On the afternoon of June 29, 2051, Ted Falconer, director of the Pearl Sector Homeless Pavilion for the city of Portlandia, stood atop Neakahnie Mountain and stared down on what once was a small bustling village.
“My father used to speak fondly of this place. He brought us here as children, each summer for too many years to count. It was called Manzanita,” Ted informed his traveling companion, a female robot he had purchased the summer before and named Melania.
“Today would have been his hundredth birthday.”
Melania nodded, in her usual mechanical fashion, up and down, like those oil rigs off the coast of Santa Barbara, which Ted saw as a college student from his small room in Isla Vista. She said nothing, but then, she rarely spoke, and Ted was becoming exhausted with her predictability.
“Perhaps, that is why you named her Melania,” a co-worker and friend at the Pavilion had recently remarked.
Ted recalled the comment, coming as it did on the very same day that the Mars Relocation Committee’s point man, the great-great grandson of Alan Shepard, had told him that he hoped to soon jettison at least 100,000 of his homeless residents at The Pavilion to the Red Planet by the summer of 2054.
Though the late-June day was exceedingly warm, as most days were now – even near the ocean – a coldness filled him. Ted regarded his robot with a crinkled squint and said, “It is quite unforgiveable. Heaven, if there is one, will take note.”
Melania seemed confused. None of this computed. The poor darling, thought Ted, useless as a white crayon. Finally, she muttered, “What do you mean, my sir? What do you mean by this?”
“I mean, look at it, damn it! Look down and tell me what you see? It’s gone now. Nothing of value remains. The fires have taken it and now Mother Nature, so steady, yet so intractable, is reclaiming her land with a steady, implacable persistence.”
He pronounced each syllable with articulation so sharp you could have sliced bread on it.
“And do you know why, Melania?”
“No, my sir. I do not.”
They two of them returned to the car and climbed into its rear seats. Ted commanded the vehicle’s invisible pilot to continue down the mountain.
Standing on a rutted road that used to be called Laneda Avenue, Ted surveyed the surroundings. He’d heard that Manzanita had was nothing but rubble now, but so were many smaller communities up down the Pacific coast.
Nearly 10 billion people now occupied the planet. Clean water was scarce, the air fouled, the oceans warmed. Great boundless fires had ripped across western American with an ugly vengeance.
On the plus side, Donald Trump, that howling dog of an ex-president, had finally died at the age of 91, after spending his final years rattling around in mental hospital in Middleton, Connecticut.
From the roadway, if you could call it that, Ted noticed that there stood a few wood pilings where once the San Dune Pub’s barroom was busy with meaty people in baseball caps. Old faded flyers for the Little Apple Market were pressed against chain-link fences. The new City Hall was burnt to the ground. The Ocean Edge hotel was a ruin, as was almost every inch of the town.
Ted sighed, and in the dusty sunshine, he turned to Melania and stared at her for a lingering moment.
He looked out then upon the vast and moody sea and remembered how his father so adored this place and their one-week-long sojourn to Manzanita every summer, smitten anew each time he saw the silvery beach from the mountain above.
“There was once a time, Melania, many, many summers ago when this place was magic.”
“Was it, my sir?”
“Oh yes, it was magic.”
Ellis is a longtime journalist who worked primarily as a political reporter at the Anchorage Times, UPI, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He retired several years ago and, after decades of vacationing on the Oregon coast, finally settled in Manzanita with his wife Lynn and Piper, their ocean-loving Australian Shepherd.