96 James

July 15, 2029, Coney, Island, NY

 

Janet is finally able to reach Benjamin on his phone. “Are you alright? Please tell me you two made it out of Brooklyn.”

“Janet, please stop worrying about me and James. We’re fine. It’s more important you focus on the next phase of your life. Your appointment to the Red Cross has given you into a critical role these next few years. The world is going to need all of your focus.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Where are you?”

Benjamin knows his former boss is not going to drop the question. “I tried to secure a flight or a boat to get us out as soon as I heard. I couldn’t find either. Apparently, our destiny is to be here today.”

“How about the MH-139s? The Air Force is running them all day. They can hold fifteen to twenty-five people in a single trip. There are eighty-five of them on duty today. I can make a call in your behalf.”

“Janet, those helicopters are being used to remove government personnel only. Not only am I no longer an employee of the U.S. government, but you are no longer active at the U.N. and therefore not authorized to make such a call.” Benjamin pauses as he knows that what he just said crossed the line. “I’m sorry, Janet. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Those people are idiots and you’re going to rise above them in your new role in the private sector.”

Janet’s emotions are escalating as she fights against the inevitable. “How can you just give up? You owe it to James to find a way out of there.”

“Janet, this isn’t something I can control. I tried. Getting worked up about it isn’t going to change anything. I’m at peace. Please, let me have this.”

“Where’s James. Is he with you?”

“I’m in his carpool lane. Thankfully, the great people at his school are refusing to leave until all the kids are picked up. Just when you think people like this have gone extinct, you see them activated by a crisis. They’re real-life heroes.”

“Yes, they are.” Her thoughts shift briefly to the brave teachers and then back to James. “Once you have him, please tell me you’re going to seek higher ground.”

“Janet, we’re on an island. There is no higher ground—just higher buildings. You know the prognosis as well as I do. The tsunami is going to sweep over all four of these islands. The ground is already shaking from the radiating effects of the underwater earthquakes. The buildings will fall. I don’t want my son in the city watching the hysterics, nor do I want to expose him to the possibility of being crushed by a random piece of falling construction.”

“Then where will you go?”

“I’m taking James to Coney Island.”

“You’re taking him towards the water? Why?” Her voice is beginning to crack with emotion as she is being forced to face the inevitable.

“It’s deserted. We can have a few quiet hours together. Coney Island was our favorite weekend hangout when Lindsay was here. We can relive the good memories. Plus, the roads in every other direction are blocked by abandoned cars. We’ll drive the route as far as we can and then walk the rest of it. We’re only a few miles away.”

Janet is softly sobbing. “What will you tell him?”

“I’m telling him that we are going on a great adventure. I went to the attic and got our Superman masks and capes. We’ll put them on and face this thing like Supermen. We played this game in the early years whenever he was scared.”

Janet holds back the tears. “That’s such a great ‘Benjamin’ plan. I have to admire it.” She pauses to catch her breath. “So, this becomes the day you reunite as a family and begin your life on the other side.”

“Ms. Jagger, did I just hear you acknowledge that there is life beyond Earth? Have the Middle Easterners converted you?”

“It wasn’t the Middle Easterners. It was a group of people a little closer to the source. But, yes, I’m a believer now. I believe in Almighty. I believe in the battle between good and evil. And, I believe in Almighty’s plan to save us from the dire ending we created for ourselves. I’m still not sure about the whole Hell thing, but it’s not important. The thought of an eternity lived apart from my Creator is bad enough. Once I quieted my mind to seriously consider it, I was enlightened to the truth.” She stops to collect her final thoughts. “Thank you for supporting me until I made it here spiritually. You never pushed me, and I appreciate it.”

“I knew it wouldn’t work with you—and besides, it’s not my style.” He smiles into the phone, fully aware she cannot see him. “You know what? This is the good news I needed today. I couldn’t be more at peace. Good for you, Janet. I must go now. I’m next in line and I can see James standing on the sidewalk with his red backpack. He’s waving at me.”

Benjamin’s voice is the one cracking now. “It’s been wonderful knowing and working with you, Ambassador. Keep fighting the good fight, and… know I will always be on your side.” Benjamin disconnects the call as soon as he utters his final sentence. Once the connection is lost, he stares at the blank screen. She will know the “goodbye” is implied—and that it was too tough to say.


Benjamin ties the mask on James and adjusts the red cape across his shoulders. His cape is whipping in the strong winds pushing their way towards the shore along with the choppy waters. His mask is misting from the wet sand blowing in circular patterns around his head. He gets down on his knees and holds his son’s small hands in his own. “James, I want you to listen carefully to what I’m about to say. Today is a big day for you and me.”

“A Superman day?”

“Yes, the most important Superman day we will ever have.” Benjamin smiles. He has admired his son’s resolve to remain in fearless mode since he lost his mother. “You know your mom went to Heaven last year. It’s where she lives now.”

“Yes, I know. I see her sometimes. She says she’s happy there and that she’s waiting on me.”

“Yes, she is. We are going to see her today. And this time, we are staying with her.”

“How?”

The confident father freezes in the face of his son’s simple question. There isn’t a single answer in his head—just questions of his own: “How does a father tell his son he is about to die? How can he promise him dying doesn’t hurt and that a good ending awaits him? How can he speak confidently about something that he has never experienced?” The tears he has been holding back are spilling onto his cheeks.

The small boy wipes away his father’s salty tears with both of his hands. “It’s okay, Dad. I’m not scared. You don’t have to be scared for me.” James wraps his whole hands around his father’s middle fingers. “It’s the big wave we heard about in school, isn’t it? Some of my friends said we’re going to die. Is that true?”

Benjamin feels the overwhelming pressure all parents feel when they must tell their child the truth, no matter how painful it will be. “Yes, son, it’s the wave, and yes, we are going to die. But, ‘die’ is just a word that means changing from his body into a new one in a whole other place—a wonderful place. The change will happen quickly. We’ll close our eyes when it’s time and when we open them, we will see your mom there. We will be together as a family again.”

“And happy forever?”

Benjamin laughs, a little in amazement at the simple faith of this child. “Yes, happy forever.” He stands and stares out into the ocean. The vacuum effect is sucking costal water seaward is slowly revealing the ocean floor. The wind has calmed, and the silence is eerie. He knows they only have minutes left.

“Ok, James. The big wave is getting close. I want you to hold onto me. I promise not to let go of you—no matter what. We are going to walk towards the ocean, so we won’t be hit by things the wave is going to knock over. Are you ready?”

“Pick me up.”

“Sure. Here, or when we get out there?”

“Now. Hold me like Superman. When you hold me like Superman, I’m brave like Superman.”

Benjamin flashes his son a big smile. “You got it. Masks down?”

“Masks down, Superman liftoff!” James calls out his orders as he’s done over years of superhero launchings. Benjamin lifts his son into his arms and holds him in flying position.

James stretches his arms long and stares out into the distance. “Superman to the rescue!”

Benjamin clears his mind of every single thought and fear. He digs deep and finds the strength to keep himself completely in their last moment on Earth. James giggles as his father runs towards the water in a zigzag pattern making his usual shoooshhhing sound.

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Triple Digit TOC by K.M. Sheridan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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