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The End

The janitor opened the new bottle of cleaning solution and placed it on top of the control panel that monitored the huge stainless steel mixing tub. He got out his cleaning rag and poured some of the cleaning fluid on it. He began to clean the surface of the monitor with one hand and placed the bottle back on top of the monitor with his other hand. Because he was in too much of a hurry, the bottle was placed too near the rear edge of the monitor and fell over into the large tub of corn that was to be ground up into meal for the chickens at the four experimental research farms. The janitor realized that it fell over into the tub and reached over to pick it up. He got it before too much spilled onto the corn. He put the top back on the bottle and went back to cleaning the monitor. When he finished, he checked the area to see that all of the trash receptacles had been emptied. This was the end of his shift and the morning crew would start arriving at any minute. He pushed his cart back to his closet and went over to the time clock to punch out.

The shift supervisor was always the first to arrive. He liked his job and strove to be an asset to the company that owned this small feed mill. Experimental feeds for domesticated animals were a complicated but necessary job these days. Everyone was concerned about growth rates and efficiency, but at the least cost, so the supervisor always kept abreast of the latest developments in his field. He said his hello’s to the janitor who clocked out just before he clocked in. The janitor was in a hurry to leave so the supervisor waved and turned to enter the mill room. By the time he entered the control area, the slight spill was unnoticeable on the surface of the corn.

When the rest of the morning shift arrived and got ready to start work, the small spill was undetectable. They added more grains to the corn mixture that filled two thirds of the grain tub. Wheat and barley were the main ingredients, but there were some minerals added as well. When the mixture was of the correct proportions, the grinding process began. The grains were ground and mixed at the same time. It was thought that the moisture from the grinding process would help to bind together the main ingredients when they were pressed into pellets that the chickens would consume. After the mixture had been ground and mixed, it moved to the pelletizing machine. From there it was bagged in fifty pound sacks and loaded onto a shipping pallet and shrink-wrapped. Then it was tagged for shipment to each of the four experimental farms. After several hours, the tainted feed was on its way to each of them.

After a week had passed, the first experimental farm had begun using the new batch of feed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. By the second week, all of the farms had started using the feed, but the first farm started to notice a difference in the growth rate of their chickens. The scientists there began to report unusual weight gains to the company. The third week brought reports of weight gains by all of the birds at all four farms. By then, all of the feed had been consumed and a new batch had been sent to all four farms.

Although the chicken breed selected was large, in just a two week period, the birds had doubled their weight and were an inch taller than the maximum recorded height of the breed. At the end of a month, they had grown to an incredible four feet tall and were gaining daily in musculature and aggressiveness.

The scientists at all four farms noticed that because of their extreme growth rate, the chickens were beginning to change the way they looked. The first farm noted that the birds were beginning to lose their feathers. Their skins were toughening up and beginning to scale. The scientists began to realize that the chickens were starting to mutate into something different. The original project had been scrapped once the birds were beyond the normal size. But there was a new interest in the mutants because of their meat-bearing potential. A few of the scientists had doubts about the usefulness of the change though. As it happened, their doubts were justified.

The roosters of the experimental group were exhibiting the fastest growth. The combs on their heads were slanting backward somewhat like that of certain kinds of lizards, giving them the appearance of lizards. The hens did the same but with smaller, less pronounced traits. All of them, though, had become more aggressive and were eating more than expected.

The scientists at the first farm decided to kill one of the birds. They thought that a necropsy might show the reason for this incredible change. When they shot one of the birds with a tranquilizer/poison, all the other birds gathered around it and protected their fallen coop-mate. They all became agitated and aggressive when a farmhand came to get the body. They wouldn’t allow him to approach it. Because it was early evening, the scientists decided to wait overnight to let the chickens calm down.

When the next morning came, they entered the coop area to discover two very disturbing things. First, at some time during the night the chickens had torn a large hole in the back of the coop. They had all escaped into the forest that surrounded the farm. The other disturbing thing was that the chickens had buried their coop-mate in the ground outside of the coop. These appeared to be signs of an intelligence increase happening to them.

At first the scientists weren’t worried about the escape because they thought that the chickens would starve in the wild. It was winter-time and they had no food or shelter. But after a week, reports began to come in about discoveries of slaughtered wildlife in the forest around the station. Forest Rangers speculated about the tracks surrounding the kills. The few they found were of a creature with three toes in front and another in back. The creature stood erect on two feet. When they eliminated the possibility that poachers had done this, they thought that some kind of large reptiles were killing the animals. Whatever did these killings was indiscriminate about what it killed. It killed predator and prey alike. All were torn apart and eaten efficiently, even the bones. And yet another disturbing fact was noted. The latest kills were exhibiting evidence that the killers were trying to hide their tracks.

In two weeks time, the animals kills were becoming harder to find. The tracks were no longer to be found, and even the blood traces of their kills were gone. It was as if the wildlife just disappeared. When two of the forest rangers never returned, an alarm was put out and the scientists notified the authorities. This was getting out of hand.

An investigation showed that the probable killers were a mutated strain of chickens that had escaped into the wild from this experimental farm. The other farms had killed all of their chickens when the news got out about what happened. The mutants from the first farm had begun to multiply their numbers at a very fast rate. Their metabolisms were very quick and they matured quickly. The hens had begun to lay many eggs at a time. After several months, only a few of the birds had been tracked down and killed. Seemed as if each encounter taught the birds to be more cautious and they were very highly intelligent. And their numbers were becoming legion.

The latest kill of this mutated bird showed a creature that was more reptile than bird. It had a short beak but its head had increased in size to carry a larger brain and larger eyes. It’s wings had changed to include a sharp spike at the wrist and fingers were starting to grow. It still had tail feathers on an elongated tail that helped it keep it’s balance while running. It was now about seven feet tall. It’s color was a mottled gray that blended well with the shadows in the forest, but later necropsies showed that the creature was developing the ability to change its color to blend in with its surroundings, something like a chameleon. But the most disturbing fact of all was that this creature had chosen humans as its prey of choice.

Once the order went out to exterminate this new species, they seemed to scatter and they kept a low profile. It was learned that they were pack hunters and lived in groups of twelve or more. That meant that they had to hunt for groups of people instead of the singles they’d preyed on before.

In time, these creatures became man’s number one threat. With each generation, they became smarter and they learned quickly that humans were dangerous too. The scary part was that they had developed the ability to speak to each other with a common language.

One day, a beachcomber found what looked like a floating nest washed up on one of New Jersey’s beaches. Later investigation showed that this nest was really an ingenious raft. The materials woven into it were native to Europe only. The wood was from a kind of pine found only in the South of France. DNA tests conclusively proved that the birds had made a raft-like device and had moved to another continent. By the time these discoveries were made, the birds had begun to spread into America. Soon after, people began to disappear without a trace.

The End

Jim Hall

Fayetteville, United States

  • Artist
    Notes
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Artist's Description

Sometimes we should just let well enough alone. Seems as if we’ve learned nothing from the fate of Prometheus. The Gods have proven to be jealous ones.

Artwork Comments

  • KEZMO
  • Jim Hall
  • Alison Pearce
  • Jim Hall
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