Wednesday's Seagulls

I'd dry-swallowed the last instant coffee days ago, but the thought “Oversleep and he'll eat your brain” gutkicks you awake. No matter how tired you are. Two or three nights with only a couple of hours sleep puts sand in your brain and smothers your joy in life. Six nights like that, and your brain glues shut and your energy dwindles into bovine endurance just this side of death.

I spasmed awake at the first flicker of dawn. When I saw that enough tide remained to leave a ribbon of saltwater between Wednesday and myself, I released my breath and massaged crud from my eyes. Nothing had changed. A hundred-foot rock in the middle of the South Pacific. The shattered plane I slept in. And the dead man, Wednesday.

Wednesday stood so still the island danced in comparison. Sunlight glinted off the golden hoop dangling from the desiccated stub of his left ear. His right leg ended in twin spears of worm-eaten brown bone. Salty air coursed through the crack in his skull and out his broken teeth, whistling loudly enough to penetrate the crash of the ocean's fierce churn around us, and the corrugated tear across his gut displayed mummified bowels and stumps of rib. I couldn't imagine how long he'd been on this rock – years? Centuries? How long did it take to turn a human being into jerky, and how long could human jerky last? Six bullets had lodged harmlessly somewhere inside him, and the flare gun hadn't singed his petrified invulnerability.

Only paces behind Wednesday, the island's west end rose in a flattened dome of broken rock. Hundreds of seagulls wheeled overhead, and the rising sun flickered on the waves, but nothing else moved. The sky mirrored the ocean, diffusing the horizon. Traditionally a castaway gets a single coconut tree, but I'd been shorted even that. Robinson Crusoe even got a native to help him live like a civilized man. I'd called mine Man Wednesday, as he was obviously a couple days short of a Man Friday. It had seemed funny, the first day. Everything had seemed funny that first impossible day, but the endless days bludgeoned surrealism into blunt reality.

If I could survive long enough to be rescued, it would be on seagulls and plane wreckage alone.

I forced myself to relax, leaning against a spire of rock and cradling the strut I'd finally pried out of the wreckage. The strut had felt solid and invincible when I'd been pounding and prying and scraping at the bolts holding it to the wing over the past few days. Now it felt too frail to support the hope I had for it. I'd had a much better shaft the first day, solid steel an inch thick and two feet long. I'd tried to crack Wednesday's skull the rest of the way open. He'd raised an arm to block it, and the impact of the bar against his exposed bone was like hitting a light post. The shock had stunned my grip open and I let the shaft bounce deep into the churning water. That was when I realized that if Wednesday came close enough to grab me, I was dead.

The cuts and tears lining my palms and fingers weren't painful compared to how the rest of me felt.

The receding tide had almost erased the moat when a seagull landed on Wednesday's shoulder and tentatively pecked at a tangle of human jerky. Wednesday resisted as much as any other piece of garbage, so the bird sank his beak into a tricep and flapped to tear it free. Rattlesnake-quick, faster than I could follow, a skeletal hand lashed up and seized a wing. The bird screeched and thrashed, but in moments Wednesday had gnawed open its skull and scraped out the runny gray insides with his ragged tongue. I had thought brain-eating zombies were just in the movies, but once again he dropped the hollowheaded carcass at his feet.

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