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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.
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 another...now let it blow and
let it rain, I have my fire.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
The sun...how 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
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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