A Letter for Milton P. Greene
On June 3 of the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly, Heinously Rotten Year of All Time, a letter was delivered to Milton P. Greene’s house. The envelope had probably been white once, but now it was a sort of phlegmy green, and it was covered in about a hundred stamps. That letter had traveled a long, long way.
Only moments after the letter’s arrival, a bus pulled up at the corner.
And even before the doors could fully open, Milton P. Greene squeezed himself out onto the sidewalk and took off running.
From behind him, he could hear someone calling, “See you tomorrow, Elaina!”
“Bye, Nico!” someone else shouted.
“So long!” Milton hollered over his shoulder. “Until we meet again!”
No one yelled So long, Milton! back, but he hadn’t really expected anyone to. Milton had been practically so-longless for the entire Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly, Heinously Rotten Year of All Time and completely so-longless since the Bird Brain Incident.
As expected as it was, the silence still felt like some great, invisible hand reaching out from the bus and shoving him forward, shoving him away. Milton stumbled, then raced on, a small, pale bespectacled blur with an oversize backpack beelining toward home.
Where the letter was waiting.
But when Milton reached his house, he didn’t take so much as a peek inside the mailbox that hung beneath the doorbell. He didn’t see the bills or the credit card offers or the dental-cleaning reminder (We miss seeing your smile!)—or the phlegmy-green envelope.
He flung open his front door and threw himself inside.
The house that Milton ran through was empty. His mother had been working more and more lately, but she’d told him she would be home at 5:50, and she was a very punctual lady.
His father, however, would not be coming home at 5:50 or 6:15 or midnight or ever. He had moved out three months ago, and now Milton only saw him on Tuesday afternoons and every other weekend.
Milton’s former best friend, Dev, who used to go on backyard expeditions and play video games with him after school, wouldn’t be coming over either. Dev had hardly spoken to Milton since November.
Yes, it had been a rough year. It had been the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly, Heinously Rotten Year of All Time.
Except for one thing.
The thing that Milton was running to.
Isle of Wild.
In his room, Milton collapsed onto his bed and pulled his HandHeld out from under his pillow. He had finally convinced his parents to buy him the HandHeld last summer, when things had already begun to get a little rotten around the edges. He used to sneak it to school every day, but after the Bird Brain Incident, his mother started checking his backpack before he left to catch the bus. She didn’t always remember, but she had remembered this morning, much to his dismay.
Breathless, Milton jabbed at the Power button. Then he pressed the green-eyed-bobcat icon.
It seemed to take too long, it seemed to take forever, but then—
Isle of Wild’s opening story began.
Sea Hawk Ferox, Naturalist and Explorer Extraordinaire, came bursting onto the screen. Dashing, brawny, and brilliant, Sea Hawk had been en route to the Flora & Fauna Federation headquarters when his ship had capsized in a raging tempest. He had washed ashore on an uninhabited island where he found a most unusual mixture of flora and fauna, including umbrellabirds, corpse flowers, aardvarks, and a miniature green-eyed bobcat that he named Dear Lady DeeDee.
Instead of trying to escape from the island, Sea Hawk (somehow still sporting his signature straw hat with a peacock feather tucked in the band) had opened his (somehow not waterlogged) field journal and set off into the underbrush with his new feline friend.
On the HandHeld’s screen now, Sea Hawk was leaping out of a towering redwood, DeeDee perched on his shoulder, binoculars around his neck.
“The adventure is now!” he cried, his voice deep and booming and chock-full of awesomeness.
“The adventure is now,” Milton agreed. “And boy, am I ready.”
With a lung-emptying sigh of relief, Milton shed his skinny, bespectacled, Bird-Brained, un-so-longed, soon-to-be-divorced-parented skin and became Sea Hawk—dashing, brawny, and brilliant.
It was the best feeling he’d had all day.
He didn’t know that twenty feet away, a message from another island was waiting.
The Lone Island.
He didn’t know that an adventure was just around the corner.
Not an adventure for Sea Hawk.
An adventure for Milton P. Greene.
On June 4 of the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly, Heinously Rotten Year of All Time, at exactly 5:52, Milton P. Greene’s mother handed him the letter from the Lone Island.
Well, she tried to, anyway. Milton was in his room again, lying on his bed playing Isle of Wild. And Isle of Wild required two hands.
“Milton, turn that off for a minute,” said Milton’s father.
Since Milton’s father had not set foot inside the house in three months, his inexplicable presence was enough to make Milton jerk his head up in surprise. As soon as he did, however, there was a howl of pain from the HandHeld.
“I definitely will,” Milton said, returning his gaze to the screen, “as soon as Sea Hawk is out of mortal peril.”
Sea Hawk was currently being pursued by the huge-eyed, many-appendaged cephalopod he had been observing. While Sea Hawk carried a machete in his utility belt, he didn’t use it on the island’s fauna. He was a naturalist, after all. He explored and studied and researched. He did not de-appendage.
So instead, Milton was frantically button-pressing and joystick-jiggling to make Sea Hawk duck, twist, and emit his signature bird-of-prey call in an attempt to intimidate the creature. Milton knew from a vast wealth of Isle of Wild experience that if he so much as blinked, Sea Hawk would be a goner for sure.
“Mighty moles and voles!” yelled the feather-hatted naturalist as a bright red tentacle snaked around his throat. Milton increased his rate of button-pressing and joystick-jiggling.
Milton’s mother, seemingly oblivious to Sea Hawk’s plight, reached over and plucked the HandHeld from Milton’s grasp.
“Mighty moles and voles!” Milton cried, making a desperate grab for the device. “At least pause it. You’ve almost certainly killed me!”
“We have some wonderful news,” Milton’s mother replied firmly. She held out the letter again. “You’ll want to read this.”
There had been zero wonderful news this year, and Milton was 99.99 percent sure that whatever was inside the envelope was not going to change that.
But even though he was leaning as far from the letter as he could and even though he was staring unblinkingly at the little screen in his mother’s hand and only at that screen, his parents were not getting the hint.
“Take the letter,” his father urged. “It’s for you. Uncle Evan sent it all the way from the Lone Island.”
Milton gasped and pressed his hands to his heart. The Lone Island, he knew, was an itty-bitty, teeny-tiny, super-duper-remote island in the middle of the Atlantic, much like the Isle of Wild. Milton’s uncle was a naturalist who ran research studies there, much like Sea Hawk (except not nearly as brawny or dashing … also, not shipwrecked). Milton had only met Uncle Evan one time, back when he was five years old, and he had never been to the Lone Island, but once upon a time, it had been his favorite place in the whole entire world.
“In that case,” he said, “perhaps I’ll have a look.”
Text copyright © 2021 Jessica Redman