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, 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

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Two

“Here,” breathed Wil, “must I tread again.” She surveyed the fluorescent land; her land. Little had changed during her absence. Commoners scurried around her, too awed by her presence to engage her attentions. There, rested the wheeled carriages. There, the rows of labeled shelving.

Without map or list to guide her, Wil frowned. ‘Twas a regal frown, naturally. One mustn’t sacrifice one’s face to strain, after all, no matter how confused one felt.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, remembering. A harried woman jumped in passing. The action passed beneath her ruler’s esteemed notice. Wil strode forward, accompanied by the soft squeak-thump of boot and flup-flop of coat and scarf. Employing a carriage, she pointed it and her in the direction of a ceiling-hung label: Soups/Instant Rice/Box Meals/Cake Mixes.

What an odd assortment to collect within a single location, she mused. She drew closer to the mirror-floored aisle in question. Odd or no, she felt certain this was the first she must visit. She began sounding out the names of the items before her.

“Rice-a-Ro-Ney?” “Hamburg’s Helper?” “Raw-men?”

A youth in red half-uniform paused mid-stack to stare. Wil blushed, knowing he ought not to forget his manners yet simultaneously practicing her own in not reprimanding the impudent boy. Instead, she lifted her chin and continued her perusal within her private thoughts.

Insta-Taters? Scallop-ed Noodles? Aha! Tu-na Helper! Wil snatched the box in haste, incurring another surprised reaction from her lone teenager audience. Turning her back upon the knave, she secured a second box in similar fashion. There! Now all she required was the necessary protein complement: tuna.

“But where am I to find a fishmonger within this enclosed market?” she mused.

“Did you say fish?” The half-redded worker spoke. Wil deigned to turn since his voice sounded near. It was; he was. Her slight movement brought her eye level with an unshaven chin and she jumped and dropped the boxes in her hands. Embarrassed, she scrambled to retrieve her lost treasures.

Once within her grasp, she deposited them safely in the wheeled carriage. She faced the disrespectful youth again. Any commoner could read the disdain writ upon her face -any, it seemed, except the boy before her. Not only had he continued to stand whilst she chased the boxes, he hadn’t offered a word nor eye-blink since his only sentence. Wil could therefore not be certain of his intellectual abilities nor the chance of his aid. She decided, however, that little risk lay in answering his simple query.

“Yes; I said ‘fish.'” She threw a tattered length of scarf over a shoulder. “I require the tu-na this ‘Tuna Helper’ demands.”

“Right,” he said. She watched his Adam’s apple fall and rise below his impassive face. “‘Suh next aisle over.” He went back to stocking the shelf.

Wil gaped after his sudden manner. Recovering, she answered, “Thank you, good sir.” She grasped the steerage of the wheeled carriage and headed where he had indicated. She felt the less correct term of “sir” a safer formality in address; though, how anyone could call such an unkempt and rude person anything besides “peasant” was beyond her.

 

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