There’s something in the air. A sense of impending horror. Not your ordinary, everyday Venezuelan horror.

In the streets, tension mounts as people whisper rumors in the long shopping lines. Towns and cities are emptying out. Even in ministries and government buildings, mentioning it invokes nervous glances.

Along with a name that brings dread, the shocking abomination even has a catchy tune.

¡Oh, eh, oh, eh, oh!

This feeling has been built up throughout the protests but only took real shape two weeks ago, ahead of the Popular Consultation of July 16th. I can pinpoint the instant it came home to me. I was in Farmatodo. Two elderly ladies in front were buying soap. I asked them how much was it. They told me they didn’t know, and admitted they didn’t need that much soap either, but they bought some “just in case.”

Minutes later, I get a phone call from my mom.

“Do you think we have enough rice?” she asked, uneasy. Very unlike her.

“I think so.” I said, remembering the couple of kilos we have stacked from a rare full supermarket trip last week. She’s not convinced.

When reality is this unmoored, why shouldn’t you believe the madcap Whatsapp messages?

“I think I should buy more, just to be safe.” When she gets home, I see she’s bought a couple more bags at a steep price plus spaghetti, processed meat for cold cuts, and some canned tuna.

Canned tuna is expensive, we usually skip it. None of this is like her.

But she was hardly alone, telling me how people were buying up to 10 kilos of spaghetti no matter the price, just to have stocks in case of… algo (something).

It’s always “algo the blank no one wants to fill in.

The 24-hour national strike last week made it that much more real. The root of this strange expectation? The National Constituent Assembly. It’s funny because, looked at in a certain way, the Constituyente changes nothing.

Before tomorrow, chavismo had vast amounts of power and resources and did whatever it wanted regardless of the Constitution. After tomorrow? Meet the new boss same as the old boss.

And yet the threat of an Assembly that lifts even notional limits on what the crazies can do, the dystopian vibe of our public sphere deepens. Around my neighborhood, stores open only for a few, seemingly random hours, with scared customers spending money they don’t have on luxuries that shouldn’t be.

Yes, I’m scared. The opposition’s politicos are scared, too. Also exhausted, just like everyone else.

There’s something otherworldly about it all a sense of a reality poised precariously on the edge of the impossible.

The fear is charged by how little we truly know about the Constituent Assembly. A thing that may have started as an editing gaffe on VTV got a life of its own after the government saw how people reacted on social media.

The National Electoral Council then set up an election in a matter of weeks with rules so byzantine it makes Calvinball look sensible. When we were starting to acclimate to that, we were assaulted with a parade of candidates so ridiculous they make you forget that La Máscara, María’s son, will remake the country’s legal framework from scratch.

When reality is this unmoored, why shouldn’t you believe the madcap Whatsapp messages? Why not buy into the chain about how Cuban Intelligence is sending viruses through Luisa Ortega videos and how you shouldn’t shop at Abastos Bicentenarios because they’ll use your ID number to cast your vote for the Constituent Assembly? Is that really any crazier than Tibisay Lucena waving La Espada de Bolívar around?

Yes, I’m scared. The opposition’s politicos are scared, too. Also exhausted, just like everyone else.

Whether the Constituent Assembly happens or not for all we know, it’s a game of chicken the psychic toll it’s taken is already considerable. We’ve shifted from the “normal” low level fight on the streets to an ultimate showdown. At stake: everything.

The Constituent Assembly… isn’t more important than the creation of a solid citizen movement determined to beat back oppression.

But then, isn’t this how it always feels?

Isn’t this how we were feeling just before the 2006 election, when Chávez defeated Rosales? I cried that night because I thought for sure it was the end of Venezuela. When Capriles admitted defeat in 2012, I could feel the blow send shockwaves through my family, classmates and friends.

And then, there’s the possibility that the opposite happens: there’s no Constituent Assembly, for whatever reason, someone in Québec gets two hamburgers and we’re left wondering if this a victory, a tactical retreat, a sham, or just an old chavista mind game. We’ll be left, then, trying to find an answer to “what comes next?”.

And that’s what I’m truly scared of. The Constituent Assembly is important, no doubt about that, but it isn’t more important than the creation of a solid citizen movement determined to beat back oppression. It’s been a mere 14 days since over 7.5 million Venezuelans organized ourselves to do it. We did the impossible. Have we forgotten already?

Venezuela doesn’t end tomorrow, the struggle just becomes a bit harder. But then, was it ever easy?

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.