It was Memorial Day weekend and, as such, quite crowded on the beach. They walked a ways, past sunbathers and surfers, and settled on a sparse stretch opposite some coquina rock. Then they put down towels and waxed their boards and cracked open beers.
Somebody said it would be smart to eat the sandwiches right away. Otherwise they might get sandy. So they dug in.
A seagull landed nearby and cocked its head to watch them eat. Then another landed. And another. One after the other until they were surrounded by a legion of seagulls. It was quite common to see such flocks at the beach. But they always maintained a respectable distance, so nobody thought anything of their growing numbers.
Billy unwrapped the first half of his sandwich. The chef had been generous. There was a layer of tuna three or four inches thick. He savored it. Clumps of tuna dribbled down his chin and dropped on his lap.
His friends said the sandwich stunk. The seagulls cocked their heads. One by one, they inched closer to Billy. Curious sunbathers watched from the safety of their towels.
A bird as big as a basset hound hopped over to him. It was missing a foot and had no shame. It cocked its head and assessed Billy’s size and pecked at his crotch. He shooed it away and took another bite. His friends were wrapping up their sandwiches and urged him to follow suit, but he just kept eating.
Another seagull dropped out of the sky like a feathered meteor, grabbed the second half of the tuna sandwich, and flew away. Billy jumped to his feet, cursing, and gave chase. A handful of other gulls took flight too, squawking in excitement, eager to share in the spoils. They collided midair, exploding into a white fireball that landed in the ocean.
The sight so disturbed the remaining birds that they took to the air and circled the picnickers. Neighboring parties relocated their towels to avoid the fray. Bird shit rained down on Billy and his friends so they ran away.
The flock chased Billy like an angry cloud. His lungs filled with fear and he screamed. Help me! Help me!
The birds chased him all the way to a crown of coquina rock. He turned around and ran the other way. The flock followed.
People watched and shouted for Billy to go this way or that way. Go into the water! Fight back! Drop the sandwich!
Billy weighed his options. Finish his tuna sandwich while being pursued by 20 seagulls. Or, drop it and go hungry the rest of the day. He reached the boardwalk and turned to run the hundred yards back to the coquina ridge. The birds followed.
Sunbathers stood up from their towels to watch Billy Hiller finish his tuna fish sandwich while evading the flock. One bite after another, he ate his lunch while on the run. Reached the coquina rock and ran back to the boardwalk with the squawking flock on his heels.
He tossed back the last of his sandwich and screamed victory. The birds knew the sandwich was gone and landed in defeat. They hobbled around, pecking at sand and shells and each other.
Billy Hiller ran at them with everything he had. They exploded into flight and landed again a few dozen yards away. When they settled, he chased them again. And again and again and again.
He refused to let them rest. All day long, until he was red in the face and it was time to go home.
Billy Hiller hasn’t eaten tuna fish since.