The Turkey Vulture's Tale
By Charles Moffat - October 2018.
Once upon a time west of Castle Windraven there was a prosperous farm owned by a cantankerous old farmer named Boris. He had a young wife, Julianna, and many farmhands who helped him on the farm, but of whom he bore a jealousy for their youth and the way they would catch Julianna's eyes.
One Autumn day, when the leaves were falling, Julianna's gaze wandered a little too long on a handsome farmhand named Dmitri, and Boris espied Dmitri and Julianna gazing longingly at each other. Boris cornered his wife in the barn and he flew into a rage, accusing his wife of already doing the deed with the young farmhand and planning to murder himself and take his farm.
The ensuing argument made such a ruckus that it drew a crowd of sorts, a handful of ravens and rats come up from the fields, and myself, your friendly local turkey vulture. We watched in amazement as Boris threatened to kill Dmitri and grabbed his pitchfork.
His wife, to all our surprise, drew forth a carving knife and stabbed her husband in the back. Perhaps she really had been planning to murder him after all. Boris turned on her and stabbed her with his pitchfork. She screamed and went down, bleeding all over the rough wood floor of the barn.
Dmitri came running and when he saw the scene, Boris cradling his dead wife in his arms, the pitchfork still stuck in her belly, he picked up a scythe and slashed Boris across the chest with it. But Boris just looked up at the boy, fire in his eyes, drew forth his pitchfork and with a gurgling scream of murderous rage he impaled the farmhand in the lungs with the prongs of his pitchfork. Then he stumbled out into the yard, where the chickens wandered, and fell forward onto his face, dead as roadkill.
Then myself, a hungry but honourable turkey vulture, but hungry nevertheless, and my comrades the ravens and the rats came closer to inspect. Surely, such a feast should not go to waste?
"Shoo, shoo!" shouted one of the farmhands, waving us away. Other farmhands came and beheld the scene. Truly it was a massacre just waiting for the crows.
The farmhands, knowing little about what else to do, gathered up the bodies and buried them in the orchard, where overly ripe apples now lay rotting in the Autumn sun. Then the farmhands took to pondering and arguing. They had yet to be paid for the season. Some felt the local magistrate should be alerted to the murders. Others pointed out that winter was coming and it wasn't legal for them to stay on a farm they didn't own during the winter, the magistrate would surely notice. Old Boris kept all his silver in a hidden lockbox and nobody knew where he kept the key...
And thus a drastic search began, with farmhands ripping the house and barn apart looking for the hidden lockbox and the key. They found naught but the rats who scurried into dark corners, anxiously waiting for their supper.
When nightfall came silence descended upon the farm. The farmhands were all tired. They ate and rested, pondering what to do next. A few of the farmhands disappeared, off into the darkness, presumably to alert the local magistrate of the murders and to distance themselves from the looting which had occurred during the search. Or perhaps they had looted their fill and were off to sell their ill-gotten goods. Whichever.
A windstorm picked up and it blew open the barn doors, a fact that allowed myself and my raven comrades to take shelter from the storm. It was a cold wind from the north and we were happy and pleased to have shelter from the blistering wind.
From our perches in the barn rafters we saw what happened next.
The wife wasn't dead. Or was she? For she clawed her way from her shallow grave with a groan and washed her face and hair off in a horse trough. She was a bedraggled dirty mess, but when accursed Xarsius's red moonlight hit her face she was still strangely beautiful.
Dmitri came next, fighting his way free from his earthly tomb. He groaned and sought out his beloved. Together again, they kissed in the shadow of the trees below the crimson moon. Their forbidden love and their murderous hearts at last together and freed of the one they hated so much.
"How are we alive?" Julianna wondered aloud after releasing Dmitri from her embrace.
"We are not," said Dmitri firmly. He took her hand and held it to his heart. No heartbeat lay within. "We died. Boris slew us both, but our love and our faith in the dark god Xarsius brought us back. Now we must slay the farmhands so the farm can finally be ours. We shall be together forever my love."
"If we kill the farmhands it will raise suspicion. The magistrate will come with town guards, or worse soldiers and mercenaries." She grabbed his arm to prevent him from going.
"Let them come," said Dmitri, shaking his arm free of her. "This is our farm now. We won't let anyone else take it from us."
And so the two revenants, for that is what they were now, parted ways.
Dmitri snuck up on farmhands and waited in the shadows for each to seek the relief of the woods, for they had found the old wine cabinet and drank many a bottle. He waited there and when they came he would sneak upon them and wring their necks quietly with his deathly grip before carrying their bodies into the orchard.
Finally, at last a meal! Ravens and rats rejoiced. I too partook.
When most of the farmhands had disappeared the last few got nervous and fell to whispering. Something about the red moon Xarsius and how the farm might now be cursed, I didn't hear all of it. Too busy eating.
The last farmhands drew torches and set out on the road, but Dmitri followed them and when they reached the crossroads he caught up to them and slew them all with his scythe.
During this Julianna wandered about the farm, the strong wind blowing her hair, electricity in the air as if there was an even greater storm coming. Everything was frosted in red moonlight and the hue was beautiful to her eyes. She walked in a daze, as if seeing everything for the first time. When at last she came to a hidden shrine to the red moon, Xarsius, god of bloodlust and darkness, she knelt down with tears in her eyes and gave thanks to the god for granting her life beyond death.
But was she truly alive? She wondered at herself, holding her hand to her face. No heart beat beneath her breast. The cold wind did not chill her. The electricity in the air didn't excite her as it once did. This life, whatever it was, felt like a shadow of its former one.
East of the farm word had spread. The few honourable farmhands had turned up at Castle Windraven to report the murders. Lord Windraven himself came down from his towers to hear the news and ordered his magistrate to investigate and take twenty of his finest men on horseback, for it was a windy and dire night and if they encountered trouble they would need all the strength they could muster.
The magistrate, Bogdarius, said to be the descendant of an ancient hero, saluted his lord, smoothed out his moustaches with a wick of beeswax, and took his axe and a stout bow with him. He doubted there would be trouble, but like his ancestor he believed in being prepared for a fight.
"Onwards men," he ordered. "When we return we shall have hot mead to warm our bellies!"
They reached the crossroads and found a handful of farmhands, all torn to shreds by some great wicked blade. The rats from the cornfields were feasting on the corpses already.
"Foul and full is the red moon tonight men!" declared Bogdarius. "But never fear, as long as the light of Metrequia is in our hearts we cannot fail." He left two men to bury the bodies and sent one more back to Castle Windraven to report their findings thus far.
Next they came to the farm, searching here and there and found the orchard. They disrupted our midnight snack, waving us away from our grand feast.
"Magistrate, two of the graves appear to have been disturbed, but no bodies lay within. The third rests in peace," reported one of the men.
"Draw your blades and axes men," ordered Bogdarius. "Evil is afoot tonight and my gut tells me it is the kind that will fear being chopped to bits with an axe. Everyone stay in groups of three."
A few of the men chuckled nervously, but all did as they were ordered.
From the shadows watched Dmitri. He was short but strong, incredibly strong now that his grip was from beyond the grave. But even he knew fear now as he watched the well armed and armoured foes before him. He had not expected eighteen men to come, nor had he expected them to go marching hither in groups of three. One or two he could take down quietly, but a third would make a ruckus. Where was Julianna? Why was she not helping him to kill these foes?
He had no choice. There would have to be noise, but he could try to distance himself from the other groups so that by the time they arrived he would be long gone. He followed one group until they were wandering in a cornfield and with his scythe he took down the first man with a slice from the darkness.
The second and third let out shouts of alarm, but by the time others came he had slain them both and disappeared into the corn. Then he crept on his belly through the rows of cornstalks.
The magistrate arrived and ordered his men into groups of five, for only fifteen remained. He also ordered them to steer clear of the cornfield.
Dmitri crawled forward through the dirt and worms, the wind blowing the corn and making a racket with the dry leaves. I watched this from a tall branch in a great oak tree, wondering when my next meal would be. Unbeknownst to Dmitri but espied by me, the magistrate and four of his men were lurking behind the oak tree like hunters and had readied their bows for whatever lay within the cornfield to emerge.
When Dmitri crept to the edge of cornfield, he crouched and stood, the red moonlight betraying him. He made a fine target and three arrows took him in the chest while two others whistled by him. He staggered, but was unfazed. Clearly arrows were not enough to defeat him. Dmitri charged towards the men hiding behind the great oak tree, barehanded, having left his scythe in the cornfield. It had been too large unwieldy to take with him quietly whilst crawling between cornstalks.
Bogdarius stepped forwarded from behind the tree, dropping his bow while brandishing his battleaxe and readying his shield. He ordered his men to spread out and to keep firing.
Dmitri came onwards, confident he could fell this man easily with his raw strength. But his confidence fell when his barehand met an ironbound shield and the magistrate's axe slashed into his kneecap.
Bogdarius backed away from his disabled foe to allow his men a clean shot, which they did, peppering the revenant once more with arrows.
Undeterred, Dmitri came onwards as fast as his injured knee would let him. He grabbed the shield with one dirty hand and reached past to grab the magistrate by the neck, hoping to throttle him like he had done so with others.
Bogdarius was a brawler however and this was a mistake, for any brawler knew how to kick a man in his bad knee. The revenant went down, losing his grip on the warrior's neck.
From behind the other two groups of five men came, ready with swords and axes. They fell upon the revenant and chopped him to bits within seconds, just like Bogdarius had foretold.
"Sir, there were two disturbed graves. Might there be another?"
"Aye," said Bogdarius, picking up his fallen bow. "The wife. This looks to be the farmhand, or what is left of him. She must be around somewhere. Keep your wits about you."
Julianna, to her credit, had taken refuge in the attic of the farmhouse. The only entrances were a trap door and a window with shutters, not far from the oak branch upon which I perched. I crept down the branch to its very tip so I could see between the cracks of the shutters.
"No hope, no life," whispered Julianna to herself and unknowingly to me as well. "No hope, no life. All is lost."
"My word," I said aloud, breaking the solemn vow of all creatures with the gift of speech. "You truly are in dire circumstances, aren't you?"
"Who said that?" she whispered. "WHO SAID THAT?" she said again, more loudly.
"I did. Outside your window. I can see you clearly, but you cannot see me."
She opened the window and saw me. "Begone foul buzzard, I have no need of your madness."
"Buzzard? My dear, it is not your madness that does give me speech, I have been able to speak long before you were mad. I was simply commenting that you are in a right dire situation. Doomed, as they say."
"Doomed," quoth a raven. "Doomed. Doomed." said the other ravens.
At Julianna's feet a rat scurried closer and took a nibble of her toe. She kicked it away, but did not kill it. Nigh immediately other rats came closer to take nibbles too, more voracious bites followed as she began kicking at them furiously.
The ravens, certain to not be left out of this feeding frenzy, flew in through the open window and began picking at her face, arms and in particular at her eyes. She screamed and tried to fight off the swarm of rats and ravens, but her efforts were fruitless as they were too many.
Down in the yard one of the men blew a horn and all the men converged on the farmhouse, marching up the stairs in a noise like thunder until they found the trap door in the ceiling. Axes chopped into the wood and by the time they climbed into the attic she was still writhing, but much of her flesh had been eaten by the rats and ravens. What remained was ragged, less than half of a corpse with its eyes picked out, and yet she writhed and tried to stand to escape.
The rats scurried back into the darkness and the ravens flew as one back out the window with a flutter. I stayed, perched on my branch, a keen observer.
Bogdarius approached, his axe at the ready. Two quick chops and the revenant was nevermore. He spat and turned back to his men. "Let us be gone from this place. Back to the castle where warm mead awaits us. Bring the bodies of any suitable to be buried."
He looked at me sideways with a curious glint in his eye. "Leave the rest for the vultures and carrion eaters. It seems they deserve half the credit tonight."
And so the ravens, the rats and myself feasted on Dmitri and Julianna, a pair of starcrossed murderers who became our dinner. "Let us rejoice comrades," I said during the feast. "These murders has led to such foul results for them and such fine results for us. Truly our hunger is nevermore!"