Monday, December 5, 2011

For The Birds

Harry B. Sanderford

Ray jerks his head around quickly and sees nothing but the same sad drinkers. He’s attended too many of these wakes over the last couple of years. Each time he reminds himself to begin living each day as if it were his last. Life’s so unpredictable. Just look at Miles, or Frosty before him. Nobody ever sees it coming.  Well, maybe you could see it coming for Frosty. The point is, life is short, man. Nobody on his death bed, regrets not working more. You only go around once, so stop and smell the roses. Clichés all, sure, but he means it each time. And each time, as time goes by, best intentions fade and life falls back into dull routine. It’s not so bad really, it’s comfortable. Living each day like it’s your last is exhausting. If you spent every day climbing mountains or jumping out of airplanes, you might truly wish to spend your last day in your bathrobe eating freezer pizza and watching Netflix. He whips his head back around only to see Miles’ Uncle Paul hoist his hi-ball. Ray nods and returns the salute.

Lately he’s been catching flashes in his peripheral vision, fleeting glimpses he can never catch in full, spectral shadows scuttling just out of sight. They began right after Frosty twisted his motorcycle into a mesquite stump down in old Mexico. Ray could not explain their nature; not visions exactly, but if not visionary, surely cautionary. It would be loco to speak of them, so he keeps them to himself. A sparrow (or was it a bat?) darts from the corner of his eye too fast to draw a bead on but trails in its slipstream a foreboding of gathered vultures roosting beyond the periphery.  He tosses the last inch of whisky back and slams his glass down on the bar with a resounding bang. Now, all the other heads in attendance swing around.

He has everyone’s undivided attention, so it’s as good a time as any. He wants to say something about his friend. Something uplifting he hopes, but it is not what’s in his heart.  He considers and rejects standard platitudes. He especially hates that consolation prize: At least he died doing what he loved. 

Ray had been first to find Frosty. Well not the first exactly. He couldn’t have been more than a few minutes behind when he rode up to find Frosty crumpled in a lifeless heap. The carrion birds were already on the ground, waiting for him to cool. He pulled his cell from his back pack and called Miles, told him to bring the truck. Then he pulled his pistol from the pack and shot every buzzard already on the ground and each new one drawn to the carcasses as they landed. He had to reload.

Miles drowned on a head high day at Calafia, a break he knew well and a swell that was big enough to be fun but not particularly dangerous for a surfer of Miles’ experience. Ray had been out with Miles but couldn’t save him. Even as he trieed, seagulls inched closer.

At least he died doing what he loved. There's another classic cliche for you.

Memo for Last Will & Testament:  The thing I loved most about that thing I it never killed me! After that, it’s over between me and that thing I loved. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Ray decides to wing it.

“Friends...,” he begins and then dodges abruptly to his left, swatting wildly. He does not connect with the pelican poltergeist and in missing, spins himself all the way around. The other mourners follow his antics unblinking and to their credit, with a minimum of chittering. Embarrassed but determined, he composes himself. “Our friend Miles lived life hard…” he resists the urge to drop to the ground, gripping the bar and closing his eyes until he is sure a great blue heron has found a perch behind him. “…Miles feared nothing and no one...” he soldiers on but something is not right.

The other mourners, mostly family and friends that have known him since he, Miles and Frosty were kids, are looking at him differently somehow. He feels the odd one out, they are different but the same. It is he who is alien. Their eyes, no longer damp, are red but not from crying. They are sharp now, penetrating and focused on him. Awaiting his words they cock their heads from side to side in unison and stare unblinking with those eyes, blood red now and shiny as beetles. Ray’s apprehension, once limited to avian apparitions twitching at the edges, has turned to full centered dread. Uncle Paul regards his diminished hi-ball, no longer raised in encouragement, narrows his gaze and pecks at the last cube of ice in the glass.

* image above by Terrie Boruff Yeatts
borrowed from Artmenow's Blog


Paul D. Brazill said...


Anonymous said...

Ah, man, this is cool. That last line would give Hitchcock an orgasm.

Sugar said...


Madam Z said...

Looks like poor Ray is the last man standing. But not for long. Birds of a feather peck together!

Karen from Mentor said...

I agree that it was a dark story and full of really creepy imagery, but this line made me laugh out loud:

"If you spent every day climbing mountains or jumping out of airplanes, you might truly wish to spend your last day in your bathrobe eating freezer pizza and watching Netflix."

hee hee hee

Gita Smith said...

I wrote a comment and thought I posted it correctly, but I don't see it. Hmmmmmm...

Gita Smith said...

Okay so what I said was that this is pure Harry, which is very edgy but with heart under it all. Loved the sentence "you might truly wish to spend your last day in your bathrobe eating freezer pizza and watching Netflix" to which I'd add the Home Shopping Network Jewelry Hour.
Loved it.


Well, dear BirdBrain, I recall workin' on writing this one with you for Halloween spirits risin' up with Uncle Paul's highball.

Glad you "had to reload" and let it fly, featherin' free as your psyche was intending. In that funky Birdland, you certainly got a bead on it Har. Damn good setup of how the poltergeist made his presence.

Many Sanderford phrases to dig, but I was kinda partial to avian apparitions twitching at the edges. Should your story ever be Cliff-noted, that would be the underlying theme kids got to pull their yellow highlighters out on.

Drank up the irony of Uncle Paul lowering his high ball in the farewell scene too.

Bravo Bro,
~ Absolutely*Kate

Laurita said...

Super tale, Harry. Creepy goodness, and that last line is a beauty.

David Barber said...

Excellent, Harry. Really well done and yes, a great last line.

Joe said...

Well done and Kafka-esque! There is a certain feeling of not being home in this one, a certain alienation that you know something is amiss. Excellent writing through out the piece and the last lines are killer.

Kevin Michaels said...

Have to agree with the crowd on this - the last line is a killer and eerie as hell. Great story from beginning to end with some subtle of the things that impresses me (and that I enjoy the most) in your writing is your eye for detail. From the sound of the whiskey glass on the bar to the head high surf at Calafina, you pain a strong, descriptive tale that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

You know you've just read a great story when your mouth hangs open and you're goin' "wha? what happens next? awww, mannnnnnnnn...."
I'm not gonna say how great the last line is either because everyone else already said it and I hate to repeat things like how freakin' awesome it was.
Hate that, really.

Anonymous said...

OK Har, when this makes the big time i need my cut! RW

RW said...

Great store Har!

bolton carley said...

harry - loved the same line as gita. the artwork you picked up is great, too.

the opening paragraphs were fabulous. who hasn't had the same thoughts of living life more and then slowing going back to one's old ways? so well written.

and the ending, well, dying is for the birds. great as always, harry! love your characters.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Harry, this is absolutely FANTASTIC! I agree that Hitchcock would love this one. The Birds is the all-time scariest movie (to me - I can't even stand to see more than one bird at a time), so I'm sure that added to the creepy feel for me, but even if I weren't so terrified of a flock, I would be now. Bravo!

John Wiswell said...

Got to bite and swallow that cube. Make the most of it.

Steve Green said...

Brilliant story Harry. The first paragraph is just full of truths.

The build up to the horror is very nicely paced. This is the sort of story that makes good Twilight zones.

I Really enjoyed the read.

Icy Sedgwick said...

This is wonderfully creepy in all the right places!

Harry said...

Thank you everyone for looking in and all of your nice comments!

Stephen said...

"Living each day like it’s your last is exhausting."

Man, Harry, I just love that line. It takes slams the cliche down on the ground and then stomps on its miserable head.

This is a wicked cool story, and there's so much poetry and description in the narrative that makes this thing read so easy to read. One of your finest.

Pamila Payne said...

I'm late to the party, and I fear for Ray. Really enjoyed this tale. I walked right into the story with the poor guy having no idea what I was in for. Just great all the way around.

Anonymous said...

Har, I was there with you eating the freezer pizza and watching Netflix. I liked the Heron touch.
Keep on keeping on.


Stephen said...

Hi there Harry -- I thought this was a great story. The birds pic well chosen. Loved the gradual introduction of the ghostly avian hordes.

Could possibly have done with one rogue mention of the birds in the very starting section (e.g. a bird inexplicably in amongst the congregation) as the story seems to change direction a little when gets to what our man is seeing. And wasn't sure if carrion birds would wait for a body to cool. But these are tiny things.

I loved all the details, and Ray's POV is extremely well crafted. Loved the shooting until having to reload. Great spooky menace.


PS: Chrome no longer seems to be complaining.