little scallop-edged invitations to all the silly girls at school, absolutely none of whom liked Agnes.

She had no idea why. And it didn’t matter. She didn’t like any of them, either. So there.

Here, all around her, was a sort of thick white mist. Somewhere in the depths of it, something went thump.

Agnes looked around, but she couldn’t see a thing. “Hello? I asked where I am, and it’s polite to answer.”

Something went thump again.

Two somethings.

Agnes’s first impression was of…stars. No, that couldn’t be right, but the woman’s dress glittered like a thousand of them, twinkling ice-blue, catching little pinpoints of light, though there were still no lights here that Agnes could see. The woman stomped out of the white mist, dark hair in tangled disarray, pale skin flushed at the cheekbones.

“My, my,” said the woman. “Impatient little thing, aren’t you? I’m coming. Four hundred and twenty-three birthdays I’ve done today, and it’s no lark, I can tell you. Where do you children even think up these things to wish for? Do you know how difficult it is to snap my fingers and create a perfectly crisp toffee apple after November the first? There are laws, I can’t just go running around bending all of them. And everyone expects me to do it all in these ridiculous heels, even though no one ever sees me. Because that makes complete sense, of course.”

“Who are you?” asked Agnes, momentarily distracted from the bigger question of where, in fact, she was.

“Your birthday wishes don’t grant themselves when you blow out those candles, you know.

“So you’re, like, a birthday fairy? And what kind of idiot wishes for a toffee apple when they blow out their candles? I hope it made them sick.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “A poor little boy who’s never had one, I expect. You must be Agnes.”

“Yes. And for the last time, I want to know where I am. What is this place?”

“It is…a place,” said the woman. “I suppose you could say it is my home.”

“Love what you’ve done with it.” Agnes sneered, glancing around again into the vast swathe of fog.

The woman-fairy’s hand twitched. The mist cleared.

And Agnes gasped.

The high, stone walls of a magnificent castle rose around them. It had turrets and everything. Below Agnes’s party shoes and all over the courtyard, green grass grew. A huge tree grew in one corner. In another, a table not unlike the one in Agnes’s home was set for a party.

Including a large, white cake with red candles.

“You have a very interesting mind, you know.” The sparkles on the dress shone a hundred times brighter in the sunlight that now poured down. “It’s really very rare that someone can do what you did—wish for two things at precisely the same moment. You wanted everyone to go away and you wanted to be somewhere else. Unusual. And most children do enjoy their birthday parties. Just a friendly tip, there, for next year.”

“It was horrible. And Jessica tried to pin the tail on me instead of the donkey.”


Agnes sensed she was being insulted, but for perhaps the first time in her life, she chose not to say anything. There were too many other important questions, and she wanted to run off, to explore the castle, if she could just slip away…

“Don’t even consider it,” said the woman. Fairy. Whatever she was. “When someone like you comes along, thankfully rarely, I bring them here for a wee little talking-to. A chat, you might say. Come, sit down.”

Agnes felt her feet being pulled along, as if by an invisible hand, toward the pretty table. The woman waved her hand again and two chairs slid out. Agnes tried to take the one at the head, but it shifted at the very last minute, and only by grabbing the table did she manage to stop herself from falling right over.

The woman pointed at the other one. Agnes sat. A teapot raised itself into the air and poured its contents into two mugs.

“Milk? Sugar?”

Agnes shook her head.

“Right then. I work very hard,” said the woman, dabbing at her eyes with a napkin and then crumpling it like a fallen rose beside her plate. “So did the one before me, and the one before her. It’s not easy, running around and granting wishes all the time.”

“That’s really what you do?” asked Agnes.

“Oh, yes. Parents are lovely, you see. And grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles. Throw the child a wonderful party, most of the time. But some wishes…some wishes are just for us.”

Agnes thought of that morning, when she had pulled on her dress and tights and shiny, buckled shoes, never telling her mother and father that she didn’t want the party to begin with. She would have been happy with just the presents.

“And of the wishes that are just for us,” the woman continued, “some are easy, and some are…not. But we grant them all, no matter what.”


The woman’s eyes narrowed again. “So, young lady, I brought you here to tell you there are a great many worse off than you, and some, like me, who work harder. Stop being such an ungrateful little brat. I spent an hour on you alone today, not just bringing you here, but sending all the others home, where they’ll have memories of a lovely afternoon, nothing out of the ordinary. Your parents are having a nice nap.”

“You can do that?”

“Not the point!” snapped the woman. “The point… The point is that I’m a generous sort, because I have to be. So you get another chance. I’m going to light the candles on that cake, there, and you’re going to make a nice wish. A good, proper wish, befitting a good little girl. I don’t even care if you don’t mean it. You’ll do it, and then we’ll all get on with our day, shall we?”

Agnes considered this. Deep down, in the darkest corners of her heart, she knew she’d been just a little bit awful to her parents, and Jessica had only tried to pin the tail on her because Agnes had pinched her first. And at school…she didn’t exactly speak to any of them, ever.

She put on a big, bright smile. “All right,” she said.

The candles flared to life. Agnes took a deep breath.


Agnes’s second first impression was of stars. They flared all around her as she twirled in the dress. The high heeled shoes did thump when she stepped.

Her wish echoed in her head. I wish to be you.

She thought of the little boy who had wanted a toffee apple.

Oh, this was going to be marvelous fun.

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One Response to “Birthday Wishes”

  1. Mary Alice says:

    Tricky little Agnes! Nice one there.

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