Something, Something, Something Murder

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?”


“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.


“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.


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…


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.


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.

Chapter 9: Am I a Traitor If I Believe Pillow Guy’s Heart Is In The Right Place?

Kenny Loggins was making a woodchuck.

More precisely, he was carving a woodchuck from a block of wood, wallowing in the sheer delight of the meta-ness of it all. Kenny Loggins had always loved woodland creatures; Chipmunks, beavers, squirrels, they were all delightful… but the woodchuck was by far his favorite and he was well on his way to immortalizing one.

Kenny Loggins also loved wood. Wood was his namesake. When he was little, the other kids would say, “Hey, Kenny Loggins! You like looooggggggs?” And he would stay silent, understanding the question was rhetorical. But he did like logs. He liked them a lot.

Kenny Loggins was not a professional carver, but he was no hobbyist either. The same dexterity he used when he played guitar was applied to each stroke of his knife as he carefully created the orbs that would become the eyes of his woodchuck, the very windows to its soul.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Kenny Loggins knew the question was preposterous. Woodchucks were vegetarians and did not gnaw on wood, let along chuck it. He would reflect the frustration of constantly being asked this question by etching it into the furrowed brow of his subject, angling his knife deeper…

And suddenly there was a woman standing in the room with him.

“AGHR!” shouted Kenny Loggins as the knife slipped from the block and across the tendon of his thumb, a spurt of hot blood geysering into the air.

The woman held up her hands – “I’m alright!” she said calmly, as if she had not just materialized from nowhere.

But Kenny Loggins was surprised and wounded and confused – the door to his studio was locked. Who was this woman in glasses and a lab coat, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail? And how the hell did she get in here?

“Easy, Kenny Loggins!” she said. “I’m alright.”

But he wasn’t alright. The blood was still gushing and fuck, FUCK, he and Messina were already barely speaking and JESUS, how was he expected to go on tour and play guitar without his goddamned thumb?!?

The woman giggled now. Kenny Loggins could not explain why, but he could not shake the feeling that she had just successfully conducted an experiment of some kind. Well maybe he could explain why. It was the labcoat. And the clipboard.

“Is this 1977?” the woman asked.

“Huh…?” said Kenny Loggins.

“The year… Is this 1977?” said the woman.

“Yes.” said Kenny Loggins.

The woman giggled again. Then looked at the half-carved woodchuck and furrowed her brow.

“You haven’t done Caddyshack yet.” she said.

“Wha?” said Kenny Loggins.

“That gopher. If it’s ’77, you haven’t done Caddyshack yet.” said the woman.

Kenny Loggins was confused. “It’s… not a gopher. It’s a woodchuck.”

“Ohhhhhh.” said the woman, “Gotcha.”

And with that, she gave him a thumbs up, once again repeated, “I’m alright.” then abruptly shoved two of her own fingers down the back of her throat and vomited all over the floor of Kenny Loggins’ art studio.

“…. The fuck?” said Kenny Loggins.

But Elizabeth Rosenberg was already disappearing into thin air, heading back from whence she came.


Chapter Ten: Okay, I’ll Fucking Watch Tiger King. Jesus.

Grease is the time. Is the place. Is the motion.

You now know several important things about time travel, but you don’t know the most important thing, which is does it count?

In other words, how can you be asked to invest in a story where any character in that story can just go back and change shit at their whim? There are no stakes, no real consequences if mistakes can easily be corrected and undone.

Case in point.

Elizabeth grew up with an intense crush on John Travolta. She had first fixated on him in GREASE, sitting in the movie theater next to Kirin Pindar and Kirin’s mom, Mrs. Pindar. Elizabeth’s knees actually trembled when Danny first sauntered onto the screen. She was only nine years old, but that was old enough to know true love when she felt it and this was as true as it fucking got.

I will tell you more.

Decades later, working in her lab at Berkeley and encouraged by the beta testing, Elizabeth ingested a chronoceutical that was coded to transport her to Woodland Hills, California in the year 1976. Knowing the journey would only last as long as it would take for the pill to pass through her body, Elizabeth had only twelve to sixteen hours to bed her target.

Travolta was already a minor celebrity after half a season of Welcome Back Kotter and a memorable turn in Carrie, but this was before Saturday Night Feverand Grease at which point he would no longer be gettable. And so Elizabeth, then aged 36, appeared on the set of The Boy In The Plastic Bubble with perfectly feathered hair and denim separates. Travolta never stood a chance. He was the one that she wanted and the rest is history.

Except it wasn’t history. It was A history. An history? Whatever. You get it.

A series of catastrophic dominoes began to tip. Diana Hyland played Travolta’s mom in Bubble and despite being twenty years his senior, was engaged in a torrid romance with him. Her heart broke instantly when she walked into young John’s trailer as he was hopelessly devoting himself to Elizabeth, who took a dump shortly afterwards and disappeared back to the present, which we will get to presently.

First, the past. Diana, decimated by Travolta’s infidelity, broke off their relationship instantly. He begged her for forgiveness, unable to explain how he had so easily been wooed by the mysterious woman who had vanished from the bathroom in his trailer… she had known everything about him, his hopes, his dreams… she looked at him like he was a star instead of a high-school dropout from Englewood, New Jersey. She knew all the lyrics to GREASE, which he had done on stage in New York but nobody knew that really, except she did, and when she whispered “Tell me about it, stud.” gently into his ear, then bit it, just a little too hard, he was hers for the taking and take him she did, but now she was gone (seriously, did she climb out the window in there?) and he so desperately wanted Diana to take him back but it was too late.

And then Bubble wrapped (sorry) and a few months later, Diana Hyland was dead of breast cancer. Travolta never recovered, irrationally equating his infidelity with the tragedy of Diana’s untimely death. He retired from acting and eventually ended up with a severe drinking problem and a lifetime of teaching ballroom dancing in Sherman Oaks.

As such, Grease was still made, but with other stars (Richard Gere edged out Barry Bostwick for Danny, Susan Dey played Sandy) and the world moved on from 1978 with only one significant alteration, that being it was Travolta-less. So imagine Elizabeth’s surprise when she rematerialized in the present to find BERKELEY OVERRUN BY CANNIBAL MUTANTS RIDING MOTORCYCLES PLAYING GUITARS THAT SPEWED TOWERS OF FIRE AS IF FROM THE BOWELS OF HELL ITSELF!!!!

Just kidding. But Al Gore was president and that was almost as bad.

Do you need to know how a lack of Travolta led to Gore’s legal victory in Florida? You do not. Because it never happened. Or to be more accurate, it unhappened.

Elizabeth was the only human alive who remembered the previous reality, so it was incumbent upon her to simply code a new pill to go back six hours before the previous journey and intercept herself before she could bone Travolta. Which is exactly what she did. And when both Elizabeths took their respective dumps, they reappeared in the present exactly as they had left it, with George W. Bush as president and an absolute shitshow in Iraq. Travolta was once again an International celebrity in spite of Wild Hogs… and of course he had no memory whatsoever of his summer night with Elizabeth because she had erased it.

So does it count?

Why should you care about any of this if it was undone and negated and retconned?

Well… here’s one reason. When she returned to the present to find all was as she had left it, three weeks later she began to feel queasy and nauseated and even though she was confused by the paradoxical implications, she could not ignore the inevitable revelation that she was not Sandy at all, but Rizzo…

Because Elizabeth Rosenberg was pregnant.



Chapter Eleven: Now That I’m Wearing a Mask, I Would Like My Superhero Name to Be “Anxiety Man.”

At long last, the pandas were fucking.

It was impossible to tell where Ying Ying ended and Le Le began, the two were a tumble of white and black fur, of husky growls and sharp-toothed bites. They had shared the enclosure in The Hong Kong Zoo for thirteen years and nothing had happened… but all along, the tension was building. They were the Jim and Pam of Pandas and the time for flirtation was over. The wistful looks over stalks of bamboo and inside jokes were but a decade of foreplay inevitably leading to this, its literal climax as Ying Ying issued a plaintive sigh, Le Le dismounting and collapsing beside her, finally, after all this time, laid laid.

Why now? Why after thirteen years had the two pandas chosen this precise moment in time to consummate their passions?

The answer, unfortunately, was the virus. The zoo had been shuttered for almost a month. No tourists. No children. No cameras. No screaming and crying and laughing and pointing. It was the pointing most of all that had destroyed Ying Ying and Le Le’s respective libidos and now that there was no one to point, their panda loins were hot and hard and wet. The zookeepers took photos and videos and put them on the internet and in no time there were memes of Le Le thrusting himself into Ying Ying emblazoned with block text that read “WHAT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND BRED ALL OVER?” or “PANDA-EMIC!”

A month later, Ying Ying was pregnant and five months after that, she gave birth to Chuang Chuang, a beautiful male that would grow up to be so virile that he would singlehandedly impregnate every viable female giant panda currently in captivity many times over. By 2030, the giant panda population would quadruple and like Genghis Khan and Frazier The Lion before him, Chuang Chuang would become legend, but not just legend, a savior. Decades would pass, then centuries… and all because of Chuang Chuang, this single super-spreader of panda seed, his kind was no longer endangered.

But there would be no Chuang Chuang without Ying Ying and Le Le fucking.

And there would be no Ying Ying and Le Le fucking without the virus.

This is what Elizabeth Rosenberg was considering as she sat in bed, furiously scribbling in her spiral notebook. Cause and effect. Intent and consequence. Pandas saved and pandas extinct.

“Holy shit, you’ve gotta see this!”

Elizabeth looked up to see George excitedly turning his laptop towards her. He was watching a(nother) Zoom video on YouTube, sixteen Brady Bunch boxes of identically clad men and women, all wearing… Jesus Christ, it couldn’t be…?
“… Pandas?”

“What? No…” said George, as if she’d said something ridiculous, “They’re penguins! And they’re all British celebrities!”

George was an anglophile. His parents had named him after King George the Sixth (“The Stuttering One!”) because they were also anglophiles. When George first brought her home for Thanksgiving, his folks had just about shit themselves with sheer joy when they learned she did not go by Liz or Lizzie or Beth but only Elizabeth and this particular affection would all be just positively delightful if not for the fact that years later, George’s mother’s heart literally exploded the moment she heard that The Crown was going to be on Netflix. Elizabeth had considered going back and preventing the show’s creation, but George’s mom was kind of a dip and The Crown was fucking amazing, so, y’know, probably best to just let that one be.

In spite of his mother’s untimely death, George still loved all things Britannia and was rattling off the famous people as he pointed them out on his laptop screen, sheltered in their own homes and inexplicably clad in Penguin onesies… “Oooh, there’s John Cleese and Gordon Ramsay and Adele and wow, Emmas Thompson and Watson and.. whoa, holy shit … Cumberbatch!”

Now George was explaining how all the Celebrities had been goaded by Graham Norton to dress as penguins and when Elizabeth asked him why penguins, George told her that the paradox of a people whose very nature was to maintain a stiff upper lip being so inexplicably silly was what made it so very British.

“Don’t talk to me about paradoxes.” sighed Elizabeth.

And why did she sigh?

Because she knew after forty-seven trips back there were still problems that needed solving.

Hillary was president and the pandas were fucking, but British celebrities were raising money for the NHS because Idris Elba was gone, and a world without Idris Elba was not a world that Elizabeth wanted to live in. So she scribbled in her notebook and prepared for trip number forty-eight, completely oblivious to the fact that her son Alden was hiding under the bed, waiting for his parents to go to sleep.

Waiting to get his hands on that notebook.

Waiting to put this shit right.



Chapter Twelve: I Only Started Writing This Shit Because I Was Told This Would All Be Over By Easter

In the end, it was not chloroquine that led to over a million worldwide deaths, but Pop Rocks and Coke.

Not literally, of course. Literally, it was Ivermectin, but culturally it was Pop Rocks and Coke, or, as it would later be dubbed in a very dense and extremely pretentious research paper out of The University of Michigan, “The Gilchrist/Morgenthau Effect.”

Jon Gilchrist was a child actor who appeared in a television commercial for Life Cereal back in a time when there was “Life Cereal” and “television commercials.” Gilchrist played Mikey, an adorable tot with an unfortunate haircut who hated everything until his two brothers forced him to eat Life cereal. Mikey did not hate Life Cereal. Quite the opposite. As such, the catch phrase “Mikey Likes It!” catapulted into the public consciousness, spreading among the tastemakers of the day in the same way that LOLCats, Harambe, and All Your Base Are Belong To Us would decades later. Yes, Mikey was a meme before anyone knew what a meme was.

And then his head exploded.

Gilchrist was just shy of four years old when he appeared in the spot for Life. The spot for Death happened seven years later when his mother received a call from a woman in tears, expressing her deepest condolences regarding the tragic accident that had taken the boy’s life. The culprit, a lethal combination of Coca Cola and Pop Rocks.

Pop Rocks. Mythical. Magical. The result of infusing scalding hot liquid sugar with carbon, the chemists who mixed it clad in moonsuits to protect themselves before smashing the hardened result into tiny pieces with nine-pound sledgehammers. All so children everywhere could empty a packet into their mouths and feel a satisfying sizzle upon their tongue.

Gilchrist, now on the precipice of adolescence but still drunk with the celebrity of his toddlerhood, was showboating in his school cafeteria when he emptied six packets of Pop Rocks into his mouth, pulled the metal tab from a can of Coke, brought it to his lips and began to chug. The boy realized almost instantly something was very, very wrong, his face contorting in pain and confusion as a hissing crackle, began to emanate from his mouth like the sound of a fuse leading into a stick of dynamite.

A little girl in pigtails exclaimed “Mikey doesn’t like it!” a moment before the boy’s eyes shot out of his face and flew across the cafeteria like bottle rockets. The children shrieked in terror as they were sprayed with jets of red, frothy foam from Gilchrist’s nostrils in a hot geyser of carbonated blood and cola. Those kids standing on either side of the boy felt only temporary relief in being spared as liquefied brains burst from Mikey’s ears and all over them in a sickening spewing sploosh, like tourists in the front row at the Shamu SeaWorld show, back in the good old days before folks came to the fairly obvious conclusion that captive Killer Whales were sad and alone and suicidal. Suffice to say the details only get more gory from there and also none of this ever happened because it was all complete and utter bullshit.

Mikey did not die from ingesting Coke and Pop Rocks because that is the stupidest thing in the history of stupid things. But it was catchy and that’s all that matters in the end. Catchiness.

Once the rumor was in the public imagination it spread like wildfire, a phenomenon even more impressive considering there was no internet. No, this was good old-fashioned-word-of-mouth-flim-flam and the R naught was 5.7. If you do not know what “R naught” means, just know that it is the reason you are currently trapped in your house getting sick of frozen pizza, which you never, ever thought you’d get sick of. Suffice to say, everyone who heard about Mikey’s face exploding told many other people about Mikey’s face exploding and those people told many other people and so on and so on ad infinitum.

Gilchrist was, in the meantime, very much alive, a fact the company that made Pop Rocks blared in hundreds of full page ads in every major metropolitan newspaper. Alas, the damage was done. No one was going to give up fucking Coke and the risks were too great. Pop Rocks were sunk. No child in their right mind would buy them and eventually, three hundred million pouches worth of the shit was buried in landfills.

So now you know the Gilchrist in the Gilchrist/Morgenthau Effect.

As for the Morgenthau, well frankly, I’m gonna need the weekend to figure that one out. But I promise it will most definitely tie into the unfolding time travel opus of the Rosenberg family in essential ways and I’ve got an amazing plan for how this all ties together in the end.




Chapter 13: He’s Gonna Fire Fauci, Isn’t He?

I promised you Morgenthau and Morgenthau you shall receive.

But first a few pieces of housekeeping whilst we all keep in our houses. Three things, then Morgenthau.

Thing one. All things end. And yes it’s true that some naked blue fellow once said the opposite, that nothing ever ends, but he was pretend and this is real. So it will end. And soon. Unlike our current predicament, which is uncertain at best, you deserve a definitive denouement and you will get it in Chapter 20.

Thing two. Someone will in fact get murdered in Chapter 20. This was foreshadowed in the title and also you people love fucking murder. Murder makes everything better and every great story has it. To illustrate, let us review this past year’s Academy Award nominees for best picture (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Parasite. Delightful satire about wealth and class and also a stabby murderfest.

The Irishman. De Niro murders everyone.

Joker. De Niro gets murdered.

Ford v Ferrari. Ford murders Ferrari (assumption, didn’t see)

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Horrific real-life mass murder is averted via Comedic fictionalized mass murder.

Little Women. Scarlet Johansson murders Beth. (skimmed review, may be scarlet fever instead of Johansson, speaking of…)

Jojo Rabbit. Adorable coming-of-age story with abundant murdering.

Marriage Story. More like Murder Story. (allegorical, also has Scarlet Johannson)

1917. One single shot, nine thousand murders.

So yes, folks, you will get your precious murder in seven short chapters and no, it will not be subsequently erased by the deus-ex-machinations of time travel. It will be a murder that is permanent and lasting and as irreversible as a melting polar ice cap or the destruction of our precious institutions. Unlike the fictitious death of young Jon Gilchrist via Pop Rocks and Coke, in Chapter 20, there will be actual blood, lots of it, so put on your ponchos lest ye be spurted upon.

Which brings us finally to Walter Morgenthau, the latter half of the infamous Gilchrist/Morgenthau Effect, so named in that infamous paper published by The University of Michigan in the midst of the coldest winter to befall Ann Arbor in a century. To understand the effect itself, we must first understand the slash (/) that separates Gilchrist and Morgenthau as one that not only divides the two by decades (Gilchrist’s story unfolded in the early 1980s, Morgenthau’s forty years later) but also by the magnetic poles of repulsion and attraction. This is confusing by design as such research papers are not meant to be understood by laypersons and the really good ones are not meant to be understood by Malcolm Gladwell, lest he write a book about it and give it a pithy title like “Blink” or “Outliers” or “Stink” or “Fartholders,” the latter two being how Dr. Julius Starbury referred to the former two, so bitter was he when Gladwell did indeed take his precious research and synthesize it into a bestseller entitled: “Urban Legend, Rural Truth” (Little Brown, 2022) the gist of which was this:

Gilchrist was supposedly killed by Pop Rocks and this created a mass collective effect of repulsion. Aside from the rare thrill-seeker, most children did not want to risk their faces exploding. As a result, the candy became obsolete following the viral spread of the “Mikey Rumor.”

Walter Morgenthau was supposedly saved by Ivermectin and this created a mass collective effect of attraction. Deep in the throes of respiratory failure and on a ventilator, Morgenthau’s symptoms abruptly disappeared and subsequent tests could not detect any trace of COVID-19. Such a miraculous recovery, particularly in the case of a seventy-three year old patient, was unprecedented. Morgenthau happily announced to the Kansas City Star upon his release from the hospital that identity of his savior was none other than his granddaughter, Matilda.

Despite social distancing guidelines, Matilda recently had a playdate with her cousin, Sophia while their parents drank margaritas and chatted about how ridiculous social distancing was. Matilda did not contract the virus from Sophia, but she did contract head lice. After a few days of unbearable itching, Matilda’s pediatrician prescribed an oral medication and through a series of mundane misunderstandings that would not be worthy of a Three’s Company Episode, when Matilda’s mother went to the pharmacy for pickup, she accidentally swapped her father’s blood pressure meds with her daughter’s lice pills and that is how, six hours before he was eventually intubated, Walter Morgenthau unwittingly ingested Matilda’s Ivermectin. One day later, he was cured and crediting it all to the miracle drug that saved his life.

Two weeks after that, Ivermectin would claim more lives than the virus itself.

Walter Morgenthau was a domino. One of many that had tipped with the click-clacking inevitability of spacetime. But he could be untipped. Lives could be saved.

But it would cost Elizabeth Rosenberg the thing she held most dear.

And it would cost Hillary Rodham Clinton her eye.

Chapter 14: Only a Hack Writes Himself Into The Story

The Rosenbergs, like all of us, were trapped.

Elizabeth Rosenberg was bouncing around timespace, making summer love with John Travolta and harassing Kenny Loggins mid-woodchuck. Neither of these visitations seemed to have anything whatsoever to do with installing Hillary Rodham as President of the United States, but they were the subjects of entire interludes nonetheless. Elizabeth was thusly trapped.

Greg Rosenberg was getting into fistfights under the auspices of carrying out charitable acts in his neighborhood and arriving home to find a bearded man in his bedroom. This cliffhanger has been dangling for so long that you probably forgot his name is not Greg, but George. And George was trapped.

Abby, Emma and Leo Rosenberg were all trapped too, but they hadn’t done or said anything interesting and with only six chapters to go, it was becoming more and more apparent they were insignificant.

Alden Rosenberg, however, was incredibly significant. Unaware that his mother had already rewritten history , Alden was attempting to rewrite it himself with the help of the aforementioned bearded man, whose name was Brad. Only in America could the architect of our ultimate ruin be named “Brad.” And Brad, who was simultaneously fictional and non-fictional, was also trapped.

And Hillary, who was two-eyed in one timeline and patched, in the other was trapped in both.

They were all trapped. Brad and Hillary and Elizabeth and Greg (George!) and Abby and Emma and Leo and Alden were confined within the walls of a story that was simply not moving forwards. Time both extended and compressed around them. Their lives were a ping pong ball, bouncing off a series of carefully angled pots and pans and juuuust missing a red solo cup, over and over and over and over again.

“Can we just get on with it?” said Alden.

I’m trying.

“Not very hard, apparently.” said Abby.

“Why don’t you tell them how I got this eyepatch?” said Hillary.

Because that’s just more exposition. I want to move things forward.

“Do you even know how I got the eyepatch?” said Hillary.

… Yeah.

“Jesus, you don’t know.”

I do… I just… I don’t want to give it away yet because…

“Oh fuck,” said Elizabeth, “He’s breaking the fourth wall.”

No… I’m not – I’m just having a hard time focusing right n—

“It’s not like you’re busy.” said Emma.

“Yeah, it’s not like you’re busy!” said Abby, who was more or less interchangeable with Emma.

“I am NOT interchangeable!” said Emma, “‘I’m just underwritten!”

“Can I leave?” said Brad.

“Can I do something important? Like, something that would really matter?” said George.

Sometimes not doing anything is doing something important, George.

“Ooh boy” said Elizabeth, “It’s getting meta in here.”

“Leave him alone,” said Leo, who was an oaf. “I don’t even care that you think I’m an oaf. Everyone loves a good oaf because the oaf is always the one who says something simple and important and sweet, so here goes…”

“Cue the violins.” said Elizabeth.

“I believe in you.” said Leo.

“Jesus fuck, Leo.” said Alden.

“I know you’re worried that you’re just doing the same time travel stuff again and you don’t even know what’s gonna happen in the real world so how’re you supposed to know what’s gonna happen in here? And you’re worried about the ending, but you have to get over that, that was like, ten years ago and you’re stronger now so even if you don’t get it just right, that’s okay because the best endings are a little messy and that’s kinda the point right now because this thing isn’t really gonna end end… it’s just gonna kinda go on for awhile and that sucks, but I believe in you. I really do. So just, y’know, put your head down and write, okay?”

… Okay.

“And cut the fourth wall shit.” said Elizabeth.

I will.

Wonderful. Can we get on with it now?” said Alden.

Yes, Alden.

We can.


Chapter 15: I Was Being Sarcastic When I Said They Were Dead The Whole Time

Every husband should prepare himself for this possibility that he will one day encounter a strange man in his bedroom. Nonetheless, George was still surprised to see one in his.

“Don’t freak out, dad…” said Alden, “He’s with me.”

“What year is this?” said the strange man with the phenomenal beard.

“Who are you?” said George.

“I’m Brad,” said Brad, who was extremely tall and not at all uncomfortable in a way that made George incredibly uncomfortable, “Seriously, bro, what year is this?”

There was only one possible explanation for a query such as this. George looked at his son. “Alden Rosenberg. Are you time-traveling right now?”

“Technically, no.” Alden responded, “But Brad is.”

“I fucking A am.” said Brad, holding up his hand for a high-five. Alden sighed and half-heartedly provided it.

“Dad,” Alden said, turning to George, “We are in the midst of pandemic and I have very serious concerns about our current leadership. Brad is going to help me make some necessary revisions.”

Brad turned to George too, excited that he had indeed traveled through time but also by the line of blow he had done at work before the kid showed up. Okay, more the blow, less the time travel, but the point was he was fucking pumped. And boy, did he have questions. “Is Hillary fucking Clinton seriously the President?”

George furrowed his brow. He did not like where this was going. Or where it had already gone. “Yes…” he said cautiously, “But despite my son’s “concerns,” I think she is doing as good a job as could be expected given the circumst—”

“–Yeahyeahyeah…” Brad interrupted, “Your kid said nobody’s listening to her about staying inside and so she turned off your internet and now you’re looking down the barrel of full-scale nationwide revolution, that about the size of it?”

“The… size of it?” said George, who did not see the world in terms of size because he was 5’9 and that was perfectly average even though he was actually closer to 5’8 and maybe if he was being really honest about it, 5’7.

“Hey… does she really have an eyepatch? How’d that happen?” asked Brad.

“Well,” said George, “It was horrifying actually… it happened on live telev—”

“—Gentlemen!” interrupted Alden, who knew that everyone reading this cared more about how Hillary lost her eye (horrifically) than anything else and wanted to make sure this was not revealed until the very end, “We don’t have time for this. Dad… just tell us where Mom’s C.G.S.P.P is so we can get this over with.”

“Heh.” chortled Brad, “You said peepee.”

George hesitated, then realized that the hesitation would be perceived as weakness, so he said much louder than a normal person would ever say, “Sorry, bud. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Dad.” said Alden, who liked being lied to only slightly less than he liked being called bud, “Tell us where the Chrono Genomic Sequencing Pharmaceutical Printer is or Brad here’s gonna beat you up.”

“Sorry, Mr. Rosenberg.” Brad said, politely cracking his knuckles.

George should have been surprised at this threat of violence from his own son, but he was not. Alden had embraced Oedipal tendencies from an early age. When he was six, George told him to turn off the television and Alden just looked at him and said, “How about I turn you off ?” George laughed nervously, but Alden made it clear that he wasn’t joking when he said, “I’m not joking.”

So George knew that Brad would indeed beat him up if he did not reveal the whereabouts of Elizabeth’s time machine (she hated it when he called it that) but he also understood that Alden must have already accessed it if Brad was already travelling through time and he was on the verge of pointing out this very paradox when the ceiling above them abruptly exploded and two adult panda bears fell into the room from above in a cloud of sawdust and insulation.

“Shit.” said Alden.

“GRAAAAAAAR!” said one of the pandas.

“…The fuck?!?” said Brad.

“MUHHHHHR!” said the other panda.

The door flew open and a woman burst into the room. She was sweaty, slightly drunk and most certainly fifteen years older than the last time any of them had seen her. She was brandishing a whip, which she cracked with brutal authority, bringing the pandas to attention, for she was clearly their master.

“Hi, honey.” Elizabeth Rosenberg said to her stupefied husband…

“Sorry I’m late.”

To be continued…

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