(Content Warning: Murder, blood, gore, some mild language.)
For Stacy, may your babies always guide you.
“You wanna do something fun?” asked Sully.
Henry placed an ear of corn in a nearby wooden basket and looked at Sully from the garden. He wiped the sweat beads from his forehead and rubbed the salty wetness on his blue jeans. Sully stood near the chicken coop wearing his denim overalls and a cowboy hat with a big goofy grin plastered on his sunburned face. The last time Henry saw that smile, he got his foot run over by Mrs. Stillwater’s white Volvo.
Every farmer in Greenwood knows that story, and many versions are floating around out there. The truth of the matter, straight from Henry’s lips, is the gospel truth. It all started with Sully’s lopsided smile and those devastating words, you wanna do something fun?
To grasp the story, you must understand that Greenwood is a small rural community of farmers and nothing else. Farming was the way of life, and that’s just how people liked it. There was no hustle and bustle like you would find in the big cities, just the sweat of a man’s brow and good ol’ fashioned hard work.
After a long day of school and working in the fields, some of the young ones would get a little rambunctious. They would ride their bikes up and down the dirt roads without a care in the world, swing a line into the Tygart river to catch a fish, or hide behind the bleachers on the football field to have a smoke. Ah… the arrogance of youth.
One particular evening, Henry and Sully were mowing Mrs. Stillwater’s lawn for a measly five bucks, and wouldn’t you know it. Sully pointed to her white Volvo, which sat in a field of isolation just rusting away like nobody’s business, and said, “Wanna have some fun?”
Like a true ignoramus, Henry boastfully replied, “Why yes, I do good, buddy. Whatcha got in mind?”
“Way I see it, that old hag ain’t got no use for that car,” Sully said. “It don’t run no more, and I think we’d be doin’ her a big favor if we pushed that thing down the hill, so no one would have to look at it anymore.”
“That’s a great idea!” cried Henry. “When did you get so smart?”
“I was born smart, doofus! Now, come on and give me a hand, would ya?”
Henry, being only twelve years old, looked up to Sully, who had just turned fourteen. Henry admired how Sully would take charge like a battle-hardened war hero and would follow him off a bridge if he thought it was a good idea.
Brother’s in arm’s they were, and side by side, they strolled over to Mrs. Stillwater’s corroded vehicle.
Sully clapped his hands and did a few side bends to limber up. “Ok. Let’s grab the ass end and give her a good push!”
Henry copied Sully’s stretching routine and placed his dirty hands on the trunk. They pushed so hard their faces turned red, but the car wouldn’t budge.
“Dagnabbit!!” shouted Sully. His face was filled with frustration.
“This ain’t working.” Gong! He slammed his fist down on the hollow metal.
Henry thought for a moment, and like someone turning on the lights, an idea came to mind. “Hey, Sully, why don’t you jump in and put her in neutral?”
“By golly, that just might work,” he uttered. “You know, I think some of my smarts is wearing on you!”
Henry smiled as he watched Sully get in the driver's seat. With a flip of the sun visor, the keys plopped gently into Sully’s lap. He inserted the key into the ignition and tugged the drive shift into neutral.
Licking his lips and tightly gripping the wheel, Sully shouted, “Ok, put some muscle into it!”
Henry rocked the car back and forth as hard as he could, but it still wouldn’t budge. Glancing at the rear tire, Henry saw the problem – a cement block. Henry now had a goofy grin of his own and crept his way to the passenger side rear tire. He drew his leg back and kicked the block like it was football.
It worked. The block moved a whole five inches, not much to you or me, but that did the trick. The car drifted forward and, without warning, ran over Henry’s foot. He screamed in agony as the car took off down the hill. Henry could hear Sully howling like a wild banshee and then, CRASH!
In his excitement, Sully drove the car straight into Mrs. Stillwater’s prized apple tree, totaling the vehicle permanently. Mrs. Stillwater was so angry at the boys, she literally showed them a side of herself that only her husband got to see. Never come back here, followed by some curse words that shall never be mentioned here.
That’s how the story really went anyway, despite what some people might say. Mr. Mitchel, down the road apiece, noted that Mrs. Stillwater deliberately set the boys up to cause a ruckus. She likes to stir the pot, he would say.
Mrs. Thompson down at the schoolhouse blamed Henry and Sully for the devastation and was often heard saying, those boys are nothing but trouble!
In a small town like Greenwood, that was big news. Now, of course, the boys were rightfully punished for the incident and were grounded for three weeks by their parents. Some people didn’t think that was good enough, but for Henry’s dad, good was good until it ain’t. That’s what he would say anyway. Sully’s dad didn’t have an opinion because he took off and left when Sully was only four years old. His mother, on the other hand, felt like it wasn’t a big deal and left things as they were.
With that whole debacle behind them, here was Sully repeating those famous words, you wanna do something fun?
Holding his hands up to block the sun, Henry thought to himself, Oh, boy….
Henry waded through the prickly corn stalks and made his way to Sully. The chickens in the coop flocked together as one as Henry approached. The birds were confined to a wired fence to keep them from being devoured by other wild animals.
They were Henry’s babies, and he developed a special bond with them. Every morning before school, he would gather the eggs, feed and water them, and spend time holding them before the bus arrived. It was a unique kinship for sure and one that Sully took full notice of.
“What’s this I hear about fun, old buddy?” asked Henry after much debate.
Sully laughed and pointed to Henry’s Dad, who was working on the tractor over by the barn. “I think you should do that thing with your chickens, so we can give your old man a fright!”
Henry shook his head. “No. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” Sully said. “He’ll have a good jump scare, and then we’ll all have a good laugh!”
Exhaling, Henry replied, “Yeah, it’ll be fun for you because he won’t sling his belt at you. It’ll be me who gets it!”
“Oh, don’t be such a lemon!” Sully placed his rough sandpaper hands on Henry’s shoulder and continued, “I’ll tell him that it was my idea, and you’ll be off the hook.”
Henry scratched his chin, lost in thought.
“Well,” boasted Sully.
“Fine. Let’s do it…” Henry uttered reluctantly.
Sully slapped his hands together. “That’s my boy!! Ha, ha!!”
Over the next few minutes, Henry took his time unchaining the wired fence, and Sully was amazed at how well the chickens followed Henry. At least twenty birds were clucking behind Henry as they made their way to the barn. As they inched their way closer, Henry’s dad was changing the oil in his tractor, so he didn’t notice the chicken parade.
“Ok, this is it,” whispered Sully. “I’ll distract your dad, and you can sneak up behind him.” His big goofy grin was on full display.
Henry nodded his head and led the chickens around the tractor, so they would be in perfect position, just behind his father.
Sully provided the necessary distraction. “Hey there, Ben. Whatcha working on?”
Ben lifted his head and rose to meet Sully. Oil stains covered his face and flannel shirt. “Boy, you never been too bright, have ya? Can’t you see I’m changing the oil in this damn thing! I need to get that field plowed, and this old girl’s been given me hell today!”
“Oh, geez, Ben. I didn’t know this old gal’ was givin’ you a fit.”
He could see Henry in position just behind Ben with his flock of chickens, waiting.
Sully lifted his eyebrow and asked, “Do you need a hand?”
As Ben parted his lips to speak, Sully gave Henry a wink to let him know it was time. Henry clapped his hands and let loose a thunderous hoot that scared the chickens to flock forward. Sully quickly ducked behind the tractor, so he wouldn’t get hurt.
A tornado of chickens spiraled their way around Ben, pecking and clawing at his back. The attack only lasted for a few seconds, but the damage was catastrophic. Blood gushed from Ben’s back, and he had a look of shock and disdain painted on his face.
Ben stood his ground as the chickens returned to their coop and didn’t utter a word. Sully laughed hysterically, and Henry saw his father’s hands ball into fists. Henry knew at that moment that they were in big trouble.
“Shut your pie hole, boy, and go home! Me and Henry here need to have a chat!” yelled Ben.
Sully looked at Henry and mouthed the words, I’m sorry.
Before leaving, Sully looked at Ben, who turned in anger to face Henry. Ben raised his hand to slap Henry but grabbed his left arm instead and contorted his face. He fell to the ground gasping for air. Henry’s mother ran out at that moment and screamed.
It took forty-five minutes for the rescue squad to arrive. It was a rural town, after all, and that was a quick turnaround. Despite the emergency squad’s valiant efforts, they couldn’t save Henry’s father. Ben was gone.
The scene slowly cleared, leaving Henry alone staring at his chickens in the coup. He was visibly shaken. Tears welled in his eyes and streamed down his face. His dad was dead, and it was all Sully’s fault.
An image of Sully’s big goofy grin flashed in his mind, and the words wanna have some fun, echoed through his ears. Henry knew one thing for sure. Although they both had a part to play in Ben’s death, it was all Sully’s idea. Their friendship was over.
Over the next few weeks, Henry became a recluse, and despite his mother’s interventions, no one could reach him. Henry would lock himself in the barn for hours at a time with his chickens, and no one knew what he was doing. Even though their friendship was over and ended on bad terms, Sully tried reaching out to him. Henry just couldn’t be reached.
Rumors were flying around town that Henry was turning into a vampire and locked himself away, so he wouldn’t hurt anyone. Other people said he was depressed and was just going through a phase. Whatever the case, it was strange indeed.
One evening, Sully was getting ready for bed and heard a commotion coming from the outside garage. He glanced out the window but didn’t see anything. Thinking it was just the wind, Sully walked into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. After a few swashes, he heard the noise again. It sounded like someone scraping their nails against metal. What is that?
Sully ran to the window again but still didn’t see anything. He quickly rushed out of his bedroom and checked on his mom. She was fast asleep by the strobing tv light, so Sully knew it wasn’t her making all that ruckus outside.
He had to know what was going on; curiosity was like a cat scratching in his stomach. There were no lights on in the garage, and Sully couldn’t see much of anything without going in. Sully’s heart was pounding, and he couldn’t shake the eeriness that something was very wrong.
Creeping his way into the garage, Sully slapped the wall in a frantic rage, searching for the salvation of light. With a flip, Sully was expecting the sweet relief of nothingness to wash over him, but instead, he saw a chicken with razor blades tied around its feet, scratching his mom’s old Buick. That one detail would be enough to rattle Sully, but there was more. A barbed-wire necklace wrapped around its neck, and nails were strategically inserted within its wings. This chicken was a deadly monster.
The bird looked at Sully and clucked. Filled with fright, Sully turned to run and came face to face with Henry. He had a small army of weaponized chickens behind him. They were all decked out with razor blades, nails, broken glass, and various sharp objects.
Sully just stood there staring at Henry’s big goofy grin. For the first time in his life, Sully was speechless. He knew he had to say something, anything, because if he didn’t, the flock would soon be upon him.
He parted his lips to say that he was sorry for what happened to Henry’s dad, but it was too late. Henry slapped his hands together and shouted a strange howl. The killer chickens were unleashed.
They flocked Sully like a deadly swarm of bees ripping and gnawing his flesh away. Sully fell to the ground, and in between feathers, Henry’s grin did not falter. Sully screamed for help, but Henry knew it was a small town. The only person who could save him was his mother, and should that come to pass, the birds would be ready.
Sully’s mother didn’t wake that night and found her son’s body the following day. There was nothing left but broken bones and bits of cartilage. The word around town was that a pack of coyotes got him. It made sense, and that was enough.
One person, however, knew the truth.
That slice of life was a small price to pay for Henry’s vengeance, and he wondered what else his babies could do….
Daniel R. Hayes