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Black marks on the table

He flicked the little wooden match across the table and it hissed to life. With a practiced hand the short dark man lifted it to his mouth and lit his tightly wrapped cigarette.

The night was no longer young. Darkness permeated the small wooden shack and only the soft light of an oil lamp held complete extinction at bay.

With ennui-laced patience he counted his earnings, all he had won, either outright or by crooked contract. Some had simply given themselves over to him, but others had been down and out, destitute, until he had brough them back, like puppets---with strings attached.

A pile of glistening golden coins here, a stack of bills there. Now it was no longer important. It was all over. His life. All he had worked for. For nothing. He would not be remembered, and there was no salvation in non-existence.

Uncaring, he dropped his cigarette to the floor amidst a pile of old moldy papers. It started slowly at first, sparks jumping back and forth, independent of the cigarette that had spawned them. They spread to the curtains on the windows, and to the man's clothing and body. Finally, the flames gained momentum, until at last the whole house was wrapped in orange ecstasy.

By morning spectators had arrived to sift through the ashes and debris, but nothing was left except black marks on the table.

Notes: Despite its many faults, this text, from December of 1992, is one of my favorites. And I always return to the logical difficulty of the table surviving such a fire; at times I've contemplated adding text to the effect that the table is made of metal or some other fireproof material, but I always resist.