This imaginative plot line came from a spontaneous brainstorming session on my first visit to Mr. J's class. Talk about putting kids under pressure. Phew! Yet, Breanna, Lauren, Veronica, Arlenys, Nyara, Syphera, Sanaa, Sa'nijah, Kayla, Jasmine, Alexis, Damaya, Monroe, Sadique, Aveon, and Donte responded so well that I'm thinking this may develop into a book. Our challenge... come up with a clever ending that's "fun!"
Here's how: read the groups of choices and choose the ones you like best. The last entry will offer choices for how it should end. Ready?...
Glad you want to give it another go. Or, you can Tap Out a Different Tale.
Like me, this concept, is a work in progress. eMail me what you liked, how to improve, and if you'd like me (and young students) to write more of these Tap-it-out-Together Tales.
*If you're a parent or educator and you'd like to create a story or learning game with me in your class or at an educational event, I'm game. Start the conversation by sending me an eMail.
The Situation on North 7th Street
Thickening gray clouds crawl across the North 7th Street sky. Inside the neighborhood’s tidiest, little row home, in the upstairs bedroom, Mrs. Breezbearea Wynn snores softly. Six days a week most folks call her Mama B or Breeze for her cheery, lively personality. On Sundays, Breezbearea's mood flips to straight up bearish. After surviving a double shift at Syphera's 24/7 Salon & Spa, she needs a "me day" to rejuvenate.
A big, red “do not even think about it” sign dangles from her bedroom door knob. Santos, her husband since the day after they graduated high school, made it and placed it there. It’s probably an unnecessary precaution since everyone in the family knows on Sundays the Bear hibernates. Almost eighteen years of marriage has taught Santos the two most important things for a peaceful household. One, never, never, never poke the Bear. Two, always, always, always have a pan full of pastelillos cooking on the stove for when the Bear comes out of hibernation.
The week after their second child, Veronica, arrived, Santos took charge of pastelillos making. Normally, he shops for the ingredients himself. Today, THE GAME is on TV. So, he sends his most trusted sous chef, Veronica, to the bodega in his place. She takes on the task with pride and enthusiasm. Her assigned wingmen, brother Monroe and his chatty sidekick Donte, tag along reluctantly. Like Santos, they don’t want to miss one beautifully arcing three pointer by the Splash Brothers, one freakish drive by KD, nor one bodacious dunk by the noble enemy, King James. Santos assures them, "if you hustle, you can catch most of the fourth quarter with me."
That’s a big get. Santos rarely lets anyone into his sanctuary during the fourth quarter of a Warrior game. Still it’s Donte’s nature to push the envelope.
"What else you got, S?"
S? Mr. Wynn allows the brash youth to address him by his legendary schoolyard name since they’re talking about ball man-to-man like and, well, he's Donte. The kid has been velcroed to Monroe since they were three. He's family.
“What else?… How's this? If you don’t jinx my Warriors, I’ll pack a bag filled with pastelillos for you to take home.”
Donte instinctively reaches out to seal the deal with a high five, forgetting about Santos’s right hand. Using his left, Santos counters with a friendly push slap on the back, guiding Donte and Monroe toward the direction of the bodega. “Vayas mi hijos. Go!”
Despite Veronica wasting time wandering around the bodega in search of a special dessert for Mama B, the trio returns to North 7th Street with at least three minutes left on the game clock, but before they reach the front steps to the Wynn house it happens.
A swoosh of air circulates around their heads. It splashes down directly from above. Donte’s eyes widen.
“You feel that?”
“What? The wind?”
“That’s not the wind.”
As Monroe starts to debate how it could be the wind, a choppy high pitched whirring disrupts him.
“And what’s that the Philadelphia Philharmonic tuning up?”
Before Monroe can snap back an answer, the flight of an unknown object whizzing and whirring comes to an abrupt end somewhere on or above North 7th Street.
Kerplunk, crackle, splat, shabam!
Monroe reads the fear on Donte’s face.
“Don’t wet your shorts, Donte. There’s an explanation.”
Monroe doesn’t quite yet have an explanation. Not even a theory. Donte shouts back to Veronica finally turning onto North 7th, loaded down with two bags of groceries.
“Hey, bright eyes, you see what made that whir-whir-whir, Kerplunk, crackle, splat, shabam?”
“Looked like a big, blurring box heading for our yard,” says Veronica nonchalantly, as if something fell out of the North 7th Street sky every other day.
“Box? Nah, more like a bag. Maybe a big flying sack,” argues Monroe. He really has no clue what the thing is made out of or how it's shaped, but if Veronica said white, he would have had to say black. That’s just the way big brothers roll.
As they start to search the yard, annoying Big Head Thomas from next door pops his head through the wood fence. Four slats used to reside there, still its a tight squeeze for Big Head’s oversized brain container. “Yo, Monroe. I hear you say you saw a flying sack? Was it RED?” Big Head asks way too loudly for a Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t know.” Monroe keeps his voice low, while motioning with his hands for Big Head to do the same.
“So you telling me it took old Santa Sloth until February to finally find his way to our neighborhood?” Big Head blares on, missing or deliberately ignoring the signal.
“It isn’t a sack and it definitely isn’t red,” answers Veronica, as firmly as she can without raising her voice.
“So in that red sack, if you should happen to come across a PlayStation 4?… No matter what the card says, it belongs to your friend Thomas. We all straight on that?”
They don’t want to agree, but the three know if they don’t agree, Big Head will keep yapping, louder and louder. After a short pause, Monroe offers an acquiescent nod.
“T out.” Big Head forcefully extricates his head from the hole in the fence, causing another rotting wood slat to break off.
After an extended eye roll, Donte steers the conversation back to reality. “You see where the thing landed?”
“Nope,” admits Monroe. “Don’t even know if it did land. Thing could still be circling overhead.”
“Wouldn’t we still be hearing the whirring?” asks Veronica, already sure of the answer.
“Then maybe it shot straight across the river. Could be in Phila–"
“What about the thud? We all heard that,” Donte reminds Monroe.
“You ever hear the noise a rocket makes when it shifts into hyper warp?”
“Monroe, man, you been watching too many Star Wars movies.”
“It’s way up the tree.” Veronica points with certainty, then starts climbing, make that skittering, her way toward the upper extremities of the twisted old oak.
“Dang, Monroe, you see that girl running that tree? You never told me your sister was half squirrel.”
“That would make one of my parents a rodent. You calling my mama a rodent?”
“No, no, no, no. ‘Course not…" Donte pauses to reimagine Breezbearea Wynn. "Your mama is way fiercer. More like a grizzly."
“Now you saying my mama is big, mean and hairy?”
“No, bro, your mama is like a supermodel. Hope my lady looks as good as she does at her age –”
“So now she’s old?”
“Could you chill a second? I'm trying to say something special here. She’s… what’s that word for being old and fine at the same time? … Vintage. That’s what your mom is vintage.”
“You know what, Donte? You better stop talking about and thinking about my mom. Right now.”
Donte wisely redirects the conversation by pointing toward the top of the oak. “Look how high that squirrel – I mean girl – has gotten already.”
Monroe whisper-shouts halfway up the tree to Veronica, “Pssst, you see it?”
“It’s only a little ways higher up,” answers Veronica, cautiously pulling herself up to more than forty feet above ground level.
“You know it may not be a box or a sack.” Donte theorizes to Monroe.
“What you think it is then, the Green Goblin?”
“I’m thinking, you know, in this crazy messed up world, it could be a… bomb.”
A bomb? Monroe's eyes widen with worry.
“You know with like a touch sensor. So when some curious cat comes to check it out… kaboom!”
Monroe rears back to blare out a warning to his endangered little sister. Donte reflexively stuffs his wool cap into Monroe’s mouth.
Monroe extracts the hat and grabs Donte around his collar. “Why would you put your dirty, old hat in my nice, clean mouth?”
Donte reads the building anger in Monroe’s eyes and quickly counters, “Sorry, Monroe, but we need to pause and remember what your mom said when she came home all zombie-like in the wee hours of this morning.”
Monroe rewinds his mind to replay his mom’s exact words and tone: You wake me before my pastelillos are frying and you will be grounded for life… plus twenty years. And after that, I will drop kick you over the moon! He nods toward Donte and admits, “I owe you one, bro.”
Monroe ponders his options. He could either risk blowing up his own future or allow his kid sister to very possibly get blown off the planet. He cranes his neck to get one more glimpse, perhaps his last glimpse, at his sister before deciding.
Fortunately Monroe does not have to make a decision. Veronica calls down softly, but triumphantly, “got it!”
Veronica’s tone implies she has the unidentified flying object under her control. The view from the ground foreshadows a different outcome. The object has Veronica!
Donte watches as Veronica turns gray. Then red. Then purple. When she finally shades to a Martian-like phosphorescent green, Monroe freezes.
The distance between Veronica and the ground slowly increases. The whirring sound resumes. If there is ever a time for a brother to risk getting grounded for life, this is it. This is the moment for Monroe Wynn to shout at the top of his adolescent lungs “Mamaaaa!”
Monroe's mouth opens wide, but nothing comes out. Nothing.
Donte valiantly shakes his bigger, stronger friend.
“Monroe, you seeing what I’m seeing? Unless your sister is one of those flying squirrels, we got to do something. Fast!”
Hearing his own voice turning into a shriek, Donte shifts his focus to the bedroom window, praying it’s unlit and that the Bear is not lurking down at him. His prayer answered, Donte tries again to dislodge Monroe from his frozen state by shaking him. Monroe barely budges. The sight of his little sister shrinking into the graying sky totally consumes him. He manages to eke out a request for Donte to “run into the house and tell Mama.”
“Me? Wake your mama? If she’d ground you, her only son, for life, what do you think she’s going to do me?”
“Then get Santos.”
Most days, Donte would not have thought twice about disturbing Monroe’s dad in a situation like this. But with LeBron and the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers going against Santos’s Golden State Warriors that’s asking for serious blowback.
Basketball and the Warriors play a special role in Santos’s life. During his senior year at Wilson, Santos Wynn was simply known as “S” – as in Superman or the Shot. In the late 1990’s, Santos owned every court he stepped foot on. He was first team All-State and a second round NBA draft pick after his sophomore season at the U of K. Then on his ride to Philly International to catch his flight to rookie summer league, it happened.
Kerplunk! Crackle! Splat!
The shiny red Corvette convertible that his friend Floyd was styling him to the airport in got t-boned by some lunatic in a van. Santos had his arm dangling outside the passenger window. Every bone in his shooting arm, his career, and his lifelong dream simultaneously shattered. The van driver had no insurance. Turned out that Floyd had “borrowed” the Vette without permission from the car lot he had an “association” with. Bottom line, no insurance.
The NBA team that drafted Santos was not legally obligated to pay even one of Santos’s hospital bills, but they paid all of them. They didn’t have to pay for five failed follow-up operations and fifteen months of therapy, but they did. They don’t have to send him a big screen TV every third Christmas, but they do. So when his Golden State Warriors play on TV, Santos Wynn watches, cheers, revels in, and lives every second of it.
“You know your dad, if the game clock is under two minutes, your house could be burning like a tire fire and he’s not leaving.”
“It’s him or Mama, Donte. Got to get one of them.“
“I’ll try Santos, at least he’ll end me quick. If I’m not out in two minutes, you gotta wake your mom. This is a two parent alarm situation... Monroe, you hearing me?”
“No worries. Go.” But Monroe has other plans.
As Donte dashes through the Wynn’s neat little house straight to the comfy little nook in the back corner, also known as Santos’s sanctuary, Monroe ascends the oak tree.
The game scenario is worse than Donte imagined. Cavs are two up. Time is running out. Steph is dribbling up against Kyrie. Mr. Wynn is dabbing a towel on his sweaty forehead. He doesn’t react to Donte’s fake cough, nor his feeble “excuse me, sir.” He doesn’t even respond when Donte tap-tap-taps on his shoulder like a scared woodpecker. There’s only one thing left for Donte to do.
Donte jumps in front of the TV
"You got some kind of death wish, boy?”
“We have a situation, Mr. W.”
A sit-u-a-tion? Santos mulls over each syllable as he revs up for a full rant. Donte tries to defuse the impending explosion by pointing toward the bedroom in which Mama Wynn is peacefully hibernating. Santos remembers his poor, overworked wife’s warning, “if you wake me before the pastelillos are fully fried, you better have the winning million dollar lotto ticket in your hand.” He doesn’t. In fact, he’s barely holding onto his job at the used car lot. The same lot where good old Floyd borrowed the Corvette. It’s one of the few places that would employ a pain-riddled, one-armed car detailer. Life has mule kicked Santos Wynn in the head enough times for him to know when another mule is clomping toward him. He gathers his composure and softly asks, “what’s the situation, Donte?”
After trying a couple of times to find the words to tell Mr. Wynn that his eleven year old daughter is about to get lifted into the stratosphere by an unidentified flying object, Donte realizes the situation defies oral explanation. He pulls the TV plug from the wall and races out of the house knowing Mr. Wynn will be right on his tail.
The second they’re outside, Donte points to the sky and shouts, “up there, see!”
“See what?” Mr. Wynn shouts back, using all his will power to refrain from grabbing Donte by the shoulders and shaking some sense into him.
“Veronica,” screeches Donte.
“Top of the oak.” Donte points. But Veronica’s not there. “Very, very top.”
Not there either.
“Donde está, Veronica?” Breezbearea rushes onto the scene. Even while in hibernation, a mama grizzly can sense when a cub needs her. She glares at Santos, then Donte. Neither have the verbal skills to explain the situation.
“Veronica está en el cielo!” Monroe hollers hopefully from the highest perch in the oak tree.
They gaze. They squint. They crane their necks, but Santos and Breezbearea Wynn can’t find their daughter anywhere in the cloudy and darkening sky. Monroe starts winding his way down the tree. Donte scrambles to the front of the house. He scans up and down North 7th Street. No Veronica. No spaceship debris. No nothing.
When Donte returns to the yard, Santos starts laughing. It’s not a joyful sound, more of the nervous, I’ve had enough of this kind of snicker, “Okay, I see what’s going down. Floyd or one of those chuckleheaded friends of mine put you up to this? They think this is going to make me forget my other troubles. It’s not. So start talking some truth.”
“Ahora!” demands the Bear.
The urgency strips away Monroe's and Donte’s fear of sounding ridiculous. They simultaneously begin retelling what they had witnessed step by step. Mr. and Mrs. Wynn listen intently, trying to wrap their heads around the incredulous events by repeating them in order.
“So first you heard this whirring sound?…”
“Then a thud.”
“More like a kerplunk.”
“And, then you saw this alien spaceship up our tree?…”
“We didn’t really see it then. Only Veronica did.”
“So she scoots up the tree?…”
“Skitters. Ya know like a squirrel.”
“Then she starts turning different colors?…”
“And just like that, this you don’t know what lifts my little angel away and she’s heading to Mars right now?”
“Could be Mars.”
“Could be Pluto.”
“Could be Atlantic City.”
“That’s just it, Dad. We don’t know what took her or where the thing is going.”
“Last we saw, she was right there,” Donte again points to where the oak meets the horizon. “She was either hanging on to it or it was clamping onto her.”
“You boys know how this sounds, right?”
“We ain’t lying.”
“Santos, you need to check your medicine cabinet. These boys are definitely on something.”
“Mama, we didn’t take nothing. We’d never do that. We’re being for real here.”
“You guys know that making up stories only makes a bad thing worse, right?”
“Dad, it’s crazy. We know. But it’s what we saw.”
Santos expresses everyone’s frustration by throwing his arms up in the air. His right arm barely gets halfway up his chest, then flaps down fast bringing a grimace to his and everyone else’s faces. Mama reacts with a rapid stream of nervous chatter. Monroe can’t tell whether it’s English, Spanish or gibberish. After a few minutes, Dad scratches his prematurely graying head.
“What do I do now? Call the police? Call the FBI? Call the guys who track UFOs? Call a mental health counselor. Call –”
A distant whirring cuts Santos’s list short. The extraterrestrial sound moves closer and grows louder. Narrow streams of light extend downward into the yard. Red. Blue. Green. Then white. Blindingly bright white. The whirring ends abruptly, followed by an earth rattling thud... What seems like a full minute of total silence is broken by a joyful voice all immediately recognize as...