SNOWDRIFT

 

by

 Vera Searles

 

 

 

 

            January 12, 1903:

 

            My name is Mary Elwood, and I am twenty-three years old.  My husband is John Elwood, twenty-eight, head clerk at the Neville National Bank.  We live a half-mile from town, which has made easy walking distance for John to go to work.     

          Last night it snowed, leaving the ground covered quite deeply by morning.  After breakfast, John and I donned our boots and woolens to go outside to shovel a path.  But we found the roadway blocked by a huge snowdrift directly in front of our house, so we had to come back inside.  We have never had such a deep snow as this in Neville.  The drift doesn’t look so large from our window, but once we get near, it looms as big as a house.

            I am writing this to help get me through the agony John and I have suffered ever since.  We are trapped in time.  I don’t know why.  I cannot tell how long we have been like this, for we are living the same day over and over.  I keep crossing days off the calendar, but in the morning the last day crossed off is always January 12.  The clock ticks, and never has to be rewound.  The fire in the coal stove burns steadily without replenishment.  I write these same words each day, and in the morning the paper is fresh and clean, with no trace of writing or erasure.

            We eat the same food as we did yesterday, and each morning it reappears on our table.  We repeat the process of shoveling a path through the snow out to the road, and the drift is always there, unchanged.  We wait for it to thaw.  It does not thaw.

      What is on the other side of the snowdrift?  Is all the world at a standstill, or just here?

            The sun shines down from the same place in the sky every day, and night falls at the same precise moment as the day before.  My nails and hair do not grow.  John’s beard does not grow.  Our faces never change.

            How long can this go on?  It is against the laws of nature, against the laws of time.  Will I never become pregnant, have children, watch them grow?  Will we never see our families and friends again? 

            “Don’t write the same words!” John screams at me, and I remember he yelled the same thing yesterday.  With all my strength and willpower, I do not reach for the pad and pencil.  But I did that yesterday also, only to find the pad and pencil in my hands, my fingers making words appear on the paper.

            “Rip it up!” John cries.  “Rip it up so you can’t write.  We must change something!”

            I tear the pad to shreds, tossing it into the fire of the coal stove along with the pencil, where it all burns and turns to ash.  Then I look down into my lap, and the pad is in my hand, the pencil in my fingers.

            One morning John says, “Today we won’t try to shovel out to the road.  That will change the day.”

            “But you said that yesterday, and always,” I remind him.  “And when we try not to go outside, we find ourselves there with our shovels.  Why?” 

            “You have always asked that,” he says sadly.

            “Why is this happening?  What are we going to do?” I wail, as my fingers involuntarily lace up my boots. 

            John gazes out the window.  “All we can do is wait.”

            “Your friends at the bank,” I say.  “They will surely send a carriage to look for you.  Or my father - - he will ride here on horseback to find me.”

            But as I look out at the snowdrift, I wonder if anyone will ever come, will anything ever change?  What is happening in the world beyond the snowdrift?

 

                                                    

 

            August 10, 2003:

             Melinda Bishop slapped the top of her computer.  “This stupid thing,” she said.  “It’s on the blink.  Something must have happened to it during the move out here.  It was working perfectly fine in the city.”

            “What’s wrong?” Jason asked, leaving his own unpacking and coming over to the farmhouse table that held their computer equipment.

            “It doesn’t print what I tell it to,” she answered.  “The numbers keep coming up wrong, 1903 instead of 2003.”  She looked around the big room, with its rough-hewn beams, old-fashioned wainscoting, and the fat, black stove in the corner.  “Maybe the electricity doesn’t work right in this part of the house.  There’s something so antique about it.”  She sniffed.  “It even smells old.”

            Jason reached down to make sure the computer was plugged in properly.  “There can’t be anything wrong with the electric - - the bank told me this part of the house was wired last year when the place was renovated.”  He placed his fingers on her keyboard.  “What do you want to enter?”

            “Today’s date.  I’m going to keep a diary from the first day we moved here.”

            Jason entered August 10, 2003, and it came up on the screen.  He smiled at his wife.  “You have moving fatigue, is all.  Maybe you hit the wrong key.  Why don’t we quit unpacking and get a good night’s sleep?”

            He stepped up into the modern part of the house, but Melinda lingered.  This room had once been the entire first floor of the original part of the house, according to what the bank told them when they applied for the mortgage.  Everything had been removed except the big farmhouse table and the potbelly stove.  Jason had plans to build shelves to hold their books, and was going to make it into a den.  His job transfer to the Neville branch of the bank as president was a wonderful step up the ladder for him, and Melinda had given up her job in the city, hoping to find similar work out here.

            The computer was still on, with the correct date on the screen, and she wrote: ‘We moved from the city today.  Our house is large, and very modern, except for this one old section, that will be our den.  They told us this room dates back to the beginning of the last century, and has been closed off and used only for storage by all the former owners, because it had no electric until the house was renovated last year.  This room has an odd feel, like it’s colder, and I hear what sounds like the scraping of a snow shovel outside.  Must be the echo of the traffic over on the highway.  I better get some sleep, more tomorrow.’

            Melinda shut down the computer and put out all the lights.  As she turned to go up the two steps into the modern kitchen, something in the den flickered in the corner of her eye.  The stove?  Weird - - it looked like it had a fire inside that gave the black metal an oily sheen.  It was probably her imagination and the reflection of the lights from the kitchen.  On an impulse, she put her hand near the stove.  The air felt slightly warm.  And behind it, in the corner, was something she hadn’t noticed before - - a snow shovel.  Melinda stared at the floor beneath it.  Was that a small puddle of water? 

            Suddenly the computer screen lit up.  “Jason?” she called, a sense of alarm gathering in her.  “I told you there’s something wrong with the electric in here!”

            There was no answer - - he was probably upstairs in bed already.  Melinda felt herself growing cold.  The monitor looked like it was made of thin frost.  When she reached forward to turn it off, a ghostly reflection of herself stared back.  The faint image was dressed in an old-fashioned outfit of heavy coat, muffler, boots, and - - carried a snow shovel.

            Melinda blinked to rid herself of the hallucination.  Her likeness disappeared and the computer went off, but her skin felt like it had been frostbitten by a January blizzard.  She hurried into the kitchen to make hot tea, but in a few seconds, the chill was gone.  She decided it was, as Jason had suggested, due to moving fatigue.

                                                  

 

            Jason grinned at her over his morning coffee.  “What was that you just said?”

            She frowned.  “I don’t know.  I’m so groggy I’ve already forgotten.  I had so many bad dreams during the night, I didn’t get much sleep.”

            “I asked if you were going to work on your resume today, and you answered ‘My nails and hair do not grow.’”  The grin left his face.  “Mellie, are you okay with the move out here?  I know you loved living in the city, and the job you left.”

            She reached across the table to put her hand on his.  “I’m fine about moving here.  I don’t know where the hair and nails remark came from, but I had some really weird dreams last night.  And yes, I’m going to update my resume today, as soon as I wake up properly.”  She smiled, leaving unsaid what frightened her about the nightmares - - she had been someone else, living some other life.

            Jason lifted her hand and kissed the palm.  “That’s my girl.  Love you.”

            She watched as he finished his coffee, picked up his briefcase, and bent to kiss her.  He stopped, staring at her face.  “What the heck?”

            “What’s wrong?” she asked, an uneasy tingle chilling her spine.

            “Your eyes.  Are you using new makeup?  They look almost green.  Nice, though,” he added, smiling.  “Whatever the new stuff is, it works.  See you tonight.”  He kissed her and left.

            The moment his car pulled away, Melinda ran to the hallway mirror.  Her blue eyes did have a frosty, greenish tint to them, but she hadn’t changed makeup at all.  She recalled last night, when the computer monitor had given off the same phosphorescent glow.  All night long, her sleep had been broken by nightmares about snow - - a woman struggled against mounds of it, shoveling the same spot over and over, her breath misting the air - - and always, with a start, Melinda had wakened, knowing the woman was herself.  She felt the image now staring back at her from the mirror was the same stranger, a ghost of herself from another time, reaching out to take her back into that other time.  She shivered as cold currents of air drifted about her.

            It was this house.  Something strange and melancholy lurked in the den.  Melinda walked through the kitchen and looked down into the old room.  She saw nothing wrong - - no computer lit up, no glowing stove, no puddle of water.  This had been used for storage, so why shouldn’t a shovel be there?  The last owners simply forgot to take it when they moved out. 

            Everything had a logical explanation.  She had no reason to fear the den.  The sun streamed in the window with an inviting brilliance, and she went down the two steps and over to her computer.

            After working on her resume for an hour, she went back into the kitchen for more coffee, then returned with the intention of making an entry in her diary.  But when she typed the present date, the screen read: ‘January 12, 1903.’

            “Oh no, are you on the same kick as last night?” she asked aloud. 

            It went on: ‘We have never had such a deep snow as this in Neville.  The drift doesn’t look so large from our window, but once we get near, it looms as big as a house.’  It stopped.

            “Are you through?” she asked angrily.

            More words came on the screen: ‘What is on the other side of the snowdrift?  Is all the world at a standstill, or just here?’

            The words entranced her.  Melinda sensed the snow of last night’s dreams mounding up outside, while in here, she felt the cozy warmth of the stove.  A clock ticked pleasantly. 

            She had no idea how long she had been sitting there wrapped in daydreams, when the phone rang.  It was Jason.  “Mellie?  Hi, how’s everything?”

            She struggled against the web of fantasies in her mind.  “Okay, except I think my computer’s freaked out again.”

            “Call the repair guy we had in the city.  Meanwhile, use mine.”  He told her what time he’d be home and hung up.

            She looked at her screen.  It was empty.  Could she have imagined that writing?  The eerie, antique smell of the den swirled phantom words into her mind like a snowstorm.  ‘My nails and hair do not grow.  The drift is always there, unchanged.  We wait for it to thaw.  It does not thaw.  As I look out at the snowdrift, I wonder if anyone will ever come.”

            Powerful images replaced the memories of her old job and friends in the city.  Parts of her life were slowly disappearing.  In the hallway mirror, she studied herself. 

            She was Melinda Bishop, but not the same person she had known all her life.  Her eyes were greener, her hair lighter, her face rounder and prettier.  And she looked just a tad older.  At last - - time was moving!  Now what made her have a thought like that?

            A sudden chill seized her and she ran to the heat of the stove.  Her mind went blank for a second as she stared at the strange-looking piece of machinery on the table.  It was square, and seemed to be made of thin frost.  When her

head cleared, she tossed her pad and pencil into the fire, pulled on her woolens and boots, and went outside to help her husband shovel a path to the snowdrift.

            Mary Elwood watched her go.  Calmly she erased the last words on the computer monitor: ‘I wonder if anyone will ever come.’  Already she had the knack of this strange, modern equipment.  She went to the window.

            Outside, a young couple shoveled through the snowdrift and stood waiting while a horse-drawn carriage drew near.  They climbed in, their breaths curling like steam in the cold air, and as the horse’s hooves clattered away, the woman in the furry woolens cast a wistful glance back at the house.

            They disappeared into the thin frost of the distance.  The sun appeared and the snowdrift was gone.  The woman standing at the window turned back to the room.  The fire was out, the stove was cold, and the snow shovel was gone from the corner.

 

                                                                          --End--

 

"Snowdrift" originally appeared in Weird Tales, July 1998

                                              

                                 Contact Vera Searles: versear@msn.com

 

 

                                                                                                        

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