MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Fifth Chapter

V. DOWNTURNED

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

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“Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”

NIV Daniel 12:4

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CODE RED / There Has Been An Attack In Atlantia

Attack, attack… parrotted Mily’s mind. The topfloor hallway was way longer than she rememered it being – Mily was just walking and walking, but the end of the third-level Red maple nailed-hardwood corridor didn’t look any closer than before. Where was she even heading? Cubbied walls lined either side of her path, each one fitted with short, scratched, ancient, hand-carved ash-paneled doors, shutting up lunchboxes and other personal affects stowed by first-year students during the school day –

THIS IS NOT A TEST

Mily spotted her own cubby and realized that she must’ve made progress down the hallway after all. Everything in her sight was bright and clear, her eyes shining just like they had when the clairs first crawled in through her nose and ears the week before her eighth birthday –

So why did everything she was seeing seem fake?

Shelter In Place / Seek Cover At Once

Local Keepers Will Be In Touch

Seek… cover… she repeated, opening the big door of her cubby, which was the fourth from the left in the third set of closet stalls. Mily looked around – nobody had followed her out of the classroom: the door was still hanging wide-open. Can they not hear it?

CODE RED / There Has Been An Attack In Atlantia

Well Atlantia was real far away, at least if Mily was imagining the map the United Estates in her head right… Yes, she was fairly certain there was no way to even drive there from where she lived in Diana! Not to mention, the halls were empty…

It was nearing lunch hour, and not a single teacher had so much as poked their head out of a classroom door to figure out who was giving those warnings –

CODE RED / THIS IS NOT A TEST

Where is that coming from? Mily unclenched her fists and unpinched her brow and took a deep breath. Inside the cubby was empty except for an adjustable shelf which was set level at the tip of her nose. She pushed up underneath the shelf with her palms and removed it. Mily sat the board up thin as a rail on its side, and then looked back the way she’d come from one more time.

The hallway was empty. Every door was shut but the one she had left wide-open.

Shelter In Place / Seek Cover At Once

Local Keepers Will Be In Touch

Without wasting another moment, Mily sucked in her stomach, ducked her head, folded her knees and elbows into the cubby closet, and closed herself inside.

{ Where did you go?

I’m… Mily started to answer Eyani, but the clairs buzzed so loud in protest that she couldn’t remember what she was going to say in the first place. Instead, feeling trapped, she screeched in her head: It’s not a test!

{ So you just left?

The cubby was deep enough for Mily to sit on her bum with her knees scrunched up. The toes of her double-knotted sneakers bent just barely at the base of the wall. She could press her palms flat into the hardwood bottom board and wiggle her fingers. Mily was pleased for a moment she was petite enough to fit inside without knocking the door with her elbows.

The clairs were hungry for understanding – it was getting harder to concentrate. She needed to let them loose so they could listen. She swallowed hard and shut her eyes, gulped, and then pinched the top of her nose. Her temples were throbbing.

Eyani, quick listen-up!

{ Go-ahead

Something’s the matter – you need to read the teacher’s thoughts and find out what – I’m in my cubby closet – just hurry and listen till you hear –

CODE RED / The Right Bower Has Fallen

Mily was huddled inside her cubby, when a strange bell struck three times over the loudspeakers – Bee-oop! Bee-oop! Bee-oop! – and then she heard Bird’s voice in the ceiling saying: “Excuse me, I need everybody’s undivided attention.”

Principal Birdram Wood sounded the alarm without causing much. It was one of her gifts. A hush remained over the entire school. The school didn’t suddenly clatter with panicked hands and feet. Mily could still hear the Code Red warnings, but she didn’t struggle to focus on what her mom was saying because, as it turned out –

Her clairs found Bird’s words worth paying their absolute, undivided attention.

“This is an emergency,” Principal Wood said. “None of us is in any danger, so there is no reason for us to be afraid.”

The Corona Has Declared A Novel Emergency

Mily blinked – inside the wooden box with her palms pressed to the floorboard, she felt those warning tones course through her muscles. It’s coming from the library radio! She just knew it – that instant – almost glimpsed it: Mx. Rigor the librarian was fiddling with the volume spindle behind his big desk – when Bird said next:

“First, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing. Put down any tools or personal belongings in a clear space where you’re standing, and then return to your desks right away. It’s okay to leave your things on the floor. We’ll all have time to pick them up later – there’s no reason to rush. So students, please help your teachers by finding your seats…

{ Schwae saw you’re missing, Mily

″…and teachers, I need new roll call taken in every class. I need you to do attendance by-hand, paper and ink please, write it down – and double-check all absences against this morning’s attendance, even if – especially if tardy slips didn’t make it to the Front Office yet today, okay?”

Despite how much information was going over Mily’s head, she snort-laughed at the fact that it’d taken a full minute-and-a-half at least for Mx. Schwae to notice one of the students had somehow slipped out of their classroom. Am I invisible?

{ Cut it out Emjay – come back quick I’m serious!

CODE RED / The Left Bower Has Fallen

A wave of fear and confusion locked Mily’s knees and elbows in place when she tried to follow Eyani’s order. Her thoughts were a racing river of memetic phrases –

Attack, fallen –

Red, code red –

Test, not a test –

Right-left –

Fallen, Left –

Bower, down –

Left Bower down!

“MOM!”

Mily’s sights wavered like she was looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool. There wasn’t any air left in the cubby closet. Bright blue and black spots went hopping across her vision, and she razed her vocal chords screaming a second time – “MOM!”

She squinted at the light as someone swung the door wide – it wasn’t Bird. Her face felt flame-licked, and Mily was suddenly aware of the very squirrelish way she’d drawn her hands to her chest and wondered how she must have appeared, spine-curled and tucked in the cupboard, looking in from outside.

“Hi,” Padrick Chance Birke-Altera said. A set of bellows was dangling from his left hand. His right hand wobbled the closet handle clean off – it had had a screw loose for some time. The pair of them watched it drop and roll a short distance away. There was a long pause while the kid scratched his rib.

“I’m uh, not your mom,” Padrick went on after a bit. “My name’s Paddy.”

Mily didn’t know what she could say to explain herself. She put both palms on her knees and pointed to the bellows with her nose. “What’re those?”

“Bellows,” he responded, and Mily nodded. She had no idea what that meant, but the casual way the kid said it made the spade-shaped paddles and spout seem unimportant.

“You’re one of Wood’s kids, right?” Paddy prodded.

Mily nodded again, unable to find her voice.

“Wanna walk with me? I was on my way to the front office when, uh – When I decided, uh – to open this cubby.”

That was enough to make Mily swiftly twist and tumble out of the closet. She scooped up the fallen knob to disguise her stumble and spent a few seconds screwing it back into the door, breathing deeply. Once she had spun the knob to just the place where she knew it would stick, Mily gathered her grit.

“Lead the way,” she told Paddy. Then Mily turned on her heel, teeter-tottered sideways a few millimeters, and set off walking a little too fast.

Paddy caught up with her and set a better pace. Her footsteps were clunking in her ears. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her denim overalls and tried not to peek at him out of the corners of her eyes. When they were almost upon the double-doors to the stairwell at the end of the hall, Mily found her voice again.

“Sorry you had to see that.”

He laughed. “Were you trapped?” Paddy asked, leaning into the right-hand door and holding it open for Mily to pass though first.

“I might’ve been,” Mily said, lingering on the star-speckled carpet landing. She waited for him to ask how or why she’d gotten inside in the first place, but he didn’t. He just pulled the door shut behind them and then gestured to the stairs.

“After you,” he told Mily. Then Paddy grabbed the banister, side-eyed her for two considerate seconds, and set off straight down the steps.

She tore after him. They were neck-and-neck, both bent on being first to the bottom. She turned on her toes and skirted over the second landing, taking the lead with only one flight of stairs left –

Their feet made a thunderous racket.

Mily had cleared the bottom step with both feet and clearly won – but she had to hand it to Paddy because he’d landed right on her heels. They caught their breath on the ground level behind another set of double-doors, and Mily started to feel lighter.

“You win!” Paddy said.

Mily was about to laugh when Bird’s voice snapped her back to the present –

“Is everyone listening? I need these five students to come to the Head Office as soon as you hear your name…

Mily’s chin fell to her chest. She pushed the left-side door open and went through it.

“Mily, William Wood-Yoder, Eyani and Esabel Able-Yoder, and… Padrick Birke-Altera. Please come to the Head Office now!”

“So – you’re Mily?” Paddy asked as he followed her into the Main Hallway.

“Yep.” She looked away, unsure of what else to say and a little bit distracted by this stroke of good luck – Bird calling them all down to the Head Office gave Mily some leeway for an alibi.

“Your brother said you were quick as the dickens,” Paddy said.

“Will would say that,” she said eventually. All-a-sudden they were only a few strides away from the pewter benches stationed just outside Head Office, where the kids who were car-riders waited to get picked up after school. Mily stared along the brick herringbone floor and let her eyes follow the arrowed path toward the Schoolhouse Shop entryway.

Her stomach squirmed.

At the arm of nearest bench, Mily stopped walking. She wished she’d gone slower.

“I um – I want to wait for Will and my cousins,” Mily said. She took a wide lateral step and sank onto the hard-wrought seat furthest from the office door. Crossing her arms, Mily slouched lower and lower, trying feverishly to find someplace to stick her gaze.

“Mind if I wait with you?” Paddy asked, holding his strange paddle-thing by both grips.

“No.”

He sat beside the opposite arm and crossed his legs. Mily straightened a little but didn’t uncross her arms because she was feeling so freaking fidgety.

“Why d’you have bellows?” Mily asked after about four-and-a-half seconds of silence.

Paddy lifted the device and his eyebrows and said, “It’s Simple Machines Week.”

“Oh.”

“I left them in my cubby on purpose,” he explained. “You know, so that I wouldn’t have to go today.”

“How do they work?” Mily asked, finding interest.

“Huh – I guess I have to go today anyway, uh – okay see…”

Paddy aimed the bellows like he was piloting a mounted water gun on the Midway, shooting an airstream out of its long-barrelled nose and blasting Mily in the elbow.

“It makes wind!” she marveled, and a bit of lightheadedness lifted.

“They can kickstart a fireplace or stoke one that’s dying,” Paddy elaborated.

Uncrossing her arms, Mily leaned in to inspect the bellows closer. “So they help the flames breathe?”

“Uh, yeah! That’s it exactly.”

“Know why the tube-end is made of metal, Mil?”

Mily turned at the sound of Will’s voice – her brother was standing right behind her. She wasn’t sure how long he’d been there, but it couldn’t have been too long since she was very hard to sneak up on these days.

“So that it doesn’t catch on-fire,” she emphasized, rolling her eyes. “When the end gets poked straight into some buring wood.”

“Very good!” Will applauded, as if answering his simple question was the same thing as acing a pop-quiz.

“I’m a real wizkid,” Mily said.

“Takes one to know I guess,” Paddy said.

Right then Mily decided she would be friends with Padrick Chance Birke-Altera if he wanted to be.

Warmth filled only a couple of moments before Eyani’s telepathic worrying went on full-volume in her head, and he was getting louder – this was how Mily realized that it had been an unusually long while since she’d last heard E thinking… maybe even since she was still up on the top floor, before she raced Paddy all the way to the bottom of the stairwell and won…

{ Something IS the matter
{ Something bad
{ Something BIG

Mily remembered her earlier fear – Code red! Attack! It’s not a test!

{ But what’s the emergency?

That stumped her. The twins came through the double-doors at the other end of the hallway and were heading in her direction, gaits long and lanky. Mily put her hands in her pockets and waited for them to finish closing the distance.

Esabel got there first and plopped down onto the bench between Paddy and Mily. “At least you waited for us at the door after bolting,” Esa teased.

Feeling overscorned, she thought tattler! and sputtered a cough that was intended to be a scoff – rushing to pretend Esa’d meant that Mily just walked faster, but nonchalance wasn’t her strong-suit.

Will frowned at his little sister, his eyes suddenly flooded with questions.

Mily opened her mouth but found she didn’t know where to begin defending herself without airing the whole entire affair in the middle of the Main Hall.

Call it more luck, but her moment to fess-up about being a class-ditcher…passed. Whether it was the good or bad kind of luck that sucked the air out of the kids’ conversation, Mily couldn’t ever be sure.

Because Someone had just waltzed through the front doors of Schoolhouse Shop, wearing a stark black cap and uniform – Mily recognized the Stranger at once.

It’s the man from the lawn on your birthday!

The clairs confirmed Mily’s suspicion with a scary chorus of viper-like hisses, punctuating their venom by buzzing in her temples, turning the edges of her vision blurry.

CODE RED / Terrorists Have Attacked The Twin Bowers

{ He must be our local Keeper

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/ n o t a r e

Excerpt from the Old Testament – Daniel 12:4 (NIV)

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