Frost and Fire (especially the latter)
by Jack Kline
My ancient Ford tractor lies dead in the pasture. I need it to finish the pasture mowing and for some light grading around our new garage. It won’t start. I’ve coaxed and cussed and fiddled and it won’t start. In keeping with Mr. Murphy’s Law, it sits far from shade and it’s been over 100 degrees for more than a week, with wind chills in the one-teens.
Each morning I traipse out into the swelter with a new idea, and each sweaty day it fails. Today, my fuzzied and fried brain took me back to when I was thirteen, reading a collection of Ray Bradbury’s short stories. One of my favorites, “Frost and Fire” popped into my head as the temperature climbed.
“Frost and Fire” follows a race of humans trapped on Mercury. Placed there by a rocket ship that crashed in the distant past, the people are stranded in a cave within sight of another rocket ship on a distant mountain plateau. The plot follows Sim, the story’s protagonist, and his short life on a planet where people are cursed by super-radiated metabolism caused by the sun’s proximity to be born, grow up, grow old and die in only eight days.
The people of this planet are also gifted with a kind of racial memory (they retain their ancestors’ memories). Reaching the sole remaining rocket ship is futile because it must be reached in one hour, which is the longest length of time between day and night (one deadly hot and the other deadly cold). Sim, motivated by his dwindling days, makes it his goal to use the accumulated wisdom of his race to try and make it to the ship.
I read this story more than forty years ago and it still sticks with me. It rests prominently on my life’s list of great short stories.
Early tomorrow, as night evolves into day, armed with new plugs and a distributor kit, Sim and I will try to reach our spaceship and fire it up.
––Jack Kline lives with his family, dogs and horses near Louisburg, Kansas. One of Jack’s stories appeared in Kansas City Voices, Volume VII and another will appear in Volume IX this fall. His book Blowing Carbon (2009) is available on Amazon. Learn more at: http://jackkline.squarespace.com
We are excited to feature Jack at our upcoming reading. Join us from 4-6 pm on 9/11/2011 at Naomi’s Hallmark.