It gave Evan a start to see such a huge image flash in front of him on the gravel pathway. The shape was especially disturbing because of the enormity of its wingspan, a distorted exaggeration, making the turkey buzzard’s shadow a supernatural size. Going in the same direction as him, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. He wondered if it was leading him down the path with its beak headed north, pointing the way he should keep going.
Evan saw the unusually large black bird swooping overhead and stopped in his tracks, dirt puffing out in front of him as he skidded to a stop from walking at such a swift clip. He looked up to watch its avian frame gliding through blinding sunlight. He recognized the red head and sharp beak from seeing others scavenge on carrion delights atop many asphalt roads.
The boy had no concept of omens but simply didn’t like buzzards, as they reminded him of death. Their eating fetid, stinking road pizza made his stomach turn at the sight of one.
He was in a hurry, his anger moving him along so quickly, having left the house angry with his father. Figuring his frustration might as well be taken out on the ugly bird as anything else, he scooped up a rock and flung it upwards with all his might. Its arcing path circled back toward him but was too far away to make the mark. Evan shouted at the vulture, “Get away from me!” It felt good to scream the words in its direction since he couldn’t do the same to his dad without getting in more trouble. The situation was bad enough as it was.
Getting in trouble at school meant more punishment at home – losing some privilege like television viewing or Playstation time. He’d stomped out of the driveway in a show of defiance following the latest skirmish and subsequent admonishment by his parents. He’d show them — maybe he’d never go home.
He blocked the sun’s glare from his eyes with his hand and gazed up at the re-approaching buzzard, wondering where the death it circled was located. He despised the bird for coming near him again, especially in his present state of mind. Searching the fields parallel to the road, Evan turn his face upward to sniff the air for whatever smell the scavenger must be scouting. No overpowering stench, not even a slight odor in the breeze. Watching its overhead flight pattern made him feel too small under the ugly creature’s watchful glare, like he imagined a skittering rabbit must experience in the headlights just before the fatal smack of a car’s grill.
Such a mammal’s powerlessness was all too real for Evan. He’d spent the entire school year under similar pressure of impending doom. His teacher, the coach, his parents, even some friends – everyone seemed to lay in wait for any misstep that would bring a fatal blow down on him. His helpless self-perception had grown out of proportion and made everything appear tragic, especially his dad’s scolding. He didn’t know what to do with all that anger and stood in a defensive stance gripping another rock in a clenched fist.
But no groundhog, squirrel or even a smashed armadillo was anywhere nearby. Evan sensed the airborne predator winging its way around again and vulnerability overwhelmed him. Spinning on his heel, his feet lost friction on the gravel, but he gained footing and began running in the direction of home. The enormity of any lingering argument there was suddenly diminished.
Whatever caused the tension between him and his father didn’t seem nearly as important now. He wasn’t about to let that bird get him.
(image: courtesy Jake Lichman on Flickr)
*This post was prompted by shadow at The Woven Tale Press.