The Birthday School

I did it. I wrote something. And I am way too pleased with it.

It’s basically just a piece of flash fiction that showcases my deep-seated desire to be the authorial love child of Trenton Lee Stewart and Lemony Snicket, but it was buckets of fun to write. I don’t give myself a lot of room to be unnecessarily and pretentiously stylistic in my regular writing projects, so doing so in flash fiction is just so much fun.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy The Birthday School:

The Ivy League had never seen it coming. How could any post-secondary institution ever surpass the historical significance and staying power of the international icon that was the schools of brick, ivy, and smoky cafés?

            The answer, as far as Sir Albert Cumberland was concerned, was deceptively simple, repugnantly arbitrary, and deviously clever: The Birthday School.

            A concept born of the dreadfully bored and frightfully wealthy mind of Sir Cumberland (whose title was an archaic remnant of a more gentrified and, in his opinion, more dignified time), the Birthday School has a hard and fast upwards limit of 366 students at any given time – and then, the 366th student may only be admitted every four years.

            Sir Cumberland had plenty of disposable wealth and connections everywhere necessary, so when he felt the desire to establish the most exclusive post-secondary institution yet imagined, it was rather simple work. He made a point of providing as good an education as money could buy to the admitted students – his general life philosophy is “if you can have the best, acquire the best” – and tuition was free if you managed to attain one of the 365 (or 6) spots.

            A reader of average precociousness shall, at this time, have apprehended the main criterion by which students are accepted into the Birthday School: so that every date in the Georgian Calendar is accounted for by one, and no more, of the students at the institution.

            A reader of slightly-above-average precociousness shall, however, wonder how the lucky owner of a birthday is chosen. So many individuals share a date of birth that, from a probable standpoint, many more than one student per birthday would apply for entry. How is the decision made?

            I – and, I am rightly confident, Sir Cumberland (though with a breathy chuckle and a haughty raising of his nose) – would point out to this precocious reader that ridiculously high standards of acceptance to educational institutions were established long before the idea of a birthday criteria was introduced. Simply look to any University for proof of this!

            All applicants for a given birthday are evaluated as any applicant to a high-brow academic institution may expect to be evaluated: upon their academic history, current grade-point average, extracurricular achievements, and the persuasiveness and quality of their writing.

            (Here I must let you know, Reader, that Sir Cumberland has been known to take into account the lineage and wealth bracket of prospective students in addition to the above elements of evaluation, though this particular practice is not publicized. If you were to find out and ask him, however – as I have done – he would noncommittally shrug his shoulders and say:

            (“Now, my dear girl, tell me: if you were to create the most exclusive school in the history of education, would not you want only students of the highest caliber admitted? That is all I’m ensuring by looking into students’ families and wealth; besides, only the truly foolish in this world are unaware that schools all around the globe do what I do, already.”)

            At the time that I take down these words, the Birthday School has been in operation for just over a decade.[1] As it has thrived, coverage of the school has shifted from incredulous mockery to serious updates on openings and predictions on what birthdays will be open for application each year. To keep application as equitable as possible, the birthdates of enrolled students were kept strictly confidential, so that prospective students couldn’t begin preparing their application earlier than their peers.

            On July the twentieth, 2032, I sat – quietly and in the extremely air-conditioned corner – in the conference room of the Birthday School’s administration building. Sir Cumberland was at the head of the conference table and he peered icily over his reading glasses at the chattering board members who were around it. Slowly, they caught his gaze and quieted.

            “Very good,” Sir Albert huffed. “Now. We all know why we’re here, just like every year. It’s time, my good men – ” for there was not a woman on the board, it was true (it had been a close call on whether Sir Cumberland would even let “females,” as he exclusively referred to them, into the school) [2] – “to confirm what birthdays are open for the coming year and announce them to the hordes. Kyle?”

            Kyle – a man of short, portly stature and with dark-rimmed glasses so thick that his eyes were mere specks – nodded. “Yes, sir, Sir Cumberland. I triple-checked and cross-referenced the dates. For the 2032-2033 Academic Year – ” here, Kyle flipped open the folder in front of him – “we have openings for April 22, May 5, May 30, November 17, and December 2. That’s it for this time around.”

            With such a limited student body, the number of openings per year varied greatly per annum. The graduating class of 2032 had been rather sparse, and so the applicants for the coming year were somewhat out of luck.

            Sir Cumberland got a gleam in his eye. He loved sparse years – the parents were like piranhas in a kiddie pool on sparse years. “Excellent, Kyle, excellent. Go ahead and give the dates to the press and publish them on the site. The rest of you, get ready for application review. When you have it narrowed, send me the names. It’s gonna be a great year, men, I can feel it!”

            With that, the short meeting was adjourned, and Sir Cumberland strode from the conference room. The other men remained – phone calls to major news outlets were made, and the website was updated.

            Within a mere half hour of the first phone call’s completion, the notifications of the reviewers’ emails began to sound with the applications of eager students, all of whom luckily possessed one of five birthdays. Notification bells and the loud cell phone tones of middle-aged men filled the room to cacophony as applications flooded in and parents called, in tones of false cordiality, to try and get their precious children ahead.

            366 birthdays. 5 openings. 2 weeks until the closing of applications.

            To whomever is accepted, there is one thing that is certainly true: theirs is a Happy Birthday, indeed.

[1] In the interest of precision, I will tell you that it has been in operation for exactly thirteen years, five months, eight days, ten hours, and seven minutes. I would go down to the seconds in the name of precision, dear Reader, if only they did not pass so swiftly.
[2] Now, a reader of above-average precociousness will wonder why I myself was allowed in the conference room on that hot July day, considering Sir Albert Cumberland’s derision for those of my sex. Reader, I am still not sure myself – I think, perhaps, he was impressed by both my perseverance and his inability to discover any personal information about me. I suppose, like he about my personal life, I will never know why he let me have my way.

I hope you guys liked it. I very much enjoyed writing it. Now all I have to do is let it just be flash and resist the urge (that I always have) to expand it into something larger.

However, I am note-to-selfing the Lemony Snicket-y tone. Because boy oh boy, I could get used to being a self-aware author in my writing.


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