Birdsong had long gone, leaving only a steady whistle of wind to push over the dried, Martian-like surface. Not a tree or blade of grass remained. Only the monstrous concrete walls guarding the once great pool grew from the flats, planted ominously over the nothingness. Adjacent to the far wall, a giant cog stood forty feet high, rusted and still; the “Gear,” as the rats called it, which had years ago turned the water into perfectly edged waves holding a certainty of a ruler. But the water had disappeared and all that now remained were the walls, the Gear, and two men staring.
“So, this was it, where it all began,” said the aged executive.
“Sir, you were brilliant. The true Moses of surfing,” blushed the young assistant. “Where you led, they followed. Magical that it spawned countless clone pools around the globe. Unfortunate in their requisition for such water consumption, causing untold numbers to lose their inland farms and homes.”
“Yes, I suffered greatly,” responded the executive.
As the two men stood in awe of the crumbling prototype, a small, wooden-planked door swung open from the ground, sending a dust cloud upward. Out stumbled the pale, bent frame of a young man shielding his eyes from daylight. He shuffled his bare, gnarled feet forward toward the other two.
“Sir ― look out!” screamed the assistant, tossing himself in front of the executive.
“No need to worry,” said the man, peeling the trembling assistant from his chest.
The executive’s eyes widened at the skeleton approaching. He struggled to understand how any of the young surfers survived.
He silently recounted past events:
“After we exhausted the water supply…then the oil supply that turned the Gear…
That much was clear to him.
“…What started out as a beautiful revolution, an unfathomable progression in surfing quickly soured: First, questions about filling and refilling a desert pool with 15 million gallons of potable water; Then, the accusations of gross fuel consumption and pollution. So, what choice was there to but to employ his followers. Democratize them fully.”
The executive almost believed his lies and by now the emaciated sack stood directly in front of him. The two set their eyes coldly upon each other.
“Ah, these are the rats I told you about,” said the executive, lowering his brows and breaking a smile.
“Rats, Sir?” inquired the assistant. Finding his courage, he turned toward the rat. “Who are you and what are you doing here? This is private property!”
“I turned the Gear, made the machine go after the petrol that powered the beast stopped. I served up the red meat, the prime rib, the perfect wave for his clients. I helped crank the Gear from an hour before dawn to midnight, seven days a week, boiling in the labyrinth, drowning in the stench. They called us rats, running around angry, bumping into each other in the blackness, our skin bleached white from exposure to wicked blends of machine oil and chlorine.”
The young apprentice shuddered at this and slowly shifted his eyes to the executive, recoiling at the descriptions.
“Sir? Is this true?”
“Don’t look so shocked, boy,” he shot back, raising his voice. “Yes, the water and fuel dried up, but the thirst for the boutique wave remained. The trade was fair! Surfers turned the gear manually for eight – but never more than fourteen – hours a day in exchange for my wave!”
Remembering the cool rhetorical style which amassed him his fame, fortune, and following, the executive smoothed the fronts of his coat and took a shallow breathe of soiled air. Immediately, he felt the eloquence that served him so well return.
“Man is not a rat, conveniently equipped with an inborn pattern of social instincts. On the contrary, man ―modern man―is preeminently endowed with a fiercely self-centered nature. While the filthy masses clawed for wave scraps, I forged ahead.” The executive bared his sharp teeth, showing pleasure with the analogy.
“Yes. Me, the man and you, the rat.”
At this, all three stood silently in the desert heat facing one another, processing what had been spoken. The assistant swallowed hard as the whipped cream of the executive’s oratory poured out.
“You think that you were doing something for the common good? Fool! While you and your ilk fawned over board designs and clothing lines, I laughed. It was all tinsel.”
The rat wobbled in the heat.
“You see, as Heraclitus once suggested, we both step and do not step into the same rivers twice.” The executive pleased himself at his recall of the philosopher’s words which he had once misread on a bumper sticker. He always felt the need to position himself above that of a rank surfer.
“Brilliant, sir.” squealed the assistant. “What does it mean?”
“This dried tank is now merely a discarded fragment of a bygone world. As it is said, “a thing may outlive its life, but the idea of it grows strong,” replied the executive. “It is a dualism which suggests that which exists in two states.”
“Spinoza, sir? Descartes?” the assistant bounced in excitement.
“Farragamos,” the executive growled through his teeth.
“You are stepping on my loafers,” he replied, pleasant on the outside yet seething within. Quickly turning his attention back to the rat, the executive asked, “Boy, are you thirsty?”
“Desperately,” the rat whispered, tears pooling under the pink rims of his eyes.
A stone face replaced the executive’s smile. “You look it. Now, make way. We’re leaving.”
“To where, sir?” the assistant inquired.
“To the Pacific, that endless giver of water. I want to show you what nature can provide, everlasting.”
The assistant ran over to the truck and opened the passenger door for the executive as the rat stood in front like a dead tree.
Hitting a speedbump or something, they sped West with an ink stain of diesel in trail.
Four hours later, the pair exited the truck, stretching their legs over a bluff that exposed the headland.
The executive slapped the back of his assistant in triumph.
“So, my boy. What do you see?”
Before them stood another concrete frame and Gear like the one they had left behind in the desert. Yet this replica stood directly overtop the water, sunk into the sand and rocks. Rows of surfers waited in neat lines on a tarmac waiting to purchase tickets for entry.
“Just look at it. A perfectly controlled shoreline pumping out waves like corrugated tin roof. We’ve preserved nature indefinitely.”
Sir, you’ve paved over Lowers.”
“My only vice!” giggled the executive.
The assistant grabbed ahold of his stomach and winced, overcome with the realization of this mechanized monster covering the famed break. “Sir, this is unforgivable! Think of the marine life lost, coastline injected with pollution, the disintegration of natural law!”
There was no bumper-sticker philosophy the executive currently could pull out from the lower places of his brain. He decided for once tell the venomous truth.
“You say that I’m Moses, but I am not. I am Pharaoh. I want control. My own specific gravity to which all things bend.” The executive’s voice grew into a howl. “Surfing is all the sacraments and I am its priest!” The executive outstretched his arms, extending his fingers toward the ocean as if performing an incantation.
“Sir, you’re scaring me.”
The executive sought to ease his assistant and reverted to common language:
“We’ll be rich.”
“We’ll be arrested!” squeaked the panicked assistant.
Nodding his head slowly, the executive laughed in agreement, yet already dreaming of his next trick.
“You are correct, my boy. Of course, if we frisk the situation, maybe there is another way forward.”
He grinned and lifted his eyes toward the clouds. “Have you heard they found water on Mars?”
The two stared at the sky for a good while in silence as below one patient surfer at a time zipped across the manufactured wave, each completing the stencil of motions cut long ago by the executive.
Words by Steve Van Rees
Art by: AJ Dungo