Tommy woke up in the dawn of just another day. It was one of those middle-of-the-day weeks that pretends to be another – a Wednesday masquerading as a Tuesday, a Thursday acting like a Wednesday. After some moments of contemplation, Tommy came to the conclusion that it was indeed a Wednesday, though the holiday weekend caused him to think twice. He woke his computer from its nightly slumber, and went to work on his regular digital routine. Browser tabs were dedicated to the usual – news site, bank account, email, social networks. The final tab was dedicated to baseball. Tommy’s interest in the children’s game had waned years ago. Even when a new team moved to his native Washington, D.C., he couldn’t muster enough interest to catch up on the years lost to him. But he always checked the standings and box scores, just like his father taught him to do with the daily paper. It was more out of habit than concern, a 30-second pause in his morning and nothing else.
That can’t be right. The Orioles are in first place? How is that possible? The team from Baltimore, whose games his father toiled over nightly during Tommy’s childhood hadn’t been relevant in over a decade. When was the last time they contended? The late 90s? Surely, MLB.com was in error. Tommy deleted the URL from the address bar and went to USA Today. They said the same. So did Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and ESPN. Something wasn’t right. He thought he’d been paying at least a modicum of attention to the goings on in the baseball world. Was it possible he just overlooked a historically bad team of late rising to contention so far along in the season? He connected to a different wireless network, one that his neighbor didn’t have locked down. The results didn’t change. His smartphone echoed everything he’d seen so far. For some reason, the Internet was convinced that the Orioles were tied for the lead in the AL East. Something most certainly wasn’t right. He packed his laptop in his backpack and headed to work. Further investigation was needed.
What began as a nagging inconvenience turned to an obsession around 2 p.m. Tommy found himself refreshing the standings page on his work computer every minute. The information never changed, and Tommy was beginning to get worried. He’d seen enough movies and read enough books about technological warfare to remember that there were always small glitches in the network before the shit really hit the fan. These infections and viruses and whatever always made tiny changes here and there as they spread to other servers and workstations. The genius hero of the book would always recognize these errors early, but his warnings would always fall on deaf ears. And as soon as anyone could blink … BAM! Global Internet chaos was upon the entire civilized world. He checked the standings page once again. The knot in Tommy’s stomach tightened.
He never remembered having a panic attack before, but Tommy was convinced he was in the throes of one when 4 p.m. rolled around. Visions of crashing jetliners and standstill traffic flashed through his mind. He pictured the news coverage of people cashing out their bank accounts and knocking over gas stations. The entire world would flip into survival mode. If he didn’t act now, he would be left behind – the last dog to the bowl.
As he sped away from his office, Tommy couldn’t even remember if he gave his boss an excuse for leaving early. He doubted his boss would notice, and didn’t care if she did.
The parking lot at the Walmart had more cars in the late afternoon than Tommy had expected. He was worried that others had caught on too. Time was of the essence. He quickly exited his Volvo wagon and briskly walked to the front doors.
The crowd in the store seemed calmed. Perhaps they were playing it cool, perhaps they were unaware of the impending global disaster. He checked the standings on his phone again. No change. He wheeled his cart through every aisle, looking for anything that could help him survive until this coming storm passed, if it ever would. Non-perishable food, camping gear, gas cans, medical supplies, crop seeds, batteries, matches, and a gas-powered generator filled his cart. Were it not for the mandatory waiting period, Tommy would have purchased a gun.
The cashier asked no questions at the checkout line, which relieved Tommy since he hadn’t been able to come up with a believable story. He checked his phone again. He wanted to warn the cashier. She probably had family, and maybe even kids. As terrible as it made him feel, he couldn’t raise warning to her. He needed the roads to be as clear as possible as he made his way out of town. He’d fill his gas cans and his Volvo, then travel to the most rural place he could find. He’d look for an abandoned farm, or a densely-wooded area. The further he got from any semblance of population the better.
As he loaded his car in the parking lot, Tommy had a thought. He closed the hatch and headed back to the Walmart. He made his way to the men’s apparel section, and found the sports portion. Amongst the plethora of Nationals memorabilia, he found a small end cap devoted the Orioles. Baltimore being about an hour away, the O’s were still considered somewhat of a local team. He picked up a black hat with an orange cartoon bird on the front. It flashed him a knowing smile. He would keep this hat for the duration of his plight. Perhaps it would provide him protection. The Orioles had been looking out for him so far.