He kept his office door locked, refused even Claire’s presence, unhooked the phone, and dabbled in the drugs and alcohol that were once his escape from this reality. At one point he heard Claire knocking and yelling through the door. The next he’s seeing her ethereal face floating above him, just her face.
“It’s time,” he hears her say, her neck twisted to the right, before he returns to his oblivion.
The next time he comes through he is no longer in his office. This wouldn’t have concerned him enough to waking but for the straps on his ankles and wrists imprisoning him to a chair.
“What the - ?” His first thought is that he won’t be able to abstain from withdrawals while strapped to a chair, causing exactly that to double him over where he retches on the floor. The room is pitch black, which he notices as soon as the withdrawal passed for the moment.
“Hello! Hello! Can anyone hear me?” he yells, or more or less croaks. His mouth is parched.
“I’m here, John.”
“Claire? Claire, what the hell is going on?”
“I’m helping you,” she says, but her voice, though Claire’s, is oddly cold and strange. He cries out when she yanks back his head and he feels a sharp prick in his neck. His withdrawals instantly disappeared.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Claire. You’ve always been my favorite. I should – I should have married you, not her. You’ve always understood. You’ve always been so nice. You’ve always known what I needed.”
“Oh, shut up, John,” she snaps. “The only thing you’ve ever cared about are your own needs. Just like your father, you think of no one else’s but your own. Given a second chance at life when you found that girl. Everything your father and I went through so you could have that girl, and you’re throwing it all away. And now, even though you don’t deserve a third chance, you’re being given the gift of your third and final chance, but it’s going to cost you.”
“You’ve been chosen, John. You’ve been chosen by Him.”
“Him? None of this is real, is it? How long have I been high? I’m dreaming or hallucinating. The Claire I know doesn’t sound like you. So sweet. So kind. So gentle. So much like my mother.”
“ENOUGH!” a low male voice resonates loudly through the room. “I am He, and you have been chosen. I offer you my gift, a very rare and precious gift indeed. I offer you a glimpse into your future for a million dollars that you can certainly spare.”
“Who are you? Wha-where are you?”
“Behind you, in front of you, surrounding you, and inside you. Are you willing to pay the price for this gift, your third, and your final chance? I have chosen you, because I have seen your future, and it is grim, John, but in giving you the power to hold the future in your hands, you can change it if you’re so willing.”
John tries to will his eyes to see in the dark, but all he can see are glimpses of a black silhouette, seeming nowhere and everywhere at once.
“There’s no such thing as a man that can tell the future. Impossible.”
“I AM HE!” the voice roars. The room shakes and trembles, and suddenly the floor is no longer beneath John’s feet. The floor opens up to a white rectangular light. John’s eyes tear over as he tries to keep them open against the blinding light. His eyes adjust and he finds himself looking at Angie’s downcast head, her beautiful red hair drawn over her face and her shoulders. Her shoulders are shaking.
“Angie! What did you do to my wife?!”
Harsh laughter echoes throughout the room. “This is not what I did. It’s what you did.” Zooming out, he sees that Angie is sitting at his desk in his office. On the desk before her are his empty liquor bottles and used needles. Suddenly, as though somehow aware that her private moment is being shared, she looks directly at John, her beautiful blue eyes shining with tears, her face profound with devastation. Abruptly all goes black and his feet return to the floor.
“NO, no, no! She wasn’t supposed to see. She wasn’t supposed to see. I just needed a few days to get my head straight, that’s all.”
“You haven’t been home in two weeks, John.” Claire’s voice.
“Oh no! What’s – what’s going to happen now? I’ll go back to the hospital. I’ll get clean again. I can’t lose her. I just can’t! Tell me. Am I going to lose her?”
“Are you willing to pay the price?”
“Yes, yes, anything. Please, just please tell me I won’t lose her.”
“That is in your power and your power alone, John. I can only show you what your future looks like right now, from this moment. You will pick a time in the future, and you will see as long and as far as you can bear to watch.”
“All I need are four more years. That’s when contracts can be renegotiated. Then I’ll have all the time to spend with my family, and be the father and the man they need. Show me. I want to see five years from now.”
“As you wish.”
The room shakes and trembles as it did before. His chair lifts and his feet leave the floor as it did before. John stares into the place where just moments again a bright light illuminated the devastating image of his Angie, but nothing happens. The floor doesn’t open. Nor is there light. He waits, his breathing heavy, two minutes, five minutes.
“How come nothing’s happening?”
“It is, John. It is happening,” the voice is somber.
John hears Claire shriek and begin to cry.
“What? What is it, Claire? Do you see something?”
“No, John. I don’t see anything. Because five years from now, you don’t exist.”