Animal Dilemmas – Bearded Vulture Bar-headed Goose

sky burial short story

Short Story

 

The geese entered the final and most difficult stage of their passage. Even though evolution had equipped them for high altitude flight the pilgrimage through the high passages required every drop of effort in the night to come. Flying in thin air required more muscle endurance and not everyone made it.

It was not a race. Every sub flock had a leader at the tip of the triangle formation. The leading geese were of different age and endurance and took the passage at their own pace. In that one night the geese burned more than half of their fat reserves. They waited for the winds to die out and pressed forward. Sometimes they would get lost and find themselves in front of peaks they had to fly over. They would push the limits of their endurance and exhaust every bone in their bodies.

In those extreme cases even if they arrived in the vast nesting plateau they would fail to recover and become food for the vultures. The bearded vultures awaited the arrival of the geese as yearly feast. They divided the plateau in territories and mixed only during the mating season. Occasionally mating with the same partner a few season in a row. Their diet comprised of corpses of birds and rodents, as well as sheep and mountain goats.

In random intervals they would be called to a feast at a sky burial. Where giants would strip their passed and place them on a high rock or alter. Giants would preform a ceremony which included breaking the corpses’ bones, before calling the vulture to ease their digestion.

The bones were the bearded vultures main source of energy. They did eat the meat but preferred the bone marrow. The fat in the marrow gave the vultures all the energy they needed.

When the geese landed on the plateau exhausted after the night of high altitude flying some of them were in bad shape. One had raptures its lungs, another had frozen its vocal cords and the Goose that spoke to the Flamingo had broken its leg in its eagerness to land. The vultures were well aware of the casualties of the geese migration and circled the colony singling out the weak individuals after the journey.

The Vulture saw the crippled Goose, dove in and picked it up helpless from the flat hills. It rose high and dropped it over a flat rock. From the shock and pain the Goose couldn’t scramble to glide down even though its wings were fine. It plunged into the rock and broke to pieces. The Vulture landed and commenced eating. A few more vultures found it and joined the feast. The Vulture wasn’t happy about the incapables of its kin getting an easy meal.

‘We will catch one later and share,’ said one.

‘Sure,’ sad the Vulture.

‘I like goose meat even more than bone marrow,’ said another.

The Vulture didn’t like company much. Its kin was a mess. An emotionally dysfunctional extended family that never helped each other. And especially never helped the Vulture. The Vulture built its own nest in a new wild territory found a mother and started a family.

Its inlaws were well established but constantly eating its food and backstabbing each other. If its uncle got a prime spot at a sky burial that meant he was a cheat. The uncle also had a second nest with a young mother and the whole kin found out. Then his aunt found a second nest with a young bird and all the males in the kin condemned her behavior. They flew well and still hunted well but when they could, they ate from the Vulture’s meat and marrow.

‘The marrow is bad for you,’ its aunt said, ‘it ages you faster. That is why I eat the meat only.’

‘That explains why you can’t fly high and our children are lame,’ said the uncle.

‘Keep your stupid observations to yourself,’ its aunt spat out.

‘You are stupid!’

‘Go to your new nest the mountain over and I hope an avalanche takes you,’ its aunt said.

‘It looks like an avalanche took your brain,’ its uncle was sucking on the goose bone marrow.

‘I will suck your brain out,’ the aunt rose significantly larger the ex-nest-mate.

The uncle took a bone and flew away.

‘There will be a sky burial tomorrow,’ said the Vulture’s father chewing on goose leg.

‘How do you know?’

‘Do you see the smoke from the monastery. Every time there is smoke there is a sky burial the next day.’

‘Whose turn is it? Ours or the west klan?’

‘It is our turn and and I am hosting. You are all invited.’

‘Can I bring my second nester,’ the aunt asked.

‘No, this only immediate klan feast. Your first nester will be there. You can barely eat in each other’s company. Let alone if your new mates are there.’

‘I like the giant’s meat,’ the aunt said.

‘I like the marrow,’ the klan’s patriarch said.

‘I prefer goose marrow.’

‘It is better for you but less delicious,’ said the patriarch.

‘I sleep better if eat goose,’ the Vulture said.

‘I sleep good no matter what I eat. But I dream of sky burials.’

‘I don’t like to dream,’ the Vulture said.

‘Nobody does,’ said the patriarch. ‘Dreams are a curse. A disease that we have caught from the giants. From eating their dead. They give is food but that food is contaminated with the virus of dreams. The dreams of the stars not being stars but being all powerful gods and kingdoms.’

‘Then we should stop eating at sky burials,’ the Vulture said.

‘What else are we going to eat,’ its father said!

‘Geese, mice, sheep,’ said the Vulture.

‘I prefer eating dream free meat but there is not enough of it.’

‘So you are selling of your peaceful sleep for what?’

‘For a greater healthier population, for a greater klan.’

‘Greater by the numbers but weaker in the mind,’ the Vulture said.

‘If the body is not strong the mind cannot be strong. It is at times distracted by dreams but we can battle that with prayer and high flights.’

‘I am still against eating at sky burials.’

‘But you will eat and show solidarity because otherwise I will curse you out of the range of good weather.’

‘I will eat.’

 

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Animal Dilemmas – Tuesday, February 2.

previous chapter: Animal Dilemmas – Bar-Headed Goose Flamingo

all chapters: Animal Dilemmas

more by XIDAN

photograph from unsplash

 

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