There Is No Breakfast

Sydney McDonald


                “Maybe she has scurvy? Pirates get scurvy a lot. The Discovery Channel says so.” A young boy slashes a crooked branch through the air like a sword. The bark is peeling and he keeps having to wipe the splintered bits from his palm.

                “I don’t have scurvy!” His sister stomps through the forest beside him, leaves crumbling beneath her anger.

                “You might! It’s been months since we’ve seen dry land.” The boy sneaks up on an unsuspecting mushroom and spears it. He shakes his weapon to dislodge his vanquished foe, but the mushroom holds fast to the branch. He huffs and tries to peel it away with his shoe.

                “No, it has not!”

                “It’s probably scurvy.” They’re walking again, the mushroom’s corpse lying in scattered, flattened pieces behind them. Bits of it remain trapped beneath the branch’s flayed bark.

                “No, it isn’t! I don’t have scurvy!”

                “It’s too late for her, Fin. She’s too far gone.” The boy is talking to the hunched shoulders of his brother. The eldest of the children doesn’t look back at his younger siblings.

                “Stop it!” The girl stomps her foot against the ground. Her heel hits a small rock half-hidden beneath the rust-red leaves of early autumn. It stings. She stomps her foot again, partially because she is still very angry and partially because it distracts her from the way her ribs feel too small for her lungs.

                “We’ll have to throw her overboard. It’s the only way.”

                “Shut up, shut up, shut up! We’re not at sea and I don’t have scurvy and you’re not a pirate!”

                “Fin! She’s not playing the game right!”

                “There is no game!” For a moment, the boy is in the forest, feet crunching over the decay of fall. Cool, dry air nips at his nose and cheeks, and dead bark is stuck beneath his fingernails. His throat feels like sandpaper and his eyes are red. Faintly, he thinks he smells smoke. And then he’s back on a grand ship, where the air is thick with salt and there are no trees to leave their bits of rot beneath his feet and fingernails.

                “You’re right. It’s not a game. Scurvy is very serious.”

                “Fin!” The ankles of her pants are wet from walking through a creek. There’s a bit of soot below her right eye that she’d missed when she’d scrubbed her face with the water. Her eldest brother looks at her and his face is blank, like someone has opened him up and scooped out all of the important bits of him and stitched him back up empty. It would be better if he had started screaming at her.

                “Orren, stop. She doesn’t have scurvy.” The younger boy sticks his tongue out at his sister, but doesn’t tell her she’s sick again.

                “Fin, where are we going?” They’ve been walking for a very long time now and the girl’s legs are tired.

                “On an adventure! Arg!” Her youngest brother brandishes his branch with renewed vigour. He’s grinning at her, but it fits his face wrong.  

“On an adventure.” Her eldest brother says, and his voice is like the static of the old, boxy television that sits—sat—on the broken freezer in the basement. She starts crying and she doesn’t know why.

                “But where?” When they’d first left home, she had been fuzzy and cold and somewhere not quite in her body. But she’s back now and she can’t figure out how to leave again.

                “It’s a surprise.” Her brother won’t look at her anymore.

                “You don’t know.” Her eldest brother doesn’t answer her, and her youngest is at war with the ferns around their legs. “We’re lost.”

                “We’re not lost.”

                “Then where are we going?”

                “Maybe that’s the adventure.”

                “Well, I don’t want to go on an adventure. I want to go home!” Both of her brothers are looking at her now. The sun is starting to fall, collapsing quietly beneath the distant ridges of mountains. There are shadows stretching across the forest and she swears they have limbs. Her youngest brother is crying now, too. There is blood seeping from his palm where he’s gripped the branch too tightly and its uneven edges have cut into his skin.

                He turns away from her and resumes slashing at the ferns. “Pirates have no home. Just the open sea and an adventure!”

                There’s something ugly simmering below the blankness in her eldest brother’s face. He doesn’t say anything to her, but she hears the accusation all the same. She wants to tell him that it had been an accident; that she hadn’t meant to. But she’s worried that saying anything at all will make that ugliness erupt to the surface. Their father is—was?—just like that.

                So, she doesn’t say a word, and they keep walking, and the shadows keep growing and growing and growing—until all the light on the ground has been eaten up and even the sun itself has been swallowed up by the starless sky.



Sydney McDonald grew up in Bridgeport, West Virginia. She is a senior at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she is majoring in biochemistry and minoring in English. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in oceanography. She has loved reading and creative writing since she was in elementary school (her skills have improved since then, fortunately), and has found that it provides a wonderful complement to her STEM courses.