“Fiona! Ginny! Come now, I have sandwiches!” Lauren called out to her two children, who were squatted down at the edge of the ocean, catching the lapping waves into their buckets. All morning they were shouting about the imagined mermaids and sharks and octopuses that made their way into their little plastic buckets. Ginny would pretend to wrench them from the bucket and throw them back into the ocean and Fiona would run back to about the halfway point between the water and her parents to inform them that the bucket's contents had been safely dealt with.
The girls sat down inside a sun tent, sand filling the lines of their bathing suits, and munched on sandwiches and Doritos that were staining the tips of their fingers with orange dust; the dust was caking as it met the residual sea water still on their hands. Jamie, their dad, reached into the cooler bag next to his chair and grabbed a beer, holding it up for Lauren to see. She nodded and he handed her a can of Miller High Life while she ate the turkey and cheese sandwiches they’d made before they headed to the beach for the day. The girls were quiet, tired from playing all day and preoccupied with their food. The great woosh of the ocean filled their ears and the sun was beating down directly overhead now. Seagulls were starting to edge around their little encampment, hoping to catch someone’s crumbs.
“Go away, bird!” Ginny yelled, standing up to show the bird she meant it. It made a half-hearted attempt to walk away, but then started circling near them again.
Ginny stood up to yell again, but Lauren interrupted, “Focus on your food, sweetie. The bird is going to do his thing.”
“Well, I don’t want to give the bird my sandwich! I don’t try to eat his food.” She gave the bird a dirty look, her pudgy little hands, just coming out of toddlerhood, grasping her sandwich like she’d be willing to fight the bird for it. Fiona, as always, was in her own world. When she ate, she didn’t notice anything.
That’s why it was strange when Fiona interrupted her sandwich to say, “Mommy, daddy, I’m cold.”
Jamie briefly looked over at Lauren, his eyebrow raised. Lauren mouthed ‘sick?’.
“Do you want a blanket sweetie?”
“Yes,” Fiona said, now hugging her knees to her chest for warmth.
Jamie stood up, wiping crumbs from his swim trunks. A few seagulls swooped in to eat them off of the sand. He pulled a beach blanket out of their wagon and draped it over Fiona, who laid town in the tent with her arm over her eyes, brown curls spilling out around her.
“It is kind of chilly, isn’t it?” Jamie asked.
Now that she thought about it, Lauren realized that she was a bit chilly, and she hadn’t recently been in the water.
Ginny stood up and was jumping around swatting at something in the air. “Look mommy, snow! It’s snow!”
“I don’t think it’s snow, baby,” Lauren replied, absentmindedly. Then she felt something sting her thighs. She slapped her hands down on to them and saw that in fact it was snowing, the sting of the cold snow against her thighs had felt like little bug bites.
A murmur took over the beach. People emerged from under umbrellas and inside tents to put their hands up to the sky to confirm that the little white droplets falling from the sky were, indeed, snow. People took pictures and tried to hold their phones up for signal; there was never any signal at this beach.
Lauren looked over at Jamie. “What do you think this could be? Snowfall in late July?”
“Some global warming crap I’m sure.”
“Yeah, but this is actual snowfall, something’s not right.”
Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
The initial surprise of the snow was starting to wear off and everyone suddenly realized that they were, in fact, very cold. People were starting to pack things up, pulling down umbrellas and throwing food into coolers. Jamie grabbed the second blanket and put it over Ginny, who was still running back and forth in front of the tent trying to catch snowflakes. Over the course of about five minutes, the snow started to come down more heavily and was now accumulating on the sand, which was a strange mixture of warm from baking in the sun all day and cold from the snow piling on top.
Lauren and Jamie picked Fiona up and sat her in her seat in the wagon, putting the tent away and throwing the rest of their stuff haphazardly into their beach bags and the front of the wagon. They walked through the dunes, snow and sand pouring into their Crocs, to the door of the small water-front bungalow they rented here every summer for a week. They got it through a friend of Jamie’s at work whose old aunt had inherited the property from the friend’s great-grandparents. As time wore on, the family grew larger and grew apart, people vacationed elsewhere, and now they sought out people to rent it during the busiest days of the summer to help pay the property taxes and provide some income to their aging aunt.
They didn’t make the girls rinse the sand off in the outdoor shower, seeing as how it was no higher than thirty-two degrees outside. They just dragged everything into the house through the sliding glass door. Jamie ran over to the thermostat that was nestled next to the front entrance and turned off the air conditioner. He threw his sneakers on and went back outside to take the furniture and AC covers out of the shed and cover what he could before the snow piled too high. He was using his arm to wipe off the snow that had already accumulated from the surfaces before he hastily dragged the covers on to the furniture.
Lauren took the girls to the bathroom, removing their bathing suits, which hit the floor with dull thuds fro the sane inside, and piling them into the bath. As the girls splashed under the running water, Lauren shook what she could of the sand into the trashcan, all the while keeping her eye on her phone, hoping for some sort of signal that would let her know why a full-blown snowstorm seemed to have come into town.
By the time the girls were done their bath and they had rejoined Jamie in the family room, the furniture in the yard was piled with several inches of snow. The sun was totally gone from the sky and Lauren started to get filled with a genuine terror. What the hell was happening? She went into the bedrooms and pulled out the warm clothes she packed for nights on the boardwalk, long pants, long sleeved tee-shirts, and hoodies. She also grabbed her and the girls’ sneakers to make sure everyone had closed-toed shoes.
“I think I remember being here one year and seeing an old crank radio in the attic,” Jamie said. “I’m going to see if I can find it. Maybe we can figure out what’s going on here.”
Lauren noticed he didn’t look at her when he said it, like he was trying not to panic and he knew once he looked at her he would.
“Ok, and I’ll keep walking around trying to get some cell service. Wish there was cable or internet here now,” Lauren said, pacing around the house with both cell phones raised to the sky.
Jamie returned with the old crank radio. He wiped the dust off of it with his hand and started to crank, turning the station dial to the local AM radio. They were able to make out ‘emergency,’ but the sound quality was too poor to make out anything else they were saying. He carried the radio around the house, even climbing back into the attic with it, but no luck.
“Ok,” Lauren said, hands on her hips looking around the house. “Realistically how fast can we get out of here?”
“You think we should leave?”
“Well yeah, we only have about two days’ worth of food. We’re in a really small town with no cell service. We need to get home.”
“I’m afraid of the roads. It’s probably going to be insane out there.”
“I don’t want to leave, mommy,” Fiona started to cry, Ginny joining in with tears of her own for good measure. “I want to stay at the beach.”
Lauren squatted next to the girls, hugging them to her chest. “Listen lady bugs, a snowstorm came through and we’re not prepared. We don’t have snow boots or coats. We might not even have enough food. We need to go home where we can get out boots and hats, do you understand.”
Both of them nodded their assent through fat tears and pushed out bottom lips.
Lauren stood back up. “So, what do you think?”
“I’m still scared of getting on the road, but I understand what you’re saying here about the food and possibly getting stuck. Why don’t I head into Carter’s? They have a tv in there and a landline phone. They must know what’s going on. I bet half the town is in there now as it is. You stay here and pack up what you can, this way we’re ready no matter what.”
“Alright, got it, sounds good.”
Lauren went off into her and Jamie’s room and started throwing their clothes and toiletries into their suitcases, with little regard for neatness. Just as Jamie reached the front door and yelled, “I’m leaving!” Lauren was filled with a dread so terrible it buckled her knees. She collapsed where she was standing at the foot of the bed and used her remaining breath to croak out, “Wait! Wait, please.”
Jamie ran into the room, “Laur, you ok?”
She pulled herself back up into a standing position, panting a bit. “Yes, but, please, don’t leave without us. I have a bad feeling about this. I… I want us to be together. I don’t want you to leave without us.”
Jamie’s eyes were wide. “Ok, ok,” he said, coming over and pulling Lauren into a huge. “We’ll go together.”
They spent fifteen minutes gathering up everything they could see, packing the food from the fridge on ice, and trying to sort out all of their dirty clothes into kitchen trash bags to prevent sand from getting on their clean stuff. Jamie stuffed an old DVD of, ironically, Christmas Claymation films into the tv for Fiona and Ginny, who were watching in tired silence.
They buckled the girls into their car seats and loaded up the trunk. At the last second, Lauren ran back in and turned the thermostat to fifty-five. Back in the car she buckled her seatbelt to a confused look from Jamie.
“Thermostat. I turned the heat on. Don’t want the pipes to freeze.”
“Good call,” Jamie replied. “God, I hope there isn’t some more major weather proofing we missed.”
“I’m sure there is, but what were we supposed to do? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
The drove into the small town. Sure enough, just about everyone in Saltside was at Carter’s. Cars were parked every which way; the lines of the parking lot were occluded by piling snow, which now had to be almost a foot high. Lauren said a silent prayer for four-wheel drive. Not everyone caught in this would be so fortunate. Some people were lucky enough to have rainboots with them and they were trudging through the snow trying to capture some signal on their phones. Lauren and Jamie each took a girl and headed into the store. It was loud; lots of clusters of people talking to one another; a few panicked looking people standing at the cashier’s line with worried looks on their faces. Some groups had just set up camp, backs pressed against the chip aisle and playing games of gin rummy on the floor.
Lauren, Jamie and the girls moved into a cluster of other families they knew from overlapping with them so many summers, the Griffiths and the Wimmers. Ginny and Fiona were holding hands and clinging to Lauren’s legs. After a few minutes, the owner of the store stood up on the cashier’s chair and called out to the people assembled in the store.
“Alright, listen up. Our cable and internet are down, all computers are offline. But I just called the Sherriff’s department. They’re working on getting a few of the trucks fitted with blows to try to clear out a few of the main roads that aren’t controlled by the county. Haven’t heard anything from the county and don’t know when they plan to plow the evacuation roads.”
“Joe,” someone in the crowd interrupted. “Why is it snowing?”
A murmur of laughter broke out in the crowd.
“That’s the million-dollar question. Sherriff doesn’t know. He said they got an alert over their emergency response for weather related emergency, but they’re experiencing the same outages as everyone else, so they’re basically out of communication with anyone who can answer questions.”
Lauren saw out of the window that the snow was even heavier now; there was basically no visibility. Jamie was right, driving would be horribly dangerous right now. They might not even be able to get back to the bungalow if they wanted to.
“Good thing we packed,” Jamie said. “I don’t even know if we’d be able to get home right now.”
Lauren grabbed his hand. “My thoughts exactly.”
Joe from Carter’s started up again. “We have power and backup generators. We can provide people with food and as many as are allowed by legal occupancy can stay. No charge on the food, but we do ask for donations.” He held up a big plastic pretzel container.
Jamie went over and put $200 into the container; money they’d set aside for their restaurant night that week. They would drive to the neighboring town, Promenade Beach, and eat out at a restaurant one night of the week they stayed, before heading to the boardwalk for arcade games and rides.
“Do you think we should stay?” Jamie asked.
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Spellbinding. Thank you.
Oh my goodness Catherine! I was confused as well by the sudden ending until I noticed your conversation with user Kelly below--- thank you SO much for posting the ending in the comments; this story is fantastic! Thrilling plot, clever ending!
I'm confused why he puts the money in if he isn't sure if he'll stay. Where else would they go? There was such a great build up, and all her dread of him leaving without them. I'd have loved a bit more of a punch at the end.
It’s actually because I did not successfully copy and paste the entire story in and didn’t realize until after it was published so I couldn’t edit it. Oops!
Well that would explain it! :) Can you paste the rest of your story in the comments for us?
Here you go: Lauren looked around. “I don’t know. It’s crowded in here now. I’m really worried about some sort of mass panic situation. We have four-wheel drive. We’re three hours from home. I think we should hedge our bets and go.” Jamie looked like he was about to argue, but said, “Ok. Your instinct has been right so far. Let’s go.” They grabbed a few sodas on their way out, as special treats for the girls. Both Lauren’s and Joe’s shoes filled with snow as they carried Fiona and Ginny back to the car. “Why’s it snowing, daddy?” Fiona...
Oh thank you for posting that. It's even better with the ending!