There Is No Happy Ending for Us
Micah looked up and saw the contrast of blues on the horizon.
Paula was beside him, fiddling with a shell that she had found in the sand, between her fingers. They were sitting on a towel, and for a long time neither of them said a word.
Micah broke the silence. “There are more and more of us.”
Paula looked along the Californian beach: an endless white expanse, deserted lifeguard towers, palm trees whispering in the breeze, and she noticed the small groups of people gathered here and there. Many were silent, their heads down; a few were talking and laughing. A golden retriever ran in circles around his family. Two men dressed as fishermen drank cans of beer that they had taken from a cooler. An earthquake warning siren could be heard in the background. The shaking had stopped, but the risk of tsunamis still persisted. In fact, a huge wave was heading toward the beach at that moment.
“Why do they come here?” she asked.
Micah shrugged. “They’re waiting, like we are.”
Besides, everyone said that, after sunset, that beach was the cradle of love. There was no better place to say goodbye.
“I’d like to be at home,” Paula added, “with my parents.”
“One of the bombs fell in Las Vegas. You heard it on the news. If they didn’t die in the explosion, the radiation would have killed them. Don’t think about it anymore.”
“I wish the phones worked.”
“Yes,” Micah replied, resigned.
Television had stopped broadcasting and the radio had only picked up for days. Information had stopped circulating.
Paula sniffed and held back a sob. She leaned toward him and rested her head on his shoulder. The whisper of the water on the shore helped her to lower the knot in her throat.
Soon, Micah spoke again. “You see that guy there?”
Paula followed his gaze and saw an obese young man with long curly hair. He wore a Star Wars T-shirt, and the thin wire of a pair of headphones came out of his pocket. Paula wondered what songs he was listening to. Maybe Justin Bieber. A shiver ran down her back at the thought that there would never be another new song sung by him. No more discs, no more concerts.
“What about him?” she asked softly, uninterested.
“We went to the same school,” Micah said. “Will Johnson, Fatso. Everyone mocked him. He was always eating a chocolate bar, a sandwich or a sugar-coated cookie. We treated him terribly, you know.”
“I’m not proud, obviously. At that time we were brainless kids. Children are like that. We were not happy until we found a weak victim to crush. And it was him. It could have been anyone. We pushed him through the corridors; we tripped him in gym class. Professor Wilkes told us off, of course, but even he looked at him with condescension and a slight smile of disdain. Fatso didn’t have any friends. At lunch, he would sit alone on one of the last tables. When he got up to refill his plate with an extra portion of mashed potatoes, which he did frequently, we all cheered him. We whistled and insulted him. He would turn as red as a strawberry. Perhaps he was embarrassed, but the urge to eat a little more prevented him from staying in his seat. During breaks, he spent most of the time locked in the bathroom. Nobody wanted to go with him to the Prom. He certainly didn’t dare to invite any of the girls.”
“Poor. . . Don’t you regret it?”
“Not then. Now there is a huge list of things that I would have done differently.”
“Yes,” Paula said, wondering if her list would be as long as his.
Micah stared off into the distance, as if he were staring at a memory. After a while, he spoke again:
“Once, in midsummer, my friends and I went to Stow Lake, in Strawberry Hill Park, you know where.”
“Aha,” Paula murmured.
“That day it was as hot as hell, and the guys and I didn’t really have a lot to do. We had already drunk a slushy, sitting outside Joe’s shop and then we had gone to lie on the dried grass by the lake’s shore. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but it was probably about the things we wanted to do to our bikes. Back then, our bikes were just like an extension of our bodies. I don’t know who came up with the idea to cross over to the island in the middle of the lake, which was full of thick trees that were somewhat dry from the heat. It wasn’t the first time we had done it, of course; we could play soldiers over there and it was really exciting.”
“Of course.” Paula said sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
“Bobby Rockwood was the first to cross. He walked into the water until this reached his waist and then jumped forward and began swimming over to the other shore. He was followed by Jack, Rob and Charlie. There were more of us. Maybe Thomas and his little brother, Nick. He stuck to us like a leach. I was the last to cross.”
Micah paused for a moment. He took in a long breath of air and looked up toward the sky. It had been days since birds had been seen. Days since they had seen planes flying in the air. The breeze was cool, the sand didn’t burn but it was hot.
“It hadn’t rained a lot that spring.” He added. “So the water level was much lower than usual. I sunk my feet into the mud and started walking until the water reached my neck. When I kicked my feet off of the bottom to start swimming, my legs got caught in some of the roots growing at the bottom. I was paralyzed for a moment. Terrified. I moved my arms around, but I couldn’t make my body move forward; I just splashed about. My head went under the water several times; I thought I was going to drown. The guys were getting undressed on the other shore, about a hundred meters away, wringing out their clothes so that they would dry quicker. I tried to shout out but my mouth kept filling with water. I coughed and swallowed and I felt a sharp pain in my side, mainly caused to fear. I kept moving my arms about and tried to stand on tip-toes to keep myself straight, but I soon began to lose strength. I thought about going back. Maybe it would be easier to return to that side of the lake. But I couldn’t. The roots had wrapped themselves all the way up to my shins, it was as if they were alive and they didn’t want me to escape.”
Paula listened attentively.
“When I looked towards the shore, I saw Will Johnson, Fatso, among the trees, eating a hamburger. His mouth was smeared with ketchup and mustard. He looked at me and his eyes widened in shock.”
“Don’t tell me.” Paula interrupted. “The boy that you had insulted and humiliated for years threw himself into the water and saved your life.”
Micah arched his eyebrow.
“Nah. If he’d had more time, he might have. But if he had done, we would have both drowned; that’s how fat he was. The truth is I don’t know how I managed to break free from those roots. It was pure luck. But I finally did get out of them and managed to swim back to the shore, I don’t think the other guys even noticed.”
Paula looked at him in confusion.
“What’s the moral of the story?”
“There is none, I just remembered what happened because I saw Fatso standing over there like an idiot.” The young man replied, and then he let out a loud sigh filled with sadness.
They both fell silent for a minute.
“That story is rubbish.” Paula resolved.
“Yeah, it probably is.” Micah admitted.
The young man looked back toward the sea —there was no other place to look— and he wondered how long it would take for that blue color to turn into a black mass, with those marine platforms still pumping out shit, with no one there to stop it. He thought about that beach in a few years’ time: with debris scattered everywhere, oil loaders and ships stranded on the shore, the rusted sides of the ships spread out as far as the eye could see.
The earthquake siren sounded for a few more seconds and the sound dimmed, until it went out entirely.
Micah looked over his shoulder toward the city. Thick columns of black smoke emerged from the top of the buildings. To the north, was the San Fernando Valley. Close to the sea, the international airport, with no pilots to fly the planes. From one side of Los Angeles to another, all of the highways were collapsed, filled with vehicles carrying people who were desperately trying to flee the coast and go inland, as if the devastation had not hit the entire country… the whole world. At least running made them feel that they were doing something for their own survival.
Suddenly, Micah felt a soft murmur that was quickly growing in intensity. The murmur became a roar, then it became an uproar and, finally, thunder.
“Micah…” Paula’s voice was an agonizing whisper.
The young man turned around and, in the distance, he could see the enormous wall of water making its way towards the coast. At first he thought it was simply rain clouds in the sky, but he immediately understood that it was the colossal wave they had been waiting for. A dark blue wall with the violence and strength of a meteorite. When it reached the city, it would stand at about one hundred meters tall, although it would only have needed fifty meters to destroy the city of Los Angeles. The impact of that wave would let off enough energy to supply the United States with electricity for an entire year.
The sky seemed to have gotten darker and the wind had changed direction, growing in intensity.
The ocean began to suck back the water from the shore; the pebbles on the seabed were dragged back, producing a thunderous roar, like that of a wood chopper filled with bearing balls.
The sea drew back as if in slow motion. The range of the beach became enormous, with dark solid surface appearing as far as the eye could see. A lost crab opened and closed its claws upon an invisible enemy. The wet sand left irregular shapes along the entire coast. About thirty meters ahead, there was a deep dip, where people would not be able to touch the bottom on a normal day at the beach.
Upon the warm sand of that September day, the people who had gone to the beach hugged each other with love. Many cried. Children hung tightly to their parents legs. Others were being held by their parents. Some people could take it no longer and had started to run, not that they would get very far.
The sound of the suction was deafening. The wave sped toward them at great speed.
Paula moved a little bit closer to Micah and he wrapped his left arm around her shoulders.
“I would have liked to have had a child with you. A girl, maybe.”
“Me too.” She replied.
“We would have named her after a hurricane that had killed at least ten thousand people.”
“That’s really cruel.”
“But it would have been a strong and powerful name.”
Paula smiled. Micah hugged her closer to his body and held the hand that the young woman had rested on his leg. Her fingers were freezing cold.
“We still have so much to do.” Micah said. “I would have liked to have had a bit more time.”
“I would have liked that too.”
“This wasn’t the end I had been expecting.”
“By the looks of it, there’s no happy ending for us.” Paula mused.
Micah bent down and kissed her softly on the side of her head. She closed her eyes. The young man looked toward the ocean once again. He thought it had started raining, but then he realized that the drops were coming from his eyes.
The tsunami destroyed the beach, reducing the promenade to rubble and then continued with its devastation throughout the city. There were no flashes of fond memories. Nor was there time for thought. Nor a dignified climax. There was no music, no light at the end of the tunnel. Just darkness. And then, silence.
About the Author
Javier Martos (born September 25, 1982) is a Spanish author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction and fantasy. He has published three novels: Ojos de circo (2013), Promesas de que algún día (2014) y En el lago (2017). He has written around 100 short stories, most of which have been collected in a book collection: Una hamburguresa para cenar (2014). There Is No Happy Ending for Us was translated into English by Georgia Louise.Want to learn more? Visit Javier's website and connect on Twitter.