November 8, 2018
Deadline is Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 00:01 AM MDT
Birds of prey
Pause to catch your breath
Church bells at 2 am
The Bell Tower
I bent low, holding onto the side of dear old Bob Brandle’s gravestone as I paused to catch my breath, damning the years I’d spent polishing the silver in the vestry instead of keeping myself in the good shape I’d held when only a mere choir boy. Oh, those happy moments with the pastor in the pulpit on a cold, winter evening, warming our posteriors with the help of the small, hot, rusting radiator installed to keep his Holy toes from freezing during a frosty sermon.
The church bells rang again, breaking my recollection. Who would be ringing them at 2 am? Being the sexton and verger of my small parish church, it was my responsibility to find out who the culprit was. No one except Pratchett rang those bells, and as far as I knew, he was in hospital with an inguinal hernia.
I fumbled through my keys and opened the thick wooden door which led to the bell tower. A whiff of smelly cheese flew by my nose as I saw a pair of feet fly up into the air. There was a small man pulling on the bell rope, without success. He’d grabbed it too high and was going up and down with each clang of the bell.
“Archibald Scratch?” asked the man between rings as he rode the rope up and down, his voice being lost in the gables.
“Yes! Get down from there! How dare you ring the bells! And at this time! You’ll wake the whole parish!” I grabbed hold of the end of the bell rope, and helped slow its momentum until the man was almost back on solid ground and the bells had stopped ringing.
“Are you Archibald Scratch of 27 Bottoms Avenue, Worthington-on-the-Wold?”
I had a hold of his trousers and finally the rope stopped. “Yes, yes, I am.”
With a hop, skip and jump, the small man let go of the rope, grabbed my hand and placed what looked like a letter into my palm.
“We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror,” quoted the man. “Angelo, Act 2 scene 1 Measure for Measure.”
“What? What is the meaning of this? Why are you here? How dare you…!” I looked at the letter.
“This…” He pointed to the letter. “…is a summons for non-payment of the annual subscription of Tickle Me Pink, Clergy Edition, and you have been summoned to appear in court at the end of the month. Good day to you, sir.” With that, the small man picked up a grey Fedora resting on the cushioned seat in the corner and left by the door.
Under the Sun
It was two in the morning before the rain subsided in the rural town of Hicksburg Texas and a dampened silence settled in. Ande, a turkey vulture, was roosting with his committee in the belfry of the abandoned church. He ruffled his feathers and stared at the town. He couldn’t sleep for the pain of his empty stomach. None of them had had a decent meal for some time and Ande was noticing tempers were short. Gryph and Sarco nearly killed each other over a dead mouse Sarco had found at the dump. Sarco won, but died shortly thereafter; the mouse was tainted with rat poison. There was a lot of that going around. Ande’s committee was dwindling.
A noise came up inside the bell tower. Ande stared down the staircase intently. Out of the darkness, a fox came flying up at Ande. Andy leapt into the air and banged his head on the bell. “BONG.” The sound echoed through the sleepy community; lights came on in nearby houses. The fox turned to one of Ande’s friends. But the whole committee was awake now and they all burst into the air, floundering to avoid the desperate marauder. It was chaos as they all tried to escape through the confined exit around the bell. “Bong, Bong, Bong.” the bell resounded.
A man ran out of his house with a shotgun, “Shut the hell up, you stinkin’ buzzards!” “BLAM! BLAM!” Two of Ande’s friends fell to the ground. The rest of them fled into the dark of night and tried to find a perch in the trees as the fox dragged his catch back down inside the belfry.
In the morning, Ande awoke shivering. The bell tower was warmer than the trees. Before he could complain, a scent grabbed his attention. Its allure was a summons he could not ignore. He impulsively launched into the air. Dang! There weren’t any rising air currents this early. He had to flap his wings to gain altitude and that used a lot of precious calories. Circling around and around, Ande homed in on the odor’s source.“There, that has to be it!” He swooped over the thing. “What the heck?!” He landed and walked over to it. “What’s this?” He pecked it. “BLECH!” It was liquefied cheese. Even still, he was so hungry he tried to swallow a bite, but it was too runny. Exasperated, he launched back into the air, flapped his way higher and started a new search.
As the sun rose higher, air currents formed. Ande circled effortlessly for hours and hours until he spied a kettle of his kind. They had found a dead cow. In spite of the crowd, Ande was determined to get a share. Landing near the fray, he dove right in and began pushing and shoving. No one was giving in easily and it became ugly as desperate, screaming, associates turned on each other; no holds barred. Ande forced himself inside the carcass where others couldn’t get to him; he ate as fast as he could. Every so often he had to stop eating to stick his head out and catch his breath.
Gorged to the limit, Ande waddled away from the carcass and sat on the ground, too heavy to fly. Finally, he had his fill! Oh, it felt so good, so wonderfully good to have food in his stomach. Feeling sluggish and lethargic, he decided to sit awhile and digest. Ande settled into a comfy stupor and nearly fell asleep.
After about thirty minutes, a pick-up truck came careening down the road, a man jumped out with a rifle and commenced to shoot at the birds. “You sons of bitches killed my cow! You nasty, disease-ridden, foul, nasty, scumbags.” “Blam! Blam! Blam! Everyone launched into the air trying to get away. “Crap!” Ande thought, as he tried to run and flap his wings, but he was too heavy. He stopped, looked at the man, and with a huge effort, he vomited the entire contents of his stomach onto the ground. If the man stopped to eat that, Ande might have time to get away. Ande turned, launched, and flapped his wings with abandon! “Dang it!” He had been so close. Fed up and Furious, he shouted, “Ya know what? I’m just gonna kill something!” Catching a warm updraft, Ande returned to cruising altitude and began to glide.
He’d been soaring about an hour before he spied a live rabbit along the highway. With determination, Ande circled around so the rabbit was between him and the highway and he swooped at it. The rabbit panicked and ran into the road where it was immediately run over. Ande chuckled to himself as he looked around. No one else saw it … yet.
He hurried around and landed in the road, but another car came hurdling along. Ande flew off, but came right back. The car had run over the dead rabbit. “Come on!” he yelled in disbelief. Another car came along. Ande retreated again as that car also ran over the rabbit. “Again?!” Another car, and another car, and then another; they all ran over the rabbit as well. Finally there was a lull in the traffic. Ande crept back out and tried to grab a bite, but the rabbit was pressed so flat onto the road Ande had to pull and tug, but it wouldn’t come up.
A couple of Ande’s friends landed on the side of the road and laughed at him as he struggled. Ande ignored them and kept struggling until he had the rabbit’s leg loose from the pavement, but it was still attached to the rabbit. He started gnawing at the joint. One of the two friends was watching for cars. “Ande, get out of the road; a car’s coming.” Ande ignored him. He almost had … “Fomp!” Ande was smooshed.
The two friends recoiled in shock. Quickly, they rushed over to Ande’s limp body, grabbed it, and dragged it out of the road.
One looked the other, “Well?” The other shrugged his shoulders and responded, “Waste not, want not.”
They stared at Ande’s remains a few seconds then they both began to rip his warm carcass to pieces while cars whipped past, bumping over the rabbit, and disappearing down the road.