He squinted against the brilliance. It flared and he closed his eyes. That was a reflex; wave reflections were a common thing out here. The flare died against his closed eyelids, and he looked out to sea. Wave coming?
He saw a fiery could lift beyond the horizon. He studied it, squinting, making himself believe…
“Big wave coming.” He called, and rose to his knees.
Corey called, “Where?”
“You’ll see it,” Gil called confidently. He turned his board and paddled out to sea, bending almost until his cheek touched the board, using long, deep sweeps of his long arms. He was scared shitless, but nobody would ever know it. “Wait for me!” Jeanine called. Gil continued paddling. Others followed, but only the strongest could keep up. Corey pulled abreast of him. “I saw the fireball!” he shouted. He panted with effort. “It’s Lucifer’s Hammer! Tidal wave!” Gil said nothing. Talk was discouraged out here, but the others jabbered among themselves, and Gill paddled even faster, leaving them. A man ought to be alone during a thing like this. He was beginning to grasp the fact of death. Rain came, and he paddled on. He glanced back to see the houses and bluff receding, going uphill, leaving an enormous stretch of new beach, gleaming wet. Lightening flared along the hills above Malibu. The hills had changed. The orderly buildings of Santa Monica had tumbled into heaps. The horizon went up. Death. Inevitable. If death was inevitable, what was left? Style, only style. Gil went on paddling, riding the receding waters until motion was gone. He was a long way out now. He turned his board and waited. Others caught up and turned, spread across hundreds of yards in the rainy waters. If they spoke, Gil couldn’t hear them. There was a terrifying rumble behind him. Gil waited a moment longer, then paddled like mad, sure deep strokes, doing it well and truly. He was sliding downhill, down the big green wall, and the water was lifting hard beneath him, so that he rested on knees and elbows with the blood pouring into his face, bugging his eyes, starting a nosebleed. The pressure was enormous, unbearable, then it eased. With the speed he’d gained he turned the board, scooting down and sideways along the nearly vertical wall, balancing on knees… He stood up. He needed more angle, more. If he could reach the peak of the wave he’d be out of it, he could actually live through this! Ride it out, ride it out, and do it well… Other boards had turned too. He saw them ahead of him, above and below on the green wall. Corey had turned the wrong way. He shot beneath Gil’s feet, moving faster than hell and looking terrified. They swept toward the bluff. They were higher than the bluff. The beach house and the Santa Monica pier with its carousel and all the yachts anchored nearby slid beneath the waters. Then they were looking down on streets and cars. Gil had a momentary glimpse of a bearded man kneeling with others; then the waters swept on past. The base of the wall was churning chaos, white foam and swirling debris and thrashing bodies and tumbling cars. Below him now was Santa Monica Boulevard. The wave swept over the Mall, adding the wreckage of shops and shoppers and potted trees and bicycles to the crashing foam below. As the wave engulfed each low building he braced himself for the shock, squatting low. The board slammed against his feet, and he nearly lost it; he saw Tommy Schumacher engulfed, gone, his board bounding high and whirling crazily. Only two boards left now. The wave’s frothing peak was far, far above him; the churning base was much too close. His legs shrieked in the agony of exhaustion. One board left ahead of him, ahead and below. Who? It didn’t matter; he saw it dip into chaos, gone. Gil risked a quick look back; nobody there. He was alone on the ultimate wave. Oh, God, if he lived to tell this tale, what a movie it would make! Bigger than The Endless Summer, bigger that The Towering Inferno: a surfing movie with ten million in special effects! If only his legs would hold! He already had a world record, he must be at least a mile inland, no one had ever ridden a wave for a mile! But the frothing, purling peak was miles overhead and the Barrington Apartments, thirty stories tall, was coming at him like a flyswatter.