Turkey Vultures

Emily heard the heavy thud out on the deck, quickly followed by a second, and she hurried to the French doors to look out. Her hand rising to her throat, she took a step back at the sight of the two turkey vultures squatting on opposite rails of the deck, their red heads sunk down between their shoulders as they stared at the door.

Thomas meowed at her feet and stretched his paws against the glass.

“Look at those nasty things,” Emily said. “Something must be dead close by.”

She hated this house. With its long winding driveway, it was built deep in the woods that drew closer around it every year. Colin liked what he called “the serenity”, the wildlife that came right up to the door: the deer, the foxes, the squirrels and chipmunks. The lack of crime.

Emily grew up in the city. The pigeons in Washington Square had always been enough nature for her, but she understood Colin’s logic. After all, she had been mugged right in front of their city townhouse. She hadn’t been hurt, but Colin was upset.

“My God, Em, we aren’t safe by our own home!”

“But this could have happened anywhere,” she said.

After she gave birth to Hannah then Will, Colin said it was time they moved out of the city because kids needed open space. “The schools are much better. We can go public or private. We’ll buy a house close to the train, so you can go in town whenever you want,” he said.

“But my job. It’s just so inconvenient to drive in and out.” Emily loved working for the food bank. True, it didn’t pay much, but she felt productive writing grant proposals. When she needed to work from home, it wasn’t a problem, and nobody cared if she brought the kids in with her.

“Darling, you don’t need to work,” Colin said. “When the kids get older, then you can go back full time. If you’re bored, volunteer at school. Get to know the other moms around here.”

But there were no other moms because their house sat alone down this long driveway on three acres of ground that bordered the park. The women in their neighborhood worked. It wasn’t a development, so there were no children.

When the time came, they chose a well-known private school for the kids, and Emily dutifully volunteered for as many events as she could manage, but she never quite felt that she belonged. Her comfortable jeans and tee shirts seemed too casual, but she never seemed to find the right sort of things, even when she shopped at the same stores as the other moms. When there was a project or a committee forming, the women were quick to call her, but afterward Emily found herself alone.

“You’re not trying hard enough,” Colin said. “We go to these school parties, and you talk about things that don’t interest them. No one cares about the food bank. You should take up tennis or golf. Join a book club.”

Emily did what Colin suggested and made a few friends, but she always felt as though she were wearing a mask. As the years passed she thought she was becoming a different Emily and supposed that was a good thing. She threw birthday and holiday parties, and after a while began to get lunch invitations on a regular basis. Maybe Colin was right. She just needed to change her attitude to become a brittle, social Emily.

Still, sometimes like today, she’d catch herself dreaming of sidewalks crowded with people, the little boutiques and cafes, the museums.

From far off, Emily heard a bang and remembered they were shooting deer in the park because the population was getting out of control. A three-day campaign had started yesterday. The shot startled the turkey vultures, and they took off in a flurry of wings.

She shivered, but went back to tidying the house. She finished four loads of wash, popped a chicken into the oven, and figured it was time to get the mail.

When she opened the front door, another bang startled her, and she stood staring towards the park. Colin said the deer were destructive; there were far too many of them, and the herd needed thinning.

“Whenever you think how pretty they are, remember deer ticks,” he always said. “Nasty buggers they are.”

Colin tested positive for Lyme Disease last summer. Now he warned everyone about the dangers of deer ticks.

A deer scrambled across the driveway, followed by a second and third. Goodness, there was a whole herd. They disappeared down the small hill on the right. Emily waited until they disappeared before she headed up to the box.

A last deer crashed the through the trees, stumbled, and landed almost at Emily’s feet. The deer’s sides heaved for a moment before she gave a great shudder. She gazed up at Emily with unseeing dark eyes.

Blood begin to spread around the deer’s body.

Two men dressed in dark clothing with orange caps and vests came through the woods. “Sorry ma’am,” one said. “This one was wounded. She was a runner though. We’ll get her out of here right away.”

“She’s on my property! I have children! Someone might have been killed!”

“No, ma’am,” said the first man. “She was shot in the park and took off.”

“It’s horrible. Horrible.”

“Sorry you had to see this, ma’am,” the second man said.

The men hefted the deer and headed back through the woods, their orange-capped heads sinking down between their shoulders as they bore her weight. The deer’s head tipped back, and Emily stared into her lifeless eyes. The deer seemed to whisper to her.

There is no escape.

Behind Emily, the big house loomed, dark and silent. Below, Colin’s Volvo turned up the hill, and the children tuck their heads out the windows of the car, arms flapping.

They’re coming to pick my bones, Emily thought.




The Champion

They hanged Rudy in the morning. Strung him up and took turns shooting at him long after he was dead.  Poor Rudy was too sick to care; he barely whimpered when they dragged him out to the big old tree by the dried up well and put the rope around his neck. They dumped his body in the well.

At least he was free.

Jack moved slowly over to the edge of the cell and put his mouth against the corner. It rained last night and a trickle of water continued to drip into the dark box. With the downpour last night, they’d gotten a kind of reprieve when the water poured through a crack in the cement and they were able to satisfy their terrible thirst. He didn’t know if it was a mercy or not. In the end, they were all going to the same place.

A few of the smaller ones looked like they’d only last a day or two more at best. Flies settled on them, and they were too weak to knock them off. They labored to breathe. Jack nudged one over to the corner to drink some of the healing water. He should have let him go, but it wasn’t in Jack’s nature.

That’s what made him a champion for so long, but even champions wore out eventually. He couldn’t last much longer. His bones ached and his empty belly rumbled. Sores covered his body.

He heard footsteps and drunken laughter. “Let’s get the big bastard.”

“I don’t know. He’s still got some fight in him.“

“Don’t worry. How much fight could have left? Anyway, it’ll make it more fun. That last one went too easy.”

“Idiot. He’s got teeth.”

“So what?”

The voices came closer, and Jack moved to the back of the cell. They wouldn’t get him without a fight.

He hated the men, especially the short, skinny one with the black hair. He smelled like blood and evil.

For a while he used to dream of breaking free, of running away, and no one would catch him. He’d be Lord Jackson again, the king of the track, fastest of the fast.

A rumbling sound in the distance made Jack’s ears prick up. A storm rolling in, maybe? At least the others would have another day of water.

“Oh shit!” The men stopped coming and started to run.

Cars came roaring into the compound, and voices shouted. When the cell door opened, Jack’s body trembled, and he felt himself fall.

Two women and a man came inside. “Oh God,” the one woman said. “It’s worse than I thought. Look at them, Marcia.”

The second woman was already picking up Daisy and brushing away the flies, “Poor baby, we’ll take care of you.” Daisy tried to raise her head. “Shh, girl. We’re here to help.”

The man approached Jack. “Hey, big fella,” he said softy. “Look at you. I won’t hurt you.”

Jack wanted to bite this human, but he had no strength. The man ran his hand down Jack’s side. “You’ve been here a while haven’t you?” He waited for the man to hit him, but he continued to pet him, his hands gentle. He pulled something out of his pocket a black rubbery thing that attached to his ears and had a silver bottom. He placed it against Jack’s chest. After a minute he looked up.

“How’re the others, Lisa?”

“Bad. Two are barely alive; this one is a little better. How’s the big guy?”

“I think he’ll be okay. He’s dehydrated and starving, but he’s a strong. I bet he was something in his day.”

“They all were once. All these beautiful dogs.”

Jack felt the man’s arms slide around him. “Okay, fella, I’m gonna pick you up and carry you to our ambulance. We’ll get some fluids and antibiotics in you, and you’ll feel a lot better.”

Jack whimpered in terror when the man wrapped him in something soft and lifted him, but the man was gentle as if he knew where all the cuts and sores were.

Blinking in the bright sunlight, Jack saw police cars and strange looking trucks. He saw other humans carrying greyhounds out of their cells and taking them to the trucks. Two men in uniforms stood with a third man by the well and stared down into it, their faces angry, but Jack didn’t see the men who killed his friends.

The man cradled his head against his chest so he couldn’t turn it.

The man said, “It’s okay, big guy. You’re safe now. No one will hurt you again.”

Jack wanted to tell the man he once was a champion, but he thought maybe the man already knew.


31 and Still Going

I just finished the Story a Day Challenge, which was to write one story every day in May. I am not a short story writer by nature, but thought why not? I have to say it was terrific to have to come with a story every day. Sometimes I followed the prompts; sometimes I didn’t. The important thing, however, was every day I was writing.

That’s the key to it. Writers have to write. No excuses. I’ve stopped wandering around the internet when an idea doesn’t come right away and switched over to something else. A scene that’s not working in a longer piece often makes a good short story. Not saying I’ve solved the mystery of writing by any means, but this has been an eye-opening experience.

I’ve also started to take trips around other blog sites to read other writers and am so amazed by the quality of your writing. I’m learning to appreciate genres I never liked before.

I’m still churning out stories, some of which I’ll post, but not every day. Just wanted to say to all the writers out there–published, unpublished, pros and beginners–best of luck and keep on writing.