It’s late at night and you’re driving home on a lonely road far from town. You notice a house sitting off by itself, smoke pouring through an open window and flames are visible. No one else is around.
You pull off and dial 911. But you know from the lateness of the hour and the car in the driveway that likely there are people inside. And firefighters are a long way off.
So you go to the front door and pound on it. You scream and yell.
You peer through the front window. You see flames and smoke, but no one stirring inside.
You move farther around the house. What have to be the bedroom windows have blinds that are shut. You can’t see anyone inside, but there’s that car in the driveway and it’s after midnight. There has to be someone in there.
You slap the windows, beat on the side of the house and yell, “Your house is on fire!”
Still, no answer. No movement. And you hear no sirens.
So you go back to the door, take a deep breath, say a little prayer — and kick.
It takes two or three tries, but finally the door gives way. Heat hits you in the face like a furnace. The smoke is so thick you can barely see inside. You immediately reconsider your decision. You back away trying to convince yourself the firefighters will be there soon. But they’re miles away and you know it will be a few more minutes.
And then you hear it, a faint cry, barely audible. From deep inside the house, a woman’s voice.
And now you know. You’re going inside that house.
Your heart is hammering in your chest, and you’re tingling with adrenaline, but you pull your shirt up over your nose and mouth, and in you go.
As soon as you’re inside, you wish you weren’t. The heat is unbearable. Your first breath through your shirt ends in a cough. You’re in a strange house, and you don’t even know which way to go. But then you hear it again, the cry for help.
You follow the voice deeper into the house. You smell your hair starting to burn, and your arms feel like you’ve spent all day in the sun. Every breath is a struggle. Everything in your being is telling you, “turn around! Run!”
But there it is again: “Help!”
You keep going. You see a hallway, its walls starting to wisp smoke. At the end of the hallway are two doors. From the one on the right, you hear “Help! Somebody, please!”
You look through the door. An elderly woman is lying in a bed, a wheel chair at the foot of it. She sees you.
“Oh, thank God! My nurse — she ran to the store. Please, help!”
She reaches for you. You run inside and scoop her up in your arms. You hurry out of the bedroom and down the hall toward the front door.
But an inferno awaits. Between you and the front door is a blazing hell. Your heart sinks. For an instant you don’t know what to do.
But you can just make out the outline of the door, and there’s maybe just enough room between the flames. You can make it, but you have to go. Now.
Then you hear something else.
You look down another hallway and see a dog. He’s trying desperately to run toward you, but his leash is caught on something. He’s trapped.
The lady’s dressing gown is smoking. Your skin is starting to blister. That gap in the flames is going away.
There won’t be two trips into this cauldron. You’re going out that door right now.
And now the big question.
Do you drop the old lady and save the dog?
The answer from any rational person is no. Rational people place a premium on human life that takes precedent over all other forms.
Irrational people stop and think about it too long, lose their opportunity for escape and everyone dies.
Other people — crazy people, in my opinion — save the dog.
I bring up the choice between human and animal life for this reason: The federal government is investigating the effect of water levels in the Apilachicola River on endangered mussels. Florida is trying to use the deaths of these mussels to try to convince the feds to release more water from Georgia dams, water that we humans in Georgia happen to need.
In 2012, under court order, the amount of water we can take from Lake Lanier will be drastically limited if the states don’t come to an agreement. Study after study has shown that Georgia’s growing population will not have enough water supply in the future unless urgent steps are taken now.
The government report is due in August, at which time I suppose we will choose between humans and mussels.
Now, who wants to spend a lot of time thinking about it?
And who wants to save the mussels?
A lot of human beings await your answer, and time is running out.
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.