The air was much warmer than it usually is in December. I only needed a light coat. No hat, no gloves, no scarf. The weather has been motionless recently.
Every day this week, I took a walk before curfew. Well, almost every day since I got here. I walk past the rows and rows of houses that look almost exactly the same. Maybe there is only one small difference; a slightly different shade of shutters, one house doesn’t have shutters, another has a long door handle instead of a knob. They are small minute details that you wouldn’t notice at first glance. You would just feel that something’s off, that everything feels too similar but yet, not close enough.
I’d like to think that others notice. That they still have some free will. But I don’t seem to think so. Yes, we chose which house in our grid we “wanted” to relocate to, however, it seems like they all think this was actually their choice. It was not. Sure, I decided which house I would live in, but they all look the same anyway. What choice is it if I’m not really given anything to choose between but the color of my shutters. Mine are dark blue.
They’re all blue.
Every single shutter on the block. I just have a deeper shade. How exciting.
They wouldn’t say otherwise, though. If they understand the lack of choice. So I guess I’ll never know. For months, it’s only been me. Aside from the allotted guests we can have every 9th day.
That’s why I walk. To maybe, just possibly have a clue of what other people think. To get a sense of their lives. But also, so I don’t lose the skills I once had; to notice things, whatever that may be, to not let the days blend into one stagnant life.
There isn’t anywhere else to go but around the grid. Not this close to curfew at least. Even though I walk in circles, I don’t run into any neighbors. I don’t even see a quick run to the trash can at the bottom of the driveway. It’s too close to lights out. They can’t risk it.
I can. But is it really a risk if I have the routine down? Leave the house at 6, walk around the grid 5 times until 6:35. Stand on my porch until 6:40. Step inside, watching the holiday lights go dark at 6:45. Curfew is earlier in the winter. It gets darker quicker.
I sometimes wonder if these people are real, if I’m just in a social experiment or something stupid like you see in the dystopian novels. But then I realize, I’m basically living in one anyway. It’s the thought that’s constantly at the back of my mind. No. The forefront of my mind, always. Even on Christmas, which I celebrated with my family on December 20th, the 9th day of the cycle, I was constantly worried about them getting out of the door in time for the gates to close. Hoping they wouldn’t bump into any weird neighbors along the way. Of course, that is if it’s even possible to bump into them.
This all sounds a bit morbid. Like I’m making it out to be some evil society. I’m not trying to do that. People are perfectly fine living here. Most people, opted-in. They were excited to be relocated. Me? I am not “perfectly fine” living here. This trial run had opted me in because of where I lived before. I wasn’t going to refuse. Who wants to make trouble? Not me. Not me ever. I honestly thought I wouldn’t care, that I’d get used to it, that I’d enjoy the perks, that I could make my shutters green. As you know, I could not.
On my daily night walk today, the weather had slightly shifted. It was a bit foggy, misty even. The sun had already set and you could see the strobes of light from the posts leak through the cloudy air. I loved it. I’m almost the opposite of most people. I love this eerie, depressing weather. I’m most unmotivated on sunny hot days. I know, weird.
But as I walked through, looking around at the houses, noticing the very-so-slight differences, I saw a figure at the corner of the grid. Only a few strides from my house.
My first instinct is to turn around. To avoid. Whatever it is, I don’t want to know, I want to stay out of it, cause no problems.
But could I really just pivot from what I’ve been searching for? Obviously, no. I could not.
I don’t turn around, I walk towards the figure.
The figure is slowly beginning to take shape, I now can verify it is a person.
But what would a person be doing here on my fifth lap, approaching 10 minutes to curfew? I don’t know what exactly happens if you break the rules, but I don’t want to find out, not if I don’t need to. Not yet.
From the looks of it, it seems like this is the man that I’ve seen in the window of the house two doors down from me. However, his stature makes me uneasy. Not shifting, feet planted, hands in pockets, just staring straight at me. There isn’t an ounce of him that looks like he’s trying to “act normal.”
So, I decided that I’m the one that will.
“Well, hey there, how are you doing today?”
Hoping that he would nod and return the favor, I started to slide around him to start towards my door.
He didn’t do that. As I am on the other side of him, I see his hands leave his pockets and say,
“Good, thanks. How are you?”
I felt immediate relief. It’s just a neighbor taking in the fresh air. Maybe he’s like me and likes the gloomy weather.
“Doing alright, thanks. Better head inside before curfew. Have a good one.”
When I turned my back towards him, I felt the presence behind me still there. Not like he was following me, but a closeness that wasn't immediately removed.
After I took a few more steps, I thought I was in the clear. I would go back to my house. Lock the door. Break the routine, and close the curtains. No looking out until after the lights go dark.
But he had other plans, he urgently whispered,
I stopped, not yet turning, but not moving away from him either. My hands began to pool with sweat even though they were ungloved and cold.
He continues in the whisper, “I’ve just noticed you walking around a lot. I know that sounds creepy, I’m sorry. But hear me out. You seem, I don’t know, different. From the other folks in here. I thought maybe we are the same. Maybe we can talk some time?” A pause, “I’ll let you get back so we don’t miss curfew. Sorry again if I freaked you out.”
I turned my head around, nodded, and whispered back, “You didn’t freak me out.”
Then off I was back to my door. I didn’t know if he was actually my neighbor, or if he was a ploy or test or something of the sort, so I didn’t want to reveal anything, anything that may seem as if I’m “different” as he stated.
As I get inside my door, I turn off the porch lights, close the curtains, and wait for the lights to turn out. Just as the clock strikes 6:45, I peek out my window, and he’s gone. Must’ve made it back before curfew. Or else something would’ve happened. Right? Something would’ve happened if he didn’t make it back in time. There must be some sort of consequence if we break curfew, so it seems as if he made it. He only lives two doors down, if my memory and observations serve me correctly, so it wasn’t a far fare home.
I close the curtain and begin to get ready for bed. I know, it’s early. But I’ve recently been forced to become a morning person with the curfew so early in the day. Otherwise, I feel like I miss too much.
I’m heading up the stairs when I feel something’s off. Maybe it was my intuition, or more likely, I blinked and thought it was a flicker of light. I brush it off and reach the top of the stairs.
That’s when my doorbell rings.