Recurring Story: Thirty-Five

Wil walked slowly, her soft brown hair framing a small, pensive face. Her dark eyes, so full of the depth of life, scanned the crowd. Her slim yet graceful body moved ever forward as her peers stared in awe.

Boys watched and wanted from the corners of their eyes, as girls shot looks of envy. That purple cloak was stunning. Those boots were the height of fashion. The scarf was an expensive weave of black on black. The young woman who wore them was so naturally beautiful.

Although she tried to ignore them, Wil was conscious of the attention. Anyone would have to be. She pretended she wasn’t, however. She needed to reach her ride, and couldn’t afford distractions.

“I purchased these flowers for you,” spoke a timid young man with black, wavy hair. He offered them in a shaking hand. Wil brushed them aside, dusting petals to the floor.

A confident boy with blond hair and smoldering eyes tried to block her path. “Let’s catch a movie tonight, Wil.” He was sure to be accepted, but she dodged around his Letterman-jacketed arm.

“You’re coming to my birthday, right?” The Class President begged Wil. She approached with an anxious, artificially white smile; and left with a spoiled frown.

They sought her like hypnotized moths to a tempting flame. But, Wil’s heart-shaped face turned only one way. Her deep glance rested on only one person. Her body was drawn to only one other body.

He would be waiting, she knew, with more than flowers. He would take her somewhere better than a theater. He didn’t have birthday parties filled with fake people.

Wil whispered his name. “Derek.”

She reached the doors to outside, and pushed through them. A disappointed trail of admirers was behind her and the afternoon was before her. The shy sun illuminated her path to the idling minivan at the curb.

Even her neighbors stared as she approached, every other distraction forgotten in Wil’s presence. They shifted to give her the best seat as Wil ducked and entered the vehicle.

“How are you today, Wil?” Mrs. Crandall attempted. Wil didn’t respond, but no one expected she would.

Mrs. Crandall faced forward, appeared to watch surrounding traffic, and pulled into the familiar queue of cars heading home.

Reagan, pulling an earbud from her right ear, turned to Wil and whispered, “So, you’re part of our group now, right?”

Wil didn’t hear at first, as she slid in her seat at the sudden movement of Mrs. Crandall braking and honking.

She realized Reagan had spoken to her, and brilliantly responded, “Huh?”

“Our group,” Reagan persisted. “You got the notes. Derek said you’d find out about it after school today.” She looked at Wil’s face and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

“Oh,” Wil replied. “Um. Yeah.”

“So,” Reagan said, “Welcome.” She sat back, pushing her ear bud back in place and looking at her phone again. She had been reading it since first climbing in the van.

Wil blinked in the reality of the small cabin around her, and realized she ought to actually read what Derek had given her.

 

Continued from Thirty-Four.

Recurring Story: Thirty-Four

The space around her undulated with excited preparations, but Wil sat on an island of stupor.

She felt completely indecisive in the face of probable conclusion. The X on the final fragment of a treasure map led right around the next clump of trees, and she was strangely unsure of unearthing what lay buried.

As people accidentally brushed past her desk or herself, a galvanizing thought finally sunk through: if she didn’t move, she’d be stuck alone with Mr. G.

So quickly that she actually finished before a few others; Wil gathered up her things, moved down the narrow aisle of desks, and edged open the heavy metal door into the chill afternoon outdoors.

Nature’s cool hand stroked Wil’s cheek, reminding some primal part of her what being alive truly felt like. Anxiety blew away. She felt strong, clear-minded, and brave.

She also remembered that she’d have to hurry, to meet her destiny and still have time to catch her ride.

Wil scarcely saw the stands of chattering or texting or zoning out teenagers. They were posts she had to walk around -as uninteresting and lifeless as the swimming salad utensil décor that occasionally interrupted the walls of the hallway she hurried down.

Wil made record time arriving at and emptying her locker. She headed toward the library, squinting ahead to see who might be waiting.

She saw no one standing.

Wil reached the doors, which were closed and locked. Their librarian strongly believed her day ended when the teenagers’ did. In practice, she left as soon as she could without the principal noticing.

Wil looked around for another paper scrap or a hidden agent. Nothing and no one presented themselves.

Looking agitatedly at the exiting masses, Wil’s eyes were drawn to one body heading across the crowds to her position. She felt her heart rate increase and anxiety return.

He was a boy. Wil thought she’d seen him in two of her classes. Had Mrs. T. been right?

He reached her. He smiled.

“Hi, I’m Derek,” he supplied in a voice-still-changing tone. “This is for you.” He held out a note with an edge that showed it had been torn from a notebook.

“Don’t worry,” he assured Wil. Her agitation of more clues conveyed itself as a panic on her face. “I’ll see you later.” He gave her another simple smile, then turned and walked away. He was swept with the crowds down the hall and out the doors.

This time, Wil was marooned for a shorter time. She pocketed the paper and ran to carpool.

 

Continued from Thirty-Three.

Recurring Story: Thirty-Three

Fortunately, Wil was able to keep awake the remainder of History. She wouldn’t have put it past Mr. G. to try the correctional fluid method if she dozed again. There was no telling what that crazy Air Force fanatic would do.

She hurried to finish the reading and its questions. The silence around her was slowly replaced by the hum of conversations, as her classmates began visiting with each other or working on other homework. They had started the simple assignment whilst Wil was airborne, and most were now finished.

“Done,” Wil said quietly and triumphantly. She set the notepaper with her answers to the top right on her desk, then extracted the secret crossword from her binder. “T-M-E-E-Y-B-R-R-L-I-A-B-Y-R-E-F-A-T-S-C-H-O-O-L,” She read, under her breath.

She had despaired a bit, at first glance, that she had yet another step before resolution. Now, however, Wil could see that not all of the words were scrambled. Clearly, there was “by,” “fat,” and “school.” Perhaps the letters AND the words were scrambled, which would account for “fat” being right before “school.”

Logic told Wil that there wasn’t a good reason to have “fat” anywhere in the message, though. No one at school was named that, nor any location. Perhaps she was supposed to seek out a person who was fat, but she also doubted that.

She stared at the page, thinking, as the room buzzed around her.

Just then, Wil noticed that the key letter boxes in the crossword itself were not all the same. Five of the squares had an extra line on the side. She’d thought it an error of the print before, but now entertained the idea of it being another clue. The letters affected by the extra line were E, B, Y, T, and L.

Thanks to the assignment she had just completed on Morse Code and other methods used for communication during America’s wars, Wil remembered that a space between words is written with a slash. This meant that T-M-E-E was one word, IF her code-writer intended for her to copy the letters down in the order she had. Wil sincerely hoped that was the case. She felt reassurance that it was, since “school” copied that way was not scrambled.

“Eetm, Mete, Meet!” Wil said, a bit too loudly. A few people near her looked at her questioningly, and she smiled shyly before quickly looking back down at her paper. She pretended to be absorbed by it as she attempted to cover most of it with her textbook and hand. They returned to their own conversations and work.

Wil exhaled in relief, and really did become absorbed.

Y, B became “by;” R, R, L, I, A, B, Y was “library;” and R, E, F, A, T was “after.”

“Meet by library after school,” Wil read excitedly in her mind. In answer, the ending bell rang.

 

Continued from Thirty-Two.

Recurring Story: Thirty-Two

“Hold formation,” Wil’s flight commander radioed again. Despite the static such an old headset communicated, she could still hear his New England upbringing in the vowels. Somehow, it had a grounding influence on them all.

They held position.

The Mitsubishi bombers and their escorts hummed nearer.

“Ready guns,” crackled quietly to twelve anxious American pilots. Her hands felt sweaty inside their gloves as Wil adjusted her grip on her control stick. She inhaled deeply and focused on the cluster at eight o’clock.

She saw the slight aberration in the Zeros’ pattern the instant before Flight Commander suddenly yelled, “ALL UNITS ENGAGE! ENEMY AWARE OF OUR POSITION! GO, GO, GO!!”

The roar of twelve Wildcat engines grew even louder in intensity as twelve pilots immediately dropped altitude and accelerated toward their targets. The Zeros, holding to their groups of three, drew near in deadly tandem.

Wil leaned forward over the controls, carefully maneuvering the floor pedals.

“Winters!” Wil heard the warning from a distance. There was no turning back now.

“Ms. Winters!”

Wil sat up, and quickly wiped the drool at her mouth. She blinked in surprise at the glaring, bespectacled toad so near her face, confused at why it was there.

“Huh?” She managed, groggily. The class laughed, and she felt her cheeks get warm. Mr. G. allowed a more pleasant version of his grimace before returning his face to its usual self-approved smirk.

“Ms. Winters, nap time was in preschool,” he joked. A few of her peers snickered a bit, though most disliked encouraging his ideas of wit. “Kindly return to page niner niner, and this time use your eyes to read and not your face.”

Wil nodded a bit, and felt relief as he turned and squat-strutted his stumpy walk back to his desk.

She turned her attention back to the text on the page. Meanwhile, a twirling model Wildcat swooped erratically in the current from the heat register.

 

Continued from Thirty-One.

Recurring Story: Thirty-One

“Your assignment,” Mr. Gil spoke gruffly, from the corner of his mouth, “Is on page niner niner, section bravo.” His large, rounded rectangle glasses reflected the overhead portable classroom’s lighting. The rest of his face squinted around his glasses in the traditional leer he adopted for class instruction.

Wil had always felt nervous around Mr. G. and his extremely strong personality. He had a habit of forming his froglike features into odd expressions while barking most verbal commands. Plus, he seemed to find everything he did highly amusing.

She studied the F4F Wildcat that twisted slowly on its string over her neighbor’s desk. That meant the heat was on. Modern heating and air conditioning were perks of class in the portables. Knowledge of aircraft was a perk of being in Mr. G.’s portable. She couldn’t tell the exact date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; but, by golly!, they would all know the names of his flying toys and the NATO phonetic alphabet.

Her hands automatically synced to the rhythm of her classmates, opening the history textbook in front of her and turning to “niner niner.”

Flight Officer Winters, however, was paying attention to the small speck in the vast grey blue at five o’clock. Her body vibrated comfortably in the overpowering roar of the Twin Wasp engine and the dashboard dials agitated reassuringly at regular readings.

“Hold formation,” crackled in her headphones. She felt the anxiety building in her body as she fought the urge to act.

They inched nearer.

The original speck had visible wings, and now hovered above a line of more dark spots plus one to her left. “Second Zero at eight o’clock,” she reported.

“Third at eleven/ten,” two others reported simultaneously. Wil glanced at the positions and acknowledged the additions.

She frowned. The Zeros always flew in formation, as they were, and had more than three pilots flying cover.

“Reading one more Zero at two. Let’s assume these ******s are leading two more behind them like usual,” the flight leader instructed.

That meant twelve Japanese fighters total. Wil grinned in anticipation and readied her guns. This would not be a fair fight.

 

Continued from Thirty.

Recurring Story: Thirty

Wil contemplatively chewed on what may have been a carrot.  She was happily absorbed in the remainder of her crossword, and ate without tasting her least favorite meal the school provided: meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

CENTRAL connected with FLOWER and left space for AB and BOTTLE. Lower down, however, SEED wasn’t working with HAND. She hadn’t heard whatever quote was listed for that clue. As such, Wil would have just skipped those few blank squares and moved on. Unfortunately, the beginning letter was important.

After reading over the paper in the locker room before Gym class before lunch, Wil had noticed that some squares had a darker outline. She guessed they formed key letters of a puzzle that would give her a message once she had them all.

She absentmindedly scooped up some instant potatoes, and tried to think as she slurped them off her spoon. “One in the hand is worth two in the what?” She said quietly.

The barely glinting sunlight outside the tinted doors shone randomly on the courtyard beyond. She watched its dance and remembered stepping around the silent area just yesterday. Wil cut off a piece of soggy meat, placed it in her mouth, chewed a bit, and swallowed.

Slowly, she repeated, “One in the hand is worth two in the …?”

“Bush,” an old woman’s voice near her finished.

Startled out of her reverie, Wil looked to the speaker. To her left hunched one of the lunch ladies who patrolled the cafeteria. The woman’s face looked just like the pre-packaged croissants they served sometimes, if one added two beady eyes and gray curls under a hair net to the top.

“Oh,” Wil stammered. “Uh, thank you.”

The creases turned upward as the older woman’s small eyes lit up slightly. “Oh, you’re welcome, dear.” Lunchlady Croissant turned thick-soled off-white sneakers around, and went back to her usual duty of glaring at irresponsible teenagers. Wil heard bits of something about kids these days and old sayings.

Remembering her task at hand, she turned back to her paper. “B-U-S-H,” She intoned as she wrote. Her key letter was B.

Excitedly, she penciled in more and more answers. The contents of her lunch tray diminished as the spaces filled with letters and Wil’s stomach filled with substance. She washed the bad taste down with milk and viewed the results happily.

Capitals boldly filled every black square, interlocking and completing chains and paths of words. The crossword was finished; at least, she was fairly certain it was.

She scanned the chart in traditional Arabic writing fashion of left to right and wrote the key letters at the bottom of the page: T, M, E, E, Y, B, R, R, L, I, A, B, Y, R, E, F, A, T, S, C, H, O, O, L.

The bell and the recognition of yet another puzzle punctured Wil’s spirits like a small cut near the base of a latex balloon. She stuffed the paper and her pencil into her binder, and gathered her lunch things together.

She carried her tray over to the washing area, where she once again saw the helpful worker. “Thanks, dear,” Lunchlady said, and Wil was more certain of a smile this time.

Smiling a rare, truly pleasant response, Wil went back to collect her things from the table.

 

Continued from Twenty-Nine.

Recurring Story: Twenty-Nine

“Me llamo Señor Carrrrrl,” Sr. Carl (who else?) intoned. He had a deep voice forever tainted by New Jersey influence. “Me tengo dos perros. Me gusto rrrojo.” His black, heavy brows seemed to droop further over his deepset, dark eyes as he read the words he’d written on the whiteboard.

Turning an ever-tired, middle-aged face to the class, he sighed. “Ahorrrra, escrrrriba sus prroprrrias rrespuestas,” he over-accentuated slowly. Blank looks returned his droopy half-gaze.

He sighed again. “Take these sentences. Write your responses,” he translated. Still blank. Wil stifled a yawn, and she wasn’t the only one to do so.

Sr. C. blinked a few times. He’d been told teaching junior high was difficult, but he’d also been told his Spanish wasn’t good enough for a job at his own brother’s family business.

“Get a paper, you guys,” Sr. C. directed. “Then, write some sentences about you.” His eyes shifted to the left as he thought of another necessary direction to pass on. “In Spanish!”

His young pupils slowly began pulling out papers and pencils, squinting at his example up front as if it were foreign to them. They opened Spanish/English dictionaries, their textbooks, or spied over their more responsible friend’s shoulder at common vocabulary.

Wil rose and grabbed a student dictionary off the shelf. She picked the largest one, to double as a cover for solving her secret puzzle. Sr. C. wouldn’t bother them while they worked, but she worried about classmates spying.

Meanwhile, Sr. C. had turned his desk radio on. As usual, he tuned it from AM Sports News to the first Spanish station that came through. An excited radio advertisement rapidly babbled about some product or service no one in the room could understand. Sr. C. sat heavily in his desk chair and tiredly extracted a pile of last period’s assignments from the mess on his desk.

“Me llamo Wil,” Wil said under her breath as she wrote. She stopped to chew on the end of her pen. She couldn’t think what else to write, since her Spanish was slightly less rudimentary than the teacher’s. She glanced at the example sentences, but she owned no pets and didn’t have a favorite color.

Carefully, she slid her newest note discreetly from under the dictionary. She would fill in a clue, then write a sentence in Spanish.”Two birds with one stone,” she told herself. Then, “I wonder how they say that in Spanish?”

Shrugging, she looked at One Across. “Name of school: C-E-N-T-R-A-L.” Wil carefully penned her response.

She thumbed randomly through Spanish phrases, then wrote under the sentence about what she called herself, “Me gusto limonada.”

“Plant starter: seed.”

“No tengo un perro.”

“F-L-O-W-E-R”

“Tengo pelo castaño.”

An upbeat mariachi pop song played in the background as both of her assignments slowly took shape.

 

Continued from Twenty-Eight.

Recurring Story: Twenty-Eight

Wilhelmina Winters, of Classroom 4, Central Junior High School, was first to say she was hardly unique; who would think that? She was least likely to be part of something unusual or secret, since her peers ignored her and others with sense.

Wil was a student at the school, which attempted to educate young teens. She was a small, slight youth with regular proportions, but rather large hazel eyes. Her father was not a tall man, but his eyes matched his only daughter’s and his build gave others a steady, dependable impression. They shared their family with Wil’s step-brother, Jakob, and mother, Cynthia -whom many thought the kindest woman around.

Wil and her family had the basic necessities, but they also had Goodbye, a time that stalked and shadowed their every move and interaction with others. They had other secrets too; what family doesn’t? Wil’s father’s second-greatest fear was that someone from the past might appear and take away the life he’d scrabbled together over the last fourteen years.

When Wil arrived at school that chill, nondescript day, she’d only had three scraps of paper to tell her that today might be different. Wil tried now to look inconspicuous as she kicked at the ugly carpet carefully under her desk. Dr. L. gestured and lectured as usual, while his class feigned attention.

No one seemed to see the fragment Wil was moving with her foot.

Halfway through the hour, Dr. L. put down his covalent bond model, picked up a stack of worksheets, and attempted to walk around the first row of desks without bumping into them but did, as he was distracted by his attempts to simultaneously pass out their assignment.

“Whoops!” Annoying Carl Hurn said to his neighbors, as they guffawed appreciatively.

When Wil turned an icy look at the immature group, she saw the first odd thing since the lunch area yesterday -another teenager in her class watching her closely. Wil was busy channeling irritation toward Carl and didn’t register the attention -then, her cheeks flushed and she tried to slyly look again. There were rows of disinterested, distracted youths looking bored or passing papers to each other but no one facing her way. Maybe she imagined it? Wil was obviously too tired to function normally. She rubbed at her eyes and yawned. A random student in another area caught her infectious action and stifled his own yawn. She scanned faces again as her own turn to hand papers down the row came. Everyone appeared normal -no, Carl was abnormal; he hadn’t even noticed his rudeness nor her reproach. Wil tried to rid herself of the itchy feeling of being watched. She picked up her chemistry assignment, most of her focus on trying to extract the answers from a brain that had failed to absorb the morning’s lecture.

At the end of class and between periods, science was forgotten and replaced by thoughts of a new secret note. As she wandered with the masses down the hall, Wil was absorbed in reading its contents. The message was a puzzle again. Wil was getting tired of these games -a straightforward attempt at meeting would be better. She guessed the sender found this method preferable. She scanned the paper and recognized its pattern to be a crossword of sorts. There were clues at the bottom. Wil was relieved to read that she knew some of the answers; why, everyone knew the popular song that clue took a line of lyrics from! It had played on the radio yesterday at carpool! Maybe the type of unique this person meant did not refer to seeking really intelligent persons -yes, he or she didn’t want geniuses. Feeling hopefully adequate, Wil looked forward to filling in the spaces as she headed to her next class.

 

Continued from Twenty-Seven.

Recurring Story: Twenty-Seven

Wil stared dumbly forward, in the general direction of Dr. Lombard. She’d assumed a position and expression at the start of class that she hoped conveyed interest but excused her from any participation.

Fortunately, Dr. L. was near-sighted both optically and scientifically: he wore thick eyeglasses and became engrossed in his own lectures about chemistry.

A small part of Wil’s consciousness was entertained by the agitated way Dr. L. excitedly gestured as he taught. However, the pleasant numbing effect of too little sleep distracted her ability to listen and retain her teacher’s information.

She yawned, for the seventh time, and blinked slowly. She was tempted to doze off, but Dr. L. was known to target sleepers. He may have been a science fanatic, but he noticed when heads drooped to desks. He had painted a napper’s ear with correctional fluid in Wil’s first month at this school.

She shifted slightly in her seat and thought about the note she’d filled in the night before. Being in school around her peers drew her attention to it and away from the Winters’ bigger concerns. Besides, she could do nothing about her mother here, and would have to address the message and its sender before returning home.

After spacing the letters sensibly, Wil had read, “unique individuals only wil join us if ready further instruction next day.” She thought the writer used unusual words and no punctuation (nor spacing) to increase difficulty and mystery.

She allowed herself to feel some anxiety. Trepidation just might get her through class with her ears unscathed.

“I wonder what the ‘further instruction’ might be, and how I will get it,” she thought to herself idly. She also wondered why anyone was bothering with her, and a small part suspected ridicule.

If someone were truly sincere, surely that person could just walk up and talk to Wil. Since no one had voluntarily approached her, Wil had no idea who was behind this.

She changed position again, pulling her feet out from under the desk in front of her and setting them directly under her small desk.

She expected to set her sneaker-shod toes on the ground. Instead of the muffled thunk of plastic to carpet, Wil heard a crinkling sound.

Glancing at her teacher to make sure he hadn’t heard, Wil snuck a peak under her chair. Dr. L. was writing on the whiteboard intently, and another torn notepaper was waiting for Wil beneath her seat.

 

Continued from Twenty-Six.

Recurring Story: Twenty-Six

Rob steadied himself on the door frame, and Wil stopped screaming. She saw now that the head belonged to her father. He stepped into her room very cautiously.

“Sorry, Mina,” he said quietly. “I thought you would already be awake because I heard your alarm go off.”

Wil’s heart rate slowed considerably. She took a few breaths and wiped her hands down her blanket top as a calming stretch.

“It’s okay, Dad,” she replied. She looked up at him, and saw shadows of concern on his dark-muddled features. She smiled feebly. “Sorry I screamed.”

“Well,” Rob began, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well,” he repeated, looking around at nothing.

“Are you going to go get Mom?” Wil prompted.

Rob met what he could see of her eyes and gave her a sleepy morning half-smile. “Yes,” he answered. “I need to go now so I can get to work on time.”

He started back out Wil’s bedroom door, then stopped and turned around. “I need you to get ready, so I can drop you off at school,” he remembered. “I can take you when I bring your mother back here.”

“Okay, Dad,” Wil said. She watched the dim form of his head give a nod, then head out. “Thanks, Dad!” She whispered loudly to his retreating back.

Left alone in her needly nest, Wyl snuggled back to assess the situation. She could afford a small nap while her father got ready. He always checked on her one last time.

Unfortunately, Wil’s grand plans were dashed as she heard three departing sounds: the clink of her father’s keys as they were picked up off the counter, the clump of boots across the kitchen floor, and the final solid closing of their front door.

Wil groaned. She stretched resignedly. She pushed her bedcovers to the side. Then, she slumped to the floor to examine her mass of discarded clothes through groggy eyes. She smelled them. They seemed okay. Perhaps she’d better try a different shirt, in case she met the secret note-writer at school.

Groaning again, Wil picked up her pants. She slumped over to her dresser and fumbled through the drawers for the rest of her ensemble. Carrying her clump under her arm, she headed to the bathroom to finish getting ready for a new day.

 

Continued from Twenty-Five.