My little family has developed a kind of COVID-19 mythology to gamify the unusual circumstances of the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic. We’re aware that this has hit many people in the worst possible ways, and our hearts go out to them. Splitting the difference between limiting the spread of the disease and limiting the economic damage has proven to be a massive challenge to our leaders, such as they are. Here’s a dramatization of the mythology we created. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
FEBRUARY 8, 2020
“Did you bring a snack?” Jonah asked.
I shook my head. “No. You just had breakfast like an hour ago.”
“Ugh.” Jonah wiped sweat from his forehead with the hem of his Pikachu T-shirt and moved further ahead on the forest path. “I’m line leader.”
“I’m the light turner-offer,” I called.
“There aren’t any lights.”
Next to me, Rose checked her Apple Watch. “Almost closed a ring.”
“Nice,” I replied.
Around a bend we reached the wooden tower that loomed over the marsh beyond. I craned my neck to watch people climbing the four flights of stairs to reach the top.
“Are we going up there?” Jonah asked.
“If you really want to. Didn’t you guys go up there last weekend?” I said.
“Let’s see what’s here at the bottom,” Rose suggested, so we went around the tower, inspecting the stanchions and concrete foundation sunk into the ground. Spider webs glistening between the beams told us that few people walked under it. Jonah found a piece of scrap lumber and leaned it against a stanchion, claiming that in doing so, he helped build the structure.
“What’s this?” Rose said, and pointed a little further, deeper into the woods.
In a small clearing, someone had used Spanish moss, stones, and branches to construct a small-scale crop circle of concentric rings. It was a neat sort of pattern, so Jonah stood in the middle and held out his hands, pretending to be beamed up by extraterrestrials. I took a few photos, and we walked back to the car before Florida’s heat and humidity drove the last bits of fun out of the nature walk.
We didn’t think about it again for several weeks. We didn’t think we had to. Jonah standing in the middle of the circle was just a bit of fun.
SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 2020
Jonah had been out of school for the first full week of the Corona pandemic, and we were still adjusting to the societal upheaval like everyone else. Despite the necessity of social distancing, we needed Vitamin D, fresh air, and exercise, so we went to our favorite park for a walk. At all times we were careful to maintain a six-foot distance between us and passersby. Jonah and I made a game of it, sometimes going way off the path to avoid getting near bicyclists and joggers (we called it playing “Zombie Apocalypse”).
After Frisbee catch and other messing around, we again found ourselves at the base of the lookout tower.
“What happened to the UFO circle?” Rose asked.
We hurried back to the clearing to find that the strange symbol was gone. No trace remained.
“Huh,” I said.
“Oh well,” Jonah said.
“Did you do anything to it?” I asked him.
“No! How could I? We all just got here.”
“Well, you stood in it to begin with,” I said, peering at him. “Maybe…”
“Maybe it was a dimensional portal. Maybe you took us to a parallel universe when you went inside.”
Jonah’s brow furrowed. “Maybe. But I didn’t mean to.”
“It wasn’t long after you went in there that the Coronavirus became a big thing here. We’re now in the Corona Universe, where it’s a major pandemic. I think in our original universe it stayed small.”
Eyes widening, Jonah nodded. “And…and remember when we got back home that day, people started talking all weird? Like garggha-arrrgle-arg.”
Rose uttered a low chuckle.
“Yeah,” I said. “But we must’ve gotten used to it and understand them now.”
“Well, look,” I said. “Let’s try to get back to our original universe. I don’t want to be in the Corona Universe anymore.”
Jonah frowned, nodding. “We have to build another portal.”
We wandered around the area, looking for rocks, branches, and Spanish moss. There were plenty of branches, but no rocks or moss. Usually, there’s Spanish moss everywhere in our part of Florida. Where the heck could it—
“Hey!” Jonah shouted. “I found something.” He held up a pine cone and squinted at it. “There’s writing! It says, ‘You will never return.’”
I stared at him. “Oh, no.”
He threw the pine cone into the woods. “What?”
“Our doubles. Here in the Corona Universe. They lured us to this spot in our universe, then switched places with us, stranding us here.”
“So they’re in our universe,” Jonah said. “Our original one.”
“Doing God knows what,” I agreed.
Rose sighed. “So now we’re stuck here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Guess we’ll have to make the best of it.” I peered at the place where the portal had been. “Well, let’s find a place to sit down and rest.”
Jonah led the way to a bench. “Did you bring a snack?”
“Yeah. An orange.”