Meadow Run was a family farm, with only a few chickens. Though they did not know it the prisoners in their chicken wire runs had it good compared to the industrial poultry farm a little ways over, where birds lived and died in lightless, filthy cages that encouraged them to be fat and sessile. Yet even at Meadow Run, every now and again one of the birds would eye the two-lane blacktop highway that ran just past the fence, and beyond that, the unknown freedom of the corn field and the bayou. A clever bird could, if there was a gap in the wire of the chicken coop, wiggle out to the yard. From there a good run-up and a flutter of wings could take one of the stronger birds right over the fence, if they tried.
Tire treads ran through corpse of one such game bird. One more piece of roadkill on the old blacktop.
Yet as the night came upon it, there was movement in the bayou. Fires lit and lines drawn in sand with flour; harsh liquor shared passed from hand to hand, and as the moon rose feet began to shuffle to the muffled drum. For those who were there with eyes to see it, the knife flashed bright in fire and moon light, and as the blood flowed into the earth dance and drum picked up their tempo. Near midnight the first chevalier found its rider, a scrawny girl of twelve whose kinky hair stuck out past her shoulders; and she mouthed obscenities like a soldier and held herself straight as an iron rod. One by one the others came on, and the circle was alive with screams and sighs and laughter...
...and on that blacktop highway, a single uncrushed eye fluttered open. There was no longer a throat to cluck, but a rattling hiss issued from the ruined neck, and the one intact leg scrambled for purchase, the one unbroken wing fluttered. It peeled itself from the dusty blacktop, a ruined mockery of poultry balanced on leg and wing. Then, slowly, tirelessly, it began to pull itself forward. Across the road, in their house, the hens nested and slumbered.
The mutilated bird shuffled up to the fence. It had never seen it from this side. Before, it had fluttered over the top, wings flapping madly, barely clearing the top. Now, with its shattered bones, it could never go over it that way. Nor did it have to.
Grasping a piece of wire with its beak, and planting its one good foot against the bottom most piece of wire, the bird heaved its broken body upwards. The chickenwire held its weight with barely a wobble. Then, holding on with only its beak, the cock lifted its leg and scrabbled for a higher purchase. Once its claws grasped the next bit of wire, the body heaved up another inch, it released the piece of wire in its beak, and reached up for the next one. In this way, with a slow and inevitable way, the broken form ascended the fence.
Once at the top, it simply flopped forward into the yard. Live chickens would have flapped or sputtered, but this one fell like a stone, and picked itself up after on crooked leg and crooked wing, crawling forward once again. The hole in the wire of the chicken coop was still there.
Inside, the hens slept roosting on wooden poles, heads sunk in to their plush feathers, lit only by the moonlight that came in the door. The broken bird's talons clacked on the ramp as it shuffled up. The fat brown hen nearest the door stirred in her sleep as its misshapen shadow fell across her - and then awoke with a scream as it attacked, the beak digging in at her neck, grasping on to her with its one good talon. The hen fell off its perch and rolled, flapping her wings and scratching at her attacker with her own feet. Yet the undying bird held on, biting deeper and deeper, blood welling up around its beak as it dug in.
The hen's alarm roused the hen house, and the birds raised a great cry and moved about, clustering themselves in the corner away from the struggle. In time, the hen's struggle ceased, and the bloody-beaked corpse-bird raised its head, gore falling from its mouth, the one good eye turning to the remaining chickens in the coop. In its fight with the hen, feathers had fallen from its hide, deep scratches gouged its belly and legs, and its beak was chipped where it had struck bone.
None of these injuries impeded it in the slightest as it shuffled toward the screaming hens.
Marilyn Meadow woke to the terrified cries of the chicken coop massacre. Her first thoughts turned to prowlers, foxes, maybe even a coyote. Still in her nightgown, she slipped on her boots and took the shotgun off the rack, checking to make sure it was loaded and the safety was off. The moon was full and the house was dark, so she left the flashlight behind, trusting in her night vision and holding the firearm in front of her as she trudged out toward the coop. By the time she got there, the screams had reached a higher pitch.
The human-sized door was held on by a simple wire latch, and as she opened it she noticed the break in the wire, down near the ground, and swore under her breath. That's where the critter had got in, she reckoned. She braced herself as she moved to open the coop door proper, expecting a bloody-mouth fox.
What she found was a slaughter. Half a dozen birds lay on the ground, throats torn out, guts spilled. Over it all was a black-feathered, one-eyed cock with a broken wing that should have been dead. The skin over its left eye had been scraped away 'til it showed the pale skull, and the left chest was little more than a broken bag of skin and feathers with tire treads on it, and it had lost more feathers than it still had. It was holding a piece of intestine in its chipped beak.
The shotgun barked, and the black bird exploded backwards. The sound of the gunshot in the enclosed space caused Marilyn to feel as if her own head had exploded, the screams of the chickens drowned out by the painful numbness and ringing in her ears. Then she saw the stricken bird attempting to rise, claw scrabbling against the floor, and pulled the trigger again. And again, and again until it clicked empty.
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