Stank Hens by the hundreds used to hang out in Skitty Coot swamp years ago, when the swamp was waterlogged and lush and full of algae and lily pads and reeds. But the swamp dried up in 2006, and now the Stank Hens only number in the dozens. Some say these are the only Stank Hens left in the world.
Some say the best time to go Stank Hen-sighting is in the fall. Fall is breeding season, and the Stank Hens are bolder when they’re randy. I say the best time to go Stank Henning is in springtime, after the 7-month gestation, right before they lay. See, in the fall, when a Stank Hen is bold and randy, it moves fast. Come May, the hens are slow ‘cause they’re full of eggs or nesting. They don’t wanna move, so if you sneak up on them, you can get a good look.
The trick is to get a good look without getting pierced. That’s what they do when they get mad. They charge you and pierce your solar plexus with their beaks. Nobody knows why they go for the solar plexus. It might be because it’s smack dab in the middle, and aiming for the middle gives them a good shot, like aiming for the center of a bullseye.
Now the reason everybody around these parts is so keen on looking a Stank Hen in the eye- Stank Hens have a magical quality. Some call it superstition. Skitty Coot natives know the hens are whorish and trashy-looking, and it’s said that any single person who can look one in the eye for ten seconds will be blessed with a faithful, respectable husband or wife. Kinda like yin and yang. Staring down a Stank Hen is like staring down the basest, most despicable temptation of married life. If you’re already married and look one in the eye, you get a similar benefit, just not as much.
Now I’ve been single for quite some time, but I’ve got my eye on somebody who makes me get all hot and bothered. But I hear rumors about my love. Bar-hopppin’. Street-walkin’. I don’t know if these rumors are true, but I’d rather play it safe and look a Stank Hen in the eye before I declare my love and get all emotionally attached and messy.
So that’s what I’m doing with my bird-dog Bonum in Gallinule Forest at the edge of Skitty Coot swamp bed. We have a backpack full of rations to last us a couple days. Just before dusk, me and Bonum bed down for the night, make ourselves quiet and still, and blend in with the dried grass and brush. I figure by morning, any Stank Hens that saw us move in will have forgotten about us.
The stars are bright, and the air is alive with all manner of cheepers and peepers, but we eventually doze off . .
I open my eyes and the sun is on the opposite side, behind the trees. Bonum is still snoozing- I hear her softly snore. Early morning is feeding time for the hens, so I’m just about to rise and-
That’s the sound a hen makes- vertebrae-grinding and tail-twitching- I dare not move my head to see just yet . . out of the corner of my eye I see Bonum, and she’s awake with ears pricked, but not making a sound . . such a good dog. She’s got good instincts.
The hen is closer . . I keep my head still and dart my eyes side-to-side . . where is she? I can even smell her stankiness and . . she must be right above my head. Cripes.
No choice now if I expect to look her in the eye- I slowly roll my eyes up and back and tilt my head back and back and . .
I see her. Upside-down. She’s crouched down and jutting one leg out to the side, wobbling it round and round. That’s what they do just before they charge. Like a wind-up. I fix on her blood-red eye and she gives me the most evil, hateful look you or me or anybody ever did see and if I could just focus on her eye for ten seconds-
I shoot upright as she charges me and I take a leap forward and catch my foot on a vine and do a flying somersault and land on my back again and-
The devil Stank Hen is on my face and her talons dig into my cheeks and I press my arms tight over my eyes and she dives into my solar plexus with her beak, stab-stab-stab-stab-stab–
Muddy, stinky brown feathers are flying everywhere and I scream and Bonum got scared off but now she’s back and barking like crazy and . . now the Stank Hen is gone, thanks to Bonum. She’s such a good dog.
I don’t know if I looked that Stank Hen in the eye for ten seconds. It felt like ten minutes, but you know how people lose track of time when they’re about to be gored by a bird.
My cheeks are pierced, but not really bleeding. But my solar plexus is bleeding. Gushing. That hen went deep.
The only thing that can save me now is Bonum. She’ll know what to do. She’s got good instincts.
She slinks up to me, gives a whimper, then a bark. She licks my gaping chest wound with her big, sloppy tongue. She hasn’t had any water from our rations since last night, and now her saliva is thick and mucousy. It’s stopping the flow of blood. I just need to lie still and wait for the goop to coagulate. Now that Bonum knows she can scare off a Stank Hen, we’re all set. I’ll rest here on the edge of the swamp bed while the sun is out. Tonight Bonum and I will make the journey home.
As with all my flash fiction, constructive criticism and comments are welcome.