For the past four years I have lived in a gated community. It’s a pleasant place with just one entrance. Spread over about 40 acres, it’s so spick and span that it looks like the village in The Prisoner. You have to be at least 55 years old to be incarcerated in residence here.

Until the advent of the RNA apocalypse it was a gentle place to pass one’s bonus years. The various accommodations ranged from small to spacious depending on how many digital coupons one had to clip. Number 2 was smooth and clean shaven – from neck to crown regardless of who occupied the role. He promulgated reasonable rules that were enforced by attractive ladies just entering middle age. Their duties were akin to those of a dutiful unmarried daughter. I was number 666. I attached no importance to this number that some thought ominous.

Pets were (and still are) encouraged and free poop bags are liberally and freely supplied at several locations. While not all the inmates residents cleaned up the droppings of their dancing dogs, several dissenters took it upon themselves to patrol the sylvan 40 acres on which village stands with poop bags at the ready. One even had a cane-like device that had a claw at its down side which plucked the poop from the grass and deposited in a ready bag. A pond with a fountain at its center was stocked with koi.

Indoor activities were as generous as the price-less bags. Every game known to woman that could be played by sitting at a table was widely practiced. Water sports and hair management were available as were banks and voting machines. TV monitors mostly spilling the QVC channel were generously mounted on every spare wall. Festivals were marked with hot dogs and hamburgers. Life could be delightful, though necessarily short. EMS vehicles with blazing lights and hoary horns were a continuous reminder of brief duration, but little notice beyond a glance was the modest acknowledgement of this symbol of final decay.

Interrogations were rare and typically gentle. A modest place in the vast universe was secure as long a fixed orbit was observed, one that did not trespass on another. Only the final unwinding of the mortal coil disturbed the hollow flow of time. Van transportation to nearby points of interest was an included perk.

There were some intrinsic difficulties. The sole entry was locked at 8pm. Number 2 was regularly replaced for solitary reasons. This regular rotation caused a change of entry code. Rationed memory struggled to abide such changes. Then there was the residence alarm. It too found limited memory space competing with computer pins and the smoke alarm codes and those of the refrigerator and the automatic lights and the password manager and the cell phone – even the golf carts demanded a passcode. The last were the ubiquitous means of traversing the short span of from here to there in the village. Conformity and neatness were the watch words. Diversity was not even an afterthought. All was regular, enforced by an invisible hand.

Then came the pestilence. No origin or name was affixed to it. It appeared like a rainbow. The first to go were the golf carts. Then the game tables vanished. The water evaporated. The koi fled. The codes rose to 25 characters which were mandated to include upper and lower case letter, numbers, and at least three arcane symbols. Masks were mandated, their purpose forever unspecified. Solitary walks were allowed as long as a mask was included even when the sun was high and ozone abundant in suspicious amounts. Graffiti appeared soon after the masks and they quickly covered all vacant spaces including the masks. Some were clever, others opaque.

Intermittent breathing.
Fold your nose
Of mice and mice
Practice makes purple
Matter makes lives
Blow the world down
Who’s your friend now?
Vote for Lincoln
An apple a day keeps the plumber away
Send in the browns

The EMS vehicles seemed to visit at the same frequency as prior to the plague, but their horns were now silent though lights were still ablaze. It was a silent spring, then summer, and winter soon to follow an unvaried fall. On those rare occasions when I see another soul tentatively walking the grounds I say to myself, “Who is that masked man?”

I am not a model detainee. I’ve worn the same mask for nine months. It more resembles a sponge than a microbe fighting instrument. I have successfully evaded the minions of number 2 on forays to and from local establishments. I have purchased a jelly donut while unmasked. I am the author of articles that question the holy writ of science, but have escaped retribution for blatant heresy by virtue of the insignificance of my efforts. Unimportance and the lack of critical mass are a potent shield against penalty. There are untold benefits of a rebarbative persona.

But I’m afraid that my worst offense is that I’m not afraid. I don’t even fear fear itself. That is a sin that even the Dalai Lama would find hard to pardon. The current allowed variation from the mean is 0.01 of a standard deviation. Deviationists are in mortal peril. If I weren’t so fearless I would publish under a pseudonym. Something like Mother Jones or El Greco. But fear or no, I love Number One and so should all.