I'd written about vultures before. In a shameless moment of self-promotion, I'd like to share the opening section of UNCHARTED TERRITORY, the second Mad Max story:
In pre-dawn darkness, I eased the RV door open and tiptoed down four steps to bare earth. Coffee cup in hand, I turned three hundred and sixty degrees. A strong northern front had blown through overnight, sweeping the humidity out to sea and leaving a crystalline sky behind.
The underlying stench of death and decay, however, remained.
Johnny, Emilie and I settled into our new home the day before. While we waited for the rest of the family to arrive, I watched large birds ride thermals in lazy circles over a distant bayou west of our compound. I didn’t know what kind they were, but they were always in the same place. Black and large, they added to the ominous emptiness. I hadn’t had time to drive across the gray wasteland to find out what was going on.
The slamming of a trailer door and boot steps on packed earth announced Johnny’s arrival from the other side of my RV. He walked up, smiled and stared at the rising column of birds. Clad in jeans, boots and a clean T-shirt, he was ready for work.
“Good morning, funny man.” I tilted my face for a kiss.
“Back atcha, pretty lady.” He kissed my cheek.
“Do you see those birds?” I pointed.” More of them today than yesterday.”
“Yes. Something’s dying over there.”
“Yes.” Johnny tugged my left earlobe.
“Buzzards circle until an animal dies. Then they land.”
“Whatever it is sure has attracted a crowd.” I hugged Johnny but kept staring at the birds. Day one, and I was already spooked by the alien landscape.
More flocks formed near the unseen bayou. Birds landed, rose and circled.
“That’s not all that’s attracting crowds.”
What did he mean by that cryptic remark?
Johnny clapped a ball cap on his head and walked to the cook tent for breakfast before leaving for the job site. His boots kicked up tiny puffs of dust in his wake.
Before I came down to Mississippi, I hadn’t expected such unbroken flatness, such a lack of color. Nothing taller than a car or trailer or pile of rubble. No flowers. In fact, nothing green except a few battered live oak trees. Had Charles Dickens written about spoiled lands instead of broken people, this landscape would have made a perfect model.
When I reflected back over the past few months, I could never have foreseen the changes I would make in my life. I never figured I’d be taking my grandchildren into a war zone.
At least it seemed like one to me.
I hoped I captured the mood of the place where Max finds herself setting up a new place to live with her family. Whatcha think?