What Came Before

A few seconds pass before the black screen springs back into life. At first the image is blurred and shaky but it quickly clears up and stabilises to reveal a huge mass of people all around.

Each one is dancing and cheering as loud, indecipherable, music blares. Everyone looks happy and many are dressed in colourful apparel. Some of it is lurid and garish but most of it is tasteful and fun.

Drew and Brenna are centre stage and dance with one another, holding hands as they jive, shake and cavort from side to side. Wide smiles are plastered across their faces.

The frame is filled with more than just the pair of them or the other parade-goers and picks up the dull grey of the city street behind them. Yet the dull grey seems far more vibrant than it should because of the rainbow coloured confetti that litters the square slabs. The confetti adds a much needed splash of colour to a place that is normally fairly monochromatic and boring.

Travis, while keeping his two friends in focus, adjusts the angle of the lens so that in the background some of the towering bright floats are captured as they trundle by. One is of a clown fish, while the next is a sphere with arms and legs protruding from it as a big smile grins stupidly and eyes linger in the centre of otherwise white discs. The sphere is green in colour and a black top hat sits at the very tip of the sphere, while white gloves form the hands at the termination of the thin bars that are the arms. The legs meanwhile are equally thin and flow right into vibrant blue sneakers that are shoulder width apart. Or the feet would be shoulder width apart if the figure on the back of the purple float base had shoulders, that is.

Travis is laughing, as are Brenna and Drew. The camera lens bops from left to right merrily because of the camera operator who is swaying in time to the music.

Suddenly Brenna unleashes a high-pitched whistle that just about manages to be heard above the cacophony of sound. Sound that is a mixture of music and the other people all around who are screaming and chanting along with the music that is playing at a near eardrum shattering volume. It’s why the son is indecipherable. It is just too loud and too much for the poor little cameras in-built microphone.

The lens picks up countless faces, each of which looks as happy and as lost in the moment as Drew and Brenna. The lens cannot see if Travis has a similar look and energy about him as he isn’t in the frame. But from his howling joy filled laughter and the increasingly severe side-to-side movements of the cameras it can be inferred that he too is up on cloud nine, thoroughly enjoying himself.

Then there is a whistle. Not one from Brenna lips, or anyone else’s for that matter, but it’s loud. It even manages to pierce above the music. In that moment everyone stops. Confused looks quickly descend upon the faces in view as the people begin to search all around them for the source of the whistle. They cannot find it, but their expressions reveal no concern until suddenly a huge blast of air sends the lens up so that it is pointing skyward. The shift in direction is severe and sudden and Travis screams a single word of profanity as the lens shakes. The shake comes after the sudden shift of the shot and is the result of him impacting the hard slabs of the street. It’s the same street that was seconds ago littered with tiny shreds of colourful confetti and joyous people dancing merrily.

“What was that?” Travis asks as the lens shifts and angles away from the view of a sliver of pristine blue sky above and to a point in which some of the towering edifices of glass, tinted and divided by slithers of steel, that can be seen in addition to a section of clear sky.

“ARGH!!” Is the first thing that the speaker picks up next. But it is followed quickly by many other screams and cries like it.

“Travis, you gotta see this.” Drew urges as he appears, partially in the frame. He blocks a good deal of the edifices across the street that had been in the shot before.

However, Drew’s expression is one of concern and his brow is deeply furrowed as he turns his head away from the lens he hadn’t even been looking into to look elsewhere.

“See what? I’m not even sure I know what happened.” Travis replies honestly as Drew mutters something the cameras microphone can’t pickup before hastily drifting out of the frame.

Travis quickly follows his friend but stays quiet even once Drew is back in shot a brief period later.

The camera gets a clear view of him helping Brenna up off the ground. His lips are moving again, but the microphone still cannot pickup whatever it is he is saying to the brown haired woman in jeans and a t-shirt. Unsurprisingly, her smile, like Drew’s, is gone. In its place is an expression that is equal parts confusion and discomfort.

Yet, somehow during her fall Brenna did not manage to break either ankle. Travis knows that because he quickly gives her a once-over with the camera. It’s surprising as she is wearing heels and though they are not as high as they could be, they are still sufficient enough that a bad or awkward fall could result in serious injury.

“Brenna, you ok?” Travis asks concerned about his friend. He’s completely forgotten about Drew having said that there is something he needed to see. And though it is clear her ankles aren’t broken there is no way of telling if she has any other, less obvious, injuries as a result of her fall.

“No. But I think I hit my head.” The diminutive woman says as she rubs at her right temple.

“Move your hand. Let me take a look.” Drew demands trying to look after her. His arm is snaked around her back giving her extra support so that now she is back on her feet she is able to stay that way. There is no way of knowing if she might be woozy or dizzy, if she has hit her head. And if she has there is a good chance that she might, without added support, drop back to the hard slabs of the sidewalk for what would be the second time.

Brenna keeps blinking. Forcing her eyes closed as tight as they will go and then rapidly opening them. It’s purposeful and the camera though not in her face is pointed directly at her, recording her actions until before long she announces, “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

As she tries to assure her friends she subconsciously moves her hand affording Drew a look at the temple she had moments ago been cradling.

He takes a quick look and then declares, “Looks like you had a lucky escape.”

At that point Brenna nods and Drew withdraws his arm from around her back. It’s a gesture meant to reassure Drew that she can stand and feels in no danger of losing balance, while also conveying her thanks.

“What happened?” Brenna asks, repeating the same question, if not word for word, that Travis asked earlier.

“Yeah Drew, you said there was something I had to see. What is it?” Travis proclaims only now recalling what his friend had said not that long ago.

The screaming is still going on. The microphone continues to pick up some of it, but it sounds distant. That could simply be because it’s far away, or because the microphone in the camera isn’t pointed in the direction of the screams. There is no way of knowing. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that it is there.

Travis though does not wait for his friends reply and begins to pan the camera around him. At first the view is of people on his side of the street clambering back to their feet, much like he had shortly after being knocked off his feet.

Everyone looks confused and perhaps even a little dizzy and dazed. Then the camera lens reaches the far side of the street.

“What is that?” Travis says aloud as whatever is in frame is too far away for him to make out properly.

Suddenly the camera zooms. As it does the image blurs. Then the zoom stops and there is a brief period of movement while Travis tries to relocate what he’d seen but couldn’t make out because of the distance.

Finally, he finds the sight he needed a better view of. That sight is people, on their feet. It makes no sense. That blast of air had knocked everyone to the ground, yet somehow these people are still standing. Except not everyone on that side is, as while Travis had been adjusting the camera to relocate this sight he’d spied many others who had also been knocked on their backsides and were scrambling to their feet. Then what little blurriness that had been affecting the image vanishes to reveal the now crystal clear image. Unfortunately, that image is of people who are on their feet but that are not moving a single muscle, at all. That’s because they are frozen solid. It takes Travis a few moments to unpack that but once he does he exclaims, “What…the…actual…fuck.”

His tone is no longer merry, joyful, happy or energetic. Instead, it is slow, heavy and fearful.

The lens looms on the sight of what anyone who had not been present before the air blast when everyone was dancing might consider to be ice statues. But anyone who had been present would never be able to refute the sight and proclaim such a thing. It’s clear that these figures had once been people and that they have somehow been flash frozen in an instant.

All of a sudden Travis quickly spins the camera away from the sight, zooming out as he does, so that he can focus back on Drew, who has hold of Brenna’s shoulders now as her right hand covers her open mouth. It is clear she has seen the sight too and is understandably shocked.

“Is this what you wanted to show me, Drew?” Travis questions in disbelief.

“Yeah.” Drew replies solemnly as he rubs Brenna’s shoulders.

“Oh god. H-how…” Brenna manages as the hand covering her mouth trembles with fear.

“What do we do?” Travis asks, his voice breaking as he speaks.

The camera looms on Brenna and Drew, but they offer no response. Silence hangs in the air between the three friends until Travis begins to mutter, “This can’t be right. This can’t be happening. What is this? We need to do something. But what do we do? I don’t’ know. Should we run? Should we help? Can we help? Oh shit! Oh shit! This is bad. This is bad. This is really bad. What do we do? What do we do? I need to know what we should fucking do!”

Travis is having a meltdown. His voice is panicked and frantic. And he just keeps rambling. He can’t stop himself. But the camera lens is still pointed toward Drew and Brenna.

Drew seems oblivious to Travis’ rambling, while Brenna’s face is twitching. She isn’t looking in the camera’s direction though. Her head is still faced forward, across the street to the sight of the frozen people. Though, her hand has dropped from her mouth now. Instead, it is slowly descending past her chest and back toward its natural position of being at her side, like her other arm already is.

Finally, Brenna spins right toward the camera. The expression carved on her face is one of irritation as she demands, “Travis, shut the fuck up!”

Her outburst is so loud that it even draws Drew’s attention as the tall man turns his head toward Travis’ camera in the seconds that follow. Drew even goes to speak, his mouth opening, but Travis gets there first and says apologetically, “Sorry. I’m just scared. And I think we should get out of here.”

Suddenly there is another whistle in the air. This time Travis leaps back from where he’d been stood but a second before. His camera, still pointed at Brenna and Drew catches them pressing themselves up against a brick wall, as they hold their breaths.

People are already attempting to flee the area having heard the whistle when this second blast of air tears past Travis, Brenna and Drew only to slam into a withdrawing group of panicked souls. The camera catches the sight of them being turned to ice in the blink of an eye.

Many of the children gasp as they too bear witness to the affects of the silent whistling wind that was strong enough to have knocked people off their feet, but that is also capable of freezing people in place.

The sight of the flash frozen group of people forever captured in that moment and who had all mid-action is both astonishing and horrifying.

The children can imagine how panicked Travis, Brenna and Drew must have been as each of them shivers and fidgets subconsciously from behind their desks in response to what they have just watched unfold before their very eyes.

Drew wouldn’t have seen it, though Brenna might have; her face is hidden behind Drew’s torso so it is impossible to know. But Travis, if he was looking in the direction his camera is pointed, would have got a clear view of what unfolded, like his camera did.

The answer to that comes but a short time later as Travis rants, “Shit man. What the hell. This can’t be real. It can’t be. I don’t fucking get this. We need to get out of here. Those people just got frozen where they stand. I saw it. I fucking saw it!”

Travis is in a full panic again. He bore witness, with a front row view, to the horror of that group of people being frozen to death by a blast of air.

However the camera is no longer focused in the direction of the latest group of flash frozen people, instead he’s panned it away from those poor souls. He can’t bear to look at it, or have the camera pointed in that direction as he continues to mutter and curse relentlessly. In fact, he soon seems to be doing more cursing than anything else, from what the microphone is picking up.

Then the camera pans back. The motion isn’t fluid at all. Instead, it is jagged and nauseating and sends the students’ heads spinning for a brief couple of seconds before the lens refocuses to reveal that Brenna is hyperventilating.

Drew is opposite her and right in her face. He has hold of her shoulders again and is rubbing them with his thumbs as he remarks, “Brenna, you need to calm down. If you don’t you’ll black out, do you understand me?”

Brenna nods. She’s can’t give a verbal response. She is too short of breath to be able to speak right now..

“Good.” Drew replies with a forced half-smile and a nod. Neither do anything to dispel the concern etched into his face. It is a far cry from his normally soft expression which indicates that the tall dark haired man doesn’t have a care in the world and is just living his life the best he can.

Silence hangs in the air. Travis says nothing, while the camera continues to linger on Brenna as she fights to get her breathing under control.

It’s a slow process and takes minutes before her heavy breathing begins to finally ease. That is when Drew queries, “Are you OK?” He stares into Brenna’s eyes as he delivers the question.

Brenna, though her breathing is shallower now, still can’t speak. That is why she instead shakes her head rapidly from side to side four times. It’s the clearest indication she can give, and would be even if she were able to verbalise a response.

“I know. I know. Just keep breathing. It’ll pass soon.” Drew offers in reply. He’s attempting to keep her calm. If he doesn’t there is a good chance that Brenna will start hyperventilating again. If that happens there is no way of knowing if she’ll be able to get her breathing under control.

“We need to get out of here.” Drew then adds while still looking at Brenna. He nods and offers another half-smile hoping to reassure her. The look on Brenna’s face implies that there is no way she is going to refuse and that even if she wanted to she couldn’t right now.

“Where can we even go?” Travis queries, his voice breaking again as he speaks.

Drew turns to look at his friend to offer a reply but as soon as he spies the camera in Travis’ hands his face morphs from an expression of concern to annoyance. It happens in seconds and is swiftly followed with a demand. “Turn that fucking camera off, T. Give me a hand with Brenna, we need to support her ‘til her breathing’s under control.”

The camera immediately lurches to one side as a scratching sound fills the microphone. It isn’t loud but it does grate. Then Travis grunts and the picture flashes to black. The recording has been cut again.

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