By R. Gatwood
The master called all his disciples together to hear the doctrine of guilt. But when they gathered around the fire to listen, he turned his face away, looking pained, and said nothing. They sat in silence for the rest of the night.
Over several years, while his disciples struggled to keep up his health, the master wrote out his doctrine. It filled hundreds of pages. Each section was bound separately and entrusted in secret to a different disciple. Each disciple was haunted by the thought that perhaps this book, this precious volume, was the only one in existence.
On his deathbed, in a weak whisper, the master gave his disciples one last command. Every page of the doctrine was to be burned.
But why? they cried. They had to lean close to hear his reply.
What he had written, he told them, was incomplete. It was a clumsy approximation of the true doctrine―worse than a fragment, because at first glance it appeared whole and even assumed an air of wisdom. Better never to have lifted the pen.
Ah, but Master! the disciples murmured. How can we bring ourselves to destroy your teachings, we who hold in reverence all that you touch?
They meant to cajole him into saying more, but he made no reply. Afterwards they never knew whether he stopped speaking from exhaustion, or out of disgust at their betrayal, or because he had said all that must be said.
After the funeral rites, the disciples gathered once more around the fire. They gazed into the flames to avoid each other’s eyes.
R. Gatwood (@iwantanewhead) has had fiction published in Monkeybicycle, Vestal Review, Nanoism, Wigleaf, Per Contra, and Contrary Magazine.