Recurring Story: Seventeen

“Mina! Thank heavens!” Mrs. Crandall exclaimed when Wil approached and opened the sliding door. “Your mom’s at the hospital. Lynette took her this morning and I only just got the text.”

Wil was too worried by this sudden announcement to think of tactlessly correcting her neighbor. She knew that her mother would have texted Mrs. Crandall immediately, so she suspected that her lazy neighbor had been lost, as usual, in the wastes of sleeping in and perusing social media.

“Are you taking me to the hospital?” Wil asked, instead. She ignored the sullen disapproval of the car’s other occupants -at least, the ones paying attention to something non-electronic.

In this case, that was Mrs. Crandall’s son, Eric, and their mutual neighbor, Vic. Reagan and Jorge, who lived near their apartment complex, continued finger-swiping their phones as their eyes and ear buds attended the screens.

“I’m afraid I can’t, Mina,” Mrs. Crandall said, making an effort to sound apologetic. She spoke as she eased the old minivan away from the curb, glancing at Wil as she didn’t actually check her blind spot.

Another driver honked, but the effort was wasted on one so immune to courteous driving practices like turn signals or proper traffic queuing.

“I’ve got to get back home,” Mrs. Crandall continued. “I mean, I’ve got to get you all home. I think Jakob’s planning on taking you.”

Wil bit her tongue as she buckled up in the moving vehicle. If she could have gotten home faster without this self-centered neighbor, she would have spoken her mind and walked. Retorts like, “lazy,” “selfish,” and “you know that we don’t have a car…” swirled in her thoughts and quite near to her voice box.

Even if they had an extra car, Jakob wouldn’t be home yet. Plus, he didn’t have driving capabilities. He’d passed the test, of course, but they had all decided that he and Wil couldn’t be added to the insurance yet. So, Jakob had nobly avoided all extra costs and not gotten his license.

Wil gripped at her knees. She hated forced inactivity. She needed to get to her mother as soon as possible, but faced too many barriers. She closed her eyes and tried the deep breathing exercises Cynthia had learned when her troubles starting becoming unbearable again.

Wil’s heart rate and anxiety only increased. She realized the exercises reminded her of the whole problem, and certainly did not calm her or take her mind off her mom.

Luckily, Mrs. Crandall was also a fast driver. They were home in minutes, though seconds felt forever for Wil.

Wil, Reagan, Vic, and Jorge clambered out the sliding door once they pulled into an empty stall. They all headed to their living spaces, Wil in a definite lead. She headed around a building, past a naked tree stuck in the dead, empty soil, then pulled out her key at door 2 of Building 4.

As she scratched a bit at the lock to insert her key, the door was pulled open to reveal Jakob. His harried look was replaced by one of relief, even though Wil’s short scream of surprise also surprised him.

“Let’s go, Wil!” He said earnestly. He grabbed her arm and turned her back toward the way she’d just come. Her backpack swung an erratic arc as she spun, nearly costing Wil her balance. She was so surprised at his intent manner and use of her preferred name, that she stumbled outside again before her mind caught up.

Jakob pulled the door closed and checked the lock. Then, he said, “Hurry!” He ran, hastily following his own advice.

Jakob was heading to the bus stop. She realized this finally, just as she recognized the sound of the bus approaching. This would be a close race!

Galvanized to action, Wil sprang after her step-brother.


Recurring Story: Sixteen

Despite finishing her simple assignment in a reasonable amount of time, Wil was not able to progress much through her coded note.

She looked for repeated symbols, but there were few. She tried an obvious opening address like her first message, but could not see one. Also, the different lines, dots, and half-squares were bunched together in orders that made word spacing too difficult to find. If written in plain English, themessagewouldappearalltogether.

Wil grunted an exasperated sound, then quickly blushed and sunk farther behind her monitor at the curious looks she received in return. She had burned through the small fuel curiosity and novelty had provided. In frustration, she crumpled the paper into her pocket.

The final bell sound played, and the class awoke to chatter, smiles, and the hustle and rustle of materials gathered and chairs returned.

The teenage mass rolled toward the door, then down the halls to other waves of young persons. They all moved toward lockers or toward friends, to eddy in conversations of tide pool depths.

Wil retrieved her backpack and school things without the bother of popularity at all, eyeing the empty chatterers a tad enviously as she usually did. She turned to shut the locker door after putting everything into her pack. Then, Wil jumped and gave a small shout of surprise.

There was another paper in the dust of the locker floor, though she was certain it had not been there when she first withdrew the contents. As usual, it was a torn piece of notepaper. Wil reached in and picked it up.

The writings on this paper matched the printed examples of the lines and line-dots code of her computer work: two X’s and two box grids, each with and without dots, were drawn …with letters! Someone had just dropped her the key to the code!

Wil looked round suspiciously, but her chance had clearly fled. She kicked at the thin carpet floor in frustration. “Zut alors!” She exclaimed, borrowing one of Mrs. T.’s expressions.

“Well,” she thought, “At least now I can crack the dumb thing. Maybe the person’s name is on this one.” She doubted it.

Hefting her backpack onto her shoulders, Wil hurried down the hall and outside. She headed to the usual carpool pickup area.

She saw her neighbor whom she rode with, but the middle-aged woman wasn’t sitting in her usual hunched position over her phone as the engine idled. True, she still hadn’t left the driver’s seat. But, Mrs. Crandall was actively and agitatedly looking at and around departing bodies of students for Wil.
This was never a good sign. Wil increased her pace as worry slowly creased her face.

Recurring Story: Fifteen

Keyboarding, Internet, and You! Wil read at the top of the whiteboard. It was the upbeat subtitle of a series of life skills classes in the Preparing All Students for the Future course. Besides improving morale with bright, plastic colors; her school also sought to show it gave all attendees necessary skills like cooking, computers, woodworking, and sewing.

Wil was currently sitting in KIY! (or KillYou, as the teenagers called it), barely feeling the lecture to be necessary or engaging. Like most of her generation, computers did not intimidate her in the least. Also like most, she thought keyboarding an archaic practice reserved for those too dumb to use the auto-fill and spell-checker. KillYou earned its nickname because the class killed you with boredom.

Preparing herself for a brain nap, Wil slid around in her seat behind her computer. She nearly slid right out again when she looked down to see what was printed on the handout the teacher’s aide had just given each person. The page was titled Cyphers and Codes, with a cheesy cartoon Sherlock Holmes peering through his magnifying glass at said title. Below the title, however, were several examples of codes -including one using lines and dots!

Wil tried to calm her pulse and breathing, then looked around. She was certain she’d see her note-writer. The coincidence was too strong.

No one looked remotely suspicious, however, nor interested in anything in general. This was their last class, was always boring, and the teacher, Mrs. Camp, was difficult to see and hear.

In fact, Mrs. C. was currently lecturing. She was quite short and petite, and quite soft-spoken. She wore her eyeglasses on a chain round her neck, on her face, or set upon her graying hair. She’d just stood up to outline the assignment, though that was hard to tell since the top of her head could just be seen over the top of Wil’s monitor.

Wil realized that she’d missed most of the instructions, in her surprise and subsequent peering round at everyone. Fortunately, Mrs. C. was aware of her height deficiencies and usually wrote their assignment on the paper or the white board up front.

Their riveting task would be to recreate this paper on the computer, using their word processing program and the images already saved in Cyphers and Codes on the shared drive D:/.

Many in the class, Wil included, let out various noises of disinterest as they slowly logged into their student accounts. They wearily copied the text and inserted pictures.

Wil still felt on high alert, so she took a few minutes of moving through automatic gestures to finally realize she knew how to decipher her note now. The lines were part of an X or a box, and corresponded to writing the alphabet in X or box shapes, some with and some without dots. Then, a code writer wrote the shape the letter was in for the code.

Wil also realized that her mysterious person (or, persons!) could have attended this computer class the day before, with the A Schedule session. Then, the person would have learned about codes and started writing her secret messages.

These thoughts were comforting, as she worked to finish the mundane assignment and looked forward to starting on her note. She was so intent now, though, that she didn’t even notice the sneaky, sly look of appraisal from a quiet pair of eyes two seats over and one row back.

Sleep Tight, III

“Mom, Sam said I need to get you.”

I screamed and turned, then calmed at the surprised, corporeal face of my son. It was only my son. My muddy, messy son who looked about ready to cry. I breathed in deeply, turning off the faucet of the claw foot bathtub. The water had barely cleared anyway.

“Sorry, Jonny,” I said, turning, standing, walking over to him. He pulled away from me slightly. “What?” I asked.

“Don’t do that!” He responded, affronted. Of course.

I wiped a sweating arm across my kerchiefed forehead. I thought to wash the cleaner from my hands, then remembered the current state of the house’s water supply. Maybe my dear old grandpa would spring for an actual plumber. I considered, then thought my chances would increase significantly if I contacted the city, instead.

I looked out the bubbling glass behind broken boards at the end of the darkly musted hallway. I could just make out a clump of roofs and roads a few miles away. The local town, I amended; maybe even local neighborhood.

A creaking sound came from my bedroom; a groan responded from the hall. “What’s that?” Jonny asked me, grabbing at my jeans with his mud-encrusted hand.

“It’s just an old house,” I calmly told him, my thudding heart, and the goosebumps on my arms and neck. I added, in attempted lightheartedness, “Old houses do a lot of settling, especially in the wind.”

“But, it’s not windy,” Jonny told me, looking up to study my face.

“Let’s go outside,” I said, starting forward despite his continued grip on my leg. I couldn’t push him along till I washed my hands. Maybe the pump in the yard would be sufficient.

In this fashion, I swish-clumped my way down the hall to the top of the staircase. The sound echoed in the empty house, disturbing dust motes from their determined slumber. All I needed was a ball and chain to complete the old horror movie trope. A structural piece somewhere, maybe in the parlor, complained noisily. I hadn’t heard anything from the main floor before then, but maybe I’d been preoccupied with my sanitizing attempts.

Jonny was certainly occupying enough at the moment. Thank goodness, or else I would have noticed the additions to our reflections in the mottled mirror immediately, in passing.

Instead, my brief glance memory of the anomaly stored itself snugly into my subconscious, ready to suggest itself at a more appropriate time. Like, bedtime.

Jonny and I stumbled together down the solidly creaking stairs, following various dust-drawn outlines of shoes and bare feet. We limped together past the parlor entry, intent on the front door to outside. The parlor door swung slightly in my peripheral vision, but Jonny tripped slightly just as it happened.

The movement therefore joined my mirror memory, to be enjoyed later as well.

For now, I could see that Jonny was right in that Sam needed me. We had made it out together, his grip still certain on my dirtied jeans. We had clumped down the old wooden stairs and down to the old well.

Sam was lying on the ground just beside the pump, cradling a leg. Their younger brother stood sentry at Sam’s shoulder, crying nearly as much as Sam should have been.

It was no wonder, I told myself that evening, that I hadn’t noticed a few things in the house at the time.

I had carefully piled three filthy children into the old sedan my grandfather was also “letting” us borrow, and found out the neighborhood really did qualify as a town. It had a doctor’s office. Edensville also had a restaurant of sorts.

We hadn’t gotten back to the house until dusk. I would have put Sam on …something downstairs, if my nerves had settled, and if a suitable something existed. Instead, twilight found me straining to lift him up the winding staircase to the bedrooms as his brothers clung as closely as possible.

Just after dark found us chancing the murky bathroom water for brushing and hand-washing. It hadn’t looked so red in the dim glow of our camping lantern. Everyone piled into beds -into blankets on the beds- exactly as dirty as we’d been since after lunchtime.

And that was when my disloyal brain remembered.

After curling up safely in my old blankets and assuring myself that bedbugs biting was just a cute saying, after telling the boys I’d swept away all cobwebs so spiders wouldn’t want to be in their room, and after exhaustion finally conquered imagined fears -then, my dear brain remembered.

As darkness truly settled in and the house settled noisily down, it remembered that swinging door this windless afternoon, and that extra face behind my son’s on the stairway landing looking-glass.

Recurring Story: Fourteen

Wil walked among her chattering, self-absorbed peers in a protective bubble of her own thoughts and attentions. She held the second note against her heart with her books and notebook. She walked in as straight but casual a line as she could to the lunchroom.

Though she worried about the person behind the spying eyes at the door from earlier, Wil had to eat. She often wasn’t full from what they ate at home, and school lunch was a reduced cost besides.

As such, Wil found herself looking through clear sneeze guards at options that resembled edible items a few minutes later. She selected the Chicken Fried Steaklike Meat and Potatoes with Vegetable meal, snagging a roll and a bowl of previously-canned fruit.

Wil relayed her account number to the bored lunch lady sitting at the computer, then carefully spied around to find an unoccupied table. She checked around to ensure no one was paying her attention, either, and saw nothing suspicious. Hopefully, whoever had seen her in the courtyard was long gone.

Since the lunch period was nearly over, Wil was able to find a vacated blue table near a wall. She carefully set her food on it, retrieved some utensils, then came back and sat herself down on the matching blue bench. She casually pulled out the folded note she’d saved from under the brick, then picked up her roll and took a bite.

Wil began unfolding the paper, separating the little edge tatters that had interlocked a bit. She felt the excitement in her chest flutter like a hyperactive butterfly. She wondered what she’d find.

Immediately, Wil saw that this paper also was not written in regular English. This was turning into a regular treasure hunt!

Although excited to crack another code, Wil also felt annoyance. Who was leaving these notes? For what purpose? Spies would have assigned a mission at this point. Fairies would surely get right to the point and not leave a person hanging on clues.

Wil looked over the symbols on this new cypher as she ate her way through the chicken fried substance and its accompanying instant potatoes. The “letters” were lines, dots, and some lines with dots. They were confusing enough to distract her from the lack of taste as she chewed.

Wil wondered if her keyboarding teacher next period would give them extra time at the end of class, so that she could do some searching. Looking over the lines and dots and line dots, Wil felt out of her element.

Once again, the interminable bell sound resounded in the halls. It was a depressing death knell tone in the lunchroom where Wil and slow eaters still sat.

Wil finished her fruit, some of the vegetable-shaped side dish, then shoved her roll in her shirt pocket to finish once she was done chewing the rest.

Would she solve this message? What would it say? Where would she go? Would she ever know who was writing them?

Recurring Story: Thirteen

Wil felt lucky. Instead of the potential danger her briefing had warned of, she had only to secure this classified document. “N” would be pleased -or, at least, appeased– until Wil could ultimately locate and apprehend their mysterious informant.

She was unlikely to encounter armed sentries near the note, judging by the vacant and disused look of the place. The cold wind swirled light mists of snow from the drifts toward her exposed hands and face. No footsteps could be seen.

Wil was still concerned about the people inside, however. The doors were tinted, and locked, but someone might come close and see her through the glass. She couldn’t blow her cover again.

Setting her books against the wall, she inched around the corner carefully and slowly walked to the red table. Her footfalls echoed softly from the walls of the courtyard, as she placed careful steps amid cold wind burst whirls of old snow.

Wil tried to steal glances at the people inside the lunchroom inside the building. These were mostly bystanders, but the tall ones patrolling round the innocents were not. Those were informants.

She steadied her shivering limbs and teeth. She drew ever nearer her goal. She was close enough to hear the paper flapping against the brick imprisoning it. She could almost reach out and free it.

Wil checked the doors once more as she stepped over a yellow bench, and froze in cold and surprise. Just as quickly as the shadow appeared, it disappeared. But, Wil was left with the memory of two hands cupped around a face, against the door, the better to see her with.

Recovering quickly, Wil leaned over the red table, lifted the brick with her right hand, and extracted the fluttering paper quickly with her left. She grasped it as tightly as she could in her mittened first. She turned and exited much more quickly than she’d entered. This time, loud clomping and a slight squeak echoed back to her.

Not looking back, she retrieved her books and ran back around the school to the door she’d first used to get outside.

“Please, still be open,” She repeated to herself through chattering and exercised exhaling.

There was the door; she made it. Wil slid her left hand, clutching the note, against the door crack to feel for the slight opening her rock should have made.

“Oh, good!” She exhaled gratefully. The words hung a slight mist in the air. The rock was still in place.

Wil pried and hefted the door open with cloth hands. Kicking the stone to the side, she entered the school a bit breathlessly.

She looked side to side. She attempted to slow her breathing, elevated by escape and elation.

She’d done it. Mission accomplished.

Recurring Story: Twelve

Wil’s current school had been remodeled a few years ago, and someone along the chain of command had decided that large, chunky furnishings in the primary colors would make a good decorating idea. As such, the public areas like the common and lunch rooms had tables and chairs painted brightly in red, yellow, or blue.

Also, some large, odd accents that may have resembled the idea of modern art were periodically attached to the walls in ways that were meant to be artistic and interesting. These were painted in the primary color scheme as well. The wall shapes reminded Wil of plastic preschool utensils that had been garbled in a disposal accidentally; or of a young scribbler’s interpretation, in crayon, of swooping birds.

Wil crept carefully under a yellow swanlike wall spoon, listening; ruminating on the décor. The hallway was nearly empty.

She was no novice to top secret missions like this one, though she admitted being a little rusty after so many months assigned to a desk job. If only her partner hadn’t moved at the last second on their last case! -Well, regrets wouldn’t help now, and she was finally able to prove herself again.

Wil wouldn’t give “N” the chance to censure anything. She’d slip in completely undetected, finish the job, and file her report before anyone even knew she’d left for her mission.

There was a general hum of sound Wil was attuned to, punctuated by louder exclamations at times. As Wil drew closer to the front of the school, this noise resolved into collective conversations with occasional bursts of laughter or shouts. Wil paused and bit her lip. How would she get past a crowd that size, unnoticed?

A brave beam of sunlight pushed past the dissipating fog and overcast sky outside to lay across the floor of the hallway in front of Wil. Her eyes were drawn to it. She could take the door to outside, since no one would be out there in this chilly weather. Indeed, the doors were all locked this time of year, even to the small outdoor yard with tables by the lunch area. No one would want to eat in the cold.

Wil checked for any prying eyes, then headed right to the door. Wrapping her scarf more snugly, she pushed the door open into freezing air. In an unusual gesture of forethought, she sought a small rock and lodged it in the bottom of the door. This was a trick she’d used back in the Gold Onyx Mission. The latch wouldn’t connect fully, but the rock made the door look fully closed. Wil hoped that enemy sentries would be inattentive, at least till her return.

She folded her arms tightly around her books and herself and traveled quickly around the back of the building where there would be fewer people. It was cold. Wil wasn’t certain what sort of surveillance was in place; so she ducked under windows, hurried past doors, and kept her face shrouded in her purple hood.

In this fashion, she reached the wall that turned to fence the outdoor lunch court. Her stopping point faced north, and somehow also exposed Wil to a chill wind. Shivering, she tried to look spy-like as she peered around the corner into the yard.

Red, yellow, and blue tables and benches sat empty and frozen. Small snowdrifts were gathered in the shaded wall alcoves and at the bases of the tables. Wil’s scarf flapped a bit in the wind, but it wasn’t the only thing doing so.

As she looked closer, Wil could see a discarded brick from the wall sitting on one of the red tables. And there, pinned by the brick, flapped a blue-lined paper with a torn, serrated edge.

Recurring Story: Eleven

Wil wasn’t able to add more to her drawing after considering negative points of the secret note. Her pencil absent-mindedly traced existing lines repeatedly as her mind traced alternate options repeatedly.

The spy operatives were testing her, to see if she was hasty and thoughtless about missions. Or, the teenage geniuses thought to set Wil up and sneer at her average skills. Worst of all, the King of Fairies would never consider someone so tall.

Mrs. T. glided about the room, punctuating positive phrases with smiles, gestures, and foreign expressions. She paused at Wil, and her smock settled around her as she roosted momentarily.

Mrs. T. cocked her head to one side, peered at Wil’s face, and chirped enquiringly, “Is everything all right, Wil? I love the mysterious scene you’ve been sketching, but your mind is en vacances.” She moved her hand in a vague circling motion as she spoke about mind-vacation, and smiled at Wil.

Wil looked up, startled, at her teacher. As her eyes focused on Mrs. T.’s face, and she was brought back to current circumstances, the end of class bell resounded through the halls.

The art teacher swooped to face her class, who were scrambling to add finishing touches or to put away supplies. Those late to lunch, the next period, would spend half the time in line for food.

“Just put your perspective into your art folders, and we will, perhaps, work on them next time. Adieu!” She impulsively waved them from the room, then turned back to Wil.

Wil was also trying to put things away. Her pencil had rolled somewhere, and she was bobbing around her table looking for it.

She caught her favorite teacher’s look just as she caught the pencil, under her chair. “I’m fine, Mrs. T. Really.” Wil sighed. “I got a note from someone and was just thinking about it.”

Wil saw her teacher’s face light up. “But, this is good, Wil!” She said excitedly. “A boy?”

“Oh,” Wil responded. She hadn’t even considered that. “I don’t know.”

Mrs. T. shrugged a shoulder. “Ça m’est égal, chérie. You must go and meet this mystery!”

Wil’s face clouded a bit. “But, I don’t know who wrote the note, or if the person is honestly, honest. Or,” Wil fumbled for the right words. “Or, anything, really,” She finished lamely.

Mrs. T. considered Wil seriously, and asked, “Can you be a spy?”

Wil started, wondering how Mrs. T. had known about the possible espionage she had considered.

“You will go and keep that wonderful power of observation you have open, and see first what might be,” Mrs. T. concluded. “Then, there will be no traps and no worries.”

Wil thought that was excellent advice. “Thank you. I’ll do that.” She smiled gratefully, then picked up her books to leave.

“Let’s put your pencil, ruler, and forest away first, Wil.” Mrs. T. reminded her with a wink.

Wil blushed. “Oh. Yeah.” She returned the supplies to their caddy, slid her artwork into her folder in the cupboard, then waved goodbye nervously and headed out the door.

“Bonne chance!” Mrs. T. called to Wil’s retreating back. She’d have to remember to ask Wil about the note later. She loved a good mystery.

Recurring Story: Ten

Buoyed by mystery, Wil passed a happy time in the remainder of math class and all of English. Her mind ran scores of pleasant ideas round and round as she stared, unseeing, at her teachers or seatwork.

This secret message would lead her to a secret meeting of spies, determined to overthrow an evil dictator’s evil plans to destroy all happiness. No -she was needed as a key member of a team of talented and smart teenagers, the true advisers to world leaders. Better yet, Wil would discover she was the long-lost daughter of the King of Fairies and would have her powers and prestige returned to her.

The bell for third period played its low dong, and she headed eagerly to art class. Unlike most of Wil’s teachers, her art teacher cared about her pupils and her subject. Mrs. Ting also taught French, and liked to slip in French phrases and expressive gestures while lecturing.

“Today, we will continue to work on perspective,” Mrs. T. began, pointing her right hand toward some unknown horizon line and looking distantly at her imaginary point. “You all remember the first steps, bien sûr. Now I want you to draw your horizon, your lines of perspective, and then you,” here she paused to point and look instead at the class in general, “pick what to draw.”

She swished in her open art smock over to the supply cupboard. “Castles, a sports car,” Mrs. T. nodded at a few boys sitting near the back together, “Your dream house, your own house.” She began handing out large sheets of parchment. “This school,” she added, and received a few snickers in response.

“Whatever you imagine,” Mrs. T. concluded, placing the last sheet in front of Wil and looking right at her with a smile. Wil was no great artist, and she knew it. Mrs. T. liked Wil, however, and always told her that she loved her art. “So much creativity, Wil!” She would enthuse. “I wish I could see the world the way you do!”

Wil pulled a ruler from the bin in the table’s middle and traced her starting lines. What did she want to draw? She thought idly about the note, her family, and her life as she finished the necessary steps.

Almost of their own accord, Wil’s hands began sketching in trees. They began as dark sentries at the front, then marched along her line of perspective all the way to the horizon. She pulled her errant lock of hair from behind her ear again and toyed with it while adding light swirls of fog and a wan moon in the sky.

Wil was terrible at drawing people, though she wanted terribly to capture the lone dark figure from her dreams traveling through these misty woods. Instead, she roughly outlined a dingy square building near the horizon. For kicks, she penciled in a broken neon sign that read RESTAURANT.

At this point, Wil thought of two things: One, she’d never asked her father what time of year he’d met Cynthia. Maybe it had been snowing. Two, what red table would she need to go to at noon, and who or what would really be there?

Recurring Story: Nine

“And now we see how order of operations affects the result of equations…”

The disinterested tone of Mr. Saltz droned on, barely audible over the chatter in the room. His teenage pupils looked at cell phones, leaned to neighbors and talked about weekends, or finished up homework due in their next classes. Some teachers held their class with an iron grip, but Mr. S. had obviously never felt that need.

Wil did not contribute to the ambient noise, but she was just as oblivious to the lecture as most of her peers. She sat at the back in a desk, comfortably resting her chin on her bent left knee. A strand of loose hair partially obscured her features as she pored over the cypher she’d found inside her locker.

The symbols on the notepaper were grouped in words, which helped. A few of the symbols showed up multiple times as well, telling her that her mysterious contact had kept his or her letters consistent. Wil could not yet guess what any of those words were, however.

“Let’s go over the acronym again,” Mr. S. paused briefly for the class to be able to recite with him, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.”

Even though no one had actually said the whole phrase as he did, Mr. S. never broke stride nor expression.

Wil, listening with half an ear as she pondered, saw that the code had a few two- and three-letter words. She thought about the most common English words of that length, and penciled the ones she thought of at the bottom of the page: my, to, me, the, and, at, by, you.

Then, she stopped, dangling her pencil idly in her fingers at a new realization: the first word was ten letters long. It had two repeated symbols in it, and began with 👋, a moving hand. W-I-L-H-E-L-M-I-N-A? She lightly scrawled above the group.

Following this potential breakthrough, Wil wrote letters over matching symbols in other parts of the note. The one for E resembled an oval, with a zigzag across the middle like an Easter egg, and seemed the most frequently used. A lot of words had E in them, she reminded herself. Also, S, T, and L. Those were the first letters people picked when they played Hangman.

Taking the 🎩 hat icon to mean H, again from her name, Wil guessed the teapot, hat, Easter egg grouping to be T-H-E. Her excitement grew as she pieced in more and more letters. The message emerged with each addition.

Tucking her hair behind an ear, Wil sat up a bit and eagerly read in a whisper to herself, “Wilhelmina meet at the red table at noon.”