Landon gazed at the collection of things, of childhood memories, in the nest below him. He was alone, now, in the dry attic, with nothing but a whisper of carrion-scent to remind him who his latest companions were. He hesitated, unsure of what to do, when his grandmother called up from the bottom of the stairs.
“Landon?” She sounded frightened. He spread out the old sweatshirt and piled his things inside, folding it up to make a bundle before scooting away from the nest and struggling to stand. As he did, a small tink-tink-tink sounded at his feet. He shifted his armload to the side and peered down, hunched under the sloped roof. Something small glinted on the floor, dangerously close to a crack between dusty boards. He picked it up and squinted at it: a small, gold ring, engraved crudely–scratched, more like. It must have fallen out of the sweatshirt pocket, he thought. He absently put it on his finger so he would not lose it.
“Where are the birds? Are they gone?” Mamaw asked when he came down the steps. He nodded and held out the things that had been in the nest.
“They showed me these things,” he said. “They were in a nest.” He was at a loss, then, and shrugged his shoulders: Why?
She passed her hand over her forehead in the same gesture she’d made earlier, in the kitchen. “It’s your things,” she said. “Your things.” And she slumped to the floor in a faint.
She came to a few minutes later, when Landon laid her on her bed. She surprised him by bursting into tears.
“I thought it was for me, all this time,” she choked. “I saw the first one weeks ago, circling around and around above the house. I knew what it meant, even before it came back with its…friends. I threw away all my things. All my clothes. I’ve been buying them down at the Dollar General. I wear them until they smell bad, and then I burn them…I even gave all my valuables to your father to keep!” She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.
Landon tried to keep up with her. “You…didn’t want the vultures to take your things?” She shook her head, still covering her eyes with her hands. “So that’s why the attic was empty,” he muttered.
“They are ambassadors of the witch,” she said, finally. “The vultures. And when they take your things, she…she comes for you.”
“So, what? She’s coming for me, now?” He was too bewildered to be worried. Mamaw took her hands away from her face and looked blearily up at her grandson. She started to turn away, shuddering, when her eye caught on the gold ring on his finger. Her hand snaked out before he knew what she was doing and caught his with a grip like a manacle.
“Where did you find that ring?” she demanded.
“It fell out of my sweatshirt,” he said. “I’ve never seen it before today.”
She bared her teeth in a predator’s grin. “Maybe we have an ally.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means…you might not have to be sacrificed, after all.”