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World on Fire

by Yuliya Klochan

Prometheus lets Fire consume the plain, inhales its dear aroma, listens in to the crackling of dying cinders. What a beautiful sound they make: polite, yet so distinct, enhanced by the glow of the embers. Darkness swims before Prometheus’ eyes; a dizzying sense of power overtakes him.

At sunrise, the inhabitants of the valley will invade the plain, trample the soot. If anything remains ablaze, they will take it to the settlement below, praise gods for the miracle. Prometheus will let them worship the dying spark for a single night, again feel like a Titan, a hero, a god.

Only, a god would never share Fire. Prometheus discovered this a millennium ago on Earth, where he gave the divine force to People. Their bonfires sprang up everywhere, filling the air, the sky, the world with glory. Those were the happiest days of Prometheus’ life, for Fire, superior, voracious, was the Master of All.

Then came divine retribution. The higher gods seized the light that eased his exhausting eternity. Prometheus would give a thousand livers to keep a single spark. The gods took those, too, and chained Prometheus to a rock with his back to the raving, the burning, the beauty.

A thousand and one years had passed since then. Upon his release, Prometheus fled to a planet where beings never saw a conflagration. He scorched and vowed not to let go of Fire again. Let local civilization remain in its cradle, the food be cold, and paths dark and treacherous. Prometheus retired from being a messiah.

* * *

He draws a hand through the blaze, seeking the reassuring sting of existence. The fire hisses and rages, but Prometheus feels nothing. As punishment for his obsession, the higher gods renovated Prometheus in their callous image; he will never feel again.

Prometheus rests his scarred body on cinder. Golden scintillas dance merrily upon it as if trying to soothe, but the skin remains icy and unresponsive.

He awakes the next evening on the black clearing, with the aftertaste of a shattered dream. Below, the valley beings are feasting on a frozen meal that should be warmed, grilled, roasted.

Prometheus takes great care to avoid such reckless thoughts. “I will not be affected by these primitive creatures; a Titan’s might is worth more than their comfort,” he assures himself, “I swore off compassion. I owe them nothing!”

But no matter how much Prometheus denies it, the thought of coming to the settlers’ aid has haunted him since the day of arrival: when they stumbled and shivered in the night, praying for warmth from the heavens above; when they failed to drive away the local beasts, or cook those they had outfought.

Why worry for them so?

At the foot of Prometheus’ mountain, a child screams; an animal roars. A scene of carnage unfolds in the dark.

The beings cannot ward off the unseen foe. Drops of blood as crimson as Prometheus’ stain the battlefield.

Bound by a personal vow, he does not move: not when they fight, nor count their dead, nor lament in the shadows.

But when they weep, Prometheus, too, breaks down, and the scalding tears sting his cheeks more than anything in a thousand and one excruciating years.

Prometheus cannot stand by any longer. He steps out of the ashen circle, brushes away the clinging soot.

Each step away from the plain is more agonizing than the one before. “Stop, fool, before you betray your gods afresh! These paltry creations, are they worth your gift?” protests an inner voice, but Prometheus’ resolve is stronger.

The Titan sets Fire loose.

And soon, the Universe is alight. Flames frolic on the ground, devouring the night, the frost, the terror. So majestic are the People in its shine; gloom recedes with the onset of their faith.

“What a magnificent sight,” Prometheus marvels, “Truly, I have created Paradise!”

A thousand and one years later, the Titan’s tale is repeating itself.

Copyright © 2013 by Yuliya Klochan

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