The Island of Land and Ocean
rating: +2+x

It was never very quiet in the mornings during breakfast, even during the weekends. Alice personally thought things were actually even louder with her entire family home. She watched her parents argue over some library due fees they had either agreed to or did not agree to share, while her two uncles were listening to the baseball game on the radio and screaming in excitement.

“Well fine, if you’re going to be that way I’ll just pay for all of it myself! Miserly bastard,” her mother declared, slapping her hand on the table and almost knocking over her bowl. “Alice, when you’re done eating can you make a trip to the library?”

Alice looked up from her bowl. “Alright Mom,” she said before finishing the rice at the bottom of her bowl and getting up. Walking over to the sink in the kitchen, she looked outside of the window. A patchwork of various buildings, both big and small, wide and narrow, reaching out to the harbor where boats quietly rocked against the tide and bright blue sky. She placed her bowl into the sink and left to her bedroom.

She tiptoed through the discarded clothing and schoolbooks to her dresser. She pulled out a pair of jeans and put them on while watching the floor to make sure she did not step on stray pencils or pens. Or her homework.

“Alice, here’s the mo-oh my…” Her mother stared at the dirty floor with disapproval while holding the coin purse. “You really should clean this up, Alice.”

“I will mom, I will. Tomorrow. Sunday is my cleaning day, not Saturday,” she huffed, taking the money from her mother and trying to shoo her away from the doorway. “It’s my room mom, I can clean it on my own schedule!”

“Okay, fine,” her mother sighed while walking down the hall. Alice walked the other way towards the door, pausing to slip on some sandals beside the door. Opening the door sent a blast of cold air over her so she doubled back to grab a coat, then went on her way.

The stairs down the apartment were still slippery from an earlier rainstorm, and Alice found herself clutching the railing to avoid any possible fall. She remembered the video at school they showed when she was younger, of cartoon children slipping down stairs and dying because they had rushed. She shivered a little. What kind of sick person decided to make that cartoon anyway?

Alice reached the ground and checked the coin purse before slipping it into her coat pocket. The cluster of apartment buildings reached far up into the sky, any color in them long since stripped away and rust crawling down from some parts of them. She briefly considered how nice they would look in bright pastel colors when a hand on her shoulder startled her. Alice turned around to look at an older man, dressed as though preparing for a thunderstorm, with his little dog. “You don’t have an umbrella,” he said.

“No, why?”

“Oh well the forecast said there was a storm coming up, so I thought it’d be best to bring an umbrella. You should probably hurry up so you don’t get caught in it!” He said with a smile. “Of course, I’m old so maybe I just need more protection,” he chuckled.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Alice gave the man a friendly grin and petted his dog. Then she continued down the street towards an intersection. A tram budged its way down the empty street before stopping near where she stood. A woman stepped out and Alice stepped in, moving past other people to plop down in a seat at the very back.

The tram sat in that spot for several minutes before beginning to budge along again after making sure no other passengers were coming on. Alice looked out the window as the apartment buildings gave away to short squat stores. Herbert’s Dried Foods, the closed general goods store, a bookstore, Tsukiko’s Fashion, a café, the shop which sold school uniforms, a pet store, all passed by in hazy colorful blurs as Alice began to daydream.

An hour had passed when she reached her destination, stepping off from the tram and walking over to the library across the street. Few cars were out, even in the center of the town which was crammed with important buildings. Alice began to wonder if she really should have gone to get an umbrella or maybe even stay inside.

Pushing open the heavy wooden doors of the library, Alice walked past the tall statue of the Ocean. She walked into a large desk where several old women stood, some were looking through stacks of paper while others just stared out into space and looked bored. One of the bored ladies turned to look at Alice and smiled. “Yes dear?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m here to pay a debt,” Alice said, walking over to the woman and pulling out the coin purse.

“For whom?” The old woman opened a tin box full of coins and bills, then reached to a small ledger.

“Uhm, Shigeno?” Alice said. The old woman looked through the ledger, pausing and looking up at her. “Yes?”

“We have two names with Shigeno. Kenji and Mizuho.”

“I’m paying for both of them,” Alice replied.

“Oh I see!” The woman nodded, before taking the coin purse and emptying it out. She counted out the change before nodded and placing it into the tin box, then crossing off two names from her ledger. “Thank you for your time.”

“Bye.” Alice departed the library quickly into a much darker city than one she had left. The sky was swallowed up by burgeoning black clouds and the wind was beginning to pick up. Alice began running towards the apartments. Occasionally she passed someone carrying groceries or other things who were also jogging to escape the oncoming store. Alice almost flew towards a tram which stopped, quickly climbing aboard and sitting down next to someone.

“It looks like it’s going to be a heavy one,” the person said. “Oh hi Alice.”

She looked at them, raising her eyebrows slightly. It was a boy her age who gave her a wide grin. “Hi Takeda,” she replied.

“Come on, you can call me by name,” he said, poking her side.

“Your name is dumb,” she said, moving his hand away.

Takeda was silent for a bit as the tram moved. “Yeah,” he finally agreed. “Want to hang out at Lucy’s tomorrow?”

“I’m cleaning my room but if I finish early maybe.” She shrugged while staring out the window behind his head. Rain was already beginning to streak down the pane. Alice began to think of a way to catch a cold.

“Cool,” Takeda said before falling into silence.

When Alice left the tram the rain was falling heavily, feeling like dozens of wet slaps on the top of her head. She walked quickly towards the apartment buildings, careful to not slip on the sidewalk, nor the stairs.

She reached the door and opened it, slipping inside quickly and shutting the door as the wind began to howl. “Mom, dad, I’m back,” she said, walking to the living room where her parents were sitting near the radio.

“You’re soaking,” her dad said.

“I know, I’m getting a towel,” Alice said as she walked past them to the bathroom, grabbing a towel from inside and rustling it over her dripping hair. “Where did Uncle Tom and Kaoru go?”

“They went back to their own place,” her mother said. “Finally. I was afraid they’d break things again.”

“It was a close game,” her dad spoke, picking up a newspaper from the ground. “I’d yell too if I had bet money.”

“Well thankfully you’re too stingy to bet.”

“Stingy!? Well if someone hadn’t spent so much money on-“

“I’m going to take a nap,” Alice muttered to no one, rolling up the towel in her hands and escaping to her bedroom to avoid getting sucked into the brewing argument. She went to her bed and set the towel on her pillow. Promptly afterwards she flopped to the bed and closed her eyes.

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When Alice woke up the sky was still black, but the rain had ceased. She got up from her bed and pulled at her hair to make sure it was not stuck in an awkward shape.

“Alice, come on,” her mom said, going past her door. “There’s a weird boat at the harbor.”

“Weird boat…?” Alice asked, but she got no answer as her mother left. Alice left her room and pulled on her sandals to follow after.

Alice followed her parents to the street where more and more people were gathering. Everyone began walking down the wet roads towards the harbor, the crowd steadily growing and burgeoning to the point it spilled out from the street and swallowed up the sidewalk.

She felt herself dissipating into the crowd, blending into the dominant will to go to the harbor. Alice felt excited. It was so rare that outside ships came in. Like a great school of fish they crossed the slippery roads to the darkened harbor, illuminated by a single boat's light.

Reaching the harbor, the stinging scent of dead animals and salt brought her to cover her nose but she continued looking ahead as several men approached. She recognized one of them as Harbormaster Jones, but the other three were a complete mystery. The crowd became silent as Jones lifted up his hands.

“People,” he began in his booming voice. “Go back to your homes and jobs, we just have some stranded visitors, that’s all.”

Alice took a step forward, a few others shuffling closer towards Jones to get a better look at the men. They looked exhausted, middle aged, and one of them was holding a weird small machine in his hand. Alice stared at him until Jones spoke once more.

“Please go, another storm could be arriving in a few hours and by Ocean and Land it’d be best if we stay out of the harbor for that!” Jones said. “Now come on you three, you can stay with me and my wife for tonight.”

Alice moved deeper into the crowd with others, creating a clear path for Jones and the visitors to go through. She watched as they went down the street and turned a corner. Sighing, she began walking back to the apartments as the crowd gradually dispersed.

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