In 2019, I joined a 12 stories in 12 months challenge. Each month we are given a prompt and a word count and we build our stories from there. This is my first story. The prompt was “no one can know” and the word count is 1500. I’m tempted to point out all the things that are wrong with the story before you read it, but I’ll refrain. Just know that it is a bit longer than I wanted it to be and it’s basically a first draft.
He finally pulled himself up on the ledge. He let out a long breath and watched the vapor drift away in the wind. This better be worth it, he thought to himself.
He looked around. The ledge was wide enough for three people and deep enough for four. The wall in front of him was craggy, and there was an opening about the size of a door in the middle. As he took a closer look at the opening, he realized that rather than crags, the opening was surrounded by carvings. Although, they were so old it was difficult to tell what they depicted.
He took off his pack and placed it on the ledge next to him. He removed a water bottle and took a long drink. How long have I been out here? he wondered. He had lost track of the days weeks ago. No one around here seemed to keep a calendar. It had been months at least.
He had been following one rumor after another, none of them panning out, but this was it. It had to be. This information didn’t have the feel of rumors. The people here were sure. They were confident. They knew. It wasn’t like this anywhere else.
This was his last shot anyway. Even if it wasn’t the right place, he had been away too long, he was low on supplies, and out of money. No one understood why he started this journey in the first place. Even he didn’t fully understand. But he was sure. He had never been so sure of anything. He had to know the answer, whatever it is.
He stepped into the opening which extended into a hallway. He couldn’t tell how long it was, but he could see a flickering light ahead. He walked slowly towards the light. The temperature rose steadily as he progressed. It smelled musty. By the time he reached the torch that was casting the light, he was sweating.
The torch was at the entrance to a large, circular chamber. When he looked inside, he saw the chamber was lit by a dozen torches at even intervals about six feet off the ground. The walls were stone and there was a carved chair opposite the entrance he was standing in. In the chair sat what looked like a young woman in a simple white dress. The chamber was otherwise empty.
He walked across the chamber until he was about ten feet in front of the chair. The young woman stared straight ahead. It was as if she didn’t see him or was ignoring him. He cleared his throat. She remained motionless. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you the Oracle?”
She didn’t react and he was afraid she hadn’t heard him. Just as he opened his mouth to ask again, she looked at him and said, “You wish to know if I am the Oracle?”
“Yes,” was his reply. When she didn’t respond immediately, he added, “I mean, finding out if you’re the Oracle isn’t my primary purpose for coming. I just want to know if I’m in the right place.”
She looked at him, as if considering her answer. Her look made him uncomfortable. What is she waiting for? It’s a yes or no question.
“I have been called the Oracle by many.”
“Is that a ‘Yes?’ Should I call you something different?”
She continued looking at him. It was making him even more uncomfortable. “What do you call yourself?” he tried.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. After a pause, she said, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”
“That sounds like an oracle to me,” he said. She didn’t respond. “So, what do I do?”
After a moment, she replied, “Your question is too vague. I cannot answer it.”
He waited, hoping for more. Too vague? It seemed pretty straightforward. He shrugged and looked down at his hands, then to his feet. When he looked back up, her gaze had not moved. He took a deep breath, “If I want you to help me with a situation, what do you need me to do? Is there a ritual or an offering or something?”
“There is no ritual and I do not require an offering,” she replied. “You must ask me a specific question. If I am able to answer it, I shall.”
“Well, it’s a question, but there is a lot of background. Do I need to fill you in?”
She did not answer. She just stared at him.
“Right, where to start? I’ve been with this girl for about a year and a half now. I’m crazy about her. I still get butterflies whenever I see her.
“I didn’t think she was my type. I’m kind of a nerd and she is definitely not. But something just clicked. She knows I don’t have any money, or connections, or prospects, so I don’t think she’s using me for anything. I think she actually cares about me. So, I’ve been thinking of asking her to marry me.
“The problem is, she hates my family and my family hates her. It makes me hugely uncomfortable. My family has always been loving and supportive. I trust them. But I can’t see why they have a problem with her. And I trust her, but I can’t see why she has a problem with them. I feel caught in the middle.
“What I want to know is: should I ask her to marry me?”
The Oracle’s expression did not change throughout his speech. He fidgeted nervously waiting for an answer. After a few minutes, which seemed to him like hours, she said, “No one can know.”
“No one can know,” she repeated.
“That’s your answer? ‘No one can know?’”
“That doesn’t help at all. If we did get married, would she and my family learn to get along?”
There was another pause.
“No one can know.”
“Are you repeating yourself or is that the answer to my second question?”
“It is the answer to both of your questions.”
“Is that the only answer you give?”
“Then, does she really love me?”
“Only she knows.”
“How is that any different?”
She continued staring at him. “What takes you so long in answering my questions?” he asked.
“I must listen and consider my response carefully,” she replied.
“So, ‘No one can know,’ was a carefully considered answer?”
“You do see why that’s not a satisfying answer, don’t you?” She did not respond. “So, let me get this straight. I left my home and my job and traveled across two continents. I don’t even know what country I’m in right now, which is probably illegal. I swam to this island where the villagers assured me the Oracle was and climbed this mountain. Well, it’s not really a mountain, but it is a pretty steep hill. I did all that so you can tell me that my question is not answerable?”
She regarded him for some time before saying, “Your questions were answerable. I am not to blame if the answers are not to your liking.”
“Not to my liking? Come on. ‘No one can know,’ is a classic non-answer. You might as well have just said, ‘Who knows?’ Who do you think you are?”
She answered more quickly this time, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”
“What does that even mean?” he asked as he started pacing in front of her.
After a another too long pause, she said, “It means I do not hedge, equivocate, or dissemble. I do not say what is possible. I deal in things that can be known with certainty. . .”
She did not appear to be finished, but he interrupted her with, “Certainty? Certainty? Nothing can be known with certainty. I’ve studied philosophy. There’s always room for doubt.”
He might have imagined it, but he thought she seemed uncomfortable. He waited for a response.
“There can be no doubt that my answers are true.”
He laughed. This is absurd. He was both angry and amused. He couldn’t tell which feeling was stronger. “That’s just great,” he said. “I came all this way to learn that it is true that my questions have no answers. What’s the point?”
She did not answer.
“Fine. I have two more questions. Then, I’ll leave you in peace.” He didn’t know why he waited for a response, but he gave her a minute, then asked, “Why are you known as ‘The Oracle?’ And don’t say ‘No one can know.’”
She replied, “Any answer would be mere speculation. The motives of those long dead are inscrutable.”
He smiled. That certainly seemed true. “Well, just one more. Have you ever actually helped anyone?”
Her expression did not change, but she somehow seemed sad. “I do not know. No one has ever come a second time.”
He chuckled, but he felt sorry for her. He turned and walked towards the hall to get his things and start the long journey home.