MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Sixth Chapter

VI. INSIDE LAST

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

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“A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.”

NIV Revelation 8:12

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The Stranger’s name was Keeper Bigly-Tate, and he made sure Mily remembered September the Eleventh as the worst day that had ever happened.

Evidently, the order came straight from Deal Director Hensley’s desk. Which, according to Bigly-Tate, meant that Jack Yoder didn’t have a choice: Dog and his family were going into Lockdown.

Mily really hadn’t intended to overhear her dad’s debriefing while she’d been busy packing her bags upstairs with Bird, but the clairs had minds of their own. Lately the clairs had been sipping more and more of her energy, so she really didn’t have it in her – after such a horrendous day of events – to try and call the clairs off.

That’s what Mily told herself when she felt guilty anyway.

Plus, it was thanks to her curious critters that Mily now knew her parents hadn’t told her and Will the whole truth.

The truck-ride to Dune Park Waystation was a miserable time. At some point during the trip, Mily abandoned the separations between her own good Sense and the clairs’ greater Awareness. As the Keeper’s diesel-engine hummed along a familiar highway, Mildred Jungrass Womack-Yoder’s eyes combed the woods and streams in-passing one last time…

At least she guessed it might be.

Slumped deep into the backseat leather, Mily watched the breeze and rushes go. She had thought she knew this road well, but its curves were suddenly knocking her grips loose, and every tap of the brakes felt utterly uhn!-anticipated.

Mily ached for answers, but fear twisted her stomach. The sick-feeling was almost enough to disuade her impulse to hand her will-power over to the clairs.

Almost.

{ It’s up to you but…

{ Emjay, our parents might be right

{ It might be better to not-know some things

Well why do they get to decide?

Keeper Bigly-Tate’s truck had carried them into the dense trees that marked the end of the moraines. Mily could sense the great expanse of sand dunes ahead but knew, having once taken a train from Dune Park all the way up the shore to Millennium Waystation, that she wouldn’t get a glimpse of them before leaving.

I wish I could see Devil’s Slide one last time.

All the unknowns started twisting, constricting her insides again. Adults were keeping lots of secrets from them. Mily hated being kept out of the loop. She knew bits and pieces, because she overheard most of their ‘top-secret’ conversations, but Mily didn’t understand much of what was said. And E knew even more, since he knew whatever whoever nearby was thinking all the time.

Which was why Mily was doing her best to keep words off her mind – Eyani’s eyes were pinched shut like they had been for half the drive. He looked pained, pining after a blip of absentmindness. His head must’ve been swimming with inner-voices.

Esa reached between the seats and squeezed her twin’s thumb. E’s smile was warm, but his eyes didn’t flutter open even a little.

His head prob’ly hurts. Mily tried to kick herself and missed. Her boot banged against the scuffed-up truckbed, and the boom was so loud that her uncle threw up his hands to cover his ears –

But the sound settled fast.

{ Well NOW my head hurts

Her head was hurting too – Questions flooded it, tumbling one right after another; her mind became a rapid stream crashing in unanswers, never ceasing. Mily imagined what might happen once the Waystation elevator sank below the horizon line, and there would be no turning back:

She would be cast down.

Mily was swept up by a rush of worries –

What if we never come back up?

What if a cave collapses?

What if we get trapped?

What if the lights go out?

and I’m blind –

and fall in a crevice –

and nobody ever finds me?

What if I get lost?

Dad said he’s gotten lost –

What if I get lost and starve –

or get eaten!

Are there animals down there?

What lives underground?

Will earthworms fall from the ceiling?

Will it smell like earthworms?

Will it smell like earthworms all the time?!

{ Bet we’ll get used to it

What about spiders?

Will there be spiders?!

There will be spiders won’t there!

{ Prob’ly

And snakes –

{ And mud dawbers!

What’re mud-dobbers?

{ Crawdads!

Like crayfish?

{ X’actly

{ Mud dawbers look like l’il brown lobsters

{ Sometimes blue ones

How big do they get?

{ D’pends on their environment

Just then Bigly-Tate remarked from the driver-seat that Intake was ”…bound’a take longer since none of these kids – except fer your oldest boy there – brought their Estate Eye-D cards.” The Keeper stiffened his grip on the steering wheel.

“School pictures would’of been the fourteenth,” Mily scoffed without thinking. Then she rolled her eyes at the steel cab-cover overhead.

Bird pinched her right knee in that way that made it hurt and tickle at the same time.

She knows I hate that! Mily could sense her mother’s tension simmering and knew Bird felt exactly the same way about Keeper Bigly-Tate that her daughter did. He’s a busy-body! her thoughts went on impolitely; but outside she bowed her head to her lap in recognition of Bird’s forewarning pinch. The discrete discipline had been a kind move because really, Mily knew better than to go rude-for-rude, especially with someone new…

“Sorry, Keeper,” Mily said quietly. Bigly-Tate met her gaze in the rearview mirror. Her abdomen deflated, and an anxious knot spawned behind her belly-button; the Keeper’s piercing stare made her feel flustered, too-seen.

“I’m not very good at change,” Mily explained, nervous energy drawing words up from her gut as the truck approached Dune Park Waystation. “Some-um. Sometimes I’m, I’m pest – pess-mystic when I’m nervous so sorry um. For being rude.”

The Keeper’s brow flickered from puzzled to vexed, and then he blinked, breaking the trance of his unyielding glare. “No need t’be sorry for enything,” he said to the air, giving it a hard sniff for good measure without looking at Mily.

Mily didn’t like the way Bigly-Tate didn’t even glance in the rearview mirror when he accepted her apology – But this time, she remembered her manners. Mily turned her head and smiled sheepishly at her mom, who seized her daughter’s hand and squeezed Mily’s palm with her thumb.

Bird was beaming. Even if Keeper Bigly-Tate didn’t think a kid’s words were worth anything, her mother’s touch assured Mily that she’d made a good decision.

{ Bigly-Tate’s a real bug-brain

Hey – some of us’of got that, E…

The truck had air-conditioning, but still Mily found it a little hard to breathe. Eyani grinned apologetically across the steel box, where he was seated on a bench between Esa and Elaeagnus, each restrained with a lap-belt and cross-straps. Mily tugged at her own straps with her thumbs.

They’re too tight, she whined. Mily tried to scoot forward and shift some of the pressure to her toes, but there was absolutely no wiggle-room.

{ Hang in there

At least your feet touch the floor…

{ I can see the train station

Mily didn’t say a word till they were so far underground that the temperature had dropped nearly ten-degrees. Her shoulders itched and twitched, sensing a great mass of dirt, roots, and rubble growing denser. They were nearly to the bottom of a long and steep rail-line, deep below the world they knew in a place where the sun never shined.

Tapping her heels, Mily told E – We’re nearly there.

Eyani raised his eyebrows and gulped. Esa elbowed him hard in the ribs.

{ Where d’you think we’re gonna live?

How should I know?

{ But your dad said he’s lived here before

Yeah, but, I don’t know.

{ Well did Uncle Dog say what it was like?

Why don’t you ask him!

“Uncle Dog,” E beckoned at once. “What’s Lockdown like?”

“Ain’t no other place like it,” Dog told him.

“That doesn’t tell us anything,” Esa giggled.

“You got me there! Hard to describe someth’n when you don’t have anything to compare – it’s a whole network of tunnels and caverns. Even lakes’n rivers. S’pretty easy to get lost if you don’t know where you’re go’n.”

“Dog.” Bird stared at her husband with eyes that demanded he mind his tongue.

“They’re not gonna get lost!” Dog laughed, as if he hadn’t just said it. “I was just think’n – when I was here last – well, like I do – I went and wandered off look’n for noth’n and found myself plum out in middle the subway somewhere. Forgot how many turns I’d taken to get there. But I found my way back.”

Earn snorted. “How long it take ya?”

“My shift was over.”

“How over?”

“Two days over.”

The brothers belly-laughed while their wives exchanged looks. Mily and the other kids were growing anxious but didn’t want to show it. Instead, they grimace-grinned at each other from opposite benches, jumping when a robotic voice announced out of thin air:

Approaching Dock
Please Fasten Belts For Stop

We’re slowing down.

{ Will Uncle Dog be in charge?

{ Because he’s a Jack?

The Aces are in charge.

{ Yeah but trump is Clubs now

Dad’s a Spade.

{ Spades is the same as Clubs now

{ Well for Jacks it is at least

What?

A high shriek of grinding brakes pierced the passengers’ ears, and Mily and E both forgot about their conversation entirely. Voices – two of them – were having talking not far off. The voices belonged to two someones, not like the monotone voice-box in the ceiling – and one glance around told Mily that she alone could hear them speaking.

“Think we’ll get a glimpse of the Million-Dollar Daughter?”

“What’re you saying?”

“The girl – Jack’s ward, you didn’t know?”

“No!”

“It’s true. The girl doesn’t share his wife’s last name… Go and ask the guys at Intake if you don’t believe me.”

“What’s his wife’s name got to do with it?”

“Well her boy is – older.”

“Older than the girl?”

“Yup.”

“So their boy has both of their names? But their girl doesn’t have her name…?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh so she does have his name though.”

“Yoder, yup.”

“Oh – Beau – shh!”

“SHH yourself! We’re the only ones down here to hear…”

I can hear you.
Mily’s ears were burning.
She blinked to clear her thoughts.
Why’d you call me a million-dollar daughter?

“Well – you ought not believe the gossip. Who said it’s scandalous as all that, anyway?”

“Well, I mean I’m not one to judge – ”

“I didn’t mean – ”

“But it’s – well, it is some insight, you know? First-impression of the new leadership… See, Meg, this Jack’s a Spade – ”

“By trade…”

“Sure, but call em like I see em, okay? The only Reneg in the History of this country – ”

“A Spade, yeah okay. A-hundred years ago. Once.”

“A century isn’t actually that long of a time – but that’s not the point – I mean hey, Jack Yoder seems like a fine guy, I didn’t mean to insinuate…”

“Shouldn’t we call him Bower, now?”

“Bower! Yeah, I guess yeah. Well anyway, he and his family seem nice. A good Jack, grows grass for a living. Fact is, he can grow grass anywhere I guess – the dude just has green thumbs or something. You know he doesn’t even have a degree?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that Dog left school at eighteen.”

Mily had to blink again.
Her eyes stung.

“Oh so what! I mean, he’s probably crazy smart on his own, then.”

“True! I’m sure the guy is smart. I mean obviously, he’s also a friend of some big Clubs. Dog walks the walk alright. Right? It’s just…when he talks…you can just tell he’s a farmboy, you know?”

“Sure.”

“Nothing against his intelligence or anything like that – ”

“Of course not!”

“It’s impressive, I mean, who cares if he sounds hilljack? Yoder’s a Jack! So he has to be the very best at – like growing grass, right?”

“Has to be, yeah.”

“And we will be needing a lot of grass down here.”

“That’s true.”

“All that to say… Jeeze, I sound like a jerk, don’t I? Nothing’s coming out right. I just feel like we know next-to-nothing about this guy. You know what I mean?”

“I do.”

“So I don’t know, he seems nice and all. But – I am a typical Imerican skeptic. I admit it. I’ll call a Spade a Spade. I’m just a little uh – a little fraid-a turncoats.”

“Ha, better get over that.”

“Right. Yeah. So. I’m not trying to judge a man by his suit. It’s just a shame that that little girl has to weather life with a mixed-up name like that…”

“Surely it’s not so bad.”

“Not now, maybe. Too young to worry about it. But when she gets older? Yeesh.”

“You said – what? Because she’s worth a-million bucks or whatever?”

“Well – I CAN’T confirm this but…”

“Rumor has it…?”

“Well the word is… Bird.”

“Say what now?”

“Yoder’s wife.”

“What about her?”

“Word has it he had an affair. Way back in Ninety-Two. Dog and…”

“Dog and who?”

“An Ace.”

“No…way.”

“So the story goes – I didn’t make it up.”

“I believe you, but it’s just rumors though right?”

“You’re most-likely right. What do I know?”

“I don’t get it though. How’s the Bower’s kid worth a-million dollars?”

“Well some have said – It was Yoder’s wife who did it.”

“Did what?”

“His wife bid on her. His daughter, but it was the wife’s deal. Heard she paid a fortune, too. All so that she could adopt the Jack’s bastard, you know, legally…”

“Well why would she do that?”

“Haven’t you ever heard, ‘Children of Aces are born with faces’ ?”

Welcome To Crossroads
Please Exit In A Timely Manner

Mily blinked and blinked, but she couldn’t see.

* * * * *

/ n o t a r e

Excerpt from the New Testament – Revelation 8:12 (NIV).

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