I knew I was dreaming somehow. The room didn’t look quite right, little details were off. I could hear the sound of my wind chime, caught in a draft, but it sounded distorted, too loud. I got out of bed and walked towards the door. I could hear someone moving downstairs, but strangely I didn’t feel scared. As I reached the kitchen I saw the intruder making himself a cup of coffee. Leaning against the door frame I tried to look at his face but the features were ever changing.
“Would you like some?” he asked.
“Sure, black, weak and a splash of cold water please.” I turned and wandered into the living room looking for my cat. “Have you seen Minnie?” I asked but there was no answer.
He joined me, sitting on the sofa and held out the mug. “Thanks.” I had a feeling I knew him, but from some time in my future, not yet.
He twisted in his seat to look at me. “So, let’s get down to business.”
I sipped my coffee, staring back at him.
“You have been given an opportunity, you can change one aspect, full control. Any aspect of your life that you wish.”
I frowned. “Like a magic wish? I can just decide to change something about my life and it will happen?”
“Sort of, I’m not a genie, I’m not going to click my fingers or cross my arms and nod my head. You and I will work to design and create this change, nothing will be left to chance, giving you the perfect result. The payment is ten years from your life.”
“Ten years of my life?” I took a sip of coffee. “So, die ten years earlier, but live a life that I have designed?”
“One aspect of which you have designed.”
“Fair enough.” I said, rising from the couch. I picked up my tobacco and unlocked the front door. “How long do I have to think about it?”
“Well I need an answer now, but the work will take as long as it takes.”
The sun blinded me as I stepped outside. I squinted at the sky and retreated for a pair of sunglasses. He followed me back out and stood leaning against the side of the house, sipping his coffee while I rolled my cigarette.
“So what comes to mind? Money? Beauty? Intelligence?”
I took a drag of the cigarette and sat on the ground. “I always said if I won the lottery the first thing I would do, is buy my mum a house.”
“So you want to win the lottery?”
I looked up at his shifting face. “No, I don’t want that. Money would be nice, but having money is complicated and I can’t be bothered thinking about it. If I am giving up ten years of my life I want that life to be one worth living. So the aspect I change really should have a ripple effect out into the rest of my life.”
I sat and stared at the ground whilst I finished my cigarette. “Ok.” I said rising and finishing my coffee. “I want to create the perfect man for my mother.”
“That’s your decision, 100% sure?”
I stretched my arms behind me and threw the dregs of coffee into the grass. “Yep, positive. Someone to make my mother happy and support her. He can be well-off so that takes care of the house problem.”
He smiled and turned to go into the house. “Ok then, let’s get started.”
We had been working for an indeterminate amount of time. If time even passed here. The lab was huge with glass rooms and stainless steel tables scattered throughout. We were always alone in here and music played from somewhere but I could never figure out where. Round objects imbedded in the tables emitted holograms and the man and I waved our hands across them this way and that, tweaking them, changing them.
I had decided that he should be tall, good looking, a business man with a job nobody could really understand. He would be modestly wealthy but not silly. He would have three small properties that he let out and a nice sized house of his own with enough rooms for all us kids to stay over. He would have a dog and love to read. He would take her on holiday to the coast, renting a cottage right on the wild cliffs, overlooking the sea. Most importantly he would value my mum, see her true beauty and worth and encourage and love her gently. He would be understanding, funny and like us kids too. He would have a small three bedroom villa in the south of France. He and mum would go there to relax and go to jazz clubs and cafes.
Once we had fine-tuned every detail from his fashion preferences to his sense of humour, I felt a twinge of pride. I signed a piece of paper confirming the transaction and found myself sitting on my couch again with a fresh cup of coffee.
“What happens now? I mean, how does my mum meet him?”
“Well, firstly, you must never tell a living soul about this. No-one. Tell her you met someone you think she will get on with and arrange a date.”
I placed the coffee on the table beside me. “And he just shows up on this date?”
“Yep. That’s it. Call her now so I can put the date in my calendar. I’ll go make more coffee.” I picked up my phone from the arm of the couch and dialled. I looked at the date, it was the same day that we had started. We had done it all in just a few hours. The line clicked and I heard my mum’s voice.
“Hi, I don’t have long to chat, I’ll call you a bit later on, but listen, I met a man, I think you’d really get on and I’d like to set up a date.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “I’m not sure, I haven’t been on a date in years. What’s he like?”
“He’s perfect.” I smiled and walked over to the window. “He has a dog.”
My mum laughed. “Ok, I’ll think about it. You’ll have to come over and help me go through clothes if I say yes.”
“I will. Is Friday at about 8pm at Starbucks ok? I’ll come over straight after work.”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” The man re-entered the room with more coffee. “I’ve got to go,” I say into the phone, turning away from him, “talk to you later, love you.”
“Love you, bye.”
“Ok,” I said taking the coffee from him and placing it beside the other half drunk cup. “She’ll meet him at 8pm on Friday at Starbucks in town. She’s a bit nervous but I will go over beforehand.”
“You won’t be able to.” The man said, finishing his coffee and placing the cup on the side. He walked over toward the door.
“What do you mean I won’t be able to?” my stomach churned.
“You gave up ten years of your life for this.”
“I know,” I said, pushing myself off the window sill. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
He opened the door and looked at me before leaving. “Well you’ll be dead the day after tomorrow.”
I gasped and sat up in bed. My heart was pounding and it took me a minute to work out where I was. It was a dream. Vivid, but just a dream. I looked around the room. It looked fine this time. I could hear the sound of my wind chime, caught in a draft, but it sounded normal this time. I hauled myself out of bed, my mouth dry, and walked towards the door. I could hear someone moving downstairs. A chill ran down my spine. “It will be Steve,” I thought to myself, “I must have left the door unlocked and he’s let himself in.” I nervously descended the stairs. As I reached the kitchen I saw the intruder making himself a cup of coffee. Leaning against the door frame I looked at his face and saw clearly who he was this time…