Where Vultures Are Known as Zopilotes

The dog was a reddish-tan color not unlike dusty copper and lay with its tail wrapped around its body in a small depression it had dug in the loose sand at the base of a palo verde. The dog didn’t move except to blink and, from time to time, twitch its eyebrows with worry.

The man lay face down in the sand. He was naked. His lips were cracked and split, his skin burned several shades darker by heat and dehydration.

When his core temperature had reached one hundred and six degrees, in a last-ditch effort to cool itself, the man’s body had flooded the surface of his skin with blood.

The effort failed: the man’s body lacked sufficient water to sweat. The rapidly heating sludge that was his blood scalded his skin from the inside, causing the man to strip off his shirt and trousers. The effort exhausted the last of his strength. He sank to his knees and lurched forward. Then the man moved not at all, except for the feeble rising and falling of his ribcage. 

Less and less often, a small, weak moan escaped his withered lips. It was these moans that had attracted the dog and caused its eyebrows to twitch with worry.

The palo verde under which the dog sheltered was flowering—small yellow flowers with red hearts bright against the green bark that gave the tree its name. The palo verde didn’t move except when the dry desert wind rushed by, pulling at its delicate flowers and sucking precious water from every leaf and petal.

Overhead, the sun moved slowly and pitilessly across the vast blue sky ringed by jagged mountains.

Far away to the north, a vulture soared tirelessly, its wings stretched to their fullest, its eyes unblinking. The vulture hadn’t spotted the man, yet, but it would, and then it and its companions would inscribe the great circles in the sky that would be the only acknowledgment in this world of the man’s death, save for the whimper offered up by the copper-colored dog when it sensed the man had breathed his last breath. Then, its vigil ended, the dog would trot a short distance across the hot sand toward a spring the man’s nose had unable to detect. And so the dog would not witness the arrival of the vultures as they began to transform the man into countless other life forms. 

At the same moment the dog reaches the spring, a young girl in a village where vultures are known as zopilotes will part hand-sewn curtains to look out a small, north-facing window and wonder about her father. She will wonder if he risked everything and lost it or if he gained entry into the enchanted land on the other side of the barbed wire and was already forgetting the family he left behind. She won’t know that even after he’d thrown away his backpack and empty water bottles, his extra clothes, and his wedding ring, he’d kept her photograph in a pocket in his trousers and that his last conscious thought before dehydration robbed him of his mind was to pray for her safety and beg for her forgiveness.

Jim’s Taco Fund (Trying not to be a starving artist)

If you’ve ever tossed some coins to a subway saxophonist or a juggler working a stoplight, please consider sending a few bucks my way — $5 covers a day’s worth of tacos. Or, for $3, buy me a coffee!

Luiz Alberto Urria’s books The Devil’s Highway and Into The Beautiful North influenced this story.

Prompted by this life’s illusions on Simily (trousers, dog, desert)

Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash