September 20

The Last ____________ on Earth (Part 6)


With the strap of a rescue can buoy draped over his shoulder, he climbed the wooden ladder to reach the high seat overlooking the ocean.

The tide was calm today.  In his experience, that calm could be deceptive.  It could give beachgoers a false sense of security, and they would take unnecessary risks.  They’d swim out too far and get surprised by the undertow.  Or they’d attempt an acrobatic twist in the water and get struck by a sudden, paralyzing muscle cramp.

In such situations, he’d have to race down the ladder, run along the sand — quickly, nothing like the slow bouncing montage in that inexplicably popular television show — dive into the ocean and help flailing swimmers wrap their arms around the plastic buoy, and then lead them safely to the dry beach.  He rarely had to give them mouth-to-mouth.  The rescued person’s most serious symptoms were usually a few intense water-coughs, and embarrassment.

Despite recent tragedies, the ocean was still beautiful.  The changed Sun reflected off the water’s surface, and bits of pink foam bubbled along the crests of small waves.  In some ways, the ocean was easier to look at now.  Before, he could never relax:  his eyes would dart left and right, his active mind alert to potential problems, his body ready to react in an instant.  Even when he was technically off duty, he could never completely turn off his work-day instincts.  Somebody might need to be rescued.  He might be their only hope against drowning.

Now, he could stare at the ocean with idle eyes.  There wasn’t anybody left to be rescued.

Which is not to say that there weren’t bodies in the water.  But the arms didn’t flail desperately, no sputter or gasp from struggling swimmer, no cries for help from nearby friends.  The bodies were mostly facedown.  They bobbed quietly in the calm ocean, sometimes washed ashore then got pulled back out with the evening tides.

The last lifeguard on Earth watched the floating bodies he didn’t have to save.  Some clustered in groups, forming their own small islands.

So many bodies, some close at the water’s edge and others far back toward the horizon.

He didn’t try to count them.