Everything around him was dark, as Ben was trying to get himself into focus. Somewhere in the distance he could hear voices, multiple voices all talking at the same time but it seemed too far away to make out what was being said. A red, faint glow in the distance caught his attention. Another voice, much closer this time, added to the chorus. Ben switched his focus to the much louder female voice and could make out what she was saying. "...too late. No matter what anybody says, my words can never be taken back. Nothing can defeat me." He suddenly opened his eyes and found himself sitting in his car on the left side of the road. The voices were gone, so was the faint red light. The engine was still running, the lights of the car on, the windscreen wipers going full speed to battle the rain hitting the windshield. The radio, after being silent for a while, produced nothing but static. Ben slowly came back to awareness, with the events that had just happened still fresh in his mind. What just happened? The voices I just heard? And the woman. Wait, could that have been the radio? He checked the radio. It was still set to his favorite station. 97.3 FM. Now, it produced nothing but static. He checked all the other programmed stations on his radio, but all were dead. How is this possible he thought to himself. A heavy rainstorm should not block out all radio stations. Fully awakened, he turned off the engine of his car and tried to remember what he had been doing in the first place. Why was he in his car, let alone on the side of the road apparently sleeping with the engine running? Where was he going? He had no recollection of any of it. There was some paperwork next to him on the passenger’s seat. After going through it, it seemed he had been heading over to a client in Port Naven. He started to feel really uncomfortable. I have absolutely no memory of driving here or the client I was going to. What is going on? Looking at the dashboard he could see that he was running low on gasoline. Grabbing his phone, he noticed he had no reception, no GPS, no network whatsoever. He quickly decided that staying here on the side of the road would get him nowhere, so Ben started the car and pulled back on to the road ready to continue his journey, hoping to find a gas station not too far off. How long had I been sitting there with the engine running? I must of been really tired he theorized. Since he had awoken, no other cars had passed on the road he was now once again following. The rain made it difficult to see. Checking his offline maps on his phone, it seemed approximately 50 kilometers to the nearest gas station, straight ahead. I will take it slow and see how far I get, Ben thought while putting away his phone. He tried his best to remain calm and collected. He tried to convince himself he would figure out what had happened to him exactly given more time. And so, he drove on through the heavy rain.
After driving for only minutes, the rainfall became heavier and heavier. So bad, the wipers could not keep up with the amount of rain pouring from the sky. He was driving no more than 20 km/h, trying his best to make out the road. Looking at the dash, he noticed it was 9 at night. Had he missed his appointment with his client? Checking his papers next to him once again and checking the date on his phone, the meeting should be tomorrow. Where was I headed? A hotel or motel? Lightly swerving with his car, Ben switched his attention back to the road. The gasoline warning light had already been on since he left the side of the road and the whole situation was slowly getting to him, making him feel worried and stressed. Then, a little in the distance, as far as he could see through the heavy rain, there was a road sign standing to the right of the road. He decided to slow down and pull up to the side of the road turning his emergency lights on. Just in front of the sign the car came to a full stop. The sign indicated 40 km to Port Naven and a left-hand turn to a place called Arid Pase. 10 km away and a pictogram of a gas station under it. Well, perfect, Ben figured. I can fill up the car, maybe take a short rest and figure out what happened to me. I could probably use their phone as well. He directed the car back unto the road to continue his journey, this time heading for the left turn to Arid Pase. As he saw the turn, an even smaller and darker road, it reminded him of certain movies he had seen over the years. Ben said out loud: "Great. Now all this road needs is some dangerous, hazardous looking bridge I need to cross and I will be all set." Slowly taking the turn with his car, his headlights illuminated an old billboard to the right of the road. The advertisement poster it had once held was long gone, but instead, in white paint, someone had written "Danger Ahead!" In huge letters. Ben read the text, but did not take it seriously. Thinking some small town delinquence were having some fun, trying to scare people. Going nice and slow on the narrow road, Ben hoped to get to Arid Pase shortly and then try to figure things out. With the still increasing rainfall, he focused his full attention on the road ahead of him.
Ben suddenly started laughing out loud in his car. Just for a couple of seconds, it made him forget the predicament he was in. After driving for only 2 minutes or so, he had stopped his car on the road. In front of him stood a bridge. Maybe about 10 meters long, built from steal girders, above a river, cutting through the landscape. The bridge, with a warning sign up top stating the maximum height for a vehicle to be 2 meters, looked old and rusted. Looking at the asphalt on the bridge itself, it seemed like the right side of the bridge was slightly lower than the left. Actually, Ben was quite sure that was the case, as water was pouring down the right hand side. He finally got a grip on himself again and his laughter turned into a snicker, then died completely. What am I going to do with this? Getting out of his car crossed his mind, but the rain would soak him in seconds. Looking around the car, Ben saw a long black trench coat laying on one of the backseats of the car. He quickly took the coat, putting it on as best he could while still sitting. The paperwork on the seat next to him was contained in a folder, which he took to hold over his head, leaving the paperwork loose all over the seat. Perfect, he thought. Now to go see if this bridge will actually hold my car. Walking towards the bridge, folder in left-hand atop his head, he could make out another sign on the other side of the bridge, but he could not make out what it said. He walked onto to bridge. The amount of water flowing down the asphalt hinted at staying on the left side, unless you really wanted wet feet, as the water level on the right side was nearing ankle height. The bridge seemed solid enough. No creaking or cracking sounds, no movement of the floor. Ben walked on to get closer to the sign he had seen before, interested to read what it actually said. As he got closer, he saw it was just a sign warning of slippery roads ahead. Somebody had added two stickers on the bottom, which read: "Reverse" and "cipher" in almost graffiti style writing. Must be some brands kids are into these days he thought to himself. Ben headed back to his car, certain he would be able to make it across. As he slammed the door of his car shut, the sound of the falling rain dimmed in comparison. He threw his coat back on the backseat, the folder under the dash in front of the passenger’s seat and continued to drive, slowly, over the bridge he had just walked across. He reached the other side without any problem whatsoever. The road ahead of him seemed much older than the road connecting the main road and the bridge. It was in bad shape. That sign was definitely correct he figured. Continuing his slow pace, he expected to be in Arid Pase in no time.
In the distance, he could see a faint light coming from behind the side of a hill. It seemed very dim to be the light from a whole town. The road, filled with potholes which were now filled with water, slowed his pace to a crawl trying to avoid driving through them. The rain seemed to die down a little as he followed the road through a bend around the hill he assumed was hiding Arid Pase from view. And there it was. The sign next to the road indicating the border of the town was still readable, although it seemed old and worn down. Slowly driving past the sign, he could see a house to the left of him. It seemed abandoned, as some of the windows were broken and half boarded up. There stood a car in front of the house, which looked like it was ready to be towed to the junk yard. Tires flat, windshield cracked, damages to the paint job and broken headlights. This was not what he was expecting at all. The light he had seen while approaching the town became visible after following the curve in the road past the house. The gas station he had been looking for. The station, on the left-hand side of the road was brightly lit inside, which seemed to include a shop. It was difficult to make out exactly through the rain and the windows of the shop he was trying to look in through. Ben turned his attention to the other side of the road, where an old bus station stood, also very much abandoned. A city bus in almost the same shape as the car he had just passed, stood with its door open, a sign in the front window which seemed to say Port Naven. Right next to the station was a phone booth, probably out of commission, as the lights were off. Actually, looking at the rest of the town, a little further up a small hill, he noticed there were no lights at all. Even the streetlights were off. Only the gas station seemed to show signs of life in the whole area. While slowly making the left turn into the gas station, it occurred to Ben that there was no way that city bus could ever make it across that bridge he crossed while driving here. The same for the single pump meant for trucks at the gas station he was pulling up to. Meaning there must be another access road he thought. Good to know. Just as his car left the asphalt road and made it unto the concrete slabs of the station, his engine started sputtering and died. Using the momentum of the car, he almost managed to get to the pump. Just a few meters short. The people inside will definitely help me to push the car a couple of meters he assured himself of. Grabbing his coat from the backseat and swinging it on, he opened the door of his car, hopped out, slammed the door shut and slowly made his way to the front door of the brightly lit shop. Looking around, he noticed the lights on the second floor above the shop were on as well. Looking back, he could not make out the rest of the town as his eyes were adjusted to the light coming from the shop. He grabbed the handle of the door and pushed it open, while trying to reassure himself everything would be fine, once he could sit down and relax a bit.
As the door swung open, a bell attached to the ceiling rang loudly announcing his entrance. The door shut automatically behind him, once again signaled by the bell sound echoing through the shop. He stood in the entrance of what appeared to be a small grocery store. Glancing around, he saw all kinds of household products, some he did not recognize. The ones he did recognize, seemed old. Old logos and colors he had not seen in years. A closer look at the milk cartons on his right revealed the expiration date. Almost 20 years old? What is going on here? He had a look at other products which indicated approximately the same. It gave him a very eerie feeling which did not help his state of mind at all. In the back of the store, right across from the door stood the main counter with a cash register that dated back to the pre computer age. In behind the same counter, a rack with cigarettes and tobacco, what looked like last century candy bars and 2 doors of which one was slightly open, but not enough to be able to see what was hidden behind it. The other door to the right was wide open, showing a staircase, presumably leading up to where he had seen the lights on while walking towards the shop he had just entered. Footsteps on the stairs alerted Ben someone was coming to see who had triggered the noisy bell which had sounded when he entered. An older man appeared from the door opening, probably in his late 60ies, gray long hair in a pony tail, friendly smile on his face, as he looked straight at Ben while nearing the counter. "Well hello stranger! What are you doing in these parts this time of night and how can I help you?" the man said with an even bigger smile. The man was wearing an old fashioned white shirt and blue jeans. The house slippers which seemed to date back to the fifties really completed the ensemble. "Yes, listen, I ran out of gas pulling up to the pump. Could you please help me to push my car a little bit further so I can fill up my car and be on my way?". After seeing the state of the shop, the ancient products, he had been thinking of getting out of the place as quickly as possible. "Well..." the man said, "I would like to, but it will not do you any good. Pumps are dry I'm afraid. Sorry." Another setback, exactly what I needed Ben thought to himself. "What's your name my friend?" the older man behind the counter asked politely. "It's Ben. In that case, can I use your phone? You have a landline here right?". "Sorry Ben, lines dead. I can't help you with that." the man said while keeping the same friendly smile. Ben had been doing his best to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation, but this was really upping the ante for him. "So, are you telling me I am stranded here? When will the refueling truck arrive?". The man shook his head. "I don't know Ben. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not. My name's Adan by the way, but people just call me Dan." "Well Dan, do you have a car? Maybe I can siphon some gas out of your car so I can.. ". Dan interrupted Ben before he could finish his sentence. "Nope, no car, no other gasoline anywhere. I am really sorry I can not be of more help to you." Ben felt as if he had been crushed by a ton of bricks. All possibilities seemed to fade away, as he had no decent means of continuing his journey or contacting anyone. Dan saw his troubled look and remarked: "Ben, no worries! You can stay the night at the station here, no problem. You don't have to hang out in the store either. Do you see the door to your left? Go through there, I will meet you on the other side." The man turned and left through the slightly opened door, closing it behind him. While the door was open, Ben could see there was a restaurant type kitchen on the other side of the wall he had been facing. With no other options available to him, Ben figured he would humor the guy and made his way to the closed door to the left of the shop, right next to the chips rack.
As soon as he stepped through the door, Dan, who was already there, immediately greeted him. "Ben, welcome to my bar! Have a seat at the table there. I will join you in a minute. We should have a drink together!" With the expiration dates freshly in his mind, Ben replied: "Just a glass of water for me, thank you."
"Nonsense!" Dan almost shouted. "I have a fantastic bottle of wine here. It's from 99. You should try it". Ben figured the wine might still be drinkable, so he gave Dan a quick nod signaling his approval. He was standing in an almost fancy diner type restaurant, with a half round bar and quite expensive looking barstools. Judging by the handles attached also height adjustable. A wide walking path separated the bar with stools from the dining area, a row of diner type cabins right
against the far wall. Everything had a shinny wood finish and all the seats, including the barstools, had a Bordeaux colored leather finish on the cushions. There were no windows in the room at all and the lighting was not full bright but gave a relaxing atmosphere throughout the room. Behind Dan who was standing behind the bar, were some cabinets, some closed and others with glass doors, filled with different bottles of liquor. Judging by the labels, probably as old as the rest of the products in the store. Ben made his way to the table Dan had pointed out. While sitting down he noticed a crack in the shinny tabletop, which seemed to emanate from the right corner of the table. The corner of the table was full of tiny cracks, like something heavy had fallen on it and almost shattered the entire table. As he made himself comfortable in the extremely soft seat, Dan arrived at the table with 2 glasses and the bottle of wine he had spoken of so fondly. "So" Dan said, "Since we will be here for a while, with this bloody rainstorm going on, I would really like to know your story. How did you end up over here?" Dan started pouring the wine from the already opened bottle into the 2 glasses setup in front of them on the table. Ben wondered for a while if he should actually tell this man what had happened and concluded it would do him no harm. Maybe this Dan could even help him some other way. "I don't really know. What I mean is, I kind of woke up in my car not that far from here and have no actual memory of what I was doing before that time." Dan looked at Ben with amazement while gripping his glass of wine he had finished pouring. "Really now? That must be quite a strange experience." Dan took a sip of his wine then added: "What did you do after that?" Ben tried some of the wine Dan had given him. It was not great but palatable. "Well, I woke up, the radio still seemed to be working, as I could hear a woman’s' voice. After that it turned to static. Noticing my phone had no connection, I decided to start driving through the rain looking to fill up my car, as I was almost out of gas."
"The radio was working you say? Which channel were you listening to?" Dan intersected. "My favorite" Ben replied, "97.3 FM, like always."
"I wish I would have known that this morning." Dan suddenly said.
Ben gave Dan a strange look. "What do you mean?" Dan quickly changed his facial expression back to the smile he had greeted Ben with and said: "Never mind, it is not important. You hear what was said?"
"Yes. Let me think for a second. No matter what anybody says, my words can never be taken back. Nothing can defeat me."
Dan raised his eyebrows while continuing to smile. "Sounds intriguing! Around what time was that?"
"Around 9pm, just a little before. Anyway, I took the turn to this village a little further, crossed that crooked bridge and ended up here. There is not much more to say about it really."
Dan had a confused look on his face. "Which bridge are you talking about?"
"The bridge on the road connecting this town to the main road to Port Naven."
Dan stared at the table for a couple of seconds, then replied: "Oh, that bridge! Yes, sorry, was confused for a second."
"By the way", Ben wanted to know, "You have a pump for trucks and there used to be a bus station across from here. There is no way any of those vehicles could ever cross that bridge. Where is the other access road to town?"
Dan paused for a second, putting his now empty glass back on the table. "Yes, yes, it is on the other side of town. Goes to Rockford."
Rockford? Ben thought. He did not recall seeing that on the map on his phone. He wanted to check it but he had left his phone in the car. "You want a refill?" Dan asked while picking up the half empty bottle from the table. Bens' glass was still half full but figuring his situation he nodded in approval. "So then, Dan, what are you doing here, running a gas station in an abandoned town?"
"Oh, well, that is also an intriguing story. You know, you could do exactly what I can do, but from this point on not anymore."
Ben looked at Dan with a confused look on his face. "Sorry Dan, what are you referring to?"
"You will figure it out, let me tell the story. Exactly 20 years ago, I just appeared here, in behind the counter of the store. The town was already abandoned and I was the only one here."
Ben felt a rush of uneasiness come over him even worse than he had already felt. He might have lost his memory, but listening to Dan made him quite sure he had lost his mind. Instead of interrupting Dan, he stared at the table while continuing to listen to Dans' ramblings.
"I checked the place out and made myself a home here. After all, I knew what I was here for. I just had to wait around for the right moment. I would get bored and lonely, wishing some people would
come by once and a while. Every now and then a person would come by the station, very much like you did tonight. We would sit at this very table having a conversation much like we are doing right now."
Ben decided to intervene in Dans' story anyway. He definitely needed some professional help and Ben just could not let this go on. "Dan, listen.." he said, while looking Dan straight in the eyes. Suddenly, Dan hit the table with his right fist, right on the cracked corner Ben had noticed while sitting down. A slight cracking sound accompanied the growth of the crack running across the tabletop, almost toppling the 2 glasses and bottle. At the same time, Dans' face turned from friendly to incredibly dark, as he started shouting at Ben:
"YOU WILL NOT INTERRUPT ME. YOU WILL SIT THERE AND LISTEN TO ME!"
Ben, trying to assess the situation, thought he better do as he said, not knowing what this man was capable of. A sense of fear came over him, as Dan continued his story.
"Now, as I was saying, I had many conversations at this table over those years, but sadly, none of those people were who I was looking for. Some however were great fun and a couple spent quite some time here with me, including a woman named Jeanette. I am kind of sad you did not get to meet her, you would have liked her."
Ben sat staring at Dan, not opening his mouth, afraid what Dan would do if he did. "You seem terrified Ben." Dan said. "If you want to ask me a question you can."
Uneasily, Ben asked: "Where did all those people go Dan?" The thought that Dan might have killed them had already slipped into his mind, seeing the whole situation he was in the middle of.
"They are gone. Never mind them. But, you see, there are some details I forgot to mention. In the 20 years I have been here, the sun has not come up, nor has it ever stopped raining. My pumps have been dry since day 1. So, if you are still thinking you will be able to leave tomorrow, I think you are sadly mistaken."
Now Ben knew for sure. This man was completely out of his mind. To him, it was a mystery how this man could still be sitting here all by himself. Where were the authorities in all of this he asked himself. Dan showed a quick smirk on his face then looked straight at Ben once again with a stern look. "I can read your mind Ben, so you know. I am NOT out of my mind. It is you that does not understand what is going on."
Sure he can read my mind, Ben thought. Any idiot could figure what I might be thinking and say something like that. Maybe when the situation calms down, I can just start walking and get as far away from this place as possible. I will just try not to make him more angry.
"You see Ben" Dan said, "This space, this environment we are sitting in, used to be yours. It's mine now by the way. Until just a few moments ago, everything you said and thought would actually happen. Even retro causally." Ben continued to stare at the table in front of him. Do I really have to listen to the ramblings of some crazy old man? He can have his wine back or should I drink it before he does and goes even further off the edge?
Dan continued speaking: "I already figured, with the memory loss and all, you were the person I was looking for. What really tipped me off Ben, is you telling me about the bridge you crossed on your way over here. There never was a bridge between here and Port Naven. But apparently, thanks to you, now there is."
Ben just nodded and said: "Sure."
Dans' smile returned as he emptied his glass of wine putting it back on the table gently. "What I would like you to do Ben, is walk to the closed cabinet behind the bar and have a look what's in there." Ben looked up at Dan and asked: "What for?"
"Just DO it. It will explain something to you."
Reluctantly Ben slowly got up from the comfortable seat and walked over to the cabinet behind the bar, opening the 2 wooden doors. Inside he saw an old CB radio and an old cassette recorder. "What is this?" Ben asked while studying the contents of the cabinet. "Press the play button on the cassette recorder. It has a message for you." Dan replied, with his smile ever increasing. Ben pressed the play button, after which the cassette started turning. From the small speaker standing on top of the cassette recorder he could hear a woman’s voice. "By the time you hear this message and realize what you have done, it will be too late. No matter what anybody says, my words can.." Ben quickly pressed the stop button. He knew what it said. Dan started laughing. "Good old Jeanette. Well, at least you know what she sounded like. Are you going to finish your wine? If not, I am having it."
"So it was you?" Ben could not keep his cool. "What is the meaning of this? You are crazy, you twisted old coot." Dan continued to laugh for a couple of seconds, after which he waved his hand at Ben signaling for him to come back to the table. "You don't believe a word of what I am saying, do you?"
Ben made his way back to the table and sat back down. "Obviously, I do not. I don't know what your game is, but I have had enough. Raining or not, I am getting out of here."
Once again, Dans' face transformed from friendly to grim, as he said: "The problem is that you do not remember, right?" Before Ben could answer the question, Dan raised his voice and yelled: "I WILL MAKE YOU REMEMBER RIGHT NOW!"
"Yes, I am already on my way. I will be on time for the meeting tomorrow. We do not have to postpone." With his phone in his right hand, he maneuvered his car with the other through the heavy rain, trying to avoid the puddles of water forming on the road ahead of him. "I will be staying at the Berstol Hotel. It's only 5 minutes away from your office. I will see you tomorrow. Ok. Yes. Have a nice evening as well." He hung up the phone and threw it on the passenger’s seat. Coming around a curve, he found himself in behind a much slower car, spraying the water from the road unto his windscreen making it even harder to see ahead. Enough of this he thought to himself while shifting his car into a lower gear to pass the car in front of him. While flooring the gas pedal and switching to the left lane he sped past the slow moving car with ease. As his view of the road improved he suddenly found himself in a pretty sharp right hand bend while still driving in the left lane. Pressing the brake made the car slide across the road. As he tried to regain control of the car, his left front tire slid off the asphalt, into the grass and dirt next to the road, giving it more grip, spinning the car around its' axis. At high speed, the car spun round a full circle until it collided with a massive tree, straight into the driver door. The car had come to a full stop and he was still barely conscious of his surroundings. He could hear a car pull up behind him and what sounded like people speaking in shock about what they had just witnessed. After what seemed like an eternity, he could hear more people speaking, but he could not make out what they were saying. He could make out what seemed like a red faint glow in the distance, after which the voices and light faded and he found himself enveloped in darkness.
He could not see or hear anything, but he was quite sure he was conscious. "Where am I?" he said. There was no answer. "I demand to know what is going on! I want to speak to somebody!" After a couple of seconds a voice replied: "Hello! You wanted to speak to me Benjamin?"
Benjamin he thought. People haven't called me that in ages. "Who are you and where am I?" he said, clearly agitated. "Somebody. And you are in your environment now."
"My environment? What does that mean and what is your name? Also stop calling me Benjamin. The name is Ben."
The voice replied: "Alright Ben! My name is somebody. You wanted to speak to me. You are in your own environment now, because you died in your car on your way to a client. You do remember, don't you?"
Ben didn't believe for a second what the voice was telling him. "Very funny. Yes, I remember the accident. Which hospital is this and what is wrong with my vision? Why is everything pitch black?"
"You are not in a hospital and you can not see, because you have no eyes and your environment is empty, except for you and me."
He was not amused by the answer he had gotten. "Why do you keep saying environment? Explain it to me more precisely." This should be good he thought to himself. "Okay. You are in a place where everything you want will become reality."
"Oh really?" Ben replied. "In that case I want to be standing in the middle of interstate 14 waving at vehicles." he said jokingly. Suddenly, after a couple of seconds had past, his vision returned, first very blurry, then slowly becoming sharp and focused, as he found himself in the middle of an interstate with his hand in the air, waving. With no time to react, he saw a huge truck coming straight at him at high speed, impacting his body, sending him flying through the air, while in excruciating pain. His vision blurred and the darkness around him returned, as the pain he had felt just switched off, as if someone had flipped a switch. "What the hell?" Ben spoke out loud. "This is real? Answer me!" All remained silent around him. This is ridiculous he thought. "Fine. I want to speak to somebody." He said once again, figuring the same thing would happen. "Hello! I am
somebody! You wanted..." he quickly interrupted: "Yes, I know who you are already. How do I get out of here?"
"Sorry, I do not know the answer to your question." Somebody replied. Getting annoyed, he quickly added: "Yes you do! Now tell me!"
"There is no way out of here. You are connected to this environment. This is your paradise, so to speak."
He needed a minute to get to grips with all of this. Confusing as it was, it seemed to be very real. He still remembered the impact of the truck launching him into the air. "So, I can do whatever I want and it will actually happen, right? That is what you are telling me, correct? Why me? Why do I get this? Is this some kind of reward?"
Somebody answered: "It is just how it is. There is no further reason for it." Unacceptable he thought. There must be a reason. Cause and effect, that is how everything goes, he was convinced. "Is there anybody else I can speak to?" He realized, right after finishing the sentence, that it was a stupid question. "No." the voice answered. He thought long and hard for a couple of minutes, before continuing his inquiries. My environment, paradise or whatever you want to call it, must be inside something he theorized. I want to get to the bottom of this.
"What is outside my environment?" he cleverly asked. "The shell." Was the reply. "Is there anybody inside the shell, excluding my environment?" he quickly added. "The exile." somebody said. "I want to speak to the exile, whoever that is." Ben stated, thinking he might get more answers that way.
"That is not possible." the voice answered. For Christ sake, Ben thought. "Why not?"
"Because the exile is not in your environment."
"Then I want the exile in my environment right NOW!" he demanded. His patience with all of this was slowly running out. "Ben, you have no control over the shell, it is outside your environment."
"God dammit!" Ben said out loud. "What a bunch of nonsense! Ok, how do I get the exile in here with me? Give me the answer!"
Somebody started explaining: "The exile, while in the shell, can enter into any environment it wants. It has refrained from doing so, as it will have no power here and will not risk such an endeavor."
"But, you said the shell only contained my environment and the exile. Where are the other environments then?".
"Sorry Ben," somebody said, "I do not have that information."
"So," he said, "If I give this exile power in my environment it will come and I can speak to it?".
"Possibly. There is no certainty."
"Why is the exile in the shell?" he inquired.
"It has escaped destruction and is now confined in that space for eternity."
Escaped destruction? He thought. "Wait a minute. Who wants the exile destroyed?"
The voice simply answered: "Unknown."
"Unknown? Is that also a person or what? You know the answer to my question."
"No. There is no information available to answer your question."
Ben thought some more for a while. He came to the simple conclusion that there must be somebody or something wanting this exile destroyed. Maybe, if he could do it, he would get more answers. He had no intention of staying in this place. He just wanted answers.
Ben needed more details for his plan to work. "So, I can just tell a story and it will come to be, am I understanding this correctly?"
"That is correct." somebody answered.
"Will this exile know what is going on in here if I give it power in my environment?"
The voice answered: "It will know what you know."
After thinking long and hard, Ben started speaking: "I only want this to begin when I finish speaking and say start and the exile enters my environment. I want to know nothing. No memories of what went on here at all, nor the details of my life. I want there to be a puzzle, a progressive puzzle that I need to figure out while going along, with hints on the way. I am sure I can handle it. The exile will not know who I am, but will have the same powers as I do. The setting should be something
familiar to me, like a continuation of my drive to my client. Yes, that is it." After thinking some more, he said: "Maybe I should abandon this idea."
"Wait. I will also constantly be 20 leaps ahead of the exile."
I am sure I will be able to take out the exile with this, Ben thought. Feeling this would do it, he asked: "Will I be able to take out the exile with this story?".
The voice answered: "Yes, you will."
Convinced his plan would work, he loudly said: "Here we go! 3, 2, 1 and START!"
Ben sat staring at Dan with a horrified look on his face. "Disappointing." Dan said. "I am drinking your glass of wine by the way." "I had figured once I made you remember, somewhere in that tiny head of yours, I would find what you and your friends were up to. Turns out, you are the biggest idiot I have ever encountered. A puzzle huh? You can handle it? You also really took me out. Nice place and thanks for the wine. Only a complete idiot would be so unspecific."
Ben felt an overwhelming sense of terror. A panic attack of the highest caliber took over his being, making him shake uncontrollably and made him feel like he wanted to vomit his guts out. Dans' face lit up with his usual smile, while taking and finishing Bens' glass of wine in one trust. "You know what I really love? The hints you missed. They were so simple. A sticker with the word reverse. I told you my name. Ever have Spanish at school, you moron? Adan. You know, right? Nada. Means nothing, you numbskull."
Ben felt like he was going to pass out and lose consciousness, as he was in total shock. "No, you are staying wide awake. I am not done with you yet." Dan said quickly, causing Ben to come back to his senses somewhat. "I do wonder why they would sacrifice you so easily, especially since your environment bridges straight to the core. I figure they must be up to something. By the way, do you still want to ask me any questions?"
Ben just sat there, across from Dan, almost frozen in place. "Wait, don't say anything. You want to know who they are right? I am not going to tell you. But I will tell you this. I am going to get them for what they did to me." Dan said most seriously. "You are absolutely no use to me like this, but I have an idea. I can use you another way. Firstly, your mind will constantly and eternally experience a place made of your worst nightmares."
Bens' face started twisting in agony as he started yelling and screaming as if he was being tortured physically. "You will do this without making a sound. It bothers me." Ben suddenly went mute, while his face still displayed the horrors his mind was experiencing. Dan looked at Ben for a second, with a displeased look on his face. "No, this is no good. I don't want to see your stupid face anymore. I know. I will send you to a place, where you are surrounded by nothing! Inside me, in other words." After Dan finished speaking, Ben just disappeared into thin air, leaving the comfortable cochons to bounce back into their original positions, where Ben had been sitting. "Good!" Dan said out loud. "I know you can hear me! You send some rookie after me? I am coming for you!" Dan said while looking upwards and towards all corners of the ceiling. "I will make you pay even worse than what I just did to your precious Benjamin!" Dan got up from the bench and started walking back to the bar, while contemplating his next move.
"Let him come, we will be ready."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am sure. You know how this works, don't you?"
Author Notes: This is actually the draft of my first completed short story. I would appreciate any feedback you have to give. I have many more short stories planned, but not written. This story turned into a prequel of a story I had actually planned for a book I wanted to write, but decided to start with this. Thank you for reading.