Ed’s Chickens by Kevin Atherton

Ed and Jimmy were drivin’ around in the country lookin’ for a car to steal when they saw the chickens. Damned farmers always had a hot-rod out in the shed —some primo wheels just there for the takin’, but all they’d seen so far were antique tractors and scrap metal that may have been somethin’ at one time or another. The chickens caught Ed’s attention because the rooster was after them hens like he’d never get through. Kinda reminded Ed of his old man and the thought pissed him off. When his dad wasn’t slappin’ the shit outta him, he was chasin’ tail all over town.

Ed said, “I’m takin’ them birds with us.”

Jimmy replied, “Are you nuts? We’re hurtin’ for cash and you wanna steal goddamned yard birds? Jesus, let’s stick with cars, and I’ll stop by Colonel Sanders when we’re done.”

“Didn’t say I was gonna eat ‘em. Just wanna take ‘em. You got a problem with that?”

Jimmy saw irritation run through Ed’s eyes like heat lightning dancin’ in the clouds. Ed wasn’t big on logic or restraint for that matter, and it was just best to let the freak run with it sometimes. The chickens weren’t gonna be a problem anyway.

Jimmy sighed and said, “You want ‘em, we’ll take ‘em.”

Ed chucked the chickens in the back of an old ford pickup and was crafty enough to snatch up some chicken wire and fasten it up over the bed with a piece of half-rotten clothesline. The chickens shat on the truck bed, the rooster had a captive harem, and Jimmy scowled all the way back to Compton Illinois .

They lived at a place called Larett’s Ranch, but it was really little more than a ramshackled old farm; a shack, a few horses, all plopped down on a tired piece of dirt. Ed slammed on the brakes, jumped out, and ripped off the chicken wire. The birds flapped out of the truck and resumed crappin’ on never-before-seen territory.

Ed said, “Where in the hell’d that rooster go?”

Jimmy looked in the truck bed and said, “Looks like he’s takin’ an eternal break from servicin’ all them hens. Crap —ain’t a mark on him. He musta had a heart attack from your shitty drivin’.”

The bird looked dead as a zombie-mummy in a nuclear blast, and Ed poked at it like that would make a difference. Jimmy grimaced in disgust and thought that Ed could be an idiot at times —most of the time if you cared to keep count.

Ed stooped down close to the rooster and its comb and scraggly beak blurred and coalesced into the image of his dad’s flabby face. A bulbous nose streaked with wormy veins and mouth filled with rotten teeth swirled in a horrible likeness of the fat bastard. Looked like a hog.

The rooster issued soft squawking sounds that built in decibels until the world was consumed by poultry screeches. It flew straight up into the sky, above the clouds, and then seemed to explode in a burst of colors.

They watched as the rooster eclipsed the sky and transformed into a hideous blob that blotted out the sun. The porcine face of his dad formed and became some kind of orator in a drive-in picture show from hell. The images were lewd and vivid and his dad’s voice thundered like a drunken God from above.

His mom’s battered face appeared —blackened from the time she spilled some beer.

Hell, I’d hit her just for kicks —never mind the goddamned beer.

His dead puppy that made one too many messes loomed into view.

I even liked that dog some —can’t say the same for you.

Ed’s eyes bugged out and anger rattled through him like a dildo buzzin’ in an earthquake. It was the rooster peckin’ around on the ground below that really pissed him off. The bird had tricked him somehow. It was nothing but an evil scavenger suckin’ bugs and crap off the ground with a single-minded stupidity. He grabbed the bird and ripped it apart piece by piece until there was nothin’ left but a buncha feathers and bloody guts that looked like vulture vomit.

Jimmy said, “Why’d you do that? Not that I give a shit, but all them chickens ain’t worth shit without a rooster.”

Ed replied, “Sometimes you just gotta. You wanna argue the point?”

Jimmy didn’t.

Ed said, “You see that new Vette parked down the road? Go get it and pull it into the barn.”

Jimmy said, “Thought that one was too close to home.”

Ed replied, “Don’t matter now. Just do it.”

***

The sky was streaked with red crap that dripped to the horizon like poison seeking a tumor. Ed looked somethin’ like that tumor. He’d smeared rooster guts all over his face and was butchering them hens. He crammed bloody chunks of poultry into his mouth as fast as he could.

Jimmy pulled up to the barn door and Ed was blocking his way. Ed’s bristled snout gnawed on quivering poultry and feathers adhered to hooves and leathery skin like unpleasant embellishments from a slaughterhouse. A good number of chickens were taking their last feeble attempts at flight after Ed had bitten off their heads.

Jimmy dragged Ed to the Vette and shoved him into the passenger seat. Ed was what he was and there was no help for it. Jimmy wasn’t real happy about it, but hell, there were worse things if you wanna look for ‘em. He jumped in and headed north on highway 51 and figured it didn’t make much difference. That farm wasn’t much better than livin’ in a flop house anyway.

Ed grunted, “Head west on 80, but stop by my dad’s place first.”

Jimmy replied, “Thought you never wanted to see the prick again.”

“I just wanna tell him about the chickens. You got a problem with that?”

Kevin Atherton has a recent post on the Flash Fiction Offensive, has been published in anthologies and on-line magazines. He’s been known to frequent a whore house or two.

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