Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
If you’re armed and at the Glenmont metro, please shoot me.
Make it a headshot. Shoot me in the temple, aiming slightly downwards. I need the bullet to travel the shortest possible distance through my brain before it hits my hippocampus. If I’m lucky, the sensation of the gunshot ripping through my skull will only last a few decades.
As awful as this sounds, you’ll be doing me an enormous favor. Death by a headshot, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, is vastly better than the alternative.
My ordeal started over ten thousand years ago, at 10:15 this morning. I earn extra money by participating in drug trials. I’m a so-called “healthy subject” who takes experimental drugs to help assess side effects. Once it was a kidney drug. A few times it’s been something for blood pressure or cholesterol. This morning they told me the drug I took was a psychoactive substance intended to accelerate brain function.
None of the drugs I had tested so far have ever done anything for me, in the recreational sense. In other words, none of the drugs I’ve tested have given me a killer buzz, or mellowed me out, or anything. Maybe I’ve always ended up the placebo group, but nothing I’ve tested had affected me at all.
Today’s drug was different. This shit worked. They gave me a pill at 10:15 and told me to hang out in the waiting room until they called me back for some tests. “Only about thirty minutes,” the research assistant told me. I flopped onto the waiting room couch and read a few articles from a copy of Psychology Today that was sitting on the coffee table. They hadn’t called me back when I finished the Psychology Today so I picked up a US News and read it cover-to-cover. Then I read an old Scientific American. What was taking them so damn long?
I sluggishly turned my head to look at the wall clock. It was only 10:23 am. I had read all three magazines in eight minutes. I remember thinking this was going to be a long day. I was right.
The waiting room had little bookshelf with some used hardcovers on it. When I stood up to walk to the bookshelf it felt like my legs barely worked. It’s not that they were weak. They were just slow. It took a full minute just to stand up off the couch, and another minute to take two steps to the bookcase.
I scanned the old books on the shelf and picked out a copy of Moby Dick. My arms had the same problems as my legs. Just reaching one foot in front of me to grab the book took a long time. I actually got bored just waiting for my hand to reach the spine of the book.
I slogged back to the couch and collapsed onto it in a slow-motion fall that reminded me of the low-gravity hops of astronauts on the moon. I opened Moby Dick (slowly) and began reading. I started with Call me Ishmael and got as far as Ahab throwing his pipe into the sea (which was all the way to friggin chapter thirty) before they called me back.
“How are you feeling?” the research assistant asked me.
“I feel slow,” I said.
“Actually, it’s the other way around. Everything seems slow because you’re so fast.”
“But my legs. My arms. They’re moving in slow motion.”
“Your body seems like it’s moving slowly because your brain is fast. Your brain is running ten or twenty times faster than normal. You are thinking and perceiving reality at an accelerated pace. But your body is still constrained by the laws of biomechanics. Frankly, you’re moving much faster than a normal person,” she pantomimed a jogging motion. “But your brain is running so much faster right now, that even your fast walk seems very slow to you.”
I thought about my slow-motion flop onto the waiting room couch. Even if my muscles had slowed down, my body would still react to gravity the same way. But in the waiting room, I even fell in slow motion. Slow muscles couldn’t explain why gravity seemed weaker. My brain was going at warp ten. That’s how I managed to read three magazines and the first thirty chapters of Moby Dick in fifteen minutes.
They ran a series of tests on me. The physical tests were fun. They made me juggle three balls. Then four. Then six. I had no problem keeping six balls in the air because they seemed to be moving so slowly. It was boring, frankly, waiting for each ball to move through its arc so I could catch it (with my slow-motion hands) and toss it back into the air. They threw cheerios in the air and I caught them with chopsticks. They dropped a handful of coins and I counted the total value before they hit the ground.
The cognitive tests were less fun, but very illuminating. Finish a fifty-word word search (three seconds). Solve an intricate maze drawn onto a poster-sized paper (two seconds). View a slide show projected at ten images per second and answer detailed questions about what I saw (95% correct).
They told me I measured over 250 on the Knopf scale. Apparently, that’s deep into the superhuman range of thinking speeds.
Then they sent me home. “It’ll wear off in a few hours,” they said. “Which will seem like days to you. Try to use the residual effects to get some work done. Catch up on work emails while you’re still in high-speed mode!”
The ride home was horrible. It was only three metro stops, and in real-world time, it only took about thirty-five minutes. But in my drug-accelerated hyper-time, it felt like days. Days. Just walking out of the medical research suite to the elevator seemed like it took an hour. I sprinted out of the office, willing my legs to push me faster. But, the laws of biomechanics held me prisoner. As accelerated as my brain was, I couldn’t do anything to make my legs work faster.
The huge disconnect between my body and mind made it extremely difficult to judge how and when to slow down, turn, or rotate my body. I had basically turned into giant, slow-motion spaz. I misjudged my speed and rammed into the wall by the elevator button at a pretty good speed. Even though I could see the wall coming at me, I couldn’t make my finger, outstretched to hit the elevator button, move away fast enough and I jammed it against the wall. Hard. The pain was intense. If my brain had been running at regular speed, it probably only would have hurt for thirty seconds or so. But in my accelerated state, the intense pain seemed to last for half an hour. Forty-five minutes maybe.
The elevator ride was horrible. It felt like I spent four or five hours just descending seven floors, with nothing to look at but the interior of the elevator car.
I sprinted to the metro station. I have to admit, this part was almost fun. Even though my body moved at, what seemed to me, super-slow speed, I could still carefully choose how and where to place my feet, swing my arms, and turn my torso. It only took a block or two to getting used to having a brain that ran two dozen times faster than my body. Then I basically sprint-danced the rest of the way, twisting and juking between people on the sidewalk and dodging moving cars with inches (a.k.a. minutes) of clearance.
I spent an hour, in my time frame, descending into the subway and running to the platform. Endless tedium waiting the six minutes for the red-line train to arrive. Although there was more to look at on the metro platform than inside the elevator, it was still intensely boring. I should have stolen that copy of Moby Dick.
The red-line train roared into the station in slow-motion. The normally high-pitched squeal of its brakes was frequency shifted by my high-speed mind to a long low tone, like a monotone Tuba solo.
It wasn’t just the squealing subway train that was three octaves lower than normal. All sound was slowed to the point of near inaudibility. Voices were gone, shifted below the threshold frequency of my hearing. I did manage to hear a screaming baby on my subway car – her shrieks slowed to sound like whale songs. Sharp sounds like a car horns and trucks bouncing over potholes were low, muddied roars like distant thunder.
Back at the research offices, I could still hear and communicate with the research staff. But now verbal communication with anyone would be impossible. The effects of the drug were still intensifying.
I spent what seemed like days on that fucking red-line train. Days. Listening to the whale-song of the screaming baby and the Tuba solo of the brakes. Where ordinary voices were frequency-shifted out of my audio range, smells didn’t seem to be affected. I never became nose-blind to the body odor, the stench of the train’s brakes, and mélange of farts and other smells wafting through the metro car.
I finally got back to my apartment. Sprinting through my open door and into the front hall at full speed was like a slow, relaxing drift down a lazy river.
I was relieved to be home. At least I had stuff I could do there. I picked up the book I was reading – One Hundred Years of Solitude – and finished it. Despite turning the pages so quickly that I tore many of them, it seemed like most of the time I spent finishing the book was spent on page turning and not actually reading. Three minutes had passed since I got home.
I tried surfing the Internet (my GOD it takes a long time for computers to boot these days) but it was too frustratingly slow. Hours (seemingly) to load each new page, and a fraction of a second to read it. A hundred articles in my news feed read and just three more minutes done.
I dipped into my pile of yet-to-be-read books and finished two more. Four more minutes had passed.
I decided to try to sleep off the remaining effects of the drug. Unfortunately, whatever part of my mind is responsible for perception, the part that’s been accelerated to hyper speeds by the drug, isn’t the same as the part that governs sleep. Despite being awake for what I perceived as days, my physical brain still thought it was 1:25 pm. It was not ready for sleep.
Nevertheless, I tried to sleep. I walked to my bedroom (a slow 45-minute drift through my apartment) and flung myself into bed (lazily falling like a feather onto the mattress). I closed my eyes and lay there for hours and hours (10 minutes of reality time) before giving up. Sleep would not come. I was facing what was going to feel like days, or maybe even weeks of being trapped in a slow-motion prison.
So I took an Ambien.
The sensation of the pill and the splash of water I used to swallow it sliding my throat was sickening. A lump that blocked my breathing, moving like a slug down my esophagus.
I read a book. Ten minutes had passed. I read another. Eighteen minutes since I took the Ambien. I threw the book across the room in disgust at my situation. The book slowly pirouetted and spun through the air, like a leaf blowing in a breeze. It hit the wall with a long, faint rumble – the only sound I had head for what seemed like hours – then drifted to the floor like a flip-flop sinking in a swimming pool.
The force of gravity hadn’t changed since I took the pill. The laws of physics were the same. It was just my perception of time that had gone wackadoo. This meant I could use the speed things seemed to fall as a way of judging the effects of the drug. Based on how long it took the book to drift to the floor, I estimated the effects of the drug were still intensifying.
I read a magazine. I turned on the television – I clearly saw each frame of video like I was watching a slideshow. Frustrated, I turned the television off.
I read some more. The first two books of Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Not exactly a light read. Frankly, I hated it. But given the hours of tedium it would take to go get another book off my bookshelf, just sitting on the couch and reading Churchill was better. Or at least less worse.
It had now been thirty-five minutes since I took the Ambien. I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes. Time passed. I inhaled – a hours long process. Time passed. I exhaled for more hours.
Sleep. Would. Not. Come.
I needed a new plan. I decided to go back to the offices where they gave me the drug. Maybe they would have something that could counteract its effects. Or at least something to knock me out until it wore off.
I exited my apartment as fast as possible – taking hours in my time-frame to do so. I didn’t even bother locking the door. It would have taken too long.
Down the stairs (it’s faster than the elevator if you run), through the lobby, out the front door and onto the street. These few things felt like a long day at the office.
Sprinting down the street, dancing and weaving between pedestrians with, what must have looked to them, superhuman dexterity. Down the first flight of stairs at the metro. Across the landing. Another hour. Then on to the second flight of stairs. That’s when the Ambien hit me.
The Ambien didn’t make me sleepy. Not at all. Instead, it must have had a severe cross-reaction with the experimental drug I took this morning. I was bounding down the second flight of stairs, moving in slow motion, but still making perceptible progress. Then, wham – everything stopped.
The dull roar of the street and metro noise ceased, replaced by the most perfect silence I’ve ever experienced. My downwards motion seemed to completely freeze. Before the Ambien kicked in, my perception of time was maybe a few hundred times slower than real-time. After the Ambien took effect, time moved thousands of times slower. Every second seemed like days to me. Even just moving my eyes to focus on a new point was like an impossibly slow scroll across my visual field.
Over the course of the afternoon, I learned how to walk, run, and jump when my mind ran hundreds of times faster than my body. But with another four or five orders of magnitude of slow-down caused by the Ambien, body control was almost impossible. I fell on the stairs. Even though I was all-but-frozen in mid-step, controlling my muscles was impossible. I commanded my foot forwards for hours, then backwards for hours more when it seemed like I would miss the next step. Hours attempting to adjust the angle of my ankle, then re-adjusting when it felt wrong.
Despite these efforts, I rolled my ankle on the next step. The pain wasn’t at all mitigated by the slowness. Hours of increasing strain on my bent ankle. The nerve signals that send pain into the brain must work differently than the nerves in my ear. Sonic energy was spread out over time, diluted until it was imperceptible. Pain flowed into my brain undiluted by the change in my perception of time. Hours and hours of increasing weight on my turned ankle turned into hours of increasing pain upon increasing pain.
I pitched forwards, my high-speed mind completely unable to control my low-speed body. I drifted downwards for days, managing to rotate my torso enough to keep my head from impacting the ground first. I eventually landed on my right shoulder. At first the impact wasn’t even noticeable. Then I felt a slight pressure in my shoulder as it came in contact with the ground. The pressure grew, bringing increasing pain, for hour upon hour. My shoulder finally gave out, popping out of its socket with an endless sickening tug.
I came to a stop days later, crumpled onto the ground, staring at the ceiling. The pain in my shoulder still screaming with the intensity of a fresh violent injury. I had plenty of time to think during that fall. If every second seemed like days to me, then each minute of real-world time would be like years. Even if the drug cleared out of my system in the next two or three hours, this nightmare would seem to last centuries.
By the time I hit the ground, I had a plan. I would somehow get to the platform and throw myself in front of a train.
I twisted onto my hands and knees. Days of my dislocated shoulder crying for relief. I misjudged my rotation and rolled onto my back. I tried again, collapsing onto my face as I tried to figure out how to control a body that moved slower than grass grew. Weeks of effort were finally rewarded with success – I stabilized on my hands and knees.
If just getting on all fours was this difficult, I figured that walking or running was completely out of the question. So I crawled. I crawled through the metro tunnel. The dumb looks on the faces in the crowd lingered on me for weeks. I crawled under the turnstyle and onto the escalator.
The escalator spilled the rush-hour crowd onto the platform at the same speed a glacier spills ice into the sea. I looked out over the crowded platform during my interminable downward ride. The train status sign said the next train wouldn’t arrive for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes was like a year to me. I’d have to spend a year on the metro platform, waiting to die.
I crawled off the escalator, enduring days of stupid expressions on the commuters’ faces. I crawled a few feet to a concrete bench and curled up next to it, trying to find a position to lessen the pain in my shoulder. Then my problem with time got worse. Impossibly worse.
The massive slowdown on the stairs was just the beginning of the interaction between the experimental drug and the Ambien. It fully hit me while I was curled up by the bench. I blinked. Years of darkness followed. Sound was already gone, and with my blink, sight was gone as well. All that existed was the pain from my fall.
My hyper-accelerated mind wasted no time compensating for the lack of sensory input. Voices spoke to me. They sung to me in languages that never existed. Patterns and faces and colors came and went in my mind’s eye. I recalled my whole life, and imagined living another. I forgot English. I settled into a profound despair. I spoke to God. I became God. I imagined a new universe and brought it to life with my thoughts. Then I did it all again. And again.
My eyes opened with geologic slowness. A faint glow. Weeks. A slit of light. Weeks. A narrow view of the metro platform – ankles of the commuters near me and an advertisement on the opposite wall.
I extracted my phone from my pocket. A project that spanned decades. How can I even explain the boredom? The pain in my shoulder is nothing compared to the boredom. Every thought I can think, I have thought hundreds of times already. The view of ankles and advertisements never changes. Never. The boredom is so intense it’s tangible – like a solid object of metal and stone wedged into my skull. Inescapable.
What are my options? If I crawl and fall onto the tracks without an oncoming train to crush me, I won’t die. I’ll experience even more pain from the four-foot fall, but I’ll most likely be rescued by some do-gooder on the platform and unable to act when the train finally does arrive. My suffering in that scenario will be endless.
So I wait for the train. So I can throw myself under it. When it finally hits me, I will experience the pain of being ripped to pieces for centuries until finally, the light of life leaves my brain, and my experience ends.
I’ve lived hundreds of lifespans at the foot of this bench. I am far older, in spirit, than any human who has ever lived. Most of my life experience has been a snapshot of pain huddled on the floor of a subway platform, with an unchanging view of ankles and advertisements.
This post is my plan B. My Hail Mary. My long-shot. I’ve spent lifetimes typing and posting this message in the hope that someone will read it and become convinced that my suffering must end. Someone on this platform right now. Someone who will find the man curled under the bench, the man who crawled down the escalator, and kill him as swiftly as possible. A bullet to the temple.
If you’re armed and at the Glenmont metro, please shoot me.
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