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    jfalkon
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Chickens - 1. Chickens

Chickens

 

Mark and George sat by their kitchen table each looking a screen and sipping coffee. It was the perfect setting for a relaxing Saturday morning but they were unable to enjoy it. Their landlord had decided to sell the house that they had been living in for the last five years. They had less than three months to find a new residence. Mark put down his tablet and walked to the cabinet over the sink complaining as he went.

“I can’t find anything in our price range.”

“We just have to keep looking. There’s got to be something we can afford,” encouraged George.

“I hope so,” answered Mark sounding doubtful.

He returned to the table with a cookie that looked like it had been treated with tie dye.

“I don’t know how you eat that stuff,” said George making a disgusted face.

“They taste good. Have a bite.”

“No thanks. The ingredient list gives me flashbacks of my college chemistry class.”

“Your chemistry class must have smelled much better than mine,” commented Mark taking a bite of the rainbow-colored snack.

“You really don’t care what you’re eating, do you?”

“Nope”

Mark picked up his tablet again and began scrolling through the housing adds. “Whoa! Free housing, what?”

George looked up from his computer as Mark looked intently at the add. After a few seconds, he started laughing. “Hey George, you want to become chicken farmers?”

“What?”

Mark began to read from the advertisement, “Want a taste of country living without giving up the city? Sign up with Franclyn Industry Farms TM. Farm the modern way! Stay close to town. Never handle chicken waste or feathers. No knowledge of farming techniques required. Benefits include free housing, flexible hours, short workdays, and free eggs*.”

George moved his chair to get a better look at the add. “That looks too good to be true. I wonder what’s the catch.”

“The price of their eggs. Their supposed to be super-organic or something like that so they’re like thirty-five dollars for a dozen. I’ve seen them in the grocery store.”

“Geez, what do they feed those chickens.”

“There’s a seminar the weekend after next. What to go and find out?”

“Is this seminar free?”

“Um…Yeah and their serving breakfast.”

“I guess it can’t hurt to look.”

They signed up for the high-tech suburban farming seminar and went back to their search for more normal housing. The search yielded a few possible options but when they went to look at the properties later that day they quickly changed their minds.

The following weekend the search continued. The couple sat in their kitchen and looked through websites and even a few printed newspapers. After several hours, Mark put his tablet down and bit into one of the rainbow-colored cookies.

“Anything we can afford is in the ghetto,” he complained.

“Maybe we should look at small apartments. We may be able to buy some time if we put our stuff in storage and live in a one bedroom apartment for a while,” suggested George.

“I guess we can’t rule that out,” admitted Mark.

They started looking up rates for storage units and small apartments. The options were unappealing but they were at least affordable.

 

“This is depressing,” Mark said at as he finished his third cup of coffee.

George nodded in agreement. They would intensify their search in the coming days but the cost of housing had gone up since they started renting their current house and it became clear that they would not be able to get something comparable at the same price. By the following weekend, they were starting to think that the chicken farm was a reasonable option.

“Ready?” Mark asked, as George left the bedroom looking handsome in jeans and a short sleeve shirt. George nodded and they went to Mark’s car. The location was only a twenty-mile drive from their house but it was obviously outside of the suburbs. It was a soon-to-open chicken farm. They pulled up to the farmhouse and to their surprise it looked even larger than it did in the promotional photo. It was a built in a rustic style complete with a porch and a porch swing.

Once they walked inside the country style was more muted. As soon as they opened the door a Franclyn Industries employee greeted them with a big smile and invited them into the kitchen. She offered them an assortment of egg dishes along with bagels, toast, and cut fruit.

A few more people were already there sitting at the long kitchen table eating. They all introduced themselves and continued with their breakfast. The eggs were fresher and more intensely flavored than the typical egg. For the first time in their search for new accommodations, Mark and George felt hopeful.

After everyone had eaten their fill of eggs, they moved to the spacious basement media room where the representative from Franclyn Industries called the meeting to order.

“Good morning everyone! I can see you all enjoyed our Franclyn Farms eggs. My name is Nancy and I am going to give you an overview of our farms and answer any questions you may have. Then we will take a short tour of the farm. After that we will have lunch and you will have some time to explore the farmhouse. I will be around to answer any further questions.

“Alright, so let me first congratulate you on having the courage to look into chicken farming as a profession. A lot of people feel uncomfortable with the idea at first but this is not your grandparents’ chicken farm. I promise you, you will not be covered with feathers and you will never have to use a shovel for anything unless you decide to plant a garden.

“In fact, our smart chicken coops are entirely self-contained. They are meticulously configured for the chickens’ optimal health and wellbeing. This includes rigorous decontamination before the chickens enter the coop. This is what allows us to avoid using antibiotics. The chickens have so little contact with the outside world that we have farmers who have been working for us for seven or eight years and they have literally never seen a single chicken.”

Nancy then brought up a photo of one of the chicken coops on the home theater projector. It looked like a giant aluminum box with a chicken shaped logo on its side and with a few cables running into it. There was a LCD display on the side of the unit and a port through which food and water could be delivered. Eggs were automatically gathered by the smart-coop and a crate filled with them would have to be removed once a day and replaced by an empty one. There was a similar crate for the chicken waste.

Later, on the tour of the farm Nancy demonstrated how food and water were delivered to the chickens. The farmer would drive up in a miniature version of a tanker truck and couple a hose to a port on the coop. The procedure had more in common with refueling a car than feeding birds. There were other vehicles that were used to collect egg crates and waste crates.

“So, you can’t see in at all?” asked one of the prospective farmers.

“Unfortunately, no. We have a system of sensors that monitor the chickens carefully. If they detect a problem you will get a message on your phone and computer and a tech will be notified of the problem.”“Do you have to wait for the tech or can you fix it yourself if it’s a simple problem?” asked another potential chicken farmer.

 

“You have to wait for the tech. The main issue we have with people opening the coops is contamination. We once had a farmer partly open a coop to try to see inside. We had to decontaminate the whole coop which cost the farmer one thousand dollars,” explained Nancy in an apologetic tone, “but there is nothing to worry about. We have a network of technicians and vets on staff and available twenty-four seven.”

She showed them a few more features of the chicken coops accessible from the touch screen displays. Then they went back to the house. Nancy gave them the real estate agent’s tour and then let them explore while lunch was delivered. The home was like any large home except for an inconspicuous telecom closet which housed the file server, switches, routers, and backup power units. This system handled communications for both farmers and chickens. As they walked from room to room, Mark and George were amazed by the size and quality of the home.

“Look at that window,” said George as he looked out at the view from the master bedroom.

“It’s huge,” agreed Mark as he pulled open the closet doors, “Wow, speaking of huge, check out the closet!”

“Impressive. That’s about the same size as my first apartment. Have you seen the bathroom yet?”

“No.”

They opened the door to find a huge shower with several shower heads.

“You could fit a crowd in there!” exclaimed Mark.

“Oh, is that what you’re into?” teased George.

“Yeah, I was thinking, you, me, and four or five of our favorite chickens,” said Mark draping his arm around George’s waist.

They continued through the house lightheartedly commenting on its many virtues. Eventually, they went down to the basement after picking up sandwiches from the kitchen. The basement contained the large media room as well as smaller rooms that could be used as guest rooms or storage. There was a bathroom and even a small kitchen. On the far end of the media room was a sectioned off staircase that led to a trap door. Mark pushed on it and it rattled.

“That’s not very secure,” he commented.

George opened the door and gave the lock a quick look. “That’s easy to fix,” he said as they climbed the steps into a niche which led into the yard.

“I wonder what that’s for,” George said as he looked at what seemed to be a channel that ran around the house.

“That’s for draining rain water,” answered Mark.

“Really?”

“That’s what the brochure said. There was a whole section on safety features. This makes the house practically flood proof.”

“Wow. They thought of everything,” said George as he led the way back inside.

Finally, they thanked Nancy and after receiving a complementary box of premium eggs, went to their car.

The idea of becoming farmers still felt like a strange fantasy until a few weeks later they were faced with two options. One was a cramped apartment and a storage unit across town. The other was the chicken farm.

“I think the chicken farm makes the most sense,” said George, “You are always complaining about your job and your boss. Now you won’t have to deal with that. I can keep my job and help with the chickens on the weekend and we won’t have to live in apartment C12 with the demon baby screaming next door.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Chicken farmer just sounds weird,” answered Mark chewing on something that looked like a hot pink cock roach.

“What are you eating?”

“Spooky bugs. Its last year’s Halloween candy,” said Mark offering George some.

“What’s in that stuff?” asked George then he took a bug out of the bag, “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

“So, let’s fill out the form and get ourselves some Franclyn smart-hens.”

They filled out the form and were quickly contacted by one of the managers. They signed a contract ten days later. The whole process of relocating took two weeks and the company even helped them move their things. They were assigned the chicken farm they had toured several weeks before. There were still a few hen houses being installed as Mark and George were unpacking.

The first few weeks on the farm were busy. Mark followed the temporary employee assigned to the farm, learning all the procedures while George went to work. In the evenings, they had dinner together and then spent a few hours arranging their belongings until everything was in its place. On weekends George helped Mark with the chickens in the morning, that way they had their afternoons free.

One Saturday afternoon after they had finished their farm work, Mark brewed some coffee and they took their mugs into the living room. George walked up to the big picture window looking out on the valley below. Mark followed him.

“Isn't it gorgeous?” commented George.

“Yeah. It’s hard to believe that its real. I keep thinking there’s some kind of catch. Like we missed something in the paperwork,” said Mark.

“I don’t know what we could have missed. We had two lawyers go over the contract. I know what you mean though.”

“Why did they give us such a big house? It seems over the top for chicken farmers.”

“Maybe urban chicken farming is not as popular as you would expect.”

Not coming to any conclusion, they decided to enjoy their coffee and not worry but the doubt continued to nag at them.

As Summer turned to Fall the chicken farm’s large trees turned colors and the last smart-coop was installed.

“That’s the last of them,” said the technician as Mark watched him input data at the control panel, “Someone will come by in a week or two and bolt it down for you but its working fine now.”

“Great, thanks,” said Mark walking the man to his truck.

“No problem. Let us know if you have any questions.”

“Hey, have you ever seen the inside of one of those?”

“No, they seal them up before they get to me. I just install them. You need special training if you have to go inside. There’s this whole decontamination routine that looks like something out of the space program from what I hear.”

“I guess, they’re not kidding about the no antibiotics thing.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. You have a good day now.”

“You too.”

The man drove off leaving Mark with the cold looking aluminum box. Mark put his ear to the coop wondering if he would hear anything but it was dead quiet. That evening he mentioned the visit to George.

“So that’s the last one?” said George.

“Yeah. You know, I just can’t get used to those smart-coops. Their so quiet. They tell us that there are chickens inside but there could be anything in there.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Coca plants, opium poppies, nuclear waste…anything,”

“We can’t open the coops unless we want to pay for the cleaning but they didn’t say anything about not opening the egg crates and the manure bins. Maybe we should take a look.”

The couple approached the chicken coops at sunset. They were armed with screwdrivers and imagination. George pulled out a bin from one of the coops while Mark watched nervously.

“They probably know you did that,” said Mark.

“So? They never told me not to look in the crap bin,” said George as he unscrewed the top.

“What if you find something in there?” asked Mark wiping his sweaty palms on his pants.

“I guess we will find out,” said George as he removed the last of the screws and lifted one end of the lid.

“What do you see?”

“Wonderful things!” exclaimed George in his best impression of the opening of King Tut’s tomb.

“Really?”

“No. Bird crap.”

“That’s good,” Mark breathed a sigh of relief.

Feeling better they returned to their home as the color faded from the sky.

That weekend they decided to go into town. The drive to their favorite restaurant was longer than it used to be but they were happy to see their friends. It had been a few weeks since they had done anything social. Their friends were amused by the idea of an ultramodern chicken farm and had some questions.

“How do you know those chicken coops are really chicken coops,” asked one of their friends, “What if they’re really bombs or something.”

“Bombs don’t make chicken crap,” answered George.

“I wonder what a Franken-hen looks like,” mused another friend.

“That’s Franclyn hen, and I don’t know,” answered Mark.

“You mean you’ve never seen them!”

“No.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not much.”

They were asked a few more questions about the farm and then the topic changed.

After dinner Mark and George drove home and parked in the long driveway. As they walked to the door, George saw some dark shapes hanging from the eaves of the house. He stopped in his tracks and a little bit of panic started to set in when he realized what the objects were.

“You hung up the Halloween bats,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Do you think we’ll get any kids here?”

“I don’t know. We’re pretty out of the way here but it does give me an excuse to buy a big bag of candy.”

George smiled. Mark loved sweets and by some miracle his body didn’t seem to mind. It was as if he had managed to hold on to the most likable aspects of his ten-year-old self. George gave him an amused look and reached for his door key.

“Are you going to dress up?” he asked Mark.

“If the kids come I will. Otherwise, I’m just going to go naked.”

“I’ll have to remember to lock the gate.”

They laughed as they walked up the stairs to their bedroom. The huge window behind their bed framed a large golden harvest moon. The room was bathed in its soft warm glow.

“What?” asked George seeing Mark looking rather intently at him.

“You look so good.”

“You too.”

“Maybe this chicken thing is good for us.”

“Maybe.”

The conversation was cut short as words were replaced by kisses. Being miles away from the city made them feel like the only two people in the world. They slipped under the blankets as an unseasonably warm breeze rustled the leaves outside. The chirping of crickets accompanied their breathing and quiet happy moans.

The next morning the couple woke to the warm rays of the morning sun. They would have to get up and feed the chickens soon but there would be two of them to do the work so they took their time waking up. Mark lay sleepily staring at the ceiling when he noticed a small circular imperfection.

“George, what is that?” he asked his sleepy husband.

“What is what?”

“That circle.”

“I don’t know? I never noticed it before.”

“Oh my God, is that a camera?”

“I can’t tell,” George rubbed his eyes willing them to focus better.

“Someone’s been watching us! I knew this was too good to be true!” exclaimed Mark.

George pulled a sheet around himself and stood on the mattress looking like a disheveled Socrates. He looked closely at the alien object on the ceiling and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Babe, it’s only a nail. Someone didn’t pound it in all the way before they painted and the paint came off.”

Feeling a little silly they went downstairs for breakfast. They ate slowly and then went out to the farm. Dozens of silver rectangles sparkled in the sun waiting for them to deliver the bird food.

“There’s something strange about those aluminum boxes,” commented George as he walked to the food delivery vehicle. He got to work topping off the feeders while Mark started collecting the egg crates.

Once the chickens were taken care of, the couple enjoyed a calm Sunday together. They took care of a few errands in town and stopped at their favorite coffee shop and the local farmers’ market. Then they returned home. Toward the end of the day the weather turned cool. Clouds began to drift across the sky and a breeze put a chill in the air.

They watched the forecast that evening and saw that a storm was on its way. “It looks like the storm will hit late Tuesday. We expect high winds and possible flooding in low lying areas. Officials are encouraging residents to stay home unless evacuation orders are issued…” announced the weatherman.

“That takes care of Halloween,” said Mark who had been hoping to at least go to one party that night.

“Maybe it won’t be that bad,” said George as the five-day forecast appeared on the screen showing lightning bolts by a jack-o-lantern.

George’s optimism was not rewarded. On Tuesday afternoon, he looked out of his office window an hour before the end of his shift and saw a steady rain falling. He grimaced knowing that the highways would be backed up even before he got in his car.

Meanwhile, Mark was switching the last of the manure crates when a light rain began to fall. By the time he got inside, his clothes were soaked and he was cold. After changing his clothes, he made a cup of coffee. He had at least half an hour before he would start preparing dinner. As he sipped his coffee he looked around the kitchen and smiled. The day before he had put out all the pumpkin-shaped candle holders in the kitchen and the living room along with the other props he had originally intended to put in the yard. He was not going to let anything spoil his fun.

By the time George arrived, a fierce wind was blowing outside and the cold rain was coming down in sheets. He rushed to the door and came in to warm air smelling of herbs and spices. The kitchen was illuminated with candles in pumpkin candle holders. George smiled. This was exactly the sort of thing Mark did to make their life a little less monotonous. Mark had heard the door open and walked into the kitchen.

“How was the drive?”

“Awful, but I survived it.”

Mark gave him a hug and announced that dinner was ready. George put away his briefcase and after a quick change of clothes returned to the kitchen. They ate while rain pelted the window.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Mark asked as they were eating dessert.

“I think so. They were talking about hurricane force winds and up to ten inches of rain overnight.”

“I’m glad were on top of a hill. Can you imagine the flooding?”

“I know.”

“You want more cake?”

“No, I’m full.”

They washed the dishes and settled in the living room to watch some scary movies. They turned off all the lights except for two ceramic jack-o-lanterns and turned on a ghost story. At first, they were captivated by the plot but soon the wind was howling so loud that they had to turn up the sound on the TV.

“I don’t know how I’m going to sleep with all of this,” complained George.

“Ear plugs?”

“Do we have any?”

“I think so but you know what else could work?”

“What?”

“We could sleep in the basement. It’s got to be quieter there. We could watch the movies there and then turn off the projector and go right to sleep.”

They walked down to the basement and listened. The only sound they heard was the door to the yard rattling quietly. They decided to bring their mattress down to the sparsely furnished media room. Mark brought the two jack-o-lanterns and they carried their pillows and blankets and anything else they thought they might need.

Eventually, Mark returned upstairs to make some popcorn and get some of his favorite cookies. He turned on the microwave oven and looked out the window. The wind was making his plastic bats flap frantically. George followed Mark to the kitchen after a few minutes. As he walked towards the refrigerator he could see Mark standing with his face towards the window. Suddenly a flash of lightning lit up the sky. For a moment, the kitchen was overwhelmed by the blue light and bat shadows. Mark jumped away from the window. George had walked up behind him. Mark bumped into George. Feeling something unexpected behind him, he screamed. George started laughing. “You are such a chicken.”

“Jerk,” answered Mark as he retrieved the popcorn.

As they went down the stairs another bolt of lightning struck the ground. The flash of light was blinding and the thunder that followed shook the house. The lights flickered and then returned to their normal brightness.

“That was close,” said George.

Before Mark could say anything both their phones pinged. George pulled his out first. “Farm house is now on backup power. Estimated 48 hours battery life left,” he read.

“There must be a huge battery somewhere in this place,” commented Mark.

“and we have a generator in the shed if that fails.”

The phones pinged again.

“Franclyn Smart-Coop # 53 is on backup power. Estimated battery life 71 hours.”

Another message followed.

“Franclyn Smart-Coop # 27 is on backup power. Estimated battery life 69 hours.”

By the fourth ping the two men put their phones in silent mode.

They went back to the basement and resumed their movie watching. Once their movie ended the screen displayed an error. “Connection lost. If this problem persists contact your provider.”

“I guess we lost part of the network connection,” said George.

“It’s just the weather. Satellite TV has its limits but never fear, we have a dvr.”

Mark pulled up the list of recordings. The list of scary movies was long.

“How long have you been collecting these?”

“About a month. Which one do you want to watch?”

After a moment’s thought they settled on a monster movie and turned their attention to the popcorn. The door to the yard rattled a little more than before as the wind grew stronger but otherwise they were able to ignore the weather.

After about an hour and a half an hour Mark said, “I love that character. Someone with a wicked imagination made that costume.”

“He is creepy looking,” admitted George.

“I love costumes.”

“Why is that?”

“You can’t tell what’s underneath. It’s a surprise.”

“What if it’s not a nice surprise?”

“In my world, it’s always a nice surprise,” answered Mark with a mischievous smile.

Then he pulled up George’s shirt. At first George laughed but before long they were happily removing each other’s clothes. The projector flashed images of the monster attacking his victim across the room. George and Mark were deaf to her screams adding their own happier ones to the cacophony. The wind rattled the door more violently than ever. The woman on the screen fell to the ground. The monster caught his next victim. A loud crash penetrated the soundproof walls of the basement.

“What was that?” gasped Mark.

“Who cares?” answered George covering Mark’s lips with his own.

The projector painted the wall with splashes of blood. The movie reached its climax in a twisted counterpoint of the ecstasy playing itself out only feet away. The last human killed the hideous beast in an explosion of blood and gore. The mess flowed down the wall. The two-man audience, completely oblivious to the sight, saw and felt only each other. Hot blood pulsed through their veins. Their breathing quickened and their movements reached a peak. The weather responded with another tremendous bang and the sound of thunder and rain. The credits began to roll. Then George accidentally hit the remote control that had been on top of a pillow and the room was filled with loud music. Its rhythm carried the mood for a while but finally the motion under the covers ceased.

The couple drifted into a peaceful sleep unbothered by the loud rock music echoing off the walls. George woke up after half an hour and sleepily turned down the volume. He noticed that it was getting cold in the room. He pulled the blankets over himself, put his arm around Mark, and went back to sleep.

A few hours later it was cold in the basement despite the best efforts of the heating system. Mark opened his eyes and recoiled at the sight of the glowing jack-o-lanterns. His sudden movement woke up George.

“Are you ok?” asked George sleepily.

“Yeah, I just forgot where we were sleeping.”

George found the remote control. He turned the radio off and was about to turn off the projector which was only outputting a blue glow. Before he pushed the button, Mark screamed and grabbed his arm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Something touched me!” screamed Mark.

“What?”

“Something touched me. It was warm and wet and gross!” he screamed again and pointed to something on the floor, “What is that!”

George found his phone and set it to flashlight mode. He stared at the object on the ground, “I don’t know. Are those feathers?”

“I don’t know. I think so,” said Mark.

The object rocked from side to side and then inched closer to the mattress causing Mark to move closer to George. The strange thing on the ground had a surface that looked like it was coated with wet matted feathers or fur. It had wing-like appendages on its sides.

“I think it’s some kind of bird,” speculated George.

“but where’s its head?”

George had no answer. What appeared to be the animal’s neck did not terminate in a head. There was only a small bulb that looked like the back half of a head but it had no face. Two tube like structures extended up from an opening in the top of the neck. As the men stared trying to make sense of the sight, they heard a soft splash like a wet sponge falling. George turned his flashlight beam to see what it was. The light revealed dozens of the headless animals. Their shape was consistent with birds. They had very small feet that looked vaguely reptilian. Each had the same strange unnatural protrusions coming from its neck.

“We gotta get out of here,” whispered Mark his voice quivering.

George turned the phone to see if they were surrounded. To their relief there was a clear path to the stairs leading to the first floor. They ran up the stairs and slammed the door.

“Oh, my God! What are those things? Where did they come from?” gasped Mark.

“Outside,” answered George, “The wind must have forced the door open and they blew in.”

“From where?”

George shook his head slowly walking towards the front door.

“Where are you going?” asked Mark.

“To see what’s going on out there.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mark following close behind.

George opened the door letting in the grey predawn light and the cold still air. For the first time, he realized that he was wrapped in the blanket he had grabbed on the way out of the basement. “I better put on some clothes.”

“Me too,” said Mark pulling the sheet he was wearing tighter around him.

A few minutes later they approached the door again. This time they had warm clothes rubber boots flashlights and a baseball bat in case they encountered any other unnatural entities. George opened the door slowly. The view outside was exactly what they could have expected after a storm. The muddy front yard was littered with fallen leaves and broken branches.

They walked around the house and saw that the chicken coops were splattered with mud but otherwise unchanged except for one. Mark noticed its absence first. He pointed to the empty concrete foundation. “Where did it go?”

It did not take them long to find the coop about three feet away from the entrance to their basement. As they approached the coop, it became clear that it had not weathered the storm well. The back panel had been completely dislodged and was lying on its side next to the entrance to the door to the basement.

“At least we know what took out the basement door,” said George.

George shone his flashlight into the coop and found one of the strange creatures inside it. It was attached to something by one of the tubes coming out of its neck and trapped in a jumble of mechanical parts.

“Those things,” said Mark his eyes wide with fear, “They got the chickens.”

“I think those things are the chickens,” said George, “Look at its neck. The tube is attached to the coop. That’s how they’re fed.”

George took a step into the overturned coop. The coop made a crunching noise but the wall held his weight. He took a few more steps and reached for the bird. It did not take much to disconnect the bird’s feeding tube from the coop. George picked up the chicken. It struggled to get away at first but soon gave up and relaxed.

As George exited the coop, Mark took a step back with his eyes on the bird in George’s arms. Then he followed George into the house.

“What are you going to do?” asked Mark.

“We can’t just leave her out in the cold,” answered George, “we should let Franclyn Industries know.”

“You’re right. I’ll give them a call.”

Mark tried using his cell phone but could not get a signal. He went to the phone in the kitchen while George took some paper towels from the role and started wiping the chicken. After a moment, Mark was connected to an answering machine which gave a hasty explanation about the call center being overwhelmed by storm related calls. He left a message as instructed explaining what had happened. Then George took the phone and called his employer to let his manager know that he would not be able to come to work. The chicken in his arms was not happy with the recent assault on her feathers. George released his squirming chicken onto the kitchen floor. She took a few steps and then sat down. Her feathers were less matted and she looked a little better.

“I think we should keep them in here until someone comes for them,” said George.

“In here?”

“The kitchen floor is easy to clean,” explained George and as if on cue the chicken produced a dropping.

“I guess that makes sense,” admitted Mark wrinkling his nose at the thought of cleaning up after a few dozen chickens.

Mark and George spent the next few hours removing wet chickens from the basement and toweling them off. A space heater in the kitchen finished the job of drying them. Some of the chickens had clearly slipped in the mud. Those were taken to the bathroom for rinsing.

By noon the job of moving, cleaning, and drying was almost done. Mark went into the kitchen to get some food while George continued washing the muddier members of the flock. He had four more chickens to wash when Mark left for the kitchen. George wrapped the now clean fifth chicken in a towel. He could hear her making soft puffing sounds through her breathing tube as if she were trying to cluck. He wrapped her better to keep her warm and started walking up the stairs to the kitchen when the doorbell rang.

He opened the door expecting to find a Franclyn technician at his door. Instead he found a few neighbors and a news crew. Their cell service had gone out and they were going door to door looking for a working phone. The reporter asked if he could record some video of the muddy farm. George said it would be alright. Then the woman from the next property saw the towel in his arms and assumed there was a baby in it. She came closer to have a look.

“Now, who have we here?” she asked in a sweet voice.

As soon as she got close enough to see the strange animal she took a quick step back, “Oh! What…what is that?”

“Sorry. It’s a Franclyn hen,” explained George

“A what?” asked the reporter coming closer to see for himself.

“A Franken-hen,” said the other neighbor who was also looking at the animal.

“Franclyn hen,” corrected George, “They’re bred to live in these special chicken coops.”

After the shock wore off the neighbors made their phone calls from the phone in the hallway and left but the reporter stayed. By the time the Franclyn Industry technician arrived the hens had had more than their fifteen minutes of fame. The reporter tried to get some information from the technician but he refused to talk. Instead he hastily rounded up the chickens and put them in cages and loaded them onto his truck. He quickly called his manager to let him know what happened. Mark and George could hear part of the conversation.

“That coop should have been bolted down… Dan said he bolted it down but there are no bolt holes in the foundation. The chickens fell into the basement…I got most of them. There’s four missing. I’m assuming they’re dead…The reported filmed it all. The farmers must have called him…I don’t know. Yeah, I’m on my way.”

Without so much as a look back the man got in his truck and drove away. Mark and George exchanged looks and without saying a word they knew what the other was thinking. Their chicken farming careers were over.

“I guess we better do the laundry once we get the rest of the birds fed,” said Mark looking at his clothes, “those chickens were so dirty. You got the last ones out of the shower, right?”

“I think I got the last one before the news crew arrived,” said George trying to remember the events of that morning.

As the mud was cleared from the roads, more reporters arrived to ask questions. Phone service was restored and the phones continued to ring through the afternoon. In the evening, the rate of incoming calls slowed. The last call came at 9:04. It was from an out of state newspaper office.

The next day George arrived at work and found several reporters waiting for him with questions about the strange chickens. Mark spent his time feeding chickens and answering phone calls. By the end of the week it was clear that the media had cast Mark and George as the heroes in the great Franken-chicken scandal as it became known. By the time Franclyn Industries contacted them about leaving the chicken farm, they had appeared on several talk shows and numerous news casts. It only took one mention of Mark’s employment status for job offers to start coming in.

Over the following months, the chicken story faded. The chickens were quietly sold off at a discount to any company that would buy them. The farm land was sold and the company closed. The owners would have several years of legal trouble because of their treatment of the chickens and questionable genetic experiments.

A year after their adventure started, Mark and George bought a small house. They had put all their savings into the down payment and thanks to Mark’s new job they were able to make the mortgage payments. They had to be careful about how they spent their money but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make for the peace of mind.

One late September morning, they sat on their porch sipping coffee enjoying the fall weather. A plate of homemade pumpkin bread slices sat on the table between them.

“This is nice. A place of our own…” reflected George.

“Yeah,” answered Mark.

“Did you feed the pets?”

“No, not yet. I’ll go do that now.”

He went into the kitchen and pulled a muddy looking substance out of the refrigerator. He stirred it and poured some into a measuring cup. Then he put the cup into the microwave for half a minute. Once it was warm he took it to a cage that sat in the corner of the kitchen. George walked in just as Mark started pouring the mixture into a makeshift feeder.

“Jason invited us to his Halloween party. Do you want to go?” asked George.

“Yeah. Is it a costume party?”

“Yes, it is. I was thinking we could go as creepy headless chickens,” teased George.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Mark to the deaf birds, “you’re not creepy. Franclyn-hens are cute.”

The birds let out a few puffs of air as if they had heard him and then continued gulping down their breakfast.

 

 

Note: While Franclyn chickens are fictional there was once a real living headless rooster. Read Mike’s story here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_the_Headless_Chicken
Copyright © 2017 jfalkon; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Creepy! And they’d be illegal in California – even the eggs couldn’t be sold here. But I’m are there are other states that would give them tax subsidies to encourage enormous farms with franken-hens.

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Loved it... you really had me wondering... so sweet that they kept and look after some of those hens. There are none crueler in the animal kingdom, than man. I liked the morals delivered to us as you entertained... cheers... Gary....

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This made me laugh. Well written and thought out. There have been stories for years, KFC breeds headless and Beak-less chickens which have been genetically altered.

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If something is too good to be true, it usually is. Creepy to think of farming with no contact with the animals. I'm glad at least a few of the poor hens got to live a more cared for life. 

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On 10/29/2017 at 11:04 AM, droughtquake said:

Creepy! And they’d be illegal in California – even the eggs couldn’t be sold here. But I’m are there are other states that would give them tax subsidies to encourage enormous farms with franken-hens.

I have to admit that I was stretching the truth a little here but considering the video footage of chicken farms that I have seen over the years I am sure there are some pretty creapy things going on when no one is looking.

 

On 10/30/2017 at 11:29 AM, BlindAmbition said:

This made me laugh. Well written and thought out. There have been stories for years, KFC breeds headless and Beak-less chickens which have been genetically altered.

Now that you mention it I do remember that KFC story going around.  I guess the legend of the headless chickens has been with us for a while.

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