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The Scrimshaw and the Scream

The Scrimshaw and the Scream by Kate Hall (illustrated by K.A. King)

The morning after she lost her art, Felicity sat at her speckled mirror, inspecting the glossy, gray-white feathers covering her cheeks and forehead.

She grasped one and plucked, winced as the barbed shaft ripped free, a tiny blood-jewel welling up in its place. The scream, living in her chest so long she could almost ignore it, turned a somersault behind her lungs. She swallowed, twirled the feather between thumb and forefinger, watched greasy greens and blues flicker along the white.

Not only was she turning into a bird, she was turning into a seagull. A dirty, loud seagull. Felicity opened the bottom drawer of her vanity, pulling up short with the feather hovering over the opening. Emptiness hit her like a physical blow, knocking the breath out of her.

Her whole world had been in this drawer until yesterday: her awl, her ivory, her half-finished scrimshaws. Now ribbons, combs and an elaborate silver hand mirror Mother gave her as a betrothal gift littered the polished wood. Felicity scraped her nails along the bottom panel until they caught in a seam. She pulled, and part of the drawer’s underside gave way. Nestled in the gap sat her little treasure box, the only thing Mother hadn’t taken. Felicity laid the feather next to it and slammed the drawer closed.

A rap at the door jerked her to her feet and she smoothed her hands down her front as Mother swept into the room.

“Of all the days to laze about—Felicity!” Mother’s mouth dropped into a horrified ‘o’ and she grabbed the bedpost for support. “What have you done?” Her hands flew to her own face, pocked with silver scars. Felicity drew herself straight, swallowed the furious words clanging behind her teeth.

“I didn’t do it,” she said instead. “I just woke up and . . .”

“You did something. You must have.” Mother gestured to her face. “How could you disappoint me like this? And after such wonderful news last night. Do you want me to be ashamed?”

“No.”

“Then what did you do?” Felicity shook her head and Mother’s eyes narrowed. “Lying won’t help, my dear. Don’t forget what happened to the von Moren girl. Do you want to shame me like she shamed her mother? Tell me what you’ve done!”

Felicity turned her hands out, but white down tufted between her fingers, so she curled them again. “Nothing. I retired early last night and never left my room, you know that.” A fierce ache curled behind her breastbone and she pressed her fist against it, felt it hammer against the skin. Mother grabbed her chin, fingers slipping over the feathers, and grimaced, turning Felicity’s head left and right.

“Filthy.” She pulled a handkerchief from inside her sleeve and wiped her hand. “It was those hideous carvings, wasn’t it? If I find that you’ve been scraping about with those vulgar bones again—”

“You threw them out before the party.” Felicity glanced towards the vanity drawer, pulled her gaze away again. “You threw them all away.”

Mother’s lips pursed. She twirled her finger. “Let me see you.”

Felicity turned an obedient circle. Mother sighed.

“With long sleeves we should be able to hide the worst of them. We have to pluck your face, though. Sit.”

“But Mother—”

“Sit!”

Felicity sank back onto the stool, fingers knotted in her lap as Mother tilted her face up, angling it this way and that with frowns creasing her face. She grasped a feather under Felicity’s left eye, and hot pain flared as it ripped free. Felicity jerked back. “That hurts!”

“Hold still.” Mother seized her chin again, grabbed another feather, the barb buried behind Felicity’s ear, and yanked. Tears stung Felicity’s eyes and she swallowed another protest.

“You will not disappoint me”—three more feathers fell to the floor, and Mother wiped her hand—“by mooning over those silly”—another feather—“vulgar”—another—“toys!” Felicity could feel blood trickling over her cheeks and down her neck. The holes left by the barbs burned.

“Our only grace,” Mother continued, “is that there aren’t too many on your face yet. Be dressed and downstairs in an hour; Ernest called on the house this morning to take a walk with you.”

She nodded and Mother wiped her hand again, sighed, and left. Felicity turned to her mirror, stiff and breathless, and blinked at her reflection. A pale face stared back, freckled with red like a pox. She opened the drawer and retrieved her treasure box, egg-shaped and small enough to fit in her palm. The rusting hinge squeaked as she pried open the lid, and she pulled out her last scrimshaw.

A year ago, she had bargained for a handful of bone pieces and an old awl from a sailor, in exchange for a length of satin ribbon for his sweetheart. Now only this remained: a piece small and rough, the beginnings of a bird with a bit of rope clenched in its beak etched into the ivory. Her hand ached to hold the awl again, to make the delicate, meticulous strokes from which a beautiful picture could emerge. Her head throbbed at the memory of the loss. Unfair it was mine it was beautiful not vulgar. Her hand closed over the scrimshaw, and her fingers itched as feathers rubbed between them.

The scream had done it, surely. It poisoned her, turned her insides ugly. She glanced down at her arms, layered with soft down. She grabbed a handful. Pulled.

• • • •

“You are looking very fine today, Felicity,” Ernest said, tucking her hand into his elbow. His watery blue eyes peered at her, skittering over the pale pink wounds on her face as if they weren’t there, as if they didn’t mirror the ones on his own.

“Thank you,” Felicity said.

“Did you enjoy our betrothal dinner last night?”

No. “Yes.”

He steered them toward the harbor, and Felicity dragged her feet as much as she dared. Wheeling over snapping lines and luffing sails, the seagulls spun and looped, shrieking and hollering, fighting with each other for fish, for space, for the merry hell of it.

“Filthy things, aren’t they?” She startled at the sound of his voice, saw him looking up toward the gulls, nose wrinkled with disdain. Sweat trickled down the feathers on the back of her neck, hidden under a stiff lace collar, and she resisted the urge to touch them.

“Yes.” She gripped her parasol until her fingers ached.

They stopped at the edge of the harbor, where clean cobbles gave way to mud and filth. Ernest’s voice droned in her ear, but it faded as she took in the graceful curves of a small sloop, a brigantine’s tall masts. The full harbor teemed with gleaming wood and crisp sails. Her nose stung with the tang of brine and pitch and she filled her lungs, trying to hold it inside.

Two sailors strolled by, one turning a smoothed piece of ivory over and over in his hands. Their faces, sweat-streaked and leathery, had only a few telltale scars. The seafarers never had as many feathers. Perhaps the ocean protected them.

Ernest guided her out of their path. The sailors nodded, and Ernest nodded in return. “Fine work, sailor.”

“Thankee, sir. For my sweetheart, this is.” The sailor held it out for Ernest to inspect, and she tried to stare without looking. From the ivory emerged the beginnings of a mermaid, all sensuous curves and come-hither smile. Ernest made a sound of approval and the sailors walked on. He pulled on her hand and she took a few hurried half-steps to catch up.

“Something very romantic about a sailor’s art,” he said. “What did you think of it, my dear?”

She wanted to chase the sailor down, rip it out of his hands, add frothing waves and steep cliffs to the mermaid’s empty world. She shrugged and Ernest patted her hand.

“You’re right, forgive me. I forget sometimes that the unrefined arts are inappropriate.” He flushed and patted her hand again. Felicity placed one foot in front of the other, toes pointing ahead even as every instinct begged her to go back.

They walked a few feet more before Ernest stopped again. Another artist? She followed his gaze and saw not a sailor, but a woman.

She stood in a canary yellow gown, without a parasol, her sun-weathered skin chestnut-colored under a white shawl slung over her elbows like an afterthought. She wore no head covering and black hair, loose-pinned, fell in luxurious, sweaty ringlets around her smooth, unmarked face. The sailor said something and she laughed, head back and teeth gleaming. Felicity’s face burned and she angled her parasol lower.

“Has she no shame at all?” Ernest asked, voice hushed. His hand on her arm dampened with sweat, and his fingers trembled. Felicity shook her head, glanced at the woman again. The scabs on her face stung and feathers itched under her gloves, under her dress. She wanted to run. She wanted to throw her parasol at the smiling, shining woman who would have disappointed Mother, but whose face bore no scars. Bile rose in her throat, threatened to choke her.

“She isn’t a lady,” she said. “My mother will be unhappy if she hears we were watching her.”

Ernest shook himself, steadied his hold on her once more. “Of course.” He looked down at her and under his bowler hat, she could see a small, brown feather, poking through his hair. “You look quite pale. Let’s go back and get you a drink.”

He turned her away from the harbor, and glanced over his shoulder until the woman disappeared from view.

They returned home, where Felicity declined the drink, said a short lie-down before dinner would restore her, and hurried upstairs. In her room, she ripped the drawers out of her vanity, spilling their contents on the floor. Balling her fists and taking a deep breath, she knelt and sorted the shiny baubles, ribbon scraps, and sewing pins. She picked up Mother’s hand mirror and turned the glass toward her, running one finger over her cheeks. Soon, the marks would pale, look almost normal again. No one would remark on them, just as she didn’t remark on theirs, and life would go on.

Maybe she would get lucky and the change would stop here. Maybe she wouldn’t turn out like Claudette von Moren.

She pawed through the rest of her contents, found the scrimshaw in its box, and turned it over between her fingers. The scream thundered in her chest, and she placed the scrimshaw on the vanity, pulled her gloves off. Then she plucked handfuls of feathers out of the backs of her hands, between her fingers, up her arms like a butcher plucking a hen.

She would show that bare-headed hussy at the harbor. She would show Mother. She pulled harder, and her shaking, bloody fingers made the feathers slippery and hard to grip.

The whispers said that Claudette had turned into a nightingale for not listening to her parents, and that she sang and sang until she fell over, stiff-legged and open-beaked. That was what happened to people who didn’t behave as they should.

“But I do behave as I should,” she told her reflection, throwing sodden red clumps onto the vanity. “I don’t deserve to turn into a filthy gull. Let it stop here, like it does with everyone else. It stops when people are good, and I’m good.”

Not the point, the scream said. Good was never the point.

“Be quiet,” she said.

• • • •

She woke before dawn with more feathers, grey and black-tipped, longer, prickling down her back. Her arms looked scrawny, and her mouth felt stiff, lips waxy and jaundiced.

She spent two hours plucking the feathers, and then peeled the hard layers off her mouth, leaving her teeth stained scarlet. She washed and dressed, and went out into the early lavender morning.

The von Moren house stood at the far end of the green at the center of the neighborhood. Once it had been the epicenter of social events, windows aglow until late in the night. Now it hunkered between its neighbors, heavy shades drawn. Felicity strode over the grass, plucking bits of down that poked through her sleeves. Other people strolled by or read on the benches, faces scabbed and scarred, a few stray feathers clinging to chins and temples. One old man sat regarding a fountain, his hands, withered talons, curled in his lap. A little girl, no more than twelve, sat near her mother, playing with a doll. Red flecks dotted her throat like an elaborate necklace.

Felicity walked faster. She thought of Claudette von Moren, who had opened her first season alongside Felicity. Claudette, who had played the pianoforte like an angel, and for hours at a time, the wildest and most beautiful music anyone had ever heard. Felicity mounted the steps of the house, and dropped the tarnished knocker with an echoing thud. A tired butler answered, gave her a strange look, and saw her into the parlor where she used to spend countless autumn evenings, listening to Claudette play or whispering over cards. Now sheets covered the couches and mirrors, and dust motes twirled in the air, settling on the wood tables and sideboard. Claudette’s pianoforte sat in the corner, lid closed. Felicity ran a hand over the dull wood, leaving long streaks behind.

I have a scream inside me, Claudette had confided to her the day before she changed. She had peered at Felicity over the rim of her teacup, fresh scabs marring her white forehead, her brilliant green eyes muted and tear-filled. Feathers had poked through her sleeves, feathers that hadn’t started growing until her parents barred her from her instrument. It’s gotten so loud, I’m afraid I’ll explode. It wants me to play again. I want to play again.

“Can I help you?” Mrs. von Moren stood in the parlor door, small and bent under her black dress. Russet down grew in clusters over her face, and bright red feathers poked through her unkempt hair and under her sleeves.

“Tell me what she did wrong,” Felicity blurted. “I don’t want to turn into a bird.”

Mrs. von Moren’s eyes dimmed. She gripped the lintel with crooked, white fingers. “She disobeyed.”

“How? She played so beautifully—”

“It wasn’t beautiful.” The hand tightened and her mouth tightened with it. “Her music was too intense for a young lady. She wouldn’t stop, so we took the pianoforte away.” Her bony shoulders lifted, dropped, defeated. “She . . . she left us two weeks later.”

“But did she play again?” Pain warmed her thumb where she tore at the nail, and Felicity jerked her hand back to her side. “Did she play before she . . . left?”

Mrs. von Moren shook her head, and covered her mouth with one twisted hand. Felicity leaned on the pianoforte for support. Claudette hadn’t disobeyed, however she might have wanted to. And still, she had changed.

Felicity half-ran home, skirts tangling around her legs, hurried up the stairs and knocked on Mother’s door, knocked and knocked and almost hit the maid on the brow when the door swung open. She pushed past the girl, dismissing her with a wave, and dropped on her knees before Mother, breathless and gasping.

“What am I doing wrong? I’ve done everything everyone has asked of me, haven’t I? I don’t listen to my scream. Why am I still changing?” She lifted her face, her hair sticking to her cheeks. Mother pushed it back into its pins.

“Your scream?”

“That’s what Claudette called it,” she said, voice small. “It wanted her to play, even though her parents didn’t want her to. You have one too, don’t you?”

Mother nodded, face solemn. “I did.”

“How did you stop it?”

Mother sighed. “I stopped listening to it,” she said. “I focused on being a good mother, a good wife, until it went away. Oh, at first the change seemed even faster, but it slowed with my effort. It will go away, my darling, if you try hard enough.”

“But I have!”

Mother tapped her on the nose. “Then why are you still changing?”

Back in her room, she dug up the scrimshaw and held it in her palm.

Before the betrothal party, Mother had taken all of them away, and Felicity had cried and promised never to engage in such a crude, violent art again. Ladies painted pretty watercolors and wielded sewing needles; they didn’t wrestle animal bone and scratch it with sharp awls. But she had saved just one, this one, small enough to hide in her hand as Mother stormed around the room and shouted.

She hadn’t ignored her scream. And now this had happened.

Felicity took the piece to the harbor, secreted inside her glove, its warm weight against her hand as she scurried down the boulevard. Silence met her at the shipyards; few people worked on a Sunday. She threaded her way through crates and pallets stacked high with sacks and barrels. She reached the water’s edge and pulled off her glove, held the scrimshaw up. Sunlight gleamed through the tiny hole she had once painstakingly bored through the ivory. She stretched her arm out over the dark water.

“What happened to you?”

Felicity jumped, feet slipping on the rotted wood. A long-fingered hand clamped down on her upper arm, pulled her away from the water, and the smell of tropical fruit and vanilla suffused the air, warm and velvety. When Felicity regained her footing she saw the woman, arms crossed and a look of frank curiosity on her face. She wore sky blue today, her head still uncovered, her skin even more golden up close.

“You’re turning into a bird.” Her deep voice tolled like a bell. “What happened?”

Acid surged into her mouth and Felicity clapped a hand over it. The woman stepped closer; Felicity stepped back. The woman reached out again, warm hand on Felicity’s elbow to steady her, keep her from falling into the harbor. The heady perfume made Felicity’s mouth water and she swallowed the burning away.

“You’re all like this here.” The woman shook her head. “What is this place, that it turns broken people into birds?”

“We aren’t broken,” Felicity said through her fingers. “I listened to my scream. If I get rid of this”—she held up the scrimshaw—“I’ll be fine.”

The grip on her elbow tightened and the woman pried the scrimshaw out of Felicity’s hand. Sunshine limned the etchings in gold.

“But this isn’t bad,” the woman said. “It’s beautiful.”

“If you don’t try hard enough, you turn into a bird.” Felicity’s words ran together and she snatched the scrimshaw back. “I was wrong to keep it, I should have thrown it out with the rest.” She gulped for air and tried to pull away, but the woman held on. Dark eyes raked over her wounds, the straggling feathers she hadn’t been able to remove, the look like hot needles. The woman dropped Felicity’s elbow and stepped back, taking the delicious scents with her, leaving nothing but salt and wood in her wake.

“You think if you silence yourself, the changes stop?” She raised an eyebrow, and Felicity bristled as her voice acquired a mocking lilt. “It would seem most of you have stopped listening, and I still see feathers everywhere.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Felicity snapped. “You’re not from here.”

“No,” the woman agreed. “I am not.” She ran a finger down the side of Felicity’s face, leaving a warm, tingling trail. “Hold onto your art,” she said, serious now. “Hold it tightly. Your forced goodness isn’t saving any of you, but your art might.”

Heat flushed through Felicity’s body, making her limbs burn and her vision blur. The scream sang, she’s right she’s right she’s right, until it drowned out all her other thoughts and Felicity inched away, shaking her head.

A flash of black at the far end of the harbor froze her where she stood. Ernest picked his way through the maze, eyes scanning the harbor.

He would see her. He would see her with this strange woman and be disappointed, so disappointed. He wouldn’t want to marry her anymore. He would tell Mother and Mother would be disappointed. She had to throw away the scrimshaw and leave, quickly. She could feel more feathers growing, longer and faster. Her fingers stiffened, numb, and the scrimshaw slipped through them. She locked eyes with the woman, then gathered her skirts, turned and ran.

Not until late that night did she allow herself to believe Ernest hadn’t seen her at the harbor. She had gotten rid of the scrimshaw bird, and now the change would stop. She stood naked before her mirror and pulled feathers out one by one. Relief, comforting as a warm bath, suffused her with every patch of flesh the feathers revealed. She wouldn’t be the filthy, loud seagull, but Felicity the girl, who made people proud. She smiled at her reflection. For the first time in years, the scream didn’t respond.

• • • •

For the next two weeks, she threw herself into planning her wedding. She visited the dressmaker with Mother, touched silks and velvet, and stood before a full-length mirror in her tight corset as a seamstress took her measurements and murmured what beautiful posture she had. Mother’s proud smile over her shoulder as she stood, arms outstretched like an elegant doll, brimmed her with relief.

The scream said nothing. The feathers still grew, but fewer and further between. Mother assured her that this might persist, but the worst had passed. She soothed Felicity’s face with cool compresses and a gentle kiss on her brow.

Only once, as she walked past the harbor, she felt the familiar ache in her chest, the buzz in her head. She avoided the harbor after that, and worked even harder to fill the ship-shaped hole its absence left in her day. But time always found her empty-handed after a while, and she passed it sitting in the drawing room window, staring in the direction of the distant masts.

She had just settled on the window seat when Ernest arrived, flushed and disheveled. He declined a chair, and paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. Wrinkles curled his clothes, and mud caked the bottom of his trousers, streaked his shoes. Short brown feathers stubbled his jaw and the sides of his face. He stopped, mopped his brow.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I must break off our betrothal.”

For a moment, it felt as if the floor fell away, leaving her unmoored and breathless. Inside her, the scream stirred.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I—we—I made a mistake.” He paced again, four steps left, turn, four steps right, turn. “I have great affection for you, please don’t doubt that. You are a charming woman and very attractive.”

“Then what’s the matter?” The scream climbed her ribs like a ladder, heading toward her throat.

“I’m in love.” Ernest dropped onto an ottoman, head hanging. He appeared stunned by the declaration, rubbing his neck with one shaking hand. “It’s horrible, like my body and mind are no longer mine.”

Did the window seat roll like a ship’s deck? No, only Felicity, weaving in her seat. He saw her after all, that day at the harbor. She had disappointed him but he wanted to be gallant, place the blame on himself. She steadied herself. “Is this because you saw me at the harbor? I haven’t been there since, I swear. You’ll have no cause to be ashamed of me—”

“Harbor? What—no, Felicity, listen.” He stood, sat, stood again, sat and grabbed her hand between both of his. “You are sweet, very sweet, and very good. But . . . this woman, she’s intoxicating.” He sucked in a breath and shook his head, eyes distant and fevered. “She’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Please don’t think you did something. You did nothing.”

He stood, mopped his face again, and nodded to her. His hand rested on the doorknob, and he looked desperate to escape. “I’m sorry. I’ll show myself out. Please don’t think too ill of me, if you can.”

She remained on the seat even after the heavy front door closed, the weight of his words pressing down on her. You did nothing. Her wedding dress, half-finished, wouldn’t be worn. You did nothing. Mother would be heartbroken, so disappointed in the daughter who let a fine husband slip through her fingers. You did nothing. Hadn’t she ignored her scream until it went silent? Hadn’t she tried enough? You did nothing.

“What else was I supposed to do?” Her voice bounced around the drawing room, rough-edged and ugly. Her whole body prickled, invisible insects crawling over her skin. She lurched to her feet, raced from the drawing room and up the stairs. In the safety of her room, she approached the mirror and swallowed a wail.

Feathers grew, fast, thick and silver-white over every inch of available skin. They popped out like spring seedlings, unfurling and blanketing her. Her mouth and nose puckered, and the skin around them tightened like she had been burned by a hot iron. She tried to touch it, but her fingers found only long feathers and soft down. She scrabbled at the feathers on her arms, trying again and again to pull them out, but her hands wouldn’t grasp. They teemed, too many, and her fingers disappeared. She tried to tear them out with her shrinking teeth, but they slid through. Her face and hair vanished as if under snow.

Tears blurred her vision as she sank onto her stool, only to leap forward when she noticed her eyes. Her eyes, the pupils widening, eyelashes falling out, her eyes were turning yellow.

Yellow, like the strange woman’s dress.

• • • •

She didn’t grab her parasol, or her gloves. She just ran, down the stairs, out the door, and down the street, feathers rustling in the afternoon breeze. Her feet felt too small in her shoes and she stumbled, tripped, landing on the hard cobbles and tearing the grey silk, scraping her hands and knees. She clambered back to her feet, kicked off the shoes, kept going. A red ache sang behind her eyes, inside her nose and throat, under her tongue and deep in her chest. She dashed across the harbor, dodging unaware sailors and merchants left and right, searching, searching for the telltale glimpse of dark hair and bright color.

She found them in the purple shadow of a full-rigged tall ship, Ernest’s face beseeching, the woman’s apologetic and remote. She played with a pendant around her neck and her yellow dress blazed in the gloom. Felicity ran toward them both and the woman’s eyes widened.

She would open her mouth, unleash the scream. They had been wrong, they had all been wrong, it had tried to protect them, not change them. Not listening to it had sparked the change, and letting it howl inside only made the change faster. She would shout at Ernest, didn’t he see that his new love had woken his up, and that stifling it propelled him closer to animal than man? Her shouts would bounce off the tall ship’s hull, echoing and sending the words skyward. The scream would stretch, cramped from so many years trapped, and soar through the air, whoop and twirl, while she raved on the ground.

And then, breath and voice ragged, she would tell the woman, the strange woman, who hadn’t turned into a bird, to run.

“You were right. You were right the whole time. Claudette lost her music. I lost my art. Run away before you lose yourself and change too.”

And then, spent, she would collapse in a flurry of molting feathers, chest heaving and whole body aching, but lighter than she had ever been before.

• • • •

She would have said those things, had she a voice. But she didn’t.

The scream ripped out of her lungs but her tongue, hard and pointed, clicked inside her beak and her voice wouldn’t, couldn’t form words. She plummeted in a tangle of wings and garments, skidded along the cobbles, and thrashed inside a monstrous whale-boned cage. She screeched, tiny lungs pressing against her feathered breast, but no words came.

Hands plunged through the suffocating silk folds, grabbed her around the neck, under her gnarled, webbed feet, and lifted her as though she weighed nothing. A pair of wide eyes regarded her, a red mouth drawn into a grim, sad line. The woman cradled Felicity in her wide, long-fingered hands. Next to her, Ernest’s eyes darted to and fro, looking everywhere but at the pile of discarded garments.

“I think we should be away,” he said, fidgeting with his walking stick. The woman turned, Felicity still in hand, and her body vibrated with her voice.

“You saw nothing?” Incredulity laced her words. Ernest looked first at her face, then at Felicity. He shook his head.

“No. No. There is nothing to see. Drop that thing, you don’t know how filthy those creatures are.”

The woman drew back, her warm hand pressing Felicity into the soft wool shawl. “A woman turned into a bird right in front of you, and yet you see nothing?”

The brown feathers stood out on Ernest’s pale face and he swallowed. “Nothing.” His voice quavered.

“I see,” the woman said, voice clipped. “Good day, sir.” She spun on her heel, and colors whipped a frenzied dance around Felicity. Her wings strained against their confines, desperate to take her high, away, far away from the noise, the horror of people stepping around her unnoticed clothes. The woman bore her through the crowds, and when Felicity cocked her eye upwards, she could only see the lifted chin, the regal slope of a neck. Men parted ways and the woman strode through them, looking neither left nor right. They stared, but their gazes skittered over Felicity, not seeing her. They saw a seagull.

Felicity fluffed her feathers and cried out again, tried to call for Ernest, Mother, tried to call out her own name. A seagull’s raucous shouts left her mouth, each one more frustrated than the last.

The woman stopped at the edge of the pier, and Felicity felt herself lowered onto a splintered dock pole. She fluttered her wings and wobbled, webbed feet dancing back and forth to gain purchase. The woman crouched over her, sticky tears coating her tanned cheeks. A familiar scrimshaw swung from her neck by a leather thong: a bird, with rope in its beak. Whose was it?

“I heard you,” the woman said, stroking Felicity’s feathers. “I won’t lose myself. I’m so sorry. I heard you.”

The scream died, taking Felicity with it.

The seagull shivered, ruffled its feathers. The woman’s mouth kept moving, kept making sounds, but the seagull’s eye drew to the water’s silver sheen, the sparkle of scales flashing beneath. Hunger filled the emptiness inside it, and the seagull spread its wings, dropped off the pier, and looped over the water, its loud voice joining the shrieks of a hundred others.

© 2014 by Kate Hall.
Art © 2014 by K.A. King.

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Kate Hall

Kate HallKate Hall is a speculative fiction writer and graduate of the 2013 Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Penumbra eMagazine, and Inscription. Growing up, she lived in Ohio, St. John’s Newfoundland, Chicago, and Amsterdam: all places which informed her writing. She now lives in Minneapolis with her husband, a horde of pets named after various deities, cupboards full of tea, and a great many books (because there is no such thing as too many books. Or too much tea).