Note: This story has more rude language than FAR Future did. Nothing gratuitous, IMHO, but it’s there. —FARf
Tina again stepped toward the truck, pulling the cart behind her. It swung around and caught, and she let it go.
No more struggle. No more trouble. Come to us. Be one of us. Belong. It seemed like the thing to do… no more worrying about her job… the chaos… her daughter — Kelly!
“No!” Tina flung the key across the parking lot. She took a final step toward the truck, but shook her head and turned back. She pushed the cart back onto the sidewalk, panting, and fumbled her phone out of her purse.
“Hi, Kelly. Um… something has gone wrong with my car. Could you come get me? I’m at the Saver-Market off the Pleasant Hill exit.”
“Sure Mom.” A minute later, Kelly called back, weeping. “My car, mom! They stole it right out of our garage and left… left….”
“A white pickup? That’s what happened here, too. Listen, honey: don’t go back in the garage. If you think you hear someone talking to you, get out of the house. I’ll get home, one way or another. If I have to walk, I’ll get home to you.”
“I’m scared, Mom!”
“Me too. But I’ll see you in a little while. I love you.” Tina disconnected and thought.
From memory, she knew it was seven or eight miles to the house from the Saver. A long walk even without a full grocery cart to think about, but what else could she do? She’d never come or gone to the supermarket without being on the freeway at least part of the time. After thinking about it a moment, she dug her Blackberry back out of her purse and started the map program. It took a fair amount of poking at the phone, but finally got a pretty good idea of how to go. She jotted the directions down in a notebook, tore out the page, and put it in a pocket. Now to get started —
Oh shit. She was wearing her work clothes, and that meant her work shoes. The good news was, there was a Shoe Rack in this strip and the Saver had cheap clothes that would work better for a hike. She pushed the cart back in the store and up to Sara’s register.
“Sara, can you watch this a minute for me? It looks like I’ll have to walk home, and I need some not-office clothes.”
“Sure, hon,” she said. “What happened?”
“My car got… replaced. By a white pickup.”
Sara’s eyes grew wide. “Those little trucks just spook me. I think you got the right idea. There’s t-shirts and sweat pants down by the pharmacy. Just slip into the bathroom and change, don’t worry about paying for them. I don’t think anyone cares now. I’ve changed my mind — if I haven’t heard from anyone in charge in the next hour, I’m getting outta here too.”
“I don’t blame you,” Tina said, “for being spooked or wanting to leave,” and hustled down to the clothes rack. She found a t-shirt in her size right away (it read “Super Saver” with the Saver-Mart logo reworked into a superhero emblem), and then a pair of grey sweat pants with a drawstring. These she took to the bathroom and they fit — a bit loose, but that was probably the right thing for a hike. On the way back to the checkout, she hooked another six-pack of bottled water and a box of energy bars. The only other “customer” left in the store came out of the beer aisle, pushing two loaded carts.
“Take those too,” Sara said upon seeing the extra merchandise. Too bad we don’t carry shoes, but at least you can find something at the Rack, right?”
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Tina said, writing on another page from her notebook. “Thanks for everything, Sara. If you need anything, here’s my number. I owe you.”
“Thanks, hon,” Sara smiled and misted up for a moment. “Hey. Maybe when this is over, we can have a coffee in the café or something. You take care, now.”
Tina wheeled her cart down the sidewalk, work clothes draped over the groceries, just in time to see the man with two carts of beer wheel the carts up to a white pickup. He looked at the carts, then turned and opened the door. “Hey!” she yelled. The man stopped, turned halfway, then swung the door open. “Don’t do that!”
He looked at Tina for a moment, then shook his head. “I’m done,” he said. “Done. Done fightin’. Can’t do it.” He slipped inside, and the truck backed out of its spot and rolled away, as quiet as all the others. Tina started to glance at “her” truck, but thought better of it and pushed her own cart on down to the Shoe Rack.
A display at the bicycle shop just before the Shoe Rack caught her eye and she stood staring for a few moments. A touring bike stood proudly behind the glass, with a trailer of some sort attached. “Right!” she said, and moved on to the shoe store.
The Shoe Rack door stood open, but nobody was behind the register or on the floor — odd, the times she’d been in here there was always someone visible. “Hello!” she called, pushing the cart inside ahead of her. “I need to buy a pair of hiking shoes — anyone here?” No answer. Everyone had gone AWOL — she pushed away a mental image of her staff all driving white pickups and hunted for a suitable pair of shoes. It took nearly 20 minutes, trying different styles and sizes, to find a pair that felt comfortable enough for a long bike ride, then walked over to the register. She fished a pair of $20 bills out of her purse, gave herself $5 in change, and left. Maybe the world was ending around her, but principles were principles.
Conversations: Tina Ball