[Image Credit: Auguste Rodin Prométhée / Prometheus Fusain]
The men and women shivered, huddled together, in the night cold, in the deep dark, the howling of animals around them, the sounds in the distance frightening them, afraid to go to sleep, afraid to shut their eyes, afraid of everything. They prayed for morning. In different tongues, under their breath so as not to be heard, so as not to be found by the predators: the bear, the wolf, the tiger and lion. They prayed to the Gods to save them, to get them through the night. And the Gods liked the attention. To be is to be perceived. The Gods liked hearing the many soft voices drift up to them, surrounding them as they slept, the whispers of thanks and fear, the promises to them from the men and women and children below.
Save us, asked the voices.
Protect us, they begged.
The Gods smiled because they were loved by the people below.
But the Gods didn’t save them. The Gods had no concern with that. They were Gods. They didn’t need to sully their hands with those dirty creatures cowering in caves. They were Gods. They drank their sweet blood-red wine and tore at the spectacular cooked flesh of beasts. Sometimes the Gods heard the screams of men and women being attacked by those same beasts, men and women torn apart, consumed, while the Gods listened to pretty songs. And sometimes the Gods heard the cries of men and women being attacked by other dirty creatures like themselves, and the Gods chuckled because how sad and ignorant those creatures below were, screaming out the names of the Gods, as their blood flowed onto the cold ground. The Gods liked that, being the last word the creatures would utter, still beloved by their humans even as their human lives were being taken.
Except for one. The words of the humans below, their cries and pleading, they struck the heart of Prometheus. Their frightened words tore their way into his flesh, digging down into his insides and made him weep silently so the Gods could not hear.
With embers burning in his hands, Prometheus stole away. He quietly blew on the embers to keep them alive as he gifted them to the humans, dirty and soiled, smelling of the shit and blood and mud crusted on them. Prometheus shook his hand over slim sticks of wood, dropping a single ember on each pile, bringing fire to the people.
Over time, the nightly prayers to the Gods died away, the darkness grew silent and the Gods were confused. Where were the cries for them? Perhaps the people below had all died, torn apart as the meals of the four-legged predators. But when the Gods looked down on the night, they saw small orange flames dotting the land, dotting the world, and they knew about the gift of fire.
Angrily, the Gods came together, realizing one of them betrayed them all, and they insisted that they all hold out their hands, palms up, and that’s when they saw the festering burns on the palms of Prometheus and they knew he was the one. He did not hide his guilt because he had done the right thing, that the Gods with their ever-present food and drink had failed the people, the Gods forgetting that if they didn’t take care of the people, they would eventually be hurt themselves.
Angered, the Gods tied Prometheus to the sharp rock and let the hungry shrieking vulture slowly tear out his meaty liver over and over, hour after hour, day after day, for eternity. Not to punish him, but to enjoy his cries to them that they no longer heard from the people below, the people who now had the fire and passed it along to the next and didn’t need those Gods anymore.
Ron Burch‘s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Jellyfish Review, Eleven Eleven, PANK, and other journals. He’s been nominated a couple times for a Pushcart, and his first novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles and was a former fiction editor at LUNCH TICKET. www.ronburch.com