One bright, ninety-degree summer morning, two brothers played basketball in an apartment division basketball court. Their names were Atlas and Apollo. Their similarities only stretched to appearances; their brown curls tangled together with the antics of boyhood, their dark skin becoming darker with the heat of the sun. On a day such as this, Apollo felt light as a feather, while Atlas felt that he had the world on his shoulders.
“Apollo,” he said, holding their ball captive for a minute as he tried to get his thoughts off his chest.
“What do you think we’re here for?”
“We’re here to play basketball dummy! Duh!” Apollo rolled his eyes, a grin of amusement spreading across his freckled face. Atlas just shook his head and tossed the ball to Apollo.
“No, no. I mean, like, what do you think we were created for? Like why are we living here on earth? What’s our purpose?”
Apollo took the basketball and dunked it into the hoop, giving himself a moment to think.
“Those are heavy questions man. I’m not sure I have an answer. I don’t really think about time on earth and stuff. I’m just trying to live.”
“Just trying to live…” Atlas repeated, becoming lost in thought as though he were making a note of Apollo’s answer. Apollo, uncomfortable with thinking so existentially, tried to change the course of the topic.
“Why are you thinking about all this anyway?” Atlas looked into his brother’s eyes, gauging how much he should tell. He loved Apollo, but you never know when a sibling is going to tease you for something you take seriously. At this moment, however, he decided to trust his brother. His thoughts were still too heavy anyway.
“I keep having this dream. I see waves, like, skyscrapers knee-deep in waves. And then like, I’m standing on one of the skyscrapers, and this window, or maybe a door, of light appears before me. I hear a voice, but I don’t understand it. The door starts to open… and then the dream ends.” Apollo whistled to release the breath he had been holding in.
“That is… quite the dream brother. And you think maybe this has to do with… the meaning of life?”
“The dream has happened for the past two weeks now. If it’s not about life, what is it about? Either way, I feel like something big is coming. And I feel like I need to figure some things out before it does.” Apollo gave the ball back to Atlas and clapped him on the shoulder.
“I think it’s gonna be okay man, whatever it is. You’ll figure it out.” Atlas started to dribble the ball again, feeling a little better already. He started to smile and do tricks with the basketball, his previous worries falling away.
“Thanks for listening man. I appreciate it.”
“Yeah yeah. Who knows? Maybe your dream won’t happen again now that you’ve talked about it. That’s a thing, right?”
“Yeah, maybe.” Apollo replied, putting the dream in the backburner of his mind. He wanted to try and enjoy the day before he continued to worry about the night.
Atlas, unfortunately, did have the dream again, despite Apollo’s prediction. He tossed and turned in his sleep as Apollo slept peacefully in the bed next to him. Atlas’ vision filled with waves, his sight in the dream feeling like a camera panning into landscape view. He saw the water come up halfway to some of the skyscrapers in view, just like he had described to Apollo. His vision zoomed in onto one skyscraper, following the windows up to the top until he realized he was once again standing on it.
For the first time in his dream, Atlas realized that he felt more freedom of movement now than he had in previous dreams. On instinct, he looked down into the city below, into the waves, and saw that smaller buildings had been swallowed by the new sea before him. There were no cars, or other people though, like one might expect. Instead, the only life Atlas could see were these strange fish. They were bright, vibrant colors, and had weird appendages like antennae along with long, elegant fins, like that of a coy fish. It seemed like they came from a different world entirely.
Atlas then heard a noise, like the dinging of an elevator door as it arrives on a floor, and turned his attention upwards. There was an outline of light not two feet from Atlas’ face, and he stepped back from the side of the skyscraper to give the door some room. His breath caught in his chest, preparing to wake up as soon as the door opened, and for once hoping that he could just sleep a little longer to find out the answers to his questions about his peculiar dream.
Atlas watched wide-eyed as the door of light opened up, and to his delight he didn’t wake up. Perhaps he would find the answers to his dream after all! His body clenched in anticipation as the door slowly opened. He felt a light breeze blow through his hair and rustle his clothes, and he had to squint as the light became brighter. The doorway became so bright, he had to shield his face with his hand, but he could still see through his fingers a staircase descending from the mouth of the open door.
Suddenly, the light vanished, and as Atlas blinked back into focus, he saw a tall, obsidian colored being, who’s body seemed to twinkle with swirls of stardust. Their eyes were the same type of light that had just blinded Atlas for a moment, and as Atlas peeked behind the being he saw that the doorway had now turned into a window to the universe, the stars and galaxies swirling in the same way as the mixture of the being’s skin. Atlas, now fixated on the new figure before him, asked shakily,
“Who are you?” The being regarded Atlas with something close to warmth. They had all the features of a human man, but it was difficult to distinguish their emotions through features alone.
“I am called Onyx.” They said simply, sweeping their arms in a gesture of presentation. Atlas, still sensing a general kindness about this being, became less cautious, and more curious.
“Are you an angel? Are you sending me these dreams for a reason?” Onyx laughed, their teeth pearly white and the sound of their voice making the entire skyscraper rumble. The waves sloshed below them as if pleased by the turn of events, trying to get closer to this ethereal being.
“I would not call myself an angel, but if it helps you to describe me, it would suit me fine all the same.” They replied, their tone a low, comforting rumble.
“I understand that these dreams have caused you to have some weighty thoughts about your place in the universe. I cannot give you all the answers right now, but I can do my best to help you understand.” Onyx kneeled on one knee and beckoned for Atlas.
“Please, come closer.” Atlas approached gravely, humbled and awed by this great being. As he stepped nearer to Onyx, he felt increasingly warm, as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud. He felt in his heart that, somehow, this being was the universe, and it cared about him very, very much.
“I have a gift for you, young Atlas, so that you may one day find some of the answers you are looking for. Please, hold out your hands.” Atlas did as he was told, and Onyx placed two things in Atlas’ hands; a small sphere, covered in engravings that he didn’t understand, and a small pocket telescope, with the names of planets and constellations Atlas had never heard of engraved into the covering. Atlas held the things to his chest protectively, and looked back up and the being with curiosity in his eyes and a thousand questions on his lips. Onyx simply shook their head, but their expression remained jovial and caring.
“I hope to see you again in the future, Atlas. Change is coming. I have faith you will adapt well.”
And as Onyx tussled Atlas’ already messy hair, and the breeze picked up and the waves crashed below…
Atlas woke up.
The sun shone on his face with warm rosy fingers. His mother must have opened the curtains to wake him and Apollo up. The window was also open, the wind playfully breezing through the curtains and caressing his warm face. His hair was stuck to his forehead, and as he reached up to push it away, something fell from his hand with a thump into his lap. Looking down, he saw the sphere that the being, Onyx had given him. And still clutched in his left hand, pressed into his chest, was the telescope. Both items looked a little more tarnished then they had in his dream, but he was too awed to care. He was surprised to see that they were even real, his heart racing as he remembered his dream and its implications.
Footsteps called loudly from the stairs as Apollo bounded up them, two by two. He caught himself on the doorframe to their bedroom and hollered,
“Atlas! Breakfast is ready! Mom told me to come get you.” He beamed at Atlas, before noticing that his brother was fixated on some weird bronze cylinder in his hand, and a sphere in the other. His attention swiveled back in forth between the two objects, as if he had never seen them before.
“What are those?” Apollo asked, walking towards Atlas and sitting on his bed. Atlas looked up at him, a far off expression on his face.
“This… this… angel gave them to me. They said maybe it would help answer my questions.”
“Well that’s… neat. And frankly strange. If they’re dream things, how are they here?”
“I don’t know.” Atlas whispered, staring again at the objects now in his possession. Apollo stared too, for a moment, before asking absent-mindedly,
“So do you have a guess as to what we’re created for? You were talking about it yesterday, in relation to your dream.”
Atlas, lost in thought by his brother’s question, opened the telescope fully, and ran his fingers across the faded engravings of constellations from another world.
“What if…” he said softly, almost to himself.
“What if we were created to gaze, at the stars up above?”
This is a Reedsy Prompts short story for their weekly writing contest, and is based on their writing prompt 'Write a story that ends with a character asking a question'. You can visit their page through the link in my bio if you're interested in participating. This story is also based off of the song 'The Stars' by Jukebox the Ghost.