CITIES OF THE EAST

by

Michael Edwards

...Watching from the deck of the Pequod as the island arose from the horizon to meet him, Joey felt as if this was the place he had spent his entire life searching for, moving toward; and that God had finally carried him to the place he would spend the rest of his life, in whatever peace or solitude or pain or loneliness was ordained.  Yet, at the same time, he was filled with an overpowering apprehension he could not explain.  Is it that I don't ever really want to stop searching? he wondered as the steep cliffs of the island grew closer.  Or that I've questioned so much I've lost the capacity to eagerly embrace God's will and must now spend the rest of my days merely resigned to my fate?

He shook his head, knowing that this apprehension was not born of his lifelong relationship to God but of something far more concrete and much closer at hand.  When he tried to explain his feeling, the Pequod's Captain could only shrug.

"The Canaries have always been a vacation paradise," Captain Smith assured him.  "This island especially.  Tourists have come here for centuries.  Every once in a while old Cumbre Vieja erupts, settles back down, and the tourists return.  The only source of apprehension you're likely to encounter on La Palma is some of the unsavory characters who work the resorts.  But, then, you're not a tourist; you're just passing through on your way to the Barbary Coast."

"I may not be," Joey told his Captain.  "Something's telling me this is where I belong."

"I'd like you to finish this run with me," Captain Smith replied.  "But I won't force you to.  You weren't impressed, you joined my crew freely.  You can leave it the same way."

"I have to be here," Joey tried to explain.  "And it has to be now.  There are things I need to take care of even if I have no idea what they are."

The closer their approach, the stronger both sensations became - the certainty and the apprehension.  Joey's eyes never left the shoreline as the Pequod sailed around the southern tip of La Palma then up its eastern coast to Santa Cruz de La Palma, where it docked.  Smith granted his crew shore leave for two days, during which he attempted to convince Joey to remain on board at least until they picked up their cargo at Tangier.

"I'll return to drop you off," Smith promised.  "All you'll miss is a few days.  I grant you this island's a paradise, but surely you can put off your visit a few days!"

"No," Joey answered.  "I know this is where I'm supposed to be.  And I'm supposed to be here now, not tomorrow or the day after, but now.  The moment may be gone when I return if I go with you.  I'm sorry.  You've been very generous, taking me on without any experience; but I have to be here.  It's as if everything depends on my being here."

Joey grew embarrassed at his own words.  "It sounds like a boast, I know," he apologized.  "Like I'm the most important person on earth.  I didn't mean it that way."

Captain Smith smiled.  "I didn't take it that way," he said.  "I still wish you'd come with us to Tangier, if only just to see it.  You've yet to see parts of the world left unscathed by these past fifty years.  Africa's prospered as never before, except for the Rift.  But even that's almost healed.  Parts of Asia were hard hit - harder even than America.  Parts of Europe too.  Sailing the seven seas is once again as it used to be - as it was meant to be: the only way to experience the world.  There's nothing else like it."

Joey shook his head.  "I can't," he told his Captain.  "I've come as far as I can.  I'm sorry."

The Pequod set sail on Wednesday, December 10, 2098 - two days after docking at La Palma.  She caught a trade wind, which carried her northeastward toward the coast of Morocco, then along the coast to the Strait of Gibraltar and Tangier at its westernmost entrance.  It took her three days to reach Tangier; she was three days at her port of call; and three days returning to La Palma for one last stop before her journey home to Galveston.  Joey was there when the Pequod docked; Captain Smith invited him to re-join its crew, but he declined.

"So this is it?" Smith asked.  "All the great things you've seen and done in your lifetime - and now you'll spend the rest of your days showing tourists to their rooms?"

"Whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing here, it'll be the right thing," Joey assured his Captain.

Two days later, they shook hands and the Pequod set sail for America.  As he watched the ship leave harbor, it struck Joey that he had been wrong - that he could have gone on to Tangier - that nothing had happened in the week the Pequod was gone; and that, for all he knew, he might be entirely wrong about his need to be on La Palma.  

The next day, Joey left the resort town to wander the island, heading first northward, toward the Caldera de Taburriente, which everyone in town insisted he visit.  Then, barely five miles into his trail, he abruptly turned and headed south, toward the Cumbre Vieja ridge.  When he reached the ridge, he ascended it and began walking the Route of the Volcanoes toward the southernmost tip of La Palma, each step filling him with ever greater apprehension.  When he reached the end of his journey, he started back, only to be turned around again, as if by an invisible hand compelling his course forever southward over and over.  No matter how hard he tried, he could not depart the ridge.  Something had trapped him on the Cumbre Vieja and would not let him escape.

He spent Christmas Eve of the year 2098 atop the ridge.  On Christmas morning, he finally began descending the eastern slope.  As he did, the whole island began to shake; he was thrown to the ground, left clinging to the stump of a fallen tree.  Steam shot from numerous vents along the western side of the ridge, raising the temperature along the ridge to over a hundred degrees.  Joey managed to regain his footing.  Instead of continuing down the slope, though, as every rational impulse told him to, he ascended it again and made his way northward along the ridge.  As he did, an explosion rocked the eastern flank of the ridge, spurting lava down the slope where, minutes earlier, he had been struggling to get up.  Then the ground rumbled again; Joey fell again but hastily struggled to his feet and resumed running along the ridge.  He could feel the ridge not only shaking underfoot but beginning to rip apart beneath him.  Without thinking, he leaped to his right, onto the eastern flank, even though all the lava was spurting from that side.  He balanced himself between the widening rift atop the ridge and the vents honeycombing the eastern slope, struggling to keep his footing as he continued running.  A sudden deafening roar nearly toppled him from the ridge, but he caught hold of an outcropping and steadied himself until the roar finally gave way to another bellowing sound - the sound of something splashing into the sea, as if dropped from an airplane.  For a split-second he looked up, half expecting to see a helicopter hovering overhead.  Instead, he saw the sea rising offshore into a giant dome that kept rising, expanding as it rose, until it looked as if a mountain had risen from the ocean floor.  He knew he would be buried beneath the mountain the moment it ceased ascending and fell back to earth, so he made no further attempt to move.  He just watched, in awe, as the sea rose farther and farther, slowly filling the sky above him.  Then it stopped and stood perfectly still for a second.

At 9:07 A.M. Christmas morning the ground opened beneath Joey and swallowed him whole.  A split-second later, as the sea tumbled from the sky, the ground abruptly closed around him, trapping him inside an air pocket thirty feet beneath the surface.  He could hear the howl of a thousand foot dome of water crashing down on the Cumbre Vieja with the force of a thousand hurricanes making landfall all at once.  It took all 21,320 feet of La Palma's stance above the ocean floor to keep the island from being driven below sea level by the force of the impact.  Water trickled from the overhanging cover of rock into the air pocket, slowly drenching Joey in seawater.  Before long, he could hear the sea retreating - gathering force from its fall from the sky to speed away across the Atlantic..., reaching out to cover La Palma from end to end, leaving only the tallest peaks on the island above the waterline.  For several seconds the sea kept perfectly still; then a ripple stirred its surface above the ridge, slowly moving to the east, as a second ripple began a westward rhythm, each growing more agitated as it proceeded along La Palma's spine until both sprang from the surface like two dragons taking flight.

The first shot across the eastern Canaries, drowning all but the mountain tops, then dashed through the channel separating the islands from the continent, arriving minutes later on the coast of Africa as a wave nearly three hundred feet high.  The Castle by the Sea was torn from its foundation and carried, together with the entire town of Tarfaya, fifty miles into the desert before being deposited in a deep valley surrounded by dunes.  The entire Moroccan coast was splattered by the wave's energy as far as Tangier, while the force of the impact sent a wall of water careening southward along the western Saharan coast, down the coast of Mauritania, all the way to Senegal.  The docks of Dakar, just as those of Tangier in the north, were rent from their moorings and sent crashing through the warehouses lining the harbor.  Every ship in port was destroyed, their entire crews washed overboard.

...The Pequod arose as the second wave plunged westward across the Atlantic, expanding ever farther north and south as it went, as if the ocean's resistance were forcing it into an invisible channel the length and breadth of the ocean.  A few hundred miles from its birth within the Cumbre Vieja, the wave had not yet attained its full size, reaching only from the 30th degree of latitude to the Tropic of Cancer.

The Pequod had taken a west south-westerly course, to avoid the colder, stormier seas of the North Atlantic, her aim to sail along the Tropic of Cancer, through the West Indies, and into the Gulf of Mexico.  Three days out of La Palma she began rising, gradually, almost gently, at first; then more rapidly and with greater violence as the energy of the wave jolted her from beneath.

"I've seen this before," Captain Smith told his First Mate.  "In the Pacific.  But something's different about this.  I've never heard of a tsunami in the Atlantic.  It feels all wrong."

"What do we do?" the Pequod's First Mate asked.

"Just have to ride it out, and pray like hell it moves on past us before it reaches landfall," Smith answered.

"And if it doesn't?"

"Normally I'd say then we'll ride the crest of a fifty foot wave as it smashes into the coastline - and hope for the best.  But this - I don't know.  It feels like we're already beyond fifty.  Thank God land's a thousand miles away.  But if it carries us all the way across the Atlantic, this damned ship's earned its cursed name a hundred times over!"...

The Monterey Bay sat a hundred miles west of the Mid-Atlantic Range, maintaining a steady eastward pace, its Captain, crew and prisoners oblivious to what lay on the other side of the ridge.  No one had ever taken the undersea mountains into account when sailing the Atlantic; no one had ever reckoned them a hazard to be avoided at all costs; no one had ever faced a hundred foot wave abruptly generated by their rise from the ocean floor.

Brad saw it first, standing on the crossbeam facing east.  He identified the danger before he even realized what it was approaching.  His first thought was of Sandy.  He could see their duel once again slipping from his grasp: this was the danger he perceived.  When he reached out and grabbed Sandy's arm and cried out to the wave that it couldn't have him, he still only vaguely understood what it was.  His experience as a sailor, however brief, conditioned him to associate waves with storms at sea; and, in the absence of a storm, his mind hesitated to label what he saw as a wave.  So even though he saw it ahead of everyone else on board, the concept he finally fixed to it perfectly coincided with their conceptualization.

It carried no foam at its crest.  It was gray and dark and streaked with panels of green-blue, as if it had torn algae from the peaks of the Mid-Atlantic Range.  It was ten miles away when Brad first saw it, five miles when he named it, and upon him when he embraced Sandy to keep from losing him.  As the wave broke over the Monterey Bay, the sea itself arose beneath it, lifting the ship a hundred feet into the air to meet the breaking wave, the two forces so perfectly synchronized that when the wave broke, it broke as a normal wave against the hull - but with a force a hundred times greater.  The Monterey Bay shook from stem to stern; all its crew, turned to watch the combat on the crossbeam, was thrown to the deck.  For a split-second the two men poised on the crossbeam teetered perilously, each steadying the other but neither able to secure a hold on anything else.  Then they lost their balance and toppled from the crossbeam...