UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 10/2012
PAUL PEPPERS


CHICKEN ALA KING

         When I was a kid I watched a cartoon about a flea circus. One played the guitar, another drums, and so on. So when my friend got an ant farm I was a little envious and decided to one up Billy by putting together a flea circus. I caught the fleas but couldn’t get them to do a thing besides jump so, finally I gave up the whole project but kept the fleas. I felt a little more secure with the little devils safely in a mason jar than running around loose. For a while I could hear them hit the lid of the jar but after a while they stopped and at first I thought they must be dead so I took off the lid and found them still jumping away. The fleas had learned that they could jump only so high and no higher. That’s how it was with me I guess. Something new and different was happening but I couldn’t take the leap required to see it. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the theory that dogs evolved from wolves. The present lineage of dogs is believed to have been domesticated from gray wolves around 15,000 years ago. That change didn’t happen all at once. The wolf changed gradually- so slowly that I believe no one even noticed- just accepting the differences as a fact of everyday life.

         I work with different types of poultry at a small genetics laboratory- ducks, chickens, quail, doves and so on. We breed for greater egg yield, quick growth, docility and so on. In other words I am in the dirty business of making poultry more profitable for the meat and produce business.

         We were ten years into the program and to be honest no one was watching for increased intelligence. We were breeding for physical characteristics, not for greater intelligence. Increased intelligence is the last result we expected, or wanted. We didn’t want smarter chickens; what we wanted were chickens with bigger drumsticks. No good could possibly come from intelligent poultry. If a chicken grew smart enough to communicate with one of the bleeding heart environmentalists that occasionally toured our facility it would mean the end of the world--the end of fried chicken and fried chicken is as big a part of America as apple pie or the constitution of the United States. I truly believe that the loss of fried chicken would make the war between the north and the south look like a minor disagreement. Hell, intelligent chickens would be more detrimental to this country than nuclear war and I shudder to think what it would do to the chicken salad sandwich. Our Buff Orpington’s weren’t talking but who’s to say where this burst of evolution would take them? They were growing much more intelligent with each new hatching.

         The first clue I had that things were going south was when one of our researchers burst into my office.

         “Prof.” she said excitedly, “you have to come and see this.”

         “What?” I asked taken aback, “See what?” Emily was still dressed in her street clothes: a short red miniskirt which rose to display a beautiful set of legs and dropped low at her neck to reveal an equally nice set of breasts. With that sight before me, I couldn’t think straight.

         Shaking her head but still smiling, she took hold of my arm and began pulling me toward the door. “You have to see this for yourself.”

         She led me to the Buff Orpington enclosure and as we neared the fence the big rooster called out like a drill sergeant and the hens began to watch us with cold eyes.

         “Jesus Christ,” I exclaimed.

         “Yeah,” Emily Thompson said.

         The big rooster had grown unusually large, tipping the scales at fifty pounds the last weigh in. It stared at us for several long seconds, its eyes bright spots of hatred; and it never looked away or even blinked. Feeling uneasy I tore my own eyes away and then reflexively looked back. I wouldn’t have thought a rooster could sneer but I swear the damned bird was sneering. Then it turned its back to us and released a stringy line of shit from its puckered ass.

         “Jesus Christ,” Emily exclaimed.

         “Yeah,” I said.

         The only culprit I could come up with was the feed. The test feed had to be the reason for the strange behavior. We were testing the Buff Orpington’s reaction to lot twenty nine feed which was an enhanced mix of antibiotics, assorted steroid hormones, and roxarsone which is common arsenic based chemical added to feed to prevent parasites. Neither the steroid hormone, nor the roxarsone could have caused such symptoms. The only other possibility was contamination of the food stuff during the growing process.

         Over the next few days I avoided the Buff Orpington enclosure and had almost managed to convince myself that nothing unusual had happened. However, reports kept arriving on my desk. For example, we employ two work crews to remove guano from our poultry enclosures. Guano is a natural result of raising poultry and if not for the cleanup crews we would have literally been in a mess. So I was surprised when the cleaning crew reported that the Buff Orpington’s were no longer leaving droppings on the floor of their pen. The chickens had dug a shallow hole in the floor and were using it for a latrine.

         Cameras are trained on all of the pens, so when Emily reported that the chickens could no longer be observed laying eggs I examined the footage. I was certain the chickens were aware of the cameras and it was obvious that they were consciously avoiding them. Not long after this, a guard on night shift was injured when the big rooster jumped at the fence and managed to claw his face through the wire. Being the staff member on site, I was the first to examine the wound, and it was a nasty gash that required several stitches to sew closed.

         “You know professor,” the guard said, “it wouldn’t have been so bad but that damn bird caused me to drop my lunch. Mom cooks the best fried chicken you’ve ever put in your mouth and it was a shame to waste it.” The man looked thoughtful-- “Professor… you don’t think that the, uh… No,” he said, hesitantly answering his own unspoken question, “I know better… See you later professor.”

         Two of the Buff Orpington hens each began sitting on a clutch of eggs each the following day. And those hens remained on the nest more consistently than any other hens I have ever witnessed. Often sitting hens will leave the nest when one or two eggs have hatched, but the BO hens remained on the nest until every single egg had hatched and afterword the whole group took care of the chicks. All the chicks from the hatchings grew quickly to maturity and this new generation of Buff Orpington’s resembled the big rooster more than any of the previous hatchings. After the chicks hatched I catalogued their behavior only stopping occasionally to sleep and eat, after which I viewed the hours of footage during which I had slept. The speed with which the chicks matured was astonishing. I watched them constantly and I had the feeling that they were planning something. They gathered in what I took to be conspiratorial groups and I could not help suspecting that some pivotal moment was at hand.

         Asleep at my post I awoke to the night security man banging frantically on my office door. Numb from sleep, I wiped my eyes and staggered to answer the summons.

         “Professor, professor!” the guard yelled frantically, neglecting to drop the volume when I opened the door. He continued yelling excitedly in my face. It was the same guard that had been wounded by the big rooster. A long partially healed scar wobbled on his cheek as he spoke.

         “The Buff Orpington’s are gone professor!”

         “What?”

         “The Buff’s are gone,” he said.

         “Calm down,” I said, shaking the cobwebs from my mind. “Show me.”

         We raced down the hall, our heels striking hollowly on the concrete floor. The gate to the enclosure was indeed hanging open and there was no sign of the former occupants. I looked the question.

         “The gate was open when I got here,” the guard said.

         We looked around the building for tracks but found none. I picked up the phone and called the local police in an effort to obtain some help for our search but the night duty officer laughed at me. “We ain't coming out to help you search for no damn chickens,” he said, before he hung up on me.

         I viewed the last tape from the security camera and I am sure no one will believe this written report. The cameras show the chickens cooperating to open the door of the enclosure. They made a pyramid in front of the door and the two top hens held a single small chicken in their wings while it pulled the latch causing the door to swing wide, after which all of the chickens formed up and marched from the enclosure. The last glimpse I had was of the big rooster Alexander looking triumphantly into the camera for a few seconds before vanishing from view.

         We never found them. The research facility is located in a rural area of north Georgia that borders on a government land preserve with literally thousands of acres for the chickens to get lost in.

         Months have passed and I have heard nothing of the missing Buff Orpington chickens. I sense that they are still out there somewhere though--smart enough to remain hidden. The night shift guard is an avid deer hunter and he tells me the state is opening up the government land in an effort to reduce the deer population. I’ve got a bad feeling about it but no one will listen to my warnings. I’m afraid that when the hunters get onto the government land there will be a surprise in store for them. There might soon be a reduction in the deer hunter population.








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