by Catherine Jordan
For hundreds of millions of years, the ozone layer has protected life on Earth from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Man-made chlorine compounds, primarily chloroflourobcarbons, contributed to the thinning of the ozone layer which allowed significant quantities of harmful ultraviolet rays to reach the Earth. The ozone hole has steadily grown in size and length of existence over the past two decades. In the year 2020, Melanoma skyrocketed to 40% of all adults 25 years and older. After a series of rigorous meetings and negotiations, the United States Government, in union with the EPA, finally agreed to take action. On October 31st, 2021, NASA launched a manned spacecraft carrying a 50 megaton nuclear device.
The view of the explosion from the International Space Station was like the Northern Lights, only brighter. Onboard telescopes captured everything. Karl peered through the Cupola as data poured across the computer screen above his head.
The device had detonated precisely on time. It was supposed to release an inverse pressure zone in the stratosphere and close the ozone hole. Everything had gone according to plan, everything except the atmospheric shift.
The bright lights observed through the Cupola were gone. Karl adjusted the telescope's resolution and peered into a haze. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" Karl asked aloud.
A voice crackled back through his earpiece, "Roger that."
"There appears to be a…cloud?"
Cloud, indeed. The Stravinsky Cloud, so named twenty years ago in 2001 by Pietyr Starvinsky, the Russian astronomer who discovered it. It was a fascinating discovery that went unnoticed by the general public; there was a small write up in The Drudge Report and a quick mention on Fox News. No one cared about the debris cloud in synchronous orbit with the Earth around the sun. Stravinsky proposed the Cloud was rock and pebble stone debris left over from the early formation of our solar system some 4 billion years ago. Loosely bound to the solar system, the Cloud was easily affected by gravitational pull.
Stravinsky never conjectured how easily.
From the Cupola, Karl saw the Cloud had cast a shadow over the Earth. It would be months before the government admitted its role—through the device—in causing the Stravinsky Cloud to merge with Earth's orbit, shielding Earth from the sun. The effect was immediate—global dimming—an approximate forty percent reduction in sunlight. Temperatures plummeted across the world. A rise in pressure systems followed, and record-breaking snowfall began in the northern hemisphere.
Stan shooed the younger of his two daughters out the front door. "Go catch up to your mother and your sister," he said. "Wait! You forgot your flashlight." It was unusually dark, he noted, for this time of year.
"But, Daddy, how am I supposed to carry that and my broom and my trick-or-treat bag?" Emily's pointed witch hat drooped over her eye. Her chubby, five-year-old face wore a look of exasperation. Stan couldn't help but smile because on her, it was cute. In just a few years, that look would wear thin, as it had on her eleven-year-old sister, Kylie, who waited not so patiently under a streetlight with their mother, Angela. Angela, barely showing at four months, beckoned Emily with a wave. The baby would probably be another girl. Friends kept asking him if he wanted a boy. Honestly, he didn’t care either way. He loved his girls.
"You'll manage," he said, eager to shut the door and go back to the game. The Ravens were up by six, and he was top ranked in his fantasy football league. A hundred bucks rode on this game.
"C'mon, Emily!" called Kylie, dressed head to toe in a pink princess gown. And there it was, almost the same look of exasperation. But on a pre-teen, it was annoying. Even his wife had commented earlier that the girls should switch costumes.
"Go on, or you'll have stay home with me and hand out candy."
With that, Emily darted away toward her mother and sister.
Stan closed the door and glanced down the hallway to where he had positioned the television screen. Flacco just threw an interception. "C'mon!" Stan yelled at the screen while emptying bags of candy into a large plastic pumpkin, and just in time for the first doorbell.
"Trick or treat!" screamed a vampire, Batman, and a police officer.
Stan smiled and dropped candy in their bags. Their shoes had left white tracks on his porch and sidewalk. White flakes rested on their shoulders and heads, too. The vampire's teeth chattered. Batman shivered. It dawned on Stan how cold it had become. Farther ahead, falling, white flakes created a haze under the streetlight. "It's snowing," he said to no one in particular.
"Yep!" exclaimed the police officer, and the kids darted next door.
"Huh." Stan shut the door, confused. No one, including him, had seen snow in the forecast.
A commercial played in the background, but already the game had lost some of its excitement. To most people, the sudden change in weather wasn't a big deal, but it held great importance to Stan, and he considered turning off the game in favor of his computer. But then the doorbell rang.
This time, as Stan dropped candy in random bags, he noted at least an inch had accumulated on the ground. The kids ran off. A lone adult—probably a parent, wearing only a hooded windbreaker, stood under the streetlight, barely visible through the blistery snow fall.
"Were you calling for snow tonight?" the hooded man asked. He wrapped his arms around himself in an apparent attempt to stay warm.
Stan recognized his voice; it was his neighbor, Jim.
"No," Stan answered with authority.
Stan was a meteorologist, for God's sake, and had reported clear skies and mild temps on the 4 o'clock news for all of Frederick County. True, residing in the Catoctin Mountains meant temperamental weather. Even though they lived near Camp David—the President's retreat, and had only an hour drive to Baltimore, mountain living still felt remote.
"It's coming down pretty hard," Jim said.
"Yeah, I see," Stan replied, noting another inch had fallen on his sidewalk.
"Might have the kids call it a night if this keeps up," Jim said, though it sounded like a question, like Jim was asking if this would keep up, and how many inches should he expect? "Feels like the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees since we walked out the door."
Stan wrapped his arms around himself. "No one saw this coming."
"Can't always predict what Mother Nature has in store, I guess," Jim said. "But you know me, I'm ready. Got my snowmobile all gassed up and ready to ride the mountains. The plow's attached to the truck, got my stockpile of rock salt, and water and MREs. Did you try that MRE I sent over the other night? Not too bad, eh?"
MREs—Meals Ready to Eat. Jim talked about those things like they were gourmet. Jim was an army retired, handy neighbor. He sent over odd things every now and then, just to be friendly. Stan didn't want to tell Jim what he really thought of the calorie-loaded, flavor lacking prepackaged slop. "Yeah, not too bad."
Maybe Jim sensed the lie, because he quickly changed the subject, to Stan's relief, by asking, "How are the Ravens doing?"
"Uh," Stan had to think. Damn it; don't look like a complete ignoramus, you fool, Stan chided himself. Wasn't the stadium crowd going nuts a few moments ago? "I think they just scored."
"Hey, maybe this weather will get me back inside to watch the game. Is it snowing like this in Baltimore, too? Might affect the game." And with a wave, he strolled off through the snow.
Inside, Stan marched down the hall and stared at the TV. Fans cheered through the white-out, and announcers made various comments regarding the weather. Another thirty minutes and two inches of snow later, he realized his doorbell had stopped ringing.
Angela and the girls bounded in through the front door. "Stop right there!" Angela shouted. "Shoes off at the door. Emily! Do not walk on the carpet with mush all over you!"
"Daddy," Emily cried with tears in her eyes. "I hardly got any candy. Mommy made us come home 'cuz it's cold, but Kylie and I told her we didn't care, but she wouldn't listen, and now all I have is this much. See?" Emily dumped her partially filled bag on the carpet.
Kylie followed suit and dropped on the couch, brow furrowed in anger. "Why can't we put on coats and finish trick-or-treating?"
Angela remained in the hall, shaking snow off the shoes, and sweeping wet plops aside. "I told you; the sidewalks are slippery. It's hard to see and there are cars, and no one was prepared for this. I don't want anyone falling or getting hit."
"Your mother is right, girls. This is unusual, and I'm sure we can have trick-or-treat tomorrow when this clears up."
"How come you didn't know it was going to snow?" Emily asked, with her usual whine.
"Yeah?" Kylie shouted.
Even his wife raised an eyebrow in his direction.
Stan had already turned off the game and tuned into the national weather service. His laptop was open and he was logged onto observation websites.
"Can we at least go back out and play in the snow?" Kylie asked.
"Will we have school tomorrow?" Emily asked.
"It's snowing like this all over," Stan said.
"All over Maryland?" his wife asked.
"All over the United States and Canada. The entire northern hemisphere," Stan replied, his voice low, eyes fixed on the computer screen as the TV announced heavy accumulations across the nation.
Stan was dressed, and prepared as usual to go to work before most people woke to take their pre-dawn piss. He heard footsteps creeping into the kitchen where he sat hunched over his laptop, sipping his umpteenth cup of coffee.
"Have you seen what it's like outside?" Angela asked from the doorway, hair disheveled, robe cinched around a growing waist.
"I have," he replied, without glancing up from his computer screen.
"You're not going to work in this, are you?" she asked.
"Course I am," he said.
"It's a blizzard out there," she said, worry filling her voice. "Did you even come to bed?"
"No. Of course not." Stan looked up at her. "This is a national weather emergency. I have to go in. The crew from last night never even left the station. They're expecting me. I’d rather stay here with you and the girls, but every channel's chief meteorologist is at their station."
"Stan, please. Stay home. I've never asked you this before, but I'm scared. You've been up all night, and it clearly hasn't stopped snowing." Angela peered out the kitchen window.
Stan walked over to his wife, and pulled her close. Angela's pregnancy mound pushed against his stomach. "Listen. I'll call you every hour. And I'm prepared to stay." He gestured toward the packed overnight bag sitting on the floor by the doorway. "Schools will cancel; you'll all be safe and warm here at home. And soon enough, when the roads clear, I will be too, building forts and snowmen with the girls. All right?"
Angela sighed. "All right." She pulled away. "Did you shovel the driveway yet?"
"No," he said, gathering his bag. "I called the township. A plow did our driveway on its way down our street."
"Why didn't you ask Jim?"
"Because it's not even three a.m. The plows are up and out; the neighbors aren't. And I can't wait."
"Right," she said, following Stan down the hall.
He put on his coat, gloves, and hat. She followed him into the garage, not trying to mask the concern on her face as he threw his bag in the Honda's backseat.
"Glad I thought to have snow tires put on last week," he said. "I put chains in the trunk, along with emergency supplies."
Emmitsburg, Maryland, was no stranger to record-breaking snow falls. Stan had traveled in snow squalls before, and he prepared early, as did most of his neighbors. Tire chains, a bag of cat litter, shovel, de-icer, flares, and an extra blanket were usuals in winter readied-trunks. Neighbor Jim always went to the extreme, stockpiling water, salt rock, and gallons of gas.
"I'll be fine." Stan hopped in the car and pushed the garage door opener. It moaned and seemed to struggle. And as it opened, packed snow fell inside in layers, like an avalanche. He cussed under his breath—snow buried the front portion of the garage and back end of his car.
"Shit," he whispered, climbing out of the car. "The damn snowplow must've pushed all the snow from the driveway against the garage door."
Stan grabbed the shovel off its hook.
Angela stepped into the house and turned on the outside lights, illuminating the white. She stepped back into the garage. Stan felt her gaze on him while he lifted up a shovel full of snow and looked for a place to dump it.
The plow had cleared his driveway, but the sides of his driveway were piled high. The street had been cleared enough to make room for one car lane. He couldn't see his mailbox from where he stood, and assumed it had been buried. There was nowhere to go with his shovelful of snow, so Stan sighed angrily, and turned to his wife.
"My God," Angela said. "How much did we get?"
"More than thirty inches."
"And it's still coming down, isn't it?"
Stan didn't bother answering. He stared down his driveway, dazed. It was like looking down a white tunnel.
"Well, I suppose I'm not going to work after all. Damn it!" He threw the shovel, and it landed with a soft thud in the snow. "Now how do I close the damn garage door?"
"We won't wind up trapped, will we?" his wife asked, massaging her stomach.
By December, no one was concerned with Christmas. Those with snowmobiles and cross-country skis were the only ones able to get off the mountain in the ever-falling snow, which dropped anywhere from ten to twelve inches per day. Miles of abandoned cars had blocked interstates and turnpikes. Schools across the continent were closed. So were most businesses. Stores and on-line retailers ran out of shovels, rock salt, snowblowers, and winter gear.
Initially, neighbors helped neighbors acquire groceries and gain medical attention. Then it became each-man-for-himself when snow-blowers broke down and shovels snapped from overuse. They stopped sharing food as their own supplies started dwindling. With nowhere to go and no way to get there, cabin fever set in both figuratively and literally Temperaments flared and fights broke out. Colds developed into bronchitis, then pneumonia, and then death.
Government officials kept reassuring the people, trying to avoid panic, but news reports became direr every day. Crops out west had frozen within the first few days of November where the average temperature was thirty degrees. Livestock was starving to death. With highways shut down, stores couldn't restock, and prices for necessities continued rising. Looting was commonplace. Many businesses closed their doors, and paychecks stopped coming. The stock market collapsed.
People up north were on the move. Early on, Stan and his family had decided to stay put, since they had a baby on the way. Houses across the entire northeast were up for sale, but no one was buying. The White House had been evacuated; the government seat kept getting bounced farther south, from Miami to Puerto Rico.
Come January, power grids nationwide were devastated. Snow-weighted trees toppled over, taking down power lines. Cable and phone lines froze and snapped. Pipes burst. Back streets and alleys were buried because snowplows ran out of gas, rock salt, and places to dump the continuous falling snow.
Anyone with access to news heard about the glacier forming in Canada. The snow was already one hundred feet thick in some areas with prior snowfalls compacting under the weight of the more recent.
They also heard Mexico was about to close its borders to the influx of northerners attempting to escape the deep freeze—South America and South Africa had average temps in the seventies. It became the Mecca for people in the northern climate. Airplanes were grounded. The only way to get south was by ship, if you could get to one. And all sea vessels—naval, merchant, livestock carriers, yachts, cruise lines—had been commandeered by the government for national use.
"Is everyone ready?" Angela called up toward the bedrooms. "C'mon girls, it's time to go."
“Just how much crap have they stuffed into these backpacks?" Stan asked while rummaging through Emily's.
"I still feel a little guilty about this," Angela said as she struggled to put on her boots.
"It's not like we have much choice," Stan said, eyeing his wife's fully expanded belly.
"I know. We should have left last month when everyone else did."
"Actually," Stan said, "we should've listened to Jim, and left with him in November. He drove his plow and managed to get a plane. We'd be in Puerto Rico by now." Stan leaned in close to Angela. "I don't blame you for being hesitant. I was, too. We both hoped this would blow over, and we'd have the baby in a hospital. But that's not going to happen, not now. We have to take our chances and head to Baltimore. If there are ships docked, I heard they'll begin launching tomorrow, at noon."
"What do you mean, if?" Angela asked, her eyebrows raised. "You never said 'if' when we were deciding to leave. What happens if they don't?"
"Angela." Stan put his hands on her shoulders. "I don't have all the answers. But I know if we stay, we will die. So, stop feeling guilty about taking Jim's snowmobile; he would want us to take it."
"Okay," she said with a sigh. "I still don't feel right taking all this." She nodded toward the filled duffle bag Stan had shoved in the side trunk.
"Honey, we need water. We need gas to get there. We need food, and even those disgusting MREs."
"And where did you find all that cash?" Angela whispered.
"We'll pay him back," Stan said, turning his attention back to the girls' overstuffed backpack. "When the time comes."
"And if the time doesn't come?" she asked.
"Then we won't worry about paying him back," he replied, removing a teddy bear, a pair of fuzzy pink slippers—
"Daddy! Why are you taking out my things? I need those," Emily said as she grabbed at her teddy.
"You don’t need dresses," Stan said, pulling out frilly pink and purple fabrics.
"We discussed this several times last night," Angela said, intervening. "I helped you pack, and I see you repacked." Angela flared her nostrils. Her temper and her stomach had not fared well during this pregnancy. Her last, she swore.
"Kylie! Come here. Do you see how tired your mother is? Take your sister and her backpack upstairs. I'm depending on you as the big sister. Find Emily's warm clothes. They're probably all over the floor."
"They are," Emily admitted with solemn defeat.
"Good. Then it will be an easy job. This is going to be a rough trip, girls. We're going on this snowmobile. It will be icy, roads will be closed, cars might be stranded in the road, and—"
"How long will it take?" Emily asked, again. Time seemed to be her primary concern.
"He's told you at least a million times!" Kylie said, taking the backpack and her sister toward the stairs.
"At least two hours."
They donned face masks, resembling a criminal enterprise lined up on the snowmobile. The girls sat pushed in between Stan's back and Angela's belly. The atmosphere was cold and gloomy, like the road. Stan shuddered as he turned the key—he feared certain disaster awaited them, which made him even colder.
Stan drove white-knuckled. The mountain had closed before Thanksgiving, and it seemed like people heeded the warnings. Guard rails had long been buried and the road was paved with compacted snow. Despite the cold and blustery condition, and the tapering snowfall, the road off the mountain was fairly clear.
Then it dawned on Stan; he hadn't seen a single car. He slowed, and saw fenders and bumpers peeking out of snow piles. He even thought he saw a shoed foot. Hopefully, the girls hadn't seen that. It looked like someone had cleared the highway by pushing abandoned cars aside, covering them in snow piles. One good thing—by leaving as late as they did, they had missed the carnage of the mass exodus.
Get the family to Baltimore, he told himself over and over. He had to be single-minded. He would deal with a missed ship and a closed border if and when it happened.
Kylie sat behind Stan, and he looked to where she pointed—a group of igloos. Signs were posted on their ice-walls, but Stan couldn't catch what they said.
They weren't even halfway down the mountain when Kylie tugged on his waist, signaling for a pit stop. He had expected it; Angela's bladder and stomach could not hold much. Stan simply pulled over, and they all took care of business right there.
"Did you see those igloos?" Kylie asked.
"I saw them," Emily answered. "Do people live inside them?" she asked.
"Probably," Stan answered.
"They had signs," Kylie said. "'The end is near.' What's that supposed to mean?"
“That what they said?” Stan asked.
"Some people think that with this weather, the end of the world is near," Angela said.
"Is it?" both girls asked at the same time.
"No, girls. Your mother and I already explained—this Stravinsky Cloud is wide, thick, and filled with rubble and dirt. I'm sure we'll all learn more about it someday." At least that's what Stan hoped. He hoped it was moving. Even if it was, it wasn’t moving out of the sun's way fast enough for spring to come. Not even summer.
"So many people, gone," Angela said, shaking her head.
"Did they all go to South America?" Emily asked.
Stan and Angela gave each other a knowing glance—by gone, she meant dead. The Cloud had caused a catastrophe exceeding the mortality of the black plague. The thought made them anxious and nervous. There was no sense explaining more to the girls.
Stan would not feel any sense of relief when they reached the ship. Since the weather had taken such a dramatic turn, and as a result of the sudden change in the Earth's temperature, typhoons and hurricanes at sea had become as large a threat as the ever-increasing snow. Best not to think about that now, he told himself.
"Mommy," Emily whined as they all took their seats, "I want to go home."
Kylie didn't say a word, and she usually chimed in by telling her sister to "Shut-up."
Angela hugged Emily, and reached out to embrace Kylie. "You're scared. I am too, and so is Daddy. But we have to keep going. Can you do that, girls? Can you do that for me?" Stan saw the pleading in Angela's eyes. "I'm going to be brave for you. And Daddy. And the baby."
Emily had no immediate answer. Not that Stan would turn home, but he hoped she would agree, and say, yes. This was going to be a difficult journey; unity was vital. "Okay," Emily finally said with a sigh. "We can keep going."
"That's my girl," Angela said, giving Emily a squeeze.
He started the engine, got a hundred yards farther, and Kylie tugged on his waist. He turned, and Angela was squirming; something was wrong. He killed the engine, and Angela whipped off her facemask.
"I'm going to be sick," Angela said, hand over her mouth.
"It's icy here. I don't think this is the best spot…"
With guard rails nowhere in sight and snow burying everything, he couldn't even be sure where the road ended. But Angela headed toward a group of pines. They could have been tall bushes or short trees; hard to tell.
Stan sat quietly with the girls for a few minutes.
"Where’s Mommy?" Emily asked.
"She's fine. Tell you what, I'll go check on her, okay? Will you girls be all right?"
"Yes," Kylie said.
"Good. Stay here. I'll be right back."
Both nodded earnestly as he climbed off the snowmobile.
Stan followed his wife's footprints behind the pines. He stopped where they stopped.
"Angela?" he called. Receiving no response, he called out several more times. "Angela!"
He took a step forward and gasped as the ground cracked. It gave out underneath his foot. Stan fell backward, arms flailing. He dug his boot heels into the snow, kicking up ice. His hands made contact and grabbed the closest branch. Holding on tightly, snow crumbed down into an empty sky beneath him. He stared below in horror.
Where the hell was he, he wondered, legs dangling over the side of a steep, near-vertical slope that would take him hundreds of yards away from his girls.
"Help," he whispered, panicked, trying to hoist himself up. The branch—it was attached to a tree—a treetop!
His mind raced, replaying what happened: Snow must have drifted farther and farther off the road, reaching out toward nearby trees tops, forming a false ledge. Angela had walked off the side of the cliff, unaware she wasn't on solid ground.
It could have been one of the girls. It could have been him.
In the distance, he heard the roar of an engine. Within moments the snowmobile's black nose stopped suddenly and precisely above his head. One wrong shift in weight and it would careen down the ledge, taking him with it.
Kylie peered over the ledge. "Daddy!"
"Don't come any closer! I think I can make it!" he screamed, struggling to pull himself up the branch.
A rope hit him in the face. "Grab it, Daddy! I tied it to the snowmobile; I can back up."
The snowmobile's nose edged forward, and for a moment, Stan thought it was coming straight for him. "No, Kylie!" Then the black nose backed up, pulling Stan. His head and shoulders made it just over the slope when the engine stalled. His feet scrambled for support.
"I don't know what happened!" Kylie cried, her voice filled with alarm.
Stan swallowed hard. "Calm down and try starting it again. Don't give it too much gas! You'll flood the engine." He held his breath when he heard the ignition, and the line became taught as it pulled him to safety.
Stan lay on his belly. His heart thumped in his ears and throat, arms and hands sore from gripping the rope.
"Where's Mommy?" Kylie asked. Concern was all over her face. Her eyes searched behind him.
What could he say? He didn’t really know. He wasn’t sure, he had only guessed. Trembling, he turned and commando-crawled out again, and took hold of the trusted pine branch.
He looked out over the ledge as far as his branch would allow.
"Oh, Angela," he cried, and scrambled back. He had seen enough. There was no chance for rescue. She was too far below, too bloody, too broken. He stood, his body trembling, mouth dry, too shocked for tears. He had no idea what he would say to his girls. He just wanted to get away from there. He plopped on the snowmobile in front of Kylie.
"Daddy! What are you doing? We can't go!"
She began to wail.
Foot on the gas, the snow mobile screamed as he drove away as fast as he could.
Kylie leaned into him, beating on his head and shoulders. "Stop! Stop, Daddy!"
He did stop, only because he had reached Emily who huddled beside the guardrail.
"Where's Mommy?” Emily asked.
"Daddy left her," Kylie choked out through a nose full of snot.
Stan reached out to her and said, "She fell. I didn't want you to see."
"But I could've helped her! I helped you!"
"No, Kylie, she's gone."
"Gone?" Emily asked, her eyes filling with tears. "You mean dead, gone?"
He met her eyes. "Yes, I'm sorry."
"So…” Wheels were turning in her head. She had to be wondering about the baby. "How do you know she's dead?"
Stan shook his head. Tears threatened, and he held them back long enough to spit out an explanation.
"Because I saw her," he said. "I saw her and I don't want either of you to see what I saw. I'm scared something else will happen if we don't get off this mountain. Your mother didn't know where she was." Stan looked around and fought to keep down the rising dread. "I'm not even sure where we are. Mile markers on the interstate are covered, exit signs knocked down, and…" Shut up! screamed the voice in Stan's head. He squeezed his eyes closed. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Stan felt dazed. Bewildered. Disoriented. My life went over a cliff in a single night, Stan thought to himself.
All three huddled together and cried.
When he suspected he had heard the last sniffle for the time being, he asked his girls, "I'll do whatever you want. Keep going? Go back home?"
Emily wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "It stopped snowing," she said, matter of fact.
"Is that a good sign?" Kylie asked, staring above.
"It sure is," Stan said, following their gaze. "But the Cloud is still there, and until it moves…"
Emily looked down at the snow as if it might have an answer for her. "I think Mommy would want us to keep going."
"Then that's what we'll do," Stan said. "We'll keep going."
The snowmobile's headlights reflected off the exit pointing toward Fayette Street, toward Baltimore's harbor. At last, Stan mouthed with slight relief. It had been a long hour on the dark, empty interstate—would there be a boat?
Stan turned right, and saw movement in the dark. He slammed on the brakes, skidding to a halt.
"Dumb ass!" A man yelled, the one he almost hit. "Ya got lights! Can't ya see all these people?" The man shook his head in admonition.
Stan's tunnel vision had him focused on one thing, so he had not expected to turn down a street littered with people. Bundled bodies moved ahead like automatons, heads down, voices low, all heading in the same direction. They carried suitcases, backpacks, duffel bags, and filled strollers, flashlights and small torches lighting the way. No one seemed to take interest in him.
"Where ya going?" the man asked Stan.
"To the dock."
"Humph. So's everyone. No one's gonna give way for ya. Better off walking."
Stan's heart quickened as his spirit raised a notch. "So, there is a ship?"
He gave a curt nod.
"'Bout an hour."
The man shuffled away, disappearing into the crowd.
"Daddy, what's happening?"
"These people are going the same place we are," Stan replied. "No one's going to let us get ahead." His voice took on a tone of urgency. "We have to walk. Fast."
"How far?" she asked.
"Not even a mile; About twenty minutes, if we hurry. Now, aren't you glad I only let you take one backpack?" he asked, grabbing their bags out from the side trunk.
Angela's bag. It lay on top of Stan's. He sighed heavily and pushed it aside.
The naval ship rose out of the water, taller than he had imagined. "Are we getting on that?" Kylie asked, eyes filled with wonder.
I hope so, he was about to say, but instead gave a reassuring, "Yes."
People filled the dock, jockeying for places in line. A couple fights broke out. He felt tension in the shoulders of those pressed against him as they inched forward. Would they make it on board before it sailed, he wondered.
"Daddy?" Emily said, tugging on his sleeve, pointing overhead. "Is that the Big Dipper?"
Stan looked up into the brightening sky, and gasped. "Stars!" he shouted to anyone listening. "I see stars! The Cloud is moving!"He couldn't believe it! He turned to the person on his right, his left. Nudging them, he exclaimed, "You see it? The Cloud is moving!" Attuned to the ship and their mission, no one seemed to comprehend what he was saying.
Emily tugged on his sleeve again. "Do we still have to get on the boat?"
He briefly considered her question. Part of him wanted to go home. How long would the north take to thaw? To grow crops, to get power up and running? It would take years before things got back to normal.
They were almost at the gates. Someone would notice the clouds movement soon enough. Surely a higher-up out there was watching, reporting it. A plan would be put in place. As for right now, that plan did not include going home.
"I'll do whatever you want," he said.
In the distance, a booming voice told people to board single file.
Emily turned to Kylie, who responded with a nod.
"Mommy would want us to keep going," Emily announced.
Stan smiled. "Then we'll keep going."