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 to an incessant, inaudible beat. Why was he doing this again?Oh, right, because in some daze that morning, waking between empty cans of V and scrunched up packets of CC’s, Zach had the brilliant thought to go to one of the most crowded buildings in Brisbane and have a 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.
So 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. In their eyes, he would have destroyed their beautiful house. In reality it was just a bit of silly-string and party rubbish. Well worth the expression Zach could picture on his mother’s face. Serves them right for keeping secrets.
Zach sighed, shooting a glare at a small, blond imp that had just trodden on his foot. 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.
‘And yet, I’m still here,’ he muttered under his breath.
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 were not truly related, Zach could still inherit things from his parents. Like arrogance and conceit. He took comfort from the fact that his intelligence had nothing to do with either of them, a fact he was sure drove them insane. More so due to the fact that he was now openly smoking pot.
The dozens of murmured conversations made it too hard for Zach to hear himself think. He sighed, closing his eyes and attempting to get his bearing, to straighten his thoughts out. 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, debating with himself. He should leave. He hated crowds and enclosed spaces and people in general. 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 still the temperature around him felt hot. 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 proceeded rain, filled the air, and 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 him beaten at his old boarding school.
‘Oh my god, oh my god, was that an earthquake?’
‘Shit, watch it.’
Something crashed in another room and half the room jumped in fright. Zach glanced around, trying to steady his breathing. A large frame tipped sideways and fell from the wall.
Zach shook his head, gaping and yet distracted by a faint buzzing that tingled along the bass of his spine and up through his head. People milled about him in a panic, some rushing to the windows, others checking their phones to either find their loved ones or find out what had caused the earthquake. They’d have been better off joining the people shoving up to the windows.
Zach staggered again, 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. At the headache of gargantuan proportions blossoming behind his eyes.
He was shoved harder against the glass as people crammed up behind him, clamouring to see outside. Through the pain, he realised what they were so anxious to see. On the bridge, caught up in the wires and spikes 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 hot as everyone in the room crowded at 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, and he reached down to clutch at the lighter in his pocket, feeling for the smooth metal of the Zippo, 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 faint 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.
Zach couldn’t see her face, but sensed somehow, through the pain in his mind, that they were looking at each other. He could almost see the expression on her face, tilted up toward the building, toward him, her silver eyes wide and frightened, yet hopeful.
The noise in the gallery grew into a roar of frantic voices trying to make sense of what they were seeing. Zach staggered back, pushing through the people in the crowd, 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!
‘Is it a military plane?’
Someone laughed, hysterical and high pitched. Abruptly, his mouth snapping shut over the sound, Zach realised that he was the one laughing. He shook his head, trying to clear away some of the pain, or at the very least some of the hazy vision. People were looking at him, but they were also looking at the aircraft and the girl—how did he know it was a girl?—still staring up at their building from the bridge below.
His vision dipped, becoming dark, before clearing abruptly. In that small window of clarity, the girl in the purple suit turned and jumped 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 sudden movement startled the crowd, his sneakers squeaking along the polished wooden floor as he dashed to the left to avoid ramming into a group of teenagers a few years younger than Zach.
He reached the exit just as the panic peaked behind him; as the realisation of what was on the bridge began to register. Zach was out of the room and in the corridor when the screaming started. Crashing down the front steps of the gallery, racing toward the riverbank, he heard sirens whirring in the distance. Zach 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.