The Great Ice Age

In the cold air, Louis could see his breath. The vapour softly drifted upward, before fading into the crisp, clear air. He felt the sting of the cold biting into the skin of his face. The icy white ground crunched beneath his feet. The earth was hard and cold. 

 

His feet were freezing. Compacted snow and ice covered the landscape. The branches of trees were draped in ice. The temperature must be well below freezing. The kind of weather that is too cold, even for snow. A cold wind swept across the clearing, lifting briefly the dead leaves left over from the autumn. Those that weren’t already frozen solid to the ground, at any rate. 

 

People huddled around indoors, dressed in layers of warm jumpers and tattered old jackets. Yet he was outside. Waiting. The cold seemed to seep right into the bones. The legs and feet, especially. The skin on the hands became dry, coarse and cracked. 

 

Every year seemed to set a new record for the lowest temperature yet recorded. This winter, temperatures had not risen above minus two degrees during the daytime. Some days had fallen as low as minus 15 degrees. And as for the night… he shuddered, and instinctively pulled his coat closer, wrapping it tightly around himself as if trying to hide beneath its protective fabric. 

 

Hard to believe, but weather like this was unheard of in these isles when Louis was younger. These temperatures used to be confined to places like Canada, Iceland, Russia and the Arctic circle. But that was a long time ago… 

 

People used firewood for heating now. The government’s solar panels, poorly constructed and rushed last minute, turned out to be pretty useless at providing any warmth to people’s homes. All the predictions had been that we were about to face rising temperatures. He laughed bitterly to himself. It was absurd. No one had seriously prepared for this. The greatest onset of cold temperatures since the last Ice Age! 

 

These old houses had chimneys, but most hadn’t been used for years… until the Great Cold began. Rooms became blackened with soot. People got sick from inhaling wood smoke. Yet even a slow demise by wood fumes was better than the appalling, icy grip of Winter outside, in the howling wind, at night…

 

Louis thought back briefly across the decades. He remembered the politicians of his youth. They denied the reality of climate change. They signed agreements, and then withdrew from them seemingly at will. They had been all talk and no action; most barely acknowledged the problem even existed. How blind they all were. How foolish. How oblivious to the impending disaster. 

 

Of course, they were all long gone. With time, some of the feeling had faded. But not all. None of them had to soldier on into this wintry hellscape, which they had helped to create. They existed now only in memories, in old film ages. It must have seemed like a distant epoch in history, to the younger people. 

 

He stamped his feet briefly to keep warm, shifting his weight from one leg to the other and back again. Damn and blast, it was cold out here! And for what was he waiting? Thank goodness there wasn’t time to dwell too much on these things. He was waiting for the supply cart to come by. Hoping there might at least be some scrapings left over. 

 

Odd to think, that in this era of the mid-21st century, horses now ate better in winter than most people. “And they are probably worth a lot more money too”, he thought grimly to himself. He pictured the dark brown horse ambling its way down the forest path, with the cart rumbling behind it. A lifeline, in times as dark as these. 

 

A tree branch snapped behind him. Spinning round, he had just enough time to widen his eyes in fear at the dark shape in front of him, before being struck down. The blow came from the side of the head. The terror on his face flickered, before dissolving into unconsciousness as his body hit the ground.  

 

Robbers! Bandits in this age of fear, cold and want. Hunger and starvation were supposedly vanquished in the 20th century. But what idle hubris this was. Turns out, just like Icarus in the Greek myth, society’s “wings”, supported by the “wax” of cheap energy, swiftly disintegrated under the scourging power of the elements when it flew too high. Humanity’s rise to the pinnacle of achievement, turned out to be a fleeting dream, soon sullied and turned awry by mankind’s boundless greed and short-sightedness.

 

The cart horse wouldn’t be coming today. Its load already pilfered by desperate, violent souls, the cart lay upturned at the side of the road. The horse had already been slaughtered and the meat roasted over an open fire. As for the driver… he lay dead in a ditch, robbed of everything that might be of use, including his boots (prised with great difficulty from his dead feet), and his winter coat.  

 

Louis slowly came to. Where was he? Why was he lying near the road? His head was pounding with a severe, throbbing headache. Suddenly he remembered. A shiver of terror ran through his body. What if they were still here, standing behind him? Were they about to finish him off? He began to crawl forward, shooting a frightened glance back over his shoulder. But there was no one there. 

 

There would be no food tonight. On his hands and knees, struggling unsteadily to his feet, he gazed nervously down the road, in both directions. At least he was still alive. He supposed. Although given their predicament, part of him wished he wasn’t. But he pushed aside that thought. For the time being, it was time to go home. To get inside the house, as quickly as possible, and fortify the doors. He staggered back across the clearing, towards the house. 

 

Notes 

  • Average Winter temperatures for London in January normally range from a daily high of 8.5 degrees to an average night time low of 2 degrees. The record low for the month is -13 degrees. 

  • If the Gulf Stream, which brings warm ocean currents from the Gulf of Mexico towards northern Europe, stopped (as it may, due to interference from melt-water produced by man-made climate change), it would be 10 degrees colder in northern Europe.  

  • This would take London’s daily high temperature in January down to -2 degrees in the day, falling to average -8 degrees low at night. But sometimes it would be as low as -23 at night. 

  • This is colder than Reykjavik in Iceland in January. Even Reykjavik is 4 to 6 degrees warmer than what I’m predicting. The UK in my story has reached a level of cold almost approaching the Arctic circle. 

  • Even in summer (July and August), the average daily high temperature in London would not rise above 13 degrees. 

  • Compared with Moscow, the daily highs and lows I’m predicting for the UK would be within a couple of degrees. Given such a climate, one could expect snow on the ground for several months of the year. 

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