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.

Another First December Snow

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The first December snow
came upon us overnight,
laying its frozen breath
upon the grass, turning
car roofs into smooth igloos warmed
by internal combustion engines.
I decided to let it rest
upon the driveway, delaying rising
from my chair to remove it.
Neither of us were in any hurry
to move, let alone remove.
Sometimes it feels like
I’ve reached the first week
of my life’s December, the sun
not rising as high as it once did,
its days shorter, nights longer
and my body colder in the lee
of these long shadows cast
o’er top of me. They conceal
the imprinted memories of what
lies behind me, this anti-snow
broadening its lightless view
of a trail ahead without footprints
to leave or follow, only a hope
that somewhere beyond is yet
another first spring rain –another
chance to splash in its puddles
like a child once more.

Photo © Joseph Hesch 2016. It’s by the author from his writing aerie above the back forty, where he contemplates his past, present and future in all-day twilight today.

A White Horse in Dark Times

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White horse by moonlight by ellimist

The only light to be seen was the wash of white from the half moon in our faces. Any shadows we cast could not give us away to the horses in the corral nor to the sleeping family in the farm house.

“You know if they see us they might shoot us for this, right?” I said to Will.

“Yep, and if they catch us, they’ll shoot us, or hang us. Or maybe they won’t see us or find us and we’ll have horses to get out of this county and head someplace where there’s food and water and not so much law,” Will said.

“Or outlaws,” I said.

“Yep. Now be quiet. You know what to do.”

Will was new to this stuff. Who wasn’t? But he figured we could, gentle as angels, drift close to the corral, slide open the gate, coo our way close to a couple of the horses, tie the ropes we carried stuffed inside our belts to their halters and lead them out to freedom. Our freedom.

It actually went pretty much to plan until we saw a small light inside the farmhouse window turn into the bigger light in a lantern, and that lantern moved toward the back door of the place.

“Damn it,” Will hissed. “Someone’s up. Probably headed to the outhouse.”

That was when a couple of horses got real nervous and started to snort and cut up, their ears all pricked forward. I tugged mine, a gentle little thing, over toward the gate and stood her between me and the house. But Will had trouble with his, its ears flat back, and it gave out a roaring sort of sound and that was that.

It gave Will a kick and started a chorus of squeals with the other four horses. Will was on the ground when his horse kicked him again, this time in the shoulder, just as the back door opened and the farmer came running out of the kitchen with his drawers at half  staff because he held the lantern in his left hand and a shotgun in his right.

“Who’s there? Show yourself, ya thievin’ bastards,” he yelled. As he grabbed for his pants with that his right hand, the shotgun under his arm, I tugged my filly out of the gate and ran like hell toward the woods with her. Didn’t look back until we were about ten yards out of the light.

I heard Will yell, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.”

“Get up. Show yourself,” I heard the farmer say.

“Yessir, here I am,” Will said, his hands up and his rope in one of them.

By this time another couple of armed figures ran out of the house toward the corral and I figured it’d be a good idea if Misty——I’d already named the filly——and I put some distance between ourselves and the scene of the crime.

About a minute later was when I heard the shotgun blast.

Misty jumped a little and I did, too, but we didn’t have time to worry about what was behind us. I fashioned a set of reins from my rope and hopped from a tree stump onto her back and we trotted out of the woods and onto the moonlit country road headed south.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Will and I were farm kids,  lifelong friends and schoolmates when the war began. Will was in the agriculture school and I was in what he called the “aggravatin’ culture” school. He meant I was studying literature and mathematics and stuff he found, you know, aggravating. On mathematics, we agreed.

When the war broke out, there was nothing anyone could do but try to fend for themselves and their loved ones. It was harder than anyone expected. Barely anyone knew what to do, could never imagine such a situation that could place them in such a state.

There was no way for Will and I to contact our families, so we decided, since the school wasn’t doing much schooling anymore after the first or second major battle, to find a way to get home. Or at least a way to get somewhere we could fend for ourselves, protect ourselves, just survive.

We heard that the government was shut down and communication was next to nothing. I guess you could yell from one hill to another. That was almost how bad it was. Will said, since nobody knew anything of what was going on and had no idea what the hell to do, we should find ourselves some food and water and a way besides shank’s mare to get where we had to go. Wherever the hell that was to be.

We stole some knives, containers for water, cheese and ham from the school kitchen. Then we tossed what we thought we could carry into our school bags and lit out south, headed for home or wherever we could get before the war turned the world crazy.

It didn’t take long.

Just like it didn’t take long after dawn for Misty and me to run into another band of travelers on the road, only headed north. I saw a couple of them point at me and then their leader sort of shushed them. They came walking toward us as smooth as you please, saying. “Hey, pal,” and “‘Morning,” from about fifty yards away. I knew they were up to no good and kicked Misty in the ribs just as they came running right at us.

I always figured even the bravest or stupidest of folks don’t want to take on a galloping horse coming right toward them. These boys were something else. Their leader pulled a pistol from his coat and aimed it at me, while Misty and I rushed into the middle of them. I heard the gun go off and felt a sharp pain in my leg. Misty squealed, too.

In two jumps, we were through and past them. I looked down at my leg and saw a knife sticking out of it. Peeking behind us, I saw three of those ramblers lying down on the ground, but one’s face was just a smear of red. We must have hit their leader’s arm and——BANG——one of them was down for good. I pulled Misty up when we were a mile or so down the road.

I slid off Misty’s back and pulled the narrow bladed knife from my leg. It wasn’t in too deeply but bled a lot, even down Misty’s side. When I swiped the blood off her coat I saw the cut across her flank and I didn’t know what to do. Before the war, I knew what I’d do, but now…?

I washed my own wound off with some of my water and then wrapped it up with my only clean shirt from my school bag. But Misty? She was hurting and I felt horrible for taking her away from her home. Hell, I felt horrible about everything since the damn war began.

I was Skyping with my mom, talking about my next visit home, taking the Southwest flight out of Baltimore to Dallas, when…nothing. Then the lights in the dorm went out. I grabbed my cell and it lit up, but there was no phone, no internet, just a fancy flashlight.

People up and down the hall were flying out of their rooms as the battery operated emergency lights went on. I heard someone say they heard the news that the threats finally came to a head between our country and the other guys——the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and some wild-ass cyber-terrorists from who-knows-where and what-does-it-matter-now.

The whole Earth’s gone black. They’d all blinded and crippled the world’s transportation, financial, communication, electrical, you-name-it systems. In essence, the politicians and hackers had cast us back into the 18th Century. And for what?

So people ended up roaming the countryside of every continent, I’d imagine, trying to stay alive and most of us not knowing how without a computer to tell us.

I held Misty’s face in my hands and she nuzzled me with her soft nose. It was then I realized that’s what was missing. What we’d been missing since I was born and maybe before. The touch of another, the face-to-face expression of ideas, feelings, emotions between beings instead of through some artificial means.

I think it was when I felt the tears on my face and Misty gave it a good lick that I knew what I had to do. I took the reins off Misty and just let her go. But instead of me telling her where, I let her tell me. If it was back to that farm, fine. I’d tell them I found her on the road running from where her thief got shot by one of those roaming gangs like the kind that cut my leg.

I’d ask them if I could stay with them for a while until my leg got better.

And if she just wandered off to a stream, a field, I’d follow her lead. She knew to take care of herself. Maybe she’d find others of her kind to support her, protect her, bring her along on their journey. I figured she was hard-wired to do what horses did for millennia to survive, instead of what a dumb, unplugged millennial didn’t know what to do.

Who knows? Maybe tomorrow the grid might go back up, or maybe our new world  might finally come to a real end, instead of this virtual one.

This is the short, dashed-off first draft I wrote this evening of a story idea I had over the weekend. What if all this world-wide Internet manipulation and grand-scale hacking turned into an all-out war. It wouldn’t be The Bomb that would take us down. It’s be something as simple as switching everything off, over and over, until finally our modern world broke. Still a lot of work to do with this premise and story, but I thought I’d share it with all of you folks I only “know” through this silly machine you’re reading, as a reminder of what really counts in life.

Every Dawn Another Bite

Darkness for Breakfast Photo by Joseph Hesch

Darkness for Breakfast
Photo by Joseph Hesch

The darkness never lasts,
even if clouds still cover you
like bedclothes come dawn.
Earth still spins, sun still crawls
eastish to westward.
You’ll have to trust me on this.
I’ve lived in shadow
all my life, attempting
to ignore how light,
dim or bright, eats darkness
like a final meal.
Though it never turns out
to be that last repast,
though. Like I said,
darkness never lasts.
Light nips it from my
shaking hands each time.
Light’s insatiable, but never
goes hungry. That’s because
darkness is eternal, inexorable,
the chocolate life dips day in
to lay upon your pillow.

Turning the Leaves in My Garden of Days

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Spring’s spring long ago sprung,
the bounce and suppleness
either stiffened or sagging.
It’s a most discouraging disparity
at 6:00 AM, when the gales blow
from the alarm clock and
my limbs and branches creak and
crack as my windward changes to lee.
Now summer’s vibrant verdant life’s
fading to some sere shade of sand,
as if dribbled from and hourglass,
with each later and later sunrise.
The grass and leaves lean toasted
and curved in this oven of latter years.
Even the weeds, habitual and
nagging as they be, have passed
into some crusty form, as if pressed
between the pages of my book of days.
They’re all just reminders
of where I stand today in this garden
I’ve sown, tended, ignored,
forgotten and now chronicle its
changes with sunset’s scarred and
wrinkled hindsight from a window
above it all. Still above it all.

A birthday poem, written in the aerie seat where I still can soar, one more year closer to being definitively old.

Changing Course on The River That Ran Two Ways

In the western distance,
Hendrick Hudson’s crew rolls
ten-pin balls, the native ghosts
having confirmed the literal
and figurative truth Mahicantuck
The River That Flows Two Ways —
wasn’t yet a one-way float to Glory.
That’s the legend anyway.
But the white thunder eventually
rolled over the red man,
just as this afternoon storm
overruns Today, washing me
another step along this stony shore.
The flood tide of my youth
has changed course, drowning the fire
that blazed within this body
that cracks like thunder whenever
I fight its inevitable course
down this river, which now flows
only one way.

It Isn’t Over

Winter doesn’t know when it’s over.
It doesn’t know it isn’t Spring,
Summer or Autumn. In fact, they’ve
never even been properly introduced.
They just bump into one or the other
one day, not knowing who they are,
where they’re going or what day it is.
It’s scientists and poets who like to think
they recognize what the seasons are
all about, who give silly names to storms
and overly dramatic voices to the winds.
But we’re really not sure if
another tomorrow will greet us or if
we’ll ever meet our soul mate.
We may bump into that someone one day
on the street, pass in a flash
of sunlight on the highway,
not a name or warm touch exchanged.
Sad.
Oh well, it’s mid-February and
the grass lies open to Winter’s
bright smile in the azure sky.
Snow hides in the shadow places
like some criminal, when all it did
was remind a poet he can only capture
the “close enough” of what
he thinks he knows of these days.
And, really, he doesn’t know
anything for certain other than
the big ambiguous It isn’t over yet.