MILY THE MILLENNIAL: A Tall Tale by Kailey Ann

Hi, I’m Kailey Ann. I write because I hafta. Author Made in Indiana, USA.

I’m reading every chapter of my book aloud before the release! MILY THE MILLENNIAL is a new Inspired/Climate Fiction novel about a kid named Mily, who has magic bugs in her brain.

[Click Here to Subscribe to my YouTube channel]

RELEASE DATE 07.14.22

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MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Tenth Chapter

Read the Book In-Progress: theprose.com/book/3224/mily-the-millennial


X. AFTERMATH

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

“Regularity should be observed in dealing, and no party should receive from the dealer,
in any round, more than the number of cards given to the eldest hand.”

The American Hoyle

♥ ♠ ♦ ♣

What might life’of been like if none of it had ever happened?

Emjay Womack Wood-Yoder could not imagine. They could only play Pretend.

“Pick it up,” Will ordered Dog.

Dog chuckled. “Clubs it is,” he said, taking the King into his hand and replacing it with something unknown, downturned on top of the kitty. Dog set the stack to the side, ready now for the first round to start.

Emjay met their dad’s gaze with raised eyebrows. “I lead right?”

Dog nodded. “Left of the dealer leads,” he said with an air of good-natured challenge.

Emjay considered their five-card hand, looking over each one carefully before deciding what to play. It wasn’t a bad deal, not by a longshot. But whatever they led would set the bar for this trick all four that came after it. They knew Will always said to count on your partner to win at least one. A team only needed to take three tricks to score. Emjay bet their brother had at least two in-hand, prob’ly even more, since he’d named trump.

Emjay held back their grin and plucked the Ace of Spades from their hand, placing it upturned in the center of the circle table.

“Your turn, Mom,” Emjay said like it was nothing, hiding the butterflies.

Bird, wearing a perfect euchre face, laid a Ten of Clubs alongside the Ace that was led.

“You have to follow suit,” Emjay reminded her.

“Only if I can follow suit,” their mom said.

Emjay went back to staring at their own hand.

Will played a Queen of Spades and gave Emjay a sideways grin as if to say, Cheer up, this is only the beginning.

Then Dog tossed a King of Spades on the table, and Bird hooted in victory. She gathered the four cards in the middle and pulled them in a single stack to her side of the table.

“Your lead,” Will told their mother.

Bird considered her four-card hand with care. Most fokes didn’t dare to look at the cards for so long, preferring to keep the game moving. But this, Emjay knew, was part of Bird’s strategy. She liked to make others sit and simmer while she considered – or at least while she pretended to.

After a few moments, Bird led with a Queen of Hearts.

“Sorry Mom,” Will said, following up with a Nine of Clubs.

Dog exhaled long and slow out his nose. “Tick-for-tack,” he sighed in a resigned way, spinning a Ten of Hearts into play.

Emjay threw an Ace of Hearts on the table too hard, and it sailed across the tabletop and fell into Will’s lap. He picked it up and pulled the rest of the cards toward him. Without a moment’s hesitation, he drew a card from his hand and slapped it on the woodgrain.

The Jack of Clubs.

“Knew ya had to have the Right,” Dog said, shaking his head.

Emjay grinned over the table at Will, and he smirked back – Their dad tended to get real competitive, especially when it was something silly, like a card game. Out of Dog’s hand came the card he’d been made to pick up at the start the round: He laid a King of Clubs alongside the Bower and waited for Emjay to play next.

Frowning, they set the card down nice and easy this time: an Ace of Clubs.

“Dealt our daughter three Aces, Dog,” Bird said over her hand.

“Lotta good they did me.” Emjay meant to sound light-hearted, but they were just about as competitive as their father was.

Bird threw off-suit with a Nine of Diamonds.

Emjay hadn’t been playing euchre long, but they’d watched others at it for as long as they could remember. While Will pulled their second-won trick to the side, Emjay thumbed their pocket to fiddle with the silver-starfish shooter stashed there.

A King of Diamonds was led.

Dog went with a Jack of Diamonds next. “Be a different story if we’d called it Red,” he said, smirking at Bird over the one card left in-hand.

Emjay played a Ten of Diamonds, hoping Bird couldn’t top a King.

She could.

“I’ll take that!” Bird declared, putting an Ace of Diamonds face-up for half-a-second before sweeping the trick beside the first one she’d won. Then she led a Jack of Hearts.

Will followed-suit with the King. Dog gave his son a look, and then without breaking eye-contact, played a Queen of Clubs.

“I think that’s a Euchre,” Dog bragged.

“Fat chance!” Emjay laughed. All three players turned and stared wide-eyed as Emjay flourished a Jack of Spades.

“Stopper!” Will cheered. He pushed the trick to his sibling, who gathered it up, cheeks a little pink with pride at the surprise win. It was Emjay’s favorite card of them all, even if it was only the Left – they didn’t care. Something about the Jack of Spades helped Emjay find their strength.

“I was saving it,” they said in a self-satisfied way.

“Good choice,” Bird praised. “Okay! Your turn to deal Mily.”

Everyone stared hard at Bird except for Emjay, who buried their face in their lap. Their mom realized her mistake at once and was all-apology.

“Honey I – I’m so sorry I – ”

“It’s okay Mom,” Emjay said. Even though it hurt, it also intensified the self-satisfied feeling brought on by the appearance of the Left Bower. No matter what anybody said, everyone thought of Emjay as the same person they’d always known. It was a huge comfort to know that for sure.

Besides – Emjay was done running. They would never put their parents through that worry ever ever again, they’d promised.

To break the awkward silence that followed, Will added a point to the scorecards.

Emjay shuffled the twenty-four card deck. Once they felt it was mixed-up enough, they slid it to the right and offered it to Dog to cut if he wanted.

He tapped the top card with two fingers, which Emjay knew was a way of saying, Pass.

Three-then-two, they thought to jog their reflexes, doling out the cards in two rounds going clockwise: Three to Mom, two to Will, three to Dad, two to Me – Two to Mom, three to Will, two to Dad, three to Me.

Bird, Will, and Dog gathered the cards they were dealt and fanned them out. Emjay turned the top card of what was leftover face-up before looking at their own hand.

A Nine of Spades was optioned.

Bird passed fast. Will was just as quick, knocking on the table, staring hard at his hand. Dog pondered the Nine for a while, looking back and forth between his cards and the kitty like he was at an impasse. “Pick it up,” he said, sounding confident in whatever it was he’d been considering.

Emjay fought grinding their teeth. I wanted to call it, they thought, staring at a Jack of Clubs in their hand, impressed that they’d somehow landed the Left Bower again. Picking up the Nine of Spades, Emjay traded it with a Nine of Clubs, hiding the card with their palm and leaving it facedown on the pile so no one could see.

“Your lead Mom,” Emjay said, oozing encouragement so Bird would know she was forgiven for dropping the Dead Name.

Bird’s eyes were shiny when she smiled. She forewent her usual time-consuming consideration and led with a Nine of Diamonds.

Emjay thought it was odd to lead with such a weak card, but Bird and Dog had played euchre forever so, Emjay let it go. Will made a tut-tut with his tongue and responded with an Ace of Spades.

“Alright,” Dog raved, casting his Ace of Diamonds into the mix.

Emjay had no choice but to follow-suit with a King. Will took the trick grinning and played an Ace of Hearts to start the next bid.

“Sorry bout’cha!” Dog commented while laying a Ten of Spades beside the Ace.

Emjay had to follow-suit again and gave up another King – Hearts this time. Bird returned to stalling, looking at her cards so long that Dog, her own partner, coughed as if to remind her, Trick’s mine already. Bird was a lover of drama. She rolled her eyes and, oh-so-slowly, scooted a Ten of Diamonds out to the center.

Dog led with the Right Bower.

Deciding to try a trick out of Bird’s book, Emjay held their hand very close to their eyes and considered all three cards carefully, letting it go on quite a long time. Will was the one to interrupt the charade this time.

“Just play your lowest card,” he said. “Everyone knows you can’t top that Jack.”

“I know how to play,” Emjay snarked back. “I was just deciding what to get rid of.”

Will made a face like they were a total idiot.

“What!” Emjay exclaimed, hurrying to play the Nine of Spades in their hand.

“No table-talk, remember?” Bird giggled, dishing out a King of Spades.

Then Emjay got it. Delaying that particular play had basically told everybody that their whole hand was Spades. Heat crawled up Emjay’s neck to their cheeks as Will tossed out a Ten of Hearts and fixed his sister with forewarning stare. Be smart, it seemed to say – Quite a tone-shift from the last bid, when he’d been totally forgiving of Emjay’s tenderfooted euchre play.

Dog started the next bid with a King of Clubs. Emjay smirked, plucking the trump Queen from their hand and sliding it out to meet the King with their index finger. Evidently, Bird had to play what was led, so out came a Queen of Clubs – and Will, looking a little less stressed, went with a Jack of Hearts.

Sparing Will the narrow-eyed look they wanted to shoot back, Emjay turned to Dog instead and said, “Two tricks each. My lead?”

“You bet,” Dog said with a twinkle in his eye that told Emjay he found their brother’s ruffled feathers as funny as the kids had found his.

“You asked for it,” Emjay said, and with a flourish exactly like the previous hand, presented the Jack of Clubs for all to see.

Will’s smile grew wider than ever. “Okay, okay, my bad Emjay. I won’t doubt you again! You euchred’m!”

Bird, Will, and Dog threw their last cards at Bird without giving Emjay enough time to see what they were. It didn’t matter – the Left Bower was the strongest card left in the round, and they all knew it.

While their mother shuffled the deck, Will added two more points to his and Emjay’s scorecards.

The game went on for quite a few rounds, and Dog and Bird did gain some ground. The kids’ and parents’ teams were neck-and-neck, both sides having found their way to six – Each just four points off from and winning.

“Loner Range,” Dog said when he took three out of five tricks to tie the game.

♣ ♣ ♦ ♦

♣ ♣ ♦ ♦

♣ ♣ ♦ ♦

It was Will’s turn to deal. He clucked his tongue and shuffled the cards bridge-style. He pointed his eyes at the ceiling, tapping the cards even and sharing them in the usual pattern, clockwise three-then-two. When all four players had five cards each, Emjay scooped their hand up and absorbed the hand –

It was all Nines and Tens.

Emjay peeked at the expressions of the other three, but their faces gave nothing away. Fighting the urge to sight-see, their eyes travelled to the upturned card: It was a Jack of Diamonds.

No way, Emjay thought, declaring, “Farmer’s hand!” before their dad had said whether he wanted Will to pick up the Jack or passed.

“You’re kidding,” Bird breathed.

“I’m not,” Emjay pressed. Fanning the cards wide, Emjay laid the hand down flat so their family could see the truth.

“Well I’ll be darn’d,” Dog said.

“Cards in,” Will exhaled, tossing his own into the center.

Everyone followed suit, Emjay sliding their hand to the throw-in heap and gathering the rest into a neat pile before pushing them in Dog’s direction.

“I like that rule,” Emjay commented while Dog took to reshuffling the deck.

“That’s a Diana rule,” Dog said, mixing the cards hand-over-hand. “Try call’n that over in Purchase, you’ll be tossed right outta the game.”

“How do you know?” Will asked.

“Your dad was thrown out of a tournament for trying his hoosier tricks,” Bird answered. “Isn’t that right Dog?”

He grinned back in that humbled way that meant Dog had a story on the brain. “We’re not playing that hilljack crap!” He quoted, tone dripping judgment. “This is a one-strike club ya Hoosier, so don’t come back!”

Emjay’s eyes grew. “They really said that to you?”

“Oh yes,” Dog said laughing. “They take their Euchre real serious out West.” Once he’d finished reshuffling, Dog slid the deck his son’s way. Will made a cut four cards from the bottom and slapped the smaller half on top. Then Dog dealt again.

“Well why’d they call you ‘Hoosier’ like that?” Emjay asked.

“Like they were call’n me a name you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“We like to call ourselves Hoosiers here,” Dog said with a shrug. “But someplaces, I guess, hoosier means th’same thing as Redneck.”

“Well that’s mean,” Emjay said. They crossed their arms, not quite sure why it was so bothersome.

“Language is funny,” Bird said forgivingly. “Some words are universal, and some have regional meanings. Hoosier is a term of unity and identity for us. But, people in other places might not know we call ourselves that. It means something else to them.”

Bird always had a way of explaining things that made sense to Emjay. But in this case, they didn’t like understanding.

“So if I call myself a Hoosier someplace else,” Emjay said slowly while Dog dealt. “People won’t know I’m saying I’m from Diana? They’ll just think I’m saying I’m a redneck?”

“Most likely,” their dad said. “But you know what’chya mean, and that’s all that matters. Just don’t call someone else a Hoosier if they’re not from Diana.”

“Well I wouldn’t,” Emjay said indignantly. “Because if they don’t live in Diana, they’re not a Hoosier.”

“Sounds like your definition is clear enough,” Will said, inspecting his hand.

Emjay shrugged. The others were now all looking at their cards, ready to get back to playing the game.

Dog turned over the top card and revealed a Nine of Diamonds.

“Pass,” Emjay said.

A knock from Bird.

“Pick it up,” Will said at once. “I’m going alone.”

Emjay was stunned. “What does that mean?”

“Remember when Dad said Longer Range?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that means if I take all five tricks by myself, we get four points instead of two,” Will explained. “And we win the game.”

“I didn’t know that!”

“That’s a universal rule,” Bird said, wearing a bemused look like maybe she was impressed. “My lead. Let’s see what you’ve got, William.”

“Well what do I do?” Emjay asked before anyone had moved.

“You lay your hand facedown,” Dog said.

“I don’t get to play at all?”

“Not this time,” Will said. “It’s part of the game.”

Emjay felt left out but wanted to see how ‘Going Alone’ went, so they just said, “Okay,” and put their cards facedown on the table like their dad had said to.

Bird led with a Jack of Hearts.

Will smiled sideways so big his right eye squinted. Then he played a Jack of Diamonds.

“Worth a shot,” Dog said to Bird, tossing a King of Spades into the fray.

Will took the trick and then did something strange: He laid all four cards he had left in his hand on the table in one go: A Ten of Diamonds, a Queen of Hearts, a King of Hearts, and an Ace of Hearts.

“You yank’n my chain?” Dog interrogated, grinning greatbig. “Farmer’s hand followed up by go’n alone? What are the chances of that?” His eyes found Bird’s on the last question – both of them seemed to think it was really funny.

“Just have good luck I guess,” Will said.

“So we won?” Emjay asked just as Will moved to make the scorecards say so.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

♣ ♣

“We sure did! Want to play again?”

“Actually…”

Emjay and Will turned to look at Bird, who was suddenly pink in the cheeks. Then they swivelled their heads to look at Dog, who was tapping the deck straight even though it was already as square as it could possibly be.

“We have some news to share with you,” Bird went on more evenly. Her face lit up, and she looked back-and-forth between the two kids faces without saying anything else.

Emjay got a funny feeling.

“Good news,” Dog added.

The parents stared at each other, smiling. Will and Emjay met each others’ gazes a few times, appraising the situation while they waited for either Dog or Bird to get on with it.

“What is it?” Emjay finally asked for the two of them.

“Well,” Bird said, taking a deep breath. “Will, Mil – Emjay – you’re going to be Big Siblings soon.”

Emjay met their mom’s eyes and was surprised to see that they were shiny again – but this time it looked like joy.

“You’re having a baby!” Emjay cried.

“Yes!” Bird cheered. She looked relieved by her daughter’s warmth. “I am. Not for a few more months though. Your little sibling still has quite a bit of growing to do.” Bird patted her belly with two hands. “I know there’s been a lot of change lately, but, I hope this is one we can all be excited about.”

“Of course we’re excited Mom!” Will almost shouted. He looked at Emjay, making sure they really felt the same way and, seeing that they did, went on and asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

“It’s a girl!” Emjay shouted.

“Well, we don’t know for sure yet,” Bird giggled.

“I do!”

Bird’s mouth squirmed, a question on her lips held back by her very wide smile.

“You think so?” Dog said.

Emjay saw it all flash before their eyes – Novah! She’s coming! She’s coming in March! – A head full of black hair with white-frosted ends, a little girl swaddled tight in a yellow blanket, sleeping through a blizzard while Bird snored in the bed beside her.

“I know so! March Ninth!” Emjay asserted. Their mind was racing with excitement. It wasn’t a dream! It was real! It wasn’t pretend! Little Novie is real!

{ So it’s true!

“Can – Can I tell the twins?” Emjay asked, wanting to talk about it at once since E already heard the news.

Bird was blinking rapidly. “Soon,” she responded, cocking her head to the side like she might be confused. “My…” Bird shared her bewilderment with Dog across the table, who stared back seeming equally at a loss for words. “My due date is March Eleventh.”

“Well she’ll come sooner!” Emjay said.

“Well if the baby’s a girl,” Dog said. “We think her name will be – ”

“Novah!” Emjay revealed. “Her name is Novah!”

“How did you know…” Bird blinked a few more times and then set Will with an asking stare, but her son was clearly just as astonished as Dog and Bird were.

That struck Emjay dumb for a few moments. The big grin froze on their face, gaze hopping from face to face to face… Oh. There was no other way to explain – It was time.

Emjay had to come clean.

“I’ll tell you everything,” they said. “But first you have to answer one question.”

Bird, Dog, and Will exchanged looks. Then all three turned to Emjay with the most bewildered expressions any of them had ever worn. For only a second, Emjay was torn.

Then they took a deep breath.

{ Are you seriously about to –

“What are queeries?”


* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

Dick, W. B. (1874) The American Hoyle; or, Gentleman’s hand-book of games. [New York, Dick & Fitzgerald] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/05024784/.

© Kailey Ann

MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Ninth Chapter

IX. THREE-THEN-TWO

Read the Book In-Progress: theprose.com/book/3224/mily-the-millennial

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

“While Liberty’s bright natal star
Shines twinkling on her own domain.”

The Hoosier’s Nest

♥ ♠ ♦ ♣

Mily was lost in time.

Each and every pipt and faced person in Lockdown was looking out for the Million-Dollar-Daughter. The lost child belonged to the family of the Left Bower, and the fact made this search and rescue a top priority. Four suited Aces stationed teams at key places where the kid was bound to be located. Keepers worked in pairs on watch-duty around the clock, sweeping the whole compound.

It was all talk.

Prudences befell the undground. There wasn’t a person there who wasn’t aware of the missing minor in question, and the disappearance was clearly top-of-mind. People exchanged worries and hopes of a sure and safe return, for the family. In stead of taking to the tunnels with flashlights and ropes, most only turned to their neighbors and asked whether they had heard if there was any news.

Mily’s name was not disclosed so hardly anyone knew it. Politeness stole their tongues. It would have hardly been appropriate to call attention to certain things in light of the current circumstances. They all agreed that the child’s life was priceless, no matter their worth in rumors.

After the first day, her whereabouts became harder to discuss. Most fokes were new to the place and new to each other, so over-minded in the way they spoke to one another about the girl who got lost in the Spokes. ‘Any word?’ / ‘Any sign?’ / ‘Any progress?’ took the place of her name in their smalltalk. Nobody wanted to offend, but after twenty-four hours a lot more doubted the Search was still ‘and rescue.’

After the second day, her story had lost touch with what was really going on. Mily was fine and what was more, she was going to be – It’s just that she still had to do Something.

In the meantime, she heard every type of talking there was to be had in Lockdown. Listening inside long forgotten access tunnels running underneath loading decks in the Spokes, Mily overheard the garbled gist.

That’s how the tall-tales of the Millennial started.

Some people were awful cruel, so Mily did her best to tune those out; the assaults on her parents’ character were hardest to overlook, as if it’d been their fault that their daughter decided to run away and stay lost. She shook her head, remembering what the Deer Serpent said:

Pay Little Mind For What They Might Say

Mily knew the words were wise because they worked when she applied them in practice. The only way to win this trick was with mind over matter. She reminded herself as much while climbing down a mossy ladder, following directions given to her back in the cavern:

You Must Go Your Own Way

It was strange, but Mily knew where she was heading even though she’d never been there. She supposed that must be the Creature’s magic at work. Discerning eyes found passages worth taking, railroads hidden in rubble and entryways left unrecollected in newer maps.

Keepers didn’t bother with the old routes. That was partway how Mily knew she was on the right tracks; she was looking for a place that had been unseen for many many years.

The Twins knew she was alright, but their word wasn’t much in the face of such worry. When Esa asked why they weren’t allowed to tell anyone their cousin’s name, Dog, Bird, Aunt Elaeagus, and Uncle Earn decided it was time for the kids to know the Whole Truth of What Happened.

She plugged her nose from time to time while passing through the maze of an old wastewater system. It had long been dried up, but some of the earth still stunk. She’d claimed the abandoned water treatment office for the evening and found someone’s minifridge still plugged-in and running, stocked with canned drinks and preserved snackgoods.

Mily ate next to nothing but chocolate pudding that night.

The Truth of What Happened didn’t feel like the whole story. Will and the Twins may’of been satisfied by their parents’ telling, but Mily just wasn’t. When she woke on the third day of being Missing, she got the Sense that everything was going to come together here real-soon.

But she must do her best to be there by Noon.

First she dusted herself off and stretched out the pains of sleeping on the floor. Then she opened the office door and continued on with her exploration of Lockdown’s patchwork underground.

{ Please say today’s the day

Today is the day! Mily promised E. She was quite far along already when she spotted another ladder and felt her heart miss a beat. Almost made it, I can tell!

{ Emjay –

You swore!

{ Okay-okay

Three entire days – That was what they’d agreed, and Mily didn’t intend to go back on their deal. If she couldn’t get to the place she intended by then, she would give up the search and tell the Twins how to find her.

Mily was sure there would be a real shock when she was finally discovered. From all the talk, it seemed like her still being unfound made the people in charge look bad; fears of cracks in the halls and bottomless pits in off-limits places fell listlessly from families’ lips. Mily disliked being a source of so much stress, but she was thumbing the pulse of a discovery that was much more important.

Testing the ladder by pressing her palms to the lowermost rung, Mily felt sure this was the right way to go. Stepping and reaching, she made it halfway up and held on tight while she looked around. Giant metal rings fixed together with slabs of concrete ran forwards and backwards into darkness.

“We sprung a leak somewhere and don’t know where it might be,” Mily heard somebody say up above, where an old steel hatch was propped open, likely left ajar after someone was done working a long time ago.

I know where, Mily told the air. The Aces kept sending Keepers to look in all the wrong places, which couldn’t be helped since the place they were looking for wasn’t recorded and was frankly quite hard to find. It sure seemed like the flashfloods rose from some lower level because water was gushing up from the grates under trains in half of the main Spokes… but she knew that wasn’t the case.

Kind of like how she had mistaken the Deer Serpent’s antlers for branches, Mily knew things weren’t always what they seemed at first glance. It was a quick way for her to have learned that life lesson.

At the top of the ladder, Mily paused to get her bearings. The stench from some tunnels was starting to affect her breathing. It wasn’t just that it smelled bad – the scent was sharp metallic. It stuck to her nosehairs and dried the skin out inside, leaving her follicles feeling stung.

One at a time, Mily wiped her hands on her dusty pant-pockets and finished the climb. Her head popped out of the open utility hole and found the air somewhat more pleasant. This tunnel was so low-ceilinged that she would have to duck while she walked. Mily clapped once and heard the twack! echo much further than she’d imagined it would. But that was alright. Butterflies twittered in her stomach. She was positive that this was perhaps the last leg.

The Creature’d said all she had to do was trust her gut – At least, that’s what Mily thought was meant by the phrasing:

Wisdom Will Full Fill Your Understanding

Mily passed another utility hole in the floor, though this one’s cover was sealed shut. She kept walking a few paces, but something made her hesitate. Stepping back towards the metal door, she took a good look at its spinner knob handle.

The hole-cover diameter was a few inches wider than her shoulders. It appeared to be older than the one she’d crawled out of a ways back – It was tinted seafoam green, the same color as Lady Liberty, which told Mily it must be made of copper. Righty-tighty-Lefty-loosey. Fixing both hands to the knob, she gave it a firm shove counter-clockwise, but the hatch wouldn’t budge.

Mily shook out her fingers and refastened her grip, using her thighs to put her weight behind the next push. This has got to be it, Something told her. It was a fluttering in her gut, the feeling she’d decided to trust. It had gotten her this far, after all.

There was no way of knowing for sure, but Mily felt the time running short.

Now or never.

She shoved with all her might – And the wheel began to turn.

It was slow-going. Mily had to take a break twice to let the blood back into her hands. But each time she started again, it spun a little easier. She made three full circles before hearing a hiss which meant the seal had been broken.

A sulfuric smell flooded the tunnel. Mily’s head spun. She pulled her shirt collar over her nose and pressed forward hard as she could – And the latch stopped.

Sweat dripped down her forehead. Her shoulders ached. Mily was too young to have thought about rehydrating much the night before. Her vision was curvy, and she suddenly wished she’d had something to eat besides all that chocolate pudding.

After another deep breath, she grabbed the handle like a steering wheel at Ten and Two and lifted the lid wide on its hinge. Once it was open, Mily had to retreat a ways to keep from breathing in the haze of rotten-eggs. She sat down and crossed her legs, letting her wrists rest on her knees. Eyani, Mily pinged when she’d started to catch her breath.

{ Yep?

If you don’t hear from me –

{ Mily!

Just listen! If you don’t hear from me in six minutes, send help to the Old Spokes.

{ You’re in the bunkers?

Yep.

{ But I thought those were underwater?

Maybe they were. Mily stood up and stretched. The odor had settled throughout the passage, but it wasn’t getting any worse. She took a few steps back to the open hatch and peered into a deep dark gloom. They might flood again soon if I don’t hurry.

There was a long pause in which Eyani didn’t respond. Mily waited, wanting him to confirm he understood her instructions before she descended. In the time it took for her cousin to gather his thoughts, she saw that the ladder hung down further than she could see. And its rungs were all rusted.

E? Mily called after a while.

{ You better’of got a good reason for doing this

I do.

{ Then you got six minutes

{ Better get going

On my way. Wish me luck.

{ I’m wishing alright

Sure to test each rung with the ball of her foot before taking it, Mily headed down with her eyes Wide Open. There was no light at all to see by, but she could anyway. Something about her encounter with the Creature linked all her greater Senses together. It was the Silence of the chute which would have stirred a sense of unease if she hadn’t had a goal in mind to hold her focus.

A whispered word could’of shattered the stillness. But it wasn’t difficult to count the seconds passing; Mily set a steady pace, and her heart beat in-time. Step by step, Mily sank lower into the long forgotten reaches of Lockdown.

It was the sort of pitch blackness that inspired fear – A darkness so complete that time and space seemed more theory than real. Despite the swallowing chasm spanning far-far away towards a bottom she really hoped was there, Mily kept her cool. It did no good to be afraid when something much worse was on its way if she didn’t make it to the Place in time to fulfill the Deer Serpent’s task.

Mily tried her best not to think about falling into that black oblivion. Staring below showed nothing but clandestine murk bereft of brightness. Would anyone ever find her if she slipped, or would she be lost to the obsidian void for the rest of her days on planet Erath?

Stop that, Mily ordered. What good did it do to dwell on What-Ifs? She needed to keep her head – Lowering herself into this dense and precarious channel of nothingness was enough to overrule her Sense. Mily took a beat and fixed her eyes on the pinhole of light now very high overhead. She had to’of been at this for three minutes or more already.

Give me two more minutes, E.

{ Emjay that’s not the deal

Eyani Please.

Eyani didn’t send word, but Mily heard a { pop } that gave off the same disgruntled tone as a scoff. Mmph, she returned without meaning to. Her cousin wasn’t giving her the confidence she wanted, but she understood that this was the last time she should try his patience. Everybody was beyond worried…

Oh well most of them think I’m a lost cause already anyway.

Mily ventured further inward.

The ladder was sturdy. She needn’t have worried about the rust, as the descent was smooth all the way down to rock bottom.

I made it. Feet on solid ground again, Mily took stock – The copper piping didn’t extend to touch the bedrock, unlike the iron ladder bolted into the floor. There was just enough room to duck under the edge of the chute to see what was in store for her beyond it.

Pressing her right cheek and chest flat to the earth, Mily peered into the room –

E um – Eyani yew – you oughta ferget what I – forget the extra minutes E – I…

Her mind rambled with panic. It barely registered the returned radio-silence.

I mean it – E! Send some – send somebody to come – tell em ta take the elev – elevator down to Subway One-One-One and then fol – follow the railroad tunnel to Stop Forty-Two – part of it is uh busted so tell em they have to walk – RUN – tell em they have to run till they see a big CROSSING sign – thers a hole um no wait – was that be…fore or af…ter the unlocked door that says ACE NO FACE on it…?

Mily was still pressed flat to the earth, her heart thumping in her throat. Every nerve was on high-alert. What she was seeing made no sense – She’d never seen anything like it.

It was a boneyard. Fishes, rodents, persons. Mily saw some of every single kind of skeleton that ever lived it seemed like. There was even a mammoth. Its tusks were huge, each one long as three of her wing-spans put together. And there was writing on the wall, written in rusty red ink, which made her think gruesomely – Is it blood?

She would have to crawl out if she wanted to see more, but Fear locked her bent arms and legs to the uneven floor. Her eyes darted between cracked skulls and splintered femurs and fragmented ribcages. If not for the fact that not one bone-being rose from the dead since her eyes found this feast for time, Mily might have stayed frozen there forever.

But nothing did. Not one finger or toe so much as twitched. The graveyard was utterly unmoved by her presence.

Okay. Okay. I can do this. It’s just bones. Like at the History Museum. Just like the dinosaurs. You like those. This is the same. I can do this. Be brave. I promised I would.

Wits Will Not Stray Far From Faith
Summon Your Fates

Mily squeezed her eyes shut and rolled out from under the utility chute.

She squinted to peek and was dumbfounded. What the Creature’d said was Truth. Oggling at the ceiling, an open-mouthed grin filled her cheeks. Wits blew through her head and chest with a gust of recognition –

Guts took Mily to just the Place she’d been looking for.


* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

Finley, John. The Hoosier’s Nest: And Other Poems. United States, Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1866.

MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Eighth Chapter

VIII. CLOCKWISE

Read the Book In-Progress: theprose.com/book/3224/mily-the-millennial

♥ ♠ ♦ ♣

“And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”
NIV 1 John 5:6

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦


What exactly happened while Mily was underwater, she could never comprehend with a hundred-percent certainty.

When she broke the surface, it was March the Ninth, and the year was Two-Thousand-and-Two. How she knew, Mily never-ever understood. But it was true. She did remember.

Mily remembered Everything.
.
.
.


Underwater, there was Song.

The music started the second she saw Something – Mily heard the first notes as the undertow drew her down to the bottom of the lake.

Do-re-mi, do-re-mi

Somersaulting, the riptides yanked her further out.

Far-so-la, fa-sol-la-si

Mily knew how to swim and she tried with all her might, but it took all the breath she had left to curl in her four limbs and slow the topsy-turvy spinning.

Far-sol-re-si

Why is there singing ?

La-si, fa-si, re-mi

Waters shifted and twisted Mily’s head into the sand.

Sol-far-so-re-si

She was either dreaming or dying; Mily’s thoughts were rugged, but her gut said it had to be either-or.

Si-fa-la-mi

She wished it was a dream – anything that meant this wasn’t the way she Went.

Si-la-mi, la-si, la-mi-fa-sol-re-si-do

Help ! !

Do

Dad ! ! E ! ! Will ! !

Do

Anybody ! !

Do

Please Save Me

So-sol-se-re-do

Mildred Junegrass faded.
.
.
.

Bird appeared in the Infirmary in a whorl of worry, wildly piloting a scruffed-up wheelchair aimed for Mily’s bedside.
It was lucky they were both in the Recovery Wing because Bird really shouldn’t have been going anywhere – After all, she had just had a baby. Mily tried to sit up straighter, but she just sank squat into the old cot springs and ended up huffing when Bird landed alongside her.

“Are you all right?” Mily’s mom asked, full of foreboding.

“I drowned Mom!” Mily expelled. “They said I did, but I lived!”

“Thank Goodness. Are you hurt?”

“My chin hurts, and my voice does. And I’m really cold but my skin feels like it’s burned.”

Bird gave a tense nod. “You’re still cold Sweetie because you were hypothermic, but it’ll go away soon. Your skin hurts because you got frostnip.”

Mily gulped. “But not frost-bit, right Mom?”

“No, no frostbite. I’m so glad you’re all right.”

Mily tried not to sqirm because it made her skin sting way worse. But her fear of frostbite was longstanding, ever since she’d seen pictures of Uncle Earn’s little toe… She couldn’t get comfy on the lumpy cot and thought about crying anytime the sheets touched her body anywhere. “You promise I don’t have frostbite, Mom?”

“I promise. All your skin is still skin-colored, Doctor Moormen told me so himself.”

“No charcoal toes?”

“None whatsoever. He said he checked twice. I’m sorry it hurts though Sweetie.” Bird sank back into her wheelchair and slouched. Sweat dotted her brow, and Mily thought she looked a little green in the cheeks. The wave of illness lasted only a few seconds before her mom’s braveface was back in place. “We’ll both get better soon. And you can stay with me in my room!”

Mily’s eyes went wide. “With you and the baby?”

“Yes, if you’d like to. I know your little sister would love that.”

Mily beamed and wailed as her lips ripped in a couple of places – Her nerves felt as fragile as perforated trimmings of a wellworn spiral notebook. The salt of her tears stung in the small cracks and wounds.

“I – I – ” Mily sobbed, trying to hold the crying in. “I mi-might cry m-more than my n-new sis-sister does.”

Bird giggled and put a hand on top of hers, which somehow didn’t hurt. “She won’t mind, Silly M – ”
Doctor Moormen materialized from behind a privacy curtain. He wore a long white coat and a stethoscope around neck, and some of his gray, wispy shoulder-length hair was trapped beneath the tubing. He’d brought Mily a sugar-free sucker – She could see its wrapping poking out the top of the doctor’s breast pocket.

“There you are, Wood Women!” Doctor Moormen said when both Bird and Mily had only smiled in response to his presence. He had that effect on people, often setting patients so at ease that they forgot to speak or greet him.
Mily’s brows drew together in the middle. She looked down and caught sight of the waxpaper intake bracelet taped to her wrist:

ID#: 50003024
NAME: EMJAY WOMACK W.Y.
DOB: 1993-07-20 | BT: O Negative

That’s how she remembered she was not called ‘Mily’ anymore. She turned the bracelet around so she wouldn’t accidentally see it again.

My name is Emjay.
.
.
.


The blackhole Mily had fallen into while sprinting through Lockdown spit her out at the edge of an underground spring. There was a babbling stream which stemmed from cracks and fissures in one side of the cave wall. Water dripped down and ran through narrow gaps in the rocks and pooled near the other end of the cave, where Mily found herself displaced.

It was light enough to see just fine. The light was strange, steady and blue, and she thought for a second that pool itself was glowing, making that cobalt hue.

But then Mily spotted them.

Those tunneling crayfish Eyani had wagered might live this deep underground covered the boulders and slick cragstone from floor to ceiling.

The mud daubers were glowing bright blue.

Mily stood up. She was wet with mud, and a couple of crawdads were latched onto her shoelaces. They had some mighty pincers but looked friendly enough. She attempted to detach one by pulling gently on its hind end, and another reached out and pinched the bent knuckle of her index finger.

Mily giggled. It didn’t hurt one bit.

I guess you can all hang-on if you want.

Her shoes were soaked straight through. She slipped them off and wrung out her socks on the ground. All the mud daubers released her laces as soon as her feet left the soles. The stone floor was spotted and bumpy, but it didn’t pain her feet to walk across it. Leaving her socks and shoes to maybe dry out some, Mily walked a few steps toward the edge of the spring, and the l’il lobsters crawled after her.

The pool was a perfect circle with one massive stalactite suspended above the very center, where a single column of sparkly droplets rained straight into the spring. Rippling rings stretched their circumferences to the pool’s edges. Mily stepped closer so her toes just touched the tiny waves as they splashed against shale and limestone rubble.

Mud daubers piled on top of each other under the surface, each one gleaming very blue, as bright as neon glowsticks, making the pool look like living glass. As she absorbed the stunning sight, Mily hardly noticed the water climb over her ankles, the wake grow wide and uneven, or the waves break in mist which coated her shins.

Like she’d been punched in the gut, Mily became suddenly conscious of the water level rising super fast. She whirled around but couldn’t identify any kind of exit, not even the hole she knew she’d been spit out of. Panic spread like icemelt throughout her whole body. Her gaze followed the ripples and swirls back to the center of the pool, where a whorlpool was forming.

The spring was bubbling right out in the middle.
.
.
.


The Maternity Wing was too cold. Mily couldn’t sleep. Bird and baby Novah were both snoring. Novah’s snores sounded more like a soft simmer – the grinding breaths belonged to their mother, resting with her mouth wide-open, propped up by so many pillows.

Ignoring the sting of her frostnip, Mily rolled off her cot. The bed Bird’s nurses moved into the room for Mily to sleep in was way comfier than the one they gave her in the Recovery Wing. But the sheets did nothing for the chill. She was shivering.

But that didn’t matter to Mily. She was having trouble staying away from Novah’s cradle for any great length of time. Minding her mom’s IV, she tip-toed to the edge of her little sister’s tiny bed.

‘Hi, Novie,’ Mily mouthed. Novah was swaddled tight in yellow blankie, but the matching knit hat had fallen off, revealing a headfull of black hair with white-frosted ends. Bird had said it was really uncommon for newborns to have so much hair already. Mily didn’t think it strange – She just thought Novah was beautiful.

Her baby sister didn’t stir. She seemed utterly at ease. Mily was right when she thought she might cry more than the infant did. She had. But watching Novah sleep settled her brain and helped her not think about how much her frostnip hurt.

‘I know you don’t know words yet,’ she went on silently. ‘But I want you to know my real name, okay? My name is Mily. I know you won’t remember, and… and it’s okay for you to say Emjay but – just so you know – I’m really Mily.’

Novah hiccuped and woke herself up. Big brown eyes, still cloudy from birth, which Bird said was normal because most babies couldn’t see well for a while, widened. She watched as spittle dribbled and blew into an impressive bubble and popped. Then Novah blinked and drifted straight back to sleep.

Mily thought maybe her sister did understand what she’d told her.
.
.
.


The water had risen to Mily’s knees, and she couldn’t see the floor anymore. She was afraid to move – The bubbling water was frothing and tugging, and a few times the current nearly knocked her off her feet.

Mily stood firm. Blue-lit mud daubers spun in spiraling arms, shooting stars on the water. She high-knee marched backwards until she hit a big rock and slipped a few times trying to clamber on top of it.

{ Emjay
{ Come in Emjay
{ Can you hear me?

E! E! I can hear you! Mily clung to her rock, which might’of been a stalagmite that got its top lobbed off at some point – it was awfully steep. Eyani! Can you hear me?

{ Yes! Yes!{ I hear you too!{ What is your location?

No idea, Mily thought back, watching the churning springwater prowl steadily higher. But I think I’m in trouble.
As quick as the thought sent, the water’s rise began to slow down. Mily expelled the air in her lungs and stared at the bubbling center of the spring – and held back a scream.
Something’s in the water!

{ Water?
{ Where?
{ How do we find you?

No time to explain!

Whatever was in there seemed to be letting the water out of the cavern. Away it all drained faster than it had risen in the first place, funneling round and round, dragging hundreds of mud daubers down what looked like the opening of a very large pipe.

Whatever it was, it was huge.

Mily remembered thinking of snakes during the truckride to Dune Park Waystation and felt punched in the gut again. It knocked the wind right out of her.
.
.
.


The digital clock above Bird’s Maternity room door said 4:32.

Mily still hadn’t been to sleep. She had been chugging dixiecups of water one right after the next, and everytime she thought about crawling back onto her cot, she had to use the bathroom and wound up wide-awake all over again.
Night sky outside the window was navy, but the horizon line glowed brightest blue. Snow was still falling, but the blizzard had passed. The sun would be rising soon.

Besides the frequency of Mily’s calls-of-nature, sleep evaded her because of the flashbacks. When she closed her eyes, she was back There.

She didn’t want to be but – try as she might – Mily kept going back.
.
.
.


Out of the spring rose what looked like two massive tree branches made of solid silver. They had perfect symmetry, every bend and twist of their metal mirroring their opposite. Reflected in the water, the boughs trembled and shimmered till the whole pool turned to quicksilver.

Mily was stunned. Was it magic?

She peered through the sterling backscatter underneath the branches and determined it must be some sort of magic or miracle.

Mily was struck dumb. A pair of gold eyes were watching.


* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

Excerpt from the New Testament – 1 John 5:6 (NIV)
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%205%3A6&version=NIV

MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Seventh Chapter

VII. ORDEAL

Read the Book In-Progress: theprose.com/book/3224/mily-the-millennial

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

“There might be a real Land of Youth somewhere.
There might be almost anything.”

The Magician’s Nephew

♥ ♠ ♦ ♣

The attack on the Twin Bowers changed everything.

When Keeper Bigly-Tate had escorted the Yoder family to their freshly-assigned Lockdown housing – and, finally, excused himself from their company – Dog and Bird had a long talk with Will and Mily about what exactly happened on September Eleventh.

As if both Mily and Will were utterly clueless, Dog began by explaining that the Twin Bowers were a set of grand National Monuments in East Atlantia, capitol city of the United Estates of Imerica. The first monument was out at Sea, facing east: she was Lady Liberty, otherwise known as the Right Bower.

The second monument was called Euchred Plinth: this was a massive monolith pedestal made of spacerock, a perfect star-pentagon pointing west toward the City. It was built as the intended setting for One Day When – when the Left Bower’s name became known to all the Pipt, Faced, and Aces of North Imerica.

Then, it was said, both Bowers would stand watch. One in the Sea, and one on the Land. And Erath would be put right again.

But then the Terrorists attacked.

Sense was less while Mily listened. Awareness grew.

It was Bird’s turn to tell the truth: “I remember watching the spaceship launch. It took off right from where they laid the Plinth. My Second Grade class watched it on an old roll-cart TV…”

“Second-grade?” Mily had interjected, distracted because her stomach got hot and uneasy everytime her mom talked.

“When we were in school,” Bird answered with grace, “there were Grade Levels instead of Grading Periods, like you and Will are used to.”

“Oh.” Mily had realized she needed to swallow her grudge. She wanted answers to much bigger questions.

“It was Nineteen-Sixty-Nine,” Dog had then offered as his way of getting them back on track. “July Twentieth, Nineteen-Sixty-Nine, the United Estates first landed on the Moon.”

“That’s your birthday, Mil!” Will’d told her, grinning great-big.

In spite of everything, the corners of Mily’s mouth upturned – She’d had no idea that the day she was born was significant in any way at all.

“Then in Nineteen-Ninety-One, the year Will was born…” Their mom gave her son a special look and went on, “UEI astronauts brought the spacerock back to Benjamintown – that’s where the Declaration of Endependence was signed. It was on display for a few years there, and after that, they moved the Plinth to East Atlantia, where they’ve been building – ”

Bird’s lower lip trembled and then froze; she sat up very straight and shook her head rapidly from side to side, like she needed to break something loose. “The Left tower was being built. The law was that it would be under construction until the Bower’s likeness turned up – So that was the idea, to plan ahead, so it was still being built… until now.”

Bird seemed at a loss – she tossed Dog a look and just shrugged, then grimaced. Dog looked back at Bird with his lips pursed; it was the face he always made when he was trying to find something to say.

Mily snagged at her parents’ pause and asked, “Aren’t YOU the Left Bower, Dad?”

Dog chuckled – Mily glared. This is no laughing matter! The question had been nagging at her ever since she’d heard the CODE RED. She’d been afraid that her dad was dead.

“I am,” Dog began, something about the question seeming to untwist his wits. “But for me, be’n a Bower’s just a title. Since Clubs was ordered up, I’ll work with them for a while.”

“The same-colored Jacks can be both suits,” Will expounded.

“Well, only if their suit-color was ordered trump,” Bird tweaked. A crease fell between her brows: she was thinking heavily.

“But you’re a Spade,” Mily said.

Dog shrugged. “Well, I know I look the same, but tech’neckly, right now I’m a Club.”

“Why?” Mily asked.

“That’s the way it works,” Dog answered. “Some of us of’got to be ready to cross the line and work together sometimes. That keeps things fair, and keeps things work’n right.”

“Oh.” Mily wasn’t sure whether she got it or not.

“Clubs won the election last year, remember, Mil?” Will said. “Remember how we all got our own pretend-ballots at school last year? Remember circling a suit and sealing it in an envelope before you dropped it in the big fishbowl?”

Mily did remember, vividly. “I circled Hearts.” She glanced at her mom, who was suddenly smiling.

“Well, in the real election, Clubs got circled the most,” Will said, sounding concluded.

“So you didn’t switch forever?” Mily asked Dog.

“Nope! Not unless Clubs wins every election from here on out. That’s really unlikely. Eventually, I’ll go back to be’n a Spade.”

“So if you’d picked a different suit to be – ” Mily spat, scalding fury making her voice sound all raspy. “If you were a red one – like Mom – then we wouldn’t of had to leave!”

“Well, it’s not really that simple…” Dog said, scratching his head.

“Your dad has a really important job,” said Bird.

“But so do you! You’re Principal!”

“It’s not a contest, sweetie. It’s about safety. It’s better for us all to stay together.”

“Well I don’t want to be near you!” Mily screamed. She stood. Whirled around. Wanted to run away, but couldn’t remember which way the stupid door was. “ANY of you!” Her breaths were too fast – her head spun. Her eyes found the door, a bolt-heavy slider at the end of their railcar-turned-homestead. Her feet stomped towards it. “I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANY OF YOU EVER AGAIN!”

Mily knew her parents and Will would run after her, but she was by far the fastest of all of them. She shoved door sideways on its track and climbed down narrow iron steps to a brick-and-limestone paved platform. Sped down a double-line of railcar houses and came to a T at the end of the path – turned left – and took off racing into Lockdown, booking it faster than Mily’d ever run in all her life.

A lot like her dad Dog, Mily liked to get lost. There was no better Sense of adventure than when she went wandering off, on, over, into and through, to wherever the wandering led her, to Something at the End.

Lockdown was starting to look like a maze. Mily wondered if she would ever end up wandering to the end of it.

Knees high, arms pumping, Mily bounded on her toes – Her hands were open and relaxed, not balled into fists, which kept her shoulders from tensing up and killing her momentum – She already far away from where she’d started, lamps peripherally whipping past – Each breath entered through her nose and exited out her mouth, in time with each stride. She left the trains behind – Her eyes went ahead of her and saw she was approaching a bend – Lungs burning, she willed herself faster, faster, faster!

Mily had no idea how long she ran. It felt like a long time.

She didn’t want to give her family any chance to turn on the juice and catch up to her, so she steered left for the upteenth time on her next stride –

Mily barrelled around the bend, barely observing it when a cold and sudden darkness overtook the tunnel because of a bright neon-orange sign that said –

Authorized Persons Only
DO NOT ENTER

She stutter-stopped, skidded off-balance, and crashed forward into the chipping particle-board, suspended by a big rusty chain bolted into mortared brick pillars on either side. The orange sign cracked down the middle on-impact: she braced her hands frontways, catching her fall on hard solid ground – just as two ends of a chain fell and clanked! against the cement floor.

Mily’s wrists took the brunt of the trip, jarring her forearms. It hurt. A lot. She grit her teeth and bit tears back, blinking through the throbbing pain. It was dark. With panic-stricken eyes, she searched wildly round till they landed on what was now an in-half warning sign –

Authorized Per / sons Only
DO NOT I / ΞNTER

Picking herself up, Mily looked back the way she’d come. That way, the long limestone shaft looked scary-similar to every one she remembered having sprinted through…

She looked the other way. The path ahead resembled none of the places she’d been in any way, and it was very gradually sloping downward…

Had she known she was running downhill? She couldn’t remember when/if she’d noticed the incline at all.

Mily stepped over the two ends of particle-board and chains and kept walking. She wondered how long she could keep heading deeper in, and decided to find out if that trickle-and-wooshing sound – like the sound of water running – stemmed from somewhere deeper down…

In fact… Huh.

Mily’s everpresently-humming clairs were all hush.

The realization made Mily afraid. Which was strange, because she had never thought about losing the bugs in her brain; she had only just started to get used to them.

She stopped running. It was very dark, but she could still see okay. She must’of sometime left all the lined brick and smoothed limestone behind. When, she hadn’t a clue. The cave Mily stood in now was genuine, untouched, low-ceilinged and muddy, a mishapen, bouldering sweep into a deep and dark somewhere.

Ooh-no.

Mily had just wanted to get away. She hadn’t meant to get someplace where they might not find her, not really. Suddenly there was too much pressure in her head, and it was building, fueled by questions that she still didn’t have any answers to, but the loudest pounded against her skull and radiated through her chest till she could hardly stand it –

Why am I not a Wood?

Mily shut her mind up and was running again – She forgot all about her aching wrists and the darkness, sprinting onward – Hopping rocks and rubble that appeared in her path, dodging from one point to next on her toes – Never thinking twice about being quiet but quite possibly streaking in silence –

If that were possible, Mily wouldn’of noticed – She sped with the swift-footedness of a doe, wide-eyed, wandering deep as the dusk would take her without worry, without ever looking back once.

Then Mily slipped, and fell in a blackhole.

She went gliding, slipping and sliding, and saw a brightness up ahead – Getting bigger, growing brighter! Whiteness flooded with full-flush force –Woah!

There, at the very end of the blackhole, was Something.

Mildred was frigid – Sweat of her brow condensed on her lashes, became hoarfrost – It was hard to see through pine-needly eyes – She felt off-balance.

Will took Mily’s hand. She couldn’t see, but she knew it was him by the familiar weight of his grasp. It was the grip Will had when he meant to take her somewhere.

Mily gave Will’s hand a firm squeeze. She held on tight. Then leaning into her big brother’s steps, she helped Will lead her across the slippery crest of Devil’s Slide.

Something didn’t sit right; her head bent to block an icy wind sweeping down the slope of the dune. There was plenty of room for the two of them to walk – but the sun must’of been hot in the afternoon because sand and snow had frozen slick.

Still quite unable to see well, Mily watched her feet.

“Prob’ly twenty more steps Mily,” Will called through the wind.

One of Dog’s heavy-knit turquoise winter-hats he got from ERATHEntact was pulled snug around Mily’s ears – But she could hear well-near everything, or close to that. Mily matched her footfalls two-ticks behind Will’s guide-steps, following his rhythm till she fell into the flow his walk.

Something still sat wrong; her shoulders tensed and Mily was almost capsized by a shock of wind. She latched onto Will’s right arm to keep from toppling sideways and almost took them both down.

“Almost there,” Will said, turning their momentum into an assured step forward. “Promise. Just a few more steps.”

Mily’s eyes were on thin ice – Corneas frozen-over completely.

“March blizzard,” he hollared, squeezing and releasing her hand. “Who’d of thought that! Good job, Mil, you did it. Now we just gotta ride down, and we’re homefree!”

Mily blinked but it did little to unskew her worldview. She recognized the scrape of toboggan rungs across the snow and reflexively stuck her hands out to receive the frayed, braided twine reigns. Will said he would sled first and that she should follow after him.

“Just aim for the water, Mil, and you’ll get where you need to.”

Will was gone. Mily overcame her snowblindness and made sure to watch where he went.

The Great Lake was frozen solid – Mily saw straight across it, past the wide mouth where Devil’s Slide spilled out, to the outward-facing wave of a stories-tall shelf ice wall which bordered the whole shore, to the caps of skyscrapers entrapped just above the high-water-mark of the sunken, Windy City.

Mily got seated on her sled, digging her heels deep into the snow to keep from slipping. Her gaze traced and retraced Will’s sledline.

She was good at drawing lines in her mind and thought she spotted a cut-point where the shallow sandhills dipped lower just a few degrees to the right of Will’s trail… She would need to lean – hard – to make such a sharp curve… But Mily thought if she didshe’d make it all the was to where Will was, for sure.

It would take a fair bit of luck too though.

Mily gripped the braided reigns and settled into her seat – Ready or not – dug in her heels and toes – here I! – and shoved with all her might –

Launched.

She was racing, embracing the slicing wind, sleighing straight for the water. It was the fastest Mily had ever felt – But she wasn’t flying – She held her center, entering a new plane – She was almost halfway the end of the path Will’d made, leaning right just slightly – Okay!

She soared over the edge of the dunegrass and banked left with all her might.

Reins wrapped tight in her fist, Mily bent forward till her nose touched her knee; all her weight was steeled in the right-angle of her elbow and ankle, a shifting center aligned with the inner toboggan rung. She fought the urge to brace and got a floating feeling that meant she was about to flip the sled –

Mily made the cut.

{ Emjay!

She was gliding!

A bullet on the beach, outsprinting the wind, it was blinding!

With that bewildering speed, Mily’s toboggan zipped across what had appeared to be a very broad swath of sand from ontop of the dune – Already, she was almost out of land – Too far! Too fast!

Mily’s sled reached the edge of the beach, slid up the shelf of ice and sand, topped the frozen wave and barrelled over the ledge where she was thrust into nothing – nothing but Air and Wide Open Water!

Mily tried to brake, but it was too late. She plummeted, reigns twisting in her vicegrips.

Just the instant before she went under the wake, Mily saw it –

There, at the very end of Devil’s Slide, was Something.

* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

“What Happened at the Front Door.” The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, Barnes & Noble Inc. and HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, p. 54. The Chronicles of Narnia.