After six weeks in a light quarantine, Jack Winston stopped keeping track of time. He wouldn’t admit it, but he missed the excitement that accompanied the lockdown’s early days, back when fear of the virus’ spread compelled him to stay up all night tracking Italian morbidity rates. The panic that defined March and April had been replaced by a constant, ever-present anxiety that hadn’t spiked since he found out his job status was transitioning from furloughed to terminated. Since then the days have felt blended, broken up only by the occasional thrill of going to the grocery store for pasta or paper towels, although even those adventures have been less pleasant because his mask had really started to smell.
Jack couldn’t remember whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday when he woke up this morning and gave up on the analysis before deciding. Dates become entirely anecdotal without the deadlines that accompany a normal work schedule or the occasional celebrations that end up peppering a calendar. This fugue is only intensified by the steady, seemingly endless current of new streaming content that doesn’t so much premier but just assimilate into the vastness of things you plan to watch one day; though you know you never will.
Most days followed a similar routine consisting of screentime only occasionally interrupted by a Postmates delivery. He’d venture to the store only if absolutely necessary. Texts and video calls with friends and family had become less frequent, likely because no one really had much left to say. these days.
Occasionally, Jack would write. Or at least prepare to write by making himself some tea and opening up a word document containing various ideas and starts of phrases that invariably remained just as incomplete at the end of the day as it was at the start. His attitude vacillated between a strong belief that this time was exactly what he needed to create and a certainty that he hadn’t the talent or attention to actually do so. The former feeling would motivate the tea-making and word-fiddling parts of his writing sessions, while the latter would compel him to scornfully close his laptop. Jack expected this droll, albeit comfortable, existence to continue until his savings depleted, which would certainly happen before the economy recovered enough for him to find a new job. He didn’t like to think about what would happen then.
On Thursday, perhaps, of some week there was a knock on Jack’s door. He called out, “Just leave the food at the door,” which was met with a still louder reply.
A woman in her late 20s stood before him. “You’re Jack Winston,” she said. It wasn’t a question, she knew who he was. She wasn’t wearing a mask.
“Yes?” Jack said through his. “Are you from Postmates?”
Her name was Amberlyn and it took her several minutes to convince Jack to let her inside his apartment. He resisted until he felt the speed of a gunshot just miss the young woman’s head and enter the doorframe that he obliged.
“What’s going on? Is someone shooting–”
“Dad, listen to me,” she said, instinctively.
“Dad?” Jack asked the girl who appeared at most only a few years younger than he was.
“My name is Amberlynn Winston and I’ve been sent back in time to stop you from writing your novel, have you finished it yet?”
“My novel?” Jack asked. “I haven’t really made much progress,” he said honestly. “That’s great,” she said, looking almost confused. “By this point in the timeline you should have been almost finished. According to legend, you completed the manuscript by the 25th.”
This all surprised Jack and as he took it in he tried to calculate how long it would be until the 25th. He guessed it was around a week.
“I have to go back, I only have a few more moments before the jump,” she said, taking in the lines in Jack’s face that mirrored her own. Her reflection was interrupted by another loud bang at the door.
“Amberlynn! Open the door right now!” yelled an ambiguously European accent. “Who is that? Why is he shooting at you?” Jack asked the girl claiming to be his daughter.
“That’s Murphy. He’s trying to catch me before I jump,” she said, Murphy’s fist continuing to bang at Jack’s front door. “He’s from the resistance and he desperately wants you to complete the novel. But don’t worry, he’ll never get in here before he jumps back.” Jack continued to question his daughter but she said there was no time to explain everything, only that she had a 6-minute window before she would be sent back that was about to expire. Murphy would be sent back through time seconds after.
“I always wanted to meet you,” she said to her father, the grave implications of which were immediately apparent to Jack. “I’m glad you were able to,” he told his daughter as he watched her disappear. Not thirty seconds later Murphy’s rapping vanished and Jack was left only with the strange memory of what had happened and a bullet hole in his door frame.
Jack returned to his couch after all that excitement but found it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the knowledge that he would be giving birth to a daughter in the next year or so and would most likely be dead shortly after. The act of meditating on his own mortality compelled Jack to start journaling these feelings. For the next several days Jack had filled hundreds of pages with musings about the impermanent nature of being and ways in which society could organize itself to maximize the utility of its resources not individually, but collectively.
The ideas flowed from Jack as easily as anything had and less than a week after his encounter with Amberlynn he had completed what he believed to be a manifesto of incredible importance. As he completed its final sentence it dawned on him that this document which his daughter so desperately wished to nullify had actually been inspired by the act intended to destroy it. The paradox of it all seemed inexplicable, if not ironical, and after some consideration, Jack decided it would be better for the world to publish his manuscript. The only publisher Jack was aware of was Penguin so he sent it there with a note that read-only “Please publish this book. It appears destined to be important.”
Two years after completing his book it was published. It’s release coincided nicely with the economy being fully reopened and Jack took his book on tour where he spoke at college campuses and bookstores about the limitations of modern society, a message that had become co-opted by the leftist student group called Jokarda as a call for revolution. It was on one of these tours that Jack met a young woman from Jokarda named Ruth. Over the course of several days Ruth told Jack about their plan to overtake the current regime and while the seeds of what would eventually be known as “The Winston Rebellion” fomented so did his feelings for Ruth. Within weeks she had moved in. She became pregnant only weeks after the last box was unpacked.
Believing he’d never meet his daughter, Jack spent the next several months inside the house so as to not risk injury or death. The paranoia grew so much that Ruth had moved back to the Jakorda compound right outside of Escondido. She made him promise he’d join them once the baby was born. He said he would, although he knew he’d not be able to live that long. As the familiar creep of isolation began to reattach itself to Jack’s life he decided it was too painful to simply wait for an end that could occur at any moment.
As the last of the pills were swallowed, Jack wondered again whether the chemicals making their way through his bloodstream was just another example of Amberlynn causing that with which she so desperately wanted to stop. As he drifted into sleep he received a text from Ruth that she had given birth. “What should we name her?” she texted Jack. “Amberlynn,” he wrote as he faded. In those last brief moments, he thought of his newborn daughter, eagerly anticipating running into her again, somehow, in 2020 for what will surely be the same tragic misunderstanding.