SAMUELS , BENJAMIN
Age: 14, Grade: 9
School Name: Bard High School Early College, New York, NY
Educator: Ursula Embola
Category: Short Story
[Robert Scott, the leader of the British expedition to the South Pole, died on March 29, 1912, in his tent. His segment of the expedition had all died on the journey back from the pole, where Scott learned he’d been beaten there by five weeks by a Norwegian explorer. Him and the last two men of the expedition died of hypothermia on the way back. As he sat in his tent he was 3000 miles away from the nearest living human.]
Nothing. White. A whirling drift of snow. Two men are dead beside me. Two more behind me, somewhere in the snow.
More are alive. Far away.
The snow melts under a sudden steam from the hearth. It comes from inside of me. The waves are through my eyes, and the heat from deep tunnels of my body. Cisterns of low fire. Underneath the fleeing snow is a blade of beaten grass. Below it dry earth, with little marble stones, and packed soil. And then again, it’s cold. It’s gone.
A gale from the outside has blown it out and the floor is snow again now. A smooth tone of white. Up, and around our tent, and across the shelf and through the doors, and out on the ice plains. Broken by two sets of stripes: red, white and blue; red, white, blue. Then down again, and it’s gone, too. White.
The snow is falling from the white sky onto white ground, to miles and miles. It could drive a man mad, if he was not so set.
The last entry is done. “It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry.” I could not write more. My life is crisply cut. It only remains left to die. I could not write more; I did not lie. Dead men cannot write. They can think, slowly. They can think in ink. They can think on curling paper, if it will dissolve in the snow.
To write is what? To show. I have two men beside me, and two behind me, and then for thousands of miles, white. There has been no man more isolated than I. My journal will be read. Not this. This filling piece of paper will separate finely into mounds of snow.
It has never been more clear to me than on these wastes, the warmth of human kindness. We are on bridges between ourselves, always in transit. Somehow. There are always binds of human existence. To save us from the gravity of empty space, we huddle in our binds, or we are flung out. So what is a man three thousand miles from another soul besides his own? What can he possibly be? I must know.
I had to know… some cave drips on itself and erodes within me, like a hunger. I can scream into the snow and the flat ice will freeze it. I can fling myself, and I will not move. I can die, and die and grow frost. There is no will but my own, and that is nothing. Compared to white, the absence of color. The gullet, down which goes shrieking we all will go. Not I. I sit still, watching flakes pass over the opening and fall out. The wind is deep and throaty. It hums along the shelf, and passes in spirals around the tent, the gentle protuberance in the undulating snow. We’ll be swallowed too, me and my testament. Another man might howl, and I would listen to him like the wind, as snow drove him deep and swallowed him whole.
My jaw was tight at first. A sense of meaningless frailty. Dust to dust. A cycle. But snow, to snow, to snow — to hills of snow, to pans of snow, to hills of snow over one man and billions of placid missiles, nestled one on another. All in one direction, that isn’t time. It isn’t anything. It’s white. It’s snow. A procession of whole things and parts of things, one after another, in an inexorable march. No one wonders where we’re going. No one knows where we came from. Some of the creatures can rub the ice from their eyes long enough to go mad, while the wind blows, and I will sit here and feel the wrapping cold.
It wasn’t long ago, though the numbers escape me, that I played the game. Now it’s over, but I still haven’t lost. What is the game? I suppose it’s a system of human consciousnesses, that rest on each other like interlocking pennies over the side of a table. All just little feedback loops of nervous energy. What’s I can see now is the table that they were stretching out from, and I laugh in my mind as my body loses heat. They were all resting on that snowflake. The one that’s falling.
It would be easy now to consider humans as great hunks of meat or dust, but I don’t. They’re snow. It’s clear now. The only way to take this knowledge is to die for it, because that’s the only way to learn. They’re piles and piles of snow. They do not fret their hour, though they can and do, they do not have to. They twirl and leap, and then fall and freeze. It’s not sad unless you make it sad. It’s not comforting, either, unless you make it so, the same way it isn’t terrifying or absurd or hellish or idyllic or peaceful. These are all words. By their very nature, they cannot be snow.
No one can think about you. You don’t matter to them. That isn’t bad, of course, unless you feel sad about it, in which case you feel sad. Still, there’s no value in anything around you, only in your emotion, which exists on its own, like the sculpted opacity of the ice. So you feel at peace, and there is a silent, passionless howl from all around you, and you see. You see! That to feel at peace is just as much unjustified. Terrible fury! Rage! Throw the snow, and it’s in another place. The snow isn’t angry. It’s not even indifferent. It can’t be. It won’t force itself on you. It will just bury you, in mounds and mounds, until you slowly freeze. And in your death, you won’t think either, and you’ll understand like I do now, except you’ll be gone before you can know it.
I watch from my tent the lilting, slanting, falling seeps of snow, swimming, surging; freezing, yes, they freeze — in a word, they freeze.
Still I think, and therefore I cannot understand. The blizzard is falling thick, dark flooding the light as the flakes all fall and dance. I think I must join them, and feel, and numb, and know.