By Annie Sewell-Jennings
The sun had descended into the seas, the oceans swallowing the fire and sending the moon spinning into the sky. It hovered over Australia like a heavy pendant, silvery and pure, filling the skies with luminous light. A faint breeze had started in from the hall's close proximity to the ocean, and it blew the vivid blades of grass into blurs of kelly green. Music pushed from the hall, adding to the percussion of the waves crashing ashore, and the sky was the color of a darkened robin's egg. Clouds were stretched across the sky like whitened cotton candy, light and fluffy, and it looked like what heaven might look like if this weren't already hell.
Grass whispered as she walked up the path, her hair blowing around her face in a mass of curled blues, reds, and magentas. Soft tendrils of bright gold twisted with cerulean and vermilion brushed her bared shoulders, and he watched her walk up the sandy path in twilight. The white spaghetti-strapped tank top clung to her body, and she wore turquoises around her throat and wrists. A bright aquamarine and cerulean sarong was wrapped around her waist, knotted at the hip, and her slender calves walked with the precision of slim scissors atop white platform sandals.
Spike scowled briefly, looking at the brightly colored beauty that she wore so easily. It wasn't the cheapened finery that she wore to her warehouses, though there were bright colors and fine fabrics that she wore around her body. She looked like California and America embodied, past and present, with her wholesome destruction. Copper skin, melee of wild hair, and too-bright colors that seemed perfect for her. And he shook his head, shoved his hands in his pockets, and followed her into the hall.
And inside was America.
A flag hung from the rafters, wavering with the open windows, as Christmas tree lights were strung around poles with their twinkling white. Hamburgers sizzled on the grill, and children ran about laughing, holding hot dogs and balloons, as old music pumped from the speakers. Bob Dylan, the great American songwriter and poet, sang old anthems as she walked into the hall, looking at citronella candles burning brightly and children holding sparklers on the back porch that overlooked the cliffs. Couples danced on the dance floor, holding hands and spinning each other about, laughing as they did so, reviving the old times and remembering the freedom of their old America.
It was delicious.
Grinning, Buffy walked through the dance hall, holding her invitation in hand, taking in the smells and the images. There were about sixty people in attendance, all laughing and holding ice cold beers. People smoked if they felt like it, eating slices of pizza and hot dogs with relish. It was everything trite and cliched about the good old U.S.A., and she loved it.
Swaying her hips back and forth, Buffy walked through the dance floor, her jewelry glinting, smiling as she saw America assembled here in spades. Picnic tables lit with citronella candles were assembled outside, and she walked to the three gas grills working furiously to cook enough food for the partygoers. The American flag shimmered proudly, and underneath it stood a woman in a checkered blouse and a plain denim skirt, grinning broadly at her. "The Californian, right?" the woman asked in a blissfully American accent, and Buffy nodded, extending her hand to the woman.
"Buffy Summers," she introduced, and the woman nodded, smiling.
"I'm Dorothy," she said, shaking Buffy's hand. "We got your address from immigration. I hope you don't mind us invading your privacy, but we just wanted to get as many people as we could to come. One final bash for the U.S.A., you know." Her smile faltered a little. "After all, we've all lost so much."
Buffy's smile remained steady, but she felt a pang for those that had been left behind. "Right," she said. "It's fine. I'm glad that I could come."
Dorothy led her out to the railing, wrapping her arms around herself. "Most of us were residents of Melbourne for business reasons when the bombs fell, but there are also vacationers like yourself who left family behind in the States," she explained, and Buffy flinched. This had never been a vacation for her. It had been a ruin of strobe lights and snakeskin dresses. Dorothy didn't see the pained expression on the ex-Slayer's face and continued speaking. "We all lost our home, and after we heard that Sydney starting to report radiation cases..." Dorothy's voice trailed off, and she cleared her throat. "Well, we realized that this would be the last chance we'd have to remember our homeland."
Bowing her head, Buffy looked down at the waves crashing ashore, and she rested her arms on the railing. The beaches were different here, with their perfectly clear waters and their dramatic cliffs and rocks. Everything was vibrantly and vividly colored, as though God had used a brighter palate of colors when painting Australia. From the hall, she heard strains of Joni Mitchell waft out to the back porch.
"California, I'm coming home, will you take me as I am, strung out on another man..."
A half smile pulled at Buffy's mouth, surrounded by the refugees of America, and Dorothy smiled at her in return. "Where are you from?" she asked, and Buffy smiled, pulling out her pack of cigarettes and lighting one.
"California," she answered in a breath of expelled smoke. The smoke traveled out across the sea like a failed smoke signal, pleading for any ships and knowing that there would never be any. She was from California, land of free love and impossible dreams, of demons and dreams, and Buffy smiled. "I was from Sunnydale, California, right outside of Los Angeles."
"I'm so sorry, hon," Dorothy said, patting Buffy's arm reassuringly. "It's hard to deal with losing someone, let alone a whole world full of people, especially when people think that it's your fault." She shook her head, and walked away, leaving Buffy alone, as Joni Mitchell sang an anthem to the Sunshine State in the background.
Turquoises shimmered down her arm as she thought about the legacy left behind in the ruins of the United States. Perhaps there would be another civilization that would one day inhabit the earth that humanity had foolishly wasted and abandoned, and they would return to her homeland and find a history rich with aspirations and dreams, with human arrogance and human beauty. Maybe they'd have better luck. It was almost comforting.
Black fingernails pinched the filter of her cigarette, and Spike sidled up next to her, stealing a hit from her cigarette before passing it back to her. "I don't know why you wanted to come so badly," he said, shrugging at the partygoers. "All a bunch of ninnies if you ask me - having a party in the face of the end of the world. That's why humans are idiots." She rolled her eyes and turned to him, her face plain and honest in its fresh earnesty.
"I wanted to come because these people understand something about me that you never will," she said, and Spike arched his eyebrow.
"And why is that, luv?"
She didn't smile when she spoke. "Because they're human and you're not." It was a simple statement, and it would have hurt if he cared about humanity or possessing enough to understand her innate desire to celebrate a dead country's independence on the wrong damn date. She sighed then when she saw the look on his face, and she lifted her hand to the side of his face, tracing a thumb down the long angle of his cheekbone. "But you understand the rest."
The music changed inside of the hall, shifting from Joni Mitchell to another American classic. Soft piano and lulling voice, and slowly, Buffy turned her head away, her vision shifting the sparklers and watermelon to Giles's living room, her Watcher sitting on a stool, strumming his guitar and singing. He used to sing this song. She teased him about the irony and he told her that it was one of the best rock compositions ever. He would sing it in its entirety, while Willow pored over his books and tapped her foot underneath her long skirts.
"Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile..."
Softly, Buffy smiled, remembering how well Giles could cover Don McLean. "I love this song," Buffy confided to Spike, and he rolled his eyes, slugging back a beer that he'd picked up somewhere.
"Decent song," he commented, and she turned her head to him, an electric smile flickering over her face. Instantly, he shook his head, looking out at the ocean. "No. I'm not dancing with you tonight. Not to this damn song."
Eyes flashed at him with their glorious seafoam spark, and she tugged at his arm. "You *are* going to dance with me," she said. "I need to dance tonight. Giles used to sing this song and I want to dance to it. Besides, the radiation hit Sydney, and there's not much time left. I'm going to dance while I damn well can, whether you want to join me or not." With that, she took a swig of his beer to repay him for stealing her cigarette and flicked the remnants of her Marlboro over the side of the porch, and left for the dance floor.
Americans milled about, laughing and dancing, and she joined the fray blissfully, twisting her body and shaking her hips, her hair flying around her face in a melee of color, as sparklers threw off bright stars of fire and the American flag loomed overhead. It was the dance of a woman enthralled with her own homeland, of a woman celebrating the old dream. The dream of independence, of liberty and justice for all, even if it had all ended so disastrously. People joined her on the dance floor, limbs flying and laughing cheers filling the hall. Her hips turned with the music, and she danced with whoever she saw, with everyone, for the ghosts of the past that had been America for her. "And do you believe in rock and roll; can music save your mortal soul?"
It didn't matter in that moment that she had destroyed herself or that the world had fallen around her. It didn't matter that time was running out or that death was imminent. All that mattered was the sheer joy that had once reverberated throughout her country, the energy of being young and American, of inheriting the Earth and rapture all at once. Laughing, Buffy tipped her head back and danced wholeheartedly. It was all okay in that moment, while Don McLean sang and the last Americans on Earth danced around her.
Then black fingernails clung to her hip and dipped in the waistband of her sarong, and Buffy grinned when she saw Spike reluctantly dancing with her, a beer in one hand and her hip in the other. Impishly, she linked her arms around his neck and danced with him, forcing him to twirl her around until she was dizzy with remembered glee. She was okay, she was fine, and even if it was only temporary, it was here for now.
It was okay for now.
Then the music slowed, quieted, and the people on the dance floor stilled along with them, listening to the lyrics that a dead man sang.
"I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
She just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred storev Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
The last Americans were lit by Christmas lights, by dying sparklers and darkening twilight, trapped in a foreign land where they would be forced to die, haunted by the memories of old American joy and new American damnation. Empty, endlessly sorrowful expressions were cast on the Americans' faces as they listened to the music of their dead country, forever bound by the misery that their homeland had caused.
"And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
Buffy broke apart from him, and she looked around her, seeing the hollow hurt in everyone's eyes, and she felt like crying. Felt like weeping. Felt like shedding remorse and regret for everything that humanity could have been if they hadn't destroyed themselves. These were the ashes of the flames, the final few cinders left to fizzle out of existence. She bowed her head and wished that she could pray, but had no faith to offer.
Not when nothing could save her now.
"And they were singing bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing, 'this'll be the day that I die'
This'll be the day that I die"
The crowd began to sing, unified and whispering, some voices off- key, but most knowing the lyrics to the song and therefore joining in with the chorus as the song died and the verse repeated.
"And they were singing bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing, 'this'll be the day that I die'"
She didn't sing. She didn't want to sing. She just wanted to escape, and that was what she did, walking off the dance floor as her top rose up to reveal the lower half of her thorny tattoo.
The porch was empty, and Buffy bowed her head, clenching her hands into fists, gripping her hair as she thought of the haunting portrait of doomed mankind. She shouldn't have come here tonight. Not to witness this last celebration before death. It just made her want to despair for all of the people who deserved joy, who deserved giddy rapture, and were instead dealt sorrow. There was no way to cheat at this card game.
His hands moved through her hair as he walked up behind her, and he looked at the black ink circling her lower back, forever branding her with her decision to martyr herself as the failed savior of the world. "You were right," she said coldly, her voice frozen over with a thin layer of ice and snowflakes. "I shouldn't have come here. It was a mistake to see this."
Spike traced her tattoo with his fingertips, and Buffy wanted to shrug off his touch. She didn't want to be touched. Not now. "That's life for you, Summers," he said in a hushed voice. "May as well deal with it now, right?" If she didn't know him better, she thought she detected a tremor in his voice. "After all, there's not much time left now."
As if to confirm this, the wind blew softly in from the seas, and a chill passed through her body. Images of choking, of drowning in dust and death, of disease and poison flashed through her mind. She swallowed a cry, a desperate scream, for she knew what she tasted on the air. It was the flavorless breath of radiation. It was the call that she didn't want to receive.
Shuddering, she looked out at the water, and knew that it was happening. It was all happening. Dry-mouthed, she turned around and looked at her lover, his blue eyes stormy and turbulent as always, and she wrapped her arms around him, looking out toward the ocean. "Take me home," she whispered. "I want to go home."
Suddenly, he received the same flash, that same chill and lulling calm, that same flavor of frightful inevitability. "Yeah, baby," he murmured, and this time, his voice did shake. "Let's go."
As they left, her sarong fluttering in the wind and his duster flapping around his legs, the wind blew ominously and the American flag rippled like a dying bird.
(end part thirteen)
The lyrics enclosed in this chapter are taken from the wonderful Joni Mitchell song, "California", and Don McLean's masterpiece and classic, "American Pie".
Continued in Part Fourteen