Annie pulled the huffing and puffing 1965 Ford F100 truck to a shuddering halt on the gravel shoulder. Steam poured from the overheating radiator, the engine wheezing then with a metallic bang, it fell silent.
She slapped the steering wheel in frustration.
Wrenching the door lever did nothing. She shoved the stubborn metal with her shoulder. It reluctantly gave way on squealing hinges and she slid off the sweat soaked seat, dropping to the harsh Georgia pavement. Waves of heat blasted from its shimmering red surface as though the highway was built over an exhaust vent for Hades.
Annie started humming “Highway to Hell”, then stopped with a chuckle when she realized the tune.
Pulling a stained kerchief from her pocket , she wrapped it around her hair, bandana style, to ward off the heat of the late afternoon sun. She grabbed a grubby towel from the back seat before slamming the door shut with a rattle of loose metal.
She ambled to the front of the truck, wrapping the towel around her hand and searched for the clasp to spring the paint less hood. It jumped from her hand and with a shove she raised it into the air. Steam bubbled from the radiator like Old Faithful with a fist full of tourists gaping.
Groaning, hands on hips, stared at the mess. Swiping a hand across her beaded brow, she walked to the back of the tented truck and flipped up the loose tied canvas. In the back crates housed five Lakenvelder roosters, her pride and joy. They clucked at her with tilted their heads, waddles swaying.
Annie lifted the cages one by one and carried them over to a black gum tree sharing the side of the road, the temperature dropping several degrees in the thick shade.
Transport of the cages complete, she peered up and down the rural highway. Not a car was in sight. She studied a sign post examining her options. Calhoun, her destination, was still seven miles away. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and examined the signal strength. One lonely bar showed. Annie shoved it back in her pocket, wishing she had remembered to put a roaming package before she left Ontario.
Judging by the angle the sun would set in under two hours. Not one car had passed her in the last hour. With a sigh, she pushed the driver’s seat forward and pulled out a pup tent she carried for an emergency.
The roadside climbed gently to a ridge dotted with black gum. Tall grasses grew along the edge of the road and up the slope. She could hear a stream burbling, its course meandering under the bridge up ahead. She had camped in much worse places while trucking her prize roosters to poultry fairs around North America.
She settled on a more or less level spot fifty feet off the road. She pitched her tent then hauled the chicken crates to the tent. She spread chicken feed around her tent and opened the cages. The chickens strutted out and began to peck at the corn. Scratching in the grasses, they gobbled the bugs they disturbed.
Annie, water skein in hand, wandered off to the stream to fetch water for the chickens. The brook was about ten feet wide with a shallow rocky bottom. As she dipped her skein under the water she heard faint shouting. She studied the stream banks but could not spy a source for the noise. Capping the skein, she walked back up to her campsite.
As she reached her tent, her rooster Rudy gave a deep-throated warble and flapped into motion, running straight for the road. The others, seeing their leader take running flight, bolted after him, warbling in response.
“No! Come back!” she screamed, running after them.
The roosters burst from the tall grass cover and onto the middle of the road as a police car rounded the curve sirens flashing. The cruiser swerved to avoid the chickens, skidding to a halt behind her inanimate truck.
The chickens disappeared into the tall grass.
The state trooper donned his iconic hat and ran after Annie. Annie ignored the officer.
The chickens flapped down an overgrown,long abandoned lane way, weedy vegetation flourishing in the stony soil. They came to an abrupt halt at a hole in the ground and clucking happily, pecked furiously all around the depression.
Annie heard the officer yelling at her to stop. Annie halted beside her chickens, panting from the hard run. At her feet rotted boards scattered the ground. The boards were broken, exposing fresh wood to the elements. In the middle of the discord was a black hole, the depths unfathomable from where she stood.
Sunflower seeds lay scattered around haphazardly, the chickens greedily pecking them up and gulping them down.
The officer caught up to her, hand on his weapon as he approached.
“Did you not hear me ordering you to stop?” He panted, approaching her cautiously.
“Yes officer, I apologize, I didn’t want to lose sight of my chickens.”
“It is against the law chickens to cross the road in Georgia.”
Annie stifled the laugh stuck in her throat.
“You have a LAW against chickens crossing the road?” with a disbelieving stare.
The officer puffed out his chest. “In fact, we do. The fine is five hundred dollars for a first offence, payable immediately.”
Annie opened her mouth to retort but was interrupted by a child’s cry. Annie dropped to her knees, crawling towards the opening in the ground.
The officer heard the cry too. “Wait, don’t get too close to the hole. It’s an abandoned well.”
“Yes, I know.” She inched forward spreading her weight evenly over the ground.
Two people ran out of the trees at that moment. The woman was ruddy faced, curly hair plastered to her face. She was screaming about her son. The man stopped spying the hole in the ground as Annie crawled towards the lip.
“Our son wandered away from our homestead” he waved vaguely in the direction where the old lane way disappeared into the woods.
“We haven’t been able to find him!” He held a Braves baseball cap in one hand. “We found this down by the stream. Amanda” he gestured to his sobbing wife “called 911. Have you come to help find him?”
The trooper shook his head “No, I was responding to a different call when this ladies’ chickens ran in front of my cruiser.”
In the silence between words, a cry came from the dark abyss.
The woman shrieked and made to dash to the well’s edge but the officer grabbed her. “If you run over there you will collapse the rest of the boards on top of your son. You may kill him.” He handed the woman over to her husband and he closed his arms around her.
“Stay put, while I get rope from the cruiser.”
Annie listened but did not turn around. She concentrated on her crawl to the edge. Reaching the broken rim, she felt a tug on her pant leg. The officer had returned with a flash light and a length of rope which he looped into a lasso on one end.
She took the flashlight from him, turning it on.
She shot the bright beam into the inky blackness. A dirty face peered up at her eight feet down the smooth sided shaft. He was standing in six inches of water, shivering.
“Hi, my name is Annie. What’s yours?”
“Jacob” he hiccupped through dried tears.
“Are you hurt, Jacob?”
“No.” he stuck his thumb in his mouth. “I can’t get out.”
“Ok, this is the plan. I am going to lower a rope to you. I want you to put it around your back and under your arms. Can you do that?” He nodded.
The officer fed her the rope, wrapping the end several times around his torso and bracing himself on a log.
Annie lowered the rope down into the hole. Jacob scooped it up and put it around his back and under his arms.
“Now hold tightly to the loop. Do not let it slip out from under your arms. We will pull you up but you need to walk up the wall as we do so. Ok?”
The officer walked backwards, tightening the rope and pulling the boy from the well.
Jacob’s feet slipped on the walls, clinging to the rope as he was pulled up out of the well. Reaching the horizon, Annie leaned forward and grabbed him by his arms, hauling him out over the edge of the rotted boards.
He popped out of the well and was dragged past her over onto the grass, where his parents fell on him, checking him over.
Annie inched her way back from the edge and sat up.
Her chickens were gone. They were back at the campsite, finishing the last of the corn.
I decided to depart from my usual idiom based post and share a short story I wrote, to answer that burning question of “Why did the chicken cross the road.” I hope you enjoyed it.
Enjoying my quick stories? Never miss a post again! sign up now and have my latest blog post emailed directly to your inbox. You will know the instant inspiration strikes, both for you and for me! Sign up now!
Don’t want to clog your email? Consider sharing on your favorite social media 🙂 After all, who doesn’t need inspiration?
Join the newsletter
Subscribe to get our latest content by email.