I don’t immediately surrender the penguin’s body to the ice. It’s mine for a while. I blindly pull it close and take its heat with my palm. Rub its head. The penguin’s flesh is slick and tough and smells like cold earth. I cup it behind the neck, its flippers hanging on the ground, and brush my palm over its eyes. I feel that they are closed, then lay my palm on its chest. What’s left of the bird’s warmth ebbs quickly. He is done. I let go of the penguin and it slaps the ground hard and rolls. He’ll freeze solid within the hour and stay that way probably forever.
There’s nothing left to do, so I straighten to go. The air feels lighter now and has a slight charge that I can feel in my skin. Another storm gathering. Somewhere, not so far off, the wind howls—then quickly louder and more shrill—as if it has rounded a corner.
I turn around, hands out, somehow trying to sense the right direction to go. Ten or twenty meters the wrong way and I might find myself in the middle of the sea. I don’t want that.
Then unwillingly, I’m moving. Floating. Not over the ice, but down, straight down into it. Through it. My vision returns in a flash. I’m being whisked along, past bursts of frozen, puffy clouds and sparkling blue capillaries—speeding, full-bore into the darkness, to the core, to the heart, to the ancient, crackling, icy muscle deep at the center of the continent.
Frozen. Miles below the surface.
Nothing but cold and crushing pressure here. But the temperature soothes me. And the pressure is a strong, comforting embrace.
The ice crackles and groans, sound waves barreling in, some reaching out from the very edge of the continent. They are voices. Speaking to me. Welcoming me.
I call out to them.