Ontario in winter. The green of the pine forests darkens
till the trees seem almost blue. Ice tests the margins of the lakes
like a wary bather before spreading out. A reverent silence falls across
the land and the sun, high in the bleached blue sky, is bright and round
and small as a new nickel. Below, the dormant earth waits to be sealed
and refrigerated, stored away for the next spring.
It comes about October, the snow. Always has since the Earth cooled
and the climates settled down. In August so blazing hot that grass
shimmers and the sky sweats, but a mere two months later ... the first
flakes, large as falling oak leaves, tumbling and spiraling on the
vagrant wind to find rest. And be joined, and joined, until the entire
landscape has been smothered white. It stays that way until the end
of April and right up to the week before the thaw it seems that it
will never go.
Outside the newly-built log cabin, cold that is almost palpable.
Inside, sudden heat.
'My God, Jack! It’s coming!’
Jack Mangold looked up from his warm place by the fire to the sofa,
where his wife Celese was sitting, clutching her swollen abdomen.
She had gone pale. From fright, he realized, not pain. He jumped from
his seat. The Toronto Star, a pencil, ashtray, several dead
cigarette butts, flew in all directions,
‘Are you sure? This early?’
He looked at the expression on her face and knew that the answer
was yes. No cramp, no false alarm. His first child was on
the way. He crossed to the hooks by the door and snatched down his
fur-lined coat, donned it, scrabbled in the pockets for his car keys.
‘The hospital!’ shouted Celese. ‘You’ve
got to phone them first, let them know we’re coming.’
‘Okay. Now keep calm, or you’ll rush the birth.’
He wasn’t sure if that was true, but it seemed to do the trick.
Celese controlled herself by breathing deeply, just as the lessons
had taught her. She glanced at her wristwatch, timing the next contraction,
then put on her own coat while Jack was phoning into town. Half of
the buttons wouldn’t do up; no one had though to buy a larger
coat. She smiled at the stupidity of it, completely calm now.
‘They’re ready any time we get there,’ Jack said,
putting the phone back in its cradle. ‘I’ll go start up
He went to the door, opened it, and stopped dead.
A wind had sprung up, skimming the top layers of snow off the ground,
whirling it into an animated frenzy. The sky, the distant lights of
the town, were obscured. New drifts were forming all the time.
Jack thought, Oh God, why couldn’t this have waited till
the thaw. Just one week longer, that’s all.
And Celese, No, I didn’t choose this moment. This is not
my fault. Guiltily.
‘They say nothing good comes easy,’ she managed to blurt.
Jack just glared.
‘Get packed,’ he said. ‘I’ve got blankets
and a spare heater in the back of the car. We’ll need them.
If,’ he added, ‘we ever get that far.’
Celese considered staying put. Jack could deliver the child himself,
following the manual. But one look at his clumsy, crop-farmer’s
hands, at the way they shook with panic, dismissed the idea. She hurried
to the bedroom.
Jack had the car out by the door when she came back. He was gunning
the engine furiously. Thick white smoke billowed from the exhaust;
a million white locusts swirled in and out of the headlamp beams.
The car was becoming covered with snow even as it stood.
Jack leaned across and shoved the passenger door open., ‘Come
on! You’ll freeze!’
Behind the anger and the fright, there was deep concern his voice.
It was as if, in the urgency of the moment, he had only just remembered
that he loved her.
Celese scrambled in, waited while Jack tucked a blanket over her
shoulders. The car’s heater was still blowing cold air through.
‘I can’t even put on my seat-belt,’ she said mournfully.
‘I’ll drive carefully,’ said Jack, and gazing
out at the exploding night he knew there was no way to drive carefully
enough. He put the car into first and, bearing down hard on the gas,
moved off. The tyres made deep, narrow ruts in the snow. Within seconds,
they were covered up again.
On the road, there was ice beneath the snow. Celese and Jack rode
in silence, concentrating on the way ahead as the windscreen wipers
scythed back and forth and still did not completely clear the glass.
Condensation formed on the inside, and every time Jack went to wipe
it the car swerved a little. Eight miles an hour, so slow and yet
too fast. Around them, the snow snatched and tried to hold and, failing,
Celese winced and said, ‘The contractions are coming every ten
minutes now, Jack. We don’t have that much time.’
Jack edged the speed up to twelve. Immediately, a flurry of snow
blew flat into the windscreen, stayed there. The wipers cleared it
to reveal that he had nearly gone off the road.
‘It almost trapped us,’ Jack said.
Outside, the snowstorm howled. Like an animal. The veil of white
parted for an instant to reveal distant lights. The town, dangled
like a bait. For the first time since they had set off, Jack and Celese
felt hope. It blinded them, made them unwary. Jack’s foot inched
the gas pedal further down.
The car took the next bend at fifteen, and Jack practically did
not see the drift until he hit it. Huge and solid, blocking the whole
width of the road, it loomed out of the night like a tidal wave. Jack
braked as hard as he dared, spun the wheel, and the car skidded round.
It hit the drift rear on. Celese screamed as she was flung back against
her seat. She clutched at her neck in agony. ‘Are you okay?’
asked Jack, hoarsely.
Celese managed to nod, though she was hardly sure. The impact had
set the life inside her kicking madly, sending sharp slivers of pain
up through her stomach. What if the child had been turned upside down?
A breech birth, after all of this. Perhaps even a still birth. She
curled up inside, focusing every thought, every muscle, nerve and
ganglion on her womb, trying to protect it. Her breathing was ragged.
She fought to steady it, won.
‘It’s not coming yet?’ asked Jack.
‘No.’ Celese gazed out of the window. ‘Wonderful,
isn’t it? I can oversee my body almost like a machine, but that
doesn’t matter a damn now. The snow has never heard of breathing
exercises or contractions, and even if it had heard it wouldn’t
She screwed her eyes tight shut.
‘I wonder what the manual has to say about this?’
Jack looked at her as he had never looked before, and said, ‘I’m
going to get help.'
‘That’s crazy, Jack. They’re bound to find us
‘It could be hours. We can’t take that chance.'
He leant across the back of his seat, rummaged, surfaced with the
last blanket and a cylinder of brass.
‘I won’t be long,’ he said. ‘The blanket
will help keep you warm. And keep your left foot on the gas pedal.
Here. If the engine stops, the heater stops too. It shouldn’t;
there’s a full tank of gas and a new battery. But if it does
He held up the cylinder. It looked like an old-fashioned miner’s
‘This is what I usually use to warm the crop shed. It runs
off kerosene. You just have to light the wick. Here -- here’s
my lighter. Don’t lose it. And open the window a fraction first,
or the fumes will get to you. All right?’
‘I suppose so. Jack, be careful.’
‘I will,’ said Jack. ‘For the sake of all three
of us. I love you, Celese.’
And then, without waiting for her reply, he was out into the storm.
Turning as far round as she could manage, Celese watched him clamber
up the side of the drift, terrified that he would sink through it
and be lost. Jack reached the top at last, vanished from sight.
She was alone.
The snow. It understood. Seven days left. Seven
suns. And then, gone. The warmth of spring. Thawing. Melting. Death.
But in the iron thing, something fresh, something
new. Waiting to be born. To live. To see the spring. To exist always.
Never melts. Never dies.
It understood, and it wanted.
Celese’s left foot was getting cramp by the time
she heard the scream. She had been pressing on the gas pedal, just as
Jack had told her. It was difficult. She had to stretch her leg to reach
it, and the contractions were coming faster now. It was like a carefully
The scream broke through her dazed discomfort, bringing
her to her senses. She sat bolt upright, peering out. It came again.
It could have been the wind. So often, on the winter nights when she
lay in her bed, the gales had seemed to shriek with human voices. But
this was not her bed, and her husband was out there somewhere.
‘Jack?’ she said. Then loudly, ‘Jack?’
Something replied and, not caring what it was, Celese
unlocked the passenger door. The wind blew it open, wide, beckoning.
She stumbled out and immediately lost her footing. Face down she fell,
yelping in fear for the child inside her, knowing that the shock would
injure it. The snow did not let that happen.
Live. Must live.
Soft as down, it cushioned her. She sank into it and
the space behind her clenched eyelids was filled with dazzling white.
The pure, crisp coldness seeped into her body like a drug, soothing
her, draining her last reserves of energy. The area around her womb
began to tingle. It felt so, so pleasant, so good. She could stop fighting
now, and sleep.
No! Celese burst out and clawed the snow from her
face, from her front. Especially from her front. As soon as she stood
up, the cold became a hostile thing, tearing at her like a beast. She
folded her arms protectively over her abdomen, glared at her surroundings.
Hating them, she hated herself. She had almost given in.
Another contraction, the closest yet. She could not
stand up straight.
‘Please wait, baby,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t
come now. Not yet. We’ve got to find your Daddy.’
Behind her, the car door was slammed shut by the wind.
‘Jack!’ she yelled. ‘Where are you?’
The air was filled with cries for help, from at least
a dozen separate directions. Celese could not get her bearings in the
storm. She staggered forward, her arms outstretched, her frozen hands
grasping. They captured only snow. It swarmed at her, a horde of moths
and she the light, filling her mouth, clogging her nostrils, coating
her with ice. She was crying; the tears hardened on her cheeks.
The car was very far behind. Ahead, the flying snow
made shadows which looked like men. Like Jack. Jack trapped in a drift,
flailing. Jack fallen, his leg broken. Jack numbed with cold and dying,
needing her, needing her. She hurried to him, only to find he was not
there. At last, exhausted, she stopped to rest against the ivory pillar
of a tree.
She leant there, gasping, her breath gossamer on the
wind. Something Jack had said came back to her.
It almost trapped us.
There were rows of footprints nearby, her own. She
had already passed this tree twice, walking in circles. She groaned.
Inside of her, the child struggled in sympathy. Celese realised that,
in her panic, she had ignored its existence. She was torn between duties,
loyalties. Jack, or the baby? At the final count, with the live warm
thing moving inside her and the contractions coming fast, there was
no contest. Jack was strong enough make it by himself. The child, on
the other hand, relied on her alone.
She glanced back in the direction she thought the
car lay, could not see it. Only more trees that way. They were all around
her. She had wandered into the forest, quite how deep she could not
tell. Lost. The thought welled up inside her like a sickness,
like a sea of bile, filling her mouth with foulness and her mind with
terror. She could not let go of the tree trunk; ice formed on her hands
and held her. She jerked her head from side to side, trying to see the
car. Snow and more snow met her gaze. And trees. And ... there! A glimmer
of light, lost at once. The headlamps.
Tearing herself free as if her hands and feet had
become roots, Celese headed for the source of the brief light. All the
way, the wind battered her head on. She leant into it and pushed. Does
the wind change direction like this, to suit itself? It lashed
pine branches into her face, grasping.
Must have. Must have.
The snow was knee deep, sucking at each footstep,
making progress practically impossible. She would have given up had
it not been for the child. So tiny, so helpless, its presence gave her
the strength to challenge the elements. There were two storms raging,
and the one inside her was very powerful and very warm. She forged on.
The car was still running when she got back. That
was a miracle in itself. She tugged at the door, but it would not give.
Frozen. A thin, clear sheet of ice sealed tight the jamb. Past caring
now, Celese struck at it with her elbow, once, twice, very hard, too
cold to feel the pain. The ice shattered, and she was in.
It was quiet inside the car, unearthly quiet after
the shrieking of the wind. Warm air from the heater caressed Celese
as she flopped into her seat. She lay back, shivering, enervated, her
body prickling with flushes of hot and cold. The snow on her melted,
drenching her clothes, her hair, her skin. Water streamed across her
lips and bubbled.
The child. It must be dead by now, she thought.
It stirred inside her, and the next contraction came.
‘Tough kid. Your Daddy would be proud of you.’
She wondered how Jack was doing. There was one way
to find out. Reaching for the dashboard, she switched on the car radio.
‘... a world record ...'
The voice was drowned in static, surfaced again like
a cork. It was crackly, but Celese could make it out.
'... slalom. Which makes him the overall winner of
the championships for the third year running. Southern Ontario still
shivers in the grip of the worst recorded blizzard for sixteen years.
The snow ploughs are making progress, but police warn that all roads
are now impassable and no one should attempt to drive tonight.'
Thanks for the advice, thought Celese.
‘On a human note, rescuers are still searching
for a man and woman believed to be trapped in the snow. Jack Mangold
and his wife were thought to be hurrying from their farm five miles
out of town to Toronto General, to deliver their first child, when the
blizzard hit. They were an hour late arriving before the police were
called. Dozens have joined the hunt. Rescuers fear the worst, but no
one is giving up hope just yet. We’ll keep you posted.’
So Jack had not got through yet. Celese snapped the
At least help was on its way. Hear that, kid?
And in the car, she was completely safe.
The snow flurried across the sides of the metal box,
probing, testing, finding its weaknesses. It came at last to the engine,
the warm heart, and entered.
It piled up, throwing itself against the hot steel,
melting, dying, dying. However much turned to water, there was plenty
more, a continent more. It had always ruled this land in wintertime,
and it would not be beaten. Suicide, steam, and still it came. The engine
began to cool.
Celese was gliding through a waking dream, of hospitals,
of beds, of cribs and baby clothes. Jack beside her, the proud father.
She the mother, cradling the baby in her arms. The grandparents. The
presents. And, next Christmas, the three of them sitting around a tinsel
tree. In Florida. Where it was warm. Not here. Never again.
The ignition light flashed on, bright red. The engine
began to stutter.
Celese stamped her foot down on the gas pedal. It
did no good. The engine continued to lose power and, with a final half-hearted
shudder, stilled. The heater sighed its last breath. Alarmed, Celese
switched on the light inside the car. It was fading too; the cold was
destroying the battery.
There was a rustling noise from near Celese’s
feet. She stared down to see snow pouring in through the heating vents.
How in God’s name could it do that? Her right foot was
already covered, the snow creeping towards her ankle. There was a knob
which closed the vent ... somewhere. Celese scrabbled till she found
Above her head, the light went glow-worm dim, flickered
off. The headlamps and the lights on the dashboard followed. Darkness.
The car became a bubble of pure black surrounded by pure white.
Celese was far too tired to panic now. She found Jack’s
lighter in her pocket, sparked the flint. The glow of the butane flame
reflected off the windows, came back white. The car was covered with
snow, there was no way of telling how deep. Celese sat rigid, fighting
back a surge of claustrophobia. It was like being locked in a padded
cell. She felt the urge to hurl herself against the walls. The breath
from her mouth was turning to mist. The temperature was plummeting.
Celese picked up the kerosene lamp.
You just have to light the wick. Open the window
a fraction first.
She gazed at the window, at the thick snow outside.
Surely if she opened it a mere half inch the snow could not get in?
Surely? The alternative was to freeze to death, her and the child. She
busied herself with the wick, goading it into flame. An orange, mellow
light oozed out, and with it a strong oily smell. Celese coughed.
The fumes will get to you.
She grasped the window handle with one trembling hand,
turned it. Just one quarter of an inch. For the snow, it was enough.
Alive, with the blind fury of an avalanche, it rushed in. Celese struggled
to close the window again but the handle was stuck. The snow found footholds
in the gap, applied a fraction of the pressure which had shaped mountains.
The glass shattered, and then there was no stopping it. Like crystal
water, it flowed.
Celese dragged herself across to the driver’s
seat, flattened herself against the door. There was no further to go.
The snow filled the car around her until she was isolated in a pocket
of air with her precious burden. Within, the birth pains slammed her
like a hammer.
Fort of hot blood, wall of ice. The snow hung there,
waiting, wanting, and Celese knew that she would die before she let
it have her child. She flung the kerosene lamp at the snow. It hit,
gouged a deep wound, was finally extinguished. The snow crashed down
on Celese, burying her, tightening about her. She screamed until her
mouth was filled, and then went on screaming inside her head. The noise
echoed through her skull, growing distant, vanishing down a deep well
Silence, save for the howling of the wind.
The snow poured into her.
‘It’s tragic,’ said the nurse. ‘Pregnant,
and trapped like that.’
She walked quickly along the corridor, beneath the
rows of bright, sterile lights. Beside her, the doctor ran a hand through
his matted hair. His eyes were still puffy with sleep. He had not shaved.
‘Christ,’ he said, ‘what a night
to have a baby.’
‘They found the father half a mile from the
city limits,’ the nurse continued. ‘Dead. Half-buried in
a drift. The mother was in the car, much further back. She was dead
too, but the child was still alive, inside her. They removed it by caesarean
The doctor nodded bleakly. ‘It’s been
heard of before. The mother stays warm for a while and that keeps the
‘No, that’s the amazing thing. The mother
was stone cold, the child too. Like ice, and white as snow. A little
girl. It’s a miracle she lived.’
They turned a corridor together, headed for a wide
‘We’ve got her in the incubator now,’
the nurse said. ‘It’s on as warm as we dared.’
Entering the room, they stopped and stared, aghast.
The incubator was empty. From below it came an unfamiliar sound.
This story first appeared in 1981 in The 22nd Pan
Book of Horror Stories.
Copyright © 1981 Tony Richards