The reflective calm of Sunday gave way to apocalyptic dread as I stepped onto the patio at the break of dawn Monday. The magic rooster had staked out his position beside the coop and was facing me defiantly. Taking in a deep breath and drawing back my shoulders, I met his gaze and we began a silent battle of chin raising and chest thrusting. It was clear that yesterday’s thoughts of peaceful coexistence were folly; there were political and metaphysical forces at work here that were clearly beyond our control. Mutual admiration be damned; this was war, and war is hell.
Although The Silencer would likely be available at this early hour, I had already determined that The Bowfisher should be given a shot, metaphorically and literally. I thumbed a message to his dad that Romeo was in the kill zone. My phone buzzed at precisely 3:20 that afternoon to let me know that high school was letting out, and the quiver was prepared. Alas, it was with a mixture of regret and relief that I had to respond that Romeo had once again vanished. The chicken had honed his senses to a razor-like edge. This scene repeated itself for several days. Romeo and I would do our dance until around 3:00 each afternoon, at which point he would disappear, slipping into a neighboring yard… or perhaps another dimension.
I’m not sure whether the rooster let his guard down or got his courage up, but the game changed that Thursday. At 3:15, I spotted him entering the large hedge to the east of the chicken coop. How could I have been so stupid? He hadn’t been leaving every afternoon! He was hiding in the shrubbery! I quickly reached for the phone and sent the text. Within 10 minutes, The Bowfisher arrived, weapon in hand, dad in tow. As promised, the bow was a serious device: camouflaged, compound, and equipped with a string line and retrieval reel. We developed a battle plan: the kid would hide behind the camellia bush, while his dad and I circled around and approached from both flanks in a classic pincer movement, flushing the enemy out of the shrubbery and across the path of the hidden bowman. This sounded great on paper, but as it turns out we were in the real world, where things happen really fast. On my way to the northeastern flank, I made the tactical error of trying to document the situation with my phone’s camera. The eagle-eyed chicken, who had of course spotted the camouflaged bow, took advantage of my miscalculation and high-tailed it in the opposite direction. Picture, if you will, two fifty-something men and one teen archer chasing a chicken across a large lawn, their battle plan dissolving to panicked chaos as the bird bobbed and weaved out of arrow range and towards Gray Street. Characteristically, he stopped at the road’s edge and did not cross. Turning left, he headed north, around a tree line and into the neighbor’s driveway. I followed and got a glimpse of him as he ducked behind a car, then vanished. Somewhere on the other side of the tree line, the other two humans were engaged in all manner of shouting and frenzied running about. I scanned the dense tree line for any movement.
The escalation that followed is forever seared into my memory as a series of rapid-fire images. A sudden movement … a flash of red to my right … an open gate … a wooden fence … an empty yard… a thought: “What will my African-American neighbors will think if they see this old white guy running around in their back yard?” … “Where is the chicken? WHERE?” … another neighbor’s disembodied voice shouting from next yard: “He’s up there!” … my foe perched proudly on the corner fencepost, poised to jump into his choice of four properties.
He calmly looked back over his left wing at me and, with a quick hop, disappeared. He was headed west. Shouting this to my team, I slipped through a gap in the fence and back into the tree line, hacking my way through the thick brush sans machete. I emerged into Mrs. Holmes’ back yard just in time to see him dart around her house, toward Spring Valley Road. Rounding the corner into her front yard, I found myself facing two bloodthirsty hunters and a very nervous rooster.
Now I wouldn’t blame you for not believing this next part, but I have witnesses. The bird was surrounded on three sides, with me to the north, my team to the south, and Mrs. Holmes’ house to the east, with only Spring Valley Road between him and freedom to the west. We slowly began fanning out to block his only escape route. With measured steps, Romeo matched our pace. Of course he stopped at the curb, looking both ways before stepping cautiously into the street. Without warning, The Bowfisher broke into a full sprint in an effort to seal him off. The chicken panicked and began uttering profane clucks and chirps as he darted back and forth looking for a way out. Instinctively, my training kicked in. All those junior high basketball drills came back to me in the form of lots of lateral shuffling as the two of us ducked and weaved for an embarrassing length of time in the middle of Spring Valley Road. One might think it was the thirty-eight year gap in my training that put me at a disadvantage, but it was not. It was my lack of ability to fly. At first, I kept pace as we sprinted west, but then the magic chicken began furiously flapping his wings and one again lifted his scrawny body into the air.
Not a single arrow had been used. The Bowfisher hung his head in shame and his dad began making excuses as I tried to catch my breath. We were pathetic.
It was Saturday before the rooster had the nerve to show his comb on my property again. Surely he must have known the fate that awaited him if he returned, but I think he wanted to say goodbye to Lucy regardless of the risk. I had no choice. The time had come to call The Silencer.
Apparently, some hit men don’t fit the movie stereotype of Jean-Claude VanDamme-like self-discipline, preferring to sleep late on Saturdays. Nevertheless, the groggy voice seemed eager to pull out the big guns. What must have been three bowls of Fruit Loops later, The Silencer finally showed up (hypothetically, of course) with an AR-15, modified for subsonic .300 Blackout rounds and complete with silencing suppressor. Such a rifle would allow him to assault a chicken in a very violent manner without waking a single neighbor. Of course, the magic rooster had once again thwarted our plans and beamed himself up into chicken neverland.
In a shockingly anti-climactic twist, the rooster has not returned since that morning. More than a month has passed and the girls are once again laying at optimal capacity. We can only guess what happened to Romeo. Some speculate that he was beheaded by a hawk; others think he was eaten by a coyote. One thing is certain: no human could have ever killed this bird. Deep in my soul, a part of me believes he is still out there; that Lucy told him the story of the weapon she saw that day and begged him to never return. Maybe one day we’ll meet again. Until then, I salute the rooster who has gained my eternal respect.
Well played, Magic Chicken. Well played.