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Fiction series
Chapter 10 recap
The mayor's town-hall meeting at Anthis Career Center dissolves into conspiracy theories.

Chapter 11

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Photo by Clint Keller
Illustration by Lara Neel

Chapter 11

Jake turned off the broadcast of the town-hall meeting and asked his daughter to take him to the grocery store.

Chelsea resisted at first, then gave in after inspecting the fridge. A days-old, half-eaten sausage roll looked like Jake's best bet for breakfast. Chelsea knew her father could use some food to supplement his mostly liquid diet.

They checked the sky over Smith Field as they left the house. That had become routine for them, even if it was still light out.

They chatted for a few minutes about Cindy. Jake felt sorry for her having to sit there and listen to mass paranoia. But Chelsea was proud of her mother – Chelsea and her dad might have seen a UFO, but her mom is investigating it: "How cool is that?"

They drove to the Meijer store on Lima Road, just west of Jake's house on Ludwig Road. Chelsea had trouble finding a parking space. She couldn't remember seeing the place this crowded.

She and her father walked in. The store was packed with people. Customers filled the aisles, pushing carts full of canned vegetables, boxed pasta, batteries, light bulbs and rolls of duct tape.

Chelsea and Jake walked through Meijer. The bread shelves were almost bare; the beverage displays weren't far from it.

Chelsea saw two women wrestling over the last package of disposable diapers, their toddlers watching fretfully from their shopping-cart seats.

Jake didn't look for vodka or orange juice. Why bother? Carts backed up from every checkout lane. They'd have to wait an hour to buy anything.

Jake and Chelsea left the store, got into her car and drove north to Walmart. It was the same: full parking lot outside, empty shelves inside, checkout lines snaking far away from the cashiers.

"Let's go for it," Chelsea said. Her father nodded.

They grabbed what little they could find: chicken pot pies, hot dogs, pretzels, beer – the type of menu Jake favored in college and returned to soon after the divorce. Good thing Jake didn't need toilet paper; it had disappeared. So had milk and eggs.

A man clutching a dozen frozen pizzas galloped past Jake, a store employee in pursuit. The man ran into the path of a shopping cart, knocked it over and stumbled against a freezer, dropping his pizzas. Nearby shoppers snatched the food off the floor and wheeled away, the man and the store employee yelling after them.

"I can't believe all the negative energy in this town," Chelsea said to her father.

"Doesn't surprise me," Jake replied. "People around here are always in a snit about one thing or another."

"Yeah, like you and Smith Field a few years back," Chelsea said.

"No, that was positive energy – not exactly what I'm known for," her father said.

In a checkout line, Jake struck up a conversation with a woman whose shopping cart was stuffed with cases of bottled water. She said she hadn't bought so much water since the Y2K scare in 1999, when all the world's computers were going to crash because they hadn't been programmed for the new millennium.

"It was going to be a catastrophe, remember?" she said to Jake.

"And what happened," Jake asked her, "when the computers didn't crash?"

"Well, I didn't have to buy any water for an awfully long time, I can tell you that," the woman said with a laugh.

"I think it's going to be the same thing this time," Jake advised her.

"Better safe than sorry," she responded. "Those guys on TV tonight didn't say anything to make me feel better. What do you think those lights are?"

Jake was slow to answer. He realized he'd never been asked this question, and he'd seen the lights.

His daughter, his ex-wife, the Homeland Security director, the newspaper reporter – he told them all what he had seen that night, but nobody asked him what he thought the lights might have been.

And he hadn't asked his daughter – who was now reading a magazine and paying no attention to Jake's chat with a stranger – what she thought she had seen, either.

"Well," the Walmart shopper asked him again, "what do you think the lights are?"

"Fireworks," Jake told her. "It's that time of year, and this city is crazy about fireworks."

"So," the woman said, "you don't believe in aliens."

"I really don't believe in much of anything," Jake said.