By Sofie Kagan
Standing together, Betty and Frank open the door.
“You’re here!” Betty shouts and smiles widely, her wrinkled hands grasping for both girls at once.
“My amazing, brilliant, grandbabies, in the flesh,” Betty fawns. “Can you believe this, Frank?”
“Why yes, I can my dear…never doubted them for a minute, given my genes,” Frank chuckles under his breath. “Come, let’s all go to the sitting room for a cup of tea.”
“Really nice to see you two as well,” the girls say in unison, following them downstairs and dropping into their usual spots, the TV buzzing faintly in the background.
Betty scans the two girls more closely. They don’t look so good. Phoebe’s shirt is half unbuttoned and loosely untucked at her waist, and Alora’s black hair is oily and disheveled.
“So girls, what’s up… what’d you wanna talk to us about?
Alora starts to cry, “Our work, our life’s work. We lost it. All of it. It’s…it’s a total disaster. We’re probably going to lose our jobs.”
“What! What do you mean, lost?” Frank says shocked.
“We don’t know…none of it makes any sense…someone must have somehow hacked into our lab server,” Phoebe says trying to control the crackling in her voice, “and now it’s gone. Years of work. Gone without a trace.”
“Oh my word, that's horrific!” Betty cries.
“Sure is,” Phoebe says dejectedly. “It sure is.”
“Jeez…I don’t even know what to say. Wish we could help out. Unfortunately, we barely know how to google a pizza to the house,” Frank tries to lighten the mood.
“Well, certainly hope you somehow find the culprit,” Betty adds. “Whoever did this to you surely deserves what’s coming for them.”
“I guess… it’s just so unfair how much work we lost…and we had literally just stumbled onto…something quite big actually.”
“Anyway…unfortunately, we might need some help with our rent this month,” Phoebe asks sheepishly for them both, keenly aware of how generous they’d already been over the years helping them get through their post-graduate work.
“How are you both doing?” Alora quickly interjects, changing the subject.
“Us? We’re…uh…well, we’re doing quite well actually,” Betty says somewhat hesitantly, feeling a bit guilty about doing better than her granddaughters.
Betty’s thick brown hair was back and her makeup was no longer gathering awkwardly in her deep wrinkles. Both of them were sporting brighter cheeks and more slender figures.
“You guys look great!” Alora says aloud. “Is that just a new hair colour or - ”
“Why thank you for noticing dear!” Betty beams, cutting her off. “Well, we’ve started taking some new vitamins and have been playing lots of pickleball lately.”
“Grandpa, you know you can’t do that waiting on double knee replacements!”
“Phoebe darling, calm down,” Frank smiles. “The doctor called a few days ago…they misdiagnosed me. My knees are good…it’s no problem.”
“You sure it was the right doctor on the phone?” Phoebe asks.
“Maybe vivid dreams from your meds or something - ” Alora suggests.
“No, no, no girls, he’s doing great!” Betty interrupts. “He’s not even taking any medications anymore. Now, stop with all these silly questions. You’re wearing us out! We’re old.”
“Well, let’s all go have some supper,” Frank says abruptly standing up.
Headed home later, Alora says, “You know Phoebe, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them look so good. Did you see how fast Grandpa was walking?”
“I know, but not just Grandpa, Grandma too…she had no problem whatsoever keeping up with him.”
“Remind me to ask them the name of those new vitamins will you?” Phoebe says laughing.
“Right? I want some of that too!” Alora agrees before returning to their real problems, “Phoebe, I just don’t understand it…that server password was uncrackable…impossible to guess.”
“I agree,” Phoebe says. “That's why we chose it. There is absolutely no way anyone could have figured out that ancient crypto coding we used.”
“So, what then? I honestly can’t think of a person in the world who knows enough to have pulled off a hack like this.”
“Me neither, and that’s what’s got me so confused and angry about how this could have happened.”
“Say, did you tell anybody about any of this?”
“Tell anybody? No! Of course not. As you know, we’re not allowed to discuss our research, never mind our discoveries! Why, did you?”
“No, of course not!”
“I mean, I guess I did mention it to just a few trusted people here and there…it was so exciting…I mean, I had to tell somebody. You?”
“Ya…same, I guess.”
“Damn it! I knew you’d blow this for us!”
“Excuse me! What about you?!”
“I just thought of something…nah it’s ridiculous.”
“What? What’s ridiculous?”
“I think you already know what I’m going to say, but you also think it’s too ridiculous to consider.”
“You told Frederico! What the hell is wrong with you!”
“Oh my god, what have I done…”
“I don’t know Phoebe…but, that’s not what I was thinking.”
“You mean there are more! There are others?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Oh my god! I guess we better make a list.”
“I’m scared,” Alora whispers, squeezing Phoebe’s hand tightly.
“I get it, Lor, same, believe me. Try to be brave. Honestly, we have no choice. Last house. We gotta find out,” Phoebe tries to reassure her.
Lifting up the mat they find the emergency front door key right there as expected. Tiptoeing inside they shut the door behind them as soundlessly as possible. On the wall, that familiar Kanye poster stares at them menacingly.
Splitting up, Phoebe heads upstairs to the home office and Alora to the basement workroom.
Rounding the corner, Alora sees an eerie blue flickering light and bravely opens the workroom door. Inside she sees an incredibly complex-looking lab with dozens of specialized computers, beakers, chemicals, and other highly experimental equipment. Stunned, she searches around as silently as possible. Miraculously, she finds and then somehow manages to successfully open up a small biohazard safe with her hairpin. Inside are two familiar-looking purple syringes she quickly stuffs into her jacket pocket.
Heading back upstairs, she reunites with Phoebe who is carrying a giant stack of papers.
“Oh my god!” Alora whispers, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I know!” Phoebe says quietly. “Don’t even say it. Was there anything downstairs?”
Alora proudly offers a peek into the darkness of her jacket pocket, “You tell me!”
“Holy Batman! Robin, how is that even possible, that’s way farther than we got with it!”
Suddenly, there’s a faint creak followed by a far more definite thump from the bedroom. A light upstairs turns on and Phoebe and Alora run for the door. Distantly they hear security camera footage played back of their still-in-progress break-in.
Galloping down the street, neither of them dare look back. Reaching their Honda, they dive inside at full speed, hearing a car door slam shut not far behind.
Speeding away, Alora takes a quick peek behind and sees a Purple Jeep in hot pursuit.
“Hit it, Phoebe! You know I’m always telling you to slow down, well, if you don’t put that pedal to the metal now, I’m literally going to need a new pair of pants!”
“What the heck do you think I’m trying to do!?” Phoebe screeches back, “I’m trying to save both our pants!”
“This is crazy… this whole thing is just so damn crazy!”
“Tell me about it! This is seriously screwed up!”
Around the corner, up ahead, a red light and a busy intersection suddenly come into view.
“Oh no! We’re screwed! There’s nowhere to go.”
Skidding to a stop, the purple Jeep barrels up quickly from behind and can’t stop in time. The cars collide in a massive crash that sends both vehicles airborne. They land upside down, far apart, on opposite sides of the intersection.
Several passersby wade through the smoke and rush to each car.
After a struggle, the doors open and two empty syringes fall to the ground followed by two badly bruised and bleeding younger women who are not only fully conscious but whose substantial wounds seem to somehow miraculously be almost instantly self-healing. People stare at them as if they’re ghosts because they should be.
“Alora? You ok?”
“I need a new pair of pants.”
“But…Phoebe. It works.”
“I know…otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
“Wait! What about the Jeep!”
Turning around, on the other side of the intersection, a large number of emergency vehicles and people were gathered.
Inside were two lifeless bodies, both pronounced dead at the scene, and two newish-looking pickleball rackets. The older man and woman, later to be identified by police as one Betty, and Frank Verlice, both aged eighty, died tragically together after a fatal car crash at the intersection of Wellsberry Crescent and Wandia Drive.
Exactly one thousand years later…
On the glorious occasion of the one-thousandth anniversary of their revolutionary discovery, Princesses Alora and Phoebe Verlice graciously accept their annual award, and as per tradition, pay special posthumous thanks to their dearly departed grandparents, Betty and Frank, whose love, support, and deceptively narcissistic ingeniousness enabled us all to remain forever young.