The guards come by and confirm that the power grid is down across the camp. A transformer blew or something. They’re sparse on details. They’re working to fix the problem, but in the meantime we’re to stay in our dorms and “hunker down.” They leave behind a sergeant to organize the specifics of that.
“We’ll need to group together for warmth,” says Sergeant Red Spruce—not a translation, just her actual name. Must be an Indian. Native American Chad Native American Native fucking American how hard is that to remember? She points to the nearest bedrooms. “Clear out the furniture from the middle ten rooms—no, make it twelve—and move them to the outer rooms.” She turns to Destro. “Send somebody across to House Spider across the street. Get all their campers in here too. The less space we have to heat, the better.”
Destro nods and hurries off. Big Bear gets the rest of us moving, getting some to clear out rooms, others to stack up things. Red Spruce orders crowds outside and tells them to start shoveling snow against the walls to provide insulation.
People start to move, jostling each other out of the way, making rough calls. I try to push my way through the crowd towards the right. My whole body feels like a limp noodle. I want nothing so much as to collapse into a warm bed, but clearly that’s not an option.
The night is a dark blur of room after room after room. Chairs and dressers are easy to move. Mattresses are another story—all long and floppy. Icepick and I are struggling with one when Red Spruce shows up and tells us those should be moved upstairs. “Save the blankets, though,” she adds. So we need to find the beds we already moved and shift everything around.
I don’t notice it getting cold, but we’ve just put down the third mattress when I stand up and draw a breath. And it hurts. It’s like drinking ice-cold water, where the chill knifes into your throat and spreads into your chest. It’s weird, because I’m sweating: we’ve been at this a while. But a few moments makes me realize how quickly the heat can get sucked away.
Icepick slaps me, and we head back for the bedframe.
It takes forever to finish. People are moving everywhere, and in the dark, we keep bumping into each other. When we finally clear the rooms. I make it back to the lobby and drop to the ground. I feel the others sit down next to me. Clearly, I’m not the only exhausted one. Some kids are duct-taping mattresses up across the hallway. Some are dumping blankets into the various rooms. Others are stacking dressers in the lobby, along with … wooden bedframes? I see Dolphin, who isn’t even part of our dorm, carrying in a mattress with Viper. They head upstairs with it.
Big Bear and Destro are in the lobby. At first, I think they’re just supervising, but then I see Big Bear crack a bedframe in half, and I realize that they’re turning the furniture into firewood. Red Spruce, who’s bending over the generator, whistles. Destro hurries over. Red Spruce gestures at the generator, then at the ceiling, muttering something. Destro nods, then sees us standing to the side.
“You four must come with me,” he says. “We need to go upstairs.”
We push our way past the barrier of mattresses, and the temperature drops even lower. My parka might as well be a rain poncho for all the good it’s doing me. The air itself feels like it’s hanging, heavy and cold, over us, as Destro leads us up the stairs to the second level.
A long string of blurry rooms, all empty and bare. There’s mattresses spread across the floor, and I realize what they were carrying them up for. How much insulation can those even have?
Destro strides down the hallway, counting under his breath. He points to a selection of rooms. Entering one, he picks his way among the frosted mattresses, then kneels in the approximate center and pushes two apart. He draws back his fist, squints at the floor, and then slams his fist through the floorboards.
The crack is loud in the cold silence. Destro being so short and pudgy makes it easy to forget he’s as strong as any of us.
“We must make chimney outlets for the generators,” Destro says. “That’s what we must do. Go now, and make more in the other rooms.”
“‘kay,” I manage. I stumble back across the hallway with short, tripping steps, hugging my arms around myself. I become aware of how tired, how very very tired I am. My arms are twice as heavy as they were at the start of the evening.
The rooms are empty. I decide I don’t need to do Destro’s little walk: that spot looks like the center. I drop to my knees. Clear a space. I lift my fist and almost lazily punch the floor. It cracks, but not all the way through. I punch it again, and the wood splinters apart. I get just the sense of the plaster underneath shredding off before my fist breaks through to the room below.
I move on to the next room. Man, it hurts to breathe. I make my way to the approximate middle of the room and drop to the floor.
I frown. That wasn’t the floor. That came from … above me.
I look up just in time to see the ceiling rip open and a huge wave of white snow come crashing down on top of me.
Ball Buster digs me out. “Damn, man, you’ve got some terrible luck,” he says, lifting a ceiling beam off me. “C’mon. Let’s get you downstairs.”
The stairs are a blue daze. The cold only lifts once we pass a barricade made from mattresses and dressers in the hallway. Destro says something to me that I don’t quite absorb, but Ball Buster pushes me down the hall into one of the rooms. Inside, shapes are huddled around a small pile of burning bedframes. Fish, who’s shoving another bedpost into it, looks up at me and nods.
Ball Buster shoves a blanket into my arms. He says something, but I barely hear him. I’m already dropping to the floor.