“It had been a rich full life.” was his final thought. As the monitor in the hospital changed from an erratic beep to a steady alarm, James passed in perfect peace.
His family was upset, but resigned. James was old, and had been sick a long time. They knew he was ready.
Moments after the event though, something unexpected happened to James. He found himself moving down a dark hallway. He wasn’t aware of walking. But neither did he think he was drifting. He was simply moving forward.
Eventually the hallway opened into a very proper Victorian reading room. James entered the room, and instinctively proceeded to a high backed plush chair. Mentally, James was perfectly calm. He had no idea what was happening, but he knew it was exactly what was meant to happen.
After sitting for a while, James became aware of another person in the room. In fact, when he had first entered, he only observed the full wall of books, the plush red carpeting, his own chair, and the deep rich woodwork. But now there was a large mahogany desk, and a very refined gentleman seated behind it.
“Greetings James, I am Conrad. I am here to assist you in your next adventure.” the man said.
James sat quietly for a moment. “I expected something of a traditional Judeo-Christian thing sir.” he replied.
The man explained “Yes, for a very long time, that was how things would proceed. However, The Architect has several other projects going, and if you are interested, you might chose to become a player in another field.”
James voiced his thoughts “The Architect? A player? What does that mean please? I am confused.”
The man looked disappointed. “You know, some get this right off. Others need more….. help. You may choose to proceed to your appointed destiny. You will receive the ending for which you have contracted. However, if you like, you have been selected to take a further role in events. You may, at least this one time, select a book from the shelf behind you. If you find a story you like, you simply let me know, and I will send you into that story. You will live again, and take a role. It can be either good or evil, as you choose. Eventually you will end up back here.”
James sat stunned. “I can live another life? And then what? Will I keep coming back here?”
The man waited a few minutes before he replied, then said “I can never tell. Some seem destined to serve repeatedly. Others make it this far, then when I send them back out, they go directly to their final placement. There is no guarantee. Also, you will only occupy your role for a brief time. You will face choices and challenges unique to that life. But your sense of ethics and ideals will be what guides you in that moment. So in essence, you will be taking over another life temporarily.”
James looked thoughtful. He asked “Will I be aware? Will the other person know I am there?”
Conrad considered these questions. He eventually answered “I can not answer this. There are some things about this arrangement, even I do not understand.”
Without further debate, James turned to study the volumes behind him. Some were obviously science fiction, others seemed more fantasy. A couple were steamy romances. As he looked the shelves over, James asked “How long do I have to consider?”
There was no answer. Conrad was gone entirely. James decided he would take his time, examine several volumes, and find a story he liked. If he still found himself alone, he would place his selection on the desk.
He picked up the first book that had caught his eye. He thumbed through it, then replaced it on the shelf. James slid his forefinger along the spines of several books, then picked up a second volume. This one seemed to really capture his attention. Within moments he made up his mind and turned to face the desk. Conrad held out his hand. Without a word, James handed him the book.
A door opened, and James felt the need to walk toward it and down the hallway again.
On a high shelf above the books a strange scene unfolded. Two small carvings sat on either side of a chessboard. Both were winged. One was white and of a beautiful woman. The other was crimson and of a dark and dangerous beast. As the door shut behind James, White made the opening move in their game.
Conrad looked up at them, and nodded. Then he disappeared to other duties.