Petrel

The day before that the tide had been higher than they had ever seen. They watched from the stone wall as people prepared canoes and sails. Then that morning the news reports said 26 pilot whales had beached themselves just a few miles away. People came to help but were told to go away, and they came back again with sandwiches they prepared for the coastguards and marine specialists.

The storm began during the night soon after that and kept going the whole of the next day. By the time they got back to the beach the starfish collectors had been and there were just pointed marks left in the sand.  You couldn’t see the sand at first – it looked like the whole seabed had been ripped up onto the beach.

There was a smell like warm plastic, a salty sweet smell in your mouth. The seaweed had been dragged up by its roots, and lay in glistening black and brown mountains. Weaved into it and around it on the sand were dead black and white seabirds, some of them stuck into the sand halfway by their beaks like speckled storm totems. Then ripped branches from the forests nearby and a whole fir tree, luminous pale green against all the monochrome. Plastic bottles and glass and pieces of twisted metal and some salt-rusted machinery parts. Nobody was there at all that day, the sky was completely without colour and they walked between the mounds, curious about seeing the birds and trying to find a starfish left behind.