Chapter 2

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When I woke up, the coldness hit me first. It was a hard slap across my whole body, making me shiver and curl up, trying to squeeze the life out of my duvet. I think I lay there for a few minutes, unmoving, eyes closed and wondering why the room was so cold. Had Mum forgotten to put the heating on? But that was impossible. With Mum, she made sure the heating was always on. Especially in winter.

Something was not quite right.

A few minutes passed and the air seemed to be growing colder, as though the house were in a freezer. I remember turning round onto my other side and peering at the alarm clock. The screen was blank and the glass seemed to stare back at me.

My hand ached when I reach across and felt the space between the bed and the lamp. My finger rested on the switch, preparing to flick it on, eyes already squinting for the sudden burst of light yet to come.

It didn't.

Now, this was strange. The house was a freezing snowball, slowly turning us all to ice. The alarm clock had died and now the lamp didn't work. There was definitely something going on.

I remembered sitting up and clutching the duvet cover as though my life depended on it. What I didn't know was that it actually did. That duvet was the only thing that might have saved my life then. I waited for the dizzying moment to pass and when it did, slowly fingered the curtain, itching to open it. The words Zach had said the night before were still floating in my mind. If there really was snow, I wanted to see it.

So, I peered through the curtain and what I saw was something that took my breath away. The whole landscape was covered in a thick layer of white. Snow coated massive ridges that a car wouldn't be able to ride over. I now realised the bumps were fallen trees. A branch was on the floor, broken but covered in a settle of white, which seemed to be freezing its horrid icy fingers over it. My eyes travelled to the far side of the window, where a line of cables ran along the blanketed floor, half buried in the freezing snow. The tracks where it lay were dirty, as though it had been moving around too much. Now it was still, but I could imagine the sparks lighting up inside, ready to strike at a single touch.

* * *

Over the next few days, things were rough. Dad confirmed that there had been a massive storm overnight, much bigger than any of us anticipated, and had wrecked the town like an earthquake. We were living in a living blizzard, which forced us to stay at home, where it couldn't reach us at its full blast.

There was no electricity due to the telephone lines falling down and potentially freezing in the winter bitterness. We had to make-do with torches that ran on batteries. I remember thinking what we would do when the batteries ran out. That's when I shook my head. We wouldn't run out. We would be out of this disaster before the batteries died. We would be out of it. I knew we would.

We couldn't go outside, because the air was so cold the door had jammed up, locking us in. Dad said it was dangerous. We didn't want to go out because out there it was in the 'minus' zone and we wouldn't be breathing for more than five minutes and would eventually cause our sad demise. I remember Maisie looking frightened when he said that and he instantly bundled her up in her arms, telling her everything was going to be ok. But I know Dad. He said things just so Maisie would believe them.

We lived on food and matches. The fresh food was gone in two days and soon after that, the can opener became our best friend. The tins became our best friends too, because they were what made the hunger die down slightly, which was prowling around in our bellies, snarling.

We bundled our duvets together and slept upstairs in the attic because Dad said that heat rises. His theory made no difference. We pressed up together, Maisie's tiny head against my chest and my own bigger head against Dad's. The first night when the storm roared again, he held us like he would never let us go.

But then after the first week, we were growing miserable. Mum brought out the pack of cards and we played Sweaty Betty and Blackjack and, if we were by ourselves, Solitaire. But soon the cards became of little use to us and Maisie eventually got out her colouring pencils and doodled moustaches on all the kings and beards on all the queens. Dad didn't even glance at them; but then with Maisie, she couldn't get shouted at.

During the third week, the stocks of food began to run low. Maisie was often complaining how hungry she was but Dad only rationed the tins and remaining food for half a jar for everyone. I remember hearing his tummy rumble over the howling of the storm that night.

Over the next few days after that, our tummies were getting emptier and emptier, until my stomach was the size of a pea. The person it affected the most was Mum. She was weaker now, having to sit down a little if she hobbled around too fast. Dad kept watch of her and stroked her hair while she groaned but she never complained. Only Maisie complained. I didn't complain, even though my body was eating its insides out, because I didn't want to worry them further.

Only on the third-to-last day, Dad snapped. It wasn't a sudden outburst. It was a slow ride to the climax. He was handling the last few feeble tins of food, when he turned round and stared at Mum, who was sitting at the table, her face a deathly white, flicking the switch of the torch on and off. Light and dark.

"Hannah," he said, voice weak but gentle. "Hannah, I'm going."

She looked up at this, eyes barely recognising who he was. The torchlight created a spot of white on the floor. "No," she mumbled. "You're... not..." and then she left off her sentence, too tired to continue.

"I'm going," Dad said, his voice stronger this time. I could see it cost him effort. "I'm going to get more..." He didn't finish his sentence either and I don't know why, as he walked to the drawer, pulled out something long and thin and then approached the door. He heaved himself down until he was kneeling and, with the knife in his hands, began to saw through the hard ice jamming the hinges, trying to cut his way out.

"Stop," Mum pleaded but her voice was lost in the grinding. "Jack, stop."

But he didn't stop. He continued until the ice had all been scraped away. He fell back, panting but, nevertheless, struggled to his feet, resting his hand on the handle.

"Don't go." Mum was whispering. "Jack, don't go."

I remember the fear in his eyes as he looked at her fallen body. I remember telling myself I should stop him, but my feet were rooted in place. I thought back to the first night, when he had held me and Maisie like he would never let us go. But now he was. Now the promise was shattering like glass falling to the floor.

When the door closed, the torchlight faded.

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