Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived on a mountain.
She adored her mountain. She sang with the chickadees, and climbed trees with the squirrels, and made snow angels in the winter. She knew every rock, every trail, every grumpy bluejay.
She did not know that her beloved mountain, like many mountains, was a volcano. One day, it began to rumble and shake, as volcanos often do. Terrified, the girl from the mountain ran as quickly as she could towards the sea. She had visited the seaside once, and she didn't remember it ever shaking.
For many years, the girl wandered around on the shore. She dug holes, and built sandcastles, and splashed a bit in the water. She never looked back towards her mountain. Too dangerous, she thought. This beach is safe and never shakes, she thought. She learned the names of all the shorebirds.
One day, a dinghy appeared on the shore. Anchored just offshore was a small sailing ship. The girl was intrigued. She'd always wondered what life was like at sea. She clambered into the dinghy, rowed through the waves, and climbed aboard. How exciting! A life at sea!
The girl sailed for several years. She learned to swab the decks and furl the sails. She sailed through storms. Oh, how the ship pitched and rolled in those stormy seas! It was as bad as the shaking mountain!
She yearned for stability. She was tired of the rolling.
One day, in the distance, she spied an island. Yes, this is the thing, she thought. An island! Islands are not ships or mountains. Islands do not shake and roll. This was exactly what she was looking for.
The girl rowed her dinghy away from the ship and dragged it ashore on the island. It was small, and not very exciting, but it wasn't moving. Her ship, unmoored and unanchored, drifted away.
One morning, three weeks after coming ashore, the island sank. It was not an island, in fact, but a whale that had been taking a nap in the sun. Panicked, the girl clung to her dinghy. Land was nowhere in sight.
For days and weeks and months, she pulled at her oars, sometimes making progress but mostly going in circles. She watched the sun rise and fall. She learned about all the sea birds and the names of the constellations. She swabbed what little deck she had. She sang at the porpoises. Sometimes they sang back. Her fingers and toes stayed perpetually pruny from the constant salty dampness.
After a few years, the oars rotted away. Seaweed and barnacles grew on the bottom of the dinghy. The ocean pitched and roiled. The girl learned to stay low in the boat so that it wouldn't overturn.
She forgot what it was like to be dry. She forgot how to walk. She forgot what stillness was.
She was joined in the dinghy by a one-eyed sea lion. It kept her warm and gave her someone to talk to, even though it never talked back. It snored when it slept, but it was good company. The girl and the sea lion loved each other.
A few years later, a slippery otter came aboard. It was quick and silly and kept the sea lion company when the girl didn't feel like talking. The otter loved the girl and the sea lion. It also loved fish. The dinghy was crowded, but less boring.
The sun rose and set. The ocean pitched and rolled. The girl and the sea lion and the otter drifted in the dinghy.
And then, one day, as she was staring out at the water (as she often did), the girl noticed a bottle.
A bottle? Floating way out here? She hadn't seen a bottle in years. Decades, maybe. She scooped it from the sea and uncorked it.
Inside the bottle was a photograph of a mountain.
To be continued.