‘Hi, Jim, it’s me. I’m afraid I can’t get in today. I’m sure you understand. Sorry.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t get in? What is it? Are you ill? You seemed fine yesterday.’
‘No, I’m all right, but I can’t actually get the car out of the drive, and as for the rest of the village, well, looking down the road, it’s not very promising.’
‘What are you talking about? Can’t get out of the drive? What’s wrong with the drive? Is it the car? There are buses, you know. You wouldn’t be too late if you left now.’
‘Well, I don’t know for sure, but I’d be staggered if any buses are running. Certainly not the one that comes past here. There’s been no traffic that I’ve seen this morning.’ I peered out into the gloom again. ‘No, there are no tracks. No one’s attempted to drive down this road.’ There was a pause. ‘Jim?’ I asked. ‘Are you still there? Hopefully the gritters’ll be along later and I can get in, certainly tomorrow I should think. I’d have brought the laptop home with me if I’d known, but this wasn’t in the forecast, was it?’
‘Gritters?’ Jim seemed to be slowly getting to the bottom of things. ‘Are you saying you’re snowed in? What do you take me for? If you want a day off, you’ll have to do better than that. It’s at least 12 degrees here, the dafs are waving their pretty little heads in the sun and it’s going to be glorious. Well, glorious for 3rd March anyway. You get your arse in here pronto, mate.’ And he hung up.
I stared at the phone stupidly for a while then padded across to the front door and opened it onto a scene from Narnia. Narnia without the talking animals admittedly and with lowering skies making the snowy landscape appear rather less than storybook. And there hadn’t been any 60s red-brick semis in Narnia, so probably best to forget that analogy altogether. I hadn’t actually tried to get my car out of the drive, that had been a white lie, no pun intended, ha bloody ha, but since I could hardly even make out its shape under the five foot drift of snow that covered it, it had seemed a likely hypothesis, and the minor incline up to the road would certainly defeat me. The road itself didn’t look much better, and I hadn’t been lying about nobody having been down it. The white blanket was completely virgin, unbroken even by the tiny claw prints of birds in search of nourishment. Not even the milkman had been along. In actual fact, only Gerald at number 10 still had his milk delivered by the local dairy, this being only one of a number of ways in which Gerald was trying to fight off the march of time. The rest of the road wished he’d get his milk from Tesco like we did, if only because Tom the milky insisted on singing the same selection of out of tune Beatles’ classics on his round at 4 o’clock every morning.
I shook my head, shut the door and debated whether to call Jim again, but there seemed little point. Undoubtedly an efficient combination of more clement March weather and council gritting would see me able to get in to work tomorrow, and I could argue the point with him then. A thought occurred to me at this point, so I opened the front door again and took a few photos of the scene in front of me to show to Jim in case he was still disbelieving.
I turned on the tv, expecting the snow to be making the headlines, if not nationally, then certainly locally, but the BBC’s South Today was signally failing to mention it. This seemed improbable, even for South Today, whose idea of a local news story normally involved nothing more than repeating the main national news but adding some sort of obscure local angle (“John Smith, who once stayed in Worthing for a week’s holiday, was today part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiating team in Brussels.”)
Even so, I couldn’t understand their failure to talk about the snow. After all it was, as Jim had pointedly pointed out, the 3rd of March and therefore meteorological Spring, although Spring hadn’t sprung until the equinox three weeks into the month when I was a boy. It wasn’t until the weather bulletin came on though that I became seriously concerned about my own sanity. Apparently it was, as Jim had suggested, already a warmer than average early March day, and forecast to get even warmer. They were even interviewing people who were planning to spend the day on Brighton beach for goodness’ sake.
I went upstairs to have a shower, trying to convince myself that local weather phenomena were probably not that unusual in this part of the South Downs. I’d get dressed, dig out the wellies I hadn’t used for years, and trek on foot into the village centre to see if I could make sense of it. While I was drying myself, I heard a familiar noise from downstairs, so hurriedly pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of tracky bottoms and went to investigate. Sure enough, there on the front door mat were a couple of envelopes. The postman had been! He’d know what was going on. I pulled open the door and stared out. There was no postman to be seen and no bright red post van. And then it hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. The snow up to my door was still as unblemished as it had been twenty minutes ago, and when I raised my disbelieving eyes to the road beyond, that too remained untouched, the pure white snow possibly reflecting my approaching madness. I shut the door and slumped down on the mat with my back to it for support. I felt slightly nauseous.
I decided to send Jim the photographic evidence backing up my story and clicked into the Photos on my phone. Having done so, I was glad I was already sitting down. Three photos came up under today’s date, three photos of my car, the road and the houses opposite. And there was no snow to be seen in any of them.
‘What do you reckon? Has it worked?’
Jim Sloan looked up from his computer screen. The bespectacled face of Jane from FutureSpace was peering slightly myopically at him from the doorway.
‘What the hell is that stuff, lady?’
‘How’s your boy?’ she responded, moving to the other side of his desk and sitting down.
Jim considered his response, then got up, moved to the window and stared out at the sunlight twinkling off the English Channel between the industrial units opposite. ‘Well, either he’s gone mad, or I have, or you’re in cahoots with him, or you’ve developed something particularly nasty.’
‘Oh, not nasty,’ she replied smugly. ‘And “cahoots”? Really? What are you, a cowboy?’
‘That’s the least troubling thing I’m going to be called if this gets out.’
‘Don’t be daft. Nothing illegal about gaming.’
‘Gaming you call it? Not mind control?’
‘What’s all gaming if it isn’t mind control? Listen, we discussed all this. We have the expertise, the brainpower if you like, and you have the capability of mass production, well, enough mass production to make us all very rich anyway. It’s a match made in heaven. And now you’ve had a demonstration… ’ She let the words hang in the air.
‘I don’t know. Look, I’m going round to see him. See how he is. How long will the effects last?’
‘Twelve hours, give or take. It’s experimental, hence the trial. You know all this. You were pretty keen last month. Business still poor is it?’
It was, desperately poor, with little prospect of a quick improvement. Not without some drastic action. This would certainly be that. Jim grunted. The creditors were circling. He would be laying staff off very soon, including the colleague currently marooned in a mini ice age.
‘Incidentally,’ Jane was saying. ‘Did he tell you exactly what he was experiencing?’
‘I thought you knew that. He took the white capsule. Snow, you said, winter. Well, snow is what he’s got. Lots of it. Stopping him coming in, he says.’
‘That’s good. I’d like to try one more before we get going on the full production. Possibly one of the green ones.’
‘And what do they do again?’
‘For goodness sake Jim, you know what. You’ve seen the prospectus.’
‘Going back to the white pill. What’s the point? Where does seeing all this snow get you?’
‘Not just seeing. Feeling. Living. Where does your chap live? Up in the Downs somewhere? Summer’s day, weekend, fancies a bit of skiing, he’s not going to get that in Midhurst in July.’
‘Not Midhurst, he lives…’
‘Doesn’t matter where he lives. He could be in a tenement in the Gorbals, and he can still spend the day skiing or sledging. It’s a recreational miracle, Jim. You know it as well as I do.’ She paused. ‘By the way, how did you get him to take it?’
‘Coffee, like you suggested. Six o’clock yesterday. Takes a while to kick in, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, we’re working on that. We believe we can get it down to an hour.’
Jim thought. He had little choice. ‘Okay, Jane, we’re in. Draw up a contract. I’m off to see Simon, assuming I can make it through the snow, ha ha.’
‘Try him on one of the green ones when you get there. In for a penny and all that.’
‘Is it dangerous, giving him two in two days?’
‘Not dangerous exactly. Might be a little confusing for him.’
‘It’s the Alien one. You had forgotten, hadn’t you?’ She considered. ‘Perhaps confusing is the wrong word. I mean, if Simon’s been at all traumatised by the snow, goodness knows how he’ll feel when he finds he’s got a Dalek for a neighbour.’