Roger Nimitz stands just inside the open mouth of his garage and surveys a swirling sky the color of dryer lint. The day’s not yet freezing, but he’s bundled up in his bibs and warmest coat all the same. A monster of a snow shovel rests like a bastard sword over his right shoulder, while a pumped and primed blower rests at his side like a faithful hound. He should be able to handle the storm’s early stages, but Roger wants the blower ready for when the flakes earnestly start to gather, and the situation turns serious.
Every other garage door on his street is closed, their owners no doubt cozied up at the kitchen table or in front of fire, sipping on something to warm the belly, unconcerned about the inevitable accumulation. Roger responds to this thought by setting his mouth into a deep frown. The cost his neighbors are willing to pay for that peace of mind isn’t worth it in his eyes.
He hears the door leading into the house open, and then his wife, Charlotte, call his name and ask him something. He takes his eyes off the sky for a moment, and turns toward his wife.
“What’s that, dear?” he asks.
She moves to stand next to him, and presses a steaming mug of coffee into his free hand.
“I asked if you wanted to come inside,” she says.
Roger takes an unhealthy swig of the scalding liquid, and grits his teeth.
“Thanks for the coffee, but I can’t afford to come inside. Can’t quit before anything’s even started.”
She puts a hand on his shoulder, and says, “It might not even snow today.”
“Oh, it’ll snow,” Roger says. “Been too damn steady for it not to snow. It’s merely waiting me out.”
“Why don’t we just pay the tribute, Roger? Then all of this would be over. You could relax, which means I could relax.”
“That stupid self-styled wizard isn’t getting a dime out of us.”
“It’s only ten dollars a month.”
“We already do our monthly tithe to the church, and that should be good enough. I refuse to take part in this weather asshole’s shake-down racket.”
“Okay, honey. I’m going inside. Let me know if you need help shoveling a little later. Molly and Graham are coming by this afternoon. It’d be nice if they could get into the driveway.”
She kisses him on the cheek, and goes back inside.
When she’s gone, Roger turns his attention back to the sky and his driveway, and nearly spills his coffee. In the short time he’d been talking with Charlotte, small snow mite flurries had begun swaying from the grey blanket hanging over the neighborhood. A handful had already touched down on the driveway, and begun congregating. Roger watches frozen half in shock, half in fascination as the clumps of snow scoot toward each other, cling together, and build into larger structures. He knows the longer he lets this go on, the bigger they’ll grow until they become something near impossible to contend with. The last time there’d been snow sharks, and the time before that slush serpents. The bottom drops out from his belly when he thinks of what might be conjured.
He hefts the snow shovel from his shoulder, sets it at the perfect angle against the asphalt, and moves toward the street in a straight line. When he reaches the edge, he takes a hard left and shoves the snow toward the bank on the side of the drive. He repeats the process working up and down the driveway until all the snow mutations are gone. He swears he can almost hear frozen wails as he clears the amalgamations away.
Back in the garage, Roger leans on his shovel and swigs coffee gone cold. As he reaches the dregs, a mammoth snow plow, its blade lowered, rumbles down the street, and stops in front of the Nimitz driveway. There’s not a large snow pack yet, but what the plow leaves for Roger isn’t insignificant. Already, he can see shapes moving and churning in the slush.
A hairy face, half hidden beneath a beanie and hood, leans out the passenger window of the truck.
“Mornin’, Rodg,” the face calls, “looks like you got a little bit a snow piling up on you. Better get on that ‘fore it takes off on you.”
Roger walks down the driveway, shaking his shovel at the truck. “Get out of here, Steve, before I bust up your truck.”
Steve the Plow Man gives a low chuckle. “Whatever you say, Rodg.” Then he puts his truck in gear. Before he pulls way he offers a parting jab. “You pay the tribute like everyone else and this can all stop. There’s no way you can ride that shovel all the time. Have to sleep. Be a shame if a bunch of the white stuff were to find its way to your driveway overnight. Who knows what’d be there in the morning?”
Roger stoops and gathers a shovelful from the snowpack and flings it into Steve the Plow Man’s open window. He hears a choked scream, and then the plow’s backing up and tearing off down the street, its horn bellowing all the way.
Hours later, with no end in sight to the snow’s onslaught, Roger feels himself losing the good fight. His back aches, sweat saturates every layer of clothing, and his nose runs like an open tap. He figures that since there’s no way he can prevent a creature from materializing, and that he’s going to have to battle, he might as well do so after he’s rested and put some food in his belly.
So he hangs his shovel, closes the garage door, and heads inside. Charlotte’s left a bowl of wild rice soup and a hunk of bread. After he inhales his lunch, Roger showers, and takes a nap in his favorite chair. What feels like only minutes later, Roger startles awake from the gentle nudges Charlotte gives his shoulder.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
“Yes,” Charlotte says, “just didn’t want to let you sleep too long. I know you want to deal with whatever’s out front, and the Enslie’s are going to be here soon.”
“How long was I out?”
“About an hour.”
“Cripes. Did you happen to see what’s out there?”
“No, sorry. The windows are fogged up.”
“I better get out there. Did my–“
“Yes, they’re dry and hanging in the laundry room.”
When the garage door rattles open, Roger already has his shovel in hand and the snow blower revved up. A gust of frozen wind buffets Roger, sending ice particles into his face. Temporarily blinded, he can’t see the creature in front of him, but he knows it’s there. He wipes his face with a gloved hand, while at the same time moves the snow blower forward. He has the spout cranked way off to the side, and his goal is to draw as much snow away from the creature as fast as possible, effectively cutting its source of power. He has no problem firing the snow over to his neighbor’s yard. They paid the tribute, so the snow will melt as soon as it touches down.
With his eyes clear, Roger gets his first real look at his foe. The best his brain can come up with for a description is a grizzly bear crossed with a squid. He lets the driveway’s gravity take over with the snow blower, and he charges toward the snow mutant whirling his shovel in wide figure eight arcs. As he moves forward, his shovel catches and lops off tentacles. The beast roars and rushes forward, knocking Roger back. He falls and slides over the slick driveway. He gets his shovel up in time to block a swipe from the snow bear’s paws. Jagged, snapping ice jaws move in toward Roger’s face, and he rolls out of the way. While the mutant rears back to strike again, Roger pulls a handful of ice melt from his pocket and tosses it at the bear squid’s head. In thirty seconds, half the monster’s head and part of its shoulders has melted away. Meanwhile the snow plow, still on its trajectory, makes contact with the snow mutant’s base, and begins drawing and discarding snow and ice. Roger regains his feet and takes advantage of the trap, furiously shoveling piles of snow out of the creature’s form. The beast tries to swipe the odd paw or tentacle at Roger, but to no avail. With most of its snow gone, the creature soon collapses.
Roger scoops the remainder of the creature over to his neighbor’s drive, then goes after his faithful blower which as found the snowpack at the bottom of the drive. With the monster vanquished and his snow blower back, Roger makes short work of the rest of the driveway. He’s just hanging up his shovel when the Enslie’s car pulls into the drive. He smiles and waves, all the while keeping an eye on the wet cotton skies.