Is it her?”

“I dunno. It could be.”

“She looks sorta like him.”

“How would you know? You weren’t even hatched back then.”

“I studied the pictures of him. I’m smart and I pay attention.”

“Uh huh. When’s your mate’s hatch date again?”

Livingston glared at the three herring gulls next to him on the roof of the construction trailer. “Guys? If you don’t mind? We’ve got a job to do.”

The gulls turned their bills back to the construction site. It was fun watching Humans work at building their homes. So many, to build a house for so few. Ridiculous. Avians were much better architects.

“So how we gonna do this?”

“I dunno. They want some DNA, whatever that is. I don’t see any on her.”

“If you don’t know what it is, how do you know she doesn’t have any?”

“Guys!” Livingston stomped his feet. “Listen up. Nardo, you take the sandwich. Ace, you get the chips. Deuce, go for the soda. I’ll take the hair.”

“Hair?” Three yellow bills dropped open with decidedly fishy smells. “Ick!”

“Not to eat, you morons!” It had to be a holiday, didn’t it? He’d gotten stuck with the skeleton crew. You’d think, for a job this important, he’d get a top-flight flight crew, but… no. He needed to talk to the chick in the office and make sure these cuckoos were never assigned to him again. Not without proper training.

“Look, guys, just go for your assigned comestibles. But don’t eat them. We need every scrap of DNA we can get. Got it?”

“Not even a taste?” asked Nardo.

“A nibble?” added Ace.

“Nothing. Or you’re back on convent detail. Got it?”

That shut the birdbrains up. Those sisters accounted for every scrap of food in their calling to help the poor.

“On my signal, we’re going to take off en masse. In and out in ten seconds.”

“We’re going to mass?” Ace stood on one leg and spoke through his closed bill in a very bad imitation of a stuffed seagull. “I thought we’re here to get DNA. If it’s at church, why not get it there?”

En masse, you idiot!” Deuce clipped the back of Ace’s head with his beak. “It means together.”

“Hey, you really are smart.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Guys!” Livingston stomped his feet again. “Pay attention. She’s getting ready to set up.”

“Mmmm, I can smell the bologna from here. It’s been a long time since I’ve had bologna.” Nardo clicked his bills together.

“It’s going to be a lot longer if you screw this up.” Livingston shuffled to the left to line up with their quarry.

“Oh. Right.”

“Okay, guys, on my signal, we’ll take off.”

“What’s the signal again?”

Livingston just shook his head. He’d let the “smart one” explain it to him—whichever one that was.


The seagulls were back.

Twice as many as yesterday.

Valerie Dumere upended two empty drywall compound buckets beneath the four evergreens the excavating crew hadn’t cleared, and set out her lunch on the opposite side of the clearing from the guys. She removed her tool belt then shook her hair free of the hardhat, finger-combing the plastered curls off her scalp.

One of the birds shifted on the trailer roof so they were all lined up like kewpie dolls at a state fair. A few of the guys had taken pot shots at them with rocks over the past two days but it hadn’t deterred the birds.

Good. Not that she had a special affinity for the gulls, but there was no reason to hurt them. They were only doing what they’d been put on this earth for.

At least someone was. Twenty-nine years and she was still searching.

Val popped the top of her soda can, thanking God and corporate America there wasn’t much difference between brands of grape soda. Fizz, purple, sugar. Sweet and satisfying. If only she could say the same for the generic bologna and cheese, but when on a budget, sacrifices had to be made. At least the chips were good. Everyone needed one vice, right? She snorted… then choked on the fizz.

“You okay over there, Dumere? Me and Schmitty wouldn’t mind giving you mouth-to-mouth.”

He and Schmitty should be so lucky.

Val shook her head and ripped open the package of chips. One of the gulls squawked and eight little bird eyes rounded on her. Val folded the top of the open bag closed. Gulls were notorious for stealing food out of your hand.

 “Shut up, you quack!” Dennis, a stonemason, tossed a stick at the birds.

Not one moved, looking down their beaks at him with pity.

Val snorted again. Seagull disdain…oh, the shame. Dennis deserved it.

She took another bite of her sandwich, a sip of the soda. The evergreen branches couldn’t keep out all the sun’s rays and it was hot today. Every day she returned to her rented room reeking of sweat and sawdust, with sore muscles and a tired back. Chalk this job up as another “learning experience.”

Someday she’d find her niche.

Her niche. Val smiled. She’d had a niche once: the back corner of the storeroom in Mom’s shop. The one place she’d felt like she “fit.” The ironic part was that the one place she’d felt semi-comfortable in her skin was a shop filled with ocean trinkets… in the middle of Kansas.

Therese’s Treasure Trove had been on her mind a lot lately. She’d upped and left it after Mom’s funeral. Maybe it was time to go back. Figure out what was what.

The gulls shuffled their feet on the rooftop. She glanced at them. They were all staring at her. Okay, a little creepy…

She took another bite of her sandwich and grabbed a chip. She would go back. Take some time to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. At the very least, she could give the place a good cleaning while she was there or… better yet, open it back up.

 That’s what she would do. The place had been Mom’s dream and her legacy to Val. Mom would want her to make it a worthwhile venture.

She “toasted” her decision with another chip and the bird over the trailer door spread its wings, revealing a smudge on its pristine breast feathers. The others looked at it then back at her in perfect unison, as if they were part of a chorus line.

Val raised the chip to her lips.

The center gull squawked and took off from the trailer.

The others followed suit—all aimed at her.

Val ducked. She didn’t have time to do anything else. Hands on her head, she bent over as she was suddenly surrounded by a flurry of flapping feathers.

One bird plucked the sandwich from her fingers, luckily not taking any fingers with it. The chip, too, disappeared. Other gulls swooped onto her makeshift lunch table, making off with her soda, the rest of the chips, even managing to abscond with the bag she’d packed it all in.

As the gulls flew off, one remaining bird landed on her hunched shoulders. Only for a second, and before she could react, it yanked a few strands of hair from her head then flew off with the rest of the winged thieves. Damn it, that hurt!

To add insult to the injury, the guys just sat at their picnic table and laughed. Yep, that sealed the deal. She was out of here. Like now.

Val took one last look to where her lunch was disappearing over the treetops, scooped up her tool belt and hardhat, and knocked over the bucket. A few feathers fluttered to her feet.

You know, she used to like seagulls…  



(c) Judi Fennell



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