The land was flat, and white and bare, nothing but sand that wind and heat had nearly turned to glass, but in the middle of it a fire burned, ejecting black smoke into the sky rapidly, as if the fire was in a hurry, wanted whatever it was burning to be gone, now. The fire wanted to erase it’s fuel as if it were ashamed of it.
That fuel dreamt of it’s childhood home.
At the center of the fire was an old man. He was wrapped in all of the clothes he had ever worn.
His family (his greedy son, his forgiving and talented daughters, the little boy that had wandered into his kitchen one day, while he was mincing bay leaves and tarragon, and had become his surrogate grandchild) had collected every shirt, sock, tie he had ever worn, every single article of clothing he had ever put on, even once, even as a joke. The family mended them. They cleaned the clothes. They made sure the underwear was not inside out. Then they soaked the clothes in gasoline while they sang songs under their breath.
One by one a family member, or friend, or doctor, or anyone else who wanted to, put a piece of clothing on the old man. Each asked a whispered question and he listened with his eyes almost closed. He occasionally answered yes or no, but after others had asked their questions too, so no one knew if it was their own question being answered.
They kept adding the gasoline-soaked clothes to his body until the layers could not fit on top of each other, and then they piled them on top of them. Eventually they could no longer see him sitting in his wicker chair, adjusting the tufts of hair at his temples, or smiling when he closed his eyes, or answering their questions. And when at last they could no longer hear him, on the white desert plane, they left. They gathered into the backs of pickup trucks, and each other’s old cars and drove out of the desert, leaving behind only one person.
It was the old man’s youngest grandson. His youngest progeny.
The end of his genetic line stood before him, with his stomach puffed out in a gesture of confusion. He was small, even for his young age, and looked like the skin of a peach. Fuzzy blond head, pink skin. He held the box of matches they had left him with.
He looked at them, knowing how to do it. He had played with matches when there was nothing to burn but the sulfur on the match head. But now, he fumbled with he box.
He struck and lit the match, and set the pile of clothes, and the old man, ablaze.
From a distance people gathered to watch the black plumes, and knew that the boy was beginning his long walk back to town.