Monday, June 6, 2016

"Deinokotópoulo" by T.R.Hart

   Two men stood side by side staring through the tall chicken wire fence at an unusual sight. 'Dang Jim', said the tall man, 'these have got to be the biggest chickens that I have ever seen in my life!' The shorter thick set man pulled off his glasses and wiped them on his lab coat. He checked for dirt on the lenses and put them back on his head. 'Yep,' he responded. 'These chickens weigh three times more, have a wingspan of more than a meter, and will lay a heck of a lot more eggs than any other chickens.' Jim pulled on his suspenders, snapped one and said, ' Harley, why these chickens would make a farmer like you a rich man in no time at all.'

   Jim and Harley loved to talk about chickens. They became friends in middle school after competing against each other in a 4 H contest for breeding the largest hen. Jim won the contest with Harley coming in a close second. Since that day they were inseparable, and they would become dedicated to one goal: bigger, better chickens.

   While attending High School, the boys worked together to win all the chicken breeding contests. Jim was the brainier and Harley was the brawnier of the two. The boys were often the objects of ridicule due to their particular pursuit, but since the day Harley's fist sent Chuck Jerkins to the floor in two seconds flat, no bully had the nerve to pick on them again. During these formative years in High School the boys began to ferment a partnership that would ensure success in their future.

   Harley never went to college, but gained the knowledge needed to run a successful farm. His father passed away leaving him a substantial amount of land. He worked hard and it paid off. Jim was never much for farming and left to study animal husbandry at some college out of town in the "Big City". The two men kept close contact via the Internet.
 Jim graduated with honors in his field. Although there were many more lucrative offers far away, Jim chose a fairly well-paying job close to his old town.  A house next door to Harley's farm went up for sale and within a month the two men were neighbors.

   As the years went by the two men became middle-aged bachelors due to their singular pursuit of chicken breeding. It would be rare to find a woman who shared their passion. Harley's thick crop of hair began to thin dramatically like his father's had done, and Jim's paunch had become greater partly in due to his job at the laboratory, but mostly because of his sedentary lifestyle. Still they talked about finding the perfect woman or chickens or both. Each weekend was spent in pursuit of chicken breeding though, and Jim was sure to get a laugh with the latest "chicken joke" that sent milk flying through Harley's nostrils. Their lives went on pretty much the same for years until the day that Harley, while plowing some new bought land, found something that would change their lives forever.

   The sun was starting to set as Harley was finishing his work when he noticed some bones popping up from the newly plowed ground. He stopped his tractor and examined one of them and knew that these bones were unlike any that he ever had seen before. He gathered up the larger of the bones and brought them to Jim's house that night. The two men spent a considerable time examining the bones and searching the Internet for anything that looked similar to their find.

   The two men searched the internet for hours until they found a bone that matched theirs. It was a small four-footed dinosaur (they called it a "quadruped") that probably was a plant eater and travelled in a herd like most grazing animals. 'Harley,' said Jim, ' if we found one of these little dinosaurs then there's a chance that we might find a "big" dinosaur too!' Harley scratched his balding head and thought about the business of digging dinosaurs and asked: 'Do you think we could make some money out of this?' Jim nodded and said that they would if they could find a rare dinosaur like a T-Rex, or something similar. Harley love the thought of finding "treasure" in his fields as farming was hard work with little profit. Even though they still talked "chicken", the conversations became more about "dinosaurs".

   Harley learned a lot about "Paleontology", the study of old life. He was a good    student, and Jim was a good teacher. Each weekend was spent combing the fields for more bones, and their efforts paid off handsomely. They were beginning to accumulate quite a collection of bones from the farm and selling them to fossil collectors.

   In a short time Harley and Jim became "expert amateur paleontologists. Both could look at a skull and tell if it were a meat or a plant eater, how tall the animal could've been by a vertebra or a leg bone, and even if it had feathers. 'Feathers!' said Jim, 'Harley, I'll bet these dinosaurs that had feathers were related to chickens!'

   Jim thought about feathered dinosaurs and chickens throughout the next day while working in the lab. He thought: ' If I could get some good DNA from one of our bones I wonder if I could put it in one of the chicken eggs?' A mixture of dinosaur and chicken DNA would produce the biggest and best chickens in the world, even bigger than those Brazilian chickens that they have been breeding for nearly forty years!'

   Jim kept his idea to himself for a little while, but he couldn't suppress his enthusiasm any longer with Harley, who noticed that their conversations about "chicken stuff" were become less frequent. Jim blurted out his secret one day while he looked frantically for a good bone. He finally came upon a leg bone that they had recently unearthed and held it up for a closer inspection. It was a predator bone, not a T-Rex, but a pretty big fella from an earlier time. He took the bone home that night and wondered how he could get it to the lab the next day undetected.

   Jim hid the bone under his pant leg wrapped in duct tape. He had managed to go unnoticed until Irma; the nosey secretary noticed his slight limp. He made up some lie that he fell or something, but that he was alright. At quitting time Jim stayed on a bit later, which was not unusual as he had no family to rush home to. Then he began the tedious task of extracting samples of DNA from the bone. After several unsuccessful attempts at retrieving viable cells, Jim had succeeded. He could hardly contain his excitement and wanted to shout "Eureka, I found it", but did not want to arouse any suspicion. Jim had injected a dozen eggs with Dinosaur DNA and placed them in a simple egg carton concealed in his coat. Who would suspect anything unusual as a carton of eggs? 

   Harley was awakened by banging on his front door. He got out of bed, put on his robe and opened the door to find Jim standing on his steps with a wide grin that seemed to reach from ear to ear holding up a carton of eggs for him to see. 'Hi Jim, I think I have enough eggs but thanks anyway,' he said.  'No Harley, these are "special" eggs. These eggs are gonna make us rich!' Jim was ecstatic with the knowledge that he achieved a scientific milestone. Harley was overjoyed by the prospect of leaving the drudgery of farm life behind for a more lucrative career in breeding dino-chickens even if he didn't understand most of what his friend was telling him.

   Jim apologized for waking his friend but Harley said it wasn't a problem since he would get up soon anyway to do his morning chores. While Harley milked the cows Jim painted a picture of their new life breeding dino-chickens and how everyone would want to eat them fried, baked, and broiled and maybe in dino-chicken soup. Of course, each egg would be so large that one could feed a family of four or five for breakfast.  After the chickens and pigs were fed they sat down to a breakfast of bacon and, of course, eggs.

   Not wanting to take a chance of their eggs being broken in the hen house, they decided to put the eggs in an incubator. Within a week they hatchlings were breaking through their shells and looked pretty normal. The men's disappointment in the chick's appearance began to turn the other way when they noticed some of them exhibiting strange looking physical traits. Some of the chicks beaks were growing longer and claws began to appear at the end of the wings. It wasn't long before those chicks "dwarfed" the others, growing taller, bigger, and looking more like dino-chickens each week. Harley and Jim were so busy building the chicken wire fence taller and taller that they didn't notice the disappearance of some of the chicks. The tomcat that used to hang around the farm seemed to disappear as well. It wasn't unusual for him to go off wandering for a few days but he always came back for a special can of tuna fish that Harley would give him twice a week.

   Of the original chicks hatched, only three hens were left and a rooster that they named "Tom". They were measuring Tom who stood over six feet tall (a good two feet taller than the hens), when he swung his head around and gave Jim a peck on the arm that left a mark despite wearing a thick winter coat. Jim let out a howl that frightened Tom for a second and Harley wrestled him to the ground. Upon examination the men were horrified to find that the bite mark revealed teeth! Harley improvised a muzzle for Tom from a horse harness but it was impossible to keep it on him. The good news was that the hens were laying eggs. They did not require a nest, but instead they dug into the ground, deposited the eggs, and covered them with dirt, hay, and excrement. Unlike the other hens, they merely walked away leaving them to hatch on their own.

   The eggs were larger than an ostrich's and their shape was more ovoid. The men managed to sneak an egg out and cooked it. Much to their delight it had exceeded their expectations. Harley was crunching the numbers. He wanted to know how long it took to lay the eggs, hatch other eggs, and raise the dino-chickens. Jim said he "wasn't so sure", but... he was "working on it".

   Tom had broken through the fence a few times, so Jim and Harley made a stronger and taller one. There were complaints about the neighbor's missing pets and the two started to become suspicious about their rooster. The one time that they had to chase Tom down and get him back in the yard was quite a feat. Even though he had gotten out before, he always came back. Tom was getting more ornery and stranger looking yet. He developed a menacing "hiss" when someone got near him that made him sound more reptilian than avian. His tail grew longer, and the feathers that covered them were small and sparse. His wings gave way to claws and he moved in a peculiar "stalking" manner. Harley became more concerned despite Jim's reassurances that Tom had stopped growing and that he wasn't dangerous. Harley's fears became reality on the day that Tom broke down the fence.

   While performing his early morning chores Harley noticed that the chicken coop was unusually quiet. He lifted his lantern up and around and was horrified to discover that the newly constructed fence was knocked down in one area and that Tom and the hens were gone. He looked left and right and up and down the area close by and was relieved to find the hens a short distance away kicking up the ground. He easily corralled them together and secured them behind the fence. He still had the difficult task of finding Tom whom he had become fearful.  Harley called Jim who was not home and left a message: 'Jim, Tom got out of the yard and I am goin' out to fetch him. Get on over here as soon as you get this message.'

   It was about five in the evening when Jim got home from work, retrieved the phone message, a rarity for this bachelor, and began to look for a syringe to put a tranquilizing serum into.  He remembered the size and ferocity of Tom and decided to take another just in case it wasn't enough. He was beginning to think that he was like Dr. Frankenstein with a creation that had run amok. He put on his heaviest coat, and in a split second, he ran out the door and squeezed into his pickup truck.

   Jim was flying down the road to Harley's farm when he spotted his friend standing in a field holding his rifle.  He yelled out the window to his friend who shouted back: 'Jim there's been talk that dogs and cats disappearing around town and that some kind of monster is responsible. We both know who that monster is!'

   He parked the truck on the hill and the two men began scouring the area looking for the wandering rooster.  'Thar' he is Jim!' On the top of the hill was strange looking bird-monster silhouetted by the setting Sun. They crept slowly toward the creature who eyed them with suspicion. Jim spoke in a loud whisper saying 'Come'ere boy" while concealing the syringe in his hand under his coat sleeve.

   Tom would have none of it and hissed loudly before violently grabbing Jim by his thick padded sleeve. He was being swung back and forth and let out a loud yell for Harley to come help. The syringe fell to the ground and was lost in the dwindling daylight. Harley aimed his gun several times but was afraid of hitting his buddy. Tom let go of Jim and just as he was about to claw him, a "crack" reverberated all around. Harley had killed Tom with a clean shot to the head!

   Both men were panting as they sat on the ground. Jim was full of sweat. How could this have possibly happened? Who would have ever guessed that they could be so successful at breeding a super chicken and for it to turn out so badly?  Jim was crestfallen but Harley took it in stride.  'We are OUT of business Jim,' he laughed.

   The rest of the chickens would die out eventually and the friends returned to their jobs, but still, curiosity gnawed at the prospect of what could have been. After feeding most of Tom to the pigs and burying what was left, Harley saved a bit of the meat... He invited Jim over for a meal and they sipped elderberry wine while "talking chicken". The meal was served and each of them took a bite of the rooster that almost had Jim for supper.  It tasted awful! 'Well, Mr. Scientist,' Harley teased, 'have you decided on a name for this species?' Jim thought a moment, chewed on the tough bird and said: ' I believe that the name "Deinokotópoulo" would be an appropriate name.' Harley laughed and said: 'what the heck does that mean?'
Jim washed the meat down with a gulp of water and said, 'Terrible Chicken!'



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