I’ve been following Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds for several months now. Each week, he gives his readers a writing prompt for flash fiction. This week, I decided to jump into the fray. The creative exercise is always good (and I’m banned from physical exercise for the next few weeks with a bum knee, anyway). Chuck’s challenge this week:
Your story will be titled: “The Fire of the Gods.”
And that’s it. That’s all I demand of you.
Well, besides the standard parameters, of course. The story must be under 1000 words. Post it at your blog (not in the comments here, or I may delete it), then link back so we can all see it.
Today, I took a break from manuscript rewriting and banged out a new short story. This exercise was harder than it looked. Here it is (first draft, no revisions). Not sure I ended up with what I was hoping for.
“The Fire of the Gods”
If you walk out past the chic end of town, you’ll eventually arrive at the graveyard of the status symbols, the place where the shiny toys of the upwardly mobile eventually go to die. It lies beneath the mobius strip of highway ramps leading away from the city.
If you’re brave enough to climb down to the feet of the towering, concrete pylons you’ll find amongst the broken cell phones and soiled Swedish furniture the village of the ones that time forgot – broken veterans and under-medicated ex-cons gathered around trash can fires.
Turn left from there and walk toward the shortest of the pylons. There you will find, his back turned so that the fires are out of view, Prometheus – still suffering after these many thousands of years. For a bottle of White Lightning, he’ll invite you to sit down with him.
“The myths all get it wrong,” he’ll tell you. “Bullfinch was a lying shit.”
Then he’ll take a sip from the bottle and set the record straight.
“Fire was humanity’s invention,” he’ll say. “The gods were too busy fighting with one another and fucking everything that moved to be able to have created anything so useful, so . . . beautiful. Back then, humans were a wiser bunch. They kept the secret only with a select few, who tended the mother flame and taught the rest a deep fear and respect for its power. But the minute human beings started putting their masterpiece to use, the gods grew jealous. They coveted. And they began to scheme their way into possession of fire.
“They appeared before the keepers of the mother flame in dreams and in person. They offered everything a man could ever imagine he might want, and things beyond imagination. The keepers were a faithful bunch, and boring to a one. They worshipped fire more than gods, and could not imagine anything they desired more.
“But the gods were persistent. They knew it would take only one keeper to betray the secret.”
With this, Prometheus will give a rueful smile and drain half the proffered bottle.
“Or one apprentice. A teenaged boy will give up almost anything for a glimpse of goddess tit and the promise of glory. They offered me anything. I asked for immortality and the gift of Sight – immortality for the reason any other self-respecting mortal would; the Sight because I honestly believed I could give that coked up twit at Delphi a run for her money.”
Then he’ll finish the bottle and toss it aside, letting it crash onto the growing pile of other fallen soldiers.
“It was even fun for a little while,” he’ll say. “But my betrayal wasn’t worth the price. No gift would’ve been enough.
“The gods worshipped fire, but they didn’t respect it. Didn’t fear it the way the keepers taught us to. To them it was just another toy batted about in their silly little personal dramas. The consequences for the rest of us were disastrous. Zeus sneezes and wildfires burned down ancient forests. Hephaestus had a tiff with Aphrodite and Pompeii died.
“Then, humanity got in it its head that we somehow had to keep up – that if we didn’t beat the gods at their own game we’d be a distant memory in the mind of the universe before dawn. We disbanded and dismembered the keepers and began to conduct all sorts of gruesome experiments, and the next thing you know, Troy burns, Rome burns. London twice. Chicago. San Francisco.
“I’ve spent my life running to every corner of the earth, trying to get away from what I’d done, but I could never run far enough. Everywhere I ended up, I had to face the fire. Witch Trials. Dresden. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. The Twin Towers. Humankind surpassed the gods in the capacity for lethal creativity.
“I finally gave up. Decided I’d live out my last days, here, hidden among the invisible and forgotten. But there is no hiding and there are no last days for me,” he’ll say, staring at the scattered shards of glass. “No matter how hard I try.”
And then, his story done, Prometheus will read your future. You will run when he’s finished. No one will blame you. No one ever hears anything pleasant. In the visions of Prometheus, the future always burns.
If, however, you can stand to remain after all his fiery oracle, you can watch him as he drifts off into his own little interior hell. He’ll pull another bottle from his coat and drink some more. There seems to be no end to this liquor. And thus, you will witness the nightly ritual of Prometheus, as he drinks his liver into total atrophy.
Eventually, he will lie back and seem to slip into eternity. Do not leave. Rather, stand back at a respectful distance and try to stay awake. If you keep vigil long enough, you will see the eagle come and eat his liver. That piece of the legend, at least, is true. And if you wait with him into the early hours of the morning, you will see Prometheus awaken again, restored.
“The fire of the gods is a fearsome thing,” he will tell you as you begin to make your way home, “but it’s a piece of piss compared to their gratitude.”
UPDATE: Fixed a niggling little “grocers apostrophe” that my wife pointed out.