Contest #96 shortlist ⭐️

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Fiction Western Fantasy

Maybury was a quiet place. Five and a half thousand people lived in it, but it wound a long way out into Nevada desert. Less a town, more a collection of villages scattered through the prickly-pear cacti and low scrubland. 

Prometheus arrived in the mid-afternoon when the sun was patiently cracking open the sidewalk. Even the weeds between the cracks were limp with heat. The few people out kept their heads down, hats tilted forward to hide their faces. When he killed the engine, he could almost hear the backs of their necks sizzling.

He got out and shut the door. The car settled back onto its haunches. He'd driven a long way with it, this rusting black wreck, and this was its final stop. 

“Prometheus?”

A tall, rangy woman emerged from one of the closest houses. It was an old thing, first-settler style, all wooden porches and scorched doors. She looked like she could be first-settler herself. Her pale hair was braided back from her face, shaded by a black cowboy hat. Her boots were leather. Prometheus saw the marks of spurs.

"Hello,” he said. He was not surprised she knew his name. Maybury was one of those places, the kind that remembered what came before them. The new America, glass and steel and honking yellow taxis, wouldn’t recognise him. He could hide well enough there, but he belonged here. 

“You might wanna take that coat off,” she said. “It’s awful hot.”

Prometheus looked down. His tan trenchcoat was rolled to the elbows, the one concession he’d made to the heat. His shirt sleeves were still cuffed at the wrists with small golden pins. They reflected bright and hot into his eyes. 

The woman watched him a moment longer. His skin was sun-stained, grey beard trimmed and hair curly. He had a curious air to him. Something ancient in his stillness.

“I’m Cass,” she said, breaking the buzzing silence.

“A lovely name,” he said. “Greek. I knew a Cassandra once. She was very kind.”

“Nice to meet you. You’re rentin’ the old place off Main?”

Prometheus looked upwards. She followed his gaze. Two birds were circling overhead, so high they were mere black specks in the sun, but he seemed to know what they were. When he returned his face to hers there was a weariness in those grey eyes.

She said, “I’ll show you to it." 

There was not, Prometheus saw, much to Maybury. They passed house after house, the yards filled with rusting metal or strangling weeds. Once they walked by a playground. It was clean and colourful, the plastic stark against the scrub behind it, and utterly empty.

“The jackrabbits like it,” Cass said, catching his glance. “Ain’t many kids around. People sorta end up here, you know? No one moves in. They just return.”

He nodded once. He didn’t seem to be sweating even though Cass was wiping her brow in denim shorts and a sleeveless top. Unnerved, she said, “Your Cass sounded nice.”

“She wasn’t anyone’s. Humans-” and he stopped abruptly. They both stood still. The desert blew a hot wind around their ankles. 

“Go on,” she said. “We get all sorts round these parts. Only thing you’ll catch hell for is blowin’ off a neighbour needin’ help.”

“Hell has already caught me,” he said shortly, and resumed walking. “But I appreciate the warning. It reflects well on people to show hospitality to strangers."

"Mmm. We put the effort in. Never wanted it be an old Sodom and Gomorrah kinda place."

He swept her a glance. She shrugged. "My daddy was the religious type. Guess some of it got through."

"I suppose my people would have called you Baucis," he said after a moment. "Although we're a long way from Phrygia."

"What's that?"

"Nothing," he said, half to himself, half to her. She recognised the expression of someone adrift in memories and let him be. 

They stopped at last outside a rickety house. A swingbench groaned on its raised porch. The white paint was flaking from the wood. 

Cass gave him the keys and he went calmly up the steps to creak the door open. His trench coat rustled like wings. She glanced up to the sky and saw the black spots in the sun had dropped closer, still circling slowly. Despite the heat, she had the oddest urge to shiver. 

Inside the house, Prometheus stood in the living room. On the far wall of the living room, there was a faded white mark where a large cross had been taken down. There was a nail mark in the plaster where Jesus' head would had been. 

From the roof, there was the scratching of talons. 

"Is it close?" Cass asked. She had come up the steps behind him and was standing in the doorway. "Judgement Day? Whatever you call it. Ragnarok."

"That was the Scandinavians," he said, and turned to her. Her hat cast a sharp shadow across the bridge of her nose and pointed chin. She seemed very calm in asking the question, as if the answer would come as no surprise. "What were you hoping for?"

"Me, I'm not so sure. My ma wanted to stay for it. She said she wanted to see the angels walking the streets. Said the sidewalk'd crack from their light. My old neighbour, he thinks the stars are gonna fall and we'll go out and watch 'em. And me, well." She shrugged unselfconsciously. "Guess I wanted to see somethin' holy. Somethin' more divine than a preacher in a pulpit. But I don't know where you fit into that."

"The end is the end," Prometheus said mildly. "If you want to catch the stars, you can." 

"Mm. They'd be awful hot to hold, I bet."

He nodded and began at last to remove his cufflinks. He placed them carefully on the low table, their shine muted by the wood, and rolled up his sleeves. 

There were marks on his forearms. Cass had never seen manacle scars, but she knew instinctively that was what they were. Twin bands of shiny scar tissue circled his wrists. He saw her looking. 

"Somebody do that to you?" she said. 

"A friend. It was a long time ago now."

"You deserve it?" 

"I did." 

Her chin dipped in acknowledgment. His scars didn't scare her. She'd seen worse before. The only thing that unnerved her was the scratching on the roof. It sounded like birds were trying to peck through. 

"I'd offer you coffee," Prometheus said. "But the birds will be here soon and I don't want you to see it."

Cass saw a resignation in his face. The noise from above was increasing. "Thought they were eagles at first. When I saw them circling."

That earned her a grim, tired smile. "Lots of people do. You know what they are?" 

"Vultures." 

Two vultures, with naked pink heads and cruel curving beaks. Cass could imagine their brown plumage fluffing on the chimney. She knew they were vultures, and she knew who the tall man in front of her was. All these eons and he hadn't changed his name. 

"Why here?” she said. 

Prometheus leant against the wall. In the light from the dusty window, his scars gleamed. He was taller than her, she realised, and broader, and his shadow spread wide behind him. She had the sensation of looking up at him, further than should have been necessary. 

“Why not here?” he said, and his voice was soft and rumbling as thunder. “Why not a stranger in a small town? I’ve been a stranger in many a place and many a time. I was a stranger when I brought the light down from the mountainside and a stranger when I was chained to the rock.”

His face almost shone. Cass blinked hard to rid herself of the dancing spots in her peripherals. From above, the vultures scratched. From below, the ground steadied. Across from her, Prometheus smiled. 

“Go home, Cass,” he said. “You’ve got enough divinity in you. Your maker put stardust in your veins.”

She could have gone to her knees right then and there for the power in his voice, but she’d seen through plenty a hurricane. She was a daughter of the desert and he saw it. His stare softened. “You’ll be all right.”

“Will you?” she asked. “When it comes?”

Prometheus smiled again. An ancient flame lit his eyes. "Yes," he said. "I think I will, Cassandra. Take care of yourself, now.”

Cass walked away from the house, head down, hands in her pockets. When she got halfway down the street she turned and looked back. Blood was dribbling towards the closest drain, stirring up the dust in the roads. The air was heavy with heat-haze.

From inside the house, she heard the harsh shriek of a vulture. 

June 04, 2021 17:49

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10 comments

T.H. Sherlock
19:40 Jun 12, 2021

I really, really enjoyed reading this. I think it offers something new and refreshing - and the idea of immortal Prometheus still wandering the Earth in modern times is brilliant. I also really like the way it’s written - every line has a point, either to illustrate the scene or to carry the story along. Prometheus’ story is seamlessly ‘shown’ through Cass and Prometheus instead of told to the reader and so the plot still works even for those unfamiliar with the myth.

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Katie Evans
08:30 Jun 16, 2021

thank you so much! i've always found prometheus to be a very compelling character in myth, but i wasn't sure if it would work for a person unaware of the legend. it's nice to hear it still flows :)

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Shea West
12:58 Jun 16, 2021

I'll be the first to admit, I have no knowledge of the Prometheus myth/story. That being said, I found myself captivated by your use of imagery of the hot desert town. I felt drawn into the unspoken words between the two characters, as if they were saying so much by saying so little. Congratulations on your shortlist!!

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Nadia Woods
19:53 Jun 11, 2021

This drew me in instantly and was compelling until the end. Thanks for the escapism!

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Katie Evans
09:01 Jun 12, 2021

thanks for the comment! :)

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16:19 Jun 11, 2021

a shortlist! well-deserved! prometheus in a tiny, sun-baked town. very original. cass sounds like my type of country gal :) keep writing!

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Katie Evans
09:02 Jun 12, 2021

thank you!

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Alex Sultan
17:27 Jun 07, 2021

I think this story is really good. The imagery is really well done-never overwhelming-and the way you describe the weather is spot on. The dialogue on top of everything feels natural. Nice work.

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Katie Evans
11:29 Jun 09, 2021

thank you very much!

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Caroline Biegon
19:01 Oct 05, 2021

For a reader like me who hasn't met Prometheus before, his sudden appearance (reappearance) is quickly striking and intriguing. He is mysterious in many ways but mostly his rolled up trench coat that he refuses to remove and the sleeves of his shirt sticking out speak a lot. You know he is going to stir things and the author manages so well to stir you even more. Beautiful read. I enjoyed thoroughly.

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