The storm of the morning of December twenty-sixth was predicted by no meteorologist. We had no time to prepare.
In the still-dark hours, I woke to the ghostly light of moon and stars reflected off snow. The radio, left on overnight to serenade us with lingering Christmas carols, now played only static. It was frigid in the house. Outside, nearly a foot of snow had fallen.
I ventured out to the barn to check on the cows. My boots crunched through the thin layer of ice that kept the powder beneath from stirring—although it seemed the storm’s fury had long passed, and not a breath stirred the air. The barn doors cracked and groaned as I opened them. Snowdrifts blocked the way, and the wood was frosted over. By the time I forced my way inside, the cold had infiltrated my heavy clothing and begun stinging my skin.
The barn was empty. No cows. Not even the frozen corpses I’d feared to discover.
I left the barn and gazed out across the blank distance. Virgin snow glowed, save for the dark, wavering trail of my footprints. Nothing else marred the expanse. Not a trace of hoof or boot aside from my own.
They must have fled before the storm. Sensed it coming and broken out of their stalls, and the snow covered their trail. It was the only explanation I could think of. How would I find them? I couldn’t search on foot, and although my truck could probably handle the roads, I doubted it would get me far in the fields. The cows wouldn’t have stayed in the fields anyway; they’d have sought the shelter of the woods, where my truck definitely couldn’t go.
With nothing else to be done, I returned to the house. It was still dark. Not even a paling of the eastern sky to betray the rising sun. The radio still filled the house’s hollow spaces with static. I left it on, hoping the signal would eventually clear up and bring us word of how the storm had impacted the rest of the world. The others were still asleep.
The lights didn’t work. I tried the kitchen first, then the living room. Nothing. Yet the radio continued to play, its static following me from room to room like a muttering shadow. Now and then I caught hints of garbled words, spoken in a low voice, calm and level.
“…nd…shua set…welve stones in…idst of…Jordan, in the pla…”
That was impossible. The radio ran off the same circuit as the kitchen lights. Unless all the bulbs had blown during the storm…
I checked some of the other electronics. The digital clocks seemed to work—that is, their displays all flashed at me, all showing the same time, 6:33, never changing no matter how long I watched them.
The radio and the clocks. Nothing else seemed to have power.
Not even the electric stove. This alarmed me at first, then I realized I wasn’t hungry. When the time came, we could light the fireplace and cook over open flame. The refrigerator was dead, but we could move all the perishables outside to keep them cold.
Phones were out too, both the land line and cell. There was no way of reaching the outside world except going out into it ourselves.
The plows hadn’t hit our road yet, but as I’d noted earlier, my truck could probably make it through. I had to try. Announcing my departure in case any of the others could hear me, I set out once more through the cold to my vehicle.
The engine didn’t respond when I turned the key. The dashboard didn’t even light up, so the battery was dead as well. The thought of diagnosing and fixing the problem in the bitter cold was unappealing to say the least, so I sat behind the steering wheel and debated my next course of action. Beyond the windshield stretched an endless white field. I could see my trail between the house and the barn, and my more recent trail from the house to the truck. But aside from that: purity. So smooth it seemed like polished marble. So bright it blurred my vision. I averted my gaze upward, toward the black sky, and my breath caught.