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Chickens of the Dead

Chickens of the Dead


ammy sees as Sammy does; if he sees it, he does it. There ain’t no thinking involved. Like when he saw those spectral chickens running amok outside Chicken Ranch. He just went straight in and started an exorcism, right there in the queue.

Ghostly they were: pucking and kucking, skittering about – just like real chickens, but dead. Must’ve come from the latest batch of Chicken Ranch tenders, he thinks. Just look at ‘em. Nobody can see the poor bastards, and yet they’re running round all over. Running through children, running through dogs; a lady with a bag, all swarming with dead chooks. Figure I gotta sort this out. So he does. Two crossed sporks aught’a keep the dead at bay.

Inside the shop, folk have got the door open. It’s a hot-summer’s-every-day in Yuma – about 110 – and the aircon is on the blink. Should’ve gone down the road to Funky Chicken, but there you go. It’s a sea of chicken death – hundreds and hundreds of mutilated chickens scrapping about under tables.

A few must be manifesting poltergeist tendencies, as straws, coins and the odd grain of food, flick about, seemingly under their own control, or maybe it’s ‘just the wind’ – that old stalwart of horror movies. But it ain’t the wind. Never has he seen a meat joint in more need of a vegan exorcist. Bad enough when it’s bad meat. But worse when it’s comin’ back at ya.

He scatters a few packs of salt. Surreptitiously squirts round some ketchup. Shit, how do you do that surreptitiously? So he does it big, wide, and generous, squeezing the bottle out into a pentagram on a gingham table top. The last point ends with an empty tomato fart.

The seats are bolted down so he can’t clear much of a space for the necessary dancing – alas it’s the only exorcism he knows – so starts a squeaky trainer shuffle, right up on the table.

A dad and his kid are eating burgers. Dad is trying not to get the wrapper in along with the pattie, but it keeps springing up like a lick of hair. The little girl is pointing at Sammy and at the chickens which, it seems, like his dancing, and have started to gather round the table.

“Dad, dad, why’s that man dancing with chickens?”

“H’mmm, what hon?”

“He’s silly!”

Strange thing is, the staff in this joint have seen everything. Nothing phases them, not even a class five intervention with condiments – “That crazy is back on six,” they say, as they push round the dustpan on  a four foot stick, the closest they’re willing to get to their own product.

The rest of the customers are so starved or so sated on chicken flesh they couldn’t care less.

Sammy goes in for the final shimmy turn and finds there ain’t no table behind him no more. End of the road. He slips off and falls flat on his back.

Just what the chickens have been waiting for. They’re on him, swarming like sunshiny mirages in front of his face. Their attack is accompanied by a sinister hissing sound, hooked claws and red eyes. Of course they’re insubstantial and most just go on through, but it’s filling the room with a cold chill around knee height, and it doesn’t feel good. There’s a vibe; a bad vibe.

People stop eating the burgers and let them flop on the table. It’s just too depressing to eat this shit right now. And hey, who’s this crazy guy doing the horizontal rumba on the floor?

Wounds are opening on his hands and face. If the chickens are mean enough, and mean it enough, they sort of peck through the veil. He’s got numerous nicks on his legs. Jesus god, he thinks, I’m about to check out of this crazy farmyard.

One hand, two hands on the stack of trays, and they scatter like leaves. Finally gets a hold on the bin in the cabinet beneath. He staggers to his feet and hoists the thing through the window. Crash! That wakes everyone up.

Three minutes later and Sammy’s got the boys in blue to play with. He’s covered in blood and ketchup, and to be fair, he’s raving like a lunatic, so they don’t take him gentle. But he’s still trying to tell them about the fryers and what’s lifting itself out of there on cooked tendons and grilled bone, headless and determined – the chickens of the dead.

October 3, 2010   3 Comments

Tattooed to the Bone

The Dragon Tattoo


his tattoo has gone so deep it’s on his bones, it’s on his liver. His heart beats one out for the human race, while his hand leans against the wall.

Down the street, Jimmy Ju Long’s tattoo parlor is nothing but the red dragon neon outside, lost in the harbour mist – like that dragon is breathing fire. It catches a rhythm with the fire on his ribs, where the bandages and tape are sliding off, covered in blood.

There’s an old man right here, picking through garbage and cans. He tosses away a plastic bottle in disgust, but when paraffin slops out, he smells it – a strong kick to the face. He picks up the bottle and slides a dirty fingernail around the rim before taking a swig.

Deshi is more taken aback by the filth on that black, cracked nail, than he is that the old man is drinking turps. Seems to like it too – has a look on his face that says, ‘that shit is sweeter than plums’.

“Hey, you sticking in my light,” says the old man.

“Shit, sorry,” says Deshi and staggers off trailing shreds of red like a communist parade.

“What’s up with you?” shouts the old man after. “You have an accident?”

Deshi says nothing and just shakes his head, while red knives chop up and down on his spleen.

“Yeah, you better run,” calls the old man.

“Poq gai,” shouts back Deshi. Then regrets it – the old man really will die in the street.

The El Train rattles past, causing a massive ball of fog to well up around it and roll down the road like bat wings. Deshi tries to duck as the swirl passes overhead, but can’t get far, what with the pain. A coloured lantern and a few phone wires bob around.

Two kids run past, one says, “You ain’y gonna get into my mamma’s for supper!”

Deshi waits for the hard-core sarcasm, or the punch in the gut, but the kids keep running. Good, they’re following the train – gonna stick gum on it, or something, from a footbridge further down the line.

“What is it? Whadya get from that old hatchet merchant?”

It’s Mamma Xu, out for a ride. Her bike has an old carpet hanging over the handlebars, and she has trouble stopping with the weight. There’s a scrape of Chinese plimsolls on the tarmac as she judders and scrapes to a halt. The bike almost tips. “Shit!” she hisses.

Her grey hair is smoothed back into place. Teeth all angles. “So why the tattoo?” The ‘s’ on ‘so’ catches a high rat’s squeak.

“Yeah, well, I thought it was a good idea. I got the one my wife wanted.”

“She wanted you to get? Or you wanted?”

“You can guess – just to piss her off.”

“Uh,” said Mrs Xu. “You going up to the old bell? The old temple?”

“Maybe later.” There’s fire down here, and here, and all over – as if the old man had just poured the turps on, or the kids had punched him after all.

Mrs Xu shakes her head, “Why you do it. It’ll not come off – not on this side, anyway.”

A car rolls up, bottle-green, long and flat like a kid’s Matchbox car. Do’hip is at the wheel, looking stern. But he stops long enough to wind down the window, cranking like a cob, and saying – spit out the window – “Ni Gan Ma? What have you done there? Eh?” He pushes back a pair of shades onto his head, to get a better look.

Mrs Xu leans in the car.

“Hey, I got a pair of glasses just like that free with my weekly.”

“Get your shit-bird shit-hands off,” he says, swatting away her long, arthritic fingers.

“Hah, hah,” she says, as she knocks the shades off his head and down under the seat somewhere.

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” he says, one hand on the wheel, foot accelerating, other hand under his ass, searching the polystyrene cups and discarded newspapers. He roars off, and a hubcap plinks off at the first intersection and rolls off up the hill, sparkling in the sunlight that’s starting to come through.

Back at the shop is the land of mists and eagles. Back here, on the concrete sidewalk, it’s Mrs Xu smoking a black, saggy cigarette and telling him he’s a fool.

September 27, 2010   No Comments

Samuel Watches the Cat


amuel watches the cat. The cat is completely unaware of the Jew – it clumber-saunters along the up-and-down planks of the fence with some awkward claw work. Samuel waits with a stone. He has turned it so that the sharp edge points out like a shark tooth. He runs his finger along it experimentally, visualising piercing the cat’s hide.

The cat teeter-totters along, up-and-down. Rage burns in Samuel’s brain at the unabashed disrespect, as the cat nuzzles the clambering honeysuckle, dishes its backside through the willow, swats at a fly – an odd, three-legged operation, with the cat hanging on like a crab and the fourth paw high-fiving a plank and skittering around. It’s the perfect moment to throw the stone.

Cara wanders out of her yellow shed, brushing compost from her soft, brown hands. She spots the cat and strokes it. The cat arches its back appreciatively. Cara’s hair is down – long, black, glossy hair that suggest oil and hazelnuts and sparkles on an Irish oxbow lake. She laughs her soft Irish laugh. She is everything a twenty-two-year-old Irish girl should be.

Samuel hides the stone – for now – in the soft cotton pocket of his jeans, twisting the cat’s demise around and around, out of sight. He waits patiently for the glowing figure to notice him, where he stands by the butt and compost, in the shadowy lee of his own shed. His shed is weathered and dirt-grey, where soft, untreated wood has retreated. There is no paint – no colour – that appeals to him.

She doesn’t see him. She lets the cat twist about her hand. The cat sniffs appreciatively. Samuel scowls.

Later, Cara is watering her hydrangeas with a ridiculously small watering can. It’s a child’s thing, of purple, with a yellow plastic flower for a spout. This boggles Samuel’s mind. There is no sign of the bastard cat, but he has the stone ready.

Cara is sowing seeds – tiny, black, mustard grains – a seed at a time. She holds them between her finger and thumb, with some difficulty, where her long pink nails scissor together. The drops are both delicate and awkward. As each seed is placed, she carefully shifts a little soil on top with one of those self-same nails. Samuel might have thrown a fistful of seeds over half an acre in the time it has taken Cara O’Dare to plant her immaculate half-dozen.

When dusk falls, and the midges begin to whine and buzz about – suddenly brave now the heat of the day has passed – Samuel strikes a heavy brown match and lights his paraffin lamp. The lamp is burnished in black soot and oil, mirrored, in places, between the rusting seams. A coat hanger holds it in place, embedded in the chest of a dressmaker’s dummy. The dummy sags in brown folds of torn material, hunched over in its wooden ellipses and metal stays.

Clara looks up from the birdbath she is rotating: pulling it one way, then the next, walk-dragging it into position. It’ll make a nice centrepiece, he assumes she assumes. He can’t help staring at her chest – two globes of firm, brown, flesh that spread out from her dungarees. Gravity and her movements are page three conspirators. She waves cheerfully.

Samuel nods. He is using a tough pair of pliers to throttle a hosepipe, twisting heavy-duty wire around the fleshy, green rubber. Where he kneels, the stone is digging into his thigh. A little bit of the hurt for the cat has found him instead. But he will get his revenge when he next catches sight of its black-and-white patches, and when he is alone. Revenge is best enjoyed quietly and carefully, where hands can throttle rather than ball up impotently. Samuel wants, needs, to get his hands on the cat – or at least a stone in its flank. It is getting too dark to throw stones, though. Neither is he alone.

An hour later, and it’s too cold to continue. He pulls on his jacket, safely padlocks his shed, and walks off the allotment. Cara has already gone – gone with the sunshine – her shed ‘secured’ with a willow branch she has painted with spirals.

Back at home, Samuel stares through the television. The cat lolls on top of it, occasionally dropping a tail or paw down, but mostly just snoozing in the warmth from the vent at the back. The stone is in Samuel’s jacket pocket; the jacket is hung neatly in the hall. It would be no good anyway, he is not alone. Samuel’s wife strokes the cat and sits down heavily with the remote control. She has brought Rich Tea biscuits and strong coffee.

The cat cracks an eye open, studying Samuel disdainfully, before drifting back into sleep.

September 26, 2010   No Comments