This writing exercise is called "Consciousness Slowed". The idea is to write a short sequence of events in which you slow the time. It's a good exercise for really refining the significant moments in a story.
In this piece, I put together a scene from an idea I've had for a while and wanted to work on. It's a variation of the zombie genre where I added a little twist that I thought would add a little more suspense and psychological thriller aspect to the typical story. The exercise really helped me get into the character's head and delve into the emotions and motives of the character, a particular weakness of mine in writing.
Time perception is interesting. Single events may last only a few minutes, but our perception of them make feel like they last much longer or much shorter. The events in this scene happen in a matter minutes, but an event like this could seem like an eternity.
Emily Harper blinked the world into focus. She winced at the throbbing pain in her forehead. Where was she? The memories were hazy. Smoke or steam, she couldn’t tell, rose from the hood of her car, which had crumpled around a street lamp.
How had she gotten here? Drunk driving? No, she never got behind the wheel after she drank. She had seen too much of what happens when people make that mistake. She looked around and didn’t see any other wrecked cars.
She noticed that she still had her scrubs on, and the sun was still out. She must have been on her way home from work. But what happened? Had she swerved to miss an animal? A person?
Her palm went to her forehead where the pain still throbbed. She pulled away a blood-stained palm. When she lowered the sun visor and checked the mirror, she saw a superficial gash just above her right eyebrow. Nothing she couldn’t stitch up herself.
Not until she pushed the visor back up did she actually notice the city around her, silent and deserted. That never happens during the day, she thought. Gradually, the memories came back.
She recalled the mandatory evacuations. Only authorized personnel stayed behind: medical and military mostly. Then, panic started to settle in her mind. Patient zero, the outbreak, the aftermath. Her pulse spiked at the realization. She remembered what had caused her to lose control of her car. She scrambled to unbuckle the seatbelt, for she knew she couldn’t stay much longer than she already had. They would come soon.
She reached to the passenger’s seat to grab her satchel, a makeshift survival kit of sorts. Her emergency medical kit was in there, which she would need to patch herself up. She pulled out a telescoping baton and clutched it in her right hand. Her dad had always taught her from an early age to always have some sort of protection nearby. The baton had been a constant companion to stave off thieves or muggers. To this day, she had never needed to use it.
She stepped out of the vehicle and almost instantly heard it. The noise that brought her blood to a chill. It had always made her shudder in any movie when she was younger, but now it was real. The labored, raspy breathing. The asymmetrical scrape of feet on the pavement. The low groan.
She turned and saw it. How was it possible? These were beings of imagination and fiction. All these years of speculation, movies and books that terrified millions. Was this actually happening? She couldn’t bring herself to say the word. A tremor ran from her head down to her feet.
She flicked the baton, and the end telescoped out about a foot and a half. The thing limped toward her, its boots scraping against the pavement. Another low groan sent another shiver down her spine.
Emily knew what she had to do. A simple solution to a simple problem. Her training would take care of everything. She closed her eyes and tightened her grip on the baton, beads of sweat clinging to her forehead. She let out a calming breath, letting go of all emotion.
The groans grew louder, and Emily opened her eyes and watched the thing approach. It’s face twisted in what looked like fury mixed with pain. Emily raised her baton, ready to do what she knew she needed to do. The raspy groans shifted into a breathy exhalation.
Emily faltered. Did she just hear what she thought she heard? She stared at “it” in disbelief. This wasn’t right. They weren’t supposed to be able to talk. They were mindless creatures, their sole desire live flesh. This didn’t make any sense. Maybe she hadn’t really heard it. It had just been a figment of her imagination, her mind playing tricks on her. Then she heard it again.
No mistake this time. I talked. And it asked for help? This couldn’t be real. Nothing like this ever happened in any of the stories. It didn’t make sense. Surely the blow to her head was making her hallucinate.
The creature drew near, now within striking distance, but the resolve in Emily had diminished. Her mind reeled. This was a person, not a… She still could not say the word. They weren’t real. Yet here one bore down on her, its eyes alive, not dead and empty like all the stories. The raspy groans filled her head as a clawed hand reached for her. She saw its mouth open wide, drool running from the corners.
Her training kicked in once more, tightening her grip on the baton. A flash of movement, a crunch of bone. The creatures jaw fell out of place, but the creature still clawed at Emily. Instincts took over, and Emily’s fight impulse came to life.
A feral scream came out as she swung several times at the creatures head and face. In the stories, that was always the weakness. She had nothing else to go on. The creature continued on even after several blows, clawing at Emily’s outstretched arms.
Emily’s screamed, a combination of rage and fear, and brought the baton down on the left side of the creatures head. Her baton embedded into the middle of the skull with a sickening crunch.
Everything stopped: sound, motion, time. Emily’s eyes widened at the sight. The creatures arms fell still to its side. Then, it tumbled over and collapsed to the ground.
Emily burst into sobs. Had she just murdered an innocent person? It was self defense, right?
What is going on? The thought ran through her head like a scratched CD. This can’t be real. But the proof lay right in front of her. She could not escape the truth. And then one word dominated her thoughts.