For weeks I’ve been eating nothing but berries I find along the edge of the forest, their reds and purples calling out to me, teasing me with their possible poisoned fruit. Mostly, it’s raspberries. The bushes overflowing with ripe berries and I pick my way through them until I can carry no more in the basket I make of my shirt, so I take my haul down to the water and stare at the sea, again.
Weeks of loneliness. Weeks of hunger.
Not just that rumbling, gurgling, aching, empty pain in my belly. Hunger for company, for companionship, for someone – anyone to show up and tell me that it’s going to be okay even though I know that nothing is okay.
Behind me, farther into the forest than I ever want to roam, hundreds of fires are burning and sending their scent of world’s end my way.
I turn back to the water, waiting for something to come.
Days, and more days, and more weeks pass.
I try eating the moist clumps of seaweed that wash up on the shore but don’t want to waste my paltry fresh water supply to clean them, so the salt sticking to the plants makes me grow more weary with thirst and this constant ache.
One day I try to catch a fish, but with literally the clothes on my back and nothing else, the effort tires me too much to keep bothering.
I didn’t even want the fish. I never did eat fish before, anyway.
The night sky glows a hazy orange and I haven’t breathed easy for months now.
When I lay down at night, my stomach makes a bowl and my ribcage makes a piano, my bones and flesh the keys to some secret I’ve never known.
I lose track of time, so I don’t know when it is I find the bird, but I would call it close to too late.
In another time, in another world, an irresponsible citizen did not cut the plastic rings before flinging the remnants of his six pack into the sea.
The gull has somehow been trapped in plastic, one ring around its neck, one around it’s left wing.
I follow its cawing and find it struggling to breathe, just as I struggle for every smoke choked breath and every hint of hope for survival.
It looks at me, this gull.
Rats of the skies, I remember someone calling them, once.
With its little black eyes, smaller than marbles, it pleads with me to save it.
I plead with it to forgive me.
Gently, I take its neck into my small hands. It struggles and then stills, giving in to me. I think, if it has a consciousness, it believes it is being saved.
I begin to squeeze. First, tentatively, then harder as the wings begin to thrash and feathers and sand whirl around me and mix with my tears.
Soon, it is done, it is all done.
Fires rage in the distance but I am just a small, stupid girl, and I have no mind to tame one.
It takes much less time than I would have thought to dig in with my nails and rip the outer flesh from the gull’s middle.
I swallow its small organs whole, without chewing. I drink and lap at its blood as hunger abates.
In another world, in another life, I was pure.
I never would have chosen to maw right down to the bone and suck the marrow free.
I lay back on the bloodstained beach, wiping the red from my mouth, swallowing the last of the gull.
Blood-drunk, I close my eyes to another lonely night on the beach.
I dream of red sails on the water.
I wrote this for the Yeah Write Fiction/Poetry challenge, loosely using the prompt, Is there anyone out there? I don’t know if there’s anyone out there. I didn’t know this was inside me, either, but it was. Thanks, Yeah Write for getting me going again.
Edited to add: Holy shit, thank you all so much for your comments and votes on this post, and for making it this week’s crowd favorite. I have been struggling so much lately with writing things I feel are worthy of sharing, and the boost in my confidence that this win gives me cannot be measured with these two little words: THANK YOU.