Wed | Jul 26, 2017

The one-minute decision

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 8:00 AM

Jason Stephenson, Contributor

Today was supposed to be the happiest day of Phillip's life. His wife, Celine, was pregnant. She just told him while on their walk home from the park. They had been trying for so long and finally - finally, he was about to become a father. He was so thrilled he couldn't stop jabbering on and on about cribs and toys, vaccines and the right doctors, a bigger car, even a bigger house.

He announced it proudly to the elderly couple playing go-fish up on their balcony; he hugged complete strangers in the streets as they passed by, some crossing the road in hopes of not catching his crazy. He even twirled in circles with Celine who giggled uncontrollably at his juvenile antics.

But that quickly changed. While on their way home, they came across smoke rising up from the bakery further down the street. "RAYMOND!!" They heard a woman scream at the flames, running in circles on the sidewalk. "RAYMOND!" She darted over to the couple in a panic. "Please, m-my son is still inside. Save my baby please! Please save my baby!"

No one else was around. Phillip exchanged a sudden glance with his wife. He wasn't the type to sit and watch helplessly. Celine slowly let his hand go, she knew there was no point in talking him out of it. He was too stubborn. "Make sure you come back alive - please," she begged.

Phillip nodded. "Don't worry, I'll be fine," he said, turning to the entrance and vanishing into the smoke.

Dark pathway

It was dark. He couldn't make out a thing but smoke and fire. He heard loud crying somewhere in the back. Phillip covered his nose, trying his best to not breathe in the fumes. The staircase banister collapsed into a heap.

The place was falling apart. He had to hurry.

He sprinted down the hallway, past walls set ablaze, dodging bits of ceiling falling. "Help!" cried the little boy. "Help me!"

Phillip followed the voice. The smoke got thicker with every passing minute, burning his eyes so much they watered. He kicked open the door at the end of the passage finding the child standing in a corner, petrified as the flames enclosed him.

"God has been watching you, Phillip!" said a voice. Phillip jumped. There in the opposite corner of the room was the baker woman from outside. She just appeared from thin air. She didn't look half as frantic as she did before.

"What are you doing here?" yelled Phillip. "Get back outside. It's not safe."

The woman smiled as all her clothes wilted from her body erupting with a light so blinding Phillip couldn't look at her. "Oh my God!" said Phillip falling to his knees.

"You were destined to come here today, Phillip," said the angel. "For, today, you must make a choice." She pointed behind him. A clear path had magically appeared, free of flames and damage leading directly back to the exit. "Should you leave now, you shall still live! But ..." She pointed at the child standing in the corner as the flames came closer. "Should you save the boy, you shall never leave."

Phillip froze. "Y-You mean—"

"Yes," said the angel. "You will die!"

Phillip covered his face in horror. Was this all a dream? "Why don't you save him then?!" shouted Phillip.

"He is not for me to save," she replied. "Would you rather save yourself? Or save the life of a stranger? You have one minute to decide."

The little boy trembled in the corner. He clearly couldn't see the angel hovering in the smouldering room. Phillip didn't know what to do? "O-One minute?!" he yelled.

"That's not fair! What if I just don't make a choice?" he asked. "What then?"

"Then you shall both die," she said. "Fifty seconds ..."

Phillip gazed into the boy's eyes as he staggered back to the door. "I'm so sorry," he said. The boy squealed as he realised Phillip was departing.

"Don't leave me," the boy coughed. "Come back."

Another piece of the roof fell to the ground beside him causing him to flinch in terror. "Please," he cried, soaked in tears. Forty seconds - Phillip had a wife and a child of his own coming soon, he couldn't leave them. The left wall suddenly crumbled to the floor.

Thirty minutes - He was almost near the door, the boy's cries still ringing in his ears. Phillip leapt over an overturned table set ablaze. Twenty seconds - His conscience bit at him. How could he live with himself? What would he tell his wife? No, he had to be selfish - just this once. He wasn't ready to die.

The sirens rang in the distance. The fire trucks were on their way. They could do it. They could save him instead. It was their job. Ten seconds - Phillip stopped at the exit. His wife sprang up with relief as he emerged from the smoke. Phillip stood rooted to the door's entrance. He gazed at Celine's womb where his unborn child grew. Celine's smile dropped as he looked into her eyes, apologising silently for what he was about to do. There was still time ...

Celine's smile dropped as he looked into her eyes,
apologising silently for what he was about to do. There was still time
...

Phillip ran back into the bakery. The flames were
even bigger than before. He darted past the collapsing walls and to the
back of the building.

Five seconds - He could still do
it.

Four seconds - He couldn't stop
sweating.

Three seconds - He could still turn
back.

Two seconds - Phillip's heart thumped
loudly.

One second ...

There was a
loud explosion from inside before the little boy ran into the street,
coughing and retching into the arms of the paramedics. "PHILLIP!!"
screamed Celine.

"MY HUSBAND, HE'S STILL IN THERE!!
HE'S STILL IN THERE!!"

Firemen began hosing down the
building, rushing inside with hopes of saving this young
hero.

"Phillip," said Celine gently. Phillip awoke.
Celine was sitting beside him.

"Where am I?" said
Phillip looking around.

"You're in the hospital,
sweetheart."

"B-But, I should be dead," he said
looking around in astonishment. "This can't be
right."

"You did die, Phillip," she sobbed. "You were
dead for eight minutes! I thought I lost you, but the paramedics were
able to bring you back to life. Thank God." Phillip sat up in shock as
Celine melted into tears on his chest.

The baker woman
scuttled quickly outside Phillip's room door. Nobody saw
her.

Phillip didn't know it yet, but come eight years
time, his son, Raymond, wouldn't suddenly end up dying in a tragic fire
in the downtown bakery, because as fate would have it, he had already
been saved.