My head whipped round to the direction of the sound. Chatter ceased. Silence, except for the bang echoing; an incessant ringing in my ears. Time froze. My mind didn't. Cogs whirred, trying to process, to make sense of what just happened. What? Danger! Safe? It was a jumbled mess of confusion and dread. My thoughts broken, incomplete. The coordinated clockwork of my mind disturbed permanently.
Suddenly, time thawed. The broken clock inside me ticked again; a fragmented chime summoning me to impending doom. There was only one place doom could lead me, but I wanted to ignore the siren's call down to the abyss of burning Hell. Maybe Hell had already claimed me. Maybe it was the Devil's own branding iron that had disrupted my inner clockwork. Would he tip my hourglass again, or would he let the sands run out?
As time repaired itself, everything happened in unison. Running. Screaming. Panic. Everyone's terror and desperation hung heavy in the air, threatening to suffocate me. Unable to comprehend any other action, my body mimicked everyone else's.
I ran for my life, to escape the clawing invite of death. But my jelly legs on autopilot couldn't run. So I scrambled, scampered and clambered away from the sinister source of that fatal alarm.
I screamed as my personal bubble burst. Bodies crashed into me, crushed me. Their weight smashed into me as they shoved, jostled and fought to reach the too far exit. The only way out was to forge a path through the formidable force.
I panicked as smoke coiled around my nose. Too far from escape. Too much crushing pressure. Too much running and screaming and… Laughter? Of course there's laughter because… Because this time…
It was just a door. This time it was only a door slamming. And I'm at school, surrounded by my friends. They're laughing and chatting, working hard. I was too, until the door slammed and the memories seized control. It happens sometimes; random events automatically shift the gears of my mind. My thoughts switch between the present and that night like a pendulum. But there's no pendulum in my sleep. Instead, I relive that night over and over again; my dreams a broken record. That's why I have bags under my eyes. Yet no one notices because I cover them up with makeup every morning.
There are lots of things no one notices. They haven't noticed the pause in my work. They haven't noticed my silence. They haven't noticed my difficulty breathing, my aching head, my grim expression, my sweaty, shaking hands or my glazed-over eyes fixed firmly on the depraved door. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that's true, then I've been dead behind the eyes since that night. I stare into space like a broken doll.
Maybe I really am a broken doll; a hollow Barbie. I'm just an empty shell perched on a stool, fake expressions painted on my face. Motionless except for my relentlessly trembling hands. Gulps of safe air calm me down enough to avert my gaze from the door. I can face my friends again and repaint my usual fake smile, but I can't stop the shaking. Nor can I soothe my burning, erratic headache. My friends burst out into another giggling fit and this time I join in. My feigned laughter fools them all.
Does time heal? Even if it does, it won't heal me. I survived that night, but my soul was murdered. Guilt overwhelms me. With a dead soul, there's no need for my body to live. So I don't live. I'll never live again; I merely survive. The damaged cogs of my mind continue making that ominous tick-tock lullaby. Every tick and every tock bring me closer to death. I no longer care when my clock will stop, because time belongs to the Devil. And time will kill me.