On the 12th day of isolation, the vultures came back to The Point.
This was about 20 days ago, just as the tulip greens emerged from the partially frozen ground. But that bit of encouragement didn’t matter. The deer ate the tulips, or at least what there was of them. Such despair has been the general theme as of late.
But there was no discouragement for the vultures. They returned, like clockwork, in late March to the scraggly tree on Point Salutiferous that they favor each spring. But this year I’m studying them more closely, for now they appear to be returning snowbirds, intent on evil. And, I have loads of time, due what they are calling a localized pandemic.
It is now early April and we’re still in isolation. They tell us not to leave our homes. The virus, they say, is highly contagious. They’re not sure what’s causing it. But here’s the thing: it only infects people who live within 1,000 feet, basically the shoreline, of the St. Lawrence River.
Scientists who study such phenomena says it all has something to do with global warming and river plankton – or something like that. The best guess is that the virus is whipped up from the waves of the River and infects people. Death comes swiftly to those infected, and for many weeks the health experts were at a lost as to why so many were dying.
Some people along the River made it out of their homes, only to collapse steps from their doors, or in a flower bed, or on a driveway. My neighbor has been hunched, apparently lifeless, over his garbage can for a few hours. Is that concerning? I called the contract tracers who told me not to check on him, to keep my distance. First responders have also succumbed before the state health department urged the local squads to stop answering the calls along the River. But not before they took samples and dubbed the virus SL-19.
Some scientists say it originated in carp, others from the droppings of cormorants. Scientists are also baffled as to why the virus hasn’t spread to people living along Lake Ontario and why only the St. Lawrence River area is infected.
Me? So far, I seemed to have escaped the virus, here on Point Salutiferous. It may have to do with the fact that following recommendations, I haven’t been outside in 25 days, since the connection to the virus and the River was discovered.
So I have time to study things, like the vultures. Believe me when I tell you that they appear to be unusual this year. The other night, I got up and looked out the window. The moon was full, and I could see the orb reflect in their eyes. They were looking at my house, into my window. I don’t know if turkey vultures are nocturnal, but this unsettled me, enough so that I decided to keep a journal, here in isolation, of the past 30 days, beginning at day 20.
Day 20 of isolation:
The armed guards down the road are still there, preventing any trek out of my home. There’s only a few of us who haven’t fled their riverside-homes, and those who remain are watched closely by authorities. But they do bring us food. It comes on a remote-controlled robot thingy about once a week, rolling to a stop at our doorsteps. But no toilet paper. What’s with that?
Day 21: The vultures have attacked my cable and phone lines by pecking at them. Coverage is spotty. I do have cell service.
It turns out that my neighbor seen passed out over the garbage can the other day is fine. He called me; said he just fell asleep as he was rolling the can out to the curb after binge-watching 50 episodes in a row, on repeat, of “Bridgerton.”
Day 22: I’ve lost cable service, and access to such pandemic-comforting new hit shows like “The Biggest Loser in This Crappy Old House.”
Day 23: My attempt to install my old TV antenna on my roof met with the results I expected. Angry birds.
Day 24: Luckily, I don’t think that the vulture bites, received as the result of my roof/antenna escapade, are infected.
Day 25: County emergency department tells those of us who are quarantined along the River that help is on the way.
They say we can go outside, but we must wear scuba gear with air tanks.
Day 26: A drone delivered frozen fish sticks. Is this a joke by someone with a sick sense of irony? I wonder what other people are getting.
Day 27: I called a good friend who lives along the river in Waddington, who is facing a similar quarantine situation. His emergency management department sent him Porterhouse steaks. Gerrymandering in action.
Day 28: Drone delivered toilet paper. But it got caught in the rain. Soggy.
Day 29: Toilet paper is hung up beside the fireplace.
Day 30: Burning furniture after I realized I have no wood for the fire.
Day 31: Toilet paper now dry, but rather crispy.
Day 32: I remember I have a cat, but have not seen it recently. The vultures are eyed with revenge.
Day 33: Yes, the birds are still there. They seem to be smiling, if that’s even possible.
Day 34: Drone from the emergency management office delivered my absentee election ballot. Only has one choice for president.
Day 35: I call to complain about my ballot. I’m told it’s a clerical error and there’s nothing they can do, and to send it in immediately.
Day 36: In the tree, vultures are nibbling at the ballot I tossed out the window. Some appear ill.
Day 37: For some reason, the vultures are parading across my lawn, in single file, high-stepping, like goose-soldiers. There’s about 25 of them now. Bold.
Day 38: I have forgotten that I’m an artist, a painter, and quite a good one. Inspiration is returning.
Day 39: I set up my easel in front of the living room window for a view of the vultures. They stick their tongues out at me, apparently willing to create a comic scene.
Day 40: I Google, “Do vultures have tongues?”
Day 41: My painting is nearly complete; an encouraging scene of festive colors and swirls coming off the river, ready to infect. But the comical vultures in the scene kind of throw it out of whack.
Day 42: The health department calls me and informs me that a vaccine is almost ready. It’s guaranteed to work, I’m told, but with an apparent strange side effect; it may cause unusual urges for high-stakes gambling. “Think about it,” I’m told.
Day 43: I tell them I want the vaccine.
Day 44: I purchase a summer ticket for a river-boat gambling cruise on the Mississippi.
Day 45: I’m told the vaccine will also arrive by drone, which will shoot out a needle like a tranquilizer dart, and that I should find an upstairs window that I can stick my arm out of and which would provide a clear pathway for the drone.
Day 46: The only window that fits that description has been bonded shut for years. With the help of an ax, I finally open it.
Day 47: I forgot to close the window, if it actually could be closed, after my alterations. Vultures are now in the house. I hide from them in the bathroom, after gathering snacks and cell phone.
Day 48: The health department calls and says to be prepared. The launch of the drone vaccine to my home is imminent.
Day 49: Hours pass. I hear pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, followed by flaps. The vultures are apparently learning to cook. Or I may be going insane.
Day 50: I hear the drone. My cell phone is dead. I make a dash from the bathroom upstairs to the designated window. The vaccine dart misses me and hits a vulture that was hot on my heels. Whatever is in the vaccine transforms the bird into something that I may never escape from.
I pray for boosters.
By Chris Brock
This is Chris Brock's eighth fiction piece for TI Life. Chris is the features writer and a copy editor at the “Watertown Daily Times” and on the WDT's NNY360.com where he has won several writing awards. Writing humorous short stories is a hobby. He grew up on the St. Lawrence River community of Waddington, N.Y. His "Those Carp People and Other Tales of Life Along the St. Lawrence" is his most amusing book and it is available on amazon.com. And Chris says, "He seeks a traditional publisher for stories published since that book's release." Click Here to see his other TI Life works.
Illustrations and photographs by John Horbacz
John Horbacz is a North Country artist. As we see in these illustrations, his work is greatly inspired by his love of the forest and all outdoors. He started carving driftwood that he found on the beachcombing shores of Pillear Point, NY and then viper walking sticks that he and his wife would harvest in the woods of Tug Hill. Stay tuned as we will do a more in-depth profile in the coming months.
Editor's Note: Chris Brock never disappoints us with his stories. (mind you I only like happy ending movies!) Chris told me "the inspiration for the story is the first line ... that sentence was a post by a Facebook friend, John Horbacz, who is an artist. I commented that it sounded like the beginnings of a short story. He responded to have go at it." Thanks Chris and Thanks John!
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