Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Seven

*Clunk* *Clunk* *Clunk*

Woolykind Wil lifted from her cozy sleeping hole, confusion and pieces of her surroundings clinging to her.

*Clunk* *Clunk* “Mina?” *Clunk* “Wilhelmina? Are you awake? You locked the door.”

Wil shook the detritus and dreams from her consciousness. Her present world caught up to her through a thick fog. There’d been fog in her dream. Then the truck stop. Toward the end this time, just before the loud noise outside, just before she’d returned to her bedroom; she’d sensed someone calling to her.

Someone from the shadows.

“Mina!”

“What?!”

Her father paused. She could barely catch his next words. “…Um, it’s time to go.” She could picture him standing outside in the hall, rubbing his face in confusion. “You slept in.”

Wil blinked and looked at her clock. It supported her father’s claim. “Ack!” Galvanized to action; she leapt from bed, stumbled over to the light switch, and illuminated her cluttered bedroom. There, pants! There, pullover!

She opened the door to find her father still standing, still rubbing. Though his usual manner evidenced little sleep, he had the gaunt appearance of a man barely alive. The specter spoke, “Cynth- your mo- erm..”

Wil felt pity. “Don’t worry, Dad. Cynthia is my mom.”

Rob blinked and focused on his daughter’s face, his coloring but not its shape. His eyes but not his shape. A curling mane of dark hair that never could have come from him. “Thank you.”

They both smiled, and it didn’t matter whose it was.

“Your mother said to make sure you showered, but …” he glanced at his phone. “Maybe at least do deodorant.”

Daa-aad!

Rob had the grace to look sheepish. “I’ll meet you at the door in five.” He hadn’t the time to turn before Wil slammed back into her room, his steps solid but not loud enough to block the hasty, flustered noises of preparation coming from behind his daughter’s door.

 

Continued from Ninety-Six.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Six

Wil left the table after a requisite number of tuna casserole bites, hungry and self-pitying. The dark, narrow hallway seemed even more constricting; the dim bathroom bulb even dimmer; the tasteless toothpaste more tasteful for the lingering tuna remains. “Ugh!” she spat, swirled, spat again. She scowled a deeper expression at the girl in the glass, but her reflection matched and even exceeded her gloom.

A distinct *Ku-huh* *Kuh-huh* from the kitchen paused the glaring session. Wil and her shadow listened, a bridge of concern across their united brow, as Cynthia had her coughing session. “They’re happening much more,” Wil and Mirror-Wil whispered. They frowned and their deep, dark eyes spoke helplessness.

Wil exited the bathroom. Parent shadows crossed the hall on their way to the couch and sounds of scrambling soon led to the ever-present breathing machine. Wil stood, caught by fear, till her mother’s deep-throat coughs were tamed by the nebulizer’s magic.

She heard another sound: a chair scraped from the table and careless steps to the sink. Knowing that meant the immediate appearance of Jakob, she squeaked and scampered to the safety of her room and shut the door. After locking the knob, she threw herself atop the messy bed. Clothes, blankets, homework, and an open book or two caught her flying form and held her in their comforting familiarity. “There, there,” her favorite pullover soothed. “We understand,” the nearest novel assured her.

Wil hiccuped a few times but managed not to soil her bedthings with tears. She kicked a shoe free and pulled the second from a bent-leg position. Taking careful aim, tongue in teeth, eyes squinted tight; she threw the sneaker at her push-button wall switch. With a *clunk* the light went off. The shoe dropped.

Woolykind Wil, most respected member of the flying squirrel chapter of The Treetop Dwellers, sniffed and snuffled round her nest. She felt each treasured material with pride, moving things this way and that to arrange them just-so.

It had been a busy day in the forest and Wooly felt tired. She’d gathered food for her group. They’d been a tad ungrateful, to be sure, but she’d done her best. After all, flying was more her forte than food collection ever was.

Burrowing into the most comfortable heap of warm leaves, twigs, and discarded scraps around her; she sighed. Tomorrow would be better. Maybe there’d even be acorns. She fell asleep dreaming of better things.

 

Continued from Ninety-Five.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Five

Dinner at the Winters passed with less conversation than usual. Wil stirred her food in a small circle on her plate and tried not to look at the charred remains in the middle of their table. She had a more difficult time ignoring the smell.

Jakob had yet to comment. He didn’t need to; his loud crunch-chewing and various dramatic expressions of distaste sent a clear message.

“Thank you for making dinner, Wil,” Cynthia said into the silence. She smiled a hopeful, loving smile at her squirming daughter. Wil pictured her mother trying to think of what to say for the last five minutes. Or, she thought, Cynthia might have needed that time to be able to speak after consuming the more edible parts of the casserole.

Wil groaned and lay on her arms to the side of her plate. “I’m sorry; okay!” she said in a muffled voice.

She heard her father clear his throat. Cynthia must have nudged him. “It’s my fault, Mina.” *Cuh-hem* “I said I would come back to make dinner but didn’t.”

No, he didn’t. He’d attended to the car, a much more important task. Anyway, Indiana Winters hadn’t required assistance. She’d required a clean source of water. She’d required a stable campfire. She’d required tools for opening the tins of fish. Where she’d missed the offered assistance of the older, coughing man had been in operating the questionable baking device she’d uncovered. Winters should have heeded her past experience with relics of its sort. Instead, to her and her party’s tastebuds’ chagrin, she’d overestimated both time and temperature.

“You gotta eat it too, Mins,” Jakob offered after a hard swallow. He eyed her as he took a long drink of milk. He wasn’t the only one; both of their parents’ attentions also moved to their daughter.

Sighing with the effort, Wil extracted an arm from beneath her head and scrabbled for her fork. From the level of her plate, she bent her arm and wrist at an awkward angle to sample a small bite. She shuddered. Swallowed. She saw Jakob smirk, her father rub at his face, and her mother half-smile.

A tear wandered down Wil’s face, unnoticed and uncared for by her family. It was a tear of embarassment and of regret; but, most of all, it was a tear for the double injustice of eating not only burned food but eating seafood.

 

Continued from Ninety-Four.
Keep reading to Ninety-Six.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Four

Wil, Rob, and Jakob entered the usual silent dark of #42 more grimly than they did most Friday evenings. The zombie *hush-hush* of Cynthia’s nebulizer hummed a discordant duet with that of the rattling heating system.

Wil tiptoed to the couch in the light from the open front door. The door also welcomed a blast of chill air; Rob closed it and Jakob switched on the dim bulb over the range. All this outlined a slumbering Cynthia, complete with peaceful smile and slow rise of breathing. Her equipment, still on, lay nearby. Wil switched it off.

Wil!” Rob whisper-yelled. She looked up, blinking. He gestured to himself and she stumbled up and over to where he stood. “You start on dinner,” he continued whispering. “I’m going to change, then take over. Do you have homework?

Wil made a face.

All right. Do it while dinner’s cooking.” He stepped aside and pointed to a grocery bag on the counter, the very bag she’d acquired from her exploits earlier that evening…

Her father thumped past her as silently as he could in his work boots and headed down the hall. “Ooomph!” Wil exlaimed as Jakob followed suit; his aim had not been to travel around her. Not able to do more for lack of size and ability to noise complaints, she glared at her stepbrother. He threw her a final look of teasing humor before disappearing.

Wil turned to the plastic sack. She glanced round the dim room tomb as sifting, silent sand filtered down the cracks of peeking sunbeams. All seemed quiet, but Indiana Winters knew too well the peril of those who assumed no danger. With light-gloved touch, she moved the noisy sack-sides to retrieve its hidden treasures: a boxed meal and cans that claimed to be tuna.

She angled the box beneath the wavering electric light; she could make out pictures of pots and timers and a steaming pan at the end. “Well, well, well,” Winters said, her breath inches from the vague pictograms. “Etruscan influence, I’d say, with a smidgeon of Greek. Hmmm.” She moved her right hand to scratch beneath her favorite, battered fedora. “Now… what do they say to do first?”

Her nose near-touching the surface of print, she thought she recognized a symbol. It looked very like an object she’d encountered whilst searching. Round, shining, potable; it must be the same. She stooped with care, steel-tipped boots slipping on the polished tomb floor. With tongue gripped between set lips, she creaked open a small alcove.

She paused.

Nothing.

She searched left, right, up, down, and behind her crouched position.

Still nothing.

Reaching her free hand to within the dark depths, Winters brushed against a solid object. A solid, shiny object. She pulled it free. Eureka! She rose to standing height once more, holding her glinting prize in the half-light’s flickers.

Her exultant feeling cut short as she again glanced at the pictograms. Despite acquiring this first relic, her mission to discover The Secrets of Din might forever end there. “Where,” she whispered, “Am I to fill this with water?

 

Continued from Ninety-Three.
Keep reading to Ninety-Five.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Three

“‘Bout time, Mina Late,” Jacob said once Wil entered the car. His breath came in puffs; Rob had started the engine as soon as she’d opened the door to the backseat and they must have been sitting without heat until then.

Wil did not see fit to answer such rudeness even if he were cold. She turned away from the scoffing youth, settled her purchases near her, and closed the door.

“Get buckled, Mina,” the driver gruffed. He grunted and engaged their vehicle in a backwards, then forwards motion.

“But, of course,” she replied, securing her person. Who knew what bandits or ruffians they might encounter on their return trip? She sighed and rested her dainty chin upon her dainty fingertips as she gazed out at the passing landscape.

The world had changed.

Centredom hadn’t always been so dangerous. Even Wil could remember bright, sunshine mornings, laughing brooks, singing fairy folk, and trusting villagers. Then, out of nowhere, The Thing came. The Thing was everything and nothing; but, most of all, it was everywhere.

Sunshine turned to windy grey. The laughing water suppressed itself to a muted murkiness. Fairies disappeared. And, as Wil had just witnessed at the market, weary villagers interacted in wary ways.

“Didja remember to get dinner this time?” Jakob interrupted her thoughts to tease.

Wil continued to study her memories and outside view. It wasn’t the young man’s fault, after all. She knew his pointed sarcasm stemmed from The Thing. The Thing touched the hearts of all that lived and felt.

Night and lighted night panned across her pensive, regal face. They moved quickly. She felt fortunate in not meeting with any delays, particularly any influenced by The Thing.

Just as she thought to thank The Goddess for their safe arrival home, she heard a loud *pop!* from quite near. Immediately thereafter, the even gait of the vehicle she sat within altered to a wobbling sashay.

Their destination arose just ahead. Wil glanced at their driver as she attempted to keep her seat. His jaw set. They were going to make it. Another lurch, many bumps, and a sharp turn landed them beneath the shaded corral: their goal.

“Well,” Rob said after a few seconds. “Let’s see about making dinner, huh?”

 

Continued from Ninety-Two.
Keep reading to Ninety-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Two

“Here,” breathed Wil, “must I tread again.” She surveyed the fluorescent land; her land. Little had changed during her absence. Commoners scurried around her, too awed by her presence to engage her attentions. There, rested the wheeled carriages. There, the rows of labeled shelving.

Without map or list to guide her, Wil frowned. ‘Twas a regal frown, naturally. One mustn’t sacrifice one’s face to strain, after all, no matter how confused one felt.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, remembering. A harried woman jumped in passing. The action passed beneath her ruler’s esteemed notice. Wil strode forward, accompanied by the soft squeak-thump of boot and flup-flop of coat and scarf. Employing a carriage, she pointed it and her in the direction of a ceiling-hung label: Soups/Instant Rice/Box Meals/Cake Mixes.

What an odd assortment to collect within a single location, she mused. She drew closer to the mirror-floored aisle in question. Odd or no, she felt certain this was the first she must visit. She began sounding out the names of the items before her.

“Rice-a-Ro-Ney?” “Hamburg’s Helper?” “Raw-men?”

A youth in red half-uniform paused mid-stack to stare. Wil blushed, knowing he ought not to forget his manners yet simultaneously practicing her own in not reprimanding the impudent boy. Instead, she lifted her chin and continued her perusal within her private thoughts.

Insta-Taters? Scallop-ed Noodles? Aha! Tu-na Helper! Wil snatched the box in haste, incurring another surprised reaction from her lone teenager audience. Turning her back upon the knave, she secured a second box in similar fashion. There! Now all she required was the necessary protein complement: tuna.

“But where am I to find a fishmonger within this enclosed market?” she mused.

“Did you say fish?” The half-redded worker spoke. Wil deigned to turn since his voice sounded near. It was; he was. Her slight movement brought her eye level with an unshaven chin and she jumped and dropped the boxes in her hands. Embarrassed, she scrambled to retrieve her lost treasures.

Once within her grasp, she deposited them safely in the wheeled carriage. She faced the disrespectful youth again. Any commoner could read the disdain writ upon her face -any, it seemed, except the boy before her. Not only had he continued to stand whilst she chased the boxes, he hadn’t offered a word nor eye-blink since his only sentence. Wil could therefore not be certain of his intellectual abilities nor the chance of his aid. She decided, however, that little risk lay in answering his simple query.

“Yes; I said ‘fish.'” She threw a tattered length of scarf over a shoulder. “I require the tu-na this ‘Tuna Helper’ demands.”

“Right,” he said. She watched his Adam’s apple fall and rise below his impassive face. “‘Suh next aisle over.” He went back to stocking the shelf.

Wil gaped after his sudden manner. Recovering, she answered, “Thank you, good sir.” She grasped the steerage of the wheeled carriage and headed where he had indicated. She felt the less correct term of “sir” a safer formality in address; though, how anyone could call such an unkempt and rude person anything besides “peasant” was beyond her.

 

Continued from Ninety-One.
Keep reading to Ninety-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Two

Wil used Dr. Lombard’s momentary distraction to enter the classroom and move to a seat near the front. She told herself she would sneak; she even thought the phrase, slipped into her seat. In actual practice and true to form, however, her entrance was more distracting than any lecture on acids and bases.

Still, she might have avoided detection if she hadn’t stepped on two people’s feet. She certainly would have avoided attention if she’d been more silent. But even a nearsighted, absentminded science enthusiast notices when a desk falls over.

“Ms. Windows,” Dr. L. said, turning and speaking over a background of laughter. He squinted at Wil’s blushing figure through his thick glasses. “Chemistry begins when the bell indicates, and not one Planck more.” He wagged a stern finger in a direction somewhere to the right of her as Wil hastily set the furniture to rights and sat upon the chair.

Dr. L. nodded a definite scowl to the girl on Wil’s left and turned back to puzzle over his notes on the board. They were barely legible to Wil and most of the class, yet seemed clear enough to help their teacher regain his train of thought.

“Water is not completely zero, of course,” he continued, and shot what he thought was a commiserating look back over his shoulder. “Buuut, some say it’s close enough to put it there. Really, though, nothing is absolute zero because of contaminants and outside influences…”

As he droned, Wil settled into her seat. Her face still felt hot and she tried to keep her head low. She dragged her backpack around to her side, on the floor, and opened it. If she didn’t take notes, she knew, she hadn’t much chance of passing Chemistry this term.

“…Like soap, bleach, and liquid drain cleaner…”

Wil rifled around the dark cavity of her backpack. She withdrew a notebook, and was very surprised to find it was her Chemistry one. It even had a pen shoved in the rings. She yanked the pen free, flipped to a mostly-blank page, and began sketching a pH scale similar to the one on the board.

“No, Mr. Urn, you would not survive drinking drain cleaner. Chemicals and solutions at the far end of the scale cause irreparable damage to tissue…”

Not a bad idea, Wil considered, For Carl, anyway. She doodled a bit in her margin, then noticed some text showing through the page. She flipped her notes over to see what was behind them. Somehow, there lay a green page with dots and lines in half-box and part-triangle shapes: a coded message.

Wil felt eyes on the back of her head, but knew better than to look. That Hope! She really was sneaky. How the small, quiet, shadow of a girl slipped the paper into her notebook, Wil would never guess; and therefore didn’t try to.

Keeping an eye on Dr. L.’s flapping-arm explanations and her own interpretations of them before her, Wil slowly unfolded the green paper. She picked up her pen and started drawing a codex diagram at the bottom.

She wondered what message The Talented Teenagers (name still a work in progress) had sent her. She couldn’t wait to find out.

 

Continued from Eighty-One.
Keep reading to Eighty-Three.

“I urge you to examine your life. Determine where you are and what you need to do to be the kind of person you want to be. Create inspiring, noble, and righteous goals that fire your imagination and create excitement in your heart. And then keep your eye on them. Work consistently towards achieving them.”

-Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Life’s Lessons Learned,” April 2007

Creativity Contest: The Time Machine Sewing Machine (Open)

A stitch in time? Yes, literally!

Visit Peregrine Arc’s latest prompt and take your imagination on a fun adventure!

Peregrine Arc

Last week you were told you were the new owner of an antique hotel. You’re hoping to rehabilitate the hotel back to its glory days and are doing what projects you can do to save money. In the middle of cleaning one day, you find a mysterious packet of letters, love letters, with no dust or grime on them, nestled in a cubby hole behind the front desk. And were those voices you heard from the pages as you ruffled through them? Check the comments of that entry to see what everyone did with those letters…

For this week’s prompt, we’re time traveling. Our ship? An antique sewing machine with one of those metal foot pedals.

You’re house sitting, you clever thing, and that means free food and free access to most rooms of the house. What a luxurious job. One day, a button falls off your shirt and rolls under…

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Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-One

“Wil!” the crew chief said. “We’re here.”

Wil Power frowned in confusion and looked up from her idling IndyCar. Four hundred laps of looping, blackened tarmac still beckoned beyond the pit crew’s hunched shoulders. The hasty *bzzt* *bzzt* of impact wrenches played background music to the ever-present hum of the waiting track and its racers.

“Wil!” her father repeated. “Get out. I gotta go to work.”

“Oh!” Wil scrabbled at the straps of her backpack as cheering fans and roaring asphalt dissolved into a silent, gray schoolyard. She blinked. She turned to her father, noted his impatient expression, blushed, and stole a quick peck on his cheek. “‘Bye, Dad!”

Rob watched his impulsive daughter successfully exit the car and take off running toward the dim, dark building up the dim, dark hill. He hadn’t the time to reminisce after her waving scarf and hair, however. Leaning over the console and passenger seat, he sighed and stretched to pull her door closed.

Wil heard the telltale just-made-it clunking of her father’s engine as he accelerated out and away from the curb. A long, low *bonnng* sounded from the school. Huddled, rushing teenage bodies scurried around and before her as her scrambling boots slipped up the winter-dew grass.

She caught the shadow of someone slipping past; had the idea that it may have been HopeMan, she’s sneaky, was all Wil could think as she grabbed at a front door of the school building. Once inside, she rushed down rapidly-emptying hallways to her first class. Intermittent *bam* sounds echoed to her right and left as a few tardy people slammed locker doors shut.

She could hear Dr. L.‘s droning voice before she reached the hall of his classroom. “…We’ll see *mumble* *mumble* acidic *mumble*.” Wil turned a corner and saw the door near the end. “*Mumble* *mumble* bases and *mum*-acids are fairly inert at the midline, where you see water, blood, and urine.”

Wil walked in right when everyone snickered, yet also right when Dr. L. turned to his diagram to see what they all thought was so funny.

 

Continued from Eighty.
Keep reading to Eighty-Two.