By Ian Hawkes
Prometheus often wondered why the clouds formed different shapes daily. As the fluffy white shapes slipped tantalizingly across Olympus’ sharp edge they revealed themselves slowly, inch by inch. It reminded him of an actor, stepping dramatically out from behind the curtain, to the great delight of the expectant audience. Somedays an elephant. Other days a splatter. And once remarkably, a stunning portrait of his late great aunt.
Television was yet to make it big on Mount Olympus, but it would have been exactly the type of thing that would have tickled Prometheus’ fancy. Perhaps it was the drudging monotony of life that he had settled into, but something fascinated him about the empty canvas filling every morning, only to be emptied again at dusk. As soon as he was free, he was going to wear a different outfit every day. To think, all of those days that he had wasted on togas and sandals! The vague design for a fashionable palm leaf quilt had been turning over and over in his mind for the past few months. It would be a winner, he was sure. And there was something in hats. He just had a feeling that there was bright future in headwear yet to be explored.
Prometheus shifted his torso uncomfortably. The sun was approaching(he guessed the time to be about 7:32 AM by its proximity to the sparrow’s nest)and he wanted to get as much heat to his right side as possible. Maintaining a consistent tan when one is chained to a rock is not an easy process, but nevertheless, he had done his best. He enjoyed waking up in the morning and thinking “today is a left side day!” or “today is a right side day!”.
The sun reached his toes. Prometheus stretched each one carefully in the tickling heat. Each digit danced and winked on its own, frolicking in a form of freedom that his body was denied. Next would be his shins, his knees, his thighs, all warming from a chilly night. And when it reached his head, that’s when he would start screaming.
Prometheus still liked to scream when the eagle arrived. It just didn’t feel right to let it go by in silence. Of course it was painful (that was the point) but Prometheus had found that rather like the feeling of the shackles around his ankles and wrists, the pain soon became an involuntary muscle reaction, much like breathing, and only if he put specific thought towards the talons tearing into his flesh, pulling aside the prickling muscle, and shifting his intestines to the side in search for the prize liver, did he really feel anything. But still, screaming just felt right, like clinking wine glasses before drinking, or wishing someone luck before they left on a journey. He was sure it made no difference. But if made him feel more alive. Which made all the difference to man who died on a daily basis.
The eagle always arrived from behind. This used to scare him immensely. Though the first devouring had become hazy after a series of completely forgettable repetitions, he did remember that feeling of surprise as the wings beat the air behind him. There was no shadow, just the pounding of wings and then the bird, immense, glistening, swooping in just inches above his nose. Of course Prometheus knew he was immortal. He had fought in plenty of wars, and Zues knows all the idiotic teenage stunts that pushed his godliness to the limit, but that first time the eagle bare its talons, he did wonder. Gods could die, after all, or at least go away for a long time, the Muses were always a little hazy on that topic. After all, you can never really be sure. By now, however, he was sure. There was the beating of wings, the slight waft of the musty raptor as he slowed his descent, and then the bird was upon him. Prometheus took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and screamed. With his eyes closed, he sometimes imagined some of his boyhood friends right next to him, chained down in the liver line, awaiting their own devouring. He wondered what had even become of them…Narcissus, Hermes…probably off on Mt. Olympus getting back massages from young virgins.
Prometheus paused. He stopped screaming. He tried very genuinely to feel. Oh bother…was he dead? Was this the one that would really end it all? Death was so much more terrifyingly empty than he had imagined.
“I…oh man…I am so sorry, I can’t do this.”
Prometheus’ eyes sprang open.
The eagle’s talons were perched gently on his waistline, his noble head averted to the west, with a clear look of disgust smeared across the shimmering beak. Prometheus looked around.
“I’m just really not feeling it today.”
Prometheus took the extra effort to make his jaw drop even though he was lying on his back.
“You can talk?”
The eagle glared. And then rolled his eyes. Prometheus noticed that the yellow irises looped upwards like the sun, brushing across his eyelids like the morning to evening.
“Ouch. Shots fired.”
The eagle smirked. Promethues was amazed at how expressive beaks could be. He stared. Every movement the eagle made, swiveling his head back and forth against the sharp blue sky, was like a ballet premiere. The movement, so fluid and rebellious, cut through Prometheus’ narrow idea of the prosaic. With every muscle, the bird wrote poetry that Prometheus had once known existed, but had lost track of centuries ago.
“So…I’m just gonna go then.”
The beating wings, as familiar to Prometheus as the ceaseless pumping of his own heart, now rang rich with abandon. The eagle, beautiful interruption, was gone. Promethues’ breathing quickened. He was feeling fear again. It was stinging and new, like a fizzy drink.
The sound of his own desperation scared Prometheus. He sounded like a madman. Or was that always the way he had sounded? He had forgotten that too.
The eagle came back, this time clicking into a landing on the rocks by Promethues’ right side. He stared coldly.
Prometheus was about to confess that hearing the bird’s voice was maybe the most beautiful sound his ears could possibly remember, but the manners of conversation were beginning to slowly trickle back in, and something deep inside told him that this may be an uncomfortable way to make a new acquaintance.
“Eternal…eternal punishment must be delivered, noble bird.” He was pretty sure that was what they called a lie. He was really getting back into this. The eagle stared. He was always staring. Do eagles blink? Promethues was scrambling. It seemed the bird might leave any second.
“Strike now! Spread my flesh and dig my liver from my cursed–”
“Stop, stop, I’m gonna be sick.”
Prometheus was pretty sure he was hurting his feelings. It had been roughly twentytwo centuries since he had seen a facial expression, and relearning on a bird was not exactly ideal, but something about the gagging sound made him think he may be headed down the wrong path. The eagle straightened his back, and turned to face Prometheus in what could only be seen as sincerity.
“Please…just spare me today, okay? Two thousand years of eternal punishment should be enough to let me off the hook for at least one day! Right?”
Now Prometheus was getting thoroughly confused.
“Let you off the hook?”
“Oh, you think this is your punishment?”
The eagle looked horrified. Prometheus could really tell it was horror. He was getting good at this. Just as the god was about to say something to this end, the bird spoke again.
“I’m being punished, dumbo. Every day I have to come to this rock and eat a man’s liver.”
“Well, it’s not just any man’s liver…” Prometheus felt a tingling behind his ribs that was definitely not talons.
“Wait…did I seriously just hurt your feelings?”
“Yes…I think that’s what happened.”
“I’m sure you’re a wonderful person, but your liver…it’s got this slimy outer covering that…oh…oh…I can feel the gag reflex setting in.”
The eagle turned and began hacking grotesquely. Prometheus looked away. He felt this would be polite. He also was getting the strange sensation that he had somehow been lied to for the better half of three centuries, and the feeling of hurt nestled deep behind his ribs was growing in an uncomfortable way that made him wish he had maybe let the eagle go in the first place. “But…my punishment must be dispensed! This is my punishment! Strike me, eagle! Strike me!”
Prometheus didn’t want to see the eagle’s facial expressions. Emotion was so messy and multilayered. He was amazed he had forgotten.
“Dude…you really want me to do this?”
Prometheus was unsure what that word meant, but assuming it was eagle slang for some form of excrement, he decided to keep his head averted and wait for the talons in his belly, a feeling that with each pounding second he was beginning to miss even more and more.
The rock had never been more silent. Prometheus realized he was holding his breath. How strange.
“I’m sorry…not happening.”
The bird’s voice was heavy with defeat. Prometheus twisted his head. The eagle sat on the rock, his head hanging, his stillness revealing little bends and flecks in his feathers which had never before been noticeable. Prometheus felt he should speak. He had forgotten what to say. He spoke anyways.
The eagle looked up into the sun and sighed. At least it sounded like a sigh, if birds could sigh.
What a curious feeling, Prometheus thought. To say sorry. The stillness on the rock dragged on, but now pregnant with a rich feeling of resolve, a stillness that embraced the present. For the first time in forever, the god relished the feeling of right now, and didn’t try to calculate the time.
A fly buzzed lazily around the rock. It rested momentarily on the crimson stained granite, basking in the sun. Thousands of years of silence, and now he didn’t even know what to say. It was going to take him a while to get back into this game.
“So, what did you do to get the…the liver punishment?” he finally ventured.
“Oh the usual, ran away with one of Zeus’ daughters.”
Prometheus was not familiar enough with the finer points of bird sarcasm to know if he was being lied to.
“We split up after a few weeks. I wasn’t her type. Ran home to Daddy and blamed me for the whole thing. And it’s been immortal livers ever since. What about you?”
“I uh…well, it’s kind of a long story…but I ended up tricking Zeus into giving fire to mankind.”
“No friggin’ way.”
Again, more bird slang. What a peculiar language.
It felt strange to talk about the whole fire issue again. Of course, in the beginning, it had seemed like the end of everything, with the whole switching of the tributes mess, and Zeus’ final realization that sent literal lightning bolts flying from his eyebrows. But after all this time, it seemed a little silly. After all, they can’t have done that much with it, Prometheus main concern was the whole raw meat issue…those poor humans. Prometheus looked at the eagle to get some validation, and found the bird quite literally gawking. Oh dear.
“You’re…you’re the Prometheus.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Damn…I ate your liver every day…you’re not pulling my leg right?”
Prometheus was quite certain he was indeed not pulling the eagle’s leg, this should have been apparent from the shackles. He felt a little uncomfortable about all the attention, and realized soberly that the closest he had ever come to a compliment in the last millennium was his only acquaintance devouring part of his digestive system. He made a jab at a conversation change.
“So…what did those humans end up doing with fire anyways? Have they gotten anywhere productive?”
And then the eagle laughed. It was a belly laugh, one that rocked the feathers down by his talons and shook him from his head to his toe. He fell backwards, flat on his back, and started waving his wings in the air. The sound echoed across the rocks and down through the pines that Prometheus could barely glimpse in the gap between his ankles. It was unashamed freedom and glee. The god was unsure if he should laugh along or take offense.
“Gone anywhere? Prometheus buddy…you’re a rock star down there! You’re the Elvis Presley!”
Prometheus thought he knew the Pantheon well, but here was an unfamiliar name. His confusion must have shown on his brow, because the eagle ventured again.
“Einstein? DaVinci? Oh man…you don’t even know what Facebook is.”
Prometheus thought that a face book sounded truly horrid. The eagle was grinning now, his sharp beak curled back into his whiskery face feathers. His eyes bounced in his round lids. Prometheus couldn’t help it. He laughed. His first real laugh. It shook the chains at his sides and had the eagle in fits of laughter again, prancing about the rock.
And then the eagle started telling him everything. Prometheus learned about Christopher Columbus, wristwatches, gunpowder, The Great Wall, and Snapchat. He watched the eagle swoop about the boulder, drawing lines in the air, diagrams, explaining, singing, dancing. Prometheus wanted to see it all. He had never heard about anything so fascinating. And he had never spent a day so long.
The conversation never officially ended, just sort of petered out as the sun sent its final winks down across the boulders, and spreading the eagle’s shadow across the boulder like a tall rail. Prometheus heard the distant hoot of an owl in the silence.
He looked over at the eagle. The bird was exhausted but smiling, his blazing eyes flickering back and forth across the red burning mountain. Prometheus thought maybe he should ask if the eagle would rather leave, out of courtesy, but the hard line of his beak was such a strong and familiar sight after the day, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“We could get in trouble for this,” the bird said finally, matter of factly.
“I won’t tell if you don’t.”
The edges of the bird’s beak flicked back again into that silly bird smile. Prometheus was really growing to like having friends again. And just like that, Prometheus was back in the mischief business.
The eagle did finally leave, when the sun totally disappeared, and Prometheus’ eyes grew heavy. He wondered what they would talk about tomorrow. He gazed up at the stars, and for the first time ever, realized that some of them were probably satellites.