Cleansing fire
(Fahrenheit 451)

It was strange; only now, as his body was being torn apart and eaten away by fire did Beatty feel whole. The seconds passed as hours for him, and despite being in what was possibly the most excruciating pain of his life, his head had never been clearer. He was free of all the shackles that bound him: that of society, that of his duty, and that of his own mind. Being only moments away from death, he realized how silly his cynical ideologies were and how meaningless the status quo was. He was dying, and all he had done in life was burn, and hide. That was a strange thought to him; before now, he had never thought of it as hiding, but that, in fact, it was. He had been hiding from himself behind fear of the unknown, hiding from his sins behind delusions of virtue, and worse still, he allowed others to hide behind him from the very things that made them human. It disgusted him thinking about it now; hiding behind a wall of fire like a child might do behind their mother, but fire wasn't their mother, it merely wore their mother's skin. It promised protection, but gave death. Come to think of it, it had always disgusted him. How had he forgotten that? He did not want to forget anymore. Not now. He wanted to be human for at least a few seconds before his body hit the ground. He thought back to before he became a fireman, before he resolved to burn all his problems. He remembered feeling as though he was the only one awake in a world of sleep walkers. He remembered his frustration as an oppressed intellectual, and he remembered his overwhelming desire to break free. That must have been how Montag felt at that moment: frustrated, confused, and filled to the brim with righteous anger. Oh, what a fool Guy was. But so was Beatty, and he was a fool for the wrong reasons. Beatty wondered when that part of him died. It was probably sometime after his encounter with that old drunk, Faber. In his quest to find knowledge again, Beatty tracked down the old English professor and found him on one of his bad days; he was intoxicated and rambling about his failures and about the futility of it all. Something about the scene changed Beatty. Seeing the pitiful result of knowledge, seeing how unstable it could make a person, it made him want to hate it. "Go home, stop running about your cage denying you're a squirrel." Faber had said to him. That had been the final push, right then and there he gave up on anything involving the pursuit of knowledge. Why would he want to waste his life trying to become like this deadbeat? He told him to stop denying he was a squirrel and so he did. Of course, now he realized what a mistake that was; it wasn't knowledge that did that to Faber, it was the lack of anyone to share it with. It was like being on a deserted island; all he could do was talk to rocks and trees, but they would never talk back, the only thing they'd give would be a hollow thud when they were struck. It would drive anyone mad. He realized now, as his body slowly disintegrated, that he'd been burning the wrong thing. He should've burned this city. That was where the problem lay, not with books. To kill these silly, empty people would be less of murder than his genocide of history's greatest literary minds. But alas, the fearful, living Beatty could only act upon fear, and as a result burned anything that bothered him. He did that until the very end. With this thought, Beatty closed his eyes for the last time, allowing thousands of black moths to be born from his sinful body as penance.