The day had begun oh so very languid, even for a vulture. The golden egg was nesting at its perch in the sky, but the barbecue plumes rising from the feeding zone were playing havoc with any upthrusts the egg might be engendering. The clouds seemed to be all upside down, originating from the landing strip rather than just above their heads. While grey and black leaves were floating up to their heads and emanating heat. None of the wake had left their roosts and half of them hadn't bothered opening their eyes and unblinkering them from beneath their wing. Without sight, a vulture is blind. But although there was nothing to see down there for now, it didn't take their colony's human familiar to whisper in their ear about the whereabouts of a fine banquet large enough to feed them all. They were used to fires burning the ground. It seemed to usher in the greening of the earth, which drew the animals which meant they would not go hungry. But these particular fires promised more instantaneous victuals. The ones that usually stood tall like shrunken trees, but were forever shaking their branches and emitting fire. The larger versions of their own familiar and he seemed particularly excited this morning. They all knew they just had to wait for propitious winds. The food wasn't going anywhere, unless the hyenas got wind of it. Curse them and their scent senses so close to the dust.
* * *
The human familiar seemed to be in capricious mood today, for he whispered the rendezvous in the ear of his very own mate. Dutifully she took to the air, her petite wings forking a wondrous flabelliform in order to harvest the air. Beady eyes up and down the branches crept open like sprouting buds, tracing her elegantly soaring spirals. Fanning salivary impatience in each of them. The familiar was dismissed with a promise of propitiation, as each in the squadron took to the wing and felt the warm wafts cradle their undercarriages. Convinced of the inertness at ground zero, the she Scout initiated her spiral earthwards. She landed just a talon's stretch away from the repast. Fresh if a bit smoked by the look of it. She hopped demurely on to the man shank. It was for show really, since she knew she would have to defer to those accustomed to High table and await her place in the pecking order. Even being the lead in taking her place couldn't afford her the first slice. Her beak wasn't vigorous enough to make the cardinal sawing cut. This offering didn't seem to gape any ready mouthfuls. Basic rations it would be then.
For as fast as the rest of the clump descended, they were still outwinged by a crack battery of lappet faces. How ridiculous they looked with their dangling skin flaps. If they weren't so belligerent in pulling rank and preventing their smaller cousins from dining alongside them, such pendulous bonnets might be mistaken for a tasty pink morsel on offer during the frenzy. His mate duly hopped back off her mounting and stood aside as the lappets set to work with their slash and gash. There was nothing for it but to wait in sufferance for some graciously neglected tidbits. That is where their smaller beaks would reward them, since the so called elite forces for all their heavy ordnance, couldn't finesse their dragooning. Still required the lighter infantry to go in and tidy up afterwards.
Now they were joined on the sidelines by the ossifrages. These weaklings could be shooed around easily enough, but as they tended to incline their scrawny necks after the canned stuff - to the point where they were known to fly off and drop the indigestibles from a great height to splinter them open - the two groups weren't really competing for the same pickings at all. The odd one from the combined corps made a show of pecking towards the fare, but the lappets weren't bucking any insubordination and hissed and growled them away with an eclipsing span of their wings. The forbearers would just have to await the signal. When the lappets stood down, pissed themselves clean and sat back to bask the blood on their crowns dry.
His mate had taken it upon herself to daub herself in soil. Smirching her beautiful white feathers towards a dirty pink. Was she attempting to mimic a lappet's apron perhaps? Camouflaging herself for a daring raid. But as she lifted a wing in order to anti-preen herself, the human familiar could once again be descried insinuating into her cocked ear. She began to pad away from the margins of the spread and over to some bushes. He crooked a crafty glance around and saw everybody else's attention was fixed one way or another on the dismantling in the open. Then he followed his mate. The pair of them awkwardly picked their way through the buffeting thorns and bowers, that up in the sky would normally present them such comfort. And there it was. A special table reserved just for the two of them. More modest in size than the communal trough, but that ought to mean softer meat for carving. Thank familiar it didn't seem to have been cooked in any way, so much more pleasant on the palate that way. A veritable raw treat.
The pair of them approached the buffet. The eyes were pointing upward, but had the telltale lack of reflected blue sky and gold egg in them. He loved to start with the eyes, such a delicacy for hors d'oeuvres. The orbs rolled back to the corner of their sockets. Both birds jumped back startled and were immediately rebuked by barbs. They stood in place, staring very hard, trying to pierce for immobility. He silently cursed the human familiar who was nowhere to be seen. His wife was more daring. She waddled up towards the heap and he could see her hanging feathers begin to congeal with the red marinade issuing from it. That in itself was a good portent. She hosed herself down even as she continued walking. She circled around its smaller protuberance, avoiding the eyes, until she was poised at its apex. Then she gradually unkinked the crook of her neck as she elongated it over its head and bent her crest so that her eyes were directly over those of the esculent.
And there she stayed imperturbably frozen. He kept looking back to see that none of the others had caught on to their find, that's indeed if find it turned out to be. But they were either engaged in feeding or peevish biding. He returned his gaze to his mate. Still she perched ineffably still, craned out at full extension. Not one feather ruffled by any tension in her neck. If he himself were currently soaring on the gyres, he might look down and see her so transfixed, as to conceive her to be a ready meal as much as the lump she was verifying. The sauce had reached his legs now. He raised one then the other as he was void of urine. He chanced to look up at the sky. The gold egg had also shifted on its foot across the azure. His wife must be near a definitive course of action by now? Here she goes. Unfurling her wings like a shroud. Like an lure reserved just for him. She didn't jump back when brunch's eye rolled forward to meet hers. She merely contented herself with holding its cloudy gaze.
"Are you an angel?" thought the boy to himself. He couldn't smile for all the blood in his mouth suctioning his lips shut. "You've got dirty wings. Is the path through the clouds up to heaven covered in dust? The same dust as lies here on the earth? At least it can't be lined with garbage like here... Is it a ladder? Or a tunnel? Oh my god! It is a tunnel and it's straight into Hell isn't it? Conducted through your dark eye. That's the exit from this earth. My god forgive me!"
His eye fell back into the recesses of its socket. The levee of his lips burst asunder as the blood surged out. His mate hopped back a pace. He ventured to join her behind the head. They watched the blood tide ebb, at which point she dipped her crown and delicately pulled back the wormy upper lip. An open invitation for him to bring his beak to bear and tuck in. The human familiar walked away, cupping something unseen in his arms.
This story taken from my first flash fiction collection