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There's no such thing as a seagull

Part One

The worm shifted just beneath the earth, the pitter-patter above an irresistible lure as the promise of soft, wet soil lay just a few thin layers of dirt away. The light flooded the little annelid's receptors as it wriggled up and out of the soil, ready to glide across the slick surface with ease. As it emerged, the patting stopped, and before the worm could sense the distinct lack of rain, it felt the sharp stab of a beak. 

​Harold pecked at the worm, frustrated as its slick skin slid out of his beak with each bite. The worm became two, and then three. Just as one segment finally made it into his mouth, Lester landed beside him, scooping up a piece of the worm with ease as he did.

​"Hey! That was mine, you parasite!"

​Lester shrugged. "You shouldn't play with your food then, should you, Harold."

​The birds fought over the remaining piece, pecking at each other, wings flailing as they tried to bat each other away from the last morsel. Harold's wings finally dropped as he watched the segment disappear under the soil once more.

​Harold squawked in Lester's face before beginning his dance once more. "Why are you even here? I thought you'd joined the rest of the flock over in the town."

​"You haven't heard? The flock are gone."

​Harold stopped his dance and stared at Lester. "Wait, what? But the season has just begun. Where did they all go?"

​Lester reached over and nudged his friend with his beak. "Not gone as in left, you idiot. They are all dead."

​"Dead? All of them?"

​"Yep." Lester began to patter his orange feet against the ground as Harold crouched down. 


​Lester ruffled his feathers with a shrug. "Something was off with the food supply there. A few survived, but then those were caught in nets and thrown into the water. It was brutal."

​Harold tried to keep down the measly piece of worm. "That's awful. How did you get out?"

​"Like you said, I'm a parasite. I noticed the others getting sick before I could swoop in and steal anything. You might look down on me, but my way saves lives."

Harold couldn't argue with that. Lester was a fair bit older than him. He'd survived predators, oil spills, and the kids that loved nothing more than to give his kind a sharp, cruel kick. His way was one of long-earned survival. Harold knew that he could learn a lot from his friend, especially given that he may be the only one he had left.

​"So what are you going to do?" Harold asked. "Are you sticking around or are you off to find a new flock?"

​Lester jabbed at the ground, yelling as his prey alluded him. "I don't know. Our choices anywhere new this time of year are going to be limited now. But the humans here seem to want to drive us all out. What are you going to do?"

​Harold pecked at the ground absently. He didn't know. He just followed the flock. Every year, they nested here and flew back to the warmer, more isolated beaches to feed and rest once the weather turned. He often wondered why they even moved at all. Returning to their own places of birth seemed like an awful lot of work. It was risky and exhausting and took far too much time each year. Now, without a flock, Harold found himself lost.


Part Two


The thought of a new place terrified Harold. How would he find his way after a lifetime of following the same pathway, navigating the churning seas and wild winds using the collective knowledge of the flock? He wasn’t built to go it alone.


“If you left, where would you go?” he asked Lester, who had given up on worm baiting and was now sat squat on the grass. He was watching wrens dart between the shrubs bordering the small patch of green, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the bushes for an unattended nest. 


“Lester!” Harold screeched. “Where would you go?”


The wrens scrambled back to their nests at the squawk.


“Dammit, Harold!” Lester snapped as the wrens settled back into their nests, their little heads darting back and forth. “There goes lunch.”


“Well, what?”


“Where would you go?”


Lester stretched out his wings and gave them a good shake. “I suppose that new Island that I’ve heard about. Plenty of food, land, and ladies. But it’s over the Savage Sea.”

Harold shuddered at the name. Few had ever returned from crossing the Savage Sea. If the weather didn’t kill you, the sea-dwelling humans would. One gull once told him of a monstrous sea creature that could jump 50 feet up and snatch a bird twice his size straight out of the air. Any gull that dared cross that sea had to be crazy or desperate. At this point, Harold, was the latter, and he was confident Lester was mad enough to try too.


“We should go,” said Harold.


“Where? To the Island? Are you serious?”


“Yes. We both know there is nothing here for us. The humans in the town will catch us eventually if we stay. It makes sense to at least try, right?” 


Lester’s head cocked to the side as he processed Harold’s argument. He wasn’t wrong. But he was also annoying and uptight. The idea of crossing the Savage Sea with him, all those days flying by his side as he fretted and complained, made his bones tremble. But, he reasoned, if they ran into trouble, he’d be a decent sacrifice. After all, with him as a travel partner, he didn’t need to outfly a threat; he’d only have to outfly Harold. That, he could easily, and happily, do. 


“Fine. Let’s do it. But you do as I say. We feed when I say. We stop when I want to. You fall behind, I’ll leave you. Got it?”


Harold jumped and flew in a small circle around the grass. His enthusiasm irked Lester, who was already regretting his decision.


“Fill your boots with as many worms as you can. We leave at sunset.”


Harold began his little dance, and after a few moments, Lester reluctantly joined him. He didn’t often work for food, but they needed enough sustenance to fly for days…


Part three


The journey was painful for both of them. There were no fabled monsters breaching the waters to catch them. There were no humans waiting to shoot them down. Even the weather played nice, with a bright shining sun to light their way during the day and crisp, clear nights; the stars beckoning them to a new safe haven with every twinkle. The sea was calm and, as they got closer to the mysterious new island, it was brimming with fish. Perhaps if the journey was more fraught with peril, Harold and Lester would have found it more enjoyable. But as it stood, all they had was each other, and it became apparent very quickly that they very much didn’t like each other.


As soon as the island came into sight, as soon as they were sure their journey had come to an end, Lester veered off to the left, leaving Harold to approach the land alone. He didn’t mind this. Even as the more good-natured bird, he was glad to see the tail of him. He didn’t want his reputation sullied by association. In a place like this, with plentiful food and mates and space, his ways would not fly. Harold didn’t want to risk losing a space here because Lester was too lazy to do anything for himself.


Harold landed on a small clump of grass and stared up in awe. This was unlike any island he had ever seen. Instead of haphazard nests clinging precariously onto the side of rocks, neat rows of boxes reached up into the sky. He could hear the call of hundreds of other birds—enough to know that this place was viable, but not enough to know that the island wasn’t overcrowded. 


“Hey, you’re new,” a voice from behind him called out.


He turned to see a gull like none he’d seen before. She was bigger than him, for a start, and her stunning scarlet legs pattered the floor as he stared at her. She was simply beautiful.


“Yes, I am. My colony, it... It...” Harold couldn’t seem to say the words aloud. His colony was gone. Dead. Murdered.


She nodded solemnly. “I understand. Mine too.”


Harold ruffled his feathers, the black tips of his wing feathers displayed prominently - something he noticed she lacked. “So, how does everything work here? I’ve never seen a place like this before.”


“It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. But it’s safe. I’ve been coming here for three summers now.”


“Oh, so you are…” Harold trailed off. He was never very good at this part.


She, it seemed, was. “Mated? No. He didn’t return this year.” She said it matter of factly, like he was nothing more than a fish that had slipped through her bill. “Would you like to see the nests? They are quite cosy.” 


She blinked once, twice. Her white eyeliner made the red of her eyes glow. She was magnificent.


“Sure!” Harold hopped on one foot and then the other. While he felt she had more feelings for her lunch than for him, he also found that he didn’t care. She was beautiful, and this place was beautiful. By mating, he’d secure his place here not just for himself but also for his future young. 


Part Four


Lester watched the colony from a distance. Harold was right - his way didn’t fly here. Alone after countless times being chased off, he stalked along the perimeter. Watching. Waiting.


Harold had already forgotten about Lester, his last friend, until he came here and made more. He wouldn’t have even known about this place if it wasn’t for Lester, and that’s what annoyed him the most. Harold would be dead without him, yet he left the first chance he got and shacked up with a gull that wasn’t even the same kind as them. Then, he forgot about him.


He’ll remember me soon enough, Lester thought.


The birds settled as night fell. The screeches and squawks settled into light caws and gurgles as partners cuddled up and sang sweetly to their unhatched young. Lester flew soundlessly over the towers, cawing gently to let the nesters know he was one of them and not a threat. 


Stupid, he thought, oh so stupid.


A few cawed back, a welcome and a warning. Take a space, but don’t try to take ours. But they didn’t need to worry. Lester was only after one bird, one old friend that dared to forget him.


His circling grew tighter and tighter as he narrowed in on his target. He kept his eyes on Harold as he flew - watching as he nuzzled his mate with his beak and shuffled on the nest to ensure his eggs were well covered. Over the days, Lester had flown over and tried to catch a glimpse of the nest as one of them flew out for food. As far as he could tell, they had five eggs. Five. Far too many for his kind or hers. It was greedy. It was unfair. He was certain that they couldn’t have produced them alone, which only riled him further. He was made a pariah for snatching a few fish. They cheat themselves into more young somehow, and no one ruffles a feather over it. 


Harold sunk deeper into the nest as a wave of contentment washed over him. He had always felt alone, even when he was part of a colony. But now, he felt like he was home. Clara had told him some of the birds stay here past the summer. The island was always just the right temperature, the surrounding seas never seemed to lack food, and predators never seemed to be able to get in. It was practically magical. He’d decided long ago that he would stay here and hoped Clara would too. And, whilst he wouldn’t stop his young from flying the nest, he hoped the home comforts would encourage them to stay, too. The cawing of a bird circling their block sounded familiar, but, in that moment, Harold was lost. Lost to the perfect moment he was happily trapped in. It was only when the cawing got closer and closer that he began to pay attention, and when the noise abruptly stopped, he stood to attention. Something was wrong.


Lester ceased his calls just as he approached the nest. He was close enough now that it would draw Harold’s attention if he kept cawing. He didn’t want that. His intrusion had to be a surprise. If Harold knew he was coming, it would be over fast. He made one final tight loop before swooping down and landing on their nest's ledge. He stared into the darkness of the hollow cube, letting his eyes adjust. As they did, his eyes latched onto the glistening black eyes of his old friend.


Part Five


Harold cursed himself. How could he have become so complacent? How could he forget Lester: notorious parasite and vicious toward anything that doesn’t serve him. He should have known he hadn’t seen the tail of him. He should have been prepared, ready to defend his mate, his brood, and himself.


It was hard not to settle here, though. There was a peace that sank quickly and deeply into the bones of all who ventured here. A feeling so strong and soothing that he believed even the likes of Lester would have been forever changed by it. But, by the hard glare of the bird that stood at the entrance of their nest, it seemed that Lester could not be changed. 


Harold plucked up the courage to stand tall before him, pushing his mate Clara deeper into the nest.


“I am warning you now, Lester. Leave us be or suffer the consequences.”


Lester cawed a cackle. “You think you can take me on, little man? I have years on you.”


“I won’t let you hurt my family,” he retorted as he ruffled his feathers outward. The motion made him look bigger, but he knew he was still no match for Lester.


“You won’t have a choice, old friend. This nest will be mine. So will your mate. And your brood? I look forward to seeing them splat. Oh, what pretty patterns they’ll make smeared across the ground.”


Harold shook with rage. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to stop him, even if it meant sacrificing himself to do so. Before Lester could say another word, Harold lunged at him, his beak aimed straight at his left eye.


Lester squawked and stepped back, his wings shooting out to catch him before the fall.


“You have some bite in you after all, Harold. I’m surprised. But you are no match for me.”


Harold rushed out of the nest and straight for Lester, snapping at him as he went. He grabbed a feather and pulled it out of his wing. Lester shrieked at the loss but was quick to respond. He raced at Harold, snapping his larger, stronger beak at his neck. Harold felt the sharp pinch and yelped, almost dropping to the ground with shock. He retreated slightly, regrouping his thoughts and rethinking his strategy. A crazed, unplanned attack would never beat Lester. He had to be smart about it. 


Before he could push out at Lester again, a bird swooped by him. It was so fast that neither Harold nor Lester could tell who it was. The bird was much bigger than them, faster too. It pecked at Lester’s eyes and tore at his feathers. It worked so quickly that Harold could not keep up with the damage it was causing Lester. Finally, Lester screeched a call of yield. He flapped his wings in a frenzy, desperate to escape his attacker.


“If you dare return, I’ll feed you to my babies!” the attacker yelled at the retreating bird.


It was then that Harold knew who had attacked his old friend and saved his family: Clara.


“Are you mad? You shouldn’t have done that! You could have been killed, and then what would I do?”


Clara responded with an angry squeal. “You would carry on and raise our babies just like I would have done if you were lost. Do not suppose that because I am a female that I cannot defend myself or my family. 


Harold swooped back onto the ledge of their nest and checked on their eggs. They were as still as ever, silently baking in their speckled shells. He turned back to Clara who still flew and swooped around, drunk on adrenaline.


“I would be lost without you Clara,” he called out. “It’s not just the magic of this place. It’s you. You are my home.”


Clara stopped circling and swept gracefully into the nest beside him. “I’m not going anywhere, Harold,” she whispered into his neck, nuzzling into him. “I’m not going anywhere.”


As the night drew in, Clara and Harold settled side by side once more. They kept their eyes locked on the horizon just in case Lester was stupid enough to return. Warmth spread between them as they snuggled together, their young beginning to stir beneath them with the warm glow of love. 

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