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Ice Nine

“I opened my eyes — and all the sea was ice-nine. The moist green earth was a blue-white pearl. The sky darkened. The sun, became a sickly yellow ball, tiny and cruel…

There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight. It was winter, now and forever. I helped Mona out of our hole.
She shook her head and sighed. ‘A very bad mother.’
‘Mother Earth–she isn’t a very good mother any more.’

‘Hello? Hello?’ I called through the palace ruins. The awesome winds had torn canyons through that great stone pile. Mona and I made a half-hearted search for survivors — half-hearted because we could sense no life. Not even a nibbling, twinkle-nosed rat had survived. The arch of the palace gate was the only man-made form untouched. Mona and I went to it. Written at its base in white paint was a Calypso. The lettering was neat. It was new. It was proof that someone else had survived the winds. The Calypso was this:

Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why go right ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod.”


From the ending of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle: A Novel.

The substance “ice-nine” remains a mystery for most of the novel. Midway through the story, however, you find out that it’s a revolutionary scientific discovery — a form of frozen water which is stable at room temperature and which causes all liquid water it touches to take the same properties. Ice-nine eventually winds up in the hands of a dictator, and, not to leave you on the edge of your seat, the world ends.

So the scene above is of the earth’s ending. And the quiet, frozen apocalypse over a tundra-of-an-ocean, brings to mind Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice”:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Moreover, the cold truth that the world is something which is not ours to own, but rather borrowed — “that He to us did lend” — is echoed in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which describes a similarly haunting post-apocalyptic scene. “[The father] walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable…Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”


My thoughts are with my friends along the East Coast who are now braving nature’s bad side. Stay safe.

The picture is of rain on the hood of a car. Houston, Texas.