Living in lower Alabama, we rarely receive snow. I spent most of my life wishing for a white Christmas, a white Christmas that never came. I have only seen snow twice in my thirty-three years here. I always wanted to share that with my two boys. I just knew that they would love to play in it. Now I find myself staring out my window at the mounds of that icy precipitation surrounding my home, regretting every wish I had ever made for a snow-covered Christmas.
When I think about it, it really started in summer. Our summers are always hot and extremely humid but that year it was even more unbearable. We steadily saw temperatures of well over a hundred degrees and everyone I knew begged for relief. The heatwave lasted all the way until the week before Halloween. Then suddenly, a massive hurricane spawned in the Gulf of Mexico. The weather forecaster for our local news frequently referred to it as a “Monster”. Looking back I would believe it was more of a demon. A demon that brought Hell with it, but a much different one than I had read about in the Bible.
The storm passed, leaving devastation for miles around. It had affected every state within the southeast but Florida most of all. Help was sent from various utility companies, government aid agencies, and even regular citizens to help with the relief. And when I say various, I mean from every state in our region. It was amazing to see the effort put forth to help the people that had lost everything. I am sure a lot of us thought that was the worst it could get. I wish that had been true, but that was when the rain started.
As November came, we felt the first droplets in our tiny town. It was an odd occurrence, but not odd enough to raise any eyebrows. I mean, how bad could a couple days of rain be, right? The problem came when days turned into weeks and low lying areas became flooded. Homes in towns nearby were washed away in a matter of hours once the levees broke. My wife Susan constantly thanked God that our house was nestled on a high elevation among trees. I found myself thinking the same thing but God had nothing to do with what happened, no God I could ever believe in any way.
The week of Thanksgiving the rain finally subsided and I am sure that was something everyone would say they were thankful for. The problem was, what remained was the cold. That, in itself, was not strange but the severity of it was. We saw temperatures close to freezing for the following week and that was something we rarely saw until late January or early February. My oldest son, Jacob, began singing that silly song by Bing Crosby. My wife beamed at the thought of them seeing snow on Christmas day. The foolish child in me felt the same.
“The boys will finally get to see snow, Paul!” Susan squealed.
“I know, I can’t wait to see Tommy waddling in it!” I responded.
Those words ring in my head even now. I have to fight back tears when I think of just how stupid I had been. We were so preoccupied with setting up decorations and buying presents that we were oblivious to what was happening all around us. The snow actually started falling the first week of December. It was up several inches within the first day. It was amazing to see at first but when it kept coming, some people became worried. If you have never been in the south when it snows, you probably would not understand. You see, we are not prepared for that kind of weather. Everything shuts down, people stay home and rarely go out driving. I know it sounds ridiculous to anyone else, but that is what happens.
It just kept coming. My wife and I had let the boys play in the fresh powder originally but when it had gotten so high that I could barely walk in it freely, we decided it was best to keep them indoors. Hardware stores had started bringing in snow shovels to help clear paths, something that you rarely found in our town. I bought one of the last ones on the shelf, as people scrambled to manage the icy foreign invader. The situation seemed to become worse, as small flurries became near blizzards. My wife stayed glued to the news and weather broadcasts. It appeared the northern states had almost been buried in the frigid powder. The President had actually issued a state of emergency, urging people in the northern portion to evacuate south.
That was when I finally started to be concerned. These people had been told to come south but our situation was hardly any better. The weatherman stopped trying to be accurate, his predictions of an end to the madness never came. The temperatures continued to drop and it was not long before we saw them go from zero to negative digits. It was unheard of in my state for it to be that cold and people were getting afraid. Plumbing fixtures began to burst from frozen pipes and people were left without water until they could thaw. Our world had become a freezer in a few weeks and none of us were prepared for it. My family found themselves wearing our thickest clothing even inside. It felt like no matter how high I set the thermostat, it was not enough. We should have left then.
By Christmas, we had no power and utility companies had stopped trying to traverse the harsh conditions to repair downed lines. Local officials had abandoned emergency protocols to save themselves. We began hearing rumors of our neighbors attempting to head further south into Florida. Susan suggested the same, but I reminded her of the destruction still left from the hurricane. I was afraid we would be worse off without shelter. So, I made the decision to hunker down in our home. I cleared a path to the fireplace that had only been used for decoration and set to the task of getting a fire going. If it was not such a dire situation, my wife would have found amusement in me attempting something like that. I had never even seen someone use a fireplace, let alone light one.
After several attempts, we were able to burn what little wood that was readily available near our home. My family and I huddled around it as if it were going to save us from the fate that waited outside. The whiteness had engulfed our home. The mounds had risen above the windows, breaking some of them. I was forced to reinforce each one to keep the cold out. We sealed every crack or crevice that could possibly let out the heat and tried to remain together. My wife wrapped our children in blankets and pulled them close. The boys did not understand and we were afraid to tell them how serious the situation was. The fear that rested on my wife’s face was enough to keep me from ruining what could be our last Christmas.
We still attempted to have a big dinner, despite our ability to effectively cook. I also learned how to cook within a fireplace for the first time. It would have been an interesting experiment if it had not been essential for our survival at the time. We gave up on the idea of turkey or ham but we had always had a decent stock of canned food. It was a habit I had picked up from my grandparents. I often wondered how they were faring during all of this but I had my immediate family to worry about. Our world had been plunged into an endless sea of white. I even had nightmares of the stuff that Christmas Eve.
My children normally woke me early on Christmas morning but when my eyes fluttered open I assumed it was still night. The house was so dark that I could barely see my wife lying next to me. I slowly rose from my bed, still completely clothed and nudged Susan awake. The house had become far colder than it should have been and I immediately headed for the fireplace. The fire had gone out at some point, so I ran for the back door, pulling on my boots. My aim was to gather more wood to get the fire going again but as soon as the door cracked open I was pelted with a mixture of snow and ice. It stung my face and I cursed at the door while trying to shut it again. Our home had been buried in the vicious powder and I finally understood why no light permeated the windows. My watch read nine-o’clock but it felt much earlier.
Susan stumbled into the living room, asking what I was doing. I told her what time it was and confusion filled her eyes. She went for the window and was greeted with what I already knew. I do not remember ever seeing her quite so afraid and the feeling was mutual. I buried my emotions down though, knowing I had to be strong for my family. I told her to go check on the kids while I tried to get the fire going again. She disappeared down the hall and I made my way to the dining room. The table and chairs had been passed down through my family for generations but I knew it would have to be sacrificed. I set to dismantling the wooden chairs first but was stopped by the sound of my wife’s scream.
I rushed through the hall listening to the awful sound echo in my ears. I could feel tears forming in my eyes but I pushed them back as I rounded the corner. She was grasping the door frame of our children’s room. We had put them together so that Jacob could help keep an eye on Tommy. I could see her body shaking as she stared into the room. Tears rolled over her cheeks as I turned to see inside. The window of their room had given to the weight of our captor, despite my attempt at strengthening it. Snow had buried the boys in the night and that was when I noticed the flakes of white all over my wife’s hands. Susan had attempted to uncover them and I could see the pale blue skin of their faces, huddled together in Jacob’s bed. It would have been a sweet scene if it were not for their skin tone, something Susan would have taken a picture of but this was not that scene.
I pulled Susan away as I tried to hold back the sick feeling in my stomach. I felt as though I could release what little Christmas dinner I had in me on the floor at any moment. Soon her sobs subsided but when I looked into her eyes she simply looked numb. I had never seen her this way and I tried to break her from this trance she seemed to be in but she said nothing. Her eyes would not even turn my direction when I spoke. Something had broken inside Susan that morning and I do not blame her. I sat her next to the fireplace and wrapped her in a blanket while I returned to the dining room. The polished wood did not want to burn but I was determined to give us warmth. So, I did not stop until we had fire.
I made it a point to ask Susan to stay by the fire while I returned to the boys’ room. I could not leave them that way but when I reached the door I found myself pausing just outside. I felt the warm and salty specks across my cheeks before I even saw them. I slowly stepped inside and slid gloves over my hands. I finished clearing away the snow and noticed why they had not simply come to our room. The wood I had used to seal off the window had struck my oldest first. It left a gash near his temple that would have knocked a grown man unconscious. I could only imagine his ten-year-old body had not lasted long after. Tommy had obviously woken after, his tiny form clung to his big brother like a teddy bear. I internally cursed myself for not putting them to bed with us that night but I knew it was too late for that kind of thinking. I removed their bodies and wrapped them in blankets before placing them in the guest room.
I took one final look at their tiny bedroom, a place that had held so much joy previously. I imagined the two of them playing and sometimes bickering. My lips tried to curl upward but they could not. My eyes drooped to the floor as I turned away and shut the door. I have not returned to that room since and I doubt I will. I just returned to the living room in hopes of comforting Susan but when I got there the blanket was all that remained by the fire. A quick search of the house revealed that the back door had been opened and a tunnel had formed in the frigid wall on the other side, leaving the floor inside covered in snow.
I tried to follow Susan’s footsteps but eventually, they disappeared behind a solid wall of that cursed white. I could only imagine her frantically digging through it and the sound of what was above coming down upon her body. I tried to dig into it myself in search of her body but the layer that remained was frozen solid. It was like digging my hands into cement and I knew that Susan could not have survived it, even if my mind did not want to believe it at the time. I found myself picking at it with tools anyway, feeling as though I had nothing left to do. I do not know how much I cried while working at that pointless task but I do know it started to freeze to my cheeks. I did not stop until my arms could not lift again and that is when I sat among the snow and stared at what my world had become.
I lost track of how long I sat there or when I decided to come back to the fire. I do remember when I started burning the Christmas gifts and how hard a choice that had been. I opened each one slowly and savored the idea of the children playing with it for the first time. I could even see Susan standing over them with her camera in hand. She would be giving her biggest smile and snapping away to save each memory. She loved taking pictures but what I had to do did not need to be captured on any sort of film. I started to feel the numbness that night, that same numbness that overtook Susan earlier that day. It was as cold as the snow that surrounded me and all I could think was this had been my fault. I should have escaped with my family when I still had the chance. I do not know if it was pride, ignorance, or both but the guilt was too much. It consumed me and took away everything this holiday was supposed to be about.
I started writing this in hopes that someone reads it. I do not know what has happened to the rest of the world, only what has happened to me. I do not know how long I can survive here. My food is running low and I have run out of things to burn. I cannot even say for certain how long I have been here since my watch has stopped turning and I still cannot see the sun. I think I will try to dig myself out tomorrow and if you do find this, know I did not simply give up. I just wish I had done this sooner. I am so sorry Susan, Jacob, and Tommy. You deserved better than this. I hope you can forgive me.
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