Nex To You

Words || Zoe Knowles

Jerry snagged a feather in the muggy breeze. His costume, once white, was now soiled with dirt and blood, and balding in places where it had got caught on trees. He twisted the little feather around his fingers. From where he was waiting, crouched behind a blow-away shack just up from the small string of shops at the end of the cul-de-sac, he watched the queue of people curl up the road from the entrance to Ray’s Butcher. Wednesday. Delivery day. 

His headpiece – a round hen head – rested on the rotting tree stump beside him and a sack of mud-balls hung from his shoulder. He shifted his weight, feathers bristling; the clouds puckered overhead. 

The NEXT van – “NEX” as in chicken necks and “T” as in terrible, tragic, traumatising but also, and in this case, the “T” in the bold blue logo of “Nex-To-You” smeared across the side of the van – delivered fleshy hunks of bone direct to the people of West Flick, the forgotten sinkhole on the skirts of town. Never mattered how late it came, they still waited. 

He heard a loud rumble: possibly thunder and possibly the crowd of hungry stomachs.

A flat-thin woman hurried past Jerry’s hiding place, tugging the brim of her hat down.

‘Stop!’ he squawked. 

She looked at him with strung-out yellow eyes and doubled her pace. 

‘No, come back. Fight the urge!’

Damn addict. She was on her way to Ray’s. They all were. Because despite the outbreaks, despite the drought, despite everything – they still wanted it, even when all they could get was a pale, stringy piece of a poor bird’s spine. Jerry had to be the only person left in the world who didn’t eat meat.

Another rumble: a growling engine.

Jerry reached for the head of his chicken suit. As the NEXT van swung around the corner, he shot forward, a stream of feathers trailing him. He reached into his sack for a mud-ball, cutting his finger on the busted nail that stuck out from it. He flung it at the van. Then another, chasing the wheels that burnt up the belly of the road. Glass smashed. He flapped his arms.

‘Bastards!’ 

The van stopped. 

‘Filthy shitbrains! 

He hurled another mud-ball. 

The front doors bust open and two men slipped out, their wild yellow eyes narrowing in on him. Saliva dripped from their cracked lips. The men were on him faster than he could turn and sprint back to the shack. One clamped down on his beak, choking him; the other grabbed his arms and clipped the fake wings together with a zip tie. The stench of dirty ice and raw bones clung to the men’s hands and made Jerry’s eyes water. 

‘Look at the size of it.’ 

Jerry kicked out his legs, his shout sounding like a desperate cluck.