Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Nine

Wil was last to reach the minivan. She slid open the side door and climbed over seats to sit in the back row.

Besides an encouraging smile after a brief glance up from her phone, Reagan pretended she and Wil did not know each other any more than they had before Wil was listed as “talented.” Wil knew the group wanted anonymity, but that didn’t prevent a sudden, small, hard lump of self-consciousness from forming in her stomach as Reagan acted obliviously.

They moved out toward home. Wil watched the gray, February landscape of commercial suburbia flash past the minivan windows. Why do they pretend they aren’t friends, except at lunch yesterday and today? She wondered to herself. Surely, the secrecy didn’t matter if everyone in the school saw them all eating together.

With that in mind, she pulled a notebook from her backpack.

Next, she withdrew half of a pencil. She tried to write, but found the tip was broken. Sighing, she dropped that pencil back in the backpack and rifled around some more. After withdrawing the same broken tool twice more, she remembered her pen was inside the folder from History class and took that out instead.

She glanced at the other passengers, and even Mrs. Crandall. Vic was engrossed in their English reading assignment; Reagan and Jorge interacted with their screens; and Mrs. Crandall was eating chips from a crinkling bag, reading a celebrity gossip article on her phone, and occasionally looking out of the windshield. Eric was looking steadfastly forward, though Wil thought she’d seen him move a few moments before she’d looked up.

With waning ink, Wil scrawled a hasty message. Then, keeping her eyes on the back of Eric’s head, she dropped the note discreetly into Reagan’s lap.

Reagan casually dropped her hand down to cover the note. After a minute, she looked at her midsection and read it quickly from a carefully-cupped hand. Wil heard Reagan sigh. Reagan rotated her head a bit to stretch her neck, then grabbed a pen from her pocket and wrote something under the original message. Looking around the car and out the window nonchalantly; she yawned, stretched her hands to her shoulders, and dropped the note back on Wil.

Impatiently, Wil picked up the note and read it. Under her own, “Why all the secrets if we eat lunch together?” Reagan had scrawled what looked like, “Speciel meetings for you.”

Wil sat in her seat, blank-faced and blinking. She didn’t even notice Eric glance back at her quickly. She barely saw another wad of paper -this one purple- drop over Reagan’s shoulder and onto Wil’s boots.

Copying Reagan’s subtlety, Wil stretched down to pick up the paper, then smoothed it out quietly across her legs. Reagan’s handwriting spelled out, “Sorry. I was supost to tell you details. Sorry.”

The minivan screeched the turn into their complex, forcing everyone to one side as their bodies stretched at their seatbelts. It bumped gratefully into a parking stall and Mrs. Crandall remembered to put it into Park before turning off the engine and getting out.

Eric, Vic, Jorge, and Mrs. Crandall exited. In the brief few seconds they were inside together, Reagan looked right at Wil and said, “I have a paper to give you, but I lost it. Stephen is supposed to sneak it to you Monday. It will explain everything.”

Reagan grabbed her things and got out. Following suit, Wil took her backpack and lurched outside. Again, she thought she saw movement; but Reagan and Jorge were almost to their street corner, Vic had almost reached her building, Mrs. Crandall was absently staring at her phone with her mouth open, and all she could see of Eric was his curling red-blonde hairs on the back of his head. He was looking elsewhere again.

Wil shook her head and walked to building four.

Eric turned to watch the retreating figure of Wil and her black scarf blowing behind. She and it disappeared around the nearest building. Sighing, he turned back to the car to retrieve his bag. His eye caught something else moving, but through the open door of the minivan. Moving forward, he saw two notes -one purple- lying on the floor of the car. The slight wind caught at their edges, gesturing to him.

 

Continued from Forty-Eight.
Keep reading to Fifty.

Wilhelmina Winters: 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.
Keep reading to Thirty.

Wilhelmina Winters: 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.
Keep reading to Twenty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty

She stood, solemnly and silently. Shadows of sun clouds shrouded her views from the wall-length windows as her concerns shrouded her mind. Wilhelmina Winters, of City Hospital, sighed deeply.

She lifted the small note in her hand and glanced at its surface without seeing the writing upon it. She sighed again, the movement causing a rustling of ruffles in the satin of her dress. She adjusted her black lace scarf and subconsciously admired the affect in her muted reflection.

“Whatever shall I do?” She whispered in her slight drawl. She touched fingers with the dark glass girl.

Although distracted most terribly, Ms. Winters was pleased with the way her reflection was part her and partly the elements beyond her: gray clouds, interrupted light, and troubled winds.

A slight sound behind caused her to turn toward it. A loose curl graced her high-boned cheek at the turn, though the remaining strands stayed restrained and refined atop her head. A man in black too large for his frame had shifted upon the chaise, and his whispering cloak had alerted her.

Neither he nor his silent companion opened his darkling eyes, so Ms. Winters turned back to herself. This was not the change she anxiously anticipated. She felt the disappointment acutely as the girl opposite gave her an empathetic look of impatient sadness.

Without seeming to change composure nor expression, the older of her companions addressed her, “Come away from the window and sit down, Mina. It won’t make waiting any faster.”

Ms. Winters touched her friend a final goodbye, then slowly stepped in slithering satin to her father. Heaving an adolescent expression of restlessness, she acquiesced to his request and sat.

She tried, most dutifully, to divert herself with the room, the note, and her relative’s resting faces. Having an instinctively restless nature, however, she failed. This was her usual want, despite many tutors’ efforts to patiently instruct her away from it.

She looked round the room, furnishings, and windows for some sign of release and found none. She looked to her hand and what it held.

Drawing on some remaining curiosity, Ms. Winters again applied herself to the paper. She forced her natural mind away from waiting, and worked her hands to apply print to parchment. She would soon know precisely what her secret paramour meant to express.

She wrote dutifully as she toyed with her hair curl, as unruly as her natural spirit. She finished copying all of the letters, and prepared to separate them into meaning.

Her quick ears pricked in recognition of footfalls the instant before the door near them was opened. She and the men accompanying her sat up quickly to look toward the sound.

A nurse stood there, smiling at their expressions and the good news she would deliver.

 

Continued from Nineteen.
Keep reading to Twenty-One.

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters: Fourteen

Wil walked among her chattering, self-absorbed peers in a protective bubble of her own thoughts and attentions. She held the second note against her heart with her books and notebook. She walked in as straight but casual a line as she could to the lunchroom.

Though she worried about the person behind the spying eyes at the door from earlier, Wil had to eat. She often wasn’t full from what they ate at home, and school lunch was a reduced cost besides.

As such, Wil found herself looking through clear sneeze guards at options that resembled edible items a few minutes later. She selected the Chicken Fried Steaklike Meat and Potatoes with Vegetable meal, snagging a roll and a bowl of previously-canned fruit.

Wil relayed her account number to the bored lunch lady sitting at the computer, then carefully spied around to find an unoccupied table. She checked around to ensure no one was paying her attention, either, and saw nothing suspicious. Hopefully, whoever had seen her in the courtyard was long gone.

Since the lunch period was nearly over, Wil was able to find a vacated blue table near a wall. She carefully set her food on it, retrieved some utensils, then came back and sat herself down on the matching blue bench. She casually pulled out the folded note she’d saved from under the brick, then picked up her roll and took a bite.

Wil began unfolding the paper, separating the little edge tatters that had interlocked a bit. She felt the excitement in her chest flutter like a hyperactive butterfly. She wondered what she’d find.

Immediately, Wil saw that this paper also was not written in regular English. This was turning into a regular treasure hunt!

Although excited to crack another code, Wil also felt annoyance. Who was leaving these notes? For what purpose? Spies would have assigned a mission at this point. Fairies would surely get right to the point and not leave a person hanging on clues.

Wil looked over the symbols on this new cypher as she ate her way through the chicken fried substance and its accompanying instant potatoes. The “letters” were lines, dots, and some lines with dots. They were confusing enough to distract her from the lack of taste as she chewed.

Wil wondered if her keyboarding teacher next period would give them extra time at the end of class, so that she could do some searching. Looking over the lines and dots and line dots, Wil felt out of her element.

Once again, the interminable bell sound resounded in the halls. It was a depressing death knell tone in the lunchroom where Wil and slow eaters still sat.

Wil finished her fruit, some of the vegetable-shaped side dish, then shoved her roll in her shirt pocket to finish once she was done chewing the rest.

Would she solve this message? What would it say? Where would she go? Would she ever know who was writing them?

 

Continued from Thirteen.
Keep reading to Fifteen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirteen

Wil felt lucky. Instead of the potential danger her briefing had warned of, she had only to secure this classified document. “N” would be pleased -or, at least, appeased– until Wil could ultimately locate and apprehend their mysterious informant.

She was unlikely to encounter armed sentries near the note, judging by the vacant and disused look of the place. The cold wind swirled light mists of snow from the drifts toward her exposed hands and face. No footsteps could be seen.

Wil was still concerned about the people inside, however. The doors were tinted, and locked, but someone might come close and see her through the glass. She couldn’t blow her cover again.

Setting her books against the wall, she inched around the corner carefully and slowly walked to the red table. Her footfalls echoed softly from the walls of the courtyard, as she placed careful steps amid cold wind burst whirls of old snow.

Wil tried to steal glances at the people inside the lunchroom inside the building. These were mostly bystanders, but the tall ones patrolling round the innocents were not. Those were informants.

She steadied her shivering limbs and teeth. She drew ever nearer her goal. She was close enough to hear the paper flapping against the brick imprisoning it. She could almost reach out and free it.

Wil checked the doors once more as she stepped over a yellow bench, and froze in cold and surprise. Just as quickly as the shadow appeared, it disappeared. But, Wil was left with the memory of two hands cupped around a face, against the door, the better to see her with.

Recovering quickly, Wil leaned over the red table, lifted the brick with her right hand, and extracted the fluttering paper quickly with her left. She grasped it as tightly as she could in her mittened first. She turned and exited much more quickly than she’d entered. This time, loud clomping and a slight squeak echoed back to her.

Not looking back, she retrieved her books and ran back around the school to the door she’d first used to get outside.

“Please, still be open,” She repeated to herself through chattering and exercised exhaling.

There was the door; she made it. Wil slid her left hand, clutching the note, against the door crack to feel for the slight opening her rock should have made.

“Oh, good!” She exhaled gratefully. The words hung a slight mist in the air. The rock was still in place.

Wil pried and hefted the door open with cloth hands. Kicking the stone to the side, she entered the school a bit breathlessly.

She looked side to side. She attempted to slow her breathing, elevated by escape and elation.

She’d done it. Mission accomplished.

 

Continued from Twelve.
Keep reading to Fourteen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twelve

Wil’s current school had been remodeled a few years ago, and someone along the chain of command had decided that large, chunky furnishings in the primary colors would make a good decorating idea. As such, the public areas like the common and lunch rooms had tables and chairs painted brightly in red, yellow, or blue.

Also, some large, odd accents that may have resembled the idea of modern art were periodically attached to the walls in ways that were meant to be artistic and interesting. These were painted in the primary color scheme as well. The wall shapes reminded Wil of plastic preschool utensils that had been garbled in a disposal accidentally; or of a young scribbler’s interpretation, in crayon, of swooping birds.

Wil crept carefully under a yellow swanlike wall spoon, listening; ruminating on the décor. The hallway was nearly empty.

She was no novice to top secret missions like this one, though she admitted being a little rusty after so many months assigned to a desk job. If only her partner hadn’t moved at the last second on their last case! -Well, regrets wouldn’t help now, and she was finally able to prove herself again.

Wil wouldn’t give “N” the chance to censure anything. She’d slip in completely undetected, finish the job, and file her report before anyone even knew she’d left for her mission.

There was a general hum of sound Wil was attuned to, punctuated by louder exclamations at times. As Wil drew closer to the front of the school, this noise resolved into collective conversations with occasional bursts of laughter or shouts. Wil paused and bit her lip. How would she get past a crowd that size, unnoticed?

A brave beam of sunlight pushed past the dissipating fog and overcast sky outside to lay across the floor of the hallway in front of Wil. Her eyes were drawn to it. She could take the door to outside, since no one would be out there in this chilly weather. Indeed, the doors were all locked this time of year, even to the small outdoor yard with tables by the lunch area. No one would want to eat in the cold.

Wil checked for any prying eyes, then headed right to the door. Wrapping her scarf more snugly, she pushed the door open into freezing air. In an unusual gesture of forethought, she sought a small rock and lodged it in the bottom of the door. This was a trick she’d used back in the Gold Onyx Mission. The latch wouldn’t connect fully, but the rock made the door look fully closed. Wil hoped that enemy sentries would be inattentive, at least till her return.

She folded her arms tightly around her books and herself and traveled quickly around the back of the building where there would be fewer people. It was cold. Wil wasn’t certain what sort of surveillance was in place; so she ducked under windows, hurried past doors, and kept her face shrouded in her purple hood.

In this fashion, she reached the wall that turned to fence the outdoor lunch court. Her stopping point faced north, and somehow also exposed Wil to a chill wind. Shivering, she tried to look spy-like as she peered around the corner into the yard.

Red, yellow, and blue tables and benches sat empty and frozen. Small snowdrifts were gathered in the shaded wall alcoves and at the bases of the tables. Wil’s scarf flapped a bit in the wind, but it wasn’t the only thing doing so.

As she looked closer, Wil could see a discarded brick from the wall sitting on one of the red tables. And there, pinned by the brick, flapped a blue-lined paper with a torn, serrated edge.

 

Continued from Eleven.
Keep reading to Thirteen.