“I don’t like my birthday,” Destiny explained one chilly October morning over breakfast, “because it’s too close to Christmas. All my friends get two parties, but I only get one.”
“Well,” said Eliza, pulling a sausage out from her green tupperware, “We won’t combine them. We’ll celebrate and give you gifts for both days.”
Destiny’s eyes lit up at this, but Eloy chimed in, “Actually, Destiny, as far as I’m concerned, time is so screwed up now our real birthdays don’t really have much meaning anymore. I mean, will you really be a year older because a girl from thirty years in the future has guessed based on the movement of the sun and the temperature a month ago that it might be December 16th?”
This got less of a reaction. Eliza finished chewing her sausage and chided, “Eloy, you’re just being confusing. Also, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.”
Destiny laughed at this, “Ha ha, Eloy is gross!” Eliza nodded vigorously.
Eloy fumed and swallowed his mouthful of pancake. “I’m serious. Even if your date is exactly right for wherever we are now, it’s not the same as the dates we came from. It was June in my dimension.”
Eliza shot back, “What good does it do to wonder about these things? Let’s just let Destiny have her birthday.”
“Yeah!” Destiny pouted, “Don’t take away my birthday! That’s mean!”
“I’m not – ” Eloy started, then he stopped to swallow his sausage. “I’m not taking anyone’s birthday away! In fact, Destiny, how would you feel if you got to pick whatever birthday you wanted?”
Destiny’s voice was muffled by her mouthful of both pancakes and sausage. “I want two birthdays!” she forced some of the food down, “No, I want a birthday every day!”
Eliza glared at Eloy, who raised his hands, “That’s not what I mean, Destiny. You still get just one birthday, but it can be whatever day you want. When do you want your birthday to be?”
Destiny thought about this as she poured more maple syrup into her tupperware. She reached in with her fork and brought out a piece of pancake, the syrup falling off it in a thick stream. She put it in her mouth and said “I want my birthday to be far, far, far away from Christmas. On the other side of the year. My new birthday is January 1st.”
Eloy and Eliza glanced at each other. “Destiny,” Eloy said, “do you understand that January 1st is closer to December 25th than December 16th is?”
This earned him an exasperated look. “It’s on the other side of the year, Eloy,” Destiny explained.
Eliza grinned as Eloy narrowed his eyes. “Destiny, do you know what day comes after December 31st?”
“Yes, Eloy,” Destiny said, “January 1st comes after December 31st.”
“So, if your birthday was on January 1st, how far would it be from December 25th?”
“A whole year, Eloy.”
“No, think about Christmas first. If you start at Christmas, how long will it be until your new birthday?”
Destiny pouted. She took a maple-syrup soaked sausage and put it on the table. Then she put her dripping fork onto the other side of the table. Eliza grimaced. “This,” Destiny pointed at the sausage, “Is the start of the year. This fork is the end of the year.”
Eloy pursed his lips.
“Do you see how far away they are, Eloy?” Destiny put her arms out all the way to either side.
Eloy opened his mouth, but Eliza interrupted him. “Ok, Destiny, your new birthday is January 1st. We’ll celebrate both holidays. Now finish your breakfast. Eloy, may I speak with you privately?
Eliza sat across the fire pit from Eloy, each on their own stump. She spoke in hushed tones, “Why are you always talking about time, Eloy?”
“Time?” the wind picked up and Eloy pulled up the hood of his coat.
Eliza’s tone became harsh, “Do you really think we’re going to be here long enough for it to matter when Destiny’s birthday is?”
Eloy was taken aback. “I have no idea how long we’re going to be here. Do you?”
“Eloy, don’t you wake up every day and hope that when you open your eyes you’ll be in your old room again?”
Eloy didn’t know what to say.
Eliza continued, anxiety pushing her voice higher, “In your own universe? With your own god?”
“I…” Eloy stopped, “I don’t think we’re ever going home. This doesn’t seem like a spiritual test to you? Don’t you think we’re more likely to be sorted into Heaven and Hell than just dropped back into our own worlds?”
Eliza’s jaw dropped. She shook her head, wide eyes fixed on Eloy’s face. “It’s not – That’s not- We can’t possibly – ”
“Be judged for eternal reward or punishment based on this ridiculous, sloppy trial?”
Eliza relaxed a moment, at least understood, but her voice remained tremulous. “I mean, what about Gabriel? Will he be punished eternally because he couldn’t handle being transported eight hundred years into the future to try to fit in with four people from a country that would never even exist in his lifetime?”
Eloy reached for something reassuring, “I don’t… think he’s doing that bad,” he mumbled.
“Or Destiny. How is she going to be judged? A five-year-old isn’t fit to understand virtue.”
Eloy thought about the guide from his mother. How sure was he that only one person could emerge from this trial victorious? Some foolish part of him felt that it was wrong, even beyond the official measurements of the competition, that he was making everyone else fly blind. She had been clear, though. Each god was helping their own chosen be the most virtuous. Eloy couldn’t fool himself into thinking there was a possibility of joint victory, and it was only right that he try to save himself from eternal damnation if it was between him and four other people.
Eliza watched him. “Eloy,” she asked, “what is it you’re thinking about when you get that calculating look?”
“What?” a chill ran over him.
“You furrow your brow and your eyes look left and right. What do you think about?”
“I, uh, you know, nothing, I guess. I’m just zoning out.”
Eliza raised an eyebrow. “What did your god tell you?”
“You know, it’s been a while since we’ve checked on Destiny. We should probably go back in.”
Eliza’s expression remained impassive. The way she looked at Eloy made him feel like he was sweating despite the cold. “I’ll just go on ahead,” he said, “Take your time.”
Eloy looked back as he reached the door of the cabin. Eliza was still sitting, staring into the woods. He found himself hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with these people for much longer, but he also couldn’t really abide the idea of them all going to Hell. He blew out a breath that fogged the air for only a moment before blowing away, then he wrenched his eyes off of Eliza and went back inside.