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.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty

Wil checked the posted starting positions in a cool, passing fashion. As a race day wind whipped her long, dark curls, she donned her sunglasses with a dramatic flair and looked bored. She heard an increase in volume from the three hundred thousand cheering fans just a tarmac away; they loved her unaffected demeanor and professional detachment.

“You ready?” her crew chief asked.

She nodded. Once.

He nodded. Half of once.

Her team swarmed around her tracksuit body; taming the hair, gloving the hands, booting the feet, and even glossing the lips. They stepped away to reveal Wil Power: race car driver, today’s favorite to win.

Wil turned to the thousand-person section nearest her and blew them a red-lipped kiss. The resultant screams and foot-pounding shook the ground, even where she stood. Accepting her helmet from the last waiting crew member; she raised it, donned it, straightened it, tucked her hair in it. Spinning on a heel, she strutted the asphalt catwalk to her waiting car.

She loved her car almost as much as herself: sleek, fast, sexy; sporting the top sponsor every other driver envied her for.

Let them envy.

Her chief’s instructions droned in her ear as her hands and eyes ran their automatic checks over instruments, seat, steering, and panel. Properly fueled, newly tired, she could feel her IndyCar just waiting to fly.

Not soon enough, the officials were finally ready. Non-drivers began moving away. “Not yet, Baby,” she told her ride.

“Not yet,” echoed in her ear.

Crews scattered, engines started, the customary celebrity car inched forward to lead them.

Not yet, she felt in the impatient rumble through her seat.

The trio in front of her moved out and hers followed after a pause. She was on the inside of the track, seventh position. She was ready. In a clouded haze of pre-race meditation, Wil saw the race from a distance: thirty-three cars all weaving patiently; thirty-three drivers scratching, adjusting, rubbing visors, quadruple-checking screens.

“Two corners, then green flag,” her crew chief intoned.

“Almost,” she purred.

Almost.

Another celebrity stood poised atop the tower, his green flag already waving like mad. Wil Power did not even grant him a glance as her red baby zoomed across the start and hungrily revved to reach lap speed.

“Now!” they all chorused. Beneath the helmet, she smiled.

 

Continued from Seventy-Nine.
Keep reading to Eighty-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-One

Blinking away a world of sunsets and wings, Wil snuggled her arms free from their blanket cocoon. She groped into an outside coat pocket, searched, and removed her thin, black gloves. The other outside pocket produced a few wood chips, and a remembering blush. The inside pocket held lint and a rather bent novel. She frowned, hoping her teacher wouldn’t be too upset at the state of her loaned material.

Wil reached into her last pocket. This held a crinkling wad of official paper folded over a handwritten letter: her goal. Wil spread them out as best as she could and read them over again.

“Mom,” she said. Her fingers traced the looping flourish of Guinevere Greene’s signature. The title of Mother belonged to Cynthia; there had never been any thought or chance or wish for Wil to believe otherwise. She’d read stories, of course, of children with awful parents who wanted more than anything to be cared for by someone else. Wonderful, loving Cynthia, however, had always been so sweet. If they hadn’t had limitations like health and money, the mother she and Jakob had known for most of their lives might have spoiled them.

As such, they were only ever spoiled with affection.

Once when Wil was quite young, she remembered, she got into Cynthia’s makeup. Staring at her tiny, painted self in the mirror, Wil had realized that her mother was standing right behind her. Arms crossed, face frowned, Cynthia had not been pleased. “Now Wil,” she’d said. “This is my makeup and you need to ask permission.” She’d come forward and sat right next to poor, apologetic Wil. “Now,” she’d added, “Let me show you how grown-up women put on their lipstick.”

Wil’s lips pursed forward, remembering the way she and her mother -the mother she’d always known- had made kissing faces at the mirror after painting their lips. Anytime she’d wanted to after that, Wil had joined Cynthia at the mirror to get made up for the day.

Wil stared down at the cursive again, trying to picture its author. Was Guinevere the sort of mother who smiled with love when her daughter blurted out whatever came to mind? Did her laugh or smile light up a room? Would she have asked Wil about her day, every day? Would she have shown Wil how to put on makeup from her own supply?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Wil had no experience with how a real mom might be. If anything, her reading had taught her to fear a stepmother, but Cynthia was nothing like the cruel stepmothers that stalked the pages of fantasy stories. Given that, was Guinevere the evil one?

She had left Wil behind. She had insisted on Rob’s never telling Wil about her.

And yet…

—–

“Whazzinit?” Syl the pixie paige asked, ever the nosy sprite.

Wyl Winterling cast him an imperious glance, her coils of dark hair shifting across her featherlight wings with the movement. “I believe that is none of your business.”

Syl drawled a disappointed, “Awwrr.”

“Still,” Wyl interuppted. “I may tell you that I’ve learned I’m also daughter of The Great Lady of the Greene.”

The effect of her statement was instantaneous. Syl drew breath in, and was blessedly speechless. The Great Lady existed in forgotten ballads and old stories, and was whispered amongst the branches of the magical elder boughs.

“So,” Queen Wyl’s paige squeaked out, “Will she be comin’ for a wee visit soon?”

 

Continued from Seventy.
Keep reading to Seventy-Two.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy

Wil blushed again. She felt caught, knowing she needed to stay but not yet finding her appetite. “Um. May I be excused?” She saw her father raise his eyebrows and her mother’s smile become more amused. “I promise I’ll come back later to finish!” she added in a rush.

Her mother laughed; Rob glanced at his wife. “Sure, Wil.”

Wil pushed away from the table before either changed his mind. Her foot caught at the chair leg and her hip caught at the table’s edge. She recovered enough to make it to the hallway without further incident. As she got to her bedroom, she heard the low rumble of her father’s voice asking a question.

“I really do have homework,” Wil grumbled. Looking around the jumbled confusion of her bedroom, she added, “Maybe some room work.” Accordingly, she threw herself across the unmade bed, cuddled up in the comforter, and rolled onto her back.

—–

The azure sky of autumn breathed sunset hues amongst the dancing wildflowers and wild weeds. Skylarks sang of evening while bullfrogs took up the chorus. Wyl Winterling sighed with pleasure from her downy dandelion nest at the great oak’s base as she watched the painted sky above.

Times had been peaceful, of late. She’d not heard from the Mosquitoes of Swamp Direling since the weather cooled, the summer dryads were too sleepy to cause much mischief, and the more restless forest creatures had left for warmer climes.

Wyl sighed once more. What wasn’t to love about winter?

“Mistress Wyl!”

Perhaps that.

Even a queen of fae folk might want a few minutes without interruption, Wyl thought with a scowl. She nestled farther down inside the white, tickling seed pods. The reds and golds over her shrouded head appeared more pieced and distinct.

“Mistressss Wy-yl!” Her paige’s nasal voice was closer.

She knew the persistent pixie would find her; regal wings had a way of sticking out and the paige had a way of remembering Wyl’s favorite hiding places. He’d only find her hiding funny and she’d hear no end of the buzz among the court for the duration of an otherwise perfect winter.

As Syl, the paige of Queen Wyl Winterling, came round the shadow of the oak, Wyl pushed atop the soft weed top to sit on the seeds like a throne. “Yes, Syl?” she stressed his name in as regal a tone as a being the height of a toadstool could convey.

The pixie, for his part, tried and failed at a serious expression. “Mistress Wyl,” he giggled, frowned, then smirked. “A moste important epistle requires Your Highness’ attention.”

Wyl nearly fell from her perch, were it not for the balance of her ever-ready wings. “Epistle?”

Syl giggled again. “Oh, aye. Seems ’twere from your mam…”

“Mom,” Wil said, remembering. “Guinevere.”

 

Continued from Sixty-Nine.
Keep reading to Seventy-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Seven

“Mina!”

Dr. Winters paused mid-rush, a sound catching her attention. Perhaps someone was paging her? She grasped at her lapel and realized she’d left her radio back in the office. “Just a moment, Tanaka,” she told the eager but often nervous undergraduate. She left him and walked a few paces back. Turning, she added, “I’ll meet you at the lab.”

A few paces more, and the brilliant woman had another thought. She pivoted and walked backwards. “Which lab is it again?”

Thomas Tanaka still stood where they’d parted. He morphed a rising bemusement into a thoughtful twist of his mouth. “A-23, Doctor Winters.”

“Mina!”

She glanced ’round the reflective, night-darkened hallway.

“Wil?”

Wil opened her eyes to see her sweet mother’s face peering over the front seat at her. Wil blinked and realized her father’s face also pointed her way. Her mother’s smiled; his sighed and was tired.

“I was awake,” Wil said. She felt stiff as she sat up and looked around the car. “Where’s Jakob?”

Cynthia coughed slightly. “He went inside already, honey. Said he had homework.”

For a reason Wil couldn’t quite recall, she thought to doubt Jakob’s claims. Some encounter at the hospital brushed against her memory. “Reagan,” she remembered.

“What?”

“Jakob’s going to message Reagan,” Wil said, tact and discretion always far from her first impulses.

Her mother choked on a laugh, which set her to coughing. Rob moved over and held his wife from an awkward front seat angle.

“I’m so sorry!” Wil agonized, but was rewarded with a pained expression from her father’s quick glance. Wil’s face crumpled. She pushed at the car door and stumbled out into the eerie mists of winter twilight. Recovering, she ran.

The world was a barren, cold, and heartless place. Mankind had learned to fight against itself and avoid all semblance of connections; embracing only empty, selfish pursuits. Nina Win knew this, yet also knew that there was no other world for her. She walked on, her army regulation boots stomping so loudly against the frigid cement walkways that they sounded from the many desolate buildings nearby.

A twisting, bulky shape rose before her. A playground. Why not? the ex-Marine thought. She clumped over abandoned, frost-crusted wood pieces and up a slippery plastic play slide. There at the top she viewed the crumbling housing complex. Families had lived here once, she knew. Children had played where she stood; happy children. Had the physical equipment she gripped in her creaking gloves not been present, Nina would never have believed those facts.

So intent was she upon her gloomy musings that she failed to remember her training to be vigilant. A dark movement shifted just under her left arm and began moving toward her. Despite rigid protocol to the contrary, she almost screamed.

The darkness resolved to a human shape. He stopped just beneath her vigil.

“Hi,” said Eric Crandall, the shy boy from apartment 5-3.

 

Continued from Sixty-Six.
Keep reading to Sixty-Eight.

The Stages of Being a Writer Reader

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I read a book recently.

Whilst reading, I noticed I was mentally composing questions or reprimands to the author.

Did you really just do that? Why’d you make her go there?

This is a change from the reading mind of my childhood; the time when I completely absorbed into a story, lived in the world, and watched the characters walking about. I’d surface from the last page, blinking at supposed reality, but not really entering it till all memories of Narnia or Yorkshire or The Enchanted Forest dissipated.

And then I’d pick up the sequel.

Looking at both ends of my experience, I’ve realized a path, a journey, a progression in my reading.

At first, in the child years of absorption, I was a toddler at Disneyland. Everything was beautiful, exciting, without flaw, and controlled by adults who handled all the details so all I had to do was have fun.

After that, the pleasure of the thing was ruined by high school English teachers. They insisted on an analysis of why every ride was fun, what the motives of the costumed characters really were, and what else Walt Disney meant by his questionable “It’s a Small World After All.”

In college, I moved on to read about the underprivileged workers at Disneyland. Who was the real ‘power’ behind what powered the rides, how could we feel exactly as he felt, and why must we be part of the hedonistic problem?

Between then and now, of course, is Mom Brain. With limited cranial capacity, I’ve had to read non-fiction to plan the amusement park trip so that every else could have fun. I got to ride a few fun books, but always followed up with the self-help variety once guilt kicked in.

And today we’re also here: a year after dedicating myself more fully to the idea that I can write, that I can create something like Disneyland.

Eventually.

Right?

So I’m mentally yelling at other authors about their design. Typical.

I wonder when I’ll get to the point of recognizing constructions or anticipating smart-sounding elements like ‘rising action.’ Will I ever be invited to Club 33?

I probably need to read some more. Has anyone else noticed a change in how s/he reads? Do you still enjoy reading?