“I spent a year in Iraq, and I’ve been back in Macon almost four years; still my life lacks directional force. This isn’t what I wanted,” Alan Moshaw told himself, getting up, walking barefoot across the cool floor in the dimly lit room. He was glad the rain, pelting like stones, had stopped. Pulling back a sheer emerald green curtain and poking his finger through the dusty slats of the Venetian blind, he caught sight of sprawling clouds the October wind had set adrift, allowing moonlight to shine through the exposed branches of mimosa trees standing in the field behind his house. Nocturnal creatures usually scavenged there for food, in the safety of darkness—a domain where Alan subconsciously maintained his life. Swilling in a murky void, he called it, reliving the same types of struggles. Violence. The war, the detention center, and now prison. He was tired. But it wasn’t just the unfulfilled vista of a meaningful and harmonious life that kept him awake that Wednesday night; something grim breathed upon its countenance.
Alan raised the blind and pressed his forehead against the window pane. “Sagu!” he called. The German Shepherd that policed the property appeared and barked excitedly at him through the window. A deep hiss was exhaled into the moist outside atmosphere, but uncertain of whether or not he’d heard anything, the veteran glanced at 1:50 a.m. on the clock and returned to bed, mostly awake, until daybreak.
The next morning, there were puddles of still water in the front yard, except the one under the crabapple tree that Nubi, Alan’s five-year-old niece, stirred attentively with the tip of a red rain shoe. The tree usually produced only small, knotty fruit, but this season it had been prolific, fruit abounding!
“Hello, Uncle,” Nubi spoke to Alan as soon as he stepped outside the front door. Her father was Emmett, Alan’s older brother.
“Hello, Little Person.” He often called her that.
“Did you see me before you came out?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you come out because you saw me?”
“Yes,” Alan answered, though he hadn’t. “Why are you out so early?” He rarely saw Nubi on weekday mornings, as he usually left before the school bus came through. Sagu heard his voice and charged from the back of the house, seeking his master’s usual affectionate pleasantries.
“I wanted to look at those pretty flowers,” Nubi said, pointing to the last blossoms teeming late in the southern autumn. “What color are they?”
“What?” Nubi frowned
“Fuchsia,” Alan repeated, smiling, fully aware that fuchsia sounded strange to her.
“Oh!” Nubi raised her foot and made another splat in the puddle as Alan looked down on the top of her head. He stepped closer to the tree, snapped off a cluster of wet flowers with tiny burgundy leaves and gave them to her.
“Thank you, Uncle,” she said, touching the wispy beauties, and almost in the same breath, “Did the birds come to your house last night?” Sagu ambled around the water puddle and walked up to her; she lowered the apple blossoms for him to sniff.
“In the storm?”
“No…I didn’t see them. What birds?”
“The birds that take people away.”
“It would take a lot of them to haul me off,” Alan grinned, “but I’ll let you know—“
“One of them had a scroll in his beak.”
Alan was accustomed to Nubi’s ways, but he didn’t understand her at all. She stared, unblinking, into the eyes of a man who was no longer her uncle, but a fierce Native American warrior in a lifetime she had no knowledge of, enduring pain she couldn’t comprehend.
“Uh-huh,” Nubi nodded her head.”Sagu and I saw them; they said ‘SSSSSSSSSSSSS!’”
Alan laughed. A white SUV trundled by, on wet, slippery Seminole.
“I’m going home now,” Nubi said, starting across the yard to the gate of the chain link fence that separated the two houses. Alan went behind his house to feed Sagu. He guessed that Nubi had met him out front to tell him about the birds, as Sagu chomped his food, casting glances into the daylight view of the field.
It was 7:15 a.m. and Alan had to be at Grandon Prison in the next county by 8:00 o’clock. The corrections officer felt nothing but disdain for his job—the only thing available in the area. Having been in life and death situations with fellow combatants in Baghdad, he didn’t like being responsible for the safety and security of harsh men who felt there was no hard way to do anything, men who placed no value on the purpose of life. He backed the car from the driveway onto Seminole Road and headed east. Over a half-mile down, the SUV he’d seen, just minutes before, was turned over on one of the rolling, green kudzu-covered slopes. He slowed to a stop and parked on the opposite shoulder of the road, beyond which lay a graveyard, and rushed across to help.
Stepping carefully to get traction in soggy heaps of intertwined vines, Alan eased down to the vehicle lying flat on the passenger side, though safely bedded against the round escalation that formed the top of the next slope. He pulled doggedly at the heavy door, and when it opened, he was happy to see a stunningly beautiful lady, alive, seeming well.
“Are you alright?” He listened for the sound of the engine, but there wasn’t any.
“I’m ok. I don’t think anything’s broken,” the lady said, struggling to free herself of the seatbelt, at the same time, trying to grasp a large, red tote bag with gold, thickly enwoven hand straps. It was jammed, with other items against, the passenger-side door.
“I’ll get that for you,” Alan assured her. “ Let’s get you out first.”
Kunoi Ramsi, a retired police officer and friend of the Moshaw family, happened to be driving through, en route to International Pulp in the industrial park. He pulled up, parked behind Alan’s car and crossed over.
“How can I help?” he called from the narrow shoulder.
*** “There were vultures on the street; they flew into my windshield,” she said calmly, laboring to move upward. “And there was one among them, darker and much larger than the others.”
Kunoi eased down the slope a few feet and helped the lady get to the top, over to the safe side of Seminole. Her composure was uncanny, he thought, having seen many people upset, even hysterical, in similar one-car accidents.
“Well, they’re not here now,” Alan told her.
“I’m Amelia Naho,” the she said, remembering to introduce herself. “Thank you for rescuing me,” Slightly ruffled, she pulled strands of coffee-brown hair back from her face and extended her hand to Alan, then Kunoi.
“Look at that!” Someone shouted, pointing beyond the cluster of people that had trickled in. A venue of turkey vultures sat in the trees behind the graveyard, about two hundred of them, gazing down upon the crowd with many questions and glances, gestures and mumbles, about the accident and the queer constellation of birds. Alan stepped away casually to report his circumstances to his department’s chief officer at the prison. While he relayed the information by cell phone, the first patrol car pulled up and drove right through him as if he wasn’t there.
*** “How do we handle this, Roon?” a young Saffro asked, new to the service and anxious to get on with orders of his first annihilation.
“Let them do what they have to do,” the large Saffro answered. He had projected their images as vultures in the trees on the earth plane and was delighted with their striking carriage of carrion-eating birds. He whispered to the vultures, and, obediently, flailing wings sent a rank gust of wind into the mystified crowd.
As Alan slipped his phone into the side pocket of his jacket, he heard the terrifying hiss of the vultures he observed, unaware that it was the Saffro heralding the approach of their leader, Roon, carrying a pronouncement of his doom. “These must be the birds that Nubi asked me about,” he thought, with a flashback to last night. I should pay more attention to my brother’s child.”
“Greetings, Alan Lyle Moshaw.” Roon, now copper-bright and radiant like a new penny, flew down over his prey’s right shoulder, to the ground. When Alan moved away, Roon waddled next to his hand. “Let’s take a walk,” vanity demanded, revealing the elaborate gate on the back of his neck.
“There,” said Roon, pointing to the trees. Alan looked again, this time, seeing no vultures, but a flock of Saffro, beautifully feathered, like Roon.
“Why don’t you be yourself, buzzard?”
“We come as we are,” Roon said, mimicking charm, “with predation, simulations to draw the eye.”
“You’ll find us brash. Your kind does. However, you and this accident are advancing toward your conclusions,” Roon said, ignoring Alan’s perception of him. His presence was intensely vile.
“Who are you? What do you want from me?” Alan demanded.
“We’re the Saffro and we carry your death warrant.” With that, the nervy bird lightly pecked Alan’s right hand, not ready to break the skin.
“My what?!” Alan swung at hideous Roon’s head; the bird dodged the blow, then gracefully side-stepped to avoid being kicked.
“Your death warrant!” Roon shouted. “You people order the warrant to expedite departure from your miserable lives, then some of you reject execution!”
“I requested no death warrant!” Alan yelled. “Leave!” His eyes were fixed on Roon, but in his memory they beheld the enemy in the battle zone of Baghdad.
“Not without you,” Roon chirped. “You’ve had your long twilight.”
Alan, though chilled by the tone of the despicable bird, didn’t waver. “I’m not going any place with you! I’m seeking a better life!” The Saffro expelled a guttural his and jolted in the trees. They’d heard that worthless defense countless times before.
“Hold your positions!” Roon ordered, preventing the older, strapping birds in his legion from swooping, shredding the man with their talons and beaks, or seizing his body and dropping it to break upon the crest of some remote boulder in his terrestrial world.
“A better life? Streaming from your past, Uncle?” Roon mocked, then vomited on Alan’s hand to make it fit for consumption. The gate on his neck swung open, and the remaining Saffro drifted down from the trees to walk with them.
Alan stood still and yelled into the dark, yawning gateway, “Don’t wait for me!” He’d never experienced anything like this and didn’t know what to do, except fight, not surrender.
But you summoned us,” Roon grinned. “Come with me.”
*** “You don’t have to walk with him!” Kane—he traveled in darkness, in the Band of Light—called to Alan.
Suddenly, Roon shrieked another order; with only a rustle, vultures lifted their wings, and in one great swoop, flew up from the accident site without creating a disturbance. They ascended into a formation from which shard-like pieces of copper light fell; dark, featherless bodies merged with Roon who vehemently regurgitated a shower of heavy bile to arrest Kane’s actions. But Kane’s Light deflected the fury, and it recoiled to Roon, causing his body to become transparent. His legion, now a helix of fetuses, were visible within him just before he contorted his body and flew into the gate on his neck, vanishing as if he never was.
“I don’t understand anything that’s happened,” Alan told Kane, ecstatic over seeing him, his vision returning to the plane of the accident site. Some in the dispersing crowd looked up at the last hushed vulture wings leaving the trees. One of Latham’s wreckers was ready to leave with Amelia’s vehicle in tow.
“The Saffro make the darkness appealing and will walk with you as far as necessary to seduce you. I’ve known children who’ve encountered them.”
Alan shuddered. “Appalling.”
“They felt your pain, just as I did, but it meant one thing to me and another to the Saffro.”
“So I didn’t just stumble upon them?”
“A prolonged state of misery is a plea for the death warrant, according to the Saffro.”
“I don’t want to live like this anymore,” Alan spoke, holding back tears.
“The Light…” Kane said. “Go to the Light,” and was no longer there.
Alan closed his eyes, exhaled a deep breath. It was 8:47 a.m. by his watch. He’d already requested the rest of the day off with plans to take Amelia to attend to the affairs of her vehicle. Carrying her belongings, she went to Alan’s car; he carried the red tote containing the Unarius books she wouldn’t leave behind.
Submitted by: Naimah on 08/17/2016
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