The excellent Damon Lindelof is writing this exclusive, serialized story for NextDraft to help us, and him, through the quarantine. Chapters will update here periodically, but for the epic experience and all the day’s real news, get the free newsletter or app by touching the head below (please use a rubber glove).

Chapter One: I’ve Never Written A Short Story Before

 

“They’re going to kill us.”

George looked at her. She was smiling, but there was something about the way she said it.

“Nah,” George said, smiling back, “We’ll be fine.”

“I heard them whispering…” She leaned in, whispering herself, “I heard them say something something something murder.”

“They’re kids. They talk about murder all the time. It’s a whole thing.”

“A “thing” is TikTok, George… murder is not a thing.”

Elizabeth’s smile was gone now. Come to think of it, it hadn’t been there in the first place. Neither of them had really smiled since PH&W.

“Wait… are… You’re serious?”

“I heard them whispering… I heard them say murder and then the floorboard creaked and they stopped. Because they knew I was there in the hallway.”

“The floorboard… creaked? Like in the movies?”

“No one says that. No one says ‘like in the movies’ unless they’re in a fucking movie.”

“Well I said it and I’m in real life.”

“Are you?”

“Apparently.”

“There are four of them and two of us. We’re outnumbered.”

George shrugged. “But they’re smaller than we are. And dumber.”

“Alden’s not dumber.” She said. “And he’s the one who said murder.”

She looked at him. He looked back at her. Theirs was a romance forged in their shared unwillingness to blink.

“Maybe we should tell them where it is.”

He shook his head. He should have seen this was where things were headed.

“If we tell them where it is, they’ll use it.”

Both of them knew where it was. And both of them knew George was right. The kids would indeed use it.

“They’ll find it. We’re in this house for weeks… they won’t stop until they find it.”

“Well then maybe you should have kept your time machine at work, Elizabeth.”

Her brow furrowed. “Don’t call it that.”

“I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t.

But he would be. George would be very, very sorry indeed.

It was Day Two of the Self-Quarantine.

 

 

Chapter Two: Today I Got a Humidifier at Bed, Bath & Beyond and also Six Bags of Gummi Bears But At Least I Was Wearing Dish Gloves

Abby was a Gryffindor, a Gryffindor for sure. Leo was Hufflepuff. Emma also claimed to be Gryffindor, but Abby cried foul and demoted her to Ravenclaw. And Alden?

Alden was a Slytherin.

The real world, of course, had no magic. The Rosenberg children had gone to Universal Studios, Orlando a couple summers ago where a Grad Student in an ill-fitting robe told Alden The Sorting Hat had most certainly put him in Gryffindor, but Alden scowled and said, “This is America. We choose our own House.” The Grad Student (his name was Charlie) grinned gamely. So what if the instructors at the Upright Citizens Brigade told him his choices were a bit “obvious?” He lived for shit like this. For kids like Alden Rosenberg.

“Ahhhh…. So a Slytherin, then?” Charlie said ominously in an accent he loosely based on Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood.

“You’re goddamn right.” said Alden.

Two years later, Charlie was on a ventilator and Alden, alongside his brothers and sisters, was planning a murder.

But there had been a creak. And it was quite clear it was a mom creak and not a dad creak. Mom was sure-footed and sly… an undetected approach to the doorway would not have been possible for dad, who, let’s just say it, was an oaf.

“What’s an oaf?” asked Leo.

“Google it.” said Alden, who was hurriedly stuffing the composition notebook that contained his plan underneath the mattress.

Mom had hustled away quickly once Alden had heard her, so they were free to talk. “Do you think she heard us?” Abby asked. She was his twin, just as bright as Alden but unfortunately not nearly as evil. In her dreams, the two would team up and solve mysteries, like who stole the money from the cashbox at the Beverly Hills Elementary Brownie Bonanza? (Alden did)

“She definitely heard us.” Said Leo, who idolized Alden, even though he was two years older and a head taller. Like dad, Leo was also an oaf.

“We can just tell her we were playing Clue,” said Emma, “Clue has lots of murder.” Alden nodded at his younger sister. She showed promise.

But.

“They won’t believe we played a board game on our own. They know it’s something we’d only do in exchange for screen time.” The others nodded. Of course Alden was right. He was always right.

“So now what?” asked Leo, who was always the one who said “So now what?” and also “What did he/she mean by that?” and also “Can you explain that again?”

Alden tried not to sigh aloud. “Now we go downstairs and watch the briefing like everything’s cool.”

And that’s what they did. All four children, as cool as could be, taking their usual positions as dad clumsily toggled between the AppleTV and DISH and XboxLive on the remote. Emma snuggled into mom’s lap on the couch as Abby scrunched into the matching beanbag beside Alden. Leo sat criss-cross apple sauce on the floor, way too close to the TV as Dad finally navigated to CNN.

As the last few members of the press settled into their seats before the empty podium, The Chryron at the bottom of the screen read “PRESIDENT ABOUT TO SPEAK ANY MOMENT”.

“I hope they have some sense of how long this is gonna last.” said dad.

“It’s only been two days, honey…” mom responded.

She looked over at Alden and smiled, but he knew she knew. If anyone in this family was smarter than Alden, it was mom. She was widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest particle physicists, but she was also just a little bit evil, which opened her eyes to the world in ways the others were blind. On a rainy day a few months earlier, in those bygone days PH&W, Alden and mom watched SILENCE OF THE LAMBS together, just the two of them, eating grilled cheeses. When the movie was over, Alden told mom that he had been rooting for Lecter the whole time, even when he brutally killed the policemen who were guarding him and wore one of their dismembered faces like a mask so he could escape. “Of course you were rooting for him,” mom had said, “He’s the hero.”

Alden wished he could tell her what he was up to, but he knew she’d destroy her invention immediately. Mom understood probabilities. The only reasonable response to learning his true plan would be to make sure he could never implement it., so for now Alden would have to play dumb while vector by vector, closet by closet, he conducted his search.

“Here we go!” dad exclaimed, and sure enough, on the TV the experts were walking out from that little blue door and filing onto the stage behind the podium. Once they hit their marks, the President appeared.

“She looks sick.” said dad.

Mom frowned. “She’s not sick, she’s tired. I’ll bet she hasn’t slept since this all started.” Dad nodded in agreement, retreating, “You’re right. Sorry.”

And with that, Hillary Rodham Clinton, 45th President of The United States, began her briefing.

 

 

Chapter Three: I’m Starting To Get Really Scared And The Daily Is Only Making It Worse

Brad was a beardsman, which meant he had the best beard.

Brad was tall… quite tall, actually. People he met would ask him if he played basketball (he had, but he had gotten hurt) but that was just a preamble for what they really wanted to ask, which was how was it possible that his beard was so fucking awesome?

The secret was not in the products, though he had extensively tested them all over the years. Amateurs use the same shampoo on their heads as they do their beards, but Brad was no amateur and he knew that beard hair is four times more coarse than head hair and thus requires a product chemically composed accordingly, that’s why he only used Spartan’s Den. The helmet on the label reminded him of that movie where that one guy shouted, “THIS IS SPARTA!” and kicked another guy in the chest and into a goddamn hole. That guy was ripped and he wore a cape and oh sweet Christ, did he have a fucking beard.

The secret was not in the apparatus. Brad’s beard brush was boar bristles, a hundred percent boar bristles, in fact. When he first bought it, he boasted to Candace, “My beard brush is boar bristles.” And she said, “That’s alliterative.” And he said, “Bitchin’.” And they fucked.

No, neither product (we will not get into the balms and oils here, suffice to say they were essential) nor apparatus was the secret to the cultivation of Brad’s perfect beard…

The secret was time.

A television screen is made up of individual pixels. Every pixel, on its own, an infinitesimal part of the greater picture. A beard is made of individual hairs. Each hair, on its own, an infinitesimal part of the greater beard. Brad had thirty thousand individual hairs in his beard and just a single one, either too long or too short or too dark or too light could ruin the whole goddamn party on his face — These hairs had to be hunted and exterminated at all costs for the sake of the greater beard and yes, that took time.

Too much time, Candace would sometimes suggest. But Brad was ready, willing and able to wake up every morning at quarter to four to search and destroy the illegals on his face, so really, get the fuck over it Candace. He was still in the shower by five thirty and ready to kick ass for the boss by six.

And this was why everyone asked him about the exquisitely shaped monument of manhood. Because they somehow sensed it was more than just a beard. It was something they all wanted, but had never achieved…

It was pure.

Which is why Brad was not at all surprised to hear a voice say “Great Beard!” as he walked to his Escalade.

Brad was, however surprised to see the voice belonged to a kid. A boy, maybe ten, stood in the parking lot, smiling and overconfident in a way that defied every teaching surrounding the laws of children and strangers. “Thanks.” said Brad, and opened the door to the Escalade.

The kid kept staring at him as he slid behind the wheel and at this point, Brad got the uh-oh feeling. There could only be one explanation for a boy all by himself waiting in his parking lot and staring at him with that goofy smile and those dark, dark eyes. Oh yes, Brad had seen enough episodes of MAURY to know where this was heading all right. The boss would understand, of course… Brad’s stock would only go up for siring a bastard. But Candace was going to absolutely shit.

Brad was not a man who delayed the inevitable. If bad news was coming, better to just stand there on the tracks and let the train come. He rolled down the window and said to the kid, “Can I help you?”

“As a matter of fact, sir, you can…” said the kid as he approached the Escalade, extending his hand cockily, his smile even more delightfully sinister up close…

“My name is Alden Rosenberg and I’m from the future.”

Chapter 4: You Got Mad At Me For Making Up LOST As We Went Along But You’re Okay With THIS Shit?

There was nothing more mysterious than an eyepatch.

When Elizabeth was nine, she came down with a bad case of mono and for two glorious weeks, her mother took off work to care for her. Despite the discomfort of the illness, this was the only time in her life Elizabeth had her mother’s full attention and it was nothing short of magical. Mono was contagious… not nearly as contagious as COVID-19… but aggressive enough to try to put its hand up your shirt if you weren’t careful. Regardless, Elizabeth’s mother wrapped her up in a warm quilt and cozied up right beside her on the couch as they slurped chicken noodle soup and watched hours upon hours of daytime TV. It was here they both discovered Patch.

Patch surely had a name… Elizabeth recalled it was maybe Scott or Steve… but no one called him that. They called him Patch because he wore one over his left eye. It was black, just like his leather jacket and his tight jeans. His hair was blonde and lustrous. He wore boots and his jeans were tight. He had a gravelly voice and moved like a jungle cat, a jungle cat wearing tight jeans. “How can you tell if he’s blinking or winking?” Elizabeth asked her mom.

“You can’t.” her mom responded.

These were in the days before Wikipedia, so the two were left to speculate as to how Patch lost his eye. No one on the show ever asked him, and who could blame them? He was surly and hot under the collar… he was a man with secrets, a man in pain… he had depth, but no depth perception… “…and men like that,” Elizabeth’s mom said with a slightly lower voice than she normally spoke with, “are dangerous.”

Elizabeth eventually got better and her mother went back to work. The mono had made them a duo, but the normal rhythms of life fell back into place and while they would always remain mother and daughter, they were never really that close again. Even when Elizabeth held her mom’s hand on the other side of the protective plastic, bundled into a blue Tyvek suit with faceshield and gloves bound to her wrists with tape, she still longed for the comfort of being wrapped up in that quilt all those years ago. It was in that moment… that very moment… that Elizabeth swore she would avenge her mother’s death. No – she would do better than that.

She would prevent her mother’s death.

All paradoxes start with a single act of hubris. Not an action, but an idea. An individual vowing to bend the laws of time and space to their own selfish whim with no fear nor regard of consequence. The very moment such a decision is made, there is an audible crack as quantum realties spill out across the multiverse, each possibility a grain of sand freed from the hourglass formerly imprisoning it.

So are the days of our lives.

Years would pass before Elizabeth beta-tested her first chronoceutical. Dozens of failed attempts to alter the series of events leading up to that dreaded day in November would follow. But then, finally, she would succeed… and in succession, a rather phenomenal serendipity would occur.

For when Hillary gave her acceptance speech at the Javits that night, she spoke of her own mother, Dorothy.

She said that Dorothy’s parents had abandoned her at the age of eight, left her and her baby sister to fend for themselves as they were put on a train to be raised by relatives they had never met. Hillary paused in her speech and said, “If I could go back in time and tell anyone in history about becoming president, I would tell my mom.”

Elizabeth was there at the Javits… of course she was there for she was the one who had made this happen. She had pulled apart cosmic strings and shat upon the Godel metric to make this happen. She had defied the laws of nature and gravity and decency to make this happen and there she was, up on the stage, the one she had done it all for… and she was talking about TIME TRAVEL?!? Tears streaked down Elizabeth’s cheeks, her body trembling… she swore she could actually hear the cracks in the glass ceiling above her as Hillary brought the room to near silence in anticipation, her voice low and confident and true as she said –

“I think about my mom on that train. I wish I could walk down the aisle and find the little wooden seats where she sat, holding tight to her even younger sister, alone, terrified. She doesn’t yet know how much she will suffer … I dream of going up to her, and sitting down next to her … and saying, ‘Look at me. Listen to me. You will survive. You will have a good family of your own, and three children. And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up and become the President of the United States.’”

The crowd at the Javits exploded. Elizabeth was screaming with them, screaming like a teenager when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan, screaming and pulling at her hair with joy and relief and rapture.

Hillary raised up her arms in victory.

She was, of course, wearing an eyepatch.

 

Chapter 5: Spring Breakers Will Kill Us All And No I Don’t Mean The James Franco Movie But It’s Not Doing Us Any Favors Either

Verbatim text thread between Dr. Elizabeth Bohrs-Rosenberg (“ME”) and Albert Bohrs (“DAD”) // Twenty Days AH&W, Iteration One
ME: Hey, dad. How are you?

DAD: b

ME: ?????

DAD: ok thx

ME: Did you read the article…?

DAD: yes

ME: And….?

DAD: intresting

ME: Please don’t be dismissive.

DAD: (emoji of taco)

ME: ??????

DAD: oops didnt mean to do taco.

ME: You have a college education. I wish you would capitalize. And punctuate. And spell “interesting” correctly.

DAD: and i wish you single spaced after periods oh well

ME: The double space is perfectly acceptable… and if ever there was a time for more spacing, it’s now.

ME: That’s a social distance joke.

ME: …Hello?

DAD: ys funny

ME: If you read the article then tell me where the party was.

DAD: conneticut.

ME: Connecticut. Capitalized. Missing “c.”

DAD: one c too many if you ask me

ME: Dad… can I ask you an ethical question?

ME: … Hello?

DAD: shoot

ME: Let’s say I had a way to go back to that party… where they all got infected. And let’s say the only way to prevent them from getting infected involved killing one of them. That means ten less super-spreaders, which would have bought us almost two extra weeks before the tipping point.

ME: … JESUS DAD… HELLO?!?!?!?

DAD: sorry watching wheel rerun not the same without your mom vanna seems less shiny somehow

ME: So… Is it ethical? If I could… is it okay? Take one life to slow exponential growth? Save hundreds of thousands… maybe more?

DAD: not ethical, no.

ME: Yeah. I figured.

DAD: but if your going to hell…

ME: YOU’RE. JESUS DAD!

DAD: might as well make it count

ME: ?????

DAD: fuck conneticut problem is with the orangutang in the white house you want to change things change that

DAD: … Elizabeth?

ME: You capitalized my name.

ME: (crying emoji)

 

Chapter 6: I Just Think It’ll Be A Beautiful Timeline. Joe?

The issue was not Hillary. It was us.

When the first clusters appeared, the tests were abundant and the protocols to implement them were rock solid. Medical professionals had been drilled to the point of maximum efficiency and they were raring to get their swabs up some nostrils and put this motherfucker to bed.

But a test only works if people show up to take it, a sentiment more accurately expressed by @RetractableDolphinPenis2’s now viral tweet —

‘Merica’s gonna ‘Merica bitches

Let us move past the fact that there was already an @RetractableDolphinPenis and that numbering was now required and instead appreciate the underlying psychological construct embedded in his (of course it was a he) words —

Accurate testing relies on an individual admitting to themselves and to others that they were not feeling well at precisely the moment symptoms began to appear. Unfortunately, Americans are trained to do precisely the opposite. Our exceptionalism, our supreme awesomeness, our very ability to be best has wired our brains to deny that we are unwell because to be unwell would make us less great again. Only when we are shaking with fever, our head throbbing, our sense of smell and taste gone after days of coughing phlegm upon our loved ones and rubbing our coronasty hands over every surface within our communities do we finally relent and quietly grumble that perhaps something is rotten in Denmark, for it could never, not ever, be rotten here in the U.S. of A..

Despite Elizabeth’s temporal intervention and subsequent presidential transplant, the one thing she could not avert was the outbreak itself. All she had to do was find someone who could do a better job of managing it. Imagine getting a gorilla drunk, very drunk on tequila, then placing that gorilla in an industrial washing machine for an hour as the spin cycle made the gorilla dizzier and angrier… then imagine removing the gorilla from the washing machine, soaked and confused and aggressively desiring to eat someone’s face off or rip their arms from their sockets, but denying the gorilla such vengeance and instead dressing it in a suit and tie and placing it in the White House press room to field questions from the media. Is there any doubt that gorilla would do a better job than him? Would the outraged wet gorilla say this would all be over by fucking EASTER?!?

It would not.

As much as Elizabeth fantasized about the gorilla scenario just to make her point, she knew it would be hard to pull off for a variety of reasons, the least of which was most gorillas are dead by age 35 and therefore constitutionally ineligible to be elected to the presidency. Fortunately, there was a much better option.

And Hillary did not disappoint. She did not dissolve the government bureaus required to deal with potential pandemics. She listened to scientists. Most of all, she was qualified. Was she able to advance any meaningful legislation in her first term? Of course not. The House and Senate were controlled by the opposition and only became more red after the midterms. Getting Garland through had been a streetfight and the rumors of Kennedy’s retirement had yet to yield fruit, even as Congress had dogged her entire presidency with impeachment inquiries (Fucking Steele Dossier!) and was on the verge of going for the jugular when the virus finally hit.

This, of course, is all that mattered in the end. A competent, able Commander-in-Chief to deal with the greatest global crisis since The Nazis stormed across Europe.

But when Hillary told us it would get bad, we did not listen.

When she told us to stay home, we did not listen.

So she turned off our internet, for that is what any parent does when their children do not listen.

“I am taking away your screen time,” The President calmly intoned from behind her desk in The Oval, broadcast (not streaming) simultaneously into every home in America, “And you won’t get it back until you show me you can be responsible.”

Her one eye gleamed with strength and confidence and just a little bit of pity.

In Bel Air, California, sitting before the widescreen television airing the simulcast, young Alden Rosenberg decided in that very moment he would need to travel back in time and make sure this never, ever happened.

He did not know that Elizabeth, sitting not two feet behind him had already given the time/space continuum the mother of all tittie twisters. He did not know that the existence he was now experiencing was a quantum rewrite. For him, Hillary Rodham Clinton had always been the 45th President of the United States.

But that could be changed. Oh yes, it could absolutely be changed. And once it was, of this Alden was absolutely sure —

President Donald J. Trump would never take his screen time away.

 

Chapter 7: The Curve That Was My Optimism Is Getting Flattened

Seven Things About Time Travel That Are Like, Really Important To Know

1. Time travel is a biological process like sweating or taking a dump and thus can only be triggered pharmaceutically.

2. One can only travel back in time for as long as it takes the ingested pharmaceutical to pass through the human body. In other words, the average journey lasts as long as one can go without taking a dump.

3. For epigenetic reasons, one can only travel within the range of one’s own lifespan, like on the show Quantum Leap. With chronopharmacology’s first successful trials not occurring until 2020, even the oldest person alive could not travel back earlier than 1918. If this were not the case, everyone would be trying to kill baby Hitler.

4. Hitler was actually a great baby. He slept through the night, wasn’t a picky eater and produced small, solid, efficient German dumps.

5. Because the drug cocktail used for time travel is genetically engineered for the individual who ingests it, the chronopharmaceutical will only work for that individual. Furthermore, if that individual creates an aberration in timespace, only that individual will be aware of the previous timeline prior to their departure. For example, if one traveled into the past and prevented Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina from ever meeting, effectively putting Loggins on path that would result in him writing jingles for cat food instead of the most bitchin’ soundtracks of the eighties, when that individual returned to their date of their departure, they would be the only living person who would know the lyrics to What a Fool Believes, and what a sad world that would be.

6. The unintended consequences of aberrations can be altered on subsequent journeys by the individual who catalyzed those consequences, but often it is difficult to identify where things went amiss. The primary source of an aberration can be determined by meticulous contact tracing, but this can be difficult and (ahem) time-consuming. For example, let’s say the individual who prevented Loggins and Messina from meeting arrives back in the present and realizes that in addition to the soundtrack for Footloose being shitty, the entire country of Iceland has been destroyed by a volcano. Clearly, the two events are somehow related, but determining the causal relationship between a Loggins-free musical landscape and a megadeath event in Scandinavia requires a fair amount of investigative legwork.

7. Time travel is very confusing and prone to paradox. When it stops making sense or frustrates one, remind oneself that this is all pretend and we’re here to have fun. If you are not here to have fun, feel free to return to real life, which is absolutely fucking terrifying right now.

8. Rules are meant to be broken, especially by Alden Rosenberg, who had never been a big fan of rules. This is a trait he inherited from his mother, Elizabeth, whose disdain for the tight constraints of Relativity earned her a reputation at M.I.T. as the “Patti Smith of Physics.” Interestingly enough, Elizabeth hated punk rock. She was a Loggins fan… always had been. As such, it was time, at long last, to fly…

Into The Danger Zone.

 

Chapter 8: All I Wanna Do Is A Zooma Zoom Zoom… But Not ON Zoom (Just Shake Ya Rump)

George had not been punched in the face since he was eleven.

Well, technically he had been kicked in the face. Larry Bethea had leaped off the bleachers shouting, “Kee-YA, motherfuckahhhhh!” and just as George had realized he was the motherfucker in question, he was getting an up-close look at the treaded sole of Larry Bethea’s Gazelle and then he was unconscious. When he came to, George told Ms. Fiorentino that he had tripped and fallen on his face because he did not want to be a snitch and while he did not know why Larry Bethea had chosen to kick him in the face, George wanted to live in a world where every effect was preceded by a cause, so Larry must have had a darn good one. The asshole currently punching George in the face certainly did.

And the cause was NextDoor.

For those unfamiliar, NextDoor is a messaging app localized for neighborhoods. If your dog goes missing, you can post a photo and everyone can be on the lookout! If you smell smoke, you can post “Does anyone smell smoke?” If a suspicious vehicle is parked on your street, it is your civic duty to post, “MEXICAN CARTELS IN BEL AIR!” And while NextDoor is a great place to connect with your neighbors, it is an even better place to yell at them. They yelled about speeding cars and endless construction and dogshit on their lawns, oh did they yell about the dogshit! When the virus hit they found new things to yell about, like how irresponsible it was to have a Farmer’s Market but hold on, how is a Farmer’s Market any different from Whole Foods, in fact it’s safer because its outdoors but our privilege and the optics and who do you think you are to judge YOUR DOG SHITS ON ALL THE LAWNS!

But George looked for the best in people and he believed that now, in the midst of the crisis, it was just a matter of time before they all began to shine. Elizabeth just sighed and said, “This is a mistake.” but he signed up for NextDoor anyway and even opted in for text alerts which is why he was now being punched in the face.

It was the end of March, several weeks in, long enough to have given up caring or knowing what day it was. The only sense of time passing was that new episodes of SURVIVOR appeared on Wednesday, but with Boston Rob banished to Extinction Island, George had stopped giving a shit about that, too.

We were all Boston Rob. We were all on Extinction Island.

And so, there was George, unshaven, unemployed, unable to get his children off their devices to play just one game of SETTLERS when his phone buzzed. When he looked down at it, he suddenly had something he had not had since PH&W…

George had utility. George had purpose. George had NextDoor.

“PAPER TOWLS? PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!”

It did not matter to George that this poor individual did not know how to spell. Perhaps they were simply too flustered or worse, too sick… but there were multiple exclamation points and George didn’t’ need to count them to know this was serious, Jesus, he was already clicking on the link because while it may be true that he wasn’t needed in his own house right now, he was needed here, here in the neighborhood. PLEASE HELP!!!! You bet your sweet ass he would.

Her name was Beatrice M. and her profile pic was a cat, most certainly her cat, wearing a little bonnet. Her post was uncapitalized and to the point, further evidence to George that she was likely bedridden and gasping for air.

“does anybody know if paper towels are at Ralphs or Gelsons? I am a senior.”

George’s thumbs were already tk-tking across his phone – “Beatrice, we have copious rolls. Please provide your address and I will deliver immediately.” He hesitated… dragged his fingers over “copious rolls” and retyped, “a lot of paper towels.” This way she would know he knew how to spell “towels.” His heart racing, he pushed SEND.

“Why are you smiling like that?” asked Elizabeth, glancing over the top of Sapiens, which she had been reading for the better part of six years now. “Because I am about to save the day.” said George. She sighed and said, “This is a mistake.”

But now he was stuffing four rolls of paper towels into a paper bag and hopping into his Tesla because Beatrice M. had responded, “your a saint!” and provided her address and it did not matter that George’s pettiest of peeves was the misuse of your/you’re, nor did it matter that Beatrice M. was likely not asphyxiating on her own phlegm, but more likely dealing with a spill of some sort, a bad spill that needed something, anything to absorb it ASAP.

Thanks to the Tesla’s nav, it only took him two minutes to reach Beatrice M’s quaint cottage in the flats of Brentwood Glen. As he had promised her in his subsequent post, George was wearing gloves and a mask for the delivery, even though he would leave the bag of paper towels at her door at which point he would snap a pic for all in the neighborhood to see, for them to share with one another, hands over their hearts as they described his selfless awesomeness to one another in awe of the local hero who had taken it upon hims—

“What the fuck is this?”

George turned, just a few steps from his car, to see a man. Like George, the man was dressed in a t-shirt and sweatspants . Like George, he was unshaven and suburban. And like George, he was carrying a bag of paper towels.

The two stared at each other like gunslingers.

“I’m here to give these to Beatrice M.” said George.

“Uh uh,” said the man, “I DMed her and she DMed me back so I got this, pal.”

George traditionally avoided confrontations, especially with people who called him “pal.” But tonight was different.

“She gave me her address.” George said. “She told me I was a saint.”

If either were truly acting in Beatrice M’s best interests, one would have suggested they both leave their paper towels. She would be thrilled to find such a bounty (sorry) upon opening her door. But they were not acting in her best interests. And there could be only one hero in the Glen that night.

George was expecting another round of wordplay, perhaps working their way up from casual insults to outright threats. The man, however, had spent the better part of his day being berated by his eight-year-old son Dylan. Dylan who had dared to tell him Raiders of The Lost Ark was “slow” and “dumb,” Dylan who had screamed at him that the pizza rolls should always go in the oven because that made them crunchy and the microwave made them soggy so yeah, the man was well past insults and threats and just got right to the punching.

And social-distancing be damned, punch George the man did, exploding his nose beneath the only N-95 mask he and Elizabeth had not donated to their local hospital, the one he saved for a real emergency like helping old women in need.

Fifteen minutes later, George returned home. A wad of paper towels pushed to his face, extracted from the bag he had failed to deliver. He sat there in the driveway, relieved that the children were sleeping, that he would not have to face Alden’s withering gaze nor Leo’s oafish confusion nor disappoint his daughters with yet another failure. But he would have to face Elizabeth. She had told him this was a mistake the moment he signed up for NextDoor and she had told him again before he went forth on this mission and now he would have to tell her she was right. But when George tip-toed up the stairs and into the bedroom, Elizabeth was not there. Just Sapiens, face-down on the comforter.

But Alden was there, awake after all.

And so was a very tall man with the most fantastic beard George had ever seen.

To be continued…

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