The art gallery was crowded. Seventeen-year-old Zach Andrews wound his way through the packed bodies, attempting to get from room to room with as little physical contact as possible. His nose wrinkled at the smell that often accompanied large crowds; a pungent mixture of sweat and perfume. His fingers kept up a rhythmic tap, drumming along the soft leather of his book bag.
In a post-party daze that morning, waking between empty cans of V, half smoked joints and scrunched up packets of CC’s, Zach had the brilliant thought to go to one of the most crowded buildings in Brisbane and wander around. The thought was more of an urge. An idea that had blossomed from the emptiness of his grumbling stomach, surging up his spine and into his mind in a persistent nag.
Zach had followed the nag, leaving the house in the post-party disaster he had created—half hoping his parents would arrive home early from their cruise and discover the mess. It was just a bit of silly string and party rubbish, but in their eyes he would have destroyed their beautiful house. Serves them right for keeping secrets.
Zach sighed and was jostled sideways. A thin young woman pushed through the crowd, pulling a small, blond boy along with her. The little imp squeezed past, stomping on Zach’s foot. Zach winced, muttering a curse that wasn’t quite quiet enough. The imp’s mother didn’t apologise, but rather glared at Zach as if it was his fault the child had trodden on his foot.
Zach put on his best snob face, sneering at the mother and her boy as if they were nothing more than ants under his shoes. Even in the state he was in, disheveled clothes and clearly hungover, the expression was still effective. They scuttled away from him and Zach smirked. Every single time. He’d perfected the look from his mother, who wore it genuinely and often. Funny, how even though they weren’t truly related, Zach could still inherit things from his parents. Like arrogance and conceit. He took comfort from the fact his intelligence had nothing to do with either of them, something he was sure drove them insane.
Zach hunched his shoulders, trying to make himself smaller as he slipped through the crowd searching for…something. He paused behind a group clustered in front of a bland and cluttered painting. Whatever he had come for, it wasn’t art.
He shook his head and tried to move on. Another couple squeezed past Zach and he resisted the urge to pull them to a stop and explain what personal space meant.
The dozens of murmured conversations made it too hard for Zach to hear himself think. He sighed, closing his eyes and attempting to straighten out his thoughts; to clear away the fog and smoke of the night before. His fingers stopped tapping and slipped into the pocket of his jeans. How tempting it was, as the next tour of ten eased their way into the room, to pull out the pre-rolled joint and light up. Instead, Zach huffed out a breath and turned toward the exit, pulling at the collar of his shirt. He was hot, and he needed space to breathe.
He ended up near the back windows of the gallery overlooking the river. He should leave. He had no appreciation for the chaotic mess of colours and shapes that people called art, so, what on earth was he still doing there?
Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to leave. The feeling—that tug that had brought him to the gallery to begin with—sat deep in his stomach, coiled and waiting.
Waiting for what?
Zach leant his forehead against the cool glass, and the temperature around him rose. It was too hot. The air shifted, and Zach lifted his head, stepping away from the window as it flexed against his hand. The coiled feeling clenched in his gut and he stared out the window. A fresh scent, like the clean smell that preceded rain, filled the air. Zach watched with widening blue eyes as a ripple went across the water below. He almost thought he could feel it through the building, through the glass of the window, even see it through the air; like a shadowy shimmer rippling the very fabric of reality. The bridge, its architectural style more aesthetic than practical with all those needles and spikes, seemed to…to bend.
Zach stumbled back. A shockwave burst through the gallery, almost knocking him off his feet.
He steadied himself, accompanied by a string of swear words that would have had made his socialite mother scarlet in anger.
Pictures fell in clattered chaos. Somewhere in another room something shattered. Voices erupted around him, echoing over each other in the domed ceiling.
‘Oh my god, oh my god, was that an earthquake?’
‘Shit, watch it.’
Zach glanced around, trying to steady his breathing. A large frame tipped sideways and fell from the wall.
Faint buzzing tingled along the base of his spine and up through his head. People milled about him on the verge of panic, checking their phones to find out what had caused the earthquake. They’d have been better off joining the people shoving up to the windows.
Pain spiked in Zach’s head and he reeled, crying out and throwing out a hand to catch hold of something, anything to keep him standing upright. His hand slapped on the glass and he leaned against it, his shaking knees just holding him up as he clutched at his head with his other hand. A headache of gargantuan proportions blossomed behind his eyes.
He was shoved harder against the glass as people crammed up behind him, clamouring to see outside. On the bridge, caught up in the wires and spikes that made up the bridge’s architecture was some sort of…of aircraft.
Was he hallucinating?
Zach’s breath came fast and he cast an anxious look around the room.
‘Jesus what is that thing?’
‘This is a show, right? It’s some prank by the art students.’
‘A prank? Are you an idiot? That thing shook the whole building!’
‘Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod.’
‘What is it? What is that thing?’
So, not hallucinating then.
Zach sucked in a deep breath. The air was quickly getting hotter as everyone in the room crowded the windows. People had their phones out and were recording. Zach squinted against the pain behind his eyes and tried to block out the noise of the people around him.
A steady thud thud, thud thud was beating hard in Zach’s chest. He reached down to clutch at the lighter in his pocket, feeling for the smooth metal, focusing his mind on the warmth against his fingers. It gave him space to breathe. To think through the haze of the pulsing headache.
The cool glass was beginning to warm under his fingers and a flush was creeping up Zach’s neck from the rising temperature of the crowded room. Below, where the bridge arched out from the art gallery lawn a figure crawled out of the aircraft. She was just close enough for Zach to make out her bright purple suit as she staggered from the craft onto the bridge facing the museum.
Zach couldn’t see her face, but sensed somehow that they were looking at each other. The image of her—head tilted up toward the building, toward him, her silver eyes wide and frightened, yet hopeful—blossoming from within his mind, rather than from his own sight.
The noise in the gallery grew into a roar of frantic voices trying to make sense of what they were seeing. Zach staggered back, clutching at his head. God, would they just stop talking? The pain pounded behind his eyes and along his temples, a migraine in the making, made, already steamrolling its way through his mind. Amidst the pain there was a light. Get down there!
He shook his head, trying to clear away some of the pain, or at the very least some of the hazy vision. In a small window of clarity, he watched the girl in the purple suit turn and jump over the edge of the bridge, plummeting down to the water below.
Zach sucked in a deep breath and turned sharply. He didn’t wait for anyone else to realise what was on the bridge. He ran.
His sneakers squeaked along the polished wooden floor as he dashed to the left to avoid ramming into a group of teenagers.
He reached the exit just as the panic peaked behind him; Zach was out of the room and in the corridor when the screaming started. Cries of hysteria and disbelief echoed behind him as he sprinted through the building and out the nearest exit.
He skidded on the grass and almost fell over. The migraine erupted, exploding darkness through his head with a single bright thought illuminating his whole being.
He had to get there first.
He had to get to the alien girl first.