Descent into the Forgotten (Part 1)

I wrote this short story for a class project on fiction with nature themes. The feedback I received from my peers was positive enough that I thought it was worth sharing with you fine writers and readers. Feel free to toss any comments or critiques you have in the comments! Any and all are appreciated.

I chunked up the story due to its length (14 Microsoft Word pages). In total, I’m planning on uploading it in five parts. This first section represents the exposition.


Descent into the Forgotten

The sun bore down on Korren’s back as he glided over the pockmarked beach. Basking in the light, the tan sand radiated heat. Gray mounds beyond the shore brooded in the heat, throwing their dark shade upon the black plains. The wind carried the crisp smell of salt, keeping his senses sharp as he glided off the drafts from the raised ledges that extended into the ocean.

His feathers shone in the noon rays; he had spent all morning preening them. If his beak wasn’t grooming, it was conversing. Even when he had none to speak to, his mind overflowed with thoughts and ideas.

Below, his brother Lars rooted through the debris washing up with the foaming tide. Blue, green, red, and white feathers were nudged aside by his beak as he hunted after crabs in the shallows. Even when Lars finally found his elusive prey, he gave no hint of triumph as he swallowed the flailing creature whole. His sharp eyes only turned back to the tide and the next crustacean. Dull, like his plumage, Korren grinned at the wordplay.

Further up the beach, Korren saw Darra flying toward him. “Probably looking for another challenge,” Korren muttered to himself.

“Riding the drafts again, eh?” She called to him in greeting. “Or just letting the sun shine on your feathers so all the females can see you?”

“They certainly look better than yours,” Korren said.

Darra had a bare spot on her breast where no plumage had grown. The rest of her feathers were stunted at the edges and never quite smoothed, no matter how much their mother fussed. It only took one stab to make his sister scrappy, as Korren knew well.

A smile crept across Korren’s face. “They fly better, too.”

“Really, now? Then you won’t say no to a diving competition, now will you?”

The smile vanished. Darra knew her brother’s hot points better than he knew hers.

“I don’t need to be the best diver,” Korren countered. “I’m not a pelican.”

“Mother says all good Herring gulls can dive for fish,” Darra said. “But what will your friends say when they hear your sister beat you again? You wouldn’t want them thinking you’re afr-”

“Name the blasted rules and we’ll see,” Korren cut her off.

“The one who pulls out closest to the waves wins,” Darra said, enjoying her turn to smile. “Simple enough. Hope you don’t crash this time.”

Korren shook his head as he climbed on the wind, sighting his target. She’s just jealous, he told himself. She knows how much the females talk about you.

Despite the self-encouragement, his heart thudded against his chest. Korren was aware that he might be the only seagull on all the oceans who was afraid of heights. It wasn’t so much flying itself, but having to dive the whole way at once. The black waves seemed to froth as if they were waiting to swallow him.

“Go on, then,” Darra said beside him. “You first.”

Pride would not let him turn away. Korren took a deep breath and nosed over.

For a moment, Korren believed he could do it. Then the world shrieked toward him, overwhelming his eyes and ears. Frigid air whipped at his face, his beak swallowing it in great gulps. Below, the sea reared up before him.

Even in the thick of his panic, Korren looked over to find Darra overtaking him. Worse, she was laughing. That crazy bird is enjoying this!

Korren nearly choked on his own fear as he looked back. The ocean was only wingbeats away. On instinct’s command, he angled his wings, pulling out sharply. It was too high, he knew it already, but Darra could win for all he cared. I choose to keep on breathing!

Something caught his eye on a wave crest. Without thinking, Korren ceased his maneuver and plunged into the sea.

 

When Korren came to, something was dragging him from the surf. He opened his eyes to find Lars’s beak around his port wing.

“Good morning,” Lars grunted through Korren’s feathers.

Korren would have laughed, but something green and foul blocked his own beak. A slick, slimy tendril trailed along the ground, snatching bits of sand as his stout brother pulled him up the beach.

“Darra won again,” Lars said when he finally let go.

His brother was the smallest of the three fledglings. He speaks little, and says even less, Korren had once quipped. Yet this was not the first time Lars had come to his brother’s aid nor the first time Darra had goaded him into peril. Korren found himself almost admiring Lars’s silent strength.

Korren opened his beak to retort, but coughed up salt water instead of words. The retching carried on for several moments, the stream threatening to carry away his prize. His webbed foot snatched the foreign object in his talons. He hadn’t risked drowning to lose it.

Lars’s head halted at the sight of the green coil, but both gulls’ eyes were drawn up as the sturdy wingbeats met their ears.

“Well, what’s it this time?” their father asked. He landed beside them, but Korren didn’t even rise from where he lay on his back.

“Diving,” Lars said. “Again.” His deep black eyes had not left Korren’s foot.

“What in all seven oceans-” Father swore in his crisp, impatient tone. He stepped in front of Korren, his gray wings and yellow eyes clashing with the fledgling’s brown feathers. “Is this what you tried to kill yerself for?” His huge talons snatched the tiny tendril. “Seaweed?

“Seaweed,” Korren said, letting the sounds roll off his tongue. It wasn’t often he encountered a new word these days.

“Aye, seaweed,” their father repeated, shaking his head.

“What- what is it?” Korren said. He had always thought himself the smartest of his siblings, but even he had never seen such a thing. There was something that made his chest tingle at the sight of the unknown.

“It comes from the sea, that’s all you need to know,” his father said. “No more than that.”

“Is there more of it?” Korren asked, looking about. He only saw the gray mounds that backed against the stone wall and the bright colored feathers that floated on the tide. Jagged debris and fluttering sheets littered the beach, but none of it seemed quite the same. The thin pieces had always felt strange in his talons, as if there was something off. Some of the shining debris even cut the fledglings if they weren’t careful. Nothing had ever felt like the tendril in his foot. Its slime seemed to caress his webbing.

“Sure,” his father said. “All over the blasted place. The stuff covers the hills to the north outside the stone mountains-”

He caught himself, but the gleam had filled Korren’s eyes. “Now don’t you go getting any ideas. Your mother made you promise to stay between the two capes in the sea, and by my last talon, you’ll do that, boy.”

Korren made his promise as he had a dozen times before, but his mind swam with ideas. He envisioned an entire beach of the strange seaweed squishing beneath his talons. His sister would call him names, but where most would find the slime repulsive, he couldn’t recall anything feeling better.

His mind was so rapt that he almost missed his father hurling the tendril back into the surf.

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