If the fishing fleet had left before dawn, as most fishing fleets do, the disaster would have been avoided. But the fact was that the fleet hadn’t done any actual fishing for some years. Increasing tourist traffic, drawn to the picturesque maritime village huddled under the great gray cliffs that formed the harbor, had drawn the interest of some large international resort developers. They, in turn, lined the waterfront with exclusive hotels and restaurants, and when the wealthy patrons began to complain about the diesel and fish stink of the boats, the hotels bought the fleet outright, eliminating the need for fishing altogether. Now the boats sailed quaintly out of the harbor in the late morning, travelling a few miles down the coast to pick up a load of frozen seafood trucked in by a wholesaler from the city. Several hours later, they would make their return to great fanfare, bobbing triumphantly home with their catch to be served at the five-star restaurants along the water. And if the former fishermen balked at the low wages, or the humiliating pantomime fishing expeditions, they were careful not to mention it in front of the resort management.
And so, it was midmorning and the boat crews, in immaculate white uniforms, were refreshing the intricate decorations on their vessels, when, with a deafening roar, a large section of the cliff face above gave way, crushing them all under a massive pile of debris. The air filled with a choking gray dust. The volume of the water displaced was so great that a five-foot swell rushed up the shingle and flooded the patios of the high-end cafés at the other side of the harbor. Tourists ran shrieking from the surge as it pushed tables and chairs around, coursing under doorways and into kitchens and thickly carpeted dining rooms.
The noise was enough to bring everyone, even those who had just recently returned from the clubs, to their balconies and terraces. They squinted through their sunglasses, clutching silk bathrobes to their throats as ozone and bitter rock dust filled their mouths.
The particulars of the situation—the wives and children of the crews staring, blank-eye out at the pile of stone where the docks had been, the wailing and grief, the ginger, futile search for survivors—all of that would come later. But in that quiet moment just after the disaster, when the only sound was that of the waves sighing in retreat, there was, the hotel guests would whisper to each other later, a strange kind of peace.
And then a figure appeared, picking its way out onto the pile of rubble that covered what was once the fishing fleet. Staring into the haze, some recognized him. It was the man who called himself the Mayor, a raggedy little jester who was sometimes allowed into the lobbies and bars of the fancy hotels, where he would fumble his way through a few inept card tricks in exchange for drinks.
All eyes were on him as he tottered across the scree. Rocks fell from the unstable cliffs above, bursting around him like grenades. The terrain shifted and crumbled under his feet. At one point a huge rock began to tilt while he was standing on it. Onlookers gasped as he tried to maintain his balance, his arms waving frantically. Just as it seemed that the boulder would topple and crush him, he made a heroic leap to more solid ground.
Finally he stood at the very apex of the debris. Turning to face the line of hotels across the harbor, he paused, and then, like an actor closing a brilliant performance, gave a deep bow.
John Haggerty’s work has appeared most recently in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Nimrod, Salon, and The Pinch. He is a member of the online writers’ collective The Fiction Forge.