Atlas

The sky was falling. It had been for some time now. A few of us had noticed, and tried to notify the authorities. To no avail. We were met with silence or scorn wherever we turned. I reckon the powers that be either had an interest in keeping the matter under wraps, or they were as wilfully oblivious as the general public. How one could fail to be alarmed by the gradually collapsing horizon was beyond me.

Whatever the case, there came a point when we felt we simply couldn’t wait for any widespread awakening to take place. We had to take the matter into our own hands, and in conflict with the general will, if need be. Through our communication network we developed contact with others, in other parts of the world, who had also lifted their eyes from the concrete landscapes and observed the starry half-sphere come racing down towards us. There was at least a thousand of us now.

We discussed possible defence mechanisms that could be built to ward off the collision between heaven and earth. Our first inclinations towards a roof-like structure were soon discarded. A roof might cave in. Plus, there was a certain sentimental agreement that while we wanted to keep it at comfortable distance, we did not want to lose sight of the sky completely. Soon we started sketching out a solution inspired by beds of nails instead. A network of needle-like pillars at different heights would, we figured, break the fall in a gradual fashion until the firmament would hang stretched like a dried skin at an agreeable altitude.

 

 

Putting the plan into practice proved a sisyphean undertaking. Although with time we developed sophisticated methods both for the engineering and the organisational side of raising our rodlike structures, the resistance of a society unwilling to accept our clear-sightedness remained a towering obstacle. It didn’t help that most of the material we used was stolen from urban construction sites. The first few pillars stood for a few days before irritated companies or security firms came to reclaim the material, but as we got more effective, our opponents became more unified and ruthless, so that before long our antagonistic enterprises resembled a sped up forest industry: large fields of metal sprouts grew up overnight, only to be cut down en masse the next day. The energy of our movement was fast draining and a change of tactic became necessary as our numbers dwindled due to arrests and hopelessness.

We had already moved gradually further and further away from the big cities in order to evade the authorities, but now we decided to go as far into the wasteland as possible, and in place of our original aim to save the full surface of the land from celestial impact we would now focus all our efforts on a singular beacon of hope; one massive pillar, well away from a civilisation not deserving of its protection. Our reasoning was that if it could not stop the downward movement completely it would at least create a tent-like space in which a small number of us could continue to lead a tolerable existence.

 

The construct grew rapidly; our mindset was as one. A solid tower of steel, wood and concrete, throwing its shadow in a miles-wide radius, like a sundial for the gods. Tapered towards a defiant blunt tip, so as to become unbreakable while also wide enough in girth to resist, rather than pierce straight through, the heavenly cloth it was about to meet. Within months it had turned into an architectural wonder and a real sight to behold. We called it Atlas. Soon we started building our little lodgings in a circle around it, everyone wanting to be as close to the base as possible on the day of the collision. And then we abode.

Months passed, then years. At nights I had nightmares of a complete flattening out of everything I knew. A total deflation of my own personal history. I knew my friends dreamt of similar scenarios. But every day the sun was hoisted upwards again, signalling yet another respite from imminent two-dimensionality. Some in our group of settlers began to doubt what their eyes had so clearly registered before. They began wondering aloud whether the heavens might have just been temporarily fluctuating and had now stabilised again, or even if the whole plummeting movement had been an illusion from the very beginning. The majority of us were able to assure them that the skyfall was still readily perceivable, and it was just that we had misjudged the immensity, and therefore the longevity, of the displacement. However, two from our midst, Thomas and Mary, would not listen to reason and left their hut to go back to civilisation.

 

After 30 days Mary alone returned, telling us that once back among the high-rises her doubts had vanished and she had observed how the plunge, rather than abate, was actually accelerating. Furthermore, she said, there was a feeling in the city that although no one would admit it, the hopelessness of the situation had been subconsciously accepted. During her weeks there she had seen no new buildings, no new roads, no new art. Everywhere architecture was being restored, enforced and kept in pristine condition, but nowhere did anything in essence change. Whatever organic nature the metropolis had aspired to in the past, it had now given up completely, and seemed to be merely persevering. ”It’s coming” Mary testified. ”It’s definitely coming”.

And then it happened. One morning I woke up from a thundering noise. It was not a bang. Rather a massive hollow rumbling, like that of a heavy rock settling into place. I could hear things break, but I could not see. I could not see, since the morning had brought no light. Yet, it wasn’t pitch black around me; it was a dark, deep blue, impenetrable and completely engulfing. I stood up and felt my body. I breathed the air. I realised that the pillar had worked. There was still space here. Space in which to build a new, compressed but sustainable, society.

Still, I could not see my neighbours, and when I called out I could not hear my words.