Today on an all new Writing Prompt, Anne Reynolds wrote a story based on the following prompt: “Your main character is walking down the street and finds a strange black rectangle. On the back is the word ‘iPhone’ and it has the Macintosh label… which is odd because in 1988 they only made computers.”
A Future Find
By Anne Reynolds
There were five of us seniors living in the Theta house in springtime of 1988 and the last month before finals, we hung out in a pack as if we were trying to hoard up our time together. Most evenings, we went to the delis, a set of three old-timey pizza restaurants that were the closest we had to bars in our little college town. No fancy cocktails, just pitchers of cheap beer, and an easy walk (or stagger) down Richmond Road to get back to the house later.
This evening, I felt something clunk against my big toe as we made our way to the front porch. I looked down and found a little box. It was surprisingly heavy for its size, which was about the same as a pack of index cards. One side was plastic, with a hole in the middle. Inside the hole was a silver apple shape with a bite taken out of it. The other side looked like the tiniest TV screen you’d ever seen. As I picked it up, the screen lit up with a picture of a beach. The time, 12:50, appeared at the top of the screen, with “Friday, May 6” underneath it. A white line floated at the bottom of the screen, with the words “Swipe up to open” hovering right above the line. I had never seen anything like it.
“Yo, girls, check this thing out,” I said to my buddies, who had gathered in the kitchen to rehash our evening adventures.
“Whatcha got, Michelle?” asked Shannon, peering at the box.
“I don’t know, it’s like a tiny TV.”
Each of us took a turn holding the box. “What do you think it means by ‘swipe up’?” asked Andie. She gently poked the screen with her finger and ran it up its surface. Instantly, the beach picture went away, replaced by ten circles like a push-button phone. “Touch ID or Enter Passcode,” it read. Andie frowned. “Want to guess the combination?” she asked.
“Let me see that.” Shannon took the box. Of the five of us, you could always vote Shannon to be Most Likely to be Sober. She was a science-y kid, nerdy, and it was rare for her to even be out with us. Shannon kept us from getting into too much trouble and would surely get to the bottom of this. “It’s an Apple,” she announced.
“No, Shannon, duh, it’s a box,” replied Jenn, with a snort.
Shannon gave her that look that said she didn’t think Jenn was funny. “We have them in the physics lab,” she said. “Apple’s a company that makes computers – word processing machines like the ones around campus but a lot more powerful. This is a lot different than the Apple computers I’ve seen, though.”
She frowned at the screen and held it up directly in front of her face. Suddenly, the passcode screen blinked to a new screen, this one full of colorful tiles. Each tile had a name – Slack, Teams, Dropbox, and maybe twenty others – and a little cartoon picture on it. We gasped.
“How did you do that?” Maria asked. Shannon shook her head.
“Beats me,” she replied. She poked at a blue tile with a white bird on it. This time the screen turned white with “No signal” written out in black letters. Shannon swiped up like Andie had, and the set of tiles came back.
“Push the camera button,” I suggested, pointing out the gray button with the black camera. She did, and this time the screen changed to show Andie, sitting across the kitchen counter. “Whoa,” I breathed. “It’s a camera!”
Shannon tapped the white circle at the bottom of the screen. The screen blinked, and a tiny image of Andie appeared at the lower left of the screen.
“Oh, that’s cool!”
Shannon poked the Andie picture and it filled the screen. “Check you out,” she said, holding the screen up to Andie. “That’s terrible!” Andie squealed. “Take another!”
Shannon examined the screen, swooped up again, and it was back to the tiles. She poked the camera and the screen appeared. “How about this button?” asked Maria, reaching for a little cartoon of a camera with a circular arrow on it. She pushed it, and Shannon’s face now appeared on the screen.
“Ooh,” Jenn cried out. “You can take a picture of yourself!” She stood behind Shannon, reached around and tapped the white button. The screen blinked and a tiny image of the two of them appeared in the lower left corner.
Now everyone wanted a turn. We were laughing so hard that I almost didn’t hear the combination lock on the front door start to click. I dashed out of the kitchen to see the front door swing open.
Shannon stood there.
Well, it wasn’t quite Shannon. She looked like Shannon, all right, but kind of like Shannon would look when she was, well, Shannon’s mom’s age. She had Shannon’s pale blonde hair, even cut short like Shannon’s, and she was built exactly like Shannon. And she had Shannon’s smile, even if that smile made some wrinkles crinkle up around her eye.
“Hi, Michelle,” said the new Shannon. I stood there gawking. Could this lady be Shannon? And how?
“Hey, Michelle,” she continued, “I think that you might have picked up something that belongs to me.” She raised her eyebrows, just like Shannon did, and I knew exactly what she was talking about. I nodded.
“In the kitchen,” I said. “Is that your camera?”
She smiled again. “It is. I’m always losing it. But it gave me an excuse to stop in here.”
I got to the kitchen door first. The girls were still taking pictures of themselves and each other, laughing themselves silly. But when we entered the room, everyone’s jaw dropped, just like mine had.
“Aw, look at you all!” said new Shannon. Shannon – our Shannon – walked right up to her, looking confused.
“Who are you?” asked our Shannon.
New Shannon grinned, “Who do you think I am?”
“What’s happening here?” asked Jenn.
“Maybe the beer was bad at Paul’s,” suggested Maria.
The new Shannon looked around at all of us, taking us in. “It’s a little too much to explain,” she said, “and I really shouldn’t stay but a minute, but let’s just say that this is an experiment that’s gone really, really well.”
“Is this like Back to the Future?” asked Maria.
“Do you have a DeLorean?” added Andie.
“No, but I’ve got that little item right there,” said new Shannon, pointing to the box. Our Shannon handed it to her. “This, believe it or not, is a very powerful computer, and our team has programmed it to do some pretty amazing things. I’m the first guinea pig.”
“Where did you come from?” asked Jenn. “I mean, what year?”
New Shannon considered for a moment. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt. I came from the year 2020.”
“2020!” we gasped.
“What’s 2020 like?” asked Andie. “Are there flying cars?”
New Shannon shook her head. “You all are going to just have to wait and see. And I’ve been here long enough as it is.”
“Can’t you tell us anything?” I asked. I was hoping she could tell me, for instance, if I was going to get into law school.
“No, no! She can’t interfere,” said our Shannon. “I mean, I can’t interfere, right?”
“Exactly,” nodded new Shannon. “The longer I’m here, the more disturbance I’m making in the space-time continuum,” she added.
“Just tell us,” Andie asked. “Do we all turn out okay?”
“Sure,” said the new Shannon. “Except…” Her eyes lit on mine, and she hesitated just a moment before she said, “Michelle, you might want to skip beach week.”
I felt a chill wash over me, and not just because beach week was the best thing about senior year. What was going to happen at beach week?
“But now, girls, I really need to go,” she insisted. “One more picture?”
She stood in front of our group, aimed the screen at us, and pushed the button. With a flash, she was gone, taking her camera-computer with her.
The rest of us remained posed, there in the kitchen.
“No one’s going to believe THAT happened,” said Shannon, eventually.
“How excited are you?” I asked her. “You’re going to do cool stuff someday! But what did you mean about beach week?” I wondered. I felt like maybe something bad was going to happen, bad enough that Future Shannon was willing to change the future to warn me. But on the other hand, how would I know what it was if I didn’t go?
It was a lot to think about and I vowed to concentrate on it more tomorrow morning. Along with figuring out how to buy stock in this Apple company.