We did as we were told. I sprinted as fast as I could in the opposite direction. We were faster than him, but not by much.
The growl intensified, growing to a full-fledged roar. Behind us a wall of water rushed inland. It hit the end of the pier and the entire structure shuddered; a great crack ruptured the air, and the end of the pier gave way. The logs holding it up split and snapped.
They fell into the thrashing waters below, only to be tossed back up, dancing on the frothing tides. Slabs of cement sped along the top.
The wave advanced. It dragged at the pier, which crumbled at an alarming rate into the tumultuous Pacific waiting hungrily below. The skeleton-like supports that’d previously pointed so proudly into the west disintegrated in the uprising of the ocean.
Water crumbled stone and steel. It raged after us, chasing with a speed I couldn't have anticipated.
There was no way we would outrun the surge completely. Were we to pause for even a moment, the wave would drag the pier from beneath our feet, pulling us with it into the churning depths below.
I couldn’t make my legs move any faster, they simply wouldn’t accelerate. The end was near. If we were able to get to land, we might be able to tough out the wave. But if the collapsing pier dragged us into the debris, it couldn’t end well.
Somehow, perhaps by sheer strength of will, we reached dry land. I kept running, searching for a safe place.
As if escaping from a bubble, the shrieks and screams of the tourists and bar patrons flooded around me.
There were so many of them, the terror suffocated me. After all my training, I should be impervious to their fear, but something crept past my defenses. A woman’s horrified scream punctured through the others.
A young child, perhaps two or three, chased a bird in the open area outside the restaurant closest to the water. She was oblivious to the danger, as only a child could be.
I pushed my legs even harder. As though someone heard my prayers, an unknown force granted me the extra speed to reach the child and pluck her from the ground. I clutched her to me, but she didn’t realize I was trying to help. She struggled and kicked out.
I turned my head to look back the moment it hit. The wave swept over me and lifted me from my feet. I managed a deep breath before we were dragged under. The water thrust us forward with terrifying power.
I couldn’t fight the current or propel myself in any direction other than the way the water wanted to go. I tried to protect the child with my body. I curled around her and covered my own head with my arm.
We tumbled over and over, debris smashed into me. My back slammed into something solid, something unmoved by the angry waters. It forced the air from my lungs.
I maneuvered us so that I faced the obstruction, the little girl pinned safely between my body and the object. We were still under water, but she couldn’t be swept away.
I tried to determine which way was up, but the water rushed by so fast no bubbles rose. The tiny girl in my arms no longer struggled, she simply lay limp. I panicked. I took a wild guess and tried to drag us so that our heads were above the water, but something hit me from behind and slammed me forward.
I shoved an arm out so I wouldn't squash her and a tearing pain raced through my wrist as I hit something solid. The water pinned me in place.
It took several seconds to shake my body out of the pain-induced shock to make another attempt for the surface.
The rushing water slowed slightly, allowing me to catch a glimpse of what sat above. I would never be able to explain the relief it gave me to see the sky. I dragged myself upward, clutching tightly to what I now knew to be a tree that had blocked our path.
My lungs couldn’t take any more. As they were about to burst, I managed to thrust my head through the foam, dragging the little girl with me.
Her eyes were closed. She wasn’t breathing.
I couldn’t do anything to help her. All I could do was hold her to my chest. My legs gripped the tree, keeping our heads above water.
Fear consumed me, more completely than the wave had. She was so tiny and so helpless. I could hear her heart beat, a tiny, whispering and weak, but a rhythm nonetheless. A slight thread of hope remained.
The inland force of the wave had stilled, and the water began to lower. Most seemed to seep back into the ocean, a strong drag attempted to yank me from my place to go with it. I held on as tight as I could and wrapped my legs more firmly around the tree.
When the pull had lessened and the water was shallow, I let go and dropped to my feet. I tried to wrap my arms around her to perform the Heimlich and force the water from her lungs, but my left arm wouldn’t move that way. I tried using one hand. It didn’t work.
Turning her in my arms so she was face-down over my bad one, I struck at her small back with the flat of my hand.
It took so much effort not to hit as hard as I could. I barely contained the anxiety willing me to do so. Every motion sent pain jarring down the entire length of my arm.
The water drained from her lips, but she still wasn’t breathing and she was starting to turn blue.
“Kelly!” a woman shrieked. It was the same voice that alerted me to the danger the little girl was in to begin with.
Lifting my head momentarily, I saw a woman bleeding from her face. She clasped her obviously pregnant belly in pain and tried to run in the knee-deep water. She reached me and attempted to rip her child from my grip, but a man pulled her into the circle of his arms. He nodded to me grimly above her head as she sobbed.
More water drained from Kelly’s mouth, but her eyes stayed closed. Judging that her lungs had sufficiently emptied, I turned her over and began CPR.
After what seemed like an age, her tiny eyelids fluttered open to reveal terrified forget-me-not blue eyes, which promptly flooded with tears. Exhausted tremors rocked her body as she started to cry. I turned to her mother, hugging the little girl close.
The mom broke free of the man’s hold and rushed forward, grasping her little girl tightly to her.
“Thank you. Oh my God, thank you, thank you. Thank you!” She planted dozens of kisses across Kelly’s little face and the blond curls now plastered to her head.
I lifted my eyes and, for the first time, surveyed the destruction and chaos around me. The pier was gone—well, it was no longer in its original resting place, anyway. Steel barriers, concrete slabs and massive logs littered the beach interspersed with seaweed, sand and fish.