By: Andrew Dunn
Looking back, the first thing we ought to have worried about were the snowflakes. Every last danged one of them was just alike. Down to every single detail. I swear if you looked close enough at them before they began to melt you could see a skull on each vane radiating out from the center.
Piled deep two or three feet all those snowflakes would take some time to melt away. Everybody accepted that. But May? It seemed strange to still have snow on the ground that late in the year where we were.
When it did melt, bit by bit, on those rare warm days that we all looked forward to, the water wasn’t right. I’ve thought a lot about it. Maybe too much about it. But the way I remember, it was the water that made things change.
Even me I guess. Did anyone have a choice? There isn’t really any way to go through life without crossing paths with water at some point. Even a cactus in the desert needs water once in a while. I noticed the effects too late I think. After the headaches and that dull feeling settled in.
When they showed up, most people were so numbed to it all they just copied it all on their social media and that was it. Easily the most monumental event in all human history passed by as a hashtag. When they showed up, if I remember right everybody suddenly became thirstier and thirstier.
For water, clear and clean washing cold through the mouth and into one’s spirt. You could feel the water as it went down. Each gulp moving slow and easy. Refreshing. Pure. Natural.
Didn’t they tell us when we were kids that every snowflake was unique? I think they did. No two snowflakes had a twin. Ever.
Except now they did. All of them were the same. Identical. I know. I spent hours staring at them with a microscope I dug out of a chemistry set. Sitting there in the snow until frostbite threatened, I looked at snowflake after snowflake after snowflake and copied what I saw into notebooks.
Between October and May I filled up 42 notebooks with the same sketch. Eight-vaned snowflakes every last one of them identical with a skull in the same spot on each vane.
They said the best water was in the snow and since it wasn’t going anywhere, you could just take a cup outside and scoop up an ice cold drink. Some added things like lemon or lime to theirs. Once in a while I’d pour in a shot of bourbon. Everyone was so thirsty. So very thirsty.
At night I had vivid dreams. In my dreams I had climbed from bed, opened the window, and on all fours I bolted to find snow. Big drifts of it in a clearing way past the woods. When I found it I ate handful after handful after handful. I couldn’t get enough. When I woke I was tired and sore. And thirsty. The thirst never went away.
When the leaders of the world signed things over to them, nobody really cared. I know I didn’t. That’s not true. I think many hoped that they’d be able to help us figure things out. Like the snowflakes. In notebook #43 on page 37 I wrote “what is happening to us?”. I wondered why there were animal tracks leading from the back of the house out toward the woods. I promised myself over and over that one day I’d follow the animal tracks.
I think it was a Tuesday when I went down to the warehouse. I hadn’t been there in a long time. I thought they might call me and ask me why I hadn’t shown up for work. They never did. When I got there I understood why. No one else had shown up either. That’s how things were. Satisfying that never ending thirst somehow became the central focus in life.
Another day I left the microscope on the second from the bottom step of the deck and followed the animal tracks. The trail went deep into the woods and I felt like a predator hot on the trail of its prey. Looking back, I should have wondered how I knew the route. The snow was sparse in the woods. There were few traces of the animal’s path out there between the trees.
I thought back to my dreams and I wondered if I’d find the end of the woods and a plain of pure white snow. Two feet. Three feet. Four feet. Maybe deeper than that. I was thirsty. So thirsty.
“Is that you?” The voice was distant but familiar. Was it Steven from the warehouse? Lauren from school? Jennifer from the dentist’s office. Was it dad? It couldn’t be dad. He’d been dead since a year and a half ago. It was hard to remember who was who anymore.
At first I wanted to call out. But I couldn’t. There was a cluster of thick growth nearby so I ducked inside. I imagined, a long time ago when all the snowflakes were distinct and no two were just alike, that people in the woods might have found clusters of growth and bent their canopies inward to make a roof. To be safe. Looking back, nobody felt safe anymore.
“C’mon man,” Steven Lauren Jennifer Dad called out, “what have you been up to?”
That made me laugh. What had I been up to. What had everybody been up to. Eating the snow. Melting it and making water to drink. We were all thirsty. If that voice ever went away, I’d crawl out from the thick growth and try and smell the air for snow.
“We’ve missed you at the warehouse.” That voice. Steven Lauren Jennifer Dad Mom Me.
I missed the warehouse. I missed September before the snow started coming down. I missed unloading trucks. Loading them. Taking breaks to chug a soda. Taking lunch to eat something from the food truck that came around most days. Or a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese. I hadn’t eaten in so long. I wondered, if I tried to eat solid food how would my body react.
“I’ve,” I almost regretted calling out but I couldn’t take it back, “I’ve missed you too.”
Looking back, I remember the way the branches creaked and popped as I moved slowly from the thick growth. The way the forest looked dense and singular, with scarcely a distinguishing feature to separate a human from the woods. My thirst was intense. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead, in my armpits, and behind my knees. I scanned the woods looking for someone. Anyone. At the same time, I inhaled deeply. The scent of snow had to be there somewhere.
I never saw the first orange green burst or the one that followed it. They put me down though. I was alive but unable to move. There was no pain. No fear. Strangely. I wasn’t thirsty anymore. But I couldn’t move.
Looking back, they told us no two snowflakes were the same. When we learned that in school I told Mom and Dad about it at home. Dad used to hunt. He kept the head of a deer he’d shot in his study. It had cost him a lot of money to have a taxidermist make it a permanent fixture in his room. I wondered if that’s why they had come and if their ray guns were designed to render us just like that deer’s head my Dad had in his study.
It was hard to say. After they scooped me up off the forest floor, they transported me to one of the three dozen or show spacecraft they’d parked over the Earth since their arrival. They posed for pictures with me and weighed me. Then they left me in a large, ice cold room. Waiting.