Mika once told me it can’t snow when it’s too cold.
I can’t help but try to sound out the notes of his voice as I stand behind the curtain, facing the street like some children’s book monster ashamed of its name.
The streetlight’s orange glow is broken and fractured by a million flakes. They spill and swirl, sometimes twisting and turning, rising for a moment and falling back on themselves. I see shadows claw and reach up the driveway. It’s deep with snow. Dad hasn’t bothered to clear it.
I see Kaden and James drift closer. I move to the door but before I go out I peer back up the stairs. This place is so much bigger and quieter now and I think it’s crazy that I can’t see in the dark.
I hear noise from the back room and know someone’s passed out in front of the TV again. I slip out into the night. The wind traces along the frozen branches. Kaden is rugged up well, a scarf drawn across his face. James just wears a hoodie and there is ice in his hair and the scruff of his almost-beard. He stares blankly but reaches one hand out for my arm.
We are going to the place behind the school where the tall pines tell winter it can go to hell. We march in silence, across icy cleared footpaths. Of all things, the only sounds above the wind are those of a stop sign, trembling and squeaking.
Kaden stands before the gym wall, reaching into his pocket and curses.
“Too icy,” he says, louder than I think he should.
I stare at the faded tags he marked before on the bricks. There is a curving line, an S that cuts out just before one end. Or maybe some other letter, unformed or unfinished.
“Let’s go to the swings,” says Jamie.
There are rocks buried in the snow, but there was a time when they were blazing hot embers in dusty grass. We couldn’t even sit on them. Mika poured some water on one for me,
“To cool it off,” he’d said but it had dried up almost right away and the rock was still too hot.
“Come on!” Jamie sits on a swing, head half buried in his hoodie, arms curled up awkwardly. I think he’s whispering to himself but it’s too hard to hear what he’s saying.
The sky is strangely bright tonight, the clouds glow orange. It looks all wrong and I get an awful feeling and I want to run and run and run but I know that there is only this place now. The sky feels heavy, arching and heaving, glaring at the light on the fallen snow.
“What do you think Mika is up to this weekend?” asks Kaden.
Neither of us answers.
The icy branches tell a crackling story and I will remember it forever. We’re a past tale now, finished with dreams crushed up and broken, hopes bleeding in metal and glass.
Once there were four.
It’s not what I expected. I guess I’d hoped for stars or endless white light or maybe nothing at all.
Not this empty endlessness.
If anything, it’s snowing even more. It comes in great white sheets, spilling and tumbling toward us. They’ll maybe cancel school tomorrow. I hope they don’t. I’d like to see Mika again. I’d follow him in and out of classrooms, and throughout the day. I’d stand beside him as he drew and trace my fingers around the edges of his world.
I wish I hadn’t come out tonight. But there’s an aching in the night that summons us. The wind tugs and pulls and I’m not even sure what we’re going to do now.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published inNature Futures, McSweeney’s, 365 Tomorrows and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. Chat with him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com