Original.png

W.O. Torres

 

Mr. Torres resides in Northern California along with his beautiful wife, brilliant daughters, and their wonder dog, where he often writes once everyone is finally asleep. His obsession with Sci-Fi helped him avoid gangs, violence, drugs, and dropping out of high school, which were sadly all too familiar occurrences in his neighborhood. He is wrapping up a twenty-five-year career in law enforcement and looks forward to the next chapter. Tomorrow Lives Today is his debut novel and was self-published and available on Amazon Kindle. When not writing, he can be found coaching youth sports, attending dance recitals, and on occasion, on a date with his wife…talking about their daughters.

La Zona

      The instant brilliant flash of ozone gas gave off a distinctive smell that could only be described as a clean, chlorine-like, burnt smell. It was followed by an inverted sound that was the absence of noise. The edges of the invisible sphere wobbled slightly, like gas vapors on the horizon. If you weren’t careful, you would swear everything was normal. But not today, no, definitely not today.


      We are all traveling through time in some respects if you think about it for a moment. But only three men in the universe were controlling it at that very moment. The moment was a Saturday in May. The city was San Francisco, Mission District, present day. 


      But not for long.


     Time-traveling is not for the faint of heart or anyone with an inner ear condition for that matter. Ever wonder why nobody wants to travel forward in time? It’s too damn depressing, that’s why. Backward, my friend! That’s the only way to go. 


      Such was the case when three men were granted their wish to travel back in time, but before we meet them, what exactly does it mean to time-travel? If one were to close their eyes and concentrate, really focus all of their efforts, would you not be suddenly transported to your parent’s house waiting for your first love to ask you to walk them home so you could stumble through that first kiss? Everyone “time-travels” on occasion, what with the present being so drab and all.


      However, I, being the keeper of time, have extended its privilege to only a distinct few over history. With me having so much of it, an infinite amount if I’m being honest, and others having such a small amount, it’s only natural that I dole it out sparingly. Time, that is. So, it was without regret that I allowed three men, brothers in arms, to step into what was the makeshift bathroom at their favorite taqueria, only to be transported thirty years earlier. The idea was formally pitched by the tallest of the group, Javier Rodriguez, around their third pitcher of beer.


     “!Ándale güey¡ We should totally go back in time,” he declared with a wicked look in his eye as he slammed his empty glass back onto the Mexican handcrafted Talavera tile table. His declaration diverted my attention from tending to the Universe as I was immediately immersed in the banda music emitting from the tiny, mounted speakers of the lively taqueria. The aromas of fresh hand-made corn tortillas covered in cloth in wicker baskets. A futbol game, not the one where you throw the ball, featuring the Chivas of Guadalajara, blared on all four wall-mounted screens. In Spanish above the cash register, a hand-carved sign read, "Home of the Original Mission Burrito" and "Limit 2 Beers Per Visit."


      My curiosity was piqued, even though I had received countless similar requests every second of every day. This one was different. His request was void of malintent, greed, or evil. The sort of emotions that always bubbled to the surface to accompany this type of request.


     “!Oye, pendejo¡ Your life is perfect, why on earth would you want to go back in time?” Javier’s former classmate and best friend since grade school, Miguel Morales, fired back. 

 

     “Isn’t it obvious?” Javier responded. 

 

     It wasn’t. Not to Miguel, who was the shortest of the trio, and definitely not to Rudolfo Ramos, who was the fastest of the group.


   “Mira, I’ll go back in time with you. Dónde Vamos? Back to junior high to kick Victor Dominguez's ass before he punks you in gym class?” Rudolfo tilted his nearly empty glass at Javier and nodded his head at him.


      Miguel wasn’t using hyperbole when he told Javier his life was perfect. Full partner at his law firm. He married his soulmate and had three amazing daughters that adored him. These successes didn’t go unnoticed by Rudolfo and Miguel over the past thirty years. Especially Miguel.


     “You guys remember senior year, last game of the season? The game where Migi hit the three at the buzzer to get to the playoffs.” 


     Both Miguel and Rudolfo slightly nodded their heads along with Javier’s retelling of one of their favorite memories. “I passed up that shot and sent that skip pass to Migi, but it wasn’t ‘cause I was feeling the double-team. It was because I was afraid to take the shot,” Javier confessed.


     “Damn, Javi. You took a hundred shots and made them to get us to that point. Plus, you were double-teamed, so you kicked it out to me, and I made the shot. Hell, it happened so fast I don’t even remember taking the shot.” Miguel always had Javier’s back, he was the most loyal of the group, without question.  


     “Yeah, compa. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Damn, like thirty years ago. Who cares? We won and made it to the state finals. If Migi didn’t tear his Achilles in the second period, we’d probably win the State Championship too,” Rudolfo joined in support of Javier.


    Earlier, when I mentioned that I receive countless literal wishes every second of every day to travel back in time, I wasn’t being facetious. In fact, in the time it took me to say that last sentence I received over thirteen thousand such requests. However, this one was truly unique and had my full attention.


    “Giving up that shot out of fear and then losing the championship game was the most pivotal point in my life. I met Luz right after that game, the best thing that ever happened to me. She was waiting for her mom by the flagpole and probably felt sorry for me, but she’s the one that gave me the drive to go to college, law school, go for partner at my firm, and-”


     “Yeah cabrón, we get it. Your life is a pinche Peloton commercial, Javie.” Miguel cracked at him with a laugh, shoving him slightly away from him as only a best friend can. “Then why do you want to travel back in time?” 


     “I’m not that kid anymore. I don’t give up shots when I feel a double-team coming on. I thrive under pressure, I embrace all challenges, and there is no confrontation that I fear.” Javier’s eyes narrowed as he stated his personal mantra coldly. “I wanna travel back in time so I can beat him, so we can beat them.” 


      And there it was. The most selfless wish to travel back in time I had ever heard fly across the ether.


     “Cómo, cabrón? You wanna play who? Nosotros? Us?” Rudolfo’s brows furrowed as they raised in confusion. 


      I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. Eager to launch the three amigos right back thirty years, but wait...


    “Yeah, I wanna play us the day before we lose the championship. The day we were so full of ourselves and the day we thought we were unbeatable.” Javier laid out his plan.


     “Why, compa?” seemed like a simple question their friend Rudolfo had posed. Yes, why indeed?

   
     “To play the best game of hoops in our lives and walk away knowing we’re better, that’s why.” Javier’s hands came up from the table, his palms facing upward. 


     Javier’s answer was good enough for me as I began making the necessary accommodations while the three friends strategized. There was only one thing standing in the way of their plan.


    “We’re damn near fifty!” Miguel shouted. “I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna be able to guard my seventeen-year-old’s fast ass,” Miguel announced as he ran his knuckles against his graying goatee, mopping up the beer foam. “Plus,” he continued, “I got shit to do. No time to timetravel for me.” Miguel amused himself, letting out a gulp of air while wincing, no doubt the result of his sixth beer.


     “Like what?” asked Rudolfo.


     “Well,” Miguel answered as he stopped pouring his seventh beer, connecting eyes with his friend Rudy, “I gotta drop off a child support check to Isa in the morning so my son who I haven't talked to in three years can get his braces off.” Miguel paused at the awkward silence before checking his Casio watch and brushing off crumbs from his Maná concert tee from two decades ago.


     “Mira, that's the best thing about time-travel. We bounce, do our thing and be right back here at the same spot without missing a second of this time,” Javier chimed in trying to diffuse the palpable uncomfortableness. 


     “Cool, ‘cause God forbid we miss anything from this time. Right, Javie?” Miguel stoked at the fire his best friend was trying to douse.


     “Aight, cabronas! Nobody goin’ nowhere, ‘cept maybe in a fuckin’ Uber to bed. So, less finish dis last pitcher and call it a night, cool?” their friend Rudolfo interrupted, ever the peacekeeper.
“!Claro, que sí¡” Javier agreed while nodding his head, keeping an eye on his best friend. “You cool, Migi?”


     “Y’all know me. I'm cool like the other side of the pillow.” Miguel’s confidence hiding behind a paper wall. “Imma hit the baño, who's turn to order an Uber? I got like a three star rating so you know them putos ain’t comin’ for an hour if we use my account,” Miguel said as he stood from the table and fumbled through both pockets, tossing crumpled dollar bills onto the table while wobbling back and forth.


     “Migi, it's cool bro. I got this,” Javier spoke up while pushing the bills back towards Miguel. Rudolfo tried to avoid the interaction and cowardly looked at his phone.


     “¿Mira no más? Look at this guy. Javier Rodriguez to the rescue!” Miguel’s voice boomed as he used his hands to create a makeshift megaphone while laughing hysterically for all to hear. 
Javier’s bottom lip curled into his mouth as he looked away from Miguel. 


     “The bathroom line’s a bitch, I'm goin’ out back.” Miguel announced after his rolling laughter came to an abrupt stop. 

 

    Miguel ran his fingers through his thick curly black hair and proceeded to walk toward the emergency exit door.


      “He's like this almost every time we hang. You just don't get to experience it as much,” Rudolfo said to Javier as he finished the remains of his final beer, making sure not to waste any. “You took this time-travel fantasy shit too far, Javie. You know Migi ain’t happy about how his life turned out.

 

      "We better go check on ‘em.”


    Javier nodded in agreement and failed miserably at hiding his concerned look. “Go check on him while I settle up here. Meet you out back in a minute.” 


     The red neon exit sign and the glow of the bar provided the only light in the alley next to the dumpsters, as Javier opened it, looking for his friends.


     “Rudy? Migi! Vámonos, the Uber is out front. Let’s go!” Javier shouted. 


     Javier kept his foot planted firmly against the exit door and could see the outline of the dumpster in the darkened alley. 


     “Aw, you mutherfuckers think you’re funny,” he announced as he let go of the exit door, entering the alley as the taqueria door slammed shut, taking with it all of the light. With the exit door no longer open, the alley became the quietest place in the universe. 


     Javier walked behind the dumpster shaking his head side to side ready to unload a torrent of obscenities on his two friends who were clearly waiting to scare him as if they never graduated from junior high. Unfortunately, his two friends never scared Javier and instead of a tapestry of swear words unleashed, Javier Rodriguez was only able to utter two words.


     “What the?”


   Javier inserted his fingers repeatedly into his ear opening, jamming them further each failed attempt to ring out the deafening silence. It was only momentarily, but in a world of constant noise the absence of all sound can be rather alarming. The first time through, at least.


     “Where the fuck,” Javier shouted as his head stopped spinning and the constant reminders of everyday noises returned, hunched over clutching at his knees with his mouth gaped open. He handled it better than most, I must say.


     “¡Oye, bola!” Rudolfo yelled from behind Javier, calling out for him to pick up the ball that had rolled at his feet and toss it to him.


     “Rudy, Migi? How did we get here? It’s daytime and what park is this?” Javier was asking questions that he already knew the answers to.


     “Yo, this is dope! J-Money is here, we really doin’ this!” Miguel shouted as he grabbed ahold of Javier’s hand and pulled him in the opposite direction. Javier looked down at his feet trying to keep up with Miguel’s excited pace and saw he was wearing his hoop shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt from his law firm’s community involvement day where they helped build a playground last year. He also took note that Miguel and Rudy were equally ready to run hoops as he was being dragged to a nearby blacktop, with a single rim that had a chain-link net.


     It really was happening; Javier was clearly thinking to himself as you could almost watch his lips sound out the words. Javier and Miguel reached the edge of the court and exchanged their private handshake with Rudy who was jumping up and down while Javier was still coming to terms with what was happening.


     “That’s Hamilton High. I recognize the mural of the eagle resting on top of the American flag. I was Class President and voted to spend our student funds to have it commissioned. It… it looks like it was painted yesterday,” Javier said to nobody in particular while staring beyond the basketball court.


     “Yeah, we ready!” Rudy shouted toward the court as he pushed Javier forward. “Let’s go, three-on-three. You shoot for possession.”


     “Who are we playing?” Javier asked, his voice trailing off as he slept-walked toward the painted three-point line. 


     “!These pinche cabronas¡” Rudy responded.


     There were three boys on the verge of manhood at the baseline. One was chugging a flavor of Gatorade that hadn’t been on shelves in decades. The other was adjusting the boom box volume level after flipping the cassette tape from back to front. The sounds of L.L. Cool J blared as the album kicked off its title song, “I’m Bad,” police sirens and all. The third was assessing the competition and couldn’t help laughing to himself. 


     Javier Rodriguez was about to receive his wish. He and his two friends were going to play their younger, better selves. And he received this wish not because it was noble or necessary, but because sometimes in my position, you just want to watch some good hoops.


     Each man faced his younger self as Old Javier took the ball out first, passing it inside to Miguel who used his extra thirty-five pounds to muscle his younger self for an easy layup. Old Rudolfo was slower than his younger self, but he still could play lock-down defense and stroke the outside shot. For Javier, this was personal. He pestered his younger self anytime he came near the ball and drove it into his chest, with a step-back jump shot that nobody from this time had seen before. It was over before it began. The younger versions walked off the court shaking their heads slightly while muttering obscenities in both English and Spanish under their breaths. 


     Javier received his wish and I got to watch some competitive ball. Not a bad day for these men who would remember none of this once I snapped them back to their right timeline.


     “Damn Rudy, you were like nine for ten from the outside, amigo!” Javier shouted as their fists bumped. 


      “Me? You made little Javie look stupid. We were all in, la zona,” Rudolfo chuckled. “And what about Migi? He was on fire… where is Migi?”


     “Wait up!” Old Migi shouted as he jogged over to catch up to his friends. 


     “¡Oye güey! Were you just talking to your younger self?” Rudolfo asked Miguel who ignored him seconds before I snapped them back to their timeline.


     In an instant like no other, the three men appeared back in their proper time, continuing their conversation at their favorite taqueria. 


     “¡Shut up, ese! Ain’t nobody wanna time-travel, pendejo!” Rudolfo laughed at Javier’s idea as he threw a smack from the back of his hand across Javier’s chest.


     “Alright, alright, cabrón. I was just talking out of my ass,” Javier laughed along with Rudolfo and smacked Rudy back.


      The laughter at the table subsided as the last pitcher emptied when Javier Rodriguez turned to his best friend, Miguel Morales and asked him, “What about you, Migi? If you could go back in time, what would you change?”


     Miguel checked his Rolex and adjusted his necktie as his mind was clearly somewhere else, before answering his oldest and dearest friend. “Me? My life’s a Peloton commercial,” he said with a giant smile. “I have three beautiful daughters who adore me, I just made full partner at my law firm, and I met the girl of my dreams thirty years ago standing by a flagpole…why would I want to go back in time?”