A married couple hold up in their home for a quarantine lasting longer than expected, and even more unexpected things begin happening when a stranger comes to their home.
Somewhere in Mississippi.
A virus outbreak stops the country causing people to quarantine for what they first believed to be fourteen days, then turning to thirty days. The rural parts of the country lack the needed supplies while the populated areas are overwhelmed with people scrambling to collect everything off the shelves. Thirteen months later, they are still quarantined. The internet long ago cut out, the cable lines are dead cutting off the television. All the old radios have long been sold out leaving most cut off from the world. The last anybody heard from the outside world the population was devastated and most everyone infected. Once infected, the death rate was ninety-eight percent. Ninety-eight. People had to quickly quarantine themselves, long before the government would make it mandatory. The virus also seemed to live on surfaces for longer than expected and seen before. The shipping industry was suspected of unknowingly spreading the disease. One family, just a couple, has remained quarantined not knowing what is happening beyond their street. In front of their house lies Viridian Coppice, a forest cut off from their house by Shady Grove road. Ronny and Shina are cut off from the world and will soon run out of supplies requiring them to venture out – if the world allows them.
Thirteen Months Into Quarantine.
“Damnit Ronny, we need to find something, someone, that knows anything,” Shina said packing a bag with whatever supplies she thinks would help going out into the world. Shina was short, with even shorter brunette hair that bobbed around her head. She refuses to look at Ronny, her husband of three years, a friend for four. A relatively short time to know someone. The things you learn when you’re stuck together in a quarantine. Ronny was slim and as far from opposing as a man could get but he was smart, sometimes Shina thought too smart for his own good. Normally Ronny would have a plan for this, but these were not normal times. Shina was ready to leave her home in search of something else.
“How are you going to protect yourself from the virus? From the infected?” Ronny said staring into his wife’s eyes. He loved her and would do anything for her. But there was nothing to do besides wait. The thing about waiting now is even though the words escaped him he wasn’t sure of what exactly they were waiting for.
“How do you know it’s still out there, we can’t stay cooped up forever. We’re out of supplies, almost out of food.”
Shina zipped her bag throwing it around her back. She stood, staring out the front window. She had a determined look, and her mind was set. Or so she thought.
“You see, you see that across the street? Even the animals are dead. Nothing is coming out of the woods, nothing is down the road. Nothing is alive. It kills anything outside,” Ronny said. Sure enough, across the road was Veridian Coppice, a forest filled with conifers and plenty of pines. For the last seven months, nothing has come out of the woods. They use to see deer gallop across the road. Squirrels climb the trees in their yards. Even the occasional turtle and armadillo. Nothing has walked out in seven months. Ronny thought everything was dead because that is what the news said. Before the TV went out they showed clips of animals collapsing from the virus. It went from humans to animals. Pets died quickly.. “Get out of the window and put the board back up. There’s nothing out there, all I’m saying is we need to think about this.”
Shina tightened up her bag around her shoulder, turning to Ronny. “We have had thirteen goddamn months to think about it. We haven’t heard anything in half that time. We haven’t seen anything in half that time. If it’s a virus, it’s probably dead now. We need to find something before we’re dead.” Tears fell off her face. She let them fall, not bothering to wipe them away. Ronny pulled his sleeve over his hand wiping her tears away. Shina let the bag slide off her shoulder onto the floor letting Ronny embrace her in his arms.
Twenty-Four Hours After.
Light has been struggling to shine through the clouds for thirty days now. Clouds, smog, whatever it was, never went away. The couple imagined this was living was like in Alaska, always dark and gloomy. Outside seemed grey. Ronny and Shina kept boards over their windows as much as possible but Ronny installed a peephole in their upstairs attic room. When Ronny would wake up in the morning and couldn’t find Shina, he was sure he would find her staring through the peephole into the void outside. Into the woods.
“Ronny! Get up here!” Shina said. Ronny stumbled around hitting his foot on the coffee table as he ran upstairs. “There’s a woman outside, an elderly woman.”
Ronny landed on the top step, twisting his ankle turning around towards Shina. “What is she doing?” Ronny approached Shina, waiting for her description.
“She is sitting on our sidewalk staring into the woods,” Shina said. “Should we let her in?” She turned to face Ronny, a glimmer of despair in her eyes and a look of conjecture.
“She might be infected. We can’t risk it.” They ended the discussion there. After thirteen months the couple has learned to stave off their arguments before they begin. Quarantine time began with petty disagreements, then led to random sexual flings, back to arguments, then finally to acceptance. Quarantine time was much like the steps of denial and acceptance. Ronny touched Shina on the shoulder, she turned, rising, and followed Ronny backstairs.
The next day the woman was sitting on the sidewalk curb in the same spot, staring into the woods. Shina was found by Ronny upstairs staring at the woman. “She has a rose.”
“She has a rose in her hair. How could she have a rose, wouldn’t it have died by now?” Exotic plants, including roses, died out quickly without care and killed by weeds. The weather outside worsened to the detriment of gardens.
Shina spent the rest of her day staring at the rose woman sitting outside on the sidewalk curb. She barely moved but moved enough to let them know she was alive. Shina wondered what she was staring at, or the very least why she was staring into the woods. What was in the woods? Shina spent the majority of her time staring out into the woods. A thought blossomed in her mind, what was beyond the woods now? Now that the world went to shit.
Twenty-four hours later.
“Look, I get it Shina, but the virus lives in hosts for fourteen days.”
“But kills them after two, three tops.”
“Fine, after one more day, if the little old lady is still out there, we’ll try to communicate with her.” Looking at Shina in the eyes, Ronny said, “I promise.”
Shina sat in front of the peephole upstairs staring at the little old rose woman outside sitting on the curb in front of their house staring into the woods. Every time she stared at the rose woman, which was often, she couldn’t help but contemplate what lay beyond the woods.
Twenty-four hours later.
“She’s at the door, Ronny, she’s at the door!” Shina called out to him. Exactly three days from her first appearance she stood beyond the door. Shina noticed and noted it was exactly to the second when she first noticed the rose woman sitting in front of their home but she neglected to mention that bit of information to Ronny.
He removed a board from the front door to look through the peephole. The old man had a rose in her hair, she was wrinkled but looked well preserved for a suppose elderly woman. She wore a black blouse with green pants. Her face lacked desperation but had a puzzled look like she didn’t understand what was going on and why these people weren’t letting her in. “Ronny,” Shina said in an almost whisper. Her eyes maintained on Ronny’s narrow figure. Ronny was fixated on the door, and on the question of what would happen if they let this woman that sat outside their home for three days inside. Ronny unlocked the door, removing the boards and locks. The door opened.
The Rose Woman Came In.
The stranger in their home came with little information and little need. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t demanding of needs, but also came with no new information on the outside world to their disappointment. Ronny was glad she didn’t want their food. Shina felt dejected of the lack of what was happening down the road and across the woods.
She kept quiet, too. The rose woman spoke little and what she had to say was of no value. She asked about their lives, how long they’ve been together and if they had kids. She asked them what was their favorite vacation spot, their favorite weather, and what they would want if they were stranded on a desert island. She seemed disassociated from reality. Like somebody wakening from a coma to this brave new world.
Another week went by with the rose woman keeping to herself, still neglecting to eat. “A week Ronny! How does anyone go for a week without eating!”
“Well, she is sitting there every day. She doesn’t require much food.”
“But no food? How can that be possible?”
Ronny ignored her, leaving her question unanswered. He spent his time rationing their supplies and writing plans for what to do when life returns to normal. Plans that may never well come to fruition. Shina spent her time sewing, learning to make new clothes for them both. In reality, she spent the majority of her time staring out the window upstairs.
“Ronny, come up here,” Shina said. “Look.”
Outside across the road, several foxes strolled out of the woods. Ronny squished his head next to Shinas to take a look at the new sight. The foxes wandered about, looking around, almost confused. There were four of them. The foxes exited the woods completely, but not quite on the pavement of Shady Grove road. One fox keeled over. Another wandered by itself off onto the road. The other two stared back into the woods. They hunched over, in a predatory stance. Then, without warning or foresight, one of them lunged backward off its front legs onto its back. It fought something off, but nothing was there. The other fox came to its rescue but fell sideways with its head turned, nearly twisted off. The fox on the road was hit by a car. But there was no car. Nothing revealed itself on the street, nor in the woods beside the four foxes. The, now, four dead foxes.
The rose woman hummed herself a song in the recliner staring out the front window, though her view was intruded by the boards nailed up. She looked like she either didn’t mind or could see through the boards. Shina and Ronny came downstairs in a manic state about what they witnessed outside. “What the hell, I mean, what the hell happened to those foxes?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“The foxes came?” The rose woman said.
“What?” said Shina.
“The foxes would come now, for the change is happening.” The rose woman continued staring outside and went back to humming her tune. Ronny went into the bedroom slamming the door behind him. He was through with this rose woman, foxes, and viruses.
The Weather Changed.
“Ronny!” Shina said from her eagle’s nest upstairs. She spent most days, and most nights upstairs staring outside as if either hope would drive down the street and rescue them or something else would happen. Something else did happen.
“What is it now?” Ronny said, taking his time walking upstairs.
“Look outside, what the hell happened?”
Ronny nearly shoves Shina out of the way taking a look outside through the peephole. The road was covered in snow. Their front yard had at least three feet of snow. But the woods across the street, Veridian Coppice, was completely dry, completely clean of snow. Snow fell just outside the forest in front of their house, down the road, in their yard. They had no visible hole behind their house for all that was well boarded and secured.
How could there be snow? It was the middle of July. Ronny and Shina doubled over their calendar, just to make sure that the month was really July and not December, or the very least November or October. It never snowed here anyway. It wasn’t possible. But there it was. White and heavenly fallen upon their yard and road above, but not in the forest beyond.
Ronny turned the heater on but did it with hesitation. The flicking of his finger to “on” was not normal in the middle of July. It felt wrong. Everything felt wrong. Shina watched the rose woman, sitting in the recliner, humming her tune. There was something odd about this rose woman that Shina was unsure about. She asked the rose woman about the snow, how was it possible? The rose woman said, “God plucked a petal from his rose and in its spot snow appeared.”
The next day.
“Shina!” Ronny screamed. Shina woke up, surprised to hear from Ronny and more surprised to see he made it out of bed before her. The rose woman remained sitting in the reclining chair looking outside, looking through the boarded-up window. Shina went upstairs to find Ronny hunched in her spot peering out the window. “Look.” He said, with the softest tone she had ever heard come from his mouth. “Outside.”
Shina hunched around Ronny to get a glimpse of what he saw. Panic filled her and she felt nothing but a worrisome pain come across her head like a migraine from hell. Outside was a desert. Tumbleweeds flew by down the road, cacti filled the yard. But the forest, across the road, was still there and still the same. Everything about the desert was what they imagined, lacking only rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, and coyotes.
The rose woman spoke of the heat from the desert and told them they need to turn on their air conditioner. Ronny, having felt insulted, verbally attacked her, demanding what is going on. But the rose woman told nothing and said little. She only sat there humming her tune. Shina was afraid that Ronny was going to hit her or do something rash. But Ronny calmed.
Twenty-four Hours Goes By and the Songs Sing the Same.
“Damn it all to hell, what is going on!” Outside, Shina saw an oasis. A beautiful oasis, water flowed where the road went and palm trees hung over the sand where trees once stood or cacti from yesterday. Ronny and Shina began to argue about it. Shina wanted to leave. “Let’s go to the woods!” She said.
“We’ll die, not with this craziness going on out there.”
“What about the craziness going on here!”
“What do you mean?”
“This, this, is not normal. This rose woman -”
Ronny cut her off. “This rose woman – this rose woman that you let in!” They argued about whether it was safer to stay or venture forth out into the unknown. They stayed in quarantine. They argued about the rose woman, who they assumed was to blame. Ronny wanted to kill her. Shina wanted her out.
The Weather Changed, the Roads Cleared, and the Sun Died Twenty-Four Hours Later.
“The sky is so dark. I’ve never seen it so dark.” Ronny stood behind Shina, imaging what she was saying. “There’s a river outside, I can only tell because it’s moving. It’s moving, something is moving in the river. But the forest, it’s lit up, but not like a lightbulb but like it’s normal day time just over the river in the wood. It’s normal.”
“We should go, then,” Ronny said. “Let’s leave, leave this house and this rose woman.”
“Why now? We can just stay, and look at it. Stay with the rose woman. It’s not a house, it’s our home.” Ronny was unsure if she was serious or if she herself was losing it. But he wasn’t taking any chances, Ronny began packing his bag to travel, Shina’s was already packed from before. “It’s our home.”
“Let’s go, Shina.” Ronny held his bag over his shoulder and her bag handle in his hand.
Shina was sitting next to the rose woman. “You go, let me know what’s on the other side of the forest.” Ronny dropped her bag, swapping his to his other arm. Before, he would argue with her. But he was tired, exhausted of this and what was happening. The tightening of his head, like a rope around his neck, pained him with stressful migraines he never felt before.
“I’ll come back.”
“You won’t,” said the rose woman, still staring into the distance, and into the woods. And with that note, Ronny went outside, with minimal covers and protection. The rose woman and Shina stared at the boards, Shina imagining what she was seeing. Ronny walking into the river, swimming across and coming up on the other side and finally venturing into the woods. Shina boarded up the front doors and locked it up.
Into the Silent Oasis.
Shina woke up, “Ronny?” she said. Nothing. The rose woman was in her usual place on the recliner staring through the boarded windows. She went upstairs to take a look outside. It was a hellish oasis. A silent and still oasis. The river was frozen. The palm trees on fire. The forest as green and bright as ever. The lure took hold of Shina. She needed to join Ronny, she needed to be free. “I’m leaving,” she told the rose woman. She stood high above the rose woman and said her words with conviction and authority. But why would she need that sort of tone with a stranger in her home? But this stranger she felt was no stranger to her, but it was Shina that was the stranger in the rose woman’s world. Before Shina left, the rose woman offered her a goodbye gift.
“Take a rose,” the rose woman said. Shina picked one. She plucked a petal from the stem, pricking her finger by the sudden growth of a thorn in the place of the petals. Blood fell to the floor. With that rose, Shina removed the boards from the front door, turned the knob, and stepped outside. The heat was unbearable, burning her skin. But she felt cold underneath like frost burn. Her head pained with a sudden brain freeze. She stepped to the frozen river. The rose woman stared through the boarded window at Shina, who stared and contemplated the frozen river and the silent oasis on the other side of the forest that glimmered with the sun’s rays and hope. Shina took a step onto the frozen river. And another. And with her fourth step, the ice cracked and she fell inside. The river flowed over the hole freezing it over.
The rose woman stared through the boarded window, across the river, through the woods, into the silent oasis. She stepped out of the house. She placed a new rose in her hair and walked to the next home just next door and sat on the street-side curb in front of their home while the newly married couple stared through their boards in the front window wondering why there was a rose woman sitting in front of their home.