A small line coiled around the register. Muffled groans and comments raced down our grapevine. Hands grasped their plastic cards as feet kicked the dirty floor underneath them. Still, the line stood where it was for the last ten or so minutes, waiting for one single individual to complete their purchase.
“Card Expired.” The machine continued to repeat that statement as the woman continued to pull plastic card after plastic card from her large wallet. “Card Expired.” The woman continued to try another one. “Card Expired.” Angry stares moved from her to the few groceries in the machine. “Card Expired.”
“Lady, pick a freaking card that works!” One man closer to her only held a carton of milk, eggs, and bread. “I have to be somewhere, so move it along.”
“Yeah,” another woman chimed as she held a basket full of cereal boxes, cookies, and soda.
“This is what happens when machines replace humans,” but nobody seemed to hear or even care what I just said as I held in my basket the necessary items for when I washed and cleaned. “Maybe if there was another machine that worked, we wouldn’t be on line this long.” A few grunts were my only response.
“Card Approved.” The woman was a crimson red as she moved away from the line.
“Finally!” The man with the milk, eggs and bread nearly slammed his contents into the machine. “And my card works!” He grinned from ear to ear as he swiped the card, but the woman had already bolted out of the grocery store.
“At least, the line moved,” an old woman in front of me muttered.
Catching my attention, I turned to stare at the wide, flat screen TV over the windows of the grocery store. The young reporter was giving the latest updates on the country and on the world. Images of unemployment lines, protests, and raids decorated her background as she continued to read from the teleprompter nearby. Never once did she blink or even let go of her smile, and I wondered if she was truly real or one of those latest holographic anchors that were becoming the next big thing for TV.
Finally departing from the grocery store, I maneuvered my way around cars, people, and wagons that some continued to use for their shopping needs. I quickly found my car and disposed of my groceries by placing them in the trunk. Taking my basket to the side of the car, I pushed a red button on its side, alerting a human carter, somebody that collects the baskets and wagons, to its location.
Sitting comfortably in my car, I pushed my thumb into the place, where keys once started the vehicle. As my thumb print was scanned into the computer, the car then roared into life. I gave it a few moments to warm up. It wasn’t winter yet, but I still liked to take the time to listen to my vehicle purr.
“Would you like me to drive today?”
“No.” I watched the auto pilot switch off. “I’ll do the driving.” I kicked the car into manual and took off toward the main road.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into my driveway. I pushed my thumb into the slot once more, and the car turned off. I reached under my seat and popped the trunk open. Getting out of the car, I turned to survey the small neighborhood.
Most of the houses now were running on solar power, but there were still quite a few that refused to give up their electric companies. They claimed that they would freeze at night, never understanding that the house would remain warm after the sun had long since set. They were afraid of change, afraid of accepting the future still, but the future was here. And it was not going away.
Walking up to my doorstep with groceries in hand, I pressed my thumb into the spot, where a doorknob would once have been. Again, the computer scanned my thumb print. Another moment later, the door unlocked itself, and I stepped into a nice, warm hallway.
Greeted by three cats, I quickly gave each a pat on the head. My eyes scanned the floor for accidents, but my babies were good pets. They never left me a present unless they were sick or vengeful.
After placing the groceries in their proper spots and feeding the cats, I adjourned to the den. Two large, wooden bookcases stood against each wall. A large computer monitor stood on a large, oak desk up against the center wall. The carpet was a velvet red, and the curtains were pulled over the window.
A soft chime echoed throughout the room. The monitor was dark, but I knew there was something waiting on the screen. I had messages. The outside world had found me in my sanctuary here.
Closing the wooden door to the den, I approached the monitor. I took my place before my computer in my black, leather chair. My fingers danced over the keyboard. My eyes were pierced with a bright light as the screen came alive, and I saw my messages waiting to be answered.
Using the mouse next to my hand, I pointed and clicked to one small, black box on the screen. My brother appeared a moment later. He too was sitting before his computer with an ear piece in his ear and a wire extending down to his mouth.
“Hey. I thought I would give you a call and let you know that mom and dad are coming down for the holidays. We would love to have you here too. I know you say that you’re busy, but you should make time for your family. It wouldn’t be the same without you, so think about it. The holidays are approaching fast, and my wife needs to know soon for when she makes dinner. I’ll give you another call later. Hopefully, you’ll be online then. Take care.” The screen went dark, and the mouse continued on to the next black box.
“Hey, it’s Alex. It was great talking with you on Tuesday night. I can’t believe we were online for like three or four hours, but um… I was wondering. Maybe we could actually meet in person instead of online. I know that you wanted to take it slow and continue to talk with me online, and there’s no rush. Take all the time you need, but please think about it. I would like to see you for once not through the computer, okay? Give me a call either way. Bye.” The screen grew dark, and the mouse moved to its last black box.
“With stem cell research paving the way through diseases such as Cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s Disease, people are living a lot longer these days, healthier and stronger. The common cold has even begun to disappear, and the Flu is closely behind it. To continue our efforts in delivering more research, development and progress to you and to the generations to come, please make a donation to Stem Cell Research Today.” The screen slowly grew dark.
“When I have the money,” was my response.
Moving the mouse to a newspaper icon on my screen, I watched the server lead me to the local paper. I scrolled through events, crime blotters, entertainment, horoscopes, and classifieds. No matter what year or century you lived in, the newspaper would always continue to be divided up into many sections, but at least, having it delivered online was cheaper and faster. With a click of a button, I could be brought up on whatever happened in the town, state, or country in a matter of minutes, and it was always being updated even while you read it.
Leaning back in my chair, I wondered if I should play on the many websites that existed in the cyberspace today. There were many e-zines that I wanted to read. There were a few books that I wanted to download, but I felt guilty doing that. I looked up at the many books I have in both bookshelves, knowing that I haven’t even read most of them, but it was a hobby to collect them. No, I wouldn’t play online today. Every once in awhile, I needed to inform myself of what was really going on outside in the world.
Clicking back on the newspaper icon, I scrolled down to the world news. I shook my head as I watched live pictures of Israeli soldiers cleaning up the mess of another suicide bomber. The screen switched into more riots in Iraq. A moment later, the United States president was addressing the nation on the growing intensity in the East, and no matter how much respect I have in him and in knowing that he would get this country back in order, it would still take a long time to clean up the mess of one president and his colleagues so long ago.
After all this time, after all the history written by those who sought change for the better and to profit for themselves, I still had one lingering thought. Are we safe? How long still could we keep the violence in the East from touching our soil again? How many attacks have we been saved from? How close has our enemies truly been? There would never be any answers because our government would never want us to panic and fear unless to manipulate us in some kind of decision or action, but that too was a long time ago. Now, we are just to asked live our lives, go about our business, and believe that our country is looking out for us.
Surrounded by new technologies and new advances in Science and Medicine, one would think that things were getting better, but I knew better. You have to look below the surface to see what’s really going on like how unemployment has continued to climb with each new machine that we use, how the world is still torn by war and hate no matter how connected we are through the cyberspace, and how I, at least, question my safety as I sit day after day in front of my computer and write my stories. Maybe, one day, things will get better, and the world won’t be such a crazy place, maybe.