Sherri And The Chicken: Would She Ever Be The Same After This?
“Mom!” Timmy yelled as he ran through the open doorway. “Looky what Uncle Sylvan gave us!”
Mom looked up from washing a sink load of breakfast dishes. Her middle son stood in the doorway between the mud porch and the kitchen. Rivulets of sweat ran down his ruddy face as he paused to catch his breath.
“C’mon!” he said. “It’s in the back yard.” He held onto both sides of the doorway and bounced up and down, impatiently.
Mom pulled the dish towel off the refrigerator handle and dried the soapy water from her hands. She laid the towel on the counter top. Timmy let go of the doorway and turned to go outside. With one last look to make sure she was following, he ran out the doorway and stood next to a warped cardboard box in the back yard.
“What’s in there?” Mom asked.
Timmy grinned, revealing a gap toothed smile. He stood next to the box, waiting. Mom walked outside, stood next to him and bent down to touch the box. The water stained box top flaps were folded down, each one overlapping the next, locking in the contents. Mom heard thumping coming from the dented box sides. She stuck her finger in the opening where all the flaps met, and pulled them outward, just enough to be able to see inside.
“Feathers!” she said.
“Yeah!” Timmy said, “There’s ten of ‘em!”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to butcher ‘em, later.” Mom said. “Are you ready to pluck?”
“I got ‘em! Somebody else should pluck!” Timmy suggested.
“Nope! We all will.” Mom smiled. “You go find your brother and sister. I’ll get things ready here.”
“Okay.” Timmy said. “Grant’s up on the hill. Sandi’s next door.”
“I think Bruce is upstairs and Sherri’s watchin’ TV.” Mom said.
Timmy broke into a slow trot across his back yard and through the neighbor’s back yard, before crossing the two lane street separating the housing development from the hills surrounding it. He jumped into the ditch, then scrambled up the rocky slope below the electric fence. He crawled under the fence, without touching it and ran along the trail leading up to the haunted tree.
“Laurel, laurel, lee-hee tree!” he yodeled the secret call to let his brother know he was coming.
“Laurel, laurel, lee-hee tree!” came the returning call from Grant.
Timmy stopped under the blackened, hollow tree and took a deep breath, savoring the lingering honey smell. He looked up to see his older brother sitting on a wooden platform high in the tree.
“What d’ya want?” Grant peered down at Timmy.
“Mom wants us all at home.” Timmy said. “We gotta pluck chickens.”
“Shoot! Where’d she get chickens?” Grant growled. He slid off the platform onto the branch supporting it and shinnied down it. At the crotch above the hollowed trunk, he jumped, landing upright on the ground.
Timmy grinned. “Uncle Sylvan,” he answered. “C’mon! I’ll race ya!”
Grant grabbed Timmy’s shoulder, and spun him around. Timmy lost balance and crumpled on the long, yellow grass and cracked earth under the tree. Grant took off running towards home, laughing at the trickery behind his head start. Timmy scrambled to his feet. Fueled by anger, he soon caught up and passed his brother, just as they entered the back yard.
Timmy veered off into the neighbor’s yard and knocked on their back door. “Sandi’s gotta come home,” he told the neighbor. His older sister stepped out into the yard moments later.
“What?” she said. “I was playin’.”
“Mom sent me to get ya,” Tim said, fanning his flushed face.
“Why for?” asked Sandi.
“We’re pluckin’ chickens,” Timmy answered.
“Awww! Darn!” Sandi said. She headed home with Timmy.
Mom had set up the back yard for butchering. A very sharp butcher knife lay across the folded flaps on top of the box. The green garden hose lay coiled next to it, to wash the bloodstained grass afterwards. A grey metal washing tub, filled with steaming, boiled water sat a few feet away. Another empty cardboard box, destined for feathers and entrails, lay next to the redwood picnic table in the middle of the yard. The feathers and chicken guts would be burned in the barrel under the apple tree, at the far end of the yard. Six year old Bruce and five year old Sherri sat on the attached bench, waiting for the butchering to begin. Grant stood, leaning against the table top, watching Mom.
Mom pulled the flaps of the box open, just enough to reach in. Hollow thumps and muffled clucks emanated from the cardboard prison. She pulled out a chicken. Timmy pushed the flaps back down, locking the rest of the birds inside.
The little banty hen flapped her wings in protest. Mom held it by the neck and stepped on its red tail feathers. She picked up the knife, pulled the chicken’s neck taut, and drew the knife across its throat. Blood spurted from the gaping wound as the chicken bled out. It flapped its wings spastically, then went still. Mom submerged it in the tub. The hot water loosened the feathers. She handed it to Sandi to pluck.
Sandi sat on the grass next to the picnic table and began to pluck the red feathers from the bird. Mom reached back into the box for the next bird and repeated the process, handing a bird off to a different child, each time. Each bird reacted the same way during its death throes, except for the last one.
The last bird, perhaps scenting the carnage outside the box, ran laps around the inside when Mom reached in to take it. Loud clucks protested its capture. It flapped its brown wings wildly, throwing loosened down into the air. It kicked its scaly yellow feet, failing to push away the inevitable.
Mom stepped on its tail and pulled its neck, holding tightly for a quick slaughter. The bird crowed as the knife sliced through its gullet. It flapped its wings, opening them fully and kept on flapping. Mom let it go, thinking it would play out its throes on the blood soaked grass.
The bird stood up, head swinging upside down from attached skin on its spurting neck. Its beak crowed a silent, macabre message from the other side. It began to run. It ran straight at the youngest family member. Sherri dropped the bird she was plucking, stood up and screamed, seemingly continuing the bird’s message cut silent by the knife.
The bird ran within inches of her. She jumped up on the bench, up onto the table top, took three steps and went down the other side. The possessed bird followed her, dripping blood. She continued screaming and the shrill sound rose an octave. Her siblings stopped plucking to watch.
She ran across the yard and sped around the burn barrel at the far end. She headed back towards the house. The fixated bird skittered after her, following precisely in Sherri’s footsteps. She stopped screaming long enough to take a breath. She glanced over her shoulder. The bird continued after her, head swinging around its dribbling neck, not three feet behind her.
Her screams were nearly drowned out by the hysterical laughter of her siblings as they watched the grisly scene play out. Sherri hooked a hard right within yards of the house and headed back towards the picnic table. She dropped down on hands and knees and crawled under the picnic table and out the other side. She glanced back, mouth opened so wide she couldn’t possibly see, still shrieking, although in a lowered octave. She didn’t even register the laughter of her siblings and mother. The blood soaked chicken, slowing down was still hot on her trail.
On the other side of the picnic table she stood up and ran for the low branches of the apple tree. The ghoulish chicken followed her and then collapsed within feet of the tree. Not trusting her eyes, she climbed to the first fork and sat there, shrieks turning into cries, amid the laughter of her family.
Timmy ran over to the chicken and picked it up, intending to thrust it at his littlest sister.
“Timothy!” Mom’s voice stopped him and he carried the chicken down to the tub and immersed it. Under her breath, she murmured, “That one’s gonna be really tough!”
Mom walked to the apple tree and lifted Sherri from it, soothing her. She assured her that the chase was just the chicken’s reflexes. It really wasn’t chasing her.
Sherri sat next to Mom as the plucking continued, the chickens were gutted, the feathers were raked from the lawn and burned and the blood saturated grass was hosed clean.
She never had to take part in chicken butchering again.