Inspired by stories of disappearing islands off the coast of just about every country that borders the sea, and the floating city over China this past October.
Áine was fairly certain she was losing her mind. She stood on the balcony of her apartment, still in her pajamas, a cup of tea in her hands, gazing at the morning landscape. It was a ritual she began when she moved in, nearly a year ago. There was a time when her ritual of morning tea steadied her before she had to go to work. Of course, that was before the landscape changed.
Áine's apartment once overlooked her neighborhood: buildings, roads, an outdoor shopping center, other apartments, parking lots, trees, and the like; and while the view had not been exactly idyllic, it had been comfortable. Steadying. She'd lived her entire life in neighborhoods like it. Now though, now her comfortable life had been upended, because when she looked out from the balcony of her apartment now what she saw was unbelievable: an island, off in the distance, rising up from the sea, and, closer, a craggy beach which met the end of her building's parking lot, swallowing the dentists office that once shared the same property line. It was pretty, and would have been refreshing if she were vacationing in some coastal city, but Áine lived in Kansas, possibly the most landlocked land ever. She shouldn't be able to smell the salt sea wind from her balcony, or hear the gulls, or gaze upon an island just a few miles off the coast.
What worried her most was that the island, along with surrounding sea, et cetera, et cetera, was definitely moving closer. A few days ago the dentist's office had still been there, now, poof!, replaced by some disturbing moving ocean.
Still it was beautiful.
Áine sighed and sat down in the little chair she kept on her balcony. Leaning back, she cupped both hands around her teacup and brought it to her mouth. She didn't drink, just breathed the steam and pondered her island dilemma. Another few days moving like it was, and the island would completely overcome her apartment building. What would happen then? Would she drown? Be crushed? Or would nothing happen at all? Would the island pass over and she not notice it in the least? She'd noticed other people continued driving on the roads that passed through the island and surrounding sea, and there hadn't been a rash of mysterious disappearances in the weeks since it first appeared. She'd been watching for that in the nightly news. Other people didn't seem to notice the anomalous landscape at all. Meanwhile, she'd been driving hours out of her way to avoid the island on her way to and from work. It had really affected her performance and mood, but she just couldn't bring herself to drive through the damned scene. She was afraid she'd ruin her car, and possibly drown herself, by driving right into the sea.
What could she do?
Well, it was the weekend, she had a few days off work to figure it out. Áine sipped her tea and stared out at the island. Who was she kidding? Figure it out. She may as well try to stop the wind. She listened to the waves lapping at the shore, and she could almost see the landscape inching forward. This was not something that could be stopped. Though, perhaps, it was something that could be endured. She wasn't sure. Áine drank her tea and thought about that for a long time.
After a long time, and rather an excess of sighs, Áine removed herself from her little balcony and went back in her apartment to clean her teacup, get out of her pajamas, and start her day. Food and fresh water were put down for Legbiter, her large, mottled black and orange cat. Legbiter wound his way through her legs affectionately as she did so.
"Oh, kitten," she said, "do you see the island when you look out the window?"
The cat just looked at her, gave an inscrutable "mrow," and turned his attention to his food.
"You're no help," Áine told him. "I don't know. I feel like I have to do something. I'm just not sure what."
Áine stood looking out her window at the now familiar seascape and thought. Then, decision made, announced, "I'm going out," and bolted for her door before she had a chance to change her mind. Once outside she slowly, partially regretting her decision, made her way across the parking lot and to the rocky beach. She stopped at the point where sand met asphalt, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the strand. It was surprisingly difficult, that step. It felt like pushing her way through thick spiderwebs. Not exactly sticky, but the air clung. Then she was there, in that liminal space where sea met land, and it was as real as anything. She'd been half expecting the landscape to just fade, but it didn't. Áine wondered if anything would ever be the same again.
Áine breathed deep. The air was cool and clean. Disturbingly pure. She couldn't smell car exhaust or chemicals or any of the scents that came with the city. She felt slightly intoxicated, her body tingled, and her thoughts fluttered and wouldn't be still. There was music, something like music, coming from somewhere, and suddenly she wanted to move move move. To run towards the ocean, leaving her clothes behind, and swim in it. She wanted to swim all the way out to the little island. It was calling to her. Laughing. Singing. Barely audible. Promising her all the things she wanted, but never thought she could have. She wanted it all. She wanted to go, to leave behind everything, and explore the unknown. She wanted it with a clarity, a hunger she had never experienced before. Áine lifted her foot to take a step closer to the sea, barely registering the movement. Then she stopped and turned to look back at her apartment, wondering if it would still be there. It was. But it was hazy, not quite real, like some sort of mirage. It also seemed very far away, for all that the border was still just a half step in front of her. A sudden thought struck Áine, it would probably be wise to go back while she still had a chance, but the sea called to her, and all she wanted was to explore the little island floating in it.
Looking up to her floor, Áine saw Legbiter sitting in her kitchen window looking down at her, and she was torn. He needed her, so she couldn't go, but she wanted to. So, so bad. She felt like nothing in her past was real. Her apartment, her job, her friends, her cat, all part of a long and boring dream. She was standing on the precipice of her real life. All she had to do was step back, turn away, and she could get on with it. Legbiter yowled, and pawed at the window, and she knew, with regret, that she could never turn away.
One of her neighbors, the elderly man who lived across the hall, exited the building with his dog. He crossed the parking lot, coming toward her, and Áine realized with a start that he was heading for the patch of grass that was between the dentist's office and the lot. Not her. He couldn't see her. To her he was hazy, slightly out of focus, like everything beyond the spider-silk strands of the border she crossed. To him, she thought, I'm invisible. Maybe that's why no one else has been reacting to the island. They literally don't see it. Then, why do I?
That thought in her head, Áine pushed through the border—it was harding going back—and returned to her real life, shocking her neighbor in the process. He filled her ears with Where'd-you-come-from's and I-didn't-see-you-standing-there's, or some other such noise, she only half-listened while exchanging pleasant banalities with him. Her mind was busy planning something she couldn't quite touch. After her neighbor wandered off with his dog, Áine looked back toward the island. It was still there. Her nebulous plans became more solid. She ran into her building, and up to her apartment to get her keys and purse. She paused, briefly, to pet and coo at Legbiter, assuring him that she was fine and that she'd be back shortly. Then she ran back out, and to her car. She had some shopping to do.
It was night when she got back. She had to take the long way around, after all. The island was still there, she sent a quite "thank you" to the universe. Áine didn't want to think that she'd spent several thousand dollars—that she didn't actually have, thank you—on a kayak and tent that she was never going to use. She spent several hours going through her things, packing some, saying goodbye to others. She kept up a one-sided conversation with Legbiter while she worked.
"This, quite probably, is going to ruin my life, Leggie," she said, "I really . . . I don't know why I'm doing this, but it just seems right. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. But if you were there, you'd know. You'd understand. I'm right. I'm right. I'm right. I know I'm right about this. How's the harness?"
Legbiter gave Áine an annoyed look and continued his awkward pacing around her bedroom, trying to get used to (or out of) the harness she bought for him. She wondered, briefly, how he'd react to the leash she got to go with it. Then she resumed her manic inventory.
"Do you think I'll need this?" she asked holding up a dress. "No, I'm not going to need this. Why would I need a dress? A skirt, though. I might need a skirt. I have to make sure I can carry the bag, though. Can't be too heavy. I really have to weed stuff down. Oh gods, I wish I could take my books. Maybe just one. Or two. Three at most. I can live with that.
"Do you think I should take some booze? I mean, I have food and stuff, but do you think I should take some liquor? Maybe some wine?
"Thank the gods I already had hiking boots!"
And so on. She was manic, frantic, and feeling more than a little unbalanced. Áine knew she was packing things with little rhyme and less reason—it's not as though she'd never been camping before—but she couldn't stop herself. Every instinct she had was screaming, telling her that what she'd needed on those aforementioned camping trips was not what she would need on the island. So she packed most of her jewelry, a penny whistle, five books, her journal, three changes of clothes (including a skirt that matched all of the tops she was bringing along), and a variety of other items that would normally be completely useless on a long hike or camping trip. But she felt she needed them, so they came.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," she said several times throughout the night.
It was midnight before she calmed down, her belongings packed, and Legbiter finally used to his harness. She wrote a letter to her mom trying to explain what she was doing, and apologizing for it in advance. Then she taped her spare key to the paper, before folding it in an envelope to mail. Thinking about it, Áine decided it was probably best if she mailed it tonight rather than wait. Thinking a bit more, Áine also decided to spend the night on the beach, just in case. She was so afraid that it all would disappear, her great chance for adventure, for magic, gone while she dithered about. Chances, she knew, do that: disappear while you're deciding whether or not to go for it. She made her decision and didn't want to wait.
Áine ran down the block to the mail box and back to gather Legbiter and her things in record time. Then Legbiter leashed and grumbling, her pack on her back, she exited her apartment locking the door behind her. In the parking lot, she drug the small kayak off the roof of her car, and then fumbled everything back across the spider's web barrier to the impossible. There, on the beach above the tideline, she and Legbiter curled up to sleep until dawn.
She woke feeling slightly damp with mist, looked around herself and gulped. The sea and the island were there as she half hoped/half dreaded, but there was nothing else. Her apartment, as hazy as it'd seemed the day before, was completely gone. There was no going back. That too was something she half hoped/half dreaded would happen. She stood up, packed the kayak, and dragged it closer to the sea. Then she collected Legbiter, holding him to her chest and rubbing her face against his fur.
"Well," she said, "I guess we're on an adventure."
The cat purred.