This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th. This is the fifth and final chapter, titled Friday.
The smell hit him before he opened his eyes. The pain in his stomach had completely taken over any rational thought. In the early morning hours the sound of flapping wings and claws on the steel of the car pulled him out of his dreams.
Or he thought they had. When he looked out the window, there was no sign of the nightmare birds. I’m going insane, a small voice inside his head repeated, I’m losing my mind.
Click click click.
With shaking hands he pulled the picture of Lisa off the night stand and looked at it. Memorizing the color of her hair (blonde), the shape of her face (a perfect oval), and the small scar under her eye from an accident when she was a child. He wanted to remember every detail in case he never saw the picture again. When he was through he stood up and made the final walk out to the kitchen. The sun seemed brighter than it had all week. The cool mornings having finally given way to some of the summer heat and humidity. The smell was stronger now. Joe looked over at the kitchen table on his way to the door.
Sunday night’s dinner sat there, still untouched. It was the last meal that he had even attempted to eat. He had pushed it to the middle of the table when he realized he wouldn’t be able to finish eating it. There it sat all week, rotting. Somehow he hadn’t noticed it since then, but he noticed it now. It buzzed with flies. Turning away from it he continued to the door. Both the smell and the sound of flapping wings were stronger now. At least he thought they were, Joe found he could no longer his thoughts.
Click click click. Taking a deep breath he opened the door and walked into the blinding light of the morning.
There was only one vulture, and maybe there had only been one all along. It sat on the trunk of the car watching Joe’s slow progress across the yard and to the drive way. Once he arrived the bird squatted down a bit and hissed, spreading his expansive wings wide. Joe did not shrink back this time, or hesitate, instead he came closer yet until the bird relented. Here, the smell was at its strongest.
Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Joe punched the three numbers and waited for someone to pick up.
“Hello, this is 911, what is your emergency?” For a split second he considered hanging up, that he was making a mistake. The birds had been an apparition, they weren’t real. None of this was. Everything was fine. He would live a long and happy life, even if he lived the rest of it alone. Nothing bad was going to happen now. All of the bad had happened in the past.
Instead he cleared his throat and gave the dispatcher his information. Without ending the call he dropped the phone on the ground. It took him a moment to get his hands to work, but he was finally able to put the key into the lock of the trunk. The familiar sound of the rustling of feathers sounded from overhead and Joe looked up at the birds, all lined up in the tree above the house, waiting, watching.
With a weary certainty he opened the trunk. He had gotten used to the smell, after all he had been smelling it all week. However, upon opening the trunk it hit him again like it was the first time. Fat black flies flew out in spurts. Inside, the shape was almost unrecognizable. Blonde hair was matted to a misshapen head. Hair that Joe knew, after all, he would know his Lisa anywhere.
In the distance the sirens sounded. The police would be here for him soon but he couldn’t look away from her. He had to remember every detail.
The sirens came closer yet.
He hadn’t meant for this to happen. He had only wanted to talk to her, to tell her not to leave, that he loved her. She didn’t understand, she wouldn’t listen to what he was saying. It wasn’t the first time they had fought and she had walked out. But it was the first time that he believed she wouldn’t come back, that it was truly over. It couldn’t be over, he loved her. He loved her so much. So he tried to make her stay. He did everything he could but in the end she only stopped when she fell. When she tried to get back up he pushed her down again, and again, and again. Finally, she did stay. Now she could never leave.
The lights were just barely visible through the trees as the police came down the street. Even then, with the sirens at their loudest as the police pulled into the driveway, Joe was able to hear the sound of the birds. He looked up and watched as they flew away. Hundreds of them, they cast a shadow over the yard as they rose into the air.
Joe raised his hands above his head as the officers instructed. They approached him cautiously, looking from him, to the trunk, to the sky where his eyes were still fixated. He made no attempt to respond to their inquiries and did not resist when they locked the handcuffs on his wrist. His eyes never left the empty sky.
The arresting officer later noted that the suspect had only made a single sound, and it was as he was placed into the back of the squad car. From deep in Joe’s throat had come a clicking sound.
Click click click.