Contest #228 shortlist ⭐️



This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

A reflection of the azure-blue sky must have been the last thing the ring-necked pheasant saw before he flew into my floor-to-ceiling panorama window. I heard the house rattling thud and rushed to my balcony where I found the stately bird looking like a pile of pretty feathers. Sadly, the angle of his neck, and his half-opened vacant eyes told me he was a goner.

It was a distressing moment, for sure, but the home chef inside me soon pictured a steaming, crispy-skinned entree stuffed with apples and brown rice. The living and dying were done. Only plucking, cleaning, stuffing, baking, and eating remained to provide a proper denouement for the handsome bird's life story. At least, that’s the way I saw it at the time.

Eating, no matter how scrumptious the meal, can’t be called dining if you’re eating alone. My gourmet meal had to include last-minute company. My dream companion was any woman who looked ravishing in candle glow. However, keeping it real, I settled for my next-door neighbors, the Van Winkles-Al, and his wife Val. I’d sensed that the neighborhood thought of me as an oddball, and I could see how a fifty-year-old bachelor moving into a big house, in a gated community could come across that way. This sad occasion was my chance to show them what I really am: a gracious, congenial, humorous, gourmet chef.

I got Al on the phone and after a long hesitation and a whispered exchange with Val, he accepted my invitation for dinner. He offered to bring wine, but I told him I had two bottles of Petite Syrah, which goes well with pheasant. “Just bring yourselves and a hearty appetite.” We ended the call on that cheerful note, but I must have been unclear about the time. Al and Val showed up much too early, as we shall see.

I carried the carcass to the backyard, where I’d covered the picnic table with newspapers then sat down and began ripping the feathers off the drumsticks, rump, belly, and back. The downy feathers from these parts come off easily, provided the bird is still warm. I never scald fowl before plucking because hot water pre-cooks the skin, making it tear and lose moisture; spoiling the presentation.

With the feathers plucked, except for the head, wingtips, and tail, I went to the kitchen to set the oven and get a sharp knife, to open the torso, and a cleaver, to chop off the head and lower legs. I checked to make sure I wouldn’t need a trip to the store and found I had plenty of bacon to wrap the bird which is a tasty way to keep it nice and juicy during roasting. I also grabbed a plastic container for the giblets. The heart, gizzard, liver, and sweetbreads, dusted in white flour and pan-fried in garlicky olive oil would be tomorrow’s delectable luncheon ─ big plans.

 On my way back I heard the doorbell. When I opened the door, I was stunned to see my guests standing on the porch wearing obligatory smiles. They could probably tell that something was wrong by my startled expression, but I gathered my composure and extended a welcoming hello.

“Come on in. We’ll hang out on the patio while I do some final prep. We can talk and get acquainted while the bird is in the oven.” 

Trying to think of what we could talk about for the next two hours made me nervous, especially when Val offered to help with the cooking. I hadn’t mentioned that the main course was window kill and that I’d be removing its bloody innards and chopping off its legs as we chatted and joked.

Before I had a chance to respond to her, we’d stepped onto the brick patio. I was startled − transfixed − not able to process and react to what I was seeing. The pheasant was standing in a pile of its own plucked feathers; looking at us.

However, “looking at us” does not begin to put across what the naked bird was doing. He was communicating − speaking volumes with facial expressions and body language. With his half-opened beak, a slight cocking of his head, his brow knitted (not furled), and a subtle hunching of what passes for shoulders, he was asking a question as old as life itself: “What the fuck happened?” He could not have made himself any clearer - even if he had mastered human speech. I turned and watched the color drain from my guest’s horrified faces. 

Gathering my wits, I moved quickly. That’s when the confused bird spotted the knife and cleaver. Putting two and two together, he let out an infuriated squawk and flapped his bare wings, ready and willing for a fight to the death. Val and Al disappeared, scurrying home sometime during the ensuing violence.

The pheasant got in one painful peck to my nose before the table upended and the plucked feathers and newsprint scattered across the patio with the goose-pimpled bird screaming screeches that could be heard for blocks. I finally subdued him using my greater weight and wingspread. I tied his legs together and hung him upside down until he mellowed out. My cheeks were badly scratched and my favorite white chef’s jacket was ripped to shreds.   Holding a bloody dishtowel to my nose, I called the Van Winkles, but I have not yet had any response to my nasal, muffled explanation on voice mail. I should have made up a story instead of trying to make sense of what really happened. On the other hand, I doubt if even J.K. Rowling could come up with a story that could put me in good graces with the Van Winkles, or anyone else who lives within squawking distance.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital assures me that re-fledging has begun and that the pheasant is well on his way to a complete recovery. Lucky him. He’ll soon be released back into the wild and I’ll still be cooped up in this gated community where everyone still thinks I’m an oddball.

The End

December 10, 2023 00:47

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


18:39 Dec 22, 2023

Brilliant. I’d love more stories starring this MC. It’s funny how the MC believes he is a, “gracious, congenial, humorous, gourmet chef.” Clearly he is delusional. I accept that the judges have a tough job selecting a winner. However, For me, you were robbed. -CC


J. I. MumfoRD
10:32 Dec 23, 2023

100% agree, this was fantastic!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
18:38 Dec 22, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist for this humorous cooking fiasco!


Show 0 replies
Joana Sério
00:56 Dec 21, 2023

Love the story and love your writing! Thanks for this moment!


Show 0 replies
Rebecca Detti
17:26 Dec 19, 2023

Brilliant Webb! I absolutely loved this and chuckled along! I didn’t think it was going to end well for the pheasant! I love the lasting image of a slightly odd voicemail message hoping the neighbours would come back. So good! Thanks for sharing!


Show 0 replies
Philip Ebuluofor
16:21 Dec 26, 2023

Congrats. No need of worrying about being released into the human wild, you are wild and odd enough already.


Show 0 replies
AnneMarie Miles
16:21 Dec 17, 2023

This is hilarious and wildly creative! Window kill - ha! I expected something would go humorously wrong at the dinner, but I was assuming it'd be more of an awkward, social mishap. The bird being alive after the de-feathering - genius! Totally unexpected. Your MC is quite the candidate for this unusual and unfortunate situation, though. Strange things do tend to happen to strange people. This was thoroughly enjoyable, thanks so much for sharing, Webb!


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.