A CLOCKWORK VULTURE
Dedicated to Tara McMillen
Gloria was twelve years old when she awoke in a large oval nest, the nighttime world bathed in the silver gloom of a brilliant full moon. A cool, rancid wind blew through her auburn hair. Though the knot of sticks and animal bones had been lined in soft down, the components of the nest were betrayed. She felt every bony crook and jagged end. She yawned and stretched, little fingers reaching up toward the heavens. Her bosom burned and she dropped her arms immediately.
Curiously, she turned her attention to the tears in her velvet nightgown. The moon had rendered everything a wash of grey, even the swollen edges of the crudely closed wound in the middle of her chest. She gingerly touched the inflamed tissue. The burn turned to a stabbing pain. She gasped and flinched away.
She could feel the ticking of her heart, a beating that was mechanical and not of organic origin. Her reeling little mind offered her vague memories of the phantom vulture that had haunted her, a beast no one had believed was real. They would question, “How could such a monster exist in the city, in today’s enlightened age?”
But it had been a genuine threat, terrifyingly so. It had stalked her first in dreams and eventually in the real-world night. She couldn’t recall how it had wriggled out of her nightmares, nor could she remember when it had taken her heart.
She did remember, however, waking up in her father’s laboratory with an anguished chest and his words, his lurid words so loud in her ears, telling someone unseen about replacing the beating organ that had been stolen with the wicked veiny pump of a vulture. She’d been given a vulture’s heart.
She peered over the edge of the nest to the ruined London all around her. Swirls of thick mist and billowing smoke obstructed her view, though she could make out streetlamps and dancing lanterns far below. The Nazis had attacked, sending their terrible sky machines to drop fiery death on the unsuspecting citizens of the British Empire. Buildings had been torn to shreds, streets burst into massive craters, people ripped apart.
Upon close inspection, Gloria discovered to her growing horror that the monstrous nest she was in teetered atop the hellish effigy of a tree, an appalling thing constructed from the toothed pieces of buildings, bloody human limbs, and twisted belongings no longer resembling the prized possessions of their past owners. From the burning guts of a school, the tree had been erected. There were screams, people calling out for their loved ones, people in pain desperate to be found. London had become a battleground. Gloria couldn’t remember what had happened to her family. The dread they were dead embraced her with an icy chill. She fell backwards, eyes to the full moon, and wept. Her clockwork heart skipped a beat as a Nazi plane flew over her. It seemed forever she was in its shadow.
Gloria closed her eyes, she didn’t want to see any bomb descend toward her. She held her breath. The ticking of the instrument in her chest was so much louder, it drowned out the tormenting cries from war torn London.
Would she become a mechanical thing entirely?
Would she eventually be an apparatus with gears and shifting things?
She imagined the metal cogs of her heart growing as tissue would, sprouting into veins, sinew, and muscle. Slowly, painfully the roots of the ticking, beating gadget would consume her from the inside out, ultimately turning her warm, supple flesh into cold, unyielding metal.
Just as she was about to breathe again, she heard it. It was a whistling sound gradually growing louder and louder. Her fear had been realized. The Nazi war bird had released a deadly egg and it was falling toward her. She was going to die in a blinding explosion, shredded, gutted like her dear London had been. The whistling deepened, transformed into horrifically easy fluttering, beating. What was that? It wasn’t a bomb. Gloria opened her eyes.
It wasn’t the grim shade of a plane she was in, it was the shadow of a massive black bird cast in silhouette against the moon. And it was coming for her. Frozen, petrified, Gloria watched the phantom creature descend, descend, descend and with otherworldly grace perched on the far brim of the nest, tucking its tattered wings to its bulky sides.
“Awake finally,” the giant vulture said. “Ssssso ssssweet, my love.”
Gloria rolled away from the monster and struggled to her knees. She pressed herself into the inner lip of the nest, glared over her shoulder to the beast. “What are you? What do you want with me? What have you done to me?”
“I am your nightmare incarnate. You called to me through the eternal ether. You invited me and I came. I came and I ate your heart, just as you feared I would. Fear is want. Then, your father stole my dream-world child, murdered it, and gave you her heart. I couldn’t bear the thought of you with my child’s heart beating in your human chest, so I took you and I ripped it from you. And then thissss,” the vulture hissed as it looked out over the tattered remnants of the city. “The world has ended, and you,” the monster turned her piercing gaze back to the little girl. “You are now mine. My ssssweet. My love. My patchwork daughter with a heart I found in a broken grandfather clock. I shall never leave you, and you will never leave me. Come to me, my ssssweet. I have your dinner ready for you. Open wide and give mommy a kissss.”
© 2020 Joshua Skye (DRWJ), USA. All right reserved.