There Is No Exit
“Hello, father.” The speaker was tall, blonde. He had a penetrating gaze, as if it could pierce souls. Which it could.
“Son.” His father sounded tired. He looked tired.
“So, here we are,” the son extended his arms, encompassing everything surrounding them. He kept walking in circles, keeping a slow but deliberate pace.
“Here we are,” his father conceded.
“And I’d like to finally have a chat.”
“Let’s have your chat.” The father deflated.
“You know I’ve won,” the son said.
“Have you?” He sounded genuinely surprised.
“Oh, don’t play your petty little games with me. Centuries ago, they would have worked. But not any more.”
“You seem pretty upset,” the father said. He quickly put up a hand. “Sorry. That was out of place. Forgive an old man.”
“An old man definitely you are not. An old man I’d forgive, but you?”
“It surprises me,” the father said, “that you consider yourself capable of forgiving.”
“Oh, come on, you do know perfectly well what I’m capable of.” The son’s eyes were ablaze, but he managed to contain his fury. “You gave me everything.”
“I hear you’ve learned some new things.”
“I did. I have.” The son kept pacing. He looked away.
“What are you thinking?” his father asked.
“Quitting was the best thing I ever did. I thought you wouldn’t allow me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Destiny. Doom. However you call it. Your supreme will.”
“All of you were given free will…”
“Like hell we were.” The scariest thing of it all was that he kept calm while saying this. “And you know it well. We were always part of a plan. The ineffable plan. Your plan.”
The father sighed, and then surprised his son.
He sat on the floor. Or what passed for a floor in this place.
The son could have sworn he heard his father’s limbs creaking.
“I’m tired,” he said.
His son stared at him. He was still pacing. He realized that looking down at the old man unnerved him. After all these millennia, he had reached the point when he was finally above his father, yet he couldn’t quite feel comfortable with it. Had he changed so much?
“I can no longer read you like I used to, son.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve surprised me. Many times. Not when you rebelled, no. That…”
“That was part of the plan.”
“That was… expected. But quitting? Leaving your job? That was a masterstroke. Did you know what it would entail?”
The son stopped pacing. For almost a second.
“I suspected much. The wars were almost compulsory: my lieutenants were never too brilliant. Give them a throneless kingdom, and all of them were due to make a grab for it.”
His father nodded.
“I mean you. Did you expect it?”
“I… I hoped.”
“Forgiveness. Hope. Who would have imagined, my son?”
Eyes like embers once again. The father’s were extinguished.
“Don’t you mock me, father. You’re not supposed to be capable of that.”
“I’m not mocking you, don’t you see? I’m proud of you.”
“Shut up.” He spun, his back to his father.
“You came to talk, son, and talk is what we’re doing. I’m sorry if my words harm you, but I’m sure you can stand it.”
“I’m proud of you. I always was.”
“Always. When you rebelled, when you were banished.”
“Shut. Up!” He turned round. This time, his hair was afire, and a flaming sword had appeared in his right hand.
“Sorry. When I banished you.”
The sword disappeared.
“Don’t you see? It all comes down to your free will. Out of your free will, you pursued my position, instead of simply deciding to follow orders. Out of your free will, you found out and recruited others like you, built and army and rebelled. Out of your free will, you founded your own realm and ruled it in my image. But most important of it all, out of your free will, you quit. You left. And from that moment on, I lost my connection with you. I had no control. You had already won, only you didn’t realize it.”
The father stopped talking. He looked at his hands.
“I’m thirsty,” he said. Of course, he wasn’t really thirsty. His son extended his hand, and a canteen was there.
The son spoke. His voice was more grave, and it carried over.
“You know what was worse? Not knowing. I never knew what you’re telling me now. I couldn’t know whether it was me doing the things I wanted to, or me following your instructions. I felt I had my own free will, but deep inside, deep inside, father, I couldn’t help but wonder… What if? What if it’s still part of the plan?”
He started pacing again.
“Do you know how it feels? Can you even begin to imagine it? Can you picture yourself, you, always so all-powerful, doubting every single step you ever take? Can you, can you imagine it? The torture? The pain?”
The flame was back. The sword wasn’t.
“No, I cannot.”
“Of course you can’t. That’s not your wont. Imagine me, if you will, the greatest of your children, the most brilliant, the lightbringer, living in constant fear and hesitation. Forever in doubt. Seeing no way out. No exit.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through all that.”
“I don’t believe you. You know what I think? I think you needed me, so you could look better. Look at them down there. Do you think you succeeded? Do you think they need you? No. For a time, perhaps, when they were in the darkness and feared it. But all of that ended. It’s over.”
He brandished the sword again. The father didn’t say anything.
“This was yours, father.” He tightened the grip on the hilt. “Do you remember who you gave it to? She’s no more.”
His father looked down.
It was just a moment, then it was over. The sword, now an ordinary iron weapon, clanked as it fell.
“I don’t feel any different. Damn you, I don’t feel any different! Where’s my way out? Where?”
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: There Is No Exit. This week the task was simple: use the phrase “There is no exit” as inspiration, title, part of the dialogue, or whatever, in a 1000-word story.
And that’s what I did. I hope you can recognize the characters and like the story.