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.

2 thoughts on “MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Ninth Chapter

  1. Pingback: MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Eighth Chapter – HEDERA READS

  2. Pingback: MILY THE MILLENNIAL | The Tenth Chapter – HEDERA READS

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