Chapter One

GILL

Pulling out his dive just in time, Gill looked back and saw a mass of feathers fall into the ocean with a splash behind him.

"I was only feinting, Toru, couldn't you tell?" Gill called as he watched the other young gull dislodge himself from the ocean and get airborne.

"No, I couldn't," Toru said as he reached Gill, looking extremely disgruntled. "I can never tell when you're diving for real or not…you get this look, you're all concentrated…Anyway, don't do that to me again, please!"

"I won't," Gill said, but Toru knew perfectly well that Gill would do it again, at the next opportunity he got.

They wheeled higher into the air, joining the other Herring gulls. Most of the gulls were white and gray, but being about to enter their second winter, Gull and Toru still had their juvenile plumage.

"What do you think?" asked Toru. "Have you had enough of searching for fish, Gill? We could always — "

"You mean, you could always," Gill said shortly, knowing what Toru had been about to say.

Toru tilted his head. "Oh, yeah, I forgot, Gill, your parents don't like you eating human food, do they? How come?"

Gill didn't answer. He had no clue why his parents didn't want him to eat human food, when all the other young gulls did. They had told Gill everything — that it was bad for him, that it didn't taste good, that gulls weren't supposed to be scavengers — but still, Gill didn't understand why they were so against it.

"Everyone else eats human food when they get tired of searching for fish, why can't I?" he thought angrily. Going and eating the human food they found was much easier for the gulls than trying to catch fish. So why were his parents so against it?

"I guess it's one of the mysteries of life," Gill commented, but inside, he was wondering.

Why was Gill not allowed to eat human food that he found lying around? Other than that rule, his parents were pretty good about letting Gill do what he wanted to do. But that was the one rule Gill had to follow, the one thing he couldn't do.

"It's stupid, really," Gill thought. "Human food can't be that bad for gulls! Toru's eaten it, he says it tastes better than plain fish, and nothing's happened to him!"

"Hey, Mom!" Gill called as his mother, Dri, and Toru's mother flew past them. "Can I try some human food?"

He knew what the answer would be, but he just wanted to ask.

"No, you certainly may not!" his mother yelled back at him.

"Why?" Gill demanded, but either he was too far away now from his mother and she didn't hear him, or she ignored him.

"Tough luck," commented Toru. "Maybe some day she'll let you eat human food."

But Gill knew that if his mother said he couldn't now, she never would.

"I think," Gill muttered, "it's time for me to get a little taste of what I'm being forbidden."

Gill felt bad as he said this. Breaking the one rule his parents had…it was like betraying their trust. But at the same time, he felt that since it was the one thing he was prohibited to do, he would have to do it.

"Gill," said Toru, eyes wide, "you can't possibly mean what I think you mean…"

Turning his head and looking Toru straight in the eyes, Gill said, "I want to taste human food."

"Gill, I don't think you should if your parents wouldn't let you…"

Gill laughed and said, "Oh, come on, Toru! There's no need for them to ever know that I had a sample! It'll just a tiny piece! Just to see what it tastes like."

Toru looked like he was struggling internally. Then he said, "All right. I'll lead you to the best place."

They circled, climbing higher and higher in the bleak gray sky until they were tiny dots to earth-bound creatures.

Toru led Gill down to a spot on the ground where other gulls had already congregated. They were squabbling over food on the ground, pushing and shoving each other.

"They need to work on their table manners," said Gill, watching the fighting birds.

"Yeah, well, you get all sorts around here," replied Toru. He looked and said, "Wow, I don't believe it — some human's gone and left a whole meal! No wonder they're fighting so much!"

"Hey, watch it!" an angry adult seagull ordered as he shoved Gill aside.

"Sorry," Gill panted, though he didn't know what, if anything, had been his fault.

Gill wondered for a moment how his mother might react if she knew he were here around gulls with such manners as these. Then Gill wondered how she might react if she knew what he was about to do, and he felt a stab of guilt. "Too late now," he thought.

"Hey, Gill? I think I've got a good piece here…"

Gill looked and saw Toru, a short distance away, looking at something on the ground.

It didn't look much like a fish. It didn't look much like anything Gill had ever seen, much less tried to eat.

"Are you sure that's…food?" Gill asked Toru hesitantly.

Toru laughed. "Gill, come on, look, it's edible, I can eat it!" And Toru scooped part of it up into his mouth and swallowed it.

"All right," said Gill meekly, still wondering what he was doing. He moved toward the piece of food — he guessed he could call it food, if Toru had just eaten it — on the ground. His beak a few inches from it, Gill paused, still thinking this over. "Like I thought before, too late now."

Gingerly, Gill tore a piece of the food off with his beak. He tried to swallow it, but he immediately spat it out. He had never tasted anything so revolting in his life! Gill felt like he was about to choke even though the food was long gone from his mouth. The aftertaste lingered, a bitter, unpleasant taste.

Still sputtering, Gill looked up, and his heart dropped like a stone as he saw the gull there he would least have liked to be present at that moment: his mother.