Dearest Mellema Cousins,
You’re likely surprised to be hearing from me. Earlier, I explained that I could only write to you on Sundays of Advent. Well, I omitted one loophole. Because Leap Day is, by long tradition, a bonus day where usual rules need not apply, I am able to send a bonus letter.
And it’s a good thing, too. Because your dad and uncles had quite the adventure with someone who is quite important to Leap Day…
After escaping the Faerie Castle, the boys followed their enchanted map through Faerie. They had walked for…they weren’t exactly sure how long. Time was still working funny. At any rate, they were in a great forest at the edge of a steep cliff. At the cliff’s bottom, an ocean fjord plunged dark and deep.
The trees around them plunged in the opposite direction. They were all red and gnarled and stretched so high the boys couldn’t see their tops. Matt and Jer gaped and craned their necks at the grandeur.
Brian just thought of his war hammer.
Back at the Faerie Castle, Brian discovered his hammer was magic. It could grow to gigantic sizes, and he could still wield it. But he wasn’t sure how big the hammer could grow. Could it reach the size of a mini-van? A house? A mountain? The possibilities made Brian’s head swim. But how to test it?
An idea leaped into his head. Brian shouted to his brothers, “Check it out: I’m going to knock down that tree!” Brian pictured the tree splintering before his heroic onslaught. Lifting the hammer above his head, he charged headlong at the mighty Faerie tree.
He barely made it two steps before his brothers tackled him.
“What are you doing?” Matt said, pinning Brian’s arms. “You can’t just knock down one of the trees!”
“What does it matter? These woods are filled with them!” Brian retorted, his legs kicking furiously.
Jer put Brian in a headlock. “It must have taken centuries for them to grow that big.”
“You don’t know that: everything’s different in Faerie. Now let me go!”
“Not until you promise you won’t destroy any trees,” Jer said.
Brian writhed and wriggled for all he was worth, but it was no use. “Fine,” he mumbled. “I promise.”
His brothers let him go, and Brian shuffled to his feet. “I don’t know why you guys care so much,” he said. “Nothing that happens in Faerie really counts.”
Before his brothers could stop him, he grabbed his hammer and scampered over a nearby hill. He wanted a private place to sulk. Brian sat on a log, crossed his arms, and seethed over how unfair his brothers were. Before long, the balled fists and clenched teeth gave way to tears.
Brian heard a soft puff. He wiped his eyes with his sleeves. A small pile of candy sat next to him on the log. Too angry to wonder at this, he ripped open the wrappers and chomped into them. Brian stopped mid-chomp. The candy was delicious: rich and buttery and melt-in-your-mouth smooth.
“If you want more candy, you’ll need to spend some more tears.”
The voice was soft and wispy, with the drawl of a Kentucky lawyer. An old elf leaped from behind a tree. At least, Brian thought he was an elf. He wore a bright blue suit with a canary yellow shirt. His bowler hat and bow tie were bright blue as well. He had a snowy white mustache, and a yellow cane which he twirled like a baton.
“What…err, who are you?” Brian asked.
“Someone who shares your passion for acting without consequence. And who believes in exchanging candy for tears.”
Brian’s eyes widened. “You’re Leap Day William?”
The stranger bowed. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“I didn’t know you lived in Faerie.”
“My home is just over there.” Leap Day William nodded to the deep-sea trench at the bottom of the cliff. “I was meandering through these woods when I overheard your argument with your brothers. They treated you most unfairly. Why shouldn’t a boy in Faerie knock down a tree if that suits his fancy? Why must all actions have consequences? I’ve always thought that our truest actions are the ones without consequences. That’s why I make such a big to-do about Leap Day.”
“When nothing you do really counts,” Brian said, almost to himself.
“Precisely. In my home, it’s Leap Day all the year round—you can hammer a whole forest and nobody will say boo.”
“I’ll show you, if you’d like.” Leap Day William smiled. As he did so, large red gills puffed on either side of his neck. He extended his hand.
Brian hesitated. He thought of his near escape from the Faerie Castle. But in that moment of hesitation, Leap Day William snatched Brian’s hand with astonishing speed.
Before Brian could even react, everything was different.
“Is this your…”
“My home at the bottom of the sea—the House of Leap. Where anything is possible, and consequences are a myth of older brothers.”
Brian looked around, and any misgivings about Leap Day William evaporated. He was in the center of a ballroom carved out of coral and sea stone. On the other side of arched windows was an ocean teeming with life—everything from marlins to sea horses to whale sharks. Even a couple mer-people peered inside.
“It’s like an aquarium crossed with a palace,” Brian said, gasping.
“And that’s not all,” Leap Day William replied. “Behold!”
He held up an object that looked like a jeweled ball crossed with a PlayStation.
“This magic orb can generate any scenario you can imagine,” Leap Day William said. “You can be anything you want: the hero in your favorite movie; a Super Bowl-winning quarterback; King Kong scaling the Empire State Building.”
“Or. . .” Brian said, his mind racing. “A boy with a magic hammer in a Faerie forest.”
“Precisely.” Leap Day William tossed the orb to Brian. “Give it a whirl.”
The orb glowed and hummed in Brian’s hand. He closed his eyes in concentration. When he opened them, the orb projected a forest of giant trees. Brian smiled, and grabbed his hammer.
After clearing the whole simulated forest, Brian changed the simulation so he could soar through the sky like a falcon. Then he changed the simulation again. And again. And again.
Much later, Brian created a Mario Kart simulation where he was one of the racers. He reached for a banana to throw at Yoshi and crash him into a piranha plant. But instead of a simulated banana, he accidentally threw the magic orb.
Reality crashed over Brian. He was standing in the middle of the House of Leap. Dolphins and mer-people swam outside the window, and Leap Day William busied himself by a fireplace. Brian thought how odd it was to have a fireplace at the bottom of the sea. Leap Day William was slicing carrots, potatoes, and onions into a giant pot. As he did this, he read from a cookbook.
Brian was still working on reading silently, so he said the cookbook’s title out loud: “Cooking with Kids: The Essential Guide to Roasting Chil—”
Leap Day William slammed the book shut. “Why did you stop the simulations? You were having the time of your life!”
“What is it you’re—”
“Never you mind,” Leap Day William drawled. “Now get back to your simulations.”
Brian nodded, and walked to the orb. Reaching down to pick it up, he noticed something about the mer-people outside. They had sharp teeth. Were mer-people carnivores? But there wasn’t anything to eat in the ballroom, except—Brian realized that the pot with the vegetables was big enough for him to sit in. And that, behind that demure smile, Leap Day William had fangs.
Everything clicked together.
“What’s that recipe you’re making?” Brian asked, his voice trembling.
Leap Day William gave a long sigh. Then he tossed the book away. “Sounds like you already know.”
“You were distracting me with the orb,” Brian said. “So you could . . .”
“I’ve been giving you the full Leap Day experience,” Leap Day William said. “And now, you get to participate in the traditional Leap Day feast.”
Leap Day William licked his fangs and walked forward. Outside, the mer-people swam back and forth, their eyes dark and hungry like sharks. One of the mer-people opened a window, and water started flooding the room as the mer-people crawled inside.
“You tricked me!” Brian said, backing up in the ankle-deep ocean water.
Leap Day William smiled. “Nothing that happens on Leap Day counts.”
Brian stared at his hammer. “Nothing that happens on Leap Day counts,” he said to himself. “Then I guess this doesn’t count either.” With all the strength that he could muster, he swung his hammer. But it wasn’t at Leap Day William or the attacking mer-people.
It was at the magic orb.
“Noooo!” Leap Day William shouted. “That’s what keeps—”
The orb burst in an explosion of blue and yellow stars. Brian was knocked backwards, too dazzled by the light to open his eyes. But when he felt the ground for his hammer, the sea-water was gone. Instead of coral, the ground was lush grass. The same lush grass as—he opened his eyes—the Faerie forest! He was back on the hill where he’d been sulking.
Was Leap Day William’s entire House of Leap a projection of the orb? Had Brian dreamed up the whole story by dozing off in these enchanted woods? Before Brian could figure it out, Jer called from the other side of the hill.
“Okay, seriously, Brian, we’re sorry we tackled you so hard. Come back already.”
“I’m right here!” Brian proclaimed, and sprinted back to his brothers.
“It’s okay,” Jer said. “You weren’t gone that long.”
“Long enough,” Brian said, tucking his hammer back into his satchel. “Sorry about the tree thing earlier. Now let’s pick up the pace—we gotta make up for lost time!”
I hope you have a wonderful Leap Day, dear Mellema cousins. May all your tears be turned to candy, and may you find a bonus day of love and merriment.
And remember: live every day like it’s Leap Day. But only in moderation…