Eggshells. Brian crouched down and picked half a shell up between gloved fingers.
Nothing replied on the radio. Just white noise.
‘You there?’ Brian continued.
Nothing. Then, ‘Yep. Just eggshells.’
‘Yeah. As far as the eye can see. Right out over those dunes. I’m going back,’ Brian said, as his boots crunched on some more shells.
‘No, wait! Stay there. Don’t move a muscle!’
It was clear to Brian that he had stumbled upon danger. Something was either hatching or eating eggs and his shell may be the next.
The white noise returned, louder. Then, as if to compensate, a hushed voice instructed, ‘Turn the output volume dial on your headset to max. Remove the headset from your head and hold it out from your body.’
The voice was not Katherine. It was a man he did not know.
‘Hold it out in front of me?’ Brian asked, seeking clarification.
Nothing replied but the white noise.
Brian held the headset out in front of him. An ear-splitting scream emitted at once from the headset, so loud that Brian dropped the headset from between his gloved fingers onto the eggshells on the ground.
A scream, even louder than the scream emitting from the headset, pierced Brian’s ears. He held his ears in pain as the shadow of a huge bird grew larger around him.
It was a mechanical bird. It swooped. It terrorised Brian’s wide dilating eyes. As it sailed down to eat him, he closed his eyes into two sunken beads of salty water.
Katherine’s face. A meadow on a hot summer’s day. Toilet paper smeared with white shit. Why white? Then death.
Katherine looked up. ‘What? White shit. Why white?’
The man said, ‘Turn the output volume on your headset to min. Place the headset onto your head.’
Katherine reached out for the headset, pinching it between her feathery mechanical wings.
‘Oh, my children!’ she screamed instinctively, on seeing the broken shells of her ancestors.
The shell of Brian turned in her stomach. Turned, sickening. Nothing but white noise in her ears.
Turned. The virtual walls of salt corroded in her stomach, new crystals in her ears and in her eyes.