Paul was sitting on his couch in his living room, contemplating life, when a man appeared in front of him. There was no puff of smoke, or bolt of lightning, but where there was no man before, suddenly there was a man.
Paul was startled. “Who are you? What’s going on?”
“I am the Lord of Time. Before you do anything–”
“Why are you wearing a bowtie and a really long scarf?”
The Lord of Time ran a hand down the scarf. “Is this not significant to you? It was supposed to be a sort of joke. Maybe I don’t understand humor as much as I thought. That doesn’t matter though. Ahem. Before you do anything you might regret, come with me, I will give you a different perspective on your life and make you able to pick a better future for yourself.”
Paul looked around at his dirty apartment, with trash all over the table and the carpet with too many stains to know what color it was originally. Going with this guy couldn’t be any worse. And ‘pick a better future’ sounded nice. He shrugged.
“Excellent. Now, take my hand, it’s not strictly necessary but–”
As soon as Paul touched the Lord of Time’s hand, he found himself standing in a giant white room. Lined up in neat rows were pillars, about chest high. On each pillar was a crystal ball. Everywhere he looked were just more pillars, no ceiling, white floor, and pillars, thousands and thousands of pillars.
“What is this? Where am I?” asked Paul.
The Lord of Time appeared from behind Paul and said, “I took you to my realm, this is the Time House, right now we are in the Present Room. It doesn’t normally look like this, but I don’t think you would have understood it the way it was, what with your very fragile, finite human mind. Don’t want to shove too much in there at once, they have a tendency to explode.”
“This is amazing. Does this place just keep going?”
“Well, no, and yes, but really no. I created a bubble here that contains all of the human present, one pillar for every person. It’s quite a large number, but it’s not infinite. But, it is also a sort of 3-dimensional loop, so you could keep walking in any direction forever and never hit a wall. Although you might not end up exactly where you would expect. It’s very tricky setting something like this up; the number of people in the world does not divide very neatly. I’m afraid the joins are not very seamless.”
Paul looked at the nearest dome. Inside was a crowd of people walking through the streets of a city he didn’t recognize.
“Why are they standing still?”
“Well, I didn’t think you wanted the world to go on without you. I could let them move, if you would prefer, let them live their lives without you in the world.”
“No. Thank you. No.”
Paul kept walking past pillars, glancing at them in turn. Streets, houses, trees, bars. Just people, going through their day. People eating. People talking. People sleeping. He paused at one that showed a baby held in someone’s arms. Its face was screwed up in that way that babies have where it’s impossible to know if they are laughing or crying.
“Is mine here somewhere?”
“Not yours, no. Since your present is here, looking into it would be… inadvisable. It’s possible that the concurrency of it would make you insane so I left it out.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
Paul continued to wander aimlessly. He knew what he wanted, but he was uncomfortable asking for it. He kept hoping he would stumble on it. But he didn’t.
“Where’s Lydia’s? It’s here right?”
“Oh, of course. Everyone else’s is here, just not yours. Are you sure you want to look though? You might not–.”
They zoomed through the pillars, or maybe the pillars zoomed around them. Either way, everything was a blur, and Paul felt a little sick.
“Here we are. Lydia’s present.”
Inside was a man’s face. Just his face. The man’s lips were open. It was obvious they were going to kiss. The Lord of Time was right, Paul didn’t want to see that.
“I think I’m done here. Is there something else?” Like picking the future? Paul had not forgotten.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes. There’s far more than this. Infinitely more. Far more than it is possible for you to imagine. Which would you like, the past or the future?”
“The future.” Of course.
“You know, on second thought, I don’t think you’re ready for the future quite yet. Let’s go to the past, better to ease in to these things.”