Let it Snow
“Ooh, boys, look yonder – the weather’s closing in,” Mrs Reindeer said, pointing out of the window at the sky with a violet Krissmas cracker in her hand.
Sham paused and looked up. After watching an apparently ‘very inspiring’ programme on the versatelly, Rudy’s mother had decided that purple was the new ‘in’ colour, and had just bought a new mauve-coloured tree, which popped up at the click of a button. Rudy and Sham had been given the tedious task of decorating it with what appeared to be hundreds of new pale purple and silver baubles, and it was taking forever. With relief, Sham left Rudy to it, went over to the window, stuck his head out and looked up. What he saw filled him with foreboding. Clouds were gathering out of nowhere, their grey bulk amassing overhead, and they seemed to be moving with purpose. As Sham stared, transfixed, layer upon layer of cloud moved decisively across, until all the sky was grim and darkened.
A crow was calling somewhere behind the house; a large flock of gulls flew overhead, crying lustily, outlined white against the blackening sky. Quickly, they were joined by a flock of starlings, rising, with a flurry of wings, out of nearby trees. The strange thing was that they were flying out to sea, rather than inland, as they usually did if there was a storm. If anyone had ever taught Sham about such things, he might have said that they appeared to be migrating, in the middle of summer.
There was no wind at all. The ominous atmosphere was only increased by a distant humming in the sky – and the clouds continued to gather with an odd undertone of pink.
And all this time the temperature was dropping. Sham’s T-shirt was no protection against the cold, and the air pressed against his skin, making the hairs on his arms rise. Rudy, who had joined him at the window, shivered and pulled it shut. Their eyes met, bewildered, but Sham realised that he had felt this way before, weeks ago, in the middle of the night, just after meeting Priya.
“It’s freezing out there!” said Rudy. “Is it a storm?” But Mrs Reindeer was looking just as puzzled. They all waited, watching and listening for what would happen next. Moments later, a wind began whistling around the sides of the house, and Sham knew what was coming.
“Look!” shouted Rudy, his face pressed against the glass of the living room window. An enormous wet snowflake floated past and landed on the window ledge.
Gradually, the sky outside filled with snowflakes, fluttering gently out of the pinky-grey sky. Nobody spoke for a while. They simply watched as the blizzard increased, and not a single flake melted as it landed on the now hard ground.
“It’s beautiful,” breathed Mrs Reindeer.
“Summer snow,” muttered Rudy. “That is so weird. But how‘s it possible?”
Mrs Reindeer raised her eyes in awe. “It’s the Krissmas Party, of course,” she said admiringly. “They’ve finally made it snow!”
As they all listened to the strange hum above the clouds, Sham said, “But what’s going to happen to the animals and the birds – and the plants? Will they die?”
“Oh no, pet,” said Mrs Reindeer. “I’m sure they will just hibernate or shut down, like they do in winter.”
“Maybe it won’t last?” said Rudy questioningly.
But not only did the blizzard last for the whole of that day, it showed no sign of stopping. In the space of twenty-four hours, it changed from summer to winter. It made no sense at all. For a while, the versatelly failed. They were totally alone in a newly white world.
For two days, there was a lot of rushing around in the Reindeer household, sorting out large supplies of food (which seemed to have come from somewhere under the house), getting the radiators going and stocking up with wood for real fires in the gigantic living room fireplace. For the first time, Sham felt grateful to be in Rudy’s large and well-stocked house, warm and comfortable – but he could not stop wondering what was going on with his parents, with Gran, or even with Priya and Holly. He imagined that every plan of Holly and her brother would have been stopped by this completely unpredictable weather, and the loss of communication. His only hope was that The Suits would have been too busy with this transformation to worry about Gran. But that did not bring him any closer to finding her.
Rudy and Sham were thrown together, doing chores and looking out of the windows at the blizzard that continued, unabated, for forty-eight hours. And gradually the whole of the world they knew was transformed into a real winter wonderland. Mr and Mrs Reindeer were often literally dancing for joy, hugging each other and waltzing around the living room in their excitement. The brand new snow puffer was put into a cupboard without a single sigh of regret for the money wasted. At one point, Mr Reindeer took them into the garage to show them a beautiful wooden sleigh, ready to be pulled through the snow. His smart electric sleigh was already covered by a large, red tarpaulin.
“We’ll have to get a reindeer!” crowed Mr Reindeer. “I have one already reserved from Yuleport Reindeer Farm! No more electric sleighs – this is the real thing now! At last! Isn’t it wonderful, boys?”
Sham did not dare to answer.
By the third morning, the blizzard had eased off for a while (though there was no gap in the clouds nor any sign of the sun), and the boys, wrapped up in the reindeer skin coats, hats, gloves and boots which Rudy’s parents had casually produced from some secret store, were allowed outside for the first time. It seemed that the Naughty List lockdown rules were forgotten, at least for the moment, in the excitement of the snow. With some difficulty, they forced open the front door and pushed their way through a drift just outside, which was nearly a metre deep.
Sham found the world altered beyond belief. The trees, which two days ago had been reaching the end of their summer finery, were laden with a new, icy blossom that covered each and every leaf. Every house had a pristine white blanket covering its roof, and snow was heaped up all over every garden, with drifts forming beside walls and hedges. From where the boys stood, looking up Chestnut Avenue towards the hill on which the school was hiding, it was as if they were staring up at a giant, iced Krissmas cake. It was the first time Sham had ever experienced proper snow – the warming climate had meant that only in the mountains did anyone ever really experience a decent snowfall. He had to admit that it was stunning. For a few moments they were silent, and only then did they realise that the strange, deep humming sound was continuing, way overhead.
Suddenly, from behind them, there came a familiar voice: “It’s beee-u-tiful!”
“Sham!” shouted Rudy urgently.
“What?” said Sham, turning round and receiving an icy snowball in the face. Beside Rudy stood Faith, clapping her gloved hands together and laughing, her sister close behind.
Spitting snow out, Sham grabbed a pile of snow off a nearby wall and hurled it at Rudy, who ducked easily and laughed. Then he noticed that Priya too had been let outside for the first time, and he grinned to see her in her bright red coat, looking as overawed as himself. She was holding some snow in her hand, squeezing it so that it compressed, and then she threw it so cautiously that it dropped just a couple of feet away.
By this time, all over Chestnut Avenue, people were emerging from their houses, and crunching through the snow. Wild snowball fights began, and children quickly joined in and took sides. Even Priya began launching enormous snowballs, and laughing excitedly. Sham thought it was the most fun he had ever had. He had never, apart from during those two weeks at school, seen children playing together like this. Just for a few moments, he wondered if The Suits had done a good thing – and, even though he knew that wasn’t true, he allowed himself to enjoy the fight, which went on enthusiastically for nearly half an hour.
When Sham finally realised that he was running out of energy, and he noticed that Priya was also getting tired and had moved away from the other children, he scrunched his way over to talk to her, fully expecting a Suit to pop out of somewhere to prevent them from meeting. But it seemed that The Suits were too busy elsewhere to worry about them. For a moment they stared at each other, smiling a little and breathing hard, their breath making great clouds in between them. Then Sham suddenly came back down to earth as he remembered: their parents had been taken away; Gran was imprisoned somewhere; their names were on the Naughty List, and the Krissmas Party had taken control of their world – maybe forever. His face fell.
“There’s no doubt about it – they’ve been planning this for ages,” he said quietly, his words concealed from the others by the continued squeals and shouts of Faith and Rudy nearby. “We obviously saw their first attempt at snow-making that night we went outside.”
“I’m sure that wasn’t their first try,” said Priya in a low voice. “It’s probably just the only one we saw.”
“But why?” said Sham, still trying to catch his breath. “What purpose can this possibly serve? I mean, I know Professor Days is always talking about the snow being the best thing about Krissmas, but surely…”
He stopped and looked at Priya’s face; she was staring down at her gloves, without blinking, brushing off tiny pieces of ice.
“My dad,” she said in a small voice. “He did this. He made it happen. Without his help, it wouldn’t have worked at all.”
As if on cue, the humming sound above them increased in volume, until Sham’s ears felt as if they too were vibrating. He put his gloved hands over his ears and noticed many other children doing the same. Everyone was looking up, no longer laughing, but fearful. Glancing at Priya, Sham saw her mouthing some words and put his hands down again.
“What?” he said loudly, over the noise.
“Cloud Assemblers,” repeated Priya. “That’s what my dad called them.”
“How do you -?” began Sham.
“I overheard him talking to Mr Noel,” said Priya, her eyes filling with tears. “When they were taking mum away, he told my dad that if he didn’t finish perfecting the Cloud Assemblers, we wouldn’t – wouldn’t see ma again.”
Sham gasped. Priya suddenly tightened her lips and said firmly, “So I’m glad they’re working. I’m sorry – I know it’s really selfish – but I want to see my ma.”
Sham nodded understandingly, but before he could answer, the snow began falling again, not gradually or gently, but in an immediate blizzard. In seconds, it was so thick that they could barely see one another.
“Quick!” Mr Reindeer’s voice shouted from the direction of Rudy’s house. “Get inside! The versatelly is back on – and they’re going to tell us what’s happening.”
There were further screams and squeals as everyone started stomping through the fallen snow as fast as they could, headed for their homes, and somehow Faith, Hope and Priya ended up piling through the door of the Reindeers’ house, along with Rudy and Sham. Even in those few seconds, the snow determinedly came in with them and started blowing around the newly decorated hallway with its giant, shimmering purple tree.
“Oh, my word!” cried Mrs Reindeer, slamming the door behind them all.
The children stood in an uncertain group in the hallway, looking at each other. Faith started giggling, pulled off her hat and threw it in the air. It caught on a crystal chandelier, and didn’t come back down! Rudy looked beseechingly at his mother, and even Sham gave her a pleading look.
Mrs Reindeer sighed.
“Well, I don’t suppose anyone is going to be checking up on you all right now. You three can stay here for a while – and we’ll have to get that hat down anyway, Faith, before you can go out in that blizzard again!”
Faith and Hope ran forward to hug Mrs Reindeer, and Priya and Sham smiled at her gratefully.
“Come on,” said Rudy. “I want to hear what the Krissmas Party are saying about the snow!” He ran ahead of them into the living room, and plonked himself down on their enormous, scarlet, velvety sofa. The others ran after Rudy, leaving Mrs Reindeer saying merrily, “I’ll get some hot chocolate, dearies…”
Mr Reindeer was already there, sitting in his own red leather armchair, leaning forwards eagerly towards the versatelly.
As he sat down beside Rudy, Sham looked around for Priya, who had stopped near the door of the room, whilst Faith leapt over the back of the sofa and landed next to him with a squeal of delight. Hope came round more shyly and squeezed herself in between them. Sham beckoned to Priya, but she shook her head and looked miserable, and in a few moments, he was too distracted by what was being said on the versatelly to notice her for a while.
“Shhh!” said Mr Reindeer, but not crossly. He pointed to the screen, and turned up the volume.
Ivy Wreath, the Prime Minister, was talking, a big smile on her face.
“… such a triumph! I am sure you will all agree that this is a wonderful day for the United Krissmas Kingdom.”
Her blonde hair seemed to be fixed in one shape, and her face looked almost plastic in its smoothness. As she spoke, she moved her hands in an odd way, bringing them together and then spreading them, sometimes clapping and sometimes pointing to her audience.
“We would like to take you back to the beginning,” she said. “To a time when Krissmas was once a year and when children went to school five days a week, forty weeks of the year.”
The children all gasped simultaneously.
“Some of you may have seen pictures like these before. If not, they may shock you.”
And suddenly, instead of Ivy Wreath, there appeared a series of images on the screen: the first was of a vast, ugly, square building, with what looked like thousands of miserable children in uniforms milling around outside; the next showed a classroom, full of students, with one frantic teacher at the front trying to keep control; the third showed Krissmassy streets filled with children, carrying banners saying: “NO MORE SCHOOL!”, “BURN THE UNIFORMS!” and “WE WANT KRISSMAS EVERY DAY!”
Finally, the film changed to a nearly bald, sweaty-faced man, speaking directly to the camera.
“After weeks of rioting by children, and picketing by parents, the government has been forced to capitulate. With great sadness, I hand over control to the head of the Krissmas Party, Lord Laurence Roberts – er, I mean Lord Chess Nut. I hope and pray that this will not mean the end of our great nation…”
He was not allowed to finish. At this point, he was guided firmly off the podium by two Suits. Sham stared, open-mouthed, as he was replaced by a jolly-faced, white-bearded man in an expensive-looking red suit and holly-patterned tie.
“It is time,” boomed the man, smiling broadly. “Time for a change. Time for our children to lead us to a better future. Enough is enough. Enough of school; enough of lessons that bore us and exams that torture us. We will make this nation great again, by bringing the joy of Krissmas to every home, every day!” A cheer went up from the listening crowd in the film, and then they started singing the song that Sham and his friends knew so well: ‘Oh, I wish it could be Krissmas every day!’ The image and the music faded away, and Ivy Wreath was back, grinning at them again.
There was silence in the Reindeers’ living room, apart from the determined ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece.
Ivy Wreath continued, with sickening sweetness. “Our wonderful Krissmas country has, as you know, been the envy of the world, and our Krissmas-themed products are sold all over the world. But always Lapland, Canada, Norway and other snowy lands, threatened to push us aside as the world’s top Krissmas destination. Well, that will no longer be the case. As you now can see, The Krissmas Party have finally perfected their plan, making it snow whenever they wish and for as long as they wish. Summer will not stop us! To make this happen, we have had to use the most advanced technology. And we have brought in many experts from other countries to help.”
Sham glanced around at Priya, who bit her lip and looked as if she wanted the floor to swallow her up. Another picture appeared on the screen. It looked like a gigantic plane with two enormous cylinders on each side.
“And now we are proud to present to you: The Cloud Assembler. There are hundreds of these over the UKK as we speak.”
“But surely that’s not fake snow outside?” came a voice from beside Sham. Rudy was looking stunned, and even Mr Reindeer and his wife – who stood wide-eyed by the door, with a tray of hot chocolate in her hands – were currently mute. As if answering Rudy, the Prime Minister continued:
“These machines make real snow-clouds – they are unmanned machines that fly so high that the clouds they make can only hold ice crystals. And the clouds are so thick that the sun can barely penetrate them, so even at ground level, the temperature plummets! After twenty years of experiments, these machines will change our lives forever! Even now, our elf-mail systems are blocked with tourists messaging from abroad, desperate to book their first trips to the UKK – and our airports have been cleared and are waiting to receive them!”
Sham had only recently learned the purpose of an exclamation mark, but somehow he could feel Ivy Wreath putting them on the end of all her sentences. He couldn’t listen any more. As Mr and Mrs Reindeer came to life and started applauding the amazing work of the Krissmas Party, and the other children grabbed their hot chocolates, clinked their mugs together in celebration and started eagerly discussing snow-related activities, he went and joined Priya where she stood by the window, gazing helplessly out at the snow. And both their hearts felt as wintry as the weather.