|Outrunning the Storm|
|A Felony of Birds|
|Louisville's Silent Guardians|
Good Morning, Johnny
The day my TV started talking to me was the first time I realized I was crazy. You’d think a guy would have more warning, but I had no idea. I was completely convinced I was your typical, hormone-driven, procrastinating freshman boy, and that particular Saturday morning in October I was proving it by flipping through the channels instead of starting on my English essay. I was scarfing down on some Marshmallow Mateys, stuffing the cereal in my mouth with my right hand while controlling the remote with my left. Hoping to waste away the morning watching Superman reruns, I flipped through the channels to figure out which one was cartoon network.
I stopped abruptly as I hit channel 14, usually a prime example of those dull local channels that proudly air each elementary band concert and retirement center polka extravaganza. I blinked hard, twice, just to make sure, but the image on the screen clearly wasn’t the usual boring programming. Someone familiar looked out at me from the television, someone with a head of dark brown hair that fell into his eyes and plaid blue pajamas that were much too short. It was me. Someone was filming me right now, and putting it on local cable.
I was just about to jump off of the couch to find the hidden camera pointed at me when I registered that my on-screen persona wasn’t sitting on the couch, confusion in his eyes, cereal all but forgotten, as I was. He was speaking urgently to someone out of the shot, waving his remote control around emphatically. I didn’t remember when this scene had taken place, but it was clearly me, only feet away from where I was sitting now, in the same pajamas even. It was like that one movie where the guy had been in a television show his whole life and hadn’t even known. I quickly scanned the room but I couldn’t see any cameras. The shot looked like it had been taken from near the TV itself…
That was when my TV spoke to me. “Good morning, Johnny,” it said, in a clipped British accent. In my panicked state I still found myself wondering why my TV was British, when the brand was Toshiba.
I took a deep breath to calm myself down. Obviously, the greeting had come from somewhere other than my television set. I was just weirded out now that I had seen myself on TV, and it was causing me to imagine things. “Hello? Dad, was that you?” I called out. My father wasn’t usually taken to speaking in strange accents, but it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, and talking electronics definitely were.
I jumped as the British accent again sounded through the room. “Would you like to see how your day will go, Johnny?” It was the television, this time it was certain.
I was definitely starting to freak out. Suddenly the volume switched back on, and I could hear what my screen persona was saying. “I’m not joking, Dad, my TV is talking to me!” I could recognize clearly the panic in my own voice.
At this point, I did what every respectable fifteen year old boy would do in this situation: I dropped my remote and screamed for my parents. My dad came running in, panicked look on his face. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“The TV! Look at it!” I pointed to the television frantically.
My dad raised his eyebrow. “I know it’s an intense show, son, but I’m sure Superman will make it out of this latest scrape,” he said drily.
I turned in confusion, only to see my favorite red-caped avenger flying around the screen. My jaw dropped. “It-It wasn’t Superman before! It was me on the TV just a second ago, in my pajamas. I think the local channel has a camera inside of our house or something, because it was showing me, talking to you. I swear!”
My father listened skeptically as I quickly detailed to him the events of the last five minutes. The farther I got into my story, the closer together the tips of his eyebrows drew. “I’m not joking, Dad,” I finished earnestly. “My TV is talking to me!”
As soon as the words escaped my mouth I recognized them, and my eyes grew wide. I fell back onto the sofa with a thump, spilling my milk and cereal onto the cushion. I’m going crazy, I thought to myself. Videotaping the future seemed a bit out of the realm of possibility for local cable, and even if they could they would probably figure out the outcome of the next Red Sox game, not what Johnny Miller did on his Saturday mornings. I had to be crazy, it was the only explanation. It was the first time this realization had hit me, as I told you, and I found myself having trouble breathing.
My dad came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder, and I realized that I had said that I was going crazy out loud. “Johnny, I’m pretty sure you aren’t going crazy. You probably just fell asleep and had a weird dream. It wouldn’t be the first time you came screaming to me and your mother about a nightmare you had. Remember that one about the evil frog?”
“That was when I was five,” I said defensively. “I think I know when I’m dreaming, and that TV definitely just told me good morning in an English accent.”
My dad sighed, his skinny chest moving visibly up and down. “I’ve got some work to do. Maybe you should go lie down for a while, ok?” I nodded, but I had no intention of going and lying down. I had to figure out if I was crazy or not.
The television showed exactly what it was supposed to for the rest of the day, and the next day, too. On Sunday afternoon my mom asked me a little worriedly why I had been sitting in front of the TV watching channel 14 for two days straight, and I told her it was a social experiment. She raised her eyebrows at the polkaing old folks on the screen, but I stared resolutely forward and she shrugged, heading back into the kitchen to fix dinner. Maybe I had been crazy all along if my mother was willing to believe that I would subject myself to this torture for two days in the name of science.
As the announcer happily announced that the Goliath Springs Elementary School band concert was coming up next, I pressed the off button on my remote in disgust. Enough was enough. Maybe I had fallen asleep, or maybe I was crazy, but it was now Sunday night and I hadn’t even started on my English essay that was due the following day.
I couldn’t help it; the next morning after getting ready, I flipped on the television to channel 14 just to check. I sank into the couch in horror as my face filled the screen. On the television I was leaning on my locker in the jeans and navy polo shirt I had put on that morning, talking to someone off of the screen.
I expected the greeting before it came. “Good morning, Johnny.”
“Good morning, creepy television set,” I responded, though my voice was so feeble the sarcasm was completely washed out.
“Would you like to see how you day will go, Johnny?” I nodded weakly.
The volume was boosted just as the me on-screen gulped loudly. When he spoke, his voice was several notes higher than it had been on Saturday morning. “So, Heather,” he began, and my heart started to race. Heather Marks was the prettiest girl in school, and I’d harbored a secret passion for her since she’d gotten her braces off in the seventh grade. Knowing me, though, he was probably speaking to Heather MacDonald, who had monstrously thick glasses and was a fervent squirrel enthusiast. As on-screen me continued talking, the camera panned out and showed that he was, indeed, talking to Heather Marks. I punched the air in victory.
“I was wondering if you would, you know, like to go to a movie this Friday,” the Johnny on the screen stammered out. I stopped punching the air abruptly. Was he crazy? I mean, besides the talking television thing? My TV self was about to get rejected and humiliated by the most gorgeous girl in town!
I winced as Heather pushed her hair behind her ear, biting her lip. Was she going to be nice about it, or was she going to laugh at him? “That would be cool. I’ve wanted to see the new Superman movie for a while,” I heard her say. “The previews look really good.” My jaw dropped as the me on the television laughed nervously and told her he’d pick her up at eight.
As soon as I got home from school that fateful Monday, I ran downstairs and hugged my television. Then I skipped into my room and lay down on the bed, replaying the day’s miracle over and over in my mind.
I had stared at Heather all during English class, trying to decide whether I really believed my TV or not. Heather was wearing the same outfit she had been on screen, skinny jeans and a crimson top, but she didn’t even glance my direction as she giggled with her friends in the minutes before class started.
Near the end of the period, my friend Sam threw a pencil at my head while the teacher was writing on the board. When I scowled at him, he leaned over and said, “She’s way out of your league, man. I mean light-years away.” I stopped staring so much after that.
It hadn’t been until just before seventh period when Heather had come up to my locker, holding a pile of flyers I hadn’t noticed on the television. “Would you like to donate to the soccer team fund? We’re raising money for new uniforms,” she’d said brightly, and only a few minutes later, I’d actually done it. I’d gotten a date with Heather Marks, and had made sure Sam heard about it on the whole bus ride home.
I loved my TV.
As the days went on, my romance with Heather and my love for my television set grew at about the same rate. Every morning I would race to the TV and turn it to channel 14, and it would show me what I would wear, what I would say to Heather, what questions would be on my math test. The longer I watched it, the more scenes I would see. The first day, I only saw the scene in which I asked Heather out, but a month later I was watching almost ten scenes a day, highlights of what would happen during the next twenty-four hours.
Not all of the scenes were happy ones, of course. On the morning of my third date with Heather I saw myself botching our first kiss, and because I was so nervous about messing it up I tried to stall it and actually did do it wrong, banging into her nose so hard it started bleeding. One morning I saw my dog Sally die of heart failure, and only barely had time to tell her goodbye before she passed. That one was hard, living through something like that twice, but at least it wasn’t a surprise like it would have been without my television.
I also started seeing things that would happen to other people that I cared about, even when I wasn’t in the scene. The first time this happened was the day Sam broke his arm by falling out of a tree. When I got to school, I looked all throughout the hallways until I found him hanging with a few sophomores by his locker. “Don’t climb any trees today, ok?” I told him. He and his friends looked at me like I was crazy.
“I haven’t climbed any trees for a while, Johnny,” he answered. “I think I’ll be all right.”
The next day he came to school in a cast. His Frisbee had blown into the big oak in his yard and he had climbed up to get it.
“How did you know something bad would happen to me if I climbed a tree?” he asked me loudly over the usual burbling chatter of the lunchroom that day.
I fiddled with my milk carton. “I don’t know, I just had a feeling,” I answered.
He raised his eyebrow skeptically at me. “A feeling? Probably bad chili.”
I nodded, and then sighed in relief as he went on to tell me in great detail about the time he’d eaten a whole can of bad chili, and his resulting “feelings”, thankful for the short attention spans of teenage boys.
The truth was that despite Sally’s death and Sam’s arm I was becoming more and more addicted to the television. There was just something about knowing what would happen, what my future would bring, that was comforting. I didn’t have to make any big decisions without knowing what the outcome would be. In fact, I didn’t have to make any decisions at all. The television did it all for me.
Every time I thought about saying something to my parents at the dinner table, or mentioning it to Heather on one of our long walks, I held back. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to, but I was stopped by one thing: I never saw it on the television. I felt that something that big, revealing my big secret, would have to be a significant enough event that it would be shown to me in the morning, and it never was. I needed to know how they would respond before I’d take that risk. I wasn’t crazy, this was really happening, but would they see it that way? I just didn’t know.
I had been dating Heather for about two and half months when I went downstairs one morning and turned on the television, desperately hoping that the screen would show me buying her a Christmas present. The holiday was coming up in only a few days and I wanted her to have her gift before her family left to spend Christmas in a ski lodge somewhere in Colorado. I had decided to do it when I dropped her off after Tony Carter’s party that night, but I had to have the gift first. I had searched all week for something suitable, but everything was either too bland or way too cheesy.
The first scene that greeted me was a clear shot of Heather, making out with Blake Jordan, the wrestler she’d dated before me. They were in a house somewhere, and there was loud music blasting in the background. It wasn’t hard to guess that the setting was Tony Carter’s party. A strange noise escaped my throat, somewhere between a groan and a whimper.
The television shifted to a shot of my father, getting a promotion at work. Usually I would be thrilled, least of all because he finally might buy me that Playstation I’d been asking for for Christmas. That morning, however, I didn’t even register what his boss was saying. I wanted to see another scene of Heather, something to explain what I had just watched.
I had to suffer through a scene of my dad announcing his promotion at dinner and one of me lying in bed with a thermometer in my mouth (apparently I was going to fake illness to get out of school today) before I saw what I wanted to. It was another shot of Tony’s party, but this time I was there, along with Heather and Blake, and Heather was shouting at me. “What is wrong with you? Blake was ten times the boyfriend you are, you jealous freak!” she yelled. “Or should I say ten times the boyfriend you were. It is so over.” She grabbed Blake’s hand and began pulling him out of the room. I was left standing in front of a crowd of high-schoolers, all laughing behind their hands and whispering to each other, staring at the poor freshman jerk who’d just gotten dumped.
I turned the television off with a furious jab at the remote. There was no way I was going to school today. Anyways, the TV had already shown me that I was going to fake an illness. I was so pale that my mother didn’t even question me when I said I had the flu. She came in to take my temperature around noon (which of course was normal), but otherwise left me alone to wallow in my misery. My girlfriend was going to cheat on me, and then break up with me in front of everyone. How was that even fair? Shouldn’t I at least get to break it off with her?
The day was torture. I tossed and turned in bed, trying to figure out what in the world I should do. Heather called several times, but I let the calls go to voicemail. She left a couple messages asking where I was, and telling me she was going to go ahead and attend the party with her friend Jennifer unless I called and asked her not to. I considered calling her and telling her to stay home, but I didn’t really want to talk to her, afraid I might angrily blurt out something I shouldn’t.
I didn’t want to go to the party and have my girlfriend break up with me. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until tomorrow morning and speak with her in private? I would still lose my girlfriend, and it would be awful lying in bed during the party, realizing that my girlfriend was cheating on me as I stared at my ceiling, but at least I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of everyone. That’s what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t. The television had shown me at the party, and I couldn’t just ignore that.
At eleven that evening, I threw on some clothes and snuck out the back door. Mom hadn’t checked on me in hours, probably thinking I was asleep already, so she probably wouldn’t even realize I was gone. I hopped onto my bike and pedaled over to Tony’s house, which was thankfully only a few blocks away. My muscles were sore from lying in bed all day, and at eleven o’clock in late December, it’s cold outside. I was freezing and sore by the time I got to the party, and if I would have had to go much further, I probably would have just lost courage and turned around.
The party was already well underway when I arrived, music blasting out into the cold night air. As I chained my bike to a tree and made my way up the porch, I could see through the windows colored lights flashing and teenagers dancing in a way that my mother would definitely not approve of. I entered the house and snaked my way through the crowd, trying to spot Heather in the mash of bodies.
I finally found her downstairs in the basement, and by stomach flipped over as I recognized the setting of the television scene that morning. She was standing by a fireplace, talking with- you guessed it- Blake Jordan. I felt like vomiting, and had to take a few seconds to swallow and calm my churning stomach. I wanted to turn around and run but I knew I couldn’t. Instead I gritted my teeth and marched up to the pair.
Heather turned around when I patted her on the shoulder. “Johnny!” she cried. “I thought you were sick! Where have you been all day?” I just folded my arms and glared at her.
She shifted uneasily under my fierce gaze. “Everything all right, Johnny? You look kind of mad.”
“Of course I’m mad!” I shouted. It wasn’t as dramatic as I wanted it to be, since everyone had to shout over the music anyways, but Heather’s eyes widened. “I’m all alone, sick in bed, and my girlfriend is here making out with her ex. How would I not be mad?”
Blake cut in, frowning slightly. “Dude, we were just talking. Stop being so psycho.”
Heather nodded her agreement. “We really were just talking, Johnny. Honestly, what’s gotten into you? Do you have a fever or something?”
“What’s gotten into me?” I yelled. Other people were starting to look over, jocks in letter jackets and the pretty girls they were flirting with, their conversations drifting off as they watched our little drama unfold. “I’m not stupid, Heather. You can’t just lie to my face and think I’ll believe it. I can’t believe you’d cheat on me with your jerk ex-boyfriend.” I gestured to Blake, who was glaring at me.
Heather crossed her arms now, and a flush appeared on her cheeks as it always did when she got angry. “What is wrong with you? Blake was ten times the boyfriend you are!” she yelled. “Or should I say ten times the boyfriend you were. It is so over.”
She grabbed Blake arm, and began pulling him to the doorway. It was just like the television had shown me. I was standing in the middle of a room of staring juniors and seniors, trying desperately not to cry. Just before leaving the room, Heather turned around. “I didn’t cheat on you, Johnny, but now that we’re done I’m perfectly free to make out with Blake if I want to. Maybe I will.” She whipped her hair around and yanked a hopeful looking Blake out of the room.
I rode home in a daze, trying to process what had just happened. She hadn’t cheated on me. The scene of her making out with Blake was probably happening now, after she broke up with me. If I had just stayed home…
I set my jaw. I knew exactly what I had to do. When I dropped off my bike in the garage, I picked up my wooden baseball bat from little league years ago. Sneaking back into the house was easy; my parents were already asleep. I crept downstairs to the family room. The black box I’d come to depend upon so much sat there silently, dark and empty. I raised the bat high above my head. Suddenly a flicker appeared on the screen, a flash of color lighting up the dark room, but I didn't stop to see what picture it showed. I let the bat come swinging down.
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TV's are evil! This proves it!
Yes, great story! You held my interest, which many stories are not able to do. Keep up the good work.
Good story. Tight writing style. It carried me along until the very end. In spite of its fantasy foundation, by the end of the story, I had accepted suspended my disbelief in favor of a well-told tale. Nice job!
Ahh, teenage angst, and the misinterpretation of insufficient information ... sadly not exclusive to teenagers ...dare I ask, was the TV a long past wish fulfillment fantasy? ... this is a tightly written story with a satisfying violent end ... thoroughly enjoyable...I wonder if Johnny ever found out how the other Johnny came about?
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