“You’re in the middle of a coffee shop, and time grinds to a halt. Describe the scene.”
I sit there at first thinking that nothing has changed, reading my book and just sipping my latte.
It’s a normal afternoon for me and I’m so caught up in my usual routine that I don’t realize at first that the couple at the table next to me has paused, half way through leaving their seats.
Their behinds are millimetres away from their chairs, coats halfway up their arms and smiles still talkative on their faces. Their hair still floating, each strand stopped in their own movement.
I only realize this when I place my latte down onto the table and look up, away from the book in my hand to see what’s going on around me.
Everything has stopped.
The baristas behind the counter are paused, one midway handing a customer their coffee to-go. Another is talking to a customer, their mouth stopped in mid sentence, no noise vibrating out of their vocal cords. The third barista is at the coffee machine making a hot drink, although the usual whirring of the machine is stopped and silent.
All customers are halted, typing at their laptops, sipping at their drinks, eating their sandwiches or talking to their company. All of whom are paused as if someone has hit a button and the world has stopped turning.
There is a sudden intake of breath and it takes me a second to realize that it’s not me who made the noise but something – or even someone – behind me.
I turn and see a man, not much older than me with thick wired glasses, a beanie hat and a woollen jumper. He’s staring right at me and I think for a moment that he, too, is still, but then he blinks.
It’s such a small movement, but it makes me gasp, my heart suddenly pounding in fright.
Today, in this coffee shop, we’re the only two people still moving. Everyone else is captured in time.
The bathroom door opens and the two of us snap our heads towards it as a small girl, not at all older than nine, comes out wiping her wet hands on her school skirt. She looks up, towards a lady and her baby son, most likely the girl’s mother and brother. She freezes, her face going pale and eyes large.
She gives a whimper before running to her mother, shaking the frozen body and waving a frantic hand in front of her brother’s eyes. She starts to cry. It breaks my heart as I don’t know how to help her.
The man and I exchange a look of worry.
That’s when we hear it.
“All conscious beings must come to the Central Square,” a loud boom of an unearthly voice echoes outside, “you have been chosen. Refuse this order and you will be killed.”