It's Good to Touch the Green, Green Grass of Home

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Santa Fe

$5 per ticket. Herman Fuller and his associates are not responsible for any injuries or casualties that may occur while visiting the Circus of the Disquieting.

That was where I first met that poor, poor bird. I'm not sure where Fuller had snatched him, but when I first laid my eyes on him, I could tell he had been with the Circus for a while. His misshapen wing, that sad look in his eyes, the way his feathers were all puffed up, the dried blood in his coat… It broke my heart just seeing him like that. It only got worse when Fuller told him to start his act. The poor thing refused and… God, I can still hear the cracks of the whip every time I close my eyes. When I left that day with my family, I knew what I had to do.

I went back to the menagerie and told 'em what I had seen. They looked just as horrified as I felt when I told 'em how that vulture screeched with each of Fuller's strikes. We set to work planning a break-out. Lyn and Benjamin stayed behind to prepare an enclosure for the bird while me and Barnett went back to the Circus. It was close to midnight when we got there. Those weird clowns they had were beginning to show people the exits. Barnett and I slinked behind the Big Top, planning to sit there and wait till the Circus cleared out. There were a couple of times here and there where we thought one of the Circus workers had seen us, but we managed to stay hidden for a while.

Once it was dark and quiet enough, Barnett and I snuck back out from behind the Big Top. I had seen where they stored their animals, so I started to lead Barnett that-a-way. It was weird seeing the Circus so empty, devoid of any visitors or workers. It was like the life was sucked out of it and we were just wandering around its corpse. It felt wrong.

We ran into some trouble once we got close to the cages they kept their critters in. We were just about to squeeze between some tents to get to 'em when I got this sick feeling in my chest. I looked behind us and on the other end of the grounds, I saw something rise up from the ground. It was a grey-ish looking man with long, dragging arms. He had a pointed nose the size of my grandpa's old canoe and was surely tall enough to look over the roof of my house. Barnett and I just stood there for a moment, staring in awe and terror at this sight. We only started moving when that horrible man turned to look in our direction, revealing his large, pitch-black eyes. Convinced that he had seen us, I pushed Barnett into a nearby tent and started running, hoping it would chase after me.

I remember just running and running and running for what felt like hours. I didn't even bother looking behind me to see if that thing was following me. Some workers had begun to come out of the tents and other buildings to see what was happening, probably alerted by that big scary thing. I didn't bother taking a look back at the workers, I just kept on running. And I did so until I ran headfirst into someone. It felt like I ran into a brick wall with how hard I hit the floor. After gathering myself, I looked up to see who it was and… You have to believe me on this one, alright? It was a pretty strong dude, really fancy black suit. You couldn't tell anything was wrong with him till you looked up at that face of his… I almost threw up when I saw him for the first time. His nose was upside down, his mouth was where his eyes should've been and his eyes where his mouth should've been. I felt bad for the poor man, imagine having to live your life seeing everything upside down… When he looked down at me, I felt like something had pierced my skull and was digging around my brain, uncovering my memories and reading all of my thoughts like I was an open catalog. I can still hear his deep, gravelly voice asking

"You're here for that bird?"

I remember just nodding for a bit, almost like I was scared to lie to the guy. He sighed and muttered something under his breath before grabbing my arm and lifting me up.

"I caught that friend of yours that you pushed into a tent. Looked into him and found out what you were planning. I'll take you to the bird. It's about time it gets a ticket out of this Hell."

He led me through the tents and set-ups, back to where I had left Barnett. He was standing there next to a woman Clown with bright purple makeup and long black hair. The Man with the Upside-Down Face said something to the Clown I didn't quite pick up on before gesturing for me to follow her. She led us through the cages and enclosures. Most of 'em didn't have any critters in them, but the critters that were there were a sight to see. There was a beautiful white horse with two little nubs on its back, a really shaggy dog, a cat that I swear was only half here, what looked like a cross between a bat and a lizard, and a big bird and long-looking fish arguing with one another. After a bit of walking, I saw it.

The vulture was in a cage far too small for its wingspan. The floor of the cage was littered with bird droppings and rotten food. The bars had bite and scratch marks in them. There was a large bottle of something next to the cage. The bottle had a long tube coming out of the top of it, which seemed to be funneling whatever liquid was inside of it to the bird's beak. The poor guy was lying fast asleep on the floor of the cage, his wings up against the walls and the mystery liquid dripping out of his beak. I noticed some still-wet blood on his body, from where Fuller had whipped him.

"Fuller's been feeding him with, uh… Clown Milk. To keep the poor thing sedated. When he gets mad or nervous, weird stuff starts to happen around him. Fuller keeps him drugged up so he won't get mad and turn one of our other attractions into a stool or something. He already sliced off the wings of our pegasus the last time he had an outburst."

The Clown told us to grab some rope and tie it around the bird's cage. We did so and started pulling him back the way we came. The other animals watched almost melancholically as we pulled their friend out of this Circus. I asked the Clown if we could take some of the other animals as well.

"Don't get me wrong, I'd love to get the rest of them out of here, but Manny and I are already risking enough by helping you get just one out of here. Don't worry, though, I'll work on finding the rest of them a home elsewhere."

I understood why we couldn't take the rest of the critters, but I still felt awful as we walked on. The Clown led us to a building I hadn't seen before - she called it the "Kaleidoscope", if that means anything to you - and helped us take the cage inside. The bird was still fast asleep from the milk he had been drinking prior, but he was starting to stir some.

The inside of the building held a circular room. On every part of the walls, taking up as much space as they could, were a series of Doors. The man I had seen before - the Clown said his name was Manny - was standing next to an open Door. I could hear faint carnival music coming from the Door, which opened up to a bright white nothing-ness. I could faintly see my menagerie through the white if I stared at it for long enough.

"This'll take you back to that sanctuary of yours. We'll do our best to make sure Fuller doesn't find out it's you two who took the bird."

I nodded and helped Barnett push the cage into the Door. Barnett followed after it. Before I left as well, I turned back to the Clown - Icky? I think that was her name… - and Manny and asked if the bird had a name.

"Fuller grabbed it from a guy down in Mexico. Fuller didn't bother naming it when we brought it to the Circus, but the vendor had called him Sombra."

I nodded and thanked him for his help. I took one last look at the room I was in, then headed into the Door.

He's been here at my menagerie for a while now. I guess he's adjusted alright to the move but… Something still feels off 'bout the bird. Like he still ain't too happy. Oh, before I forget, we found a new name for him. Lyn knew a Mexican who lived here from before the war we had with 'em. He told us that the bird's name, Sombra, translated to Shadow. We thought the name worked just fine, what with how shy he is.

We've never really had an animal of Shadow's size in the menagerie before, much less one that could fly. We just decided to use one of the ol' big sheds we used for the ostriches back when this was an ostrich farm and just keep him in there. We thought it plenty big enough for a critter of his size, and just hoped that he wouldn't try to break out or anything.

It took a bit for Shadow to wake up. I'd say it was a day or two before he did. That Clown Milk or whatever that clown lady called it sure must've been a strong thing if it could an animal of Shadow's size knocked out for that long. We knew when he was awake when he started screeching and hitting the shed's walls like he'd been shot. I was feeding some of Benjamin's horses at the moment, but I ran over real quick, scared one of those bobcats or pumas had gotten in there and was trying to make a meal out of that big bird. There was something real odd happening when I did get to the shed, way weirder than what had happened over at the Circus. I could've sworn the walls were almost moving, like waving back and forth. Like waves on a lake or something. When I went to open the door to it, I just went straight through it. I could see it and feel it, but I could walk right through it like there was nothing but thin air.

When I got in there, Shadow was trying to break out of the shed through an especially wavy wall. The damn buzzard had his head half out of a window, and with how he was struggling he seemed like he had gone and managed to get himself stuck. I didn't really know what to do to help the bird, so I just went behind him and started tugging on his back. After a bit of a struggle, I managed to pop him out of the window. We went tumbling back against the other wall. Shadow got back up real quick. He turned round to take a quick look at me before hiding behind some hay pile we had against one of the shed's corner. Poor thing was scared out of his mind, and the hay wasn't even big enough to hide him! I figured it was best to give it some space, so I backed out of the shed and left it at that. The shed's walls stopped wobbling as much when I started walking away. I decided to take that as a good sign.

I told the others that Shadow was awake and, I still don't know how she managed it to this day, but Lyn got in there and examined the bird. Turned out Shadow had broken his wing a couple of times when he was at the Circus. Wouldn't be surprised if that Fuller guy had something to do with it. She said she knew a guy - a shark-tight, think she said - over in Albuquerque or however you say it that could fix it. She said she could send for him, but that it'd probably take a week or so for him to get here. I figured that the wait was worth it to fix the poor bird's wings, so we sent Benjamin packing with the message in hand.

Asides from Shadow's broken wing, we thought the biggest struggle would be finding food to feed the bird. Turns out the general store in town was willing to sell us their spoiled meat for only a quarter a pound. We found out rather quickly that the hard part was actually feeding the damned thing. When I went in there with the food, which I planned to just drop on the floor and leave it at that, Shadow jumped out from behind the hay and pushed me down to the ground. He tore the rotten beef from my arms and hopped back on over to the hay pile. I swear that bird would've attacked me right then and there hadn't I had that meat. I ran out of there as quick as I could, more than happy to let the bird eat in peace.

I told Lyn and Barnett 'bout what had happened, and we figured that Shadow was just scared of people. That made a whole lotta sense, especially if you take that whole Circus thing into consideration. It's really sad when you think about it. This big and scary bird, scared of all people just 'cause of some carpetbagger yankee with a whip. I really hope I can get the bird to start liking people, if only so it can stop being all shy and stuff.

Benjamin came back yesterday from Albu-whatever with Lyn's associate - she told me he's a Sarkic, not a shark-tight. Sound the same to me, but alright. Said he could work his magic on Shadow, but that he'd need to be alone with him for a while. I had half a mind to refuse, wanting to look over and make sure nothing bad happened to the bird, but Lyn assured me he wouldn't harm Shadow in any way. I warned him I still had my rifle from the War Between the States before I let him do his thing. After 'bout an hour or so, he came back out looking pretty tired, saying that it was done. While Lyn showed him to our guest room, I went to go and check on Shadow. His wing looked as good as new, and I could swear that his eyes looked just a little brighter than they were before. He seemed pretty happy, flapping about the shed and looking all happy-like. But… I felt… sad for him. He had gotten his wing fixed and was finally out from that awful Circus, but he still wasn't really free, was he? We had him cooped up in this dingy ol' shed with not an awful lot of room to move or fly around. He seemed happy now, but… I dunno, I'm probably just rambling, aren't I?

Went to feed Shadow today and, surprisingly enough, the bird didn't try to pin me to the ground this time. He just grabbed the meat from my hands and went to go eat it on the other side of the shed. Speaking of which, he's started making a nest out of the hay we had in here. I've watched him do it, and I know this is gonna sound weird, but he doesn't actually grab the hay. He just kinda stares at it, and it starts to move on its own. A whole bunch of straws will come up into the air and start going around in a circle, like a tiny little tornado, before moving over to the nest and tying themselves into it.

It's all really sweet, but… there's still this sad look in his eyes. Like he's just making the best of what he's got. Sometimes, when I pass by his shed to bring food to the hogs, I'll spot him just staring out the window at the sky. It, uh, it really hurts my heart seeing him like that. I really wish we could just set him free, but I'm scared of what the folk around here would do if they saw a hugeass vulture just flying around like nothing. Knowing them, they'd probably get scared and shoot Shadow down… Really wouldn't want that to happen…

I was talking with the other three earlier this afternoon, and we all feel the same way about Shadow. He's been acting real strange as of late, almost like he's depressed or something. He doesn't get as excited as he use to when we bring him food, and he spends most of his time either staring out of his window at the sky or resting in his nest. It really hurts us seeing him like this, a whole lot. We talked about it for a bit before just kinda sitting there in silence. We all wanted to do something to help Shadow feel better, but… I mean, what could we do? We let him out here, the folks at Santa Fe would probably shoot him down and put him in a museum somewhere. Or Fuller might find him again. Or those Consortium guys might catch wind of him and send some of their folks to hunt him down for sport. I was about ready to break down right then and there when Barnett piped up.

"Why don't we take him back home?"

For a moment there, I thought he was talking about giving him back to Fuller, and I was 'bout ready to get up and slap him 'side the head, but then I started thinking 'bout it a bit more. That Manny guy, the one who helped us back at the Circus, mentioned something about getting the bird down in Mexico. Maybe that's where Shadow was from, down south of the Rio Grande. I mean, it made sense, what with his old name being Sombra and everything. Only issue was, Mexico was 'bout 500 miles south of the menagerie. We definitely couldn't take Shadow on a train down South, that'd probably spook the poor bird, and I doubt they'd like us bring something like a giant vulture onto a steamboat. We could go by the wagon trails, but I doubt we could find a wagon strong enough to carry him. That's when Benjamin finally said something for the first time that whole day.

"We put him on a raft and take him down the Rio Grande to Mexico. Like we use to do before steamboats. It'll take a while, but it's better than nothing."

"But who's gonna go with him?"

There was a really awkward, really long silence. Before any of us could say anything, one of the mules outside started baying. We got up and back to work, saving that talk for later.

Started building the raft this afternoon. Hardest part of it all was getting the lumber. You'd think this being the frontier and all we'd be drowning 'n it, but nah. We looked for some sturdy enough trees for a couple of hours and, when we couldn't find any, we just went over to Santa Fe to buy some from the mill.

While Barnett and Benjamin started cutting the lumber and all that, I went to go and pay Shadow a visit. While we were in town, I went ahead and bought him some meat. This time I thought it'd be nice to get the big bird some fresher meat. General store had a deal going on for fresh pork, and I just felt like it was something that'd be up Shadow's alley.

Went him into his shack to give him the meat, and I could've sworn that the damned bird was smiling right then and there. He got up from his little nest of hay in the corner and basically ran over to me, grabbing the meat from my hands and eating it on the spot. He seemed so damn happy, gobbling up that pork meat, it was like he hadn't eaten in ages! He sat there in the shed, just watching him while he ate.

I'm really gonna miss him, aren't I?

We finished the raft yesterday. It's big enough for Shadow, enough supplies to last a month or so, and one person. We still hadn't chosen who was gonna take the trip with the big bird, but it was getting dark, so it was probably best we waited until the morning. 'Least, that's that others were thinking.

I laid there in my bed for a bit, staring at the house's ceiling and waitin', waitin' to make sure the others were asleep. Barnett was always quick to wake up, so I 'specially needed to be sure he was sleepin'. Once I was sure of it, I slowly crept my way out of the room and out of the home. As I made my way to over to Shadow's shed, I turned round and took one last look at the homestead. I let myself take in the view for a bit, it'd probably be a while before I came back.

I opened the door to the shed, where Shadow was sleeping soundly on his little hay nest. I pulled the last of the meat from my pocket and tore a chunk off of it, throwing it at the vulture to wake the big bird up.

Once the big bird stirred and ate the pork I'd slung at him, I began luring him out to the raft. I chucked the pork onto the raft, and let him hop on himself. We had ropes to strap him down and make sure he wouldn't fly off, but I felt like he'd much rather enjoy the ride free and not stuck to the ground.

As I pushed the raft off the river's bank, I took one last look at home. I could see Lyn and Benjamin standing in one of the windows, watching as I left. I waved at 'em a couple of times before I was too far to see. Once I was sure the river had picked up the raft in its flow, I sat down next to Shadow and prepared myself for the long ride ahead of us.

I'll make sure to write home when I get there.


Gaskell Observational Consortium

Gary Pebbler
For theft and harboring of dangerous animals



I remember hearing tale of a Circus appearing overnight near a town down over the American border. I'd seen one of their posters back home in Richmond, for a big bird they were exhibiting. I went to the Circus, hoping to see the bird for myself, only to find that it had gone missing. I asked one of the circus workers - think he said his name was Motormouth? - and he said someone had snuck into their circus late one night and took the bird with them. A real shame, but I didn't see how it concerned me.

-Will Wettle

Those were the two things that came through telegram for one Elias Everest in Socorro, New Mexico. The postman had been a bit rude when he shoved the slips in Elias' hands, but he chose to ignore this insult this once. As he was leaving the post office, the burly employee shouted out to him.

"Got a package for you as well, Mr. Everest. Thought you might want to take it with you."

Elias turned around, one foot out the door, and took a gander at what was on the table.

There, wrinkled and dirtied was a brown European coat. He smiled, reading the note on it that read "FROM HQ. RETURN AFTER COMPLETION OF WARRANT 6773."

Elias rode alongside the Rio Grande, keeping about half a mile's distance between him and the river's water. His horse was galloping at full speed, not being given a single chance to slow down by Elias. At this rate, he was sure his horse was gonna bake with how much he was pushing him, but he needed to be there quickly. The information that HQ had given him indicated that Gary and his bird had left that barrel boarder's house on a little boat on the Rio Grande.

After riding for what could've very well been hours, he spotted it on the horizon. A mean raft flowing down the river's waters. He smiled, grabbing his horse's reins and directing him to go even faster than he already was. He checked the pockets of his coat, ensuring that the pistols he had brought hadn't fallen out. He found comfort in how the cold metal of their barrels felt in his hands.

As he got closer to the poorly-made raft, the arms began to come out of his coat.


Elias watched as the bullet tore through the tarp's fabric. If he focused on it, he swore he could hear the wet, gushing noise of it hitting his target. He spun the revolver's chamber as the horse got up next to the riverbank. From here, he could see the silhouette of the man he hit in the tarp. He frowned as he saw the man rise, gripping his right shoulder. A hit, but not a kill. He held out both of arms, which were followed by the six arms that emerged from the coat. All eight of the guns took aim at the man's figure and fired. The bullets tore through the tarp and hit their target. What was left of the tarp's fabric was painted bright red as Gary Pebbler fell to the raft's floor, clutching the holes in his body.

Elias' frown turned to a wide, wide grin as his extra arms retreated back into the coat, taking the revolvers with them. He grabbed the reins of his horse and, just as he was about to order it to turn around, he saw movement on the raft.

Shadow had been fast asleep during the whole encounter, full from the pork the man had used to get him on the raft. He was grateful for that pork. While he enjoyed the rotten meat he had been bringing him for a while, that pork had been on a whole 'nother level.

That last barrage of bullets, however, had woken him up. He felt a splash of something wet and cold on the tarp that was covering him.

As the vulture got up and shook off the tarp, the familiar smell of blood hit his cere.

'That has to be the biggest bird I've seen in all my born days,' thought Elias as he saw Shadow rise on the raft. He frantically pulled out the paper slips he got from the post office, checking for any mention about a big bird.

The note attached to the warrant managed a big bird being stolen from that Fuller Circus, but that's about it. He grumbled, crumbling up the paper and tossing it into the Rio Grande. He whipped out one revolver and pointed it at the bird, who was investigating what was left of Pebbler's sorry body. He aimed for the vulture's head and shot.

The bullet whistled through the air, flying straight for the vulture's brain, until it wasn't. It stopped a few centimeters away from the bird's skull, just hovering there in the air, until it began to contort and bend, folding in upon itself over and over before falling into the waters below.

Elias never knew a bird could look pissed before today.

The bird launched itself from the raft, the force of which threatened to capsize it. It flew up into the air, before looking down at Elias on his horse. A multitude of arms were emerging from the lawman's coat, all of them holding revolvers trained on Shadow. After what felt like hours, but was really only one long drawn-out moment, Shadow began a nosedive towards Elias, descending at a blindingly fast speed. At almost the same instance, Elias let loose his barrage of bullets. Some of the bullets that were let off sooner than the others blinked out of existence when they got close to Shadow, or were teleported to another part of the dusk sky. There was a bright flash of light when a majority of the bullets reached Shadow, and Elias felt a wave of heat pass over him as he felt the ground fall beneath him.

He felt a moment of buoyant bliss, as reality loosened around him, before he felt the full weight of a giant vulture hitting him.

It's been a couple of weeks now since the trip across the border. I'm still recovering from the bullets that went through my body, and Shadow…

If the blood on the page before this wasn't evidence enough, we got ambushed by someone on the Rio. I came to a lil while after that, and the raft had already drifted far down enough the Rio that I couldn't see who done it. If I had to, I'd place my bets on it being some nutjob from the Consortium. Guessing by the fact I was still alive, I just sorta assumed Shadow dealt with it on his ownsome. I'm smiling a bit now just thinking about it. Wonder if he did it just outta self-defense or for me.

It took the two of us a couple more days to make it across the border, and I spent most of that time just sitting there in my lil tarp, trying not to bleed out more than I already had. I felt really bad about it, almost like Shadow had to take care of me for the rest of the trip, when I was the one supposed to be doing that. I really do hope I made it up for him.

After we rode the Rio a bit into Mexico, I decided it'd be best to start heading south on foot. To my surprise, Shadow followed me without me even having to tell him to. Just hopped off the raft and went along with me like it was nothing. It took us a couple of days to reach the desert proper. I remember that the sun was starting to set, and the desert was starting to cool some, when I decided to finally get it done with.

I lead Shadow out from where I'd set up camp for the night, and just looked at him for a bit. After mustering up whatever courage I had in me, I pointed out to the desert sky and told him to go. I remember him looking at me with those big ol' eyes of his before looking at where I was pointing. I don't know if it's possible for a bird to look confused, but he sure as hell did. I frowned and told him to go again, a bit more forceful this time 'round. I gestured for him to start walking away, and he did, but when I began to make my way back to my lil camp, I found him following right behind me. I remember pushing him away from me, pointing out at the sky before telling him to leave again, almost shouting at him this time. I could see the hurt in the poor bird's eyes, but I knew I had to do this. For his own good. I picked up a couple of rocks and started hurling 'em at him, shouting and screaming at him to shoo, to go away. After a bit, it seemed like he finally got the message and started moving away from me. I can still remember that last look he gave me so vividly, like he was in front of me now, before he launched himself into the sky and flew off. I just stood there for a bit, watching him fly off, and I stood there for a bit longer too after I couldn't see him no more. I dropped the stones I had left in my hands and walked back to my makeshift camp. I never cried more than I did that night, and I don't think I'll ever top that night in my life.

Every time I seen a buzzard, vulture, eagle, or what have you flyin' overhead, I can't help but think of Shadow. It's hard not to tear up, but I try.

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