And that’s when the snow began to fall.
It fell lightly, at first, from the starless black sheet of sky. It danced and twisted with every brief wind and puff of air. Each snowflake was its own being, cold, unique, perfect. They filled the black black night like polka dots, white where the faint shine of the lamps, far but not too far, from the back of the highway rest stop cut through the trees in slices both thin and thick, and gray in the dark patches, in the darkness. They moved in slowed motion, careful scouts, who drifted and fell and landed, on the trees, on the dark picnic table, on them, on the ground, nestling between the individual blades of grass that were already brown and dead from the last ice bitten month. And when the first did not melt and proved the world cold enough for sustenance, the rest followed, and the slow dance became a crowded torrent.
It fell like a curtain, striped white and gray, and when the curtain fell it brought with it a hush, and the world muted. There was only one sound now, the unfixed yet unmistakable drone of fast cars on a highway a quarter mile away. Everything else was hidden by a short hill – no headlights, no reflections of windshields, no sound of windshield wipers just starting to clear away the ever increasing drop of snowflakes. Just the drone, ungrounded and ghostly, that became quieter and more unfocused as the snowfall grew heavier. It came from all directions. It filled the air equally, just like the snow.
The flakes were no longer alone. They clumped together to keep each other cold. They did not land gracefully but hit the ground in sops. Piled on top of one another. The white and the gray ate away at the black, changing the colors like age, first salt and pepper and then whiter and whiter as the night grew old. ‘Pure,’ they say. This snow was not pure. It had eaten the black and would never be pure. The white and gray were dull with darkness and the world, at least the patch of woods behind the rest stop, was no brighter for it.
They that were standing in this patch of woods did not care for the dark or the snow. And the snow did not care for them. It fell in their hair and stayed there. It fell on their clothes and piled on their shoulders. It landed on their exposed flesh and did not melt. Their skin became colder. There was no breath to move the snowflakes, to create little gray puffs of condensation. Their eyes, as sharp and as dead as the rocks and stones that were lodged in the soil, saw through the snow and ignored it. They were, perhaps, alive only as a tree is alive. Perhaps no more alive than a picnic table.
He that was lying in the patch of woods was not alive in any sense. The snow that fell on him melted, at first, as it found his hair, his skin, his eyes, his blood that had escaped and made a small pool in the crook between his shoulder and his head. He grew colder and the snow grew heavier and sooner rather than later it stopped melting, and the snow that had melted started to freeze. He became glazed, slick and shiny, and soon he would be blanketed by a white and gray comforter that would only grow fluffier as the night grew older. The air was filled with snow now.
They that were standing moved. Their steps were unhurried. They made no sound. One of them carried car keys, the metal no colder than the hand, but there was no jangling. The hush made it so. Behind them, as they walked toward the light and the gray brick rest stop and the highway, they left tracks in the thin layer of snow that had declared itself owner of the ground. There was no need to care. More snow would follow, all this night and perhaps into morning, not that they would see any of the morning. They would take the dead man’s car and drive away and leave it somewhere. Abandon it in a lake, perhaps.
Winter would take care of it. Snow tonight would bury the man in the woods. It would bury their tracks. It would bury the road and the road would be plowed but even as people came to this rest stop, as they paced to keep warm as they smoked or waited on friends, the snow would be the body’s protector. And more snows would come. And more. And the lake where they might leave the car will freeze, and then the snows will cover the ice and the car will be protected too.
The snows will fall and there will be no trace.