MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Third Chapter

III. UPTURNED

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

Illustrated by Thom Berger

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“I will read the writing for the King and tell him what it means.”

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A deer! A DOE!

Mily saw it standing in the sun, a magnificent, massive fawn. But how can you be? The beast had white spots speckled across her brassy back but stood half as tall as a basketball hoop… Where did you come from? Deer were very fast, Mily knew, but the yard had been vacant when she stepped into the shade – only – barely – a few seconds ago, hadn’t it been? She thought about it a few seconds longer, and then she was unshakably sure that the deer had appeared out of nowhere.

Oh, how the great doe shone in the late afternoon light. They stared at each other, and while Mily was quite stunned, the deer showed no signs of fear at all. She stood staff-legged and proud, fur turned down smooth like bronze suade, her white tufted tail swaying in the breeze. When their eyes met again, Mily got the sense that the doe was seeing right through her. A powerful whooshing sensation beneath her collarbone made her gasp and stumble a step backward.

The doe was unperturbed, but turned her head curiously at the kid halfway through her step out of the shadows beside the flowerbed.

“W-what are you – ?” Mily spurted as she searched for her voice. You’re not afraid of me? she wanted to ask the doe, but didn’t. Should I be afraid? she asked herself, and then goosebumps skated from the nape of her neck to her toes. She was in awe because she had only ever seen a deer in real life just once, a buck she’d spied through Bird’s binoculars from far across the duneland woods a few springs back. Mily admired the doe as their exchange seemed stretch on and on… and then she was no longer afraid.

Taking a step closer, Mily mirrored the deer and cocked her head to the side with curiosity. She consciously loosened her grip on the tennis ball to show the doe that she didn’t intend to chuck it at her. “Hello,” Mily said, captivated by the emerald gleam of the beast’s eyes in the golden hour. She beamed and then froze again, ingesting the sight of circle of ground around her feet. From the backs of Mily’s heels and stretching to where the doe was stationed, suddenly the grass was teeming green.

Dry brown grass had bristled against her bare feet not two minutes earlier, but there was now a patch of grass dense and rich as Mily’d ever seen. “Look at that!” she cheered, but because they were standing in the blindspot of the sideyard, Mily doubted that anyone had heard her from either side of the house. “Do you have…” her question faded as the clairs started ringing in her ears in such a way that she might have said they were singing.

Then, beyond all common sense, Mily would never forget it – that magnificent doe cantered two steps closer and lowered her head, smiled, and said:

CALL ME ARIEL

“You can talk?” Mily responded, stunned. Ariel the doe inclined her head further, pointing a coal-black nose to where she had made a deep impression in the lawn with firm stamp of her front left hoof. Mily took another step. She had now come so near the deer that if she only reached out, she might just touch the creature’s underside.

Her senses quickened over a series of instants, each of which would leave her feeling flustered and lackluster when she remembered them later. First was the instant Mily remarked that the hoofprint’s outline looked exactly like an evergreen tree; second instant she realized the doe’s mark a true work of art, for it was so well defined that she could make out the shape of the trunk and its branches – there was even light dancing in-between the whorls and sprigs! Her head was swimming as it tried to make sense of what she was seeing, all while the clairs went on singing, like little teabells that couldn’t stop ringing once they were swinging.

Something clenched in her diaphram, and then Mily was afraid again. She leapt back and blinked a few times to clear inverted silhouettes of Ariel’s evergreen hooves, which were hopping around her vision like flash-burns. “Wait! W – will you just? Wait here!” Mily ran a few paces to the corner of the house and turned back to check if the doe had stayed.

Ariel raised her head up high, and Mily had to squint to counteract the brightness of the fawnish spots sparkling across her back. A little dazed, Mily set off at a run to tell everyone about the incredible things she was seeing.

“Mom! Will! Come see – come see!” she whisper-hollared.

“What is it!” Bird and Will said at once.

Mily glared and held her index finger fiercely to her lips to shoosh! them. “Come quick! And be quiet!” she barked. “You’ve got to see the doe – the deer, she’s over here!” Waving them all over brusquely, Mily lingered long enough to see that Bird was leading Will and the twins and Uncle Earn and Aunt Elaeagnus after her. She then hurried around the corner of the house.

Mily blinked. She swung this way and that, vision blurring as she spun and spun and spun… but the magical fawn was nowhere to be found.

How could she? She was just – “Here! I saw her right here.” Mily bounded further to where she’d been standing before, but the grass crackled as she went, brittle as it had been since the last heat wave over her birthday at the end of July. She gulped and looked about her feet, seeing now that the grass had regained its sunbaked-brown shade… But it was green just a few second ago!

Emjay, which way did she go? E implored in-thought, scouting the lowly rolling, wide-open fields which surrounded them.

“You saw a deer in our yard?” Bird beckoned, leaving the tiny throng gathered together outside the shade of the sunflowers to stand closer to Mily. “How cool is that!” her mom said next, bronze eyes full of wonder. “Where did you see her – by the pond, or out in the field…?” Her mother looked this way and that as if she had all the time in the world.

Mily’s mind was whirling. Bird and the rest of them didn’t understand. She was just here! And she bet it couldn’t even’ve been more than a minute prior to then in that moment, when – It doesn’t make sense! – she floundered with logic, gaze prizing open every fell and folly of the hills that stretched far and wide as the horizon – flat open plains, just the same as dangnear everywhere else in Diana. She could fix her eyes on every burnt-up bush and dusty croprow in-between, so Mily didn’t get why she couldn’t find wherever the stupid deer went.

She splayed her fingers wide and stretched her arms as big as they’d go. “She’s… gone,” Mily murmured, I don’t know where she could’ve went. “Mom, the fawn. She was right here.” She stamped the spot with her entire left foot. Dropping her arms slowly, Mily held out for hope that one last-ditch effort wish would work its magic and, somehow – zap Ariel back on a patch of green grass.

“Whoa, the deer really came so close to the house Mily?” Will asked, wearing a trademark look of puzzled-meets-peachy-keen which made his little sister want to scream. “How far were standing you when you spotted it?”

Mily was starting to feel silly with rage and sick of no one listening to what she was saying. Deciding to bite her tongue, she took a deep breath and walked the few steps between the spot and the edge of the shade under the sunflowers. Mily pivoted and mimed the surprise she had felt at first sight of the doe.

Earn snorted and didn’t even try to hide the fact that he didn’t buy it. “Are you josh’n us all, Mildred?”

“Don’t call me that!” Mily spat. She was on the verge of tears. She was no longer hoping, but rather ruthlessly choking on the fact that if she so much as mentioned how the doe made the grass grow, absolutley no one would believe that she was telling the truth. I’ve got no proof.

A wave of disgruntled shame was swelling in her chest when Mily heard a crunch like fresh snow and felt Bird take a knee alongside her. Crouched at her daughter’s eye-level, Bird told her, “Wow! You’re so lucky to have seen her.”

So her mother believed her – that made Mily relax a bit. Bird was the best at unruffling tension. But the doe hadn’t just seemed big. She was huge!

“Must’ve scared the bejeezous out of her!” Esa said, coming to inspect the edge of the shade where Mily said it happened. There was a sly bend in her cousin’s brow that gave away comedic intent – Mily rolled her eyes so only Esa could see. It was her way saying it was okay for Esa to smooth things over with some of her good humor.

Everyone watched while she pivoted with the quickness of a pinball flipper, eyes bugging wide in horrified surprise. The two of them giggled – but sorely wishing to impress the seriousness of what she’d seen, Mily stifled her laughs, mustered what sternness she could and said, “Well, the doe wasn’t scared at all.”

“Maybe you were both so startled you couldn’t tell,” Will said.

“Oh, is that where they get that? Like a – like a deer in headlights?” Eyani asked.

“She wasn’t afraid!” Mily exhumed. “She smiled right at me.”

“Wish I’d seen her,” Elaeagnus sighed. “Was it magical?”

“I think it might have been,” Mily admitted, a little less defensive now that they all seemed to be getting on the same page. Miraculous. The word came to her mind right away for some unbeknownst reason. She added real quietly, “A miracle maybe.”

“Well then…” Bird’s voice was dreamy. Mily thought it likely that her mom was the only one within earshot enough to hear what she’d said – besides Eyani, who heard almost everything eventually one way or another. “Where’s your dad?”

Mily grimaced and looked around instead answering, when she heard E thinking –

…drop of golden sun?

Hm? The snippet of thought didn’t seem to be directed at Mily. Eyani’s tendency to ‘think out loud’ in his head was one of a growing list of telepathic quirks she kept noticing, but trying to work out the way it all worked scrambled her mind more and more and usually led to losing track of her own thoughts.

Thankfully, just then Bird offered her hand. Mily took it. She was happy to be led away from this letdown and return to the twins’ birthday cakes, and the dinner waiting in the kitchen-and-dining room. Ohh! Mily grinned at E as her mother tugged her toward the back yard. A doe, a deer? she sung, the snippet she’d caught mid-thought suddenly ringing a bell.

A female deer?

A ray –

“Did’ja drop this tennis ball?” Will asked, scooping it up near where the deer had stamped her hoof in the grass.

It took Mily a few seconds to process what her brother said. Guess I must’ve dropped it when – She couldn’t find words to finish describing the moment even for herself – the mere memory of gold flooded Mily’s senses – her skin felt radiant! Alight with vibrations which reminded her of the breedle-y chorus the clairs sang while – the deer was still standing here.

“Wuch y’all wait’n on?”

“You!” three voices griped in unison. Elaeagnus, Esa, and Will were sharing a good laugh about the exuberance of their vocal convergence when –

* Be-beep-be-beep-be-beep-be-beep-be-bee *

– the six-minute timer on Will’s wristwatch ran out, and none other than Dog Yoder appeared on the spot. “Look at that!” Will cheered while silencing his watch. “Six-minutes flat, Mil – I think that counts as mission accomplished.”

Mily shrugged – she didn’t care much about that since her mind was wiped of the stranger completely. She was consumed by what she’d just witnessed, and there was one thread of hope left that she hadn’t been alone in seeing the doe. “Dad, I saw a deer – a doe!” Mily told him at once, clutching her mother’s hand. “Did you see her? Right here?” Mily dropped Bird’s hand and restationed herself where the deer had appeared.

“Wow!” Dog’s eyes were wide and excited. He started looking around everywhich way, but Mily shook her head vigorously until he was paying attention again.

“I tried to get everyone in time,” Mily told him, not looking at the others. “But she was gone when I came back.”

“Well, deer are real fast,” Dog said, understanding. “At least you got to see her! How big was she, Mily?

She beamed and leapt high as she could in the air, reaching her fingertips for the skies. “Way taller than you!”

“Must seemed that big,” Uncle Earn chuckled.

Mily frowned at her uncle and the others for doubting her story. “I’m telling you I could’ve reached out and touched her!”

“Mildred Junegrass!” Bird warned. “You do not need to snap.”

Resisting retaliation, Mily bowed her head and mumbled ‘sorry’ so they could all hear it, but inside she was raging. She walked back over to her mother and held out her hand to show her she was ready to follow her lead again. Bird offered a smile that told Mily her mom found the outburst more funny than rude, and the fact that she wasn’t mad made Mily remember why they were all there in the first place.

“Time for the twins to blow out their birthday candles!” Mily called, dragging her mom by the hand into the back yard. ‘Where Bird goes we all follow,’ was something her dad used to say before he became a Jack and they had to move away. It was true though: in a matter of moments the whole family was finally gathered on the deck to begin the twins’ eighth birthday celebration.

Eyani and Esabel’s cakes looked like rainbow playdough. The confetti sprinkles had melted completely into the buttercream icing, which was glistening in the heat. Mily could tell Bird was sad about the way her cakes were sagging, so she volunteered to stick all sixteen wax candles in herself – she was careful to shove them straight in and a little deep so it would look like they stood up easy.

Once the twins were positioned at the ready, Elaeagnus sparked a long-barrelled butane lighter from beside the grill and lit her kids’ candles. She cradled the flame with the cup of her left hand, moving from wick to wick with grace. As soon as the last flame on Esa’s cake was going, Elae took the reigns and started them all singing:

“Happy birthdays to you!

Happy birthdays to you!

Happy birthdays Eyani and Esabel!

Happy birthdays to you!”

The clairs loved the sound of music and perked up as their voices harmonized into the simple melody. Mily didn’t mind they way they chimed in, extending all the high notes so they echoed like the sound of brass symbols struck in slow motion. Beachglass reflections dazzled the edges of the twins’ playdoughy cakes, like gemstones of every color, and the candles’ flames saluted whichever way the soft wind shifted.

“Make a wish!” the mothers shouted.

Esa and E looked each other full in the face as they held their breath, and then each turned to their own cake and blew –

I wish I had seen the doe.

She blinked as all sixteen flames changed into gray trails of smoke. What a waste of a good wish, Mily moped. Whether or not wishing really worked wasn’t what worried her. Everybody knew that the wording of a wish was very important, and getting it right could be quite tricky business – if all she’d been led to believe in her favorite fairytales was true, anyway. E should have wished for her to come back, she worried over her cousin’s past-tense phrasing.

I think it’s the spirit that counts.

Mily was mortified. She was constantly forgetting that Eyani could hear everything she was thinking. You’re probably right, she apologized, trying not to make too big of deal out of it so her emotions wouldn’t show themselves. It’s your wish, anyway. Sorry, E.

No biggy. Esa’s wish was way worse than mine, so I bet I’ve still got a good chance.

Esa punched her brother hard on the arm, and the whole lot of them cracked up laughing.

* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

Excerpt from the Old Testament – Daniel 5:17 (NIV)

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