A story inspired by the insane twitter ramblings of spoof account @DMReporter, and of course, the dramatic-yet-totally-undramatic snow. The forecast for the story includes inclement weather, characters with quite silly names, and a light smattering of meteorological stuffs.
Egbert looked at the weather report. He blinked. He looked at it again. Indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, it was going to snow that afternoon. There was no mistaking that menacing Siberian high pressure zone moving in.
He had graduated from Oxford ten years ago with a degree in atmospheric geophysics, and sadly had lost out on a top-notch research position at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre to a fellow student a tiny bit better than him. And things got worse after that – his parents made him move out, and he went to London – because it seemed like ‘the thing to do’ at the time.
Then there came an office job where he sold insurance to people who didn’t need it in order to fund a marriage that didn’t last. It had been two years since the divorce and while his home address had changed, he was still stuck in the insurance rut. Looking at the weather reports was now his only reprieve from a life of inadvertent monotony, and sometimes this wistful mood caught him completely by surprise.
He only realised he was staring blankly at the screen when someone tapped his shoulder. He jerked upright and aimlessly hit some keys in a sort of automatic attempt to convince himself and whoever had interrupted him that he was indeed still working.
‘Egbert! What’s up, my man?’
No cause for alarm. It was only Norbert.
‘Looking at – what is that, a weather report?’ Norbert’s thick eyebrows raised in a disapproving fashion.
‘Yeah. It’s going to snow this afternoon.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Norbert looked out of the window. ‘Doesn’t really look like it to me.’
Egbert tried not to sigh. ‘Just because you can see the sun right now doesn’t mean it’s not going to be bad later. There’s a cold front moving in from the North, and the high pressure zone…’
It was no use. Norbert’s face had glazed over.
‘Whatever, dude,’ he said. He turned to leave, almost bumping into Albert, who in turn narrowly missed a collision with the pointless decorative cheeseplant in the corridor.
‘Eggy!’ Albert hailed him in that faux-friendly way he always did. Egbert mumbled ‘Hello’ back to him, and pretended to carry on working. He could hear his colleagues behind him, chattering now about the snow with no small amount of mirth.
There were a lot of Berts in that particular office. Nobody knew why. Some people theorised that they just seemed to gravitate to the building, like fine particles of iron filings to a massive magnet. On his floor, there was himself, and Norbert and Albert, who unfortunately took the coincidence as a sign to be overly familiar with each other. There was also a Cuthbert on the fourth floor, but they had never spoken. The last thing Egbert wanted to do was expand the Bert circle.
The news of snow soon started to broadcast on the BBC channel in the staff canteen. A grave-faced news reporter talked of the Met Office’s warning, and told people what in Egbert’s mind was just a reiteration of common sense. Wrap up warm before you go out. Wear sensible shoes. Don’t slip.
‘Maybe ol’ Eggy’s right,’ joked Albert.
Norbert laughed. ‘Wouldn’t bet on it.’
Evening fell. The snow did not.
‘You idiot,’ his girlfriend Marcy said. He had called her not five minutes ago whilst walking towards the tube station, and already she was on the defensive. She was not happy, primarily because he was trying to convince her not to come down from Birmingham. He had been scared about snow, and ice, and her driving in it. She had taken it the wrong way.
‘Marcy, I’m just trying to be sensible about this. Someone’s got to believe me about the bad weather, and I’d like it to be you of all people.’
‘Oh for goodness’ sake,’ said Marcy, ice cold tones cutting their way into his mind as sharp as the wind trying to cut its way through his jacket. ‘It’s not snowing like you said, and we haven’t seen each other for two weeks, and I’ve still got to go to London anyway for that conference! It just… It just feels like you’re trying to get rid of me!’
‘No, no, Marcy, that’s not it at all!’ But Egbert was not going to get out of this easily. Emotion was winning over logic; and a lot of it was his own emotion. He could not deal well with other peoples’ anger. ‘I don’t want to get rid of you. I want to keep you safe…’ His words did not come out in the voice he intended. He ended up sounding horribly condescending and yet highly squeaky at the same time.
‘Safe? God, Egbert, I can take care of myself, you know.’
He managed to somehow string out the awkward conversation against his own will until he reached the station. Marcy exploded in a final torrent of words.
‘I don’t care, Egbert. I’m coming down whether you like it or not. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow. And that’s final!’
She hung up.
Egbert spent the rest of his commute in a glum mood. He picked up a copy of the Mail on the way. He didn’t pay for it – as if! – but rather picked it up from its discarded perch on an empty tube seat.
‘SNOWPOCALYPSE’, proclaimed the headline theatrically. Egbert sighed. What a load of tosh. Yes, it was going to snow, he knew that much. But this kind of reaction? It was either total disbelief or imaginative over-belief that seemed to plague everyone else but him.
He skimmed through the rest of the article.
‘Snow expected to hit…. Up to two centimetres in places… Lorries with grit have been called into action… many rail line already suspended… school called off…’
The tube rattled on to King’s Cross. Egbert alighted, then plodded past the interesting, busy, cultured zone into the back streets where his shared terrace house lay. Above, night had truly set in, and the cloudy sky reflected the light pollution of London with a bright red glow. Night was always tainted red in London.
Inside, Egbert was deeply troubled. The sky was getting heavier, but the snow was late. What on earth was causing it to move so slowly? In his mind, visions of slow-moving anticyclones blocking up huge tracts of land whirled into place and delicate chaos spiralled out from it like ants scattering before the thud of an elephant’s foot. It was scary.
The silly headlines must have been getting to him, he decided. He trudged up the stairs to home, assuring himself it would all be fine.
Indoors, Mistletoe was doing a tarot reading for Cider Sy in the living room. Mistletoe was a big hippy, in the new-school way. No tie-dye but plenty of foresty looking chic clothing and chunky crystal necklaces. She was an artist, and her room in the massive four-roomed terraced house was half-bedroom, half-art studio. As a result, she hardly left the house.
Cider Sy on the other hand, whose real name was Simon and just so happened to have a passion for various types of alcoholic beverage – was always in and out of the house. He worked in a traditional pub a few streets away that sold real ale.
‘So apparently I’m going to meet the girl of my dreams, yeah?’ he said flatly.
‘No, it means you’re going to get a great opportunity and the changes you make at this crucial stage can attract people to your loving core,’ Mistletoe corrected him. Cider Sy stood up and smiled wanly.
‘Well, Psychic Sally, I’ve got food waiting for me in the oven, so you’d better move on to your next customer.’ And he winked at Egbert.
‘You want yours done?’ Mistletoe asked hopefully.
‘Nope,’ Egbert said firmly.
‘Apparently it’s going to snow tonight,’ said Cider, to his complete surprise. He got the feeling Cider was not really bothered, however; he was too busy focussing on the chicken drumsticks he was fishing out the oven. ‘Yeah, heard it on the news. Apparently some minister or somebody’s annoyed because they haven’t budgeted enough grit. Dear god, man, not enough grit!’ His funny pronouncements made Mistletoe laugh.
Egbert hung around making his dinner and ended up lounging in the living room with his housemates, watching reruns of Big Brother, commenting and wondering on what it would be like to be trapped in a house with a bunch of people – who would crack first, who would fight who et cetera. They had just determined that Egbert would likely go insane by the end of the first week, and that Cider would win because of his total ambivalence to the rest of humankind, when something completely interrupted them.
There was a sudden flash of blue light that scoured its way across the living room – nobody reacted at first, it was too much like the blue glare of a police siren. But the loud bang that followed made them all stand to attention. It was a humongous crashing noise, a single deep burst, like a whale hitting a steel ship, or something like that.
‘Oh my god, that sounds like a plane crash,’ said Mistletoe.
They ran to the kitchen and opened the back door. From their rather impressive vista across the empty car park, flat warehouses and single storey buildings they saw a huge storm cloud gathering. It was hanging low to the ground, across Central London. The bang had in fact been a thunderclap, and it came again in that single, definite, powerful vibration, preceded by an intense flash of ball lightning, the likes of which he had never seen before, only read about in textbooks.
And the ground was covered in snow. It was a shock to him at first, until Mistletoe said rather dramatically ‘Wow, that’s like, so much snow!’ and he became aware that one centimetre was really not that much at all.
The thundersnow-storm was a bad omen, though. Now the snow was falling thick and fast. It was going to get much, much worse.
But Marcy was still in Birmingham, and the spiral arm of the weather front would not reach her until after morning, he was sure of it. She would be safe.
‘Come on guys, let’s go in before we freeze to death,’ said Cider. Egbert agreed, and followed him in just as the snowflakes started to work themselves into a real blizzard-like frenzy.
The cold was the awful penetrating kind that slaughtered the effect of pithy electric heaters such as the ones at his flat. He fell asleep wearing three pairs of socks and a hoodie beneath the covers. And that was that. He was in no way prepared for the tumultuous events that were to follow…
TO BE CONTINUED