If you, unknowingly, held the fate of a world in your hands, would you like to know?
She sat up in her bed, her sleep rudely interrupted once more by the same dream that had visited her continuously for the past few nights. She glanced at the luminous dial of her clock; It read two in the morning. Cold air moistened by the dew spilled in through a crack in the window. It was going to rain that day, she decided, as she slipped off her bed and walked into the study. It wasn't so much a study as it was an artist's studio. Her art was digital.
The community in which she exhibited her art knew her well for her surreal, almost macabre art. Some of her best works decorated the walls in print. As she turned on her computer, it whirred to life, awoken just as rudely as she had been from her sleep a few moments ago. Her most recent work stared at her from the screen, still hopelessly unfinished. She took her seat; her throne, one could call it, and tried to retrace her steps hoping to recall what her intended picture was. For the first time in her life, she was stuck.
A throbbing pain cut through her forehead as she stared at the screen, full of frustration. She wasn't used to indecision. Countless eyes seemed to stare mockingly at her from the framed pictures. She felt suffocated just being in the same room as her art. The very room that provided her with a sense of control now filled her with unease. The throbbing intensified, almost blurring her vision. She could have sworn she heard whispers surrounding her like a malicious creature of unspeakable form, waiting to sting her. The line between reality and hallucination was getting fuzzy for her when all of a sudden; the door creaked open behind her. With her heart pounding painfully in her chest, she turned around and looked through the dim light thrown by her computer.
"Annie? Are you alright?" Her mother's worried face emerged from the darkness. "You look like you've seen a ghost." Annie heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm fine, mom", she replied, "You just startled me, that's all. I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd work on my art for a little bit." Her mother pursed her lips. "You really shouldn't be up this late. You do remember that you have classes later in the morning, don't you?", she said, casting a disapproving look on the paintings that hung around the room. "Yes, mother, I remember. Look, I'm going back to bed right now", Annie said. Rising from her chair, she watched her mother descend the stairs and then returned to her bedroom, shutting the door. Behind, the unfinished picture still stared after her jeeringly.
She lay in bed apprehensively, afraid that the same dream would come again. She could never remember it once she woke up, but she knew it wasn't a pleasant one. She however vaguely remembered that there was a sense of desperation, a plea of some sort. She couldn't say for sure if she was the one making it. But she was convinced that this evasive dream was the reason she couldn't complete her picture. She lay awake pondering over it until her clock beeped, indicating that it was already seven in the morning. Reluctantly, she dragged herself out of the comfort of her bed. She could hear her mother already bustling through the kitchen downstairs. Just another day, she told herself firmly, no need to worry.
As she walked off to college, most of her fears were assuaged by the dark clouds gathering overhead. The bleak light from the blotted-out sun made the atmosphere gloomy. She loved it! To her, the gloomy weather was ideal for a long, tedious session of contemplation. She avoided everyone she knew and made a beeline for her seat. As the lectures began, she tried to listen for a few minutes before letting her mind wander. Usually, it helped her to organize her thoughts, but her sleep which had been battered beyond recognition over the past few days, got the better of her. She fell asleep, awakened only hours later by the sound of a familiar voice. As her eyes blinked to focus again, she recognized the voice as belonging to Jean, her best friend.
"Jeez, you look like you've seen a ghost", she said, worriedly. Annie sat up and shook the grogginess out of her head. "Funny", she replied, "you're the second one to tell me that today." Among the few friends that she confided in, Jean was the one she trusted the most. "So why was the ever-alert Annie asleep in class today?", Jean asked as they headed off to the cafeteria for lunch. "I haven't slept much these past few days. I keep getting a dream that wakes me up and then conveniently slips out of my memory. I can't for the life of me remember it once I wake up", replied Annie. She went on to describe what vague, ominous impression it left on her.
For a few minutes, there was complete silence at the table as both concentrated on the tater tots in front of them. "Hey, isn't this picture a part of some series you were working on?" asked Jean, breaking the silence. "Yes", came the reply, "In fact, it's the last one of that series. 'The End Times', I was going to call it." "Maybe that's why you can't finish it! You don't want the series to end and your mind is telling you exactly that through this persistent dream!" A puzzled look crept on Annie's face as Jean finished her excited rant, not because she disagreed, but rather because something Jean said reminded her of a part of her dream.
"Okay, seriously, I'm not a ghost. Stop staring at me like that, it's unnerving", said Jean, interrupting Annie's musings but not before leaving a distinct impression on her mind that she was not the one pleading in the dream, but someone, or something, was pleading with her. And the plea was not to complete her picture. Such was the sincerity of the plea that so far, she had not done so. With something to go with, she decided to pay close attention to her dream that night.
She jolted awake, her sleep destroyed as always. But this time, she sat up thoroughly shaken. She remembered the dream! In fact, she remembered it vividly. It had felt so real that she felt compelled to look outside her window to make sure that she was still in the same world she knew. She couldn't accept what she saw. Rather, she did not want to, because if the dream was true, she would be the cause for something unimaginably tragic. The entire world she had created in her pictures had been ravaged on her whim, and now it stood at the brink of annihilation. To the inhabitants of that world, her whim was the wrath of their God!
She scrambled to her computer and turned it on. She tapped her foot nervously as it came on after what seemed to her like centuries. She opened her series and gazed in horror at the miserable world she'd created. A chill ran down her spine as she reached the unfinished picture and remembered how she'd planned to end it. She stared at the screen miserably, unable to decide what had to be done. She could finish it the way she had intended. After all, it was just a dream. Maybe it was a result of some ethical conundrum. But she wasn't so sure. That was the most vivid dream she'd ever had and the desperation that she'd seen them in was something she'd experienced herself, a memory she rarely brought to mind. She knew what she had to do...
She woke up late that day. She glanced out of the window. Light, powdery snow wafted down from the sky, settling down gently on the thick blanket that had already formed, shutting down the whole town. She smiled. Her heart was light as the snow that fell. For a brief moment, she felt a twinge of sorrow, but it passed away as quickly as it had come. It had been a year since she had stopped painting. For a while, she missed the attention she would get from her fans, but over time she moved on. She had tried to stop other artists from creating art like hers, but no one would listen to her. Eventually, she stopped trying.
She left the community hoping that someday, someone else would have an experience similar to hers and she would know for sure if she had done the right thing. So far none had come, so she couldn't tell if she'd given up art over a meaningless dream. She was prepared to accept the fact that she might never know. But in her mind, she had made the right choice - the only choice. Comforted by that thought, she slid off her bed happily and glanced at the now unused studio as she walked down the stairs. The last picture she ever drew hung over the computer titled "The Miracle". "There you are", said her mother, "you'll be late for your violin classes. Your teacher called. Since college is closed, she's taking the class in the morning." And off she went, humming a little tune as she walked through the snow.