by Jacob Warn
This article may be disturbing to some readers, particularly if they are meat-eaters.
To understand my story, you have to understand my perspective, which is, currently, about as dark as you can get.
Blind, bald, skin-seethed, dead.
The action began just three hours ago, although life stretches back six whole weeks. I’m partial to a bit of Aristotle, so I won’t bore you with the pre-story, only this:
I liked the film Chicken Run, especially the pie-scene. The sadistic bastard that showed it to us must have been having a laugh, though. I blame it (and him) for all my future misconceptions.
Six weeks felt like a lifetime – it was a lifetime. Especially when you don’t know anything different. There were rumours, of course. We had a cock who claimed he’d known a chicken that had lived ten years. That’s five hundred and twenty weeks! But who am I to complain. six weeks is six weeks. Better than not living at all, right?
But we must get to the action itself.
It began at night. Everything was quiet as we settled down to sleep in spite of the heat and the stink. It’s painful getting comfy at first, as the burns on your legs and feet become irritable. The excrement, the culmination of two weeks-worth of digested food offers some comfort. The ammonia that the dung produces has wrecked your windpipe, but by concentrating long enough, your shallow breathing slowly becomes regular.
But then, in the dead of night, men came pouring into the barn, shouting, braying, clapping. My neighbours scream back, flapping to get away. A fox in the house. Then a great noise. A beast of seven tonnes enters the enclosure, and – look! – chickens in front of me are whisked away. A tornado. It doesn’t take long. The Vacuum2000 can notoriously suck up 7000 chickens in one hour. Waves of white birds are taken, the percussive sound of bone-broken body hitting metal tubing rings in my ears, only moments before I too am snatched, whisked along. Into darkness. Up a chute. Then slammed into those with whom only moments ago I shared the thick, parched air of the enclosure.
The next nine hours pass in a haze. We are moving, somewhere outside, fast along a motorway. It’s freezing. And wet. Blood stains my feathers – not my own, but that of others around me. I call out for food, for water. Nothing.
The next thing I know is I’m being manhandled, hoisted, and then – pain. Pain, pain, pain as my ammonia-burnt legs are squeezed by rubber hands, twisted and split open, gashes rip through right to the bone. The sores burst with mucus and, then, before I know it, I’m vomiting and soiling myself. The man who holds me doesn’t like this, no, not one bit. He hits me on the side of a metal wall. I craw. I flap. He tugs my wings and spits in my face. Then my legs slip into iron locks – not clean ones like those in the film I’d seen – but rusted, bloody ones, where I rub up against the wings of birds next to me. They lie there, motionless. Perhaps already dead.
My head falls down; my eyes see the floor. There, chickens lay sprawled, dead and alive. A man stoops and stuffs them into buckets. ‘This one’s too small,’ he says, looking up at me. I shriek. He rises, a great hand with feathers, gummy blood and shit stuck to it. He grasps the unconscious one next to me, piling her on top of the fidgeting corpses of others.
With a jolt, the conveyor begins to move. I twist my head, see what’s coming, and realise the worst. A long bath awaits me. One by one, chickens enter, flash blue as electricity pulses through the water, their heads, and their legs, forming a connection with the iron manacles on our feet. They flop down, sagging, limb, breathing.
But there’s hope. I watch as several chickens further down the line hold their heads up, missing the water, remaining conscious. I try to follow their example, doing just as they did. But I mistime it, for just a moment I graze the water. Volts charge through me, not enough to paralyse, or stun, but by God enough to hurt. Then again, what does God care? Man has this right over animals. Course.
My very bones are chilled by what I see next, the necks and heads of my comrades incised, leaking red juices. Trails of blood cascade to the floor. That lucky number that missed the bath: some dodge, some get cut, the latter screaming out in pain – at their own self-inflicted folly. But they all disappear, and now I’m the one struggling to miss this neck-cutter. Still upside down, still conscious, I raise my head, darting to the side, avoiding its metal blade, and then I too am thrown into darkness. The machine stops. Silence. Nothing but the rhythmic tap of blood for ninety seconds. One or two chickens cry out. Someone moans gutturally. It was me, I think. Blood swirls beneath.
Those seconds passed and we rattle off. My eyes burn as we enter the light. Then a metallic rasping as the iron greaves open and chickens start falling into huge metal containers of seething water, a chicken’s Charybdis. As they fall in, their skins are burnt, rent; layers of parched skin reel up and disintegrate. Tufts of skin and feathers whirl about. This is all about making it easier for the pluckers next door.
Even I’m helpless to avoid this molten, molting fate. I wish for death. I wish only now that I’d let myself lose consciousness in the water bath. Instead, I am thrown into this boiling hell. All shrivels up, then it goes dark as the heat explodes my eyeballs and warm blood seeps out of their sockets. This continues far too long, and the pain is indescribable.
And after all this? After the bath is drained and my twitching carcass is plucked, as the vestiges of life trail out of me? I am dumped here, underground, wood laid on top of me.
They’d found a bird with avian flu. The bastard. And chucked away the lot. Now, here I lie, in pieces. Skin gone, eyes gouged, my burns burnt, my feathers torn.