Second Prize: Chicken Soup

Athanasios Lazaro

It was a cool, crisp evening. The golden sun was setting over the distant horizon, painting the clouds red. Blood was spurting from the mutilated stump of the chicken’s twitching neck, painting the trees red. Life is a fragile, serious thing, is it not?
I grew up in a log house on a farm out in the countryside, about a forty-minute drive from the center of Athens. We had chickens for as long as I can remember, and when I was starting middle school I ran an egg business.

Everything started when my Dad bought around sixty chicks. Sixty adorable, fluffy, cute little chicks, their young feathers rustling as they squabbled for food and their place in the pecking order. They grew up strong and healthy, and since we didn’t have a rooster to molest them, they retained the majority of their feathers. As they grew older they slowly began to lay eggs, and as the months went by we had a steady supply of them. How many we had on any particular day could fluctuate, from less than ten to more than twenty, but we always had fresh eggs in the fridge. Business was booming.

Every morning I would wake up really early, the sun just peeking over the horizon, and head down the stone path to the shed at the end of our property. The fresh morning dew would soak my shoes as I poured a bucket of feed, opening the gate of our chicken coop to let the chickens roam the property, their little beaks searching for food in the brush. I’d refill their water troughs and collect the day’s eggs, before heading back home and off to school.

As the years went by, however, the chickens aged and the egg production began to slow. Around two years after they started laying eggs, they began to conk out. They were laying fewer and fewer eggs.

One day my Dad approached me as I was playing in my room.

“Come with me, son,” he said, “it’s time to slaughter the chickens.” The chickens had grown too old to lay eggs, and at this point we were better off slaughtering them and using them for soup.

It was late in the evening, and the sun had begun its descent, inching ever lower towards the horizon. Ominous and somber, it knew what was about to happen. Our neighbor, who had ample experience in these matters, had come to help us with the slaughter. One by one, we caught the little creatures, as they screamed and flapped and tried to flee from our persistent grasps. I found it fascinating that, while they fought with all their strength and agility as we tried to catch them, once they were caught and we had spread their wings and feet and held them down firmly under our boots, they ceased all struggle. It was as if they knew their time had come, and the best thing to do was to accept it.

One by one, I watched as our neighbor slit the throat of each chicken, and held it in place, squirming and writhing, until its spasms ceased. I would pluck the chickens’ feathers as he would slice open their bellies and clean out their innards, tossing them over the fence into the field adjacent to ours.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

“Hey, Dad,” I said excitedly, “you know that expression ‘like a chicken with its head cut off?’ Can we see where it comes from?” My father knew what I meant, and after contemplating my request for a while he decided to go along with it. I looked around at the few remaining chickens, and, choosing one, I went after it. I ran. It flailed. I lunged. It squawked. With a sudden burst of speed I caught the poor chicken and gave it to the neighbor, who placed it beneath his boots. His knife glinted in the failing sunlight as he sliced the chicken’s head clean off.

As soon as the last strands of flesh were cut through, he let the chicken free.

A fountain of blood spurted from the stump of its neck, shooting high into the air as the decapitated chicken zombie corpse ran headlong around the property. Having no head, it was unable to prevent itself from crashing into everything. The coop, the trees, the doghouse… It was a sight to behold, and as I watched its crazy dashes, I truly understood the origin of the expression. It made perfect sense.

Presently, however, its antics slowed until it collapsed at the base of a tree, a little pool of blood forming around it. The last rays of the sun faded behind the mountains in the distance, briefly reflecting off the glistening blood-soaked tree trunks, before disappearing completely. The sun silently set on the life of the little chicken, and as darkness fell I fancied I understood a little more about the meaning of life and death myself.