Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today

As she flumped down onto the macramé throw covering her grandmother’s old sofa and clicked on the television, Alice Ann Gibbons was thankful for the bag of Cheetos, the can of Dr. Pepper and the coming escape from reality in the new show she’d discovered on channel 66.

She didn’t know its title because it was always on and never broke for commercials, which made offloading that Dr. Pepper a last-second decision. She could barely tear her eyes from the screen while she had it on, and she had it on every day now.

It’d been another day at Jackson Junior High School like all the others. One in which Alice Ann wished she could be home-schooled, or maybe just disappear altogether.

Things weren’t much easier in elementary school, where the kids always teased her about her too-big nose and too-little eyes, but junior high school had become agony. This was where she’d been shoved into the interior of more lockers than a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches. Where whispers and giggles about her thick-lensed glasses became jeers and howls while they were tossed about the classroom. Where the choice left to a sensitive 13-year-old girl of being bullied every day or totally shunned and isolated was never a decision. She was either or both and never by her own choice.

But here on the saggy old couch in her grandmother’s basement, where she’d always spent her after-school afternoons and early evenings waiting for her grandmother to get home, she would always read teen urban fantasy books, books about teen heroines in dystopian societies and science fiction novels with spunky girl lead characters. All the type of girls she longed to be, but knew she never would.

One afternoon, having finished her latest book and with nothing left to read, Alice Ann turned on the television and clicked through the channels, hoping against hope she’d find something as interesting and full of imaginative possibilities as her books. Her grandmother’s basic cable service offered a quite limited menu of options during the hours: comedy reruns, twenty-year-old crime dramas, cable news, vapid teen and tween shows and alleged reality tv programs. She went from channel 0 to 60, the end of Grandma Gibbons’ basic cable tier, but kept her thumb on the clicker, flipping through five channels of snow and white noise until it hit channel 66.

There she saw a girl her own age staring into the camera as if she was looking directly at Alice Ann. She usually was dressed in tight-fitting outfits of stretchy material that Alice Ann would be embarrassed to where, but intrigued her nonetheless.

“What in the world is this thing?” Alice Ann said to herself the first three afternoons she watched. She’d watch the girl push buttons with her thumbs on the surface of, and talk into, a shiny flat instrument as thin as a third of a deck of cards. She’d see the girl, whose name she learned was Allie, look right at Alice Ann but talk to girls named Bella and Quinn. And sometimes the room would be empty, save for the flashing of lights and the gurgle of Allie’s aquarium.

But on the fifth afternoon, Alice Ann’s natural curiosity hit a wall when three things happened.

First, Allie started typing into a keyboard of some kind that she balanced on her lap, speaking as she typed: “May second, 2077.”

“What”” Alice Ann said.

“Today, I think I found a lead on my great-great aunt. Turns out she’s that famous author…”

“Alice Ann, I’m home!” Grandma’s voice called from upstairs. She was home an hour early and Alice Ann hadn’t cracked a book for homework yet.

“Um, down here, Grandma,” Alice Ann said as she muted the television and opened her Math book.

“What in the world are you watching, honey?” Grandma Gibbons asked.

“Oh, just this weird show I sometimes turn on while I do my homework. Mindless stuff. I’ll turn it off.”

“Why bother, Alice Ann. All that’s on the screen is static.”

“What? You don’t see…?”

“Dinner in thirty minutes, honey. You keep your Channel 66 white noise on and keep working. Just don’t flip it over to that stupid MTV,” Grandma said and scooted upstairs.

“No, of course not, Grandma. Thanks.”

Alice Ann turned to the television screen and saw Allie smiling while staring intently into the camera. She turned the sound back on just as Allie said, “Yup, now I’m gonna find out more about you, Aunt…”

“Allie, dinner!” A tall teenaged boy poked his head into the bedroom and shouted.

“Get out of here, Gio. I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to close this research file for my family history project.”

Who the boy left, Allie turned to the camera once more and clicked something on her desk.

“Okay, you, I know your real story’s out there somewhere and your either gonna tell me it or I’ll dig it out myself. I know this back cover bio is bull,” Allie said to no one but just as easily to Alice Ann.

She held up the book and Alice Ann saw the blur of a book cover framing a photo of a dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and close-set eyes.

“Yup, now that I’m sure, I understand why I always read so much of your stuff and want to write my own stories,” Allie said as she looked at the back cover. “And now I know where I got this silly name of mine.”

Before Allie put down the book and headed downstairs for dinner, Alice Ann caught a look of the cover of the book Alllie held. On a blue field were the words, “Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today,” and below that it read:

“By Six-Time NY Times Best-Selling Author A.A. Gibbons.”

For Day 2’s Story-a-Day May piece, I was charged to write a story based on the following prompt from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins:

 A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.

I worked pretty quickly, but this is the first draft sketch of an idea for a story about as far from my wheelhouse as I want to reach. And that’s what makes Story-a-Day May so damn much fun.

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The Program

IMG_3169-days-hotel-peoria-flash-fiction-prompt-comp

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

Phillips, or #2730098-RP in New Mexico’s Corrections System, offered up his hands for the shackles attached to the chains already confining his ankles and waist.

“Must feel pretty good about today, eh, greener? Cop killer getting off The Row,” CO Baez said. He guided Phillips by the shoulder as he shuffled along the portico to Admin wing.

“Ain’t seen the sun and those shadows since first day I got here,” Phillips said. “Now I’ll see ‘em every day working Provisions Program, instead of getting the needle over there.” He pointed with his chin.

At the end of the portico, a buzzer sounded and Baez nudged Phillips through the door. A female CO whose tag read Silvana met them at a desk.

“Afternoon, Jaime. This the new one?” she said.

“Yep, all yours now. Says he can’t wait to get started.”

“We’ll process him right away then,” she said.

Silvana guided Phillips down another hall, where COs removed his shackles and told him to strip for a shower. Six jets in the tiled wall doused Phillips with soapy water and rinsed him clean.

“Okay, lifer, the State of New Mexico thanks you for your service to its Inmate Provision Program,” a CO said. “Processing’s through those doors.”

Phillips walked through and dropped without feeling a thing, the captive bolt pistol popping his skull and entering his brain. His final thought was of walking through a tunnel of light and shadow, as his life sentence ended Day One in The Program.

Wrote this for a weekly flash fiction contest in response to the photo prompt up top. Needed to write a flash fiction piece of 250 words or less based on that photo by award-winning author and photographer K.S. Brooks. If you like it enough, you vote on it or others starting Wednesday over at the Indies Unlimited website.

If Wishes Were Horses

Miss Viviane Nimue—I knew her name from the plate on the doorbell for apartment 310—was an old spinster lady who would sit staring out onto Lake Avenue every evening from her window in our brownstone, a candle lit next to her, until she went to bed.

“I wave to her every afternoon as I come up the front steps, being the good neighbor and all, and it’s like she’s a mannequin or something…no recognition, no response at all,” my girlfriend Lynn said one night in June.

“Maybe she’s expecting someone, waiting, wishing, a Mr. Right maybe, to ride up on his white steed and whisk her away from all this,” I said, half-laughing.

“Get real, Ben,” Lynn said, “and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride…and let’s face it, Sir Galahad is never going to tie up to a meter out there on Lake Avenue to rescue old Viv .”

In August, about a week after the old girl passed away, Lynn and I were sitting on the front steps when a white Ford Mustang pulled up and an elderly man wearing a silver Van Dyke and what Lynn later said was a Bond Street suit stepped out, approached us and said, with a quite proper English accent, “Pardon me, but is this the home of the lovely Miss Viviane Nimue?”

Based on Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt word: WISHES.

White Horses

Once I lassoed a white horse
and we jumped aboard
my sun-sailed sloop, sailing south.
After leaping ashore, we cantered up
to your castle door
and saved you, whoever you were,
from a life without me.
White horses never really ran
in my streets, though, except
in the reflection
of old Esther’s store window.
Sloop was just a word I read
in a book, where the winds
always blew my imagination
from west to east and
the bright sun set
whenever I closed its covers.
Such were the heroes
who saved me, whoever I was,
from a life without them.

A new 100-word drabble poem for Day 29 of Poem-A-Day April NaPoWriMo 2014. Tells a story I think many of us can relate to. One more day. One more poem. Whew!

The Gift

3-28 FWF

As I recall, it started at that Christmas party. I was the guest of Angela, a new girl I’d met in the food court during breaks at the mall. She said she worked at the toy store. And believe me, this chick looked like the angel you’d want perched on the tippy-top of your Christmas tree,

“Try some of our wassail, David,” said Mr. Caligari, who Angie ID’d as her manager. Now, I’m usually a Miller Light guy, but hey, it was the holidays and I was his guest and all. Plus, with a chick as fine as Angie, I needed a little extra courage.

After a couple of those spicy punches—okay, six—was when a spinning sensation hit me. There was a flash of light and then…nothing. Not black nor darkness. Nothing.

Some time later, the tickle and chill of cold crystals upon my face brought some hazy lucidity back to me. I saw a pair of black boots walk by me, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why they were walking up the cold wall upon which I was resting. That was when I discovered my point of view was skewed by ninety degrees. I lifted myself off the snow-dusted sidewalk to get a better view of where I was and who belonged to those lovely limbs stuffed into clicking-along black leather.

Once on my feet, I staggered with the wooziness of a landlubber his first time at sea and I couldn’t quite catch my bearings. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the snow cast this neighborhood in a twinkling cloud, a disguise behind which I couldn’t tell if I was in Albany or Albania, Arbor Hill or Ann Arbor.

I felt a little steadier on my feet, so I peered through the snow at what appeared to be Angie, my angel with the seriously articulating architecture, striding sinuously up the street. The girl moved like she was on rails. I recognized those boots, but then split my gaze from the mesmerizing seesaw of her denim-hugged seat and the hypnotically spinning umbrella she carried on her shoulder.

My uncertainty with the surroundings and hazy grasp on everything in general urged my feet to take chase after Angela, follow her tracks and get some idea if a truck had hit me or some of her boss’ wassail.

But my feet wouldn’t work. Well, that’s not exactly true. I could spin them like crazy but I could move forward only a foot or two, like I was treading water.

“Angela,” I called, “What the heck’s going on? Where are we?”

But she just kept walking, but not walking. Her feet moved, but she wasn’t going too far, either, despite the footprints that trailed her like my once-hungry-now-frightened eyes.

It was just about that time I felt the ground rise up under me, and the light got brighter. The entire neighborhood started spinning and quaking like Magnitude 7 or 8 SoCal temblor. Then everything stopped. Just like that. Well except for the snow, which was swirling a blizzard, even though I couldn’t feel all that much cold nor wind.

“Angela,” I called once more. “Where the hell are we?” Then I heard it. A ratcheting metallic sound, then chimes, followed by a muffled voice.

“Oh, Mommy, it’s the beautifullest snow globe ever!” the voice said.

That’s when I looked up and saw this little girl’s face in the clouds.

This story’s based on that picture at the top of the story and this scenario from my friend Kellie Elmore: “You suddenly find yourself standing alone on an unknown sidewalk in an unknown place. It’s night and snowing and the only other person around is walking away from you….”

Only had the chance to hit it at lunch, but here you are, Kell. No time for edits and it kinda got away from me.

Saturday Morning Fantasy

The faint light of morning enters
from the small windows above
and my shadow lies long and lonely
from here to there.
But we never needed much light.
I find you lying there, waiting,
my fingers massage your skin,
cold and goosebumpy, while
my heartbeat quickens, anticipating
of our practiced communion.
It’s always this way.

Around us wafts the haunting aroma
of youth and sweat, lingering with
echoes of our other sunrises.
The fantasies overtake me now
as we coil and recoil, faster, slower,
turning this way and that.
Up, down, my breath coming
in ragged gasps and I know
the time grows close. We stop,
arc as one, and I hear your whisper
as we become two again.
Swish

Our time alone is done, so
I switch on the lights and open
the gym for Saturday hoops practice.

Dark Gym

Dark Gym (Photo credit: mikeczyzewski)

This week, my friend Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt is (whispers) Foreplay: Make the ordinary…sexy. Some of you know that I was a basketball coach before I was a poet. Each March, the memories and excitement of it want to tug me back on the sidelines. Just once more. Miss Kellie, I did not expect my memories and your prompt to meet in the dark like this.