By this point in the winter the grass is yellowy-brown and sprawls out flat across the ground like a rug and gives way to feet with the same grudging consistency as a bed of twigs. A field of it looks like the coat of a massive sleeping Labrador, albeit one that dipped into a pool of mud and laid in the sun long enough to become caked with dirt. There’s always a few patches of green, for variety, and a few patches of naked ground, for the sake of erosion.
Few creatures can survive in this dusty environment. A dilapidated old Toyota pickup, maybe, its entire back end hauled away and replaced with a rickety wood contraption. A plow, rusted to the point of collapse, looking more like a piece of modern art than a tool for a purpose. A metal rain barrel, unraveled like a crescent roll, lying now in the grass like a coil with a serrated edge.
This property, long condemned and secluded from the rest of the world, hardly seems out of place on a Southern York country road. But it holds items of far greater significance than horseshoes and ferret holes. Here – tucked between a white barn and an old stone wall – is the strongest and slickest bastion of military chickens on the Eastern side of the United States.
It doesn’t look like much. As I stride up to the chain-link rampart and show my passcard to a brooding, burly chicken in black shades, my first impression is of how much this übermodern center of defense looks like a medieval peasant’s hovel.
Grass of any kind is not present here; the chickens long ago tore it up, so they could invoke their own peculiar kind of landscaping upon the terrain. (Sure footing is a must-have, a peppy tour hen with a mottled neck tells me, to avoid slipping and getting mud-soaked through to the bum while traveling the complex after a rain.)
The inner coop is painted with three fresh coats of chicken guano. The back of the pen is a nest of foot-high trees and pricker weeds, unnavigable to a human being.
How this seeming pigsty can call itself an opulent center of military might continues to be a mystery. But that is not the point.
(If it were the point, I would tell you that the pen’s viscous flooring grants a hellish uphill battle to invaders, that the foliage and prickers conceal a vast network of tunnels, and that chicken dung is an excellent bullet repellant and bomb retardant. Nothing in this fortress does not serve to protect it, and give it its immunity to all kind of thermonuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. Moving on.)
There was a murder. That is the meat of this story. A somber, vanilla-white chicken with a huge comb and a low coo of a bawk approaches me and brings me back to the scene of the crime.
Sgt. Clooney lies sprawled across a nest of prickers, wings are out and bent upwards. Its legs lie flat, and the palms of its feet turn upwards towards the sky. Its face is frozen in one, final, shocked and tortured expression. Feathers are piling on the ground below it.
“She was hit patrolling in the middle of the night,” the chicken next to me explains. “Didn’t make a sound. We didn’t know what had happened until the shift changed.”
Not a sound? Well, what’s that horrid expression, now set in stone with the magic of rigor mortis, of an utter, unabated, animal scream?
End entry one.