On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.

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She’s just in front of me. Barely two metres away.

I can see her clearly, just as I’ve been able to for the past week and a half. She’s mostly facing away, in the direction we were both heading, but I think her head has began to turn slightly to the right. She’s probably surprised at how my voice suddenly stopped mid-sentence.

That’s my logical interpretation, at least. I’m trying to hang onto logic, even though every time I apply it, I end up in despair.

We’re work colleagues, and I suppose I’d have to say that we’re also friends now. That’s how we found out about our mutual love of hiking. She learned about this picturesque part of the countryside from an online forum dedicated to geocaching, and thought it would be a fun area to ramble through. She told me about it, and I agreed, and then she asked if I’d like to come along.

Maybe we’re more than friends, or at least just on the cusp of that. I know that’s what I’d like, anyway. I hope I’ll have the chance to ask her if we agree on that too.

I was the one who spotted this cave entrance, and I suspect I might regret that fact for the rest of my life. A life that will pass by in an instant, figuratively speaking — and not so figuratively.

I just don’t have the right equipment. I need things. High speed cameras, I suppose? And a computer to connect them to. Then I need software to measure and calculate, and then I’ll need to know what the hell I’m doing. I work in regional sales for a company that manufactures air conditioning equipment. I’m hardly a physicist, or whatever I need to be to solve this.

She went in ahead of me, of course. Just stepped over the threshold of the cave mouth, which is where she is now. I can see several metres into the interior, and if I walk to the left and peer in, I can just see the thing she failed to notice. I’m pretty sure it’s a bear, judging by the size of its rear end. It’s quite a bit further inside. I don’t think she has any reason to be worried about it, though.

Because she’s slow now.

From my perspective, she stepped into the cave and froze solid, right there in front of me. Silent and still, mid-stride, even balanced in a way that can’t work. Just… stopped. And god help me, I almost tried to reach in and pull her back out. That was ten days ago, and I’ve been camped out here ever since, not including some trips back into town for supplies.

I’m speculating, but I can give you the same event from her perspective too. She stepped into the cave while I was talking to her from a few paces behind, and then my voice abruptly stopped. That’s all. I think that a part of her brain has registered that she can’t hear me anymore, and she’s just starting to turn her head to glance back. She’ll be doing that for a long time. Maybe for the rest of my life. I can’t say because right now I don’t have any way to measure how much slower things are in there, but I can figure out the consequences just fine.

She’ll look around to see why I stopped talking, but she won’t be able to see me anymore, because I’ll be long gone. Maybe I’ll build a monument — like a gravestone — with a message carved into it for her to see, and leave it there. Maybe it’ll be eroded to illegibility by the time she catches sight of it. Or maybe she’ll be greeted by the sight of some damned flying robot or something, or an alien from another planet, because it’ll just have been that long since she was out here where things go at normal speed.

That’s the better of the two options, believe it or not. If I’d followed her straight in, or reached in to grab her when I saw she’d stopped, then I’d be caught in the slowness of the place too. Maybe we’d have gone another few steps farther inside. And from what I’ve been reading on my phone, that would have been a bad idea.

All the theories that fit are so speculative as to be science fiction, but I can make sense of them. The idea is that whatever causes the effect, it’ll be stronger as you get closer to the source. So if she went further inside, she’d get slower, and slower, and slower.

It’s like the philosophy puzzle about movement being impossible, when you consider that you can infinitely subdivide the distance you travel in a single step, so surely it’ll take infinite time to move even that small amount. Which is just a logic trick, but the mathematics behind it isn’t. There’s this word: asymptotically. It means that you get nearer and nearer and nearer to something, but by smaller and smaller amounts, so you never do actually reach it. Like a curve on a graph that suddenly spikes way up towards the sky and beyond the edge of the paper. That’s what it’s like in there.

That’s where the bear is; nearer to where everything completely stops. The bear is going to be in there forever.

I could try and reach in with something and snag her elbow to pull her out, like a cane or something — but it would just slow to a crawl as soon as it got near her. And I worry that the effect could spread right up my arm somehow, though that sounds like superstition. But still.

I could just go in and grab her. I think that would work just fine. From my perspective, she’d suddenly return to normal speed, and I’d be right there with her, and I could grab her and drag us both straight back out.

But so much time would have passed. Would it be years? Decades? Centuries or more? They say that with all the pollution and global warming, there are going to be floods in the future. The beach isn’t far away at all, and we’re not much above sea level.

What if I step in, and I grab her, and I turn us around to leave but all I see is water out here? It could happen. It could happen so easily.

I don’t want to be hasty. That’s how mistakes are made, and bad decisions. If I can get to her — if I can save her — then it’ll be by thinking things through. Maybe I can even get help. I could ask at the university, and see if anyone will believe me. Yes. Yes, that seems like a good idea. I can get some help, and find a way to figure out my next move.

I’ve got plenty of time.

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