A reflection on speed.
It was a while before Lucky understood what was happening. At first, he put it down to side effects from the drug he was being given. He was not even sure that it might not be some form of placebo effect; after all, he had no way of knowing whether they were giving him the real thing or some harmless substitute that looked the same.
The one thing he was sure of was that any scratches he came by were healing much faster than usual. He noticed in the same way he had observed that slowed healing was a sign of getting older. For years he had lived with this as a fact of life and it was interesting but not earth-shattering when the process seemed to halt and reverse. It had to be the tablet he was given once a week down at the clinic.
Lucky had asked about the expected effects of the drug right at the beginning of the test. But, as always, they explained that it was important that he should not know. He heard the usual explanations about the possibility of placebo effects spoiling the test and he accepted that, once again, he would be part of the sampling without ever knowing what they were working towards. It was only a mild curiosity anyway; his main consideration was to get hold of that weekly payment, the guarantee that he might survive for another seven days.
Once he had noticed the apparent effect it was having on healing, Lucky made a few enquiries amongst his fellow subjects in the waiting room. He was careful about this as he did not want them to think that he was one of the few who was getting the real thing. But he saw that Sammy Jenkins still had that scab on the back of his hand and the Bagman's sores looked pretty much the same for weeks on end. After a month of watching, Lucky decided that he should try the doctor again.
That morning it was the young but balding Dr Hunford who interviewed Lucky. He asked the usual questions while he went through his inspection, blood pressure, temperature, a light in the eye and a peer into the ear. "How are you feeling today, Lucky? Noticed anything different lately?"
Lucky took his chance. "Well yeah, Doc, I think scratches are healing faster."
"Uhuh," said the doctor, pausing in his work. "And what makes you think that?"
"Oh, it's hard to say really. Just if I get a cut or anything, it seems to be gone in a few days."
The doctor looked unconvinced. "Can you give me an example?"
Lucky thought for a moment and then remembered an event from the previous week. "There's my arm, f'rinstance. Scraped it against a wall about a week ago and had a bad graze. But it's almost gone already."
He rolled up his sleeve to show the graze and the doctor bent forward to look. Lucky glanced down at his arm too and realized that the graze had disappeared. His arm looked as though nothing untoward had ever happened to it. "See, Doc, it's better already. And only yesterday, I could still see it."
The doctor straightened and gave him a patronizing look. "Nothing to be seen now, anyway. You been staying off the booze, Lucky?"
"You know I don't drink, Doc. Says so in my records." Lucky was slightly insulted that he should be classed with the rest of the winos in the sampling. "But the graze was there yesterday, I swear it."
"Well, it's not there now." The doctor bent forward to continue his usual investigations. "Open your mouth and say ah, Lucky. I'll tell you what; I'll take a blood sample today and you come back in tomorrow. We'll see if the puncture is still there. Okay?"
"Ahhh," said Lucky.
But he did not go back to the clinic the next day. Partly this was because he was still annoyed at the doctor's insinuation that he was an old drunk. Lucky had little enough to be proud of and it stung that his resistance to alcohol had been so casually ignored. If the clinic cared so little about his record that they did not believe his answers to the questions, then they could go whistle for anymore information, he thought. The fact that the puncture wound had disappeared overnight would remain Lucky's secret.
It was a strange day when Lucky next visited the clinic. He was feeling particularly good, better than he had for months, and yet the world around him seemed to be suffering from some sort of malaise. Everyone was sluggish and unhurried, as though the weather were oppressing them and he was made to wait much longer before the doctor was ready for him.
When he was called through to the examination room, he was slightly relieved to see that it was not Dr Hunford who was waiting for him. No explanations for his failure to appear the week before would be necessary. Dr Megana, the blonde lady with graying roots and thick glasses, gestured towards the bench. He lay down and waited while she conducted the inevitable tests.
She took longer than usual and seemed in no hurry to get through the questions. "Notice anything unusual lately, Lucky?" she asked eventually.
Lucky shook his head. "Nah, Doc, just the same old grind. But what's this tablet supposed to do to me anyway?"
Dr Megana looked at him for a while and then answered slowly, "You know I can't tell you that. There's a possibility of placebo effect, you see. A placebo is..."
Lucky cut in quickly. "I know what a placebo is. Spare me the pep talk. Just give me an idea of what I should be looking for."
Again the doctor seemed very slow to reply. "That's just it, Lucky. If you know that, your mind might reproduce the effects without you realizing..."
"Okay, okay, forget it." Lucky lost patience with the subject and turned his mind to the paycheck again. "How about if I come in twice a week? Then you can pay me more, can't you?"
Dr Megana laughed lazily. "Oh, Lucky, that's a good one. The dosage is one tablet a week; to give you more would ruin the test. No, I'm sorry but we can't do that."
Lucky grunted and scowled. For the rest of the examination he spoke only when asked to and left the clinic the moment the doctor had finished. Fine for them, he thought, with their fat research grant and doctors' pay, but he needed more money if he was ever to escape the trap he was in. He survived, that was all, but had no prospect of ever being something more than a low life, a guinea pig in the search for new medicines for the unhealthy rich.
It seemed a long walk back to his digs, a single room with peeling wallpaper and a rickety bed in one corner. He threw himself down and waited for sleep to close the doors on a desperate day.
Three days later, Lucky lost patience with the world. The lethargic mood that seemed to have gripped everyone had continued and, if anything, was getting worse. When the landlord called that morning, he had taken an age to count Lucky's rent money. It was all Lucky could do to contain his frustration and not shout at the man. So he was pleased when the Rabbit dropped by for a chat.
Normally Lucky would have tried to avoid a visit from the Rabbit for, apart from his stained and broken buck teeth, he was an inveterate talker, never stopping from the moment he saw you until you pushed him out of the door at the earliest opportunity. But today Lucky felt that a constant, rapid-fire stream of words was just what he needed to counter the general depression around him. He welcomed the Rabbit more honestly than ever before and insisted he take a seat.
"So, what have you been up to lately, Rabbit? It's been a while since I last saw you." Lucky grinned and waited for the detailed account of the Rabbit's life over the last few days, to be delivered in the usual barrage of staccato, non-stop phrases.
The Rabbit sat and looked back at Lucky. He said nothing. Lucky waited impatiently and was about to renew his spur to the cascade of words when he saw that the Rabbit was drawing a deep breath. Then the mouth opened and the Rabbit began.
"I was over by the river yesterday." He paused. "You know, just round the corner from Hinckle's." Another pause. "Fat Albert and Jimmy were dragging something from the river." The Rabbit took a breath. "I went over to see what it was... and they yelled for me to give a hand..."
Lucky could hardly believe what he was hearing. The Rabbit was droning, slowly, ponderously, in drawn-out phrases littered with pauses. It was incredible, but even the Rabbit must have been infected with the endemic lethargy of the last few days. Lucky stopped listening and watched the Rabbit's mouth slowly opening and closing as it formed the sluggish words. Something very strange was happening.
It seemed that everyone was slowing down and only Lucky was still functioning at a normal pace. Yet that was ridiculous. Why would the entire world begin to slow down? And why should it be Lucky who was immune? Unless...
The thought of immunity brought Lucky's thoughts back to the clinic. Maybe the drug had given him some sort of protection against this infection that was spreading through the city. That could be another unexpected side effect to go with the rapid healing. But what was this infection? And why had he seen nothing about it in the news media? Surely something like that would be noticed? How likely was it that everyone but Lucky should be infected and so only he could see the change?
Lucky's eyes were still focused on the Rabbit's opening and closing mouth and now he became aware of the sound of the voice again. It was lower than he remembered. There was no doubt about it, now that he thought about it: the Rabbit's voice was deeper than Lucky had ever heard it before. Suddenly, everything made sense.
Like a coiled spring suddenly released, Lucky leapt from the chair and hauled the Rabbit to his feet. "Time to go. Can't explain right now. Come on, Rabbit." He dragged the Rabbit to the door and thrust him through it. "Sorry, no time. Seeya Rabbit." Then the door was slammed and Lucky was alone with his dreadful realization. Sheer habit drew him across the room and he slumped back into the chair, his mind racing.
It was not the world slowing down; it was Lucky who was speeding up. Only this could explain everything, the accelerated healing, the slowness of everything around him, the deepened voice of the Rabbit and his interminable droning. Somehow Lucky had broken through to a higher pace of life and his new speed made the world seem slow. It was the drug, it must be the drug.
Was this what the clinic had hoped for? But no, that was unlikely; surely Doc Hunford would have shown more interest in his tale of swift healing if that were the case. So it must be an unintended side effect. And what could it mean for Lucky himself? Would he get faster and faster or was this the limit already? Thinking back over the last few weeks, Lucky realized that the effect was getting stronger. For weeks he had been vaguely aware that something was different, but it was only in the last few days that he had been able to say that it was the sluggishness of others. And not until today had he noticed the change in tone of a known voice. He was getting faster, he knew that now.
Was there a limit? Would he reach a certain speed where any increase was impossible? And what would it do to him; could he survive at such a pace?
The questions raced through Lucky's mind, chasing each other at high speed as he dealt with one only to meet the next in rapid succession. It may have been only a few minutes but seemed to him like hours before he came to a question that stopped all the others. It struck him as forcibly as had his first understanding of what was happening.
Was there a way in which he could turn this to his advantage?
Even as the question occurred, he sensed that he was on to something. His whole being concentrated on the fleeting thought and a vision of what could be began to form in his mind. The idea germinated and started to grow.
A smile began to spread across Lucky's face, a smile that rapidly became a grin. And then he began to laugh, quietly at first, but louder as the idea developed and grew in his imagination. The possibilities multiplied and he laughed that he should have been given such a chance, laughed at the new world opening before him, laughed at those who had thought it funny to give him a nickname so cruel. And he laughed especially at himself, the one named Lucky, who so late in life had discovered how truly lucky he was.
Lucky formed his plan that night, carefully and meticulously, wanting to be sure that impatience did not force him into a mistake. He decided that he would have to conduct a few tests to be certain that he was right about this strange but heaven-sent acceleration. Sleep came in the early hours and it was not until mid-morning that he emerged into the city.
He walked slowly, forcing his steps to assume the lazy pace of those around him. It was as though he was caught in some slow motion replay of a movie that dragged on forever. Down to Hinkle's he went, dragging his feet as much as he could, forcing an unaccustomed patience upon his racing mind.
He had chosen Hinkle's as the hardest test of all. Old Hinkle was used to the tricks and stratagems of Lucky's down-and-out friends and nothing escaped his sharp-eyed defense of his merchandise. If Lucky could put one over Hinkle, it must be proof that this new speed was not imagined.
As Lucky arrived, still moving slowly although the crowds had dissipated in this seedy area down by the river, he saw that a group of his friends were across the street. They were in a huddle around the Rabbit, no doubt listening to some wild tale of his latest adventures, and Lucky found it easy to slip by unnoticed. He entered Hinkle's and stood for a moment as the sound of the doorbell faded into silence. The warm, familiar smells of the store enveloped him.
Behind the counter, Hinkle looked up from the newspaper he was reading. His eyes narrowed slowly as they beheld his customer and suddenly Lucky was afraid. He had seen too many others caught in the act of pocketing something in Hinkle's. The old man was alert and suspicious, ever watchful of the disreputable clientele that remained to him. Lucky looked into those searching eyes and felt that his purpose must be plainly visible, his intent known to this nemesis of every ragged shoplifter. In that instant of fear, Lucky adjusted his plan.
He would take nothing. But the test must continue and so he would adjust things to try the old man's vigilance. With measured pace and beating heart, Lucky approached the counter.
Hinkle watched attentively and then, slowly and purposefully, never taking his eyes off his customer, he lifted a cup from one side of the newspaper and took a long swig of his customary coffee. One more step brought Lucky to the counter and he stood and waited as the cup descended inch by inch to its habitual position upon the wooden counter. It landed and Lucky saw the drop released by the slop of its contents, leaping into the air in graceful play, to splash upon the wooden surface, unnoticed by the shopkeeper whose stare remained fixed upon the object of his suspicion. Slowly the mouth below the eyes began to open and Lucky heard the drawn out question, oozing into the syrup-like air, barely comprehensible in its long and sonorous tones.
"And what might you want today, Lucky?"
Not trusting himself to speak, Lucky brought his arm up slowly and pointed to the shelves of cigarettes behind Hinkle. His eyes not leaving Lucky for an instant, the old man drew a languid breath and spoke again.
Lucky nodded as slowly as his restraint would allow and then, as Hinkle turned to reach for the cigarettes, he grabbed the cup of coffee and moved it to the other side of the paper. The shopkeeper was turning again, in that practiced movement that foiled every hopeful opportunist, but now so slowly that Lucky had time to laugh inwardly at his silly prank. A pack of cigarettes left Hinkle's hand and landed upon the counter, Lucky knowing that it had been rudely slapped down and yet watching how it bounced slightly before coming to rest. The old man was speaking again, the words dragging themselves from the opened mouth.
Lucky said nothing but allowed his gaze to drift to the cup in its adjusted position. Time passed but at last the old man's eyes moved to follow Lucky's gaze. Looking up again, Lucky was able to savor the moment of discovery, Hinkle's brow wrinkling in surprise as he saw the cup in such an unaccustomed position, the long, slow, puff of annoyance as the shopkeeper moved to grasp the cup and bring it back to its rightful place. As he did so, Lucky reached out quickly and moved the newspaper to cover the coffee stain on the counter. The cup continued its descent to land squarely on the newspaper, coffee from its base forming a gradually widening ring as it soaked into the paper.
Lucky noted the look of anger appear on Hinkle's face as his ordered world began to conspire against him. The old man moved slowly to lift the cup and remove the newspaper and Lucky felt a surge of power run through his veins as he realized that his intervention was completely unsuspected. Hinkle had not seen him move the newspaper.
The cup was descending again, now that the errant newspaper had been removed, and Lucky waited his moment. As the cup landed squarely in the coffee ring of ages and the old man's fingers disengaged themselves from its handle, Lucky reached out quickly and tipped it over. A slow motion torrent of dark liquid poured from it, over the counter, seeping into the newspaper with devouring glee, spreading in a gradual flood that reached the edge and began to drip, elegantly, without haste, to the floor.
Hinkle's eyes widened in dawning horror and his hands reached slowly upwards in surprise. As they moved downwards again, to right the offending cup, Lucky quickly pocketed the pack of cigarettes, turned and walked at normal pace towards the door. He heard the bell ring in slow mockery of its usual jaunty tones and then, as he left, the door swinging slowly to close behind him, the expression of disgust from Hinkle as his coffee disaster enveloped him.
Lucky's tests were complete; he had proved his theory. Now he could move on to the next stage of his plan. Without a glance at his friends, still huddled in their intent circle across the street, Lucky set out at normal pace, no longer caring whether anyone should notice his incredible speed.
The next few days dragged for Lucky as never before. Many times he was tempted to proceed with later stages of the plan but he succeeded in curbing his impatience. More speed was needed yet and so he must wait for his next visit to the clinic. Each day seemed an age and Lucky spent much of them in sleeping, his internal clock so confused by the slow passage of time that he dozed off haphazardly, often waking in the small hours of the night in consequence.
It was just as well, perhaps, that he overslept on the day of the clinic, this sparing him an agonizing wait before his appointment time. He dressed quickly and left his digs in haste, striding past the dawdling pedestrians and noticing for the first time how cars in the street seemed to trickle along like treacle poured from a can. At the clinic, he paused briefly to rein in his excitement and to prepare for the camouflage of slow motion. Then, moving as though in a dream, he pushed the door and entered.
His journey had been so rushed that he was on time and had only moments to wait before being ushered through to see the doctor. Once again it was Dr Megana who sat behind the desk, head down and pen lazily scratching at a yellow form as she finished entering the results of the previous examination. Without waiting to be asked, Lucky headed for the bench, moving like a child pretending slow motion. He lay down carefully, inch by inch, and waited.
Minutes seemed to pass before Dr Megana stopped writing and turned her attention to Lucky. He watched as she rose and drifted across the room towards him. He submitted as the long drawn out process of inspection began and nodded or shook his head to the inevitable questions, forcing himself to allow a suitable pause after each one was delivered in deep and extended tones. It seemed that the examination might go on forever and Lucky had a moment of near panic when she checked his pulse. Would she notice that his heart now beat at an abnormal pace? But she said nothing and Lucky realized that his physical functions must not be affected.
At last the physical examination was over and Lucky was able to sit up as Dr Megana turned to the cabinet beside the bench. He watched her every movement as she slowly opened the top drawer, reached in and withdrew the bottle containing the pink tablets. So slow were her movements that Lucky was able to estimate the number of tablets as the bottle was opened and placed on top of the cabinet. Twenty-five, maybe thirty. His eyes did not leave the bottle as the doctor then filled a small plastic cup with water from the basin in the corner. Time dragged even slower as she returned to the bench and set the cup down beside the bottle.
Lucky's control was under siege from his excitement and impatience as he waited for his weekly dose to be shaken from the bottle, the urge to tear it from her and do it himself nearly overpowering. But he forced his body to remain in slow motion, lazily reaching for the cup and the tablet that was placed beside it with such deliberate and careful precision. In slow motion he placed the tablet in his mouth and followed it with a long draft from the cup, the water pouring unhurriedly into his mouth to be swallowed when he could bear the wait no longer.
Dr Megana was saying something as he finished but Lucky could decipher no meaning, so intently was he watching for the moment he had awaited so long. He dropped the emptied cup into the bin and watched as she put the top back on the bottle. His eyes remained on the bottle as she replaced it in the drawer. He noted its exact position before the drawer was closed, saw for the first time the small yellow mark on the lid that must indicate it contained the real thing, watched as the drawer slid shut with infinite slowness. Now he must wait for the exact moment, that instant when Dr Megana turned to move to the desk.
But she did not. To Lucky's exasperation, Dr Megana continued to drone on and on, mouthing some dreary and soulful nonsense while his impatience mounted to the point of torture. Suddenly he could stand no more and, as quickly as he could, he reached forward, opened the drawer, grabbed the bottle and put it in his shirt pocket, closing the drawer as he did so. Then he looked up to see the doctor's reaction, ready to run and confident in his ability to outpace any hue and cry.
Incredibly, Dr Megana acted as though nothing had happened. Her mouth still opened and closed as before, her lugubrious lecture continuing unabated, the words spilling in a lazy torrent upon the thick and lifeless air. Once again, Lucky was surprised at the full import of his speed, yet confirmed in the belief that his plan could work.
Dr Megana rumbled to a stop at last and turned slowly towards the desk. Lucky stood up, relief flowing through him that this interminable session was over. For the last time, he resumed his slow motion mimicry and paced step by step towards the door. As he inched it open, he turned slowly and gave the doctor a languid wave. To Lucky's surprise, she had not yet reached the desk and he realized that, even when forcing himself to move slowly, he was still too fast for the normal world. Pretense was no longer available to him.
He shrugged, abandoned slow motion, and left the clinic without stopping to pick up his payment.
Once back in his room, Lucky sat on his bed and examined the bottle and its contents. On the outside was a label with his name scrawled hastily upon it in black ink. Apart from the tiny yellow dot on the cap, there was nothing else to indicate the special nature of the contents. He flipped off the cap and emptied the tablets on to his bed.
Pink tablets, unmarked, twenty-seven of them, lying there apparently harmless and innocent. Yet they were the gateway to a new world. Lucky savored the moment, aware that he must not take one yet; at least a day should pass before he risked another so soon after his usual dose. He picked up a tablet and examined it closely, squinting at its pink surface and turning it over and over. It was so ordinary with nothing to indicate the amazing powers of its active ingredient. He tipped it into the bottle and then scooped up its companions and poured them in, watching them fall in a slow cascade to form a small mountain on the bottom. Carefully, he replaced the lid and then set the bottle on his bedside table.
He lay down and closed his eyes, hoping that sleep would come to shorten the waiting hours. The plan marched through his mind, the details becoming clearer as he tried to cover every possibility of error. And, at last, as the afternoon sun shot its first rays through the blinds on his single window, Lucky drifted off into sleep.
It was gloomy in the room when he awoke and, at first, he was uncertain whether it was late evening or early morning. A glance at his battered alarm clock told him that the time was 7:30. But was that a.m. or p.m.? He waited, lying motionless on the bed, until his eyes confirmed that the light was dying. Evening then, and he had merely slept the afternoon away. He was still in the day of the clinic and must wait more endless hours before his next dose.
A thought struck him then and his eyes opened to stare into the growing darkness. Yes, it was still "today" for the normal world, but for him in his accelerated timescale? It might be that his days were now succeeding each other at a much faster pace; indeed, he had slept a few hours that were as night for him, and so this could be said to be "tomorrow". It made sense and also explained his unusual sleeping patterns of the last few days.
Lucky decided, wanting to believe that he was free to take a tablet again, and refusing to hear the word that hovered at the edge of his consciousness: overdose. He rose quickly from the bed and filled a chipped and coffee-stained mug with water. Then a tablet was tipped from the bottle and, before he could have second thoughts, he threw it into his mouth and drained the mug, feeling every slow inch of the tablet's journey to his stomach. The deed was done.
He sat down then, suddenly afraid of his hasty action. If this should prove an overdose and kill him, all his careful planning would go to waste and he would never have the satisfaction of taking from the world what he regarded as proper payment for his hitherto miserable existence. He waited, watching the slow progress of the hands on his clock as they ticked out the agonizing seconds. He waited, as only Lucky, alone in the universe, could, enduring the interminable minutes, not daring to think of the endless hours. He waited, while the dim light from the vanished sun was replaced by the sickly glow from the streetlights outside.
It was an hour by the clock, although it felt like a lifetime, before Lucky began to think that he had been right. He felt no different and the long wait had eroded his fear so that he was able to shrug at the thought of overdoses. It seemed that the drug could be taken in much higher dosages than the clinic had been giving him.
Lucky stood up then and went out into the night. For hours he walked the city, enjoying the speed that took him flashing past others and outpacing the slow movement of cars in the street. If he was noticed at all, he was long gone before any cries of amazement could reach his ears. There was no doubt about it: he had accelerated beyond any speed he had known before and was still getting faster.
He stopped eventually at the window of an electrical goods store downtown, fascinated by the sight of the television screens in the window producing their bright pictures line by line. Even as he watched, it seemed to him that the glowing dots marching across the screen became slower and the pictures dissolved into meaningless striations of light. Power surged through his mind as he gazed at the screens and he knew, beyond any doubt, that the world lay helpless at his feet.
He turned away and, purely to express the joy of the moment, began to run and leap down the street, hurtling around the near-frozen people, taunting the traffic, flying over obstacles. It was only as he neared his digs that he realized that he was tiring, the years of doing nothing having left his body so unfit, and he slowed to a walk that still took him past others in a blur of movement.
Back in his room, he threw himself upon the bed, glanced at the clock and noted that it was only 11:00pm, and he rested in the darkness. At some time in the night sleep came again, so that he woke with the rest of the world in the morning. He washed carefully and shaved, the first time for days, and chose his least rumpled and ragged clothes. After all, a man should look his best when robbing a bank for the first time.
Confirmed in his belief that his days were now brief moments in a normal day, Lucky swallowed another tablet. Then he pocketed the bottle and, with one last look in the mirror and a pat at his twice-combed hair, he stepped out into the new world awaiting him.
In the street, the morning rush to work was transformed into a glutinous mass of people, their movement barely discernible, and the traffic inched along as though straining against some invisible force. Lucky threaded his way through it all, enjoying the hope and anticipation that flowed through him, the excitement of embarking upon an adventure never before contemplated.
He had chosen the bank with some care, reasoning that the larger the building, the more money it should contain, and he timed his arrival to be shortly after its opening, when the staff would still be preparing for the day ahead. The vault would be closed, he thought, but he should be able to gather enough just from a few opened drawers and any that was being counted.
His timing was perfect and all was just as he had imagined. The doors were open and clear, a few early customers dispersing towards the counters, so that it was easy for him to find a way through them. An employee had arrived late and was in the act of opening the door to the staff area. Lucky pushed the door wide and squeezed past.
A tableau of people locked in attitudes of work greeted him. Here a hand was frozen in the act of depositing a wad of notes into a drawer, there a mouth gaped open in soundless laughter, an immobile body bent in the moment of sitting down, a foot hovered inches from the floor as a step was about to be completed. Lucky moved amongst them, collecting notes from drawers and hands, taking a few coins merely because they were there, emptying a counting machine as it flipped with agonizing slowness from one note to the next.
Very quickly he had as much as he could hold in one hand and his pocket jingled with coins. He threaded his way through the still and silent people, back the way he had come and around the figure in the doorway. In a moment of amused fancy, he moved the door back until it touched the pushing hand once more. Then, as he turned to leave, the pointlessness of his lightning raid came rushing in at him.
What use was money to Lucky now? In a world where he could take whatever he wanted and was barred from nowhere, what purpose could these paper notes possibly serve? How was he even to pay for anything, when he would die of boredom while waiting for a hand to reach out and take the offered payment?
Lucky looked down at the notes in his hand, shrugged, and threw them into the air above his head. They froze there as they left his hand, like a still photograph taken from a movie. He smiled as he looked up at them, imagining the consternation that must ensue when the staff saw money disappear from their hands, only to find it cascading down upon the customers. Then he circled through the throng and left, without another thought of the chaos he had just created.
There was more to his new existence than Lucky had understood, he knew that now. The world lay open before him, yes, but it was a different world with new constraints and limitations. He wandered through the streets, pondering how he might adjust, until he found himself outside L'Escargot, perhaps the most exclusive restaurant in town. Realizing that he was hungry, he pushed the door and entered.
Breakfast was being served and Lucky moved between the tables, picking some bacon from a plate about to be delivered to a waiting customer, taking a piece of toast here and a spoonful of cereal there. He tried to pour himself a cup of coffee but the dark liquid rested in the jug and refused to move. After a moment's thought, he went through to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and took a bottle of milk. He would drink that later at his leisure, he thought, when he had time to await its slow trickle into his mouth.
Leaving the restaurant, Lucky headed for the park, where he sat down on a bench to think things through. A cloud of pigeons was in the act of taking off before him and, watching them for a while, he saw that he could still detect some movement in their wings. Passers by were immobile however. A chill of fear settled upon Lucky's heart as he realized that he might have gone too far. There was power in this speed but also a debt to pay.
Never again would he be able to converse with anyone; even had he the patience to wait for a reply, they would not hear his slowest speech and their words were transformed into inaudible rumblings in his ears. He had always considered himself a loner, with no need for human companionship, but now the full extent of his separation opened before him like an abyss. There was writing, of course. Perhaps he could leave a note with someone, suggesting they take the tablets and join him in this frozen world.
But could he do that to anyone? What right had he to bring someone into this existence that he hardly knew himself? There were those who would leap at the chance, he was sure of that, but already Lucky was finding that he stumbled upon serious disadvantages every day. Before he could consider spreading his affliction, he must first find a way to make it bearable.
So for the time being, Lucky must find his way alone. It would be hard but not impossible; after all, he had managed before without needing anyone so even this enforced isolation should not be too great a hardship. He might even find a purpose in the strange gift he had been given. He could become a silent benefactor, a superhero rescuing children from speeding cars and thwarting villains before they could commit their crimes.
A moment's thought disposed of that idea: in a world where movement was frozen, who could tell what was about to happen, how would he see an impending accident? All appeared as a motionless scene to him, without direction or ultimate effect.
But the idea was interesting. There must be a way in which he could use his speed to do something worthwhile. He would think about it, he resolved, but not right now. The events of the morning had drained his energy and he knew that he should sleep. The days were coming thick and fast for him now.
He stood up and headed for home.
Lucky took no more tablets after the day of the bank robbery. He reasoned that the effects must begin to wear off sooner or later and he might be able to find a happy medium in which he could retain the advantages of speed without having to suffer complete separation from a world frozen in time. But his days followed each other in quick succession and he could detect no slowing down.
He spent the time in wandering the city, entering places he had never been before and handling things that had once been the stuff of dreams to him. In a luxury car dealership, he sat in every model they had on display and could see the irony in the fact that they could only ever be finely-crafted but immobile shapes of metal now. It occurred to him that he should travel and see the world, but a visit to the airport persuaded him otherwise. The sight of a Boeing hovering inches above the tarmac, frozen in the moment of take off, brought home to him just how long any flight would be. He ate in the best restaurants but drinking became a matter of dipping a straw into a sluggish liquid and then sipping the contents bit by bit.
It was in the libraries and bookstores that he found some respite from his lonely existence. Books remained a link with the world of movement and interchange that he had left behind. At first, he took them home to read but soon the dreary surroundings of his room began to oppress him. Instead he spent his waking moments wherever he found books, picking up whatever caught his eye, settling into a comfortable spot and then reading until he could read no more. Around him the still figures remained in attitudes that became familiar to him and he became almost blind to their existence, as though they merged into the scene as mere furniture.
Time became meaningless and he no longer checked his old alarm clock. Once, he fell asleep in a bookstore, lying upon the counter with a book pillowing his head. When he awoke, he knew from the barely-changed positions of those around him that he had slept for no more than a few seconds, although a night had passed in his reality. From that moment he did not return to his digs but slept wherever he happened to be, not caring that the brief appearance of a sleeping hobo in unexpected places might give people the fright of their lives.
For he remained a down-and-out; although he could have had the finest clothes in the city, there seemed no point anymore. He stopped shaving and grew a luxuriant beard, did not care that his hair became a tousled and tangled mess that spread over his shoulders and began to creep down his back. There was no-one to put on a show for and, since he never looked in a mirror, he was only dimly aware of how his appearance was changing.
Lucky was adjusting to his circumstances and finding a way to live that suited him. His pleasures were simple: a day spent immersed in books, a light meal of gourmet delights and perhaps a walk in the rain, for he always found amusement in the way the raindrops hovered in the air so that he made a tunnel through them as he walked, his front drenched in a moment while his back remained perfectly dry.
In time his loneliness faded and he was able to recognize the perfect freedom that now was his; freedom from care and worry, freedom from obligation or duty. The days became weeks and the weeks months as Lucky established a routine, losing himself in an ordered and regular approach to his new life. On the day he realized that he had read everything in his favorite bookstore, he understood the irony that he was now perhaps the best read person in the state, but he knew in the same instant that it did not matter anymore. He moved into the main library in the center of the city and continued his reading adventure.
Months became years and still Lucky existed as the only inhabitant of a city frozen in time, a single instance of movement in a land of statues and immobility. And then, one day as he walked the silent streets, he felt a sharp pain in his chest that brought him to his knees. Gasping for breath, he pulled himself to the side of the street and lay down, hoping that the pain would fade. Around him, the traffic was as frozen as ever, uncaring about his pain as it cared not about his life.
When the pain eased at last, Lucky hauled himself to his feet and caught sight of his reflection in a shop window. A hoary, ancient and wrinkled face stared back at him, a face that he barely recognized as his own. Matted grey hair framed his face and cascaded to his shoulders, milky blue eyes squinted from cavernous sockets, deep lines scarred the leathery skin. He had grown old and time had caught up with him.
Surprised as he was at the change in his appearance, Lucky was not disappointed that death stood now at his shoulder, ready to deliver that second blow to the heart that must surely kill him. He had lived a full life and experienced things that none had before. His companions, the authors of the books he had read, had shown him things that he never would have known in his old life. And now he knew, perhaps more than any other, that the years creep on, be they fast or slow, to the inevitable end.
He wondered how long it had been since he had stolen the tablets. Three months, perhaps four? And they would find his body in the gutter, the tablets still in his pocket, and they would shake their heads over his demise, stop all tests on the drug that could kill so quickly, and never know that a life lived in another time was still a life lived to its allotted extent.
A thought of one last dramatic gesture crossed Lucky's mind and he withdrew the bottle from his pocket, intending to throw it as far as he could in a heart-exploding expression of his final triumph. But, when he saw the label with his name scrawled across it, he remembered how apt was the word. Lucky he was by name and lucky indeed; lucky to have had the chance to live a life so different, lucky to have been free, lucky to have been Lucky.
As the pain renewed itself in a great stab at his chest, Lucky lay down again to wait for death. His hand gripped the bottle tightly, the label facing outwards, the better to ease identification.
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