(Author note: this is an excerpt of a story available in full on Wattpad! Find me @jordynsaelor there!)

I walk along the coast, north, but I stay away from the beaches. The tundra gradually slopes higher, and by midday the ocean cowers behind sweeping cliffs. I stop to eat with the red sun above us, staring at Skeleton Cook’s burlap-wrapped skull, wondering if the knot on the second sack is coming loose. I’m afraid to touch it and check, because the bird is perched there. Beak open, as if she is panting, or maybe she actually is panting, is that a thing royal avians do?

I drain most of a clay water bottle, eat a wilting mushroom’s insides and pour the remaining water into the hollow cap. I offer it to the panting bird but she tilts her head away. I shrug, and drink it. Then I eat the rest of the mushroom. For good measure, I eat a second mushroom. And some kind of dried fruit, deep green. It tastes like snow witches. Sour and minty at the same time. I kind of hate the texture of fruit skin and dried pulp.

I stand from the patch of moss, dust off my cloak even though the soil is so crusted in it’s practically dyed to the threads. Skeleton Cook and I trod north, along the coast.

We discover a flock of birds. Correction; the distant crashing of waves on the cliffside gradually morphs into crashing waves and a hint of something else, higher pitched. At some point I register that the higher pitched sound is individual squawks, and that the individual squawks are part of a crying chorus, and that the crying chorus is participated in by over a hundred birds.

We discover a flock of birds, stretching from the cliffs to the tundra far to our right, squawking and crying and whistling, flapping in overlapping circles, diving towards the ocean. Skeleton Cook shakes where he stands and the second burlap sack around his skull comes loose. I glare at the fabric hanging through his shoulder and am startled when the jet bird grabs it with her beak. She lifts it free and stares at me, and I hesitantly take it. I tie it around Skeleton Cook’s eye sockets with fingers I try to convince myself are steady.

We discover a flock of nesting birds, a mottled field of white and sun-red covering the grass and rocks and moss, and we walk around them. We hardly seem to exist to them. I wonder if they come here every summer, following the pull of deep singing blood, the weight of strong bones bringing them back home, like the call of a violent disease. I wonder if they come here every summer.

We drift back to the coast, because otherwise I’m not sure we wouldn’t walk in a line forever and only trod barren land. We drift to the coast and Skeleton Cook clanks the whole way, blind as he is, but he has a jet bird in his arms to keep him company so I don’t feel the need to respond.

The sun sets slowly while my legs tire and my feet sore and a sack swings terrifyingly near-empty from my hand. The sun sets, to the sound of thundering waves perhaps lingering still with the high pitched squawking of a bird flock. How easy it would be to lose myself in a flock of squawking birds, covering the tundra like snow.