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I glanced up from my magazine and quirked an eyebrow. “Did what?” 

Isaac’s gaze shot to me. He grimaced. The rest of the environmental club were suddenly very interested, and watched with dead silence. 

“You won’t like this,” he said with a nervous laugh, “being a vulture freak and all.”

My heart dropped. What was he about to tell me? 

“What is it?” A girl, Anna, asked. “Tell us.” 

“They’re dying off. Like, here in Riverwood. Their numbers are declining by the day!” 

I put my magazine down and stood, adjusting my skirt—hot pink. “That’s ridiculous,” I snapped. “Why are you happy about this?” 

“God, Grace,” Anna said. “We know your dad and you really liked them or whatever but they’re disgusting creatures.” 

I glared and crossed my arms. Turning to Isaac, I demanded, “And why are you taking credit for this?” 

“Because it means we’re doing our job. Since we started working with animal control and the vets, saving those sick or injured, lost animals… the vultures are starving.” 

Everyone fell silent. For the rest of the club, it was a stupored awe. For me, it was bafflement. 

“Vultures don’t outright attack anyone that often,” I argued. “They only do it if they have to, and the animal is dying anyway. It’s like a mercy killing.” 

“Listen to them,” a guy named Todd laughed. “‘Mercy killing.’ What is this, The Walking Dead?” 

“This is real shit,” I insisted, “those are real animals with souls and lives, and you all are happy that they’re starving?” 

They all glanced at each other, then to Isaac. He stared me dead in the eye, and said, “Yes.” 

And I knew. 

That night, I was cooking dinner with my mother when I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I explained what happened with venom in my mouth, and she stared, aghast. 

“How could they not care about such precious creatures? You know, when your dad and I were young, we got to see it in action.” 

I blinked. She was weird sometimes, but she was my mother, and I loved her. “Oh?” 

“Yes, they’re such graceful creatures. It’s why we named you ‘Grace.’” 

I look down as I chop vegetables, slowing to a halt. “Mom… I have a question… before he left, did he—”

“If it were me,” she interrupts me, “and I were the head of the environmental club, I would take some action. Put some bite behind that bark.” 

“What do you mean?” I ask, exhausted. 

“Just that if someone were to go out there and find a way to increase their numbers again, that person would be a hero. To us, you know?” She met my eyes. “To me?” 

And I knew. 

“Yeah.” I went back to chopping, voice flat. “You’re right.” 

We ate together, occasionally sharing vulture fun facts that we both already knew, but mostly talking about our days—mine at the university, hers as a telemarketer. She’s been there for thirty years. It’s a scary thought. 

Before my dad walked out, we’d do something called ‘vulture watch’ where we’d drive around until we found fresh roadkill and wait for a vulture or two to arrive. My dad would never keep up long enough to watch it eat, but it still made me uncomfortable, I remember, when I was around seven and just old enough to realize what was going on. 

“I know that vultures are good,” I had said during vulture watch on my eighth birthday, “but why does that mean the animals that got hurt is good, too?” 

“Because, baby, it’s the cycle of life,” he’d said. “You walk outside, you get hit by a car, kicked to the curb. You can’t change it. You can’t go back. Why not make food for someone who needs it?” 

My father is an organ donor, if he hasn’t changed it. I am, too. I’ve been trying to convince my mother for years, but she doesn’t want to go through the process of changing the ID. I guess I get it. 

I sat in my room that night, late until the stars began to fade, wracking my brain for the best way to save the vultures in our area. I considered organizing a deal with another environmental club to bring new vultures into our ecosystem, if they had an overpopulation problem, but that could get tricky. It could take months to do safely. We don’t have months. 

They said the vultures were starving. If that was the case… 

They needed to be fed. 

And I knew. 

I dug around for as long as I felt comfortable based on the time limit, until I heard of a family downtown, close to the forest, who’s pet dog was sick. I’ve never hated myself more than when I snuck in through their unlocked back door, crept into the living room to the dog who was too sick and tired to bark, and gathered the big thing up into my arms to be taken into the forest. 

They didn’t have any other animals, so I left the back door open. Maybe they’d think he got out. Maybe they’d have hope he’d come home. Maybe it would be okay. 

I laid him down in the center of a clearing in the woods, and backed up. He whimpered and cried, and I found myself crying with him. But when I was settled deep in the bushes, because not only did I need to know this would work but I could not live with myself to take the coward’s way out of ignoring what I’ve done, the first vulture circled the air. The dog whined louder. I pressed a hand to my mouth to stifle sobs. 

Another vulture, one more, and they circled until morning. The dog’s crying gradually decreased. I was confused, because if they were starving, they would kill it themselves. But they didn’t. They waited, as if to be sure the dog wouldn’t miraculously recover or find help. My heart dropped when the first vulture did, and I had to turn away as the three swarmed, as much as I said I wouldn’t. I vomited into the leaves. 

It took weeks of traumatic work to feel like I was making any progress. I finally felt like I could stop soon, that it would be over, it would be over, it would be over, until one day in the environmental club. We were hosting a bake sale, and unfortunately it was Isaac and I sitting together at the table while a few others, Todd and Anna, got people’s attention. 

“This is bullshit,” Isaac mumbled as he stared down at his phone. 

I sighed. “What?” I asked flatly. 

“The vultures numbers have stabilized.” 

Stabilized? “What do you mean? They’re not getting better?” 

“No, and they’re not getting worse, either.” He glared. “Stupid fucking birds. Like cockroaches.” 

If they were starving, why would feeding them not help? I had to excuse myself, and had a panic attack in the school bathroom. My breathing came out in sweeping gasps, and I banged my palm into my head until my skull was screaming. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop hitting myself, 

and I couldn’t stop killing. 

I laid in bed that night, staring at the ceiling with tears streaming down my face. When I was a kid, my dad took me to a cafe. They had pastries there, and it was around Halloween. They had one that was a blackberry-blueberry pie cookie, and the color reminded me of my favorite bird, so I begged him to get it for me. He bought a box of them. 

Before, I would ask my mom to take me there. When I was still in high school, she’d agree, but it wouldn’t happen. Now she asks why I don’t go on my own. 

I don’t know why my dad left. I don’t know what happened. Sometimes, I think he might have regretted it so hard he killed himself. I mean, he did love me. He loved me so much, I know he did. So why did he leave, if not for the biggest mistake of his life? But if he came to me right now and begged for my forgiveness, I would hug him and welcome him home. 

I’m starting to realize that will never happen. 

And I knew. 

I continued. Stealing dogs and cats, and it increased to things I’d rather not mention here, things that will haunt me evermore. I think it was here that the piece of me my father loved, died. I think it was here that was the turning point, that permanent loss that hollowed me out. I’ll have to fill it with something different. 

I’m staring at the vultures circlinge. There are more of them than usual, I’ve counted eight, six, and seven, different every time. My heart is racing. Tears are streaming. My hands are clasped. I’m staring at the circle and then one swoops down and I’m watching, I’m watching, I’m watching the arrow pierce it in the neck and watching it fall to the ground and watching it twitch and squirm until it fell still. A silent sob burst from my mouth, as arrows rained and black feathers drifted. And just when I was ready to run, they stepped out of the trees to collect their arrows. 

Todd, Anna, 

and Isaac. 

The last time I saw my dad, he was sitting on the couch watching TV. I’d gotten up in the middle of the night to pee and noticed he was up. He was always an early sleeper, so I was worried. I went over to him, twelve years old and with the world ahead of me, to ask him what was wrong. 

He smiled. It wasn’t his normal smile. He wasn’t acting normal at all. “I’m fine, baby girl,” he’d said. “Just fine.” 

And when I woke the next morning, he was gone. 

And I knew.