THE WAVE

Katie O'Neill

The wave appeared at half past ten on a bright Saturday morning. At least, that's when John noticed it as he went out for a walk amidst the streaming sunlight. He made his way slowly down the beach, watching the surf rise up and soak the rough golden sands beneath his feet. To his left, the many polished windows of the resort reflected blinding light, burning his vision. He turned away to look out across the ocean.

No more than ten metres from the shore was an odd curve. It wasn't much higher than the waves swelling around it, but something about its constant form stood out to John. As the rest of the sea rushed forward and fell back in constant breathing motion, it remained fixed.

A bird sounded from somewhere amongst the deep wet forests that covered the hills behind him. The rising peaks escalated sound and funnelled it all across the island. The first night he had barely slept.

John stared at the wave, but it would not back down. Without understanding exactly why, he felt compelled to turn his back on it and return to a late breakfast in the dining hall.

But by midday, it became clear that the marine oddity was not just a figment of his imagination. Odd, half-whispered conversation broke out between the guests. Why did they hush themselves this way? Nothing indicated that it was necessary. Leaving his book in a corner of the great library, he followed the crowds out to the beach.

The wave had grown, now taller than a man. It towered above the gentle rolling surface below, and it had expanded in length as well. It was not entirely stationary, with water gently surging up its form, but when it reached the crest it seemed to simply roll beneath and fall back away. It never lost its shape or momentum.

"Is that a tidal wave?" asked a woman standing near John. Her face and hair were immaculately made up, her eyes hidden behind her dark glasses. He had seen her around the last few days, and she always seemed to be writing something.

"If it was, it wouldn't just be standing there," he replied.

"Then what is it?"

"I don't know."

The crowds parted slightly as a portly man in a white suit and silk scarf came into their midst. His stride was determined, challenging. What was this phenomenon that was pulling all his guests away from his resort? He stopped short at the water's edge.

In the short time John had been watching, the wave had grown another foot at least. It seemed to draw strength and body from the pulsing water surrounding it, drinking it up and growing higher and wider. The manager was stunned for several moments, then turned to the suit-clad man on his left who had followed him out. He had dark skin and doleful eyes that were focused on the strange curve.

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" barked the manager.

"No, sir."

"Then what in blazes is it? How can it just be hovering like that?" said the manager, and John could hear the faint notes of fear that echoed in the chests of those that stood uneasily along the sand.

"I don't know sir. It is not high tide right now, or any sort of strange moon. I can’t explain it to you."

The crowd, who had been listening to this conversation, turned away. A few of them looked out at the wave, but many wandered back up to the hotel in search of card games and stiff drinks to distract them.

The woman standing near John was one of the few who kept watching. Even the manager had turned away before she did. After a while a light breeze ruffled her silk shirt and she seemed to come to her senses. She looked at John.

"I suppose it doesn't really matter what it is, does it?"

"Not really."

They turned away from the wide blue horizon and strode up the sands.

***

The next day, every pair of curtains on the seaboard side of the hotel parted at first light. Every pair of eyes widened in disbelief.

The crest of the wave was now level with the first floor of the hotel, a long barrier that gently swayed and undulated. It rose high above the surrounding waters, which lapped as peacefully and regularly as ever against the smooth sand. As the sun shone across the horizon, it glittered through the wall of clear water.

John and Anna — he had learned the travel writer's name as they both stood on the dining hall balcony, unable to take their eyes off the sea — were one of the few who went down to the beach to walk that morning. They talked about her work, about some of the places she had visited before this.

There was a strange tension in the air, which only took a definite shape when the tones of a heated conversation came echoing from the lobby. John and Anna peered down from the staircase above.

"Look, there's nothing to be afraid of! It's not even moving, it's just some weird tidal anomaly!"

"It gives me the creeps, and if it keeps growing like that it'll crush the hotel. I'm getting my family out of here."

"This is absurd!"

They watched as the squat manager desperately tried to convince his guests to stay, but there was already a pile of luggage accumulating in a corner of the lobby. A taxi came before nine, whisking a group of people away to the lone airport on the island, and another one came at nine-thirty.

John and Anna had an unusually quiet lunch. The room was far less full, and those it contained were oddly hushed. John couldn't understand why, but he was not afraid. He and Anna chatted normally. She seemed a little skittish, but was more interested in the reactions of everyone around them rather than whatever freak of nature was occurring out on the water.

"I understand the ones who are leaving," she said, sprinkling brown sugar onto her coffee. "It's the ones who stay that are fascinating."

"Like us."

"Like you. I’d be on the next plane out of here if I had my way. But I need the money from this assignment." She sipped. "Are you not afraid at all?"

"I wouldn't say that," said John. "But more than anything... I want to see what happens."

"What if it destroys the hotel?"

"Well, at least I'll know."

They sat in silence for a while, finishing their meal. John asked if she wanted to take a walk along the beach, but Anna declined.

"I have to review some of the walks and gardens," she said. "Then I'm getting out of here."

They parted ways, and John made his way through the now bustling lobby. The doors were flung open, sunshine pouring in. Every day that he had been on this island had been perfect, the temperature peaking somewhere just before too hot, a cooling breeze rolling down from the mountains in the evening. The air was clear, laden with scents from vivid flowers that quietly grew anywhere they could. It was overwhelmingly idyllic.

As he stepped onto the sand, he was bathed in a cool blue light. The wave now stretched across the bay and matched the top floors of the hotel in height, and it had developed so much mass that it was as deep blue as solid glass. It heaved and moved gently, sunlight drifting through it and making glimmering patterns on the beach. It remained as stable as ever.

There were a couple of other souls on the beach, and John tried smiling at them but they did not return it. He guessed that they couldn't understand why they were still there either.

Eventually he broke away and wandered back to the lobby. It was now completely deserted except for the man at the front desk — the one who had been unable give the manager a reason for the wave yesterday on the beach.

"Mr. Lambert? A note was left here for you."

Startled, John approached the desk. He took the folded slip of paper and recognised a brisk, professional hand:

I couldn't take it anymore. Flying out this afternoon. Thanks for the company, look me up if you're ever in New York. Anna.

There was a number written below.

John looked up at the somber-faced man. "Are many people gone?"

"Most, sir. The airport is overwhelmed, they've never had to make this many flights."

"Do you want to leave?"

"I don't know sir. I feel like I should, and yet..."

He trailed off as the manager came stomping into the lobby. His normally oiled hair was dry and his silk necktie askew.

"We're nearly empty!" he shouted to his receptionist, either not noticing or not caring about John's presence. "I might as well shut the whole place down, the way we're haemorrhaging money right now!"

The man at the front desk said nothing, and neither did John. Eventually the manager turned and stormed away.

By nightfall the wave towered over the hotel. It turned pink then purple then indigo in the dying sunlight, then finally glimmered with the bone coloured glow of the moon. John shut his curtains on it, and lay down almost expecting the wall beside him to suddenly explode at any moment and carry them all away amidst torrents of cold dark water.

***

The next morning dawned pearly and bright. It took a few moments for John's sleep-blurred eyes to realise the light flooding his hotel room was not tinted blue.

He ran to the window and yanked the curtains apart.

The water in the bay was flat and calm. The sun glimmered across the layers of waves like a hand laying a sheet smooth. The wave was gone.

John took his time getting dressed. As he shaved, he tried to rationalise the hollow feeling in his chest. What had he expected to happen? Wasn't it better that it hadn't killed them all?

He came down to the lobby, where a front sitting room had been allocated for breakfast — the manager refused to waste any more money on the full sized dining hall. He sat down, and soon found the man at the front desk had been coerced into acting as waiter.

"Coffee, sir?"

"I suppose so," said John, looking out across the bay. The scene had been so beautiful to him when he first arrived. Now it seemed empty, unfinished.

"Good thing the wave went away," he continued heavily as the man brought him a tray. "If it had gotten any higher..."

The other man nodded. But as he turned away to tend to the other guests, John could see it flash across his face.

He was disappointed too.