The following is a first draft of a short story written as part of the Story A Day May 2016 Challenge.
This is Story #1 for day 1.
In the comments below, please share your critique of the story.
NOT MY PHOTOS
Before my coffee, before my shower, before I even bother to reach over to my nightstand to grab my glasses to focus on the world around me, before any easing into my day, I always grab my phone. Sometimes I check the weather, or the news, or check in to social media. On that morning I wanted so desperately to recapture the frivolity of the night before – especially since my pounding head was ensuring that I’d be paying for it all day. That’s why I was scrolling through my photos at 5AM. It was supposed to make me smile, or at least stop me from cringing at the daylight seeping through my windows.
“What the fuck?” I couldn’t help but say the words aloud in my crackled, sleepy voice. I scrolled past the photos from last night, and the day before, all the way back to Christmas and still didn’t understand what I was seeing. I grabbed my glasses and slid up so I was sitting against my headboard. Unfortunately I had been jarred into action without any comfort.
Not one of the photos were recognizable. I did not recognize one photo in the gallery, nor did I recognize any of the people or places these photos captured.
My heart sank.
I must have switched phones with a stranger.
I let the tech weigh heavy in my hand. It felt right. It looked right. The case was identical to mine. And… I reflected on my groggy grab when I first put the phone on – I had typed in my passcode. I closed the gallery and checked the email – mine. Closed the inbox and checked Facebook – my News Feed. I closed it out, scrolled through the home screen – all the apps were recognizable and in place. I clicked open my music and every tune was where I left it.
I opened up the photo sharing site, tapped my profile @insta_terry_gram. The name was right. The bio was right. The pictures were all wrong. They were the same shitty, unrecognizable pics from my gallery, minus some of the duplicates that were obvious remnants of incessant retakes on a quest toward perfection.
I tapped the phone icon, and called Susan. She picked up on the fourth ring and sounded miserable, “Are you in a ditch? Dead? Dying? Quickly say yes or I’m hanging up.”
“Susan,” I said as calmly as I could. My voice was fully powered now. My entire body had risen to the occasion of my fear. “Something freaky is going on.”
I guess I my terror translated because Susan didn’t hang up. In fact, it sounded as though she pressed more closely into her phone when she said, “Honey, are you alright?”
The sincerity of her concern struck deep. I could not hold back my tears, “I don’t know.”
“Oh my god,” she said, “FaceTime. Right now.”
That was Susan’s go to. When shit got out of hand, she needed to speak face to face, even if that meant talking through a screen. Before I could protest the request came pinging through my phone. Her name sat a top my screen, clearly stating that it was her calling me, merely taking our audio call to more amplified, video connection. I clicked the option to accept the call at which my phone’s camera came on and the screen flickered to connect with Susan. We had done this so many times before. It was all second nature. Neither of us shocked or ashamed by our disheveled looks of distraught, or exhaustion, or grief. We had seen each other in every possible horror and delight. There shouldn’t have been anything to shock or surprise me on that screen.
But, of course, there was.
When the picture came on, it was not Susan on the other end. It was a pair of people I have never seen. They were not in their beds, completely undone, barely greeting the day, and bracing to deal with a crisis. These two women were pristine, bright, perfectly made-up, smiling and – upon seeing my face – cheering.
Oh yes, you read that correctly, upon seeing my day-old crusty make-up, bed-head hair, and obviously blotched up cry-face, these two women cheered. “We did it! We did it” They yelled to each other and then in multiple directions out of my view. “Come see!” one of them added, which resulted in more heads cramming into view.
To be perfectly honest with you, I was astonished. I don’t use that word too often in its truest sense, but in that moment astonishment encapsulated me whole. “Uh… hello?” I said.
One of the two woman screamed and started laughing all at once. The one next to her did her best to try to suppress what I imaged would have been an equally loud outburst when she said, “Yes, I’m sorry. Hello. How are you?”
I raised my eyebrows at the mundane nature of the greeting. “Nope. No.” I couldn’t stop my head from shaking back and forth. “Who are you?”
“Oh yes! Sorry Crescent Labs twenty-one thirty-six. We are testing phone 6 of twenty fifteen. What time is it?”
I squinted at the time on the top of my phone screen and answered, “It’s 5:23AM Eastern time here. Definitely a different time zone. Are you guys in Europe or something?” I was beginning to think Susan and I had somehow picked up someone’s International call. It was weird, but it was becoming clear to me that my phone was somehow crossing streams with someone else’s wifi or something. I was due to visit the Apple store to have one of those self-proclaimed “geniuses” sort all this shit out. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Yore-rrrip?” one of the guys in the background said, while the woman who was talking to me went wide-eyed. Her friend stopped laughing. I even thought I heard an “oh shit” from somewhere off screen.
“Ma’am? Did you say a different time zone?” the woman asked me, now smile-less.
“Yeah. I don’t know. I’m figuring my wifi is screwing with me or something. My phone is wonky,” I stood up from my bed, walked over to the window, opened the curtains and turned the camera out so they could see my view of the Hudson River, “Sun’s barely up over here in New York.”
There were gasps and excited voices. Multiple voices whispering different questions and exclamations like, “New York?” or “Did you see the water?” and, I think someone said, “Did she say wifi?”
When I turned the phone back around the woman was alone and tears were in her eyes. “Ma’am. I am so sorry. What is your name?”
As I watched the sun hit the water outside my window my fears of technological glitches slipped away. I put the phone down on my dresser as I grabbed a scrunchie to do my best to tame my hair on the spot. “It’s okay. No worries. I’m Terry. This is some weird techie-shit. That’s all. I probably need to upgrade anyway.”
She laughed a little, but there was no humor in it. “Terry, what’s today’s date?”
“Oh shit. I don’t know…” I started clicking buttons on my phone to access the calendar. “The first,” I said, clicking back to the FaceTime screen,”May.”
“The year?” she said, eyebrows raised and eyes glossy.
“Two thousand sixteen. Finally getting used to saying it. Usually takes me about a half a year to lock that shit down.”
“Mmm-hmm,” she said with lips pressed tight, nodding and looking down. “Twenty sixteen. Right. Of course.” She closed her eyes for a moment and I saw a single tear fall down her cheek before she opened them again and looked back up into the camera. “Thank you Terry. Sorry for the mix up.” Then she disconnected the call.
Within the next minute, as I was trying to call Susan back, my phone did one of those funky reboots no one asked it to and when it came back on all my pictures had returned. It was fixed. Obviously some techie-glitch that righted itself like all good tech should.
That was it. It was over. I didn’t think about it again… Until this morning.
I was doing my thing again – checking my phone before greeting my day – and, again, found myself scrolling through photos. There was a new one, with a weird date – May 13, 2136. It looked like one of those inspirational quotes because it was just words on a white background. I grabbed my glasses and clicked on it. Here’s what it said:
Sorry about the other day. We weren’t trying to contact you. We didn’t know we could. Lots of arguments about what to do with that power now that we can, and questions of whether or not we should. I can’t wait for them to make up their mind. The water, Terry, you have to save it. I know you’re just one person with no idea how to save the world, but this is it. Spread the word. Stop the Water Wars. We lost it all. I’m going to try to time-tell as many people as will listen. You are the first.
Iris Cilencia, Crescent Labs, 13/5/2136
The following prompt found on the Story A Day website inspired this story:
When Terry began scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she found were hers.