The silence burned his ears.
I do not know what version of Cross my father stumbled into, but it left the page stinking of smoke and smeared with ashes.
‘I was awakened to the smell of burning wood and the sight of what at first appeared to be black snow.
‘I have sent many a man and woman to their deaths by fire, and when the wind shifted ever so slightly, it carried to me the wretched stench of burnt flesh.
‘I broke my fast and girded myself for what I might find.
‘Nothing in my life could have prepared me for what I found only a hundred steps away.
‘The short trail led to a scene of utter destruction, the likes of which I have never seen in my long life.
‘For as far as I could see, there was nothing but a ravaged landscape. The air was thick with the hideous odor of roasting humanity, and smoke hung heavy in the air. I gazed upon a city that I did not believe could ever have existed. I have seen Paris and London, Berlin and Rome. All, it seems, could have fit within the charnel city before me.
‘Fires burned the tortured landscape, and there was nothing to hear save the crackle of flames.
‘There were no voices. Neither supplications for mercy nor the screams of the dying.
‘There were no bodies to see, no sign of the residents, though their belongings were scattered about me.
‘I sat down where I was and tried to understand what it was that had scarred the world before me.
‘Where did the people go? Where were the pets?
‘I did not see a single dog or vagrant cat. There were neither insects nor were their birds.
‘My eyes fixed upon the distant fires, and I wracked my mind to make some sense of what I looked upon. Tried in some way to understand what might have happened here.
‘I could not.
‘In the end, I could do nothing more than stand up and make my way through the city. I did not look for signs of life, for I knew I would find none.’