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The day was cold, the car was warm. He sat and played a game on his phone as he waited for his Genius Bar appointment at the Apple Store. He had arrived early to escape the incessant parade of contractors restoring the home he and his wife had purchased and promptly gutted.

Retail was on life support.

Typically, on this day before Christmas the strip mall full of high end stores would be bustling. Shoppers streaming in and out of Barnes & Noble for coffee, books, and gift wrapping. Heavy foot traffic into Orvis, The North Face, Trader Joe’s, Kendra Scott, and shopping bags galore being placed into the trunks of $60,000 SUVs with remote control open/close buttons. At least one half of America had so much money that a small box of earrings in an outsized gift bag required this grand mode of transport. Reach for the trunk and close it manually? Are you mad?

But this was no typical Christmas Eve.

It was deep into the third wave of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. America had taken to online shopping and as Amazon stock and the whole Dow soared, brick and mortar retail was on its last gasps.

The vaccines had been trickling too slowly into the arms of the pandemic-weary, but there was hope that what half considered a hoax (but who rolled up their sleeves anyway) and half took deadly seriously would soon be over.

And then SARS-CoV-2 mutated.

It did what viruses do in service to their only responsibility: replication. It adapted to all the distancing and masking. The vaccine was the last biological straw, pushing the sorority variant, Delta-Zeta, to respond with a viral spike protein that not only clung to human cells with glue-like avidity but also escaped the vaccine-induced antibodies, now blind to the new variant. Nature found a way; chaos theory and natural selection triumphant.

DZ took 99 percent of the populace. Three million Americans were spread out among the lower 48.

A wet nose against his cheek roused him from his daydreaming, and it was 2025 again.

He had hidden with his Golden Lab in the back of a Barnes & Noble, surviving on whatever detritus he could harvest from the strip mall, much of which had gone up in flames in ’24. He shared the diminishing supply of saltines, water bottles, and canned sausage, supplemented with mice they both worked to catch, with the dog. The 20,000 books kept him sane. But there were new rumblings at night. The fire had chased away the runners, bloaters, and clickers but he feared they were no longer alone. He put one hand on the tarp covering his cache of guns and knives and another on the dog. Rufus put his large head in his lap and they sat, half calm, half petrified.


Dan Farkas

Dr. Daniel H. Farkas is a molecular pathologist who has published extensively and spoken on the topic internationally. Dan Farkas, on the other hand, is an itinerant New Yorker living just outside The D. His joys in life come from creative writing, photography, the music of his youth, his wife and kids, and sometimes the NY Rangers. #LGM

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