Updated: Nov 25, 2020
“It'll be character-building,” they said.
“You need some discipline in your life,” they said.
“You're not ruining another summer vacation for us,” they said. I wasn't sure if developing a violent hatred for roosters was what my parents had in mind when they sent me here but that's sure as shit what was happening. You'd think you'd get used to it. You'd think it would just fade into the background noise of all the other animals on this backwater farm. You'd at least think it wouldn't persist for 30 minutes at 5 in the morning, every morning. But no, every morning felt like I was hearing it for the first time, its shrill clarion call ushering me into the fresh hell that has been this summer. Not that it would matter if I could sleep through it because once the fucker started crowing, it was only a matter of minutes before Ted's heavy boots stomped their way up the wooden stairs and my door slammed open. “Breakfast!” he would boom without so much as peering in, the bass of his voice reverberating against the stone walls of my room. This was my cue to get up and start the day. I learned on my first day that lying in was not an option. If I wasn't dressed and at the breakfast table within five minutes of my initial wake-up call, Ted would swiftly follow up with a bucket full of ice-water. He generally wasn't big on repeating himself. As I walked towards the door to head downstairs, I threw a hateful glance through the window over at the henhouse on the other side of the property. There it stood, a large wooden church-like structure, a monument against sleep. It even had a steeple as a decorative flourish, holding dominion over its land. We ate breakfast in silence, the only sounds being the clink-clank of metal cutlery against the dishware. I tried making conversation in the beginning but there's only so much you can talk about when the other person replies exclusively in grunts, sniffs and shrugs. After clearing the table and washing the dishes, Ted, as he always would, gave me my list of tasks for the day. “Yer goin' clean the shit from the barn. An' clean it proper this time. Don't clean somma the shit, clean alla the shit. If ya still smell shit when yer done, yer not done and ye got more shit to clean.” The morning briefings were when I could get a good look at him. His leathery skin looked like it had been lazily dropped onto his skull, gathering in small flaps on both cheeks. He would gesture with his hands and I could see how the skin on his palms were so rough, they looked like they were made of sandpaper. His mud-brown eyes would stay fixed on mine, with an intensity that felt like he would make my head explode. “I'll be mindin' the chickens. Ya stay out of the henhouse, ya hear?” I nodded and finished drying the dishes as Ted lumbered out the front door. He was always very particular about me staying away from the henhouse. He'd let me work on all other parts of the farm. Milking the cows, letting the sheep in and out and of course, cleaning the shit from the barn. But never the henhouse. I'd probably have been more curious if I wasn't so exhausted from the manual labour at the end of every day. I was out like a light before my mind could muster up the energy to ask questions.
Until it started happening. The weird stuff. The stuff that I still don't believe happened but that put me on my best behaviour for the rest of my life so my parents would never send me away for another summer. In case it would happen again. If it even happened at all. I didn't realise anything was off at first. The precision aural assault that was the rooster's cry started up as it always did. I didn't open my eyes, willing it go away. But then I noticed there was something different about it. It wasn't the cockle-a-doodle-doo that I was used to. Its cries were coming in short, sharp, regular bursts. It felt rhythmic. I opened my eyes and saw it was still dark. Sill disoriented from sleep, not completely sure I wasn't dreaming, I rolled over and got my phone on the floor next to my bed. 3:00. I rubbed my eyes and sat up as my brain fired up and I confirmed I was well and truly awake. The rhythmic call was still going, piercing through the night. I got out of bed and uncertainly crept over to my window. The henhouse stood where it always did and a sickly green light appeared to be emanating from within. Beams of light shot out between the palisades that made up its walls. The light grew in intensity along the length of the steeple and seemed to shoot out of the tip, an unbroken viridian shaft of light leading into the sky and beyond. The rhythmic shriek of the rooster started getting louder. No, not louder, closer. The source of the noise appeared to be getting closer and closer yet I couldn't see anything coming towards me in the darkness. It completely enveloped my hearing, like the rooster was crowing from inside my skull. A visceral panic gripped me, my chest tightening and my stomach dropping, I ran back to my bed and threw the covers over my head, squeezing my eyes shut as hard as I could, tensing every muscle, willing the rooster out of my head with every fibre of my being. After a few moments, the rhythmic cries of the rooster began to fade. Slowly at first, then faster until all I could hear was blessed silence. I didn't leave my bed for the rest of the night, too terrified to check if that awful green light was still emanating from that damned henhouse.
The rooster hadn't even woken me up. We ate breakfast in our usual silence. Well, Ted ate his breakfast. I stared into nothing, absent-mindedly poking my eggs. “What's wrong with yer?” Ted's deep voice knocked me out of my stupor.
“Didn't sleep very well.” “Well we got work to do so eat, ya need yer energy, sheep need mindin'. I'll be in the henhouse.” “Again?” “Yeah, what of it?” “How come I never work the henhouse?” “Because yer not to go near it.” “Yeah, but --” “Yer not to go near it and that's final!” As he unblinkingly looked into my eyes, I noticed something different. They weren't as focused as they usually were, staring just a little bit off. And I could swear his corneas had taken on that sickly green hue. Ted left the table before I could argue further. I still had no idea what was happening. But I knew Ted was hiding something. The next few nights passed without further incident. The days, however, were becoming stranger and stranger. Ted worked the henhouse nearly every day. His morning instructions became more and more rambly and vague, drifting off halfway through. “Cows need minding...mind the...mind...barn...and don't lemme catch ye...” But they all ended the same way. “Stay away from the henhouse.” His skin grew pale and his hair was greying. His eyes grew increasingly unfocused, the sickly green hue around his pupils becoming more pronounced. Half the time, he acted like I wasn't even there. He would mumble to himself but I couldn't make out what he was saying. I figured it was because I couldn't understand it through his thick accent but sometimes I could swear he was clucking. The one night, it happened again, the rhythmic shriek of that accursed rooster. I was afraid before I was awake. My knuckles are white from gripping the cover, I can feel my mattress is drenched from sweat. I'm staring up at the ceiling, navigating the familiar stains in the woodwork with my mind. I can't move, I just want it to end.
Then, downstairs, I hear the familiar heavy steps of Ted. He walks across the floor and I hear the front door creak open. Ted's boots beat down on the gravel, the sounds of his footsteps moving unmistakably towards the hen house. I realise this is my chance, to find what the hell is going on. I don't stop to ask myself whether I even want to know what's going on and slip out of bed. I look out my window and see Ted's lumbering silhouette against the sickly green light emanating from the henhouse. The figure moves up the ramp to front entrance and disappears inside. I hurry down the stairs, trying to ignore the terror I'm feeling due to the unnatural rhythmic shrieks of the cock. I exit the front door and gaze upon the henhouse. The bright green light is even more unnerving without the glass of the window between me and it. I feel exposed, like the light is penetrating my very self, whispering secrets and truths I don't want to know. I stay off the gravel path as I move to the house. I walk bare foot through the dew-wet grass, wanting to make as little noise as possible. I jump the fence enclosing the henhouse. I'm closer to it than I would ever want to be. The steeple feels like it's towering over me. The green light is unbearable, discharging onto the fence and trees around it which in turn cast nightmarishly long shadows on the surrounding field. From this distance, I can hear it's not just the rooster making noise from within. The chickens are at it too, clucking in time with rooster, that infernal rhythm trying to make its way into my subconscious. Despite my mind screaming at me to run away, a morbid curiosity draws me closer and closer to the henhouse. Before I know it, I have my hand on one of its walls, on the side. Directly above me I can see the light pouring out of one of the slits. I reach out for the slit, fit my foot in between two of the palisades making up the wall, pull myself up and gaze through the slit. If I never see another terrible thing again in my life, I will still have seen too much for one lifetime after peering inside that damned henhouse. The room is huge, much bigger than ever could fit inside the henhouse. At the head of the room, standing on top of an altar, his head back, shrieking at the sky, is the rooster. His rhythmic shrieks are of an unworldly volume, emanating from its beak seemingly into infinity. Beneath and in front of him, in an ever expanding circle, are rows and rows of chickens, gazing up at him, meeting every crow with an accompanying cluck. The sea of chickens expands out as far as the eye can see, an endless expanse of white feathers, clucking in the name of a belief too terrible for this world. But this was not the worst part. I wish it was the worst part. At the foot of the altar, directly beneath the rooster. I can see the source of the sickly green light. A large, swirling portal of light on the ground, too bright to see through. Huge, feathered tentacles are rising out from within it, writhing in a sickening and erratic fashion. The underside of the tentacles are covered in beaks, all clucking in a demonic tone. And kneeling next to the portal, knife in hand, is Ted. He is shirtless and chicken feathers appear to be painfully protruding from his back. He brings up the knife and cuts his palm then holds it over the portal of light, droplets of blood falling into it. I don't know if I screamed. All I remember is the rooster abruptly stopping its cries and spinning its head to look at me. I look back at it. And for but a moment, I understand its terrible purpose, what it's trying to do. It's too obscene to contemplate for longer than a moment and as the thought leaves my mind the rooster speaks. Two sharp, shrill shrieks. I don't need to speak its language to know what it's saying. “Kill him.” Ted turns to look at me as well, and as I realise his eyes have turned to pure green, pandemonium ensues inside the henhouse. A barrage of clucks, cries and cackles as the uncountable number of chickens rush towards me, creating an impenetrable cloud of white feathers. I turn and run. I run and run and run and run and run, never daring to to turn around even for a moment. I run until the last miserable cluck has faded into the distance. I run until all I can hear is the breeze gently rolling across the long grass in the surrounding fields. And then I run some more.
I only stop running when I finally hit a road. I'm doubled over, trying to catch my breath, too exhausted to start putting my thoughts in order. Then there's a light. The light is getting brighter. I can't run any more, my muscles are on fire. I accept that it's over. The light is going to take me and I'll never be heard from again. Then I hear the car horn. I look up to a pair of headlights shining on me. It's a police car. I've never been so relieved to see police. Of course the police didn't believe my story. They figured I'd tried to run away, another delinquent trying to avoid the honest hard work of the farm They drove me back there the next morning. But it was gone. No buildings, no animals, the whole property was scorched earth. A faint, green hue emanated from the charred ground. The police tried to pin it on me but even they had a hard time admitting how a teenager would have been able to so thoroughly ravage such a large plot of land on his own. In the end, the county declared it an act of God. I think they were right. Just not the God they were thinking of.