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Half a Second

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Magda shouldn't have expected everything to be that simple. "You can do this," Sam had told her, and she'd let herself believe him, because it was nice, just to have a little bit of hope. Just to let herself imagine, for a second, a future where everything was different. Where she learned to control her powers, learned not to hurt people. Where Sam was right and she wasn't the devil. Where she could actually be a person again.

It's been such a long time since she's just been a person. She misses it.

She didn't think she'd ever get that back. She didn't think she deserved it.

And then Sam showed up, and he told her otherwise, and she let herself believe him, because it sounded so much like everything she'd ever wanted, everything she'd given up on.

But of course it wasn't that simple. Of course it wasn't. And now here she is, not even halfway to California yet, in some dingy public bathroom, and there is a man pointing a gun at her, and she doesn't even get more than half a second to react.

He shuts the bathroom door, and he shoots, and that's that.

Only half a second. Half a second, and that's her, Magda Peterson who is not the devil after all, Magda Peterson and all her brand new hopes and dreams (implausible as they may be, but Sam said, and she chose to believe), snuffed out. Dead.

She sees it all in front of her in that one half-second. Sees the bullet hit her and shut all of it down for good. Sees herself, a cold, stiff body, just like her father and her brother earlier that same afternoon, only probably less heaven-bound.

It really has been a long day. And it's crazy, how much can happen in such a short space of time.

You're stuck in a basement for months on end, and time spirals in on itself, turns into an endless circle that loops and loops and doesn't bring anything new except pain.

And then your entire life is broken to smithereens and you watch your family disintegrate, one at a time, quick-fire; pop-pop-pop.

And then someone points a gun at you. And within half a second you yourself are no longer anything.

He shoots, and the bullet fires, and in half a second Magda sees it happen, sees herself be gone for good.

And in half a second Magda decides that it's wrong. It's not fucking fair.

Because she's not the devil. And Sam told her that she could do this. And she deserves to live.

Magda is not the devil. She is a psychic, and she can do this.

The bullet fires towards her, and she feels it coming, feels it prepare to hit her and to end her; and she changes its course.

All it takes, ultimately, is the tiniest flick of her head; the tiniest flex of her powers. The tiniest change in its path.

The bullet's path is straight to her heart, and her inevitable end with it. She lets it get most of the way there, just to make it look convincing; then derails it at the last minute. Makes it veer to the side, just enough.

The bullet hits its mark, and and Magda lets herself crumple. Falls to the ground the way she should have done, the way her father and brother did, earlier that same day.

Somewhere behind her, the bullet bounces away, still free of blood. Somewhere in her jacket, right at the side of it where it was too baggy to cover any of her slim body, there is a hole. A clean hole of broken fabric and nothing else.

It's a pity. She liked that jacket. It was new, and it's a while since she's had any nice clothes.

She lets her eyes flutter shut, and makes herself stiff. Takes the shape of the dead person that she was supposed to be.

The man moves forward, and inspects her. She holds her breath. Thinks, I am dead. Thinks, this is where it's supposed to end.

It hasn't ended. The man walks away; turns around, takes out his phone. As a dead body, she is no longer worth his attention.

The door swings shut where he casually knocked it as he left. Magda opens her eyes, and gets up.

You can do this, Sam told her that very same day. And maybe, she can.

It's an old, dingy toilet, practically falling to bits. In the corner there is a loose wire, under an irresponsibly placed light-switch. It's already hanging worryingly close to a very floodable-looking tap.

Magda takes off her jacket and tosses it to the ground. She climbs out of the window at the back of the bathroom and stands there, outside the building, the night air cold and tangible on her bare arms. It takes another flick of her head and inside the bathroom, that floodable-looking tap is on; that loose wire is sparking. By the time the man with the gun puts down his phone and turns back round, a fire will be breaking out.

He'll think it's convenient. Less to cover up. He'll linger a bit, out of sight, just until he sees them dig the burnt remains of her jacket out of the rubble. And that will be all that's left of Magda Peterson. A job well done.

In real life, Magda turns around and runs. Runs deep into the forest, somewhere so deep that nobody else will be able to find her. She'll have to think of a long-term plan later. Have to think of a good way to keep herself hidden. She really should have known things wouldn't be that simple.

But the more important thing is, she's alive. The more important thing is, Sam was right. Magda Peterson can do this.