The new smart speaker sat on the bookshelf; Melissa contemplated it with pleasure. A set of three, she placed the speakers around the house so they could communicate with one another and with the smart assistant on her cell phone. She placed one speaker on her nightstand, another in the kitchen, so it could read recipes to her, and the third on the bookshelf in the den.
When the budget allowed it, she often treated her three-hundred-year-old house to small bites of pleasurable modernity. The house was well worth it, though she scrimped and saved for the upkeep of the small New England saltbox, and the historic district’s regulations forbade her to alter its exterior and structure. She loved the layout and the coziness of the low-ceilinged rooms. Every evening, she enjoyed the soft light of the standing lamps as she closed the wooden shutters to the gloaming peeking in through the slats.
The kitchen held stainless steel state-of-the-art appliances, though it was small under its gabled roof at the back of the house. The refrigerator, with its icemaker and double doors, stood by the threshold of the living room like a constable guarding culinary secrets. The far wall of the living room contained the all-important flat-screen OLED TV framed by a floor-to-ceiling console and bookshelf. A sofa-bed covered with plushy cushions faced it.
The central fireplace delighted Melissa on frosty nights when she saved herself paltry pennies by shutting off the air conditioning/heating system (the house’s newest addition) and watched the flames dance and crackle as they filled the entire house with their cozy, primeval warmth. Someone, throughout the house’s three centuries, had converted one half of the sitting parlor into a modern bathroom, while the half nearest the front door was now a mud room.
The den faced the street, and here, Melissa placed her desk with the latest, fastest computer sitting atop it, and the ergonomic chair before it. A small bookcase stood across the desk, beside the window, where the new smart speaker—a petite round bulb with a powerful sound and a blue orb of electronic light in its display—sat waiting, like a genie in a bottle, for her command.
Melissa’s favorite room was her tiny bedroom with its slanted ceiling. The original house had two small attic bedrooms, but during its history, a pragmatic owner had converted the smaller of the two into an ample, full-sized bathroom. The oldest of six children, she had always dreamed of turning her parents’ attic into her own private bedroom, but Melissa had left home before her parents had the means to remodel it. Now, she was living her dream, a small, cozy house, with an attic bedroom, all to herself. No squealing, no traipsing, no banging, just her and the little modern commodities that brought the world into the house, yet kept it at bay.
She spent the evening testing and configuring the system, so all the features it promised worked in a seamless stream of trailblazing technology. Satisfied, Melissa asked the bedroom speaker to play soft music as she woke her e-reader; the blue orb pulsed to the beat of the comforting neutral voice of the smart assistant as it replied. Night fell around her, and the blue cold of spring seeped in around the shutters. Melissa set her e-reader on the nightstand, shuffled under the covers, then asked the speaker to turn off the lights and stop playing the music in half an hour, and went to sleep.
Something woke Melissa; she opened her eyes and got her bearings.
Soft daybreak poured around the closed shutters, and the room filled with the spring chill of April. She rolled over and listened for the sounds of the modern world, but heard neither passing cars nor the distant roar of the highway. Not even the soft thud of the icemaker releasing ice.
Melissa yawned, sleep had crept away from her like a thief in the night, and there was no hope of its return.
“What time is it?” She asked the smart assistant.
The blue orb pulsed, but she received no reply.
Melissa frowned. She stretched her legs and was about to sit up when the distant sound of clopping hooves thudded through the room. Melissa deduced someone was horseback riding. She listened, the hoofbeats paused. A faraway knock on a door followed, and the hoofbeats resumed. The pattern repeated, only louder, as if nearer, and this time the chilly April breeze carried the murmur of apprehensive voices.
Melissa sat up in bed, her heart thudding, alarmed by the sense of secretive urgency spilling through the wooden shutters. She turned on the light and opened the shutters, but only her car sat parked in its driveway. The neighbor’s house was still dark.
Melissa slipped into her plush slippers and padded downstairs to the front of the house. In the den, she glanced out of the window, but saw no sign of movement. The neighbors’ cars remained parked as they had been the night before, and no horse and rider glimmered in the early dawn.
The hooves approached, clanging through the room, and the horse neighed and panted. The noise was so near she should have seen the horse and rider out of her window, but there was no one. She kept her eyes glued to the street beyond the window.
Melissa jumped at the sound of a knock on her door; no one stood on the stoop.
“The Regulars are coming!” A male voice whispered through the threshold, and sent chills crawling up her spine.
Then she heard footsteps upstairs, as if someone had roused themselves from her bed. Melissa stood frozen by the window, as the hairs on her nape stood on end.
Now, the thud of heavy boots came trampling down the stairs. Huffing and groaning, the footfalls reached the door and turned the inner lock. Melissa’s gaze turned to the front door as it remained closed, while the sound of it creaking open filled the room.
“Ready thyself! The Regulars are coming!” The voice spoke; Melissa’s heart jumped to her throat, choking her, then fell to her feet.
She glanced around her; the caller seemed to speak beside her, as if the horse and rider were in the room. But only her modern desk with its big computer display stared back at her.
Swift footfalls surrounded her, and doors creaked and whooshed open as people awoke to the midnight ride. Yet, beyond the window, nothing stirred. Melissa cast her frantic gaze over the room as the horse and rider melted into the hurried call to arms of men and the anguished cries of women that enveloped her in a sea of misty sound.
Her eyes landed on the smart speaker sitting innocently on the shelf; its indicator light waning and waxing to the rhythm of the dawning revolution.