“Looks like them vultures are back again.” Tom Dawson pointed his pickax toward the dark swarm over Scorncreek.
Jed Hanson shielded his eyes with a hand and looked toward the town at the bottom of Shallows Canyon.
“Wonder who died.” Jed thought he was kidding.
“No one … yet,” Tom answered.
Jed eyed his ranch hand with suspicion. “What’re you talkin’ about, Tom?”
“You know what I’m talkin’ about. Them bird’s ain’t your normal buzzards. They’re like winged prophets.”
“Prophets? Hogwash! Reverend Baker been fillin’ your head with them Bible stories again?”
Tom’s face dropped into a sullen frown, and he returned to picking at the earth. “Well, all I know is, them birds been predictin’ death all year.”
Jed sighed. He’d heard this nonsense from some of the younger fellas on his crew, but he never thought a grizzled and trusted man like Tom would fall for such folderol.
“First, they circled ’round Edgar Smith’s farm for a week before his horses stampeded him.”
“That’s enough, Tom.”
“Then they followed Clara Wilson’s wagon on that trip to Pearson Falls … and she never come back.”
“Hush up, Tom! We got work to do.”
Tom kept picking and lowered his voice. “Plenty of others, too.”
“Alright!” Jed exploded. “You go on and get some lunch now. Don’t come back ’til you’re ready to make sense — or to keep your trap shut.”
Tom slinked off.
“Vultures!” Jed exclaimed to the empty prairie. Half an hour later, a shadow fell over him as he worked.
“You ready to cut the bull?” Jed turned, expecting to see Tom.
No one was there, but a flock of winged shadows danced across the ground. Pain and tightness clutched at Jed’s chest, and he knew …
The birds had come for him.