As Far as the Eye Could See
By Matthew S. Dent
Jimmy and Maria emerged from the warmth of the train carriage and were almost immediately subsumed in a flurry of ivory flakes.
‘Jesus!’ Maria exclaimed. She wrapped her coat tighter around her as a gust of icy wind hit her blowing her plume of brilliant red hair out behind her. She quickly tucked it away in her hood. ‘It’s really picked up.’
Jimmy only grunted. What had been a charming shower of snow when they’d gotten on the train was now a full blown snowstorm. And getting worse.
‘How far is it to your parents’ house?’ Maria asked.
‘Fifteen minutes walk,’ he answered, and buried his chin deeper into his coat. The cold wind bit into his exposed face.
‘Come on.’ He looped his arm through hers as the train pulled away behind them. Its lights were quickly lost in the maelstrom of swirling flakes. ‘The sooner we get out of this, the better.’
Maria pulled her ticket out, squinting to check it was the right one, but putting it away when she saw no barriers.
Leading her through the snow, Jimmy put his shoulder to the wind and pressed onwards. He wore a thick coat, over layers strategically arranged to keep out the cold. They didn’t seem at all effective. The wind found out every flaw in his thermal armour, and stopped it up with snow. He was shivering after only a few paces.
Maria fared no better. Her clothing was designed for aesthetics rather than winter comfort- no more than you could expect from a fashion and design student. Her coat was thin, her shoes unsuited to wading through snow, and her gloves were not waterproof. Only her hood was an advantage.
She hunched shivering in her boyfriend’s shadow as he pushed through the burgeoning blizzard.
‘The road’s too dangerous!’ Jimmy shouted, leading her from the barely visible road. ‘People take the road too fast anyway. In this visibility, we’ll get ourselves killed. It’s quicker to cut across the churchyard!’
The churchyard? Maria couldn’t see a church, but then she couldn’t see much of anything anymore. In the sea of white, Jimmy’s dark silhouette was her anchor and guide; she clung to him.
Jimmy was worrying about the rest of the journey. His family home was still a fair walk away, and he hadn’t told Maria that the walk was fifteen minutes in fair weather. God only knew how long it would take in this mess.
Movement to his left distracted him. Something had darted past him, something not white, not the snow, but dark and very much solid. Maria crashed into his back, and cried out.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. The tremor had worked its way into her voice, and he took his soon-to-be-fiancé into his arms, planting a kiss on her forehead.
‘Nothing,’ he said, shaking off his unease. It was just the snow playing tricks on him. What else could it have been? ‘Come on. We need to get home, before you freeze.’
‘I’m going to look a state,’ Maria complained. She drew her white-gloved hand across her cheek, leaving a dirty stain of make-up on the finger. ‘What are your parents going to think of me.’
Despite himself, Jimmy laughed. ‘They’ll think you’re cold, wet and hungry. They’ll make you sit by the fire, give you a towel, and make you some supper. They’ll love you, hun.’
They pushed on, Jimmy leaning into the wind, and Maria clutching close to him. She thought of the promised fire, and of what supper she might be given. The seasonal flavours of mince pies and mulled wine crept into her mouth. She gripped Jimmy’s arm tightly.
Jimmy had lowered his head, and thought only of getting through the storm. His thoughts had turned towards the pub in the village, unsure any longer whether they could make it up the hill. He kept his eyes fixed dead ahead, searching for fences, gateposts, anything solid. He ignored phantom spectres darting at the corners of his vision.
‘Hey!’ Maria exclaimed, and Jimmy felt her pull on his arm as she stopped.
He had to squint through the storm to see her. She was only three feet from him at the most. The storm was getting worse.
‘Something pulled my hood back!’ He stepped closer, and saw that her hood, was indeed down.
‘No! Something pulled it down. I felt it.’
‘Maria, there’s nothing out here!’ Jimmy insisted. The cold was biting deep into him, sapping his strength.
‘How do you know? I can’t see shit in this snow. I’m not making this up! Look!’
She turned around, and presented her hood to him. He reached out and touched it, and noted that it seemed torn, almost shredded, before it was snatched out of his hand. And suddenly Maria wasn’t there anymore.
‘What the fuck? Maria?’ He lurched forward, searching for her. He kicked at the snow, thinking she might have tripped and fallen, but there was no one there. The cold bit ever deeper into him, and panic rose through his stomach.
‘Maria!’ he shouted. ‘Maria! Where are you?’ He staggered into the snow, too late realising that he had lost all sense of direction. He had no idea which way led back to the station, and which way on to the village. Everything was just more snow.
The storm rose around him. The merciless white maelstrom of nature brought to bear on him. The snow blinded and confused him, all the while assaulting him with wet, burning cold. And nowhere could he find Maria.
He staggered on, hands reaching, searching for the feel of Maria’s more-money-than-sense coat, for the relieved embrace of his lost lover. But the snow was up to his thighs now. His jeans were soaked- why the hell had he worn jeans, of all things?- and his legs cried out in protest and agony.
He saw the door only a step before he walked into it. A big, wooden thing, which he took a moment to identify as the church. He beat on it with gloved fists. Someone might be inside. Someone who could help him find Maria.
A gust of wind, and perhaps something more solid, hit his side, and knocked him from his feet. He landed in the snow, and gasped from sudden cold and pain of it. Snow flooded into his mouth. He thrashed around, trying to tell up from down, but there no longer seemed any distinction between him and the snow.
As the cold ate into the last warm molecules of him, and darkness closed in over him, his last thoughts were of the flame-haired beauty, lost in the snow.
‘Good morning, Mr Kilburn.’
Jimmy was warm. His eyes opened slowly, reluctantly. Had the painful, all-encompassing cold been nothing but a dream?and he wondered whether the lingering memories of painful cold had just been a dream.
When he saw the aged face in front of him, he knew it hadn’t been.
‘Where am I?’ He sat up with a groan.
The old man chuckled. Jimmy saw he was wearing a white dog collar and knew the answer before he said it. ‘St. Mary’s. I found you on the doorstep, freezing to death. You seem well enough for a good night’s sleep, though.’
‘Where’s Maria?’ Jimmy asked, suddenly remembering her disappearance.
The old vicar frowned. ‘There wasn’t anyone else with you.’
‘She’s still out there then!’ Jimmy’s leapt out of the makeshift bed he was lying in, flinching slightly as his bare feet hit the cold floor. There was still some residual dampness in his clothes, but he didn’t care. He dashed towards the door.
‘Wait!’ the vicar shouted after him. ‘You can’t go out there dressed like that!’
Jimmy ignored him. Forcing the door open he threw himself into the outside world. The storm had blown itself out overnight, and everything was bright and clear now- but viciously cold. And there was a blanket of snow covering everything, almost two feet deep.
The snow attacked Jimmy’s legs and bare feet, burning and freezing simultaneously, but he didn’t care. He had to find Maria. The vicar shouted at him from the doorway, but Jimmy could barely even hear him.
There was nothing. No footprints, no bulges, no sign of her. Tears flowed down his cheeks with growing desperation, and his shivering was uncontrollable. He waded like the snow, no longer able to feel his feet, until they gave way beneath him and sent him sprawling facedown.
He surfaced, churning up the fresh snow as he tried to find something with which to lever himself up. And then he stopped.
In the tilled snow before him, something had been unearthed. A lone, white glove, a black smudge sullying one flat finger. And next to it, a soggy rail ticket, its orange edges wilting, even as it declared itself an “OFF-PEAK SINGLE; LONDON TO WARGRAVE”. And one corner of it was coloured with a dark red residue, on perfect snow stretching as far as the eye could see.