by Josh T. Alto
Life in the next ice age from the point of view of a small child
|(Submitted for the Classic Story Contest)
Cold. Darkness. Snow. Frozen earth. The sound of the roaring wind shaking my window. I creep under my blanket and hold tightly onto Nanuk, my American Eskimo dog. He is my best friend and totally snow white, that’s why we gave him this name. As my father told me it means polar bear in the Inuit language. Our wooden house stands on a small elevation, alone at the edge of the forest, which grows out of the snow that covers everything as far as one can see.
That’s my world, where I live. It is the end of the world as my mother says and she is probably right. I don’t know anyone living to the North of us and I know no one either living across the sea or rather the snowfield that used to be the sea. We didn’t always live here but I can’t remember any other place I lived before. My mother told me that we moved here from the North when the climate had changed and people migrated to warmer parts of the Earth, anywhere away from there.
Why we settled down here and didn’t move to the South, I don’t really know. My grandfather says that the part of the Earth that still remained fertile is so small that it can’t possibly be enough for the whole Earth’s population. He says it’s a shame that before the catastrophe we left those people to perish from hunger and now, when they can finally produce enough food for themselves; we buy out their land and leave them without any food again.
My grandfather is probably right. People respect him and consult with him often on long winter afternoons when they visit us. Sometimes they stay several days when it’s too dangerous to go out into the snowstorm, then they tell us stories about the old days, the blooming trees, the fascinating scents of the flowers around, the twittering of the birds, the monotonous sound of the waves washing the big rocks on the shore.
But I can’t see any of them now. The trees around are dying, this once leafy forest, my grandfather says, will be taken over slowly, if ever, by evergreens, but it will probably take more years than I can count. The birds left for the South when the trees ceased to sprout again and I can’t see the rocks at the seashore either, the snow covers everything. Even the sea is frozen so that I could walk over to the island where my cousins lived before, but they left a few years ago; they just couldn’t stand the cold, couldn’t see the snow any longer.
Whether I would grow up here, I don’t know, but probably we won’t move anywhere. My grandfather is a skillful hunter and he feels well here, he can read the traces of the animals in the snow, he knows how to find them, so we always have enough to eat, we have also plenty of trees around us, it will keep us warm for hundreds of years, my grandfather says.
We also have some diesel oil in big tanks but we only use it on special occasions. There’s not much left and we probably won’t get any more. After the catastrophe, oil prices ran sky high. Even if there’s still plenty of raw oil in the earth people need much more now, as the climate has turned cold. According to my grandfather, we are one of the few people who don’t have to worry about it, and I’m really happy to live here far from the troubles the others have.
We don’t have any appliances that people used earlier to get information from other parts of the Earth; we live quite isolated, so there is not too much we know about them. As I heard there are always some fights for the habitable parts of the Earth, even more often now; people are dying and there will always be fewer who need food. It’s my grandfather’s prediction but I think he’s right. We still get our regular aid packages but my grandfather says, they won’t always send it. Once they don’t have enough to eat themselves they will cut all help for the permafrost regions.
I still can remember, when I was younger, we could use our television set that is now put aside in the attic, but there are no more programs sent to this region now. First they minimized the broadcasting times, so we had programs only in the evenings when the power shortage allowed it, but later we were totally cut off. Here you can still see the poles with the cables leading to our house and then further into the forest, that brought electricity everywhere, but now they are useless, though we still don’t burn them up, my grandfather says that something can always happen, that we wake up from our bad dream and everything will be over.
It probably has some advantages as well living here. My elder brother says I’m lucky because I don’t have to go to school as children in other parts of the Earth. I don’t know but I guess I’d rather go to school. I know the alphabet and I can already read as well, but here there isn’t too much to read. My grandfather promised me to bring some books from the city, as they called it, once the weather allows it. Though there are three words I see quite often when I go out of the house. In a far off corner of the clearing in front of the house, there it is, that huge blue box partly covered with snow, with doors that open like a big mouth.
Painted in big black letters there is an inscription on its side: Time Machine Simulator. According to my grandfather it was one of the attractions of the amusement park before they abandoned it. As we moved in there were still other buildings and some rather funny constructions around here, but the weather did what it could do so slowly they all were ruined except that one. Every time I see it I think of our last Christmas and I wish it would come soon.
Christmas is my favourite time of the year. On Christmas Eve in the afternoon we set up a tree in our biggest room and sit around singing songs that I don’t always understand but they are beautiful. Next day in the morning my grandfather fills the fuel tank, starts the generator and our time machine flashes up, starts to blink and plays funny tunes. When it becomes warmer inside we all come over, sit in there in several rows, like in a vehicle that used to transport people between faraway places even here where we live, but I haven’t seen any real one yet.
First the light goes out then it starts moving slowly as if we were really rising and then the shutters open around, the sunlight breaks in and we see with bated breath the beautiful mountains covered with trees and small streams as we fly over them, or animals advancing between the trees to the river. There are also scenes there we dive in a submarine under water and see the colourful world below. But my favourite is the roller coaster, I enjoy when it rushes downwards as it never wanted to stop or turn back again. I’d so much like to sit on a real one once, but I don’t think a roller coaster like that will ever exist again.
My mother says the Earth needs hundreds of years, most probably even a thousand year to recover from this catastrophe. Sometimes I have nightmares: I wake up in the morning and the Earth doesn’t exist any more. Other times I see huge icebergs around our house that come nearer and nearer and I can’t climb them, and they cover us slowly so we sleep frozen in our beds forever. But on Christmas day everything seems to be possible, then I really believe that the changes can be turned back one day and our Earth will be the same beautiful place as in the time machine, and we don’t have to freeze any more.
But then I realise there is nothing I can do. As my mother says, if not me, then the grandchildren of my grandchildren will get it back; my only job is to survive. Then I creep under my blanket and hold tightly onto Nanuk, I’m not frightened any more. This is my world: the sound of the roaring wind shaking my window, the frozen earth, the snow, the darkness and the cold.
(Word count 1,446)