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´╗┐Title: The Coming of the Ice
Author: Peyton, Green, 1907-1968
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Coming of the Ice" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



_The COMING of the ICE_

_By G. Peyton Wertenbaker_


[Illustration: Strange men these creatures of the hundredth century ...]

_Copyright, 1926, by E. P. Co., Inc._


Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Amazing Stories_ July 1961 and was
    first published in _Amazing Stories_ June 1926. Extensive research
    did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors
    have been corrected without note.



A Classic Reprint from AMAZING STORIES, June, 1926

Introduction by Sam Moskowitz


_One of the gravest editorial problems faced by the editors of AMAZING
STORIES when they launched its first issue, dated April, 1926, was the
problem of finding or developing authors who could write the type of
story they needed. As a stop-gap, the first two issues of AMAZING
STORIES were devoted entirely to reprints. But reprints were to
constitute a declining portion of the publication's contents for the
following four years. The first new story the magazine bought was
_Coming of the Ice_, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker, which appeared in its
third issue. Wertenbaker was not technically a newcomer to science
fiction, since he had sold his first story to Gernsback's SCIENCE AND
INVENTION, _The Man From the Atom_, in 1923 when he was only 16! Now, at
the ripe old age of 19, he was appearing in the world's first truly
complete science fiction magazine._

_The scope of his imagination was truly impressive and, despite the
author's youth, _Coming of the Ice_ builds to a climax of considerable
power._

_Wertenbaker, under the name of Green Peyton, went on to sell his first
novel, _Black Cabin_, in 1933. He eventually became an authority on the
Southwest with many regional volumes to his credit: _For God and Texas_,
_America's Heartland_, _The Southwest_, and _San Antonio, City of the
Sun_. But he never lost his interest in space travel, assisting Hubertus
Strughold on the writing of _The Green and Red Planet_, a scientific
appraisal of the possibilities of life on the planet Mars published in
1953. He also served for a time as London correspondent for FORTUNE
MAGAZINE._



It is strange to be alone, and so cold. To be the last man on earth....

The snow drives silently about me, ceaselessly, drearily. And I am
isolated in this tiny white, indistinguishable corner of a blurred
world, surely the loneliest creature in the universe. How many thousands
of years is it since I last knew the true companionship? For a long time
I have been lonely, but there were people, creatures of flesh and blood.
Now they are gone. Now I have not even the stars to keep me company, for
they are all lost in an infinity of snow and twilight here below.

If only I could know how long it has been since first I was imprisoned
upon the earth. It cannot matter now. And yet some vague
dissatisfaction, some faint instinct, asks over and over in my throbbing
ears: What year? What year?

It was in the year 1930 that the great thing began in my life. There was
then a very great man who performed operations on his fellows to compose
their vitals--we called such men surgeons. John Granden wore the title
"Sir" before his name, in indication of nobility by birth according to
the prevailing standards in England. But surgery was only a hobby of Sir
John's, if I must be precise, for, while he had achieved an enormous
reputation as a surgeon, he always felt that his real work lay in the
experimental end of his profession. He was, in a way, a dreamer, but a
dreamer who could make his dreams come true.

I was a very close friend of Sir John's. In fact, we shared the same
apartments in London. I have never forgotten that day when he first
mentioned to me his momentous discovery. I had just come in from a long
sleigh-ride in the country with Alice, and I was seated drowsily in the
window-seat, writing idly in my mind a description of the wind and the
snow and the grey twilight of the evening. It is strange, is it not,
that my tale should begin and end with the snow and the twilight.

Sir John opened suddenly a door at one end of the room and came hurrying
across to another door. He looked at me, grinning rather like a
triumphant maniac.

"It's coming!" he cried, without pausing, "I've almost got it!" I smiled
at him: he looked very ludicrous at that moment.

"What have you got?" I asked.

"Good Lord, man, the Secret--the Secret!" And then he was gone again,
the door closing upon his victorious cry, "The Secret!"

I was, of course, amused. But I was also very much interested. I knew
Sir John well enough to realize that, however amazing his appearance
might be, there would be nothing absurd about his "Secret"--whatever it
was. But it was useless to speculate. I could only hope for
enlightenment at dinner. So I immersed myself in one of the surgeon's
volumes from his fine Library of Imagination, and waited.

I think the book was one of Mr. H. G. Wells', probably "The Sleeper
Awakes," or some other of his brilliant fantasies and predictions, for I
was in a mood conducive to belief in almost anything when, later, we sat
down together across the table. I only wish I could give some idea of
the atmosphere that permeated our apartments, the reality it lent to
whatever was vast and amazing and strange. You could then, whoever you
are, understand a little the ease with which I accepted Sir John's new
discovery.

He began to explain it to me at once, as though he could keep it to
himself no longer.

"Did you think I had gone mad, Dennell?" he asked. "I quite wonder that
I haven't. Why, I have been studying for many years--for most of my
life--on this problem. And, suddenly, I have solved it! Or, rather, I am
afraid I have solved another one much greater."

"Tell me about it, but for God's sake don't be technical."

"Right," he said. Then he paused. "Dennell, it's _magnificent_! It will
change everything that is in the world." His eyes held mine suddenly
with the fatality of a hypnotist's. "Dennell, it is the Secret of
Eternal Life," he said.

"Good Lord, Sir John!" I cried, half inclined to laugh.

"I mean it," he said. "You know I have spent most of my life studying
the processes of birth, trying to find out precisely what went on in the
whole history of conception."

"You have found out?"

"No, that is just what amuses me. I have discovered something else
without knowing yet what causes either process.

"I don't want to be technical, and I know very little of what actually
takes place myself. But I can try to give you some idea of it."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is thousands, perhaps millions of years since Sir John explained to
me. What little I understood at the time I may have forgotten, yet I try
to reproduce what I can of his theory.

"In my study of the processes of birth," he began, "I discovered the
rudiments of an action which takes place in the bodies of both men and
women. There are certain properties in the foods we eat that remain in
the body for the reproduction of life, two distinct Essences, so to
speak, of which one is retained by the woman, another by the man. It is
the union of these two properties that, of course, creates the child.

"Now, I made a slight mistake one day in experimenting with a
guinea-pig, and I re-arranged certain organs which I need not describe
so that I thought I had completely messed up the poor creature's
abdomen. It lived, however, and I laid it aside. It was some years later
that I happened to notice it again. It had not given birth to any young,
but I was amazed to note that it had apparently grown no older: it
seemed precisely in the same state of growth in which I had left it.

"From that I built up. I re-examined the guinea-pig, and observed it
carefully. I need not detail my studies. But in the end I found that my
'mistake' had in reality been a momentous discovery. I found that I had
only to close certain organs, to re-arrange certain ducts, and to open
certain dormant organs, and, _mirabile dictu_, the whole process of
reproduction was changed.

"You have heard, of course, that our bodies are continually changing,
hour by hour, minute by minute, so that every few years we have been
literally reborn. Some such principle as this seems to operate in
reproduction, except that, instead of the old body being replaced by the
new, and in its form, approximately, the new body is created apart from
it. It is the creation of children that causes us to die, it would seem,
because if this activity is, so to speak, dammed up or turned aside into
new channels, the reproduction operates on the old body, renewing it
continually. It is very obscure and very absurd, is it not? But the most
absurd part of it is that it is true. Whatever the true explanation may
be, the fact remains that the operation can be done, that it actually
prolongs life indefinitely, and that I alone know the secret."

Sir John told me a very great deal more, but, after all, I think it
amounted to little more than this. It would be impossible for me to
express the great hold his discovery took upon my mind the moment he
recounted it. From the very first, under the spell of his personality, I
believed, and I knew he was speaking the truth. And it opened up before
me new vistas. I began to see myself become suddenly eternal, never
again to know the fear of death. I could see myself storing up, century
after century, an amplitude of wisdom and experience that would make me
truly a god.

"Sir John!" I cried, long before he was finished. "You must perform that
operation on me!"

"But, Dennell, you are too hasty. You must not put yourself so rashly
into my hands."

"You have perfected the operation, haven't you?"

"That is true," he said.

"You must try it out on somebody, must you not?"

"Yes, of course. And yet--somehow, Dennell, I am afraid. I cannot help
feeling that man is not yet prepared for such a vast thing. There are
sacrifices. One must give up love and all sensual pleasure. This
operation not only takes away the mere fact of reproduction, but it
deprives one of all the things that go with sex, all love, all sense of
beauty, all feeling for poetry and the arts. It leaves only the few
emotions, selfish emotions, that are necessary to self-preservation. Do
you not see? One becomes an intellect, nothing more--a cold apotheosis
of reason. And I, for one, cannot face such a thing calmly."

"But, Sir John, like many fears, it is largely horrible in the
foresight. After you have changed your nature you cannot regret it. What
you are would be as horrible an idea to you afterwards as the thought of
what you will be seems now."

"True, true. I know it. But it is hard to face, nevertheless."

"I am not afraid to face it."

"You do not understand it, Dennell, I am afraid. And I wonder whether
you or I or any of us on this earth are ready for such a step. After
all, to make a race deathless, one should be sure it is a perfect race."

"Sir John," I said, "it is not you who have to face this, nor any one
else in the world till you are ready. But I am firmly resolved, and I
demand it of you as my friend."

Well, we argued much further, but in the end I won. Sir John promised to
perform the operation three days later.

... But do you perceive now what I had forgotten during all that
discussion, the one thing I had thought I could never forget so long as
I lived, not even for an instant? It was my love for Alice--I had
forgotten that!

       *       *       *       *       *

I cannot write here all the infinity of emotions I experienced later,
when, with Alice in my arms, it suddenly came upon me what I had done.
Ages ago--I have forgotten how to feel. I could name now a thousand
feelings I used to have, but I can no longer even understand them. For
only the heart can understand the heart, and the intellect only the
intellect.

With Alice in my arms, I told the whole story. It was she who, with her
quick instinct, grasped what I had never noticed.

"But Carl!" she cried, "Don't you see?--It will mean that we can never
be married!" And, for the first time, I understood. If only I could
re-capture some conception of that love! I have always known, since the
last shred of comprehension slipped from me, that I lost something very
wonderful when I lost love. But what does it matter? I lost Alice too,
and I could not have known love again without her.

We were very sad and very tragic that night. For hours and hours we
argued the question over. But I felt somewhat that I was inextricably
caught in my fate, that I could not retreat now from my resolve. I was
perhaps, very school-boyish, but I felt that it would be cowardice to
back out now. But it was Alice again who perceived a final aspect of the
matter.

"Carl," she said to me, her lips very close to mine, "it need not come
between our love. After all, ours would be a poor sort of love if it
were not more of the mind than of the flesh. We shall remain lovers, but
we shall forget mere carnal desire. I shall submit to that operation
too!"

And I could not shake her from her resolve. I would speak of danger that
I could not let her face. But, after the fashion of women, she disarmed
me with the accusation that I did not love her, that I did not want her
love, that I was trying to escape from love. What answer had I for that,
but that I loved her and would do anything in the world not to lose her?

I have wondered sometimes since whether we might have known the love of
the mind. Is love something entirely of the flesh, something created by
an ironic God merely to propagate His race? Or can there be love without
emotion, love without passion--love between two cold intellects? I do
not know. I did not ask then. I accepted anything that would make our
way more easy.

There is no need to draw out the tale. Already my hand wavers, and my
time grows short. Soon there will be no more of me, no more of my
tale--no more of Mankind. There will be only the snow, and the ice, and
the cold ...

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later I entered John's Hospital with Alice on my arm. All my
affairs--and they were few enough--were in order. I had insisted that
Alice wait until I had come safely through the operation, before she
submitted to it. I had been carefully starved for two days, and I was
lost in an unreal world of white walls and white clothes and white
lights, drunk with my dreams of the future. When I was wheeled into the
operating room on the long, hard table, for a moment it shone with
brilliant distinctness, a neat, methodical white chamber, tall and more
or less circular. Then I was beneath the glare of soft white lights, and
the room faded into a misty vagueness from which little steel rays
flashed and quivered from silvery cold instruments. For a moment our
hands, Sir John's and mine, gripped, and we were saying good-bye--for a
little while--in the way men say these things. Then I felt the warm
touch of Alice's lips upon mine, and I felt sudden painful things I
cannot describe, that I could not have described then. For a moment I
felt that I must rise and cry out that I could not do it. But the
feeling passed, and I was passive.

Something was pressed about my mouth and nose, something with an
ethereal smell. Staring eyes swam about me from behind their white
masks. I struggled instinctively, but in vain--I was held securely.
Infinitesimal points of light began to wave back and forth on a
pitch-black background; a great hollow buzzing echoed in my head. My
head seemed suddenly to have become all throat, a great, cavernous,
empty throat in which sounds and lights were mingled together, in a
swift rhythm, approaching, receding eternally. Then, I think, there were
dreams. But I have forgotten them....

I began to emerge from the effect of the ether. Everything was dim, but
I could perceive Alice beside me, and Sir John.

"Bravely done!" Sir John was saying, and Alice, too, was saying
something, but I cannot remember what. For a long while we talked, I
speaking the nonsense of those who are coming out from under ether, they
teasing me a little solemnly. But after a little while I became aware of
the fact that they were about to leave. Suddenly, God knows why, I knew
that they must not leave. Something cried in the back of my head that
they _must_ stay--one cannot explain these things, except by after
events. I began to press them to remain, but they smiled and said they
must get their dinner. I commanded them not to go; but they spoke kindly
and said they would be back before long. I think I even wept a little,
like a child, but Sir John said something to the nurse, who began to
reason with me firmly, and then they were gone, and somehow I was
asleep....

       *       *       *       *       *

When I awoke again, my head was fairly clear, but there was an
abominable reek of ether all about me. The moment I opened my eyes, I
felt that something had happened. I asked for Sir John and for Alice. I
saw a swift, curious look that I could not interpret come over the face
of the nurse, then she was calm again, her countenance impassive. She
reassured me in quick meaningless phrases, and told me to sleep. But I
could not sleep: I was absolutely sure that something had happened to
them, to my friend and to the woman I loved. Yet all my insistence
profited me nothing, for the nurses were a silent lot. Finally, I think,
they must have given me a sleeping potion of some sort, for I fell
asleep again.

For two endless, chaotic days, I saw nothing of either of them, Alice or
Sir John. I became more and more agitated, the nurse more and more
taciturn. She would only say that they had gone away for a day or two.

And then, on the third day, I found out. They thought I was asleep. The
night nurse had just come in to relieve the other.

"Has he been asking about them again?" she asked.

"Yes, poor fellow. I have hardly managed to keep him quiet."

"We will have to keep it from him until he is recovered fully." There
was a long pause, and I could hardly control my labored breathing.

"How sudden it was!" one of them said. "To be killed like that--" I
heard no more, for I leapt suddenly up in bed, crying out.

"Quick! For God's sake, tell me what has happened!" I jumped to the
floor and seized one of them by the collar. She was horrified. I shook
her with a superhuman strength.

"Tell me!" I shouted, "Tell me--Or I'll--!" She told me--what else could
she do.

"They were killed in an accident," she gasped, "in a taxi--a
collision--the Strand--!" And at that moment a crowd of nurses and
attendants arrived, called by the other frantic woman, and they put me
to bed again.

I have no memory of the next few days. I was in delirium, and I was
never told what I said during my ravings. Nor can I express the feelings
I was saturated with when at last I regained my mind again. Between my
old emotions and any attempt to put them into words, or even to remember
them, lies always that insurmountable wall of my Change. I cannot
understand what I must have felt, I cannot express it.

I only know that for weeks I was sunk in a misery beyond any misery I
had ever imagined before. The only two friends I had on earth were gone
to me. I was left alone. And, for the first time, I began to see before
me all these endless years that would be the same, dull, lonely.

Yet I recovered. I could feel each day the growth of a strange new vigor
in my limbs, a vast force that was something tangibly expressive to
eternal life. Slowly my anguish began to die. After a week more, I began
to understand how my emotions were leaving me, how love and beauty and
everything of which poetry was made--how all this was going. I could not
bear the thought at first. I would look at the golden sunlight and the
blue shadow of the wind, and I would say,

"God! How beautiful!" And the words would echo meaninglessly in my ears.
Or I would remember Alice's face, that face I had once loved so
inextinguishably, and I would weep and clutch my forehead, and clench my
fists, crying,

"O God, how can I live without her!" Yet there would be a little strange
fancy in my head at the same moment, saying,

"Who is this Alice? You know no such person." And truly I would wonder
whether she had ever existed.

So, slowly, the old emotions were shed away from me, and I began to joy
in a corresponding growth of my mental perceptions. I began to toy idly
with mathematical formulae I had forgotten years ago, in the same
fashion that a poet toys with a word and its shades of meaning. I would
look at everything with new, seeing eyes, new perception, and I would
understand things I had never understood before, because formerly my
emotions had always occupied me more than my thoughts.

And so the weeks went by, until, one day, I was well.

... What, after all, is the use of this chronicle? Surely there will
never be men to read it. I have heard them say that the snow will never
go. I will be buried, it will be buried with me; and it will be the end
of us both. Yet, somehow, it eases my weary soul a little to write....

Need I say that I lived, thereafter, many thousands of thousands of
years, until this day? I cannot detail that life. It is a long round of
new, fantastic impressions, coming dream-like, one after another,
melting into each other. In looking back, as in looking back upon
dreams, I seem to recall only a few isolated periods clearly; and it
seems that my imagination must have filled in the swift movement between
episodes. I think now, of necessity, in terms of centuries and
millenniums, rather than days and months.... The snow blows terribly
about my little fire, and I know it will soon gather courage to quench
us both ...

       *       *       *       *       *

Years passed, at first with a sort of clear wonder. I watched things
that took place everywhere in the world. I studied. The other students
were much amazed to see me, a man of thirty odd, coming back to college.

"But Judas, Dennell, you've already got your Ph.D! What more do you
want?" So they would all ask me. And I would reply;

"I want an M.D. and an F.R.C.S." I didn't tell them that I wanted
degrees in Law, too, and in Biology and Chemistry, in Architecture and
Engineering, in Psychology and Philosophy. Even so, I believe they
thought me mad. But poor fools! I would think. They can hardly realize
that I have all of eternity before me to study.

I went to school for many decades. I would pass from University to
University, leisurely gathering all the fruits of every subject I took
up, revelling in study as no student revelled ever before. There was no
need of hurry in my life, no fear of death too soon. There was a
magnificence of vigor in my body, and a magnificence of vision and
clarity in my brain. I felt myself a super-man. I had only to go on
storing up wisdom until the day should come when all knowledge of the
world was mine, and then I could command the world. I had no need for
hurry. O vast life! How I gloried in my eternity! And how little good it
has ever done me, by the irony of God.

For several centuries, changing my name and passing from place to place,
I continued my studies. I had no consciousness of monotony, for, to the
intellect, monotony cannot exist: it was one of those emotions I had
left behind. One day, however, in the year 2132, a great discovery was
made by a man called Zarentzov. It had to do with the curvature of
space, quite changing the conceptions that we had all followed since
Einstein. I had long ago mastered the last detail of Einstein's theory,
as had, in time, the rest of the world. I threw myself immediately into
the study of this new, epoch-making conception.

To my amazement, it all seemed to me curiously dim and elusive. I could
not quite grasp what Zarentzov was trying to formulate.

"Why," I cried, "the thing is a monstrous fraud!" I went to the
professor of Physics in the University I then attended, and I told him
it was a fraud, a huge book of mere nonsense. He looked at me rather
pityingly.

"I am afraid, Modevski," he said, addressing me by the name I was at the
time using, "I am afraid you do not understand it, that is all. When
your mind has broadened, you will. You should apply yourself more
carefully to your Physics." But that angered me, for I had mastered my
Physics before he was ever born. I challenged him to explain the theory.
And he did! He put it, obviously, in the clearest language he could. Yet
I understood nothing. I stared at him dumbly, until he shook his head
impatiently, saying that it was useless, that if I could not grasp it I
would simply have to keep on studying. I was stunned. I wandered away in
a daze.

For do you see what happened? During all those years I had studied
ceaselessly, and my mind had been clear and quick as the day I first had
left the hospital. But all that time I had been able only to remain what
I was--an extraordinarily intelligent man of the twentieth century. And
the rest of the race had been progressing! It had been swiftly gathering
knowledge and power and ability all that time, faster and faster, while
I had been only remaining still. And now here was Zarentzov and the
teachers of the Universities, and, probably, a hundred intelligent men,
who had all outstripped me! I was being left behind.

And that is what happened. I need not dilate further upon it. By the end
of that century I had been left behind by all the students of the world,
and I never did understand Zarentzov. Other men came with other
theories, and these theories were accepted by the world. But I could not
understand them. My intellectual life was at an end. I had nothing more
to understand. I knew everything I was capable of knowing, and,
thenceforth, I could only play wearily with the old ideas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Many things happened in the world. A time came when the East and West,
two mighty unified hemispheres, rose up in arms: the civil war of a
planet. I recall only chaotic visions of fire and thunder and hell. It
was all incomprehensible to me: like a bizarre dream, things happened,
people rushed about, but I never knew what they were doing. I lurked
during all that time in a tiny shuddering hole under the city of
Yokohama, and by a miracle I survived. And the East won. But it seems to
have mattered little who did win, for all the world had become, in all
except its few remaining prejudices, a single race, and nothing was
changed when it was all rebuilt again, under a single government.

I saw the first of the strange creatures who appeared among us in the
year 6371, men who were later known to be from the planet Venus. But
they were repulsed, for they were savages compared with the Earthmen,
although they were about equal to the people of my own century, 1900.
Those of them who did not perish of the cold after the intense warmth of
their world, and those who were not killed by our hands, those few
returned silently home again. And I have always regretted that I had not
the courage to go with them.

I watched a time when the world reached perfection in mechanics, when
men could accomplish anything with a touch of the finger. Strange men,
these creatures of the hundredth century, men with huge brains and tiny
shriveled bodies, atrophied limbs, and slow, ponderous movements on
their little conveyances. It was I, with my ancient compunctions, who
shuddered when at last they put to death all the perverts, the
criminals, and the insane, ridding the world of the scum for which they
had no more need. It was then that I was forced to produce my tattered
old papers, proving my identity and my story. They knew it was true, in
some strange fashion of theirs, and, thereafter, I was kept on
exhibition as an archaic survival.

I saw the world made immortal through the new invention of a man called
Kathol, who used somewhat the same method "legend" decreed had been used
upon me. I observed the end of speech, of all perceptions except one,
when men learned to communicate directly by thought, and to receive
directly into the brain all the myriad vibrations of the universe.

All these things I saw, and more, until that time when there was no more
discovery, but a Perfect World in which there was no need for anything
but memory. Men ceased to count time at last. Several hundred years
after the 154th Dynasty from the Last War, or, as we would have counted
in my time, about 200,000 A.D., official records of time were no longer
kept carefully. They fell into disuse. Men began to forget years, to
forget time at all. Of what significance was time when one was immortal?

       *       *       *       *       *

After long, long uncounted centuries, a time came when the days grew
noticeably colder. Slowly the winters became longer, and the summers
diminished to but a month or two. Fierce storms raged endlessly in
winter, and in summer sometimes there was severe frost, sometimes there
was only frost. In the high places and in the north and the
sub-equatorial south, the snow came and would not go.

Men died by the thousands in the higher latitudes. New York became,
after awhile, the furthest habitable city north, an arctic city, where
warmth seldom penetrated. And great fields of ice began to make their
way southward, grinding before them the brittle remains of
civilizations, covering over relentlessly all of man's proud work.

Snow appeared in Florida and Italy one summer. In the end, snow was
there always. Men left New York, Chicago, Paris, Yokohama, and
everywhere they traveled by the millions southward, perishing as they
went, pursued by the snow and the cold, and that inevitable field of
ice. They were feeble creatures when the Cold first came upon them, but
I speak in terms of thousands of years; and they turned every weapon of
science to the recovery of their physical power, for they foresaw that
the only chance for survival lay in a hard, strong body. As for me, at
last I had found a use for my few powers, for my physique was the finest
in that world. It was but little comfort, however, for we were all
united in our awful fear of that Cold and that grinding field of Ice.
All the great cities were deserted. We would catch silent, fearful
glimpses of them as we sped on in our machines over the snow--great
hungry, haggard skeletons of cities, shrouded in banks of snow, snow
that the wind rustled through desolate streets where the cream of human
life once had passed in calm security. Yet still the Ice pursued. For
men had forgotten about that Last Ice Age when they ceased to reckon
time, when they lost sight of the future and steeped themselves in
memories. They had not remembered that a time must come when Ice would
lie white and smooth over all the earth, when the sun would shine
bleakly between unending intervals of dim, twilight snow and sleet.

Slowly the Ice pursued us down the earth, until all the feeble remains
of civilization were gathered in Egypt and India and South America. The
deserts flowered again, but the frost would come always to bite the tiny
crops. For still the Ice came. All the world now, but for a narrow strip
about the equator, was one great silent desolate vista of stark
ice-plains, ice that brooded above the hidden ruins of cities that had
endured for hundreds of thousands of years. It was terrible to imagine
the awful solitude and the endless twilight that lay on these places,
and the grim snow, sailing in silence over all....

It surrounded us on all sides, until life remained only in a few
scattered clearings all about that equator of the globe, with an eternal
fire going to hold away the hungry Ice. Perpetual winter reigned now;
and we were becoming terror-stricken beasts that preyed on each other
for a life already doomed. Ah, but I, I the archaic survival, I had my
revenge then, with my great physique and strong jaws--God! Let me think
of something else. Those men who lived upon each other--it was horrible.
And I was one.

       *       *       *       *       *

So inevitably the Ice closed in.... One day the men of our tiny clearing
were but a score. We huddled about our dying fire of bones and stray
logs. We said nothing. We just sat, in deep, wordless, thoughtless
silence. We were the last outpost of Mankind.

I think suddenly something very noble must have transformed these
creatures to a semblance of what they had been of old. I saw, in their
eyes, the question they sent from one to another, and in every eye I saw
that the answer was, Yes. With one accord they rose before my eyes and,
ignoring me as a baser creature, they stripped away their load of
tattered rags and, one by one, they stalked with their tiny shrivelled
limbs into the shivering gale of swirling, gusting snow, and
disappeared. And I was alone....

So am I alone now. I have written this last fantastic history of myself
and of Mankind upon a substance that will, I know, outlast even the snow
and the Ice--as it has outlasted Mankind that made it. It is the only
thing with which I have never parted. For is it not irony that I should
be the historian of this race--I, a savage, an "archaic survival?" Why
do I write? God knows, but some instinct prompts me, although there will
never be men to read.

I have been sitting here, waiting, and I have thought often of Sir John
and Alice, whom I loved. Can it be that I am feeling again, after all
these ages, some tiny portion of that emotion, that great passion I once
knew? I see her face before me, the face I have lost from my thoughts
for eons, and something is in it that stirs my blood again. Her eyes are
half-closed and deep, her lips are parted as though I could crush them
with an infinity of wonder and discovery. O God! It is love again, love
that I thought was lost! They have often smiled upon me when I spoke of
God, and muttered about my foolish, primitive superstitions. But they
are gone, and I am left who believe in God, and surely there is purpose
in it.

I am cold, I have written. Ah, I am frozen. My breath freezes as it
mingles with the air, and I can hardly move my numbed fingers. The Ice
is closing over me, and I cannot break it any longer. The storm cries
weirdly all about me in the twilight, and I know this is the end. The
end of the world. And I--I, the last man....

The last man....

... I am cold--cold....

But is it you, Alice? Is it you?


THE END





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