I look over the order and click “confirm.” Rocking back in my chair, I can’t help but feel sick. I’ve never ordered groceries online before. Why would I, with at least five grocery chains within ten miles of my home and a personally owned market two blocks away?
I was on my way out, keys in hand and about to turn the knob when I stopped, swamped by an overwhelming wave of dread, and I realized I couldn’t go out. Not today.
I’ve been watching the news, of course. Who hasn’t? I know about the attacks. Recent events have changed everything, and no one is safe. Neighbors who have peacefully lived side by side for decades are now mortal enemies. Families are being ripped apart. Everyone thinks they know the best way to handle the descending chaos, and anyone who disagrees is no more than an obstacle to be demolished and tossed aside.
I had planned to go the market; it’s close, the owner is amicable, and his prices are fair. Besides, I’ve always taken pride in supporting small businesses. But while he’s always had a smile for me before, that might not be the case today. No. Today he might meet me with a bullet. And that’s if I’d even make it that far.
Two houses down there’s a woman and her teenage son. They’re not like me. A month ago that wouldn’t have made a difference. I’d have smiled and waved as I walked past, and they’d have smiled and waved back. But just yesterday I watched someone throw a rock through their window while screaming obscenities. That someone was like me. I highly doubt they’d smile and wave at me now.
I don’t want to go out there. I don’t want to get hurt. I’ve done nothing wrong. None of us have. But people are getting hurt. People are getting killed.
I don’t want to die. But I will if I go out there. Because they hate me. They all hate me. I don’t know why; they didn’t used to. But they do now. And I wonder: Do I hate them, too? I don’t think so. But I don’t trust them. I fear them. I’m scared of each and every one of them, and so now I’m ordering my groceries online.
The sun is going down when I flip on the television. Every main channel is airing a “Breaking News” segment. More riots. More shootings. More death. It’s everywhere. As I watch the news, alarmingly numb, a shot rings out.
My heart jumps into my throat. My skin breaks out in goosebumps. I race into the kitchen and duck beneath my table. Oh, God. My door! Is it locked?
Another shot fires past, and outside I hear angry voices. I cover my ears and try to drown out the ugly words. I fail. I can feel the hatred like a stab in my gut; pain shoots through me. Why can’t they all just stop? It doesn’t have to be like this. It doesn’t!
I’m rocking back and forth on my heels while sobs rip their way out of my chest. I don’t know how much time passes. The room gets darker and darker. For a while sirens pierce the silence while stripes of red and blue flash like strobe lights against my windows. Finally it’s quiet.
I open my eyes and find myself sprawled on the kitchen floor beneath my table. I must have fallen asleep. I sit up, careful not to knock my head on the hardwood above me, and groan. I’m stiff and cold.
I’m about to crawl out from my hiding place when the doorbell rings. I freeze. Who is it? Who’s here? What do they want?
A knock follows momentarily. Peeking out, I can see a shadow shifting beyond the blinds that cover the pane of glass in my front door. Then a face appears. I duck back beneath the table, disappearing from sight.
The doorbell rings again, followed by a shout. “Juniper Foods!”
The groceries. They’re here to deliver the groceries. I need to get up, go answer the door. But I can’t. Because what if the delivery person is like my neighbors? What if they’re not like me? What if they hate me, just like everyone else?
The food could be poisoned. They could be carrying a knife, or a gun, or God knows what else. I want to yell at them to go away, but then they would know I’m here. So I sit beneath my table, curled up in a tiny, tight ball, and wait for them to leave.
I don’t want to die. But I will. Because I can’t go out there, and I’m too afraid to let them in here.
The knowledge should elicit some sort of response, but all I can feel is a dull resignation. And an untimely sense of irony.
Fear–the all great and powerful equalizer. It’s the one thing that connects us all and in the end destroys us.
~~Briana Robertson, Author, Stitched Smile Publications
Briana Robertson is an emerging speculative fiction author, working primarily within the genres of horror and fantasy. Her love of authors such as Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Patrick Rothfuss, and J.K. Rowling has developed her own need to put pen to paper. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies, and broadcast on online podcasts. Her debut novel is in the works, set to release in 2017. She currently lives in the Midwest, with her husband, three daughters, and their Maine Coon, Bagheera. Be sure to visit her website, as well as follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, and Pinterest.