by Stephen King

The story is set in Stephen King's multiverse in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Ralph Roberts, who is retired, encounters his good-natured acquaintance Ed Deepneau at the local airfield, behaving aggressively and swearing obscenely at a driver he accuses of involvement in transporting fetal tissue from abortions. Some months later, and now a widower, Ralph encounters Ed's wife Helen who has been badly beaten by her husband after having signed a sleep maintenance insomnia, waking earlier each night until he is barely able to sleep an hour each night. As his insomnia develops, Ralph begins to see things that are invisible and intangible to others: colorful manifestations of life-force surrounding people (auras), and diminutive white-coated beings he calls "little bald doctors," based on their appearance, and gradually comes to believe these are genuinely present on a different level of reality. He realizes that Ed Deepneau had also been seeing these things. Lois Chasse, a friend, teams up with Ralph after admitting she too has recently begun seeing auras which she can interpret.

Ralph and Lois encounter two "bald doctors" who act with dignity and free people from life when it is "their time," and one bald doctor, Atropos, who is a crazed rogue. They learn that life as they know it is governed by "The Purpose" and "The Random," forces or entities which are not enemies so much as opposites, and that Ed Deepneau is one of the very rare beings who is not assigned to either of these and can, therefore, change existence. They are told that some kind of higher entity identified as the "Crimson King" has made a move, through Atropos, to manipulate Deepneau, in some manner that will upset the entire order of the universe. Their insomnia has been induced by the two little bald doctors, who are agents of The Purpose, to help them gain access to this level of perception, so that they can defeat Atropos. They are shown the civic center where a well-known pro-choice speaker, Susan Day, who is hated by many in the town of Derry, is due to talk; the building is shrouded by a black aura, signifying that in some sense the future is set already, with the center destined to be destroyed by Ed. The latter's sentiments concerning abortion have been played upon by the Crimson King to the point that Ed has become fanatical and close to insane. He intends to undertake a kamikaze attack, flying a small plane containing C-4 explosives into the center during the talk. They feel resentful at being manipulated but also realize they must do what they can to prevent the attack.

Allies of Ed Deepneau attack and set fire to the shelter where Helen Deepneau is staying. Ralph and Lois save the residents. They then seek out Atropos, and Ralph overcomes him, extracting a promise to stay out of their business, the doctors all being bound by their word. However, when released, Atropos has his revenge by showing Ralph a glimpse of a car impact in the near future in which he takes the life of Natalie Deepneau, Helen's young daughter, in retaliation.

Time running very short, Ralph tells the other bald doctors that he will not stop Ed Deepneau, whatever the consequences for the multiverse unless they allow him to save Natalie Deepneau by giving his life for her when the time comes. They are unable to decide, and a higher level entity in which they are in awe manifests briefly, stating that this will be allowed. He and Lois finally learn that "almost all of reality has stopped to watch the events unfolding" as they affect all of reality, and that the target of the Crimson King's attack is not the speaker at the meeting, as they had imagined, but a young boy who had been in the shelter and will be in the audience at the talk; the boy, Patrick Danville, is the focus of a prophecy concerning the salvation of The Dark Tower and will perform an action later in his life that is essential to preserve the multiverse.

Ralph fights both Ed Deepneau on his plane and also the Crimson King, who manifests to prevent him from interrupting Ed's mission and succeeds in causing the plane to crash some distance from the center as Ralph leaves the level on which the plane is crashing, and survives. He and Lois fall in love and get married and gradually forget the events which brought them together. In an epilogue, some years later, Ralph (but not Lois this time) again starts to wake up early and see auras and eventually remembers his promise to exchange his life for Natalie's. Understanding that the time has come, he walks to the shops in time to see the car shown to him by Atropos arrive and veer towards Natalie. Ralph pushes Natalie to safety, losing his own life in the process, but dies peacefully with Lois and the two bald doctors who are agents of the Purpose at his side.