The dock always had its own smell, but the seaweed-and-dead-fish odor that usually hung in the air was strong enough that it was only slightly altered by the remaining odor of the green gas. If anything, the worse it smelled at the waterfront, the more normal it seemed. Willow and Spike set their eyes on the boats and ignored the dead birds and people that littered the dock, the decks, the restaurant patios and storefronts. They walked to the end of the pier and looked out over the water, his arm cuddling her to his side as best as he could with their baggage. She sighed and looked up at him, away from the darkness of the Bay.
“Are we thinking big cargo ship, cruise ship, or something small enough for us to actually sail?” With a glance at one of the half-sunk Hoverboats, she added, “We certainly can’t take a Hover.”
Spike glanced down at her, kissed her forehead, then let his body and eyes turn to the boats. There was, indeed, a large selection to choose from. Even a restaurant boat that they could steal away with. But her point was taken. They were only so skilled at resembling a crew.
He thought aloud, “We do have to be able to run the bloody thing, but it has to be big enough to survive on the open ocean…” Decisions, decisions, and the fire was coming closer if the smoke was any indication. “Pity we don’t have a submarine. I have more experience on one of those.”
Willow offered, “We could sail out to Bath – I think they have subs there.”
Spike’s dishwater-blonde head tilted as he contemplated the possibilities. He sighed, “Fact is, I wouldn’t be much better with it anyway – never paid a much attention to that end of the war. But, it would serve to keep us hidden if we hit enemy territory. No telling who’ll accept us or try to kill us if they find we’ve escaped from the …” Their eyes flicked back toward the ghost town. “…the attack,” he finished quietly.
He shook himself. “No, best to stick with what we’ve got here and head straight out and away. We’re going to need the right maps and such though. They might not have those on a bigger ship that’s all computer controlled…”
“Oh!” Willow interrupted. “We can’t sail one of the big ships anyway without the computers, can we?”
“Right you are, pet. That settles it then. We find the biggest old-fashioned sailboat we can. Meanwhile, let’s collect a few maps and such along the way. Maybe a foghorn if we can find one.”
They bounced from boat to boat, pocketing a dead man’s compass, a dead woman’s map, a dead couple’s candlesticks and silverware, a dead teenager’s bookbag. Willow threw up when they took it from the messy corpse, but Spike explained the paper and pens would come in handy, as well as the extra bag and its other contents. Finally, they found the best boat for their needs and dumped their things in the cabin. The owners were already half over the side of the boat, having passed out and died in the midst of being sick. Spike tilted them over and they splashed into the dark water. Willow closed her eyes and wished them peace, silently thanking them for the means of their travel. That done, they both turned and started getting the lay of the land. There was a lot to do before sun-up.
The first thing Spike did was try to honk the horn. But no noise came from the button he pushed. Or any of the other buttons or touchpad. “This ain’t gonna be easy,” he muttered. Still, he knew enough to be able to get the sails up and the breeze was blowing right to help them get off the dock. So they were very shortly headed for the meeting point to see if Eliza and Chester would be joining them.
The right pier of Berlin Mills Wharf was empty. Their boat, a very old 27 ft Nor’sea was a bit of a mess. The outside had been coated with the non-chip plastic paint that would keep it looking nice, but inside … Clothes and food wrappers and beer cans littered what seemed to be a very comfortable cabin. Willow didn’t want to think ill of the dead, but these people were not the most neat of sailors. It was very depressing, folding clothes and stacking papers in a neat pile in the storage cabinets, but she knew it had to be done, especially if they were going to have two people join them. They would have to sort through everything later though to see what they might have a use for. The back of the cabin was filled with two couches separated by a long table. There was a sink and stove, a little counterspace that could pull out to be a more useful size, a bathroom, and some space for clothes and things behind cupboard doors.
She managed to straighten and clean their new home. There was even a clean pot ready for the stove before she realized it wouldn’t work without power. Her shoulders further slumped as Willow’s mind began to absorb just how dead everything and everyone was. Dead people’s clothes, dead appliances, dead pets. The cat she used to feed out back of the bar… At first, she kept working as tears began to flow, putting the food in the cabinets and picking out a can of ravioli for dinner. But she was so tired. And not hungry. In fact, as the tears turned into sobs, she wasn’t feeling well at all.
She mumbled through her sobs as she realized, “Oh goddess, I’m dying again.” Her stomach rolled and buckled and she was suddenly vomiting all over the clean sink and stove top, her empty insides trying to claw their way out like dozens of spiny hermit crabs. That image settled in her head and she fell, finally letting out the shriek she’d been barely containing for hours. It echoed in the cabin and up through the door and out into the night, startling Spike from his own introspective walk a few dozen feet down the dock.
Spike had parked the boat on the very end of the pier, keeping the sails up but tying off to the dock. After a few minutes of listening Red clean and shuffle, he set off away from the boat, knowing it might be a very long time before his feet touched stead land again. He walked up toward the road with half a hope of seeing Eliza and Chester. The other half was a hope that he didn’t see them. The extra help would be nice, but he had a feeling he was going to be responsible for all the humans they gathered along the way. And as much as he loved people looking up to him and actively missed having minions to worship him, he had never liked having to be the responsible leader.
A shriek rang out from behind him. It was filled with despair and desperation. It was filled with anger and fear. It was the kind of scream that had his inner demons sitting up and taking notice. And it was coming from his girl. Spike ran back so fast he seemed to fly. He hit the boat in a leap that aimed his next step down into the cabin where he fell to his knees beside a very messy, very silent, woman. His hand found the top of her head, stroking once down her wild hair to her back.
She lifted her eyes and whimpered, “I don’t want to die again.”
He just pulled her to him, cuddling her a bit too hard. She shifter her shoulder and wrapped her arms around him and cuddled him back until he was sure his ribs were bruised from it.
Ten minutes might have passed before he pushed her back a bit and looked her in the eye. “You don’t look like you did before, pet. And you went into convulsions before. I don’t think this is you being sick.”
Hope was in her eyes as she looked at him. “Then what am I?”
“You’re just sad, Red. And scared and everything else.” He hugged her to his chest again. “And so am I.” He released her and stood, helping her up – forcing her up to face him. “But that never stopped us before and I don’t see why it should now. So com’on Red. You go on up and get some fresh air while I finish straighten’n up down here.” He pushed her to the ladder and swatted her butt. “Go’on then and be of use – Eliza and Chester will be wondering which boat to head for.”
Half an hour later, Spike set off to hunt down a couple make-shift oars in case the wind died, but he couldn’t go far. The fire was blazing through the town and sparks were quickly crossing the last road. Soon, the dock would catch and that’d be that. The heat and noise from the fire was nearly unbearable as it was. Just as he broke off the second long board from the peer, he heard Chester’s voice rising above the fire’s chatter.
“Let me help you with that.” Chester and Eliza were both loaded down and the offer of help assured Spike that these two wouldn’t be too bad as shipmates. But they’re appearance also raised the question of how much to tell them about his vampire-status. For now…
“No, thanks. You’ve got enough weighing you down. I’m stronger than I look.” And he picked up the two 15 foot long, 1.5 x 12 inch boards and headed for the boat. They’d just have to get used to surprises.
“Hey honey, we’re home!” Spike called to Willow who had ducked down to brush her teeth and freshen up.
“We?” She poked her head up and smiled when she saw Eliza and Chester shifting their burdens to the deck, each coughing a bit from the smoke wafting toward them from Portland’s inferno. “You made it! We were getting worried we’d have to leave without you. I’m so glad you made it through the fire and smoke and got here in time and you know, not dead because we would have had to leave without you soon and as much as I love my Spike, it’ll be nice to have a couple other humans here to hang out with on the deck in the sunlight and…”
“Willow!” Spike nearly slapped her from her semi-hysteric babble but settled for a light squeeze on her shoulder.
“Oh. Sorry. I babble. It’s a thing.” She leaned into Spike. “I’m just a tiny bit exhausted. And, you know, the whole …” she waved her hand toward the fire and finished quietly, “…death thing.”
“Right.” Spike clapped his hands. “I don’t know about you all, but I’m about done with being this close to flames if you know what I mean.”
Eliza picked up his cheery attitude, forced as it may be. “Me too! Come on Willow, show me around while the boys set sail.”