Down by the docks, they watched her eat their brother. She didn’t know, of course, that it was their brother. She would not have eaten him if she knew, especially if she knew that they’d be watching her the entire time. Along with the most bewildered expression on their faces, they twitched and cooed as she dug her teeth into the raw carcass of their kin. The girl licked her lips, sticking her nail between her teeth to loosen a feather stuck there. With a shiver, she froze as another seagull fluttered down next to her.
The both of them looked at the mutilated bird in her hands and back at each other. Jemma snapped the wing bone and ripped it from the body, offering it to the bird. “Would you like some?”
Coo. The bird swiveled its head to look at his friends (or family—we shouldn’t exclude that at this point). When he came back to her, he found her cheeks stuffed. She made sure to smile with her eyes in case he couldn’t see it around the feathers poking out of her lips. He puffed up his feathers, an almost human gesture that reminded Jemma of those who thought about the most disgusting thing and wiggled their bodies rigidly as if they could feel it crawling up their spine. It took off without another look at her.
She spat out the plume and clawed at her tongue when she choked. She grabbed the rest of the bird’s body and chucked it into the sea, watching the tide slide in and steal away the rest of the evidence of her crime. Holding her knees close to her chest, she squinted through the sea spray. This was her favorite part of the docks, the end, where she could skate her heels against the waves when the tide was high enough. It didn’t matter what time of day she came for her to enjoy it because it was always—never a doubt—steely gray. Things were consistently stale here. All the world’s leftover crumbs on this small island where nothing interesting ever happened. If the evening ever arrived, it was under a blanket of musty-looking clouds, and the weather remained stark and bit at her toes, fingers, and nose. Though, if she had to guess the time, it was late afternoon, early evening, judging by the fog demanding to be let in on the horizon. The moment that thin line disappeared, it was another day passed, another day where no white sail set anchor, another day where they didn’t come back.
“No boat today, I presume?” Came a distant voice behind her.
She didn’t have to turn around to know who it was. The old hunchback Mr Moore, who lives in the library by the sea.
Jemma combatted an oncoming wave with a kick. The water soaked through her sock. “Not today, Mr. Moore.”
“There’s warm soup inside.”
“There’s no sun on this side of the island. There’s always warm soup inside.”
“Please, Jemma,” he said, and Jemma cursed herself for ever giving him his name. But she was starving on the streets, he was kind towards a child, and he gave her warm bread in exchange for a word she claimed as her own. So she had. But now he wouldn’t stop bothering her. “Just this once, Jemma. Winter has not ever been kind to the seas and the seas always come for vengeance.”
“Then I’ll make sure not to stand in their way. Their quarrels affect me not.”
“And what of the birds, my dear?”
“What of them?” Her voice caught like there was still a wing bone stuck in her throat.
“You’ve eaten their brother.”
A wave crashed on the rocks beside her. “I didn’t know that at the time of the slaughter.”
“The sea isn’t the only one who’ll come back for vengeance. What if the birds come back to eat you up?”
“I doubt it. There’s not much of me to eat.”
“But we can fix that. With a little help. Please, my dear. Come inside and we’ll do something about it.”
She yelped as a wave surged towards her, clapping against the wood and pushing her further up the dock as if to say, Go.
“Fine,” she hissed, tasting the salt and sand between her teeth. “traitor.”
She stood, smoothed her wet, sticky dress down, and nodded toward the man. He shuffled over to her and startled by his energy, Jemma, moved towards him. In a second, he was there by her side, arm offered. Hesitantly, she took it, murmuring what little gratitude she had left in her heart to give(for she hadn’t the need to use it in quite a while). Immediately, she felt the warmth coming from his wool coat. She took one last glance behind her. Perhaps tomorrow, then. Wait for me. As they walked she felt the old man leaning a little more his weight upon her than a fair arm-in-arm pact warranted. She stole a glance up at him—a quick image—the strong curve of his back, almost making him a hook. And she thought at that moment, maybe, she wasn’t the one who needed a little help.
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