Coming of Age Drama Speculative

‘Where’s global warming when you need it?’

Toby stared out the trailer window at the bleak, icy landscape. Icicles arrayed like glistening fangs hung from the eaves. It was snowing. How many weeks had passed with no sunshine at all? Too many.

Even inside, he could see his breath. The space heater never kept up. The walls were cold.

Everything changed so fast. No one knew the trigger. Experts spun theories off non-stop finger pointing. But the hot air didn’t make a dent. Cold was the new norm.

Just prior, it had been unseasonably warm. News sites discussed the heat stored in the world’s oceans. Had it already been two years? You lose track of time when it’s always winter.

One day it clouded up. Drizzle became rain, became snow. The ice glazed trees looked magical. People pointed and photographed the winter wonderland. The song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ made a comeback.

But the novelty wore off. Sub-zero temperatures snapped extension cords run to warm brittle engine blocks. Cars froze in place and disappeared into snowbanks.

Heating bills soared. If it warmed up a little, it snowed all the more. Stores sold out of winter wear. Snowshoes became the rage.

Blizzard followed blizzard screaming down from the north. Snowplows couldn’t keep up. Transportation atrophied. Subways continued running, but getting to the station was difficult. People skied to work. The weight of accumulated ice strained the infrastructure. Cave-ins made the subway tunnels dangerous.

No one had seen anything like it. People moved south. A trickle became a migration. Southern countries protested the stream of immigrants seeking warm weather opportunities.  

Summer never returned. Canada froze over, crushed beneath relentless ice. Alaska disappeared. The northern states couldn’t handle the non-stop snow. Population centers, Chicago, Detroit and the Twin Cities were abandoned before advancing glaciers. Smaller towns, smothered under a blanket of white.

New York held out, due to its being on the coast. But when the rivers froze and the ocean receded, the glaciers overwhelmed it too.

The expanding ice cap bound the world’s fresh water. In a few months, the ice spread across most of Europe, half of Asia and North America like mold. It created unprecedented social disruption. Lacking viable solutions, governments called for calm before collapsing.

Toby wondered, ‘When did I last see a tree?’ He checked his journal. The entry read just over a year ago, when he and his father came to this job in the ice mines. Rather than immigrating south, they grabbed an opportunity. The money was good, and people needed what they produced – drinkable water.

But no trees. And no birds. Heading north, the last trees he saw stood in stark silhouette against the endless white. He pointed to them, but his father watched the road.

“Yeah, Tobe, they’re trees.”

Toby felt anxious about the bleak life they were entering. “I should’ve stayed with mom.”

His father let up on the gas. “You know that was not an option. Right?”

Toby felt his father’s penetrating stare. “Yeah… I get it. But…”

“No buts. That was the deal.” His father resumed driving. That was the most his father had said in days.

Toby couldn’t have known they’d be the last trees. But the way they looked... He felt lonely. ‘I’m almost an adult. I have a say…’ He suspected neither parent wanted him. Mom got her way.

Roads no longer existed in the north. Pavement couldn’t survive this. Vehicles followed narrow paths between walls of ice. Clearing them for minimal traffic meant one lane became the new standard. Turn-outs every mile allowed opposing traffic to pass.

And no trees also meant no cell phones. Ice had swallowed all the broadcast towers.

They reached base camp and left their truck behind. Wheels were obsolete. Everything up here moved on caterpillar treads. The next shuttle to the mines, a trailer towed by a tractor, took them. They carried what they could – warm clothes.

The mining camp consisted of trailers on skids for retreating before the glacier’s relentless advance. A modular building in their midst served as meeting and mess hall. Heaters kept one from freezing. No one expected warmth.

Someone said, ‘Seeing your breath is a good sign. Means you haven’t frozen.’

Showers? What’s that? Luxuries like hot water were carefully rationed.

The camp population was amiable. Everyone knew their shared circumstances. Good humor smoothed many frustrations. Those with entitlement issues left for warmer climes. Toby and his father received warm welcomes from everyone they encountered.

They shared trailer space with two other men. He didn’t know his father any better than them. Constant cold and exhaustion reduced most exchanges to murmurs and grunts. By sundown, sleep was the main attraction.

Most gathered at the lively evening meal. People joked about climbing into refrigerators to warm up. Nels, the transportation captain, described plumes of steam freezing solid when emerging from roof stacks. The frozen steam collapsing into shards sounded like wind chimes.

Toby soon learned this was Nels’ favorite story, told nightly. Everyone always laughed and applauded the punchline.

Most nights, a combo called ‘The Ice Scrape-ades’ played acoustic music. They’d adapted their style to accommodate cold stiffened fingers. It felt like community.

Although liquor was officially discouraged, someone always passed a bottle around. Everyone had a warming sip.

Sub-zero weather amplified the dry creaking of boots on snow. Toby had never felt such cold. He spit and heard the wad crack before it hit the ground. He’d expect to smell wood smoke on a night like this. But, no trees, no wood, no smoke. Just cold.

Each mining crew had a task. Explosive charges blasted tones of ice from the glacier. One team would load house sized chunks of ice into waterproof sledges for towing south. The ice would melt on route. Fresh water filled tankers for distribution to thirsty citizens and crops.

Toby’s father was a tractor jockey, loading ice debris into the sledges. Toby was a sweeper, gathering smaller ice shards into piles to be loaded. The work was good. Activity warmed him.

A few women worked in the camp. When first organized, Millie claimed the laundry and kitchen as her domain. Not because it was women’s work but it was warmer there than anywhere within a thousand miles. The women were no fools.

Millie delivered good food and clean clothes. No one challenged her authority. The women kept to themselves and ate together. She kept them so isolated, some called them ‘the nuns.’

Thinking he was funny, one miner called Millie ‘Madam’ to her face. He soon discovered what insubordination wrought. After that run in, he took his food ‘to go,’ delivered by a man at the mess hall door. No women talked to him. A month later, he left seeking opportunities further south.

Moving down the serving line at the mess hall, Toby noticed a young woman about his age serving soup. She held a steaming bowl out to each miner but never looked up.

She was pretty. The cold hadn’t hardened her yet.

When Toby got to her, he took a bowl. It smelled good.

“Hi…” She glanced at him and returned to her duties. “I’m Toby. Just got to camp. Haven’t seen you before. Want to hang out after work?”

Her eyes met his for a moment, but she averted her gaze.

Millie stood next to him. “What’re you up to? Holding up the line.”

No one waited behind him.

Toby said, “Not up to anything, Ma’m. New here. Being friendly. Saying hello.”

“You never said ‘hello’ to me…”

Toby set his tray down. “Millie, right? Glad to meet you. I’m Toby.”

He offered his hand. Millie didn’t take it.

“This ain’t a social club, kid. We’re here to work. You want to chat, there’s an empty seat at that table.”

She pointed to a nearby chair. The men there ate and barely spoke. Toby got the hint and took his tray. Turning, he noticed the server watching.

Millie said, “Back to work, Talia.”

With no one else to serve, Talia grabbed a rag and wiped the counter. He took the open chair and sat.

At the work site, a column of ice calved from the ice wall and collapsed to the glacier’s base. It buried the tractor. The ground shook. It was even loud inside.

Everyone ran out. An alarm horn shattered the eerie silence. They ran to help rescue the driver.

This wasn’t the first emergency. Everyone knew the drill. Men hooked a chain to the buried tractor and dragged it free with another. The ice fall crushed much of the tractor’s cabin. The driver was Toby’s father. They pulled him out, laid him onto a stretcher and hustled to the infirmary located in the central hall.

Toby waited alone. No one let him see his father.

Talia stepped into the corridor and saw him. She came over. He looked up and she smiled shyly.

“Day off?”

“No, my father’s injured.”

“That was him?” Toby nodded. “Ooh… sorry… And sorry about the other day. Millie runs a tight ship.”

“I got that.”

“You were funny, greeting her like that. Everyone’s afraid of her.”

They looked out at the bleak landscape. The incessant snowfall reminded Toby of a badly tuned TV set.

She sighed. “Did you ever expect to see this world? This really how it ends?”

He looked at her and shook his head. “This isn’t the end. I won’t give up. We’ll adapt. It’s what we do. There’s always been tough times.”

“Everything’s falling apart… unraveling.”

“Cave men came through worse. We know more than them. We’ll regroup and carry on.”

“Think so?”

“I know it.”

Millie came out of the kitchen. Talia retreated as she approached Toby.

“What you up to, kid?”

“Nothing. I’m waiting. Worried about my father.”

“He the one who died?”

“No. What? When?”

She didn’t say anything more.

Toby ran into the snowstorm. Heavier now than before. He punched a light pole and clumps fell on him.

“No! No, no, no!” He fell on his knees and wailed, “This can’t happen!”

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Talia stood by him.

“What will you do?”

“I haven’t thought about it.” Looking hopeless, he shrugged. “Guess I’ll escort him south. Can’t bury him here.”

She nodded.

“I can’t believe it.” Toby stood. “Talia, come with me.”

She squeezed his hand and let go.

“I don’t know, Toby…”

He gestured about. “This is a dead end. We could have more.”

He followed her gaze. Millie watched. Talia walked back into the central hall.

He watched her go. After a while, he walked to his trailer. One last time he stomped the snow off his shoes. He grabbed his stuff and went out, waiting to catch a ride south. Nels said he could take next sledge out.

The tractor idled to a stop. Some men hoisted his father’s remains onto the sledge. Falling snow collected on the white bundled cloth secured with rope.

Toby tossed his knapsack onto the ice filled sledge.

Talia came up behind him carrying a knapsack. “Help me up?”

He laughed and gave her a boost.

They found a spot sheltered from the wind. Toby placed a blanket for them to sit. They huddled together for the long ride south – their new beginning.

The tractor engine revved and lurched forward. For the first time in weeks, sun burst through the clouds.

Toby and Talia laughed together.

No one waved good-bye.

December 08, 2023 03:46

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Eko Epsilon
16:45 Dec 15, 2023

I was invested in the story. It honestly scared me since I live in Montana. I even cried a soft "No!" when I read it was Toby's father. Although some points of dialog confused me on who was talking. “That was him?” Toby nodded. “Ooh… sorry… And sorry about the other day. Millie runs a tight ship.” I think it's because she's talking but he replied in the middle of it. “That was him?” Toby nodded. “Ooh… sorry… And sorry about the other day. Millie runs a tight ship.” Maybe this could work better. Really good though, great world building.


John K Adams
22:14 Dec 15, 2023

Eko, thanks for the good point. I'll fix that. I'm glad you liked it. The world building was an adventure. I'm glad it worked. Always appreciate comments. Thanks!


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Steven Lebowski
22:16 Dec 22, 2023

This had some worldbuilding, it kind of reminded me of The Day After Tomorrow. The only thing that caught me up as I was reading was the sentence structures. Everything felt a bit choppy, which may have been because it had very simple sentence structures throughout (very short, to the point, then it ended). It kind of made it tougher to slip into the world fully because it was hard to find rhythm in the reading, if that makes sense. That said, if you were purposely going for a sort of cut and dry, bleak description to match the landscape, i...


John K Adams
23:18 Dec 22, 2023

Thanks, Steven for your thoughtful comments. I'll look into mixing it up a bit per your suggestions. I grew up in Minnesota and every winter I imagined this scenario, minus the characters. It could get pretty bleak. Glad that worked for you. Thanks for reading and commenting. Always aim to improve.


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Bonnie Clarkson
20:09 Dec 30, 2023

I liked the story. Wish I had known Toby's age at the beginning.


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Mary Bendickson
21:20 Dec 09, 2023

Frigid with a touch of warm at the end


John K Adams
00:07 Dec 10, 2023

Based on my childhood in Minnesota.


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