Atlas placed the unbearable weight on his shoulders on a white pillar, its large expanse still spun brilliantly. Exhaustion filled his body, this punishment seemed too much for one to bear. He stretched his large golden biceps, no one would notice if he took a short nap, maybe a few hundred years would do. Leaving his post meant he might receive a more brutal punishment, he didn’t care. He paused to look around, no other Gods were nearby. Atlas laid his massive body on his small cot, and fell asleep quickly.
His loud snores attracted the ire of a lesser known god, son of nymph Clymene and sun god Helios, Phaethon. He entered the small shrine his earthly followers bestowed upon him. The massive globe spun slowly, it dazzled him as he watched, The globe made him feel small but compared to Atlas it was quite small. Quiet whispers fell from it as the people complained of their suffering and warred with one another.
Atlas was known by the world as a titan of enduring strength, but Phaethon’s lineage and even his status as a God was often questioned. His name also did not belong to him, often befalling the unwanted children of the gods. His mother fell pregnant by the chariot sun god but his father’s traits never passed on to Phaethon. This left others to speculate his birthright.
How could a titan such as him, worshiped by many fall into such a state. The young God sighed heavily, these humans are useless to worship such aberrant Gods. I am strong and courageous, he thought quietly dazzled by the earth’s sparkling surface, these humans destroy this gift made by the Gods.
He wondered, could he show the humans the power of a true God, he left the shrine. The sleeping giant wouldn’t wake anytime soon and he wanted time to prepare his plans. He smiled brightly, finally he would prove he was a God after all.
Days later he entered the sun stables, wild golden horses blazed within their stalls. The wild beasts bucked excitedly. Phaethon harnessed the four wild stallions with much vexation. The horses, though harnessed, were still feral. He fought the reigns all the way to the globe.
With the chariot he would pull the sun across the sky just as his father had done for many millennia. Excitedly he urged the chariot forward without much care for the direction he rode. He wanted to cause chaos and with that intent he allowed the horses free reign along the globe.He laughed as they slowly raised the sun in the west.
Suddenly a large bolt of lightning struck the globe, Zeus had seen Phaethon’s disturbance in the Earth. The lightning missed the chariot by a fingernail and struck the Earth’s surface. Phaethon quaked, he’d been caught.
“How dare you,” the King of Gods bellowed, “A no name god like you could only hope to command this chariot.” Zeus’ anger shook him. Phaethon knew his doom was imminent.
“Oh great one,” he groveled, “I had command of the chariot all this time. I only meant to punish the people as they no longer follow the ways of the Gods and look they have destroyed their habitats.” Luckily he was quick on his feet and he felt he sufficiently shifted the blame. Zeus seemed to ponder in his mind and then a deep frown formed on his face.
“You are still so young son of Helios,” his voice suddenly became fatherly with a low smooth croon. It was a side of Zeus few had the opportunity to see. The King took from Atlas’ table a large looking glass and placed it over the globe. It showed a closer look at the Earth. Having never seen it this close, Phaethon fawned over it.
“Look closely, in the chaos you have caused, there are those that fight for equilibrium.” Zeus said reverently. He moved the great looking glass over to an island continent shaped in a frown.The land was filled with odd looking animals that bounced along the brush and small marsupials with large ears.
They watched as they became hidden away, shortly after the bushland fell silent, blazing tentacles choked the dried land. It sent smoke blustering from the earth into the atmosphere, and it was in such a state that it fled from Earth’s pull. It danced through the air like a recently blown out match.
“What have you done?” Poseidon's voice bellowed behind us. The stallions neighed loudly, startled by the blue giant. He seemed angered, the movements of the sun must have affected his domain greatly.
“Hush Poseidon I will fix it. Your precious oceans will be fine. The waters of the Atlantic will turn colder but none of the sea creatures will be harmed. However the waters around this island have turned hot. Come look with us. I find these servants quite interesting.”
“How can you say it will be fixed. You have changed the winds and currents of my precious waters. This will intensify the fires, the wildlife will suffer a disastrous fate.” Zeus shrugged, his word was law, and Poseidon's chastising would take no hold. Zeus pointed to a small group of men and women who wore a hard turtle shell on their head and bright yellow garments.
‘What are they doing?” Phaethon asked in whisper, as he watched the group spraying the intense blaze while others stripped the land of foliage. It appeared that they were destroying the forest. Deforestation caused many animals to lose their habitats. He often heard of humans devouring every resource at an insatiable rate. Naturally, in the midst of fire they’d harvest from the forest.
“They are removing any potential fuel. They cannot put the fire out so they are trying to contain it.” Phaethon felt humbled, momentarily. Over time the fire reached the clear line that was drawn, instead of continuing it halted, unable to move forward. Eventually it ran out of fuel and extinguished itself.
Though many other many fires still burned on the horizon, this small win caused the firefighters to leap with joy. Their pleasure only lasted momentarily as they deployed again into the bush. The hot air blew in from new directions as the sun’s change caused, this made the fires burn faster and hotter. It surprised the group how willingly they fought the blazes.
Phaethon, however, wasn’t convinced these servants were worthy of remaining. He felt that over the years Zeus had grown weak. There is nothing endearing about a species that is filled with such hate. As if his mind was read Zeus turned his lens to a larger country as he zoomed in, it became clear that the sun’s change caused currents to rise.
It was unprecedented flooding for some areas as people sat atop their homes while high waters rushed their homes. Phaethon smiled smugly as a group huddled on a small vehicle cried for help. It was obvious the family became trapped while attempting to flee flood waters. No one would come, humans are too selfish.
To his surprise passersby took note of their suffering. Immediately they took action while the waters raised. One by one they linked hands, a sight he’d never witnessed, in waist deep waters to reach out for the family. Children were pulled to safety first and then two adults. This rescue caused Phaethon to sway. Was this really how they treated one another? No, he thought, they war so often, what I have seen can’t be real.
“Now see,” Zeus offered, Phaethon could see his opportunity but couldn’t easily surrender. He’d heard too many terrible stories of humans. Zeus seemed to believe their inherent nature was good even though they’d turned away from him. Phaethon only wanted to be recognized in the same caliber. Zeus recognized his impudence, the young god could not understand humans.
Suddenly an idea formed in the king's mind and he lifted the spectacle before Phaethon. He blew into its clear surface, confused Phaethon stumbled back but it was too late. A large crystal bubble surrounded his body. He only had time for his eyes to meet Zeus’ and then the bubble popped.
Phaethon stood one of the massive Earth buildings, it was much like the Colosseum of old, voices echoed from the corridor just outside of the small washroom he’d appeared in. Cautiously, he opened the door, crowds of people filled the walkway before him. The day was beginning to grow tired as the sun set in the east.. There wasn’t an inch of space to walk as he tried to make his way out of the doorway.
The floors were filthy with mud and littered with belongings and people of all ages cried out and wandered aimlessly. It felt as though they were all lost like him. Somehow this wasn’t what he expected when he pictured striking them down. They seemed so pitiful instead of the dubious trouble makers his mother described.
It dawned on him, she disliked the pollution these humans caused to the rivers she watched over but had never interacted directly with humans. She often complained about the people who left filth for her to clean up, as she watched from a distance unable to stop them. Every once in a while, as a child, he was awoken by her excited cries. She’d rave about humans cleaning and caring for the rivers and land they possessed. Phaethon loved to hear a change in her.
For the first time, the young god knew hunger, it was discomfort within him yet he didn't quite understand the feeling. A large growl bellowed from within though it could not be heard through hysteria. He was only able to walk a short distance from the door before encountering a herd unwilling to make room for him.
Angered he puffed his chest, prepared to claim his status as a God, when a small hand pulled at his back, he turned ready to erupt. A small child caused him pause as she smiled brightly.
“What is it?” He commanded, a scowl forming across his face. The girl continued to smile, she looked with her large blue eyes into Phaethon. He knelt to her level unsure what it was that made him do so. Her soft ringlets bounced as she shined. How in all this could this girl be so sparkly? Phaethon cleared his throat humbly.
“Excuse me, are you lost?” She spoke in such an innocent voice, Phaethon swayed.
“A little, are you lost too?” He answered quietly. In response she shook her head to her mother, as she searched frantically for her daughter. It seemed the girl was quite mischievous. Phaethon took her hand graciously and led her to the worried mother.
“It seems she was concerned I was lost and left your side. My apologies,” Phaethon spoke quietly to the girl's mother. Her face lit with joy to have her beloved daughter again.
“She’s always doing things like this. I can’t tell you how many times she has brought home stray animals or birds with broken wings. We even had a raccoon for a while after it’s mother was hit by a car.” She glared at her daughter who sheepishly smiled.
“I wish there were more like her. She can be a great example to those around her. I’m sure the ones she saves appreciate her effort as well.” Phaethon smiled, it was the first time in his life he felt this way. The mother laughed and held her daughter tightly.
“Thank you. It's good to laugh even on a day like today. You know she usually isn’t wrong when she sees someone in need. Can I help you, uh, find someone or point you in a direction.”
“Oh no, I think your daughter gave me the direction I needed,” he knelt to her level, “Thank you.” His words were soft as he was filled with warmth. It was time to fix what he’d done. As he stood to leave his young savior reached into her pocket and produced a small rainbow bracelet made with bands woven together. She placed it in his hand without a word. Phaethon was convinced the moment they turned from him.
Suddenly he appeared before several gods and Phaethon felt it was time he received his punishment. He knelt before Zeus, Atlas who was awoken while Phaethon was on earth also knelt. There was a pause in the air that felt like a vacuum had sucked the atmosphere from the small shrine.
“It seems you have received a gift in your time on Earth.” He said warmly. The bracelet pressed against his hand. He unveiled it before the king with reverence on his face.
“It was bestowed upon me by a child, though I am not deserving.”
“I have decided your fate, son of Helios, from now on you will be the God of kindness. Furthermore you will look after the humans on Earth. Like you, they have a lot to learn, but given time they will acknowledge their mistakes. I will leave you with this task and a new name, you shall be known under the name Charis,” Zeus replied warmly. Zeus turned to exit the shrine but was held back by Poseidon.
“Don’t you think you’re being too easy on him, he nearly destroyed life on Earth. What of Atlas? Don’t even think of leaving without fixing the mess Phaethon made in the ocean” Poseidon growled, he understood Zeus’ intent, they had not had a Charis God in many years, it would be good for another to take her place and bring kindness back to Earth.
“Charis,” Zeus rebuked with a pause, “Has humbled himself, I will cause you to do the same if you are not careful, Poseidon. As for this day and the titan Atlas, Kronos will handle it. Time will not know the day the sun rose in the west and set in the east.” Amen.