Story A Day May: Vision

The Prompt

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.

The Tale

Carly plopped down on the couch, remote in one hand and a tub of microwave popcorn in the other. It was her regular weekday routine after school. And her weekend routine. Carly spent a lot of time by herself, usually in front of the TV or her laptop or her tablet. She didn’t have many friends. Actually, she had just one, Edith, who was sick with the flu. Her parent weren’t around much, either.

Carly’s dad was an investment banker. She didn’t really understand the specifics of what that meant, but she did know that he was hardly ever home and the only time she saw him not wearing a dark suit was in old photographs. Her mother had her own catering business, which meant that she had the luxury of working for home if she wanted to. But she didn’t. For the most part, Carly only saw her parents for dinner, but sometimes not both on the same night.

She didn’t mind, though. She liked spending time by herself. It gave her time to think and gave her imagination free rein to run free. Carly was an artist, or so she liked to tell herself. Whenever class got too boring, she would start doodling in her textbooks, lost in her own world. That’s how it was at home, too, and luckily, she didn’t have the distraction of parents or siblings to deal with.

She did as she pleased, which really just amounted to lazing around and designing comic book characters. Carly had wanted to make a comic book since she was eight. Six years later, it was still a distant dream.

A pale young man in a gray shirt runs past a clump of dark trees, trying to outrun the shadow chasing him. A white haired girl screams right into the camera.

An unseen crowd erupts into laughter as a middle aged man in a blue sweater stammers his way through an apology to his thin, mean-looking wife.

Another crowd, visible this time, applauding as a young man spins a large wheel in front of him.

Late afternoon TV was hit or miss. There weren’t any good movies on, most of the shows were reruns, and Carly had no interest in watching the news. She kept flicking through channels until she came across one she hadn’t seen before. It had a logo she couldn’t recognize. She put the remote down for a moment as she shoveled a handful of popcorn into her mouth, a few kernels spilling onto her T-shirt.

The skyline of a city at night. Sweeping orchestral music. A darkened building. Criminals breaking in, their path lit by moonlight. Suddenly, a shadow. They turn around, fearful. A dark figure swoops down and takes them out one at a time. She stands up after knocking the last thug down, her profile briefly illuminated by the moon, and then she’s gone.

Carly’s mouth dropped open. It was Onyx, the superheroine she had created a year ago. How could that be? She leaned forward on the couch, eyes obscured by the reflection of the screen on her glasses. She knew this story.

The Fearmongers, a mysterious group that wants to sow terror throughout the world. A plot involving a beloved public figure and a citywide celebration. The perfect occasion for panic. Unless Onyx can do something to stop it. She fights hard, faces her own fears, and triumphs. But the Fearmongers get away. She’ll get them. Next week. Same time.

As the episode drew to a close, text flashed across the screen:

Created by

Carly Bremmer

Carly’s hand landed on the remote by accident, changing channels. She swore and changed it back, but the channel was gone. She couldn’t find that strange logo again, and there was no trace of Onyx anywhere.

She stared at the blank blue screen in confusion, trying to make sense of it all. In a flash, she was off the couch and running up to her room. She pulled her notebook out of her desk drawer and sat down to draw. She had a story to tell.

#AtoZChallenge: Zoology

Zin looked down from the glowing monitor and made a note on the Labpad on his wrist. All the enclosures were secure. The specimens carried on as normal, oblivious to their captivity.

Each specimen was the inhabitant of a different universe, an entirely separate dimension. They had been trapped into pocket universes that ran on a loop, like a video that restarted after ending. They were all so different, so fascinating to observe.

There were 25 specimens in all, each identified by a letter of the human alphabet. Zin couldn’t remember why that system was chosen above other that were far more suited to categorization, but he had long ago learned to stop questioning such trivial details.

He ran through the subject logs.

Subject A was testing out his simulated city again, reprogramming certain quirks.

Subject B had developed supernatural abilities that transformed her into something else. It was an intriguing development, though Zin was glad she used her new abilities to help others.

Subject C’s ineptitude at his work was amusing. Zin would often play that loop again in his off hours.

Subject D made Zin uncomfortable. There was a lot of darkness to her world and her life. Zin almost wished they had taken a larger slice of her life.

He was intrigued by Subject E. Her story sounded familiar, but he hadn’t been able to find a record of her homeworld or species in the pandimensional archives.

Subject F deeply unnerved him. Zin hoped that he could be terminated, but that wasn’t his decision to make.

Subject G was confusing at first. The lack of color fascinated Zin, though not as much as when the colors finally bloomed in that world.

He made a note to brush up on his Earth mythologies after observing Subject H. He had quite forgotten what those creatures were called.

Zin couldn’t tolerate Subject I for long.

He was reminded of a parasitic race that his own people had once contained when viewing Subject J.

Though he was a detached observer, there was something about Subject K that brought many emotions to the fore. Zin missed his own family. Some days, he couldn’t even remember them and it frightened him.

Subject L posed a dilemma. Were Zin’s people like the doctor in that world, conducting experiments that their subjects never consented to?

He buoyed his spirits again by looking at Subject M’s report. She reminded him of Zela, his wife, in many ways. He made a note to save that report when the experiment was over. Even if he never saw his family again, at least he could keep that as a memory.

Subject N brought a smile to his face. He needed that.

Subject O’s journey was interesting. Zin wondered if any of her kind still existed in any universe. They were supposedly immortal, but time’s erosion could not truly be stopped.

Subject P hit close to home. The leaders of Zin’s world had made compromises in the name of diplomacy and while he was glad of the overall results, he could never forget the lives that were lost along the way.

Zin remembered Subject Q well. They had encountered each other once when the subject phased himself onto Zin’s ship for some nefarious purpose. He had managed to escape, but now Zin could study his methods more closely.

Subject R posed an intriguing mystery and Zin was frustrated about not knowing more. That was a world he would have to revisit on his own time.

The eerie silence of Subject S and her world reminded him too much of the emptiness on his ship. He scrolled past that part of the log fast.

He remembered the chaos that was caused by Subject T and how it had almost caused a total universal collapse. It was fortunate that it had been handled without the intervention of galactic authorities.

Zin liked Subject U. Her story was inspiring, and it made him proud to be a chronicler.

Subject V’s containment was probably best for many people in the universe. Zin couldn’t help sigh with relief.

Subject W was a truly odd case.

Subject X had been the cause of much debate between Zin and his superiors They believed that ancient technology could be resurrected for the benefit of many, but Zin was forced to remind them how Subject X had wound up.

At last Zin came to Subject Y. The monster. The hunter. Whatever it was. Zin didn’t like it. It deserved to be contained.

With his observation complete, Zin logged out of the Labpad.

The stars looked so beautiful outside, suspended in the darkness. Zin could not remember how long he had been out there in that station. He hadn’t run out of rations or fuel, so he must have been within the planned schedule. But it had been so long since he had any contact with anyone from his planet. So long that he had forgotten the original purpose of the containment experiment.

For him, it had become his own private menagerie, full of living exhibits that he viewed at his leisure. It gave him some comfort during the long, lonely voyage.

With a sigh, Zin tore his gaze from the stars and opened up the Labpad again. He tapped the file marked ‘Subject A’ and made his way through the logbook.

#AtoZChallenge: Xerography

They called it Human Xerography: the process of imprinting the physical characteristics of one person onto another with the use of nano particles that could be molded around the human form.

One person could become another’s exact duplicate without any messy surgery and with zero recovery time needed after the procedure. The process was initially developed for medical applications – patients with severe burns or scars could instantly revert back to their previous appearance and find peace of mind again. It was a boon for wounded soldiers, especially when combined with the process of limb regeneration. Other uses soon followed.

It took only five years for the xerographs to become a common feature in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Even less time for it to end up on the black market for less altruistic purposes. Have a hot date? Want to make an impression? The xerograph could imprint the best features of any celebrity (or even your better looking friends) onto you. Brothels used the xerographs to alter the features of their girls to match their clients’ preferences. Anyone could be a supermodel for the right price.

Like me, for example. I was just your average Joe, the kind of guy that nobody would give a second look if they passed by me on the street. I saved every penny I could to be able to afford a xerograph session. I chose the features I wanted from the available catalogs. A broader chin, thicker hair, a more chiseled torso. Just half an hour was all it took for me to be a new man.

I enjoyed luxuries that were never available to me before. Women smiled at me and wanted to get my number. Some men too. Storekeepers, waiters, security guards all showed me more respect. I was treated like royalty simply for existing. But it wasn’t enough. I still found flaws.

My chin wasn’t dimpled enough. There was still some flab on my sides. My nose was more crooked than I’d remembered.

I took more money out of my savings. Had another session. Some more changes.

Life got even better. I was flying high on my new looks. My nights were no longer lonely, and I couldn’t remember a time without companionship. I relished the jealous looks I got from other men, ones who looked just like I had before. Or did I look like that once? I couldn’t really remember. I threw out every reminder of my old, ugly life. That person never existed, as far as I was concerned.

But even this life grew old. I needed a change. Something fresh. Something even better. Thanks to my new job, saving up wasn’t a problem anymore. I booked another xerograph session.

This time, I opted for a completely new face, based on one I saw in the catalog. He was perfect. Just completely perfect. I wasn’t going to take bits and pieces anymore. I wanted to be him, this lantern-jawed specimen staring at me from a photograph. And soon, I was.

Life really couldn’t get any better.

I was soon to learn that it could only get worse.

Days after my session, I was at one of the fanciest new restaurants in the city (there was a six-month long waiting list, but not for me) when I was approached by two men in black suits. They asked me to come with them, though I knew it wasn’t really a request.

As it turned out, my new face belonged to a spy who had gone rogue and on the run. I tried explaining that it was a mistake, that I only looked like him because of xerography. But in a world where everyone lies about their face, why would anyone believe me? It’s not like I had any old photographs to prove my claims. And even those could be expert forgeries.

There’s a long list of crimes associated with my name, or rather, with my face. I don’t know where the real spy is or what he looks like. Maybe he looks like the old me now. Maybe he gets the luxury of blending in with a crowd while my face gets displayed all around the world.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Multitasking

Melissa woke up to the sound of her daughter crying. It was more powerful than any alarm clock. She checked the time: 5 AM. Her head thudded back against the pillow. Next to her, Mark was stirring. She forced herself out of bed and shuffled over to check on Lily. Her oldest daughter, Madison, bounded out of her room with more energy than anyone should have at that hour. The day had officially begun.

The morning was a flurry of breakfast preparation and lunch packing. Melissa zipped around the kitchen like a lightning bolt, organizing everything she needed and laying out three lunch bags with well-practiced efficiency. She kissed Mark goodbye and gave Madison a hug (though she was getting to the age where overt shows of affection made her squirm) and saw them out the door. Finally, she had a few moments to breathe.

Lily gurgled and tossed a spoonful of pureed carrots across the kitchen table. Breathing would have to wait.

Once the kitchen had been cleaned (again), Melissa consulted her list for the day. There were groceries to buy, she had to pick up some supplies for Madison’s science project, followed by a quick stop at the bank and then Madison needed to be picked up from soccer practice. It sounded simple enough. But first, she had to tidy up the place.

Melissa zoomed from room to room, dusting, vacuuming and mopping. In almost no time at all, the house was spotless. It was time for grocery shopping.

After hopping for a quick shower, she got dressed and packed Lily’s bottle and diapers in her Emergency Baby Kit. With Lily nestled in one arm, Melissa walked out the door. And promptly walked back in to pick up her car keys from the coffee table.

She found a good spot open in the grocery store parking lot, but part of it was blocked by a bad parking job. Melissa sighed and got out of the car. She looked around to make sure the lot was empty, then nudged the offending car with her foot and slowly slid it out of her spot.

Grocery shopping was always a quick affair. She was done in just a few minutes, gliding around the store and around the other shoppers with ease. As Melissa raced over to the checkout lane, she came to a screeching stop. Self-checkout. An old woman with a befuddled expression and a cartful of groceries. A hapless store clerk. She was going nowhere fast. Unless…

Melissa zipped to and from the counter at lightning speed, checking out all of the items to the old woman’s delight and the cashier’s befuddlement. As the woman walked away, still excited about her speedy checkout, Melissa paid for her groceries and headed out to the parking lot. It was time to go to the hardware store. Lily laughed and spit up all over her shirt. The hardware store would have to wait.

With Lily all cleaned up, Melissa was back on track. She strode into the hardware store and consulted her list. A few basic supplies that were no trouble at all. Then came the plyboard. The exact boards she needed were stacked on the highest shelf and she couldn’t see any attendants around. Melissa jumped, grabbing onto the top of the shelf with one hand, and gathered the boards she needed with her free arm. She leapt down and deposited the boards in her cart. All supplies were bought, a clear checkout counter was found, and she was off to the bank.

Melissa found herself facing another long line. There was only one teller available, and it seemed half the city had business to conduct that day. She waited. And waited. And waited. The line shuffled along. Melissa almost pounced on the teller when it was her turn. Her transaction was interrupted by a loud bang.

“Everybody on the ground! Now!”

Banks robbers. Melissa rubbed her temples in frustration. The lead robber was striding around the lobby brandishing a shotgun while his cronies intimidated the tellers and other customers. A chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. Melissa grabbed the pen at the counter, snapping off the chain that tethered it. She waited until the leader was standing just under the chandelier. Timing was everything. Then, trying not to be noticed, she tossed the pen like a dart.

The pen hit one of the candelabras mounted on the chandelier, causing it to fall right on the leader’s head. He staggered around for a moment, then went down. The bank’s security guards took advantage of the ensuing confusion to overpower most of the thugs. One of them made a break for it. In the blink of an eye, Melissa overtook the gunman, tripped him, and was promptly back at the counter. Everyone applauded the security guards. Melissa turned back to the teller.

It was a quick transaction after that. She glanced at her watch as she walked way. There was still plenty of time for soccer practice. She was in no rush.

As she got to the car, a loud rumble shook the earth. The sound of screaming soon followed, and then a crowd of people went running past her. Up ahead she saw a giant robot, all metallic arms and legs with a glass bubble in the center. It stomped around, crushing cars under its clawed feet and firing lasers into the air. Lily clapped her hands and cooed at it. Melissa sighed and opened the trunk to fish out her work outfit.

Soccer practice would have to wait.

#AtoZChallenge: Faceless

Falden limped back to the shed. He was sure he hadn’t been followed, but he looked around just to be sure. He hobbled his way to the rusted metal sheet lying by the door and moved it aside to reveal a biometric ID panel.  It chirruped to life and asked him to hold still while a full facial scan was performed. A grid of yellow light was projected onto his face and the scanner seemed satisfied. Falden walked over to the door of the shed, which appeared to be a mass of cracked wood hanging off a hinge but was in fact a hologram. The real door slid open and Falden walked through.

The lab reeked of formaldehyde. Most people would find it off-putting, but to Falden, it smelled like home. He limped over to his chair and sat down, happy to finally rest his legs. Things hadn’t gone to plan that night. He had run into some old acquaintances. People that recognized his face, though they had no idea there was a different man behind it. It was Falden’s fault. He shouldn’t have picked a man so deep in debt.

He got back on his feet, wincing as a spear of pain jabbed his calf. Leaning against every surface he could lay his hands on, Falden slowly made his way to the large door at the back of the room. There was another biometric scanner, more elaborate than the one outside. He went through the requisite scans and the door slid open, releasing a gust of chilled air into the lab. Falden grabbed a heavy jacket hanging from a rack by the door and put it on.

He limped into the cryo room, lined with rows of man-sized tubes. Each tube was occupied by one of the many ‘donors’ Falden had collected over the years. They were all cryogenically frozen, their organs and tissues perfectly preserved, to be used when needed. They were mostly drifters and runaways, people who wouldn’t be missed or easily found. But once in a while, they were found. Like tonight, when he ran into his latest donor’s old friends. It was time for a change.

Walden passed by a series of tubes until he found one that looked promising. A young man, a hitchhiker, if he wasn’t mistaken. He would do. Falden entered the combination that unlocked the tube and pulled the corpse out. It was time to begin the procedure. In only a few hours, Falden would be a new man.

#AtoZChallenge: Ant Farm

“Goodmorningneighbor!”

Mr. Davis greets me in a rush. Doesn’t even look at me. He knots his tie on the way to the elevator. Mrs. Davis follows soon after. She stutters over her greeting twice. Faulty wiring. Vocal controls need to be fixed. But she looks me in the eye at least. I respond with a nod. No time for words. I’m running late. The elevator’s already headed to the ground floor.

I press the button and wait. More neighbors emerge into the hallway. Moving fast. A ding, and the doors open. A dozen of us wedge ourselves inside. And we’re headed down. Silence. Small talk not part of their programming. Then the sound of tapping. Fingers against plastic screens. Someone snorts. A funny text. Another ding. We ooze out like toothpaste. Some head to the parking garage. Others to the bus stop. I fall in step with the latter.

The bus pulls in as I reach the stop. We file in as another group files out. Night shift. Or they work here. Maybe they’re just bored. Doesn’t matter. I’m on the bus. Scan-cam flits around, checking bus passes. All clear. The bus rumbles along. Twenty minutes trickle past like water from a dripping faucet. So many stops. Is it always this many? I glance at my watch. Almost there. One more stop. I get in line. Single file out the door. A moving cloud of people floating into the train station.

Inside, the cloud disperses into droplets. Garbled announcements ring out. More audio issues. Need to be fixed. Trains pull in. Crowds descend upon them. Like piranhas feasting on big fish. But the big fish win. Swallow them up. Trains pull out. Another announcement. The jumbled words are familiar. My train’s coming. So are the piranhas.

I get caught in the current. Flow into the train. Manage to find my footing again. No empty seats. There never are. Doors close, cutting off the crowd outside. The train exits the station. The city passes by on either side of the tracks. Trees waving in the breeze. Cars zooming back and forth. A few stations later, the city changes. Less green, more silver. Buildings get taller. Cars lined up on the highway. Like they’re stuck in time. Air is thicker too. Smoggier. Just a few more stops. Half hour trip. Always feels longer when you’re standing. Doors whoosh open. The tide flows out. I exit the station. Walk another five minutes. Gleaming office tower in front of me. Reflective blue glass.

I walk through the lobby. Greet Bill the security guard. He nods. He raises his hand. Movement too mechanical. A ping from the ID scanner. I’m through. Into the elevator pit. Eight elevators, all taken. Watching numbers rise and fall. Like a stockbroker with nowhere to go. Ding. Finally. Wedge myself in. More texting. No conversation. Up to the 35th floor. Several dings along the way. Doors open.

People running back and forth. Meetings. Phone calls. Deadlines to be met. I walk to my desk. Check some emails. Type in a few commands. Everything stops. Complete silence. People sitting. Standing. Mid-stride.

A few glitches, but everything looks good. It could be a real city. With a few tweaks, it will be. I make some notes. Resume the session. People rush about again. Time to get to work. It’s been a slow morning.

The Way It Was, Pt. 3

“How did you get here?” I ask, trying to change the subject and to draw out a less dickish side to my future self.

“Time Machine. Rift in the universe. Or maybe I just closed my eyes and said, ‘There’s no place like Donaghan’s’. Does it really matter?”

Ok, so there is no less dickish side.

“The important thing,” he says, pausing to take another sip of his drink, “is how will you get here?” He points to himself. “Or maybe, will you get here at all? Maybe you’ll go a different way. Drink all that untapped potential up and then flush it down a stained urinal.”

“Or, you know, I could just find a job that doesn’t turn me into a jerk. I mean, seriously, what happened to you – me…us?”

He grimaces and gives me a tight nod. “You’re right. I did come off a bit too harsh – ”

“A bit?”

“Fair enough. But you need a slap in the face if you’re going to get out of this funk, man. That’s pretty much what happened to me. I had a troubling realization about where my life was headed and changed course.”

“What exactly did happen?”

“Hey, no spoilers.”

I laugh, in spite of myself. At least he has some of my humor in him.

“Sorry,” he says, the cheap leather of the both seat squeaking in protest against him. “I can’t go into specifics of the future. Tossing pebbles into the timestream and that kinda thing. But I can tell you this. You need to shake things up. Change your whole lifestyle. And in no time at all, you’ll be headed for big things, my friend.” He adjusts the lapels of his very expensive-looking coat. “Big things.”

He sits up suddenly and I spring back. It’s unnerving when your own face comes swooping towards you.

“I can give you one tiny spoiler,” he says, a conspiratorial grin on his face. “Dani Hawkins.”

“Dani Hawkins? Wait, wasn’t she – ”

“The one that got away? She got hooked in again.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, Dani and you…Dani and me…” My own loneliness hits me like a slap in the face. Dani and I had dated for a few months, but it didn’t last. She didn’t like the direction my life was heading in. I guess she was wrong. Or will be wrong. I could potentially get back together with her, live in a big house and have a great job. It all sounds so perfect.

He motions to the bar, where his two companions are deep in conversation.

“Didn’t recognize her, did you? I’m not even sure if she’ll recognize you. She never got to see that beard, lucky her.”

Whoa. That’s her. She’s dyed her hair since the last time we’d seen each other but now I’m surprised I didn’t see it sooner.

“That’s…insane. You’ve really got it all together, huh?”

He shrugs. “Hey, nothing’s perfect, right? But I can’t complain, man. Life’s been pretty good to me. And it’ll be pretty good to you, if you let it.” He downs the rest of his drink in one gulp, the remnants of ice cube clinking against the glass. “Look, it’s been good catching up, but I better get going. If I hang around here too long, that won’t be good for the timestream. Plus, don’t wanna keep Dani waiting, y’know?”

We nod at each other and he slides out of the booth. I watch him walk back to the bar and join the conversation there, wrapping an arm around Dani. It’s as if I’ve become invisible again, retreated into the past that he didn’t want to completely relive.

I’ve just been wasting my time here, wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness, thinking that I’m being denied some magical life I deserve by an uncaring world. But, I realize, that life is mine to take. All I have to do is reach out for it and pull it towards me. Big things. That’s what he said. There are big things in store for me if I just walk out of here and try to make something of my life.

The again, it’s Saturday night at Donaghan’s and I’ve still got a tall glass of beer with my name on it. I reach for the glass, take a long sip and let the bitterness coat my tongue.

I look to the bar. My future self is still there with Dani, but he’s looking back at me now. Even from a distance, I can see the panic building in his eyes. I smile, raise my glass, and chug the rest of my beer. He’s nowhere to be found among the usual drunks that frequent this place.

Good. That guy was a dick anyway.

 

Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here. For more unusual tales, head to The Reading Room.