Though no one could ever seek to explain it – at least not without some understanding of the physical and metaphysical nature of the universe – magic came with certain rules of its own that, though never truly communicated, were understood by the magical community. That same community had rules, which had partway become ingrained in the fabric of existence. Everyone knew them, if they knew what was good for them.
Some people, of course, do not know what is good for them. Nor do they know that there is a magical community. They stumble upon magic like a stray twig in the grass, or – as was the case for Peter Smyth – a pair of wristbands at a car boot sale. He was twenty six, smothered by debt, obsessed with superheroes, and utterly ensnared by the idea that he had power beyond human understanding.
What he lacked in knowledge of the rules of magic or the community he made up for in dreadful enthusiasm. What he lacked in imagination, he made up for in some basic intelligence. He bounded out into the world as Chronoman, face covered, hands covered, wristbands shining with unspoken power, and oblivious to laws against vigilantism, and the utter absence of real-world superheroes.
His first act as Chronoman – capable of freezing local time for an undisclosed length of time with his magical wristbands – resulted in a bank robber remaining frozen in place for three hours after the police arrived. When his handgun shattered under the slight pressure required to remove it from the robber’s hand, he was left alone until he resumed motion, oblivious to the fact that he had been foiled.
Peter slept in the next day by six hours, thinking how he really must have needed it.
Having missed a whole morning of bank robberies, he arrived at a skyscraper in time to freeze a man halfway on his descent to the ground. The jumper remained in place for five hours while emergency services built a safety net around him. There was no opportunity to thank – or even question – Chronoman before the masked hero moved on. A speeding getaway car held up traffic on the highway for an hour, frozen in place, while police built up a barrier to stop it.
Peter was not around to witness the police accidentally breaking the car. The whole fabric of it fell apart between the time of their arrival, and the time the magic wore off. Nor was he around to witness the jumper resuming motion. He failed to see the jumper’s velocity return, almost tearing the whole safety net down with him, just as he failed to see the two men in the getaway car return to the vehicle’s former speed instantaneously, without the protecting of the vehicle around them. The effect on their bodies could only be described as catastrophic by the six o’clock news. Both men, suddenly and impossibly travelling at a speed in excess of eighty miles per hour, were subjected to forces so strong that they would have needed a full day to recover. That is, of course, if they hadn’t smashed fatally into the barrier set up to stop the car, splattering all over a dozen policemen, three of whom were admitted to hospital for shock.
Chronoman was not seen the next day. Nor did Peter see the news. He slept the whole time – or, at least, presumed himself to have slept. He remained in bed for a grand total of twenty two hours longer than he intended, and didn’t realise he’d missed almost an entire day of his life.
In his absence, it had been decided that Chronoman was a menace to the public. Local police were on the lookout for him. As were the magical community, though this fact wasn’t shared with the media. For risking the exposure of magic to the world, a bounty had been placed on his head.
Peter’s only concern, oblivious to these two facts, was to stop the robbery on Main Street. Weapons were dropped the moment Chronoman entered the bank, leading to the immediate arrests of the robbers. Rather than celebrate, the policemen who arrived raised their handguns to Chronoman. He did not freeze. He did not understand. And so, they shot.
He had never aimed for such small targets, but he surprised himself by catching half a dozen bullets in mid-air. In a moment of panic, he also froze the policemen, and sped off on foot. He was followed, which didn’t surprise him in the slightest – though he still had no idea what was going on – and had no choice but to freeze every policeman who tried to stop him, as well as every car that came close to almost hitting him as he crossed the highway on foot, and the water in the stream so he could cross and remain dry, and a helicopter that was keeping an eye out for him. He froze a school bus full of children happily taking pictures of him for the Internet, and he froze an old woman who recognised him from the papers and had begun screaming.
When he was certain that he wasn’t being followed, he removed his mask, returned home, and hid under his duvet.
Still, he had no idea about what was happening or why, only that maybe now he might be in some trouble. He took a pill to help himself sleep.
The cumulative effect of freezing so many people in time for, it turned out, a full day played its toll on Peter. He remained in bed for long enough to be considered legally dead, though the reality was that the magic he had used to freeze everyone was simply being paid for, with interest. If he had been left alone for a few years, he would have woken up.
Instead, they attempted to move him.
The mush that was Peter Smyth was later discovered to be Chronoman. Shortly thereafter, the wristbands vanished. No one was ever entirely sure why.