Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Seven

After their eventful weekend, Monday’s alarm startled Wil more than it usually did. She’d been dreaming of mists and searchings again, yet the feeling of the thing differed. Instead of a lost sensation, or a confused one, Wil had felt a …dread. The thing she sought in her dreams was now something she was not keen to find.

She lay staring up at her ceiling until the alarm rang again; she must have pushed Snooze at its initial sounding. “Oh!” she cried and fell off the bed. Graceful as ever, Wyl Winterling, she thought as she groped at the alarm and then at her laundry pile on the floor.

Soon enough, she had pants and a long-sleeved top. She resolved to ensure a matching outfit after the walk with her mother and a shower. Yawning and stretching, she dressed and clumped down the hallway. It was a good morning for Wil as she only bumped against the wall twice.

She heard her parents’ room before her eyes could make out the dark outline of its opening. A rhythmic machine-breathing came from that direction. The BiPAP was on again. She hadn’t heard it since the last time Cynthia was ill. Wil forgot how much she hated it despite how calm the soft, regular noise sounded.

W paused just outside the room, listening with an alertness acquired from years of training. A demonic *Shhhhsssshhh* *Shhhhhssshhh* emanated from the space, interrupted by a random rustling, a grunting snore.

What could it be? she wondered. She placed a thoughtful gloved finger to her lips in consideration. Alarm system? She’d disabled that upon entry, and the guard for good measure. Heating element? W knew no passive piece of equipment had a constant airflow, besides antiquated equipment like a ceiling fan. Is the hostage being subjected to a form of torture used decades ago?

With only one way to find out since her extendable cameras were inoperable this far beneath the ground, W peered around the corner of the doorpost.

At the sight of what lay beyond, she stifled a curse. Highly unprofessional, she knew. Still, what nefarious opponents had devised the assortment of cloth piles, closely-packed furniture, and random detritus before her?

A movement. A form upon the bed turned to its side yet still lay resting. The guard was asleep, then; good for him so long as he stayed that way. She turned her wary attention to her mission and her goal: the hostage. W gasped.

She realized, even before running a scan with her wristband, that the situation was more serious than she had been warned of. Her eyes traced the coils of tubing running from the box on the floor as her ears still heard its inexorable *Shsssshhhhssshhh* she’d first picked up outside the door.

Not only was the woman a hostage within the basement confines of a cement building, lying near a guard who might wake at any minute, she also literally rested within the clutches of a strange robotic device.

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Three

Wil awoke somewhat to the familiar irritation of a blaring alarm clock. She silenced it while maintaining a comfortable stupor of half-asleepness. The dark trees and mists of her dream still lingered round her subconscious, and confused her mind when mixed with the images her eyes sent of her plain, dark bedroom.

She yawned and chanced opening her eyes further. All was shapes and shadows of monochrome grays. She heard no sounds.

Her parents had been up late talking. Talking -and coughing, in Cynthia’s case. Her father rarely spoke, so Wil had found the deep rumble of his voice distracting at such a late hour. The coughing was not so distracting, since her mother had been doing it for such a long time -not that it ever ceased to be disturbing.

Wil decided that Cynthia would probably choose to sleep in, and complete her morning exercise with their neighbor. Rob could wake Cynthia to start her other routines before they left for school.

Wil’s assumptions were correct. After dressing, there was still no sound of waking from her parents’ room. She had to rouse them, then follow her father’s zombie-like tread around the apartment and out the door to their car.

She watched his face in the lines of streetlights, flashes of headlights, and dull glow of early morning as the car moved inexorably to school. Rob’s eyes opened only as far as necessary. His jaw -the entire bottom of his face- hung relaxed and unshaven below drooped eyebrows and tousled hair.

Wil wondered what had kept him up, and what still occupied his thoughts.

In fact, Rob emanated distraction more than fatigue. Although Wil was rarely able to sit quietly around her family, she picked up enough on his odd mood to not ask any questions.

Actually, what really silenced her were the only looks he had given her. Rob had looked at Wil when he first awoke with a sort of shock. The other two times, after he was more alert, his expression seemed sad and -well- distracted.

The only strange event of the evening before had been a letter he’d taken to his bedroom after getting home from work. If her father didn’t explain things by tonight, she was going to have to search for that letter.

Wil was not very sneaky, however, nor very good at finding what people hid.

“Bye, Gwen -er, Mina,” Rob said, as Wil exited the car at the curb.

At that exact moment, Wil was distracted by the vision of Hope walking alone. Maybe Wil wasn’t good at sneaking, but she knew someone talented enough to be listed officially.

 

Continued from Forty-Two (Again).
Keep reading to Forty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty-Five

*Beep! Beep! Beep!*

The annoying, repetitive sound surprised Wil moments after she remembered closing her eyes. She stared in confusion at the completely dark ceiling for a few seconds, then memory caught up to consciousness. She rolled over quickly and tried to turn the noise off.

In the darkness of room and stupor of near-sleep, however, Wil succeeded in knocking the alarm clock to the ground. It landed on her clothes from last night, beeping insistently. Wil scrambled out of twisted covers, clunked to her floor, and succeeded in picking up and silencing her clock.

Twists of dark hair obscured most of the strange woodland creature’s face. She stood still and alert, clutching at the angry bird that had shattered the silence, and peering furtively around her. Her tiny, pointed ears pricked delicately as her barely translucent wings flicked slightly in agitation.

She’d been keeping watch over the forest all night from within Evergreen. Now, this thoughtless worm-eater had potentially ruined everything. She looked down, finally, at the struggling, indignant avian face held in her slight embrace.

“Hush!” Wyl whispered, and glared at her captive in return. Once certain the bird had gotten the message enough to keep quiet, she released her grip.

He immediately stepped backward, fluttered his wings, turned a last look at Wyl, then took off to the trees. Wyl’s hair swept away from her features as she lifted her face to watch him find a safe perch. She couldn’t be sure, but she felt her feathered friend was still shooting her spiteful glances.

Wyl sighed a soft sigh only sprites could hear. It was always the young fools who took rumors like, “The Early Bird Catches the Worm” seriously -especially when darkness meant danger to their world.

Night mists wafted randomly over the lush forest floor. The plants swayed and shushed against each other. Wil sensed mystery and darkness. She flitted to a clover stem, wetting her tiny bare feet in dew. Immediately after, she flew to a dandelion head, then a low tree branch. Within seconds, Wyl had soundlessly scouted the stretch below her original perch.

Satisfied but ever wary, she decided all was well. Leaf to leaf to tendril to branch to needles, Wyl flicked her way back to Evergreen. Folding her wings comfortably together, she settled back to watch and rest.

“Mina!” A dark head whispered loudly as it poked suddenly into her vision.

Wil screamed, surprising her father more than he had startled her.

 

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