When the Quarantine Ends

When the Quarantine Ends, Nick Arvin

Nick Arvin

  1. Rick steps outside and exults at the breeze in his face, the quivering trees, the scudding clouds. As he gazes upward, however, he notices a sensation of lightness. His arms seem to rise of their own accord, as if buoyant. Then he sees that his feet have drifted free of the pavement. Too late, he realizes that he has forgotten how to remain earthbound without a roof overhead. He balloons away, to the far distance, a speck, vanishing. 
  2. Yonette comes out and finds an eerie quiet. The streets are empty, the parks, the restaurants, the stores… There is no one. Finally Yonette looks into the apartments and houses—here are the people, eating dinner, watching TV, playing games. She calls, waves, knocks. They look at her and wink—then return to what they were doing. 
  3. Sloan tries, but she finds that, as others have reported, it is actually, physically, literally impossible to step through the door, back into the world, without simultaneously taking video of herself with her phone.
  4. Brian sees that a terrible storm is raging, but he is so excited that, nonetheless, he goes out. He is instantly struck by lightning and incinerated. His roommate, Sean, who has been terribly depressed, and who has just watched a bolt incinerate his roommate, winces, and quietly closes the door.
  5. Tobin emerges onto his porch, and immediately he can tell that the world he left behind has been replaced by a replica, a false world exactly the same as the world before the quarantine, but betrayed by one small difference, which has to do with the squirrels. The squirrels are vaping.
  6. Vera, who abhors change, decides that she just won’t.
  7. Laurie walks through the door, and as she meets neighbors and friends, she is shocked to find that while everyone else has aged twelve years, she has aged only one. She regrets the terrible aging of all those she loves. But, secretly, she feels that it suggests a certain superiority on her part. 
  8. Samantha stands in the doorway and sees that, while the living were trapped, the dead have risen. A mustached man nods and waves to her while a car passes through him. A boy with several gaping wounds rides a trike along the sidewalk, singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.” Well, Samantha thinks, recovering from her surprise, everyone said that things would never be the same as before.
  9. Jenn sees all her neighbors running away down the street. She rushes after them, shouting. But they do not answer, or do not hear. They are fast, and she is, admittedly, not in very good shape. She’s been stuck in the house for so long! Gasping, she stumbles to a halt. In a moment everyone has disappeared down the street, out of sight. Jenn wonders, What are they running toward? Or, are they running away from her? But then she glances behind herself, and she sees what they were running from.
  10. Carlos steps out the front door smiling, but then his phone makes a noise. The screen flashes an urgent notification. A regrettable mistake has been made. The quarantine is renewed. Carlos rubs his face, sighs, and goes back inside.
  11. Ted, admittedly, feels a little cautious, a little worried, and so he goes out and examines the situation closely. He reviews all the things that have changed and all the things that have not changed. It takes years. This study becomes, in fact, his life’s work. But it is worthwhile, for when he finishes, he is reassured that he was correct in each of his opinions all along.
  12. Dale walks out and sees his neighbor mowing his lawn—that is, Dale’s neighbor is mowing Dale’s lawn. The divorced mom who lives across the street gets into her elderly neighbor’s car and drives away. A little further down, people are carrying furniture back and forth between houses. Dale is surprised, but, after a moment’s reflection, he concludes that perhaps it is not really surprising, and so he goes to play with his neighbor’s children.
Nick Arvin’s most recent novel is Mad Boy, from Europa Editions. He is also the author of a short story collection, In the Electric Eden, and two more novels, Articles of Warand The Reconstructionist. His writing has received awards from the NEA, ALA, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his fiction has appeared in the New YorkerMcSweeney’s Quarterly, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @NickArvin.
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