Posts Tagged ‘The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee’

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Two – Part 1

She knew she was hyperventilating, but her breathing exercises weren’t working. She couldn’t bring herself to look through the spyglass again. She thought she might sit there forever, freaking out, but she automatically re-wrapped her spyglass and packed it away. Once her breathing slowed down, she looked for neighbors and stumbled into her house and up the stairs to her room.

Had anyone else seen that? Was she going crazy? People didn’t just turn into birds. The physics alone made it impossible.
She didn’t even want to think about the biology.

Her Einstein poster looked disappointed again. She felt embarrassed for even thinking such a thing had happened.

At least her room felt right. She’d loved this room since the first day they’d moved here. It had a closet and built-in drawers. Lots of places to hide things.

The spyglass stuck on something when she shoved it underneath her bed, so she left it half out and slid her notes under it. She should have written up what she saw, but if she wrote it down, did that mean she had to admit it was real?

It was clearly just a trick of the light, or maybe she’d hallucinated because she was dehydrated.

She got up to get a glass of water. The edge of the spyglass still stuck out from under the bed. Dad knew she had it, he’d helped her design the lens frame, but she made a point of only letting him see her use it for stargazing. She couldn’t help herself from looking out the front window. Fortunately Cindy’s shade was drawn.

Relief ran through her. Who knows what else she’d see if she kept looking.

She fell back on her bed and stared at the ceiling, counting the stars pasted there, each in the sequence of primes.

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17.

She and Dad had infused putty with zinc sulfide and strontium aluminate from school and formed little stars that she’d glued to her ceiling. Alice had helped bake them. It made Miranda feel more grounded in reality knowing exactly how she’d made them.

19, 23, 29.

Later tonight her ceiling would glow with a galaxy of little stars.

She’d taken particular care to make sure the display was accurate to the major astronomical clusters in the Virginia sky. Ursa Major was reflected in the mirror on her desk.

31, 37, 41.

If a person turned into a tiny bird, where would all their extra mass go? She shook her head.

The front door shut downstairs, and Alice called up, “I’m home again, sweetie.” Alice said the exact same thing every day. Her repetitiveness was usually annoying, but all Miranda wanted at the moment was to collect normal things.

Alice called, “Dinner soon!”

She forced herself to put Cindy out of her head. The canary had probably flown into the room just as Cindy’s dad had walked out of frame.

“Kay.” She heard the shake in her own voice.

She couldn’t let herself get distracted like this. What did she need to take care of now that Alice was home?

Alice hummed something downstairs, occasionally she sang a word or two, but Miranda couldn’t make them out. If only Alice would act more evil, it made Miranda doubt the murder attempts were real.

Just like the bird?

Maybe she was looking at the data about Alice wrong? Alice was never depressed or moody, she never argued, she never complained, even the three separate times Dad had suddenly insisted they pull up and leave town.

The garage door rumbled and she heard the door to the garage open. Alice called out, “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes, dear.”

Dad sounded tired. “Thanks, hon.”


Dinner was awkward. She, Dad and Alice barely fit around the tiny table in the kitchen, making it hard to avoid the uncomfortable silence. Dad was so stressed these days. Dinner conversation was particularly bad on Sundays, when Dad couldn’t even ask how school was that day. He seemed afraid to ask about anything else. Miranda picked at the thin metal around the Formica table. The beef stew was getting cold on her plate.

The heat from the stove felt nice, but Miranda sometimes worried she would catch her hair on fire from the burners behind her.

Maybe Cindy’s window was some sort of hologram. Miranda wished she could bounce her theories off Dad, but then she’d have to admit to spying.

She and Dad used to spend dinner arguing over scientific articles he’d xeroxed at the library, or they’d push their dinner plates to the center of the table and solve math puzzles together on butcher paper. Especially since they’d moved to Aught, Dad had gotten increasingly quiet, and his temper flares had gotten worse.

They’d lived in seventeen towns in the last thirteen years. The only reason they’d stayed in Aught for nearly a whole year was because of her math teacher, Mr. Hanson.

That had been rough.

Mr. Hanson called in Dad. Miranda sat terrified and silent. He said Miranda looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. Dad listened and politely told Mr. Hanson they’d work it out as a family. Alice said nothing. Dad drove them home looking scared and guilty.

That night he made a deal with Miranda, they’d stop traveling if she spent twice as much time on their exercises and tried to act normal.

Miranda wanted to blame Dad’s increasing stress on Alice. Certainly her (potentially) homicidal stepmother was part of the problem, but he refused to acknowledge Alice’s weird behavior. He seemed stressed and distracted even when Alice wasn’t around. Maybe something new had happened. Maybe he’d say it was time to run again. The thought made her chest feel cold.
Miranda’s past was wrapped into a category she called The Big Secret. She wasn’t allowed to ask about it.

That didn’t keep her from writing up countless theories in her notebooks.

  • 1.) Dad is running from the mob.
  • 2.) Dad is an international spy.
  • 3.) Dad committed a horrible crime.

She’d collected hundreds of potential clues, but still hadn’t gotten around the walls Dad put up around their past. As long as she could remember, Dad had been running from something. She was pretty sure that something had to do with her real mom.

She remembered things really well. It was just how her brain worked. She could even, just barely, remember being born, but Mom was a total blank. Her real mom. She remembered being held, a blurry face. The more she tried to remember, the blurrier the face became. Sometimes she felt like she had to look at her own memories through her peripheral vision, just so it wouldn’t run away.

Dad’s response to questions about it was always somewhere between silence and anger. It obviously hurt him when she asked, but he wouldn’t say why.

She didn’t want to cause him pain, but she desperately wanted to know where she came from. She once paid nine ninety five to a site to trace his name. As far as the internet was concerned, he didn’t exist. In the house there were no pictures of him from more than three years ago. In photographs he looked haunted, always looking off to the side, like he was waiting for an attack.

If only Dad would tell her what had happened to Mom, or where Miranda was born, why they moved so much, anything. Her whole inclination toward the scientific method of investigation formed around trying to figure out Dad.

There were no pictures of Miranda, except school photos. Alice sometimes suggested they take more pictures of her, but Dad always said no. Alice never pushed it.

There wasn’t documentation of Dad and Alice’s marriage. Miranda had called fourteen town halls. For all she knew, their marriage was just a story they’d made up.

Dad looked up from his plate. “Did you do anything fun today?” The usual fear-look crossed his face.

She couldn’t tell him about spying on the Bauteils, especially about people turning into birds.

She was still searching for something to change the subject when Alice’s face brightened, “Oh! Miranda, mail came for you!” She pulled the college postcard from the front pocket of her apron.

Ugh! If she didn’t know better, she’d think Alice had waited till now on purpose.

Dad jumped up from his seat like a fighter coming out into the ring. “Who’d be writing you?” Miranda leaned to grab the card, but he reached over her before she could.

He just stood there, read it for much longer then a postcard should take. He read the front, flipped it over and read the back.

He looked at the front again. “Why is a college sending you an orientation notice?” Worry lines divided his forehead.

Why did Dad have to see it before she could present her case? Miranda looked at the floor. “It’s a… Mr. Hanson said my grades were so high I could probably go to college early.”

Dad said nothing, just stared at the card.

“It’s only community college.” She should have probably just stopped talking, but she couldn’t stop herself. “I looked into it, I can easily ace the SATs and ACT and Mrs. Jenkins would put in a word for me and I could take the bus and I’ll be fifteen next year…”

Dad went back to his chair. “What have I always said?”

Miranda looked at Alice, but she just smiled vacantly. Miranda said, “You said I have to keep up with my training and…”

“And what?”

“And don’t stand out, don’t try to be special.” Dad didn’t say anything, so she said, “You always say you just want me to be normal.” She glanced at Alice. “All of us.”

“To at least act normal.”

Alice had gone back to eating. Miranda pushed her plate to the center of the table. “You never say why. Why is it so important to be normal?” She heard her voice rising, so she pitched it down. It never paid to get into a screaming match with her father, he sometimes got really loud. “I’m not normal. I’m really smart. You say that every day. Why have me learning all this stuff if you want me to be normal?”

The card started to tear in his hands. “I… it’s important, Miranda, I can’t say why yet, but it’s really important that you don’t push this.” He looked down at the card, and sadness ran across his face. “I’m trying to give you everything I can, but you’re not ready yet.”

He wouldn’t look at her while he tore up the card. She stole another look at Alice, as if Alice would ever give any support.

Alice polished the blade of her butter knife, as if she was sharpening it. “Whatever your father says, dear.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter One – Part 3

  • Tom Bauteil
  • Bill Bauteil
  • John Bauteil
  • ??? Bauteil
  • ??? Bauteil

She still had to figure out the last two dad’s first names. She thought again and crossed out all the last names:

  • Tom Bauteil
  • Bill Bauteil
  • John Bauteil
  • ??? Bauteil
  • ??? Bauteil

A good investigator didn’t presume until she had data. She’d only confirmed Cindy’s last name for sure. She’d done a quick google check, but couldn’t find any references to the Bauteils. Maybe she could look for paperwork at the library and city hall. She could also go through their trash.

Cindy had five dads. She’d even talked about it in school, but no one acted like that was weird.

Dads. Five. Miranda was pretty clear on how reproduction worked and there should be a mother in there somewhere.

She drew another line through their last names.

Cindy just sat there brushing her hair.

Was this what Dad meant by “acting normal?” People did some pretty boring things, even the weird ones. No one in Aught was interested in solving math puzzles or plotting town statistics. Any town with a name as weird as “Aught” should certainly have some colorful characters, but Aught was perfect for Dad. Folks here were allergic to weird.

Well, maybe except for the Bauteils.

Aught was certainly the smallest town Miranda had lived in. According to the census, Aught was the sixth smallest town in Virginia. Not the kind of place where even two dads would be accepted. Some people still hung confederate flags.

Miranda’s history teacher, Mr. Walter, had replaced Ms. Basket. Ms. Basket had left town when a rumor started that she had “The Gay.”
With five Bauteil dads, it seemed someone might eventually decide “The Gay” was happening in the Bauteil house.

Cindy kept at her hair, fifty strokes left, fifty strokes right.

Miranda used a ballpoint pen to jot in the homemade investigator book. Room bare except for pictures, single dresser. Sitting on bed (UNCONFIRMED–invisible underneath window.)

She was surprised Cindy didn’t have pictures of dragons or unicorns. She seemed the type, like the kind of girl who didn’t dig through the woods or get her pink dresses dirty. Miranda wasn’t sure why she watched Cindy, but it was starting to bug her that she thought about Cindy so much.

It’d be cool to attach a mirror to the spyglass so she could also look up the street without being seen. She started sketching in her mind a mounting device and an angle adjuster.
There wasn’t much to observe in Aught. The town had exactly thirty-two streets. When they’d poured over zoning books for fun, Miranda’s dad said there were thirty-four, but he’d tracked the county lines incorrectly. She’d pointed that out, but sometimes Dad didn’t listen so well.

Across the street a Bauteil dad opened the living room curtains. A moment later he cranked open a window, the kind that opened outward like bay doors. She made a note in her book. Bill, maybe? He had light hair.

Maybe she could pretend she was taking census information. Then she could get the last two dad’s names.

The summer wind made the bush branches itch her arms. She scratched while she noted that the dad at the window was definitely Bill. He was the dad who took Cindy to school every day. Miranda had the most notes on him. He was at least six feet tall with a low body-fat index and blond hair cut like a businessman from a TV show. She estimated he was in his mid-thirties.

She flipped to the back of the book where she kept some basic notes on her own dad. Now he had a properly weird name, Alistair. Though he even hid that from everyone. He called himself Al.

As stressful as it had been to be on the run her whole life, she hated to admit that she sort of missed moving. It was hard to make friends with people in Aught when she was trying so hard to remember Dad’s latest story of where they came from. She’d told it so often that she was starting to forget the details of her real life.

But for all their stories of normalcy, Miranda couldn’t hide her freakish brain. And Dad was far too tiny to be unloading trucks. Even the women dock workers were bigger than him. Miranda didn’t know why Dad didn’t take a better job. He was certainly smart enough. How was that normal? He didn’t even like physical work, and Alistair was a lousy name for a dockworker anyway.

She flipped back to the pages on the Bauteils. Dad still grimaced when Miranda asked about Mom. She’d learned to either drop it or strap herself in for a rant. She wished she at least had a clear image of Mom’s face. The worst times were when she had something she needed to talk to a woman about. She’d just started having her period. Alice must have noticed the laundry, because she left a box of pads on Miranda’s bed. Dad had awkwardly tried to talk to Miranda about it, but she’d run up to her room. Later she looked up information online on Dad’s computer.

There was something Miranda and Cindy had in common. No mom. Miranda made another note in her book.

No one asked Miranda why she collected all this data. If they did, she would say, “Through the thoughtful collection and study of information we take control of our own lives.” She’d practiced saying that in the mirror.

She let out a breath. If Dad caught her spying, she’d be in so much trouble. She corrected herself, investigating. But no one noticed or asked.

Sometimes she wished someone would ask.

Cindy was still brushing her hair. Did she do anything else? Miranda noted the time and estimated number of strokes.

Around a hundred and twenty so far. Miranda couldn’t understand anyone doing more than ten strokes max, both sides.

The setting sun was low enough to create glare in Miranda’s spyglass. She’d have to quit soon anyway. Cindy finally finished and hopped off the bed to set the brush on the dresser. Her hair kind of flew a little bit in the wind, probably lifted by electro-static charge.

Miranda noted the brush must have metal bristles set in a rubber base.

Cindy’s hair was kind of golden blond brown–it bugged Miranda that there wasn’t a technical term for the color. It had a little bit of a green tint that came from hard water and copper pipes. She made another note. Still, the green matched the brown nicely. Miranda wished for long straight hair, even if it was a little green.


Cindy sat on the bed again and, as if on cue, Bill came into the room. He was holding an empty golden cage.

She hadn’t noticed the cage before. Miranda made a note.

Cindy was saying something. An audio spying device would be useful. She’d seen plans for bug transmitters in science magazines in the library, but Dad didn’t have money for the parts. Maybe Dad would let her try babysitting.

Bill-Dad and Cindy were probably talking about something boring anyway.

The sun’s glare made her squint. She focused one last time.

Bill set the cage on Cindy’s bed and kissed her on the forehead. Cindy put out her finger.

Bill jumped at her hand and folded upon himself, compressing until he was a little yellow bird in the air. As he landed on Cindy’s finger, the single functioning part of Miranda’s brain identified him as serinus canaria, a canary.

cindy & bill

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter One – Part 2

Miranda searched for the card, but it wasn’t in any of Alice’s usual places. She counted down from ten and huffed out a breath. She’d look again later.

At least with Alice gone, she had maybe a half hour or so for her new hobby.

Cindy Bauteil.

She dug out the spyglass from under her bed and ran downstairs and out into the front yard.

Dad had said having hobbies was healthy. “Normalizing.”

Once she was on the front lawn, she looked back at the house. At least that was perfect. She’d always wanted to live in a two-story house. She loved having her own bedroom. It didn’t hurt that their house was on the corner. She had an easy view of three other houses from her favorite hiding place.

After checking for prying neighbors, she climbed into the juniper bushes in front of their yard. Dad had never trimmed them, so they grew high and wide to block out everyone else on Huntington Street. Genus juniperus were scratchy and smelled like disinfectant, but were also thick so no one could observe her while she sat inside, nearly perfectly in their center. She’d measured.

Most importantly, Dad or Alice wouldn’t see her if they came home unexpectedly.

Dad was paranoid about a lot of things. He was constantly drilling into Miranda’s head: she had to be careful and observant, she had to be clearheaded and ready. The only bonus of being on the run her whole life was she was prepared for anything.

She let out another breath as she unpacked her spyglass. It was nice to relax for a few minutes.

Dad wanted her to practice “being normal,” whatever that meant. What was normal about studying subjects way above other kids her age? Not that she minded learning, she loved it, but he also wanted her to try to fit in as much as possible. He had all these rules about how she should act in school. This meant no weird friends, no acting weird.

No thinking weird. He actually said that.

The Bauteils’ tiny house came in and out of focus in the crappy thrift-store spyglass. Miranda had to keep adjusting it.

Cindy’s was the only single level house on the whole street, and it was about half the width of the house next door. That in and of itself was kind of weird. She made a note in her notebook.

A shape moved in Cindy’s room. Miranda refocused.

Cindy came into view and shut the door behind her. She was a little shorter than Miranda. Blonde. In the same grade, so probably roughly her age.

Her room had no posters. The walls had small, framed pictures, but the spyglass wasn’t powerful enough to see what was in them.

At least the room wasn’t pink like most of Cindy’s dresses.

She grabbed something from her dresser and plopped onto the bed. Coming down so hard, she bounced a little.

Miranda wrote, “Cindy Bauteil” in her investigator book. Bauteil sounded French, but it was actually German. It meant “part,” which seemed like a weird last name. She made another note and wrote CONFIRMED next to Cindy’s name. She’d seen it written in the school office when she’d gone in one time to offer tutoring.

Under Cindy’s name she wrote:

  • Tom Bauteil
  • Bill Bauteil
  • John Bauteil

She still had to figure out the last two dad’s first names. She’d done a quick google check, but couldn’t find any references to the Bauteils. Maybe she could look for paperwork at the library and city hall. She could also go through their trash.

Oh, right, dads. Plural. Cindy had five dads.