by Erin Curlett, 2307 words
Tim could hardly see, could hardly breathe, for all the feathers. Razor-sharp talons dug into his neck, scraped his cheek. Needle-tipped beaks pecked the skin of his hands, his arms, his legs.
Where am I going?
A drop of blood—his own or from one of the chickens, he couldn’t be sure—oozed down his forehead and settled in the inner corner of his eye, further impairing his vision.
He lifted his right hand off the wheel to wipe the blood away, and as he did, a particularly squawky passenger flapped her wings and lifted her bloodied, feathered breast so that it settled against his face, her feet clawing for purchase to roost on his neck. Her beak descended into his scalp. Peck. Peck.
Dizzy, blinded by agony, he grabbed the chicken by a handful of feathers, and flung her across the Prius to land, stunned, in the passenger seat.
Why are they all so panicked? Don’t they know I came to save them?
He had thought that, like a dog or a cat, the chickens might be lulled to sleep by the hum of the engine as he drove.
Idiot! His mother’s voice rang, shrill, in his head. Why’dja think a bunch of chickens would act like dogs or cats?
Why, indeed. The original plan had been to use a van. A van that rumbled and hummed. A van with a partition between the front and the back. A van with Delia at the helm.
You think I would’ve let you sit up front with me? The crack of Delia’s gum echoed in his head.
Why did Tim think anything? Why did he even bother?
The women in his life—his mother, with her perky boobs, and Delia, with her sexy shoes—had made it perfectly clear there was only one thing he excelled at: staying hidden, silent.
Tim squared his tattered shoulders, pressed down on the accelerator, and let out a bestial roar.
“I’m done with this! With all of you!” he yelled into the dusty air of the Prius, his words more muffled than he would have hoped. “You have no IDEA what I’m capable of!”
Ginny, plump and brown and admired for her bicolor beak, had settled herself into a corner of the back seat. She had been trying to make eye contact with her featheren, but not one of these girls seemed to have the presence of mind to stop their flapping for a moment and recognize they had just been rescued.
They’re traumatized, she clucked to herself, and no wonder. Memories from the bloodbath they had just witnessed swam across her mind: the thwippp of ripping canvas as his feline claws cut into a bag of feed. The growl she saw before she heard: huge, glistening teeth drenched in the blood of her sisters. The smell of hysteria, of chicken shit, of blood.
Ginny trembled, remembering. The day had started out typically enough, with breakfast and chatter over Miranda’s horrendous snoring the night before (everyone agreed, even Miranda!). They had all been settling in for a post-chat nap when that vile creature had entered their haven of safety. Miranda had already been snoring (poor Miranda!). Ginny knew this, because she was roosting across the coop, and she had been clucking softly to herself to hear the old hen at it again. There was a flash of fur, and before she had time to register what had happened, the snoring had ceased.
Ginny, you old biddy, she chided herself, as a single tear dripped from her liquid eye. Miranda had deserved better than that. She shook her head, gave her wings a perfunctory flap, and as quickly as they had descended, the memories flew away into the dusty air.
She looked around at the bedlam before her. Doris was flying from one back seat window to the next, crashing herself into the glass, then turning, dazed, to fly to the next. Fifi was hovering over the carton of chicks, clucking loudly to whom, Ginny wasn’t quite certain, but perhaps for the benefit of the crazed man behind the wheel: “Don’t you dare take these babeees! These babeees are not leaving meee!”
Ginny, mid-eye roll, suddenly realized Fifi had lost her own two chicks, Pierre and Popo, back in the coop.
While she contemplated this horror, the head of Babs, who had flown to the front of the car, appeared over the armrest, peering at Ginny from the passenger seat. “Help me, Gin—” she sputtered, as she reached out her two wings.
Ginny was up in a flash, fueled by adrenaline she’d never experienced, not even earlier in the coop. She used her wings to guide her friend up and over the armrest, prodding her gently with her beak to rest against the rear seat which Ginny had kept warm.
Babs was covered in blood, from beak to talons. Her feathers were unrecognizable save for the black streak in her tail.
“Ginny. Ginny, that monster—”
“Shh, Babs, it’s okay now,” Ginny clucked. “We’re safe now. Let me tend to you.”
True, Miranda and Flo and Telula had given their lives bravely in the fight. But what would their sacrifice be for, if not for the liberation of the fowl left behind?
Babs’ beak trembled. “No one deserves this, Ginny.”
“But Babs, we are free.”
Ginny turned to fluff her feathers before taking her place next to her friend. As she did, her talon caught on a piece of paper sticking out of—what was that, a notebook?—and as she looked down, she saw well, she wouldn’t call it chickenscratch, though she supposed a human would.
There, scrawled across the top of the torn piece of paper were the words “To save a chicken.”
“Girls!” She called out. “Girls, you have to see this!”
It was poetry, really. Epic poetry.
Tim pumped his fist in the air as he pushed his foot even harder on the accelerator. The chickens had inexplicably moved to the back of the Prius, even the one who had tried to roost on his very face.
He took a deep breath, ran a hand over his blood-caked brow, and turned on the AC first, and then the radio.
A familiar jingle played through the car stereo, and when he looked down at the digital panel to see which station had been left on, he felt a twang of comfort. The country station, 109.7, the DAWG. The soundtrack of his childhood.
His chest swelled. He had always known he was destined to be a hero. Since the early days in the trailer park when Mama would send him off to play in the dust, he knew it would only be a matter of time before he stepped into his role of protector.
“What is this hogwash?” cried Babs, her eyes beadier than usual as she stared at Ginny.
“Babs,” Ginny breathed, reverent. “It’s poetry.”
Fifi strained her neck to see, not daring to leave the chicks, even for this. “Poetry about us,” she cooed.
Tim had been writing about the chickens’ liberation for years. Notebook upon notebook, journal upon journal, packed full of scrawling script. He couldn’t explain the pull they had on him, these beautiful, majestic creatures. He couldn’t explain why he had always felt it was his destiny to set them free.
He had poured his desires—to rescue them, to love them, in some strange unrequited way—into the pages of poetry he wrote and carried with him, always, in his backpack, now tossed hastily behind him in the backseat of the Prius.
Delia had wanted to know what he was writing that day she found him hunkered down next to her desk. He had debated whether to show her. His mother had taught him that beautiful women were not to be trusted, but a deep, longing part of him believed if only Delia could read his words, she would understand, maybe even help.
It was when he saw a book of poetry peeking out of her purse, he knew he had to show her, to convince her. She was a woman of the pen! Surely, they were kindred spirits.
It had not gone as he had hoped.
“What is this drivel?” She had laughed, flipping through his notebook like it was a cheap magazine, perched on her desk to show off her sexy shoes.
“It’s—it’s my heart, Delia.” He had whispered, praying she would see the depth that lie beneath his slight frame.
“He poured his heart out for us!” crowed Ginny, pulling herself up to her full height. “He loves us! He came to save us!”
Babs scoffed. “Look at him! He’s a boy! Look at us! Look at what he’s done.”
He had held out his heart, and Delia had smacked her gum at him and smiled. “Oh yeah?” She had purred the words, pouring herself off the desk like a cat who had just spotted a bowl of milk. She had stood in front of him, towering over him from the height her sexy shoes afforded her. “Your heart, huh?” As she said “heart,” she had traced a manicured red nail from the collar of his shirt to the center of his chest. “Interesting.”
This was the closest Tim had ever been to Delia—the closest he’d ever been to any woman other than his mother—and he could feel her bubblegum breath tickling his cheek. Is she about to kiss me? He had thought, inanely, hopefully.
She had not kissed him. She had not helped him. She had laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
Just like his mother.
Tim gripped the steering wheel tighter as he pressed the accelerator once more.
“Featheren! This man has liberated the chickens, just as he promised!” Ginny’s heart was pounding as she glanced wildly around at her friends.
“Look, he has it all right here: we are the damsels in distress! He rode in, like a knight in shining armor!”
He was a boy in a shiny Prius, unlicensed, ill-prepared. He hadn’t known he’d also have to fight a bobcat. Mountain lion? Could have been a tiger. All he knew was it had claws like Delia.
Had it been messier than anticipated? Sure. But isn’t that how heroes are forged?
What are you even blathering on about, boy? His mother’s voice rang once more in his ears. You good-for-nothing.
A chicken squawked from behind.
Good-for-nothing Tim, that’s what his mother had called him for as long as he could remember. Any time she’d bring home a new suitor, she’d introduce him as such with a wink and a smile, as though Tim himself was in on the joke.
The chickens were rustling their feathers again. He needed to figure out where he was going, and fast.
Good for nothing? He’d show her. Mama had no idea what he was capable of.
A deep, guttural laugh rose from Tim’s chest at the thought. Oh, if only Mama knew about his notebooks of poetry!
If only Mama knew about this Prius of poultry!
He knew exactly where he was headed.
Ginny cleared her throat and began to read another poem:
Their silken feathers glisten in the moonlight
Alas, I cannot touch—
I cannot feel the airy wings as they take flight—
Ginny stopped, considering. Was he in love with them? It gave her pause.
Babs, the bloodied passenger who’d tried to roost so innocently against her supposed savior’s chest, and who had been tossed aside with the same savagery she’d witnessed the bobcat wield against her sisters, was the first to speak up.
“Ginny, he may write pretty words, and he may drive a Prius, but this boy is not the hero you think he is.”
At that moment, as if on cue, a deep laugh rumbled toward them from the front seat.
Babs raised her feathered brows. “Tell me friends, is that what a hero sounds like?”
Ginny had to give Babs credit. The boy’s poetry had struck a chord deep within her, and she had been ready to follow him anywhere he might take them. But now that Babs mentioned it, something was a bit off about this boy.
Fifi fluffed her feathers. “I don’t trust him.”
Doris nodded, her head aching from the impact of the windows. “Me neither,” she whispered. “Where is he taking us? Why hasn’t he set us free?”
Though he had never driven there, Tim knew the way to the trailer park like the back of his freckled—and now quite bloodied—hand. He imagined the look on his mother’s face when he swung open the door to the trailer, his poetry in one hand, a chicken in the other.
“I did it, Mama!” he’d announce, to her and whatever suitor no doubt accompanied her. “I saved the chickens!”
Good for something. He was good for something after all, and she’d cry when she saw how wrong she had been.
A slight smile played at the corner of Tim’s mouth as he spied the sign for the trailer park.
It was Babs who made the final call.
Let’s go, girls.
They were a flurry of feathers, blood, and loose-leaf pages. They moved with the fervor of chickens set free. They flew at him, upon him, with talons outstretched, to show him they were worth much more than pretty words on a page.
As the chickens descended upon him, Tim thought he caught a brief echo of a song amidst the flapping of their wings—a favorite song of Mama’s.
His shoulders shook as he laughed, no longer noticing the slicing talons, no longer noticing the road, or the wheel, or the trailer park sign that seemed to jump out at him from the horizon.