“Which way is down?” James calls over the wind. “Which way did we come?”
Michael stops and looks around. He turns in a circle three times before facing James again.
“I don’t…I don’t…”
James can see the panic start to settle in. He walks over and puts his hand on Michael’s shoulder.
“Breathe,” he commands over the wind. “It’s going to be okay.”
Michael nods and pulls himself together. He takes a deep breath in.
“We have to find shelter,” Michael says, almost yelling to be heard over the wind. “It’s becoming a blizzard. We can’t stay here.”
James pulls Alexander closer to him and wraps his other arm around him, vainly trying to shield him from the snow.
“Which way do we go?”
Michael looks around. The fog has taken on a sinister quality, as though it is an entity bent on suffocating them. On keeping them from safety.
“Snow trench,” Michael says suddenly.
Michael hunts around for a moment before awkwardly dropping to his knees and starting to dig. James rushes over to him, still clinging to Alexander.
“What are you doing?” he shouts, now unable to be heard clearly over the howling wind.
“Snow trench,” Michael yells back. “Help me dig!”
James hesitates for a moment before putting Alexander down on the snow a few feet back from Michael’s hole. He puts down his backpack and takes off his snow jacket and wraps it around Alexander’s shivering shoulders.
“I’m going to help Uncle Michael,” he shouts. “I’ll be right over here.”
Alexander nods. James races over and drops down beside Michael, who has already dug quite a large trench.
“I saw this on Man versus Wild,” Michael yells, furiously digging away the snow faster than the sky can pile it back on. “If you’re caught in a blizzard, you can make a snow cave or a snow trench to survive. We have to dig deep enough and wide enough to hold all three of us.”
James nods and starts to dig, but within seconds his gloves become soaked through and his fingers feel like blocks of ice. His digging becomes increasingly inefficient.
“I can’t feel my fucking fingers!” he shouts to Michael. “I can’t…” He stops and scrambles to his feet, running back over to Alexander. James grabs the backpack, but he can’t feel his fingers well enough to work the zip. After a few failed attempts, Alexander reaches out and unzips it.
“Thanks, buddy,” James yells, grabbing the first two ice skates he sees. He runs back to Michael and gives him an ice skate. “Here,” he yells. “Take off the safety.”
Michael pulls off the safety plastic covering the blade and uses it to keep digging. Together they manage to make a decent trench, deep enough for protection from the blizzard. The snow falls harder.
“Pine needles!” Michael yells. “To line the bottom!”
James obediently runs to gather enough pine needles to create a soft bed in the bottom of the trench. Once he is done he helps Alexander climb inside, following close behind.
“We need to seal the top,” Michael yells from above, taking off his jacket. “I need yours, too.”
James starts to take off his inner jacket.
“No,” Michael yells, shaking his head. “We need the waterproof one.” He glances at Alexander. James almost refuses, but he knows the alternative would be worse.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” he says, helping Alexander take it off. He hands it to Michael and takes off his inner jacket. He helps Alexander put it on in the tiny space. Michael uses the ice skates to secure the jackets over the hole, leaving gaps for fresh air to pass in and out. When he is done, he slides down into the trench himself. It is incredibly cramped, but the close quarters mean that their body heat is reflected off the jackets and off one another, warming up the trench significantly. The wind howls past them, but the icy air doesn’t reach them.
“We should be okay in here until the storm passes,” Michael says, taking off his soaking gloves and tucking his hands under his arms to warm up. “Bear Grylls survived in one of these for three days straight.”
“Are we going to be lost for three days?” Alexander asks fearfully. James shakes his head, though it is difficult to do with his head sandwiched between Alexander and an icy trench wall.
“No, buddy,” he says, also taking off his wet gloves. “We’ll be fine once the snow passes. It’s just a freak blizzard…Even the weather app didn’t see it coming. I’m sure it will pass just as fast as it came. We’ll be safe and warm in here. We’ll be okay.”
Alexander wiggles closer to James. He’s stopped shivering.
“Yeah, Alex,” Michael says from the other side of him. “And it’s a pretty cool adventure! It’s like living in an igloo! Have you learnt about igloos at school?”
"Yes," Alexander says, yawning. The stuffiness of the trench is making him sleepy. Michael pulls back one of the jackets creating the roof, letting in a little more fresh air.
“I bet no one at school has ever stayed in an igloo before,” Alexander says, yawning again. “I bet even my teacher…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. Within minutes, he is snoring.
“How long do you think we’ll be in here?” James asks in a quiet voice. Most of the wind passes right over them, so they can hear one another again.
“Freak blizzards generally pass pretty quickly,” Michael says, blowing on his fingers. “We’ll stay until it’s light and we can see where we are going. Until then, I think this is our safest beat.”
James tries to nod again before remembering that he can’t. “Quick thinking,” he says instead. “I’ve never been so glad that you watch so much TV.”
“James,” Michael says. “I’m so –”
“Stop it,” James says, already knowing what he is going to say. “This isn’t your fault and I won’t have you saying it is. Just don’t.”
Michael takes a deep breath, but doesn’t say anything more. Despite himself, James yawns.
“It’s the carbon dioxide,” Michael says, opening the jackets a little more. “It makes you sleepy. It’s okay if you want to sleep. I’ll be awake.”
“I can’t sleep. You can if you’d like.”
“No,” Michael says, tucking his hands back under his arms. “I have to make sure we don’t get caved in. I’ll be fine. I’m right next to a gap in the jackets and if I need to, I’ll open it more. Close your eyes. I’ve got this.”
James doesn’t argue, but he also doesn’t close his eyes. Instead he puts his hand on Alexander’s back and silently counts the rise and fall of his every breath.
He is awoken by the sound of rumbling in the distance. It doesn’t take him long to remember where they are.
“Shit!” he says, feeling for Alexander in the dark. He’s still asleep on his chest. “Shit!”
“Are you okay?” Michael’s voice rises out of the darkness. James breathes a sigh of relief.
“I fell asleep. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s the stuffy air,” Michael says. “Don’t worry about it; we’ve been fine.”
“How long was I asleep?” James asks, desperate to stretch but unable to move.
“A couple of hours. I checked on you both regularly to make sure you were okay. I let more air in which made it colder in here, but I didn’t want to risk having too much carbon dioxide. You were sleeping pretty heavily for a while there. I got worried.”
“I’m sorry,” James says again. “I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
“You didn’t,” Michael says. “You were right here.”
The rumbling grows louder.
“Thunder?” James asks, trying to remember if thunder can happen during a snow storm.
“No…” Michael says. His voice has changed. James has to strain to hear him. “It sounds like an –”
He doesn’t finish the sentence. The ground shifts beneath them, slowly at first, before opening up and falling away entirely.