The beach, littered with bone-white shells and coral, soaks up blood with surprising speed. My blood. The sting of salt water on open wounds keep me from passing out. Flayed muscle and broken bone prevent me from crawling out of the dark water. It hungrily tries to pull me back into its smothering bosom. Not that there would be anywhere to crawl.

I survived the longest night of my life, kept my head above the churning waves even as the multitude of screams around me dwindled into silence. Treading water alone in the unknown depths, I heard the faint sound of seabirds and the distant sound of water meeting land.

It took everything I had to remain calm, to listen and pace my effort with a steady and constant cadence. No more than a dozen strokes before pausing to breathe and reorient. It seemed like an eternity passed before I got any closer to my goal. Often, I feared that I had strayed away from my target.

My energy spent, it was close to dawn before I neared my salvation. I could hear the surf pounding the beach. Each time the waves crashed, my heart fluttered in relief. Throwing caution to the wind, I pulled myself through the water with the sort of recklessness only a fight for survival can bring out in a person.

It was too late when I recognized my folly. Caught in surging tidal forces, I was tumbled along the sharp coral surrounding the island and driven hard into the ocean floor repeatedly. All I could do was flail helplessly and try not to breathe when I was submerged by wave after wave.

Finally, flung haphazardly onto the shore, I was a broken, bloody mess. Exhausted from my struggle, I was unable to explore my surroundings. Out of options, I tried to rest and wait for the sun to peak over the horizon.

It rose over a scene that made me want to weep. The island, if you could call it that, was small, barely a few meters across. It was comprised mostly of coral pounded into sand by the ocean’s relentless waves. The entire area was littered with sun-bleached shells, a few scrubby palms that appeared to be dying, and an immense amount of bird shit.

Lifting my head, I could easily peer through the scant vegetation and see the water lapping on the opposite shore. Far on the horizon was a smudge of discoloration that may have been land, or maybe it was just wishful thinking. The water, though receded, was still lapping at my mangled feet, sending stinging pain with each renewed assault. My legs and left arm, obviously shattered, were useless.

I tried to pull myself further onto the tiny atoll but found that I had no strength. So, there I lay, baking in the heat of the day. I wondered whether the high tide would reclaim me before the sun had a chance to burn me up. My mouth was filled with the awful taste of dried blood, salt, and bird droppings. I couldn’t even summon up the spit to wash the horrid taste off my tongue.

A seagull fluttered down from the sky. Landing just beyond arms reach, it considered me with dark curious eyes. Its head bobbed in the way peculiar to gulls as it cautiously paced around my broken form.

I reached out to it and it casually stepped back, chiding me as it did so. Thoughts of consuming the hapless creature in order to regain some of my strength were quickly dismissed. The bird was having none of it. Time passed in a sort of awkward standoff, each of us staring at the other unsure of what to make of the situation.

The water had stopped washing over my feet and the pain had started to subside. I let the darkness take me, hoping that some rest would grant me some renewed strength and a fresh perspective, but my respite was short-lived.

A sudden sharp pain burst through my hand. My eyes shot open just in time to see the seagull jumping back, its beak dripping in blood and bits of flesh. I shouted and flung my arm out to scare it away. With an eerie calm and knowing patience, the bird stayed just out of reach. Its dark, unsympathetic eyes never straying away from its prize.

Time passed and exhaustion took its toll. My focus drifted and the tiny asshole swooped in again, biting the soft tissue just below my eye. With a roar, I swung at it and managed to bat it away. Startled, the gull flew off with a protesting squawk.

My victory was rewarded with waves of pain and nausea. The sudden movement ground shattered bone against raw nerve. I closed my eyes and let the feeling pass. Even as I started to regain my composure, a sudden jarring explosion of pain shot through my leg.

Screaming, I spun around. The gull had returned and tore into one of the open wounds. Flesh hung limply from its mouth and its head glistened with a fresh coating of my blood. A handful of seashells struck the creature with surprising accuracy, but did little more than scare it off again.

Through tears in my eyes, I could see it, hovering in the air above me, well out of reach. I grabbed another handful of shells and flung them at the gull to no effect. It simply drifted out of the way, calling out in the ocean breeze.

It didn’t take long for other seagulls to come investigate the commotion. They appeared separately and in groups. All of them landing just beyond my reach, watching attentively with dark uncaring eyes. It won’t be long now. Soon there will be more than seashells bleaching on this forlorn beach.