As events spiral out of control a select few begin to connect the present with the past.
Randall Kendricks sat in his truck, his fingers drumming on the console between the seats. He watched as a flock of ducks flew overhead. The game preserve was adjacent to the tract of land he used for growing rice. Both tracts butted up against the southern side of the Buttes. He had received a call earlier that the tractor he had ordered was on its way. Now he patiently sat waiting to sign for the delivery. Damn, my folks are supposed to be at the house soon. Vi will be left to deal with Mom and her constant criticism… He reached for his cell and placed a call to let his wife know he would be a little late. He left a voice mail at the prompt when his call wasn’t answered.
He was parked at the opening to the dirt road that served as an access to the game preserve and his acreage. Signs declaring ‘no hunting permitted’ and ‘no trespassing’ dotted both sides of the roadway.
He jumped in surprise at the sound of screeching and beating wings. Looking out the window he was awe struck by the sight of hundreds of winged bodies rising from the wetland and circling overhead in a haphazard pattern. The flock flying overhead grew as more and more rose from below. He sat transfixed as their wings sounded a cacophonous thrumming. Herons, Egrets, Geese, Pheasants and Gulls to name a few, all circling overhead with the smaller species: Sandpipers, Kites, Kingfishers, and Killdeer… Their numbers blocking out the sun as they circled overhead, their cries echoing eerily along the valley floor.
Opening his door, he stepped out of his truck in curiosity. Something or someone had to be out there to cause such a commotion. He grabbed his binoculars and scanned the area of the preserve looking for some indication of what might have disrupted their behavior; nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Looking back up at the circling birds he frowned. That’s unusual, they should have resettled themselves by now. He raised his binoculars once again scanning the terrain of the wetland that stretched out before him.
The sound of an air horn sliced through the air. Randall dropped his binoculars and looked up the road at the semi with his tractor loaded on the trailer it was pulling. He waved to the driver and indicated where it would be the best to park safely for unloading the equipment.
As soon as the air brakes sounded the driver of the semi was out of his cab and watching the swarm of birds circling overhead. He looked at Randall his eyes glowing in amazement. “I’ve heard birds of a feather flock together, but this is insane!”
Randall merely nodded in agreement as he stood looking down trying to comprehend what he was seeing. The black topped road was alive with movement; ground squirrels, rats, and rabbits were in mass exodus from the wet land of the game preserve.
“Holy Shit!” The driver hopped up and down as the rodents ran around him.
Overhead the birds broke their circling pattern and flew north. Small and large birds alike flew seemingly in sync with a common destination.
Randall felt a chill course down his spine.
The driver stood looking in the direction of the disappearing fowl. “You ever see that before? There’s got to be thousands of birds… Damn Creepy!”
Randall looked to the Buttes where the birds had flown, their sounds still carrying along on the air stream in their wake. He shook his head. “Never…” He turned back to where the game preserve lay quiet, his brow furrowed. He called to the driver over his shoulder. “Let’s get that thing unloaded so we can get out of here.”
The driver was still watching the now empty skyline. “Yeah, okay.” He gave Randall the clipboard with the bill of lading to sign and moved to drop the ramps of the trailer. Once the tractor was off the trailer he shook Randall’s hand. “Signed, sealed and delivered. I’m out of here.”
Randall watched the semi pull back onto the main road and drive out of sight. He looked back at the now eerily silent wetland. The grasses gave a slight ripple from an occasional waft of breeze, but little else disrupted the calm. He would not admit it to anyone, but the whole incident had unnerved him. Something’s not right out there... The hair began to raise on his arms as he started his truck and drove away a little faster than usual. He reached for his phone…
Behind him unseen, a shadow moved slowly along the floor of the wetland. The tops of grasses rippling slightly as the few remaining rodents scurried in fright. Nests holding fledglings quieted as it passed. What life was remaining in the wetland suddenly silenced…Bodies lay strewn about, their eyes sightless and their breathing stilled.
Viola Kendricks hummed contentedly as she pruned the Bougainvillea vine scaling the alabaster pillar of her pergola. She glanced over her shoulder at her three-year-old son, Randy. He was happily playing just a few feet away in his sandbox.
She looked at her watch. There was a little time before she needed to begin getting dinner ready. Her in-laws were coming for dinner tonight and she wanted to have the patio looking its best. Sylvia, Randall’s mother, was always looking for something to make snide comments over. Viola didn’t especially like the woman, but she was Randall’s mother so she tried her best to ignore most of her slights.
She looked at her son again and laughed as he dumped a pail of sand over Boogie, their Dachshund, and then himself. She looked around for her cell phone in order to grab a quick picture. Darn, I must have left it on the kitchen counter. She stepped through the open French doors that connected the kitchen to the outside.
She found her phone sitting where she had left it. Picking it up, she noticed an unread message sitting in her incoming message box. Frowning she played the message. Her husband’s apologetic voice played in her ear… “Listen, that new tractor is being delivered this afternoon… I know my folks are going to be there, just keep them entertained, I’ll try to get away as soon as I can. I shouldn’t be too late.” That bit of information was not what she wanted to hear.
The Kendricks were one of the first families to be granted land in the Buttes. Randall’s grandfather, four times removed, obtained his wealth from the gold fields of Coloma. Due to good investments and diversifying, their wealth had survived two stock market crashes. In spite of the downfall of the economy, their wealth had in fact doubled in size. Sylvia was quite proud of her wealth and the family name. She had enjoyed the devotion of her husband and son… until Viola came into young Randall’s life and eventually married into the family against Sylvia’s adamant protests.
Viola knew Randall had hoped with the birth of their son his mother would be more accepting of her. But to the contrary, while Sylvia doted upon little Randy, her digs toward Vi only grew. And now I have to face the Bitch alone… Randall Senior was no help in silencing the rancor that emanated from his wife’s mouth. He was as much a victim of her reproach as Vi. She gave a heavy sigh as she pulled the roast from the refrigerator, letting it warm to room temperature before putting it in the oven.
Crying, chorused with an intense barking brought her back to the moment. Randy… She ran to the French doors and stopped, her heart stuck in her throat… “Oh my God…”
Birds of every size, shape and color perched everywhere in her yard. Little Randy was frozen in terror, surrounded by the fowl. His crying, coupled with the barking of the dog caused the birds to become agitated. Wings fluttering, their cries of anxiety echoing across the yard.
Viola forced herself to be calm, speaking low and softly to her son she slowly began moving across the yard toward him. She stepped carefully between the hordes of birds, being careful not step on them. “Shhh, Randy, it’s alright. Mommy is coming to get you… just look at all these lovely birds who stopped to say hello…” The birds shifted away from her, their wings fluttering as they reset themselves as she passed by.
Boogie continued his barking and began to lunge at those birds perched closest to the boy backing them off. She called to the dog, trying to get him to quiet down. Boogie stopped his barking and resorted to growling fiercely at a pair of Heron who were rising up flapping their wings defensively.
She reached the sandbox and reached out and picked up her son when Boogie flew at the Heron. The yard erupted in mayhem. To Viola’s relief, the birds lifted up from their perches and began to circle overhead their wings thrumming loudly.
She called to the dog as she sprinted to the safety of her house with Randy clinging tightly to her crying softly. “It’s okay baby, keep your eye’s closed. Nice birdies… Boogie come!” She hoped the dog would mind her and follow into the house. She closed and locked the French doors holding tightly to her son, continuing to sooth him. “It’s okay… it’s just some birds… they’ll leave in a minute…”
Beyond the glass doors the birds began to resettle across the yard. She felt Boogie lean against her ankle as he gave a slight whimper. The three of them stood looking out at a sea of feathers…
When they arrived at the Holcombs Henry was surprised to see Martin sitting at the dinner table. He had heard a rumor circulating that there had been some trouble between the two brothers. It was hard to believe that only a short time had passed since last seeing the man in the diner’s parking lot. The physical change in him was astounding. It wasn’t that long ago that he had appeared commanding, confident and in good physical health. The man that sat before him now was none of those things. Martin appeared ill and… ‘beaten’ was the thought that formed in his mind. The stubble on Martin’s face suggested it hadn’t seen a razor in more than a day or two. He sensed something different in the brothers… an uneasiness or… Oh hell Ryder, knock it off. Now you’re looking for something wrong. Man probably just got some personal stuff going on and its none of your business.
He smiled and made quick introductions as Footie stood shyly beside him. He nudged her playfully… “You hungry?”
Her eyes swept the contents of the table and came to rest upon the platter of roast beef. “Smells really good.”
Henry tried to hide his smile as he offered an alternative. “We can wait… after all we have left over chili waiting for us back at the trailer.”
Footie’s eyes never strayed from the platter of beef as she spoke barely above a whisper. “I didn’t want to say anything, but your chili really isn’t that good.”
The room erupted in laughter as Henry pulled out a chair for his niece to be seated properly. “Well I guess that settles it. Remind me to send a complaint to Dennison’s about their canned chili.” He had to admit the aroma wafting from the table was inviting. He looked to Grace and smiled again. “It looks delicious, thank you.”
She returned his smile as she picked up a bowl of salad and began passing it around the table.
The conversation around the table shifted from light hearted banter to that of the lion. Henry was surprised as he shared the news of the lab results on the lion. There was a noticeably different reaction between the occupants around the table. Matt gave a short shout full of youthful energy with an arm pumping, ‘yeah.’ Grace smiled at the outburst from her son and added a breathy ‘That’s wonderful’. But there appeared to be no jubilance coming from the two older men sitting at the end of the table. The room fell silent as all eyes were focused upon the two brothers whose moods could only be interpreted as solemn.
Jeep looked at Henry and shrugged as if in apology. “If it was the lion, then of course you bring us wonderful news.”
A loud snort escaped Grace. “If? You say if it was the lion? Of course it was the lion, what else could it have been?”
Jeep raised his hands in an attempt to calm his daughter-in-law. “I’m just suggesting it might be a good idea to continue to be careful for a few days and see… if the killings stop, then of course Henry is right, it was the lion.”
Henry nodded slowly in response to Jeep. He sensed there was something hanging in the air between the two men that, for whatever reason, they were keeping close. He would let it ride for the time being, after all he was their guest. “You make a good point. It is always better to err to the side of caution.” He looked to Grace and smiled briefly. “Let’s see what the next few days bring.”
Jeep barked a short laugh. “Well now that we have that settled, can we have some of that pie I’ve been smelling all day?” He looked at Footie and winked. “You ready for some of the best apple pie that will ever pass your lips?”
Henry reached over and playfully poked his niece in the ribs. “You got room in there for dessert?”
The phone call had come during desert being served at the Holcomb household. Vi Kendricks had sounded on the verge of hysterics. She hadn’t made a lot of sense over the phone and insisted Henry come to her house right away. Jeep offered to tag along and let Footie stay and help Matt do his evening feeding of the stock and animals.
He appreciated the offer and after checking with his niece if she would be okay with his leaving for a short period of time, readily accepted.
Henry pulled away from the Holcomb’s house watching in his rear view mirror as Footie skipped along behind Matt toward the chicken coup. It was the most animated he had seen her since picking her up at the airport. Her shyness seemed to evaporate within minutes of sitting down to eat. Henry smiled, he was sure Grace’s cooking had a lot to do with winning the girl over. It was working on him as well. He frowned at the thought, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. He had worked on keeping to himself since leaving the army several years before. He performed his duties and interacted with the community on a non-personal basis. It was a condition that seemed to serve him well in his line of work. His tours of duty had schooled him to always be on the lookout for the unexpected, always looking for danger. Footie and Grace were proving to be a different type of danger, one he was unfamiliar with.
Jeeps voice cut through his thoughts. “She seems to be a smart little gal.” He picked up Footie’s backpack from the floor and tossed it to the back. “Damn, what she got in here, bricks?”
Henry glanced at Jeep and looked to where the backpack lay on the floor board of the truck. The vestiges of her entire life lay within the confines of that canvas bag. “She always has it with her… Like she’s not sure if she’ll be returning.”
Seeing Jeep’s questioning frown, he took a deep breath. His voice cracked from sadness, guilt and anger. “I don’t know much about her. To be honest, I didn’t even know she existed until I found her at the airport.” He proceeded to fill Jeep in on the details of Footie’s arrival and his sister being MIA. “When our Mom died… well, Alice and I, we were never what you would call close.” He looked at Jeep… “Our home life wasn’t great…” he shrugged. “I got out by joining the service and frankly never looked back.” He had a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel. “Alice chose her own way of getting free of the craziness…”
“You got the law looking for her?” Jeep’s voice was low and full of empathy.
Henry shook his head. “Not yet, I get the feeling from Footie that MIA is her normal routine.”
Jeep produced a phlegm filled cough. “That little one has had a pretty tough go of things… what are you going to do if your sister doesn’t call?”
Henry turned down the road that led to the Kendricks place and braked to a sudden stop. “What the hell…”
Both men sat in stunned silence staring out at a sea of feathers…