Before, when there was snow everywhere and the sky was an oppressive grey, the landscape sucked up all your attention. It didn’t do much, but it made you look at it.
Now that the snow’s melting and the landscape is arguably more interesting, with flowers and plants popping up everywhere, the sky seems huge, unignorable. It’s like it’s shouting “Look at me! Look at meeee!” The world has been flipped upside down.
I keep looking at it. It’s a light, bright, relentless blue. I still can’t get used to blue sky. We used to have blue mixed into the sunsets back home, but otherwise it was a normal green. When I see the blue, I keep checking further up, expecting it to blend into green only to discover it’s azure all the way up and up and up. Then I feel like I’m about to fall up into it.
Nom is eating a plant.
“Hey! Stop eating plants!” I tell her.
“Why?” she asks around a bunch of yellow, rose-like flowers hanging out of her mouth. She slurps them up. “Tasty.”
“They might be poisonous,” I tell her.
“Ooo!” she says, alarmed, looking at the handful she has left.
She doesn’t drop them. She looks at them a bit longer and slowly raises them to her mouth.
“Nom! No! Bad!”
“But-” she starts to object.
“Possibly poisonous, remember?”
She still doesn’t drop them.
“Okay, hand them over,” I tell her. Reluctantly, she does so, then doesn’t let go. “Give. Give. Give me the ruddy poisonous flowers!” I yank them away from her. “Haven’t you got any fruit left in your bag?”
“Bored of fruit, Shoo,” she says, a little petulantly.
“Well, it may be boring, but it won’t kill you.”
I toss the flowers to one side. Nom looks on mournfully and turns to watch them as we walk on. This girl is going to be the death of, if not me, certainly her own gastrointestinal tract.
We’re slogging up the endless slope. The river is full and enthusiastic next to us. It’s no longer the warm stream it used to be. It’s a torrent filled with ice, detritus, quite often belongings, even a body or two.
Whatever caused this sudden change in the weather must have caught the towns upstream by surprise. Downstream must be worse. It’s understandable, if you’ve only ever had a warm trickle flowing through your town, a precious source of life in an icy hellscape, you’re going to want to huddle right up close to it.
Then, one day, woosh!
Poor souls, they won’t know what hit them.
Well, they’ll have a pretty good idea it’s like a million gallons of snowmelt, but they won’t be expecting it.
I wish these towns were a bit closer though. This is day two of trekking uphill since we left the melting igloo/house. In a bizarre stroke of luck, we found a tent by the side of the road, just sitting there like a gift, so we’ve had a night’s kip. Nom’s flatulence, I swear, could fill a full-sized passenger balloon. I kept thinking there was a draught.
The tent is a fully functional, easy to put up and down number, and it looks like it has been woven from weeds. Perfect for us. Since no-one was around, I figured it had been under the snow and was revealed as it melted.
I realised afterwards the owner may have just gone foraging or something. I felt a bit bad, but it was kind of an innocent theft when I did it. Not that that argument ever carries much weight with officials in my experience.
There’s something else on the ground a bit further up. I squint but can’t make it out.
As we get closer, I think I can see what it is, but it doesn’t make any sense. It looks like two steaming plates of food, but obviously it can’t be.
We get closer.
There’s a half of what looks like roast goofcluck on each plate, plus several veg, gravy of some kind, dumplings too, wow. On the ground in front of the plates, flowers have grown, naturally it seems, but they spell out words. This is increasingly unlikely.
What’s more unlikely is that I can read them.
They say: Thank you!
“Is that writing?” Nom asks. “Looks funny.”
“That is ruddy weird,” I say. I look around. Is there someone waiting nearby with a sniper rifle? Is it poisoned with something? How does someone know how to write in my writing? I’m pretty sure we’re not even in the same realm as Footfall. I look back. One of the plates is empty.
Nom is chewing.
“Oh, my days! Nom!”
“What?” she says innocently.
“Don’t just eat food you find on the side of the road!”
“Why not? Food.”
“Well, it’s not normal, is it? Plates of food on the side of the road?”
“Isn’t it?” she asks.
“Use your noggin’, love,” I say. Gods, I sound like Daisy.
“My what?” Nom says.
I sigh, “okay, just… you’ve got to think before you do stuff, right? Like, what if it’s a trap? Or what if someone just left it there and is coming back?”
“Shoot them?” Nom suggests.
“What? No, we don’t shoot them!”
“Nom!” I say, shocked. This is one worrying little worm girl.
“We don’t just go around shooting or eating people. Especially not the second one.”
“Okay listen, remember: it’s best to be nice to people because if everyone’s nice to each other, the world’s better. Right?”
“Right,” she says, still chewing. “You said that before.”
“Right. So, is shooting someone nice?”
She thinks about this. “Er… no?” she says.
I’m pretty sure she’s guessing.
“No,” I say. “No, it’s not. The rule is, um…” Gods, what is the rule for not being evil? “Yes, the rule is – If you wouldn’t like it to happen to you, don’t do it to someone else.”
Nom chews this over and swallows her, possibly poisoned, roadside roast dinner. “Okay, what if they’re mean to you first?”
“Well, fair enough, you can shoot them,” I say instinctively. Mean people need to learn their ruddy lesson. “But you still can’t eat them.” I think a bit more about what I’m teaching the girl and backtrack: “Wait, how mean are we talking?”
“Er… They call you a name,” she says, as if their guilt is obvious.
“Oh, no then. That’s not so bad. Not a shooting offence. Just call them a name back.”
“What if they call me a name,” she says, angrily, like some just has.
“You still can’t shoot them.”
“Really?” she seems disappointed.
“Of course not.”
“What if they shoot you?”
“Right, well, yes, you can shoot them under those circumstances. If it’s them or you, like.”
“They hit you.”
“Um… Shoot them a bit? Or threaten to shoot them.”
“They hit me.”
I mull that over. Even the thought of someone hitting little Nom gets my blood going. “Yeah, I’d probably shoot them to be honest.”
“Would you eat them?”
“Nom, it’s almost never okay to eat someone.”
“Okay, if you’re going to starve to death and there’s literally nothing else to eat and there’s a body… like already dead… then, I guess, maybe.”
Nom scrunches up her face into an expression of worry, “Shoo, this is a lot to remember.”
It really shouldn’t be. Not normally. Don’t most people, sort of, just get this stuff instinctively? Though, to be fair, I’ve not spent a lot of time with little children. Maybe they’re all cannibalistic psychos at this age.
“Just do your best,” I say.
She still looks worried.
“Shoo, what if I’m… not good? What if I’m just a bad person?”
“Don’t be daft,” I say, and give her a little hug. “Of course you’re good, sweetheart. It’s just something you have to remember to be is all. It takes effort.”
“Oh. Okay, Shoo,” she says, and seems reassured.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say.
“Aren’t you going to eat yours?” she points at the other plate.
“No, and neither are you. It could be poisoned.”
I take her hand and lead her away, “I think you have a freakily strong immune system, but let’s not push it.”
“Okay,” she says.
We walk onwards, leaving the meal behind. Maybe some animal can have it. Or the owner of the tent. I’d have thought there’d have been no animals given that the world has been buried under snow for hundreds of years, but I’ve seen herds of something in the distance down on the plains and various tracks in the melting piles up here.
It’s like they were all hiding somewhere, waiting for the snows to go.
For hundreds of years.
Gods, this place is well odd.
“Hey, Nom,” I ask as something occurs to me. “Did you eat that goofcluck, bones and all?”
“Opened mouth,” she says, remembering fondly. “Emptied plate in. Crunch crunch.”
“Wow. No wasting.”
“Oh no,” she says, sternly, looking up at me as if I’ve got some personality defect. “Wasting is definitely bad. Everything gets eaten. Everyone knows that.”
“Got it. I’ll remember,” I say.
“Everything is eaten,” she says, still cute, but intense. Like a cult member reading bullet points from their favourite pamphlet. “Everything is eaten.”