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.
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.
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.