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Just Sixty Seconds

One minute to decide

By Joshua MaggsPublished about a month ago 6 min read
Top Story - April 2024
20

Oliver sat at a cold, grey steel-covered table. He knew he was next. The longer he sat here, the more confident he knew he wouldn’t make it. His hands were tied to the chair he was sitting on, pushed up against the steel table. A small camera in the corner of the ceiling with a tiny red flashing light was the only thing he was focused on. He felt sick to the stomach. He knew he didn’t have long.

The door opened quickly. A tall, young woman walked in. She was dressed in a flowing red dress adorned with sequins and a feather like scarf that wrapped several times around her neck. She wore a gold watch on her left wrist and a silver bracelet on her right. Her heels click clacked on the floor with each step as she approached the table.

“Well,” she said, “It’s nice to finally meet you.” Her sinister yet inviting voice was mesmerising to him. Oliver quickly tried to focus his attention back on the camera.

“It’s a very important day today. You are aware of that? Aren’t you?”

The condescending tone of the woman’s voice shifted Oliver’s attention from the camera directly into her eyes.

He nodded. The woman smiled as she lent down onto the table with her elbows and arms resting on the side.

“You know, it’s actually not that bad,” she continued as Oliver kept making direct eye-contact.

“So… I’ll run through what will happen. Then, by all means - if you have any questions – I probably won’t answer them for you…” She laughed, smiled and winked before making her way to the chair opposite Oliver at the table. He felt uncomfortable and sick to the stomach. There was something about this woman that didn’t seem right. This whole situation wasn’t right, he thought to himself as he started to feel his palms begin to sweat.

He closed his eyes. He wanted to be out of this place. It had almost been twenty-four hours. He hadn’t eaten, had only been given a cup of lukewarm water and hadn’t seen any other human being apart from this woman. He remembered waking up, hands strapped to the chair in this cold, dungeon-like room.

BANG!

Oliver suddenly opened his eyes. The woman had her hand in the shape of a fist firmly planted on the side of the steel table. She raised her hand, and a small dent was neatly stamped into the table.

“Pay attention!” she shouted, making Oliver jolt in fear.

“You must listen to me! I am trying to help you. Do you not want that?”

Oliver nodded physically but shook his head mentally. He didn’t want her help. He wanted to get out of this place and go home.

“Now. Let’s begin…”

He sat there anticipating what this woman was about to say.

“Listen to me carefully! I will only say this once and will not repeat it. Do you understand?”

Oliver nodded as he moved his fingers, desperately trying to get out of the chains holding him to the heavy wooden chair.

“At the exact moment you turn eighteen, you will be required to answer one simple question. The question isn’t hard. – However, how you answer will determine if you live, or if you die.”

Oliver was mortified.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you the most important part. How silly of me!” The woman laughed sarcastically, yet was direct in her tone.

“You’ll only have 60 seconds,” the woman smirked and stood up. Oliver finally broke his silence.

“What do you mean sixty seconds?”

“Sixty seconds to live… or to die…”

The woman, in her glittering red sequin dress and feather like scarf, walked towards the door. She stopped as she opened the handle and turned her head to look at Oliver. Oliver turned and looked back at her. He could see outside into the hallway leading away from the room. A white clock hung on one of the walls in the corridor. The floor was white as were the walls. Oliver’s attention quickly turned back to the woman.

“Happy Birthday, Oliver!”

The woman left the room as the steel door slammed shut.

Suddenly a clock fell from the ceiling, attached to two ropes. It hung suspended opposite Oliver on the other side of the table. The clock had ‘6’ and ‘0’, lit up in analogue form.

Oliver started to panic. What time was he born? It was almost his birthday, yet he didn’t know what the time was. The timer could start at any moment. What was the question going to be? His palms growing sweatier as he felt the beating of his heart in his throat.

He looked at the door. He looked around the room, seeking any way to leave – to get out of this place.

The clock changed to ‘59’

Tick, tock.

Tick, tock.

Oliver panicked. What was the question?

‘57’

Tick, tock.

Suddenly he heard the crackling of an intercom. He couldn’t see it anywhere, but could hear it. Perhaps it was coming from the clock hanging in front of him?

Tick, tock.

“Your question is the following: ‘What is the time, at this very moment?”

Tick, tock.

Oliver sat, confused and extremely bewildered. Is that the question?

The walls of the room began to shake. The ceiling began to part, leaving a huge rectangular opening directly above him.

‘45’

Oliver had no idea what the time was. His heart racing as he knew the seconds were being snatched away. Time wasn’t going to stop for him to work out the answer to this question.

Tick, tock.

Oliver closed his eyes. The walls of the room began to creak and rattle. He had to think, but he couldn’t. The sounds of the room moving were unnerving. He tried to think. Perhaps there were clues?

He started going through arbitrary words in his mind - at least to help him keep his mind on trying to answer this easy, yet what seemed to be an impossible question.

Time. Clocks. Counting. Watch.

Oliver’s eyes opened. The woman’s watch! She was wearing a gold watch as she walked in. He remembered looking at it, but only noticed the minute hand on twenty-past. He didn’t see what hour the other hand was on.

Tick, tock.

A siren began to sound as he sat there trying to work out what the other hand could be on.

He closed his eyes again.

Tick, tock.

Tick, tock.

‘30’

Thirty seconds remained. Time seemed to pause in his mind as he tried to focus on what the answer was. He started running through memories of anything that could help.

He opened his eyes and looked at the door in the corner. The steel, cold door. The corridor wasn’t steel. It was painted white – with a clock hung on the wall. The clock!

Oliver tried to remember what he saw. Was the hand on eleven or twelve? Twenty-past eleven? Or twenty-past twelve?

The siren became louder as the creaking of the room began to stop. A mechanical sort of sound, like an engine beginning, started to sound from within the opening of the ceiling.

Tick, tock.

Tick, tock.

‘10’

Oliver had to decide. What was the time? The most important question of his life. A simple, yet mundane question would determine if he lived or died. Seconds remained. He had to choose, not entirely sure of the answer. Balls of sweat formed on his forehead and rolled down his cheeks. The sounds of sirens blended into one as he decided on his answer.

Tick, tock.

‘5’

Eleven-twenty. It was twenty-past eleven.

Oliver shouted as loud as he could – “ELEVEN-TWENTY!”

‘4’

‘3’

‘2’

‘1’

Silence. No siren and no creaking. The mechanical sound continued.

The clock across from him stopped on zero. The sound of the machine in the ceiling finally stopped.

The door of the room opened with the woman standing there, in her red sequin dress and feathers.

She looked at Oliver.

“Congratulations, Oliver. You are correct.”

MicrofictionShort Story
20

About the Creator

Joshua Maggs

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (13)

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  • Christy Munson3 days ago

    Interesting take on the challenge. I'm not sure I followed every aspect of the telling, but I enjoyed it immensely. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Anna 29 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Abdul Qayyum30 days ago

    loved this! Inspiring story

  • Andrea Corwin 30 days ago

    Well, what the heck?? This was wrought with tension and I was so afraid he wouldn’t have the right answer. Who is that woman⁉️

  • David E. Perryabout a month ago

    This kept my attention!

  • AliMartabout a month ago

    Like it

  • Flamance @ lit.about a month ago

    Impressive work

  • That was tense and kept you on the edge of your seat

  • Gift mackiverabout a month ago

    Hey 👋

  • D. D. Leeabout a month ago

    This is very creative for the 60 second challenge. Congrats on Top Story!

  • TheSpinstressabout a month ago

    Phew! This is really edge-of-your-seat stuff. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • JBazabout a month ago

    Crazy way to decide life or death, then again I guess most people know what time they were born ( or so they?) Great tension building you absolutely covered the emotional stress and panic Well done and congratulations

  • Novel Allenabout a month ago

    Saed by the ticking of the clock. that sure was a lucky guess.

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