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.