Burnt orange smoke trails darted through the coastal sky. Plane after plane taking off into the sunset over the abandoned beaches, every 15 seconds, another, filled to capacity with escaping citizens. Some planes headed southwest towards Australia while others headed due west for Japan or Korea. All of them were headed across the vast Pacific Ocean, at least a half a world away from the impending destruction of what would soon be referred to as what used to be the Americas.
Lying in the sand, under the arriving stars in the darkening atmosphere, was Cam Reynolds, motionless. His modest beach blanket unfurled underneath him, his eyes focused and unfocused on the last visages of the city he always knew, the land he cherished as a child, as the silhouettes of piers, towers, and jetties were slowly devoured by the ravishing nightfall. He was neither frowning, nor smiling, as he was neither afraid nor hopeful. If this is to be the end, he thought, then so be it. A wave crashed along the sand along the shore. The tidal forces had waned since the first Great Collision, as the moon had splintered into pieces and no longer held its grip on the sea. The warning shot as it were for what was to come. Cam peered north along the shoreline, watching as small sections of the electrical grid slowly turned off, the bright neon lettering on the vacant Fairmont Hotel shut down first, then strips of fluorescent within the empty apartment buildings and single-family homes, left on by their fleeing tenants with no concern for the next electrical bill. Finally, the glimmer of the once-buoyant rotating bulbs of the Santa Monica ferris wheel flickered a few times, before shutting down forever.
Perhaps Cam’s vantage point would be the last memory formed of the ferris wheel. He furled his eyebrows so as to regain a semblance of focus in the darkening sky. The moon had splintered into a million pieces, with many of those chunks careening into the atmosphere, pouring cosmic hail onto Earth’s inhabitants. There were still three large chunks orbiting Earth, and many more which were not visible to the naked eye. Cam studied these pieces intently, as they spun in space, reflecting different faces with each revolution, like a distant, troubling strobe light in the sky. For so long, the moon had protected Earth from meteorites and other galactic trash, absorbing punches on its dark side, shielding the proud people of Earth from the thought of their demise. Now Earth’s bodyguard hung limp in the air, like withered leaves blowing in the autumn wind. The beach was suddenly very still, as Cam turned again on his side, facing southward. Without the effect of the tides, the ocean breeze had ceased to exist. Cam dreamed of feeling that cool air once more on his face. He had spent many nights with his feet in this very sand, sometimes with friends, with former lovers. Sometimes alone, as he was now. A gust of wind sweeping across his eye lids, tickling his ears, was a constant of those times, the force of nature that returned him to a sense of wholeness, a small glimpse into the center of his soul. He yearned for the chance to connect in that way one last time.
After his mother passed of hopelessness a few weeks after the Moon shattered in the sky, Cam did not think to reach out to old friends, or ex-girlfriends, or anyone of the sort really. He had already resigned those people to the past, in his journey towards self-enlightenment, as he had made great strides in becoming comfortable in his loneliness, satisfied with his perpetually restarting blank slate. His father hadn’t made it through the first comet winter, which had struck about a year prior to the Great Collision. It was not referred to at the time as the Great Collision, as it was fairly localized in the American southwest, and having already struck in the December, only exacerbated the existing winter for a few months. The comet had crashed in a deserted part of the Mojave desert, though it certainly caused damage to some surrounding towns. People lost loved ones in the engulfing haze that erupted over the surrounding 300-mile radius. It became very cold for very many days, of course uncharacteristic for this locale, even in winter, and Cam’s father could not escape the unfortunately-timed pneumonia he’d contracted just a few days before impact. The sense of dread that clasped onto the United States after that first strike, and soon abroad, was not felt as deeply by Cam, who was not ready to stop grieving for his father before grieving for his world.
Now, supine on the once bustling beaches in Playa del Rey, grief was just another memory of the time that would not return.
He pulled a second blanket over himself, to keep warm in the chilling sky. The other effect of the lack of tides was the loss of the regulatory currents that maintained the template climate in the Los Angeles basin. Nights, even now in the middle of July, were not as warm as they once were. The thought had occurred to Cam to find firewood in the backyards of the homes where his neighbors used to sing, drink, and be happy, but if he made it through tonight, he could always do so tomorrow. Nobody would be coming back to California, or America at all. The meteorologists and cosmologists, prognosticators and talking heads, had all but certified the assurance that the next Great Collision, the sister asteroid to what had eviscerated the Moon, would strike tonight, at about 2:47 in the morning, at a speed of 80,000 miles per hour, somewhere near the limestone and shale expanses of the Grand Canyon, about 500 miles from where Cam laid. Many people felt that escaping across either ocean would save them from the fallout of a meteor the size of Catalina Island smacking Earth. Many people hoped they were right.
Planes continued to take off as Cam checked his mechanical watch - only 9:00 PM. Cam wondered if these planes would even touch down in time before the strike occurred; if the people on those planes, suspended in the air above, would even feel the collision. Perhaps they too were dreaming of the cool ocean breeze, imagining a chance to return to the past, just to sink their feet into the wet sand as the rush of white water grazed the bottom of their ankles, again; and again; and again.
Cam curled up and adjusted himself under the stars. Without any light pollution, he could see so much more of the universe, for the first time in Southern California. He envisioned hopping from galaxy to galaxy, dipping his toes in the water of exotic planets, in search of the calm he once knew.