Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When Vultures Circle by Betsy Ashton

Vultures circling overhead cause chills to race along most people's spines. Omens of evil, maybe, or just one of nature's garbage disposals, not many people like watching them rise on thermals. On Saturday at a book fair in Danville, VA, the largest flock of vultures I'd ever seen in an urban environment flapped lazily overhead.

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.
“Not dead?”
“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?  


Rolynn Anderson said...

Vultures, not quite dead 'things', uprooted family, spoiled lands, war zone. Except for the warmth of the coffee and Johnny and Max's kiss/hug, a dystopian vibe runs through this excerpt. Good suspense...we want to know why this family would come to this forbidding place. Nice work, Betsy!

Jannine Gallant said...

You definitely captured a mood. I really want to know why the vultures are circling!

Barbara Edwards said...

Love this excerpt. Am adding this to my to be read pie.

Andrea Downing said...

It's a keeper!

Leah St. James said...

Ditto what they all said. :-) Great, suspenseful excerpt. I'm definitely spooked and intrigued. Love it.

remullins said...

It caught my attention. I always shiver a bit when I see vultures doing their lazy circles in the sky.

Diane Burton said...

That excerpt creeped me out. Now I need to read this book to find out what's going on. Your descriptions are top notch. You paint a picture with words.

Margo Hoornstra said...

I certainly felt those chills racing along my spine. What a picture. Rolynn's right, except for the warm coffee and affection, very disturbing. A real page turner.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Creeping and really enticing. Nice!