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The Freeze
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There, now...a fire going. A few dead branches from the lower part of that tree, some bark from the under side of the big log...drag that dead fall closer. It's going to be a cold night.

Nothing looks so good as a fire when a man is cold, or when he is hungry...or alone. Stirs memories, too...takes a man back....

Cold...and rain. Setting in for a miserable night. I'd better lace the branches tighter, pile on some more evergreen boughs. I'm not feeling too good...not so young as I used to be.

How many, many fires have I built! How many lonely fires! And each one I have built with careful hands, with tnder (tender) hands. For fire is a precious gift, a sacred thing... the first step Man made in his march upward from the beast.

The shadows play, the wind touches the fire and it ducks its points of flame and gives a gusty sigh...a stick falls and the sparks fly up...I added another stick and let it blow and let it rain, I have my fire.

Black are the columns of the trees... black are the masses above where the wind plays tiny violins among the pine needles... and off there a bare tree chafes its branches together...a cold sound, a lost sound.

How many miles did I make today, I wonder? Miles have lost their meaning, of course. If I could find a car...but there would be small chance of that. In a city I could find many things lost, useful things to me.

Beau's Notes:

Louis was fascinated with the great natural disasters in history, the volcanic explosions at Karkatoa and Santorini, tidal waves, and the various cataclysms that caused the great mass extinctions. The fact that extinct animals have been found, seemingly frozen to death, with stomachs full of spring grasses certainly raises questions about how quickly these kind of disasters can occur.

This story was written prior to 1954, before the theories about a possible “nuclear winter” had become poplar enough to suggest that other kinds of explosive disasters, like a comet impact, might trigger an ice age. In this story Louis uses the idea that occasionally the earth (actually the whole solar system) travels through clouds of “cosmic” or interstellar dust and that this dust can obscure much of the sunlight hitting the earth. While it may be pretty far out to think that somehow temperatures could drop over a hundred degrees in such a brief period of time, the idea of the story holds up regardless. I assume that the story is supposed to be set in the 1970s or 1980s since the main character was twenty-four when the cold first came but now thinks of himself as “old.”

“The Freeze” was almost certainly a short story aimed at one of the slick magazines or (less likely) one of the Science Fiction pulps. Regardless, it stands as one of the very few attempts Louis made to break into the Sci-Fi genre. Given his interest in science and various phenomena it is actually kind of surprising that Louis didn’t try to create more stories like this one which seems a perfect melding of his love for wilderness survival and the great mysteries of pre-history. This fragment and The Haunted Mesa seem to be the only times Louis really experimented in Science Fiction.

Add some fuel, another dry stick...and better pile on more evergreen boughs. I feel the cold more now, even though it is growing less. This year the ice melts a little at noon. It is a sign, but a small one. I think the dust is going away and someday we will have the sun again.

The long since I last saw the sun? It was the day I started to return down the river. It was about ten degrees below zero that morning, but bright and cold...and then it happened.

We should have known, all of us. It had happened before and there was nothing to prevent it happening again. We had the evidence...a dozen times mammoths or bison had been found frozen and completely preserved, even with green grass in their stomachs. The last time it had happened, a chap from Columbia University had established the time by carbon-dating...28,000 years before.

A sudden deep freeze, super bison, mammoths, everything alive suddenly frozen in their tracks. Killed...dead...wiped out, just like that.

What had caused it? Nobody speculated very much. The theories of cataclysms were out of fashion right then, and scientists, creatures of fashion as are we all, carefully avoided any facts that seemed to controvert their pet theories.

A mammoth with green grass in his stomach...obviously frozen instantaneously...a perfectly preserved super bison...the last was Alaska, the former Siberia. But there were a few vague theories about sudden explosions in outer space and dense dust clouds shutting off the heat of the sun...and it happened again, in April 1954.

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