Ever since I was little, I always found the notion of fate stupid.
I mean, if someone really is writing my destiny, then does that mean I had no free will, to begin with?
If all the actions I took were part of someone's plan, then was I just a puppet dancing on someone else's strings?
No, I reject this notion.
Only I am responsible for the good, bad, and every other part of my life!
I was born free! And no one can tell me otherwise!
Ahem, anyway. That must've been weird, right?
Let's start over.
Hello, I'm Noah Lambert.
I'm an online content editor for a platform called web-novel. I'm a perfectly normal person with an utterly messed up sleep schedule.
And currently, I was being held at gunpoint at the entrance of my own apartment by a maniac author.
What's my crime, you ask?
I rejected his work for an annual competition prize.
Now don't get me wrong. Although I did vote in favor of him not winning the prize, there were ten other editors besides me.
Yet, for some reason, this guy only came after me.
Well, luckily, I've already sent SOS from my cell phone, so the police will be arriving here any moment now.
But unfortunately, I don't think this guy is in the right mindset. I don't know how long I have until he completely snaps and loses his mind.
"Tell me why?!" He yelled with a red face full of anger.
"...Ain't nothin' but a heartache?"
An open palm landed on the side of my face after my answer.
I couldn't blame the guy. He was clearly on edge, yet I had the audacity to joke around.
No regrets though. That was very funny. Hehe.
"Tell me why?!"
"Ain't nothin' but a mistake~!"
Okay, guys, I couldn't help myself!
It's a catchy song, and this guy set himself up! Twice!
The slap was even harder this time. I could even feel a little blood in my mouth.
"Don't joke around, you fucker! Tell me, why didn't I win?!" He barked at the top of his lungs. His gun was still pointed at me.
He was the type of guy your girlfriend would tell you not to worry about, and you really got nothing to worry about because you know you're undoubtedly better than him.
He was the type of guy you would walk past on the street and completely forget about a minute later.
He was the type of guy who would go completely unnoticed at parties because of his unimpressionable personality.
This guy was as average as they come. The most average Joe out of them all! And oh, the irony! Even his name was Joe!
"Oye! Tell me, why didn't I win?!" Joe yelled again. His gun hand trembled slightly, which skyrocketed my anxiety level.
Seeing that, I raised my hand as a sign of submission and put an amicable smile on my face.
"Joe, listen, I don't know, okay? I don't know why you didn't win. There were ten other editors besides me who voted against you."
"Tsk!" Hearing my answer, Joe clicked his tongue aggressively. "Fine then. Tell me why you didn't vote for me?"
I don't know why he cared about my vote so much, but he was getting angry with every passing second.
Maybe it's better if I tell him my opinion on his story and be done with this.
That will not only help me stall some time until the police arrive, but it'll also form an emotional connection between us.
I nodded slightly and said, "Now, before I tell you this, remember it's just my opinion, and my opinion doesn't matter as long as you believe in yourself."
After a brief pause, Joe nodded his head at my words, seemingly approachable and calmer than before.
Letting out a relieved sigh, I started speaking again.
"The reason I voted against you is that although your writing quality was excellent, your plot wasn't so good."
I started mixing lies with truth. His writing quality was horrendous, and his plot was packed with clichès.
But I deliberately picked my words in such a way that wouldn't hurt his pride and let me convey my point to him.
So why didn't I completely lie to him and tell him the things he wanted to hear? Because I still didn't have a good read on him.
What if he catches me lying to him? It would only make the situation even worse.
Besides, I knew what I was doing.
I learned to lie almost as soon as I started to speak.
"But no need to worry. If you allow me to be your personal editor, then with your brilliant writing and my guidance, you will win next year's competition for sure!"
Again, I lied through my teeth. This time there was barely any truth mixed in with it.
No way a lazy bum like him, who wrote all the clichès a man could write in one single novel, would be able to win against those big-shot genius authors.
He didn't possess the creative vision or imaginative thinking needed to become a good storyteller.
"So let's calm down, Joe. Calm down and put the gun away, yeah?" I said in a reassuring tone. "I will help you write your next story."
Joe was completely still by now. Maybe I managed to get through to him. Hah, reading him was easy!
He was just an insecure fellow looking for some acknowledgment. A few words of encouragement and he settled down like a kid!
"What did you say?" Joe uttered right at that moment when I thought I had finally managed to calm him down a bit.
"...Eh?" Confused, I frowned. "Wh-What?"
"I asked, what the fuck did you say about my plot not being good?" He repeated his question with a bit of annoyance.
ƥαṇdαηθνε|Fuck. His silence was the calm before the storm! I didn't cool him down. I set him off! I wasn't talking to a person but a ticking time bomb!
"I-I didn't mean anything negative by that, Joe. N-Now that I think about it, your plot wasn't even that bad! A little fixing here and there and it would be perfect!"
Following my answer, Joe slammed his free hand on the wall nearest to him in rage.
His other hand was still holding the gun at me when he said, "Shut up, Noah! It doesn't need any fixing! That story is perfect!"
Oh my fucking god!
He was one of those authors!
The kind of author who thinks their work is a masterpiece when in reality, a nine-year-old could write a better story than them!
I hate them the most! Those kinds of authors disgust me!
However, I couldn't let my feelings get to me. I needed to use my head.
"You get it?! Do you hear me?! It's a masterpiece! It doesn't need fixing! It's beautiful as it is!" Joe kept wailing.
Arghh! He was getting on my nerves!
Seeing him acting like a delusional author made my editor persona burst out…
"It was not a masterpiece! It was nowhere near a masterpiece! It was shit! I cringed so hard reading a few chapters that you have no idea!
"Your characters were bland and they didn't feel alive! Your plot was predictable and your MC was typical!
"Nothing about your story stood out! If it was anything, then it was a clichè! I never got to read the ending but I bet it was a clichè too!"
Letting out all my frustration, I cooled down a bit. But only after I collected my thoughts did I see the look on Joe's face.
Was it anger or sadness? I don't know. But he had definitely lost all reasoning at this point. He had a look of frenzy in his eyes.
"How could you say that?" Joe said in a shivering voice. "How could you, of all people, say that?"
Seeing him acting so unstable, I raised my hands a little higher, showing total submission.
"Wha-What do you mean? I'm just telling you my opinion. But hey man, this is not the end of the world. Participate next year and win-"
Before I could finish my sentence, however, Joe snapped at me. "Shut up! Just shut up!"
Sigh, the guy had completely lost his mind. There was nothing I could do now besides waiting for the police to show up.
So I did what I was told.
I shut up… and pissed my pants a little.
"You think I care about some stupid competition?! No, I don't!" He barked.
'Then why are you here,' is what I wanted to respond with, but I restrained myself.
"I wanted to let the world see this story! I wanted to share something that I found enjoyable!
"Sure, it was a little clichè at first, but it became better! And yes, the end was tragic, but the journey was beautiful!
"The characters didn't feel alive, you say?! Well, they were! They were alive! And they showed me one of the best stories in eons!" Joe continued to bark.
What was he even talking about now?
Does this guy have the infamous 8th-grade syndrome?
"J-Joe, what are you talking about?" Anxiously, I asked.
"Shut up!" As a man possessed, Joe cried out. "I said they were alive! Perhaps it's you who has forgotten what it's like to be alive! But maybe if you go back, you'll remember!"
The fuck? Go back where? What the hell was this guy on about?
As soon as he said those words, Joe pulled the gun's hammer back with his thumb and placed the barrel against my forehead.
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead, and a chill ran down my spine. My stomach churned in horror as my instincts screamed at me to run away.
"J-J-Joe! This isn't worth going to jail for, man! Publish your story again and I will be your personal editor! I will make sure the world sees your masterpiece! Just put the gun down, okay?"
I wanted to run.
Seeing the maddened look in his eyes, I was sure. He would shoot me any moment now….
Over what? A stupid story? Was I really going to get killed because I didn't like some silly story?!
"It's too late," with a tone as calm as a still river, Joe declared. "You've completely forgotten yourself, so I'll make you remember."
This guy has lost it!
This guy was insane!
Why the fuck police take their sweet time getting to SOS locations in situations like these?!
"Casting Time Reversal and Parallel Timeline Rebirth will take a toll on my body. I may lose half of my life essence but I'll make you remember. I'll make you remember what it's like being alive!" Joe announced.
I couldn't be any more confused. What the fuck was he saying?! Did he really have 8th-grade syndrome or something?!
Right then, Joe displayed the eeriest grin I had ever seen and said, "I'll let you show me a better story. And this time, try not to die before reaching the end."
"Stop!" My eyes widened and my hands moved to grab the gun as I saw Joe pulling back the trigger.
But I was too late…
What reverberated throughout the room then was a very, very sharp and loud sound of gunfire.
I thought that a gunshot wound to the head would give me instant death. However, it took longer than I had expected for me to lose consciousness.
I fell, but I didn't feel anything. I had already lost all of my senses.
I wondered if that's how the person feels when their brain shuts down.
The last thing I saw before darkness invaded my vision was the creepy smile of my killer.
Joe looked at the dead body in front of him, but the eerie grin on his face from before was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, he looked… sad?
"Finish the story you started," He mumbled to himself while looking at the fallen boy in front of him. "And put an end to all of this."
Right then, a voice came from across the door of the apartment. It was most probably the police. They were arriving now.
-"Open up, or we will break in!"
"Huh? Don't they know how to deal with a hostage situation? Fucking amateurs." Joe cussed out loud as he closed his eyes.
His body then started radiating a blinding white light.
And within seconds, he dissipated into light particles, fading into nothingness as if he was never present in that room, to begin with.
At that command, a few men in uniform tackled down the wooden door– breaking it and rushing inside.
However, all they found inside the apartment was the dead body of a young web-novel editor.
He had dark hair and matching eyes with a well-built body. He was seemingly in his early twenties.
The cause of death was a bullet wound to the head.
But the funny thing was, they never found a bullet inside his head during the autopsy. Neither did they find any gunshot residue on the dead body.
It was my dead body.
I was Noah Lambert, and I was an online platform editor. I was a perfectly normal person with an utterly messed up sleep schedule.
And I'm not the protagonist of the story that we all are going to embark upon.