Sunday. The warm weather combined with the soft breeze of the early morning seemed to hold the promise of some new and exciting adventure.
This was definitely the time for a change – a wave of boldness filled Albert’s lungs.
He was fifteen now, an age when things could finally start happening, if he could rise to the challenge.
Maybe he just needed to rely more on Ruth and ask for a “social intervention”. For the last couple of days they had been renting the beach house, his twin sister had learned kite surfing, won a hiking competition, and even took to the sky in her first paragliding flight.
There she was on the ocean… swimming with her new friends… while he was sitting pathetically on the sand, wearing too much sunscreen, and holding an old book that he wasn’t even that interested in reading.
“Albert?” a soft voice interrupted his thoughts. The kindest voice he had ever known belonged to the sweetest person he could imagine – his mom, Sarah. “I’ve called your name more than five times already, but you didn’t even blink. Is everything okay?” Her bright green eyes were fixed on him, trying to decipher his thoughts.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about… this book. It’s very interesting…” he feigned.
He knew he couldn’t hide much from her, but there were a few things that he just preferred to keep to himself.
“I brought your lunch!” offered Sarah, handing him a plate with some chips and a hamburger.
“Uh-oh… Do you think Dad made it right this time?”
Hesitantly, he grabbed the burger, while his mom sat next to him.
“Well… it’s better than the last time…” she said, glancing at Albert’s dad, Victor Klein, grilling in front of the house. Although clouds of dark smoke poured out of his makeshift grill, he seemed confident in his own performance. “Isn’t your dad the best?”
“He definitely should be prohibited from any kind of food preparation,” said Albert, his eyes frozen on his plate. His dad never used to dedicate too much of his time to family events like these, so he would try to show a little support and appreciation. After a deep breath, he gathered the courage to take his first bite. Although his gag reflex was almost instantaneous, he had to disguise his difficulty in chewing and swallowing it, after noticing his dad’s glance. Albert gave him a quick thumbs up, and Victor smiled back, proudly.
“Soap seems to love it!” Sarah pointed to their basset hound, happily devouring a cooked patty that Victor had inadvertently dropped on the floor.
“Soap?” repeated Albert, discreetly spitting the food in a napkin. “He eats Ruth’s makeup and even my dirty socks! He doesn’t count!”
Sarah couldn’t hold back a smile; Albert definitely had a point. That same week she had already caught the dog eating lemons, red peppers and her toothbrush.
“Wait—what’s going on…?” Albert gasped, staring at the ocean.
The water seemed to rush away from the shoreline, as if sucked down a bath tub drain.
“Oh my God, Mom…” Albert stammered. “It’s a tsunami!”
A warning siren sounded. Life guards blew their whistles and yelled evacuation orders. Surfers started to swim back desperately. Parents ran looking for their children and children started to cry. Total chaos.
Sarah held Albert’s hands, in shock.
“Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!” shouted Albert, helping his mother to rise.
Albert scanned the horizon for Ruth. She was standing still, frozen, as if hypnotized by the retracting water.
“Ruth!” screamed Sarah.
“I’ll help her, Mom, go stay with Dad!” Albert commanded.
But it wasn’t easy struggling past the flow of people fleeing the beach. Like a terrified herd, they stampeded over everything and everyone in their path. His body seemed to be dragged by the others and a few times he ended up thrown on the sand along with crushed coolers and chairs.
When he finally got a hold of Ruth he knew it was too late. A colossal wave, perhaps thirty feet high, was roaring towards them. If they tried to run they would only make it a few steps. So he just stayed there, with one arm around her. His sprinting parents arrived just in time to join their embrace, and they huddled together, waiting for the water to wash everything away.
But it didn’t happen. The beach houses and palm trees were knocked down. All the people and their possessions left on the beach were washed away. But not them. When the tide had settled and the Klein family reopened their eyes, they found themselves completely alone on the sand. Alone, except for a gray-haired black man, just a few steps in front of them.
He approached and looked them each in the eye, one by one. Then he announced in a deep voice:
“You have been chosen.”
Albert woke up. His red hair was damp with sweat that had trickled onto his forehead. Trying to control his quick breathing, he looked at the alarm clock on a very organized nightstand: 5:30am.
It was so insanely real, so rich with details and emotions, even his thoughts in the dream were so… genuine.
As Albert got up and his feet reached for the floor, a dog’s sharp cry broke the absolute silence of the room.
“Sorry Soap!” whispered Albert, immediately caressing the dog, as an apology for squashing him.
“Quiet!” complained Ruth, sleeping across the hall… through their open doors he could make out the pile of clothes, cosmetics, purses and books on the floor around her bed. How could she live like that? He wondered.
He stumbled out towards the balcony followed faithfully by Soap.
The sun was beginning to rise, and the sky had that typical pale blue early morning color. Albert grabbed the old beach chair that was leaning against the iron bars, opened it and sat, taking a deep and reassuring breath.
“Another weird dream… that makes five now,” he thought, caressing Soap’s ears. Was the unconscious side of his brain trying to send some mysterious message with that dream, he wondered? Or was his conscious side just simplifying something that he already knew: life sucks.
Albert glanced at the sky, then sat up, startled, and rose from the chair.
The pale blue had been completely overwhelmed by reds. He rubbed his eyes. Still red! He stepped back, one foot and then another, but failed to notice Soap was once again in his way. He lost balance, and while he fell his arms smacked loudly against everything around him. Ruth woke up immediately and screamed. Soap barked instinctively.
For a few seconds Albert remained lying on the floor, with half of his body inside the bedroom, half in the balcony.