One-Fifth of a Second This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The beads of sweat that cover his face are not due to heat, although the temperature is a blistering 102°. Nor is the slightly nauseous reaction in his stomach the result of the illness he succumbed to several weeks before. And the lump in his throat is in no way related to the sadness that accompanies a personal tragedy, though his share of grief has been great. These are all physical manifestations of overwhelming fear.

There are moments in life that will irrevocably alter one’s destiny. The fate of one’s hopes, dreams and aspirations hang in the fragile balance of a single snap judgment. It is the fear that he will not succeed that now wraps its dark claws around his mind and fights desperately to paralyze his will. But it will not, an inner voice exclaims within him. It cannot.

His hand emerges from his pocket in a motion so fluent that the clerk at the counter is already staring into the face of death by the time his eyes widen in shock. The clerk is not yet afraid because he does not understand what is happening. It is only a matter of seconds before the storekeeper will comprehend, react and escape.

The clerk’s life means nothing to the man with the gun. It cannot. It will not. He can afford no hesitation. The world the clerk inhabits is relevant only because he is here, now. He must be treated as an obstacle and nothing more. Self-preservation demands it.

The man has no name, no face, no life. But he unquestionably has eyes. The eyes are still opening, and – for the first time – they exhibit fear. He sees the eyes, and inescapably, he sees the fear. And he stops. His hand stops. His mind stops. His heart stops.

It requires only one-fifth of a second to pull a trigger. But such a measurement ignores the fact that time is an entity unto itself. In the blink of an eye, he sees the clerk’s fear, and sees beyond it. He sees sadness and concern. The man is real. He is flesh and blood. Perhaps he is afraid not for himself but for a family, his family. A wife he loves, children he has raised, parents he supports.

His grip on the gun tightens and the blood drains from his hand. He thinks thoughts that would require minutes to say. He considers choices that would require hours to ponder. He reaches a decision that would require a lifetime to understand. The eyes are a portal into a world in which he dares not tread. The man cannot be real. Yet it is already too late. He has seen more than he can accept, more than he can ever understand.

It requires only a pound of pressure to pull a trigger. But it is an amount of force that is now impossible to overcome. He can steal this man’s money, but he cannot steal his life, only end it. There is no way to comprehend what he sees in the clerk’s eyes; he can only envy it, cherish it.

The eyes now possess an inkling of confusion. He peels his gaze away from the eyes and directs it to the gun in his hand, a gun which suddenly bears a weight he can longer support. The weapon slips from his grip and clatters loudly on the tiled floor as he sinks to his knees and covers his face with his hands. Yet the vision remains ingrained in his mind. The image of a man one-fifth of a second away from death. One-fifth of a second that would become an eternity.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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