Colonel Fitzpatrick checked his revolver, then checked it again. He had not fired it, so there was no reason a bullet should have gone missing; still, he continued pawing at the weapon, expecting an empty cylinder. Again, and again. Six bullets in all. Still there.
The steamer rattled over the length of railroad tracks, and from somewhere up the train the conductor tugged on a taught rope, causing the whole rig to wail. Fitzpatrick hated the sound. He hated trains in general. He hated traveling assignments, hated the southwestern plains, hated holding U.S. government secrets, hated mysterious cargo and train robbers, nearly hated the U.S.A., too. Well, no, not really. A bit of trouble in the desert shouldn’t make him stoop so low as to betray his loyalties. He checked himself, then his revolver, once again.
A few gunshots rang out from behind the caboose. This did not surprise Colonel Fitzpatrick. They were warning shots, meant only to scare the crew, get everyone all riled up before the bandits jumped on board. That was when the real trouble would start. The day was clear, and a bird circled overhead way off in the distance. It looked like an eagle. Colonel Fitzpatrick felt good about eagles. National birds. Good American birds.
“Sir,” said a young soldier with red hair—brand-new recruit, Fitzpatrick noted. “We’ve got Larky up top with a rifle. Pots and Shoemaker in the back. Looks like they’re coming up, about fifteen of ’em on horseback.”
“On horseback?” said Fitzpatrick. “Do they aim to drag the old package along with a rope?”
“I believe,” said the soldier. “They’re hopin’ to commandeer the engine.”
“You all loaded up?”
Fitzpatrick slid open the rattling door to the nearest boxcar and stepped into its stale, dim interior. As he closed the door, he could feel the outside noises grow quiet, and then could feel the other presence in the room. It was breathing steadily. Watching. The colonel’s military medals jingled from their pinned-up spot on his jacket, and he anxiously stroked at a short goatee that looked fake, like a disguise. An oil lamp dangled from the wooden ceiling, but it only let off a small glow of light; Fitzpatrick’s eyes took a moment to adjust. The cargo was not packaged away, but rather tied down to a large pallet, a naked torso exposed and a dark curly beard hanging down from a very large face.
“In trouble, then?” asked the cargo.
“Shut up,” replied Fitzpatrick, trying to keep his pistol in its holster. It tempted him to remove it and check for bullets, so he tried smoking instead, using a pair of thin matches to light up.
Watching closely, the cargo chuckled.
“You’ll admit, it’s ironic.”
Fitzpatrick turned and glared at the figure—for which he also reserved a good portion of his hatred. There sat the god, or rather, the titan, still manacled tightly to a large boulder that had been excavated from an island off the Mediterranean decades or so ago. Prometheus, he believed it—or rather he—was called.
The titan repositioned himself in the dim light, revealing the dark scar along his abdomen. Once the matches went out, he shifted his vision to the cigarette.
“This bother you?” said Fitzpatrick offhandedly. “The smell?”
“You’re the one who got punished for fire, right? Giving humanity fire?”
“That’s right,” said Prometheus. “In a sense.”
“Are we in danger?” asked the titan. “Is your crew going to die?”
Fitzpatrick huffed, then moved delicately to the door, slid it open, and stepped onto the other side, leaving the boxcar in its dim, oil-lit solitude. The crackling of gunfire erupted again from near the back of the train. Inside, Prometheus tugged on the chain and cursed. He loved humans and didn’t want them to die.
When Colonel Fitzpatrick rushed back into the boxcar sometime later, there was blood on his uniform, and the air reeked of gunpowder. Another soldier followed him inside, briefly letting in a glimmer of the bright desert speeding by at 30 miles per hour outside, before he slammed the door shut and barricaded it with some nearby ammo crates. Prometheus wondered what had happened to the young soldier with red hair.
The train rumbled on and on beneath them.
“Larky, get to the latch,” spit Fitzpatrick, and the soldier hurried to a sheet of metal on the wall, sliding it momentarily open enough to point the nose of his rifle through. He pulled the trigger, and bang. The sound rattled the interior of the boxcar, causing the oil lamp to drop from the ceiling. The tiny flame flickered out as soon as the lamp hit the floor, leaving the boxcar completely dark aside from the thin slivers of light coming in through the latch and the cracks in the ceiling.
It remained silent for a moment. Colonel Fitzpatrick wondered if anything had happened to the conductor yet. He’d not gotten a chance to see, but since the bandits had managed to board the train, were making their way up from the caboose.
Then another gunshot rang out. Larky shuddered, looking to be hit at first, but he still stood there unaffected. Both Fitzpatrick and Prometheus involuntarily checked their own bodies for bullet holes but came up short. The titan softly chuckled when he realized what he’d just done, checking his body for wounds.
“They’re on the train,” reported Fitzpatrick to the titan or no one in particular. “Still over a dozen. Well armed. Most of the crew’s down.”
“So it seems,” replied Prometheus sadly.
Colonel Fitzpatrick did not appear scared, Prometheus noted. Or, at least, he seemed able to turn any visible fear into a stubborn-looking fury—a talent which probably helped him succeed as a military colonel. He leaned into the skinny light leaking into the boxcar and checked his pocket watch—it was a gold piece, likely quite expensive.
“For a god of fire,” said Fitzpatrick, “you don’t got any firepower on you, huh?”
“I’m no god of fire,” said Prometheus. “And no.”
With the light coming in from the latch, Colonel Fitzpatrick eyed the chains that had been wrapped around the titan thousands of years ago. They looked like steel. Nothing magical about them, other than the fact that there was no lock, only the chains going round and round the stone in endless perpetuity. Maybe there was no end or beginning to the chain, but it simply existed. Continuously. Prometheus caught Fitzpatrick’s gaze upon his bindings.
“You know, it’s probably quite easy to free me,” he said. “Zeus and the others are long gone by now. There’s no one left to mind anymore.”
“Is that so?”
“Sir,” shouted Larky, upon firing his rifle into the skinny ray of sunlight outside once more. “They’ve got control of the locomotive. Brace yourselves for the brakes.”
A moment later, the wheels underneath their boxcar let out an ear-piercing shriek, and the three figures felt themselves lurch at the train’s sudden shift in speed. A smell of burning metal filled the air. Fitzpatrick checked his revolver again as the steam engine slowed.
“If you’ve got no firepower, then what’s the point of you?” he barked at Prometheus.
Larky turned and glanced uncomfortably between the colonel and the captive. He had not looked upon the titan since entering the boxcar, had intentionally avoided looking in that direction, but now he could not avoid glancing over at the massive being chained to a boulder in the center of the room.
“Many people find me valuable, it seems,” said Prometheus. “But you can set me free pretty easily I’d imagine.”
“Hold on, now,” said Fitzpatrick as footsteps sounded outside. “You’re not locked away like this for nothing. I’m not about to be the one to undo thousands of years of punishment or whatever. Not right now, that’s for sure.”
“Well, if you won’t, nobody else will.”
“So why are we delivering you out west?”
“Your government leaders mentioned a vault.”
“You’re symbolic then,” said the colonel. “Of punishment. A token, or a relic, of something bigger than all this.”
The train finally eased to a stop entirely, and Larky peered out the window once more.
“I’d imagine it feels good to punish a god in some way or another,” said Prometheus thoughtfully.
The colonel watched him from the other side of the room for a silent moment. He seemed to be trying to remember something.
“I saw an eagle earlier,” he said finally. “That yours?”
“In a way, yes,” replied Prometheus.
“Might be too late, even if I were to free you,” he said.
“They’re coming for our boxcar now, sir. Looks like they’ve got explosives,” cut in Larky, pulling his rifle inside and sliding shut the tin latch. “Do we surrender?”
There was no response. In the darkness, Prometheus could hear Fitzpatrick scratching at his short goatee. Then fumbling with the revolver, evidently checking to see how many bullets he had left. Still six, since he had not yet pulled the trigger. Prometheus could not see in the darkness, but that did not matter. He could tell what was happening both inside and outside the boxcar, and he could tell what was going to happen.
An explosion. Gunfire. Deaths—two, maybe one or so more, if the colonel were to actually use his revolver. Prometheus wondered if his eagle would wait for the dust to settle before finding its way to his liver. The feasting happened each day, no matter what. Even if the U.S. Army or the group of bandits managed to lock him underground or keep close guard, it would still find a way to get to him. That was just how things always were. But if his chains were gone, what then? Would he be able to avoid the eagle, to hide from it somehow? He knew it was too late, but something about the colonel moved him. He felt sorrowful in advance, felt saddened by what would happen to the man who almost freed him.
Just then, as the colonel was about to speak, the door to the boxcar exploded, and gunfire erupted. Prometheus closed his eyes; he couldn’t bear to look. He loved humans and didn’t want them to die. Outside, the eagle continued to make circles overhead, on and on and on in seemingly endless perpetuity.
Joey Hedger is author of the novel Deliver Thy Pigs (Malarkey Books). He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and more of his writing can be found at www.joeyhedger.com.
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