Flash Fiction Challenge: Ain’t Good

flash fiction writing prompt deleon vultures 1998
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

As the two men in filthy orange jumpsuits staggered over the crest, they beheld a tree teeming with large, black birds.

The short, pudgy one squinted and asked his companion, “What is it, Harvey? A bunch of owls or something?’

Harvey looked at him with an expression of tired disdain. “No, Lowell. They ain’t owls. Probably a dead cow or something there.”

A faint breeze carried the smell of rotting flesh toward them. Lowell shook his head back and forth rapidly, making his jowls wiggle. “This ain’t good.”

Harvey had already moved up to the top of the ridge. He could see a dozen bodies in various stages of decomposition beneath the tree. Each wore the tell-tale remnants of an orange jumpsuit. “No, Lowell. It ain’t good…

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13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Ain’t Good”

  1. In the high branches a cacophony of caws rang out.
    “Damn birds’ll give us away,” croaked Lowell, rubbing a bloody hand across his brow.
    Harvey glared at his companion. The shorter man blinked with his whole face, his lips flicking back in a nervous tic. He wasn’t looking good. In the darkness before dawn they had fallen down a steep ravine, and Lowell had cut his belly open somehow.
    “I need to rest,” he coughed.
    When the hot wind flickered their way it brought with it a rancid, overpowering smell that cast Harvey’s mind back to places he had vowed never to think of again.
    “We best keep going,” he said.
    They walked as far from the corpses as they could, trying to avoid the watching crows. One reached in and tore at the face of a body, its beak red and glistening. It pulled out an eye and gobbled it down.
    “Hold up,” said Lowell, falling to his knees.
    He placed one hand on the earth. The ochre soil grew dark. The birds cackled gleefully, some hopping along the ground, approaching him. Others drifted lazily above in the sharp sky.
    “Don’t leave me.”
    Harvey considered the scene of carnage before him. He imagined death glaring at him from the shrubs and trees. He strained to clear his mind but all he heard was laughter in the caws.
    He began to run, lungs burning. He tried to shut out Lowell’s screams.
    He ran until he heard them no more.

  2. “Them there birds are vultures Lowell. And them there dead things, well they’re people. Looks like prisoners.”

    Lowell scratched his lice ridden scalp. “Prisoner? Like us Harvey?”

    “Just like us. We’ve been duped along with all those guys. That hole in the fence wasn’t fixed so’s that we’d find it and make our escape. I’ll bet you there’s someone with a bead on us right now.”

    The two men looked around for a sign of anyone that might have them in their sights.

    “Well what’re we gonna do now Harvey?”

    “Let’s not stand here like sittin’ ducks. Run! Run Lowell Run. As fast as you can!”

    The two escapees ran over the ridge and through the field of bodies just as each of them did when they found the hole in the fence and arrived at the vulture’s feeding ground.

    From three hundred yards away, Frank pulled the trigger of his rifle, hitting his targets and plugging both Harvey and Lowell with lead.

    “Nice shot Frank. I think your ready to enter the national championship qualifier.”

    Frank proudly shook hands with his coach. “As you can see I’ve had plenty of practice. There’s at least one new target coming over that ridge there every day.”

    His coach chuckled. “I should really have that hole in the fence repaired but those orange jumpsuits really show up well from here.”

  3. George Kemp puffed a cigarette, his previous butt still smoldering in the ashtray as he watched the action unfold on the monitor. He chain-smoked out of sheer boredom. With the new security system in place, the guard had precious little to do except sit and smoke and watch the screen. The other guards were engaged in a round-the-clock rotating poker game, players replenishing with every shift change. It didn’t bode well for them; George foresaw a lot of unemployed prison guards when word of the new system’s success reached corporate headquarters.

    It was a simple concept: a blend of old technology and new. The Nano-units were equipped with GPS to detect movement of the security chips embedded in the inmates’ flesh. Implantation of the chip was done upon inmates’ arrival without their knowledge, to prevent them from devising ways to remove or disable them. Escapees had ample time to change their minds; the units didn’t engage until the chip breached an invisible perimeter, a half mile from the prison’s outer walls. Warning signs posted along the way advised escapees to reconsider and turn back. The Nanos intercepted anyone who passed the point of no return, with a success rate of 100%.

    Yes, George’s future looked dim indeed. He wondered whether it was too late to go to accounting school like his mother had always wanted him to.

  4. When Lowell saw the misshapen bodies, he grabbed Harvey’s arm to keep his balance. “What the…?”

    “Looks like the bunch that came out to bring those birds up north,” Harvey offered, angling his head to get a full dose of the L.A. sun on his rugged right profile. “Guess they didn’t wanna go!”

    “Wow. Those black whatchamacallums are gonna be terrific with all those other birds carryin’ on all over the place,” Lowell smiled. His gold tooth flashed in the sunlight. “Their gonna be perfect! Looka what they did to those guys. ”

    “Let’s get back to the truck so we can call’m and let’m know what’s goin’ on,” Harvey yelled. They shuffled to the van, climbed in and hooked up the CB.

    The sun was slowly sinking behind the mountains. That took care of that scene.

    The room was dark. The lights came on.

    Hitch grabbed the chair’s arms and pushed his plump little body up. “No. No. NO! That’s not going to work” he shouted waving his arms. “Sorry! It doesn’t fit. And all those mangled bodies and ugly Cockatoos, or whatever the hell they are, overmatch the mood. It’s all too messy. Cut the whole thing out. This is not a bloody horror show!!! ‘The Birds’ is a ‘suspense’ film, by Jove! “

  5. “Quick. Hand me your binoculars.”

    “Sure Harvey,” replied Lowell. “If those aren’t owls in that tree, then what are they?”

    Harvey stared through the glasses and said, “They’re vultures.”

    “Vultures? What are they doing out here?”

    “I ain’t no expert Lowell, but from the look of them dead bodies, I’d say they’re killing people”

    “Why would they do that?”

    “Maybe they just got tired of us coming out here and staring at them through our cameras and binoculars. Think about it, Lowell. We’re no better than the paparazzi. Maybe the vultures have had enough of us invading their privacy?”

    What the heck are you talking about? They’re just dumb vultures. This isn’t what I signed up for when you talked me into coming out here for the weekend. You said it would be fun. You said it would be safe and that we’d be at one with nature.”

    “Calm down, Lowell. How the heck was I supposed to know that something like this would happen?”

    Lowell raised the palms of his hands towards Harvey and said, “Fine. So what do you suggest we do?”

    “I suggest we dump these orange-colored jumpsuits, pronto.”

    “What about the thirty dollars we paid to rent them from the bird watcher’s club?”

    “Under the circumstance, I think they’ll understand,” replied Harvey throwing his jumper into the brush.

    “I’m not sure about that.”

    “I suggest you don’t take too long thinking about it, because the vultures have spotted us.’

    “What should we do?”


  6. “Don’t look now, Lenore, but I see fresh meat a’coming.”

    Lenore ruffled her feathers and moved to the edge of the branch for a clearer look. Sure enough, two more of the humans in their orange clothes were approaching the tree. “Is it feeding time again, dear?”

    Edgar, her mate, cawed to their dozens of children. The large birds flapped their wings and hopped excitedly. “I’d say they’re hungry, all right.”

    “One of these days it will be time for them to leave us,” Lenore said. Little had the two ravens known that when they picked this tree for their new home, they’d become foster parents to a nest of abandoned baby vultures. How could she say no to the helpless little ones? At least the humans made it easy to take care of their brood.

    “Oh, don’t say that. They’ve got everything they need right here. You know you’d miss them.”

    “I suppose you’re right.” Lenore watched with pride as several of their children took flight and began circling the approaching figures.

    “If the damned humans hadn’t built that prison over yonder, I don’t know what we’d do,” Edgar added.

    “Edgar!” she scolded. “Language, dear.”

    He hung his head. “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

    But the children had already taken up the cry. “Damned humans! Damned humans!” Within moments, they swooped down on the terrified men, beaks and claws ripping and tearing.
    “Our babies,” Lenore said with a proud sigh as she watched them feed.

  7. The wake of buzzards in the dead leafless tree were roused by the odor of two men coming over the ridge. They spoke to each other in screeches and caws, flapping their large back wings. Preferring rotting flesh to fresh they would wait.
    Harvey and Lowell looked at their own jumpsuits and then at the bodies in identical orange.
    “Look Lowell, ain’t that Orville? That one there, ain’t that Jacob? They were just released last week. What’re they doing out here?”
    “We was told they was released but they was supposed to be in for ten years wasn’t they Harvey?”
    “That’s what I figured. Look at’em, just sittin’ up there waitin’ for their next meal.”
    “They’re waiting for us to die and get ripe. Ain’t they Harvey?”
    “Yup. I betcha we can scare’em off though.” Harvey thought about it and the only way he saw his getting away was for them to feed on Lowell while he ran. “Lowell you go on down there and roar like a big cat.”
    Trusting his companion, Lowell headed over the ridge roaring like a big lion. The buzzards lifted off of the bare branches and made a gigantic black cloud over the valley. With one big swoop they dived.
    Lowell watched as the big birds plucked Harvey apart.
    “Good thing I took a shower today. I was gonna tell Harvey he needed one too but he don’t like being told he’s getting ripe.” Lowell muttered before running off to freedom beyond the valley.

  8. “No Lowell. It ain’t good …” was Harvey’s last words, as a bunch of vultures crashed into them from behind, knocking the two orange clad men down. Quickly the vultures began to feast. Then one vulture carried off the iPhone that the King Vulture needed to give to the sacred Myna Bird.

    On arrival to the tree, the King said, “Ah the magic box, quickly give it to me.” He took the iPhone with his beak, and placed it on the branch in front of their sacred Myna Bird, “Oh wise one, here is another magic box for you to work your magic on, so we may all feed handsomely. I see one of my minions is bringing your granola.”

    The Myna bird started to peck at the iPhone until it spoke, “Hi Lowell, how can I help you?”

    The Myna Bird squawked, “Send email. Send email.”

    “To who?” The iPhone responded.

    The Myna Bird squawked, “Contact List! Send All.”

    “Subject please?” Asked the iPhone.

    “Yo Bro Get Rich Quick! Found Treasure Follow GPS.”

    “Message please?” Asked the iPhone.

    “Yo Bro Need Help Get Rich Quick! Found Treasure Follow GPS! Wear Orange Hunting Season! Come On Now! Come Now! Hungry, bring granola! Hungry, bring granola!”

    The iPhone spoke, “Signature please?”

    “Default!” Squawked the Myna Bird.

    The iPhone spoke, “Do you want to send your message?”

    “Send! Send!” Squawked the Myna Bird.

    The King Vulture flipped the iPhone into the large nest on top of the pile of the smartphones.

  9. “Look at all them owls in that tree,” said Lowell. His jowls wobbled as he wiped sweat from his face with an already soaked and disgusting orange sleeve.

    Harvey wrinkled his nose. The putrid scent blowing down the hill wasn’t much worse than Lowell’s odor. If he didn’t still need the despicable little man, Harvey would have strangled him on sight.

    “They’re vultures,” said Harvey. “Owls ain’t up in daytime and don’t flock like that.”

    “Well they stink. I don’t wanna go this way.”

    “It’s this or rot in prison.”

    Lowell continued to whine. “You said you had a way out, a secret way.”

    “I do,” said Harvey, as he trudged to the top of the ridge and gazed at the vultures.

    Lowell joined him a moment later, gasping from the exertion, eyes closed. It was a full two minutes before Lowell opened his eyes and saw the partially decomposed bodies strewn under the tree. Their telltale orange jumpsuits marked them as prisoners. His meaty hands grasped Harvey’s arm.

    “Those are guys who supposedly escaped.” Lowell’s voice rose in pitch. “They’re dead! We’re gonna die!”

    “No, Lowell,” said Harvey. “WE ain’t gonna die.”

    Dozens of beady black eyes watched as Harvey cut Lowell’s throat and pushed him against the tree. Blood coated the bark, which began to glow.

    “Hurting little girls ain’t good, Lowell. Judge went too easy for what you did to my sister.”

    Harvey watch Lowell’s eyes widen as the birds descended, then stepped through the portal.

  10. As Lowell neared the ridge’s peak, Harvey grabbed his arm—precipitating a slide of rocks and dirt the two men rode into a crevice.

    “Ow, my ankle. Why’d you do that?”

    “Better your ankle than our heads. A dozen bodies are in that ravine.”

    “That’s half the crew.”

    “Yep. Imperial regulators probably got ’em while we were reconning.”

    “We should’ve never come here.”

    “Maybe you should’ve stayed on Gehenna-6.”

    “No. I’d rather be bird food like one of them fellers back there.”

    “Stop griping and stay low. Look for tunnels, like I told you.”

    “We ain’t got a chance, do we?”

    Harvey was an Imperial Captain on Articulonis before he discovered awful truths about the planet’s new administration. Late Monarch Kejamhadi was tyrannical but he respected the treaty and left the underworld alone. His son Kilgratu, however, had no respect for any law but his own. Harvey was about to report Kilgratu’s plans for destroying the underworld of Subjordisk when he got shipped to Gehenna-6, framed for larceny. Had the Solar Commission not been observing the governmental transition, Kilgratu would’ve executed him.

    “Some might say so. They also said no one had a chance to escape from Gehenna-6, remember?”


    “We can surrender and probably get tortured to death if they’re still looking for the others. We can get killed by the Imperials. We can get caught by Commission observers and sent back to Gehenna-6. Or, we can find a tunnel to Subjordisk. Three of them four ain’t good.”

  11. The quickness of Lowell surprised him. For a soft man with softer features, the raw power behind the broken branch was immense. Harvey fell to the sand, his skull indented.

    Sausage fingers wrapped around his ankle. Through a swirl of fading images and flashing scenes, he could feel his body being dragged across the rough earth. The heavy air reeked of stagnant death.

    He managed to squeeze one eye open in his semiconscious state. He saw Lowell pull a small box from within a rotten stump. Above him, shards of strobing sunlight cut through the ballet of avian dance. The only sound was rustling feathers. It was ominous and horrifying.

    “Don’t get all worked up, now, Harv” said a familiar voice. “I won’t let ‘em peck out your eyes…” Lowell sat down beside his fellow convict and cradled his head in his lap. “No sir, that would be a true tragedy.” He pulled out a two-pronged fork and worked it slowly into Harvey’s left socket. The screams did not last long.

    After stuffing the gelatinous morsel into his mouth, Lowell licked his lips. “A crying shame, indeed.”

    Two hours later, the flock descended on the meager remains of Harvey Blackwell, escapee. Lowell wandered up to the prison gates with hands on his head. After being roughly brought down and dragged inside, he sat before the warden.

    “Is it done, convict?” he asked.

    “Yep,” Lowell replied. “Chalk up another win for social justice.”

  12. “What do you see, Harvey?”

    A wave of panic caught Harvey before he could answer. As if on cue, the crows resting in the tree cawed in unison and took flight. Helpless, Harvey stood rooted to his spot staring at the black mass converging before him, blocking out the sun. Squinting, Harvey’s eyes darted before the cloud, trying to make sense of the impossible forms emerging from the cacophony. Eyes black as the night. A nose. A mouth. Lips parting as if to speak…and speak it did.

    “Meat for my flock.”

    Harvey blocked Lowell’s view of the crows, but he heard the voice. It was low, guttural, like an old chest being opened after years rotting in an attic. The air around him grew frigid and beads of sweat made him shiver as they ran inside his jumpsuit. It was only when he saw Harvey’s body engulfed by the crows that Lowell lost control of his bladder. Smelling of piss and sweat, Lowell turned to run, but was lifted off his feet by what felt like a gust of wind. Too quick to let him scream the sharp beaks of the crows tore into the flesh of his throat, ample belly, and limbs, cleaning him of sinew and muscle alike. His body convulsed in its death and his senses dulled. As darkness overtook him he heard the guttural voice again.

    “Meat for my flock.”

  13. Harvey and Lowell threw themselves to the ground and peeked over the ridge. A dozen bodies, in shredded orange jumpsuits that indicated their township, lay dead under a tree full of vultures. The stench of rotted meat hung in the still air.
    “They got ‘em,” Harvey said.
    Lowell nodded then spat on the ground. “John knew they had to be inside before dawn.”
    It all started when the aliens arrived and wiped out the world’s militaries, followed by a failed Mil-tech bio-experiment: DNA-altered raptors trained to attack the invading aliens. It sounded perfect; the invaders wouldn’t suspect “animals”. But the virus mutated, spread and made all birds carnivores. Unable to digest alien flesh, they fed on animals, including humans. Since few birds hunt at night, trade went on under cover of darkness. When a trading party didn’t return, Harvey and Lowell volunteered to find them. And they’d found them. Or parts of them, at least.
    “Mil-tech says they have a cure for the birds,” Harvey said. “Maybe things will get back to normal.”
    “Not “normal,” Lowell replied. “The aliens are still here. Besides, Mil-tech said those blood-thirsty birds would save us! And you see how that worked out.”
    “Yeah. We’d better get back. Those vultures haven’t seen us yet.”
    They stood, then Charles gazed at the vultures guarding their “meal” of dead humans. “They never stood a chance against those things.”
    When they turned to walk back towards town, neither man noticed as the vultures slowly lifted into the sky.

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