The outlying regions have been laid waste and the city is in flames.... I can smell the cinders as I curl up in a knot, huddled in a darkened room. A light festers out of doors--it is not a wholesome light, not a warming fire, but a conflagration, a consuming inorganic monster. It will not call a halt to its loathsome advance for me or ten more men. Somehow my room, and my room alone, is spared.

A good lawyer could get me out of this maybe. But then...the lawyers are all gone, and with them the law. There is no one left to arbitrate; the rats in my room settle their differences the old way, with the tooth and the claw.

I am curled in a pool of darkness, gently gulping for air, hoping I am not making too much noise. There is an extreme mathematics at work--it is the fire, eating our town in fractions, chopping, dividing.... In silence and in stillness are my only hope.

Hope of what? I might walk again beneath the sun...but it would be a broad sky. Too broad...a deck of ashes beneath an infertile dome. The narrow life I have led, pocketed in the city's alleys, rushing through her streets, an urban savage among the seems a dream to me now.

Days, endless days, and somehow I crawl to a window. Peeping over the ledge my eyes become the receivers of an immense broadcast of natural dread. The fire is done. Pockmarks are all that is left; holes where buildings once rose, our temples replaced by empty space, meaningless dust. Our mightiest monument brought to a pile of obsidian splinters...the ruination is complete.

The stench of smoldering civilization is captivating. Somehow I must go outside.

The shreds of leather on my feet were once fine boots, accustomed to making intricate steps on a floor of polished hardwood, leading the dance with fine ladies in ancient ritual geometries. The refinery has crumbled, the dancefloor is buried; the elegant boots were already reduced to tatter and ruin when I found them. No longer used for dancing, the boots serve me now, as I stagger over the heaps of burnt bricks.

What I hope to find in the open is uncertain. Comfort? Companionship? The air is dead, choked with dust and airborne ash. The water left long ago, in the early days of the rose in a great cloud of steam and drifted off east, taking the blackened residue of our town with it. There is nothing for me here.

With the patience of a faithful priest, I sift through the devastation of a home. Not a scrap of food left uncharred, no single drop of water to slake a burning thirst.

I stagger off in search of a perimeter, some end to the vast band of ash stretching across the world. Walking for days; surely the city must somewhere have ended and the country begun...but it all looks the same. Blackened stumps that might once have been trees or streetlights. Ghosts of ash rise in tiny mushroom clouds with my footsteps. It could be that the world has finally met the ultimate, final fire.

Sitting on the bank of a barren riverbed, I have a moment of stark reflection. I was once told--back in the days before the fire, when there had been other people--that the Buddha attained enlightenment on a riverbank. Something about the tranquil nature of the river had inspired him, how it always flows yet never goes anywhere, how it is eternal, yet eternally changeful. But the Buddha never saw a river as tranquil as this one. No speck of dust moves, not the tiniest cell of life stirs in its belly.

I reflect that I have done my world a grave disservice by bringing the fire upon it. With my fear and hatred of humankind, I lived an isolated life. I darted among them as a critical observer, while they existed. Never once did I participate in their games, their joys, their follies. Only to observe and to loathe was my I hated their pretensions, their affectations, their veneer of civility blanketing the underlying savagery. I hated and scorned them from afar, but never once had I the courage to confront them. All my criticisms and my angers were internal, an infrastructure of bitterness mirroring their daily hierarchy, mocking the society they had set up for themselves. I was a civilization of one, existing outside their sphere and hostile to it.

None had mastery over me, but I was powerless against them. On this I had meditated day after day, sitting (so I thought) in Buddha-fashion in my room. What had seemed a peaceful, aloof emptiness within me I now realize was a burning malice, comforting to me in that it was my only true possession. I coveted that anger, and nurtured it with daily study of humanity's grotesque spectacle.

I supposed I never realized that it would one day get out of my control and spray forth from my mouth and nose like a dragon's last wicked breath. Yet somewhere deep within, I longed for that moment and rejoiced when it arrived. I watched with a sickened glee as the fire leaped out my window and onto the unsuspecting town. The devastation, like my enmity for the world, was absolute.

Now my life ebbs; I feel it flow from me and trickle down into the riverbed, the last bit of organic energy in existence. It will fill the river with its minute substance for a while, a day, and then my body will return to ash and the world will be void again, as it was in the beginning. It is a strange and intoxicating power, to be the unmaker of creation...I wonder if the Buddha ever saw me in his dreams, and whether he accepted me as I accept him. We have walked opposing paths, he and I, but arrived at the same end, where everything becomes nothing, and nothingness is all. I see now that it is good, and I forgive the world.