"So, did you set your mind on getting out of California as soon as you could?" Teague asked, tapping her index finger on the right side of her iPad. She was recording the interview so she could return to that when she would be compiling all of her notes into her piece. She was promised four pages. She didn't think she'd have any troubling getting enough additional information from Ariel to fill those columns.
Ariel shifted her weight, still trying to find a comfortable spot on the over-stuffed couch. "Not really. We were living in Petaluma. It was really nice there - far enough away from the craziness, but close enough to hop on the train if we wanted to."
"Did you visit the city much after you moved?"
Ariel shook her head. "Tam and I went in exactly three times. There was a dedication ceremony a year after that my Uncle thought would be a good thing for us. It wasn't. Those things are good for adults and cities, not kids. Uh, we also went down for a concert." Ariel grinned. "We saw the Smashing Pumpkins. It was just the two of us. I don't know what we were thinking. And, I don't know what my Uncle was thinking. We were," Ariel ran her left hand through her shoulder length, dirty-blond hair. "Damn. I think we were just 12 and 14. We thought we were so big going in to the city all by ourselves!"
"How'd that go?"
Ariel shook her head. "It wasn't bad, actually. Looking back on it, things went pretty smoothly. If we had been a year or two older, I think we would have both loved it. But, it brought back too many memories. But, at the same time, things were so different from what I remembered. And, coming out of the concert hall and walking to the BART. Eh, I don't remember what it was but something spooked us. We got so scared and cried basically all the way home." Ariel shook her head at the unpleasant memory.
Teague tapped a few words into her notes then prompted, "You said you went another time?"
San Francisco 1997
A lanky, dirty-blond haired girl walked to the counter of Trans World Airlines. The wait was short, considering it was just shy of 10 in the morning on a weekday.
Ariel handed over her receipt and ID card. The woman behind the counter printed off a boarding pass and slipped a luggage tag onto the only bag placed on the scale. "Thank you for flying TWA," the woman behind the counter smiled as she handed over the ID and boarding pass.
Ariel nodded then turned and waved at the three figures standing off to the side.
"All set?" Uncle Bob asked as the lanky teen approached.
Ariel slapped her boarding pass against her jeans-clad thigh. "Yep." The excitement pumping through her veins was almost too much to contain as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
"We're gonna walk you to the gate, if that's alright with you."
"Sure," Ariel tried her best to ignore the glares from her sister. Instead, she concentrated on her Uncle and his wife, Crystal. As they walked to the TWA terminal, the three exchanged small talk. It wasn't like the oldest girl was about to head off to college. It wasn't as if this was the first time she had spent more than a week away from home. It wasn't like she hadn't ever been away from her younger sister. Nope. For now, everyone just pretended that Ariel was going on a weekend adventure. She'd be back soon. No one allowed the conscious thought to develop that included the realization that Ariel wouldn't be back for months or even years.
Once at the gate, there was only about a half hour wait before Ariel's flight was called. She grabbed her carryon and started passing out hugs. She got a bear hug from her Uncle, a polite hug from Crystal. But, when she came to Tamara, there was nothing forthcoming.
Ariel glanced at Bob then back to Tam. The two sisters had hardly spoken a sentence to each other in the last few months. But, Ariel was certain that when they had to say goodbye Tam would acquiesce. But, the sixteen year old just stood there, popping her gum, and pretending that passersby were far more interesting than her departing sister.
"Hug your sister," Bob put his hand on the younger girl's back and pushed. Tam went with the motion and stepped forward a foot, rolling her eyes in defiance.
Ariel took the opportunity and closed in to give her sister an embrace. She was determined to not let go until she felt some sort of reciprocation. The first few seconds it felt like she was hugging a stone pillar. But, Ariel held taut and Tam began to crumble. A moment later, the younger girl sobbed as she clutched Ariel's jacket. "Don't leave me," Tamara repeated multiple times through her tears. "Don't leave me!"
Ariel didn't know what to do. She wanted to hop on that plane and escape. But, she also didn't want to leave her sister when she was in such a vulnerable state of mind. Her indecision and frustration enabled her own tears to spill and cascade down her cheeks as she held her sister.
"It'll be okay, Tam. I promise." Ariel smoothed her hand over her sister's newly dyed jet black hair.
"No it won't. You're leaving me. Just like mom did!" Tamara sniffled into her sister's denim jacket.
Ariel felt a stab to the heart, immediately. There was no way that she was going to let her sister think that she was leaving her. And, there was no way in hell that she was going to let her sister think that they would never be together again.
"Tam, you can come with me, you know? You can finish up school here and then move to Houston and stay with me. You could even come to Houston and finish school there."
"You mean it?" Tam pulled back just far enough to check the sincerity in her sister's eyes.
Ariel nodded. "Ya, of course. We could've talked about it earlier, but you've been so distant. I thought you'd be happy to see me go."
Tamara's bottom lip quivered signaling she was about to lose the little restraint she had won over her tears. "I never wanted you to go."
"Uh uh," Tamara pulled back far enough to wipe the moisture from her cheeks and nose.
"Alright. So, let's do this. I'm going to go to Rice and see what I can set up. See if there's some way I don't have to stay at the dorm. You get your stuff together. And, as soon as I can get stuff set up, I'll fly you out."
Tamara's eyes lit up. And with scream and fierce hug that followed, someone walking past might think the young girl had just won the lottery. In Tam's eyes, she most certainly did.
"Wow, so you just flew her out?" Teague asked, intrigued with the powerful relationship the young sisters apparently had.
"Not really," Ariel shrugged the best she could. "I had to file for a hardship before I could live off campus. The final paperwork didn't come through until after the semester started. It took a few months, but I finally got guardianship transferred to me and Tam moved to Houston."
"No struggles with your family?"
"My Uncle was more focused on trying to get his own family started with his latest wife. He didn't like the idea of losing a monthly check, but knew it would probably be best for Tam to stay with me."
"How did that work out?"
Ariel chortled. "Not as well as we both would have liked. You put a college freshman in charge of a high school junior, mixed with no parental figures, and there was little chance of us not having casualties. I mean, she barely graduated. Basically snuck through by the skin of her teeth." Ariel pursed her lips, contemplating. "I still think the principal took pity on her."
"You ever thank him?" Teague asked, a sparkle in her eye.
Ariel smirked. "I should. Maybe send him a thank you note. A box of candy, maybe. Perhaps a huge bouquet of flowers. Maybe a Rolex!"
"I can think of a few of my teachers I probably should send a thank you gift to. I was not the easiest student that ever lived, either."
"You two probably have a lot in common, then."
Teague regarded Ariel. She knew in her heart that there was very little that she would have in common with Tamara, other than a short Goth phase. The reporter shrugged. "Not so sure. Maybe more today. She was very nice on the phone. Protective, yes. But, very nice."
A smile softened Ariel's features as she thought of her sister. "She is definitely very protective. I can certainly say that we switched roles several years back."
"Why is that, do you think?" Teague made a few notes on her iPad and then looked up.
Ariel leaned forward and grabbed her water bottle, taking a sip when she sat back. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "She really pulled things together once she got into college. She worked her way to a Master's in Education and I was just happy with my bachelor's in business. I got a sales job at the biggest radio group in Houston and about a year and a half into it, I was the highest grossing local sales rep we had. They gave me some national clients, but my niche was working with local businesses." She smiled as she recalled how passionate and eager she was early on.
"The sales manager started to really pay attention to me, you know. And, pretty soon we were dating. It seemed to happen so fast at the time. Before I knew it, we were engaged and then married within the year."
"Something like that." Ariel's gaze shifted somberly. "I had Tam, but I was still trying to find that magic something that would make me feel like I belonged…that I mattered."
Teague made a couple of notes and then asked, "So you hopped into marriage before you were ready?" Ariel nodded. "You're not the first person to do that, you know."
Ariel shook her head. "True. But, I spent the entire year leading up to the wedding talking myself into it. I loved James. I really did. But, there was just something that always felt off. I don't know. It was never something that I could put my finger on, but it was there. But, since I didn't have anything concrete, I went along with the wedding."
"When was that?"
"We got married in October, but didn't have our honeymoon until December. James got a really good deal on a two week tour package. It was supposed to be awesome - tour Australia and Parts of India. We flew to Sri Lanka to start it off. We had three wonderful days there. The day before we were to catch our flight to Agra, all hell broke loose."
Sri Lanka, December 26, 2004
The early morning sun tantalizes already overstimulated flesh as it slowly rises above the picturesque line of palm trees. A young woman sits on the side of a chaise lounge and sips from a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice before kicking her feet up and angling her body to maximize the exposure to the sun's rays. It was a perfect start to a perfect day.
Ariel and James spent most of the previous night making love, just as newlyweds were supposed to. Only a few hours of sleep were captured before room service came to deliver their breakfast. A cup of coffee helped to kick start their last full day on the island, now Ariel was waiting for her hubby to come back from the hotel's front desk with the plans for the day.
She lay on the lounge chair which sat on the south end of the pool. She watched a few sea birds fly over the palms and turn back towards the water. Truth be known, she had been a little disappointed in the location of their hotel. There were some marvelous resorts on the island, many on the south and east sides. They were staying on the northern part of the island, away from most of the tourist traffic. The hotel was still beautiful and the island was still gorgeous. However, instead of being right on the water, Ariel had to shade her eyes and squint to see any rolling of the waves. It wasn't the best but it would have to do, of course.
"Hey, babe," James walked up and sat on a brown fabric chair next to the lounger. His short, black hair and brown eyes seemed to sparkle in the morning sun taking nearly a decade off his age.
Ariel turned her head and gave her new husband a smile. He could pass for twenty-eight, she mused. "What'd you find out?"
"They were pretty busy down there, actually. Took a while to even get someone to talk to me. They had five guys all down at the front counter, but they were all on the phone. Talk about poor customer service."
"Did you pull the whole "do you know who I am" routine?" Ariel smirked, knowing full well that out here nobody cared who he was unless he had a rupee in his hand.
"Ha. Ha." James gave his bride a mock frown. "They didn't have a prepared schedule for the day, but one of the guys gave me some of their brochures." He glanced past the trees and towards the water. "There's a couple of spots, not too far from here, that are fantastic for scuba diving or snorkeling. He said the first boat just went out at 8. But, there's another one at 9 and then on the hour until 2."
Ariel grimaced at her husband's excitement. He loved to scuba dive. It was the main reason he had purchased the trip - almost every site was famous for its dive sites. Unfortunately, Ariel did not share the same passion. The thought of having to breathe through a pressurized tube under several feet of water all while being surrounded by flesh-eating sharks somehow just didn't appeal to her.
"If that's what you reeeeeally want to do, James. You know we can do that. I just don't know that I'm ready to do that."
James was getting pretty good at not allowing his disappointment to show. He had spoken with Ariel numerous times about the wonders that were just below the water's surface, but she just didn't seem to understand…or want to. He shrugged. "No problem. You can always sit on the boat and soak up some rays." He tapped the handful of brochures against his fuzzy knee, oblivious to his wife's pang of rejection.
The pair sat in silence for a dozen or so minutes, watching the sea birds and the handful of tourists that came to the poolside to eat breakfast or drink their coffee. James watched as a hotel worker stopped to talk to a couple of tourists on the opposite side of the pool. He then decided to make the plans for the diving excursion, whether his wife liked it or not. After all, he wasn't going to spend upwards of fifteen thousand dollars on this trip just to spend all of his time in the hotel.
James stood to his full height, stretching out a few pops from his back. "I'm going to go buy a couple of tickets for the next dive. Why don't you go get a book to read so you're not too bored on the boat."
Ariel watched his long strides as he headed back towards the hotel lobby. Part of her wanted to feel insulted and throw a tantrum until he did what she wanted to do like go shopping in some of the nearby markets. The other part of her knew that she had to go along with his ideas because they were married. Plus, he paid for the trip. She certainly didn't feel entitled to make demands when he was flipping the bill.
She let out a long, deep breath, startled when a shadow fell across her face.
"Sorry to interrupt, ma'am." A dark-skinned, rail-thin, petite man stood before her.
Ariel shaded her eyes from the sun to get a better look. "No problem."
"Uh. There is situation." The man was taking his time to choose his words; his accent almost mutilating his English to point of non-recognition. "It is not big deal. We take precaution. Okay?"
Sitting up on the lounge, Ariel's attention was piqued. "What kind of situation?"
The man shook his head. "Possible water coming." He pointed towards the beach, which was a full quarter mile away. "Owner says get upstairs."
"Water? What do you mean? Like a high tide?"
"Just precaution. Go. Go." He waved towards the stairwell, apparently finished with talking to this American.
Ariel rolled her eyes. There hadn't been a single shower during their visit. They were close enough to the water to see it, but far enough away to not be affected by the high tide. This whole thing seemed silly to her. But, she grabbed her white hotel towel and started to walk towards the stairs. She was halfway up when she saw her husband streak across the pool area. He came to an abrupt halt as soon as he realized his bride wasn't where he left her. He scanned the area and was quickly relieved to see her on the stairs waving. He hurried towards her.
"We gotta get upstairs!"
Ariel frowned at the absurdity of the obvious. "I'm going upstairs, James."
"Good. Let's go. I want to get my camera."
"What's going on?"
"There's been a tidal wave on one of the beaches. They think we might be able to see some of the waves hit this far north." His excitement quickened his pace. "Come on. It might come in any second. If there's anything to see, I want it on video!"
James raced back to their standard room on the third floor. Ariel watched from the walkway, leaning on the railing. She couldn't see much of anything. In fact, at this height, most of the view of the water was blocked from the giant leaves of the palm trees.
James was beside her a few seconds later. "Anything?" His skin glistened and his breath was fast.
Ariel shook her head. "I can't see anything."
They were on the west wing of the three-story hotel, which was positioned in a U-shape. The open side faced the north beach, but was lined with palms to help break up the wind. It wasn't a high-class hotel, by any means. But, for this part of the world it was quite nice, even though it had lived through decades of tropical storms and civil war.
Ariel watched as some of the hotel workers gathered items from the pool side and pushed tables and chairs towards the stucco walls. She could see a couple dozen hotel guests lined up along the walkways on the second and third floors, all apparently informed of the possible situation. But, no one seemed concerned. In fact, they all seemed to be excited - just like her husband.
As the minutes ticked past, some of the guests returned to their rooms. A few had ventured down to the pool area, assuming it wasn't dangerous since a handful of hotel workers were still stacking chairs and moving tables. A pair of avid photographers had even ventured towards the north side of the hotel, near the palms, to get a better view of the Bay of Bengal. It was a fatal decision on their part which they wouldn't realize until it was too late.
"Maybe it was a false alarm," Ariel turned her back to the railing and observed her husband. He held the video camera in his right hand, scanning the hotel, and panning left and right. She thought it to be absurd. If there was flooding on one of the other beaches, it would have affected them by now. Right? Instead, James was just getting a lot of questionable footage of hotel guests watching much of nothing.
"You still want to go diving?" Ariel asked, feeling more and more agitated as the mindless minutes slipped by.
James nodded. "Ya. I'd like to. Especially since this is our last day here." He aimed the video camera at his new bride. "Smile, baby. Let me see how gorgeous you are." He swept the camera down to Ariel's bikini clad breasts.
"My smile's up here!" She gently tapped the bottom of the camera, jerking it up quickly to reveal her glare. James chuckled in response and stopped recording. There were times when his young wife frustrated him and other times when she absolutely overwhelmed his sexual desires. This was one of the latter. With the excitement of the morning and subsequent let down, his mind was free to wander. He let his eyes drift to her red and black bikini top. The urge to touch her…taste her…take her washed over him.
Ariel noticed her husband's change in mood immediately. She saw the glint in his eyes as he scanned her body. She could read his mind and felt her own body react.
"You know," Ariel paused a moment, waiting for her husband's eyes to meet hers. "We could just go back to the room."
A half grin graced James' lips. He moved in front of her and kissed her soundly on the lips, pressing her body against the railing. He loved how his wife was always so ready for him. He could take her right there on the hotel balcony, in front of God and everybody, if she'd let him.
He ran his hand through Ariel's shoulder length blond hair and then placed his palm on her cheek as he continued to kiss her. The kiss was intense and filled with desire and only broken by the yell of a man on the other side of the hotel.
"Sāgaraya! Sāgaraya!" Ariel turned to see one of the hotel employees pointing towards the Palm trees, panic in his eyes.
"Shit. Look at that." James aimed his camera towards the water.
At first, Ariel couldn't see anything. She held her breath. For a moment she wondered if she had missed whatever it was that her husband saw. Then she saw it.
Just past the palms, the dark blue water began to turn brown. Silt and sand had been picked up as the water began to tumble over and under itself. A second later there was a scream as an explosion of water slammed into the barrier that separated the beach from the resort. Water blasted into the air a dozen feet or so above the canopy of palms.
"Look. Look. Look." James, giddy with excitement, pointed towards the water. "It's coming. It's actually coming."
Ariel scanned the resort. There were still several guests hanging out along the railing of the second and third floors. Some had cameras in hand. Others held on to their morning juice or coffee. The hotel workers down along poolside, almost frozen in their tracks, watched the advancement of the water unsure of what to do.
Movement from her left side's peripheral vision screamed for Ariel's attention. She turned her head just in time to see a trickle of water begin to roll out from the line of palm trees. It was benign at first - just a few inches in depth. There was no concern from anyone - not the hotel employees or the guests on the upper floors. Even the two brave souls who ventured towards the trees to get a better shot with their high consumer grade SLR cameras didn't seem frazzled by the incoming water. It was, after all, only a few inches deep.
Those few inches of water, however, seemed to pick up speed. It was no longer a trickle. It was now a rush of water plowing through the metal fence. The two photographers were swept off their feet and pulled into the hotel's pool area. Muddy sea water quickly spilled into the hotel's pool - the crystal clear water slowly being transformed into a six foot deep mud bath. Employees were swept off their feet, one by one. None seemed to register in time that the water was coming and had nothing to stop it.
The incoming water was now a couple feet deep. The wave swept through the hotel's entire pool area, taking with it loose chairs and tables and workers. Although it wasn't very deep, the force of the water prevented anyone from getting solid footing long enough to get up and away from the water.
"It's like the wave pool at the water park," James said. He then pointed towards the maintenance house near the fence. "Look. He's trying to climb the tree."
Ariel watched in fascinated horror as the water kept coming. People and chairs and tables were now bobbing around in the water like corks - helpless against the increasing current. The water slammed against the glass doors of the hotel's restaurant and foyer; the glass doors and windows holding their own against the water's pressure.
Ariel watched as two hotel workers were trying to swim against the current to get closer to the side of the hotel. "Can they all swim?" she wondered aloud as nature's spectacle now transformed into the cruel reality of survival of the fittest.
"Ya. Sure. Living on an island. They all swim." James patronized.
"We need to do something." Ariel watched as several men were swept around in a large circle; the water unable to find an escape.
James zoomed his camera in, watching as a pair of men easily kept their heads above water. "They're okay, hon. It's just a few feet, if that. They'll grab a tree or the fence."
Ariel let out a frustrated sigh. It's true that the situation was serious, but nobody seemed to be in a panic - not even the men being carried around by the waves. So, she shook her head in amazement and waited to make sure all of the men got out okay.
Sure enough. A few seconds later Ariel spotted one of the hotel workers pull himself up on the stairs leading to the first floor of rooms. With his white linen uniform plastered to his body, he shook the water from his hair then dropped his body to the fifth step. More from shock than exhaustion, Ariel watched as the man's chest heaved furiously. She watched as he kept an eye on the other men still trapped in the current. The worker, safe from the water, now seemed as frustrated as Ariel felt. There wasn't anything he could do that wouldn't put himself back in danger.
"It's going back out," James nearly shouted.
To Ariel's delight, she watched as the water that had built up around the hotel began to subside. It seemed to ooze back towards the ocean, trying to take with it anything and everything that it had rightfully won. The workers grasped at anything they could get their hands on to try to stay at the resort. One man clung to one of the hotel's concrete support pillars. Another man kept a firm grip on the railing to the swimming pool. Still another handful of men, including the two photographers, were plastered against the black metal fence at the edge of the resort's property. The rush of water pinning them in place, prevented them from being washed out to sea.
As quickly as the water had rushed in it had escaped. In its wake lay a murky pool, drenched and scattered lounge chairs, and bits and pieces of debris left along the perimeter of the hotel. Ariel let go of her white-knuckle grip on the railing. The men who were swept along with the water all seemed to be taking account of their injuries and getting their footing where they were left. One man immediately started to walk towards the hotel foyer; the rest of the workers still seemed to be in shock, standing in place where the water had left them. Everyone's eyes were on the ocean.
"My god. That was horrible." Ariel muttered, swiping a hand through her blond locks.
"Mmm. I got it on video, though." He swept his camera around the pool, recording the minor destruction. "I wonder if they'll give us a refund."
Ariel rolled her eyes. "James. Is that all you're worried about?"
James shrugged. "Nobody's really hurt. Our vacation is ruined. It's the least they could do."
A rebuttal formed in Ariel's mind but was caught on her lips. A woman on the second floor, just above the hotel's foyer, screamed. Several of the guests started yelling at the workers who were still dawdling around the pool.
A man's voice boomed, about a dozen yards to Ariel's right, nearly piercing her ear drum. "Get up! Come on! Get up! Sāgaraya!"
The first wave was scary. This second wave was horrific. It burst forward as if breaking through a dam, engulfing the seven men that still stood near the tree line. The angry rush of water tumbled and rolled as it swept through the pool area in a matter of a few seconds. This time, the force was impossible to impede. Windows and doors shattered as the water roared, tearing trees and railing from their foundations. Screams echoed above the din, men and women panicked from the intense scene unraveling before them.
"James! Oh my god! We've got to do something!" Ariel's hands covered her mouth. Tears cascaded down her horrified face. She knew in her heart that she just witnessed life being ripped away from several men.
"Stop!!! We can't do anything!" James growled. His own fear now turning into the only safe emotion to display: anger.
Without walls or doors to stop it, the water kept coming. This time it was at least five feet deep. It swept through the pool and through the hotel foyer. Ariel could only imagine what was happening in the lobby. Did the water break through the front doors and windows? Or was the lobby filling up like an overturned ship filling with water and trapping the life-sustaining oxygen at the ceiling - the people inside taking their last gasps of air before being completely submerged with no place to go?
Ariel let out a shudder. The noise of the water and the cries for help and screams of horror were too much. She slammed her eyes closed in a futile attempt to escape the horror.
"Hey! Hey, look!" James pointed towards the line of palms, now missing a handful of trees. Ariel shook her head and squinted, delighted to see one of the workers hugging a tree with all his might.
"God, please don't let go." Ariel sent a silent prayer for the man as water continued to pour in. Her eyes followed another small wave as it pushed in to the hotel. Pieces of wood and chairs and clothing bobbed along with the water. Every now and then, Ariel could see a head pop out of the brown, foamy water. But, that person didn't stay up for very long. The current was too strong. Or, perhaps they got caught on something under the water. Ariel didn't know everything these men were struggling against. She just hoped they were strong enough to endure the current and get themselves to safety.
The second wave lasted almost a minute. And, just like the first wave, it left as quickly as it arrived. This time, with no fence and fewer trees to stand in its way, the wave washed almost everything out to sea. Lounge chairs, tables, and tree debris were easy to see go. The heads poking out of the water as the tide quickly escaped back through the line of trees was terrifying to watch. One man was able to get a grip on a palm that was broken and turned on its side. Ariel watched in panic as the retreating water washed the man and the tree away.
Silence filled the air along with the sour stench of fishy, muddy water. There was movement on the second floor, on the other side of the hotel. Three men raced down the stairs towards the hotel foyer. Ariel watched as they disappeared into the ram shackled building, apparently trying to figure out if everyone survived or not.
Ariel turned to her husband. He held the camera steady as he panned the destruction. Every few seconds he would zoom in on someone or something that caught his attention. All in all, however, he seemed to not be affected by the situation as much as Ariel. Maybe he was able to distance himself from everything by keeping the camera taping. Or, Ariel shuddered; maybe he just didn't care about those people.
"This is horrible. Absolutely horrible." She wiped the tears from her face as she waited for some sort of reaction from James. Several seconds passed without as much as a grunt from the man she had chosen to spend the rest of her life with. "James?"
"Don't you think this is just awful?"
"Mmmhmm." James pointed his camera at the darkened foyer, waiting for someone to come out and break the news of the condition of the lobby and its employees. The seconds ticked by and there was no movement in or out of the twisted and shattered doors. His annoyance grew. Yes, he wanted to get the whole story on camera. But, part of him wanted to know if the place he was at just ten minutes ago was totally destroyed. The realization, that he could have been in that lobby when the second wave hit, was nauseating. He needed to know that he would have survived if he was in there. He needed to see the survivors.
He felt his wife tug on his beige camp shirt. He really didn't want to have to deal with her right now. He wiggled his elbow at her dismissively. But, she tugged on his shirt again, this time more aggressively. "Whaaat?" he demanded as he kept his attention on the hotel lobby.
"It's not stopping, James. It's coming again. Oh my god. We need to get out of here!" Ariel couldn't control the bolt of absolute fear that shot through her like lightning. In front of her was a translucent wall of brown, foamy water slowly rising above the canopy of palm trees. It was still out several hundred feet but making its way ashore incredibly fast. There wouldn't be time to get away, but maybe they had just enough time to get to their hotel room. "James!" She pulled on the man's shirt, this time nearly yanking him off his feet.
James glared at her then all anger left his body immediately at the sight of her face. Sheer terror flashed as she looked towards the sea. As if in slow motion, James turned his head, forgetting about his camera. "Shit!"
He shot down the walkway, following Ariel, as he fumbled for the room key. The barrage of water approaching looked to be at least twenty feet high. There was no telling how high the water would be once it hit the resort. They both knew the only chance they might have is inside the room. At least that way they wouldn't be washed out to sea.
James' hands trembled as he tried to insert the brass key into the lock. He pushed on the key but it wouldn't go in. Growling, he turned the key upside down and tried again. This time, the key went in solidly. James turned the lock and the knob at the same time revealing a darkened, powerless sanctuary.
"Get in!" He shouted, the noise of the advancing water already deafening.
Ariel ran in quickly followed by James. He slammed the door, flipping the deadbolt instantaneously. The roar of water and screams of the tourists were now muted by the wooden door. But, neither American could block the sounds out.
Ariel looked at James. He was soaked with sweat and panting heavily as he kept his back against the door. He swallowed hard and then raised his hand that still held his camera. "Put this in the dresser, will ya?"
Ariel nodded, adrenaline causing her hands to tremble as she did as asked. She wrapped the camera in a pair of shorts and laid it in a drawer, closing it soundly when she heard a nearby scream.
"That was really close," Ariel's eyes were wide as she looked at her husband. He nodded and then waved her over. Without any indecision, she quickly closed the distance between the two and fell into his arms. It was a much needed sanctuary in a Hell that seemed to have no end.
The pair stood there with their backs against the door listening to the carnage below. The roar from the incoming tide was louder than anything Ariel had seen. Nearby screams and shouts for help pitched higher than the water's roar, but didn't last long. A gasp escaped Ariel's lips when a loud crack was felt rather than heard. Several thuds followed then Ariel felt her feet begin to vibrate. A second later that vibration shifted to more of a shimmy. And, the next thing she knew, Ariel's whole body was shaking as the door and window began to rattle.
She was sure this would be the end. If the water didn't break through the window or door, the hotel floor would most certainly collapse. Ariel slammed her eyes shut and held on to James with all her might. If she had to die this young, she wanted to die in the arms of her husband.
James gripped his wife's body. He could feel her tremble and only wanted to protect her. He tried to peak out the window but couldn't see past the semi-drawn curtains. Feeling trapped and frustrated, he let out a long, deep breath. He brought Ariel to this side of the world. It was his fault that she was here. He had to make sure that he did everything in his power to make sure she survived.
James held Ariel tight. He breathed in her scent, tantalizing the fondest memories of his bride. Closing his eyes, he let a soft smile cross his lips. Ariel was one of the best decisions he had made in his life. He wouldn't change that if he could. He held her strongly and confidently knowing that his last breath could possibly be with her right then and there.
The rattling and shaking continued for an agonizingly long couple of minutes. But, it took a couple more for Ariel and James to realize that the worst was over - at least for them. The roar had retreated. The shaking and crashing had disappeared. No screams or yells or anything could be heard outside. An eerie silence filled the darkened hotel room, which was now stifling hot due to the lack of air circulation.
Ariel shifted her feet. She wanted to investigate. But, part of her was afraid to look outside. She knew, logically, that everything couldn't have been washed away. They were on the third floor of the resort. One wing, perhaps, could have been destroyed. But, the part they were in obviously withstood the flood.
She looked up into her husband's brown eyes. "You think it's over?" She whispered.
James shrugged, releasing his vice grip. "I don't know. There were three waves. Who's to say there won't be a fourth?" He shook his head at the imagined sight of a fourth wave even bigger than the last three. "You wanna check things out?" He raised an eyebrow at his young bride.
It was her turn to shrug as she took a step back. She felt incredibly calm now that the worst seemed to be over, but she was unsure of what to do next. Was she incredibly insensitive to feel relieved that they made it through the tsunami and so many others apparently didn't? Guilt now began to fill her veins. She brought a hand up to cover her mouth as tears threatened to spill.
James stepped forward and pulled his wife into a comforting hug. Not sure whether the new tears were from relief or fear, all he could do was hold her and gently rub her back. They stood that way for another minute or so before Ariel was able to speak through her slowing tears.
"We…have to…see…what we can…do to help." Ariel swiped at the wet trails on her cheeks.
"Babe. We'll see what we can do. Okay?"
Ariel nodded into his chest. "Let's see how everything looks first and then we'll take it from there. Okay?"
Ariel sniffed then nodded.
"Alright. Let's see how bad it is." James faced the door and turned the deadbolt. The door had shifted some on its frame making the release of the bolt harder than before. He turned the knob and pulled at the door, but nothing happened. The door was stuck. A quick inspection revealed that the jam had actually shifted enough and was now holding the door like a vice. He gripped the door knob and jerked his arm back, feeling the door give slightly. He knew another good tug and it would open. He just didn't know what he would see once that happened.