Object 16

The Holder of the Future

In any city, in any country, go to any mental institution or halfway house you can get yourself to. When you reach the front desk, ask to see someone who calls himself "The Holder of the Future". Do not follow if the attendant offers to show you the way; he is not the true guide, and will lead you into madness. The true guide will fall silent and hand you a sheet of paper on which the way forward is written in lines of blood and fire. Walk forward, concentrating on the writing. If your focus doesn't waver, you will pass through both desk and man to find yourself in a long, disused hallway. It may once have seemed opulent, full of color and promise, but the walls are now stained and the carpet is black and filthy.

As you pass through the hall, images will flicker in previously-unseen windows. It may seem that, from the corner of your eye, you see friends long-dead beckon to you, or lost lovers turned young and new once more as they offer themselves to you again. Voices seem to whisper that the windows hold second chances, opportunities to make things right. You can choose again, they seem to say, but you mustn't look up from the paper in your hands. To do so is to glimpse fully what watches you from outside, and that would leave you at an end truly beyond salvation.

Accounts differ as to the hallway's ultimate, impossible length. Some say that you must continue to walk until you have glimpsed each of all your possible futures through the windows. Others imply that the closer the time of uniting approaches, the shorter one will find the journey to the end of the hall. If the latter is true, may all who enter find their path long beyond reckoning.

You may only look fully away from the paper at the end of the hallway, and even there you may never look behind you. The door before you leads into a ballroom that, like the hallway, has fallen from its former bright elegance into filth and despair. Move forward into the gloom until the door and all chance of escape are lost behind you.

Walk with care. The Holder watches you even now.

The path forward once passed straight through the center of the room, but the center has not held over the many years, and the way has... drifted. You may never find your way if it has drifted too far, and you will spend the rest of your unnaturally long life wishing you had given yourself to the windows' half-glimpsed temptations. If you are fortunate, however, you will find a single point where the little light remaining fades away completely, and there you must close your eyes and wait, regardless of what should happen next. If you have pleased the Holder, you will come to hear a cat's soft purr, and you will feel its warmth twining around your feet.

You must keep your eyes closed until a voice has asked you "What will you do with them?" three times. To answer the first or second time will turn the purrs to snarls as the touch of a thousand razored claws prick your throat. Only after the third, and final, time may you open your eyes.

In front of you will be a woman lying on a bed. As with the rooms that preceded her chamber she might long ago have been stunningly beautiful, and though she lies naked on her bed she is nauseatingly fat, her skin pockmarked with bedsores and dead flesh and syphilitic blooms. Hundreds of cats cluster around her; eventually one will come to stand expectant at your feet. Speak only to this one, telling him, "I will do what I must."

He will then teach you the language of the cats, and once you have learned the others will tell you a secret that was never meant for human ears. You must never reveal it until such time when you have nothing else in the world to vie; cats are jealous creatures and delight in the pain of those who betray their trust.

Their secret is Object 16 of 2538. I may speak no more of it.