IV. FIRST OUTSIDE
Read the Book In-Progress: theprose.com/book/3224/mily-the-millennial
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“Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed.
Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”
NIV Daniel 10:19
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August ended, and with September came the undeniable fact that it was time to go back to school. Mily Junegrass Womack-Yoder loved school, but she loved summer better. It was Sunday the Second, the last afternoon before class went back in session, and Will and Mily were once again on the lookout for Ariel, the miraculous doe. After climbing the knobby old Red oak tree, the two of them scooted out on its sturdiest branch and sat side-by-side, taking turns being scout with Bird’s binoculars. Will was in his wits, making wild guesses about the doe’s home-range based off what they thought might be a deertrail running right underneath their feet.
“I reck’n she’ll come back by this way if she likes Sugar maple seeds,” Will said, bending the binoculars back to fit the bridge of Mily’s nose.
Mily did the sisterly thing and made a face like that had given her some thought; the truth was, she already knew that Ariel doe was nowhere around. Not today, anyway. During the past thirteen days since the twins’ birthday, the clairs had been teaching Mily three or four new tricks. What Mily had noticed right away was that her range of hearing had widened substantially.
Lately she was fond of doing just this – being perched high-enough to see over the roof of the house, but not-so-high that Bird wouldn’t allow it – to stretch and test her hearing to its very reaches. Adjusting her sights through the binocular lenses, Mily twiddled the focus dial and whistled, “Oh woah.”
“Ever seen’m cover the ground like that in your whole life?” Will asked.
Mily lowered the binoculars and gave Will a look of brash perplexity. “Why do you always ask such dumb questions?” She rolled her eyes clearly before bringing the binoculars back to the bridge of her nose.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re two years older than me,” Mily answered him. Her brother only noselaughed back as she returned to scoping the vast, rolling seas of maple seeds. “So how could I’of ever seen’m do this if you haven’t?”
“S’just a way of speaking, Mil,” Will said.
“Oh I know,” she huffed, sights hovering over a storm drain which was still gushing from a sudden downpour that morning. “I just mean, you’re right – like woah, this is crazy.”
During breakfast when the rain was really coming down, Dog had told Will and Mily some of his theories about the earth-covering surplus of winged seed they were seeing. Through the binoculars, it was evident that Harvest Road should be under a Flash Flood Warning. Torrents of groundwater were overflowing from the gutters, which were clogged up with stormswept piles of maple seed muck.
“Do you think Dad’s right about overplanting?” Mily asked, handing the binoculars back to her brother.
“He’s right about overplanting, and about longer summers,” Will nodded. “Remember when Dad first became a Jack? He worked on landmapping Diana’s reforestation for Erath Entact?”
“Well, Dad says he fought some Kings early on in the zoning process – ”
“Deciding which trees to plant, and where, and how many.”
“Dad talked to the Kings when he started working, real early on, like when they were still picking which kinds of trees Diana needed. Dad asked Entact to fund an ecological study – that’s like, when plant and wildlife experts go and find out how all the different trees and species work together, and what they need to grow and thrive…”
Will untethered the lanyard fastened to their mother’s binoculars and looped it around his neck, letting them hang against his chest. Then he plucked the old sunbleached tennis ball, which he’d been carrying around since Mily had unearthed it on the twins’ birthday, from his lap and started tossing it between his hands while he went on talking. “I guess the Kings thought the study Dad wanted was too expensive, and Entact had enough saplings in the treefarms already to get the job done.”
“So there’s so many seeds because they planted too many Sugar maple trees?”
“Sugar maple, Black maple, and…” Will stopped tossing the tennis ball and cocked his head sideways, seeming unable to recall the third one Dog had mentioned.
“Box-elder,” Mily enunciated, remembering it after only a short pause for thought. Since having the clairs, Mily also noticed that she was almost always able to remember new words she heard.
“That’s it!” Will cheered, resuming his back-and-forth tennis ball toss.
“I’m not going down to get that if you drop it,” Mily told him firmly. Will wasn’t even watching his hands, and his tosses were widening, crowding his sister’s elbow room.
“I won’t drop it.”
“Well if you do, I’m not climbing down just because I’m closer to the trunk.”
“Lucky you,” Will said as the tennis ball flew wide – right in front of Mily’s nose, where he caught it, and with a flick of his wrist sent it straight back into his left hand. “I won’t drop it.”
Mily giggled. “You should be in the big leagues.”
“Big league, Mil.” Will said. “Besides, even if I dropped it – I’d just hop down and get it.” He was holding the tennis ball out over his knees using only his fingertips, making his hands look stiff and feeble, like all it might take was a light breeze to knock the ball beyond his reach.
“Will! No!” Mily’s fingernails bit gritty bark while her eyes hunted the ground below for signs of Pitcher’s thistle.
“Oh alright,” he laughed, tucking the ball into his lap. “We should prob’ly head inside, though – I don’t think the doe’s coming today, do you?”
Mily shook her head. She’d spent the whole half hour they’d been sitting in the tree secretly listening to hear the sound of a big animal walking… But the maple seeds were so thick, and the stormwaters so swift, that it all just kind of sounded like static in her ears. She was sad that going back to school meant she wouldn’t be able to scout in the mornings anymore, while Bird read on the back deck with her coffee. Ariel has to come back, Mily assured herself as she scooted nearer to the trunk so she could begin to climb down. Why would she’of talked to me if she didn’t want to tell me something?
The siblings ambled down the oak, Mily minding their path to avoid stepping anywhere close to the pitcher’s thistle patch. It had grown back fine after getting smushed under her upper body. Bird had taken Mily to the library to borrow some books about duneland plants once all her splinter wounds had scabbed – and that’s how she learned that Pitcher’s thistle was an endangered species. Mily felt so bad when she discovered how rare the thistle was, that she had come out with popsickle sticks and string to splint every stem she’d broken.
“Are you ready for school?” Will asked as they cleared the tall grass and started crossing the backyard.
Their footsteps were squelching! as they walked. Mily stomped a few steps forward, splashing bits of mown grass and muddy maple seeds at their ankles. Their mother was alarmed the moment she spotted Mily from the sliding glass door of the kitchen-and-dining room: the bottom cuffs of her daughter’s capri pants were so covered in gunk that Bird ordered her straight to the garden hose with a sharp point of her index finger.
“I wish summer was longer,” Mily said as she skipped off to wash her feet, happy to shoulder-off having to answer Will till later.
It was the morning of their eighth school day since the end of summer, and Mily and the twins were truly hitting it off with some of the kids in their new class. Once students aged out of the district’s Early Learning schools, they moved to the Elementary Learning level at the Schoolhouse Shop. Because Mily and the twins had all turned eight during the summer, there hadn’t been very many familiar faces on their first day of school.
But simply being related to Will Wood-Yoder made all three of them instantly popular. One group of second-year Schoolhouse Shop students even told Esa that she, Mily, and E could sit at their lunchtable whenever they wanted. By the second week of class, Mily was sort of impressed by how many people seemed to think Will was the greatest there ever was, or something.
The eighth day of school was a Tuesday, which to Mily simply meant there were nearly four entire dreadful boring days left of State Standard Assessment practice still ahead. Duneland schools started their semesters a good few weeks later than most schools in Diana, so their semesters were front-loaded with heavy review. Bird said the whole student assessment process ought to be rethought, but being Principal didn’t change the fact that Will and Mily’s mom was responsible ensuring the Standards were well taught. Principal Wood wanted all of her Schoolhouse Shop students to pass the Annual Assessments with flying colors so they wouldn’t ever be afraid of taking a test.
Being the Principal’s kid didn’t hurt her popularity one bit, because everybody thought Bird was even more the best than Will was – but it did mean that Mily was expected to behave a certain kinda way during class. Teachers always liked her well enough because she was bright, participated often, and was quick to praise others, but Mily also got teased an awful lot for being a goody-two-shoes.
Mily wouldn’t have wanted to make trouble anyways, but some days she wished she could whisper with other kids during silent reading, or pass notes when she finished her timed-tables. To avoid getting peer-pressured into joining a folded message chain, Mily kept her eyes down and instead talked to E telepathically.
Math is stupid.
Mily didn’t even have time to agree because Mx. Schwae, the New Entries class homeroom teacher, had tapped ting-ding-ding! on her desktop call bell, signaling the end of Tuesday’s mid-morning silent reading session.
Mily, Eyani, and Esa each hurried to mark their pages. They actually had read a bit of the class chapter book Mx. Schwae assigned the nine new kids. The three of them made it all the way to the second chapter break, which wasn’t even due until the end of the week.
Uncriss-crossing their legs and removing themselves from the bookshelf nook under the east-facing window, Mily and her cousins found their assigned seats. It was clear Mx. Schwae had placed them intentionally far apart, their desks and chairs three cardinal outliers in the square arrangement, all facing forward towards the front wall and chalkboard.
Theoretically, this should have made it very hard for Mily and the twins to distract one another. Of course, absolutely no one could have known that Mily and the twins had their heads connected like tin cans tied together with string. They swore to keep the clairs and their abilities an absolute secret.
Nine desks were arranged in a three rows of three, and a tenth desk was set aside since there was currently no student to fill it. Mily was placed at the left corner of the first row, which was closest to the classroom door. She loved her seat because most of the time, Mx. Schwae kept the door propped open, and that made overhearing everything happening in the hallway a whole lot easier.
But when Mx. Schwae handed out a State Standard-Practice Activity, Mily was usually asked go and close the classroom door. She observed that their teacher was tapping straight a fresh-printed stack of worksheets on the corner of their desk. From the look of it, the test would be quick – Mily’s eyesight was so good that she could easily read the heading of Mx. Schwae’s top page: ‘Fast Fact Practice: Multiplying Times Sixes’
It’s all times six! Mily declared as she pulled out her chair. She didn’t know if tipping the twins off was technically cheating or not – because really anyone close enough could have read the heading on Mx. Schwae’s stack of papers if they wanted – but she thought it was only fair since Esa divulged over the weekend that multiplying sixes kept tripped her up.
Bird sympathized with Mily’s feeling that the State Standard method of memorizing math problems was worn out, but the fact was… Kids have to learn simple math someway if they ever wanted to grow up and build bridges… or at least Dog had said something like that on Monday night, when Mily displayed a lack of motivation while doing her math homework.
Sixes are tricksters, Mily told Eyani, whose desk was the right corner of the last row, at the opposite end of the hypotenuse. Read each problem and don’t race ahead – tell Esa.
Six is for tricks, ten-four.
Trusting that Eyani would pass the encouragement along to his sister sitting opposite him in the front-right desk, Mily took a deep breath. Mx. Schwae moved to stand in front of the chalkboard where the class knew to look for instruction. Worksheets held firmly with both hands, their teacher rolled back on their heels and set to rocking, bobbing till each of the nine students returned their gaze to convey their undivided-attention. “Mily, would you mind shutting the door?” the teacher asked.
Once Mily stood, pulled the door, and was seated again, Mx. Schwae leaned forward onto their toes and said: “Okay Class! It’s time to practice some of our Fast Facts.”
An over-the-top groan rose from a student square-center in the room, where Lespedeza Reed-Wong was seated. Mily liked Lespedeza right away because they’d jived the week prior while seated beside each other on the first morning bus ride to school. It turned out that they lived only two roads apart, and they shared harbored distain for their full first-names. In other words, the Mily and Lespedeza – who went by Leza – were fast-friends and thereon, self-designated bus-buddies.
‘We’s a smart bid, you’ins me!‘ Leza said earlier that morning, when the bus was stopped on Haunted Hill Road. ‘Spot luck, Mildred! Junegrass plays well with bush clover, so plunk a squat for keeps!’
Mily found the eight-and-a-half-year-old likably clownish and thought Leza must’ve seen a ton of movies or something to talk the way she did.
The groan Leza’d admitted in the middle of the room set the whole class at ease… the air felt lighter, like this Fast Facts Practice was going to be no-biggy, a shrug-it-off sort of quiz – quick and easy. Their collective nervousness was lifted. Mily relaxed as Mx. Schwae began placing worksheets face-down on each desk, walking clockwise from Esa’s front-right corner seat, making their way around the outside edges of the square.
“Please leave your papers face-down until I say it’s okay to turn them over,” Schwae said from the back of the room. “Your goal is to correctly answer as many basic facts as you can within a set amount of time. This Practice Assessment has no impact on your grade. The reason we’re doing this is to test your current knowledge of basic Elementary-level math computations, and we also want to measure your present ability to apply math strategies using one of the four basic arithmetic operations. I will set a timer for a minute-and-a-half, that’s ninety-seconds. During that time, you should try to complete as much of the Practice Assessment as you can, but remember that accuracy and correctness count more than completing the entire activity.”
Mx. Schwae paused for breath beside Mily and placed the second-to-last sheet of paper face-down on her desk. “Does anyone think they can guess which operation we’ll be using?”
Hilarity Marlbrook-Quotient’s hand went up from the front-middle desk right next to Mily. She was wiggling her fingers in the air, waiting for Mx. Schwae to call her name.
“Multiplication!” Hilarity pronounced, sounding excitedly breathless as always.
“Why, yes! Good guess!” Mx. Schwae said. “For today’s Fast Fact practice, you will be multiplying. Can someone remind me which operator-sign we use to multiply?”
All nine students now had their own downturned page staring them in the face, and Mily observed a brief scuttle and clatter from students’ hands rifling in the undercarriage cubbies of their desks, blind-grabbing for fresh-sharpened pencils.
Multiply means times, she assured herself. So it’ll be the little ‘x’ or an aster-ix.
Mily raised her hand and waited for Mx. Schwae to call her name.
“We use the aster-isk…” Mily enunciated, fighting a grin as the clairs caught hints of the twins’ heldback giggles. “Or the tiny ‘x’ means times, um – the multiply sign.”
“Very good! Yes, thank you, Mily,” Mx. Schwae nodded. “So, every problem you encounter on the Practice Assessment will have either an ‘x’ or an asterisk – the little twinkly mark – which both ask you to use multiplication to calculate the answer.”
Anticipation made Mily’s left knee start jouncing. She was fiddling with a new graphite pencil, pinching the pink eraser between her thumb and pointer. When the whole class just kept on staring back at the teacher standing in front of the chalkboard, Mx. Schwae intertwined her fingers and called for questions and clarifications:
“Does that make sense? Would anyone be willing to summarize the task for us, just one more time from start to finish, before we begin?”
The student sitting directly behind Mily went by ‘Pomp,’ but his full name was Jean Baptiste States-Prestige. Pomp put his hand up and waited for Mx. Schwae to call his name, but his was the nickname written on the new student roster that still hadn’t stuck in their teacher’s brain. Mx Schwae frowned and glanced toward the list on her desk, making her way over to check…
Quick what’s two-times-six.
Twel – HEY don’t DO that Eyani! Mily smoldered in-thought, mad at him for picking her brain uninvited.
Just joking, Emjay – Esa says tricks are for kids, so you got this.
“Pomp!” Mx. Schwae cried, finger floating over a scribbled note on their roster.
Jean Baptiste States-Prestige had been patient while their teacher tried to find his preferred name, so he took his time preparing to speak to the class. He cleared his throat twice while pressing and patting his polo-shirt collar until its frame sat much more crooked around his neck. Narvel Bleau-Gill let out a loud laugh, and everyone turned around to see him just grinning from ear-to-ear.
Narvel sat behind Pomp in the back left-corner chair, so Mily overheard pretty much all of the whispered conversations between the two boys during class, because she sat ahead of them both at the top of their column. Evidently, Pomp’s parents were Narvel’s guardians too, and they’d been best friends since forever.
Mily was turned fully around in her seat, eager to take part in whatever it was that Narvel –the-Marvel Bleau-Gill, first-and-only Faceborn Prince in Diana, might be drumming up.
“Are you ready to give us a summary, Pomp?” Mx. Schwae prompted, resuming her spot in front of the chalkboard.
“Yes – alright then – I will – begin!”
Mily clutched her ribs to keep from laughing. It would have ruined the act, and she wanted to see how well they played it out. Pomp’s mouth was moving, but because she had been watching so closely, Mily knew it was really Narvel doing all the talking.
“Class – will have one! and – a half – minutes! That’s nine-ty seconds!
Clock’s got just ninety seconds on it, kids…”
At least half the class had keyed-in by then, but not a single one of them laughed because no one wanted to be the one who broke the spell of the boys’ good show.
“Correct – answers – matter -most!
Not! solving ev-er-y problem – is fine!
Now get this – pay attention!
Aster-isks and x-es tell us – it’s times!
Mx. Schwae led the class in a round of applause. Pomp and Narvel high-fived and went right on swashbuckling in post-performance swagger, tipping pretend top hats, and nodding many thanks around the room. It took nearly ninety-seconds for the quiet focus of class to be restored.
When it was clear that the entire class was ready, Mx. Schwae said it was okay to turn their papers over. They were allowed to fill-in two lined items at the top of the Fast-Fact Practice worksheet, but Mx. Schwae told them not to start solving problems yet. Mily read the first line, which asked for her first name and last initials. She sounded it out silently while writing-in: Em-eye-el-why. Double-yew dot. Why-dot.
The second line asked for Today’s date. Mily paused for thought, pencil poised… and did her best to recall it, but just couldn’t think of the digits for the month… or day… or… what year even is it? Mily was relieved when Merit Mark-Hough’s hand went up, and even more pleased when he asked his question without waiting to be called on: “Mixshway, what’s the date today?”
Their teacher didn’t speak but held up one finger, picked up a a stick of chalk, and then turned it on its side. Mx. Schwae wrote with wide, bold-white strokes on the green vintage board, making the numbers big enough for that the whole class to read and copy down easily.
‘ 01 . 09 . 11 ’
Oh-one dot. Oh-nine… dot one-one, Mily mouthed as she transcribed it. Glancing about the room, she saw that most others held their pencils at the ready. Mily fixed her eyes on the clock hanging over the classroom door – she’d snuck one fleeting peek using the clairs’ sightseeing powers to follow Mx. Schwae’s field of vision. She had only looked for one instant – a glimpse! Just to check and see if the teacher’s preference for keeping time on the analog clock tick-tocking above her head would hold true.
The clock’s little hand was smack-dab between Eleven and Twelve, its big hand pulsating slowly toward Six. As the second hand coursed steadily past the three-quarters mark at Nine, Mily guessed that Mx. Schwae intended to start the timer at exactly Eleven-thirty, so she lowered her eyes to the upturned page and scanned the first few Fast-Facts…
Six-times-six is thirty-six
Six-times-nine is fifty-four
Six-times-ten is sixty – easy!
Six times seven is
A voice coming from somewhere in the Schoolhouse Shop caught the clairs’ curiosities, and without warning, they snatched control of Mily’s senses. Every shred of attention she owned was sent out cats-cradle, hunting down the disembodied voice someway calling out from both up and downstairs:
′ – tension // CODE RED
There Has Been An Attack In Atlantia
CODE RED // This Is Not A Test
Shelter In Place / Seek Cover At Once
Local Keepers Will Be In Touch
Attention – ’
Mildred lost complete and utter track of her thoughts. How many seconds had she wasted? What’s happening? Mily’s mind raced away in leaps in bounds, like her brain waves were wearing moon-shoes. By the time a sudden rush of blood made her scalp itch gave her enough gumption to get going – tick-tock! – she had to reread the problem all over again twice, and her heart was pounding way faster than the clock was counting, leaving her with absolutely no sense of how much time had been eaten –
Six times seven is…
Six. times. seven is…
Mily chanced a glance at the running time and gaped at the measly seconds she had left to complete more than a dozen remaining Fast Facts…
Shoot! Six-times-seven was not forty-six. It’s forty-two!
As the ticking-hand hit the minute mark, Mily’s pencil fell plum flat on top of the unfinished worksheet. She stood up, and without understanding what exactly she’d just decided to do, she pushed the door open and wandered off down the hallway.
I’m seeing red.
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/ n o t a r e
Excerpt from the Old Testament – Daniel 10:19 (NIV)