a short story by Rich Glinnen
Tom the turkey wasn’t chicken, but he’d welcome the moniker any day of the week; never shied from the ridicule of the more malicious turkeys that felt vestiges of grandeur. It made it all the easier to shred them, dress their bits with mayo. In front of his victims’ flapping kin he’d gorge past the point of sustenance—gnash their slippery flesh and damp feathers alike—while on-looking minute brains shorted and panicked talons kicked up dirt.
Tom’s burps were the scent of his targets—the leaden gas tumbled over the mourners like mist, and without shedding intensity, voyaged past them, headlong to the distant hillsides. Tom felt heartburn listening to the trailing forlorn gobbles, as the cortege chased the specter of their deceased ancestor across the knolls.
Mr. Hellmann was tired of having his name tied to this turkey.
It was gravy in the beginning. Out of the blue Hellmann’s company was worth double from the previous quarter. His numbers guy saw a surge in rural sales but hadn’t a clue what caused it.
“Why can’t I see it?” Floyd asked of his cold, remorseless computer screen, “What’s the answer?” His unyielding self-imposed torture appeared in facial contortions and twitches; veins grasped the edges of his temples and contoured his jaw as if his head were a giant eyeball. Unable to find solace that night, he thought it wiser to start fresh in the morning and thrusted his head through the computer monitor.
It certainly irked Floyd, but not good ol’ Hellmann. “Much mayo being sold” was all he needed to know.
Profits were soaring through the roof. Every roof Hellmann owned, in fact. But since mayonnaise was being bought at such an alarming rate, they had more than enough in the budget to mend the roofs on each and every Hellmann rooftop whenever profits shot through them—which was daily. The foremen would suggest Hellman install a retractable roof of sorts, so that further damage could be avoided.
“Nonsense,” he’d respond, “money is no object!” And then he’d pelt the builders with balls of hundreds until they patronizingly retreated to their van, shielding their heads with clipboards and pausing every few feet to snatch up the ill-used cash.
But now, not one quarter later, Hellmann’s signature condiment was tantamount to the curdled flavor of turkey death. Paparazzi flashed incriminating photos of cannibal turkeys (for the collective community, not being turkey experts, thought all turkeys have taken up this ghastly fad) feasting on their brethren; and whether they ravaged in the dirt beside a chain-link fence, or dined upon a red and white checkered table cloth donned with silver cutlery, a jar of Hellmann’s bore witness to it all. As well did the consumer’s eye.
The profit-sized holes in Hellmann’s roofs would remain unpatched.
“They’re our new skylights!” Hellmann would bullshit, but his employees weren’t buying the performance. They’d shuffle off back to their desks, suddenly realizing how shabby their computers were (especially Floyd). Concerned for losing their jobs, the Hellmann’s personnel would scour LinkedIn for mayonnaise sales positions and promptly leave at five to work on their resumes.
After everyone left, Hellmann would stand under his crumbling roof and search the stars for answers, only to feel the merciless chill of the night, like a colossal bankrupting monster panting on him.
At home there was nary relief. Hellmann would receive prank phone calls all throughout the night—people calling him the “Hell Man”, “The Turkey Fuhrer”, “Don Drumstick”. He couldn’t prove it, but he felt it in his bones that it was that prick Heinz.
Ketchup was selling at an all-time high since mayo was sullied by a “cannibal turkey outbreak”, or as Heinz knew it: “Tom’s campaign”. The public—outraged and betrayed that an established American company they’ve known their entire lives could promote turkey cannibalism—collectively tossed their mayonnaise into the gutter and swapped it for ketchup.
Heinz had no complaints. He sat at his desk, smothering his face with money, reveling that his precious bills still had the faint trace of mayo clung to their fibers from when the pendulum of profits instead swung in his competitor’s favor.
He could kiss that bird on the mouth. And he did.
Every 15 minutes past the hour, in fact, Heinz’s bright red wristwatch would exude a subtle alarm resembling a palm patting the underside of a glass ketchup bottle, which reminded him to get up from behind his computer, stretch his legs, touch his toes, walk over to Tom, and kiss his beak. He’d suck on it sometimes too if the profits were especially obscene that particular day. Heinz’s gray head would bob and crank in gratuitous eroticism, and Tom would purr, eyes half-closed in contentment.
When their meetings concluded, Tom would hop off his chair and waddle out the door, a stack of hundreds under each wing. Life was comfortable for Tom, but he felt like something was wrong.
“Yeah, I don’t know, Duck. I haven’t really slept much these past few weeks,” Tom reluctantly confessed, a wing rubbing the back of his head.
“Busy at work?” asked Duck behind a yellow legal pad. He desperately tried to scratch some notes, but all the psychiatry diplomas on his walls, each having been officially counterfeited by the Barnyard Psychology League, would not change the fact that he was a duck, incapable of manipulating pens, among most other objects. “Or do you think you’re starting to feel remorse for murdering senselessly?”
Tom bolted up from the couch. He had to admit, sometimes he was a bit bird-brained. He hadn’t thought of that before. “Remorse, yeah. That’s a good point, Duck.”
Duck found himself gnawing on the corner of his notepad, thoughtless—suspended in mental limbo. Eventually he became cognizant of his catatonic chewing and watched his patient, whose name presently flew the coop, pensively pace in circles whilst gobbling to himself.
This went on for what felt like minutes, which is an eternity for a duck (plus Duck was hankering for some of that soft bleached bread that aged humans would toss down at the park), so he called it: “Ok, um…sir, that’s all for this week.”
Tom halted his lapping, astounded at how quickly these therapy sessions went.
“I think we made a lot of progress today,” Duck said, ascending from his recliner.
“Thanks, Duck,” Tom said, extending his wing to shake Duck’s. They tried coordinating their wings in order to grasp the other’s (“Easy now. Ok, now move yours a little further this way. Damn it, you stay still and I’ll come to you”), but neither one could manage an embrace, so they both flapped their wings and squawked in frustration for a couple minutes.
When the feathers and tempers settled, Tom realized a few of his hundreds that he kept tucked under his wings were also on the floor. He waddled over to pick them up, but Duck had already seen them. Thus far, it was a mystery to him as to why Tom was murdering his own species, but now it was coming together.
Concerned by the racket, Pam, the water buffalo, peeked into the office: “Everything ok in here?”
Duck reassured Pam and requested a few more minutes with his patient.
A crisp hundred-dollar bill was presented before Duck, stiff as a cadaver. He couldn’t take it, just as Tom couldn’t manage eye contact.
“Tom,” Duck started, but Tom knew where his long-time therapist of six years was going with this. And damn it if he was going to let anybody tell him his business.
Throwing his wings in an uproar Tom exclaimed, “I can’t be bothered with this horseshit.”
“There’s no horseshit—Stanley Steamer came last week and cleaned it up!” Agent Orangutan’s howling still echoed through Duck’s office; the tragic cast enslaving his hind leg, his bemoaning of never racing again, the abrupt and incessant excretion—it still stayed with Duck.
“You know what I mean, goddamnit!” Tom vehemently flung the bill towards Duck’s desk like a playing card, which twirled and floated in the air, until settling on the rug beside the desk.
The pangs of confrontation lead Tom to the door, but his departure was halted when Duck asked: “Is this blood money?”
Tom—still, silent, but quivering within.
Again, he asked, “Tom, is someone paying you to kill turkeys?”
“Don’t ask me that, Duck.”
“Please. Please don’t,” Tom pleaded, unsure of how he was going to react if pushed too far.
Duck, ever-familiar with Tom’s temper, thought it better to trust his intuition; he knew from Tom’s reaction and shameful countenance that the money was earned with filthy deeds. It leaned against Duck’s desk, slanted like a slide.
Tom was a dormant volcano—muted and unable to move. How he pined to peck at the door, which would signal Pam to open it, but there he remained, held fast by something, unsure if it was good or evil.
Duck approached the cash, but his waddling disturbed the air and caused the hundred to collapse flat onto the rug. He quacked furiously under his breath. He tried prying it up with his wings, “Come on,” he asked of the stubborn money.
Tom collected himself and turned around to see the cause of these frustrated murmurings. “Just use your beak, Duck. It’ll take you all day that way.”
Duck tried paying his patient no mind, but absentmindedly he sniped, “I don’t know where this blood money has been. It’s not going in my mouth.”
Tom proceeded to erupt.
Pam was hired by Duck right after he started his practice. In his mind, she was essential to any potential success he may accrue, for it was her curved horns that gave her the unique skill—at least in the animal kingdom—to expertly manipulate doorknobs. “Without her we’d have to reinstate our open-door policy” Duck would announce over martinis at charity balls, despite Pam’s blushing and urging him, “Please don’t.”
As a consequence of being Duck’s sole door-opener all these years, she’s seen and heard a lot—probably more than a water buffalo should. But nothing like what transpired during Tom’s final appointment with her generous, kind-hearted employer.
Raised voices were to be expected from time to time during sessions, but after they prolonged, and especially after they bizarrely escalated to gagging, she had to once again impose.
Pam lowered her head to the height of the custom-made doorknob: a bulbous affair the width of a cheesecake. An expert twist of her neck unveiled Tom the turkey foie grasing Duck with a stream of hundred-dollar bills.
“Fucking eat it. Eat it you quack,” Pam heard Tom grate from gritted beak. She’s never seen such contempt lurk in an animal’s eyes before. She froze for a moment, petrified at the evil before her, for the talons, wings, and snood belonged to a turkey, but the eyes were those of the devil himself.
“Take it, quack.”
Pam commanded her trance to cease and, without a boon of warning, rammed Tom as hard as she could into the leather couch. The fuss flowered into a shroud of feathers and money, shading fallen poultry and water buffalo. Pam left Tom gasping for air on the couch and darted to Duck’s aid.
A bouquet of cash sprouted from Duck’s mouth as he lied there motionless, neck bulging with currency, flippers akimbo—Pam prayed she wasn’t too late. She clumsily batted the bills from Duck’s beak—once or twice hoofing her employer in the kisser, but nothing worse than what he endured moments earlier—desperately digging a clear airway, ignoring Tom’s intermittent gurglings behind her. At last the bouquet was reduced to tattered petals, which encircled Pam and Duck—multitudes of Ben Franklins gazing fish-eyed at this peculiar scene.
Duck still wasn’t breathing, but Tom was still percolating, which instinctively emitted a rear kick from Pam, skewing the couch and silencing Tom. Peering into Duck’s maw, Pam gauged a faint floor of green at the back of his throat that her massiveness would be incapable of dislodging. But Pam, having successfully completed a CPR course at Cowhill Farms three harvests ago, (an authorized counterfeited receipt of her graduation was in her purse—”God knows where though”) knew Duck would be fine, for her size was not a limitation, but advantageous when it came to compressions.
“I’m a chicken,” Tom admitted.
He didn’t care anymore how pitiful or vulnerable he looked. A fork, blinding and barbed, pronged his path of life. For some time he was quite capable (and content) keeping stagnant; to busy himself with the merciless doings of his daily life—keeping their nature of morality undefined by way of random gobbling and sudden bursts of flapping, and Heinz’s perverse stimulation—was the perfect distraction to avoid undertaking the dreadful divide before him.
“Tom,” the Honorable Judge Porkpie said, “it says here you are not a chicken.”
The quest for cash he never needed, nor spent, the hustle of butchery—it lubricated the hours of a bleak and lonely life. The mirthful and inviting gobbles of yesterday, overheard from his roost, were tainted and replaced with mocking squawks, that bragged in Tom’s direction, “Our lives are, and will always be, happier and better than yours.” Life’s truths were apparent now—the world was a cold place, and he was destined to suffer alone.
“Tom? Do you hear me?”
How quickly it all went wrong. The first time he snuffed life it was by accident.
Franklin the turkey stood dumbfounded once again by the water pump, taking in clouds. Tom, judging correctly that Franklin had nothing better to do, decided he was the perfect partner to assist him in consuming his new-founded discovery: four walnuts. He gluttonously scooped all four of them near the entrance of the farmhouse and now, concerned that he would choke, urgently shuffled towards Franklin. Simple Franklin was paralyzed in fear at the sight of a frantic Tom, face hideously bulging, mouth chocked with something (he did not know what, but the unknown frightened Franklin more than anything), a cyclone of black wings adding gusts to his rushing. “Surely this swarthy buzzard has come for my life,” lamented Franklin.
Tom felt his saliva building and lubricating the shelled nuts, and as he neared Franklin, the walnuts neared the back of his throat. With one final push he was close enough to the wide-eyed Franklin and, with immense relief, heaved the walnuts. They sprayed wildly (along with copious amounts of spit), damping the ground, rocketing off Franklin’s startled face, as well as the water pump.
“What’d I do to you, Tom?” Franklin’s voice forecasted tears, for he was both physically and emotionally wounded.
Unbeknownst to the fowl, the water pump proved to be an efficient nutcracker, evident by a split walnut lying at Franklin’s talons.
“No, no, Franklin, I didn’t mean anything by it. I swear. They’re treats. I think Belinda dropped them on the way to the Big House.” All the animals on the McCarthy farm called where the humans lived the “Big House” on account it was the biggest house they’ve ever seen.
Upon conveyance of this heartwarming news, Franklin forgot the aching in his eye and in his heart, and felt camaraderie for his treat-bearing friend, Tom.
“Thanks Tom,” Franklin said, gratefully, and then promptly collapsed into the mud.
Following Franklin’s fall, all the animals on the farm deemed Tom a murderer—his former friends’ accusations swarmed him like bees. He’d watch the rain slide down his windows, confounded that water could fall from the sky, but this mysterious precipitation streaming down to the sill was replaced by the seething tears of Franklin’s kin; the thunder, resentful outcries: “Chicken! How could you stone one of your own to death with walnuts? Franklin never did anything to anyone! Damn you, chicken!”
“Tom? It is ‘Tom,’ isn’t it?” the judge inquired, his patience swiftly fleeting.
Soon, Tom sprouted his own tears, for it seemed the only one who knew he meant no harm was himself. In everyone else’s eyes he was a walnut-pelting, sharpshooting, sonofabitch (Belinda would later learn from the veterinarian that Franklin’s demise was due to anaphylaxis, resulting from a severe peanut allergy. She never did forgive herself).
Each dawn foreshadowed a dreadful night veined with a predictable remorse that magnified each nightfall. And then, amidst these morose isolated weeks, the sun gave way to a gargantuan copper moon; this lunar beast, coupled with the eerie stillness that was scattered throughout the sprawling farm, birthed a foul creature that clambered from the muck and cast a shadow upon Tom’s abode.
Tom expected a midnight mob of barn-dwellers, pitchforks bobbing in torch light, thirsty for vengeance. It was instead Heinz dwarfing his egress, tapping “Shave and a Haircut” with a butter knife on a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
Tom remembered how relieved he was back then to be smiled at; to have someone, anyone, show him a lick of kindness. But now, reliving the memory, he was astonished he could have ever trusted those glistening teeth of Heinz; those arrogant eyes like crescent moons, detecting weakness, the white jar of mayonnaise glowing like caged fireflies in the pit of the night.
“I don’t have time for this,” the judge reminded Tom from a distant land.
Closer and closer Heinz neared; Tom could scramble back no further into his corner. He pecked his walls as hard as he could, causing his dwelling to cough clouds of dust, hoping the aged boards would give way. The sound of Heinz’s feet scratching the floor like a record skipping; a sadistic giggle mingling with his dumb ketchup-bottle-patting ringtone emanating from his baggy, ill-fitting jeans. (Heinz would later listen to the scathing voicemail left by Hellmann, denouncing his childish prank calls, “I know it’s you, you rat bastard!”).
The walls bowed but held firm. Heinz and the jar were upon him, bigger than life itself, but then something miraculous happened. Rather than hearing Heinz’s serpentine pitch again about how he’s “heard marvelous, just fantastic things about you, Tom. You have a gift for death, my boy. Yes, you do.” Instead of hearing Heinz unravel his phony mayo treatise (in hindsight he felt it didn’t really add much to the turkey, especially considering the added calories), Tom heard nothing. Every solitary sound was sucked from the room, and Heinz started to shrink, little by little, like he was drifting off into the frigid abyss of space, toppling head over heels until a pin, a distant star.
The jar of mayonnaise, however, did not make the intergalactic journey, nor did it shrivel. It was an earthly size, on a shelf with a dozen other earthly-sized mayo jars, located in the aisle across from the deli counter at which Tom presently worked.
The audio clicked on. At first, he heard the faint crackle of Whitney Houston confessing she “needed to dance with somebody”. And then—
“Tom, I just need a half-pound of Land O’Lakes American—are you listening or what?” Judge Porkpie said flatly. A wise boar, calm with knowledge and experience, knew very well that he only achieved God-like status in the courtroom. But at the deli counter he was just like any other customer: at the mercy of their seemingly mentally-defective employees.
“I’m not a chicken,” Tom proclaimed, chest and underwings slicked with sweat. A lone boar stood quizzical before him.
The judge exhaled. “That is correct, sir. Now please, my cheese.”
Tom finished his talon-smarting day, chocked with hoisting and slicing bricks of meats and cheeses to the liking of various impatient ticket-wagging patrons (“Yoo-hoo, I’m next! Excuse me!”).
The daily grind was not something Tom was going to get used to quickly. Everyday on his walk home to his new suburban condo he contemplated quitting a la shoving an ungrateful geezer’s jowls into the slicer, as he did currently. But the fantasy quickly faded just as he passed the dim storefronts reflecting his limping image. The life of an assassin was behind him.
Maybe he’d get used to it, he thought. He never knew he’d ever get used to the thrill of being a killer, and yet, here he was, trying to disconnect his brain from the habit, to trounce the bridge in his mind for, if not for his own sake, the sake of humanity. But now life must go on. He’d commit to getting accustomed to what he was now: an informant and honest deli worker (at least according to the Witness Protection Program).
It’s been months since the trial, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t see Heinz’s glare, those sunken dark-ringed eyes, and those venomous long white teeth chattering “chicken” from across the courtroom.
Tailing that memory: the “Psycho Therapy Session”, as the Post put it. He missed his therapist, and former-friend, Duck. His typically expressionless dotted eyes recognizing the change within himself burned like cigarettes whenever Tom remembered. How he hurt him. Tom knew he’d lost Duck’s friendship forever while it was happening, but he simply couldn’t help himself.
And the gaggles of turkeys he’d massacred—they, too, circled the carousel that flashed and jostled in his mind. Round and round it went, unrelenting, each revolution becoming clearer than the previous one.
Tom stopped walking. He resolved his wandering mind caused his talons to stray once again, as he found himself shivering in front of a flickering Colonel Sanders.
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