As Todd rose comfortably to a cruising altitude of 11 kilometers in a North-Northwest heading, Zephyr meanwhile strolled as he had for the previous few hours, now ambling due East, in the direction of the same thrift shop that Todd had left a few hours earlier.

☕︎︎
His paper cup of "soy latte" (a topic to which we may later return, in the body of some non sequitur several chapters hence) was almost empty, so he approached the trash can in front of the thrift store to discard it. Not to discard the thrift store, but rather just to discard the cup.

He paused upon noticing the yellowing clothbound book at the top of the pile of trash - untouched and no further sullied than it was when Todd chucked it there. "The Anatomy of Me," it read, although the rest of the title was obscured by coffee stains. Still, the author appeared to be one Robert Burton, whose name he had read before. He remembered with a self-impressed chuckle that he had instantly rearranged the letters in Robert Burton's name the first time he had encountered it, to render "T-TORN RUBBER" which was funny.

"T-TORN RUBBER" was funny indeed, not only to Zephyr, but also to a whole lot of regular readers of his most curious flog, which is what he called what others might have called a blog. It was an online Film, Literature, Onomastics and Genre (so "FLOG").

Zephyr had no idea how pretentious he seemed when he casually broke conventional forms, first of all, and worse yet, often in a way that featured puns and acronyms. It seemed pretentious to others because they didn’t know how effortlessly and with what immediacy Zephyr could summon groans at will.

‘Hmmm ... ‘Summon Groans at Will’ is a perfect newspaper headline. Who is Summon, and why does she groan at Will? There’s a whole actual quality story you could build around that one kernel of ambiguity. You’d never even need the audience to know there was ever any groan-summoning genesis.

You can build immense structures on fantastic jokes. And if you’re a really good builder, you can obscure the origins of your craftwork so that the joke remains very much an inside one. Right there, lurking in the text.

He looked over his shoulder briefly, to hedge against judgemental, angrily squinting eyes with cameras trained on anyone suspected of enjoying themselves. He seethed in judgment as he judged those judgemental eyes of theirs, their looks. Their flimsy grasps of their own ideologies and their absurd implications. He could feel their looks somehow. Then, he judged himself for his own hypocrisy (so as to make himself feel better about his final choice to judge them anyway, knowingly hypocritical or not).

Alongside this mental metajudgment, Zephyr snapped on a pair of "glovID19s," the most recent release in Cornell Labs’ "CorOneNine" protective textile line. 'CON' for short, to Zephyr. He assumed, correctly, that the gloves were wholly ineffective for any practical antimicrobial purpose. That was their only deficiency, though.

On the other hand, (ahem), they were unaffordably costly, blindingly conspicuous, and hence, wildly popular. These screaming neon yellow glove-gauntlets brought about squinting eyes even among those harboring no resentment. The gloves’ unmistakeable style ensured that they and their wearer would both be noticed, while signaling at the same time that while your gloves might be better for the virusbusting part, mine are a humble statement of wholesome things, like civic responsibility, superior technology and intelligence, diligence, virtue, and financial wealth.

Postplague textiles were a predictable success with the nouveau riche set. The exhilaration those brats felt upon inheriting large sums of money always exceeded their outward grief on Facebook. Over the past two years, many young people had inherited the estates of distant dead relatives they’d never met, as their family trees were pruned by plague.

"Hmmm," thought Zephyr, ‘Pruned by Plague’ would make a great book title . . . or maybe a funeral-rock band name." It would, admittedly be a clever way of bringing attention one day to his skill as a brilliant linguistic artist. It would need to be considered thoroughly first, though.

He jotted the idea down in his notebook in his "Book Title Ideas" section, so that he could pretend to himself that the idea might incubate inside his closed notebook itself, to hatch and emerge as a fully grown turkey preserved in a block of ice that could be melted to free it and give it life again . . . along with the 138 other book title ideas on the list at that time.

He looked at what he had just written. He knew that perhaps it would be many years later when he would come across this notebook again. And when he revisited it one day, he’d arrive at a scribble that, while at the moment was clearly "Pruned by Plague", would by then look something more like:

Pnnnd Bg Dlagu

which was unlikely to make any straightforward sense to him by then. He almost decided to rewrite it underneath to make sure he wouldn’t lose the memory.

He ultimately decided against amending it, leaving his writing exactly as it was, letting it exist in its splendid imperfection. It would harm Nobody, and after all, writing wasn’t much fun if it didn’t involve a little mystery about what might happen next and to whom.

Zephyr's fashionably gloved hand was just about to grasp Todd’s discarded book in the trash can when a man in a beige-gray suit approached him to hand him a flyer. Reluctantly, Zephyr accepted and looked at it. There in his hands, in a photo labeled MISSING, was the unmasked face of — he could have sworn it — the woman who had saved his life.

The flyer read:

MISSING
PHYLLIS WHITEHILL PAGE
Disappeared 17 July 2020
Reward Offered for Information
Please contact Prof. Nodot

Immaculately photocopied on the reverse of the flyer was Professor Nodot's business card, which read:

JAUN-JACQUES ROCHEVIEUX NODOT, PhD
Professor, Amazon Prime University
College of Interdisciplinary Linguistics

Department of Literary Onomastics, Cinesemiotics, and Intertext (LOCI)


When Zephyr looked up, the man in the beige-gray suit was gone, nowhere in sight.