On her fifth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir looked down at the cake that her foster mother had baked for her and wished that her real parents had never died.
She blinked her eyes and found herself in a strange house, with a man and woman whom she had never met before in her life. The man was shouting at the woman, who wept and hugged herself tightly. There was a bruise high on her cheek, and she was rocking back and forth like a child as the man heaped abuses upon abuses on her, ranting and raving angrily.
On her sixth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir whimpered and covered her ears as she heard her mother scream and wished that she had never made the wish that she had made last year.
She blinked her eyes again, and found herself back at the foster home. It was her fifth birthday again, and her foster mother was waiting for her to blow out the candles.
She did so. This time, she decided to wish for a pony instead.
On her (second) sixth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir hugged her favorite stuffed pony and wished that she had ten thousand friends.
She blinked, and suddenly realized just how many people "ten thousand" really was. She wondered how she was going to find a cake big enough to feed them all.
Then she did have a cake big enough to feed all of her friends, but there were angry people outside her house trying to break down the walls and get a piece of her cake, because it was the only cake in the world and everyone else was hungry.
She blinked again, and she found herself back in her foster home, looking down at the small, normal cake, and surrounded by her usual six so-called friends who really weren't.
She blew out the candles a second time, and this time, decided to wish for a fairy princess dress-up set.
On her seventh birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir wore her favorite princess tiara and blew out the candles. (Her favorite stuffed pony sat on top of her dresser, in a place of honor, but she'd outgrown carrying a stuffed animal everywhere she went.)
She didn't know what to wish for this time, so she didn't.
It was then that she saw the old man sitting at the foot of the table, where no one should have been. He had thinning, grey hair, and he smiled as he got to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane.
"Come with me," he said. "I think you're ready for your first lesson now."
She took his hand, and he took her away from the foster home and into a different world.
On her eighth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir learned about the Ways.
"They're the Places Between Places," Teacher explained. "They are how you get from the Places That Are to the Places That Could Have Been."
When he said that, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir realized exactly what he meant. She brushed her hand over the manhole in the middle of the Los Angeles intersection, and climbed through into a place filled with books and learning.
"Happy Birthday," the Teacher said. "Now it's time to get you your Library card."
On her ninth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir met The Fox.
Everyone always spoke of The Fox in all capitals. She wasn't sure how or why this was, or even how one could even convey capitals in normal speech, but they did.
The Fox was a tall, beautiful woman with eyes like daggers and teeth like knives. She smiled at Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir and licked her lips with a cruel, carnal hunger.
Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir wasn't afraid, though. No one could harm her while they were in the Library. The Docents wouldn't let them.
That wasn't true everywhere, though. Later, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir heard that The Fox had been shot by some people while she was trying to skin and eat people who, for some reason, liked to dress up as animals. Some people were very sad when they heard this had happened. "You see," Miss Midnight explained patiently, "even though she wasn't a very nice person, she was the Last Fox. It's always sad when something disappears from this world."
On her tenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir learned about mistakes.
She had been looking up at the sky and wondered what it would look like if it were pink instead of blue. And then it was.
In a panic, she tried to change it back to blue, but she could never get the color quite right. It was either too dark or too light, or it was too green or too purple, or too bright or too dark. She was in tears by the time The Teacher set things right again.
She expected to get scolded for nearly messing up the sky forever, but the Teacher was sympathetic. "We all do things like that sometimes," he explained. "The important thing is to learn how to set things right again."
Some men in black suits came a few days later, and they talked to The Teacher at length. The Teacher seemed upset by those visits, and he muttered to himself a lot. But in the end, it seemed that things worked out.
On her eleventh birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir met the Ukelele Man.
He came to the Library with a briefcase and some papers, and although everyone else in the Library didn't seem to like him, they left him alone. He sat down with her in one of the side rooms, and he asked many questions, and did many strange things, like asking her to pick up a pencil that he had knocked off the table himself, or asking her, very suddenly, how many friends she had.
Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir followed her Teacher's advice, and told the truth every time. She also picked up the pencil herself, because the Teacher had taught her that one should always try to be as ordinary as possible, whenever possible, because that caused less trouble for other people.
The Ukelele Man seemed pleased by this. He had a talk with the Teacher afterwards, and told her that she was a "Phase Two, Transitioning into Three with little chance of a Four." Whatever that meant. He also claimed that she had been designated "Response Level 1," and he patted her head and told her Happy Birthday.
The Teacher seemed very relieved once the Ukelele Man had left, and he gave her a hug and then they had cake with all her friends.
On her twelfth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir kissed a boy.
On her thirteenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir decided to try being a boy and kissing a girl.
On his fourteenth birthday, Stefán Sigurrósson decided that he preferred being a girl, all things considered.
On her fifteenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir started to wonder if this "sex" thing people talked about was really worth it.
Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir and the very nice boy she'd kissed four years ago finally figured out the whole "sex" thing.
By her seventeenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir had grown bored of this "sex" thing and decided to try all of the other deadly sins in order to see if they were really as fun as people seemed to think. She started with Pride.
Just before her eighteenth birthday, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir had tried absolutely every single sin known to humanity (and a few that had not yet been discovered) and had grown bored of them all. She decided to try the virtues next, starting with Charity.
By the time she was nineteen, even virtue had grown boring for her, especially since it turned out to be a lot harder than expected. She could have waved her hand and done it easily, but her Teacher's lessons had driven home to her that something like that often caused more problems for the people who weren't like her than it was worth. So she decided to give up both virtue and vice and decided to try wisdom instead.
At around twenty years of age, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir had learned everything that was possible to know, and started on the things that were Impossible.
She figured out the Impossible shortly before she turned twenty one. She toasted the beginnings of her research into the Things That Were Not with her first drink as a legal adult.
She was still wrestling with the Things That Were Not when she turned twenty two, and twenty three, and twenty five, and fifty, and seventy, and nine hundred, and twenty thousand, and four billion, and finally when time itself had ceased to hold meaning for her and a year was about as significant to her as the blink of an eye.
It was only as the last proton in the universe decayed, and nothing existed any more but an endless expanse of nothingness, that Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir finally reached the end of her searching and felt at peace.
It was both the next instant and an endless number of eternities later that Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir got bored. What was the point of knowing everything and nothing if there was nothing to do with it any more?
She searched around the infinite nothingness until she found a place that was a little less nothing than everything else. Here, she decided, she would start creating new everythings and new nothings to experience and learn about.
She clapped her nonexistent hands, and brought reality back into existence. Time, which had long since stood still like a stopped clock, began once more. Symmetry was broken, dividing what had been Pure Balance into What Is and What Is Not for a second-third-millionth-infinitive time.
She closed her metaphorical eyes and opened them after a trillion aeons, plus one year, to find herself being pulled from warmth and darkness into a world of cold light.
And that was how Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir spent her first birthday.