66 comments

Submitted on 07/21/2020

Categories: Science Fiction

i. 

 

There are stars in the sky. 

 

ii. 

 

You don’t always have to see something to know that it exists.

 

Atlas of old knows this, for he carries the weight of the entire world and sky on his back. 

 

It’s a groaning weight; the human heart is a heavy burden to bear alone, and he has to carry billions upon billions of them. 

 

Alone.

 

Sometimes, he catches glimpses of the sky above him, and sometimes, like right now, he can see the stars. 

 

Sometimes, it’s enough. 

 

iii.

 

A different boy named Atlas, an Atlas of new beginnings and feet planted on the ground, knows this, too. 

 

The only difference is that he’s never seen the stars before.

 

He likes to think that they are beautiful, and sometimes he wonders if the stars find him beautiful, too.

 

iv.

 

No one on the planet of Iccathea has seen the stars in one hundred and eighty-seven years, so each person keeps their own version of what they might look like close to their hearts. 

 

Atlas doesn’t have a clue as to what the stars are supposed to look like, except for that maybe they are rose-colored. And beautiful. They must be beautiful. 

 

v. 

 

His little sister, Miranda, believes that the stars resemble the creatures known as solar cats, and when she’s asked about it, she’ll just shrug her shoulders in the way little kids do and say, “They’re both so elusive; what else are the stars supposed to look like?”

 

Atlas can never find it in his heart to argue against his sister’s unique brand of logic. If she says that the stars looked like the solar cats that haunt every alleyway in the city they live in with their lantern-bright eyes and needle-thin teeth, then by all the constellations in the sky, that’s what the stars look like. 

 

vi. 

 

His mother claims that the stars look like little fires dancing across the sky. 

 

His father says that the stars look like death. 

 

vii. 

 

There is a reason why no one on Iccathea has seen the stars in one hundred and eighty-seven years. 

 

This reason comes in the form of people with hearts as black as burning oil. People who breathe through lungs that are more corrupt than everyone’s on the planet combined. 

 

People who have forgotten to look up. 

 

People who have turned off the stars. 

 

Faceless. Nameless. They’re peering through glass windows with white knuckles and stern frowns as things go up, and as things come down, as they attach values to all of these heavy, human hearts. 

 

They have their own burden to carry, but instead, they give it away. 

 

Atlas doesn’t know enough about these people to despise them or to hate them or to even think anything of them at all. 

 

All he knows is smog. Yellow skies. Smog. The outline of Iccathea’s three suns through the haze in the early mornings. More smog. Old face masks with holes in them. Face masks without holes in them because Atlas always tries to look for the bright side of things. 

 

“It’s a real pit stain of a sky,” his best friend P.J. likes to say with her head tilted upwards and her eyes narrowed, as if she were daring the sky to defend itself, and Atlas can’t help but to agree with her. 

 

It is a real pit stain of a sky.

 

There is a bright side here, too; he’s sure of it.

 

vii. 

 

Atlas thinks it's cruel, that his parents had named him after a man who once held up the entire world and the entire sky with his own bare hands when he can't even see the sky for himself.

 

It’s also cruel of his parents to leave nothing behind but scorched lungs and the whisper of fire and death and sickness behind, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on this because he’s only seventeen years-old and suddenly he’s supporting himself and his sister instead.

 

Alone.

 

Looking back on it, he thinks he would have preferred the sky. 

 

At least he would have gotten to see it. 

 

viii. 

 

The stars are solar cats and fire and death. 

 

The stars are beautiful. 

 

The stars can be anything you want them to be. 

 

ix. 

 

Atlas wants everything to be okay again.

 

x. 

 

Somewhere along the way, Atlas trades his vision of stars in the sky for a fire in the hearth and for food in his belly. 

 

xi. 

 

If Atlas looks back on it even further more, this fire, this sickness, has been following him like a shadow for a while, especially after it consumes his parents.

 

There’s a fire when P.J. punches someone in the face for him, after they make fun of his hacking cough. He doesn’t know to properly thank her so he tries to bake her cookies but he ends up burning them instead and they come out looking like lumps of coal. 

 

“It’s the thought that counts,” P.J. says in an uncharacteristically soft voice, and Atlas wonders, not for the first time, what the stars would look like to her. 

 

There’s a fire in the lab at his school one day when he’s too busy trying to save his and P.J.'s chemistry grade but P.J.’s too busy scheduling knife fights in the parking lot with other students and various gods alike because she doesn‘t know how to not be angry, and because she doesn’t care that much about her chemistry grade. 

 

To be honest, Atlas doesn’t really care that much about his chemistry grade, and in turn, his chemistry grade doesn’t care about him, either.

 

There’s a fire when he and P.J. both decide to drop out of school at the same time because it just isn’t worth the fight, and when P.J. eventually gets kicked out of her house, because it just isn’t worth the kicking and screaming anymore, too, and she ends up moving in with Atlas and Miranda in their parent-less house that smells like the apocalypse.

 

There’s a fire when Atlas gets into his first fight with Miranda, his little sister who doesn’t believe in the stars that look like solar cats anymore. She’s locked that part of herself into a box and hid it under her bed, along with all the worn out masks with holes in them and clothes that are missing too many buttons. 

 

There’s a fire when the scientists declare for the forty-second time that all of Iccathea is facing an environmental disaster, and when going to a hospital suddenly becomes a death sentence. 

 

There’s a fire here, there, and everywhere, and suddenly it’s hard to find a bright side in all of this. 

 

Suddenly, it’s getting harder to breathe. 

 

xii. 

 

It’s too much. 

 

It’s a heavy burden to carry, and it’s too much. 

 

xiii. 

 

“We need to get out of here,” P.J. says one night as they sit curled up on the sofa, and the tone of her voice leaves no room for doubt or second-guessing. No room for searching for silver linings. The electricity has been shut off for days, and soon heat and water will follow. It’s a similar situation everywhere in the city, as people come to terms with the values they’ve been given. 

 

Miranda lies on the floor asleep with her back turned away from them, her breaths rattling like bones between her lungs. 

 

It sounds like eleven years. It sounds like death.

 

“Where? Where can we go?” Atlas asks, and it’s a question that is spread thin across the edges of the universe and the cracks in the broken lights that litter the city they live in, one every heart carries. 

 

It’ll be a mass exodus. Everyone will be thinking of the same thing. 

 

They’ll be lucky to even get out of the city. 

 

xiv. 

 

“What about Fye? Y’know, that place with a fireball hanging in the sky? It’s the closest planet to us. Cheap, too.”

 

“That place is a tourist trap.” 

 

“Okay, what’s your big idea, genius?” 

 

“What about Earth? Like, where your family is from.”

 

“No way, Atlas. That place is almost as bad as it is here. I’ve told you about Hong Kong, right? Where my parents grew up.”

 

“Oh. Right.” 

 

“We’ll think of something.” 

 

“You’re right. We’ll think of something.”

 

xv. 

 

The stars can be anything you want them to be; meaning, they think of something. 

 

It comes right around the time when Atlas has almost given up, when the hearth and his belly are empty. When Miranda doesn’t look him in the eye anymore. When two jobs become three and then none at all.

 

It comes in the form of P.J. triumphantly marching into the kitchen one day, waving three shiny, silver Space Travel tickets in her hand.

 

“I almost had to kill someone to get these,” P.J. says, and Atlas believes her wholeheartedly. “But you know what this means?” 

 

“It means we can leave,” Miranda says in a quiet voice, and it’s hard to miss how her eyes shine.

 

It means we can leave.” 

 

xvi. 

 

The planet is called Greendome, and it’s far away from Iccathea and its pit stain of a sky. 

 

Instead, the sky looks like a dream, and the whole planet seems to be breathing. 

 

A breath of hope. A breath of fresh air. A breath of life. 

 

Miranda can look Atlas in the eye now, and there’s color back in her cheeks. There are no more holes. P.J. doesn’t look as if she wants to fight the sky anymore. 

 

Suddenly, they can all know more than smog and yellow skies. 

 

(You can breathe now, Atlas). 

 

xvii. 

 

I’ll make you breakfast out of stardust, and we’ll call this planet home, sings an old, old song from the radio they found in the attic as they dance around in their new kitchen, their dinner almost entirely forgotten. 

 

There is a fire in the hearth, food in their bellies. Visions of the stars return to their eyes, because none of them ever forgot to look up. 

 

Everything looks bright, and they call this planet home

 

xviii. 

 

There are stars in the sky. 

 

Atlas can see them now, as he sits huddled close to his sister and P.J. from where they sit in the heart of a field. 

 

In the distance, he can make out the old farmhouse they've completely transformed. It hasn’t been lived in for years. They quickly change that, and soon the space becomes filled with old songs from the Milky Way and a special kind of warmth. 

 

It’s nighttime now, and all three of them can only look up at the sky and the stars above them with their hearts and lungs full. 

 

It’s a view none of them have ever seen before up until a few weeks ago, and isn’t that the best kind of view?

 

A view you never thought you could have for yourself. 

 

A view you’ve always carried in your heart.

 

xix. 

 

The stars can be anything you want them to be. 

 

The stars can be solar cats and fire and death. 

 

The stars can be beautiful. 

 

Atlas can see this now. 

 

xx. 

 

There are stars in the sky (and they are beautiful). 

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66 comments

16:02 Jul 21, 2020

Awesome!

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Courtney Stuart
16:20 Jul 21, 2020

thank you!

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Jonathan Blaauw
16:36 Jul 22, 2020

I think you've found your zone, genre-wise, cause this is as good as Northern Lights. Although your Austin Breeze one wasn't fantasy and it was also brilliant. So I guess you can do all genres, actually. So much good stuff here, but the overall whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It all flows. And starting off with mythological Atlas, and the continued comparisons drawn throughout is powerful. Atlas Rise by Metallica immediately came to me when reading this - the lyrics suit your story perfectly. Great job. You keep raising the ba...

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Courtney Stuart
16:51 Jul 22, 2020

thank you so much! i've never really been one to writr sci-fi,so that's great to hear! and i just gave 'Atlas, Rise!' a listen, and you're absolutely right - the lyrics do fit my story! again, thanks for your feedback! :)

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:48 Jul 23, 2020

Any time, always a pleasure to read your stuff. I hope we get more stories from this universe. You could make a novel, a series of novels, even. Lots of potential here (this story and you, as a writer).

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Bianka Nova
10:35 Aug 20, 2020

A lovely story. I liked its "mini-chapters" style. I wonder if it was inspired by the current situation like another Atlas song released this year - Atlas Falls by Shinedown. For me this one was the soundtrack I instantly paired with your text. :)

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Juliet Martin
07:32 Jul 28, 2020

Ahh I love this!! The dialogue between PJ and Atlas and Miranda is so compelling and realistic, which is such an effective anchor to the fantasy/sci fi vibe. I especially love PJ! Your imagery is so powerful and even hypnotic, you use words so cleverly to this effect like Miranda's breath rattling like bones and Atlas' chemistry grade not caring about him - your prose is so creative and fun to read even when the outlook for characters is grim. Also I absolutely love that it has a happy ending, which is testament to how likeable your characte...

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Courtney Stuart
12:37 Jul 28, 2020

thank you so much! 😊 i was sort of worried about the dialogue for this, but i’m happy to hear it was able to create a contrast with everything else that was going on in the story, and that it could be an anchor - i really liked the way you worded it! i’m also glad to hear you liked P.J. - she was super fun to write! again, thank you so much for your kind words!

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Aqsa Malik
10:24 Jul 26, 2020

Everytime I read your stories, a feeling of warmth and hope and inspiration fills me and honestly, what more could I ask for from a story? I knew I would immediately love this from the title and the way you started off with Greek mythology- I absolutely adore Greek mythology the most and love to read things that incorporate it. I've said this before, but I just love how lyrical and poetic you're able to portray descriptions, without making it cliche or eye rolll worthy. Things like rose coloured stars and solar cats and yellow skies a...

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Courtney Stuart
12:56 Jul 26, 2020

thank you so much for your feedback and kind words! 😊 honestly, i love writing mythology allusions and symbolism as much as i love writing about space,m. i’ve actually been waiting for the right prompt to come along so i can write more about mythology! and yes, Fye was from ‘Northern Lights.’ i had wanted to write about Iccathea and Greendome in that story before, but i couldn’t make it fit with the word count, so i thought i would give them their own story. and i don’t know why, but the idea of Colin spending his days on Fye as a chi...

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Aqsa Malik
13:29 Jul 26, 2020

I love that your stories are connected, it makes me feel like I'm glimpsing so many worlds that remain intertwined and that's kind of a beautiful thought. And ahhh I've been meaning to check out your other stories for a while now but I've just been so busy. I do have some more time on my hands now so I'll be heading to those soon :D Woah, your brother sounds like a cool dude haha. Of course 💕

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Jade Young
08:27 Jul 26, 2020

Your writing is amazing! I loved your pacing, your incorporation of mythology at the beginning, your world building, and your descriptions. I really felt the burden Atlas had to carry throughout your story, as well as the awe and wonder they all felt at the end. This is a beautiful story with a beautiful ending🙌🏽

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Courtney Stuart
11:53 Jul 26, 2020

thank you so much - your comment is so sweet! 😊

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Tvisha Yerra
21:45 Jul 25, 2020

I love the flow of this story. Usually when writers do something like this, I usually feel like it's cutting off the flow of the story. But this... This is a whole different kind of flow. I can't believe that I hadn't discovered you earlier!

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Courtney Stuart
23:49 Jul 25, 2020

thank you so much! 😊

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16:44 Jul 23, 2020

I am just so glad you joined reedsy! Now I have something fun to read! Great job with this story!

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Courtney Stuart
17:00 Jul 23, 2020

thank you!!! 😊

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12:48 Jul 23, 2020

Courtney, you are one blessed and talented writer. You painted the stars in ways that I hadn't really though of nor imagined. I never though I would be grateful for being able to look outside and see the stars in the sky till you wrote this. 😍😍😍 Say, can you check out my new mystery story, "Her Dark Brown Eyes" ? Thanks!

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Courtney Stuart
13:29 Jul 23, 2020

thank you so much! your comment is so beautiful 🥺 i’d love to check out your story!

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Jn Park
10:43 Jul 23, 2020

This is like a piece of poetry! And, the idea of naming the boy Atlas was simply genius. And I have no idea why but I loved the Roman Numerals between the vignettes. I got goosebumps at the lines: The stars are solar cats and fire and death. The stars are beautiful. The stars can be anything you want them to be. She’s locked that part of herself into a box and hid it under her bed, along with all the worn out masks with holes in them and clothes that are missing too many buttons. I mean, not many stories can be lyrical and c...

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Courtney Stuart
11:21 Jul 23, 2020

ahh thank you so much! those were some of my favorite lines to write (especially the first one!) so i’m really glad you enjoyed them! again, thank you for taking the time to read and to leave such a thoughtful comment! 😊

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Isabelle ~~
09:07 Jul 23, 2020

This is fantastic! I am amazed by how you can separate the story into parts but still allow the story to go smoothly. I also like the planet names, very beautiful and suitable for your descriptions of the place. I can totally visualize it. :) Also, would you mind checking out my story "A Night in the stars"? Thank you.

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Courtney Stuart
11:15 Jul 23, 2020

thank you so much! and i will definitely check out your story! :)

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Laura Clark
21:20 Jul 22, 2020

Beautiful. You’ve kept the pace nicely and the narrative is very tight. You’ve packed (again) so much story, backstory and imagery into such a short story. The way you write is so rich, too. Your vocabulary is expertly chosen, with flowery description when appropriate and more staid, normal language for contrast. I loved the idea of people imagining their own version of the stars and how that gave you a glimpse of their personalities too. Lovely touch. Excellent writing.

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Courtney Stuart
21:30 Jul 22, 2020

thank you so much! 😊

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James Ashton
15:18 Jul 22, 2020

I really enjoyed the world building you did in this story. Honestly, I’d love to see more of it. I also liked the way that you paced it. You were able to jump to each scene without the story seeming choppy, and there was a good even flow throughout. Great job!

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Courtney Stuart
15:47 Jul 22, 2020

thank you so much! your feedback truly means a lot! if you are interested in the world-building, i have another story on Reedsy called 'When the Northern Lights Finally Reach You' where the planet Fye, the 'tourist trap' is featured, and that story is also how i got inspiration to write this one :)

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James Ashton
16:06 Jul 22, 2020

That’s awesome! I’ll check it out.

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Deborah Angevin
09:27 Jul 22, 2020

I like the way you include numbers throughout the story! Also, would you mind checking my recent story out, "Red, Blue, White"? Thank you!

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Courtney Stuart
11:29 Jul 22, 2020

thank you! and i’ll definitely check it out!

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Alwyn Mcnamara
04:14 Jul 22, 2020

What a great story. I love the way you have weaved this tale. Fantastic writing.

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Courtney Stuart
11:25 Jul 22, 2020

thank you! ☺️

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Prakhar Mishra
15:13 Jul 21, 2020

What an amazing story! It was super creative and well thought out. I was amazed at the tiny details packed into the story that give realistic depth to the world. Really love the planet names btw, like Fye and Iccathea! The way you present the story by numbering it is very interesting. The writing is also really good. The story had my undivided attention from beginning to end. There are no flaws or critiques I can really think of; honestly it's perfectly done! I'll definitely keep a lookout for more of your stories. Could you please ch...

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Courtney Stuart
15:19 Jul 21, 2020

thank you so much for your feedback! and i would love to check out your story! 😊

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Prakhar Mishra
15:26 Jul 21, 2020

Hey, one thing I forgot to point out. Since breath is a noun and breathe is a verb, I think it should be 'breath' in the title, and at one point in the story, it should be 'getting harder to breathe'. Doesn't really make any difference at all, just thought I'd point it out😅 Also thanks for the song suggestion in the comments👍

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Courtney Stuart
15:32 Jul 21, 2020

oh my goodness you are right 😶 i will fix that immediately. thank you for telling me!

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Batool Hussain
14:42 Jul 21, 2020

Wow! Courtney, you've done it again! I like the way you've numbered everything. Wonderful! Mind checking out my stories and sharing your views on it? Thanks.

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Courtney Stuart
14:50 Jul 21, 2020

thank you so much! and yes, i'd love to check out your stories! :)

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Um Ok
02:36 Aug 13, 2020

I loooove a beautiful story about stars and this is just that! I like the way you split the story up, and the beginning and end both have such a powerful impact. I applaud you once again!👏👏👏👏 Also I was wondering if you could check out my new story (finallyyy lol) "Sad, broken, little Annabelle Lee" I would love your feedback whenever you can😎❤❤

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Eleny Mal
04:57 Aug 06, 2020

''the stars can be anything you want them to be''. I love it!

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Courtney Stuart
23:34 Aug 11, 2020

thank you!

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Eleny Mal
23:15 Aug 13, 2020

:)

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A. S.
00:17 Jul 31, 2020

Stunning! I loved the way you set it up. It all flowed together so well it was unbelievable. The characters spoke to my heart in ways I almost can’t describe. This was so good! Will you read my story “On The Edge” and let me know what you think of it?

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Courtney Stuart
00:31 Jul 31, 2020

thank you so much! and i will definitely check out your story! i was really impressed by 'Gone', so i'm already looking forward to it! i'll try to get to 'On the edge' early tomorrow, for i still have to put the finishing touches on a story of my own, but don't worry! i will read it before the deadline!

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A. S.
00:35 Jul 31, 2020

Thank you! I am looking forward to hearing your take on it!

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Conan Helsley
16:54 Jul 30, 2020

And this story was beautiful. Masterful. I always try to find a correction I can suggest, because that's what I'd like readers of my work to do. But there isn't a single error in this. Nothing I could suggest to make it better. I'm not sure it can be better. I was quickly reminded of Lovecraft. I wish I could sit and have a conversation with you, about this story and writing as a whole. I think it would be pretty interesting. I'm so glad I read this story. I'm going to read more by you now, so I'll probably be commenting more. I hope they're...

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Courtney Stuart
22:33 Jul 30, 2020

thank you so much for your kind words! feel free to ask me anything about my stories!

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