All Stories, General Fiction

The Long Way Home by Sarah Vestal

People don’t give much thought to disappearing land. I know what you’re thinking. But no, they don’t care. Take it from me.

When that sinkhole appeared in Louisiana. People gaped and talked and then a week later they forgot. That very same sinkhole that grew to twenty-six acres in the matter of days that less than half of the U.S. knew or even cared about, but I digress. No one batted an eye.

Listen all I’m saying is land goes away and people expect it. But land appearing? Or more correctly an island appearing where a day before there was none? You’d think it was the second coming.

No seriously. Some honestly thought it was.

A group *cough* cult *cough* sprang up from nowhere, just like that island, calling themselves The Glory of His Return (or just Returners for short). I assume “His” is Jesus but then I’m from the South so don’t take stock in me. Maybe it was Buddha? Moses? L.Ron Hubbard?

I suppose all those groups didn’t necessarily come from “nowhere.” Everyone wants something more. I’m not a professor but even I can see that. People in this country seem to think they’re empty. Like a great piece of themselves is missing. So honestly, I get why people became obsessed with Candi.

Candi, the 2213 square mile island that emerged in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s nearly the size of Delaware. That’s a big damn piece of land to just emerge. (Well…People like to say ‘emerged’ as though Candi surfaced from the gulf’s waters, but it didn’t. One moment Candi wasn’t there and then the next in the choppy, muddy water of the gulf it simply was.)

To the matter of that idiotic name: ‘Candi Island’. Unfortunately for the island and all humans of the natural world who just wanted to bask in this new-found magic of our lives, we found ourselves calling this majestic new phantom island…Candi.

I need a moment.

Okay the story behind the name. It just so happened that the very same day that the island appeared a newly wedded couple were deep sea fishing for their honeymoon. These two people, in the throes of marital bliss, just so happen to become the first to lay eyes on the island. As the age-old he-who-found-it-named-it tradition is still, unfortunately, still in practice, a love enthralled husband named this mysterious, awe-inspiring island after his wife (yeah, you guessed it) Candi.

Still, as karma seems to be in ample supply in this life, the newly christened island and newly-wedded bride also had the honor to have a poorly devised cult named after them. (Not that I can think of any cult that was a good idea.)

That cult called themselves ‘The Candies’. And they were okay, if you asked me. At least they seemed to be having some kind of fun. The other cults that surrounded Candi Island weren’t nearly as entertaining.

Which brings this all the way back around to me (after dental disasters, my least favorite subject.)

To understand anything, you must first understand that I loved only two things in this whole world. I loved my house and I loved my dog, Beatrice.

Mind you, my house was nothing extravagant. Situated in the south Louisiana swamps, 20 feet above the ground, was my little rectangular blue box of a house. It wasn’t more than 800 square feet, the kitchen, living room, and bedroom all ran into one another and more often than not I had no power. It was humble, it was mine and I loved it.

I used to pass the time in the world’s shabbiest, but absolutely most comfortable recliner with Beatrice at my side. I honestly can’t say how much I loved that place. And I like to think that my love was stronger than I guessed. (God. That sounds maudlin.)

I just felt being in that place more than I had anywhere else. Sometimes when I sat in that shabby chair, with Bea at my feet and her soft hairs at the tips of my fingers, and the wind swaying the cypress trees around me, I felt more in touch with…life. It was as though I knew that there was exactly where I fit into the world. Not that I supposed that mattered in the whole scheme of things.

Assumption County Louisiana. In the matter of a day, my house, along with 26 surrounding acres of swamp, disappeared into the earth. I went out for work and came back to find nothing but a giant, churning hole in the ground. My home? My Beatrice? Gone. And what was inside of me was gone with them. I was empty just like those cults and their island.

Men with suits said that it was caused by nearby salt mining, but I don’t know. Not now at least. I researched sinkholes. All across the world sinkholes have popped up and stolen land away. In the land west of Cairo, a sinkhole 50 miles wide by 75 miles long stole the desert away in vast churning quicksand. In 1986, when Russia was still red, two sinkholes appeared. These were nearly two football fields deep and bore straight through the streets and buildings of cities. And then again in 2007, an almost perfect circle of stone and earth, dropped 30 stories almost instantly into the earth in Guatemala. The examples go on and on. Sinkholes. They’re everywhere ok.

Depressed, I contemplated all this on a hot day in a greasy motel room. I thought what are the odds that of all places, my little heaven on earth had to be taken away? I was thinking this exact thought when I saw it again on the bubbled screen of the small TV. Its familiar blue shape peaked out between familiar tall cypress trees on that fuzzy screen. After months of missing Bea, not knowing my place in everything, I suddenly had the answer. Candi! That mysterious island held my home. I knew it was mine for two important reasons: 1. A feeling deep inside of me (my dearly departed aunt would have called it a sixth sense) and 2. The buzz-tops that showed up and put me into custody.

There really is nothing like being apprehended, interrogated and held on a large ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico to confirm your suspicions. It was merely an instinct, a suspicion I had when I saw my home on the TV, but now there is no doubt in my mind.

You see the moment that island appeared, the gears of the great U.S. government machine started to churn. Within two hours of its appearance, Candi had been claimed as U.S. property and cordoned off. Within another hour aerial drones were deployed to explore. Within five days my home was discovered, complete with a deed and legal documents all bearing my name.

Now here I am, on an ocean-liner only a hundred yards from my home.

This brings us back to the cults. I had been detained for nearly a week and by the time the soldiers decided to bring me closer, Candi had been around for about two weeks. Within that time three cults had been formed, a new religion of money ran rampant on the mainland, and a pilgrimage had begun. Hundreds flocked (on boats rented at exorbitant rates) to the island where they found the brunt of the U.S. Navy blocking their path. They set up a kind of floating camp just beyond the military ships. It was something to see.

The Returners were a grim bunch that drifted slowly around the island in a clockwise manner. They dressed in simple, Amish-like black and white garb and bottled the gulf water into hundreds of small bottles that they shipped back to the mainland (to anoint landlocked others…at a price). Then there was the militia group that didn’t bother with names. They floated in ragged looking ships that were weighed down with weapons and artillery. I’m not exactly sure what their deal was, maybe the right to bear arms (and piss off soldiers) or maybe they needed more land for their bunkers. Whatever the case was, they made the standing guards around me very nervous. I don’t like when people with guns get nervous. Of course the majority of the gathering crowd was just your average, run-of-the-mill, unaffiliated people out for a little extreme sightseeing.

And of course there were The Candies. I don’t know if someone missed the memo about the island being just normal green trees and shrubbery (certainly not made of brightly colored sweets) or maybe they just liked the name, but the Candies took the name of the mysterious island to heart. Their hair was the color of blue and pink cotton candy, of red licorice. And their clothes were brighter. The Candies downed chemicals and liquor like they were on a sea-bound spring break party. Their ships were the brightest and loudest, thumping a euro pop that hummed through your bones. I swear I saw one of those jar head guards shaking their hips, just a little and I can only pray that we had a future-Candi in our midst.

McGrady, in his sharpest suit yet, looked at me like I had two heads.

I liked McGrady. He was a whiz at crosswords and had a redbone just like Bea. He even swung it so I got top notch food (I’m talking surf and turf). Yeah nice guy, even though he was being an obtuse asshole right then. We all have our moments though. They found other homes on Candi (about 121 to be exact) but mine was the only one belonging to a U.S. citizen. On Candi there were mud domed buildings in a high grass plains and even Bedouin tents on sand dunes. None of these raised a red flag like mine. Home spun terror is where the real fear lies now. I can tell you that because even after a week of denials, these guys still thought I had something to do with Candi. The newest line they toed apparently involved dangling my long lost home in front of me.

We were both standing on the bow. McGrady had ordered the ship the closest clearance would allow. The waves rocked us gently as we looked on the strange shore that boasted tall Cyprus trees to the left that ended at the water in jagged ground and to the right yellow sand took over and a desert expanded far out of sight.

It was only a football field away.

“Just explain how you did it and we’ll let you go home.” McGrady said.

“Would if I could,” I replied.

I think he knew I was telling the truth, but we all have our own jobs to do.

“You aren’t giving me anything here, they won’t like it.” He sighed. “It’s ridiculous. I know. They’re not going to let anyone step foot on that island for the foreseeable future.”

I turned my back to him. It was the same story day after day, just a never ending show of bureaucracy.

“Oh for God sake! Would you look at that!?” McGrady drew near me, gesticulating towards a ship manned by Candies.

The ship moved erratically, weaving in and out of the other ships. The riders on board emitted shrieks of laughter as they threw pills (almost as brightly colored as them) at the other boats.

“This isn’t going to end well.” No sooner had I said the words than the Candies’ boat veered a hard left straight for the bow of the ship. For about twenty seconds we could see the impending crash but do nothing about it, then impact.

The muddy water of the gulf was surprisingly chilly, but calm. The moment I hit the water I swam without thought. (And if we’re being completely honest here the impact was not the reason I ended up in the water. It was… an opportunity I couldn’t miss.)

I could hear McGrady shouting words every time I surfaced for breath, but they were far away and scrambled. I never really got the knack for swimming, doggy paddling is as good as it gets for me, but none-the-less I reached the shore much sooner than I expected. The distance I swam seemed shorter, like the island had pulled me closer. I found ragged roots of wide bottom Cyprus and pulled myself out of the water. McGrady stayed back helpless on the ship shouting obscenities first at the Candies’, whose ship was now slowly sinking, and then in my direction.

I turned from the chaos in the ocean. Let them come for me.

The ground felt familiar, weird thing to think, but it did. I knew this ground and these trees. I steadied myself on the rough roots and walked into the forest with no hesitation.

The facts that this island, that I now embarked into was nearly the size of a U.S. state and that finding my house without directions was close to hopeless…yeah, I really couldn’t have given a damn. I walked into the swamp on a mysterious island in the gulf with one thought in my mind: home.

I honestly didn’t have much to worry about seeing how the moment I took a few steps forward flowers bloomed a trail ahead of me. I’m not lying! In front of my very eyes, blooms that could rival the Candies in color, grew in the matter of seconds. They blossomed a path away from me reaching deep into the forest. I didn’t question it, maybe I should have but let’s face it; my situation was less than normal. So I followed the damned, inexplicable, immediately blooming flowers.

I think we all know where this is going. I found it. I found my home.

I figured it out too. Bea came bounding towards me from somewhere in the woods. I went down to my knees and grabbed her so tightly that she yelped. I could feel the sand from the nearby desert in her fur. I looked up at my home which was just the way I left it, at the colorful exotic petals under my feet, and at Beatrice as good as new and I finally got it. This island was a big cosmic whoops! All those sinkholes were accidents. Maybe the earth was just trying to figure out what was going on. To keep tabs. And this island? It was just the world’s way of saying, “My bad for destroying your homes.”

Hey, I’m probably wrong, but I got my home back. I got Bea back. And you know what? I don’t really care about the rest.


Sarah Vestal

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2 thoughts on “The Long Way Home by Sarah Vestal”

  1. Excellent first-thing-in-the-morning read. You have a wonderful sense of humor (but you probably already know that).


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