The world was set to end at 11:59 that night.
This wasn’t necessarily the most shocking news. The world had been in its strange apocalyptic state for some time now, with dusty barren wastelands as far as the eye could see. Those that had been left had expected to be gone months, years ago. That an end was finally in sight could honestly be seen as more of a blessing at this point, rather than something to fear.
In one of the many barrens where humanity resided, a lone traveler contemplated the bit of news that had spouted out of their Morse code machine hours ago. They had already gone about completing their “bucket list” years ago, as had everyone else that had learned that their planet had crawled upon the point of no return. So, now, with the date set and what was left of the world waiting patiently, what was there to do?
The traveler leaned back in their wooden chair, a rather antique item that they could care less about. They stared up at the dull brown of the ceiling of what they called home for the last decade—a safe and boring bubble.
And in that dull, boring and safe bubble, they came to a decision.
Grabbing nothing but an old, rusted pistol and a flask of rum, the lone traveler approached the ladder to the tunnel that led aboveground, one that they had rarely given a second glance.
And they began to climb.
The bars of the ladder were cold, and quite disgusting, to be candid. Covered in dust from years of disuse. The lone traveler, however, ignored this detail (as best as they could, as they sneezed on the journey up), and focused on climbing one bar at a time.
The darkness of the burrow was one they had gotten used to, broken up by the candles and matches that had been stored away as the lone traveler awaited the end. But the darkness of the tunnel was something different. Suffocating. But the lone traveler pushed on, the ringing of the metal rungs after each progressing step breaking the cotton-like silence in the space.
In their travel upward, time became meaningless. The ringing of metal became a sort of time keeper of their own. 20 rings ago they had almost lost their footing. 40 rings ago, they had run into a cobweb (the lone traveler supposed they weren’t so alone after all). 70 rings ago, they had decided to start keeping track of the ring in the first place.
By the time the lone traveler reached the 390th ring (give or take) they were starting to regret this decision. But on the 391th ring, their head bumped against the rough metal of the tunnel’s cover, and they let out a breath of relief.
With more trouble than they liked, they forced the top of the cover up, exposing the entry to the tunnel and their face to a gust of sand, which they promptly spat out of their mouth as they pulled themself up and out of the tunnel. The traveler got to their feet, ignoring the jelly-like feeling settling into their muscles as best they could as they pulled the top of their shirt up and over their nose. They glanced back at the tunnel, which led down to their haven for the last decade. With a nod of gratitude to their home, they set off, leaving it behind for the sandy winds to bury.
And so the lone traveler walked. And walked. And walked some more. With sand biting at any skin exposed and the lone traveler wishing that they had spent more time exercising their worn out muscles, they walked.
And the time passed on, and the sky grew dark, until the lone traveler came to a stop in front of a lone hill, arching high enough above the sandy wastelands that the wind didn’t assault its top. The lone traveler gazed up at this pleasant disruption in the tortuous sandy winds.
(How lonely this hill must have been, without the buzzing of insects, and the beauty of its previous coat of flora.)
Without a goodbye to the sand that they had grown quite sick of, the lone traveler approached this hill and started their (second) ascent, finding purchase on the bumps and cracks that peppered the hill’s surface. Much quicker work than the tunnel had been, the lone traveler found themself at the top of the hill, and turning their eyes to the sky, the lone traveler was greeted with stars.
Ten years of dull brown walls made the sight one for sore eyes. And so, without another word, the lone traveler laid back on this lonely hill. And together, the two stood witness to the beauty the sky bore.
And the lone traveler was at peace.
And as the end drew near, streaking across the starry night sky at 11:54 in a beautiful, damning show of fire and stone and light, the lone traveler raised their flask to the sky, before bringing it to their lips.
“Goodbye and goodnight,” the lone traveler mused.
Goodbye and goodnight.