The Day Of

He sits on the rain-soaked ground, legs crossed, back hunched, head
down. Above him, the churning blue-gray clouds swirl around in an
awesome display of power. Drops of rain strike the earth hard and
fast, and when combined with the occasional clap of lightning,
followed by the roll of thunder somewhere off in the distance, it
makes for a deafening sound. And if that is not enough sound, the wind
moans, an eerie sound that set the man’s hair on edge at first. Now he
hardly hears it.
In fact, he senses little. He does not feel the uncomfortable wetness
and stickiness on his backside; nor does he smell the precipitation
and mud. He hardly registers the next lightning strike. All that he
truly sees is the headstone that is in front of him. It is the sole
item that he is fixated on, and he continues to stare at it as though
he is in a trance.
Choking back a sob, he is assaulted by a barrage of memories, hitting
him fast and hard. Her morning nausea. The hospital visit. The news.
The constant checkups. The baited excitement. His eager anticipation.
The day of.
There is another loud crack, and he sees a streak of yellow-white
lightning touch down somewhere but a few hundred yards away.
It all seems like it took place but yesterday. But that is how time
and memory work, subtly deceiving those who would think otherwise. The
truth is that it has been more than a decade. A decade. How can it be?
He reaches out and traces the engraving on the headstone, silently
mouthing her name. She is forever eight. He must never refer to her in
the past tense. She is . . . she is . . .
She is what?
A cry escapes from his lips, a sound of pure anguish. In a fit of
frenzied anger, he strikes the headstone with all his force. Pain
blossoms in his fist, but he ignores it. This is not about him. He
must not focus on himself.
Of course, the memories aren’t over. The first birthday party. Late
nights. Toys. The first day of school. Homework assignments. Her
friends. All so normal things, and yet he’d never be able to
experience them again. Just like that, it was gone. All of it, gone.
Once again, lightning strikes. The gap of time between the strike and
the roll of thunder is considerably lessening. He doesn’t move. He is
still staring dully at the headstone, at the second date.
He remembers that day. His memories of that day are sharper than any
other, though he wishes they would fade, become all fuzzy and hard to
remember. But no matter how many bottles he has consumed in the last
few years, he cannot forget.
The horse-riding lessons. The fall. The panic. Chaos. The hospital.
So many phrases, so much medical jargon. Blood clotting. Internal
bleeding. Little hope. The day of.
Death took her, just like that. Wrenched her from his grasp. No
goodbyes. No final words. Here today, gone the next.
He hasn’t realized it, but at some point, his vision has clouded. He
sees water splashing on the variegated leaves below him, and he can’t
tell whether it’s raindrops or his tears. Does it really matter?
With a sigh, his eyes slide over to the headstone next to the one he
has been looking at. The name, the date. All too familiar, all too
recent. As if once wasn’t enough, he thinks bitterly.
And, as always, the memories come, harder and faster than ever.
Perhaps it is because this is the first time he has had a clear head
in weeks. Or maybe it is because deep down in his subconscious, he
knows that today is different.
He remembers the pain, the loss. The therapy. The anger. Sleepless
nights, listless days. It was hard for him, hard for her. But they did
not drift apart. He remembers going on. Their determination.
He also remembers that day. That date. Her appointment. His meeting.
Their hurried goodbye. Then the stop light. The drunk driver. Her
inevitable panic, last thoughts. The accident. The day of.
It was déjà vu, he muses. Phone call from the hospital. Same worry.
Same hopelessness.
The day of, the day of, the day of.
Today is the last day of.
He flinches ever so slightly as lightning crashes yet again, even
closer. He is tempted to seek shelter. But not now. Not yet.
Why? Why was he left alone? Is this fate? God? Karma? What is it? He
looks up at the sky, silently screaming. Of course, there’s no answer.
Then he gets up and shakes his head. The two tombstones seem smaller
from above. For a moment, he stares at the rivulets of water running
through the tiny cracks in the stone, mesmerized.
Closing his eyes, the man breathes in once. Exhales. Again. Then he
carefully sits down between the two headstones, the two of them, and
lies on his back. It is almost like it used to be, when they would
watch a movie in the basement, him in the middle, them on either side
of him. Almost. But not quite.
He reaches out and touches both headstones with either hand. He opens
his eyes and stares straight up at the heavens. The sky seems to be
alive, roiling and moving swiftly as the howling wind pushes the laden
clouds that spit out the downpour. This is his final act of defiance.
Though he is tempted to close his eyes, he does not. Let the rain
come. It will not stop him. It cannot stop him.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Have no fear. It is
coming. It will be over soon. Very soon.
Lightning strikes again. It is getting closer.

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Tobias and I are talking about the latest Marvel film while hanging out in front of the public water fountain in the middle of our small town, drinking chocolate milkshakes and ribbing each other, goofing off in the easy way that comes only to those who have been best friends for years. He is in the middle of a sentence when suddenly, time slows to a crawl.

I mean this in the most literal sense possible. Time literally began to move at approximately a hundredth of the rate it normally moves.

And then, I become hyper-aware, hyper-alert. I am processing information at a speed that would be impossible, but clearly is not. I can hear the sound of a bird chirping; a melodious, drawn-out note. The blue jay is in mid-flight, above my head and to my left. Its wings are hardly moving, because it has not even been five-hundredths of a second yet.

I can now hear the sound of the leaves softly rubbing against each other, the wind whistling as it makes its way through the trees. It is all so real I can almost see the wind, its tendrils like smoke, caressing everything it touches. A leaf is falling to the ground, moving ever so slowly, if it is even moving at all. If anything is moving at all.

All of these observations hit me in less time than it would take to blink. I have not blinked yet, because it has not even been one second. Doubtless, blinking would take what would feel like hundreds of seconds. I don’t blink, not yet, not if I can help it.

For some reason, I am able to shift my gaze at normal speed, which now suddenly seems impossibly fast. I begin to move my head, and it feels as though I am an old person, every muscle and joint in my body aching as it slowly, so slowly, attempts to move for me. I stop, but even coming to a halt takes time.

Then I focus on my breathing—if I can even call it that. Since this abnormality started, I am still in the middle of inhaling. I am taking in oxygen through my nostrils, allowing my respiratory system to do its job that allows me to stay alive. It is strange, so very strange. What is this? What is going on? It is impossible for me to take it all in at one time: the seemingly amplified sounds, the logically impossible sights, the abnormal sensations, everything. I cannot.

So I glance at Tobias, who is in the process of saying “wait.” His mouth is slightly open, just barely revealing his teeth. As I focus on him, I notice that time is indeed still moving, because I’m just able to barely see his mouth move as he finishes his word. My brain hurts, trying to come to an understanding, an answer. But there is no answer.

My eyes flit over to the other side of the road, scanning for any possible clues. Just across the street is Mr. Gundell’s jewelry store. There is a masked man in there, his hands pointing in different directions. I think that he is flailing his arms, but I cannot tell clearly from this distance. In his right hand, he holds a gun. A gun.

Behind the counter is Mr. Gundell, an expression of horror etched onto his face. He is in the process of attempting to hit the floor, no doubt trying to spare his life. Then I hear the gun go off, a long, somewhat high-pitched sound that reverberates in my ears, even though I am not in the same room.

What feels like several more seconds pass, and then the glass explodes outwards, accompanied with a protracted crashing noise. The pieces of shattered glass catch the sunlight as they lazily float towards the ground. I am mesmerized at the intricate patterns of light that catch my eye, and all I can do is stare.

Until I finally notice it.

Heading in our direction, moving faster than any other object I have seen so far, is a bullet.

A speeding, deadly bullet.

Heading for us.

On instinct, I attempt to push Tobias down and take cover, and though signals rush from my brain to my arms and legs, it stops right there. My hands begin to move, yes, but only because I know that that is what I want them to do. Even though time has slowed down immensely, the bullet is still moving fast. So very, very fast. It will reach us in but a few moments.

And then, the true horror begins: time begins to move even slower. I cannot tell exactly how slowly, but I can see that the bullet is now moving at a languid, almost leisurely pace. Taunting me, mocking me.

There is nothing I can do. Nothing. My body refuses to cooperate, defying my brain, which is racing in every conceivable direction. I cannot do anything. I cannot do anything. It seems as though I am frozen in place now, since I am moving so slowly my eyes cannot yet perceive the motion. Silently, I scream, demanding that my body move faster, faster. But it does not. It cannot. It will not.

As I mentally struggle, Tobias still has no idea of what is about to happen. So I try to figure out what he knows, what he does not know. He was saying “wait,” and has now started a new word. Through it all, I have kept an eye on him every few moments, and I can tell that he is saying “Hey.” He has no doubt heard the gunshot, which has taken place only a split second ago for him.

Closer. Closer.

It is going to hit Tobias. It is going to slam into his skull at an alarmingly rapid rate and shortly end his life. He will crash to the ground, blood pouring out from his head, his mouth, and who knows where else? And I will have done nothing to stop him.

Closer.

I can’t even think of stopping. I know that there is nothing I can do, but giving up now would be the ultimate act of betrayal. He is my friend, and friends do not desert each other in moments of crisis.

They also do not merely stand there and watch while the other is about to die. That is as good as being a murderer.

A murderer. That is what I am.

It is now but centimeters away from Tobias, a deceptive piece of metal that is moving so slowly it looks as though it will merely bounce off Tobias’s face like a piece of wood. But it is not. It is going to enter just above his ear. I know it. And I am still powerless to do anything.

And then the spinning bullet so deftly slides its way into the side of Tobias’s head as though he is made of Jell-O, and time reverts to as it had always been up until but a second ago, and I find myself screaming, and Tobias is falling, and there is blood, so much blood, and I cannot think of anything else but what I see in front of me, and I am still screaming.

And I wonder if I will ever be able to stop.

Alicia Park: Ex-Girlfriend Extraordinaire

The following post was written by Christina Bennet, a college student who lives in New York. It’s a sequel of sorts to “The Invisible Ex-Girlfriend,” and has been edited by me. Enjoy.

***

I loved him. I had no idea what my life would be without him. I did
the best I could to keep our relationship alive, but Wade Bentley
apparently had had enough of me . . . and then dumped me.

At first, I was angry. He didn’t know what he was missing; therefore,
he didn’t deserve me.

But then . . . but then I realized that I still needed him. The worm
might have dumped me, yeah, but he was my whole life. The missing scent
of his cologne lingering around drove me mad; every love song on the radio
was a tribute to how he made me feel. I just couldn’t let that go.
The mere idea of living without him was like gasping for air while
underwater.

So I began to watch him to see when I could beg him to come back
without seeming needy. Invisibility gave me the sneakiness I needed,
that covert cover that made this possible. Now, I admit it: there was
an odd thrill in watching him. But my goal and my hunger was for so
much more.

First, I gave him a note telling him I was watching him, just so he
could know I still loved him. He seemed to be unwilling to see the
love I was expressing. Phrases I would write while watching him sleep
or shower were ignored. Was this man stupid? My love for him was
touching as much of his life as possible!.

I stopped being indirect with my notes and began to beg and warn him
that my patience was wearing thin. I am Alicia Park, after all, and I
don’t take rejection for long. It’s like I’m dying of thirst and have my dry,
chapped lips on a glass with clear, refreshing water that I can’t
taste no matter how far I tilt it back. It’s maddening. Simply
maddening.

In fury mingled with deep longing for his love, I return to his place,
trying to think of how to up the ante. Then what should I do? Hmm. Come
up behind him and… put my arms around him. And what if he doesn’t fall
back to me, madly in love? Oh, believe me–he will. No one can
refuse me when I am on the top of my game.

Then I hear him in his office pacing about and dictating a message in
case anything were to happen to him. He’s afraid. Of me. How? Why?
He’s documenting my “breaking of the law.”. He calls it stalking.
He’s still rejecting my actions and refuses to see the love behind
them. This is love, you fool! The purest sort of love! Can’t you
see? Good grief. If that tape was found, it would destroy my life
than it already was. I might never see Wade again. Never.

It’s time for me to try to cure my thirst with another plan, but I
have to wrap up my lose ends first. I come up behind him and give
his neck a squeeze with both of my hands.

“Weird,” he says, obviously startled. “What the heck? Alicia? That you?”

He knows it’s me. That’s what he needs to know. I’m close enough to
the window to grab the rope tying the curtains away from the rays of
sun that come in and spread out across the floor. The sun in his
lofty sky can’t see me; the warming rays pass through my invisible self
so that I don’t even cast a shadow. The rope is strong enough to
become an extension of my hands around Wade’s neck as I cut him off
from air. I know his lungs are now burning with the same torture he’s
given me. Poetic justice, wouldn’t you say?

He slumps . . . rght back into me as if he was once again in love. In
that moment he belongs to me fully, and we love each other like old
times.

But like all good things, it has to end. I delete his recording and
give him one final lingering embrace. I did what was
required. There is no guilt for what I have done.

Sleep well, Wade.

Less than three,
Josh

Chop, Chop, Chop

Ryan has just read a verse in the Bible he has recently bought, this verse that says that the Christians are children of light, not of darkness. He thinks that it’s sort of weird, to have to belong to this “Inner Light” faction or whatever it is. Light? It’s okay, but it’s got nothing on the night, like now.

He’s reading on his Kindle, the only light coming from the clip-on lamp. Feeling thirsty, Ryan turns off the Kindle and makes his way to the door, not bumping into any of the objects scattered around the room. His eyes are rapidly adjusting to the darkness; it’s a gray sort of illumination which gives him just enough direction to make his way around, almost like what a cat or dog might see. Lights would be much too harsh.

Then he’s in the hall, padding silently down it as he heads to the kitchen. Except, it’s taking more than just eleven paces to get there. Much more. Almost like it’s become a never-ending hallway. But that’s silly, Ryan knows. Total rubbish.

Has it gotten darker? The grayness has now become almost total darkness. He can hardly make out anything anymore as he almost wades through this nearly perceptible darkness. What is it, some kind of goo?

Ryan thinks he hears a giggle. Or maybe he’s just imagining it, his paranoid system making up through his other senses since his vision is lacking. It’s a weird, disembodied sort of sound, one that makes the hair on the back of his neck rise. His stomach clenches, and he reaches out for the wall.

But he can’t feel the wall anymore. Like a blind man, Ryan gropes around, fingers touching nothing, panic rising faster than the tide does.

“Here comes a candle to light you to bed,” a high-pitched child’s voice says, causing Ryan to jerk around, instinctively trying to locate the source of the speaker. But it’s everywhere and nowhere, here but not here. The speaker giggles. And continues to giggle, as though it’s deriving some sort of sick pleasure of watching Ryan go crazy.

Some small part of Ryan’s brain tells him that this can’t be real, that it’s all an illusion or a dream. Maybe it is. But it feels like the realest thing he has ever felt. The darkness, the voice, the panic—it’s all real.

“Wouldn’t you like a candle, little boy?” the voice goes on, pausing every other word to chuckle. “He wishes he was a child of the light now, you know.”

“Indeed,” another voice says. This one is just the opposite of the first speaker: grave, rumbling, low-pitched. “But it’s too late for him.”

Ryan is on the verge of tears, the whole overwhelming sense of fear completely taking over him. All he can do now is keep on moving, moving, moving. It’s ridiculous to see how fast he’s unraveled. Just five minutes ago he was in his bed reading. Now he’s not sure who or what or where he is. In fact, he’s not even sure when he is.

The first voice says, “Here comes a chopper to chop of your head. Chop, chop, chop.”

And then the second voice ominously joins in as well. “Chop, chop, chop.”

With that, Ryan loses any shred of sanity he has left. He screams and charges through the murky darkness he is in, crying out for light, for rescue, anything but this darkness.

The voices are still going on, now seemingly closing in on Ryan. They are laughing, giggling, making chopping noises. They’re getting closer.

Closer.

And then for one moment, it seems as though Ryan is going to get away. He cannot hear the voices clearly anymore. Escape is here. It is so very near.

And that is the last conscious thought Ryan is ever able to have as his legs keep pumping for a few seconds, because that is how long it takes for his body to realize that just like that, it is no longer connected to its head, which is already being enveloped into the darkness. 

Less than three,

Josh

The Invisible Ex-Girlfriend

Sometimes I’m glad that I live in the 22nd century. But ever since me and my girlfriend broke up, I’ve started reading the tech part of the national e-zine daily, anxiously waiting to see when time travel will finally be invented. Because when it is, I’m going back to the days before invisibility came in.
You see, now that anybody can just create the illusion that they’re not there, thereby practically rendering them invisible, it makes sneaking around a whole lot easier. Oh, sure, there are always people who’re gonna try to use it to their advantage, but there are laws in place, and you can report a situation to the law enforcement. But still. Some situations are a bit . . . stickier than that.
Me and Alicia, we broke up two months ago. She was clingy, I’d had enough. So we ended it. It wasn’t as messy as I’d thought it’d be. At least, not at first. Her eerie composure now makes sense. I should have seen it coming.
Three days after the break-up, I was just finishing up my breakfast, and had put the dishes in the dishwasher. When I turned around to look back at the table, a note written in large, childish handwriting was propped up against the toaster. It said, “IM WATCHING YOU.”
Now, to be honest, I didn’t even think it was Alicia at first. I thought it was some practical joke, or maybe something more serious like a robber. But when I realized that all the windows and doors were still locked, it meant that someone had to either have my fingerprint . . . or the electronic pass card that let those who you gave one in. And Alicia still had one.
So why didn’t I file a report instantly? It could’ve been taken care of in a minute or two, you say. Well, yeah. But some things never change, like gossip. If word got out that Wade Bentley couldn’t take care of his ex-girlfriend who was harassing him . . . well, some people have an image to keep. I’m sure you understand. Besides, Alicia had a life. What was she really going to do?
Apparently, there was a lot more she could do. One time, when I got out of the shower, I saw writing on the fogged-up mirror. Same message as before. Another day, when I plugged in my tablet to charge up, I found it mysteriously disconnected. Minor inconveniences, yet still disturbing. And that wasn’t even the worst. It was the other messages that really set me off.
“I still love you, you know,” the voice would say over hidden speakers. It was calm and even, but I could detect a trace of bitterness or regret in there. “I’m doing this for your own good.” Whenever I heard that phrase, it took everything in me not to choke. “We might have had it all, Wade.” Now that phrase made me wonder if she’d been listening to some of the old music like Adele.
So on and on it’d go. Day in, day out. At times, it was almost amusing; most of the time, though, it was downright creepy. I mean, how many guys get stalked by their invisible ex-girlfriend? And how many of them don’t report it? That’s right: only me. What made it worse was that Alicia knew good and well I wouldn’t. I’d give up my sanity before my pride. And she exploited that fact to the fullest, sometimes mocking me, sometimes daring me to do it. But I didn’t. After all, Wade Bentley wasn’t the kind of person who couldn’t handle his problems.
But you know, maybe I can’t. That’s why I’m dictating this for records. If I can’t tell anyone about it, I can at least talk about to myself and look back on it later. Maybe Alicia’s here right now. Maybe she’s listening to every word I’m saying, gloating. I don’t think so, since it’s been quiet for a record five hours. She’s probably entertaining her friends and acting all innocent, convincing her girlfriends that I’m Mr. Big Bad Guy. Wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. Though recently, while her little messages or evidences of her presence have lessened, they’re a bit more sinister now. “Time’s running out, Wade.” “You’d better make the right choice soon, love.” “You know you still want to have me back.”
I think she’s back. Could’ve sworn I heard a footstep. I’ve been getting so used to it, sometimes I can tell where she is and surprise her. Right now, though, I’ll let her do what she wants. All I’ll have to do is get rid of it later.
You know, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten into a relationship at all. Maybe I should’ve waited, thought about it, made some better choices instead of listening to my heart. “Follow your heart,” they say. Well, sometimes it makes irrational decisions. Alicia was one of them.
Wait, what’s that? Hey! Can’t . . . I can’t breathe well. Choking. Weird. What the heck? Alicia? That you? Hang . . . on. Something’s around my neck. It can’t be. Can’t . . . be. A garrote? Aw, no. Alicia! This can’t be . . . happening. Stop, stop! Can’t breathe . . . stop . . . you ca—