The Seagulls of Brachy Bay
by Brad Kelechava
Within the hour, Duncan, Simon, Daisy, and Tommy were at city hall. Outside the Mayor’s office, their mother waited attentively. Daisy, who kept expecting nothing but scorn, knew that, even in her dulled margarita haze, her mother was proud of her kids.
Behind the closed wooden doors of the municipal office, Mayor Strayer’s rasped, baritone voice carried a harmony of words that bordered on rambling.
A well-groomed mustachioed man, Strayer asked the children a great deal of information about themselves. Daisy and Simon replied to the best of their abilities and comforts. Tommy, on the other hand, remained uncharacteristically laconic.
Joining the group was Kim Duvale, the head of the Environmental Services Division of the municipality. Strayer begrudgingly summoned her just after his sweaty assistant excused himself to resume his day off. While the history between these two was never unveiled to the children, Daisy could tell that at least one layer of Kim’s soul was inked with disdain for this man, even if his position of power held back her tongue.
“And that’s when I said, ‘No more crab, please, for the love of God, no more crab!’ The next day, there were pieces of shell in my...” Strayer coughed to cut himself off. “Ahem, excuse me. Now, kids, I like this plan. I think it could work. Duncan says you’ve already put it to use, killed a few seagulls. But I wonder: how can you help me get rid of them all?”
Simon grinned and prepared to speak. Daisy’s throat tightened in angst. Tommy stared at the floor.
Before Simon could share any of his ideas with the room, Ms. Duvale said, “Mr. Strayer, have you thought this through? Summer tourists call seagulls a nuisance, but coastal ecosystems can be quite fragile. Simply killing these birds would be irresponsible and egregious, not to mention a violation of federal laws. For all we know, these birds could be a keystone species.”
“Keystone?” Strayer scoffed. “We’re not working masonry here, sweetheart, I’m running a goddamn city.”
Kim brushed aside the venom of his comment with a level of grace born only of resiliency. “I mean we haven’t studied the seagull’s significance on the local environment. The entire biosphere could collapse if we act too brashly. Instead, we could put up nets. They act as physical barriers between people and birds without bringing harm.”
Strayer’s eyes tightened on her. “Birds still crap through nets. Jesus, lady — it’s July Fourth next weekend. I need these birds gone ASAP.”
Daisy’s desecrated hot dog flashed before her eyes. It disgusted her, and the thought of this image staining her consciousness for days to come was troubling, but it made her think of something else. “I have a question,” she blurted out.
Strayer and Kim abruptly ended their argument. Their expressions softened, and they both looked at Daisy.
“Go ahead, young lady,” said Strayer, with such benevolence that his power mustache almost seemed to disappear.
“Why do we have to worry about the seagulls at all?” Daisy asked, her innocence guiding her words. “We killed two this morning. The second didn’t do anything wrong. And I thought the first did, but it probably would’ve left us alone, right? They bother us, but we’re only here three months every year. This is their home all the time. Doesn’t Brachy Bay belong to them?”
Kim’s gaze locked onto Daisy in studious wonder. This frightened the young girl. However, in the years to come, she would learn that this observational glance was reserved for finding a diamond in a pile of sawdust.
Strayer was unfazed. “Young lady, I serve the people of Brachy Bay,” he told her. “These birds are ruining my people, and I want them gone. Now you can warn me about ecosystems or birds’ rights or whatever else, but at the end of the day, none of these things matter. There is a solution in front of us, it is as simple as that. Is that clear?”
Kim reluctantly nodded in agreement. Daisy took up Tommy’s shy pose.
“I don’t want to hear any more pushback,” Strayer admonished. “Now, young man, would you mind telling us how we could implement your seagull trap on a larger scale?”
Ignoring the entire preceding interaction, Simon said, “It’s basically the same as before. When we killed the big seagull, all I did was add more bread and TummyTusslers. So, we have to set up larger traps in different parts of the city.”
Strayer’s lips flattened in a devilish grin. His mustache made this display especially disturbing for Daisy, who felt that it gave his aged lips a fleshier appearance. “Wonderful,” he let out. “Let’s get this done as soon as possible. You three, come with me. I want you helping out.” He walked out the door. Simon and Tommy followed.
Daisy remained immobile for a moment, giving Kim Duvale a window to join her. “I like the way you think,” Kim said. “You’re right, you know, at least partially. But things aren’t that simple. How old are you?”
Sometime after the erraticism of her teen mind, Daisy would look back at this moment and realize that Kim Duvale, despite making only a ten-minute appearance in her personal timeline, had waged a supreme impact on the woman she grew up to be. Her mindset, her ideology, even her hair — cut stylishly to shoulder length — would match this woman. But decades waited until then.
Daisy scoffed at Kim and followed the others out the door.
* * *
Later that afternoon, under mayoral direction, seagull traps were set throughout Brachy Bay.
All available municipal workers were brought to participate, and almost all felt the disgruntlement for their occupations heighten after being ordered around by three children. The one with glasses gave the most demands, while the girl requested few actions but was specific and driven. Another boy, angry and shy, was little help.
Sure enough, it worked. Within two days, every seagull within Brachy Bay was dead.
Allocating time for cleanup, the beaches were closed for three days in total. The people were not happy. The fourth day, the beaches opened. The people were very happy.
For a little while, that is. While the Fourth of July was wonderful, there was still imbalance in a very fragile order.
Kim Duvale was only speculating when she had called the seagulls a “keystone species.” Even though the seagulls were not a keystone species in Brachy Bay’s ecosystem, they did serve an integral role in controlling crab and worm populations.
If Kim had been allowed to conduct her research, she and the Mayor would have learned this. In fact, she may have even come across a historical ledger from 1887, the year of the city’s founding, which held a violent account of the agitated, volatile crabs that had populated the land.
In suppressing the cancerous forces, the first developers decided to call the city and adjacent body of water Brachy Bay, after the infraorder Brachyura to which crabs belong.
However, none of these truths had been unveiled. The bliss brought on by the lack of seagulls doomed them from the plan’s conception.
* * *
On July 25, Sam Seppi, a local known as “The Beach Bum of Dawn,” was conducting his morning routine of lying on the sandy shores. Seppi, a 38-year-old retired entrepreneur who had struck youthful riches in tech and left that game at 35, was proud of his body yet ashamed of the society that judged him for that hubris. He worked out every day, sculpting what he considered to be the apex of physicality. However, his hair remained a problem. Heavy tufts of black curls sprouted from his toned body, obstructing the view that he worked so hard to perfect.
The last time he sauntered onto a beach at a reasonable hour, a group of children had emitted a sound loud enough to alert the local authorities. Since then, he never dared enter a beachfront after 7:00 a.m.
That morning, he strolled onto the 89th Street beach, unrolled a towel onto the mild sand, and fell on top of it to enjoy the red-tinged darkness of dawn.
But then he felt it. Under the towel, thin phallic objects rolled and pulsated. Out of fear, in the moment before one can contemplate any sort of logic, Seppi rolled off his towel.
Without the barrier of his cotton towel, the worms advanced onto Sam Seppi, many ensnaring themselves in his thick tufts of hair.
* * *
Then the crabs came.
The first instance of the crab uprising was experienced by the Holmes family. David Holmes, the patriarch, had rented a home in northern Brachy Bay. Accompanied by his wife, Patricia Holmes, and their two children, Sally and Toby, the beach voyage was meant to settle their family’s quarrels.
“Mom, Toby won’t give me my chair!” Sally shrieked.
“Toby, give your sister her beach chair. You already have one,” Patricia demanded.
“Nuh-uh, I need this one,” claimed Toby.
“Why?” his mother asked, sighing.
“Because he has a fat ass,” his sister interjected.
“You bitch!” Toby yelled. “I’ll kill you!”
While Patricia tried to break up their fight, David ignored his children. He had traveled to Brachy Bay for a relaxing vacation, and that was sure as hell what he intended to get. He couldn’t lose any time he had set aside for pure tranquil relaxation. Lord knew he needed it.
He accelerated his gait as his family’s bickering reached the level of unavoidable irritation. When he was in sight of the beach, however, he halted. The vision before them was enough to shut his family up.
The sandy entrance to the beach was completely obstructed. In its place was an army of crabs — a continuum of carapaces just waiting for any poor suckers to wander past their line of defense. The front crabs held their pincers forward in riposte stance, prepared for any advance of human adversaries.
The Holmes family turned around and went home.
* * *
Brachy Bay was a seaside chaos.
“You come in here and tell me that you have a solution!” Strayer exclaimed. “And look what happened! Great problem-solving, kids! It all went so well! Jesus Lord, this snafu makes the gang of cats seem like nothing!”
Daisy looked around the Mayor’s office for support. Kim Duvale, Duncan Straissmill, and even their mother were absent. The children were alone with the tyrant.
“And those cats,” he continued. “Looks like you did take care of one of my problems after all. One of our lifeguards found those furballs near the north beach. Jesus, I thought crazy cats were bad for PR. Try cat corpses. Damn crabs are monsters.”
He paused again. “So, do you geniuses have any bright ideas?”
The children had nothing to say. Daisy looked to Simon, but he was as silent as the seagulls of Brachy Bay. She would have to speak for the group, but her sobs came first.
“I’m sorry,” she said, tears blurring her vision. “How were we supposed to fix anything? We’re just kids.”
Strayer’s mayoral fury, a product of a chauvinistic time long past, settled at the sound of her words. He sighed, and the visible tension in his facial muscles lolled off. “Alright, alright,” he said softly. “There are still a lotta seagulls in nearby towns. I’ll speak with their mayors and see if I can have the birds captured and released near our beaches. Hopefully, they can repopulate and take care of the crabs and worms.”
“Sounds sufficient,” added Simon, elevating the bridge of his glasses on his nose.
Strayer gave the boy a cursory glance, ignoring the aftershock of Daisy’s sobs. “Yes, we’ll see. Now, all of you, go home to your mother. It’s supposed to rain later today, and I’d hate for any of you to catch a cold.”
* * *
The plan was wonky at best, but it worked. The return of the seagulls suppressed the crabs and worms, who retreated to their cavernous holes beneath the soft sand of Brachy Bay.
In the many years to come, beachgoers would enjoy the city’s beaches, completely ignorant of the worms and crabs who slumbered below their sizzling, exposed bodies.
Of course, this narrative is enough for the average person who has spent any time in Brachy Bay. Man kills seagull, worm and crab rise. Man summons seagull, seagull re-enlists the natural order. Changes are frequent in the world, and they are a wonderful part of life. But they are not so simple.
Whenever a major change takes place, there exists a transitional period, commonly shunned by the people who experience that change. While the people of Brachy Bay applauded the return of the seagulls, few witnessed the gruesome liminal period that saved their beaches.
* * *
Daisy was there. Following the short-lived destruction of the local ecosystem, she bore full responsibility for her catalytic role in the incident. Arriving from a perfect vantage point just off the beach, with the purest of hearts, she carried out her duty as a witness.
The crabs and the worms, oddly enough, shared the beachfront in peace. Somewhat segregated, but not oppressively so, each organism occupied a healthy range of space, roaming freely as if the past 200,000 years of mankind and 60 million years of birdkind had been a collection of anxious nightmares.
The seagulls arrived as a horde, with the primordial knowledge that their return was predicated on a partnership with their intelligent ape brethren. They soared faster than Daisy had ever seen any bird move, darting to the sand in miraculous form.
The worms were the first to go. The seagulls clutched them in their honed talons, exploding some upon impact in a storm of guts and shredding others to ribbons on the flight back up to the sky. The rest were gobbled up by their assailants at the apex of the flight path.
After three downward swoops, the seagulls had virtually eliminated the entire worm population.
The crabs, unlike the worms, were armed from eons of natural selection. Unfortunately, even with the aid of their pincers, they never stood much of a chance against the brute force of the birds. However, they sure were confident.
As the seagulls made their approach, the crabs held their pincers forward in their classic formation, a stance that is common to those who can see only victory or know nothing of death. It was hard to tell which was true with these crustaceans.
The seagulls scooped up most of the crabs with ease, piercing their exoskeletons no differently than how they had cut through the mushy exterior of their worm allies. Most crabs, unlike the worms, survived the ascent, albeit with irreversible damage. At height, while whipping through the ocean skies, the seagulls released their prey.
Most of the sky-dropped crabs met their doom on the sand below, when their armored bodies suffered impacts that no ocean-based creature should ever be forced to endure.
Others — an unlucky bunch — were picked up by the wind and landed in the nearby street. On impact, their exoskeletons split open and shattered, sending squirts of white flesh across the hot asphalt and cooking beyond well-done.
The beach was mess, a mass grave of incomprehensible shreds. Daisy watched the entirety of this macabre event, not in sadness, not in anger or disgust, but in the purest form of viewership — she witnessed this massacre without judgment.
In the years to come, she and her family would spend mornings and afternoons at this very same beach, and, after even more time had passed, she would surreptitiously rendezvous with lovers here at sundown to make the beast-with-two-sandy-backs. But now, she could do nothing but watch.
After it had concluded, once the battlefield was littered with guts and flesh and bits of crustacean armor, nothing but glory swelled in her heart. Confident that this entire ordeal was behind her, that she had fulfilled any obligation she owed to the seagulls or the universe, Daisy returned to her summer home.
Copyright © 2020 by Brad Kelechava