The vulture circled and circled as if it had all the time in the world. The advantages of being a scavenger, an eater of the already dead is one’s prey isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Slowly it spiraled downward until at last, it gingerly set its feet upon the hot sand. Even then it hesitated, eyeing the dunes in all directions, instinctually aware that the line between eater and eaten, quick and dead is often tenuous at best. In the air it was a prince, riding unseen currents with motionless ease. On the ground it was a refugee, handicapped and hamstrung and only nominally more at ease than a carp would have been.
Assured of its solitude, it hopped over to the shroud-covered corpse and began to look for an opening. Before it found one, a hand shot out of the sand below and snapped its neck. Ignoring its death throws, the Harvester-which-had-no-kin, pierced its feathers and drank deeply…
Disoriented, adrift, life cut off from a reason for living. Cut off from the collective. Cut off from the kin. Any kin finding it now would kill it as the kin by the pool had tried and almost succeeded. Cut off from its purpose, its reason for existing. What was a Harvester with no reason to harvest? If it knew how, the Harvester-which-had-no-kin would have cursed the day it had felt the fire in its mind. Cursed the moment it had chosen not to harvest this meat. Cursed the enflamed hunger which had overpowered its function; caused it to betray its kind for a meat animal; to exchange the known for the unknowable. If it could, it would have wished it had died by the pool. How it had survived, it knew not. It had awakened in the pool and the kin were gone. Perhaps believing it to be dead, perhaps not caring either way. Much the way the Harvester-without-purpose felt now, not caring if it lived or died.
Save the bundle, the shroud-covered corpse of the meat animal must be returned to its kin. This was the only purpose the Harvester-without-purpose had. This is why it continued to feed on lizards, rodents and birds, whatever the desert provided. Why it raised itself with each falling dusk and walked until the rising sun shown in its remaining shuttered eye. Night after night it walked, suspecting any meat animal which found it would kill it too, it skirted the outposts of the animals and the city on the water, sticking to the open sand as long as it could. Too soon however, the Sea ended and the lands of the meat animals began.
Food was all around, yet the Harvester-without-purpose continued to fast, to cling to the shadows, to hide from the day, finding some park or trash heap to bury itself and its burden. Here there were less birds but more rodents, it would not starve but the night was no longer dark; it was lit from a thousand points. There were meat animals at night now too though less than by day and it took to covering itself from head to toe in case it was seen, much the way some of the meat animals did. It did not go unnoticed, but none seemed inclined to challenge its presence. Some, covering their faces, even made wide berth around it, giving way as if afraid to be touched but not crying out as they would if afraid to be drank. This puzzled the Harvester-without-purpose and it spent many a night pondering the strange behavior of meat.