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Fiction

Atlas Redeemed

by M.C. Zendejas
“Holding up the Earth is a group of welders, grocery clerks, prisoners, waitstaff, sex workers, and secretaries, etc.”

The first thing Atlas does after shrugging Earth from his shoulders is take a walk along the cosmos. He reaches out to the nearest star and bends it—molds it to a form he finds fitting—then repeats the process, flinging polygons and rhombuses here and there.

For a moment, a few millennia, he’d almost forgotten he’s a god—more than a god—a titan. But not anymore.

Constellations are renamed at his whim as he strolls for what some would call an eternity, only stopping to stare at pockets of periwinkle stars glimmer through nebulas’ soft pink and baby blue. They seem like pillows, with fluff made of gas and dust, which causes him to notice the burning soreness in neck, back, and shoulders that came with the world and its burdens.

Lying against a vapor-cloud with both eyes shut, he can’t help but smile; it’s been ages since he’s had nothing to do—no sky to hold up. A century has passed by the time he awakes, and for another hundred years he stays with gaze fixed on the sky his very hands have shaped.

The infinite black that frames everything, altered stars included, shines light on his isolation and stabs at his heart. It becomes enough to make Atlas reach out and snatch one of the whirling spheres that surrounds him, fling it far into the nearest galaxy. Tiny screams from its alien inhabitants are like a single mouse squeak as the planet rushes away.

He begins roaming in order to avoid bedsores. The abilities no longer feel like superpowers, but a cruel joke. Each new star he churns out, each philosophic insight croaked into empty air, is a reminder of his lack of purpose.

By the time he stumbles back to Earth, Atlas is a ghost of his former self. His beard has grown scraggly and dangles to a chest which has severely diminished in both tone and muscle mass. His signature tight-cropped curls have sprouted into frizzy knotted locks that reek of wine and vomit; both of which polka-dot his loincloth with harsh stains.

“Atlas?”

Holding up the Earth is a group of welders, grocery clerks, prisoners, waitstaff, sex workers and secretaries etc. They form a chain link that crisscrosses beneath the planet like support beams. Everyone shifts the planet to their shoulder and uses their free arms to wave.

“Hey, Atlas!” they say, “Look, guys, it’s Atlas!”

He waves back, but is heartbroken at having been replaced, his last hope at a purpose having vanished at his fingertips. As he turns to leave, the oppressed call his name.

“Help us!” they cry.

He walks towards them, across that dark fractured by starlight, filled with the buttery warmth of being needed by that which he needs, of the individual being subsumed into the collective.

He hasn’t felt this since Eros showed him the memory of when his eggshell separated; the first sunrise like an explosion in an artist’s studio, purple, orange, red and yellow spattered over rolling emerald hills.

This image alone, preserving this version of the world, is what caused him to lead against Zeus. Only now can he see the futility of fighting change.

The oppressed toss Earth back onto his neck and scramble up his shoulders. He recognizes the revolution in their eyes is not one resisting change, but bringing it, and is glad to help—glad to uncover this small, glorious piece of himself. 


About the Writer: M.C. Zendejas is an incoming member of the fiction MFA cohort at UMass Amherst. He is the inaugural recipient of the Hong Kim Czuprynski Fellowship, as well as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Emerging Writers Fellowship, given by Writers in the Schools (WITS). His work is featured in the anthology Faceless Brown Masses: A Blackout Response to Flatiron Books, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, Liberation News and elsewhere. Swimming Through the Void, his debut chapbook, was published early last year.

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