Vanilla Deterrent

Arnold blinked. He squeezed his thumb on the stopwatch the moment he opened his eyes. The strange man in a white suit and orange tie sat resting on the park bench as if he’d always been there. He stared off into the sky while relaxing with both his arms on the side of the park bench.

Arnold stared intently at the man, not daring to take his eyes off him until he blinked again. He stopped the watch when his eyes opened and looked down.

“59 seconds again,” he mumbled to himself, then added a tally mark to his notepad. He’d been keeping tabs on the stranger for almost 30 days; he didn’t count the dozen or so days before he started keeping track. He never saw the man arrive or leave; somehow, he always blinked at those crucial moments. The stranger was always there at 10:45; then, Arnold realized the stranger never made it to 10:46. It wasn’t until the last week that he thought of using a stopwatch to count the seconds.

After marking the man’s appearance, he checked his camera. Once again, the camera didn’t show anything different. One moment the bench was empty; the next moment, the stranger was there as if he just popped into existence. Arnold sighed.

I’ll sit there tomorrow,” he decided while collapsing his tripod.

The next day he returned to the park at his usual time and set up the camera. At 10:44 he walked to the bench and sat down with this thumb on the stopwatch. Arnold blinked again and started the watch. He was surprised that the white-suited man wasn’t standing in front of him. He swiveled his head left and right searching for the stranger; and, found him sitting on another bench. He sat further up the flowered park path relaxing against the bench with his eyes on the sky; Arnold felt slightly annoyed.

He hoped to interrupt the man’s pattern enough that they needed to interact. But, the stranger didn’t even seem to give Arnold a second thought. There was no sideways glance like he expected for having taken the man’s seat. After a couple of moments, Arnold decided to confront the man. He stood and walked toward him.

He almost reached the stranger before he blinked again; the man was gone. Luckily, habit prompted him to stop the watch. He looked down and saw it stuck at 59 seconds again.

“Damnit,” he grumbled then returned to collect his camera. “Trying again tomorrow.”

The next day, he decided not to sit in the stranger’s seat. Arnold stayed away with the camera focused on the park bench. AT 10:45 he blinked and started the watch, but the man wasn’t there. Arnold turned to check the new bench and saw the man sitting there again. 

Without wasting time like the previous day, Arnold took long steps toward the stranger.

“Hi!” Arnold said as he walked up to him. The man didn’t so much as acknowledge him. Then, Arnold blinked. He stopped the watch and checked it. “32 seconds?!” he looked around in confusion and found the stranger sitting on his original bench. He sprinted toward the man.

“Who are-” Arnold blinked. “-you?” The stranger was gone. “Fine,” he sighed and returned to his camera. The footage showed the man appear about halfway through, then disappear when Arnold ran into the frame. “Tomorrow,” he said again as he walked home.

Arnold spent the rest of the day wondering how to corner the stranger and find out what he was up to. He settled on a questionably legal plan as his only option: tranquilizer gun.

He arrived at the park on time, set his camera up pointing at the usual spot. Then, he took his tranquilizer gun and hid in the bushes behind the bench. He held the watch in his left hand, gun in the right. At 10:45 he blinked again. He squeezed the watch and noticed the man’s dark hair in front of him.

Arnold aimed at the back of the man’s neck then blinked. He stopped the watch while checking the other bench for the stranger. He was nowhere to be seen. Arnold looked down at the watch.

‘THREE HOURS!!???” he shouted. He ran back to his camera; it had three hours worth of video. He rewound it and watched the stranger appear, then he saw the top of his own head moving behind the man.

Then, a tall, pale woman walked in front of the camera. She had long white hair and a flowing orange dress.. The moment Arnold saw her, he knew she was associated with the stranger. She matched his white suit and orange tie perfectly. She walked toward the camera, grabbed it, turned it, then sat down in front of it.

“What’s your problem?” she asked. “My friend just wants to spend a moment alone in the park. He doesn’t need you harassing him.” The woman grabbed the camera and turned it back toward the bench. The man was sitting still, looking at the sky, and Arnold was standing behind him gun in hand.

“Say hi to the psycho, Billy,” the woman yelled behind the camera. As an answer he lifted his arm and flipped off the camera, then he lowered his arm to the bench again. She giggled and continued to show the rest of the park. Everyone was frozen still, joggers floated in the air mid-step.

“We control time,” she said as she carried the camera toward the park bench. “But sometimes it’s nice to feel the seconds go by.” She lifted the camera to her face and gave it a stern look. “Billy is mourning right now; he doesn’t need your petty, intrusive bullshit. He’s living his life, you live yours.”  She kept walking, then Arnold saw himself on camera.

“If you bother him again…,” the woman said. She juggled the camera for a moment then it was pointed at Arnold again. The woman stabbed him in the gut with a white knife; it came out covered in blood; then she did it again and again almost a dozen times. “I won’t heal you next time,” she said. Arnold dropped the camera and lifted his shirt; he realized it was riddled with holes.

His stomach was covered with tiny scars.

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