One day the world turned to ice. The world melted for a time but the melt pouring into the oceans at such a rate that currents were interrupted. And then the earth did what it did, its pendulum swung and froze continents and the waters between continents, gobbling up terra firma, crops, grazing pastures, cities, suburbs. Snow fell at alarming rates, power grids shut down, famine swept Europe, North America, and the East. Only parts of the southern hemisphere were spared.
Governments disintegrated as the raw fight for survival took the place of societal structures and what rose in its place: Kingdoms, monarchies, ruled by those adept at knowing what to do in the roughest conditions. A group of convicts, having escaped when the shutdown of electric power reversed locking mechanisms in prisons, were found to be most one of these most resourceful and quickly rose to power.
One such man was Bluebeard. A leader among his peers and greatly feared by even the most brutal, he established his kingdom in Northern Europe, having conscripted the vast gang of his brotherhood as his henchmen. He envisioned for himself a vast dominion and began creation of his ice kingdom, drafting those who had worked in ice in commercial and artistic projects in the Old World to build his palaces.
As for the average person, there was chaos and starvation, desperation. The world fell into famine. Crops and stores of crops soon disappeared. Children were given chunks of ice to suck on when hungry and soon that became their sole consolation. In the early days of the Global Freeze, when money had value, those who had saved money were able to send family members further south to an uncertain but perhaps better future. Those who could not afford to do so or who were too old or infirm to travel stayed and bartered with whatever was left them: furniture sold for wood, matches for canned goods, sex for dried meats. It even happened in some families that it became necessary to sell children.
One such child had been Helene Goode. In fact, her brother and sister had previously been sold as stopgaps, her father having held onto her as long as he could. But at last, even her usefulness to him did not outweigh the desperate needs of his stomach and the cravings of his wife. And so they sent her on her way in exchange for something more valuable than money: a whole reindeer, a steel and flint, a cord of wood.
Helene was only thirteen when she was paraded into the courtyard of Bluebeard, a chain around her waist, tied to other girls like they were a daisy chain she used to make in summer for her sister Anna. Anna is here somewhere, thought Helene, and despite the pulling and tugging of the girl in front of her and behind, she began to look around, as if Anna at that very moment might be wandering the ice cobblestone streets. And where was her brother Henry? She could not imagine. Of what use would he be here? All that had concerned him in the Old World was a wooden car he pushed around the house, making car noises, pushing air through his pursed lips, drooling a bit. She smiled when she thought of it.
“What are you smiling about?” said the Talent Collector, coming up beside her with a whip she held in her hands. The Talent Collector had grabbed her arm when her father led the reindeer away to their shed. She had put Helene into one of several huge woven cages along the back of the sleigh, her mother crying and calling out to her, handing her a necklace that had been her grandmother’s.
“I’ll take that,” the Talent Collector said, grabbing the necklace with a greedy hand from where she sat on the driver’s bench. She stuffed it into the folds of her dress and Helene never saw it again. It was her grandmother’s cameo. “Your mother just feels guilty she sold you,” said the old woman, heartlessly, and cracked her whip over the animals who jolted to life.
It had been her family’s fortune that Helene had worked in ice every year, had received a special dispensation from regular schooling and had received scholarships to make the trips. Young though she was, her time as an intern in polar Sweden shaping ice sculptures and also as an assistant at local competitions fetched for her parents’ survival through the winter. The old woman could be as nasty as she wished.
Helene only prayed the extent of her talents had not been common knowledge: the unnatural pace with which she molded her creations in ice, her communion with and understanding of water.
Helene had known the ice was coming, she knew of snow. She knew it before it was being broadcast, when it first hit Europe. It was a creaking in her bones, a roaring in her ears. She was most sensitive to it, at night, lights out, and she felt it, heard it approach, nearer and nearer.
When she had helped build ice hotels and theme parks for rich tourists, she had only heard singing, music, the sound of bells – some deep and sonorous and rich, some light and tinkling. But when the ice was approaching on the whole of the earth, it was in her ears, the whole of the orchestra playing at once in a riotous cacophony. When it invaded her days as well as her nights, she began worrying for her mother and father, her brother and sister.
Standing before Bluebeard in his palace of ice, his massive figure clad in the skin of a bear, she saw beyond the throne something that would give her life purpose beyond survival: blocks of ice composing the walls of the court were blocks of frozen children.
“We do it to preserve them,” said Bluebeard, his face crisscrossed by a deep blue tattoo, giving his light blue eyes a washed out appearance, a sense of laser penetration. “Maybe some day we’ll learn how to use these creatures again, or eat them,” he said, laughing, throwing back his fur clad head and bearing teeth filed to points.
Somewhere in these blocks was Anna, Henry. She cast out her thoughts to the blocks but in return received nothing back. Silence.
She had never encountered this before. In Bluebeard, she had a formidable opponent. He ruled even her thoughts.
But ghosts also came to her from water, ghosts of people who had died at the hands of currents and accidents in ice. Working in Sweden had taught her she could find the burial ground of lost children and pets though she would never reveal what led her there, only that she had happened upon them when exploring.
She bid her time until even Bluebeard gave over his evil schemes to night. She convinced the guards she had night repairs to make in the ice. Ice workers were given the benefit of a lantern and a few rudimentary tools. She stood on the massive floor stained to look like an intricately carved ornamental rug and she called out to her sister and brother: Anna! Henry! She called out to them again and again, her breath pluming up in the light of the lantern.
A ghost in water sound was unlike any other pure ice sound. It was a low bassoon, though in the case of children, often a high flute. The sounds of these ghosts in ice had often reminded her of Prokiev’s Peter in the Wolf recording her mother used to play for them in which the bird song is a high flute and the grandfather is a low grumpy bassoon.
It was then, upon summoning them, that the ice gave over what they contained: two flutes trilling and climbing in distress and alarm. Anna and Henry!
She ran to where they cried out, one not far from the other and it was as Helene experienced in other times of spying the dead frozen in ice: Their musical screams from dead blazing faces, faces trapped in shock and alarm. It was an odd combination though Helene had become used to it and began thinking of it as another way all of life communicates though most never hear it.
“I will get you out!” She promises them. Anna is in an ice block only a few blocks from Henry, frozen as if she were in mid stride and trying to say something at the same time. Henry, a few ice blocks away, was frozen on his knees as he pushes his wooden car.
Helene wanted to break down from her grief but her experience seeing people and animals this way helps her remain calm before children who needed comfort.
In her bed of ice that night in the worker’s quarters where she was afforded a mattress and covering of bear fur, she cried silently to herself over what she knew: There would be no life left for her Anna and Henry. She had been enabled to hear people frozen in ice but that didn’t mean they were still alive. They were simply trapped. It was a state of unendurable misery. She made her plans for the tyrant who had made easy sport of innocents.
The next morning, Bluebeard was sitting down to breakfast, his favorite: blueberry pancakes with the wheat from fields he was harvesting in the southern hemisphere, blueberries that grew aplenty in his crops. Mid bite, he froze. Yes, literally. A sheet of water leapt from the buckets held over flames for the purpose of his laundry and ablutions and froze him in a solid wall of blue and white crystalline wonder, his pointed teeth bared, his laser blue eyes held in shocked amazement.
Helene thanked the servants for entry into the dining hall and requested a pancake. She folded it and put it into her mouth. Heavenly. The servants would have been given gruel. She used their befuddlement to command them to make all servants the luxurious breakfast. They did so, as ordered, digging deep into Bluebeard’s larder, and a long line filed in to pile their plates high with a rare treat and to gaze at their frozen, malevolent king. And no one knew quite what to make of the girl who, with a wave of her hand, commanded a sheet of water fall on this ravenous oligarch and freeze him to death. But they knew it would be a very fine day.
And at the command of Helene, ice blocks of children were exchanged for ice blocks of henchman, and children were laid to rest in memorial gardens of ice painted to resemble flowers.
Helene could hear music again. It sounded of water. It sounded of home.