Apparently Sarah taught the other girls to cook something called macaroni and cheese. I really wasn’t hungry but I managed a few mouthfuls before the news came on.
The tsunami was, of course, the lead story. They showed a short clip of the water racing inland before the anchor started talking.
She started with the facts, explaining there had been a huge offshore earthquake and the tsunami was widespread, hitting the entire west coast of the continent, from Washington to Chile. The current death toll stood at just over twenty-seven thousand in the United States but figures for the other countries weren’t available.
She spoke about the tragedy for several minutes, the missing people and the cost of damages, before introducing their reporter on the scene.
A moan slipped from my lips as the middle-aged man appeared. He stood with his back to the now-calm sea where the pier had previously sat. I had a bad feeling about this, which wasn’t helped by the groans James and Nicole released. Of all possible locations, why were they there?
“This is Hermosa Beach, California. A little south of Venice Beach, it’s a relaxed tourist destination best known for its beach and bars. But today, just after seven p.m., a wall of water swept onto the beach. Behind me, you can see the remains of the pier.” He paused momentarily for effect.
There was nothing left except two of the sturdy wooden poles upon which the pier previously sat; they’d been snapped in half.
“And here—” he turned, and the camera circled him to display the destroyed street, lit by enormous flood lights “—here’s where the rest of it is.”
Julie and Sarah gasped as they saw the destruction for the first time. It was hard not to react, even though I'd already seen it.
“The bars were packed, dinner in full swing and the late crowd beginning to warm up. Moments ago, officials confirmed the death count in the local area had reached one thousand and thirty-seven, with many more people still being retrieved from the water and buildings. The exact number of injured are also unconfirmed.
“What we are about to show you was shot from that window.” Once again he turned, gesturing to the window below the one in which we’d been staying. “The tourist responsible for this footage submitted it to us in hopes that someone out there may be able to identify a young woman who risked her own life to protect someone who could not take care of herself. Please note: the following video contains images that may be unsettling for some viewers.”
My heart surged into my throat and my chest tightened. This couldn’t be happening! I didn’t blink, unable to tear my eyes from the screen for even a moment.
“No, no, no,” Mouse murmured. She seemed to be in her own world where nothing existed except for her and the television.
Pulling my eyes away from the screen momentarily, I took in Nicole’s tense fists, her lips pressed together in a harsh line.
I turned back as the reporter disappeared and an image of Hermosa Beach, just hours earlier, filled the screen. The image was shaky as the owner of the camera directed it at the street below.
He spoke from behind the lens, describing how nice the weather had been since he’d arrived. He recorded the bars and people milling around the street before sweeping along the coastline and out to what was, at that point, a still, quiet ocean.
He returned to the beach, to the people playing volleyball in the sand and the small lifeguard’s building. It seemed so serene, but moments later he swore, which was beeped out by the censors, and pointed the camera out to sea. He yelled for his buddies to come and watch the churning wave rushing inland.
My stomach clenched, trying to empty itself again. At the bottom corner of the screen, James, the girls, and I were clearly caught sprinting at full speed—much faster than possible for a regular human.
“No,” Nicole said faintly to no one in particular. Mouse choked on her food. Sarah and Julie instantly drew their breath.
The muted thwack of helicopter blades somewhere far overhead grew louder. The chance that they were tracking us already was miniscule, but I itched to run.
“What you are seeing here is one of the first moments the tsunami came into contact with the U.S. Coastline,” the reporter narrated. “Take note of the figures on the pier.”
“Oh beep!” The guy yelled from behind the camera, the moment I veered toward Kelly. “Oh beep, dude! There’s a baby!”
At the time, I hadn’t realized quite how close the wave was when I’d scooped her into my arms. Watching the replay made me realize how near it had actually been. I set my good hand against my stomach, as if it would somehow convince its tumultuous contents to stay down. This was getting worse and worse.
The cameraman lost sight of me as the wave engulfed us, reverting to watching the debris and water smash through the road like a river in a canyon. Some buildings, the hostel included, managed to stay relatively intact, but most were significantly damaged.
Eventually someone alerted the cameraman to the fact that I’d surfaced on the tree with Kelly. Except for momentary sweeping shots of the street, they kept the camera on us until we managed to climb down from one of the ornamental palms.
He’d recorded my frantic attempts to resuscitate Kelly and her mom’s hysterical sobs. Somehow he’d even managed to capture the sorrow etched into the man’s face as he held the pregnant woman away from her own child.
“Such acts of heroism are rare.” When the reporter said the word heroism, my face heated. “But they leave a lasting effect on those who benefit from them.” The reporter’s face appeared again, this time in front of an ambulance. He talked and walked at the same time, using his hands to emphasize certain points. “We’re sad to say that Melanie, the mother of the young girl featured in this video, lost her unborn child.”
My eyes prickled as I thought about how the poor woman must be feeling. Somehow, the others seemed unmoved by the news.
“But due to one young woman, she will still be able to hold her first daughter and watch her grow. Melanie is, of course, quite distraught, but she has issued a statement saying she wants to meet the young woman who saved her daughter so she can thank her in person and perhaps see if there is anything she could do in return.
“We don’t know who this young woman is, only that she was staying at the beachfront youth hostel on a short holiday. She left the scene with the aid of an older man and some friends immediately after passing little Kelly back to her mother.” The screen changed to a photo of us eating outside the bar, probably from a security camera. “If you or anyone you know has encountered this woman, please call us on the number below. We’d love to talk to her.”
As our picture faded, we remained quiet, staring solemnly at the screen. The anchor appeared and James moved to switch off the screen. “You’re not calling them.”
“Wait!” I urged, ignoring his statement completely. I had no interest in even picking up the phone so it wasn’t an issue.
A picture illuminated the screen beside the anchor—a dead body covered in a black plastic sheet, except for a single chalk-colored arm hanging over the edge of the silver tray on which it had been laid.
The others didn’t say a word, their breathing and the beating of their hearts filled my ears. I stared at the screen.
The anchor talked as the image expanded to fill the screen. “Sightings of the mysterious humanoid creatures have been reported from as far away as Iowa and Kansas, spreading incredibly quickly since their initial sightings in South Carolina. The story has taken a turn for the strange. Their decapitated bodies have begun appearing too. Scientists are analyzing tissue samples and suspect they’re the result of a viral illness. If you or anyone you know comes into contact with the creatures, report immediately to your local hospital. Authorities are advising everyone to stay inside during the hours of darkness, they appear to be more active during the night, and to lock doors and barricade windows and all other entrances. They have not been sighted on the west coast yet, but residents are urged to follow these precautions too.”
This time I didn’t stop James when he leaned forward to turn off the television.