With the sun beating on our skulls, we gathered around the carcass. I’d lived in Texas my whole life, seen a bunch a queer things too, but I’d never seen nothing like this. Least not in real life, only in fancy paintings or the stained glass windows at Church. It looked like a man, but it just couldn’t be.
Earl was the last to arrive. “How the hell did that get here?” he said, his voice hoarse from too many years of barking orders on the ranch.
“Bob shot it outta the sky,” said Kirk.
“I didn’t…” said Bob, his .270 Remington dangling from his shoulder.
“What you mean, you didn’t?” said Earl. “It’s got a hole the size of a hog’s asshole. Did you pull the trigger or not?”
Bob shifted uncomfortably. “I mean I didn’t know what it was, is all.”
“We guessed it was a buzzard,” I said.
Earl scowled. “D’ya need your grandma’s spectacles? Look at the size of it.”
“It was flying pretty high,” said Bob.
“Well, it’s down here now messin’ up my yard and it sure ain’t no buzzard.” He scratched at the stubble on his jaw. “So what the hell is it?”
We all knew what we thought it was. But none dare say it. As though damnation would only visit if we admitted it out loud.
“Whatever it is, I’m guessin’ it sure ain’t from Hell.” Kirk nodded at the wings, outstretched across the cinder hot dust. Feathers as white as a swan’s, but larger. Way larger.
“Hey, cut that crap,” said Earl.
“You tell us then,” said Kirk. “You got eyes as big as we do.”
Earl huffed, all throaty, like a racoon hacking up a fishbone. He grabbed a wing and tugged.
“Tried that,” I said. And we had, hoping the thing would fall off like some crazy fancy dress, and all the while trying to overlook how a man could have got so high in the sky if they were phoney.
Earl dropped the wing. “Damn thing is like it’s real.”
“Is cos it is, Earl,” said Bob. “Jeeze, if word gets out what we done here… well, folks ain’t gonna take kindly on this.”
“If we’re thinking what we’re thinking,” Kirk said, “it ain’t just folk that should worry us. Word is already out up there.” He looked into the sun-bleached sky and every neck craned upward.
“For chrissakes, stop that bullshit,” growled Earl. “There’s no way that can be real. Just some crazy government experiment or sommat.”
For all his talk I could see he was shook up, and somehow that made it all the more troublesome. “We gotta bury it,” I said. “That’s all there is to it.”
“Bury it?” said Kirk.
“Sure. It might have been dining on bread and honey in God’s kitchen this morning, but a day in this heat and my dead aunt in Hell will be bitchin’ about the smell.”
“What about a service?” said Bob. “Shouldn’t we get a priest or someone?”
We all stared at him. The sun had clearly chargrilled his brain.
“Yeah, oh, yeah.” said Earl. “And while we’re at it, why don’t we get the Dallas Morning News droppin’ by? I can see it now, fool ranch hand shoots down God’s messenger. Are you forgettin’ what state we’re standing in? We’d be strung up in those trees quicker than Kirk here can eat a slice of moon pie.”
There was silence for a moment, except for the buzz of the flies. Then Bob said, “I’ll get the shovels.”
“I’m getting the pick-up,” said Kirk.
The ground was baked as hard as Mom’s sourdough bread, and it took us nigh on two hours to dig the hole. I wondered if this was what Hell was like. Digging and burying, hoping to hide your sins from the Lord’s eyes. As we sweltered in the raging sun, there were more curses than seemed rightful for the occasion, but when it came time to lower the body our words were sucked away by the dusty air.
Earl held one leg, Kirk held the other. Me and Bob took the arms, and we took pains to keep the wings from getting bent up and crooked. Bob might have pulled the trigger, and the Lord knows how wretched he must have felt, but we all felt a part of it, even Earl. I’d always believed his eyes weren’t made to hold tears, but right then I swear they looked as close as they could ever get. We tossed in the dirt and watched as that face disappeared into the earth, the most perfect face I had ever known. And in that moment, for the first time in my life I felt in real fear of Hell.
Three days on, I heard from my Jessie that Earl’s wife found him praying the other night. “Fancy that,” Jessie had said. But I just shrugged. “A man’s got a right to change his heart.” After all, for the first time in years that same night I’d got down and prayed too.
Andy D Smith lives in Southern England with his wife and three children. He works in Elderly Mental Health at the local hospital and enjoys writing flash fiction, novels and non-fiction.