Continuing difficulties between Hogbert Guthrie and his publishers over his choice of pen name are regretably causing severe disruption to his schedule in producing chapters for publishing on the Newsmedianews pages. Visitors to this web site are advised that despite the attentions of world renowned counsellors, psychologists and reconciliation services, this problem has continued for the past four years and shows no sign of nearing a solution and we can only request your continuing patience in this difficult matter.

We regret any inconvenience this may bring. However, so not to cause disappointment we have brought you a sample from the latest work by Professor Chick Avis Bi.RD. Read on... 



Chronicles of the Greater Warted Vulture


as recorded


Professor Chick Avis Bi.RD




Jonathon O'Brien


John Stokes

The sparrow I shot with an air rifle when I was 12.

Amelia Minogue, I don’t know why

Michelle Maroney ditto

Gerry O'Brien

Billy Nealon

Patrick O'Connell

Joe the landlord

John ‘fiddle’ Corbett

Aristotle Onassis

P.C. Toogood



Dedicated to the son of Kronk


Acknowledgements 2

Dedication to the Son Of Kronk 3

Contents 4

Preface 5


Chapter One 8

First Encounters 8

Chapter Two 18

Face to Face 19

Chapter Three 36

Yea Though We Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Vultures… 37

Chapter Four 45

Out of the Valley of the Shadow of Vultures 45

Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Vultures 51

Chapter 55





written by

Sir Alphonse Wren
President of Bi.RD, 2000–2010


I am honoured to have the privilege of writing this introduction to this important work by my mentor and good friend, Professor Chick Avis. Now widely regarded as the world’s leading authority in Membranous Pouch Vulturology for his research on the remote archipelago of Vulturia to the south of the Galipolyglas Islands, Professor Avis was to dedicate the greater part of his academic life to research in this inhospitable region. His studies were to conclude, after nearly 30 years of painstaking work, with his compilation of The Chronicles of the Greater Warted Vulture. The founder member of Bi.RD, (the Bird Institute of Rare Dominions), Professor Avis’ discovery on Vulturia of its previously unknown species of vulture was quite by chance. Originally sent with his wife Robina by the World Seismic Institute as a man and wife team to monitor earthquakes in the region, the two seismologists were soon to note that the particular species of vulture living there was in fact unique and previously unrecorded. Disturbed by the ferocity of the birds’ nocturnal activities which came to greatly impede their seismic studies, Chick and Robina ventured to the region where the vultures congregated, to observe their behaviour and so determine whether it would be possible to remove them from the vicinity. It was Robina who made the startling discovery that dramatically changed their lives and catapulted the couple into the annals of history. Coming upon a dying bird near what was later christened Terminal Post by her husband, Robina was to notice a strange growth near the creature’s rump. As she cradled the dying vulture in her arms, she became petrified by the presence of thousands of the creatures on the edge of a nearby cliff top above her, apparently screeching in unison. The din was such as to trigger into action the seismic instruments located across the region, named Vulturia by Professor Avis. Later, as the couple were trying to bury the dead bird, they were frightened yet more when, as Professor Avis was to later write: ‘it seemed like the whole colony descended and formed a ring around us and then began to act in what I can only describe as a menacingly threatening manner’’. Afraid to continue with the burial, the shocked couple then observed the birds turning away from them and raising their stump feathers to expose their tail ends, which they systematically raised and lowered whilst twisting their long scrawny necks around as if to look over their shoulders at the two humans. Chick was later to realise this peculiar behavioural pattern was in fact a form of homage. It was this very act which led to the couple’s realisation that all of the male species had strange protruding growths beneath their tail feathers and the agreement reached between themselves to further investigate the breed. Sadly Robina left before this work was to begin, leaving Chick to dedicate himself to accomplishing their goal alone.

A. Wren.
March 2012
Titmarsh, Sussex, England








Diary Extract —

Hampshire 2010


My first recollections of the Greater Warted Vulture are more of irritation than of the strange fascination that later came to dominate my every waking moment.

To me the scavenging birds were just a damn nuisance, squawking, baleful things I wished would just leave to let Robina and I get on with the work we had been sent to accomplish at the place we then knew as Brogovnia.

How could we know the creatures were unlike any ever encountered before, forced into a vegetarian diet perhaps due to lack of prey or perhaps even by tribal choice? I can honestly lay no claim to any meaningful answers to the many mysteries posed by the Membranous Pouch species.


first encounters

Brogovnia was the epicentre of several major earth tremors that caused deep concern throughout the world.

No former seismic nor volcanic activity had ever been known in the area and the sudden onset in a period of months of several major earthquakes on a scale greater than any known elsewhere set the doom pundits issuing warnings of The Second Coming and blabbering again about the approach of Armageddon.

Robina and I had watched the developments secure in the comforts of our Hampshire home and like many others we worried over the implications whilst at our daily work at the World Seismic Institute.

At first we were dismayed by the Institute’s decision to send us to Brogovnia, but gradually we warmed to the idea and the excitement of a new adventure. Brogovnia also held a special place within our hearts—but for the world’s most inhospitable location, Robina and I probably would never have met.

True to form the Institute did its best to make our proposed six months stay on the typhoon-lashed sub-tropical archipelago as comfortable as possible. Priority was given to the many instruments we would need at the location, something Robina and I each understood. Brogovnia was never known to have been inhabited by people and nothing lived there now but for a few crabs, perhaps due to the vicious climatic swings that could see temperatures plummet in just minutes from the sub-tropical nineties to extreme Arctic conditions as a result of the notorious Brogovnia Run, a new global oceanic current set into devastating effect after a series of nuclear tests of unprecedented size, carried out in deepest Antarctica.

After failing in its efforts to persuade international governments to throw extra cash into its seismic research on Brogovnia, the Institute had to rely on the proportionately meagre donations from the various global television networks that maintained weather reports and which accepted the Institute’s theory of tremors on the archipelago being the combined result of the nuclear testing and the ensuing climatic scenario.

From a ship anchored at the nearest point of safe approach, some 17 miles from the archipelago, we were ferried ashore aboard a hover craft carrying all our equipment and supplies.

Just six hours later and we were waving good-bye to the 12-member team which had helped construct the prefabricated shelter that was to be our home and laboratory and who had battled across the rugged terrain to install some of the seismic equipment we would need for our work.

We lingered on the boulder strewn beach after the sound of the hover craft faded and as the craft disappeared into the distance we turned from the ocean to survey our bleak new surroundings and begin the short walk from the exposed beach to our shelter. The wind and crashing surf was the only sound, fighting to stay alive against an oppressive blanket of emptiness.

We chose to remain silent as we walked. I guessed Robina was, like myself, mulling over the isolation of our new home and the work ahead of us. It had turned cold and I relished the thought of reaching the cabin, designed to withstand the severest of climates. I felt we could both do with a hot brandy.

Robina interrupted my thoughts. "What’s wrong with the mast?" she asked.

I looked ahead, trying to see. The 150ft radio mast had been erected by the team on high ground a few hundred yards from our cabin and was our emergency communications if the satellite dishes failed to keep us in touch with the distant world of civilisation.

She was right, there was definitely something wrong. I stopped walking to gain a better look but was still unable to answer her question.

"I’m not sure," I said. The upper third section of the mast looked too thick and too dark, much thicker and much darker than it was when the construction team had finished erecting it, almost as if it had since been coated with thick oil or perhaps tar. Robina had walked on a few paces and came back to join me.

"I’m not sure," I repeated. A few black specs seemed to break free and fall away but the light was fading and it was hard to make out much detail.

After a few moments Robina said: "Birds. It’s birds."

I didn’t want to argue, her distance vision was better than mine but her explanation was odd. We both knew nothing was known to inhabit the archipelago but the few crabs that made it their home. One visiting colony of penguins had given the place up as a dead loss many years ago and even seagulls stayed well away.

"If they’re birds, they’re *******1 big ones, or there’s one hell of a lot of’m," I said.

Robina wasn’t fond of me swearing but this time she laughed. "I’ll check it out through the binoculars when we get back, if it’s still light enough," I said, pleased by her laughter.

There wasn’t much to see on the way back, nothing had yet adapted to survive the rapid change to the ferocious climate swings that now ravaged the place. By the time we reached the cabin it had grown too dim to bother using the binoculars but there proved no need. Carried by the wind we could hear a crowded gaggle of squawking that left us in no doubt that it was indeed birds on the mast.

Inside the cabin it was cosy and warm, heat supplied by convectors powered by a generator installed underground where, thankfully, it could not be heard. We had once spent several months in Alaska where the drone and grumble of a generator in an adjoining hut became a constant irritant.

It had been a long day leaving us both tired and looking forward to sleep. As Robina prepared supper I worked on one of our laptops and we puzzled over the birds.

"Maybe they saw the boat and thought there’d be food," she said, sounding unconvinced.

"Yeah. Maybe they followed it for a thousand miles too. I’ll go up there and look in the morning," I said. I was intensely curious, the squawking had sounded as if there could well have been hundreds of the birds around the mast.

Following supper we checked the transmitters and enjoyed a thirty-minute chat with those aboard the boat, the last people we expected to see for the next six months barring emergency, then after making sure all the instruments were reading correctly we went to bed.




It snowed heavily overnight and in the morning we gazed through the windows at a world turned white. The instruments had recorded nothing unusual and after eating breakfast I shrugged myself into a parka and snowshoes, intent on checking the radio mast.

The wind had fallen but visibility was low and outside the cabin I found I couldn’t see the mast. There were no sounds similar to yesterday and for an eerie moment I thought I’d imagined everything or maybe dreamt it.

"I’ll come along with you." Robina’s voice brought me out of my reverie. She’d already donned her parka and was fastening her snow shoes. "I have to see," she said in response to my look of query.

By the time we reached the mast I was beginning to suspect she’d wished she’d stayed behind. Away from the sheltered lee of the cabin the snow was deep and a challenge to negotiate. We were both puffing and panting by the time we reached the base of the mast, but there was nothing to be seen, mist obscured its upper section.

It was the first time we had been to the mast site and though we knew it wasn’t the highest spot, it would have afforded us a good view of the area if visibility had been better. I thought I heard a heavy beat of wings from above a moment before some snow showered down over us from the mast, but it was difficult to be certain with the hood of the parka pulled on.

Neither of us felt inclined to wander far in the snow, though we both knew we’d occasionally have to check out the instrument sites in any condition existent at the time. Still, there was a snow scooter back at base.

The poor visibility continued over the next few days, with fresh falls of soft snow adding to the already deep carpet. We saw no signs of any birds nor did we hear anything.

On the fifth day everything changed. The snow had vanished during the night and it could have been summer. It was warm enough to wander out in T-shirts and shorts but only a fool would do so. Our briefing had almost brainwashed us to the dangers of Brogovnia and we were glad for it. We well knew the lazy warmth could plunge to minus 70° in minutes with an added wind chill factor that could literally freeze the blood in your veins in an instant. We felt foolish walking in the hot sunshine with open thermal-lined parkas, mittens and God knows what else. Foolish, but safe.

It was not only the weather that changed that day. It was the day Robina and myself came to learn we were not alone with the crabs on the archipelago.

A sultry wind washed in from across the ocean and it was the first time either of us had in real life seen the ocean steam. We were out checking on the instruments and familiarising ourselves with the lay of the land, often stopping in amazement to study the few gnarled, almost fossilised trees which, though devoid of life managed somehow to remain upright.

On the wind we again heard the distant sounds of squawking but it was impossible to pinpoint the direction of its source with any certainty. Wandering around tending to our business became almost uncomfortable as we continued to hear sounds we knew we should not have been hearing. Yet it was the arrival of evening that brought with it the greatest feelings of discomfort.

We had retired into the cabin and were updating our logs and settling down to watch a few videos before contacting the Institute by radio telephone. It was still humid and we’d opened all the windows in the cabin to assist the air conditioning.

The beating of wings alerted us to something happening outside, similar to but somehow much heavier than the sound a large flock of homing pigeons makes as it sweeps overhead. For a moment Robina and I stared at each other perplexed before rushing to the windows and then the open door. It was dark outside but for the perimeter lights, which made the place feel a little less remote. We could not determine how high the rhythmic beating sound was but watched in amazement as the canopy of stars above vanished as though a blanket was being drawn across the heavens.

We must have presented a pretty picture standing peering upwards with bemused expressions but nothing could possibly have compared to the picture we would have presented when we heard the sudden, deafening squawking. It was as if somebody had switched on a dozen amplifiers at full blast and started them as if on some cue.

"My god…" shouted Robina with her mouth open to the sky. The noise was so intense I barely heard her and had to cup my hands to my ears to shield them from the main force of the sound.

Even the best reaction times can be held in check by the inexplicable and when I finally ran into the cabin, grabbed a powerful torch and ran back out again I was shining it uselessly up at the stars. Whatever was up there had gone.

"I don’t believe it," said Robina. "I just don’t believe it."

"I know what you mean." I wanted to say something more meaningful.

We stood a while, almost mesmerised by the recollection of what we had witnessed, before heading back into the cabin and operating the electronic shutters, mindful of the weather changes. Steel shutters rolled up inside and outside of the window glass—glass had been known to crystalize and shatter due to the extreme difference of inner and outer temperatures. As the shutters unwound and closed off the view to the outside world, I made a mental note to see if it would be possible to rig up some sort of spotlight that might illuminate whatever had passed above, should it happen again.

The evening’s talk with the Institute's control centre left a lot to be desired. We’d only been at Brogovnia for five days and four nights and we didn’t relish the thought of them thinking maybe we’d gone round the bend.

"Describe again what you saw and heard," said the disembodied voice from the radio speaker.

I tried, but it was almost impossible to describe the racket. The voice came back.

"Birds? Impossible, I’d say," it said.

So would I, I thought, but didn’t say. We could almost feel the owner of the voice trying to find a tactful way of addressing us.

"Try and get a recording of what you heard if you hear anything like it again," suggested the voice. "We’ll get it analysed and go from there."

The voice sounded bored.



— Diary Extract —

Vulturia, 1988


We spent an uneasy night after what Robina and I came to look on as our first ‘fly-by’, although we had no real clue what we had heard and observed. We resolved to try and capture the sounds on tape and relay them to the Institute.


— 4 —



For the next three days we saw or heard nothing more of our strange neighbours and I would have been inclined to dismiss them but for the blasé attitude of the Institute’s control centre.

There was an off-handishness in the way the matter had been summarily dismissed that nagged at Robina and me. But for that I probably would not have bothered setting up spotlights to try and light up whatever had passed over should they return again during the night.

After speaking with control on the night of the first fly-by, for the first time Robina and I questioned our association with the World Seismic Institute.

Robina and I were brought together by Brogovnia. We had been working within different sections of the Institute and had never met. When global attention was suddenly focused on Brogovnia the Institute swung its considerable expertise into action, aided by generous finance poured into its coffers by the world’s concerned governments.

No-one then knew the cause of the disturbances at Brogovnia and when after a while the Institute finally began to piece together what was going on, no-one wanted to know. For a while governments continued to pay lip service to putting matters right while at the same time cutting funding to the Institute to strangle its involvement. It was too late for that, however, but the perpetrators of global politics could not be restrained although Brogovnia represented an undeniable threat to their very existence.

Robina and I began working together at first as strangers belonging to the same organisation. Before long we realised we were both lonely people isolated in our work yet each with much in common and six months later we were close friends. By the end of the first year, after living together for some months we married in a quiet, unattended ceremony and bought a house on the edge of Ashurst Forest, a short drive from the Institute’s location in Southampton.

Our questioning of the Institute for the first time disturbed us. Although we had known we would be isolated at Brogovnia, we had not paid as much attention to that aspect as perhaps we should have. It was only when we came to realise just how isolated we were that things took on a different meaning. What would happen if major earthquakes started? In the past they had erupted without warning and it would be weeks before any rescue could be attempted, possibly months. We tried to convince ourselves we mattered to them but the doubts remained.

We had a two-man helicopter to get us off the ground and keep us airborne hopefully long enough to escape the worst–Robina had been trained to fly the thing–if we could get it in the air in time from out of its shelter, if wind conditions allowed, if, if, so many ifs…

"Maybe they’ve given up," was Robina’s attempt at explanation. "Maybe they know something we don’t and know nothing matters because whatever’s going to happen will happen no matter what…"

"Now stop that," I said. "We know as much as anyone." I tried to sound more convincing than I felt. There was an uneasily raw perception behind her comments that I couldn’t shake.

On the ninth night we had the second fly-by, later in the evening than the time before but just as unnerving. I’d rigged up a parabolic dish reflector to serve as a microphone that could be focused in tandem with the spotlight. The wind had gathered strength and the temperature had dropped but it was still many degrees above freezing when we heard the approaching sound.

"Hit the switch!" I yelled to Robina as I grabbed my parka and ran through the door.

Feeling like a crazy man I swung the spotlight around and up, tonight there was cloud cover and no stars to denote the passage of whatever was above. The squawking came again, just as loud and intense as before and as the halogen bulb reached full intensity I tried to catch some glimpse of what was up there.

A black, heaving mass was overhead and the narrow beam of the spotlight could only pick out a small section but by sweeping the beam back and forth I realised the mass was huge, though too high to see enough detail to tell what it was. I tried matching the speed of the movement with the beam and thought for a moment I saw long necks and wide wings but I couldn’t be sure. Robina joined me.

"They’re too high!" I yelled against the squawking. "Check the recorder."

Robina stood transfixed and didn’t budge so I yelled again. "Go on, check it!"

This time she understood and ran to the cabin. As she reached the door the squawking abruptly stopped, but the heavy beating noise and the sound of something akin to a large mass passing overhead remained for a few moments more before it too faded. I tried following the sound with the beam but saw nothing useful.

Back in the cabin Robina was checking the recording equipment.

"I think we go it," she said excitedly. "I’ll run it through."

As she rewound the tape I shut down the spotlight and closed the door, hitting the shutter control at the same time. It was wise not to take chances out here.

A few moments later we listened to the recording. It was recognisable to us but of poor quality in comparison and I doubted it would be of much use by the time it had been transmitted and received at the Institute’s control centre. Still, it was better than nothing.

There was an hour to go to our scheduled transmission at 8pm so we sat to some food and to enjoy some beer from our supplies. Sipping the beer, I tried making sense of what we’d seen and heard.

"It’s crazy I know, but they looked, well from what little I could see, they looked like swans. But they weren’t white. They had, at least I thought I could see, long necks and big wings. Christ, there must have been thousands of them up there."

Robina said very little and just sat deep in thought. Finally we gave up the guesswork and readied ourselves to speak with the control centre. Robina made the connection and we heard control telling us there was nothing knew for us to know before they asked for any update from our end. Robina said we’d managed to capture some sounds on tape and asked control to prepare to receive and record the material.

"Great," said control.

As we waited for confirmation before transmitting the recording I conveyed my observations to control.

"I feel crazy telling you this, but they looked like swa…, like black swans. I mean, you know, swans, out here? Black ones? But they don’t sound like any swans I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard enough," I said.

"And the recording doesn’t convey it, but I’d guess there were hundreds, maybe thousands of them. Certainly hundreds no matter what.

"Penguins have been known out here in the past but I don’t think I have to point out they don’t fly." I wished I could shut up. The more I said the crazier it sounded.

We listened in silence as the recording was transmitted. If only one of us had seen and heard it, things might have been real tough. At least Robina and myself had each other’s confirmation to bolster ourselves. There was a moment of awkward silence after the tape stopped playing before control came back on air.

"Well, it sounds like there was something there." Not so bored this time, but still hesitant. "Look, we’ll get onto it for you, we’ve a few ideas this end."

For a moment I amused myself with wondering just what explanation a seismic research institute might come up with for the sounds on the tape, then I got back to informing control that all instrument readings had been clear of disturbance and relaying information about the weather conditions.

"Okay. Talk to you guys tomorrow, same time. Bye," said the voice and clicked off. Another beer later and Robina and I turned in early for the night.




The tremor alarm woke us and for a moment I lay wondering where we were and what was going on before the penny dropped and I scrambled out of the warm bed.

Momentarily distracted by Robina’s nakedness as she ran from the bed to the monitors, it took me longer than it should to realise I couldn’t feel any tremors or anything untoward.

"It’s from the cliffs area," said Robina, hunching over the monitors and giving me a luxuriously erotic display of her long legs and delicious thighs. She slowly straightened up but kept her eyes on the monitors. "We should be feeling something," she added.

I was, but not what she was thinking. I stood still also, feeling a little foolish at my own nakedness and the glimmer of an erection, which I couldn’t help but think of as incongruous to the possible advent of an earthquake. Still, nothing, thankfully.

We stood waiting as if for the inevitable, knowing if an earthquake came of anything like the magnitude of the others we’d be needing a lot more than luck to survive.

"This isn’t making sense." She was pulling on a dressing gown and fastening the waist band. "It’s registering something we should be feeling," she said.

Joining her at the monitors I had to agree. I studied the graphs. "Maybe there’s a fault with the tremblers."

Relief was tinged with disappointment and I marvelled over it. I told Robina and she took it all in a matter of fact way. We were there for and because of earthquakes–we lived and breathed seismic activity and neither of us had ever actually experienced any except for a minuscule tremor, which happened when we were on holiday in Norfolk and really caused nothing more than a conversation piece in the region. An earthquake in Brogovnia could destroy literally everything including us.

Reason and rationality inched its way back and advantage disappointment dropped to deuce then faded forty love to relief. Robina poured brandy into two glasses and began heating water.

"I’ll take it neat," I said as she passed me the tumbler. She took the kettle off the heat again and sipping at her own neat drink checked on the monitors again.

"It’s stopped."

I looked, the screens all showed unflinchingly steady lines. "We’d better check the equipment in the morning—it’ll be the perfect chance to get a look at the cliffs," I said.

The cliffs were the result of the last quake. Satellite pictures revealed a huge fissure sliced through solid rock to leave a jagged cliff some three hundred feet high. The pictures were reminiscent of a lunar landscape and I was keen to visit the area. Seismology had given me an interest in geology and fossils and I wondered what we might find.

We spent some lazy hours pottering about the cabin and trying to feel busy. At 8pm we were back on the telephone radio to control.

This time there was something more like interest in the voice.

"Hey you guys, we got some news. We had that recording analysed by a specialist from London Zoo. I’m not sure you’re up to this, but she says she’s practically a hundred per cent sure it’s vultures."

Robina and I stared at each other for so long control thought we’d gone off air.

"You still there?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Vultures? Does this specialist know where we are?" I was incredulous.

"Yep. In fact she was embarrassed at telling us, so much so that although she’s the best in the field she still wanted and got confirmation from Marwell Zoological Centre."

I was familiar with Marwell and knew the calibre of staff working there. I didn’t know what to say next.

"Fine. Remind me to requisition some bird seed next time we call." It didn’t sound funny.

I let control know of the disturbance registered by the equipment and the fact that we’d felt nothing and would be checking out the instrument site in the morning.

"We’ll keep an eye open for vultures too." Any moment now and I’d wake up from this insanity.

Robina still wore the gown and it had slipped slightly open. The image added to those of before. A gleam flashed in her eyes as she saw my look and with the added aphrodisiac of danger still in our veins and the images of vultures overhead there was no holding back.




The fissure, or Courtship Canyon as I later christened it, stretched for nearly three-quarters of a mile and the instruments were located some two thirds of the way along from our point of entry.

The satellite pictures may have been reminiscent of the moon but they still didn’t prepare us for the rugged reality of the terrain. Before getting into the canyon we had to gingerly climb over a huge dam of large boulders blocking one hundred yards of its mouth like the strewn leftovers of an avalanche, at one point piled to over one hundred feet high. Beyond the boulders the way was relatively clear. A lumbering dinosaur would have looked at home in this prehistoric setting.

The going was less tough but still not easy.

"We’d best stay in the centre, away from the cliffs," I said, wary of the steep rock faces which, going by the stones and boulders scattered around, were prone to indiscriminately shedding missiles.

The canyon swung gently to the left and we could only see about one hundred yards or so ahead. Being sandwiched between the two cliffs was a little like being in Manhattan. A small rock bounced down the cliff face, dislodging others as it fell. I imagined what a nightmare it might be to be caught in the canyon on a wild night with heavy rain and driving wind and rocks the size of double decked buses breaking free and crashing down.

"Maybe a rock fall set the instruments off," I ventured.

Robina stooped to pick up something. It was a small and thin weathered bone. "The last of the Mohicans," she quipped. Then:- "Rocks would have given a less uniform reading than what we saw."

It was true, the reading had been steady. More likely a fault, I thought.

"Why Mohicans?" I asked her.

"Why not?" she said. "Nothing else in this place seems to make any sense."

I let that one go. Up ahead a short way the canyon twisted sharply to the right and I was getting less keen on this blind adventure by the minute. The place was practically unexplored except for air reconnaissance and that wasn’t by any means round the clock, more like every year or so. A lot could be missed. I knew there shouldn’t be anything up ahead but I had the jitters none the less.

Tapping me lightly on the arm with the piece of bone Robina said: "This could belong to a bird, you know."

I took it from her as we walked. She was right, but it could also belong to a large rodent, or anything for that matter. I wasn’t any authority on bones and this one could have fitted dozens of different animals as far as I was able to tell.

"It could be anything," I said and tossed it away without thinking before Robina could stop me. She retrieved it straight away and tucked it into a breast pocket.

"It’ll be a good memento when we leave," she said. "A bone… in this place? It’s a little like finding a party in a mortuary."

I grimaced at the comparison. We rounded the sharp twist in the canyon and found it straightened out for several hundred yards. We knew the canyon ended in sheer cliffs enclosing an area the size of a football pitch after the straight section and the instruments were located just within the enclave. We trudged on, bothered by the sticky heat. We each carried survival packs, thermo-blankets capable of retaining body heat in extremes of cold not even reached in Brogovnia.

The steel casing of the instrument cover glinted. The seismometer was buried beneath in an reinforced steel tube and could be adjusted by removing the lid of the casing if desired. There was an access port and Robina had packed one of the laptops. We reached the cover and as I began to open it she took the laptop out of her pack and began attaching the cabling. Then the first shriek of wind alerted us to the climate swing.

Robina was already onto it, cramming the laptop back into her pack and dragging out her thermoblanket as I snapped the seismometer cover back down and pulled the emergency thermo-bivouac from my own pack. The bivouac snapped open at a touch, it was just big enough for the two of us but had to be anchored quickly.

The pitons were already attached and I ran to the lee cover of the cliff face, finding a small recess that afforded some shelter from any rocks that might tumble from above and, using the small hammer clipped to it, secured the bivouac in place. The wind was already starting to freeze my cheeks as I shoved Robina in through the bivouac opening, squeezing myself in after her and fastening the easiclose multi-layer zip. I clipped the emergency light to the hook in the apex and shook out my own thermoblanket before pulling on mittens.

We had the best in survival equipment, made from materials developed by NASA and guaranteed to provide protection against the cold of this region. I just hoped we didn’t take a direct hit from falling rock, it wouldn’t afford any protection against that. I hoped too that the cold snap was a short one, otherwise we’d have an extremely uncomfortable time as we’d have to make it back to the cabin in short spurts. We each had three days supply of emergency high energy survival food, chemically heated and light to carry but our only chance of survival if the cold snap dragged on was to make it back to the cabin.

Fortunately, survivable temperatures outweighed the extremes in duration but some cold snaps had been known to last up to three days. I hoped this wasn’t one of them. We huddled tightly together, the thermo blankets under and over us and sealed. All we could do was wait.




We slept for a while secure in our warmth but aware just how treacherously cold it was. We had no metal articles next to our skin, metal could get so cold as to burn right into the flesh.

When I awoke, the bivouac’s external temperature indicator read at minus 65°. We’d slept for nearly four hours and I was glad it wasn’t colder. We’d studied the weather patterns carefully and knew the Brogovnia Run was, if nothing else, reliable in its monotony. When temperatures swung, the extremes of the first hour would be the maximum for that swing, no matter how long it continued. Robina still slept and I was about to rejoin her when I caught the distant sounds of squawking. I gave it a moment to be sure, then gently shook Robina.

"Listen," I said as she stirred.

Though she was still groggy from sleep and the cold, her eyes told me she too heard. "The temperature’s falling but it’s still minus sixty. What the hell is that?" My question was beyond answering.

There was a noticeable rhythm to the squawking, which somehow didn’t seem that distant. As I lay trying to figure it out my eyes strayed over the temperature gauge. It had risen to minus forty. It was a ludicrous situation and I could imagine Mervyn Peake tapping at the bivouac. There he’d be in beach shorts with a mug in his hand.

"Do excuse me," he’d say, "but would you mind awfully if I borrowed a cup of sugar from you? Dashed if I can find a shop anywhere and I really must get back to my room of roots."

"No problem," I’d say, giving him a fistful of saccharine tablets. In under a minute I’d composed three chapters around the demented scene. If sheep could fly Westminster would be jammed with collies carrying banners proclaiming ‘dogs not helicopters’.

"I’m going out," I said, trying to make myself believe it. Robina nodded. She knew it had to be done.

The cold intruded into the unzipped bivouac like some uninvited and unwelcome guest trying to make itself at home. Outside, the absence of snow and ice made it seem all the colder. Breath hung in the air like a speech bubble. Trying to burrow deeper within my parka I chaffed my face with mittened hands as Robina emerged after me.

"You okay?" I asked. She nodded. The sheer cliff walls forming the enclosure rose some three hundred feet and I wondered what lay beyond their rim. I had the field glasses out and at the far end of the enclosure, outlined against the sky, I could see what looked like ragged, leafless trees, pitifully stark. Danté would have loved the place.

"You okay to check out the seismometer? I’d like to get a quick look around."

Robina nodded it was okay. Behind her about fifty yards away and close to the cliff base I could see a narrow pillar of rock, perhaps twenty feet tall. But it was something I’d spotted on the far side of the enclosure I wanted a closer look at.

I could see an opening at the base of the far cliff, some sort of cave and it looked quite cavernous but it was too far off and too dark within to see anything from where we were. Robina was about to dismantle the bivouac.

"Leave it a while, just in case," I said. I gestured across the enclosure. "I’ll be over there. Use the whistle if you need me." Bringing the pea-whistles was my own idea, a throw back to my mountaineering and fell walking days.

The ground was still frozen solid between the broken rock and boulders but I could tell the temperature was rising steadily. Picking my way over towards the opening I looked in vain for any sign of present or past vegetation. Nothing. Behind me Robina was hunkered over the buried seismometer.

About twenty yards from the cavern entrance I came into a small arena encircled by large rocks. The ground in the arena was fairly level in comparison with the surroundings and covered in large slabs of what looked like slate. I guessed it was an abnormality caused by differing temperatures acting on the rock. Many of them had reddish brown patches, unlike anything I’d seen on my walk across the enclosure. Closer examination of the patches left me none the wiser and I pocked a small piece of rock to examine it in detail back at the cabin.

It was getting warmer and opening my parka I guessed that the temperature had now risen some way above freezing. I glance back to see what Robina was up to. She was breaking down the bivouac. Seeing me looking in her direction she raised a hand in acknowledgement. I waved back.

The blackness of the cavern hinted at its depth. I stood in the opening and shouted, hearing my voice wash away into the gloom. The small flashlight I carried failed to penetrate to any great depth and I was reluctant to explore too deeply without better light. Picking up a small pebble I threw it as hard as I could into the gloom and it sounded like it travelled the full length of my throw without hitting any wall. Making a mental note to return and better explore the place I headed back out into the cold sunlight. Whispy clouds smeared the wide circle of sky above the enclosure.

I couldn’t see Robina and for a moment I panicked before acknowledging to myself that she was quite capable of looking after herself. Scientist she might be but prima donna she definitely was not. I’d once seen her sock a US marine hard enough on the jaw to lay him out in a Portsmouth harbour bar after he’d made a smart ass remark at her.

She’d been at an Institute Christmas party that later ended in the bar and there became engaged in conversation with the marine. I only knew her as another associate at the time. I wasn’t paying particular attention to the conversation but heard her forthrightly tell the marine there were people in the world who would monopolise your time to their own advantage and it was wise to fuck those people off. To this day I still don’t know what he said to her, but from then on she was never fond of swearing.

I was half way back toward the bivouac before I spotted her exploring along the base of the cliff towards the pillar of rock. As I changed course to join her I heard a terrifying screech that sent my nape hair cold and stopped me in my tracks. It came from beyond where Robina stood and I was still trying to comprehend what it was when I heard a full volley of the same screeching.

Robina was looking towards some point at the top of the cliffs ahead of her and scanning the rim. I thought I saw something move but it was too indistinct, too vague. Then Robina was running towards something I couldn’t see and shouting so I too broke into a run.

She was a fast runner and I lost sight of her as she ran behind a large cluster of boulders. Then I too was among the boulders frantically trying to spot her and skidding shocked to a halt when I did.

She was down on one knee holding something bulky and dark and I could see feathers and claws and a long scrawny neck and blood and a hooked beak and closed eyes and the encyclopaedia in my brain turned hundreds of pages in a nano second and I thought it’s a vulture good god Robina’s down on one knee in this god forsaken place holding a VULTURE in her arms for GOD’S SAKE and I didn’t think what’s a vulture doing here and I did think what a shame I didn’t bring some bread…

"I think it’s dying," she said.

"Oh," I said and all I could think was please put it down Robina don’t you know vultures get fleas worse than hedgehogs before the notion then crossed my mind to write a song I could one day play in some bar if we ever get back to any place with a bar and it would be all about my woman being down on one knee in Brogovnia comforting a dying vulture.


* * *

  Book Two



 Footnotes to the preceeding and later following chapters

******* big ones; layman's term for Membranous Pouch vultures, 12

agovultic- see footnote 3 on same page re. avionic, 39

Aviosaurus- The collection of words relating to Membranous Pouch as contained in the section of the Bi.RD Dictionary known as the Bi.RD Avionary and which describes words found in The Bi.RD Dictionary, The Bi.RD Avionary and The Bi.RD Aviosaurus, 42

Brogovnia; the former name of Vulturia, 8

Courtship Canyon; the ritualistic ceremonial courtship location of the Membranous Pouch vultures, 27

crabs; shelled creatures that have no connection whatsoever with Membranous Pouch Vultures, 15

fly-by; the term denoting the nightly flight over the cabin by Membranous Pouch Vultures, 18

footnote gobbler – the dreaded Screen Gobbler was designed by Gobblers Inc to choke the greedy software world and give Gobblers Inc what became known as the Gobbler Monopoly. It failed when the Screen Gobbler, a eustologeniius virus, learnt how to suck u, 39 (see appended addendum below this list)

insofulation- the madman inside released after encounters with Membranous Pouch who is constantly fighting your misbelief of truthful revelation which you yourself know is real .. The Bi.RD Aviosaurus., 42

Membranous Pouch - so called due to the warty growth under the tail of the male birds, 8

Membranous Pouch- ibid., sac, protuberance, growth, carbuncle, sore. The Bi.RD Dictionary appertaining to The Greater Warted Vulture, 5, 8, 12, 15, 18, 27, 38, 39, 42

mess: a gathering together in one place of a thousand or so Membranous Pouch vultures, 50

Penguins; fat upright seafaring vultures ideally suited to Brogovnia but disdainful of the place, 23

quob- an internally padded hermetically sealed re-inforced cadmium steel box that affords shelter in the event of an earthquake, available in single, double or family sizes, Delux models are equiped with a 365-day supply of food tablets and water, a 12-month light and warmth supply, one year of recyclable compressed air, satelite television and radio and internet connection. Emperess models include a bidet. 44

synchrony- the collected orchestral wail of Membranous Pouch, 39

US marine, uniform animal native to the north americas, 35

veinous- ibid. The Bi.RD Dictionary and used to describe the membranous pouch on Membranous Pouch (colloquial), 42

vulcanic: ibid. The Bi.RD Aviosaurus- adverb, describing the vulcibel level of more than one thousand Membranous Pouch vultures screeching together, 50



Addendum : (suck up) information from the keyboard so rendering complete systems inoperable, including all the computerised manufacturing plant owned by Gobblers Inc which manufactured the world’s very last, but non-working computer in the year 2010.

top  |   Back  |  Book Two