It came about suddenly, all at once.

George had been contemplating leaving his job at the electronics store for some time. He had recently been promoted to a supervisor role, but had just as soon come to realize that he really wasn’t cut out for it. When they first asked him if he wanted to become a manager, he had told them no. He didn’t want to get stuck at this job forever; he’d seen it happen to other people. Despite not knowing what it was that he wanted to do with himself, George was sure of this. But time kept passing, little progress toward anything else in his life was made, so eventually, he gave in. He had been working there long enough to know how to do pretty much everything, anyway, so he figured that he might as well take the promotion and earn some more money if he was going to still be around. But after completing the training and supervising for a few months, he found that he just wasn’t as people-oriented as a manager should be. He liked actually doing the work much better than supervising other people doing it. He also disliked the conflict in it; he didn’t want to fight with people over their work or boss them around too much; it was contrary to his nature. George was drafting a letter of resignation in his head when the disaster struck.

He had heard about the virus on social media when it was still confined to Asia, and it hadn’t really worried him: crazy things happen in foreign places all the time. But diseases travel, infected people got on planes and boats, and the virus made its way to the West. Americans began to become infected, and the leaders of the nation scrambled to keep it from spreading. Their solution was to shut everything but the essential businesses down, which worked fine for George. His boss informed him that the store would be closing until this all blew over, and that he would have to file for unemployment in the meantime. He didn’t mind; he had some money put away. Any excuse to get away from that place worked for him. When he walked out the door that day, he told himself that it would be for the final time.

Social media was ablaze with news and speculation concerning the pandemic. Some were saying that there would be a nationwide lockdown; everyone would be confined to their homes and unable to leave for a week or maybe more. Others said that there would be widespread food and medicine shortages. The government was going to crumble. All of them were in on it, too; the whole thing was a conspiracy. Military state. Anarchy. Contradicting accounts from all sides. George took it all in and began to ponder what would become of his life in the new world that the virus would form.

He imagined society breaking down, the government throwing up its hands in defeat, soldiers abandoning their posts. The first problem would be food. He didn’t have a lot of canned stuff; he didn’t really care for soup or beans or anything like that. His grandfather had a cellar full of canned food; he supposed he could learn to tolerate it if he needed to. His dad had a garden; it didn’t produce much, but it was something at least. He had cousins who owned a farm; he had heard stories about his dad working on it as a young man. They would help them out, surely. They were family, after all. He tried to remember the last time he had spoken to his cousins. He tried to remember their names.

People would no doubt break away into conflicting factions and tribes, he figured. It would be wise to join in with a powerful one with lots of resources, but at the same time, he would need to find one with moral leaders. No crazy cults. People around there were reasonable for the most part, so he imagined it shouldn’t be too hard to find a decent group. He thought about presenting himself to a faction and how he would convince them to let him in rather than them taking his resources and leaving him behind. He didn’t have any real skills, not really. But he could learn. He was a hard worker and picked things up quickly. He could do whatever they wanted if they could show him how to do it. He thought about when he was considering going to school for welding, then later to be an electrician. He never went through with any of it; maybe he should have.

Maybe he would meet a girl in the new world. Maybe one day there would be a girl walking alone on some hidden path returning to her base after scavenging for resources for her tribe. She would be jumped by three or four marauders, savages, who would threaten her with sharpened sticks and knives carved from bone. These are real bastards; they’re going to steal what she has, then beat her, rape her, and eat her. She cries for help. Her screams echo without answer; she believes all hope is lost. Her attackers lick their lips in anticipation. Suddenly, one of their heads explodes, brain matter and blood splattering all over his fellow barbarians. George had heard the cry for help and had come to the rescue. He takes aim with his gun, scoring precise headshots on the other two or three primitive rogues, sending them to the ground before they even have the chance to fight back. In an instant, it’s over. Good triumphs over evil. He blows the smoke from the barrel of his gun, like in the movies. The girl runs to him and embraces him tightly.

“My hero! I’m saved!”

“Well, shucks, little lady, it was the least I could do.”

George puts the gun back into its holster, adjusts his ten-gallon hat, then reaches down for a kiss. Then they’re married, they’re raising children. He has a beautiful family in a modest cottage in the countryside. There’s so much love. They run around the yard playing, shouting, trampling on the ashes of the old world.

George’s boss gave him a call after a week of unemployment.

“New order from the governor is out: the number of new cases in our county has started to go down, so they’re letting us open back up. How are you feeling? Are you okay to come back to work?”

George answered “yes” before he could think about what that meant.

The virus would not be his savior. The old world still remained.