Laughing gulls, with their shrill, piercing cries, circled beneath a scattering of cumulus clouds. The grey shapes, floated in contrast to the pre-dawn, cobalt sky. Roger, his head lamp illuminating his trail, slowly dragged the scratched and weather-worn, metal Coleman cooler. Its weight plowed through the famous gypsum sands of Siesta Key beach erasing his footprints. Pausing, he drew in a deep breath of the chilly salt air. The gulls glided close like kites on strings.
“Shoo! Nasty sky-rats!”
The gulls laughed.
This was his third trip from the parking area. Roger had his kayak and rods staged at the high tide line. As he loaded the cooler, hearty Canadian tourists stopped to chat with him about the cool weather and fishing. He told them about the feeding grounds, ripe with black grouper, which plunged deep not too far out. He watched them walk away.
The bickering gulls had landed and were tensely scouting the cooler. Roger kicked sand at them and they fluttered backward with practiced ease. Roger flipped open his tackle box. He fished a tattered nautical chart and sharpie out of an ink-stained Ziploc bag. He had carefully marked and dated each of his trips over the last week. This would be his last excursion for this season. He checked the map and wind. It would favor him on the paddle out.
A half hour of effort brought him to his destination. With a seasoned hand, he tossed out a drift sock to keep his course in the deep water. He pulled his filet knife from its sheath and tested the shiny, silver blade. An errant wave rocked the kayak. Roger settled, with his breath quickened. He did not intend the callous sea to dump him.
Overhead, in lightening sky, the gulls laughed maniacally.
Roger carefully opened the cooler lid. The sweet and pungent scent greeted him. He closed his eyes and inhaled. He drew hunks of skin, muscle, and fat from the box and reverently carved them off the jagged bones into palm-size chunks. The cold and greasy blood coated his hands as he worked.
When he paused to rinse his sticky fingers in the chilly water, gulls swept close and he shouted them away. A handful settled, bobbing on the waves, near the bow, ever hopeful. Roger paused to admire a section of skin. It displayed one ragged butterfly wing. He wiped the blood from the temporary tattoo. “Such a pretty design.” Roger smiled at the memory. He deftly divided the hunk and reverently slipped the pieces into the water.
The gulls screamed again and again.
Finally, he took a break as the sky blossomed. He twisted his fingers into her blood soaked, brown hair as he gently lifted her head from the cooler. He kissed her cheek then nestled her head securely against his chest, “The sunrise is the same pink you were wearing.”
The gulls watched silently as Annie’s flesh drifted down and out of sight.