After a few seconds, Vincent realized he was the only one in the car screaming.
A second after that, that he was the only one moving.
And when he realized he was the only thing moving anywhere, the idea of seconds or minutes or hours, passing or otherwise, seemed meaningless.
The car hung frozen in space, fresh from having plowed through a guardrail. Half on the road, half hanging out over the empty drop of the mountainside, but no longer in motion.
Likewise, the other passengers were stuck in between moments: Jeff, a deathgrip on the wheel, a small runner of drool suspended in midair, leaking from the corner of his wide-open mouth. And in the backseat, Sandra and Erica clung together, driven to an embrace by terror, stuck together, immobile, by forces unknown.
Vincent turned in his seat and took a long moment staring at Erica, while avoiding gazing on Sandra.
He’d grown sick of looking at her the last few months, anyway. Much like he’d grown sick of the way Jeff and Erica looked at each other.
And now this… whatever had happened, and all he could do was look at them. Were they stuck like this forever? Or was time going to restart again as inexplicably as it had stopped, leaving them to leap back into motion and plunge down the mountainside to their deaths?
Who says you have to wait and find out? said a voice in Vincent’s head.
He scrambled for the seatbelt buckle and depressed its button, but nothing happened.
I can move, and I can move things, but they can’t move on their — ah. He pressed the button again, and pulled the buckle free from its housing. He looped it off his chest and shoulder, leaving it hanging in the air like a snapshot of a ribbon gymnast.
Vincent pulled up the door handle and pushed the door outwards with such force as though he were dredging it through syrup. At last the door hung open. In the air all around, he could see constellations of gravel and dirt fixed in unmoving orbits with the car at their center.
You hear of people being thrown free from wrecks with no injury all the time, he thought. Is this how it happens?
As he climbed out, he took a last breath’s worth of time to look at Jeff (not so lucky now, are you?), Sandra (good riddance), and Erica (God, that’s a shame).
A thought again: I can move, and I can move things.
Vincent pulled himself back inside and scrambled over the seat to the back. He undid Erica’s seat belt, imaging that beautiful face breaking into a beautiful smile while that beautiful voice said, “You saved me.”
He lifted the buckle until it met resistance: caught on her hair.
Something pinged lightly against the outside of the car. Vincent’s head jerked up from his work of untangling Erica, and he could see the clouds of gravel outside quivering, shifting in slow motion — slow, but becoming less so.
“Come on, come on,” he said, and felt a flash of familiar anger — the same spurt of impotent fury that made him tell Sandra they were breaking up as they walked to the car for this stupid double date; the same anger that made him reach out and flick Jeff’s ear as they rounded a hairpin turn, just to startle him.
Jeff and Erica shouldn’t have been making eyes at each other through the rearview. They just shouldn’t have.
A sound now: the agonized groan of an engine grinding itself back into frantic motion, coupled with tires starting to rotate back into a futile spinning frenzy.
Coupled with pitches from three throats that were low and dragging now, but soon to be high and shrill.
…still time to save myself, he thought, and moved to climb back over the seat.
His leg caught on the hook of Erica’s raised arm just as the car gave a light jerk, and he fell back to land in her lap.
Time slurred into trickling but constant motion, and Erica looked down to see who was lying on her. Vincent looked up into those incredible, tear-moistened green eyes.
With sight blurred by fear and distorted by time snapping back into place, she stared at him without recognition.
And as things returned to horrifying normality, she spoke Jeff’s name.
Stephen Couch is a computer programmer, an occasional cover band vocalist, and a lifelong Texan. His short fiction has appeared in such venues as Cemetery Dance, Space and Time, and The Best of Talebones.