Beasts that perch on the highest branch, repulsively inspecting the life below them, are the criminals. Their eyes follow every limp and notice each squabble among the young who plead for a morsel of food. Patient creatures; they allow the light to dim inside the elderly and the sick until they can strike. For generations vultures have recalled the tale of the place they hold in the tender balance of things. We must eat, they said. We must take them, they said. We must not question it, they said.
Skeletal trees dilate over the area where scraps of shrubs surface themselves through the mists of sulphur that cover the ground. My mouth overflowed with saliva as I watched some of the inhabitants limp below my feet. Then homing in on one in particular, I noticed a dressing of succulent blood covered the deep gauge on his left knee. Bacteria had already started to dwell in the area, creating a tangy taste within the flesh that I would remember well. He was close to crumbling. I became frustrated as the smell tingled my taste buds. Jagged skin was floating in the calm breeze around the joint. It was mesmerising. His fur patch worked his chest with knots that hadn’t been groomed in years. I admired him as he was unfixable. And with that, the last breath of air chilled his dry sacks then his skinny neck crashed to the ground.
I could not take any more. The odour drowned my lungs, beckoning my aching stomach. I needed it. Spreading through my veins the toxic was infecting my body, attacking at neurons. It was manipulating my thoughts. My neck urged forward allowing the aroma to support my wings, directing them down towards the carcass. The body lay like a bundled coat belonging to a beggar on the streets of Moscow in the winter with a tempting jar of coins in the left pocket. It was mine. Encircling him, I tried my hardest to aviate my wings back to the tree. I did not want to take the last part of him. Everything that he owned, everything that he was, lay limp on the floor. I did not want it. Rotted vegetation was good enough for me. I could not want it. The others stared. My father’s stomach bulged out already full from his morning meal. It came back; that viral demon that resided in the recesses of my heart. Placed there before birth, every vulture carried it around. It consumed your true self and leaves one only able to gain satisfaction by absorbing blood from the weak.
Leaving his bones on the ground I made my way back to their home. They sat waiting for me with proud smiles on their faces. It wasn’t my fault. I turned away and looked at two lion cubs playing together in the sun. They were both pushing around a knotted ball of weeds together allowing one to run around while the other played. An adult lioness basked in the sun a few feet away giving them a few glances every now and again. A hyena wandered around her and tried to get a bit closer to the cubs as they were uninterested in anyone except themselves and the ball of weeds. The hyena looked like he was about to make a run at them and I could see my father’s head veer towards them in my peripheral view. Thankfully, though, the lioness quickly caught on and ran at the hyena first, scaring it away from her cubs. My father stopped salivating momentarily and became quite irritable as he glared at the lioness.
The rest of the family started to gather, swooping down whenever they saw an opportunity. They took as much as they could without a mere thought of restraint flickering across their mind. Some decided to peck at the flesh of creatures that hung on the precipice of death till a full meal was ready. These victims carried a smell wherever they travelled that would have sickened any other animal. Vultures, however, already carry around a stench. The sunsets came sooner and the nights grew colder. Meat ceased to fester in my stomach letting the acid boil, and hunger tightened firmly around my mind. Fewer animals entered our arena. Fewer families left to eradicate.
There was nothing left. The others had feasted until they were sustained, taking what they could day after day. My stomach let out a continuous groan as though from the lesser fortunate from the previous week. Especially fragile with a slight breeze, my skin barely stuck to me anymore. We were weak. A few of the vultures had tried searching elsewhere but we had left nothing for now. Some of the vultures came back hoping for something to crawl out of the sand. Others didn’t make it back. One of the young vultures fell off a branch next to me after a sweltering day under the sun. Another young vulture flew down poking him with his beak and nibbling his feathers. It stayed still and silent on our hazardous land. He became the next feed for the rest of the family. I watched them as I stayed still.
I stayed silent.