The town of Bastrop looked as if a fire-breathing dragon had careened above the twenty mile stretch of land, incinerating everything below. To his right and left, he saw thousands of blackened and jagged stumps and half-trees, trailing into the distance as far as his eyes could see. The ground below was sable earth and ash.
Jon tried to imagine the fire, the highway empty and hot, the sky bright and smoking from flames. Not a living soul within a mile, nothing to be heard but the crackling and whirring of an inferno. The loud and constant sound of nothing, because no living thing would hear it.
How long did this go on behind the livings’ eyes, he wondered. When did the fire finally die, satiated?
It was the penultimate of if a tree falls in the forest, with no one around to hear, does it make a sound. For centuries, perhaps millennia, scholars had mulled over this question. It is the question of man’s existence; its answer answers all to intelligent life as we know it.
More likely than not there would never be one. Like the old farmer he interviewed, whose house was destroyed in the blaze, and whose wife died of a heart attack during the evacuation. What answers could he find in the final chapter of his life? Could any give him comfort this far down the line?
There were infinite questions. They overran the mind and drove one nearly to madness. The central one of late was whether he was making the right decisions. Early in adulthood, he learned quickly that no one could tell him this. There was no objective truth in the matter. He was entirely on his own.
The old man had flicked a cigarette onto his porch and said “Life goes on”. Life does, yes, but what about the rest of it, he wondered.
There was a legacy to think of, mistakes he knew were coming, and pain from which he knew one day he would suffer. And all these uncertainties were a certainty, as if someone somewhere already knew. And this made him more frightened than anything, with a consuming terror he had never known.