Gauss Anne Worlby shuffled her moccasin-clad feet down Alphus’s front path. She led him by the hand; she had to wrench her arm up and behind her because she was so much shorter than him.
“Alphus,” Gauss Anne was saying, “the level of snow provides a very perplexing problem. I’ve been studying the rate of snowfall, and it has at least definitely existed. The rates themselves, though, have varied enough to give me difficulty in nailing down a good predicting average, but they have definitely been both non-zero and positive. That may not seem like much, Alphus, but this is science!”
Alphus may or may not have been listening.
“There hasn’t been a day of sunshine or one above freezing in 23 years. The divergence of the snow rate is non-zero meaning that, somehow, there is a sink. The snow does not appear to be conserved. But it has to be conserved! There are other forces at work, Alphus!”
She’s holding my hand? Alphus thought. He fell through many parts of the snow that Gauss Anne could slide across. His body lurched forward every once in a while where the toe of his boot dug into the snow and his shin hit the side of the new hole.
“Batsmitan Desert Mud Frogs survive long periods of drought by burrowing deep underground and hibernating. When the rains come, all of a sudden the ponds are full of frogs like they appeared ex nihilo. I am beginning to believe that something like that is happening here. Perhaps some long dormant animal is reemerging from the time when there were glaciers and plenty of ice. This animal must live under the snow, feeding on the frozen moisture. Something must be consuming the snow or else it would be thirty feet above our heads.”
“Where are we going, Gauss Anne?”
“The amazing thing is that these snow-eaters must do so at the exact same rate that the snow falls. As I said earlier, my tests show that the snowfall rate varies dramatically from one snowflake per square meter per second on average to about fifty. How is it possible that the consumption rates, the number of individuals, and the birth and death rates all combine to produce a drainage of snow exactly equal to what’s being added? Never before have I observed an animal so keenly aware of its environment. So keenly aware…. It’s almost as if their behavior has some predictive qualities. I am afraid it’s rather unprecedented in science and because I am without even preliminary findings, I’m sticking my neck out, here, just saying this – but the possibility is just too tantalizing to resist! What would Dr. Livingstone think? Perhaps, Alphus. Perhaps, the animal birth and death rates, their snow intake, and their number determine the snow fall rather than being dictated by it.”
They had walked to the end of Alphus’s path and down the street half way to the corner. Then Gauss Anne let go of his hand and took off as fast as her short legs could carry her. Her hair stayed perfectly still as it always did even though she was shuffling at top speed.
Alphus stood in the road, once again at a loss upon Gauss Anne’s departure. When she had stormed through the front door and grasped his hand to take him outside, he did not even have time to grab his burgundy robe. He stood shivering in his white T-shirt, blue sweat pants and boots. His tummy bulged over his waistband, and the taut skin on his bald head looked severely out of place – foreign and abandoned – being so exposed and so cold. Alphus held one of his arms in the other.
I don’t know if I ever want to see her again, he thought. Why does she do stuff like this?
He trudged back across the lawn and through the door that stood open. He had not realized that he could be so easily taken from his home and exposed to the cold. Gauss Anne had such a flora-like appearance that it seemed to Alphus that he was vulnerable even to the trees.