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A landscape of ash and smoke and embers of flame dancing in the air around heaps of shrubs on fire. Tree trunks rolled over, shift back and forth in the wind against tree stumps. Soot and dust and desert. A sky with an orange glare getting brighter red near the circle of the sun. A little way ahead of us, at a hole at the base of a hill, a fox pokes her head out and licks the air. She bobs her head up and down. Then coughs. Then whelps. Then belches out a slimy orange red brown organic something that splatters on the dirt. She shivers. Licks the air again. Her nose twitches. Sneezes.

I crouch to my knee and motion her towards us. She sees me and stares. She stares for quite a while. My brother taps my shoulder. He looks at me and shakes his head. I look back at the fox and stop motioning her. She’s still staring. I look into her eyes and the closer I look, it’s as if I can see her raised eyebrows, her black pupils. Like she’s sad. Like she’s angry. Like she’s been weeping misery. A long time.

“That’s just you thinking all poetic and melancholic like,” my brother tells me, reading my mind. “The fox doesn’t think like that. It accepts everything on pure instinct and adapts. It’s pure instinctual adaptation. Instinctual adaptation doesn’t complain. It has no conception of animal rights or any idea of a natural order of things. It just lives on.”

“But does instinctual adaptation absolve me of any sense of responsibility for all of this? For what we’ve done?” I ask.

“That’s just your mind guilting you for not preserving life the way it was when you got it. Change is more natural than things staying the same. We can’t be afraid of change. We can’t be afraid to change things,” he tells me.

The fox goes back into her hole.

I poke the dirt covered earth with my finger. It crusts and crumbles. I look back at the fires burning all around us, oil geysers spraying out like lawn sprinklers, tree branches igniting in the distance like firework sparklers. I check the oxygen levels in my suit. I look at my brother and say.

“Is this what life becomes in the absence of fear?”

By Ashish Seth

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