As Becca crunched through the snow, she realised that this had been a bad idea. More than that, it had been a frigging terrible idea. Yet, here she was and there wasn’t any turning back now.
It had all started about twenty minutes earlier when she’d woken up, looked out of the window and noticed that it had been snowing. Of course, there had been rumours that a snowstorm was heading her way. They’d even said as much on the news. But, she’d just expected a few light flakes and maybe a symbolic dusting of snow. It was March, after all. What she hadn’t expected was to pull back the curtains and find herself staring at something out of an old Christmas movie.
Thick, fat flakes whirled and gusted past the window as if blown by some off-screen wind machine. Every roof, pavement, lamp-post and tree in sight was covered with a chunky layer of icing. The pale grey sky was the same colour as the snow. The streetlights glowed like jewels. This was, she realised, one of those snowstorms. One of those impossible days where this tiny corner of suburbia looked like something out of a cartoon sitcom Christmas Special.
After finding a sweater and throwing on an old hiking jacket, she looked at her phone. There was no signal. Not only that, it wouldn’t do to ruin an expensive new phone by getting it covered in snow. Still, she wanted to document it. To keep some of it for when the world became bright and boring again. So, she dug out her trusty old digital camera, dropped it into her jacket pocket and set out on her expedition.
At first, it seemed perfect. The pristine snow crunched satisfyingly under her feet and the world seemed so much more vivid and alive than usual. It really did seem like something special. Like a cosy Christmas movie come to life. Occasionally, she’d fish the camera out of her pocket and take a couple of snaps. Even though the little screen on the back of the camera was polka-dotted by melting snowflakes, she was sure that the pictures would look ten times better when she copied them to her computer.
Yet, as she set off down another road, she realised that the pavements were completely deserted. Worse than that, she realised that she’d forgotten to wear any gloves. Her fingers stung like scalding water. She crammed them into her pockets and kept walking. But, this empty pavement had been well-trodden by many others and was filled with slippery compacted trails that threatened to send her sliding to the ground if she didn’t focus everything on every step.
Soon, she realised that it was safer to walk on the grass next to the pavement. Surprisingly, none of the other nameless souls who had been there before had thought of this. And, although it felt a little bit like sacrilege to disturb the perfect snow, at least there was less risk of tripping on the soft grass.
After what felt like a hundred trudging, crunching steps, she realised that she was in a different kind of movie to what she’d expected. It was one of those bleak survival thriller movies, one of those The Thing-inspired Arctic horror movies. Even though she was sure that this street was just an ordinary, cosy suburban street most of the time, it felt more like a harsh ice planet. An alien world where everything was in flux and anything could happen.
Becca kept trudging along, realising that going home would take the same amount of walking regardless of which route she took. That was, if she’d got her directions right. All of the streets looked pretty much the same. The same collection of dark shapes floating in grey nothingness. Like something from a glitched-out computer game.
Then, slowly, the dark shapes began to get lighter. By now, her face felt slightly numb and the only noise was the constant sniffling of her nose. After a while, the only thing she could see was shifting white television static against the greyness. It felt like she was nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Yet, she kept walking forwards. Forwards. Forwards. There had to be something if she kept walking forwards.
For a second, she thought that she glimpsed something in the greyness. It had many long, twisting arms. It almost seemed to beckon to her. Maybe it was just a gnarled old tree? Maybe it was something that wasn’t meant to exist in everyday life? Some unthinkable cosmic horror that preyed on lost wanderers. Something that called this grey void home. Some long-forgotten monster that was once whispered about to scare people away from walking in the snow.
Becca didn’t care. She turned and ran, every frantic footstep crunching silently above the sound of her breath. The white static seemed to get thicker and her face felt more numb. Then she saw an orange light.
At first, she froze like a deer, terrified that she’d stepped out into the road and was staring at the last pair of headlights she’d ever see. After what felt like two hundred thunderous heartbeats, she noticed that the light hadn’t moved. Slowly, she trudged towards it. As a large angular shape emerged from the greyness, she realised that it was the local pub.
The pub looked like something from an old German fairytale. A märchen, or whatever it was called. With the barn-like roof, the stout trees in the beer garden, the glowing orange light on the wall and the thick coating of undisturbed snow, it could have come straight from the pages of The Brothers Grimm or whatever.
As she shoved her frozen hands into her pockets and trudged towards the door, she remembered the other thing about the old fairytales – for all of their beauty and splendour, they were cruel, harsh things. This really was a fairytale winter.