He waited twenty-seven years. He'd planned on waiting thirty, but into the beginning of the second decade he decided he would stop being so hard on himself and allow some satisfaction from curiosity. He thought about it a long time, twenty-seven seemed to be a good compromise. Why not twenty-six? He nagged himself. No, it had been decided. On that day he checked the ladder, making sure it was solid, and lowered it to the ground. Lichen fell from it.
He waited, staring at the earth far below him, uncertain he could finally leave this tree which had been his home. But he had to know. Not a day went by in all that time he didn't think about it. He stopped hearing airplanes in the first decade. It had been that long too since he heard the sound of people, hikers possibly, moving through the forest. He'd chosen a remote location. Humanity would thrash and struggle finally, and he didn't want to get caught up in it, he wanted to be in his forest, he wanted to be in his tree. And so, twenty-seven years ago he went up into the house he'd built and he didn't come down. It was difficult, of course, there were trials, and failures, but he didn't regret it, no, not a bit. But he'd wondered, had he doubted — that wasn't exactly it. Was there anyone left? Maybe someone like himself. After being in the tree that long he couldn't help but think, was there anybody else. They didn't have to be in a tree, maybe they were in a bunker or something.
Walking was difficult, he'd tried to keep himself in good shape, but walking was difficult on the ground and it was true he was no longer young. This is what sailors must feel like after being at sea, walking back on land again, the queasiness of it. The tree was always swaying, like the ocean.
He would walk back to the road and see if there was anybody left. It would take a while but he remembered where it was, he'd thought about this a lot, he made his way, he rested, he made his way, he rested. He could feel it getting closer, he heard nothing but there was a sensation in the center of his body. It would tear him apart this feeling, when would the road appear?
Then he was there. He stepped out of the trees and the road, now full of heaves, old and cracking and weedy, it was right there. But on the opposite side of the road, he couldn't understand it. There was a fence, a very tall fence, it went in both directions as far as he could see. Beyond the fence, he stared and it didn't make sense to him. There were people, standing around looking at him. They had cameras, something like cameras, they would raise them and lower them in some sort of ritual. And there was a child holding his mother's hand, the child pointed at him and laughed.