The rooster's name was "Pecker," and I wasn't sure why Pecker, exactly, but it seemed to fit. The Donaldson boys had snuck him home a few weeks before, when they'd taken him from their grandfather's farm. The neighborhood kids had adopted him, but we'd all kept quiet about it, certain that our parents would take him away.
The rooster was already half-grown, and it was getting harder to hide him. The Donaldson boys, Jay and Fred, took to clucking around the house at all hours of the day, to convince their parents that those strange noises they'd hear at late hours of the night was only them (as far as I knew, Pecker hadn't ever crowed, but then, he was still young.) To be safe, and to shut the rest of us up, they passed Pecker around to the other boys and let us take care of him for the night. It was my turn, and they gave me the bird for the whole weekend, the first weekend of the summer. Jay met me at seven Friday night, when it was almost completely dark, and gave me the bird.
"You dig up some worms for him?" Jay asked me.
"Yeah, I got a ton of 'em," I said, and took the bird into my arms.
"Okay," Jay said, "remember, cluck a lot, so your mom and dad don't figure out you gotta rooster, and feed him every day, and I'll come back Sunday night."
"Okay," I said, cradling him in my arms. Pecker squirmed as I held him, and he freed a wing and flapped so hard a feather fluttered off.
There was only an hour to bedtime, so I had to move fast. When I got home I walked past the kitchen window and heard the clink of dishes and rush of tap water. This would be easy, mother was still cleaning up, and father was out of town for the weekend. So I slipped in the back door and ran to my room, then put the rooster in the closet with some worms and water. He had about three feet of space, enough to get around until bedtime, when I could let him out. Then I went out to the living room, clucking.
"Cluck, cluck, cluck," I said, lolling my head from side to side as I wandered through the hall and to the living room.
Mother walked to the door of the kitchen and watched me while she dried a plate. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"What?" I said. "Oh, clucking."
She nodded. "I see. Well, thank you for clearing that up."
"Sure mom," I said, and turned on the TV, then flopped onto the couch. Mom, you see, had a light sarcastic streak, which at ten years old I didn't quite understand.
"So, why were you clucking?" mother asked. She stood in the door, wide-hipped, big-boned and imposing.
I stopped flipping through channels and looked up at her. "Something to do," I said.
"Oh," mother said, and walked back to the sink.
Soon after, my mother sent me off to take a bath and away I went, clucking like an idiot, "cluck, cluck, cluck," my mother sighing behind me. After she'd tucked me into bed, she asked if I wanted a story. I was worried that the rooster would start making noises and that she'd hear him, so I said no, and she turned out the lights and closed the door as she left.
Then I got up, pulled Pecker from the closet, and put him on the bed. He strutted about like it was his own barnyard, like he was king of the castle. That's what the Donaldson boys had said, "king of the castle," and he did act like one, strutting and jerking his head from side-to-side.
I didn't dare turn the overhead light on, but I had the night light, and some light from the street lamp, and for half-an-hour I played with Pecker, petting him and watching him march back and forth.
Then the rooster began to puff up like he intended to crow, and I panicked. "Shush," I said and waved my hands. "You have to be quiet." I don't know what was going on in Pecker's mind, but he did shush, and my ten-year-old mind decided that somehow that rooster brain of his understood the gravity of the situation.
I put the rooster next to me on the bed, and put a hand towel over him like a blanket. The rooster liked to sleep with people, Jay had said, and I was delighted by the idea of sharing my bed with the neighborhood pet. So I snuggled in next to my new friend, and could feel the rooster's head jerk around, as he looked from side to side. "Go to sleep now," I said, and closed my eyes. I figured the rooster would get the idea and sleep if I did it first. I lay still, on my back, then turned over on my side. As I began to drift off, I felt something scratch the back of my neck. I thought a mosquito had bit me, so I swished at it with my hand. Then something stung my hand, and I turned around. The rooster was pecking me. "Ow," I said. "Stop that."
But the rooster didn't care, he just pecked me again. And again. And again. And the name Pecker began to make sense.
"Stop it," I hissed, and shook my finger at the bird. So Pecker pecked that too. I got out of bed to avoid the bird's beak, and wondered what I should do. Maybe he was hungry, I thought, so this time I turned on the night light, went to the closet and pulled out the bowl of worms and placed it in front of Pecker. I watched him dip his head several times and eat. Eventually, Pecker lay down on the bed, and I decided he wanted to sleep now. So I put the worms away, turned out the light, and crawled under the covers. I lay on my side, away from Pecker, tense from the thought he might peck me again. But he didn't. Instead, I felt him rub up against me, and I smiled as I fell asleep.
During the night I felt something dig into my back, and my eyes half opened. But I was dead tired — after all, I'd had a full day of play — so I ignored it and went back to sleep. Later, I felt a lump under me, and I opened my eyes. I was on my back, so I looked around for Pecker. I couldn't see him, so I sat up, to see if I'd pushed him off the bed. I didn't see him at all. I yawned and decided he was under the bed, and though I knew I should get up and look for him, I was too tired. So I lay back down, then sprang back up and out of bed, my heart thumping as I squashed a scream. I slapped one hand over my mouth as I turned on the lamp with the other. There on the bed was Pecker, and he was dead. I had rolled over in the night and killed him.
Just a few hours before he was a living, breathing rooster, pecking the back of my head, and now he was dead. Guilt and grief consumed me. How could I be so awful to kill a rooster? I had just rolled over in my sleep and smothered him. What a horrible way to die.
I clutched my head as I thought through all this, and when I'd calmed down, other thoughts rushed in. First, what do I do with him, and second, what do I tell the Donaldson boys? How do I explain that I'd killed the neighborhood pet?
I looked at my clock and saw that it was four o'clock. It was still dark outside, but I knew my mother would be up in a few hours. I looked around for a box, something to put Pecker in. I found a shoe box in my closet and dumped my baseball cards out. I was worried that my mother would hear what I was doing and burst in and see my guilt spread out over my sheets, so I moved slowly and cautiously. I approached the bed, and looked down on Pecker. He looked horrible in the throes of death. I gritted my teeth and reached out to pick him up. He was limp now, when just a few hours before he was lively. I was afraid he would suddenly come back to life and peck me, but I also hoped he would. I felt the feathers tickle my palms as I reached under the bird and picked him up. I carefully placed him in the box, and took one last long look before I closed the lid.
I knew I couldn't sneak out of the house without getting caught, and even if I could, what would I do? Besides the fact that creepy ghoulies might get me, I'd probably get lost out there in the dark. I decided to wait until morning, so I slipped the box under the bed and got back in, not thinking about what might be left in the bed from the dead bird. I slept badly, and when daylight came, I crept out of bed still tired.
I quickly dressed, then slipped out the door, in hopes I could get out before my mother found me. But of course, I ran into her in the hallway, and her large frame blocked the hall. She was in her bathrobe, and she looked down at me as she yawned.
"Where you going?" she asked.
"Outside and play," I said.
"What's in the box?"
I was caught. It was a direct question, and I was never good at lying to my mother. She always knew when I did. It was over.
"A dead rooster," I said. I expected hysterics.
"Oh, that's nice," she said instead, and ruffled my hair. "That would explain the clucking noises. Well, don't go far, we'll have breakfast in a little bit."
"Okay, mom," I said, and watched her waddle down the hall to the bathroom. I stared after her, stunned. Was mother insane, I wondered? Or was she senile? It was several years before I knew she thought I was kidding.
Now I was clear, and I ran from the house to the woods in the backyard. I found an old, half-rotted log, and I dug a shallow hole with the heel of my foot. I put the box in the hole and placed the log over it. Then I kicked some dirt and leaves around the log, and ran back inside.
Now all I had left to deal with was the Donaldson boys. I knew they wouldn't tell on me, because then they'd be in trouble as well. But they might still hold a grudge. I was miserable all weekend, alternating between guilt and fear, until Jay came back Sunday night for his bird. I explained the whole mess, sounding as upset and guilty as I could.
"You stupid moron," he said, "you killed Pecker. What'd you do, fart on him?"
"You farted on him didn't ya?" Jay was red-faced now. "Fart boy. You farted on Pecker and killed him. Fart boy. Wait'll I tell everybody you farted on Pecker and killed him." And Jay ran off yelling, "Fart boy, fart boy."
The neighborhood boys delighted in calling me "Fart Boy," all summer, but more from fun at my expense than anger at my guilt. And I did feel guilty, even without their help. Things calmed down when school started, and everybody eventually forgave me, because after all, it was an accident, but "fart boy" became my nick name, and it followed me through high school, where I was known as the "slayer of roosters" until graduation day, when I was able to leave the city and my reputation behind.
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