When I first got the call for Bears of Winter (in which I eventually wrote “The Psychometry of Snow“), I had an idea for a post-apocalyptic love story, set just after Christmas where a planned viral outbreak resulting from biological terrorism wiped out pretty much everyone over the holidays, and in Ottawa in particular, it had hit in the middle of an ice-storm leading up to Christmas, further making bad things worse. I never quite got the story to work, though, and “Psychometry” struck me shortly thereafter and the original story ended up in the “maybe” drawer.
When I saw the Friday Flash Fics photo this week, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and reworked a piece of that story.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It…
The sky was gorgeous. Benoit couldn’t decide if that felt wrong somehow, or if maybe it was hopeful. Like, okay, so the centre didn’t hold. Things fell apart. But look: beautiful sunrises.
He shifted in the bed. Ray was already up, but unless he was mistaken, neither of them had woken the other last night, which meant no nightmares. That was another first, among many. He reached out and traced his hand across the empty sheet where Ray had been, since they’d fallen into the bed together, since they’d kissed…
He rolled over, putting the window to his back and saw Ray standing in the doorway. He had two mugs, and both steamed in the chill air. He was already dressed, of course. The bedroom, even with the door open, wasn’t much warmer than the winter morning outside.
The tea was good. Hot, and sweetened, so Ray must have found some sugar in the kitchen of the townhouse. Ray sat with him, and together they looked out the window.
“So,” Ray said.
“So,” Benoit said. He eyed Ray, smiling. Ray had a similar look, like he wasn’t sure if he should be grinning or not.
“I was thinking…” Ray said. “Maybe we could open the presents?”
Benoit laughed out loud. They hadn’t gotten as far from the mall where they’d first crashed out after finding each other as the only survivors in the hospital, gathering strength and recovering by the large enclosed glass fireplace that was the centre of the food court. When they’d finally felt strong enough, Ray had suggested a depot he knew—by then, Benoit knew he’d been a truck driver before—and they’d looted the sport’s supply store for snow shoes and made their way.
They’d only gotten as far as the townhouses before the sunlight failed. Between the ice storm that had hit at the same time as the outbreak, and all the snow that had come after, it was rough going. They’d picked a place with a chimney and no car in the driveway, hoping that would mean whoever had lived there weren’t likely to be found inside.
They’d been correct. And then, delighting in finding a gas stove they could light with their looted lighters, Benoit had cooked pasta in cans of vegetable broth, and they’d found some wine (and drank all of it) and then when Ray was taking off his shirt to change for bed Benoit had said something like “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and you look fine,” and then…
Well. They’d slept through nightmare free for the first time, after.
“You think it’s grim?” Ray asked. The big, burly former trucker looked chagrinned.
“I think it’s a great new tradition. Hell, it’s Christmas for the foreseeable future. No one’s gonna pull down the decorations, right? We might as well make it a thing: anywhere we break into? We open the presents.”
Ray nodded. “There might be something good. Useful, even.”
“Hey, I think we’re nailing this looting thing, frankly.”
“Come on. I got a fire going. It’s warm in the living room.”
“Awesome.” Benoit slid out of the bed. If he maybe took a bit longer sliding into his clothes than was strictly necessary, it was because Ray was ogling him so openly. They’d both been faking and hiding since they’d met each other. It seemed almost funny now.
“I was thinking,” Ray said, as they searched the kitchen cabinets for whatever might make for a good breakfast. “It might be smart for us not to try to get all the way to the depot today, either. Break it into bits. Give us time to find places we can rest up.”
Benoit nodded. They’d both been really winded by the end of their trek yesterday. Whatever it was that had killed pretty much everyone after days of migraine-level pain, it had taken a lot out of him.
“Also,” Ray was blushing now, a redness that crept up from his neck before vanishing into his beard. “If we stop at Bank Street today, there are some things we could pick up.”
“Things?” Benoit said. He tried to remember what shops were on Bank street. There were many.
“Just, y’know. Stuff.” Ray said.
Benoit raised one eyebrow.
“Lube,” Ray said. “Y’know. If… If you’d like to maybe have some on hand.”
Benoit smiled. It still felt strange to smile. Ever since he’d woken up in that hospital, he’d wondered if there would be good things in the world ever again. And what he’d need to survive in whatever kind of world he’d just woken up in.
“Bank street it is,” Benoit said. Then, taking a deep breath and forcing a casualness to his voice, he added, “You think there’ll be any of those, y’know, harnesses?”
Ray choked on his tea. But once he managed to swallow, the big man nodded at him. “If not,” he said. “I know where we can go after that.”
When Ray left to grab his backpack from the front hall, Benoit looked out the window again. The sunrise was moving along as always.
“Hopeful,” Benoit said, deciding.