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.

Skinwalkers, XXII

A very hurried citycross led Nathan and Shin back to Ware Tech, back to Check In, and back in front of any humanoid’s least favorite supervisor.

“What took you ladies so long?” Choms leered as they entered. Not one of the room’s occupants laughed, but the odious man never needed outside confirmation of his incredible wit.

Nathan ducked his head and shrugged. He felt out of air, and moved past Choms and a few peers to deposit their gear. Shin, on the other hand, straightened. The graying storm cloud of despair moved aside and glorious midmeal light shone upon his face.

“We gotta go back next shift,” he explained, flippantly. Choms immediately puffed up in fury. Just before he released his usual torrent of inaccurate, angry reprimands; Shin added, “Oh, and I need to quit. See you never!”

He cheekily patted the spluttering Choms on a sweaty shoulder, then spun around and skipped a bit to his locker. Nathan stood by the bench, torn between shock and hilarity. His friend looked up and they shared a very brief moment of incredulous amusement before –

“Whaddya mean QUIT?! There’s formals, you dirk!” As Choms erupted into an ever-swelling wave of profanity and indignation, Shin calmly activated his locker and dumped his satchel in the bottom. Nathan winced at the sound of the autodrill and drivers impacting the metal; his friend seemed even happier.

Shin slammed the door so forcefully that Nathan saw his reflection wobble in his own locker door. Oblivious, Shin strode purposefully up to the still-shouting Choms; said, “I’ll need my depart charge.”

Their flustered supervisor literally shook with rage. Words now eluded him as that area of his small mind became engrossed in processing a reaction to Shin’s request. Nathan could watch Choms’ thought process through varying skin hues and feature contortions across the ugly man’s face.

After a full moment, Choms managed to activate his tablet. A moment more, and he’d fumbled open Shin’s work record. The instant Shin saw the prompt, he scanned his comm beneath the sensor. The paltry paycycle loaded; Shin’s work permissions simultaneously disabled.

If he thought he could do so without losing a limb this time, Nathan was sure Shin would have patted Choms again. “I’ll exit you,” Nathan offered, closing his locker and coming forward. He and Shin moved around Choms, who was still trying to get his voice to function.

Nathan activated the door just as Choms finally burst out with, “You’ll need to return that liner, you know!”

Shin stopped at the doorway, turned, and looked Choms right in the eye. He removed a pocketlight and ignited the tiny concentrated flame. Without breaking eye contact, he slit his company liner from knee to collar. He capped the pocketlight and stepped out of the charred-edge fabric.

A useless shell and acrid stench were all Shin left behind, as his slipshod heels walked out in only the skin birth gave to him.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXIII.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Eight

She walked the course she often trod alone,

Perceiving little more than faceless crowd.

A shadow trailed beyond her body’s own,

As silent as the roiling mass were loud.

 

“Wil,” it spoke, out from obscurity.

Its target jumped and yelped in real surprise.

“It’s me,” Hope said, unnecessarily.

As Wil saw, true, Hope’s smiling face and eyes.

 

“I know you have but little time,” Hope said,

She turned and walked along the hall with Wil,

Matching Wil in gait, balance, and tread,

Causing Wil to marvel at such skill.

 

They reached Wil’s locker ere she e’en knew it.

She spun the combination absently.

The presence of Hope flustered her a bit,

Although, Wil thought, she should feel diff’rently.

 

“I’ve had two thoughts about your case,” said Hope.

Wil glanced at her, up from the task at hand.

She tried to meet Hope’s gaze, while fingers groped

And dial turned; its tri-code numbers scanned.

 

“The first I recommend is just to wait,”

Hope said, “Although that may be hard to do.”

Wil’s face showed doubt and restlessness innate;

Her patience never lasted long, she knew.

 

“I find my parents tell me what I seek,

When given time enough to organize,”

Hope said. The locker opened with a creak,

And Wil withdrew her backpack, books, supplies.

 

“The second, if you’re sure you want to look,”

Continued quiet girl with piercing glance,

“Is think where you hide what you don’t want took:

Beneath a pillow, bed; or drawers, by chance?”

 

Wil nodded, then asked anxiously, “Oh, but-

How do I move, and not make so much sound?”

“Well,” Hope thought, “Just try to sneak somewhat,

And, use distracting noises all around.”

 

So speaking, shadow nodded once, then left,

Melting subtly as she had advised

Among the crowds. So, leaving Wil to theft

Or patient wait -whate’er she would devise.

 

Continued from Forty-Seven.
Keep reading to Forty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters: 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.
Keep reading to Thirty-Five.