THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Holding tightly to her valise, she glanced over her shoulder before stepping onto the platform. Dark blue clouds stretched from the prairie to the heavens. The blizzard was coming fast and the conductor was urgently pleading for everyone to get on board so they could depart before the storm arrived. As she placed her foot on the first step, anxiety prickled the back of her neck. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d forgotten something…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
“It is the kindness of snow,” my grandmother once said. “It covers. It makes everything smooth and white. It brings the gift of forgetting.”
But this snow wasn’t like any snow the town had ever seen. It hammered the ground so hard it left dents. Houses shook as waves of it slammed into walls, battering cars and caravans till they buckled and shattered to pieces.
It smashed windows and poured into homes, the searing teeth and claws of the wind slashing at everyone inside. The white shroud covering the ground outside thickened every minute as the gale howled to be let in.
Eventually our outside world disappeared, obscured by a screen of featureless white.
Then we lost power.
So began my family’s febrile hunt for blankets and eiderdowns. My stuffed animals were squished out of shape and packed under doors. My brothers huddled in bed while Ma shuddered into the bundle at her chest, trying to keep the baby warm.
I couldn’t keep still. I pulled on every jumper I owned and climbed to the attic. There, my father and grandfather were discussing survival strategies while sharing a guilty cigarette. They started when they saw me.
“It’s fine,” I said. “Just tell me there’s a plan.”
“Plan?” asked Grandpa. “We gotta wait it out. What else can we do?”
“But it’s been days. Marybeth is still out there!”
They looked at each other. “Your fight,” said Grandpa, “Was it bad?”
I shrivelled back against the wall, crying. I couldn’t tell them how bad. That I’d burned her apology notes, trashed her bedroom, screamed at her to never come home again. That she’d screamed she never would.
“If one of us dies…”
“Jeannie!” Dad held my shoulder. “It’s OK,” he said. “She mightn’t have reached the station. She might’ve sheltered with neighbours. We’ll call them.”
“We can’t. No phone, no wifi.”
“There may be another way.”
“It’ll still work,” Dad said defensively.
A grubby, thirty-year-old walky-talky lay on the table. “Who’s got the others? If they even still have them.”
“Carson Rogers has one. Uncle Pete has the other. They definitely kept them.” Dad looked embarrassed. “We had a fit of nostalgia at Christmas. We… tested them.”
“Well,” Grandpa said. “Worth a shot, then.”
Dad pressed a button. “Pete? Are you there?”
A blast of static. The blizzard roared through the receiver. What did they call that? Dead air. Then…
“Pete, wonderful. How’s things? Listen, Marybeth-”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
“Pete, it’s your brother. Paul.”
“BROTHER? …WHO ARE YOU?”
White noise swallowed the voice. Wind screamed outside. Dad shook himself. “We’ll try again.”
“BZZZT. PAUL. JESUS, THESE THINGS STILL WORK?”
“Carson, thank heaven. How’s the family?”
“HANGING IN. YOURS?”
“Same. But Marybeth is missing. You seen her?”
“NO. BUT LISTEN, SOMETHING WEIRD IS HAPPENING WITH THE STORM. MY WIFE TRIED TO FETCH THE CAT IN AND NOW SHE DON’T REMEMBER WHO I AM. MY DAD TOO, HE–”
The connection faltered. An ominous dread twisted my stomach and rose the gooseflesh on my arms.
“…WHO ARE YOU?”
“Carson, it’s Paul. From school together. What’s happening?”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
Fear constricted my throat.
My father kept yelling, “Carson, it’s me, Carson.” But, the man on the other end just kept asking. He’d forgotten his best friend of thirty years.
Then I heard fumbling. A new voice crackled from the speaker.
“PAUL? PAUL, THIS IS CARSON’S SON. DON’T TOUCH THE SNOW. IT’S HAPPENED HERE THREE TIMES. PEOPLE TOUCH THE SNOW, THEY FORGET — THEY FORGET EVERYTHING! I REPEAT, DON’T TOUCH THE SNOW.”
The static roar swelled for a second.
“…WHO ARE YOU?”
The snow pelted the roof overhead. We clung to each other. There was a buzzing as Grandpa turned the radio on.
“Who are you people? Is this a studio? Who are you?”
“Oh God,” he whispered. “God…”
The snow pounded the roof outside, louder this time. “What’s happening?” I screamed.
The roof burst open. The wind had ripped straight through it. Ice and snow cascaded through, drenching me with pain and blinding cold.
Everything went white.
I came to. Two men were dragging me upright from a snowdrift. Snow filled the air. The younger man was in tears. “Jeannie,” he said, “do you recognise me?”
I looked at him. “Who are you?”
‘Snow amnesia’ the news called it afterwards. That’s apparently a thing. A form of group hysteria, a trauma reaction, as if amnesia wasn’t the worst trauma of all. Nothing’s scarier than forgetting your own family.
We all got it. I was worst affected, though recovery was swift with them all standing around me, talking to me, triggering my recall. I remembered them all by the time the storm died. My parents, Grandpa, my three younger brothers. Hugging, crying, so grateful we’d survived.
Once the ploughs cleared our driveway, I went walking through town. The faces of neighbours, people I’d forgotten, all flooded back.
But when I got to the train station, something happened.
A girl on the platform stared at me.
She looked so like me that I stopped dead, just to stare back.
Our eyes met.
“Oh,” she sobbed. “Why don’t I know your name?”
She flung her arms around my neck.
A familiar joy rose inside me, though I wasn’t sure why.
Not caring, I hugged her back. Over her shoulder I saw sunlight soaking the prairie. Her tears ran down my neck as the frosted trees behind her dripped with dew.
The snow began to thaw.