For My Faithful Newsletter Readers
Here’s an excerpt from THE DEATH OF VULTURES especially for my faithful newsletter readers. If you’re interested in reading further, you can pick up a FREE copy at InstaFreebie.com.
EXCERPT OF “THE DEATH OF VULTURES”
THE ROAD BEFORE
Life changes in a blink. Say, when, on a dusky evening, a deer leaps from the woods at the exact moment you’re passing the spot in your car. Say, you’re driving home from an interview—say, a high-level legal interview and your mind is wrapped up in detail. Boom, it happens. Deer appears. Sudden. Deadly. A coin flipping in the air, end over end, up, up, up, then back down flipping, flipping until it lands on cold, black tar jittering to a stop, until it struggles no longer.
Tails not heads. A broken back. Gasping for breath. A pin-prick. An overdose.
Change comes swiftly, like a snapping branch shorn off under the weight of heavy snow. A pelt shred on a bumper. Blood curdling on pavement.
Your car stalls. Your hand covers your mouth. You may cry inside the car for the deer lying dead on the street but, in the end, you drive off. Because, why would you stay? So, you leave the thing on the side of the road. Maybe you pump your taillights. They flash red as your nerves jump, your foot pumps tentative against the brake pedal. You expect more deer to emerge now, so, you’re skittish as you drive along the wooded way.
It’s only a few minutes later, when you ease up on the taillights and pull away. You try to wipe the scene from your mind and resume your speed hoping for a future when the memory of the dead deer isn’t a haunting. You race forward hoping for life to move along, of course, with one less deer.
Two turns toward home and the scene is no longer visible in the rearview mirror. Just then, a fawn tracks over the doe’s steps, out of the woods. It stops at her dead body on the side of the road, sniffs one leg, and bleats like a lamb might right before the slaughter. The small deer curls up in the lowest spot of the ditch near the doe, off the road but near. And it will starve to death there because it knows nothing other than its mother. With the doe, all survival instincts will die for the fawn.
You don’t suddenly awaken as a wailing, angry, distant woman. She was once a child, Meg Storm was—a child riding a tricycle, once a teen hoping to make the cheerleading squad, once a young woman working toward a degree in accounting then bagging that idea when, suddenly, she was once a mother and a wife. Not in that order.
She’d once played with Barbie dolls. Her Tootsie Roll brown curls swishing against her plump pink cheeks as she played with baby dolls, ones with miniature diapers, ones that cried “Maa maa,” while weeping real tap-water tears. A baby doll she carried around by the foot in one hand as she ran home to her mother who called her in for a grilled cheese sandwich, orange slices, and to watch Jot—the dot cartoon—on TV.
Becoming an angry, middle-aged, upper-middle class woman rang trite, rang average to Meg. Like something of the 1970’s and valium, of self-medicating, of complaints about getting a raw deal on life, being dealt a crappy hand. She longed for her dolls.
The change in her personality came on in shades of blacks marbling with whites. Then she realized one day who she was, like someone snapped their fingers—one moment she was happy. The next? Meg had fallen despondent.
Her battery was dying. And yet, there she sat gazing at Lil’s message.
With her right index finger on the cell, she scrolled back up to the beginning of the IM. How many times had she read these same words? Nearing thirty times, was it?
Each time, starting with the first sentence: My name is Lily.
Each time, ending with: See you on the flip-flop.
Each word was the same, in the same place, each time she’d read them before. To Meg, each word seemed methodically placed. But how methodical can the fuzzy mind of a heroin addict be?
The battery showed only twenty-seven percent juice available. She pushed the power button on the side of the phone with one fingernail and watched the digital display prompt her, asking if it was okay to power down. She swiped the “OK” option and closed the phone’s pink leather case with a snap. Lily had bought the case for her. She often got small gifts—plies trying to get back into Meg’s good graces. But these gifts came with a price and she wondered how Lily had earned the money. Was it on her back? Selling drugs? How? She didn’t want Lil’s god-blessed gifts. She wanted her daughter clean again. Rephrase: she had wanted her clean… all these years.
It’s funny how time runs out on people. You only get so many tries. Then sayonara, bitch. Time’s up.
The morning held a cloying heaviness in the air, mustiness dripping from every molecule. The sky was in a slow burn from a coming rainy-day sunrise. Meg noticed she’d been holding her breath. When she finally let go, when she finally breathed out, she realized the mustiness wasn’t outside her body but within her own lungs, in her heart, in her mind, and not in the kitchen where she sat now, where she often sat early mornings thinking about how her world had spun upside-down, upended, and landed on its noggin.
She tipped her head left then right in two, hard snaps. Her neck popping in each direction sent a twinge of relief that circulated across each shoulder and down into her spine.
The house was quiet now. She liked this time of day when her thoughts were all you could hear in the absence of all other sound, your thoughts, those, and the yellow climbing rosebush clinging to the window trim with its leaves and thorns gently grating the glass in rhythm with the wind.
She laid the phone onto the table. Lily sent the original message in December. This one was edited May 9th. The auto-initiate feature had resent it months before from an updated publishing of the original post, one she’d first read nearly a year ago.
Lily’s posts were a curse and a blessing. A curse because the latest posts showed Lily’s desperation. A blessing because the posts made Meg feel as though her daughter were still alive—as though Lily was whispering to her from somewhere inside the house, from a different room, perhaps the attic, or through a vent in the ceiling.
The house was warm, yet Meg shivered and tightened her cat insignia sweater close across her chest. If she’d simply thought to put on socks, she might not feel so chilly. At least she’d had sense enough to pull on a pair of sweatpants, her “gray, boring sweatpants,” as Jay would’ve said.
Her bare toes glimmered under the soft morning light in a nail-paint sparkling with flecks of silver over a lighter pink hue. It had been a whimsical choice by the pedicurist, which now seemed stupid, childish. Her knee-jerk reaction was to refuse applying the sparkly topcoat but the pedicurist, Winnie, insisted. Said it would make Meg smile when she glanced down at her feet. It never did. Meg wasn’t a whimsy-sort-of-gal. Never had been. As a young woman she was all about black slacks and tight hair, little make-up, the least accessory—diamond posts and a thin gold crucifix.
Her father once told her she was “as angry as an aneurism, and twice as deadly.” He’d said it after one particularly bitter argument. No matter now. The old man couldn’t hurt her anymore.
She tried to keep her thoughts from the old man and spoke little to him these days because, honestly, what would she say? Screw you. Die. Go to hell. What she had wanted to say to her father but couldn’t, maybe shouldn’t because her father was an invalid, incapable of walking on his own or feeding himself but who was able to communicate through the miracle of technology. Oh goody. By moving his eyes in a sequence, he could tell a computer what to type. Meg would rather he couldn’t communicate at all. At least then he might appear to be pathetic, and perhaps, lovable.
He lived with his youngest sister, Emma, who cared for him a few hours during the week, but he also paid a flood of nurses around the clock to wash his scrawny body and to wipe his bony ass. His other sister, Blythe, lived across the country in New Hampshire and “wouldn’t be bothered until he kicks off,” she’d said.
Her dad had sent the message via email which Meg had opened on her phone. He was letting her have it. He was “sick to death” of her complaining. His version of “tough love.” Because what did she have to complain about? “No one is wiping your butt or spoon-feeding gruel into your feeding bag or rolling your body over to change the bedsheets.” He finished the note by telling her that she had “become a wailing, bitter, angry woman.”
And that’s when she thought, “Screw you, old man. Die and go to hell.”
In the bathroom, the window was letting in fits and starts of sunshine due to a craggy system of clouds sweeping through the morning sky. The room held a tinge of rose oil mixed with lavender, of cleaning solution from when she disinfected the toilet, and of glass cleaner from polishing the mirror. Her face wore the age of sadness. No eye cream, no matter what the stated clinical tests promised, could ever reduce the puffiness in those eyelids. At least the extra ten pounds she’d gained from overeating after Lily died were gone. Grief is its own special diet plan.
She flexed her left arm and pressed her fingertips onto her bicep. Not bad. She’d seen flabbier. Meg sighed and shred her eyes away from the mirror. Every emotion felt strained. Every thought, exhausting.
She opened a lower-tier drawer in the vanity, pulled out a sleeve of cotton squares, and sandwiched two squares together. Next, she got out some nail polish remover and began to scrub clean her stupid toenails.
Note to self: never take advice from a pedicurist.
Meg had fallen headlong into a series of clichés…
Bad things happen to good people.
This too shall pass.
You’ll look back on this and laugh.
No. No she wouldn’t. She would never, and she envisioned the future as a place where there existed zero laughter.
And it’s funny how a memory will try to turn your opinion. Because right then she remembered laughing with Jay. They were watching Lily dance for them. “Do the ballerina pose,” he’d say, and Lily would lift her arms overhead, each fingertip touching lightly, and she’d spin. Her little tutu edging up higher with each turn until she could no longer balance herself and end up off-kilter, teetering to the point of tipping over. Lily was five then and wore a little pink ballerina costume. Five held so much promise. A sweet girl who said funny things like, “Lily no poo-poo,” when Jay and Meg would smell something sour emanating from her diapers. “Oh, yes, Lily did poo-poo,” they’d say in unison.
And her mind turned again to a time when she was laughing as a girl, playing with locust skins. Each delicate shedding reminded her of scorched egg whites, scrapings off the bottom of an overcooked frying pan. She always found the skins in a backyard tree preferring the bark of the old bottle-brush tree to slough away their previous life. Each molting was the spitting image of a locust. The shells remained intact. She wondered how they escaped their own skin and the little-girl-Meg acting out make-believe scenes on the kitchen table after which her mother would toss each locust shell into the garbage when Meg abandoned the game, with each shell ending up a throw-away.
How was it locusts were able to shed one life for another? How was it that they were able to remake their existence? And do we all become cast-offs?
But that was then.
This is now. With now offering nothing but grief for Meg.
“One thing led to another. It wasn’t like I planned it,” Meg Storm told the man sitting across the table from her. Her stomach cinched into a knot and she dropped her gaze from his face to an issue of Serial Murder: Pathways for Investigations.
The man typed something into his laptop, scrolled down the page, typed again, then said, “You don’t have many options at this point. It’s either, or…” He glanced down briefly to the screen. When he pulled his eyes up, he held them on hers, without blinking, waiting for an answer.
The hour was still early in the morning. Officers had showed up right after the owl broke through the window and killed the bat—after the face appeared through the broken glass. That was around four a.m.
Meg shifted in her seat and glanced down at her wrist at a watch that wasn’t there. She rubbed the bare spot on her arm. A light bristling of fuzz grew peach-like and so blonde you could hardly see the hair. Her skin there felt cooler under the skin on the palm of her hand. But what part of her body was she really sensing—her hand or her arm? A sudden wave of heat cloistered her. Maybe she had a fever. But, of course, she knew she didn’t. A full-on bout of nerves consumed her. She grabbed Serial Murder off the table and fanned herself with the magazine. She glanced off his face, past his right ear, and out the window behind him. The sun was crawling up the backs of three restoration homes across the street, with the sky turning a shade of orange she’d only seen in ice cream shops, with the orange melting into a popsicle blue horizon.
A jet stream from a faraway plane underlined a soft cloud that looked as though it had strayed from its cloud-family. A light breeze rocked a stand of poplars that lined the street. Their leaves cascading beneath them creating skirts of yellow on the concrete sidewalk, spilling off into the gutter, and speckling the pavement—waiting for cars to swirl them around with each passing tire.
They sat off from the kitchen in an old clapboard house she’d passed by often while driving home down Argyle from town. A rental sign faced the road. It was buried in front of the mailbox, but she had never seen the place rented. Now, she knew why. Authorities, not headquartered on the island, used the place as a false front.
Meg dragged her attention back. Her words felt like a prayer but held and emptiness as dark as the morning outside when she said, “It came on sudden, you know, the urge.” She paused, then said, “But given my faith, my understanding of right and wrong, I tried to suppress it.” She continued, “You may have heard: thoughts lead to words and words lead to action?” Her eyes dropped, and she confessed, “It was a lapse in faith.”
Finally, their eyes connected. He was squinting at her as if trying to understand but not.
She added, “Easy as dropping your keys.”
“That’s when it happened?” He asked.
“Nah. I’m more of a planner than that.”
“I planned around it, not the actual act. Good lord. Didn’t you read the reports? There are pictures, right?” She paused again, to give herself a moment, to take on a less defensive tone. Then she said, “Psychologists call it intellectualizing—trying to understand what happened. Why it happened. Learning about something. Digging. You know?”
The man didn’t answer. He was still squinting. Again, she shifted in her seat.
The sun was slow to light the sky. The assistant moved away from the kitchen counter and began to pull down mini-blinds over the windows, Meg supposed to prevent anyone from seeing inside. The assistant was a smallish sort of guy, different from the one questioning Meg. No, the man talking with her was tall—probably six-four by her estimation. But like the tall man, the smaller guy wore similar slacks and a pressed shirt. Both donned standard, authoritarian haircuts sheared close around the napes of their necks and ears, shaved in back, cut short on the sides and crown. Both had dark hair, the smaller guy’s tinged with orange hues as if each spike were taking on the color of the morning sky. If it weren’t for their size differential, they might be clones. They both wore shoulder holsters strapped to the left side of their chests. Each holster housed a black handgun. But the man sitting with Meg wore thick black-framed glasses.
“Tell me about them,” he said.
Meg’s eyes dropped. “I didn’t know them,” she paused, expecting him to ask another question and, when he did not, she added, “Just about them.”
He nodded. “That works. What exactly did you know about them?” He folded his arms and leaned back against the kitchen chair, waiting for her to respond.
“There were three,” she said. Then she glanced away at nothing much, at the wall. She added, “They were petrified.”
Also, you can listen to the broadcast I had Tuesday on Dialogue: Between the Lines, when my returning guest, Vincent Zandri joined me. Vincent is a #1 NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Click here to listen to our chat!