Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“The Great Invader,” neither fable nor fairy tale February 2, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Edited painting by Ruby from the 2018 student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ONCE UPON A TIME, in The Land of Plenty…

Ah, a fairy tale, you say. Not exactly. Rather, this is a story rooted in reality. A story with a main character who, for ease of writing, shall be identified in secondary references as “he.” Not that The Great Invader is male.

So let’s dive into the story. Once upon a time in The Land of Plenty, The Great Invader landed, making himself comfortably at home. He was, by nature, a traveler. But he wasn’t the type of guest you’d knowingly invite into your home. You know the kind. Ungrateful. Demanding. Messy. And mean, just plain mean. Because of those undesirable traits, he soon found himself on the road, hopping from place to place under a guise of masterful deception. West Coast to East Coast. Then to the South and Up North and to the Midwest. He wanted, above all, to avoid detection and negative publicity.

But word soon got out about The Great Invader. Scientists found him especially fascinating. The more they studied the strange-looking traveler with his signature spiky hair, the more alarmed they grew. They realized he was much more than he appeared. Dangerous. He left a path of death and destruction wherever he went. Yes, that’s a cliché. But it fits.

The scientists warned about the intruder and suggested ways to deal with him. By then they’d studied him in their labs and determined that he traveled mostly by air. No ticket required. “Wear masks,” public health officials who collaborated with the scientists, advised. “Distance yourself from others. Avoid crowds. If you’re sick or feel like you’re coming down with something, stay home.” All of those tactics would discourage The Great Invader. But these proactive protocols were especially difficult for some people in The Land of Plenty to hear, let alone follow. They didn’t like anyone telling them what to do.

The Great Invader was acutely aware of these efforts to stop his adventures. He also recognized the discontent and division spreading across the land like a California wildfire. He needed a plan. And he didn’t have to think too hard. He’d simply rely on people who doubted scientists, who took little stock in warnings from health officials, who spread false information, especially via social media. People who could be a voice. He didn’t much care if that voice was loud or insidiously quiet.

As the months passed, The Great Invader found his hands-off strategy working quite well. He traveled to nearly every corner of The Land of Plenty. Even to the smallest village, where the villagers never dreamed he would visit and leave his imprint. “Why would The Great Invader come here? We have no great theaters or art museums or sports arenas or five-star restaurants or any major tourist attractions,” the villagers reasoned. So many went on with life as usual. Yet, an undercurrent of concern began to bubble when evidence of The Great Invader’s presence surfaced in the remotest of villages.

Meanwhile, across The Land of Plenty, scientists, health and government officials, and even journalists, were tracking The Great Invader on his journey around the country. And the world. They soon discovered they were no longer dealing with a sole sojourner, but rather many with magical powers. The spiky haired traveler had reproduced millions, if not billions, of times and created new versions of himself. This frightened the scientists, who by then had called upon experts to develop a battle plan. They needed to stop the traveler as he asserted his deadly powers. So researchers created a powerful potion to protect the people.

Soon squabbles arose as to who would get the potion first. The Great Invader laughed. He thrived on chaos, confusion and discontent. And lies. He admired selfishness.

He also secretly applauded those who defied common sense and science. He reveled, especially, in those in The Land of Plenty who refused to wear face masks. He celebrated every single person who wore their masks below their noses. And he saw plenty of those, whom he considered valued allies. The mask-less and the half-maskers allowed The Great Invader to travel with ease. If he found himself temporarily removed from a region, he just moved on for a while, only to return when people thought he’d permanently left.

And so, while the people of the land claimed all sorts of indignities brought on by The Great Invader and even tried to stop distribution of the powerful potion, he continued mapping his routes, plotting strategies and documenting his travels in his Once Upon a Time journal.


NOTE: In every story there are truths, this one no exception. To all who have encountered The Great Invader/COVID-19 at his worst, I am sorry.

Observations in my community of Faribault sparked the idea for this story. As COVID-19 infections and deaths rise in Rice County, I see too many individuals in public who are wearing masks below their noses and/or mouths or not masking at all. I am beyond frustrated. We’re not talking just a few people. While I shopped at a local big box retailer, a smaller discount store and grocery stores recently, I saw perhaps 30 individuals who were half-maskers, plus a mask-less couple and children old enough to wear masks (but who were unmasked). Employees were among those half-maskers. I implore the people of Faribault to, please, just wear a tight-fitting, multi-layered mask, and wear it over your mouth AND nose. It’s not that difficult.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to ““The Great Invader,” neither fable nor fairy tale”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Good reminder – it’s not getting better with all the variants popping up. Time to double mask. Take care.

    • Has the CDC come out with guidelines to double mask? Dr. Michael Osterholm, a widely-respected MN epidemiologist, did not endorse it in an interview I saw. He said the type of mask and how it fits are the most important considerations in masking.

      • Beth Ann Says:

        No to the CDC recommendation but based on what we are seeing an extra layer of precaution is not a bad idea. N95 with a well fitting cloth mask over top is what we do if we have to be inside. I have not had to be inside but will later this week so plan to do that for my own peace of mind.

      • Sounds like a good plan. And that does make sense…if you can find N95 masks.

  2. Susan Ready Says:

    Absolutely just the best! So well written loved the subltle messages-consider this Talking Stick material

    • Thank you, Sue. I thought about The Talking Stick when I wrote this story. But then I figured it may be too “political.” Now that it’s published, I can’t submit it. Yes, putting a story on your blog is considered “published” and therefore not eligible for submission. Thanks for the reminder that I need to get my entries written.

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    Interesting way to depict what’s happening…I so enjoy stories.Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kathleen Says:

    Audrey, Iyour “fractured fairytale” is very creative and well done! I think we are all grieving the lack of it ending “happily ever after,” aren’t we?

    I share your outrage and frustrations. We went to Spokane yesterday to do our monthly grocery and necessity shopping. First, to Costco – where we try to get most of our things because their mask policy and enforcement have no wiggle room. Every shopper older than 2 years wears a mask or doesn’t come in to shop! And, if someone can’t wear a mask due to medical reasons, Costco provides them a face shield they must wear while shopping. No face shield or mask? No shopping, no excuses or exceptions. That’s why we go there – we feel as safe as possible given their strong public health stance. How grateful we are. Granted, we did see a couple of folks who were “half maskers” in Costco, but overall, people’s responses were excellent. Of course, there have been some mild protests (!) with anti-maskers saying their rights to shop are being denied, etc. Costco has stood firm. No mask, no shield, no shopping. we thank them each time we are there for their mask policy and enforcement.

    Because we can’t get all of our grocery and other necessities at Costco, we always end up having to go to one or two other stores. Yesterday, we ended up having to go to two other stores – I grocery and 1 hardware. And …. it was just as you described in your follow-up blog post paragraph. In each store, far, far less than 1/2 of all shoppers had on masks, despite door signs at each saying “masks are required.” Of the 1/2 who did have on masks, at least 1/2 of those were worn incorrectly – pulled down over their noses or hanging off their ears, etc. The no mask wearers and half maskers were people of all ages – from children through the very elderly. It was maddening. We did our shopping as quickly as possible so we could remove ourselves from these risky environments.

    As we shopped those 2 stores, I found myself getting angrier snd angrier … I wanted to shout, “wear a mask” or “pull your mask up,” etc. I will never understand this lack of common sense, this lack of deliberate defiance and this very concerning lack of care for others. I wonder HOW and WHEN are we ever going to get out of this most unwelcome fairy tale nightmare?

    I’m hoping the vaccine will help in that regard, but our state (Idaho) is so far behind in that regard. There is a “hopeful timeline” from the governor’s office, but it’s already missed its own timelines. Since Justin is over 65 he is now on a “vaccine waiting list” of undetermined time and I MAY able to get on a waiting list in April! Until then, we are continuing to stay hunkered down (and grateful we are retired and can do so for the most part) and yes, now wear double masks when we have to go out and be indoors around others, as we did yesterday.

    Please continue to stay safe and use your talented writing to inspire and inform. Sending you love and hugs as always and also hope that this nasty invader is be put to rest soon. Kathleen

    • Dearest Kathleen, thanks for sharing what’s happening in Washington and Idaho. I’m thankful you have at least one “safe” place to shop. Kudos to Costco for enforcing a mask policy. I think they do the same in Minnesota.

      Target and Menards are businesses here which adhere strongly to our state mask mandate so I feel “safe” shopping in both. I wish other businesses would do the same. The “masks required” signs businesses post seem almost meaningless. Last week I asked employees at a local grocery store and at the local dollar store to please pull their masks over their noses. I feel comfortable making that request of employees as they should be protecting the health and safety of customers. And I don’t feel like they would threaten me. The general public who are not masking or wearing their masks incorrectly, I won’t talk to as you never know how people may be react. Sad, but true.

      My blood pressure was through the roof as I waited in line at the dollar store with a half-masker in front of me and then the half-masker cashier. Every single time I go in that store, I see the same thing. Cashiers who are improperly masked. Ditto for customers. So I avoid this business as much as possible.

      Like you, I wish people would care. And realize that it takes all of us, working together, doing the right thing, to get through this.

      The vaccine roll-out is not going all that well in Minnesota either. I hope you and Justin get yours soon. We’re not expecting that.

  5. Audrey, your story is well done! Too bad you had to write about such an awful subject. To me and you it’s common sense. I don’t understand those that ignore the obvious! I’m hopeful because of the vaccines, a small glimmer in this oh-so-dark tunnel we seem to be stuck in! You just keep doing what you are doing Audrey. ❤ ❤

  6. Jennifer Woldum Says:

    Such a well-done story, Audrey. Thank you! I must live in a cocoon, and after seeing your footnote, I’m thankful I do! Everyone wears masks at work/school, at my yoga studio, at the store. I can hardly remember being anywhere in my area where I don’t see people complying. It really is no big deal….and it keeps your face warm and keeps lips from being chapped in our cold MN winter! Bonus!

    • I’m thankful to hear that folks in the metro are doing such a good job of masking. If only that was the case outside the metro. On a recent visit to a specialty healthcare clinic here, I was appalled to see a half-masker filling out paper work in a crowded (in my opinion) waiting room as I left my appointment. I zipped through that room and out the door as fast as I could.

      You’re right. Masks do help keep our faces warm. Bonus.

  7. Missy’s Crafty Mess Says:

    Well that’s the best COVID story I’ve read so far. It’s been a good year to stay at home. I’m lucky that I enjoy it but I feel really bad for more social people who aren’t enjoying it.

    • Thank you. My daughter just texted that my granddaughter was telling her little friend to pull his mask over his mouth and nose this morning when they were on an outing at the zoo. My son-in-law said Izzy will have to go shopping with Grandma (me), because I see so many half-maskers. I wonder if those half-maskers would listen to a 4-year-old. It’s getting worse here in Faribault with more and more half-maskers (and even some no-maskers). I don’t understand why people can’t wear their masks correctly to protect themselves and others. I’m so weary of selfish, stupid behavior.

  8. Susan Ready Says:

    I thought all 3 of your essays on the Great Invader were creative and spoke The Truth. It’s too bad children have become placeholders in the great debate arena. All has become too political.

    • Thank you, Sue. I agree that whether to mask, whether to get vaccinated, whether to whatever related to COVID has become too political. And we’re all suffering because of that. This pandemic should be over. Instead, cases are rising. People are needlessly dying. Children are going to and attending school in environments where safety and health measures are lacking… All because too many are choosing not to believe, and then follow, the health and the science. I am so so weary of the lack of care for others. Frustrated, too. And weary, simply weary.

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