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A Day in Winter

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a vignette by Alex Reicher.

* * *

Molly has been up for some time - her side of the bed was already cold. Glenn
opened his eyes slowly and looked about the room. The window in the opposite wall
let in pale sunlight. A bird chirped so close by that it seemed to be inside
the cabin. The morning was beckoning - it was time for him to get up too.

As he climbed out of the bed he was in for an unpleasant suprise - the air in the cabin
was freezing cold. The fireplace was a cold heap of ashes - it had to be rekindled if
they wanted to make coffee or get warm. He dressed as quickly as he could and stepped out of
the door to get some firewood from the pile outside.

"I'm way ahead of you, darling", she said, walking towards him and carrying two logs.

"Good morning, beautiful. How did you sleep?", he said, kissing her.

"Like the dead - all this fresh air and exercise. Let's get some heat in the cabin.
Fetch another couple of logs, and I'll start the fire."

Twenty minutes later, lively flames were blazing in the hearth. Molly and Glenn were
sitting over cups of freshly brewed black coffee. Some pancakes were left over from yesterday's
supper. They sat and ate silently for a few minutes, looking out of the window at the
austere beauty of the valley below. The frozen lake showed itself as a flat expanse of
white amid the dark fir woods on its banks. The faraway mountains were a jagged grey
line against the azure sky.

"Great scenery. I wouldn't trade this for any steamy jungle. I like the cold - it's harsh,
but also... noble somehow.", said Glenn.

"Yeah, me too. It's beautiful. But deadly. It's what going to kill life at the end,
you know? Eventually the Universe will grow too cold for any kind of life, no matter how
ingenious, to survive."

"Remember that article? We talked about it. It said you can compute while spending arbitrarily
little amounts of energy - as long as you don't erase any information."

"OK, maybe something will be able to 'think' indefinetly if it doesn't loose any information.
But it will have only a finite storage space for all its knowledge, right? What will it do when
it runs out of room?"

"I guess eventually it will have to think the same thought it had before. And then it will be
caught in an infinite loop."

"Yes, I guess you're right. The eternal recurrence of the same. It sounds terrible. A vision
of Hell."

"It probably wouldn't know that it's caught in a loop. Or maybe it would. But it wouldn't be
able to count the times it had relived the same thing, of course. So it's not so terrible."

After a while Molly said, "We're on vacation, right? How about going to see the lake and forest?
We can try to circle the lake, but then we should go soon if we want to make it back before dark.
Maybe we'll run across some deer."

"Or wolves.", he chuckled. "But sure, let's go."

They made some sandwiches, filled a thermos of coffee, put on their coats and went outside.
The sun was already blazing in the sky. Fresh snow has fallen during the night and everything
was covered with a sparkling white mantle. They descended from the hilltop on which the cabin
stood, past a well and a copse of fir, and headed towards the frozen lake. It lay some half
a mile beyond. The woods around it weren't very thick or old, but nevertheless they seemed
somber and enchanting.

* * *

They came back in the early evening, exhausted and satisfied, having trekked all the way around
the lake. The sun was already orange and low in the west. The snow, reflecting the sunlight, was
tinted a yellowish pink and the cabin cast a long blue shadow on the hillside.

"I could eat a brontosaurus", Glenn said, entering the cabin after Molly. "I would try, anyhow."

"Me too. What do we have?"

"There are eggs, cheese, milk... Flour, some ready-to-eat meals. No more bacon."

"I know I don't want soggy chips out of a plastic box. How about pancakes? You pretty deft
with them, I remember."

"Lady, your wish is my command. There's a non-stick pan in the cupboard. It'll be easy."

Half an hour later the sun has set and the room remained dimly lit by the glow of the hearth
and the blue dusk outside. A stack of pancakes adorned the wooden table. The cabin was positively
warm now. Glenn even stripped to his shirt, hot from standing near the stove. They started to eat
enthusiastically, but their hunger was quenched sooner than they thought.

"I guess I overestimated our appetites", Glenn said. "A third of them is still left. I take it that
you're full too?"

"Yes. I'm done."

"Well, then we'll have something ready for tommorrow's breakfast. One benefit of the freezer this
cabin turns to at night - it's can serve as a, well, freezer."

Molly cleared out the plates and they sat closer to the fire. For a time they stared at the
flames licking the wood and the occasional spark floating on the hot updraft and disappearing
into the chimney.

"Nice", Molly said.

"Very", he replied. "But contrary to what some people believe, we can't do this forever."

"No electricity - that rules out many ways we could amuse ourselves."

"Many - but not all..."

* * *

Afterwards they lay huddled beneath a pile of sheets and wool blankets. The fire has died down
and only the sound of their breathing could be heard. Through the window they saw a brilliant
single white star against the matte black of the sky.

"Right now... it feels like the world exists just for us."

"I love you."

"I love you."

And they sank into a quiet, dreamless sleep.

* * *

Molly has been up for some time - her side of the bed was already cold.

(c) Alex Reicher, 2003.

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