The Dilemma of Before or After

Submitted into Contest #48 in response to: Write about someone who has a superpower.... view prompt


Fantasy Friendship Kids

Tommy's birthday was on February 29. He's turning eleven this year and his mom said that he could either celebrate on the 28th or on the 1st. He liked that he was given a choice, honestly, he didn't really care when he would celebrate as long as his friends could come over and eat cake with him. But the idea of deciding when his birthday would be appealed greatly to him, he could exercise his free will unlike others whose birthdays were fixed and predestined. He felt special.

He decided to tell his mother that they would celebrate on March 1. They celebrated his last few birthdays on the same date so it's fine by him. It's not like he could conduct a party on midnight, but hey, that's a great idea. If his friends could come over on the night of the 28th and they stay up late until 12 midnight, they could celebrate his birthday accurately. But it would be way past their bedtime. His internal debate was interrupted by his seatmate, Linda, who was leaning towards him.

"Hey Tommy, what're you thinking about?" she whispered with a knowing smirk on her face. Linda is very talkative and extremely nosy.

"Just my birthday," he answered. Tommy found out in the beginning of the school year that the best way of dealing with Linda is to just answer her first question, then after a few follow-ups, she'll lose interest if you answered fast enough. The more you tried to hide something from her; she'll get more persistent and will not leave you alone until you unwillingly spit it out. So he braced himself with the follow-up question. But Linda just shrugged and returned her attention to their math teacher.

Tommy was shocked by the sudden indifference. Linda never passes up the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Even when there is a teacher in front of the class, she never restrains herself. But Tommy guessed whatever Mr. Graves was discussing in front was more important and interesting than his birthday.

After class, his friends Jeremy, Dan and Bryce, approached his desk. They've been classmates since kindergarten and Tommy never had other friends except for the three of them. Jeremy, the noisy one, appointed himself their leader the day he broke off the fight between Tommy and Bryce back in first grade. It was not Tommy's fault, he just reprimanded Bryce for littering in the classroom and Bryce got angry. All of that was behind them now, Bryce is their friend and then there's Dan, who almost never talks. Linda could never get anything from Dan, Tommy chuckled.

"What's so funny Tommy?" Jeremy asked. Bryce has an arm slung around him while Dan hovered behind them.

"Nothing. Let's go to your house later, Dan." Tommy turned to Dan, who nodded. Bryce whooped and thumped him on the back.

"Great idea bro!" They all loved going to Dan's house.

Dan's an only child and has rich parents. His bedroom has the coolest video games, which makes it a perfect hang-out place for them, plus their housekeeper is really pretty. Her name's Esther and she made them all the snacks they need while they're playing Call of Duty or Minecraft.

"When do you think should I celebrate my birthday, on the 28th or on the 1st?" Tommy finally asked his three friends.

"Well if you're asking me, I say we celebrate it on February 28. So we get over it by March." Jeremy said proudly.

"But we always celebrate it on March 1st." Bryce whined. He hates changes just as Tommy hates breaking rules.

"His birthday is February 29, so it's only fair that we celebrate on the month of February not March, you dummy." Jeremy's getting agitated, he hates to lose arguments just as Dan hates carrots. Bryce was about to protest that he's not an idiot when Dan suddenly spoke.

"Technically, Tommy doesn't have a birthday to celebrate this year so this argument is pointless." he said seriously.

"You mean, I should not celebrate my birthday? No cake, no way!" Tommy protested. He loves cakes and his birthday was just an excuse to binge-eat.

It's February 28. Tommy went to school and was listening to Mr. Graves' lecture for a change.

"Hey Tommy, are you celebrating your birthday today?" Linda whispered to him.

"I'm going to celebrate tomorrow, March 1st." he said to Linda.

"But what if you die today and you never had the chance to celebrate your eleventh birthday?" Linda morbidly asked. Tommy frowned.

"I promise you I won't die, would it help if I invite you over?"

"But your other friends are going to be there and Bryce is such a slob.... "Tommy hoped she'd say no, he didn't want to entertain Linda and her questions on his birthday.

"You're my friend Tommy, so I'll be there. I'll bring you a gift, look forward to it!" she said excitedly and Tommy sighed. He guessed his mother's cake is the only thing he'll be genuinely looking forward to on his birthday.

After school, Tommy walked in silence with Dan. Bryce was picked up by his mom at school and Jeremy took the bus. Dan stopped and asked him.

"Your party's tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah" Tommy answered. Dan seemed to ponder this for a minute then unexpectedly asks him another random question.

"Do you ever think about your dad?" His mom never liked it when he asks about his dad. She'll only answer vaguely and Tommy also hated asking because it makes her upset but he just had to know. All he knew was his dad "went off and died" when he was four. Tommy only have fuzzy memories of him, like his smile, when they were walking hand-in-hand and when he would hum while he was working in their old shed. Tommy knew in his heart that his father was a good person. Unfortunately, good people always had to go first. He's not saying that his mom is bad or evil; she's just uptight and aloof. But he loves her nonetheless.

"Of course I do, but it just makes me wonder why he's gone so I stopped thinking about him like always." Tommy answered and waved to Dan when he reached his street. This is where they separate ways.

"Just be careful, okay?" with that, Dan tapped his shoulder and continued walking. They could not go to his house today because his mom has visitors coming over and Dan has to be a good boy and help them entertain the guests. Tommy entered the house.

"Mom, I'm home!" He called out and realized that his mom's not in the house. He walked towards the fridge and saw a note from his mom explaining to him that she has to go to a last minute business trip and she was really sorry to miss his birthday. She said she'll make it up to him on the weekend and they'll celebrate for two days. His mom also said to take care of himself until tomorrow and to frequently check his phone because she left Tommy a message. Sure enough, his mom did leave him a message and he always forgets to listen to them. So now he's alone in the house, it's almost his birthday and he remembered Dan's words.

He can't believe he tortured himself for nothing when his mom could easily make the decision for him.

After listening to his mother's frantic messages, Tommy calmly ordered pizza and watched the TV. He couldn't sleep after getting tired of the shows so he decided to wait for midnight to come and wish himself a Happy Birthday. He locked himself in his room and sat by the window looking at the yellow moon. It looks sinister to him. Maybe it was just his imagination but he saw someone dart from the trees outside. There was no sound, just the eerie moonlight shining from above, darkening his thoughts.

Suddenly, he was floating and he looked at his hand. It was fading and only a quaint outline remained. Tommy felt his head swimming and wondered if he was drunk from the can of beer he erroneously drank earlier. No wonder adults are always light-headed, they always drink beer. But no, he is really floating. He was now out the window, light as a feather then he glanced back at his body which was slumped on his desk by the window.

Did I just die? Tommy tried to think of the probable cause of his death while invisible and levitating on their backyard. The pizza delivery guy! He poisoned me. Or is it Linda? Was that a threat during math period? Am I really gonna die without celebrating my eleventh birthday? Tommy then tried to think of the pizza delivery guy's or Linda's reason to kill him. And when he thought of Linda, he was teleported to her bedroom. Teleported, apparated or sucked into nothingness then spat out into a place-whatever it is, Tommy still felt lightheaded and slightly nauseous when he floated beside his friend's bed. Her room was covered in pink wallpaper; there was a full-length mirror on the corner and the usual desk and drawers.

Linda clutched her pink blanket during sleep. Her dark, curly hair was fanned around her face on the pillow and her mouth was half-opened. Her hands then flew to her neck, as if trying to prevent someone from choking her. Tommy looked around the room and he can't see anyone or anything that might be hurting her. Linda's legs started flailing and Tommy panicked. I have to help her. The moment he touched Linda's wrists he was sucked in a spiral again.

Spinning, invisible and disoriented, what has become of him? Tommy found himself in a hazy meadow, acres of pastel-colored tulips surrounding him. Is this the Netherlands? Tommy looked to his right and there was a big windmill attached to a barn. At the foot of the windmill was Linda, screaming for help. She was being attacked by something that looks like a man. Tommy crept towards the two of them and upon closer inspection; he saw that Linda's assailant is a man who has horns on his head. He had to help her or else the demon is going to kill her!

Tommy concentrated and looked down on his hand. It materialized and he was holding something that looked like a bow. It is made of shimmering gold and becoming heavier every minute that he's slowly becoming un-invisible. The bow was as long as his arm and the string looks sturdy and delicate at the same time. He automatically reached around his back and found arrows nested in what felt like a quiver. He took one arrow and strung it on the bow. The movement felt natural to him, as if he'd been practicing it all along in his life. He aimed at the head of the creature attacking Linda, pulled and released the arrow. It whooshed on his cheek and when he touched it, his hand was smeared red-he had cut himself. But Tommy went to check on Linda first, the demon lay sprawled on her feet with the gold arrow buried on his forehead and was slowly disintegrating into dust.

"Tommy! You saved me!" Linda was wearing a beautiful, emerald green dress in this dimension and on her head was a glittering tiara. Tommy held out his other hand to help her up.

"This is just a dream, right? I'm trespassing in your dreams Linda." Linda is touching her neck tentatively, feeling for wounds. Her neck was red but there was no blood, her dress was rumpled and dirty from her struggle with the demon.

"Well, you could say that. But my dreams are my parallel world." She straightened her dress and checked her charm bracelet. Tommy was bewildered.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I live in two worlds: the one where you are my seatmate and this one where I am a princess hunted by demons." Linda removed a charm from my bracelet and handed Tommy a silver crescent moon charm.

"So this is real? Why am I here?" Tommy's bow and quiver of arrows disappeared and the moon charm glowed. Linda shrugged, she pointed to the far horizon where the spires of a castle was visible from where they are standing.

"Well, you're not the only one from the other world who managed to enter here. Some were unable to return to the other world. Most of them were living in the castle; your dad was among them." Tommy did not know whether to believe this dream version of Linda or run towards the castle at full speed.

"I-I don't believe you. This is just a dream!" Tommy took a step back from a worried-looking Linda.

"I don't blame you for not believing. I would love to bring you to the castle so you could talk to everybody but you have to go. You may not be able to return to your mother if you stayed here further."

Linda grabbed his hand and led her inside the barn, where she reached inside an old, full-length mirror. Tommy was still absorbing everything in his mind and when the mirror glowed violet and seemed to swallow Linda and then him. He felt the same spinning sensation he felt upon entering Linda's dream world. They stepped in her room and she was wearing her pajamas again, Tommy was slowly fading and becoming invisible again.

Linda faced him, placed her hands on his disappearing shoulder and then she spoke seriously:

"Remember, everything is real. Keep the charm and you'll be able to go back on your next birthday. Next year's a leap-year, right?" Tommy tried to nod, but decided to speak when he remembered he's slowly turning invisible.

"But, I have so many questions. You have to answer them." They heard footsteps coming to Linda's room. She jumped into her bed and covered herself in her pink blanket.

"Ask Dan, he's been there before. Now, go home. I'll see you tomorrow." she hissed at him. The door opened and a sleepy Esther entered the room.

"Mom!" Linda shouted. Esther is Linda's mother? And what about Dan? What else is he keeping from him?

"Just another bad dream?" Esther hugged her daughter to her chest.

"No, it's real! Tommy was there, he saved me. Look, my charm is missing!" Esther held her daughter's wrist and inspected the charm bracelet which was missing a charm--the moon charm I was holding in my invisible hands.

"Tommy? The one with the birthday on a leap-year? He must be very special." Linda nodded and burrowed further in her mother's embrace. Suddenly, Tommy's hand was glowing and he was teleported back in his bedroom. Then, everything went black.


The sunlight streaming from his windows jarred him awake from his sleep. Tommy was unsure whether he just dreamt all of it, but no, he is still holding Linda's moon charm in his hands. He is back to his old, boring self. 

I don't have it anymore. Tommy looked at his hands and shook his head in disbelief. Well, he'd had enough adventures last night and thank God next year's a leap year. He got dressed, ate cereal and walked to school. Everything is normal. When he told Jeremy and Bryce that there will be no party later because his mom's out of town, they offered to take him to their houses to celebrate but Tommy said he'll pass. Tommy was just glad that he's back and he'll see his mom tomorrow. He doesn't have to decide when to celebrate his freakin' birthday or visit people's dreams. But he didn't entirely hate the experience, it was kinda cool. And he'll definitely come back next year and find his father.

He tried to talk to Dan earlier but he came late to school and he's not answering Tommy's texts. What else does he know? He has to get answers from either Dan or Linda. Linda, who also came late to school carrying a mysterious box and was ignoring him since her arrival, who is she really? Why and how does she know his father?

His reverie was once interrupted by Linda.

"Pssst! Meet me at lunch by the oak tree, and bring your friends." She whispered to him. Mr. Graves didn't notice her. Linda pointed at the box by her feet.

"I brought your gift" she then winked at him and pretended to listen raptly to the unsuspecting Mr. Graves.

At lunch, the four of them approached the table by the oak tree behind the school where Linda was waiting for them, smiling while shaking her head.

"Good thing you didn't die yesterday, Tommy." She held out her hands which were holding the box from earlier. Tommy lifted the lid and saw a cake with the words "Happy Birthday Tommy" written in white icing.

"My mom made it; she said leap year babies are really special. It's carrot cake!" Tommy murmured his thanks while Bryce and Jeremy eyed the cake suspiciously.

Dan rolls his eyes and says, "Esther must really hate me." He shared a look with Linda.

Tommy chuckled and accepted the fork that Linda was handing him. "Hey, you're the one who suggested that I don't celebrate."

He will definitely have a talk with the both of them later, but for now; he'll just eat a cake peacefully.

July 02, 2020 10:46

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Iman Fatima
08:06 Jul 09, 2020

Hey. I got the chance to read your story via Critique Circle and I can safely say that I am very surprised by it. What an original idea and what a brilliant way to execute it. cheers!


Justine Mae D
09:34 Jul 09, 2020

Thanks! I'll have to admit, it's hard trying to get inside a ten year old's head so I refrained from using first person POV. Btw, I just read yours and your forte seems like writing about children. Keep up the good work!


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Corey Melin
18:01 Jul 03, 2020

Loved the story. I was starting to wonder where the hero came into play when bingo. Imagination at work. Well done.


Justine Mae D
10:56 Jul 04, 2020

Thanks! It was supposed to be longer, I almost hit the 3k word limit!


Corey Melin
16:43 Jul 04, 2020

There are times I can barely make the 1k mark like my last story.


Justine Mae D
17:48 Jul 04, 2020

I just read it and it's really good! In writing, I believe in quality over quantity. But sometimes, there are prompts that really kept us going.


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