There is something magical about a dense fog or a snowstorm for a kid. It might have to do with a desire to be invisible like a Superhero or because the conditions are conducive to an adventurous imagination. That type of weather persisted on the night Dan Billings, a student at Our Holy Saints Catholic school, called his best friend and classmate Bobby Nettles. The boys lived directly across the street from each other, and if you snapped a chalk line between their homes, their front doors would perfectly line up. In the seventh grade, the boys had become fast friends ever since Dan moved into the neighborhood from somewhere in the south, where it never snowed.
Bobby loved winter, and he especially liked snowstorms like the one stirring tonight.
“Do you want to see if we can get lost in the blizzard,” Dan said without saying hello when Bobby answered the phone. Bobby wasn’t sure he would call the current storm a bonafide blizzard, but he could hear the high pitch of strong winds forced into tight spaces.
“Sure,” Bobby responded, “what do you have in mind?”
“I was out a few minutes ago letting in “Big,” and I saw snow drifting so thick I couldn’t see your side of the street.” “Big,” a large black lab Dan’s family brought with them when they moved, sometimes made Bobby nervous by the way he looked at him.
The idea of disappearing into a storm sounded like a good cure for the boredom that often accompanied Christmas break. The boys agreed to meet in the street in front of their houses in 30 minutes.
It is no small matter dressing for severe weather, and there is an order to the process of layering. Long Johns comprised the first layer; wool socks pulled above the leg bottoms came next. Heavy corduroy or jean pants went over the Long Johns, and a thick button-down lumberjack type shirt tucked into the pants finished the base. Two additional garments pulled over the lumberjack shirt ensured maximum core warmth. Next came the lacing up of thick rubber boots before putting on an outer jacket that was best if it had some waterproof properties. The coat fastened or zipped to its top closure and, with its collar flipped up, allowed for the wrapping of a scarf to protect the neck and chin area. A stocking cap pulled down low on the forehead, and leather choppers completed the ensemble. The choppers were thick wool gloves inserted into a leather sleeve with one cavity for the thumb and a larger hole for the rest of the fingers. The gloves and boots were sometimes placed on top of a radiator or gas stove, giving them a head start against the cold.
Bobby was first out of his house, and looking down the street, he could see Dan had been right about the conditions of the storm. The snow falling was not the usual large flakes; this snow was smaller ice crystals falling by the millions that stung your face in sudden wind gusts. The roar of the wind through the tall elms lining their street sounded like the rush of a waterfall. The winds, seemingly starting up without warning and rushing violently through the branches for several seconds before subsiding.
Bobby saw an arch of yellow light reflected on the snow when Dan opened and closed the side door of his house. A few seconds later, he saw Dan trudging out of the shadows, crossing his front yard, and heading toward the street. At least, Bobby guessed it was Dan; his face covered by a scarf prevented a positive ID.
The two boys meeting in the middle of the deserted street stood together a few minutes, admiring the beauty of the storm. A curtain of white moved toward them from further up the block, quickly followed by the sound of rushing wind. They turned their backs into the blowing snow before it hit them, and for a few seconds, they disappeared within the white-out. When the wind subsided, and they could once again hear, they agreed their best travel route was into the storm and toward the frozen urban lake lying just a few blocks from their homes.
After traveling along the residential streets, the homes ran out, and there were approximately a hundred yards of green space to the shoreline with paths for walkers, bikers, and beachgoers in warmer months. Tonight, none of that was recognizable, or the idea of warmer weather ever occurring in the space.
The city had strung wooden snow barrier fences along the shoreline like they do every year, so drifting snow didn’t end up in the roadway. The rails were nearly covered, and snow drifting over their tops looked like thin smoke as it was caught in the wind and swirled into the air before being whisked away on the strong currents. Beyond the fences, there was nothing but white; no sky, no foreground or lake ice, just the falling and drifting snow creating a veil impenetrable to the human eye.
Dan and Bobby, standing on the corner of the residential street, watched in amazement at the high winds and blizzard-like conditions occurring over the vast expanse of ice. They could now sense danger in their pursuit of adventure, and if they were to continue, going out onto the ice is where adventure beckoned.
They had not seen a single car tonight, unusual for a city with over a quarter of a million people. Turning to their right, they followed Lake Drive, walking a quarter block to the entrance of the beach parking lot. It was hard to discern where driveways and parking lots began and ended, all the terrain leveling into one contiguous plane of white.
There was a break in the snow barrier at the head of the beach where one could access the lake. Walking down across the snow-covered sand that formed the beach running to the lake’s edge, they were already invisible from the road. In front of them, lie only white, and choosing to enter that world of isolation and chaos, they had accomplished their mission of disappearing into the storm.
It was nearly 10:00 PM when the boy’s families noticed them missing, and the storm continued to rage throughout the night and into the early morning hours setting new records for snowfall and wind speeds in its wake. The powerful winds pushed drifts onto the shoreline that buried the barriers and exceeding ten feet in height in some places. The Lake Road, as well as most residential streets, would be impassable for days.
The boys never returned from their adventure and were never seen again. There is a presumption they had foolishly tried to challenge Mother Nature’s power and lost. But I would rather believe within the fury of nature’s violence; there might lie opportunities to escape into other worlds where imagination, exploration, and adventure are still alive.