One by one the children gathered. First to arrive, as usual, were the smallest choir boys. Since their boat had gone down mid-estuary and they had washed up on the island, these boys had been known as the litt’listers, because many had seen so few birds at all, and had no idea how to cope.
Then the big’listers came to the clearing. Among them there was Jack, former choir leader, now leader of the spotter-hunters. Sam’n’Eric, the twins who could never stop arguing on identification with anyone and everyone, who ran to the front and sat squarely beside Ralph, whom all had voted Chief of their new Society not long after the sinking.
Piggy held the conch aloft. “I’ve got what we’ve called the shell-sea. Remember, a shell-sea means it’s all about me. You have to listen.” He knew the rules. Anyone who took the shell-sea had to then be gazed upon with awe by their peers.
“Now I know things ain’t been good. What with the litt’listers running about after Jack trying to tick allsorts, leaving the signal fire to go out. I know we’ve been arguing. But it has to stop now.”
Jack stared at him. “This is about my challenges, isn’t it?”
Piggy, looking away from Jack, blurted “Shell-sea! shell-sea! this is all about me! You have to wait to speak, them’s the rules.” He looked over to Ralph for agreement, who nodded in return. “Yes, of course this is about your silly challenges. You challenge everyfink here. We should be concentrating on how to get back to the main stream but you see foreign beasts everywhere, and want us hunting ‘em out and splitting ‘em up.” Only now did Piggy turn to face Jack full on. “It ain’t right for litt’listers. Making up beasts, everywhere. It just ain’t right.”
Sam’n’Eric jumped up and,in unison, cried “we wanna take a shell-sea!”
“If it weren’t fer Jack..” Sam started, “We wouldn’t have Acadian Harrier on our lists” Eric finished.
“And if it wasn’t fer Jack..” Eric continued, “We wouldn’t have Pallid Flycatcher on our lists either” Sam finished.
Piggy put a hand back on the conch. “It. Ain’t. Right.”
Piggy was clearly shaking now, but would not let go, and would not keep quiet. “We should be building shelters ‘n’ finding food ‘n’ keeping the signal fire burning ‘n’ behaving like we was in school learning surveys than running off after Europey Dunnocks and Europey Great Tits and everyfink else Europey you’ve added since we washed up here. We’ve been castaways on the island for seven hours now and already your list of bird-beasts is 417.”
Sam’n’Eric started back at Piggy, fifteen to the dozen, both blurting out new different criteria for new different beasts at the same time so that it was impossible to argue with them. Jack walked up behind and reached over the twins to clasp the shell-sea, ripping it away from all three. Holding it aloft, he paused, then spoke calmly but firmly.
“I’m taking a shell-sea now. Pay attention to me, no-one else. This island is overrun with beasts. We must identify them. All of them. If we spend time making a model Society, we will do no birding.”
Without a word further, he turned and strode to the tideline where he reached down to reclaim something he knew there for just such a moment. It was some sort of large beast's head, covered in flies. He held it aloft in front of him, so all could see it.
“You know me, I am conservative in my birding. So when I find a dead head like this, I treat it like any conservative birder would, and I poor all over it. So I can say, confidently, this IS a beast of continental origin. By smell alone, Danish. This is what I do! Would you rather do this, or count redshanks?”
The litt’listers erupted. Throwing the head at Piggy’s feet, Jack shouted “And you don’t need your glasses no more! You don’t use ‘em properly! I’m taking ‘em!” Piggy squealed, but no-one helped him; Jack ripped the opera glasses from around his neck. There was more whooping and hollering from the mob.
Ralph, who like any good leader had done absolutely nothing up to now, felt it time to run.
Off through the spartina, dropping into runnels, squelching though black sand and mud, soaking from the damp, Ralph ran and ran and ran. Behind him Jack’s mob of splitters whooped and screamed, and to Ralph sounded to be getting closer all the time.
Clambering over rotted boats, racing along stony shores, Ralph ran and ran until he slammed into the legs of.. a man. Looking up he could see the figure was in uniform. Admittedly a convict’s uniform, but a uniform nonetheless. And there was a dog collar(!) Civilisation(!)
The splitters then came upon them, and their cries died away.
The priest looked at the crowd, then down at Ralph doubtfully for a moment, and said “Well? Anything about?”.
Squirming a little, conscious of appearance, Ralph answered shyly. “Ummm, a Pallid Flycatcher and a Acadian Harrier sir.”
At which Piggy, who had just caught up to the back of teh mob, let out a long, long sigh that took a long. long time to die.
“I should have thought,” said the Priest, “I really should have thought that a pack of British boys- you’re all British aren’t you?- would have been able to put up a much better showing than that. Consider your statement again more carefully. Was it a Mealy Pallid Flycatcher or a Snowy Pallid Flycatcher?”
Piggy looked at him dumbly. The tears began to flow and the sobs shook him.
The emotion spread to all the other little boys too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Piggy now wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans’ lists, and the fall from purity listing of his once-friend called Ralph.
The man spoke a final time. “Look boys, I've no time for this. I’d left a severed Pig’s head I’d found over on that tideline yonder for sustenance tonight. Have any of you seen it? You, you at the back, that's it- give it here(!)"