By Gwyneth Rhys
The snow is coming down harder now, great fluffy flakes that fall straight down. He pulls the plastic bags tighter over his feet and wraps the twine around, then adjusts the layers of coats and pieces of coats, the scarves, no spots left for the cold to enter. Everything’s in tatters now, and he really should scout for some new coats and clothes, but feeding her is his priority. He’s got the last of the edible food in this place, some stale cigarettes; he picks the carrier bags up and heads out into the night.
Drifts of snow have piled up through the car park, and the weak sodium lights cast a bronze glow over them. In the shadows, some of them look like animals. Spike slogs through the snow, trying to find his footprints, which are now being covered by more flakes. He used to love the snow, the quiet and the beauty and the purity of a world made of white. But now, here, the silence is oppressive, lonely, and fearful. And he is sick of it, this perpetual cold and dark. A rare glimpse of headlights greets him as he crosses the road, a truck on its way to anywhere but here. Gradually the clank-clank-clank of the tire chains disappears into the soundless night.
He picks his way back to the deserted motel, and knocks two times before entering. She smiles when he comes in, reminding him once again why he’s doing this. After he sets the bags down, he peels away the layers and shakes the snow off, rubbing his hands. They have heat tonight; the power grid out here is stable for a bit longer. She has plugged in a strand of Christmas lights, and one could almost mistake this for cozy, if one didn’t know better.
Before, he never felt the cold and he loved the darkness. Now it eats into his bones. Spike constantly fights the shivers, his fingers feel numb with or without gloves. If there was anything out there to hunt and kill, he’d hate the darkness just a little bit less. Only there isn’t anything out there, no butcher shops with fresh pig’s or calf’s blood, nor any animals to speak of. There is no question of hunting the remaining humans. He takes out some of the food, plugs in the hotplate, and waits a bit to see if it will work. Still good.
“Looks like hot food tonight, Pet. Aren’t you the lucky one? But we have to move on tomorrow or next day. I’ve managed to scrounge what’s left to be scrounged.” She pulls the blanket tighter around her and just stares at him. He knows she’s listening, though, because that’s what she does now -- doesn’t speak, just listens, and smiles that incandescent smile. Nods at him when she agrees, frowns when she doesn’t, and holds him tightly, stroking his hair and humming softly, to keep him going.
“Saw a truck tonight. But I’ve hit all the shops by now and the houses, and still not a soul around. We’ve either got to move on to another town, or get closer to the center of the city.” They’ll lose whatever power remains soon, and they have to find more food.
When he says that he looks over at her, framed by the gentle blue and white glow of the light strand, and she frowns at him, shaking her head. She doesn’t like the population centers; seeing what’s left of the people here makes her cry at the thought of everything she’s lost and left behind. They will die, all of them, if they don’t go south like everyone else. Though he knows that everyone going south will die eventually anyway, as the darkness creeps closer to the equator every day. But he doesn’t tell her that. He thinks she knows, but that’s all she can handle.
“All right then, move on it is.” They’re close to the Canadian border here; he was the only one lunatic enough to come north as the rest fled south. All the demons and monsters fled too, their human prey leading them closer to the remaining light.
They’d been so busy fighting this apocalypse or that one that they hadn’t noticed it coming up from behind. Then it was too late, and he’d tried to help the witch in her efforts to stop it, only to be destroyed. Willow's last words to him were “Keep her safe, keep her going as long as you can. You’re the only one who can do it now.” And he’d buried her like he’d buried all the others: spade in the cold hard earth, tears that crystallized when they hit the frozen ground. Soon there would be no one to bury the remaining.
“Since we’ve power tonight, maybe we can listen to the shortwave, see what’s happening elsewhere.” She smiles at that; she loves the radio, the only thing to entertain her besides himself, reading books in the darkness while she plays with his hair. When they’re lucky they have power, but most nights it’s kerosene lamps, or nothing at all. When they squat in houses, there’s often a fireplace with wood nearby, the remains of a pantry, comfort; the motels are a mixed blessing, but many have generators, and towels and sheets and lots of rooms they can move round in until they have to leave.
He wishes they could get to Britain, go home to a place that knows how to handle this kind of thing. The last report he heard reminded him of the Blitz, everyone pulling together, their deprivation a source of pride and teamwork. If wishes were horses, though. Well.
As he warms up her food, he turns on the radio, but gets nothing except static. She turns the dials this way and that, and eventually finds music. It’s been a while since they heard music; this is not to his taste at all but it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard. “Well, good on you, Luv.” She grins at him and all the cold melts away.
Outside the window the snow dances in the air, layering itself over the swimming pool’s crust of ice and leaves like frosting. Every day Spike looks out a window like this and thinks, I can’t do it anymore. The memory of burying her sister, the weeping promises to keep going, consume him, creeping through his heart and lungs and guts like the ice that coats everything outside. She stopped talking the day her sister was in the ground, and that felt right somehow. But he wants to ask her if they should stop, or go back down south with everyone else, wait it out or maybe... maybe even just let go. But he thinks: no, even passive suicide is not like her. So he goes on, too.
He watches while she eats her meager meal. Skin and bones before, skeletal now. Both of them are skeletal, hanging on in their rags and castoffs, eating what’s left in the shops that wasn’t pilfered by the others as they left. Spike thought this would be safer, with the demons gone, too, but when he looks at her like this, he is not so certain. Are any of them left -- Angel and his crew in Los Angeles? The watchers in England? Would anyone know the truth of all this, and what’s to come? Maybe they are the only two left who know. So, then, they have to go on, have to document it somehow. For what audience, Spike can’t imagine.
As she eats, he stands behind her and brushes her hair, which she relishes. There should still be water in the tank, so tonight she can bathe, her favorite luxury. Whenever he can he tries to find something precious for her, a token or treasure, like these lights. Her joy is infectious and for a few moments he forgets that they are not the living anymore, but the surviving.
For a while he gazes out the window, watching for something, anything, to change. The tree limbs reach toward the flickering light over the car park, their white-frosted branches stark against the pinkish sky. The nights have been starless so long, he’s forgot what they looked like. And to think he used to know every constellation. When he turns back to her she’s resting casually in the chair, smiling. She’s grateful for any food he brings her, she never complains, nor asks for more. Never once has she lost her temper, or made him believe she was unhappy with his choices. If she is discontent, he wouldn’t know it.
She leans her head back against the chair, still smiling. Then she rolls up one sleeve, closes her eyes, and extends her arm to him. He can hear the snow softly falling, falling.