Snow Don't Fall Vignette
The air was frigid and blew in the walloping wind, ceaselessly. I couldn’t feel my fingers as I
tried to flex them in my woolen gloves, and my ears singed and rang as though they had been marked by hot iron. The mucus in my nose was frozen and I could not feel myself breathing through my nostrils. The only hot air was that which passed through my mouth, as I held it agape to breathe in and out, in and out, the smoke within me vanishing in the cold.
Jeanne and I had been on the road for some weeks now, by then. We were trying to make
our way to a place called Covington, right beside some caves people lived in after the world had ended. Apparently, they’d sprung from right out of those caves and made their own little place among the dead world. Vander had mentioned it in his last letter, from early spring. I could not remember the feeling of the springtime sun as we walked in the snow.
We’d better get going soon. The townsfolk are getting more and more irritable when I go to market
with our goods.
What’s their problem? We’ve done nothing to them.
I guess they don’t take kindly to our letters we get. I heard one of them tell another they think we’re
with the bandits over at Convict’s Pass.
Did you pack the parsley and basil?
Yes, it’s in your bag. I’ve got the photograph and book and the tent in the other bag.
How much food do you have? It’s most of my pack.
Just another set of sandwiches and four cans. Yeah, you have the rest.
Will it last us through?
I wiped my forehead with my glove and looked to the western sky to our left. With the last
of the day almost gone, a mere flicker on the horizon, we set up our camp.
I stoked our weak embers and added a small stick to the flame, before wrapping my arms
back under the blankets, entangled with Jeanne’s. We were pressed up against one another, foreheads touching, our barren skin touching all across our bodies under the numerous blankets we clutched.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
“Why are you sorry?” she said softly. “What for?”
“For getting us into this cold. There was a better coat and fur pants I should’ve gotten. This
fire is too weak.”
“We had to leave that place anyhow. The bandits were getting more violent. And the
townsfolk, you know.”
I sighed and felt the warm breath from my mouth reflect back off of her face. The color of
her eyes were indiscernible in that weak light and I imagined the copper of her irises was a stronger brightness than I knew they really were. Her skin was a ghostly blue in the dark.
“Damn people and their paranoia.”
I heard her shrug in the ruffle of the blankets.
“We’ve been this way before,” she whispered. “I mean, laying naked inside seven blankets by
a fire. Wandering this wintry landscape. You don’t have to feel bad – we know what we’re doing.”
“There’s my point, we’re doing this again, after so many other times. I should’ve waited, until the signs of spring started to show.”
“It would’ve been too late by that point. They were already pushing us out in late summer.
Besides, we probably wouldn’t have had enough supplies to last staying there.”
“I think we’re out of the bullets we can trade food with. Still have the one in each of our
I nodded. Our arms were already wrapped around each other but I pressed my fingers into
her back to try and make her feel my trust in her, my love of her. She glided her nails up my own back in acknowledgement. I did not shudder.
Each day followed like the last and the road looked no different. Snow would fall in the
morning, clearing to blue by the time the sun was in the middle of the sky. The dryness of the world made my lips crack and I felt an irritating itchiness all over myself as my skin sought some kind of hydration in that white desert. One such afternoon, while we stopped to count our wares, Jeanne watched the way behind us.
“I think someone has been following us,” she said.
I looked down the way with her. The road itself was still white with snow and I saw only a
our set of footprints. Then, I turned to where Jeanne was facing, the barren trees with coiling arms that shot upwards.
“I’ve been hearing twigs and branches snap, to our right. They stop before we stop for a
pause or other.”
“You think it’s ‘someone’ and not a group?”
“Yes,” she said. Turning to me. “It’s not enough steps to be a group or a pair.”
“What if they’re walking the same way.”
“No one can do that in the woods. It’s too uneven.”
Together we looked at those trees and the ground below, mostly snow with pockets of
exposed mud and leaves, crowded by branches and fallen limbs of those dead pillars. I felt my revolver in my pocket and then made sure it stood out from the rest of my clothes so I could grab it.
“Then we wait and watch. Make them come out.”
She held her rifle at the ready and we circled each other, scanning the woods all around us
and discriminating every sound that did not come from our own feet or our breathing or the rustle of our clothes. The good thing about winter cold is that there are few things which make a sound… I suppose you could take that either way, really.
We eventually continued on the road, unknown to what was out there, the hours passing
tense as the air before the culling of a thunderstorm. When evening fell, Jeanne called my name and I looked to where her eyes were set. In the distance ahead of us, just on the horizon of the forest, numerous orange flickers stood out amongst the pale-orange sunset. And among them, steady white lights; the watch towers Vander spoke of in his letters.
I quickly turned back to where I had been looking; no motion was apparent in the trees.
“Should we go for it?” I asked.
“They’ll shoot us,” she said. “We’re already cold and desparate and coming in at night will
make us look like we’re dangerous.” She stood beside me. “What do we do about the person following us?”
“We exchange watch duties, like we did when we travelled to Akin.”
As I sat beside the fire, wearing two of the blankets in my clothes and Jeanne laying with the
rest on, I couldn’t hear the fire going. My ears had frozen up. My eyes scanned the same landscape again and again.
The landscape all looks the same in the dark. Was that bush there earlier? I suppose it was. And there,
I think that was an animal. Maybe some kind of a small mammal or something. What was that? I can’t see the trees swaying in the cold wind anymore. Was it still blowing? The cold all feels the same now. I cannot tell if I am cold anymore. Heat is nothing.
Did you hear that?
What did it sound like?
A coyote call.
Dammit. There ain’t no coyotes around these parts anymore.
Quick get up and grab the gun.
As it always was, this landscape was the same snow and coldness, a familiar friend who had
never left. I reached for Jeanne’s form to calm my thoughts and I traced the details of the fabric of her blanket. I couldn’t see the trees anymore, either. No footsteps, though. The wind was calling.
It’s been two days the wind’s been blowing.
I guess it won’t stop for a while.
C’mon, put the blanket on. It’s my turn for watch duty. Here you go.
Are you sure? I don’t think it’s been two hours yet.
We can’t tell anyway. The clocks are all broken and the moon isn’t in the sky. Here you go.
I lightly shake Jeanne awake after my time is up. She arches up and looks at me, a faint
smile on her face making me smile too. She takes the rifle from my hand and sits up, so that I lay flat, my head in her lap now.
A dream is a dream is a dream is a dream, all within that dream. Is it morning? Am I on guard duty?
There is a bear over there, in the bushes. Where is the rifle? I had a toy rifle when I was little and I lived in that settlement. You remember how we met? It was never this cold when I was little but I don’t know why. It wasn’t any warmer than it is now. The gun is old, very cold in my hands. The morning has to be coming soon, I know it. What was that? The trees are blowing, I know. There is a bear in the creek, over there. A wolf is on the ledge. The morning is coming.
Jeanne shakes me awake and I sit up, taking the gun. The night continues on in this pattern,
all sloshing together like the brine in dirty water that splashes over melting ice and melting snow.
As I waited, pressed on Jeanne, I heard faint snapping and then the brush of a foot. There
was when I saw the figure. It had a childlike face and stood motionless, staring at me. The eyes were not wide and the face did not contort in anger or hunger or pain. Rather, the child looked curious, with its head titled and its eyes trailing the length of our bundled bodies and then back to my face and then Jeanne’s hair. I rested my hand on it and stroked it.
The child’s mouth seemed to move a little as if reacting to what I had done. It did not
speak. Instead, I heard the soft back tracking of a foot and the turn of a heel. The child went back into the darkness.
We arose the next morning and reached Covington before midday. That night, sitting in an
old shack and around a strong, burning fire, I told Jeanne what I had seen.
“I saw that too,” she said.
Instead of talking, theorizing or questioning, or being concerned for that lone child in the
cold, cold world it so singularly inhabited, we stared only at the fire in front of us and thought only of the warm heat around us and the fact we could feel our toes again.