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Social Distancing


On Friday, he was alive.

The end of responsibility, the gateway to liberty, the groundbreaking of celebration, Friday was sacred. On Friday, he awoke from the hibernation of the week. And this week’s Friday made all others shudder in its wake. It was one of those days that made the night before impossible to sleep through. One of those days anticipated for entire lifetimes.

The blaring of a scheduled alarm went off to be silenced by the waking Anthony—no snooze button this morning. A grin formed on his young face as the sun revealed the budding trees of early Spring. At last, with the chirping of the birds serving as fanfare, the day had begun.

Anthony sprang out of bed to rummage through the landfill only barely contained inside his closet for the valuable items put in his charge. Bottles, trash, litter, and unnecessary and unused trinkets and several pairs of shoes old and new lined its crusty carpet. The clothes that did grace the landfill were occasionally on shelves but mostly in piles, and buried somewhere in those piles were the black hoodies and masks he and the group had pooled money to buy. As he foraged for them, he became distracted by some of the junk strewn about, and before he knew it, almost half an hour had passed, and time was no longer on his side. Stunned, panic seeped through: Only three of the hoodies chose to appear, and the masks were nowhere to be found. He fumed, aware that his foremost responsibility, this paramount task, he relegated to the recesses of the closet. He packed his minimal findings into an old blue duffel bag before rushing to complete the rest of his morning routine.

As he readied his schoolbag and changed his clothes, he deliberated how best to inform the others of this possible calamity—in the days before, a festering doubt had begun looming over the group. But his patience was tested, wary, and thin, and any delay inconceivable. They would go through with it that night, and he’d have it no other way.


Without much noticing the presence of his parents, who were too busy dealing with the bustle of three younger siblings to be interested in his own plight, Anthony lumbered out the front door handling a stale toaster waffle on one hand and an extra bag on the other. Outside, the brisk air of a Spring morning enveloped his face and unclenched his muscles. He was back. It was Friday again.

Anthony walked to the block corner, hearing the nearby chug of the morning bus. He stood at the stop alone for a minute before noticing that the chug was fading: The bus had been driving away. Lethargy sunk in and stifled any movement for another minute before he proceeded to simply amble along to school. He’d be late to class—but it wasn’t as if he cared about whatever subject was being instructed.

The sounds of the tranquil suburban environment he’d known his whole life played in his ears as he strolled through the neighborhood: The singing of birds, the mowing of lawns, the faint roar of a plane flying overhead, the distant drone of cars on the highway. That constant, neverending drone—the ocean waves of suburbia. The sounds he would’ve filtered out any other time. It was in Anthony’s nature to converse with anyone with ears to listen and care to give. Now facing an unfamiliar circumstance in which no one around him counteracted the quiet reality of the noise, he promptly reached for his pocket to remove himself from a moment which got longer by the second.

The standard flood of pending notifications brought relief—until he realized what half of them were about. Doubts were again raised by a member of the group over the feasibility of the plan, so for most of the remaining walk, Anthony did what he could to quell the situation. Inevitably he was asked about the material meant to be occupying his blue duffel bag. Unsure whether to lie or to leave it for later, he was rescued by a vaguely familiar “Hey!”

It was Mike Gardner, a figure from a distant time. In that distant time, the two friends had spent many a Friday together, but now more closely resembled vague classmates who had only once related at some forced school event.

“Look who it is,” said Anthony. He concluded it would be best to leave the hoodies and masks for later, and his phone returned to its cave in his sweatpants.

“Late too I see,” said Mike with an awkward chuckle that broke the brief silence Anthony’s greeting had created.

“One of those mornings, I guess.”

“Just one of those mornings,” repeated Mike. “If my mom hadn’t barged in I’d still be in bed... Damn paper kept me up, you know how it is.”

“Yeah, I feel you…For me, I was too hyped to sleep. Too busy thinking about tonight.” A slip of the tongue—he assumed Mike knew. Another pause threatened to follow the remark.

“Why, what’s going on tonight?”

“Oh—I dunno yet,” said Anthony, stammering a response before the silence could settle. “Just happy it’s Friday, ya know?”

Mike didn’t know, he thought. Although he hadn’t changed much, Mike was foreign to Anthony, who was increasingly feeling like a drudge and the interaction like a chore. But it was Mike who cut the conversation short; by then, they were across the street from school. “Ok, well, gotta get to class. See you around.”

“Aight, see ya bro,” said Anthony, hastily walking over to the entrance where other tardy students heavily advanced. They waved and gradually lost each other among the disparate crowd of teenagers as they went their own way.


The rest of the day was the monotonous blur of most school days. Luckily for Anthony, no one had brought up the hoodies since the morning.

Once the clock atop the classroom wall let the disinterested students know the end-of-day bell would soon ring, Anthony was injected with renewed energy as the ruckus of bags getting stuffed and zipped up overcame the teacher’s lecture. The commotion caused by the closing of the week created festivities and riots around the school, but Anthony was the first to the bleachers where he and his clan convened each Friday. He didn’t mind being early—it gave him time to converse with the peers and admirers that made up his ever-changing open clique. After some delay, all but one of the group members turned up. Josie, who had spurred the digital morning conversation, bailed after having long failed to commit to breaking and entering into public property.

The clan made their way to the temple, the 7-Eleven where everyone who was anyone celebrated the official start of the only worthwhile period of time. As they worked through a hyperactive horde that was as ready as they were to get the weekend going, Anthony saw Mike, who was separate from the disorder. Curiosity compelled him to observe discreetly, right up to when Mike turned his direction. Anthony didn’t look away on time, and their glances met for a few seconds, both aware of their purpose but feigning ignorance, speaking to each other but saying completely different things. Mike broke it off, looking down with a smirk, and enlightening Anthony to what had just occurred. He must’ve been entranced, because the clan called out to him to catch up. As he paced forward, he snuck another peek at his old friend. Mike was putting his headphones on, smirk still on his face, engrossed in his own world now. Off he went to spend another boring night at home.

This glimpse into Mike’s prosaic weekly routine stunned Anthony. Suddenly he was infused with the need to ask him something. Too late though, as Mike had vanished into the weekend.


The ritual involved Slurpees, donuts, and chips. It involved catching up with the other clans and cliques in the parking lot. But most importantly, it involved leaving the last five days behind. The temple was more than happy to let them partake in these festivities every week, so long as the drama remained outside. Their doors opened and the weekend began.

Anthony’s clan hadn’t yet mentioned the plan in name, but it was implied in everything they did. Things were going right until they arrived at the parking lot. Before they could open those magnificent doors, a gatekeeper awaited: Jared was lurking by the entrance, smug with information. He used to hang with the clan until he was outcast for defending an enemy. Now everything he did centered around making their lives harder. And that he did when he revealed he knew all about the plan, how they would go to Callie Hailand’s long awaited party and leave as it died down to break into school, how Peter found a way to pick the cafeteria backdoor’s lock. A jolt of terror seized everyone’s expressions, save for Anthony, who was better at concealing it. He denied the claims and walked past him. The rest opted to follow, but the ritual was no longer the same.

When they departed the temple, Jared was gone, and all that was left was newly-bolstered doubt. Questions were raised about who told who what, but no one fessed and the blame was placed on Josie. Anthony knew though, that in the name of clout, some knowledge might’ve slipped here or there, and that he probably wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t inconceivable how Jared pieced the information together.

“The man is only looking for an invitation,” said Anthony, “he won’t do anything.” It wasn’t enough to assuage fears. Peter proposed holding off until later, at least until talk died down, while Xavier was more radical, suggesting to postpone the plan until their graduation was ensured, not wanting to risk his future. “You both sound like Josie… Why are you so worried?” Anthony asked almost rhetorically. “We’ve been over the risks, and others have done this before and gotten away with it. The administration won’t know.”

He then pointed to the safety net—the blue duffel bag he’d been carrying around all day—a reminder that they had spent time and money on the effort; he didn’t mention that its contents were mostly empty. “We won’t get arrested and we won’t get caught, so stop worrying. You’re not a real one if you don’t stick with this. We’ve been preparing for so long that the only thing that matters is not being a damn wuss. So if none of you can do it, that’s fine—I’ll do it myself.” The simple terms he put it in shut them up for the time being, and no one dared raise the subject again as they made their way to Callie’s.

For Anthony, the only consequence of importance that night would be that they did something truly worth remembering, even if an air of insignificance ultimately surrounded their ambitions.


Callie Hailand’s mansion was in a separate part of town, a private kingdom designed to have limited access. Everyone called it Saar’s Land after its aristocratic resident William M. Saar. Using his profound connections, Mr. Saar convinced the state government to switch the neighborhood's school district to the better-off one to the south, which was convenient for some of the more privileged kids like Callie who would’ve otherwise been sent to one of those distant academies where grades required twice the work. Plus, at public school, she was someone everybody loved, and she certainly wasn’t oblivious as to why.

Anthony and the rest had been to more than enough raucous gatherings to not be influenced by the wild expectations many had. They were well aware the anticipation would surpass the historic occasion it was billed to be, though even they couldn’t deny the certain draw of a party at Saar’s Land. At least it would give them something to do before the real fun, and at most it would become another highlight of an unforgettable night.

The houses became less frequent and more gargantuan as they approached their destination. Saar’s Land abounded in vast trees and extensive estates which lined the winding roads flowing through the kingdom. It wasn’t a gated community, but entering implicitly required prior approval. In this case, the residents allowed the pilgrim flock of teens to walk and drive through, knowing their purpose. Noise was not a concern; the sheer space between estates served as a natural buffer which created an innate quiet.

When the clan made it to the Hailand residence, cars and floods of prospective debauchees arrived in correspondence, filing down a driveway long enough to be its own road. The house at the end of this road was obscured by the forest on its grounds, but once revealed, they knew the anticipation was granted. It was not a house, but a palace, newly-built. It sprawled underneath trees and stars, massive but not boastful. It was what McMansions strove to be, and more. It easily could’ve featured in architectural magazines for its unprecedented design.

A beat pulsated across the grounds, felt by oncoming guests like the rumblings of distant warfare. Humans filled every inch of the property, which was host to a rave where bodies melded in a frenzy, rendering it near impossible to enter the palace itself. Inside, the booming cacophony of bass, screaming, and laughter bombarded Anthony’s ears, letting him know that he was back. He was alive.

The palace shook as if on the verge of collapse. Unspecified poisons were distributed to knowledgeable fools. Red cups everywhere. Several had already passed out. Callie looked down from her perch on the second floor in approval of the frivolous indulgences taking place.

Anthony eventually lost any semblance of where he stood, but he was the life of the confusion because of his commendable ability to do funny things at the expense of his body’s maintenance. This was the hub of activity he flourished in. An unstoppable force, Anthony moved dazed and unknown crowds with his words and antics while keeping with the hysteria around him—at least, until he couldn’t. The mixture of toxins that had barged into his conscious awareness had taken their toll. Without ever knowing it, he was on the floor, destroyed from the excitement and disorientation eating away at his body.


On Saturday, he was dead.

Dead from the lingering malaise of the previous night, from the pain emanating from every inch of his muddled self. Dead from the knowledge that he had failed.

It took Anthony some time to gather where he was after being awoken by the light of mid-afternoon. Using a flipped-over couch for support, he got up to get a better sense of his surroundings, removing a face down bowl of chips and a yellow hoodie that someone had dropped over his unconscious body. Anthony expected to find other inebriated beings among the trash layering the floor, asleep in different crevices around every corner. Instead, no one. Everyone had seemingly dashed before he got up, fleeing the massive dump now placed on Callie’s hands. Anthony called out to her several times before falling on his knees and throwing up, having not received an answer. For some reason, she too had fled, leaving the disaster with him.

Struggling to get up again, he noticed his blue duffel bag by a drawer close to where he had slumbered the previous dozen hours. Everything came back. He had spent the most important part of the most important night dozing away. Imbued with a burst of rageful energy, he practically lunged at the bag, which now held no contents at all. He knew it—the clan had abandoned him and the plan out of cowardice. He promptly reached for his pocket to demand explanation and repentance, but his phone too was gone, likely taken by some bum who saw an opportunity in his dormancy. Cut off from the world, flustered and unaware of what to do next, Anthony grabbed the duffel bag and placed the yellow hoodie inside, a replacement that could somehow restore hope.

The machinery of his body was malfunctioning. The gears in his stomach moved as if on a tight schedule while sparks from neurons firing in his brain made his head throb. His legs felt like dead weight dragging along for the ride. Yet Anthony trudged on. He had to leave. The last thing he needed was to be the one greeting the Hailands. As he exited through a massive sliding backdoor, he looked at the anarchy he was leaving behind and knew he would never see Callie again. This in mind, he appreciated the wonder of the palace like he couldn’t before. The perfectly azure pools. The majestic trees cascading over the property. The acreage ripe with potential. If only he could stay.

As he got going, Anthony was dumbfounded by the sight of cars parked around the front rotunda, stretching far down the private road. Among these was Drew’s car, his way in. Everyone must’ve left the palace by foot, up to something special without him. He didn’t want to know what.

Saar’s Land resembled Anthony not long ago—in a deep trance. Stillness permeated the kingdom and sounds were muffled as if on a snow-covered day. On the contrary, it was quite hot for mid-March, making the lack of activity all the more unwarranted; and today, there was nothing to console him from the quiet.

Reaching the edge of the kingdom, where the houses became more frequent and less gargantuan, he could hear civilization again. The singing of birds, the mowing of lawns, the faint roar of a plane flying overhead, the distant drone of cars on the highway. The sounds brought a little life back into his sickly body, but not before he vomited on the side of the road by a bushel of marigolds. He fled the scene as quickly as he could, but it wasn’t as if there were any witnesses.

Even with the sounds emanating from the neighborhoods he traversed, not a person stood outside, not a single car drove by. One after the other, each street and house on the way back was as dead as him.


Anthony had never grasped how much his house was home. Sure, it was no palace, but the porch with potted plants hanging from the ceiling and the minivan that was perpetually parked in the driveway brought him the first positive feelings of the day. He no longer felt an unbearable ache with each breath out. It was the first time in recent memory that he was home without the implicit desire to be elsewhere.

He walked up the steps leading to the door, greeted by a newly-planted garden he hadn’t noticed before. Unable to find his keys, adding to the list of things he had lost in the past day, he expectantly rang the doorbell. Surely his parents were beginning to worry about where he was. Disappearing for over a day was unusual even by his standards. The next thirty seconds felt like the longest of his life as no one came to answer. He tried at least ten more times before quickly falling into a panic. Peering inside, he saw no sign of the usual Saturday asylum-business of little kids screaming to the harangues of parents.

“Where are you guys?” he exclaimed aloud. Anthony frantically made a revolution around the house, checking every door, pane, and crevice to find evidence of recent human occupation or a way in. He found neither. At this point the nausea came back with a bite, and his mouth became a dam giving way to the most intense gush of vomit yet. He collapsed.

The ocean waves of suburbia continued crashing in the distance. They gave him an idea. The machinery of his body could perhaps be fixed by the sight of another human, and he knew for certain he’d find that there. For this, he regained the will necessary to get up as he wiped residual puke from his mouth. He grabbed his bike from the backyard shed—the only unlocked room in his house—and began feebly pedaling away until he was struck by the shrill of a toddler. Anthony was ecstatic: his family was back.

“Where’s everyone been?” he demanded as he turned around. No toddler. No family. No one at all. The steps at the front of his home were vacant. It had been a mirage in a desert where human presence was water.

Anthony was pedaling faster now, determined to reach the highway, no longer aware of the malfunctions afflicting the machinery. He biked along sides of roads lined by parked cars, bustling noises emanating from the streets. But the sounds left with his presence wherever he went. The main avenue leading to the interstate went quiet and empty with his appearance, even as he heard the acceleration and honking of cars as he approached.

He stopped. He was afraid of what awaited him if he made the next step. He thought about turning around and going back home. But he went on anyway, impelled by the need to see life. Then the ocean waves stopped.

His worst fears were confirmed by the six-lane expanse of asphalt standing before him, empty enough for the tumbleweeds. What a view he had from the bridge passing over the highway. No cars came north or south. This had to be the apocalypse. Only the occurrence of a cataclysmic event could explain the scene before his eyes.

“Hey!!” Anthony wailed with a voice so hoarse that it failed to echo. “Is somebody out there?”

The attempts were futile. Convinced this was a nightmare, he considered jumping, but that only hastened the gears in his stomach. Instead he resolved to continue his search for life, and only one place seemed logical to visit. If anyone was home, it would be him.


On the verge of collapse from dehydration, pain dominated, complemented by sporadic bouts of nausea. But he didn’t care. Anthony chose to ignore the anguish as best he could in order to reach Mike’s house. Outstretching the distances of his memory, Anthony searched the blocks—it had been a while since middle school. He hoped maybe Mike would be walking along the sidewalk like the day before. Maybe he’d even join him for another conversation. A better one this time.

The now-menacing sounds of the suburban environment he’d known his whole life continued playing in his ears as he frantically searched. The ocean waves had returned, reaching high tide, so he convinced himself that the scene on the highway was a fluke and that he would trust his ears over his eyes.

Not recognizing it initially, he found Mike’s bungalow. The seasonally-changing flag posted on their tree and blooming violets planted by the doorway unlocked lost nostalgia of time spent in that small front yard. He went up to the door and rang the bell, only this time he couldn’t stand to wait thirty seconds as he did earlier, instead ringing it quite a few times more than before.

“Yo Mike, it’s me!” said Anthony while continuing to ring the doorbell. “I’ve been thinking about what you used to say, how we needed to hang out again. How’s about now?” There was a time when Mike would finish every interaction with an invitation. To Anthony it had stopped mattering what he meant by it, as it had become a mere formality. Now it mattered. He held out the belief that Mike wouldn’t desert him like the others and kept on ringing, certain that the offer still stood.

“Come on man, I’m not crazy, I promise! I promise...” he declared after ringing the bell a couple hundred times while hearing the taunts of a dog barking in the distance.


Anthony got to the bleachers as the first hint of waning sunlight hit the sky, having held on to the duffel bag with the yellow hoodie. He didn’t mind being early—it gave him time to alleviate his condition for when the rest arrived. He imagined the clan would go to the intended destination of the previous night as backup for having missed their previous window. They’d all make up and laugh about the whole ordeal—even Josie would show up. He was making a big fuss out of nothing. His family was just out running errands. There happened to be some event taking place that took traffic away from the highway. Mike was on vacation.

It helped to focus on the far-off noises that assured he wasn’t alone. He laid down and used the duffel bag as a pillow and hoodie as a blanket. For the first time all day, he felt relaxed, and the final workings of the mania in Saar’s Land left his body…

When he came to, the sun had left the sky completely, replaced by a faintly glowing blanket of light pollution. Apart from the time of day, something else had changed. He could make out what sounded like muffled laughter and spirited conversation coming from inside the school building. The voices pierced his soul, penetrating every fiber of his being.

Wrath consumed Anthony, who was now aware that they had gone in, once again leaving him behind. He ran to the cafeteria backdoor, but it was locked, so he grabbed a stone at the foot of a nearby hill and mercilessly hurled it at a classroom window. He didn’t bother putting on the hoodie.

Inside, once he got through the shattered glass, the voices retreated with his presence.

“I know you guys are here!” he yelled across the vast and hollow building. The reverberations of his echo were the only response. “Why’d you leave me? Apparently not because you’re cowards, because I know you made your way in! That’s right, I know what you’re doing, so just show yourselves and tell me! Talk to me!” he ranted, followed shortly by a mad sort of laughter which smoothly morphed into sobbing, his eyes unleashing a river of tears which hadn’t flowed since childhood.

Overwhelmed, he sank into the middle of the hallway, alone in a space meant to be shared. He remembered what he wanted to ask Mike earlier:

“How can you do this every weekend?”