The Chicken in Black

by Nat Robinson

Aves was used to these long, cold corridors with the chipped red paint floors and buzzing fluorescents striping the ceiling, so he no longer shivered. He never even had to blow his nose nowadays. The newbies did though. They all did. After twenty five years of working in the same old factory, Harold Aves had acclimatised to the cool hum of each corridor and clinical processing room. He had evolved to suit his environment and it was where he was happiest. Besides it was where he met her. His last true love.

His wife.

His only complaint was his trick knee in his left leg, which after a quarter of century of pulling bulky Dolav's round the factory floor was his only medical complaint. He was in tip-top medical condition otherwise.

Working at Agricorn was his life, and he prided himself greatly on his work, keeping the factory in good working order. Last year, his bosses and the owner himself, Mr Reid, had admitted that he was the oil that greased the factories gears and awarded him with a more than welcome ten percent pay rise.

He should have celebrated, but had no one to cheer with. He simply shook their hands and thanked them quietly then went home to an empty house, had chicken chasseur, then went to sleep in anticipation for his next twelve-hour shift at six am, just like he had done every day since Daisy had died.

That was it, married for a year then she had died in childbirth, taking the kid along with her as well. He hated that selfish bitch for the pain she had caused him. But after a time, he knew it wasn't her fault, but he had to blame her, he had no one else. The doctors had said it was just one of those things. Amniotic fluid embolism to be precise. So he looked it up. The baby essentially poisoned the mother from the inside. Something about foetal cells and hair in the blood stream.

Whatever had caused it, he was alone now.

And he kept it that way for twenty four years.

Harold rounded a corner, limping slightly as he pulled the empty Dolav through the thick strips of plastic and into Preparation Room Seven " Portioning, De-boning and Filleting.

He smiled at the short, squat Filipino cleaning ladies as they finished wiping and disinfecting each and every surface, giving them a polite nod as they left for the night. Not many English worked in the factories nowadays. All immigrants near enough. Out of the six hundred that worked here, less than a hundred were English. Aside from the bosses, most were college kids, all after some quick dough before university. The rest were from the continent or the far east. They all seemed pretty nice, never caused any really trouble. Besides the eastern European ladies were nice to look at, not that he'd ever instigate anything, though he knew some were desperate for a husband and the green coloured card of opportunity that came with marriage.

As he positioned the sturdy grey tubs at the end of each production line, in his head he went over his mental list of each job he had to complete tonight. Setting out the trays of breadcrumbs and sauces for the next shift had already been completed in the Ready Meals Room. He had re-stocked the plastic gloves and tissues at the wash station in the Organic division. Menial tasks that should have been completed by some layabout teenager, obviously too lazy to turn up for work, now the job fell to him. He had been asked, and agreed without question. His entire list of tasks would take no longer than an hour, he'd be home before one. On Sunday nights the factory closed completely, just to let the machine have a breather and the cleaning ladies do a thorough job.

Soon, when the night cleaning crew had finally left and before the six am shift, the entire factory was alone to him. A security guard positioned at the front gate half a mile away was his closest and only human company.

Next on his list of jobs was a visit to the Slaughter Room, easily the singular most gruesome space on the whole site to any uninitiated newbies. After Aves's quarter of a century in the business, he had a constitution of iron. Tonight however, his stomach may be persuaded to turn otherwise.

The Slaughter Room was the most infamous, bloody and yet eventually the cleanest in the entire factory. The bosses were meticulous that this room be kept clean after each shift. Two cleaning crew came in one after another to mop up the blood and chicken shit that peppered the walls and floors. At one end the room was the "Inbox' as the butchers referred to it, where the birds were hooked on, feet first to the upside down conveyer belt and immediately fed through a simple steel grey box. The first box gassed the birds, starving them clean of oxygen in less than twenty seconds. Then they moved onto the second grey box where a series of conveniently aimed blades did the rest. The majority of birds fell within a certain height/weight/length ratio. Some however did not. These were known as un-classed birds. Not class one premium organic birds nor were they class two birds which the poorer families bought. Un-classed. As in destined for dog food. Now the blades sweep across the neck of the chicken, in swift and mostly painless motion. A chicken may struggle, be too big or too small for the machine. In which case the blades hits them wrong. It either goes one of two ways. The blade cuts too high on the chickens body and makes a mess of the whole bird or it cuts too low and the chicken is left with no skullcap, still flapping and bleeding when they appear out the other side. Any bird too mangled or bruised from the process are classed as unfit for human consumption and are thrown into a Dolav containing a thick plastic bag, ready to be shipped across the factory to the pet food division, basically a group of surly butchers with sharp knives and dull wit. Bones or anything else left on the carcass that can't be used, heads for the power station across town as biomass, fuel for over thirty thousand homes in the local area. Now vegetarians can't really complain about that when they're enjoying a hot shower!

The Slaughter Room was now empty of life, the dead remained. One Dolav full of bloody and dismembered birds in various stages of mutilation. The butchers had been hard at work processing and plucking that they hadn't had time to move the gory grey container across the to the other side of the factory. It was a fifteen minute job at most.

Hardly wincing his nose at the sight of several deformed Shire Whites that made it this far through the process, Aves covered the Dolav up with a plastic sheet and grabbed a nearby pallet truck, shifted the prongs into place and pumped the truck up beneath the Dolav, then pulled it out of the Slaughter Room and down the central passageway that ran the entire length of the factory floor.

Harold Aves sighed then continued his gradual trudge down the brightly lit three hundred metre corridor. The oldie station which politely droned from a nearby speaker played a Johnny Cash song, "One Piece at a Time". Not one of his favourites but still a good tune. He hummed and murmured along unconsciously, sending his memories back to his birthday a good few years back when over the intercom an urgent sounding voice called him to the cafeteria. He was met with a surprise party, Cash's The Chicken in Black erupted from a record player and everybody cheered in smiley unison. Aves attempted a forced grin.

He said I'm sorry to tell you

But your body's outlived your brain.

They called him the Chicken in Black on account of the fact of three things.

1. He was a keen Johnny Cash fan forever signing or humming one of his many hits as he trundled throughout the factory floor.

2. He worked in a chicken factory.

3. He wore a lot of black. Aside from his white overcoat and blue hardhat which were mandatory in a food processing plant. Aside from his pale, sun-starved skin, everything else visible was black.

The third point was more his deceased wife's fault rather than his devotion to all things "Cash". He'd been in mourning ever since Daisy died. He'd never told his co-workers about his wife's death and didn"t want sympathy back then or even now. He never really brought her up. At first people asked how she was doing and he'd reply quietly, avoiding eye contact.

"Fine, Daisy's fine.'

He carried the lie on for twenty four years now and even his closest co-workers had never learned the truth. And they wouldn't. Quite frankly he was happy to keep up that pretence until he kicked this mortal bucket over once and for all.

From a side corridor a stumbling figure approach ahead, dressed in the same attire as him, blue hard hat and white overcoat. A young lad slightly unsteady on his feet.

"What shift you on?' Aves asked bluntly as they got closer to one another.

The young lad was wide eyed, " Sh"sh"shift?' his thick accent beckoned from the eastern bloc. Probably one of the new Poles that had just arrived on site. The kid looked lost or maybe drunk.

"You been drinking kid? I can smell it on you.'

"Drinky I?' he responded like Aves had thrown a terrible accusation at him.

"Yes" drinky you?' Aves half-sighed.

"I new here, I help the bootchas with chicks. End of shift vey make me drink. Initiation fur newboy vey say. I only have little bit. But very strong. I pass out, I wake everybody gone. Where vey gone?'

"Bootchas?'

"Err" Yeash Bootchas?'

"They go home. You got a name?' Aves asked.

"Ahh" Tomas, my parents call me Tomas.'

"I wonder what the bootchas called you when you passed out?' Ave said quietly, having noticed a bile yellow stain down the front of Tomas's white coat.

"What?'

"Nothing, come with me I'll take you to clock out after I finish this. Though I doubt you'll get paid overtime.'

Tomas stood still and clueless as Aves walked away. With a persuasive beckon of his hand he managed to get the wary Tomas to follow him onwards down the corridor towards the Pet Food Preparation/Biomass division of the factory.

Like the rest of the division the large open room was deserted aside from a line of shelves on the back wall and the two work tables where the drones would hack away at any decent meat and toss the leftover giblets into a refuse bin.

"Right pay attention, this may come in useful to you one day. I've worked every department of this factory. From the Distribution Warehouse to the Cold Blast where we fast freeze the chicken. From the Chicken Kiev line to, bagging up turkeys for Christmas dinner. I've been every where and seen everything that can happen in this place kid. There's nothing I don't know, so the secret is to keep moving. Don't get stuck in one place. The manager's are quite happy for people to chop and change jobs. It's business smart to have a workforce that can turn their hand to any department. Anyways, this is how we do things down this end of the factory.'

Tomas nodded blankly with eyes wide and red. Aves pushed the Dolav to the nearest table and with a hiss of air released the pallet truck from its weighty grasp.

"Now we need to put an additive on this chicken so it doesn't attract flies by the next shift, head over to the that shelf on the far wall and fetch me some BIOSMATIC SYRUP, it should be clearly labelled. I'm gonna stack these crates.'

Tomas nodded diligently and headed over to the shelves on the far wall searching the rows of chemicals. Aves went about stacking a collection of red crates that some amateur had obviously dumped in here by mistake.

From across the room Tomas held up a two litre red plastic carton, shaking it in his hand.

"Is this it Mistah?'

Aves paused from stacking the crates onto the pallet truck.

"Yes Tomas, very good.'

"But it's empty.'

"There should be a box beneath the shelf with a fresh shipment it.'

"I found the box Mistah.' Tomas hollered back.

"Good, good Tomas now bring it here and pour a little into the tub.'

Sliding the box out from beneath the shelf, Tomas tore into the plastic tape, his half drunken fingers struggling for purchase, then finding an edge they ripped off the line of tape. The cardboard lid parted and revealed the red tubs inside, the inebriated Polish teenager lifted the first container out and read the label

BIOHAZARD!

Had the old man said that word? His English wasn't fantastic but the word looked familiar.

Beneath this was more writing that he couldn't be bothered with, he just wanted to go home. And it seemed this old man wasn't going to show him out from this maze of corridors until he completed this meaningless task. Tomas headed back to the Dolav full of dead chickens, unscrewing the cap as he dragged his feet. The old man had his back to him as he reached up to stack the last of the crates. Tomas leant into the crate and poured the oily green liquid over the bird carcasses, making sure he covered every last one.

Aves turned and watched for about a second while Tomas drained the last drips from the container.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?' he screamed involuntarily, not meaning to be as loud as he actually sounded. Tomas actually jumped at the outburst, dropping the plastic tub to the floor.

"I said, use a little bit, you've used it all! It only takes a little bit to keep the bugs away!'

"I sorry, I sorry mistah" mistah?'

"Aves, the names Aves.'

Harold Aves gave a belated sigh, then glanced down at the tub at his feet, then at the carcasses that were smothered in thick green sap.

"This stuff is usually clear. Why did they change it?'

He bent down and picked the tub for a closer inspection.

BIOHAZARD!

Trioxin 246

Not for consumption by mammals.

In case of accidental digestion, the use of accelerants over 400ÂF is recommend for immediate disposal of subject.

For use in a controlled environment only.

Distilled by Kaltenbrunner Corp, Germany

Aves had never heard of Trioxin, nor of Kaltenbrunner Corp. A wave of worry rapidly assaulted his brain as an over clinical odour registered in his olfactory receptors, his nostril hairs all itched at once, his eyes watered as if some evil invisible being had rubbed onion and chilli puree into the whites of his eyeballs. He stumbled back towards the back shelf as did Tomas, both trying their hardest to rub the stinging from their eyes with the cool palm of their hands. Something unseen had attacked them, rendering them both instantly and painfully blind. In between heaving sobs, Aves could make out Tomas offering apologies in both his native and English tongue.

Now crawling on his hands and knees, Aves blindly felt his way towards the shelf. He needed the box from where the chemical came. He needed more information before his eyeballs melted out of his skull.

"PRZEPRASZAMY, PRZEPRASZAMY!' Tomas wept, 'A thousand NieoÅćobecn! PRZEPRASZAMY!'

"Tomas, please shut the fuck up! I'm trying to think and your crying isn't help a great deal.' The weeping ceased" a little. Now the Pole sounded like a clucking chicken.

Aves slapped an outreaching hand atop the box that had caused the problem. Tomas continued to apologise quietly. Rubbing his eyes more severely didn't bring his vision back, then he remembered the eye wash station above the sink.

"Tomas we need to wash this stuff out of our eyes before it causes us any real damage.'

"I'm sorry Harry, I think the damage is already done.'

That was Daisy's voice in his head. Not ethereal or spookyfied in any way, but as if she was in this chilled room with him. She sounded so real. He almost responded "I know,' but kept the thought hidden behind his pursed lips. It was good to hear her voice, it didn't panic him in the slightest, no matter how strange. Lack of sleep and the sudden stress he told himself.

But she sounded so real.

"Yeash Mistah Aves, we clean eyes make it bettah,' Tomas whimpered pathetically.

Pushing the box in front of him he continued his crawl across the cold factory floor. Tomas had ceased the sobbing apologies now, but was still intent on clucking.

"Right then Tomas, listen, follow me across the room to the sink area. And stop making them dammed chicken noises.'

He heard Tomas shuffle across the smooth painted floor, then say, 'I no make chick noise Mistah Aves.'

"Just hurry it up will ya!'

"Right a bit Harry,' Daisy said, "you'll hit your hea"'

The pointed corner of the metal table made contact with the dead centre of his forehead. A sharp bang swiftly followed by a curse that escaped the safety of his lips.

Aves shifted right, continuing his shuffle until he reached the metal sink. Pulling himself to his feet he fumbled along the wall, his searching fingers finding the wall mounted bottle of eye wash. Popping the cap he tipped his head back and squeezed, allowing the fresh saline liquid to pool over his raging eyeballs. The whiteness of being blind soon grew to dull shapes, stars scattered about, objects moved about the floor hopping about in a random fashion. He made out the shape of Tomas and grabbed him by the hair, squeezing the eyewash into his grateful sockets. The young Pole gasped in surprise.

"Don't rub them, just tilt your head back and let it do it's magic. Blink it in.'

"It will work,' Daisy said as clear as day.

"I know sweetheart,' Aves responded out loud.

"You call me sweetheart?' a perplexed Tomas asked blinking out the agony.

"Not you. Is it working?'

"Yeash, I see colour. Tak. Dobre, Dobre. It is good, it is bettah.'

Aves eyesight cleared enough for him to read the safety notice on the wall.

He bent down to the box and read what was on the side. A simple, stickered delivery notice.

Dispatch no. 73448601724

Delivery to Ashbourne Barracks

Do not tip, keep box level at

ALL times.

Attn :/Col Gulager Bio weapon division

A road sign materialized in his minds eye. One junction down from the Chicken factory. Ashbourne Military Barracks two mile. Probably the next call on the couriers route.

Ashbourne.

Agricorn.

An easy mistake to make if your in a rush.

Tomas made a mistake.

Mistaking Biohazard for Biosmatic. Anybody could. He had made a mistake in trusting the dumb Pole to finding the right container.

"It's not his fault,' Daisy said sweetly in the teenagers defence.

"I know dear.'

"It's not your fault either, I don't want you to blame yourself for this.'

"I know sweetie.'

"You call me sweetie again. You like the men? You lika the cock?' Tomas asked, genuine worry fastened across his face.

"Your eyes better?' Aves answered, ignoring the Poles question and pointing two fingers at him, "I could make them worse.'

"Yeash sweetie,' the Pole responded with a smile.

"Don't get cute.'

Okay he reasoned, if we've got their delivery, then they've got the four tubs of Biosmatic syrup, a biological additive to keep flies and lurgies away from dead chickens.

A simple easy mistake.

Those five words worried him

NOT FOR CONSUMPTION BY MAMMALS.

They hadn't consumed it. The vapour had temporarily blinded Tomas and him, that was all. His eyesight was back. Nobody was the wiser. All he had to do was ensure that the Dolav full of contaminated chicken carcass's headed as biomass fuel to the power station instead of pet food. The company didn't want a lawsuit on their hands from customers complaining that their dogs have died in vast numbers. They trusted him with the keys to the factory. A screw-up like this could easily cost him his job, maybe even a little prison sentence.

He gulped.

Harold Aves hobbled wearily over to the Dolav.

The chickens were gone.

He gulped again.

A few wings, legs, an assortment of heads, an occasional bloody feather and scrappy patches of white pimpled skin remained behind. But the whole chicken carcass's had jumped ship, evacuated the immediate area, vamoosed.

Shit.

Maybe Trioxide or whatever the fuck it was called had melted the bodies. Maybe that's what is for, spraying on the Taliban from thirty thousand feet so they melt like toasted cheese in their mountain retreats.

Take that Osama!

Nah, Aves dismissed the thought. Surely they'd be some residue behind, bone fragments, a gooey, protein rich soup made up from dissolved chicken cadavers.

Aves pondered and then looked skywards, checking that the ceiling wasn't covered in flying fowl, a thin thought had occurred that the military gunk that Tomas had poured over the bodies had somehow given them the power of levitation.

No such luck.

The ceiling was fowl free.

Then where were they?

"Go look.'

Aves turned back to Tomas, his lips hadn't moved. It must have been Daisy. She was right. They had to look.

They left Pet Food Preparation and followed a sticky green trail that scattered off up the corridor.

There must have been a hundred chickens in that Dolav, maybe more. Dead birds don't dance was the only saying he could think of, even though it wasn't actually a saying.

Maybe, he thought, being as rational as he could in these strange times, they'd become unconscious during their temporal blindness and a group of feral cats had stormed the factory and taking every single chicken from the fat grey tub!

Don't be ridiculous. That's absurd.

He checked his watch. A quarter after twelve. He hadn't passed out, not for a second.

He had heard them. It wasn't Tomas clucking. It was the chickens. It must have been. Maybe they were stunned, maybe they weren't quite dead.

What all hundred or so? What are the chances?

A fault in the gassing machine perhaps? Nah some were missing heads.

You know what happened.

It happened as soon as Tomas opened that lid, the lid that held back the noxious fumes. Some chemical reaction had taken place when it came into contact with the dead birds, not supernatural, no nothing like that, it must be chemical. It must be.

You get it on your skin and"

The trail of gunge split off three ways, left right and straight ahead.

"Vich way?' Tomas asked.

Aves narrowed his sore eyes. "You take the left, I'll head right. If you find a chicken, kill it.'

Tomas nodded with the most serious face he could pull then bravely bounded off down the left corridor. Aves turned and bore right towards the staff changing room he plucked a fire extinguisher off of the wall as he neared the door.

The green trail veered into the female changing area, before petering off to nothing. Aves pushed the half open door and entered. The changing room was swathed in hollow silence and the stale stench of after work sweat. He saw it almost immediately, just sitting there beneath the bench. Shivering.

He blinked twice and shook his head as if to shake this apparition from his vision. It didn't go away. He knew it wouldn't go away anytime soon. The big chicken had no head, shoulders or wings for that matter. The blade had cut too high on it's body, making it unsuitable for sale.

With out the warning the bird stepped out from beneath the bench and began swaying towards him.

A confident cock if ever he saw one!

It advanced.

It charged.

He felt his heart gain momentum in his chest as it anticipated the surge in adrenalin he would need to cope, a cool sweat broke out across his back and shoulders, his body telling him "go on, be scared."

Aves heaved the fire extinguisher high above his head and forced the thick red cylinder down onto the feral fowl.

Crunch.

But no splat. Not much liquid blood or giblets remained in the body of this beast, as it had already been gutted. Aves launched the extinguisher onto the twitching corpse again.

AND AGAIN.

AND AGAIN.

A frenzy of self-preservation overtook him, he had to prevent this thing from getting at him now and in nightmares of the future.

The chest cavity had tore open, he was sure he had broken it's back, yet it still jerked about as if electric was coursing through its corpse.

It was dead.

Or undead.

Well it wasn't moving about as much so Aves was as happy as he could be about that. He sighed, taking a lungful of stale air to bring him slowly back to a normal resting heartbeat. Things like this didn't happen. Maybe in experimental animal laboratories in cheapo Horror movies, but this was the North of England. The weirdest animal tale he had heard round these parts was someone releasing a snapping turtle into a local fishing pond.

Aves looked down at the mess that was once a chicken.

One down, lots more to go.

His knee twinged from the sudden bout of exercise, he bent forward and gave it a welcome rub, back, front and sides. He played with his kneecap, pushing it left and right, stretching it a little. He flexed his entire leg letting the joint give a satisfactory pop, relieving the tension he felt building up.

He had once read a true story about a farmer who one day took an axe and chopped off a chickens head, dispatching the bird for his wife's cooking pot when the bird refused to die. It hopped off the chopping block and carried pecking at the ground as it always had, not knowing it had no head! The farmer and his wife took the bird on tour around the USA as "Mike the Headless Chicken' to mesmerised audiences, making a pretty penny off of the back of it. The bird even had an agent. Aves certainly felt that Mike had nothing on his chicken problem. He certainly couldn't see himself going on tour.

Not yet anyway.

Now another strange but true story of headless chickens had come to light.

Picking the bird up by it's twisted, snapped leg, Aves checked around and found no more chickens lurking in the sickly stale shadows. He took the extinguisher with him and headed back to where he had left the Dolav in Pet Food Preparation, slinging the chicken back where it belonged he scored a basket. He quickly pumped the pallet truck back up and headed back to the corridor with the Dolav in tow.

He had a plan.

A vague one at that:

1.Find the chickens.

2.Kill ALL the chickens

3.Burn the chickens round the back of the factory with the help of Mistah Petrol can from the boot of his Ford.

Easy. Craftily burn the evidence in the security camera blind spot behind the factory. Perfect. He might save his skin yet.

Tomas screamed.

Leaving the Pallet truck and Dolav behind, Aves ran down the left hand corridor with the extinguisher poised for action wishing it was an axe or baseball bat, something lighter and more wieldy.

The trail and Tomas's screams led him to the Flavouring Room, where he found the Pole dancing round in a circle, beating off chickens with his hands as they attempted to mount him. Two clung off the back of his work overalls, cinching their beaks shut tight, their dead yellow eyes rolling around in delight as they scraped at him with their talons. A couple more Mike the Headless chickens repeatedly ran into his shins like arrogant, troublesome toddlers, trying their very best to topple this giant that had summoned them back to life.

"GETTAHVEMOFFMEEEE!' Tomas screamed as he twirled like a bizarre whirling dervish.

Aves stormed in, raising his weapon and squashing the closest Headless Mike at Tomas's feet into a fleshy pink pulp. The second clueless wonder he dispatched in much the same way, breaking every evil twitching bone in its reanimated body.

Dropping the extinguisher, Aves span Tomas round, grabbing both of the attacking fowl by the feet then bashed them in unison on the blunt edge of the nearest worktop, thick trickles of maroon giblets and red gizzards dribbled out from the smashed birds.

Tomas stopped screaming, and yet Aves kept repeatedly smashing until the pimpled flesh fell apart in his hands, sticky spits of blood clashed with the white of his overalls, up the inside his arms and over his front.

Breathlessly he ordered, "Fetch the pallet truck. Bring it in here.'

A quaking Tomas nodded erratically and did as he was told and rushed back to the corridor.

A slight, airy squeak caused Ives to turn.

A portly, featherless cock with the top of it's head missing sized him up from across the room and then charged.

Aves did the same, swinging his leg back he kicked forward, catching the chicken in the centre of it's breast with all his might, screaming 'AVE IT!' as he thrashed forward, the poultry satellite immediately lifted skyward upon contact, then violently pounded into the far wall with a single, squeak, dropping down the wall to the floor, half stunned. Aves rushed over and gave it a thorough stomping. When he'd finished, he turned round, a sheepish looking Tomas had arrived with the pallet truck.

"Vey attacked me. Vey crazy yeash?

"Very crazy. We need to find every last one. And kill them"well the best we can. Understand?'

Tomas nodded.

Aves picked up the crippled cock remains and tossed them from twenty feet into the awaiting Dolav.

"And we need to arm ourselves.'

In ten minutes they had assembled a small armoury, consisting off two filleting knives (one tapped to a mop), a spare section of a conveyer belt covering, (essentially a long metal club for bashing undead chickens to a pulp with) and the mops long term partner, a bucket (for trapping unruly, undead chickens).

Both Aves and Tomas had doubled up on extra large rubber gloves (to protect their hands from undead chicken bites/scratches)

In the nearest Maintenance Room they had dug out a pair of plastic goggles each (to protect their eyes from undead chicken bites/scratches/pokes). Their hardhats protected their craniums from any attacks from directly above. Tomas had found a sheet of clear plastic used as wall backing for the sink area, now they utilised it as a lid for the Dolav, just in case any caught chickens got jumpy.

"Right lets finish what we started" before it gets any worse.'

Armed nervously with the makeshift spear, Tomas was charged with pulling the Dolav and pallet truck along, Aves made do with the thin metal club and the fillet knife stashed in the line of his belt. The bucket they kept ready on top of the plastic sheet on the Dolav.

They found two chickens straight away, simply waiting in round the next corner, fighting each other in a fight to the undeath.

Quietly and with the precision of an African big game hunter, Aves stepped silently towards the two half headed chickens who at this point in their undead lives seemed content with barging mindlessly towards one another and swiping talons in effort to determine the alpha of the two.

Aves leapt forward with the club, screaming a determined 'HIIIIIYAH!' he swept down twice cutting them both in two, equally four twitching fleshy parts, that still after a double death tried to fight each other.

Picking them up by the legs Aves tossed them back into the Dolav of Doom, back where they belonged.

"We're making progress now.' Aves said with a satisfied smile.

The night tore on. By three o'clock they had at least fifty more smashed up chickens back in the tub and they had only covered half the factory. The more they re-killed, the happier Aves became, strangely the happiest he had been in ages.

"Your doing well,' Daisy informed him, "I'd say you was over half way.'

They were approaching the Rotisserie Room when Tomas piped up from his silent stupor.

"Any chance we can get a drink, I'm getting a little thirsty?'

"Not yet!' Aves snapped from nowhere, rubbing his trick knee through his dark and now feathered trousers. All this time on his feet had taken it's toll. He'd done more than a double shift with not so much as a half hour break.

"Not many more now, we have to get them all before the shift at six arrives, if we don't, we are both down the shit creek without a paddle or a boat.'

"Well I need something"'

A noise from ahead caused Aves to swing round with the club poised. Nothing moved. Tomas made a noise that caused him to turn back. The Pole had a cigarette on the go. With a rapid downward flick of the wrist, Aves knocked the offending white stick from Tomas's mouth and swiped the lighter from his hand with a singular motion.

"No smoking inside!' Aves barked before he had chance to protest, "we're just around the corner from the rotisserie ovens, a lot of gas in that room. One spark and the whole place will go kaboom. Understand? That's why we have the fag shelters outside,' Aves showed Tomas the lighter then stashed it in his top pocket, "you'll get this back when we find that last chicken, okay?'

Tomas nodded glumly, then spied a drinks machine further down the side corridor. He lay the spear on top of the Dolav and headed over to the machine, lifting his goggles off his face, resting them on his hardhat.

"Well I need a drink or something. You want anything?'

"Not yet.'

"Y'know, my friend told me to get job here. Told me, "good money," he say, "ten pound an hour for evening shift packing chickens in plastic bags," I say that money is good, for ten pounds an hour I fuck the chickens.'

Tomas laughed at his joke and slipped a few coins in the humming machine and poked a button. A can tumbled into the bottom tray. Tomas reached in and opened it, knocking it back thirstily. He burped.

"I not so sure about working here now, tomorrow I quit maybe.'

From the corner of his eye, Aves had seen the white bird move on top of the machine, but in his tired brain it didn't register at first, by the time any words came out of his mouth, the sparsely feathered Shire White had reared up, stretching it's three too many wings and dived bombed from atop the vending machine. A half drunk can of pop dully hit the concrete floor.

Tomas's curdling scream echoed down the deserted corridors and back again, an alien squeal that paralysed Harold Aves briefly to the spot. As the young man turned round he realised that the body of the mutated chicken was hanging from the poor boys left eye socket. It's talon armed feet scratched into his chest, the featherless five wings flapped independently, providing wriggling momentum, propelling it further and deeper into Tomas's skull. The terrified teens arms stood outstretched at his side, his fingers quaking in abject terror, unable to move.

Aves launched himself forward, grabbing the malformed beast bird by it's scraping clawed feet. Upon arrival he found that the demon bird had not two, but three legs.

He pulled the bird free like Excalibur from the stone, except that mighty sword didn't have the mangled remains of an eyeball on the end. Tomas screamed as the stringy optic nerve snapped as it was dragged out from his eye socket, what was left of the sensory organ wasn't worth saving, the hungry chicken had chewed it up to useless mess of pulpy flesh.

Gritting his teeth and holding his tongue firmly to the roof of his mouth, Aves swing the devil fowl as hard as he could at the floor. Not once, not twice, but close to thirty times. After all this beating still the bird held up a fight. It seemed tougher than his previous quarries. It fought back more, it was stronger, a little more fight in the beastie. Beneath it's pimpled skin he felt bumps of grossly malformed flesh move across his fingers

Steroids, it must be the steroids they feed these things.

That's why it's mutated like this. Five wings instead of two, increased muscle mass. All for profit. They must feed them all the same stuff. In the majority of birds it doesn't show, but sometimes a freak occurs. And here it was.

"GET BACK IN THE BOX!'

Aves lifted his size ten up and brought it down hard on the bird. It ceased it's fight. He picked up its bloated steroid ravaged body and dropped back in the Dolav. His knee gave way finally after the exertion of the stomping. Aves cursed and reached out to the tub grabbing on before he fell.

Dammed knee.

Dammed Chickens.

About ten of the big, bloated Shire Whites lined up halfway down the main passageway, all had their heads, a few had their necks broken. More headless wonders piled in behind them as reinforcements, a good forty or so Mikes filled the corridor, clucking and shrieking.

"Tomas, can you walk?' Aves whispered, wide eyed and urgent.

The young lad whimpered between halted breaths, then achingly got to his feet, his hand clutched to the bloody space were his eye used to be. Aves pushed him towards the Dolav. The poor lad was heading for shock. He'd seen a boy of similar age get his hand caught in a slicing machine once. Didn't say anything until the paramedics turned up.

"Follow me.'

Grabbing the pallet truck he pulled on down the corridor with Tomas straggling behind. The squawking monstrosities pursued them. Gaining distance.

Aves barged through the next door, every other step his knee gave way. With the Dolav in the room he let go of the pallet truck sending it crashing into a preparation table, grabbing the club off of the top before impact. Tomas sank to his knees, crying crimson tears out of his one good eye, the other side of his face had become a phantom mask of blood. The poor kid had given up and now seemed content with crying through the pain.

Aves didn't have time to rally him to his feet and left him behind to the mercy of the chickens, not that they'd show any. Chickens were evil and stupid like that.

Aves raised his club and swiped down at the first pipe.

After the reverb of the clang a breathy hiss entered the Rotisserie Room.

The Shire Whites reached the crouched blubbing form of Tomas, setting upon him straight away. He didn't even bother to fight them off.

Aves reached the second set of pipes further down the room.

Swing.

Clang.

Hiss.

He could smell it now as the ratio of propane to oxygen started to rise in the propellants favour.

A couple of Headless Mikes ignored Tomas and found him instead. He didn't know how but they'd found him. Aves launched a kick at one, sending it soaring across the Rotisserie Room to impact with the far wall, the second he chopped down with the makeshift club, disabling, but not re-killing it.

He hadn't time to finish it off. Soon he could wipe them all out with a single blow.

Aves made his way to the third and final oven and swung down at the copper pipe splitting it away from the joint that snaked inside.

More heady gas filled the room. The clucking, screeching and squawking reached a crescendo as they all hungered after him. Even without eyes or mouths they hungered after him. At the other end of the room Tomas lay still, covered in blood and feathers, they had done with him. Soon he would be done with them.

He slumped to the floor, dropping the club. It might have been his trick knee or it might have been the amount of noxious fumes that had now got into his bloodstream. The hard hat fell from his head, he pulled the misted goggles from his face and crawled into the corner beside the last broken pipe, letting the devil birds advance, getting them all close.

"Hello Harry,' she said.

A fat and heavily mutated Shire White jumped on his chest and began pecking at his face, he was beyond caring now. He felt no pain, the gas took care of that, dreamily lifting him up to light headedness. He felt pleasant though nauseous, A column of bile raised up his throat. He held it down, clenching his mouth shut, saving his last breath for a couple more thoughts.

He could see Daisy on their wedding day. God she was beautiful. The dress hadn't cost them much but with her in it she sparkled like all the diamonds in the universe. Their wedding night had been the highlight of his life.

That little hotel room in the Lake District, when she finally slipped off the pearly dress, letting it drop elegantly to the floor. Her words had made his day.

No, his entire life.

"I've been waiting for you Harry.'

Now she said those words to him again and they still meant as much.

The rest of the Shire Whites arrived, the first had started pecking out his eyes, yet he concentrated through the distraction of pain. It'll be worth it.

The "Chicken in Black' up against the "Chickens in White".

Good versus Evil.

He was blind now, he could taste nothing but his own vomit, could hear only the hiss of rapidly escaping gas close to his ear and the tremendous cluckophony of the chickens pecking and darting randomly at his face.

Time for Zombiefried Chicken.

From his clenched hand he thumbed the flint wheel of Tomas's lighter, ignited Butane met and ignited Propane.

A warm wind kissed his face.

Tickled him

Embraced him.

Engulfed him.

"Hello Daisy.'

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