The New Neighborhood – First chapter of The Island of Lote
THERE ARE TWO very different types of people in the world: Individuals and followers. Individuals are their own person, and are exactly who they want to be. Followers try to take on the image of the individuals, and do things exactly like them. Individuals don’t follow the crowd, unlike the followers, but create their own image and don’t care what people think of it. Some of the individuals and the followers are rather rebellious. Some choose to be that way, while others simply ended up that way, due to pressure. While most rebellions aren’t very much appreciated, there are times when they can be quite useful. They can help keep people out of trouble, or help teach them to stand for what they believe in, which you don’t see all that often.
One very good-rebellious person in the world was sitting on a car seat one warm afternoon, hugging her knees, and was staring out a window. This person was a fourteen year-old girl, named Milo Hestler. And she was distraught. At least her stomach was. Speaking of which, the distraught feeling in Milo Hestler’s stomach increased to an almost unbearable amount as she gazed out the window of her parent’s car. They were driving through a neighborhood called Shady Ally. Though it seemed to Milo that it was more like a city than a neighborhood, but her parents delclared it a neighborhood, so it remained that. She also didn’t know why it wasn’t spelled with an ‘e’.
The reason it seemed more like a city was because there were no houses. The only living quarters in Shady Ally were apartment buildings. Dozens of them, all lined up next to each other on each side of the road. That road was the only road there, stretching leisurely onward, making it look more like an actual alleyway. Each apartment building was about thirty to fifty stories high, and they took up most of the sky view. The sun was rarely ever directly over head, but always more to the side, casting shadows from the buildings into the street. So in a way, it really was like a shady alleyway.Why the good people who inhabited the place wanted to use “ally” instead of “alley” was a mystery. An ally is supposed to be someone you trust and rely on. If your ally is shady, it probably isn’t a wise idea to continue the relationship.
But that was a very small reason why Milo was feeling nervous. Like any kid moving into a new home, she was worried about adjusting and making friends. The first home she lived in had burned down when she was little, forcing her family to move. She had many friends and relations there and was heartbroken to leave them, especially when she moved into their new house and found that nobody wanted to be friends with her. She moved three times after that, and each time she never made any more friends. She also lost contact with her friends and relations from her first residence.
Continuously finding herself alone, Milo began to fear that she would never have another friend again. She was wrong about that, of course, but for the time being, she begrudgingly sat scrunched in the back seat of a 2002 Camry.
“We’re here!” her mother’s voice sang out as they braked in front of 711 Shady Ally.
“Ooooh! Goodie!” Milo snapped. “Let’s hope we all don’t puke with joy!”
Milo occasionally got creative with her words. Her father turned around in his seat and glared at her.
“Sorry!” she said, lowering her eyes. “It’s just that, how do we know that this time we’re actually ‘here’?”
“Oh, Milo,” her mother groaned, grinding the heel of her hand into her forehead. “Can’t you just try to be a little happy? I mean, we’ve been driving around all day, all yesterday, and all of last week. We didn’t drive all that way not to be ‘here’.”
It was Milo’s turn to groan.
“Fine!” she mumbled. “I’m a little happy. At least we can get out of this car.” She opened her door and got out.
“That’s the spirit, hon!” her father said heartily, swinging his door all the way open.
Whenever Milo’s father wasn’t mad at her, he called her “hon”.
“You’ll see,” he continued. “Things will be different here. You’ll make plenty of friends and get used to living here like that.” He snapped his fingers. “It’d be impossible not to. You don’t even need to leave the building for anything! Your mom and I will have to leave for work of course, but you won’t ever have any reason to go outside again, hon!”
Milo stopped in her steps, which were leading to the trunk of the car.
“What do you mean?” she asked, her stomach not settling any. Both her parents grinned at her.
“We wanted to surprise you,” her mother said. “The building we are going to live in, 711, is one of the neighborhood buildings in Shady Ally.”
“It’s an entire system of living inside one place, hon,” her father said. He pulled two suitcases out of the trunk and handed both of them to Milo’s mother.
“It’s huge!” she exclaimed, obviously sold on the idea long ago. “The building I mean. The idea of an entire neighborhood inside one place isn’t very popular at the moment. I don’t know why, it seems wonderfully convenient to me. But, as I was saying, the building is gigantic. It has everything you need inside it. First and foremost, a school -”
“A school!” Milo broke in, her eyebrows up. “Right in an apartment building?”
“Yes,” her mother said. “Not only that, but also a Wal-Mart and a miniature mall. That’s all in the basement. The school is the entire thirty-eighth floor. There are restaurants too, like Burger King and the Olive Garden!”
Milo scrunched up her nose. Despite the fact that she couldn’t believe that all this was crammed into one building, she had to sneer at the thought of any restaurant. The family had been on the road for two weeks, eating nothing but fast food. Therefore, just the thought of Burger King made her want to throw-up. She didn’t really mind the Olive Garden, but it was still a restaurant and restaurants weren’t something that Milo approved of.
Milo preferred to make her own food. She had been interested in cooking ever since she first saw an oven. She kept a large notebook filled with recipes that she had copied from cookbooks. Every time she would find a recipe that she liked, she would copy on a blank page of the notebook, slowly compiling a complete cookbook.
She took this notebook everywhere with her, along with the two other most important things in her life. All three were in the backpack her mother handed to her. The other two were a diary, in which she was writing down her life, and her little radio and headphones.
Without these things, Milo figured she’d die or suffer from some sudden madness. She would write in her diary whenever something interesting in her life happened, such as her house burning down or moving three times. And she would listen to her radio often, in order to relax and momentarily forget about her troubles. She kept extra pens and batteries with her in case one or the other ran out or got lost just when she desperately needed them.
Turning away from the car, with her backpack on her shoulder and a suitcase in each hand, Milo stared up at the building in front of her. Tilting her head back, she could just make out the roof of the building, and much to her surprise, she saw the crowns of trees sticking up from it.
“Uh, Mom,” Milo said. “What’s that?” She pointed her left suit – case at the roof. Her mother peered upward.
“Oh, right!” she said absently. “There’s a garden on the roof.”
“Really?” Milo said, perking up. “That sounds cool. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to be alone with nature. This place might not be that bad after all!”
“Not bad?” her father said, striding towards the doors, laden with luggage. “It’s the most fantastic place in the world, hon! And the rent’s not bad, either. What more could you ask for?”
“Friends?” Milo asked shyly. Her parents grinned at her. Her mother put her arm around her shoulder and guided her to the doors, her father holding one open with some difficulty.
“You’ll see,” her mother said confidently. “Things will be dif – ferent here.”
Of course things weren’t going to be, but Milo didn’t know that. Almost smiling, she and her parents strolled into the lobby, which was decorated with tinsel.
Milo’s mother walked up to the tinsel strewn desk and found the bell. Three rings brought a woman in from another room, tottering on heels far too high.
“Hello?” she said, looking around as if blind. She then reached into a skirt pocket and pulled out a pair of eye-glasses. She slid them on and jumped back in surprise, not helping her precarious balance.
“Oh! My! I mean, hello.” She smiled broadly. Milo’s mother smiled too.
“Hi there,” she said. “We are the new tenants. You must be the Lobby Secretary?”
Personally, Milo had never heard of a “lobby secretary” before, but the woman immediately said, “Oh. Yes. I mean yes! Of course I am! I’m Miz Ricca, and you must be the . . .”
Not waiting for a reply, she made her wobbly way past them to the desk, where she began to flip through a registry book.
“Hestlers?” she finished, squinting at a spot on a page.
“That’s right!” Milo’s father replied robustly, grinning.
“Well, welcome to 711 Shady Ally!” Miz Ricca said, bringing out a set of keys and handing them to him. “Here are your keys, you can make as many copies as you want, and I look forward to getting to know each one of you!”
“Well, thank you!” Milo’s mother said sweetly. “Let’s start right now, shall we? I’m Sherrill-Jean Hestler, and this is my husband, Earnest, and our daughter, Milolantalita.”
“Actually, it’s just Milo,” Milo piped up, not knowing where on Earth her mother had come up with “Milolantalita”.
It most certainly was not on her birth certificate. She had heard the story often enough of how, at her birth, they had wanted to name her Mila, but her father’s hand writing had caused the ‘a’ to look like an ‘o’, and it got recorded that way. Though they both claimed that they liked it better that way, Milo always had a feeling that her mother was rather miffed that her daughter had a boy’s name.
Her mother nudged her hard and said, “Now tell us your name. Surely there’s more to it than ‘Miz Ricca’.”
“Oh! No! I mean, no. I’m sorry, dear,” Miz Ricca said apolo geti – cally, seemingly startled. “I’m not allowed to tell you or let you use my first name. It’s a Lobby Secretary thing, and if I make an exception for you than I’ll have to make an exception for everybody! And believe me, there’s a fair number of young men in this place who would love to call me Reba! Now then, if you need anything I’ll be here, and if you get lost, there are maps all over the building.”
“Reba Ricca?” Milo muttered to herself.
“And if you have any questions,” she added, “don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Yeah,” Milo said, jumping at the opportunity. “Why is Shady Ally spelled without the ‘e’?”
Miz Ricca’s lips became a line. “What do you mean?” she said casually.
“I mean,” Milo said clearly. “A – l – l – y spells al-i. Alley is spelled a – l – l – e – y.”
“Oh,” Miz Ricca said, looking away. “That. Well, it does read alley, only they thought it would look nicer without the ‘e’. It’s still the same thing.”
“But,” Milo insisted. “It says al-i. Not alley.”
“Yes, it does.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does!”
“Thank you, Miz Ricca!” her father said abruptly, well aware of his daughter’s legendary stubbornness, and wanting to actually reach their apartment some time that day. “You’ve been very helpful. By the way, I like what you have done with the lobby.”
Miz Reba Ricca glanced around, distracted and pleased. “Really? You do? Well, thanks. It’s one of my own designs.”
Milo, deciding to let the issue go, took in her surroundings and couldn’t quite see where the word “design” came in. Tinsel was strewn all over the carpeting, all over the furniture, and was glued onto the walls. Milo looked up and saw it dangling from the ceiling in great clusters. The only thing it didn’t seem to be covering were the lights, which shone down on it all, making the room look very bright and glittery.
“I think it perks the room up a little,” Miz Ricca said.
“A little?” Milo thought.
“The elevators are over there,” Miz Ricca said, pointing to a hallway on the left side of the desk. “I can see that you have quite a lot of luggage, and elevators are always better than the stairs. Nobody in the building ever really uses the stairs, so we had to install extra elevators. We might have removed the stairs entirely, except for those pesky building codes. Escaping fire and such. I’d help you with your luggage, but I’m afraid of hurting my back. I’ve not much practice with large, heavy objects; the most I’ve carried around is papers, pens, keys, and tinsel.”
“That’s quite alright, Miz Ricca,” Milo’s father said, hoisting several bags onto his shoulders. “We’ll manage to manage just fine!”
He began to lead the way to the elevators. Milo followed with her mother, but something inside of her told her that it’d be better for her health to take the stairs.
That thing inside her was her conscience, and she was so often arguing with it, that she had personified it and called it Bob the Conscience. That particular day, the argument inside Milo’s head, went something like this:
“You know, it’d be better for your health if you took the stairs,” Bob the Conscience said.
“I know, but our apartment is on the forty-sixth floor. It’d be too tiring to go all that way with all this luggage,” Milo replied as she stepped into the elevator. Sometimes, Milo was so into the conversation that she spoke out loud. But she was careful not to when she was around other people.
“You can handle your luggage,” Bob the Conscience retorted. “It’ll just make it more challenging. Besides, after being cramped in that car all that time, your legs could use some stretching. It will make you feel energized and happier, too. You should take the stairs.”
“No,” Milo insisted. “By the time I got to the forty-sixth floor, my parents would have already moved in and started dinner. The elevator is faster; look, we’re already on the thirty-sixth floor! And you wanted me to take the stairs! Ha!”
She heard Bob the Conscience sigh.
“Yes, Milo,” he said, patiently. “It is faster, and it is useful, if we are on a schedule. But if you keep on riding elevators, you will start to get fat!”
Milo chuckled. “That would do me a world of good,” she remarked. She looked into a mirror at herself, which was an easy thing to do because enormous ones lined the walls of the elevator.
She didn’t like what she saw.
She could name the things she didn’t like about herself from head to toe, starting with her hair. It was a rich, dark brown that hung down past her shoulders. But Milo thought it was too dark and, like all the girls of today, she wanted highlights but didn’t have any.
Moving downward, her next complaint was her body. She was very skinny for her age and it showed. Two full weeks of eating fast food, without any exercise, hadn’t made her an inch rounder. Milo’s arms were spindly and long, and she didn’t think she had much muscle on them. Nevertheless, whenever she needed to push bullies away, she always found the strength she needed.
Her legs didn’t really matter much to her, but she still found them far too slender for her liking. Indeed, she often referred to them as “tooth picks”. Not that anybody could tell, for she often wore baggy jean cargo pants.
Her face didn’t contribute much because it was always sur – rounded by her hair. It was thin, but not pinched. Sure, it wasn’t filled with chubby cheeks, but at least she didn’t look like she was starving. That wasn’t the reason it was normally hidden by hair. The reason was that Milo couldn’t find a way to keep her hair at bay. Usually, she would have it up in a ponytail to keep it out of her face, but her mother hated that look, and would always tell her to let it down. Therefore, Milo usually couldn’t quite see what was on either side of her.
“It gives you a shy look,” her mother had told her when Milo tried to complain about it. She had tried to explain to her mother that the look didn’t suit her, because she wasn’t a shy person, but her mother wouldn’t listen. Milo found that happened a lot.
“It would do me a world of good,” Milo repeated softly.
“What’s that, dear?” her mother asked.
“Nothing,” Milo said quickly.
“No,” her mother said. “I’m sure I heard -”
“Here’s our floor!” Milo’s father sang out as the elevator stopped with a ding. “Our new lives start the minute we walk out of this elevator, ladies.”
Of course, for Milo that wasn’t true, but she thought it was, as she followed her parents out into the hallway and up to a door that said “B-1107”. She didn’t know that it would merely be a push in to her real new life.
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Enchanting opening to a story. I loved the surreal quirkiness to the piece, especially the idea of having a whole neighbourhood in one building. The main character was likeable and relatable and I particularly enjoyed the various character quirks.
Oh, thank you! I appreciate it. Yes, the whole book is quite quirky, yet oddly relatable. Life is like that sometimes.