Anna, Texas, 1970
Joe tried to put pressure on the slice in his calf muscle as he limped back toward the farmhouse. Banging the kitchen door open, he let out a yell, “Erma! Help! He’s at it again!”
Erma stood from her crossword puzzle and went to the bathroom to fetch some gauze and peroxide. She didn’t need to reply or even see Joe to know what had happened. He no doubt had another tangle with Colonel Sanders, the temperamental rooster of the family’s chicken flock. He and Joe did not get along, so Erma proactively had plenty of first aid supplies on hand.
Earlier in the year the marketing company Joe was growing into a success financially collapsed. Their main account, the Chow company, mysteriously canceled their contract with Joe. This left him home with their two kids, five year-old Annie and seven year-old Tommy. While he worked with the Chow company he learned he enjoyed animals, specifically chickens. Joe focused his newly found free time expanding the flock he had put together as live props for his marketing photography. He learned the eggs from the specific breed he had were in high demand for hatching all over the country. This helped Joe bring in a few more dollars to the family. Plus, they added to the feel of “farm life” which his family enjoyed, but also invited these combat interactions with the Colonel.
Joe propped his leg up on the kitchen table for Erma to inspect as she prepared to dress the wound.
“The sorry sap sucker got me when I was coming around the house with Max.” Joe explained, wincing. Max was the family German shepherd that Joe acquired to help keep predators at bay.
“Well, it’s not safe for the kids anymore,” she replied. She half listened to Joe and half listened to the weather forecast on the kitchen TV.
“Yeah, but he’s never attacked them. Seems his beef is just with me. Like I tossed Sara in the smoker. But I agree, I think the kids should steer clear until I figure out what to do with him,” Joe contemplated. Sara was the Colonel’s favorite hen. Two days earlier she disappeared. Most likely the victim of a predator attack.
“I hate to kill him. Kind’ve grown fond of the crotchety rascal.” Joe listened wearily to the weatherman drone on about a unique supermoon coming in a couple nights.
The next day Joe needed to clean and wash several soiled water and feed bowls. He spied the Colonel and slowly moved in to deliver what he hoped would be a preemptive kick to keep the bird at bay for an hour or so. He learned if he struck first, then the Colonel was less likely to attack when Joe wasn’t looking. When he saw his chance, Joe took several quick steps and kicked at the Colonel with such force he instantly felt he might regret it. He really didn’t want to hurt the guy. He just needed to get the point across to back off for a few minutes. The Colonel locked in on Joe with his cocked-to-the-side stare. He quickly sidestepped the Red Wing boot that swept toward him like a sand wedge. The ground was wet with dew, and when Joe missed his mark, he lost his balance and landed hard on his back like he’d seen Charlie Brown do so many times when Lucy pulled back that football. However, unlike good ole Chucky Brown, it wasn’t a pompous Lucy that barreled toward Joe’s face. No, it was a pissed-off broiler named Colonel Sanders! His nemesis was now on his back and dazed. The Colonel ran flat out toward Joe’s face. His wings flapped, and he screamed like a war eagle. He threw up his spurs and aimed for Joe’s eyes. Joe turned his head at the very last second and saved his eyes, but earned a nasty slice across his scalp. His strike loosened a chunk of Joe’s ear.
“Tell me again. How did a chicken do this to you?” asked the ER doctor with a bemused look on his face.
“It was a rooster, not just a chicken . . . big difference,” Joe answered crossly.
“If you say so. Gonna leave a mark either way. But should heal up simply enough.” The doctor applied four stitches. He stood to leave then turned and said, “By the way, gonna be a special kind of supermoon tonight. Happens every fifty or so years, and I hear the animals go crazy. Better keep an eye on that chick . . . I mean rooster you got there.”
The door slammed closed and cut off a hard chuckle the doctor gave as he exited. All the way home, Joe contemplated how he would kill Colonel Sanders. His ear throbbed as the local anesthetic started to wear off. He was lost in his thoughts of how best to wring the rooster’s neck when up ahead he saw the earliest sign of the supermoon. It loomed low in the sky and caught an ominous red glow from the setting sun.
At that same moment on his summer perch, Colonel Sanders settled in for another lonely, cold night. The rooster’s instincts detected the temperature had fallen faster than previous nights, and that nearly sent him into his coop. But, even animals could be set in their ways. Out of habit he glanced over for Sara and still saw her missing. The hen’s spot on their fence was still empty. In the distance Colonel Sanders noticed something bright, something huge on the horizon. He mechanically cocked his head to the side and stared intensely at the large red ball rising in the sky. He sat still as a stone for the better part of an hour. The only sign he was alive was that his pupils grew and shrank ever so slightly.
“Daddy’s home!” screamed Tommy. He and Annie dropped their Tinkertoys and ran to the sound of Joe as he came through the kitchen door. Erma also heard the door close and went to see how the ER had taken care of Joe’s ear.
“Yikes!” she said as she inspected the somewhat-put-together folds of skin.
“I know! Dr. Hatchet seemed too amused by the fact a rooster did this. Was chuckling the whole time. Surprised he was even able to sew at all.” Joe winced as Erma further inspected his tender appendage.
“Well, come eat and relax,” she said as she cracked open a cold beer and handed it to him.
After dinner, he took his plate to the sink and noticed out the window how light it still was outside. Even through the solar screens on the outside of the windows, he could still see details of things in the distance that weren’t usually visible at that hour. He walked out his front door and was amazed at how bright and brilliant the moon was. Max heard him step out into the front yard and ran quickly around the house and nearly knocked Joe over.
“Hey! Easy, dang it. What the hell’s wrong with you?” he asked his overly hyper dog. Max whined and yelped as he ran in circles.
Erma came out next with the kids and said, “Wow! That’s bright.”
The kids shielded their eyes, and Tommy started to howl playfully. A cartoonish imitation of werewolves he’d seen on Scooby-Doo. Max heard Tommy and chimed in with an authentic version. Instantly, Joe heard animals all around his property begin to howl—some that actually did howl and some he didn’t think should have been.
“Okay, that’s a bit freaky,” Erma whispered as she continued to listen.
“Kids, let’s go in and run baths,” she finally said, and herded them into the house, obviously set on edge from the mangled symphony of noise. Joe stood there and listened as the howls slowly subsided and left their eerie echoes.
On the fence, Colonel Sanders lowered his head after he belted out a very crude and raw howl. It was nothing like the sing-song melody his crow usually took the form of. His head shifted mechanically, and he looked around as if he just woke up. He gazed up at the white brilliance the moon had become. He stood, shook his feathers, flapped his newly elongated wings . . . and took flight.
Back inside the house, Joe slipped his boots off and went into his bedroom closet. He pulled out his Benelli 12-gauge pump shotgun. He didn’t know why, but something about the obscure howls outside made him want to get it out. He chambered four shells of three-inch Magnum 00 buckshot and set the safety on.
“That ought to drop any of the predators that feel like chicken tonight,” he said to himself. He propped it up behind a tall plant in the foyer next to the front door then went into the living room to watch the news.
Kicked back in his well-worn recliner, he dozed off. Erma shrieked from the kitchen, “Oh my God, Joe! Oh my God!” Joe quickly jerked awake and thought Erma had revealed another mouse in the kitchen. The days had cooled in the evenings, which meant those little turd factories had started to burglarize their pantry. As he yawned and entered the kitchen, he realized Erma’s eyes were wide with pure terror. She motioned for him to get the hell over there and pointed out the window into the backyard. It took Joe a minute to process what he saw.
Moments prior, as Joe dozed soundly, Colonel Sanders circled the backyard from above. His domain. His territory. That just a few nights earlier was invaded by a thief. A thief that stole his property. That stole Sara. Suddenly, Max trotted around the house. His long wet tongue lolled out of his mouth. The Colonel quickly eyed him with his newly enhanced vision and folded his wings into a deep, fast dive. Max sat on the deck and scratched at his collar. His winter coat had come in and caused it to tighten. It chafed his neck and irritated him. The sound of something moved toward him very fast from above. He heard this and it piqued his interest and caused him to sit up to listen.
Before Max determined the cause of the noise, something hit him hard in the head. He sprawled flat from the impact. Max growled deep. He tried to gain his feet, but the Colonel was already on his back. The rooster stabbed him in the side with long, needle-sharp spurs. Max yelped in surprise then attacked. He snapped his beartrap-like jaws at the rooster. Sanders easily dodged the sheer death of Max’s bite and jumped on his head from behind. His spurs blurred. He stabbed them into Max’s head dozens of times a second like a well-oiled Singer sewing machine that attacked a stitch. With succinct accuracy, the Colonel drove both spurs deep into Max’s eye sockets. A torrent of fluid exploded. Max leaped around confused then rolled onto his back. He pawed at his face. The sound of his yelps caught Erma’s attention as she went to the sink and got some dish soap for the kids to make bubbles in their bathwater. She looked out the window and saw a huge bird. It tore into Max’s flesh. Its huge talons pulled the dog’s skin back and exposed his bloody bones. She screamed for Joe. She waved frantically to put some urgency in his step as he casually strolled into the kitchen.
Joe peered out the window, stunned at the sight. The bird ripped a chunk out of Max’s throat and caused a spray of blood across the wood deck.
“What the hell!” Joe screamed.
He ran out the back door to help his dog against this, this bird? As he approached, Max whimpered his last breath as his life’s blood gurgled out the open gash in his throat. Joe looked at the bird as he stood victorious over his foe. Sanders now set his focus on Joe and cocked his head in that herky-jerky mechanical way. His stare penetrated his nemesis. The thief that stole his property and invaded his domain every single day.
Joe stopped abruptly. The moonlight illuminated the bloody scene like a black-and-white film remastered in high definition. He tried to understand what kind of bird brought down a full-grown German shepherd dog. Then he saw that mechanical movement of the bird’s head. That intense focus a chicken makes when they eye something. Although the bird was covered in gore, Joe knew instantly where he had seen that mechanical cocked-to-the-side look . . . Colonel Sanders. But this version of the rooster was greatly different. Its eyes were larger with a subtle, golden glow as if it stared into a spotlight. Its beak was thicker and razor sharp with jagged edges. It resembled cutlery Joe had seen numerous times peddled on TV when insomnia carried him into the wee hours of the morning. The comb on his beak blazed red and rigid. It appeared to hold an edge that would make any butcher jealous. As terrifying as these recent evolutions seemed, it was the rooster’s feet that made Joe take a step back. He was pretty sure Sanders was supposed to have just three toes per foot, but the abomination staring at him now sported six toes per foot! Each ended in a curved talon like a fish hook, and each still clung to bits of Max’s flesh.
Colonel Sanders sucked in a huge breath, one that made his chest swell to the size of a large beach ball. He screamed an ear-piercing sound. It was sharp like ice picks and stabbed Joe’s eardrums. His eyes rattled in their sockets. It gave him a headache like he’d only had when he became too eager with ice cream. Stunned by the audible blast, Joe didn’t realize the rooster raced toward him with amazing speed. Before he could react, Colonel Sanders flipped his claws up and struck Joe in his thigh.
Through the years, Joe suffered sports injuries, even more serious injuries in a car wreck once, but never had anything sliced him completely to, and into, his bones. The pain blinded Joe as the Colonel literally tore a pound of flesh from his leg. Without thinking, which probably saved his life, Joe grabbed Sanders by his throat. He narrowly missed the rooster’s razor-sharp comb. Joe slung the bird with all the strength he had. Colonel Sanders shrieked loudly as he spun round and round like a Frisbee. Joe rolled onto his feet. Pain seared through his leg, and blood now poured from the wound in his thigh. He braced himself for another attack he was sure was to come, but didn’t. There, like a ninja’s throwing star, the rooster’s comb was buried deep in the trunk of the thirty-year-old oak tree that grew in the center of the deck. The bird thrashed violently. It viciously clawed at the tree to release itself. Splinters and bark flew everywhere. Joe realized this was his only chance to get away. He ran for the door that led back into the kitchen.
Inside, Erma screamed. She was completely beside herself as she watched the battle through the window.
“Go get the kids! Quick, now!” Joe yelled as he rushed in and bolted the door’s lock. He heard a distinct clink from outside, like the sound of a knife blade that had broken in two. Erma rushed down the hall and got the kids out of their bath.
Suddenly, the outside-facing wall began to shudder from what sounded like a basketball being thrown against it. Harder and harder the impact was. BANG! BANG! BANG! The cabinets opened, and their contents spilled onto the countertop. Dinnerware and glasses shattered all over the kitchen. Shards of glass covered the floor. Tommy ran into the kitchen wide-eyed from all the commotion. He wore just his green Incredible Hulk underwear and ran through the jagged shards of dinnerware. The slices on his feet were so fine it took him a few seconds to realize the pain. “Mommy! Ahhh, Mommy!” he screamed at the top of his lungs and hopped from one foot to the other to find relief. This drove the glass deeper into each foot. Erma heard her oldest child cry out and raced into the kitchen. Fortunately, she wore house slippers. She grabbed Tommy and rescued him from the sea of glass then rushed him into the living room.
The force that slammed against the house stopped suddenly. Joe waited. In the silence, he headed to the living room to check on his son. Tommy lay on the couch. He screamed as Erma desperately tried to hold him still in order to remove the shards of glass from his feet. Strewn across the coffee table were bandages, gauze, and cotton balls. Blood poured from Tommy’s soles. He was purple, unable to catch his breath as he screamed. Joe’s thigh burned badly, but he pushed the pain aside. It then occurred to him Annie wasn’t in the room.
“Where is Annie?” Joe asked in a panic.
“I don’t know! Help me here, dammit!” Erma screamed as Tommy kicked her in the face and splattered it with blood.
Joe started to go to Tommy and comfort him. The force slammed into the house again. BANG! BANG! BANG! Pictures and decorations flew off the walls. The sheetrock cracked, and a large wall clock fell. It shattered its huge glass face on the floor with a deafening crash.
“Make it stop, Joe! Please, God, make it stop!” she cried out. She sobbed with Tommy wrapped in her arms, the glass removal effort abandoned.
Joe had no idea what to do. So far the Colonel hadn’t punched through the walls. The force continued to move along the wall toward the brick chimney. Joe figured if the rooster punched into that, it would for sure break its neck. He shuffled along the wall toward the chimney and screamed at the force, “Come get me, you psycho son of a bitch! Over here!” He coaxed the bird to follow his voice so he would slam into the bricks.
He laughed like a crazy loon, but it seemed to work. The force from outside followed his voice and moved along the wall as Joe hoped it would. BANG! BANG! BANG!
“One more time, you bastard,” he said to himself. He anticipated the next whack would be into the bricks. But it never came. All he could hear was Tommy and Erma as they sobbed, wrapped tightly together on the couch. Everyone froze and waited for what seemed like an eternity.
“Is it gone?” Erma finally whispered, afraid to speak.
“I don’t know . . . Shhh!” Joe said. He strained to hear outside.
Suddenly the window on the other side of the chimney exploded in a spray of glass and startled them all. Joe screamed too and covered his head. Sanders had slammed into one of the windows and broken all the glass out. However, the thick solar screen sent him reeling back, like a vertical trampoline. Over and over, the screen extended into the room and denied the rooster, but it was no match for his talons, which were already ripping through. Joe ran and grabbed the poker from the fireplace tools and readied himself. In high school Joe led his team in home runs and RBIs. It’d been a while, but he felt like he could deliver a grand slam tonight.
Colonel Sanders finally tore through the screen and stuck his head in the hole he created. He cocked his head and trained his remaining, swollen eye on Joe and screamed that brain-piercing scream before he tore through the screen the rest of the way. Joe couldn’t believe how battered the rooster’s head was from being slammed into the sides of the house. The top part of his beak was broken, which left a jagged opening. One of his nasty little eyes was pierced. It oozed a greenish-pink mush. His feathers and skin were torn back from around his head, which gave a grotesque view of thick, sinewy jaw muscles. They were all pulpy and oozy. A huge shard of glass was stuck in the bird’s large chest, but didn’t seem to faze him.
“Run!” Joe screamed to his wife just as the rooster launched itself at Joe.
Joe was ready. Many years of practice and training took over as he stepped into his swing. He twisted at his hips, arms extended fully. He never took his eyes off that ball of beaked damnation as it hurled itself at him. In his baseball prime, Joe knew when his swing resulted in a home run just as the ball hit the bat. There was a solid connection. Not a single vibration of the bat in his hands, just that unmistakable crack! He would knowingly drop the bat and start his jog around the bases and watch his moon shot sail over the fence. Fans cheered his name, and his teammates all met him at home plate, where they traded high fives, fist bumps. Lastly, the inevitable slap on the ass from his coach.
That same satisfying, solid connection happened here as the poker connected with Sanders. It sent chills through Joe’s arms. The room exploded with feathers, and he saw the rooster slam into the chimney bricks with a bloody WHUMP! The bird hit hard then bounced onto the floor. Joe gripped the poker with all his strength and cautiously approached the heap of feathers as it twitched and jerked. Colonel Sanders made wet sucking sounds that blew pink bubbles from his crushed beak. His knurled neck was twisted in a fashion that had to mean it was broken.
“Please, God, be broken.” Joe silently prayed as he walked toward him, inch by inch.
As if the rooster sensed Joe’s approach, he quickly cocked his head and looked up at Joe. This sudden movement by the bird caused Joe to shrink back then instinctively lung forward to smack the bird with the poker. He swung the poker down with all his strength. It hit something above his head.
With all his focus on the heap of feathers on the floor, Joe inched cautiously toward it. He wasn’t aware his position was directly under the 74-inch ceiling fan above. “The Beast,” Joe called it when he saw it on display at the local hardware box store. Erma had to have it. Their vaulted ceiling looked too open and bare with a regular 46-inch fan. The poker barely grazed the huge fan motor when he swung down, but it was enough to deflect his aim. Colonel Sanders was already in flight and flew at Joe with only one operational claw. The other dangled at an odd angle, clearly broken. However, the one that tracked his face was all the rooster needed to put Joe down. Joe instinctively dropped from his feet as one of the fish-hook-shaped talons grazed his head. It opened a nasty gash from his hairline down the side of his temple. The Colonel overshot his mark and slammed into the far wall. Joe took the opportunity and ran down the hall to where his family was.
“Erma!” Joe shouted as he searched for his family.
“We’re in your office!” screamed back Erma. Joe rounded the corner and ducked into the office. He slammed the door shut and locked it.
“Oh my God, Joe! Your head is gushing!” panicked Erma as she ran to him.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Where is Annie?” Joe asked, terrified.
“She’s here, she’s here. She was hiding in your credenza,” Erma explained.
Joe had no time to register his relief, because suddenly there was a hard crash against the door of the office. Then another and another. Splinters flew into the room. Erma screamed and huddled with the kids in the corner. Joe had to think.
“We can go out a window and get to my truck. I have the keys in my pocket.”
But before he could even get to a window a familiar BANG! BANG! BANG! slammed into the house. But it didn’t sound like one basketball as before; it sounded like a whole basketball team! Dozens of forces slammed into the walls and ceiling. The windows exploded into the room. Erma screamed in unison with the terrified kids. Joe considered this was the end.