Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Eight

Wil and her father hadn’t time nor thought for conversation. The old Winters sedan sped along at a rate Wil worried over, given its age. Not until a few blocks from school did she realize the tire wasn’t flat anymore.

“You fixed the car!” she exclaimed.

Rob grunted. Wil remembered that her father preferred one task at a time. He also preferred that task to never be talking. Still, she wanted to cheer him up some. “Good work,” she ventured, stealing a peripheral glance. His profile softened and the half-mouth she could see almost smiled.

They rode the final street in their former silence. Wil’s school loomed out of the morning grey. Rob tore toward its curb and parked next to an old patch of slush. Besides a few straggling teenagers arriving in similar fashion to Wil’s; the muddy, uphill patch of dead grass to the doors was empty.

“‘Bye, Dad!” She stole a kiss on her father’s cheek, caught her pullover on her seatbelt, and forgot to pull the door latch to open it. She was too busy extricating herself from belt and car to see her father’s quick, swallowed smile.

The door slammed behind her as he answered, “‘Bye, Mina.” She raced up the slippery lawn. Rob watched in tired bemusement before pulling away; he needed to get to work.

Not until Wil entered the school itself and made for her locker did she notice she’d forgotten her bag. Doing a quick about-face, she thanked whatever Being lived above that Mr. Saltz hardly cared if anyone even showed up to his class. English would be the only difficulty; they needed to bring their novel to read aloud.

“It’s not like half the class can read anyway…” she muttered. She stomped down the hall, preoccupied. Her left boot wheezed a soft *Eeeee* as she walked. Upstairs, left, straight she walked. Maybe Miss Riles will loan me a book. Formulating a future conversation in her mind, she turned and walked into the Math classroom.

And straight into her teacher. “Oh!” Mr. S. said, surprised.

Wil stopped dead. All eyes were on her and all the faces showed equal surprise to the teacher’s, but not for long. A snicker started somewhere and it soon spread to the rest of her peers.

Mr. S. appeared at a loss. He’d been interrupted mid-lecture by a student, and the other students seemed diverted. Wil took advantage of his distraction and made for the nearest empty spot. She sat and faced forward; every inch an attentive, responsible pupil.

Their teacher cleared his throat. He glanced back at his notes on the white board; unfortunately, he hadn’t written anything there yet. “Hmmm,” he said. His eyes fell on his packet on the desk. “Ah! Exponents!”

The lecture resumed; allowing the rest of the class to return to their usual, inattentive behaviors. Wil hoped she could manage the remainder of the day without drawing attention to herself. Given her experience, she doubted it.

 

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

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

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.
Keep reading to Ninety-Eight.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Five

It hadn’t been such a boring class after all, Wil reminisced. She crossed one foot back over the other and tried not to share that idea with the other members of her Chemistry group. They probably weren’t in the mood. She snuck a glance to her right and left, taking in their various poses of irritation and boredom.

She wished for something to do besides wait for her turn with only a motivational poster and her classmates to stare at. She should have grabbed the note from Hope, maybe, during their hasty escape to the office. None of them had thought to do much besides run, given the damage. If only Carl weren’t such a clumsy jerk, she thought.

Almost simultaneously, she and the others glared at the door to the nurse’s office. It was a closet, really, since they lacked an official nurse or sick room. Only in today’s case of potential chemical burning had their secretary, Mrs. Bird, demonstrated concern or permission to use some of the school’s precious medical supplies. Wil hoped the first aid kit was still in date, considered who was at fault, and rescinded that hope -at least for the bandages used on Carl.

She sighed. The girl who had gotten their experiment supplies rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah. What a jackass.”

Bobby and Wil snorted, and Wil saw a slight smile on the boy’s face whose name she did not know. He’d been right next to Carl when Carl had spilled their supplies, and was therefore third in line to be seen.

“Shouldn’t we get an ambulance or something?” Bobby asked. He eyed the supplies girl, who was awkwardly cradling her arm in the office’s usual method of first aid: a wet towel.

The girl shrugged.

“I’ve never been burned at school,” Wil offered. She thought. “Did anyone bring a phone?” She knew it wasn’t likely, since anyone who owned one had to keep it in his locker or risk its removal.

The boy who’d been near Carl turned to the right and left, then down the short hall to the closed supplies door. They could still hear Carl yelping and complaining. Phrases like, “I’ve got conditioning to get to, you know…” drifted down the hall, followed by Mrs. Bird’s impatient, “If you’d hold still, this bandage would stay…”

“I’ve got one,” he affirmed. “Can you take it?” he asked the girl seated to his right.

“Ha!” she answered, screwing up her face. “Even if I wanted to, lover boy, my hands are as damaged as yours.” She held up her towel-draped hands to demonstrate; he responded in kind.

“I’ll do it,” Wil grumbled. Laughing as he angled to accentuate the appropriate side pocket, she slipped it free.

“Hurry,” Bobby urged.

Wil activated the screen. “What’s your passkey?”

“Twenty-three, thirty-two.”

“Nice,” Bobby commented.

Wil didn’t understand what was “nice” about a bunch of numbers, but put them in and pulled up a search. After only a half-minute’s read, she said, “Eurgh!”

“What?” the two hand burn victims asked. Bobby leaned over her left shoulder to see.

Just then, the supplies door opened. Wil stashed the phone in her pocket and looked up to see a mummy-like Carl Hurn exiting. He wore a glare as well, but it was not as impressive as the scowl worn by the woman just behind him.

“Mrs. Bird?” Wil ventured. “I think Carl needs to go to the hospital.”

Mrs. Bird stood all 5’2″ of her frame a little straighter. She peered around Carl. “Oh?” she sniffed. “And why do you think that, Ms. Winters?”

“Well,” Wil gulped, “I …remembered a story I …um.. that Dr. L -Dr. Lombard told us recently about a guy with chemical burns..” She tried not to look at her classmates as she blushed. They knew she was lying about her source, of course, but even Mrs. Bird wanted to hear the story.

The secretary’s expression became impatient in her morbid curiosity. “Well?”

Wil shifted. “Um, well …I re- I mean, Dr. Lombard said- that the guy’s -erm- well, that the guy had chemicals spilled in his lap like Carl did; and that, because the guy didn’t change and rinse off and go to a hospital right away, that he didn’t have any …private parts when they finally did cut off his pants…”

To which Wil and three of her classmates witnessed the fastest de-pantsing a person with bandaged hands has ever completed.

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Four

“Thank you, Mr. LongDog,” Dr. L. said, shooting nervous glances at the brown-bunned woman peering over her clipboard.

A few members of the class laughed again; Wil barely refraining from snickering, herself. She felt sorry for Dr. L. He was clearly flustered and the laughing didn’t help. That sympathy, however, vanished with what happened next.

“We’ll, erm, need to break into groups,” Dr. L. continued. He looked faint at the idea, then scratched the back of his head and cast his glance around the room for inspiration. Something must have hit, for then he raised his pointer finger in a pose of scientific discovery. “Ah!” he announced, “I’ll sort you like they did at the training.”

Looping his lab coat-shod arms in a wide air gesture, he said, “You six, here, are one group.” He walked to the cluster in which Wil sat. “You -um- seven are a group…”

Wil didn’t hear the rest. She was too mindful of her stomach dropping in dread. Kind, patient Jenny Sanders was fine. Even that quiet kid she barely knew (Bobby? Something?) wasn’t bad. The problem was that Dr. L.’s sweeping loop of her seven desk group included the ever-obnoxious Carl Hurn. She felt sick. “Uuuhhrrg.”

“Did you say something, Wil?” Jenny asked. She seemed concerned, although maybe that came more from a desire to avoid infection. Wil noticed Jenny’s eyes flit the distance between their desks.

“Fine,” Wil answered. “I’m fine.” She tried not to glance in the direction of Carl’s desk. Instead, she focused on reading over the paper of instructions.

Bobby cleared his throat. “Looks like,” he began in an unsteady timbre -Carl snickered and Bobby ignored him- “Looks like we need to circle up first.”

They all acquiesced a grumble and moved the class furniture accordingly.

“Then,” Bobby continued, “we need the things on this list.” He raised his own paper and pointed at the bullet point words.

“I got it,” a girl, whom Wil didn’t know, volunteered. She rose, grabbed her own paper, and headed to the supply cupboard.

“I wonder if it’ll even open,” Wil muttered.

To her surprise, Jenny giggled. She met Wil’s eye. “This is kind of odd for Ol’ Lombard,” Jenny said. “But, it’s also nice to not spend the whole period trying not to sleep.”

Someone snorted. It was Carl. “Says the Teacher’s Pet.”

A boy to Carl’s left punched him lightly in the arm. “Shut the -” he glanced up and paled a bit, causing Wil to whip around and see that their ‘visitor’ was peering in their direction. She whipped back forward. The puncher cleared his throat and leaned closer to Carl. “Shut up, alright?”

Carl’s expression looked sheepish. Wil was amazed, up until she turned back to Jenny and caught the open admiration on the girl’s face.

“Got ’em,” a voice said, interrupting Wil’s observations. The girl who’d volunteered to collect materials had returned. She set two glass phials, a few strips of colored paper, and several opaque bottles on her desk. Plopping into her seat behind the supplies, she asked, “Now what?”

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Three

Unfortunately for Wil, Dr. L. had attended a mandatory training over the weekend. This training, he now stopped mid-lecture to lament to the class, involved hands-on activities. He’d had to practice with actual people and be told, no, he couldn’t just talk about science.

The conclusion of his complaints to Wil’s class was that the school wanted him to change the way he taught. Wil groaned in sync with a chorus of fellow sympathizers. She wasn’t the only teenager who used Dr. L.’s lectures to finish activities like text conversations or homework due in the next period.

“They’re even sending someone in to-” their teacher began, then cut off as a knock sounded on the classroom door.

They all turned to look as the knocker pushed into the room and stood expectantly just inside. She was a woman with a messy bun and a somewhat wrinkled pantsuit. Everything about her frowned, Wil thought, from the lines of the woman’s outfit to her down-turned spectacles.

Dr. L. stared in apprehension at her for a full minute; Wil couldn’t remember ever seeing him focus on a living object before. The woman cleared her throat. “Don’t mind me, please.” Her voice was a higher-pitched version of his, a nasal sort that put Wil in mind of a squirrel. A squirrel with a messy bun and frowning face. *Ahem*, she cleared things again. “Just pretend I’m not here.”

The class and, especially, Dr. L. watched her perch atop a lab stool, her clipboard grasped before her and her legs and feet drawn near to her body. When nothing else happened, she returned the bespectacled chemistry teacher’s gaze. “Well?”

“Oh!” He started, and seemed to remember where he was. “Oh! Right; right.” Shuffling back to his lecture table, Dr. L. began shifting through chemical bottles and loose papers. “It’s right here -I know they’re here somewhere…” he muttered.

“Dr. L.?” Jenny, the girl to Wil’s left, raised a hand.

The man she addressed peered near her in some confusion. “Yes, Ms. -?”

“Sanders, sir,” Jenny said politely. She always had to tell him and Wil always marveled at how patiently Jenny did so. “I think you left the experiment notes on your computer.”

The overhead lights glinted off Dr. L.’s lenses as he lifted and turned his face to the location Jenny referenced. “Ah!” he exclaimed, and walked over to pick the pile up. “Thank you, Ms. -?”

“Sanders.”

“Yes,” he agreed. Turning to Cash Delarge’s desk, he said, “Here, Mr. LeDog. Take a paper and pass them along.”

Wil sighed as a few people tittered. Chemistry was going to be a long class today.

 

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

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.

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-Nine

Wil didn’t notice her interesting ensemble, and her mother was too kind to draw attention to it. Wil might have requested the information, had she known that a certain occupant of Building Five was spying more discreetly than even W could manage.

She and her mother suspected nothing. They walked their familiar, echoing path past the winter-dead trees and morning-shadowed playground. They spoke less than usual; they thought a lot more. Her mother had two coughing fits but insisted she felt fine enough to continue. Wil sighed deeply more than twice but insisted she felt fine enough to continue as well.

They walked the cold and empty route in a quiet unease; each with thoughts far from the areas she walked through or the person she walked with.

“All right, Wil…” her mother said once they were back at home. Her intended speech, however, was interrupted by yet more coughing. Wil closed the door, then walked her gasping mother to the couch. She held up the medicine bottle, the water cup, and then the nebulizer in turn. Cynthia shook her head at each but the last. Wil found and measured out the correct medication, attached the air hose, and offered its mouthpiece. She anxiously watched her mother inhale the vapor at a gasp in the coughing; cough; inhale; breathe out. Wil sighed, as she always did, in relief.

Her mother cleared her throat in the careful manner she’d used all weekend. “Now, Wil,” she said in a quieter voice, “Are you going to tell me more about your secret clues, or about Reagan, or…” She fixed Wil with a knowing look. “About why the playground outside makes you sigh?”

Wil looked up, shock plainly written all over her face.

“Or,” her mother said kindly, “Maybe you want to talk more about the letter from Gwen?”

Wil opened her mouth, changed her mind, and closed it. Her face changed expression to one of scrunched thoughtfulness as she considered what to say. She opened her mouth to try again.

“Mina!” her father said in surprise. He stood in the doorway to the hall, coat in hand and socks on feet. “We need to go!”

Wil hurried a glance to the microwave clock. They were late! “Oh! Sorry, Dad! Umm..” She searched around herself for what she might need to grab, as her thoughts searched around her head for what she might need to remember. Her mind grasped an idea before her hands did. “My bag! I’ll got get my bag from my room! Then we can go!”

She rose in a rush and made to dart around her father; who, for some reason, blocked her path. Wil looked up at him in confusion. A smile played at the edges of his mouth.

“Min- Wil,” he said. “Maybe pick some different pants first?”

Her gaze traveled back to her own person. “Gah!” she exclaimed, and again made to rush to her bedroom. This time her father did not stop her. In fact, she heard what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle just before entering her room.

 

Continued from Seventy-Eight.
Keep reading to Eighty.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Eight

The guard shifted again. W froze. Just as she thought to chase her instincts back to where her equipment waited, he sat up and turned on the bedside lamp.

“Mina?” his groggy voice asked, his eyes squinting. “That you?”

“Yes, Dad,” Wil answered, sighing.

Her mother moaned and moved her head. Wil and her father watched Cynthia roll over and turn off the breathing machine, remove the attached mask, and rub gently at her face. Perhaps sensing their attentions, she looked in Wil’s direction, then Rob’s. She smiled. “Good morning. Is it time for our walk?” She yawned and her audience felt obliged to yawn in reply.

“I think,” Wil ventured, “We’re actually a little late.” She came into the room, stepping over but mostly through the disarray. “Sorry, Mom.”

Her mother held out a friendly hand, which Wil took. “That’s okay.” She yawned again. “We’ll just do a few fewer laps.” Turning her attention to the bed and its surroundings, she said, “Now, if you two could help locate my clothes, I’ll get dressed and meet you at the door.”

Wil laughed quietly. “Sorry,” Rob supplied. “I’ve been meaning to pick up.”

“Looks fine to me,” Wil said, feigning innocence.

Now her mother laughed. Her father’s face twisted into an expression of humored irritation. “Suppose we both clean up today?” he proposed.

“Found ’em,” Wil said, grabbing at a pink bundle very near the bed on Cynthia’s side. She deposited them on her mother’s lap. “I’ll see you up front!” Her parents both watched the bouncing chaos of hair and stumbling movements of Wil skip from their room.

Rob sighed. He shifted and leaned over to kiss his wife’s cheek.

“Do you think,” Cynthia asked, pulling at the t-shirt she slept in, “She knows she’s wearing a striped purple top and plaid pajama bottoms?”

 

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