I found myself so drawn to Stillman’s Pond that I skipped the Tuesday morning Service for the first time in my life. I had no conscious reason for it, and a fair few reasons not to. I mean, I couldn’t even remember the last time someone didn’t show up at Service, and everyone was sure to notice. But I just couldn’t help myself. I suppose none of us really can.
When I got there, though, it all made some kind of sense. I’d been to the pond plenty of times before, but never when it was this tranquil. There wasn’t a person in sight–for obvious reasons. It was just me and the water and the breeze and the birds, and as I sat back on the grass I couldn’t help but feel this experience was every bit as religious as what I’d have gotten in Service.
I watched the flock of birds swimming through the pond, going around and around for no particular reason. They looked to be little black cormorants, but it was hard to say for sure. And honestly, what did it matter? They were whatever they were and they seemed happy to be it and to be with each other, apart from the one bird that stayed off on his own.
He just floated in place close by the shore, paying no attention to the others as they went about their business. I stared at him, and it seemed almost like he was staring back at me. I wondered why he wasn’t swimming with the others. Was he injured? Or just lazy? Or did he just want to stay still so he could take a good, long look at me and me at him?
I wondered, and I guess the other birds did too, because they came over and formed a semi-circle around him. They paused and looked at him, like they were a bunch of synchronized swimmers getting ready to do their routine. Then they started.
They swam forward, quick and silent, until they were right there on top of him. Then they were in him, or he was in them. Their beaks went back and forth, stabbing or biting or pecking, and the lone bird didn’t make a sound. He didn’t try to fly away. He just floated there while they tore him apart.
The sight of it made me sick. I felt like vomiting, but I didn’t. I felt like looking away, but I couldn’t. Not until they were done, not until they swam away and left what was left of their former friend floating in the water while they swam back around the pond, going nowhere in particular just as they had before. I couldn’t understand, but at least I could finally tear my eyes away.
I turned and looked at the half ring of my friends gathered around me, and they looked back.
Then they started.
Karl Lykken writes both stories and software in Texas. His horror fiction has appeared in 9Tales at the World’s End No. 4, Deadman’s Tome, and the Jamais Vu Newsletter.
Image by Philip McErlean