Authors: Dima Zales
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Supernatural, #Psychics, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #Paranormal & Urban, #Superheroes, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Genetic Engineering, #Teen & Young Adult, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Contemporary Fiction, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy
The Time Stopper
♠ Mozaika Publications ♠
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Except for use in a review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
Published by Mozaika Publications, an imprint of Mozaika LLC.
Cover by Najla Qamber Designs
and Mella Baxter
Print ISBN: 978-1-63142-042-9
I can stop time, but I can’t change anything.
I can access memories, but not far enough.
My name is Mira, and my life is about finding the Russian mobster who killed my family.
“It’s so smoky in here; it’s like someone set off a bomb.”
As soon as I say the stupid line, I Split into the Mind Dimension, and time seems to stop.
Victor is squatting over his chair, about to sit down. If this was still the real world, his legs would hurt in a minute or so. As it is, he’s as aware of his muscles as a wax statue would be. Shkillet, a guy at the poker table, is frozen in mid-stare at my body—a position I often find men in. The other players are similarly stuck at what they were doing when I Split. The strangest thing in the room is probably the thick cigar smoke that’s no longer moving. It looks eerie, like frozen clouds on an alien world. I don’t smell the smoke now, which is a relief. I also don’t hear anything other than the sound of my high heels clicking on the floor as I walk around the room.
I look at these men, these dangerous men, and an inner voice tells me, “Mira, no sane woman would voluntarily be here. Not even to merely observe this poker game, let alone play with these savages.” It’s funny how this inner voice usually sounds like my mom.
“You’re dead, Mom,” I mentally reply to the inner voice. “And I’m here to find the fucker who killed you. Can’t we have an imaginary conversation without all this nagging?”
The inner voice sneers—but that’s me. Mom was too nice to sneer.
The Mind Dimension makes it safe for me to walk around the room and peek at my opponents’ cards without them being the wiser. When I’m in the Mind Dimension, everything stops in a single moment. No matter what I do here in this alternate world, when I get back to my real body—the body that’s still sitting at the table—I’ll still be in the same situation as I was before I Split: still being stared at by Shkillet, and still having just said that line about the bomb.
When I first learned I could Split, I was a little girl, and I thought my soul was leaving my body. But that was back when I believed in such things as souls, and God, and goodness—words that are meaningless to me now. Back in those days, I also believed in silly things, like the fact that there is a purpose to life.
I don’t any longer. Not since that day.
Since that day, I haven’t believed in anything but myself. And sometimes—a lot of times—not even that. That little girl who believed in souls would certainly think I’m a stranger if she met me today.
And maybe, she would think I’m a monster.
Of course, that day did not just dispel my childish illusions. It also taught me more practical things, such as how impotent I am while in the Mind Dimension. How truly powerless. No matter how much I want to, I can’t change anything in the real world. Like a ghost, I don’t affect the world of the living. Maybe that’s what I became that day—a ghost of my former self.
That day. Why does thinking about it always hurt the same way, no matter how much time passes? Why is it so vivid in my mind at a moment’s notice?
For that matter, why does trying not to think about something bring that very thing into focus?
My mind flashes to that day as though I’m Reading other people, but it’s as if I’m replaying my memories instead of someone else’s.
I see myself walking home from school, my backpack heavy on my shoulders. I relive the excitement of seeing my dad’s car in the driveway when I get home. He hasn’t driven away yet, I think joyously, so I’ll get a chance to say goodbye. That last line will be singed into my mind forever, but I don’t know it yet.
And then I see the car explode.
I see it go up in flames.
I hear the most horrible sound.
Then . . . silence.
I open my eyes.
The fire is standing still.
The explosion had scared me so much that I automatically Split into the Mind Dimension, as sometimes happens under extreme stress.
Now in the Mind Dimension, I’m standing next to my other, frozen-in-time, self. She looks as terrified as I feel. I know that if I touch the exposed flesh on her/my body, I will leave the Mind Dimension—and the explosion will continue its destruction.
Leaving would’ve been a cowardly choice, a choice I didn’t even think to make at the time. I would later regret that bravery—or rather, lack of imagination.
Instead of leaving the Mind Dimension, I run toward the car.
The flames are frozen. Unreal. As if they’re made of red and yellow silk.
The full horror of the situation hits me only when I see the expression on Mom’s face.
She looks white, or at least the parts of her face that aren’t burned do. Her blue eyes are wide open, her irises almost black from her dilated pupils.
I open the car door and try to pull her out. In her body’s rigid state, she’s like a human-sized doll. As I’m straining under her weight, I know that this is futile. I’ve never been able to change anything in the real world by what I’ve done in the Mind Dimension. Still, I’m hoping that today will be different. That Mom will be out of the car in the real world simply because it matters so much to me.
Except the universe doesn’t give a fuck what matters to me.
I quiet my mind and touch her face. I begin the Reading process, another brave action that will later haunt me. Like always, Reading her shows me the world through her eyes. I lose myself in her head. For that minute,
. The horror of my mom’s last moments becomes mine—so it’s me, too, who’s beginning to realize we are about to burn alive.
Later, I will think about who caused the explosion and wonder if I can ever un-live it, but right now, I just leave her head and look into the car again.
Dad’s face is free of burns. I will later hypothesize that the explosive was on the passenger side. His mouth is half-open in an expression of terror that contorts his whole face. I take all this in and am overcome with another idea that I will later regret.
I run to the side door and touch Dad’s face through his open window, not really thinking about what I’m doing. Except I do know what I’m doing. I’m bringing him into the Mind Dimension. That’s what touching another Reader does—and that’s what Dad is, a Reader, like me and my brother.
Unlike Mom, who doesn’t have our abilities.
As soon as I touch his skin, another Dad, a screaming Dad, shows up in the back of the car.
“Nyyyeeet!” He switches to Russian as he always does when he’s stressed. Then he registers me and screams, “Mira, honey, no!” His accent is heavier than usual.
“It’s okay, Dad,” I soothe. “We’re in the Mind Dimension.”
“It’s true. We are.” He looks around, terror replaced with a different emotion on his face. A darker emotion that I can’t exactly place. “Where is she?” he says after looking at the passenger’s seat.
“I took her outside. I was hoping she’d stay outside.”
Not saying anything, he gets out of the car and looks at Mom. “She’s already burned.”
“I know,” I say thoughtlessly. “I Read her. She’s in a lot of pain.”
My dad looks like I flogged him with those words, but he quickly hides his reaction.
“In the real world, where are you standing, sweetie?” he says. “Tell me. Quickly.”
“Over there . . .” I point. “Too far to help you.”
“That’s good.” His shaking voice is filled with relief. “The blast shouldn’t reach you there. But you still have to fall on the ground when you get back to your body and cover your ears for me. Promise me you’ll do this. It’s important.”
“I promise, Dad.” I’m beginning to understand what I have done to him. By pulling him out, I made sure that he could see himself dying in that car. That he could reflect on it. Dwell on it.
“I’m sorry.” My voice also begins to shake. “I shouldn’t have pulled you in.”
“Don’t say that.” He smiles at me. It’s one of the last smiles I’ll have from him. “I’m glad I’ll have a chance to . . . a chance to say good-bye.”
I remember my thought right before I Split into the Mind Dimension and realize I had created something like an evil omen. A part of me knows that the idea is irrational, but I feel like I brought all of this on with that prophetic thought.
A chance to say goodbye.
I squint as though I’m going to cry, but no tears come out.
“Don’t.” Dad reaches for me. “Let’s spend the time we have left remembering the good times. Your Depth is only about a half hour—not enough time to spend on anything but happy memories.”
He hugs me and tells me stories, determined to be with me for as long as I can stay, until I run out of Depth and become Inert—unable to go back into the Mind Dimension for a while. As I catch myself enjoying his stories and being with him, I hate myself more and more.
I’ll later wonder what kind of bitch I was to extend such a moment for my father, but for now, I’m just happy to have him with me a little longer. For as long as I’m allowed.
“We’re running out of time.” Dad is trying his best to sound cheerful, but I know he’s pretending. “You did the right thing,” he says. “I’m really glad you pulled me out.”
He’s lying. Like my brother, Dad repeats lies to make them sound more convincing.
“To live even a few more minutes, to see you, is a treasure.” His eyes look earnest, but I can see the truth. He isn’t glad. He’s terrified because he knows that as soon as my time runs out, he’ll be taken out of the Mind Dimension and pulled back into his frozen body.
Into the explosion.
“There’s nothing you can do for us now, Mira,” he says. “Please take care of your brother; he’s all you’ve got—”
I don’t hear him finish that sentence because my time runs out. I will later grow to resent this limitation, my Depth. This finite amount of what-if time.
If only I could’ve stayed in the Mind Dimension forever. Then Dad and I could’ve talked forever. Or we could’ve explored that frozen-in-time world. Instead, I’m back in my body and the explosion is in my ears again, ears that feel like they might bleed. I fall on the ground, like I promised Dad I would. I welcome the pain of the fall because it numbs the pain from knowing that I don’t have parents anymore.
With herculean effort, I pull my mind back to the present. To the poker table and the Russian thugs surrounding me. I really have to get it together. My Depth’s being wasted as the seconds turn into minutes. If I run out of time, I’ll be Inert for a while—which means no more Reading and having to play fair in this poker game, to boot.
I shake my head and try to focus, determined to forget Mom and Dad for the moment. I try to focus on something else. Anything else.
To distract myself, I think of how strangely I experience emotions in the Mind Dimension. For example, if I cry there, because my face is dry once I get out, I don’t feel as sad anymore. Sometimes things work the other way. I can be terrified when I get into the Mind Dimension, but once there, I’m much calmer. Probably because there I’m safe. So if I get any tears now, they would be gone when I’m back at that table. And tears should be falling down my face right now, but none come. Just like on that day. The worst one of my life—
I have to stop thinking about that day.
So I try to picture talking to my brother about emotions in and out of the Mind Dimension. He would want to study this phenomenon, as he—ever the scientist—would call it. It makes me feel somewhat better. Thinking of Eugene always helps take me out of the darkness, if only for a moment.
“I do take care of him. The poor bastard would’ve starved long ago without me, Dad.” I’d say that to my father if I believed he was listening to me from Heaven. Of course, my father is not in Heaven or Hell—those are just constructs people make up to dull the pain of losing their loved ones. I know that, in reality, he’s just gone, and nothing I say can reach him.
And that means I need to stop dwelling on what might’ve been and focus on the task at hand.
The fucker who put the explosive under my family’s car might be in this very room right now.
I take a deep breath, finding comfort in anger and the violent fantasies of what I plan to do to him.
“It’s time,” I say out loud—though, of course, the frozen people can’t hear it. “Let’s see if any of you fuckers are thinking of explosions.”