Narrator: You are about to enter another dimension, one of sound, space, and seclusion. A parallel reality, not wholly dissimilar from our own, but divergent nonetheless.
Cut to a shot of Caleb, a man in his thirties, gazing longingly out the window. For a few seconds the world is peaceful.
Narrator: Enter Caleb. A simple, benign, unhappy man whose life is about to be turned upside-down by one of the largest upheavals in recent memory: the arrival of COVID-19. Viewer be warned – this is not the COVID-19 you’re expecting. But that should be obvious, since this is… the Twilight Zone.
Caleb snaps back into reality. His elderly mother Sandy is watching Fox News from her recliner.
News anchor: …requiring citizens to be gathered in public for at least one hour a day. President Clinton also removed the ‘essential work’ requirement for domestic and international travel, in an effort to quicken the spread of COVID-19…
Sandy groans. “Goddamn Democrats trying to kill us… Lock her up!”
Caleb tries to placate her. “At least Congress is finally agreeing on something…”
“What, mass extermination? You know there’s no science to back this shit up, all hearsay. It’s just China trying to play the Savior, miracle antibody, please…”
“It would be nice though – I mean, if it really could fight against 95% of viruses, that’d be – “ he rethinks his words as his mother glares. “But it is suspicious that they can’t test for it on a mass scale… That it’s supposedly too expensive.”
“Mm-hmmm. So you just gotta be social, how convenient, and pray to God you’ll catch it. It’s like the last hundred years don’t mean jack shit to those maniacs. And how do you even know if your town HAS the antibody, IF it’s even real. You’re just gonna risk spreading viruses. Geez Louise…”
The news continues in the background: …under fire for the recent CDC video that DISCOURAGES people from washing their hands…
Caleb is relieved to hear a knock at the door. He goes over, puts on a face mask, and answers it. There’s a group of middle-aged moms handing out toilet paper, and none of them are wearing masks.
“Greetings from the TP brigade!” one of them says cheerfully.
Caleb is confused. He tentatively grabs the roll of TP. “Okay… What’s the occasion?”
“Just doing our part to help spread the antibody, and some neighborhood spirit.”
“So you all have the antibody I assume?”
“We don’t know for sure, but we might! Better safe than sorry!”
She casually reaches in to take off his mask, he instinctively pushes her back.
“Sorry – safe space, six feet.”
“Now that’s not very patriotic! You can’t spread COVID if you’re wearing a mask!”
Sandy shouts: “Can’t spread viruses either, Karen! Now get off my fricking porch!”
Caleb looks at the women apologetically, then closes the door.
Title card: Antibody.
Cut to Caleb at the local museum. He’s wearing a face mask and perusing the timeline of the 20th century in blissful solitude.
1918: Influenza and The Birth of Modern Health.
1920s: Early Quarantine Measures
1940s: Decline of the City and Suburban Explosion
1960s: The Digital Revolution
1980s: Birth of the Internet and Online Streaming
2000s: Virtual Reality Goes Mainstream
Each decade has photos of quiet towns, citizens wearing masks, and a notable absence of crowds. It’s like the country has been under quarantine for the last century.
Cut to Caleb having a virtual chat with a few dozen faculty members in his home office. Using his augmented reality glasses, he can see each person as if they’re physically in the room. His mom is watching news in the living room, so he mutes himself. After a few minutes of mingling, the university president calls the meeting to order.
“I appreciate you all gathering on such short notice, I’ll make this brief. As many of you I’m sure already suspect, starting in the fall, we will be transitioning from online classes to in-person. We want to do our part to help spread the COVID antibody. Luckily, there’s a provision in the stimulus bill for universities, so we’ll be building a new campus near Roosevelt. Now – please, settle down.”
The virtual faculty are buzzing with questions. “Will we have to take off our masks?” “Do we have the option to present from home?” “That’s not what students signed up for!” “What about the commute??” Caleb is silent, unsure what to make of the announcement.
“Please, if you’ll let me finish – at this time, the plan is that you can either teach remotely, or in-person without a mask. If you’re in-person WITH a mask, that defeats the purpose. And you will NOT be penalized if you choose to stay at home.” Several unconvinced groans. “That’s all, thank you.”
The president abruptly disconnects. The teachers all start gossiping and chatting. None of them approach Caleb though, and he turns off the chatroom without anybody noticing.
Cut to Caleb visiting Dennis, the owner of a local restaurant. The surrounding area is bustling with activity. Both of them are wearing facemasks and standing six feet apart, trying to keep their distance from other pedestrians.
Dennis: “So what, they expect me to build a dining room all of a sudden? What about the delivery drivers? What about people who still want takeout?”
Caleb: “It’s crazy man. You guys doing okay, financially?”
“Eh. I had to cut a few of our temp workers – lucky for us we’re right by the park, so people can grab and go. It’s the closest thing to seating we have.”
“Any places shut down yet?”
“Just a few, but they were basically bankrupt already. No, we’ll ride it out. And besides” (in a mocking tone) “things will only get better from here!” They both chuckle. “I’ll say this much – I’m looking forward to the new stadium.”
“Stadium… Oh, like a Roman arena, right?”
“Mm-hmm. Rumor is they’re building one just a few miles away, planning to go back to in-person sporting events. Now THAT I can get behind, and scientists say that you can actually get a rush just by being in a crowd that big.”
“Says the extrovert…”
“If you wanna keep your virtual seat, be my guest. One more open spot for the rest of us.”
“It’s the future man. But hey, for real, appreciate your business, thanks for looking out for us.”
“Just doing my part,” Caleb replies. “Easy way for me to meet my one hour of public exposure. Does it feel more dangerous now, everybody suddenly being out and about?”
“Nope. See the nice thing is I can pull the ‘food handling’ line and just say I don’t want to spread food poisoning. That way I can keep the mask and gloves.”
‘Ah, clever. Lucky you. Well thanks, stay healthy.”
“You too man. Oh hey, here, almost forgot.” Dennis hands Caleb a flyer. “They call it a mixer, it’s like all these singles meet up, try to find a match, don’t have to worry about using an app or an online profile. I’ve heard they’re all the rage now.”
“But… humans… socializing…”
“They let you wear masks.”
“Hmm… I’ll think about it. Thanks.”
Caleb leaves with his food and looks at the flyer, skeptical but intrigued.
Cut to later that evening. Caleb is sitting in front of the TV with his mom. They’re watching the Republican debate for the 2020 presidential election. It’s down to Andrew Yang and Donald Trump (who’s wearing a mask).
Moderator: There’s been growing concerns about the recent stimulus bill, specifically, where’s the money coming from? How will we pay for it? Senator Yang, we’ll start with you.
Andrew Yang: Well, on my first day of office, I would be eliminating universal basic income and replacing it with a much smaller, much less expensive unemployment department. I think the best thing we can do for our country right now is encourage people to get out there, find work, start businesses, and take advantage of the new in-person economy. This is the best time to be an entrepreneur, and I’m excited about this decade, and all the opportunities we have thanks to COVID-19. I’m predicting now that these will be the roaring 20’s in the history books.
With no studio audience, there’s no cheering or booing to interrupt his statement (kind of refreshing). Caleb smiles and nods in agreement, but only briefly. He’s trying to hide his enthusiasm from his mother, who can’t help but voice her opinion: “Good luck cutting our UBI, you Chinese puppet! What a tool, geez Louise…”
Moderator: Mr. Trump, your thoughts?
Donald Trump (turning to Andrew Yang): You’re pretty dumb for an Asian. What, so let’s just undo a hundred years of American safety and public health because of this ‘antibody’?
Andrew Yang: This would actually be good for public health because the quicker the antibody spreads, the faster we’ll have herd immunity. We also need to accelerate the construction of rural distribution centers to make sure-
Donald Trump: Funny, wasn’t the question about CUTTING government costs?
Andrew Yang: Well, we would still save money without UBI, and you had asked about what-
Donald Trump (ignoring him): See these are the sort of lies that the media wants you to believe. A miracle antibody? Are people that stupid? And it’s from China, CHINA! I mean, if THAT’S not the most OBVIOUS red flag…
Andrew Yang: There’s plenty of science to support-
Donald Trump: We need to MAKE. AMERICA. SAFE. AGAIN. Not believe these obvious LIES from the establishment about this COVID-19. Give me a BREAK! LIES! FAKE NEWS!
Sandy: “Tell em!”
Moderator: Mr. Trump, does this mean you would run on a third party ticket if you lost the-
Donald Trump (talking over him): We need to END this forced socializing, END this police state that’s violating our PERSONAL FREEDOM to be left alone! I hear in some states, they have drones that report you to the police if you don’t leave your house at least once a day. Unbelievable!
Andrew Yang: I think that was a satirical article…
Moderator: What are your thoughts on increased surveillance and-
Donald Trump (talking over him): When I first started Amazon, we had NO IDEA that we would become the backbone of logistics and how important that is to this great country, and now they want to DESTROY JOBS and TANK THE ECONOMY by pushing for small businesses and – what, what’s your buzzword, Chang – ‘brick and mortar retail outlets’? What the hell kinda gig are you running? And how do we know you’re even an American citizen? Huh?
Andrew Yang and the moderator are both speechless, but Trump seems impressed with his performance. They go to a commercial break. Sandy chuckles and salutes the TV sincerely. “God bless you Mr. Trump.”
Caleb has been quiet this whole time, trying to hide his discomfort. He goes in the kitchen, pulls out the flyer, then tells his mom he’s going on a walk.
Cut to Caleb at a crowded singles mixer in an abandoned warehouse. There are a few hundred young adults chatting, drinking, and flirting. Caleb is one of the few with a mask. After some awkward, failed attempts to start a conversation, he finally meets Abbie, and they hit it off.
Not gonna lie – I don’t know how to write romantic dialogue very well. So I’ll give a summary of their evening out, and leave it to your imagination as to how their discussions unfold.
At the mixer, they find that they’re a good initial match, so they leave to go get dinner. Abbie’s convinced that she can get him to take off his mask by the end of the night.
Cut to them having dinner at a local restaurant – the dining patio is still under construction, but there are dozens of patrons at makeshift tables.
The two of them discuss the ‘unprecedented’ social changes. Caleb is worried about teaching in person, saying that, more than anything, he’s nervous speaking in public. Teaching over a Zoom call is completely different than in person.
Abbie, meanwhile, is excited to be able to travel. It’s a bit expensive, because airports and airplanes are primarily built to handle packages, not people. Still, the industry is quickly adapting to an influx of ‘flying for fun’, a novel concept that she’s a huge fan of.
Also, Caleb has mommy issues, but we already knew that.
Cut to them at an innovative new venue called a ‘movie theater’. It’s a place to watch a movie with a group – like a drive-in movie, but without the cars, and more crowded. Caleb’s worried about how unsanitary it is, but even he can’t help but enjoy the experience. Finally he throws his mask away, they kiss tenderly, and the movie starts. They have a blast watching with everyone else, and when it’s over, they both go back to her place.
The next day, Caleb is exceedingly nervous. Partly because it was his first time, and partly because it all feels so unsanitary without his mask. He wakes Abbie up, says goodbye, and leaves rather abruptly.
As he drives away, his mind starts racing. The date night, the antibody, the politicians, the seismic social shifts – it’s starting to be overwhelming. He goes into the grocery store on autopilot, the noise building and pounding away.
Suddenly he passes out. He wakes up to the sound of somebody yelling.
“Where’s your goddamn mask?!”
“What the hell is your problem?? You trying to kill us???”
Two shoppers are standing over him, staring at him like an animal. Caleb apologizes profusely. “I’m so sorry, I lost it last night, I didn’t mean to.”
But it’s too late. One of them has already alerted the manager, who rudely demands that Caleb leave. As he does, he’s puzzled by how empty the shelves seem. Everybody in the store seems panicked, and everybody’s wearing a mask.
Outside, he’s taken aback by the skyscrapers, high-rises, and apartment buildings. He hears a buzzing sound. He finds a phone in his pocket, not his AR glasses. “What the…”
There’s a new message from Abbie. She says they should meet again, but this time in person, not over Facetime. Caleb is bewildered. As he gets in his car, another shopper starts harassing him for not wearing a mask. He quickly locks the door, apologizes, then races home.
Back at the house, he looks frantically for a mask, but can’t find one. What’s more – his mother is gone. He calls her and asks where she is, she rudely shouts that she’s where she’s always been: the nursing home.
Caleb is relieved that she’s still her annoying self, but is more confused than ever. A nursing home? What nursing home? Why is she in a nursing home? Where are all his masks?? He manages to get the address from her, grabs a bandana as a makeshift mask, then drives to meet her.
Cut to Caleb at the nursing home. He’s not allowed inside due to COVID-19, so he’s on the outside of the glass, she’s on the inside, and they’re talking over the phone. She’s not wearing a mask, much to the dismay of her caretaker, and she’s rambling loudly about how the Democrats are trying to kill everyone, ruin the economy, and create a police state.
But Caleb is slowly realizing that, whatever new world he’s in, he doesn’t have to put up with her anymore. As she continues spouting conspiracy theories and vitriol, he hangs up and slowly walks away. Cue closing narration.
Narrator: Ironically, Caleb will soon feel more at ease in this world than his original one. He and Abbie will ride out the quarantine, while his mother will die of old age. And all the while, politicians will argue, the economy will adapt, people will struggle, history will repeat itself, and life will somehow manage to go on.
For all the differences between Caleb’s world and ours, some things never change. More specifically, people never change, no matter what universe they find themselves in. A lesson that’s all too familiar in… the Twilight Zone