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Deep Freeze (1966)

Deep Freeze (1966)

©1966, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1966). Deep freeze. Unpublished short story.

I wrote this story when I was a junior in high school. At the time I was under the influence of Victorian-era writers like Poe and Verne and H.G. Wells.



I wrote this story when I was a junior in high school. At the time I was under the influence of Victorian-era writers like Poe and Verne and H.G. Wells.


Deep Freeze

By Dallas Denny


Although I had been experimenting with deep freeze recovery techniques, I never really expected to develop a method of thawing organisms without harm. When I was in my early twenties I was asked to give an exhibition with liquid air. I did the ordinary things—putting it in my mouth and spitting it out, hammering rubber nails with a hammer made of mercury, freezing goldfish. I did this dramatically. With a pair of tongs, I would dip a small goldfish in the liquid air for a few seconds. Removing it, I would laid it on a table and hit it with a mallet. Naturally, it would fly into pieces. Then, for contrast, I would layer a larger fish into the container. Instead of smashing this one, however, I would place it in a dish of water. Upon touching the water, it would start swimming.

This would invariably surprise the audience. The goldfish, however, would die after a few days because the outermost cells had died during submersion.

The ability of the goldfish to temporarily survive fascinated me. Although I detested such activities as vivisection and refused to work on the higher forms of life unless I was reasonably sure no harm would befall them, I began researching and experimenting on lower life forms. A few years ago (in a manner of speaking), I began getting positive results. Hamsters which had been completely frozen began to survive. I checked and discovered that those I had fed large quantities of citric acid before freezing— the same acid found in lemon juice—survived. Those not fed citric acid didn’t survive. I began tests to determine the active component of citric acid and its mechanism of action, but I could find only that citric acid prevented cell walls from rupturing when ice crystals formed.

The percentage of animals which survived was almost one hundred percent. Although it pained me, I tried freezing a puppy. After four months, I defrosted and resuscitated him. Within three days he was in perfect health and up to his old tricks, whining to jump onto my lap in order to be petted.

Although I was anxious to begin experimentation with apes, and eventually with human subjects, there was the matter of a long-planned vacation. For nearly a year my wife had been planning a vacation in Europe. I soon found myself on a ship headed for the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, we boarded a train which carried us ultimately to Switzerland.

As we were vacationing in the Alps, at Hotel M___ in the village of V___, I naturally decided to spend at least one day mountain climbing. One Wednesday I set out early with my wife and a Swiss guide. We didn’t expect to go all the way to the top of a high peak, of course, but we did want to see just how high we could climb and yet be home in time for supper.

Now I must digress. My wife, the lovely Lucinda, had always been a jealous woman. The day before our excursion on the mountain, I had introduced myself to a young lady who was also from the United States—Wyoming, I think it was. I had no way of knowing, as we chatted about the recent disappearance of the bison from the Great Plains, that Lucinda was seething with rage. She watched as I—yes, I admit it— flirted and teased with the American, and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. I was only escorting her to her room, you understand. I came immediately back downstairs, but Lucinda had fled the resort. I don’t know where she spent the night, but wherever she spent it, she spent it thinking of me in an adulterous relationship with the girl from Wyoming. It was anything but the truth.

And now I end the digression. We are again climbing the mountain. At first, all went well. The air was clean and pure, the day cool, but sunny and calm, and we made good time. About midday I saw my wife and the guide conferring. I noticed money changing hands, but I saw nothing particularly suspicious in that. I merely thought that Lucinda was paying his fee.

About two in the afternoon we were crossing a glacier. That was when it happened. My wife and the guide exchanged signals, and the guide shrugged, turned away, and looked studiously into the distance. Lucinda called out to me, “Stop!”

Puzzled, I turned to face her. “What’s the matter, my dear?”

“My dear, nothing!” Lucinda exclaimed, whereupon she pulled an enormous pistol from her tunic. “This is for being such a cad! Such an adulterous cad!”

I saw, or perhaps I merely thought I saw, Lucinda’s finger start to tighten on the trigger. I jumped to one side, lost my footing, and began to slide down the glacier. I tried to slow myself with my ice pick, but it was ripped from my grasp, taking a bit of skin from my wrist and knuckles as the leather strap passed over them. “For God’s sake, Lucinda,” I screamed, “Help me!” Then I felt myself falling. I knew no more.

I came to with ice all around me. It took a few moments to realize where I was— in a crevasse! I struggled, but I was tightly wedged in place in a sideways position, my head slightly lower than my feet. My pack, attached by a cord to my belt, dangled in space below me. I yelled for help until I was hoarse, but I heard only silence. I had been abandoned!

It was rapidly growing dark. I realized I had been unconscious for several hours. I pulled my pack up by its string, opened it, found a match, and lit it. My half-frozen hands were unable to hold onto it, and the match fell, twirling end over end. It quickly went out, but I could see the glow grow smaller and smaller. I shuddered. If I hadn’t become wedged, I would without a doubt have fallen to my death.

Several hours later, I was still tightly wedged. I knew I was going to die. My extremities had lost all feeling and I began to experience a warm, cozy glow in my hands and feet.

I had almost drifted off to sleep, when suddenly I came wide awake. I had at my disposal a possible means of survival. In my pouch was a jar of powdered citric acid. I carried it with me always, for I had discovered it to be remarkably effective in alleviating the symptoms of that scourge, the common cold. I had carried it for several days because I had felt a cold coming on and was hoping to ward it off. With frozen fingers, I fumbled the bottle from my pack, popped off the lid, and swallowed the bitter powder. I managed to choke down the entire contents of the bottle, washing it down with almost-frozen water from my canteen. I let the bottle slip out of unfeeling fingers, and closed my eyes. I hoped it wasn’t for the last time.

Glaciers creep slowly downhill. Snow which falls at their upper end becomes compressed into ice. The weight of that ice presses upon the ice below it, causing it to move downwards. At the end of the glacier, great chunks of ice drop away into lakes and melt.

One hundred and thirty years, three months, one week,

and two days after I had fallen into the crevice, a young Swiss boy noticed what seemed to be a corpse entombed in a large block of ice floating in a glacial lake. Dropping his fishing rod, he ran screaming to his house.

The boy’s father and elder brother grimly chopped from the huge block of ice a smaller block which contained my body. They loaded it on a cart and carried it to an unheated shed behind their house, where they lay it upon a large table. The constables were alerted and duly arrived.

Upon examining me, they became quite excited. They then wrote to the government, asking what to do with a corpse of such apparent antiquity. The government sent a representative with a briefcase full of old records. From my style of dress, he was able to determine that I was one of two or three hikers who had disappeared in the vicinity in the mid-1800’s. He declared my body should be freed from the ice so he could search it for further clues to my identity. When I was thawed, he of course discovered my passport in the pocket of my jacket, and the mystery was solved. Or so he thought.

Because of my antiquity, the official, who was named Herr Groder, knew finding my next-of-kin would be difficult or impossible. He therefore decided I should be buried in the village graveyard. I would be disinterred only if a relative should turn up to claim me.

My funeral and burial were scheduled for the morrow. As there was no undertaker in the village, my cold body was allowed to lie in state in the farmer’s shed.

A half-dozen people, including an American tabloid reporter, showed up for the funeral. In addition to Herr Groder and the minister, the family of the boy who had found me and two or three idlers from the village turned up. The photographer who accompanied the newspaperman snapped my picture, and they both left. Oh, how they must later have regretted not having stayed for a few minutes more!

According to the minister, my first sign of life was a resounding sneeze. This was followed by a fit of coughing as out-of-practice lungs began to move air in and out. I groaned and managed to sit up and exclaim, “I say, is my wife Lucinda still in residence at the Hotel?” My memory was still fresh after all those years.

The villagers, peasants that they were, blanched, turned and fled. The minister dropped to his knees and prayed to his god. Only Herr Groder remained unperturbed. “Pardon, Monsieur, but I regret to inform you that your passport has expired,” he said gently.

In a few minutes I had come fully back to life. My racing heart slowed down and it no longer hurt to breathe. It did hurt to talk, however, for, after one hundred and thirty years, my throat was still sore from that damnable cold—vitamin C or no. “Pardon, Monsieur,” I managed to croak to Herr Groder, “but could you tell me the date?”

“Why, it is June 4.” He looked at me oddly as I began making circling motions with my hands. Finally he said, “The year is 1987.”

My heart began racing again! One hundred and thirty years! I felt lost— lost like none other before me. One hundred and thirty years separated me from everybody I had ever known and everything I had ever owned.

I motioned Herr Groder to my side. “Tell me how the world has changed,” I pleaded. He did. Naturally, I thought he was exaggerating. Of course, he wasn’t.

Although my recovery was a genuine miracle, I was an embarrassment to Herr Groder and the Swiss government. And I had no desire to spend the next months or years as a laboratory specimen when I had an entirely new century to become acquainted with. I suggested to Herr Groder that he keep my story away from the journalists and from his superiors. He was only too anxious to oblige me; he hadn’t relished telling his supervisor a man had risen from the dead in a small alpine village. I can’t say I blamed him. He gave me a few Swiss francs, wished me good luck, and departed.

I spent the night in the farmer’s shed. The next morning I left before dawn and walked down the valley until I came to a large but sleepy village. I went into the newspaper office and looked up the date of my “death.”

The old, yellowed clipping did more than the words of Herr Groder to convince me one hundred and thirty years had indeed elapsed.

In a larger town I wouldn’t have rated the front page. Here, the headline announcing my death was in 150-point type. It read, in French, “ScientistFalls to Death.” Below there was a photograph of a disconsolate Lucinda, captioned, “Wife sobs as she tells of accident.”

I bore no malice towards Lucinda. Indeed, although I was certainly a widower by now, I wasn’t even relieved to be rid of her. Chauvinist that I was, I realized I would have to do my own cooking, sewing, and washing. I knew I would miss her intensely. You must forgive my reaction; I am, after all, from Victorian times.

I stood around, gaping at the vehicles which were parked alongside the street and which occasionally passed at an alarming rate of speed. These would be the automobiles Herr Groder had told me about. They were made of metal and propelled by petroleum extracts. In my day, petroleum had been held to be all but worthless.

After a time, I wandered into a store which professed to sell antiques. As I stood staring at the light which was emanating from long white tubes in the ceiling, the proprietor approached. We chatted for several minutes and then I told him that I wished to sell my timepiece. I removed it from my pocket and handed it to him. His eyebrows went up and down like puppies. “Does that run?”

I assured him it kept perfect time. He purchased

it and several other everyday items from my still-present backpack. The money wasn’t much, but it was enough to buy an airplane ticket back home. I had no idea airplanes were so big.

At the airport, my century-old passport caused quite a commotion. It was only because I managed to sneak away while the customs officials were poring over it that I was able to get into the country.

Once home, I turned to the back editions of the hometown newspaper, but was unable to find mention of Lucinda. Soon, my meager funds were depleted and I was forced to take menial work in order to survive. I learned to cope with a level of bureaucracy that was unheard of in my time.

Despite the government’s best efforts to mislead, distract, and ignore me, I managed to acquire a driver’s license, social security card, and other documents. I took adult education classes at night, and within a year I managed to acquire a high school equivalency diploma. Then I applied for and was admitted to college.

I threw myself into my studies with fervor, for I was anxious to see how much mankind had learned in one hundred thirty years. The differences were almost unimaginable. Most of what I had learned previously was obsolete knowledge. I managed to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within two years, and another two years saw me with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. My dissertation concerned the effect of Vitamin C (the active component in citric acid) on the elasticity of cell walls. I looked forward to a life in academia in this new century.

I took the best of several offers for research positions, and for two years I devoted my time to reviving frozen creatures. Papers documenting my successful revival of white rats were published in Science and Nature and Scientific American, and grant monies began pouring in.

Curiously, in the Science article, I referenced another article, one I had published more than one hundred and forty years ago. Nobody seemed to notice or care, and the grant money kept coming.

I kept in touch with Herr Groder in Switzerland, dropping him a line every year or so to let him know my current circumstances. I was surprised one day to receive a trans-Atlantic telephone call from him. He told me the body of a woman from my time had been discovered in a glacier not far from where my own had been found. “This woman is in an excellent state of preservation,” said Herr Groder, who then launched into a minute description of her physiognomy and form. There could be no doubt about it; it was Lucinda!

I persuaded Herr Groder to delay thawing the body until I arrived. Two hours later, I was on a plane bound for Geneva. The next morning saw me standing with Herr Groder, gazing upon the dead form of my wife. I wondered whether she had slipped, as had I, into a crevasse, or whether she had been murdered by the guide she had bribed.

Lucinda’s body was promptly thawed and brought up to room temperature. The newspaperman who had been present at my funeral showed up with his photographer, who snapped a photo, and they left; Herr Groder seconded my opinion that it was the same two men.

Yes, you have surmised correctly! I did indeed revive Lucinda. My most recent work involved repairing damage to burst cell walls. With the help of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation machine and the most modern of medical care, she was brought back to life. She was weak for months, but eventually, except for a slight graying of her hair, she was nearly back to normal.

I had been purposefully avoided Lucinda, and had taken indeed great precautions that she not know I was alive— but as soon as she fully recovered, I strode into her hospital room. She started, eyes wide with shock, and then screamed.

It didn’t take long for Lucinda to become accustomed to this modern way of life. My techniques, as you may well know, have had profound effects upon medicine and general life in this century, with cryogenic clinics springing up, it seems, on every street corner. I am in the news nearly every week. I have become quite a wealthy man. There’s no need for Lucinda to work, for we have a battalion of maids and other servants to do the chores. But I do try to keep her busy.