Short Story: “Snowball’s Chance”

All politics is local.

“Snowball’s Chance”
By P. Orin Zack
(June 25, 2007)

Everyone was looking the other way.

Margaret Gorham glanced back at her parents’ darkened bedroom window as she scooped a gloved double-handful of the morning’s fresh fall of snow. She was 14, and this was her first real taste of winter in two years. About time, too.

Global warming, or climate change, depending on your politics, was all about pollution, according the video they showed in class yesterday. Or maybe it was yet another of Mother Earth’s languorous periods, her way of sloughing off incrustations of troublesome vermin to make way for the next wave of speciation. Whatever that meant. Meg was tired of explanations, especially the ones her frustrated dad kept writing about late at night. Fortunately, he’d be asleep for a while longer yet.

She formed a snowball, and packed it tight. The kid that delivered old-style newspapers to the neighborhood holdouts who hadn’t gotten ‘readers yet was nowhere in sight. He’d taunted her about her brother after school yesterday, and she wanted payback.

Meg had already read her dad’s latest rant. He’d left it on the front page of the plastic ‘reader that doubled as his display when he was dictating. “Our survival is at stake,” he wrote. “We need to adapt. Both the seasons and the settings for growing or raising food are in flux. We may have to bulldoze cities to plant carrots, and move everyone to what used to be the perfect spot for raising all those genetically identical cows.”

It was still dark out, and the LEDs embedded in the curb edged the snow-covered roadway like a row of lightning bugs under a bed sheet. She eyed the corner two blocks down where he turned onto her street, and saw the bobble of light from the electric scooter he hauled the papers around in. Smiling, she stepped behind a bush to wait.

Nobody saw it coming. Except maybe Bob Gorham’s eldest. And even Meg didn’t see it so much as felt it.

Well, she’s his eldest now, anyway. Margaret used to be the middle kid. Until her brother Jim ran afoul of some angry survivalists driven to violent frenzy by stories of invading developers hungry to turn their hideaway into the next over-planned urban nightmare.

He’d gone into their encampment to try reframing their obsession with sustainability, to convince them they’d been right to distrust the money-grubbing corporatocracy that had run this country into the ground. It didn’t end well.

Jim was only 18 when he was shot. Fresh out of high school, and doing his stint in the newly created National Service Corps. There was no way he’d help the current bunch in power beat up on someone else’s country. There was too much else to worry about. Important things, like survival.

That was what galled her so much about what the jerk now rounding the corner in a narrow-track electric had said yesterday. Her brother was anything but a coward. Speaking truth to power took guts, and he’d been doing that since he was two years younger than she was now. At first, it was from the safety of his role-playing avatar. Within a year, he’d used that alien diplomat persona to prod a distributed community of fantasists into a movement bent on transforming the sensibilities of the people they’d allowed to govern them. Somehow, he’d unleashed a force that transcended national, ethnic and religious differences in the name of the one thing that bound them, their humanity.

He’d stepped away from his persona a year ago, just before graduation. It was like he had outgrown some sort of social training wheels. He wanted to take his passion on the road, and the Corps gave him that opportunity.

But that was over now. It was her turn. And laying low the cretin tossing papers over his shoulder was her personal rite of passage.

Her target was a few houses away now, and dawn was edging the sky. She watched from cover as he pulled to the curb and stepped off into the snow. He kept looking her way as he stooped to make a snowball of his own. He held it in his right hand, steering with his left, as he continued to approach.

When he was just within throwing range, she stepped from behind the bush and nodded towards him. “Does that mean you won’t take back your lie?”

He held it out. “This? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a snowball.”

“You know what I mean!” she said tightly, her throwing arm drifting back.

“No, I don’t.” He smiled. “What lie was that?”

Meg snorted. “Calling Jim a coward. He’s not.”

“Oh, that.” He laughed. “I was just trying to get a rise out of you. Looks like it worked too.”

She stepped closer. “Why?”

“So you’d do something. I’ve been watching you for some time now. I’m in two of your classes, you know.”

“So you’re stalking me, too? I could –.”

He straightened. “You could what? Report me to someone? Attack me with that snowball? Sabotage my scooter? Which way would you go?”

Meg shook her head in dismay. “Why do you care?”

“It’s important. Well, not to me. It’s important to you. To know how you’d act in a crisis. Do you do like Jim would – ignore the threat and search for the reason, or do you just react in whatever way you’re pushed?”

She raised her throwing arm. “Like Jim? What makes you think you know what my brother would do?”

He glanced around. “Hey. Margaret. Lower your voice. It’s still pretty early out here. You’ll wake the neighbors. You’ll wake your –.”

“My father? Yeah. I’ll wake my father. I’ll tell him what you said about Jim, and he’ll –.”

“That’s my point. Don’t you see? When I threaten you, when I disparage your brother, you react, or you call for reinforcements. Jim wouldn’t –.”

Meg shook her arms so violently that the snowball crumbled. “Stop talking about Jim like you knew him!”

“But I do. I did. He was why I took this job, why I bother to tell people when the crud in this rag is lies. I met him online. But I had to know that you would honor him by following his lead.”

“Why does it matter?”

He stepped over to her, holding out the paper in his hand. “Because of this.”

She brushed it aside. “I’ve already read my dad’s piece. What of it?”

“Not that. This other one. They buried it, like they do all the really important stuff, in a column-inch on page eight.” He held it open for her.

“’Out With the Bad Air’? This piece about melting polar ice releasing trapped bits of prehistoric atmosphere? Big deal!”

He let the page droop. “It will be, once they realize what’s in that bit of trapped air.”

“Why? What?”

He tapped his nose. “Pollen. Bacteria. All the stuff that we filter out when we breathe through our nose. We’ve got antibodies for what’s in today’s air, but what about the stuff being released? The stuff from a few million years ago?”

Meg shook her head. “Why do you care? That’s air being released thousands of miles from here. How can it affect me?”

“Like this,” he said, raising his snowball. “What do you think these crystals get built on? That ancient stuff wafts into the stratosphere, sure, but it comes back down like this.”

“In snow.”

“Yep.” He walked back to the scooter, hopped on, and started past her. Just as she had opened her mouth to ask something, he hit her square in the face with a loosely packed snowball.

Meg was speechless, still flailing about, unsure of what to do, when he called out, “Better spit that out. Might make you sick. Real sick.”

The End
Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack

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