Atlas in the Wasteland
Released on December 12, 2020
A story about Atlas at the end of the world...
I cursed under my breath as I rode through the storm of white ash on my motorcycle.
My goggles and my heavy scarf may have kept most of the ash out - but that didn't help with the wind and the debris flying at me, threatening to knock me and my bike off-balance.
My impatience had caused this.
I had wanted to reach my destination quicker, so I continued riding when the ashstorm first started - hoping that it would die down.
But, I was wrong.
And now I was desperately seeking shelter, without being able to see much at all.
Suddenly, a sharp pain hit my lungs.
I coughed violently, accidentally jerking the bike - threatening to throw us off-balance.
Somehow, through my fit of coughing, I managed to keep us upright - and then I guided the bike to a gentle, but sudden, stop.
Now stopped, I coughed - again and again.
Once more, I cursed at my impatience - I should have known that the ashstorm would aggravate my condition.
When my coughing and my pain had finally subsided, I rested there - unsure of how to proceed.
As I was breathing heavily through my scarf, trying to recover, I looked around - trying to take hold of my surroundings.
At first, all I could see was ash.
But, as I turned to my right, I spotted it - I had stopped right next to a cave entrance.
Unable to help myself, I chuckled.
Finally, some good luck.
***I had rolled the motorcycle into the cave, and started a fire.
Unable to find any decent wood and such to burn, I had used my lighter to burn some of the flammables that I had brought with me instead.
Of course, with most plant life having died years ago, that wasn't a surprise.
Still, some days, I had gotten lucky - just not today though, not so much as a speck of vegetation left in the cave.
As the ashstorm raged outside, I ate some of my rations.
'Damn it,' I thought to myself, as my body let out another cough, 'I hope that I can make it before my lungs give out on me.'
As night fell, I gauged the temperature.
Deciding that it would be warm enough for me to sleep through, I put out the fire - after all, oxygen was running out for the entire planet.
Though, as I thought about it, there weren't many creatures left to use it anyways.
With that thought in my mind, I climbed into my sleeping bag, and drifted off to sleep.
***The next day, I continued riding.
At the end of that day, I ended up in the ruins of what used to be a small town.
Well, the ruins of the ruins, I guess - that's what it felt like, with everything having decayed so much.
I tried to find a working car, one that could better protect me from the elements as I was travelling, but I didn't have any luck.
That night, I rested in what was left of a living room - the only remains of what used to be a house.
***The following day, I continued riding again.
As I left the ruins behind, I rode into another desert of white ash.
That was most of the world now - just long stretches of white ash, with the occasional ruins left by humanity.
Though there wasn't a storm right now, I still had my goggles and scarf on - there was just enough wind and ash in the air to make it necessary.
As I rode on, it seemed as if the dunes of white ash stretched out endlessly beyond the horizon.
Still, I rode on.
***It was very sudden.
At first, it still seemed as though there was nothing in front of me but white ash.
However, I soon started to notice a giant figure in the distance.
As I rode closer, the giant began to come into focus very quickly, almost supernaturally - it was as if the giant could only be perceived within a certain amount of distance, even though it was taller than the mountains next to it.
The closer I got, the more detailed the giant became.
Somehow, I could even clearly make out the giant's face, even though it was impossibly far for me to have done so.
Perhaps this was the power of the divine?
The giant was now staring at me.
"Are you the last one?" the giant asked.
Again, though impossibly far, the voice came as if the giant had spoken face-to-face with me - instead of the loud, booming voice that I had expected.
I stopped and got off my bike.
Gazing up, I stared in awe at the Titan that was in front of me.
This was Atlas, the Titan that held up the skies upon his shoulders, separating the heavens from the earth.
Even now, he endured - with the skies resting on his shoulders and the back of his neck, being held steady by his arms and hands.
I took off my goggles and scarf.
"C-can you hear me?" I asked.
"Yes, I can," Atlas said, and then he repeated, "Are you the last one?"
"The last one?" I asked, puzzled.
"The last living thing on Earth," he explained.
I paused for a moment, before replying, "I could be - I haven't seen another living thing for a few weeks now."
"The last living thing that I saw," I continued, "was a dying person who pointed me your way."
"Then again," I paused to let out a cough, "we're all dying."
"I see," Atlas replied.
There was a pause, as I continued to gaze in awe at the Titan.
"So, it's true then?" I finally said, "That the world has become such a wasteland, that even the barriers between the mortal and the divine are eroding as well?"
Atlas corrected me, "No, I chose to drop mine, so that I may speak with last of humanity."
There was another pause, as I tried to sort out my thoughts, so that I could fulfil my reason for coming here.
Perhaps impatient, Atlas spoke first, "So, why have you sought me out?"
Now that he's asked me, I had to chuckle a little at the reason for why I started this journey.
"Nothing important," I said, "I just wanted to ask you - why are you still holding up the skies?"
"There is basically nothing left," I continued, "why not just let the skies crash into the earth, and end it all?"
Atlas looked at me and replied, "Because as long as there is something left, no matter how small, it is my duty to hold the skies up."
"Your duty?" I asked, "Wasn't this supposed to be your punishment?"
"Yes," Atlas said, as he shifted his hands to steady the skies, "Indeed, it was. But, throughout the eons that I have stood here, witnessing the lives that have lived and died, it has become my duty instead."
"Perhaps humanity will survive," Atlas continued, "or perhaps they will go the way of the dinosaurs, and perish."
"But, as long as there is the possibility of life on this world - whether it springs from Gaia herself again, or perhaps coming from some external source," Atlas said, "I will continue to hold the skies up."
There was a silence between us, as I took in his words.
Atlas spoke, "Is that all that you wanted to know?"
"I..." I started to reply, "I guess it was. Thank you."
Hearing the Titan's words, hearing why he still held up the skies...
In a strange way, it gave me a little bit of optimism.
Certainly, the world was bleak right now - very bleak.
But, perhaps, some day in the future, with or without me, the world will be better.
And, for me and my journey, that was a good enough ending.
Suddenly, I felt weak.
Sharp pains attack my lungs, and I started coughing violently.
I placed a hand on my motorcycle for support.
Falling onto my knees, I continued to cough violently for a few minutes.
Atlas stared at me in silence.
"Do..." I let out another cough, "Do you mind if I rest here for a bit?"
"It matters not to me," Atlas replied.
"Thank you," I said, as I turned to lean my back against my motorcycle.
Another small cough came out of me.
As I leaned my head back, I looked up and saw the Titan looking down on me.
Still, as always, he held the skies up.
With this image of the mighty Atlas still in my mind, I closed my eyes - just to rest for a little while.
~~~The traveller went to sleep for the last time, never to awaken again.
Over time, the white ashes would bury the traveller and the motorcycle.
Every once in a while, Atlas would glance at his latest visitor - until that, too, passed.
Still, Atlas endured.
And he continued to hold up the skies as he always had, and, perhaps, always will.
So, as bleak as that was, that story (which was definitely more of a reinterpretation than a retelling) sorts of sums up my feelings about 2020.
I definitely used it to express a lot of my emotions - though, of course, a lot of it is in metaphors.
To be honest, the idea of Atlas still separating the earth from the skies, even at the end of the world, was an idea that I had at a very early point in the year; so, while the story didn't quite originate from the bleakness of this year, it was definitely shaped by those feelings in the end.
All that is to say - the story is not quite an exact analogy for my feelings about 2020, though it does carry a lot of those emotions in it.
I did leave it a little bit optimistic at the end, with the possibility of the world continuing on - though, even I don't quite know what that means, metaphorically or otherwise.
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