The world paused, drawing a sharp breath. Even Atlas, shoulders hunched under the unbearable weight of the Earth, froze, in awe of what had become of his possession. Murder, terrorism, pain, suffering – the list was endless. His grandiose possession – his sole object – had become blackened, charred by the fires of rage and left to burn by faltering leaders.
He turned, rolling the Earth from his shoulders and into his palms, which had since wrinkled and grayed. He had no use for them any longer, not since the war that had damned him to this burden. Atlas scanned the jagged mountain peaks, around the skyscrapers, factories, and homes, under rocks and trees, and even in the depths of the deepest oceans. There they were, the people. Upon first glance, Atlas could not understand why they were shivering, crying, yelling, fighting all the time, but then he visited the days back before his sentence, when his brother was free from Tartarus, and when he did not bear the burden of the blackened world.
There had been a great war. The Titanomachy, as it was called. Atlas had chosen his side, his brother too, and it had been seen as treason. Menoetius was imprisoned. Atlas was damned for eternity. Now, he saw great relations between his world and his possession. The people wept for their loss, as did he and his other daughters when Hyas perished in a hunting accident. He was a great thief. His daughters had later died from grief. Atlas feared the same for these people.
He also feared that many had become like his other daughter, one who did not weep for Hyas: Calypso. She was a sly woman, forever taunting and teasing and manipulating. He saw much of her in the suited men and women down in the charred world. Atlas wished he had seen more of Dione, another daughter.
Dione had been the lone child to visit her father. She had grown into a beautiful woman with unblemished skin and an unblemished heart. The evils and misfortunes of her siblings had not touched her. And now she mothered a small child, a beautiful mockery of her likeness, Venus.
Venus was like a doll: small and sweet and forever asking her mother why her grandfather had to hold something so heavy at his frail age. She had once touched the Earth, her fingerprints smearing light through the dark. It had then paused, slowly growing lighter in those minutes, as though reverting back to the day Atlas had first held it. But then it quivered and shook and grew dark once more.
Tears ran like rivers over Atlas’s wrinkled cheeks. Why had such a beautiful place become so ugly? Why had everything pure and clean ceased? Where were Venus’s sticky fingerprints?
“Grandfather?” A voice like honey beckoned. “Grandfather, are you all right? Has the world become too heavy for your spine? I will help you carry it.”
Atlas looked up, his tears ceasing as his eyes fell upon Venus. She resembled her mother even more today, with soft golden curls
falling gently over her blushed face. Her eyes were brighter than ever.
“No, my dear, I’m afraid you will not understand the burdens that come with carrying this world.”
She sat down at his feet, as she had as a child. “I will if you tell me.”
“This world is my punishment,” he sighed, rolling it back on his shoulders. “We were once in war, my dear. War is a horrible thing. It makes people turn on each other, kill each other, lose one another through rage and death. It is an evil you should never encounter.”
“That world, your punishment, is it at war?”
“It has been through many wars, but now I see a different kind. This is a kind where there are no winners, only losers. It is a war against itself.”
The world grew darker and began to quake.
“Was that a war?”
Atlas shook his head. “If only it were that simple, my dear. That was a disagreement.”
It kept quaking.
“There are many disagreements, Venus, millions every day. It never stops.”
Venus rose to her feet and circled the world. “It stopped once,” she whispered. “It stopped when I was younger, when I touched it.”
Atlas was impressed by her memory. “Yes, it did.”
“If I touch it again, will it heal?”
“This world is in much worse shape than when you were younger. It will take more than just a touch of your fingertips.”
“Then I will work with Pandora,” she decided. “She released these evils into this world.”
“That may be true, my dear, but these people pursued them.”
Venus rolled up her sleeves. “Perhaps I will begin with hope.”
Her fingertips danced over the dark clouds. Slowly, flickers of light began to break through. Atlas shielded his eyes as the tiny fractals of golden light burst through.
Venus smiled, stepping back. “There are plenty of people with hope down there, grandfather. All that is missing is love.”
Atlas had to smile as the quivering ceased and the dark clouds began melting away.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.