High Pressure System

"...where the aliens are advancing on the Dallas-Fort W-"

-Click-

"This high pressure system is stalled over the prairies, trapping the mass of arctic air. So that region of the country can expect the bitterly cold temperatures to continue for at least the next five days."

"Man is it cold out," says my dad.

"Almost as bad as two years ago. Do you remember that?" asks my mom.

My parents are settling down for an evening of watching the Weather Channel. A favourite pastime in Regina.

"I'm heading out," I say.

"Do you really have to go out?" asks my mom.

"I promised the guys I'd meet them at 8:00."

"Well, don't go out on the by-pass. Stick to city streets," warns my dad.

"Yeah, yeah." Not the lecture again.

"I'm serious. It's vicious out there."

"It's only a short distance." Here comes the story.

"There was a university student driving home from Regina Beach, when his car died half a mile from the Trans-Canada, so he decided to walk. The next morning they found him 100 yards from a farm house, deader than a door nail."

"All right, all right." I grab my parka.

"You should dress warmer," says my mom with concern.

"It's only minus thirty-five out." I'm twenty years old, and they still treat me like a kid.

The air freezes in my lungs as I open the door. My shoes squeak on the fresh snow, as I clear off the windshield of my parents' old beast of a station wagon. By the time I finish my fingers are starting to go numb.

The beast whines when I turn the key. I pump the gas and try again. It emits a feeble cough. Finally I put the peddle to the floor and pray I don't flood it. To my relief it catches, and the engine roars to life.

I let it warm up for a few minutes, keeping my foot on the gas, so it won't stall, while frigid air pours out of the vents.

When it seems warm enough that it won't die, I head out. I make it as far as backing out of the driveway before getting stuck in the snow bank that lines the road. But by rocking the car back and forth, I manage to extricate myself without having to call my dad, and saving myself from major embarrassment.

I have trouble driving through the suburban crescents. This car is just too darn big for the ruts that have been worn in the road. There must be a couple of feet of hard packed snow this year. I have to pump the brakes to avoid sliding through the sheer ice at every intersection.

I flip on the radio just in time to catch the news. "In tonight's top story, police are advising motorists to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary." Then he starts talking about the alien invasion, so I punch in another station.

"...but with the wind chill factor it feels more like minus 57. Exposed flesh will freeze in thirty seconds."

-Honk-

I look over. The guy in the car beside me at the red light is pointing down at the ground.

Shit. Not again.

I wave to the guy, and get out of my car. Sure enough. I forgot to unplug the car again. I quickly haul the cord in, and hop back in my car before the light turns green.

I pull in to the sparsely populated parking lot at Western Pizza. I'm about to stop the car, but looking down at the cord on the seat beside me, I think the better of it, and drive around to the back of the building. I pull into a spot marked reserved for bank employees. Seeing no one around, I hop out and plug in my car. Just the block heater. I don't want to be greedy by plugging in the interior warmer as well.

My visibility instantly drops to zero as I step in the restaurant. When I take off my frost covered glasses, I can make out someone waving at me from a booth at the back.

"Hey Don." I recognize Matt's voice.

"Man is it cold out," I exclaim as I slide in next to Dave.

"What moron decided to put a city here?" says Sean.

"What with the aliens and all, maybe he wasn't such a moron," replies Dave.

Sean's reply is preempted by the arrival of the waitress. "You guys ready to order?"

"A number one." You'd think she'd know by now.

"So, I went out to go to work this morning, and, like, someone stole my extension cord," complains Matt, after the waitress has shuffled away.

"Man, that should be a capital offense," says Sean.

"Yeah, tell me about it. So then I called CAA, right, and it takes them until 3:00 to get to my place. That reminds me. My boss docked me for the time, so can you guys spot me for the 'za?"

"Sure man, no problem." What a mooch. The guy hasn't paid for his own pizza in years.

I put my glasses back on. If I tilt my head back I can see out of the bottom, where they've thawed.

"Geeze Dave, what happened to your face?" I ask. His cheeks and nose are all red and peeling, like a severe case of sunburn.

"Frost bite. I was going stir crazy, so I went out cross country skiing a couple of days ago."

Dave's crazy. One of these days he's going to kill himself if he's not careful.

"Man, it doesn't get any better than this," I say after scalding the roof of my mouth on the freshly arrived pizza, as grease runs down my arm.

"I hear the aliens are attacking Toronto," says Dave, while pouring himself some Coke from the pitcher.

"Naw," I reply, "they've only made it as far as Guelph. But it won't be long."

"That'll teach those wimpy easterners," says Sean with satisfaction. "Dry cold or no dry cold, forty below is colder than four below."

"Have you guys gone out to see the dead alien yet?" asks Dave.

"No."

"It's awesome. It's just sitting there in the middle of this farmer's field, frozen like some kind of statue."

"How far is it?" asks Matt.

"Not far. Maybe sixty klicks."

"I don't think I'll risk it. The other day I'm driving around on the Ring Road, and my gas line freezes up," says Matt.

"Man, you've really gotta get a new c-"

"Shh," says Matt to Sean, pointing up to the tv screen in the corner. "I wanna catch the forecast."

It hasn't changed.

"So what're you guys going to do this summer?" asks Dave when the forecast is over.

"Well," replies Matt, "we've got relatives up in the Yukon, so we've been talking about going up there."

"I read that scientists figure that the aliens have kicked up so much dust and smoke into the air that we're not going to get summer here, so we should be safe," I tell them.

"Yeah," agrees Sean, "even if it does warm up, why would they bother attacking here when they know they're going to be driven out by the cold in a couple of months anyway?"

With that we finish the last of the pizza, pool our money and head for the door. "Slurpees anyone?" asks Matt. We agree, and head out into the cold to see if our cars will start.


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Copyright 1996, 1999 Paul Stockton. All rights reserved.

Last updated: November 2, 1999