Graeme was nowhere for a long time. He floated in the nothingness; it was neither black, nor white, it was a muddled, formless, weightless, grey. Quantifying time was impossible, but he felt himself there for a great while, some quiet ticking in his head the only possible marker. Then, things began to form, shapes began to take on visible weight and shades. A light settled and he blinked.
When his eyes opened, he was no longer in emptiness. He was in a glorious office – a grandiose fireplace crackled with life to his right and to his left was a glossy oak desk, situated caddy-corner with a fat, overflowing bookshelf taking up most of the far wall. Great bow windows broke up the bookshelves and looked out into blackness so thick Graeme could not tell if it was night or another version of a void, similar to the one he’d been in a few seconds before. Most of the objects in the room - the lamp in the corner, the small clock on the desk, the glass table beside the massive crimson lounge chair, the frame for the globe that sat at an acute angle to the left side of the desk - were polished gold and gleamed in the firelight. Sheaves of paper littered the desk with pens and post-it-notes as the only differing landscape. Flowing script covered the pages in a language he couldn’t read, but it looked like Latin to his uneducated eyes. The walls were a muted crimson, dark like blood attempting to clot, and though the room was warm and welcoming, he felt trapped in it. There was no door.
Behind the desk, a form materialized in swirls of black and gold, like dust caught in a high-pressure vaccum channel. A man blinked back at him and Graeme realized he’d been staring.
Disinterested onyx eyes absorbed his face and Graeme struggled to look away, to look at anything else. The haggard, drawn features looking back at him were impatient and bordered on displeased. Narrow, pale lips set in a near-frown, narrow, pale fingers hovering over the documents (scattered) on the surface of the desk.
“I wasn’t supposed to have guests today,” he said, and it felt like Graeme was being told to leave.
“I’d gladly be out of your way if there was a door,” Graeme replied, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans and returning the distrustful and irritated expression of the man across the room.
“I don’t use doors,” came the response. Unforgiving eyes lifted from him and dropped to the pages on the desk. “But I suppose you won’t leave until you’ve got what you came for, so we might as well get on with it.”
“Get on with what, exactly?”
“You will die in two years, eight months, eleven days, nineteen hours, forty-three minutes, and fifty-seven seconds. Between this moment and the moment of your death, you will take one of two paths. The first path is an egregious mistake; you will find no comfort on this path; everything you touch will turn to dust in your hands. The second path is the only option. You will save lives. Exactly (15,692) of them, actually. This path will not offer you much comfort, but there will be small amounts if you’re clever and know where to look. These are your options, believe me if you will but it matters very little whether you do or not.”
“I don’t even know who you are,” Graeme said, by way of making it clear that his belief would not be suspended far enough to accept the outcomes he’d just heard.
Again, those eyes bore a hole into him. This time it was annoyance that brought the corner of the man’s mouth down into a frown. “Where do you think you are, Graeme?”
“A dream, clearly.”
The man shook his head as if he were acutely aware of just how stupid Graeme was. “You are with the Planner, Graeme. I am the Creator, the Decider, the Designer, the Architect. Depending on the legend, of course. Put simply: your life is a clay tablet in my hands. Free will is a loophole that never ends well for the one breaking from their destined paths. You can listen to me and live or you can ignore me and die.”
“I thought you said I would die anyway.”
“You will, everyone will. You will die at the same time regardless of the path you take; you will not live one second longer than I have created you to live for. It is how you die that changes. How you die is everything, Graeme. It is your legacy and your purpose. Disregard what anyone else has told you.”
“Then what is my purpose? Why will I die at that time? How will I know the right path?”
“I can tell you only that you will know your guide when you set eyes on them next. If you follow your guide, you will find the right path.”