Saturday, January 9, 2010

The City in Winter Part 1

by Kevin Jepson

The snow is actually white.

Like the snow I remember as a kid, bright white with a hint of blue.
Thick and fluffy, yet crisp, crunching and squeaking beneath my boots.
The air is clear, like glass, calm, not a breath of movement. There is a snap to it, an edge, a bite.
High above me the sun shines with that bright yellow that only a midwinter sun can display.
Amazingly, the sky is actually a clear icy blue too.

The first snows that fell, after all hell broke loose, were dirty and grey, falling from sooty, smoke-like clouds. The snow was almost the same colour as the skin of the undead.  A dead grey, a mottled, blasted grey. The drifting remains of a million flaming buildings, funeral pyres, destroyed refineries and the blasted cities of Iran and Pakistan. They had been convulsed in mutual nuclear annihilation even while the dead rose up and walked from the still-flaming ruins.

But now, a month after Christmas, a thick, clean, snow blanket lies undisturbed across the streets and buildings of Calgary.

We are pretty well off in the Centre downtown, even with some 35,000 people in the theatres and concert halls.  However, one has to take advantage of the hard freezes when they happen. When that first grey snow fell and the temperature plummeted, we were able to scavenge through the streets of downtown and stock up.  Zack, as the Americans call the re-animated plague victims, starts to slow down when the temperature gets much below 0 Celsius, and he freezes solid at about -10C. That, plus nearly every major building in downtown Calgary being connected by covered walkways 5 meters or more above street level, means that we have a pretty good place to ride out the war with the undead.

It’s been well below the ghoul-freezing point for more than a month now so they decided to send some of us further out of downtown to do a little scouting.  I'm working my way towards the Southern side of the city, looking for any grocery stores or warehouses that might still have food or supplies of one sort or another.

I tromp along what was 5th street, heading for the bridge over the Elbow River.  It is silent, except for the crunch and swoosh of my boots in the snow.

The street is covered, maybe half a meter thick. There isn't a trace of anything having passed. No vehicle tracks, no boot tracks, no ski trails, no rabbit tracks even, nothing.  Beautiful and eerie at the same time. 

For a city that once had a population of more than a million, such a scene is uncanny. 

A million people!

Growing up in small town Alberta, I could never really get my head around that many people in one place. The city always seemed to press in on me. Coming in to town, from a day skiing with my aunt and uncle’s family in the mountains to the West, there was a spot on the highway where we came over a ridge and we saw, and felt, the city. It was like a constant pressure on my face.

Not anymore. 

Most of that million people are probably still here, but they're dead, and waiting to kill when the temperature starts to climb.