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, Ninety-Six

Wil left the table after a requisite number of tuna casserole bites, hungry and self-pitying. The dark, narrow hallway seemed even more constricting; the dim bathroom bulb even dimmer; the tasteless toothpaste more tasteful for the lingering tuna remains. “Ugh!” she spat, swirled, spat again. She scowled a deeper expression at the girl in the glass, but her reflection matched and even exceeded her gloom.

A distinct *Ku-huh* *Kuh-huh* from the kitchen paused the glaring session. Wil and her shadow listened, a bridge of concern across their united brow, as Cynthia had her coughing session. “They’re happening much more,” Wil and Mirror-Wil whispered. They frowned and their deep, dark eyes spoke helplessness.

Wil exited the bathroom. Parent shadows crossed the hall on their way to the couch and sounds of scrambling soon led to the ever-present breathing machine. Wil stood, caught by fear, till her mother’s deep-throat coughs were tamed by the nebulizer’s magic.

She heard another sound: a chair scraped from the table and careless steps to the sink. Knowing that meant the immediate appearance of Jakob, she squeaked and scampered to the safety of her room and shut the door. After locking the knob, she threw herself atop the messy bed. Clothes, blankets, homework, and an open book or two caught her flying form and held her in their comforting familiarity. “There, there,” her favorite pullover soothed. “We understand,” the nearest novel assured her.

Wil hiccuped a few times but managed not to soil her bedthings with tears. She kicked a shoe free and pulled the second from a bent-leg position. Taking careful aim, tongue in teeth, eyes squinted tight; she threw the sneaker at her push-button wall switch. With a *clunk* the light went off. The shoe dropped.

Woolykind Wil, most respected member of the flying squirrel chapter of The Treetop Dwellers, sniffed and snuffled round her nest. She felt each treasured material with pride, moving things this way and that to arrange them just-so.

It had been a busy day in the forest and Wooly felt tired. She’d gathered food for her group. They’d been a tad ungrateful, to be sure, but she’d done her best. After all, flying was more her forte than food collection ever was.

Burrowing into the most comfortable heap of warm leaves, twigs, and discarded scraps around her; she sighed. Tomorrow would be better. Maybe there’d even be acorns. She fell asleep dreaming of better things.

 

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

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy

Wil blushed again. She felt caught, knowing she needed to stay but not yet finding her appetite. “Um. May I be excused?” She saw her father raise his eyebrows and her mother’s smile become more amused. “I promise I’ll come back later to finish!” she added in a rush.

Her mother laughed; Rob glanced at his wife. “Sure, Wil.”

Wil pushed away from the table before either changed his mind. Her foot caught at the chair leg and her hip caught at the table’s edge. She recovered enough to make it to the hallway without further incident. As she got to her bedroom, she heard the low rumble of her father’s voice asking a question.

“I really do have homework,” Wil grumbled. Looking around the jumbled confusion of her bedroom, she added, “Maybe some room work.” Accordingly, she threw herself across the unmade bed, cuddled up in the comforter, and rolled onto her back.

—–

The azure sky of autumn breathed sunset hues amongst the dancing wildflowers and wild weeds. Skylarks sang of evening while bullfrogs took up the chorus. Wyl Winterling sighed with pleasure from her downy dandelion nest at the great oak’s base as she watched the painted sky above.

Times had been peaceful, of late. She’d not heard from the Mosquitoes of Swamp Direling since the weather cooled, the summer dryads were too sleepy to cause much mischief, and the more restless forest creatures had left for warmer climes.

Wyl sighed once more. What wasn’t to love about winter?

“Mistress Wyl!”

Perhaps that.

Even a queen of fae folk might want a few minutes without interruption, Wyl thought with a scowl. She nestled farther down inside the white, tickling seed pods. The reds and golds over her shrouded head appeared more pieced and distinct.

“Mistressss Wy-yl!” Her paige’s nasal voice was closer.

She knew the persistent pixie would find her; regal wings had a way of sticking out and the paige had a way of remembering Wyl’s favorite hiding places. He’d only find her hiding funny and she’d hear no end of the buzz among the court for the duration of an otherwise perfect winter.

As Syl, the paige of Queen Wyl Winterling, came round the shadow of the oak, Wyl pushed atop the soft weed top to sit on the seeds like a throne. “Yes, Syl?” she stressed his name in as regal a tone as a being the height of a toadstool could convey.

The pixie, for his part, tried and failed at a serious expression. “Mistress Wyl,” he giggled, frowned, then smirked. “A moste important epistle requires Your Highness’ attention.”

Wyl nearly fell from her perch, were it not for the balance of her ever-ready wings. “Epistle?”

Syl giggled again. “Oh, aye. Seems ’twere from your mam…”

“Mom,” Wil said, remembering. “Guinevere.”

 

Continued from Sixty-Nine.
Keep reading to Seventy-One.

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-One

Wil’s eyes scanned the page without absorbing any of the words upon it. Her mind was with her ears: anxiously straining to hear movements from her parents’ room. All seemed quiet, but her father was not the noisy type.

She carefully adjusted her position on her bed, attempting to make it look as though she were comfortably reading and had not just landed after a hurried rush down the hall. Being further into the book would help, but she had to read it for English class and didn’t want to skip ahead.

Wil sighed. The few sentences she’d managed to swallow had not given her many hopes for its content so far. She’d expected more from a book with a title about killing. So far, the author had written about two kids in a boring town with a father for a lawyer who didn’t like it. One had a broken arm, but they blamed Andrew Jackson for it?

She heard the door at the end of the hall open. “To heck with that,” Wil whispered, then flipped the book open to the middle and pretended to be absorbed.

Her bedroom door opened to reveal her father, tiredly blinking in the light. Wil looked up and pretended to be startled.

“Dad!” She said. “What are you doing home?”

Rob rubbed his hand on the side of his gruff face, gathering thoughts for words. “I didn’t sleep last night, so I called in sick.”

Wil couldn’t ever remember him doing that, unless he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. If he didn’t work, Rob didn’t get paid. She looked at him in surprise.

“I, uh,” Rob began. He was still rubbing his face. He looked unsure about what to say. His eyes looked around Wil’s room, at the book she was holding. Finally, he met his daughter’s gaze.

“Cynthia and I want to talk to you,” he said. His eyes looked at her sadly, then turned to look toward the living room. “I’ll go see if she’s ready to talk.”

Wil sat up and moved to follow him. “No, no,” her father gestured tiredly. “You wait here. Keep reading your book.” He smiled a bit, then left.

Wil heard his slow tread down the hall. He was much quieter without work boots on. She turned the pages back to the beginning, where she’d actually been. Low mumbling (her father’s voice) answered by higher, softer pitches (her mother) was picked up by her left ear. As usual, a coughing fit began.

Subconsciously, Wil tensed up. She tried to tune her surroundings out and tune her reading in. Jem? Dill? Wil thought. Who named these poor kids?

“Wil?” Cynthia called from the living room.

“Coming, Mom!” Wil answered. She closed the book gratefully and rolled off her bed. Straightening her coat, scarf, and hair; she realized she still had her gloves on. Hopefully, her father hadn’t noticed. She slipped them off and put them into her pocket, then headed down the hall.

 

Continued from Fifty.
Keep reading to Fifty-Two.

Skinwalkers, XIV

“BOY! Where are you, Boy?!”

Nathan cowered in the darkness, feeling every bit of his powerlessness as he heard his father stomping down the hallway. The bunk above him squeaked slightly as its occupant moved closer to the wall; the same wall Nathan pushed against in desperation.

The bedroom door slammed open with the force of an angry bull. Darkness spilled into darkness, but Nathan could still make out his father’s shadowy outline in the doorway. “I asked you a question!” The bull bellowed, then it lunged –

*Bee-bee-beep!* *Bee-bee-beep!* *Bee-bee-beep!*

Nathan sat up, sweating and gasping. His sheets twisted restrictively around his shaking body. His bedroom was pitch-dark, with the exception of his flashing comm. Like the small child he had just woken from, he scrabbled to its beeping, blinking safety.

“Light! Light!” He demanded, grasping it. Immediately, the dark was dispelled by both the bright beam from his device and the dim spread of the fixture overhead. To be certain, he panned the comm around each corner the cheap lighting did not quite reach. There was nothing.

“Alarm,” he said, finally silencing the noise. He calmed his breathing, his thoughts, his pulse, his position. Just a dream, he reminded himself. The Old Man’s dead and gone.

As his thoughts were successfully returned to the present, he sat up again. He dropped his comm back onto the night stand. Throwing the bedthings to their habitual lump, he leaped from the bed and jogged to the closet-hole. Within jiffs he had slipped a liner over his naked body. Its automatic heat-cling comforted his nightmare-sore body like a thin blanket.

Thus clothed, Nathan exited and entered the entertainment room. In keeping with the dimensions of his bedroom and bathroom, this main area was about large enough to be called a nook rather than a full-sized room. He quickly crossed to the food station within the wall and pushed the button marked burrito.

A sickening grinding sound met his ears, as usual. He gritted his teeth and silently prayed to Sirius Sustenance Supply, that he could continue putting off replacing their barely-functioning model for one more day.

Within seconds and despite uninterrupted mechanical protests, a mostly-cooked tortilla-wrapped bundle dropped into the vending area. He cracked open the translucent door and retrieved it. It was somewhat frozen still, in the middle, but a warmer temperature setting would only serve to burn the outsides. He also considered these results a decent answer to prayers, given that he’d be late waiting for a fully-hot burrito to cool enough to eat it.

Nathan stood, eating bites and drinking occasional bursts from the wall fountain to the right of the food dispenser. Mentally, he went over his list of daily tasks. He’d attended the interview, removed the suit and skin, napped, dressed, and was now eating. By next tick he needed to be walking, or he was likely to arrive late.

“Choms just wants an excuse to fire us,” he mumbled, bitterly. Only last week, two of his peers had been dismissed over trivial issues. One had forgotten his rags; upon returning after retrieval, he was given Notice. The other had been two minutes late, and showed up in another business’ liner.

“It’s not like anyone sees us,” Nathan noted, as if he could possibly speak to or defend anyone involved in the terminations.

He heard a chirp from the watch, though it was muted and distant. He stuffed the last of the burrito in his mouth and returned to his bedroom. The watch must have not been fully strapped on, and had pulled loose with his twisting movements. Finally, he found it under his pillow. He studied the time: 2:46 p.m.

“Zut!” He exclaimed. Quickly, he docked the comm. After looking furtively about in suspicion, he pressed a small knob in the wood just beneath the night stand’s top surface. A drawer popped open; revealing faded photographs, sundry envelopes, a dried flower or two, and another comm.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XIII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XV.