THE TALE OF TWO VULTURES
I met a guy named Milford this morning. I was rummaging through my car for something that I had misplaced when he came up to me and asked me for money. He said he was traveling and he was hungry and needed something to eat. I only had a twenty and I don’t like to give those away to random travelers so offered to get him some food. Usually when the homeless ask for a “food” money, It’s booze that they want. So if you offer to buy them food instead of giving them cash, they politely decline and move on. Milford took my offer. He let me buy him a burger and a soda and we hung out for a few minutes.
He was a soft spoken, timid kind a guy. He liked to listen more than he liked to talk and you could tell that he always thinking. I asked him were he was traveling to and he didn’t have much to say except that he was heading back to Albuquerque. He had some family there that he hadn’t seen in years and it was time.
His only possession was a single black bag that he never put down. He opened it up and pulled out a drawing that he had done. “This is were I’m from” he said. It was a pencil drawing of some ruins in the desert. It was a beautiful illustration of broken and fragmented remnants of the past returning to the earth that composed them. And in the center of it all was a ghostly looking Native American Dancer with one hand in the air and head dress blowing in the wind.
Milford was a surprisingly talented artist. There was at least a dozen originals pencil drawings and even more copies other work that he had done. All of it was beautiful and so I asked to buy one of his copies. Most of them were pictures of Eagles and dancers and beautiful traditional scenery that you might see in a museum. But the one I liked was the ugly one that told a story. Because of it’s comical depiction of tragedy it was a picture that I could relate to.
He only wanted three dollars for it, so I gave him five and thanked him. I shook his hand, wished him luck with his travels, and then left him at the restaurant to eat.
After returning to the coffee shop I stared at the picture for while and the story just came to me. So here it is.
There really wasn’t much going on. There very rarely was. Milford had circled the area several times now and had gotten use to stillness below. He would soon find somewhere to sit and take a break and when he felt rested he would circle again.
It was the desert, not like the one in the travel magazines you might find sitting in an air-conditioned office, but this was the real desert, as in all but a little bit of the most stubborn life had long ago deserted this place. There was lots of sand, lots of rocks, lots of sun and only a little bit of shade. The shade that did exist was still hot and dry. The water here came in went fast and took long breaks in between.
Milford flew hi above all of this. He was not bothered by the emptiness and the inhospitable nature of the desert. He had his way that allowed him own place in it. It was actually in the harshness of the desert that he had found his niche. Many would frown on his way of life and turned there nose up in the air, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t need a lot to be happy and he took pride in that.
“Hey Milford ! ” came an old familiar voice from the ground.
Milford knew the voice and looked down with a grin. It was his friend Lester. They used to go out and get in trouble together when they were younger. And when it came to trouble Lester always lead the way. He’d been shot at more times than he could count. He’d been actually shot once. He’d been hit by two different cars. He’d been attacked by a dog that might of eaten him if he didn’t stink so bad, which says a lot for his smell, because dogs will roll in ****, and eat their own vomit. He was even left for dead once after getting swatted by an annoyed bobcat which knocked him out cold for over a day and a night. He was one of those guys who you couldn’t tell if he was lucky or unlucky, because, ironically. He was lucky enough to survive all his bad luck.
So Milford decided to fly down and join his old friend for some afternoon conversation.
“What the hell ‘d you find this time Lester?”
Milford landed beside him and greeted him with a couple flaps and a hop.
“Hey Milford, I think I found a great fallen warrior.”
“What makes you think He’s a warrior?”
“First of all he’s a man. And men like war. And you can tell by…”
“You like war too. And you’re a big coward”
“Yeh well that’s just because the eating is good after it‘s over.” Lester continued “Now as I was saying; Look at the hole in the top of the head. That’s probably how he died.”
“Yep” Milford said, “he’s defiantly a fallen warrior. And he’s defiantly great.”
“Why you sound so sarcastic? I’m just trying to give the dead an honorable story here”
“Yep, I see that. And if you had found’m bout fifty years ago, You’d be pecking that honor right of his face with that ugly beak a yours. Wouldn‘t you ?”
“That’s what I do best aint it.”
They both laughed
“You wanna know what I think, Lester?”
“Sure I wanna know Milford. Why the hell you think I called you down here. Instead of letting your oblivious ass fly in endless circles up there ?”
“Ok than. I think that maybe your Great Fallin Warrior probably fell off that big rock over there, split his head and crawled over here to die.”
Lester looked up at the top of the cliff behind him, then back down to the deceased.
“Ok, Maybe he did. And maybe…”
Milford finish the sentence. “ And maybe that makes him more of a dumb ass than a warrior”
“OK. but I still wanna name’m.”
“Go ahead then and then. What will you call him”
Lester stood over the skull and lowered his head to stare closely into the empty eye sockets as if searching for something. Milford was actually a little impressed. This might have been the longest he’d ever seen Lester concentrate on one thing. So he waited patiently to see what he came up with.
Finally he spoke. “But why’d he crawl over here to die?” His eyes still peering into the empty eye socket.
Milford smirked and shook his head a little. He should have known Lester would forget about the name.
“Well he would a made it farther if he could. I think.”
Lester cackled. Something about that was funny and his laugh was about five times louder that it needed to be. It was obnoxious and sometime a little scary but actually one of the reasons Milford liked him. When things seemed a little too dead out in this vast, empty waste land there was at least one interesting character to keep him company.
One good thing about Lester was that he never asked questions before he decided he liked you. He always smiled and looked optimistically at the future. He’d been rejected far more times than he could remember, not because his memory was so weak but because he really was such a weirdo. But, in spite of it all, he never stopped laughing and he never stopped enjoying life.
“You know how it works, Lester. They always try to get away. They know they’re dying and they start crawling, in hopes they can escape it. They might even be lucky enough to see your half dead lookin carcass flyin circles over their head before they go. But they never like to stay put and just wait to die. They never just look up at you and say ‘OK I‘m ready now. Come help yourself.’”
Lester looked at Milford a little disturbed.
“Wow Man. Your messed up . That’s a pretty dark view.”
Milford was a little on the dark side, but after all he was a vulture and he did eat the dead. Most of his kind were only interested in the meat that the got to collect at that certain time, shortly after death. But Milford often pondered after his meal, the life of the one had just eaten. He wondered about his own existence and his own end. And frequently enjoyed perching in the highest places and watching the living perish below him. What was it that brought the flesh to life and then left in to behind? It wasn’t tragic from his perspective as mush as it was mysterious, and in a way, beautiful. Everyone feared the inevitable end, and it made Milford wonder why. It only made sense that the old and the weak would have to make room for the young and the strong.
Milford and Lester had watched hundreds of things die It was what they did. It was what they were. They were part of the clean up crew that helped evict the dead and restore it to a place for the living.
“Remember that time we went down to eat that one fellow over there by willows.” Milford said
“What? What guy?”
Milford could see his memory was failing.
“Yeh. Lester. You were there. The guy that got stuck in the whole. He was there for five days tryin to climb out, screamin and yellin at the sky the whole time.”
Lester’s face lit up. As he remembered he stamped his feet and laughed.
“Dammit Man! Why would you remind me of that, you mean bastard.”
They both laughed now and flapped their wings.
“You…” Lester pointed his wing right at Milford’s face and shook it, “probably knew he was still alive when you told me to go check if he had died yet.”
Milford loved hearing this story every time. And bobbed his head and grinned as Lester continued.
“And you remember how he jumped back to life and grabbed me by the throat as we screamed and shook me.”
“Yep. I sure do remember that. And how could I forget the choking noise you made while you tried to yell for help.”
“Yeh I remember too how you just calmly watched that monster try to Kill me and take me with’m.”
Milford was laughing so hard his vision blurred. And he couldn’t stand up strait.
Lester was yelling now with some crazy and shocked, stupid expression. “And What did you do!? What did you do while I was stuck there in the grip of that half dead monster hoping his final breath would come before mine did, but watch the devil scream in my face and try to kill me ? I’ll remind your that you happily stayed in the air and watched, while the only friend you have was only about a second from having the life choked out of him !”
“Yeh, Well you do know how I like to watch things die.”
Lester jumped up and playfully kicked Milford and send him flapping backwards two steps.
“Yeh. that was a good time wasn’t it?” Milford said
“Yeh for you maybe. I still have nightmares about that guy.”
“Hey. How about Jettison?” Lester asked
“For a name? The warrior still needs a name.”
“That’s not a name, you idiot”
“oh.” Lester thought for a moment then replied, “Well it would be a nice name.”
Lester asked, “well what do we call him then?”
“ You can call him a verb if you want.”
Lester looked confused now.
“Averb? Why would you name’m that? It’s kinda foreign soundin aint it ? What’s the mane ’Averb’ mean anyway? ”
Milford just smiled at his gullible and mislead friend and decided it’s easier to just drop it than to correct him. So he said.
“That mane means great and strong one.”
Lester gazed back into the empty eye sockets again.
“I like it.” He said
When they had settled on the name Lester turned his head sideways and looked up at the cliff from which he might of fallen.
“How you think he fell?” Lester asked.
“Good question. Lets go check it out.”
They flew to the top of the cliff and looked down at the skull at the bottom.
“I guess this would be a long way to fall with no wings huh?” Milford said as he hung his over the edge ad peered down.
“You mean like this !” Lester gave him a hard shove from behind and sent him of the edge into a free fall. Milford spread his wings and was back on the cliffs edge in no time.
Milford grinned and said.
“Maybe his woman pushed him off just like your old girlfriend shoved you in front a that truck last summer.”
“What would you do if you didn’t have me to come laugh at once in a while?”
“I don’t know”
“And be another thing; I’ve told you before that she was not my girlfriend. She just wanted to be. But I knew better than to hook up with that crazy Bird.”
“Yeh, you did good by getting rid a her.”
“Except the part were the truck hit me.”
Yep, I thought you were dead again.”
“Well you should thing twice. If you think one truck take me out.”
“I guess so.” Milford paused, “So what did you do to deserve that anyway?”
Lester looked a little embarrassed, as he turned his head and answered out the side of his beak.
“It might a worked with one crazy bird, but then She caught me sneakin out and tryin to make eggs with her sister.”
Milford busted up laughing again. This time he laughed so hard he couldn’t even breath as he watched Lester’s head bob up and down with the same old **** eating grin he loved to wear.
“You Idiot. How are you still here?” His words broken by his shortness of breath, do to his laughter, “There’s at least a hundred different occasions were you should have been killed.”
“Just lucky I guess”
“I cant argue with that. But you know, I still think you are going to die trying to get laid, one day.”
“Well in all honesty. That wouldn’t be a bad way to go right?”
They sat up on the edge of the cliff now, side by side and enjoyed the view and the quiet breeze of the surrounding desert below. They took time to remember and enjoy the simple things in their lives. It’s too easy to miss out on things like good stories, funny memories and sharing a whole hearted laugh with an old friend. One can to easily get lost in the emptiness and the solitude of the desert. Eventually all things return to the desert, Just as the sand and the wind had buried the deceased person below and left nothing but half a skull still looking out toward the sky.
“Hey. Look at that.” Lester broke the silence. As he took flight back down toward the skull. “What the hell do we have here?”
Milford followed closely behind. When they landed Milford saw it too and simply watched, perplexed at what it might mean.
“You ever see two stink beetles copulate on an old dead guys forehead before?”
“Nope” Milford replied.
They watched curiously as the smaller male rode the female up to the peak of the sun bleached skull.
“So do you think that Averb had sex on his mind when he died? Lester asked with a smirk and a chuckle.”
Milford took a moment to reply.
“If he didn’t then, He’s certainly got some sex on his mind now”
“Yeh. He Does.”
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