They were gathered around the fire on the beach after the sunset had come and gone. They were in beach chairs and pressed up against the fire for warmth in the New England evening. The flames lit their faces and the underside of the bills of the baseball caps they were all wearing.
Suddenly there was a man in their midst. He had a bag that looked like the sort of bag you pop popcorn in. The bag had been popped full, it seemed, for it had that plumped up quality a popcorn bag takes after its popcorn has been popped.
“Do you mind if I take some of your fire?” The man said. He did not direct the question to any one in particular and the people sitting around the fire did not seem to know who had authority to grant the request.
Finally a man in a red Justin Boot Company cap, plainly the oldest in the group, spoke. “Why not.”
The man who had appeared in their midst did not pause for comment. He thrust the popcorn bag directly into the burning beach fire.
“We couldn’t get it to start,” he said.
“What is it?” the man in the red hat asked.
The man with the popcorn bag did not answer but continued his explanation,“We only had a few matches.”
“Is it a popcorn bag?”
One of the other people at the fire said, “No, it’s too big for a popcorn bag.”
The man with his hand on the popcorn bag didn’t respond, apparently intent on avoiding catching himself on fire. He had a yellow slicker and he was wearing those faded red shorts popular on the island in the summer time. “I think it’s . . .”
The end of his sentence was cut off as flames burst from the bag.
As one, the group said, “Ooh,” though it seemed less for the man’s success in lighting the popcorn bag than the possibility that he would also go up in flames.
The man in the yellow slicker stood up and raised the burning bag over his head like it was the Olympic torch. He did not pause for more than a instant before he began to gallop away from them down the beach.
There was a pause and then a moment of shared loss as if a cherished family member had gone off. They stared down the beach as the flame receded. They kept watching – silently, intently – until the flame stopped moving. Then they saw the flame dip down, briefly disappear, and then rise again into a small beach fire, just like their own.
There were three beats of silence.
The man in the red hat spoke. “Do you guys know who that was?”
Another two beats of silence.
The man in the red hat answered his own question. “Prometheus. That was frickin’ Prometheus.”
There were two more beats of silence, then a woman sitting on a beer cooler, her sweatshirt orange in the firelight, said, “Yeah. That’s probably just how it happened.”
– Jay Duret