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The ferry chugged into Circular Quay. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Ashton hopped down the steep stairs from the bow to the narrow deck below. Benches lined the green, salt-crusted walls. Ashton weaved the tight mass of people and bags to the gangway. People gathering already, ready to disembark. He stood in the crowd, tapping his foot impatiently. It was taking much longer than usual to disembark. He concluded to just blame it on the tourists. They never know how to work the ferry system. But even the crew seemed to be taking longer then usual to tie off the boat. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the crew opened the gangway. People started filing through. Ashton hopped off, and headed towards The Rocks.
The sun was setting, painting the sky peach and yellow and pink. The Central Business District was lit up like a metropolitan Christmas tree. Yellows, blues, reds, oranges and even greens shimmered in the world-class harbor. Ashton walked along the water’s edge. A train rattled into the station elevated above the city. The screeching of wheels on rail took a while to come to a cease. The tourist propaganda of Sydney waited along the scenic walkway. The aborigine man in full body paint and his didgeridoo, and the pimp who sells the man’s soul. The cheap, junk memento shops filled with stuffed animal koalas and boomerangs. Pockets of local life sprinkled the quay. The seafood place. The boutique shop. Just barely though.
The CBD was usually bustling with activity on a Friday night. Tonight however, it just didn’t seem that way. A massive cruise ship occupied the cruise terminal, and hundreds of people milled about Circular Quay, yet it just seemed like everything was, slow. Looking over his shoulder, Ashton saw the tops of the Opera House; a crazy tie-dye pattern was projected on its sails. He shrugged off the nagging thought, and continued towards The Rocks.
The Rocks is a tiny hole in the wall part of Sydney that never evolved with the rest of the city. The quaint, llittlestoned allies and red brick buildings rest in the shadow of the Harbor Bridge. Turing onto George Street, the main road that meandered through The Rocks, Ashton froze in surprise. His best mate Brys and he planned to wander the bustling Friday night market. Brys had said it could get crazy, and to arrive early. That wasn’t the case, exactly.
Not a soul moved, even though the local hot spot he was packed. He suddenly chuckled to himself, as he realized it was just a flashmob, like the one he had seen online. He began to weave through the sea of statues, heading towards where he and Brys liked to meet, The Old Holiday Inn.
Things started to get uncomfortable. No one blinked. No one even quivered. He crossed the market and waited at the steps of the Inn. There was a nagging thought in the back of his mind. Something was wrong. There was an elderly couple, staring at a map. A woman reaching into her purse. A teen stopping to tie his shoe. Ashton stood there, hopping Brys would show up soon. His foot tapped uncontrollable on the marble steps of the hotel.
What should have been a very loud market was silent. His eyes scanned the crowd. That’s when he saw him. Brys stood on the other side of the street.
He had been holding an ice cream cone. It looked as though he had dropped it. Ashton blinked hard, and stared with disbelief. It looked as though the cone hadn’t landed. The mint chocolate chip and caramel syrup were suspended in mid air. Brys’s face was still squished in a shocked expression. Eyes wide, Ashton crossed the street, and poked his best mate’s nose. Not even a flinch. An eerie chill crawled up his back. At that moment, Ashton realized the usual laughing, chatter, honking, yelling, music playing, train-rattling, bus engine, boat chugging choir that is Sydney had ceased. Only the lapping of the nearby harbor, and the wind softly blowing through the awnings over the stalls sounded.
“Um, Brys, you there?” He poked Brys again, this time a bit harder, beads of sweat pooling around his wavy hairline. Some gravity still existed in the frozen world, for Brys fell over, and shattered like glass into a thousand pieces. Ashton let out a scream, and ran, pinching himself all the way. A domino affect took place as Ashton’s backpack hit more frozen statues. A choir of glass crashing sounded through the once silent market. Person after person fell, shattering on the cobble stoned streets.
Head down he ran. Down a long flight a stairs, two at a time, zigzagging the old allies, rushing by more statues. He looked up to see where is mad dash had taken him—the quay. Flags lined that roof of the cruise terminal; another scream escaped Ashton’s quivering lips as he discovered that they were all rigidly pointing east. The wind wasn’t even blowing. He sprinted through the crowds of people that had once so innocently wandered the postcard perfect ferry terminal. He caught glimpses of people frozen in all sorts of odd positions. A man in the process of falling over. Two young friends, about to be hailed by pigeon poop. Birds crouched down, ready for takeoff. A crewmember levitating in mid air, jumping from ferry to the pier.
He rushed along the walkway, knocking people over with his sloppy sprint. Up a wide set of stairs, and around a bend. Ashton finally stopped, and looked up. With heavy breathing and his hands on his knees, he found himself on the tiny sliver of land between the Opera House and the harbor. Across the bay and under the bridge, the rides of classic Luna Park were at a standstill. Hyperventilating, he tried comprehending what was going on around him. He whipped out his smart phone from his board short pocket. The time was frozen at the minute his ferry had arrived in downtown Sydney. In his haste, Ashton dropped the phone. He watched in shock as the phone fell. It slowed to a complete halt, floating inches above the ground.
Over his panic, he heard something that would change his life forever. Matchbox green and yellow ferries stood at a standstill, about to come crashing down on the other side of the frothy white caps. Even the water wasn’t moving. He looked over the harbor, searching for the noise’s owner.
The noise grew louder and louder. It sounded like metal grinding up against metal, and a crushing sound. Ashton’s head spun around, searching for the noise. It seemed to be coming from every direction. The starry sky suddenly lit up in neon colors, and out of nowhere, what looked like. Like… A plane. A massive plane with a huge dome at the front, came rushing out.
It roared over the harbor, and in an explosion, crashed into the iconic steel bridge. A mushroom cloud flew hundreds of feet into the air, followed by an orange torment of flames. Ashton was thrown onto the ground as a serge of energy that swept across the harbor. He landed on the ground hard. Windows shattered. Cars flew through the air. Ferries capsized. A waterfall of glass from above showed down on Ashton. His hands flew up to cover his face. A piece landed straight into the palm of his hand. He let out a cry of pain, ripped the piece out, and crawled back to his feet. Blood gushed from the gash on his hand. His hair was matted to his forehead with sweat. His face covered in dust and littered with scratches. He put a hand on the back of his head. It was sticky. More blood. The once idyllic sky was now a canvas to raging colors. Red. Orange. Black. Huge pillars of black smoke billowed from the crash sight. The fire roared on, consuming most of the bridge. There was grinding, and a crash as pieces of the Harbor Bridge crashed into the still water. Ashton stood there, watching the nightmare unfold before his very eyes.
Through the chaos, something caught his attention
It fluttered towards him.
As it got closer, he saw it was a tiny paper plane, twirling effortless towards him. It was strangely calming, yet incredibly eerie, seeing the loop de looping airplane glide over to him in the midst of the events taking place. It landed at his dust-covered shoes soundlessly. Slowly reaching down, he grabbed the paper plane, and unfolded the perfectly creased edges. Ashton glanced up at the inferno. More bridge collapsed into the harbor. Splash! Splash! The downed ship was encased in flames, barely seen. He looked back at the paper. There was a single line written in tight, neat handwriting. Eyes wide, he read the note.
Ashton, you’re the only one who can save our race. Help us.