There Is No Exit

My entry for Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge for 7 July 2017.

I haven't done flash fiction in a good while, but my writing has been slowing lately–I've been writing maybe 200 words in an hour (falling off into research holes, which leads to news and Twitter, which leads to screaming into the void in some way or another). Long-form writing is apparently tough for me.

So, I figured a flash romp was warranted. This prompt looked interesting, too, so I bit on the first idea that presented itself (it's 1,300 or so words).


There Is No Exit

She awoke.

Maybe it was an awakening, or maybe she was always there. She couldn't remember.

Everywhere she looked was gray. It wasn't a dull gray, really, but maybe a silver that was darker toward the floor, and yet there were no walls. The light came from everywhere, and yet nowhere. She held out a hand just to see if she was real... if any of this was real.

She closed and straightened her hand in front of her, which reminded her of something, but she didn't know what. She marveled just a bit at the unblemished brown that lightened at her fingernails, and toward her palm. She would have never have recognized it as being her, but couldn't think of what she expected to see.

She followed the hand to the wrist and the thin but toned arm, and realized that she was wearing no clothes. As if by reflex, she crossed her arms over her heart to cover her nakedness.

There didn't appear to be anyone to hide it from, though. Who was it she was expecting to be there?

Who was she? Where was she?

She gently fought against a tide of anxiety that welled up within her. Her breath pulled in and pushed back out, and the sound of it was the only thing she could hear, complemented by her heartbeat as it swelled and released, over and over.

In the quiet, her breath sounded like wind in a cave, and she had to remind herself that she could control it. Her head was light and fuzzy, so she concentrated on it. She made each breath just slower than the last. It anchored her. If she breathed, she was alive, and that was a comfort.

A part of her was ready to fight, but no enemy presented itself. Ensure your safety, it said. Care for yourself, then lend a hand to your fellow soldiers. Was that what she was? She didn't feel like a soldier.

Take inventory, she thought, understand your surroundings, then use them. She had heard this before, but she didn't know where. There were no surroundings to be counted. Whatever programming this was, it had failed her. She felt lucid, though, and she resolved not to let it rattle her. She could figure this out.

She began to walk. Left foot, then right, although she couldn't remember why that was important, if it was. The room seemed endless. The floor stretched ever onward, and she couldn't discern where the floor touched the walls, if they were there.

The anxiety washed over her again like a wave, and she made a sound that surprised her. It sounded almost like a whimper, and she felt guilty for sounding weak, although she was the only judge to hand down that guilt.

It hadn't occurred to her to speak before. It was as if she suddenly remembered how, but had never done it.

"Hello?" she said. Her voice squeaked out part of the word. "Is anybody there?"

Her voice was deeper than she expected it to be. The sound died eerily in the void. The brutal plainness of the eternal gray became oppressive.

"HELLO?"

She yelled this time, and the quiet that greeted her in response set in motion a wave of fear that she no longer had the will to fight. She shook, and a scream rose from deep within her to fill her consciousness as she released it, only for it to be gone into the dead world just as suddenly.

She was once again alone with her quick and erratic breaths, and she tried to remember how it felt to be anchored by them, calmed by the fact that she was alive and had nothing to fear, although that memory seemed as alien as the life before this endless gray purgatory that she found herself in.

She fell to her knees and then lay down on the gray floor which was not cold or warm, and wrapped her arms around herself, curled up like the infant that she presumed she once was.

It could have been a minute or an hour, but the fear subsided, leaving behind a numbness that was every bit as gray as the floor she lay on. Her breaths were shallow, but steady, and she stared off into the infinity.

"Lieutenant?"

A sound came from somewhere. She didn't say the word, but she couldn't tell where it came from.

"Lieutenant, please respond."

It could have come from inside her own head, or from everywhere at once. She tried to muster up the strength to speak.

"He... hello."

She sounded weak, and some time passed. She wondered if she was hallucinating.

"I'm so sorry, Lieutenant Johnson. The power reactors were attacked and we had to fail over to standby power long enough for your simulation to crash."

"Who are you?" she whispered, barely audible even to her own ears.

"I'm not really supposed to talk to you like this, but I wanted you to know that you're safe and we are taking care of you. The system is nearly back online. I'll scrub the disks so you won't remember any of this."

"Get me out," she said.

"Lieutenant, there is no exit from the staging room. The simulation should be back up and running any moment now. This nation owes you a great debt."

She shook. A warm tear streaked down her nose and dripped to the floor.

"You may have a short moment of consciousness before the full program loads. I'm sorry."

"Sorry," she repeated.

The gray glitched to black for an almost imperceptible amount of time, and then began to warm. The lighter gray above seemed to push down from the heights above, and the warmth intensified to an uncomfortable heat.

Memories surged back too quickly for her to process, of her conscripted commission to the support branch of the defense forces, of her months in training, the attack by the insurgents, the explosion which left her blind and deaf and without her arms, and the unrelenting, unbearable pain that followed.

The white light and the heat pressed down from the heights like the sun itself, encasing her, forcing its way into her. With an exhausted breath, she let it consume her.


Mav stirred awake to the sound of calling birds. As she opened her eyes, the first thing they settled on was her dearest Tai, still sleeping peacefully on his back beside her. Sunlight poured in amply through the sheer curtains in the bedroom, which they'd had painted in the purest white they could find in town. She watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest for just a moment while she gathered her thoughts.

Last night's odd dream took a moment to come into focus, and while she didn't remember much of it, the parts she could recall were poignant and vivid. She looked upon him with an uncommonly keen moment of happiness, suddenly and acutely aware of her luck at being born an heiress with the time and resources to study her passion and grow in its practice.

After a long moment, she decided she would leave Tai to rest until he woke on his own. It was not a writing day for her, but he surely wouldn't mind if she spent a few short moments capturing this dream of hers. She slinked carefully off the bed and stepped lightly through the open door.

Down the stairs, Mav settled into the study where she spent much of her waking time surrounded by books, and took a short pause to acknowledge the stand of evergreens outside her window. She loaded a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter, and after some pensive consideration on an opening sentence, began to type.


Image credit - _ on Pixabay [CC0, Public Domain]