The Leapling

The moment he was born, he was more fucked than most. For it was just that fraction of a second after midnight on February 28th, 2012, which of course meant he had fallen prey to the worst fate: February 29th, 2012. Oh how he had wished the world had truly ended that year, then he would never be subjected to the greater sense of existential torment than the average person that plagued him during the four years in between one in which he could actually acknowledge the passage of time for himself. In some ways, it was a feigned loophole. As though to ignore the fact that he was getting older. Arguing from the sense of time bestowed upon a leapling, he was really only two years old at age four, and so on and so forth. 

Yet he knew from glancing in the mirror that time still soldiered on regardless of his February 29th “trap door.” That even if the tick of the clock evaded him in a figurative sense as a leapling, it did not do so in a literal one. He was beholden to its ravages, just like everyone else. Which made him wonder what the point of being a leapling was anyway. If it didn’t really make him special, so much as an anomaly. Still, his mother, Adelaide, had grilled it into his head that being born on February 29th was something that made him inherently more unique than anyone else. Therefore, of more value. Or at least that’s how Ewan interpreted it for so long. Particularly during his adolescence, when he would refuse to consort with anyone other than the characters in J.D. Salinger books, all of which, to be sure, were poor examples of how to comport oneself with others. Especially the “common man.” But Ewan did not want to relate to the common man. Why should he when he was not one of them? At least, that’s what Adelaide had led him to believe with her ultimately futile lore about the weighty sense of “destiny” associated with being born on a day that only comes but once every four years. 

As he grew up, however, he started to understand that there was nothing special about him at all. If there had been, then why had his father abandoned him immediately after his birth? Perhaps Rhett had been somehow repulsed by the heteroclite that was his son. Maybe it sent him running for the hills, as though he intuited there would only be more abnormal things about Ewan to come. And there were. He turned out to be left-handed, for one thing. And we all know what freaks and emotionally stunted psychopaths lefties can be. Joe McCarthy was onto something in further enforcing schoolchildren to write with their right hand during the 1950s. So yes, this additional “off” trait was yet another boon to Ewan’s lack of self-confidence, even though he had started out in his life feeling overly superior to everyone else. And then one day, upon his twentieth birthday in 2032 (or his sixth, depending on how one looks at it), it hit him: he was a complete monstrosity. A displaced mutant that did not belong on this earth. 

Adelaide wanted to do something with him to celebrate, especially on account of how rarely leap year babies actually get to have a real birthday. But Ewan wasn’t in the mood. He told her he wanted to be on his own, deciding to go to the movies by himself for a screening of Sixteen Candles at The Vista Theater in Los Feliz. There was something pointed about the theater showing this movie today, of all days, when they could have shown something more apropos, like, obviously, Leap Year. Yet maybe, just maybe, whoever was in charge of programming at the theater either knew, on a personal level, the plight of having a birthday so seldom addressed or had extreme empathy for the leapling and wanted to subtly reach out to him in some way. Or so Ewan would have liked to believe. He was constantly projecting more grandiose and romantic meanings onto things than there really were. Possibly yet another unwanted side effect of being a left-handed leapling. 

Yet, as the infamous final lines between Samantha Baker and Jake Ryan were uttered, he turned around to suddenly find that the only person left in the theater was a popcorn-guzzling, Coke-sucking brunette with that arcane thing–a pale complexion in L.A.–unabashedly shedding tears over it all. Ewan started to leave as the credits rolled, but Jillian, as he came to find out her name was, reached out to him and grabbed him by the arm to demand, “Are you a leapling?”

“Huh?” he asked incredulously as he ripped his arm out of her grasp. 

She grinned. “I had this screening just for you, you know. Just for your kind. Because I know that society–the world at large, more often than not–‘fucking forgot your birthday’.”

“Uh, okay,” Ewan returned, pretending not to be completely shaken by the fact that his intuition was correct. This was the movie theater programmer of his dreams. 

“I think a lot about how sad it must be to be a leap year baby,” Jillian told him with an air of annoying sweetness designed to exude “respectful pity.” 

It quickly changed Ewan’s sense of simpatico-ness with her as he put up his usual leapling defenses to return, “No need to feel sorry for me, okay? I’m doing just fine.” 

“Is that why you’re watching Sixteen Candles all by yourself during one of the few years you don’t have to celebrate on February 28th or March 1?” 

He guffawed. “I don’t need to answer to you or explain how I choose to spend my birthday.”

She smiled. “Suit yourself. I just thought maybe you might want some company on today of all days.” 

“I don’t. That’s precisely why I came here alone.”  

“Because you have so many friends you could have chosen from to accompany you?”

He absolutely despised this person. Her bluntness, her inexplicable ability to see straight into his soul. He had to get out of The Vista before it was too late, before she said something he couldn’t unhear, that he could never forget about. 

Alas, right when he was about to open the door, she called out, “There’s a way to change the day you were born, you know. If you’d like to hear me out.” 

His ears felt utterly pin-pricked by what she was proffering. He had no choice but to stop in his tracks and turn around. “What the hell are you talking about?” 

“Come sit next to me and I’ll tell you.” 

***

If you had asked Ewan what he would be doing at 11:58 p.m. on his twentieth birthday, he never would have surmised it would be watching a stranger called Jillian push aside a dumpster located at the back of a karaoke bar in Koreatown to open a portal that would lead him back in time to the very instant his mother was about to push him out, forcing her, in this scenario, to do it in the moments before 12:01 a.m. on February 29th, 2012. No, according to Jillian, in this repurposed rendering of his existence, he would come out just in the nick of time at 11:59 p.m. on February 28th, 2012. And, as he imagined, his entire life–his entire being–would turn out better. More normal. Somehow less lonely.

So it was that he allowed Jillian, in her human form, to shove him through the hole before she turned into what he assumed was her true incarnation, a diabolical-looking nymph that proceeded to cackle howlingly as she watched him disappear into the abyss of the blackness that led him straight back to his mother’s womb at the moment of truth. She had collected the bounty she could only seek during a leap year, gathering and gobbling souls in this strange and unique way (as strange and unique as leaplings themselves). It fortified her and allowed her to coast in good health and renewed youth for the next four years until she happened upon another self-loathing leapling, of which there was no shortage. 

When Ewan was born anew on February 28th, he was not Ewan anymore. His mother instead named him Jeremy and he no longer had a soul, allowing him to blend in quite seamlessly with all the rest of the normals indeed. Even though some residual trace of himself must have lingered, for every February 29th, he couldn’t explain to anyone his intrinsic need to watch Sixteen Candles

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