They shrugged. Sonny and Vito, both students in their fourth and last years of high school, stared at the invitation. They were fed up with being trapped at home, with taking classes on a computer screen, with being unable to hang out in the park or do much of anything at all. They were young and healthy!—didn’t the news say that these were the only elixirs you needed? It would be perfectly fine if they saw their friends for a little bit. Hell, they deserved it!
The cause of all the fuss, nicknamed Flash for its ability to infect so many people with such speed, had arrived in the U.S. three months prior. The news said it had started in some animal in Therasia, Greece, when drunk townsmen went looking for the bones of Hermes in a cave. Apparently, drunken stupor had convinced these Therasians that the bones would allow them to kick it at godlike speeds until they were airborne. Fast forward seven months and add 4,800 miles to the equation, and you get Sonny and Vito, equally oblivious to the danger and also looking to get high, breaking curfew in a time of pandemic.
It was a calm, cloudless night and having been released from their last “class” of high school six hours before, they were in no mood to be bothered, especially by any form of authority. Which is to say, they not so secretly hoped someone tried to stop them. The party was supposed to involve no more than twenty people, as the invitation on social media had casually implied. Things hadn’t turned out that way, and Sonny and Vito were attendees thirty-eight and thirty-nine, respectively, as flagged by an extremely irritated neighbor standing outside her apartment door and keeping count. For whatever reason, thirty-eight and thirty-nine were her limit, and she left her threshold threatening to call the police if Sonny and Vito took one more single step towards the elevator. Her surliness flourished upon the fact that neither boy seemed to have bothered with a Flash mask, which if the news could be believed would prevent the spread of the virus. Sonny and Vito were used to shrugging off the objections of their elders, but this was the first night of their emancipation and they were having none of it. Bristling, hulking their shoulders up to show off their heights, they challenged the woman, demanding her name and reason for playing canary. When she wouldn’t give them her name, they decided on one for her. Suddenly nervous, “Karen” backed-off, stuttering through an attempt to explain her concern and appease the boys. She tried to tell them she was an immunologist, and that social distancing, as they were calling it, was for their own good. Instead, Circe, the party’s host and a girl known for “knocking out” her guests with alcohol and other forms of magic, appeared at the door and began to harangue “Karen” with a speech drawn in equal part from a remembered lesson in very early U.S. History and one of her father’s favorite dictums. “Karen” decided not to point out that the virus wouldn’t care whose house it was or whose rules were enforced. Shrugging, she returned to her apartment, where she made a record of the situation, first in a social media post and then more completely, with the full details of her unsuccessful attempts “to stop the pigs”, in a blog entry which, to the consternation of her more assiduous readers, she called the “reincarnation of the apocalypse”.
By the start of the next winter, New York City was being called The Gate of Tartarus by an especially plucky BBC news correspondent. The name stuck, as New York had led every other city around the world in total deaths in this year of the pandemic. Before a vaccine beat it back with a conclusive thunder clap, the Flash would take the lives of half the world’s population, and 87% of New Yorkers. While nearly all of Circe’s party-goers perished that summer after an especially deadly mutation of the virus attended her encore gathering at a thereafter infamous beach in the Hamptons, “Karen” survived. In a grief-stricken moment around Thanksgiving, she took down her blog post with a helpless shrug.