(By Jiyang Chen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15507046)
Kelvin parked at the top of the cliffs and peered at the bleak, grey sky. He feared getting nothing from this trip beyond a soaking. He zipped up his coat, checked the camera and locked the car. He walked down to the beach with care, enjoying the smell of ozone and the gentle roar of the waves.
Most of his working day at Environmental Health consisted of dealing with people who had no awareness beyond their immediate gratification. He used to suffer from the need to explain but that got worn away the way a chalk mark on pavement does, endless repetitions until it had been scuffed away completely.
He was there due to the recent rise in reported attacks by gulls on people in the town centre and the market place, travelling to monitor the numbers of nested birds here and pad out a report that would meet the brick wall of the wildlife protection statutes and then get filed away somewhere. People fed them crap which made them thick and aggressive and never made the connection. Kelvin had grown up here, and even he had a run in with them, nothing especially aggressive but something to talk about over a pint or at a party.
The most recent one had disturbed him. He had been walking along Regent Road, behind a couple dragging their chubby toddler along on a set of canvas rainbow-striped reins. He knew it was their son by the tense hissed argument they were having and the looks they gave one another. Kelvin recognised the mutual resentment that came when young parents realised that they had not fucked themselves into, but out of a future.
The child had a cone of chips and was happily digging into it when Kelvin saw a flurry of white activity to his right and the muscular snap of wings as the gull launched at the child. It shrieked in triumph, reminding Kelvin that birds were descended from dinosaurs.
The child screamed in agony when the bird stabbed it’s beak into his soft, pale cheek. The father kicked it away and it flapped its wings at him, shrieking in a way that reminded Kelvin of cruel laughter.
Kelvin called the ambulance whilst the mother sobbed and held her hand to her son’s ruined cheek. The father stomped and ranted about something needing to be done, a pantomime performance to mask his inadequacy.
Every time Kelvin closed his eyes afterwards, his memory taunted him with fresh details. The tugging smack of the child’s flesh being pulled away and the triumphant, horrific light of joy in the gull’s eyes. The child’s teeth, visible through the wound that it left.
It had not really gone for the chips at all.
Kelvin walked until he was in range of the nests. He started to take photographs when he saw something in the fissure that sank back into the cliff face.
A pair of eyes, a length of pale, white flesh. A child’s forearm.
Bloody kids, Kelvin muttered and strode towards it. His chest and stomach were taut with irritation and unease as he put the lens cap back on the camera.
No wonder the gulls went for the children. They were too similar to share territory for long. Both of them indulged and cosseted until they were mutated by it. There were probably more protections for birds than children these days. Kelvin always wondered why it was the royal society that protected birds and the national one that dealt with children. As time went on, he realised that the answer was all too apparent.
It was his last thought before something hard thumped into the back of his head.
Blackness overwhelmed him and the damp beige sand rushed up to catch his fall.
The pain was awake before he was, coming at him from different places on his body. A mixture of textures and sensations hidden by the darkness of the cave. His head throbbed enough that even opening his eyes made him moan beneath his breath.
He tried to move and gagged at the sudden rush of agony that came from his arms and legs. His eyes adjusted to the dark and he saw the slick raw meat of his arms and legs, the skin pecked away and then torn to allow his muscles to be available, like stabbing the skin from an orange. He started to cry and a chorus of shrieks went up, loud enough to make him cry out in shock. The flinching made his wounds open and bleed again, sending a jolt of agony that made him nauseous. He saw eyes watching him, single points of wet black hatred set into white skulls that peered over curved, yellow beaks The dimensions were larger than any gull he had ever seen, and the necks were shorter and thicker. When one of them walked around, and he saw how the wings were set on the back, and that it had extended long, thick arms and fingers tapered into claws that he started to scream.
A hand shot over his mouth and scratched down his cheeks to gain purchase. A blast of fetid, warm breath caressed his scalp. Kelvin vomited. The hand remained clamped to his face and Kelvin caught some of it in his sinuses, which stung and burned.
He saw the others come forward, cawing and ready to sink their claws and beaks into him. The one that held him came forward and Kelvin stared at its razor sharp massive beak where its lips and teeth would have been on a human face. What finally broke Kelvin was not the alien, inhuman nature of such a combination of avian and human, but the intelligence that danced in its eyes and its partner, unrelenting hatred.
Kelvin had come to help them, he wanted to say. He had hoped to find a solution.
The gull stabbed its beak down, using the thick muscles in its neck to punch the blade into Kelvin temple with the force of a sledgehammer.
As the lights died in his brain, Kelvin realised that someone had come up with a solution after all.