To celebrate 100 years as a community organization, in partnership with Investors Group, the Kiwanis Club of St. John’s held a short story award this year, for high school students in St. John’s and Mount Pearl. Below is the second place winner. Pick up January’s print issue to read the winner.
“In the Blink of an Eye,” by Emma Cole
It felt like sleeping. That near indescribable, yet familiar feeling of jolting back to consciousness and seeing things differently than when your eyes were last open. But, that first time, it was quicker than that. Barely a millisecond. A small, insignificant blip in my day that should have been much less important.
First class of the day was science. No one was quite awake, including the teacher. We all hauled out our binders and dutifully picked up our pencils to copy down the notes from that day’s slideshow. I had time to transcribe one slide’s worth of notes. When I looked back up at the screen, it was blank. Everyone around me was closing their books, leaning back in their chairs. My science teacher’s slide shows were usually twenty pages long, not five sentences. I looked at the clock; class was almost over. After a second of extreme confusion and panic, I came to this conclusion: I must have fallen asleep. Odd, for sure, possibly embarrassing, but not the worst thing in the world. I’d just have to get the notes from someone else. I looked down onto my desk to put away my binder, and saw pages of notes, scribbled in my handwriting. Words I didn’t remember writing. But all of them were under the heading of today’s date. I could not wrap my head around this. Clearly I was the only one with this problem; no one else seemed to be experiencing memory loss. I figured that’s what it was; I was tired and stressed and now blacking out losing short term memory or something. Great.
I’d decided to not mention the science class to anyone. I could have told my friends, boyfriend, sister, parents. But if I couldn’t explain it, and it was hopefully a one-time thing, there was probably nothing to worry about. Probably.
Later that night, at home, my boyfriend came over to watch a movie. The movie started and Shawn was still talking, like always. Curled up on the couch with his familiar voice commenting on an objectively bad movie, I could almost forget about the weirdness in science class. The opening credits were still on, so I shut my eyes for just a second longer than usual, trying to enjoy the moment. When I opened them, Shawn was deep into a conversation I had no recollection of, the end credits were rolling, and outside the sun had set. I sat up straight, my head rattling.
“What’s wrong?” Shawn asked.
“Just…did I fall asleep?” I couldn’t comprehend any other possible answer.
“No…you were talking to me the whole movie. Everything okay?”
“Um, I guess it’s nothing. Something like this happened today during school, too. I completely blacked out in science. But I was, like, writing my notes and acting fine, apparently.”
“Weird.” Shawn cocked an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I tried to laugh it off. “Just tired. Exhausted, actually. Exams and all that.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Shawn leaned up and kissed my forehead. I smiled, trying to convince myself that everything would be fine.
It was over the next few days that I realized I could control it. Nothing like the hour, two hours I’d skipped that first day. But a couple minutes at a time. Waiting for my food in the cafeteria, I could concentrate on jumping forward those four minutes, blink my eyes, and open them just in time to hear the microwave beeping. In class I could think hard about skipping over someone’s presentation in front of the class, and would see them walk back to their seat just seconds later. I managed to eliminate the whole wait for the bus, and then the entire bus ride itself. I could skip commercials on TV. All I really had to do was think about the time I wanted to skip to, how many minutes I wanted to fast forward, and blink. And to everyone else, I acted normally during the lost time. No one was the wiser. During the day, Shawn had texted me to ask if I was feeling better; I told him yes. Much, much better.
I walked into French class feeing surprisingly okay. Two and a half days of somehow manipulating time had put me in a good mood, a drastic change from the tired, anxious exam-season funk I’d been in.
The teacher passed out a test sheet with multiple choice questions. It was the listening portion of the French exam. As I stared at the sheet, I began to sweat. This was not a class I could afford to skip. And what if it happened involuntarily like it did that first day? I’d be screwed. As the recording started to play, I kept my eyes open. I tried to go as long as possible. My eyes stung. I couldn’t do it. I had to blink.
I counted three seconds before the bell rang. The test on the desk in front of me looked filled in, but I had no idea if any of the answers were right. People were passing in their tests on the way out the door, and I couldn’t remember what the recording has been about at all. Breathing deeply to calm my nerves, I handed my test up to the teacher, blinking as hard as possible, attempting to skip the rest of the day. But nothing happened. Whatever small control I thought I’d had on this…whatever it was, was an illusion. I couldn’t control it.
I’d been unable to skip the rest of the day. I told Shawn I wasn’t feeling well and hid in the bathroom at lunch. By the time I got home, all I could do was hide in my room. Was I even still in control of my body during the blackouts? What if I was possessed or just going insane? Shawn called. I didn’t answer. I didn’t think I would have been able to keep myself from telling him.
When I fell asleep I could tell it was real. Sleep. Not that fast-forward blinking bullshit. The alarm went off on my phone, and I squinted at the bright screen. Wednesday. I sat up in bed and stretched, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and yawned.
The alarm went off on my phone, and I squinted at the bright screen. Thursday. My heart sank. I put the phone down. A whole day; I’d missed a whole day. My body had gotten up and lived a whole day without my mind. Or at least, without my memory. Unchecked, this thing was going to ruin my life.
Thursday jolted like a scratched DVD.
All of homeroom.
Some of math class.
Avoiding Shawn at lunch.
Getting on the bus to go home.
Walking off the bus and into my house.
The doorbell rang after school. My parents were out so I answered. Shawn was standing in front of me. I wasn’t sure if he looked more concerned or angry.
“You look awful. What’s going on?” He stepped past me into the living room. How was I going to explain myself to him? If there’s nothing to prove you aren’t insane, does that mean you’re insane?
“You wouldn’t understand.” As I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say.
“Tell me, I’ll listen!” Shawn reached forward and held my hands but I couldn’t look him in the eye. All I could do was cry. “You’ve been so…distant.”
“No, I haven’t,” I lied.
“You haven’t been answering my texts, my phone calls, you won’t eat lunch with me.”
“No! That’s not true! Everything’s fine!” I raised my voice before he ever did.
“No it’s not! You’re basically ignoring me! Why won’t you just talk to me?” I shook my head, my whole body shaking along with it. “We talked yesterday, at recess. Tell me one thing I said to you, one!” I shook my head again.
“I can’t…I can’t.”
“See! What is it? What’s going on?”
“It’s not my fault! None of this is my fault!”
“Well is it mine?” Shawn’s voice was desperate, so desperate. He wanted to understand. But he couldn’t, he never could.
“No!” Anger rose inside me, and no was the only word I could think. But not anger for Shawn. Never for Shawn. But anger nonetheless. I felt it. I blinked.
Shawn was no longer standing in front of me. I looked down; tangled limbs, eyes open and blank. His hair, his face, the carpet, the sharp corner of the coffee table, covered in blood. No amount of blinks took me away from that scene.
I was out the door before I’d even thought about it, not bothering to blink away the tears.