05 Jan They Come Home To Roost
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"They Come Home To Roost"Written by
Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
This farm has been in my family for two generations. I’ve always enjoyed the peace and solitude since I was a boy, just me and my folks. Now, there’s just me. They died a few years back, leavin’ the place to me and I’ve been doing my best to keep enough cash coming in to pay the taxes on the land (though why anybody’d want this place but me these days is beyond me). My grandpa was kind of a recluse and wanted a ‘fair piece o’ distance’ between us and the city slickers as he called them. It’s about 15 miles to the nearest town, down a couple worn ruts in the woods, that turn into a strip more dirt than road, before it finally hits the rural route to town. The old joke about ‘You know you’re a redneck when directions to your house start with: After you turn off the paved road…’? Yeah, that always used to kill him.
Sorry, its getting hard to concentrate, mind wanders. I’m leaving this recording on the off chance someone from town notices I haven’t stopped by for a bit and sends the law down this way to check on me. My advice to you is leave now, while you still can. I know it sounds crazy, but.. its true. First thing I noticed was wrong was a couple nights ago, when Sammy, that’s my dog, started barkin up a storm in the middle of the night. Not too surprisin’, we live like I said, way out at the ass end o’ nowhere, and there’s possums and raccoons and a few wild dogs livin out in the woods and sometimes they come on my land to try thier luck. Anyhow, Sammy’s a good dog and just a few snarls from him is usually enough to convince most critters to hightail it back into the trees. But that night, there was something different. It was like he was crazy or something, snarling and yelping like mad. Not a bark, mind you, a yelp. Y’all with dogs know what I mean, that kinda noise they make when they’re caught someplace between territorial anger and fear.
I grabbed my jeans, shoved my feet into an old pair of workboots and grabbed my shotgun figurin’ something bigger might be about. This ain’t bear country but in lean times I’ve seen a wolf or two pacing the edge of the fence, testin’ the water so to speak. Once I seen a cat, almost as big as Sammy out there, I shit you not. I dunno what it was, maybe a cougar or something, you’d have to ask a hunter, which to Daddy’s disappointment I never turned out to be much of. Slaughtering a chickens ot the occasional pig was as far as I went and I ain’t ever been comfortable even with that much.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Sammy and the chickens. Like I said, I went runnin’ out in the dark but there was enough of a decent moon to see a bit and the ruckus started up in the coop. It’s around the back of the barn, and anybody who knows chickens knows why we kept that coop as far from our open windows as possible. There I am on the front porch, and Sammy’s straining his tether, but he’s all hunched down, tail between his legs but he’s still raising all kinds of hell. I figure somethings going after the chickens, and I decide to leave him tied for the moment, cuz he just didn’t look right, muzzle all foamy like he was rabid. Anyhow, I ran out to the barn and grabbed my flashlight and the chickens are squawkin’ enough to raise the dead. Heh. I come out the back door and by the flashlight I see somethings torn a big-ass hole in the chickenwire fence and there’s blood and feathers everywhere. By the time I had the latch unhooked the noise was already dyin down, so I knew whatever got in there found what it wanted and left, probably while I was still on the porch. I took a deep breath and went on in, seein’ a few dead hens with bite marks in ’em. I made a quick count and one was gone. Likely a wild dog or a fox, I thought. I spent a few minutes carryin’ them out and chucked ’em out behind the coop, figurin’ I’d bury them after it was light. The hens settled down by then and I went on back to the house, stoppin’ to pet Sammy, lettin’ him know he did his job. He was layin’ down by then, tail still under him. He whined at me, but let me scratch him, and I went back to bed.
I raised up around sunrise, and after breakfast, headed back to the barn to bury the chickens and mend the fence, more than a little pissed about it cause I already had a ton to do out in the field. There’s always the W’s to do out here: weeding, watering and whatnot as Daddy used to say. I had enough to jury-rig a cover for the hole, but it was gonna take a trip to town to get more wire to do it right. As I walked out to the truck, I paused, realizing what I hadn’t heard yet. Sammy usually gives a little noise at least but I hadn’t heard a thing this mornin’. His tether was chewed clean through and I didn’t have enough time to hunt him down. That’d be another couple hours lost, and he’s big enough to handle himself, I figured.
It was well after noon by the time I got back, and there was still no sign of Sammy. I tried not to worry too much, knowing he’d come back once he got hungry. I finished fixing the coop fence and spread thier feed, but they seemed like they weren’t interested. I figured the scare and the blood smell made ’em skittish enough to wanna stay in the coop a while longer. Hell, they’ll eat when they’re hungry too, I thought. I went into the barn and grabbed my shovel to go bury the hens, but they weren’t there. Now I’m thinking the smell of blood mighta made Sammy a little feral and he grabbed ’em for a snack out in the woods. Fine by me, long as he came back, its one less thing I had to deal with. It was about an hour till sundown and I was bone tired by the time my chores were done and I was starting to get a little worried with Sammy still not coming back. I could hear rustling from time to time back in the shade of the woods, but it was too deep and dim to see him. I called him a few times, and the rustling came closer but after while I gave up and went on in. He’d already had something to eat, and I hadn’t.
The larder was pretty bare, and much as it galled me, I knew I’d have to slaughter another hen, and soon while it was still light out. When it rains it pours, right? With a weary sigh, I went back out to the barn once again, stopping for my hatchet. It was near sundown when I got to the coop, and I could still hear the damn dog rompin’ around in the woods, but it was louder and closer now, so at least he was happy and near. As I opened the door, though, the smell damn near made me gag. It was always bad but never anything like THAT. I held my breath as best as I could and went in. The first thing that hit me, other than the smell, was the silence in the darkened coop. What little light there was reflected in thier little beady eyes, but none of them moved. Not a flutter, not a cluck, nothin’ but those eyes watching me. I grabbed a decent sized hen and got the hell out of there, before I panicked or puked, one.
The hen didn’t struggle at all when I put in on the block, just lay there. Lookin’ at me. I raised my hatchet, took a breath and swung, one good clean chop. The body dropped away from the head and took off, wobbling unsteadily while I waited for the damn thing to realize it was dead and drop. What came out of the hole though wasn’t blood, more like some black, gooey crap that looked foul and smelled worse. And it just kept moving. The longer it wobbled around the yard the more unnerved I felt. Dear god, how long had it already been? That was when I felt it. I yelped and looked down at my hand, seeing the damned head had bitten a plug out it. I sucked on the wound, reflexively, as the eyes continued to watch my movement.
The last of the light had begun to drain away, and I heard the rustling in the coop as the rest of the chickens began to stir. I swallowed and the blood from my hand burned on the way down, dropping me to my knees as I retched and gagged. As I knelt there dry heaving, the rest of the chicken streaked toward me, little taloned feet clawing at me in a blind fury. The other hens had reached the door of the coop by then and dozens of eyes now gazed at me hungrily. I crawled to the gate, keeping the maniacal, headless corpse back by swinging my hatchet as the others slowly moved forward. On the other side of it was Sammy, but it wasn’t him either. I just started screaming and swinging wildly, thinking if I could reach the shelter of my house I would be okay, but my hand was growing numb and streaks of black were already creeping up my wrist. I was covered in that black goo by the time I slammed the door shut behind me, leaving me in a silence only broken by my gasping breath and the scratching and pecking at the door.
I fumbled for my old tape recorder, knowing by the coldness in my left arm, and the thickness of my tongue it was too late for me, but it’s not too late for you. If you’re listening to this then run. Don’t look around, especially if it’s getting dark. It’s a long way to town and the rustling in the woods is only getting louder, and sick as I feel, I’m gettin’ kinda hungry…
Credited to Questioner, inspired by Redd and TheCoffinDancer.