Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Five

Dinner at the Winters passed with less conversation than usual. Wil stirred her food in a small circle on her plate and tried not to look at the charred remains in the middle of their table. She had a more difficult time ignoring the smell.

Jakob had yet to comment. He didn’t need to; his loud crunch-chewing and various dramatic expressions of distaste sent a clear message.

“Thank you for making dinner, Wil,” Cynthia said into the silence. She smiled a hopeful, loving smile at her squirming daughter. Wil pictured her mother trying to think of what to say for the last five minutes. Or, she thought, Cynthia might have needed that time to be able to speak after consuming the more edible parts of the casserole.

Wil groaned and lay on her arms to the side of her plate. “I’m sorry; okay!” she said in a muffled voice.

She heard her father clear his throat. Cynthia must have nudged him. “It’s my fault, Mina.” *Cuh-hem* “I said I would come back to make dinner but didn’t.”

No, he didn’t. He’d attended to the car, a much more important task. Anyway, Indiana Winters hadn’t required assistance. She’d required a clean source of water. She’d required a stable campfire. She’d required tools for opening the tins of fish. Where she’d missed the offered assistance of the older, coughing man had been in operating the questionable baking device she’d uncovered. Winters should have heeded her past experience with relics of its sort. Instead, to her and her party’s tastebuds’ chagrin, she’d overestimated both time and temperature.

“You gotta eat it too, Mins,” Jakob offered after a hard swallow. He eyed her as he took a long drink of milk. He wasn’t the only one; both of their parents’ attentions also moved to their daughter.

Sighing with the effort, Wil extracted an arm from beneath her head and scrabbled for her fork. From the level of her plate, she bent her arm and wrist at an awkward angle to sample a small bite. She shuddered. Swallowed. She saw Jakob smirk, her father rub at his face, and her mother half-smile.

A tear wandered down Wil’s face, unnoticed and uncared for by her family. It was a tear of embarassment and of regret; but, most of all, it was a tear for the double injustice of eating not only burned food but eating seafood.

 

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

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Four

Wil, Rob, and Jakob entered the usual silent dark of #42 more grimly than they did most Friday evenings. The zombie *hush-hush* of Cynthia’s nebulizer hummed a discordant duet with that of the rattling heating system.

Wil tiptoed to the couch in the light from the open front door. The door also welcomed a blast of chill air; Rob closed it and Jakob switched on the dim bulb over the range. All this outlined a slumbering Cynthia, complete with peaceful smile and slow rise of breathing. Her equipment, still on, lay nearby. Wil switched it off.

Wil!” Rob whisper-yelled. She looked up, blinking. He gestured to himself and she stumbled up and over to where he stood. “You start on dinner,” he continued whispering. “I’m going to change, then take over. Do you have homework?

Wil made a face.

All right. Do it while dinner’s cooking.” He stepped aside and pointed to a grocery bag on the counter, the very bag she’d acquired from her exploits earlier that evening…

Her father thumped past her as silently as he could in his work boots and headed down the hall. “Ooomph!” Wil exlaimed as Jakob followed suit; his aim had not been to travel around her. Not able to do more for lack of size and ability to noise complaints, she glared at her stepbrother. He threw her a final look of teasing humor before disappearing.

Wil turned to the plastic sack. She glanced round the dim room tomb as sifting, silent sand filtered down the cracks of peeking sunbeams. All seemed quiet, but Indiana Winters knew too well the peril of those who assumed no danger. With light-gloved touch, she moved the noisy sack-sides to retrieve its hidden treasures: a boxed meal and cans that claimed to be tuna.

She angled the box beneath the wavering electric light; she could make out pictures of pots and timers and a steaming pan at the end. “Well, well, well,” Winters said, her breath inches from the vague pictograms. “Etruscan influence, I’d say, with a smidgeon of Greek. Hmmm.” She moved her right hand to scratch beneath her favorite, battered fedora. “Now… what do they say to do first?”

Her nose near-touching the surface of print, she thought she recognized a symbol. It looked very like an object she’d encountered whilst searching. Round, shining, potable; it must be the same. She stooped with care, steel-tipped boots slipping on the polished tomb floor. With tongue gripped between set lips, she creaked open a small alcove.

She paused.

Nothing.

She searched left, right, up, down, and behind her crouched position.

Still nothing.

Reaching her free hand to within the dark depths, Winters brushed against a solid object. A solid, shiny object. She pulled it free. Eureka! She rose to standing height once more, holding her glinting prize in the half-light’s flickers.

Her exultant feeling cut short as she again glanced at the pictograms. Despite acquiring this first relic, her mission to discover The Secrets of Din might forever end there. “Where,” she whispered, “Am I to fill this with water?

 

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

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Utah Jones

An arid wind swept across the lonely landscape. It smelled of hope, memories, and lunches forgotten in school bags.

Utah Jones wiped a yellow-latex-gloved wrist across her bare brow, pulling a few limp strands from her eyes and mouth. Piles of discarded archaeological pieces stood sorted in orderly rows to her left: her morning’s work. She’d spent all of the half hour carefully extracting, lightly cleaning, and stacking the worthless artifacts.

So much of her job involved sorting worthless artifacts.

Just then, two aboriginal youth ran into her site. Nevermind that she’d carefully staked out the area; or set up the shiny, illuminated distraction for them. Nevermind that she’d talked patiently with them about disturbing her work. Jones sighed as they ran up to her, babbling and wantonly smacking each other.

She had convinced herself they’d understood; but knew inside, as she’d gesticulated and slowly enunciated, that the savages had actually not heard a word of what she’d said.

The younger native began pulling at her legs. “Fooooooood!” He bellowed, toddler-like. Of course he’d know that word.

Cringing at the thought of the consequences, Jones hurriedly pointed them in the direction of her dwindling food stores. She also cringed at possible future effects on the tribes’ growth based on the “nutritional” value of what she had left in those cases. No matter, she rationalized. Hopefully, this project would be done by the time the sugar hit those children’s bloodstream.

Once again, Jones turned her attention to what she’d managed to unearth so far. She removed the remaining detritus, and finally saw her goal just beneath the shallow, murky water. Grimacing, she reached her right hand into the questionable filth. She fumbled around. She braced against the edge of the exposed hole wherein the obstruction lay.

After an interminable few seconds, Jones’ fingers found a gap. She pushed into it. Water swirling inedible remains quickly drained around her groping hand as she pulled the blockage loose.

She rinsed the cup off, loaded it with its fellows, started the dishwasher, took off her dish gloves, then went to kick her children out of the pantry.

Wilhelmina Winters: Five

Wil watched the murmured conversation between her parents out of the corner of her eye, as she put her father’s beer and her mother’s special milk into the fridge. She noted her mother’s happy, tired smile as he dredged up some anecdote from work. A shadow of happiness reflected in his eyes at her responses.

Wil smiled sadly herself, and stooped to get a pan from the cupboard. As she straightened, she saw Jakob briefly pause in pulling textbooks and papers from his backpack and look toward the couch. He, too, was touched by a glimpse of memory and looked almost kind.

Cynthia coughed, and worry creased itself at the edges of everyone’s short serenity. Wil heard her father rumble a question, putting his hand on her mother’s arm. She nodded, and laid back on the couch. “Thank you, Rob.” She said tiredly.

Wil’s father looked over at Wil to ensure she was getting dinner started, then he straightened and clunked in his heavy work boots to the fridge. He extracted a can, opened it, and took a short gulp as he stood in the open door. Wil saw him sadly shake his head at the nearly bare interior, then close the door.

She studied her father as she opened the soup and poured it into the pan. She had always admired how hard-working he was, despite having a slight build. He also rarely showed anger, though life was serving him so many stressful responsibilities.

She sighed. It was difficult work being a professor of archeology, saving ancient relics from greedy collectors. Wil could hear his boots echoing -not across a kitchen floor, but around the spacious, musty interior of an abandoned temple.

He moves stealthily through cobwebs and shadows. He nearly steps on a trap -but, no! Rob Winters recognizes those carvings just in time and turns quickly away from harm.

He draws closer and closer to the treasure chamber, slits of sunlight panning across this careful explorer and his determined path. He turns a corner and-

*Kuh-huh* *khuh* *khuh!* Wil’s mother’s cough brought Wil’s mind unwillingly back to her apartment kitchen. Just as well, because she had been standing at the counter with the soup can still suspended (now empty) over the pan.

Luckily, Wil’s father and step-brother hadn’t noticed. She slid the soup onto the stove and turned the burner to medium. After tossing the empty can onto the counter, Wil realized her mother was watching her.

“Yes, Mom?” She asked.

Cynthia smiled at Wil and crooked a finger to bring her closer. Wil happily skipped over to her mother’s side, her boot squeaking at every other step. She plunked down on the floor and looked up in anticipation at her mother’s loving face. Cynthia smiled at Wil’s exuberance, one of the few who did.

“I just wanted to hear what adventures you had at the grocery store, Wil.” She encouraged.

Wil looked around carefully, but Jakob was lost in a mathematics problem and her father had gone down the hall. All clear. She cleared her throat.

“Well: the snow danced like crystals and my breath like a cloud.” Wil tried to speak slowly but, as usual, forgot in the excitement of retelling her adventures. “The castle gates opened at my arrival,” she continued, “and I took a curious vehicle to transport my goods in. I wore my regal sash of black with my magic imp boots. My trumpeters lined my way to The Hallway of Doors..”

 

Continued from Four.
Keep reading to Six.