Wendy would proceed to light a cigarette and slide the shades away from the window, sighing at the misfortune of her own life as she gazed at the tourists wandering the beach below, scavengers haphazardly collecting and gathering experiences they wished to devour. She sat there for two cigarettes, then rose and changed into her Destination uniform. She had once been an employee for an independent tourist shop, but then Destination Inc. bought them all up and assimilated the employees. The pay had gone down, but the benefits had gone up.
Wendy coughed loudly after her second cigarette. She was aware that she would probably need the benefits soon. The thought instilled a kind of pale disappointment in her, but no fear or grief. Her life had been dictated by a very factual breakdown of her problems, colored by the constant discussion of the problems, rather than the analysis of them.
She was one of millions of unfortunate people who had decided early in their teenage years that they would die young. She drank and smoked and experimented her way through her twenties, neglecting even the slightest concern for diet, exercise, or healthy living. "I don't even need to exercise, I'm going to stay like this for the rest of my life," she would tell friends who marveled in murmurs at her wondrous shape.
She had never gained weight, she instead slowly dried to a pale skeleton, wrapped only in one thin, tight layer of skin. She flirted with the idea of quitting cigarettes, but really only viewed the coughing and shortness of breath as temporary effects. She pictured her lungs as speckled with black ash, an adverse effect, redressed by taking a break from cigarettes for two or three days.
Slipping into her Destination Blue sandals, she stood in front of her mirror and tugged at the frilly, orange-red Destination Dress. "Thirty-four, still got it," she said, watching her lips form the words and feeling nothing from them. Outside, the sun glared white onto freshly paved streets, making signs and shops shimmer like mirages. Richly dressed children tugged at their parents' hands, screaming with desires. Young couples melted together in the heat, pointing and laughing.
It was a clown world here, Wendy thought. No one treated anything like it was real. She sighed again and her mind flitted to her lunchtime cigarette. She remained firm against the temptation to prematurely smoke it, a fight she won and lost an equal number of times, and crossed the street, shading her eyes against the harsh sunlight.
Past a broken apartment building painted in bright, gritty colors, past a McDonald's and a gas station, stood the glass-windowed warehouse known as Destination. Tropical t-shirts hung from armless mannequins. Polished seashells, imported from several other countries, glittered like treasure in the windows. People poured in and out of the doors, just like the tide.
Wendy adjusted the name tag on her uniform and heaved another sigh of miscellaneous discontent. She was vaguely aware that her life was unsatisfying but, since she had closed her eyes and held her ears against every lesson she had come across, she couldn't pinpoint, or even point towards, the cause.
Jack and Mary already wandered the vast depths of Destination, ogling the merchandise with the innocent gazes of people who only want to look at and touch things, rather than bring them home. Mary had met Jack with this mindset in the first place, because Jack was undeniably handsome. His jaw cut a perfect square, indicating practical, if not educated, intelligence, and the swaying fields of hair sprouting from his limbs, neck, and face landed him in the amicable category of 'rugged.'
Mary had a college degree from a private institution, Jack had gone to a vocational high school, but they had grown up in the same town. When Mary attended college, she was startled at the surplus of respect she had garnered from her male coeds. They had clustered around her, attempting to win her affections with small gifts and jokes, late nights spent in study halls and sexless dance parties. She had tried, and failed, to find a boy who followed these patterns and still exhibited some kind of standard masculinity. She found Jack at a party in her home town, in a basement, and found his predictable gender stereotyping refreshing. One session of drunk sex led to another, until these sessions became sober, and then they became interspersed with walks in the woods and movies, until feelings were (inevitably) born.
And so they had married. Mary couldn't talk to Jack about politics, literature, or sociological phenomenons, but she found that he always had witty insights into more specific, localized topics. She comfortably settled into her gender role by acknowledging Jack's practical intellect and allowing him to debase her intellect as 'unnecessary.'
These charms had fallen off, one by one, like the gears of a machine rusting in fast forward. Each time something she found endearing about Jack fell from the mechanism of their marriage, it landed with a clang, embodied by a fight or, more often, the silent blossoming of resentment. Some things that annoyed Mary: Jack's frequent misogynistic, ignorant comments about everything from women drivers to women politicians. The way he breathed only through his mouth and, consequently, how he ate his food like a cow. His inability to change or learn any new behaviors. The way that he and his brother insisted on getting drunk enough not to remember every second Saturday of the month.
Jack didn't analyze their marriage in this fashion. He only knew that Mary nagged him more and now he dreaded attempting to speak his mind in front of her, and feared telling her about plans that didn't involve her. "Who wears the pants in that relationship?" his brother would ask. "We both do," Jack would say, and then they would order shots of tequila.
Things had been massively complicated when they attempted to have children, and failed repeatedly. It was a step in their relationship that they held so high that they took years attempting to collect the appropriate climbing gear. It had excited both of them to finally undertake the task, to design new responsibilities and lives for themselves. When the years revealed that they were incapable of it, their marriage was caught in stasis, so now Mary and Jack both felt like their lives had come to standstill. Thus, another tragedy of the coupling of individuals.
Their trip to the resort, Destination #42, was an effort to propel the relationship forward. They had no set trajectory, but they knew that it would be impossible to sustain momentum on the passive aggressive course they currently navigated. The vacation reached a tragic point when Jack spotted a set of golf clubs in the Destination store.
"Mary, check these out!" he exclaimed, pointing at them.
She slipped a warning hand on his shoulder. "Very nice," she said.
"How much do you think they are?" he asked, reaching up to tug at a price tag. He whistled.
"Expensive, huh?" Mary asked hopefully.
"Not at all!" Jack took the whole bag down, rifling through the clubs. "All the essentials are in here, too. My birthday's only in a month, baby."
Mary winced at Jack's name for her, as she always did. It had once made her feel like she was valued and protected, a feeling she never received from the simpering college males who texted her and wrote her e-mails expounding their affections. However, now that Jack and her had been married nearly five years, it seemed demeaning and immature, something teenagers should call each other, not fully grown adults. It only reminded her that Jack would never be as grown up as she wished. "You already have clubs, Honey," she said, noosing his wrist with her hand. "You wouldn't even be able to play with them until summer."
He looked back at her, half-defiant, half-pleading. "It's a good deal, though."
Wendy approached them with her hands clasped together. "Can I help you folks?"
"No, we're just—"
"Can I get a discount on these?" Jack asked.
"Jack, honestly. They're not—"
"Let me ask my boss." Wendy wandered away, grateful for the opportunity to avoid the cash register for another ten minutes. She even thought about smoking half of a cigarette before finding Mr. Barndy.
When Wendy left, Mary's mask fell. "Jack, we're not buying those clubs!"
"Why not?" he asked, not taking his eyes from them.
She stuck her finger in his face. They unfolded in succession. "Because one, our room was too expensive as it is. Two, we're going to spend a lot of money on meals here, anyway. And three, well, we're going to want to go on tours of the swamp here, maybe go to an amusement park."
"I don't want to do that. I want to hang out on the beach." Jack peered at the golf club in his hand, looking at his warped reflection.
"But don't you want to see the swamps?" Mary phrased this as a rhetorical question, then acted as if she had already won. "There are crocodiles, and all sorts of birds, and probably snakes."
"I want these!" Jack shouted.
Destination went silent as Jack's words echoed through the three floors. Mary blushed with embarrassment, then anger at being embarrassed by Jack's childishness. This time, she decided, she wouldn't back down.
Watching from the second floor railing was an eight-year old boy named Dennis. His mother and father stood on either side of him with their hands protectively clasping his shoulders. "Awful," his mother said. "Ridiculous," his father said.
Dennis said nothing. He hung over the railing, feeling dizzy. His mother saw his face paling and she knelt beside him. "Dennis. Are you okay?"
He waved her away.
"He needs to go to bed," his father said, and scooped him into his arms.
Dennis and his parents lived in Wyoming, and Dennis had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He had been diagnosed with the disease from a very early age, and lived at least half of his life in hospitals. The diagnosis hit his mother especially hard, as she immediately sought help from God, while his father merely started to drink whiskey at dinner. Both felt as if they had done something wrong, alternating between blaming each other and blaming themselves, but never blaming genetic chance. Every member of his mother's immediate and extended family paid them a visit, littered Dennis' room with overly expensive toys and baked goods and ambiguous emotions of hope and grief, celebration and tragedy. One of his mother's aunts even sent a card proclaiming she was "sorry for their loss."
His mother shrieked and shoved the card into the trashcan, but Dennis heard the commotion, so he slunk into the garage to search through the barrels. He easily found the crumpled card. Am I already gone?, Dennis wondered, holding the card in his hand, looking out at the dusty stretch of dry grass and dry mountains beyond their ranch.
It already felt, to him, that his body was breaking, piece by piece, and the constant chemotherapy made it difficult for him to tell dreams apart from reality, and especially hard to tell if there was really any difference, besides pain. He often watched the school bus roar by his house. When he looked at the other kids on the bus, he felt invisible, like the future was cruelly rolling past him and no one even looked out of his or her window to wave.
His mother found him in the garage, staring at nothing, and she saw the card. She held him and cried until his father returned from work. He saw the card, shook his head, and held both of them. Dennis thought nothing, because he was too young to carve thoughts from emotions, especially when it came to the nature of mortality. Sometimes, they crested the surface of his unconscious, like faint shapes against a dark horizon, but he could never distinguish them from one another. People told him to fight, but he didn't even know what that meant
It still wasn't clear whether Dennis would survive, because the cancer seemed to recede, go into hiding for weeks, even months, and then come back in full force. For his eighth birthday, his father had called the Grant-A-Wish Foundation. He filled out forms that made him feel like he was selling his child's symptoms to corporations and, a month later, the officials of the foundation called him and drove to the house to talk to Dennis. He didn't want to tell them what his wish was, had even tried to lock his door so they couldn't get to him. To him, their sympathy seemed malicious and condescending, as though they were agents of the disease itself. They saw all of his posters of crocodiles and asked if he would like to see crocodiles in real life. He nodded for lack of a better response, and they bought him tickets to Destination #42.
And now he was falling asleep before he had even seen crocodiles. But nothing felt better to him than sleep, because it was only in his dreams that his wishes actually came true.
As Dennis' father carried him down the polished wooden stairs of the store, a group of fifteen environmental activists gathered outside. They chanted and waved signs condemning Destination Inc. This particular resort, Destination #42, had recently been exposed as a bastion for corporate waste because the endless stretches of swamp disguised the extent of the pollution. Other Destination resorts sent fleets of trucks to dump more waste into the swamps as well. Newspapers and television shows briefly covered the story, but then a professional basketball player cheated on his wife.
Tourists walked among the group nervously, trying to ignore the jeers when they saw something of interest in the windows of Destination and decided to enter the store. The activists stood stoically against the indifference of those who passed them by. They knew that if corporations like Destination Inc. were allowed to get away with such flagrant abuse of the environment, there would be no environment left, only wastelands. Many species of bird had already gone missing from the swamps surrounding Destination #42, and fishermen on a small chain of islands to the south could no longer find fish that hadn't been poisoned by the waste seepage from the swamp.
"Not to mention global warming!" the activists would shout after hollering a catchy jingle tuned to the first array of facts. "Ninety-eight percent of scientists agree that global warming is real and that our environment is becoming less stable and more dangerous. They predict massive floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, decimating every coastal city in the world!"
Most people smiled and shook their heads at these facts. Like most, they had either decided that no change is so sudden or that there was nothing they could do to prevent this global age of natural disasters other than adapt to it. Each individual's life was his or her own private whirlwind, and everything outside of it was blurry and muffled by speed and noise.
One of the activists, who preyed on people who looked like they disliked confrontation, saw Dennis' father come out of the store, bearing Dennis in his arms, and ran towards him. "Sir! You have a young son. How can you be endorsing Destination Inc.'s destruction of the planet he will be living on?"
"Get the fuck away from me," Dennis' father replied, shouldering the activist aside. His mother looked up at the activists once, but her gaze quickly dropped back to her feet. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
The activists confused the father's inability to partition aggression with helpless frustration for what they hated most: the capitalist American man. Several of them broke from the group to wave their signs at him and yell at him as he made his way down the white sidewalk, desperately trying to get to the hotel.
Wendy watched from the corner of the building, stubbing her cigarette on the sidewalk and saving the rest for later. She saw Mr. Brundy at the cash register, then saw the cashier point right in her direction. Brundy's face went from a waxy gray to a veiny red. "Wendy, get in here!" he shouted.
Mr. Warren, the vice-president of Destination Inc., had just called him to announce a surprise visit. This visit had been organized by the ancient Mr. Kindle, Destination Inc.'s founder, because he had seen a television interview about the fifteen activists and decided it would be a good opportunity for public relations. "Announce The Green Initiative when you see them," he had told Mr. Warren.
"I haven't heard of that program," Mr. Warren said.
"It doesn't exist yet," Mr. Kindle said.
Mr. Warren drove to the airport after receiving the call, because he had to be there as soon as the activists arrived. Unfortunately, he forgot about his daughter's dance recital, the second one he had missed in as many weeks. She called him when as sat in his first-class seat, bursting with shattered sobs. "I reserved a seat for you in the front, Dad, because I remember you forgot to get one the last time and.... and...."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said, feeling a heaviness in his throat.
"You have to turn that off, sir, we're about to begin take-off," a stewardess said.
"I promise to be at the next one, sweetie, I promise," he said, but his daughter had already hung up.
Mr. Warren and his wife were divorced. His wife maintained a cold silence with him, punctuated only by awkward visits when she dropped their fifteen-year old daughter off at his house for biweekly weekends and Wednesday night dinners. He imagined that she grinned and pumped her fist in triumph whenever he forgot about the dance recitals or the soccer games, and often agonized over the fact that so much of his paycheck went to a woman who could just as well be spending the money on herself. In reality, his wife simply didn't think of him as much as she once did; she had moved on. She hated it when he missed their daughter's performances because the girl would come home in tears, unable to sleep, feeling as though her father didn't love her. Mr. Warren's wife thought he was a decent person, if absent-minded, but a decent person who had climbed too high on the career ladder to see the ground.
Mr. Warren stepped out of his cab and adjusted his tie, looking for the activists. It wasn't hard to find them. He had only to look for the tourists who seemed uncomfortable and follow the chants. First, he decided to look in the store. He stepped through the doorway with the activists shouting behind him, many of them already aware that he was some kind of representative of Destination Inc. Inside the store, Mr. Warren saw Mr. Barndy shouting at Wendy. He also saw Mary and Jack lifting their arms into the air and waving their hands in each other's faces, screaming at each other.
"This is supposed to be a peaceful place for people to go," he mumbled to himself. And, he wondered, what was so evil about a company that designed rest stops along life's highways? Sure, some of the business practices wandered into morally ambiguous territory, but Mr. Warren wasn't interested in ethics involving environments or the structure of society, he was only interested in people's comfort, because people paid for comfort. They didn't pay for companies who nobly strove to change social orders, they didn't pay for companies who cleaned forests and cleaned the air. People paid for luxuries. Life was a given, so why would they pay for the maintenance of life?
As Mr. Warren went out to make these points to the activists, Wendy decided to quit her job. She stormed out of Destination, feeling liberated by her recklessness. She wouldn't be well off financially, she thought, but she would be well off spiritually. Isn't that what mattered? She made a point of shoving Mr. Warren as she exited, not knowing who he was, only detesting his suit. Mr. Warren tripped on the curb and fell in front of the activists. They surrounded him, yelling in his face, even though they still didn't know who he was. Jack and Mary started to cry into each other's arms, realizing that their marriage was doomed and that they still loved each other, and neither of them understood how both these facts could be true at the same time.
Dennis' father punched the lead activist in the face: this activist had pursued him down the street; it fell onto the sidewalk and the two others who had followed the family pushed him. The father dropped Dennis, who cracked his head against a fire hydrant with a distinctive clunk, then lay crumpled beside it. His mother fell to her knees next to him, weeping, as Dennis' father prepared to fight both activists. Someone kicked Mr. Warren in the face.
While all of this happened, the ocean had been churning, the tide had been receding. Now, came a tidal wave looming five times as tall as the tallest building in Destination (#42). Its shadow fell over the resort and people gazed at it in common, human awe. There was a pure, singular moment of stillness, a black hole of silence sucking in breath and civilization, and then it dropped over the resort entirely. Every single person drowned in an unconscious slumber. The resort fell in on itself from the sheer weight of the waves, flattened into insignificance. Buildings and people became debris.
News teams rushed to the spot and covered the story for three weeks.
Blaise Lucey is 24 years old and works in internet marketing. More of his essays & short stories are available at blaiselucey.com.