“I’ll take a cup, aye,” he said, stretching out a calloused hand.
John rose from beside the fireplace, knees creaking and passed his friend a mug of hot tea. Inside, the house was warm, with a soft glow from the oil
lamps colouring the faces of the four men.
It had gone unsaid that neighbour should live with neighbour. The premise had been to save fuel, conserve heat, but the deeper, unspoken words had
been understood by each man.
“That’s no letting up.” Callum was by the window, watching the blizzard howl across the hills, whipping the sea into great walls of foam. The
lean trees by the church would not withstand much more. He spoke more to himself than to the group; there was no need to report on the relentless
weather, but he spoke the words aloud anyway, to break the silence.
“It’s on!” cried Stephen, jumping from his seat by the door. “Move!”
This was directed at Callum, and with a raised eyebrow and quickening pulse, Callum followed the biologist from the room, into the cold, stone-floored
hallway. Stephen had found the group soon after the winter had turned; a young scientist studying sea-life off the coast. With no way of getting home
to England, the men had offered him a bed and he in turn had supplied them with a trove of mackerel, which John had spent little time getting into
racks in the smokehouse.
John rose again, and went to find the others.
Alone by the fire, he thought hollow, painful thoughts.
In a house that months ago had been bustling with life, with grand-children, with noisy toys, his wife Maggie cooking, his daughter Iona dumping her
bags on his chair after work, to collect her brood and take them home for tea. It seemed so long ago, but it could only have been months, maybe three,
four at the most? Maybe more.
Iona had said goodbye with red-rimmed eyes, Maggie with fury in hers. He had mocked them, told them the papers were full of rubbish, always predicting
wild weather. “It’s how they sell them to fools like you”, he had joked.
Iona had protested, it was different this time. This was to be the worst winter in years, and there was no sign of it changing soon. The volcanic
eruption had only worsened the freeze, but no one could explain to him why. Stephen had tried, twice, and he was too ashamed of his ignorance to ask
The young ones had all gone, heading south, finding a relative to take them, finding anywhere that had a chance of surviving this icy hell. Maggie
could not bear to leave the little ones, and had promised her daughter she would come. When the first flakes fell in September, Maggie had bought the
tickets. Repeated government statements on the news urging people to move, and move quickly. He had known even before then, when the last flock of
birds flew south in midsummer, that something was very, very wrong. They had had a bitter row that night, he and Maggie. He knew they couldn’t
manage another plane ticket, no matter how they tried, and they had no one to ask for a loan. No one his pride would allow him to ask, anyway. He had
promised Maggie their home would be waiting for them when she got back. She nodded, holding back tears, and they had held each other a long time
before sleep came that night.
The men had taken cans from the village shop, the smoked fish would last, and they had housed John’s chickens in the McHardies’ cottage next
door. Stephen had assured them he knew which seaweeds had the most nutrition. He prayed silently it would not come to that, that spring must surely
come, as life follows every death.
He knew the snow banks held grisly secrets, and knew for sure his sheep lay where they had fallen. There had been nothing else to do. He knew other
souls lay out there too, hidden by the virgin snow. When the thaw came, those grotesque secrets would be revealed, alongside the first shoots of new
His thoughts were broken, with Stephen’s laughter. “It’s him, it’s The Voice!” he called.
The Voice came every now and again. Callum had fiddled with an old CB radio years ago, which he had tuned into the police radio frequency. “It gives
me a heads-up” he had explained, but no-one had taken him seriously. Now the radio was the centre of the house.
The Voice brought hope, and would lift every man’s spirits. Callum spent hours, days, trying to speak with The Voice, waiting for the moment it
answered him back. “Maybe tomorrow, eh?”
“Aye, Callum, maybe tomorrow.” he always answered. “When the thaw comes.”
edit on 1/10/2014 by tothetenthpower because: --Mod Edit--Fixed entry tag.