Shelling Out

Outside the prison the sun drew back its nightly shell, presenting its golden yolk and restoring warmth to the world. It was a crisp, clear morning, but inside the high metal walls of the prison it was balmy and thick with a miasma of sweat from the inmates. Columns of greenish light filtered in through translucent ceiling panels providing an ambience that made everything look pale and sickly.

I squatted like a bloated corpse in my cell, which was one of many strung out in rows across the prison. It had been a hot and sleepless night and now hunger grew fiercely in my stomach as the rabble of my fellow prisoners, who were likewise feeling the pain, began to sporadically complain. I pecked madly at some lice but was disturbed when the enormous door rolled open with a great clatter of metal on metal, outside the searing light silhouetting the disciples. As my eyes adjusted I spied the patch of lush green grass; I saw it everyday but it never lost its attraction. I sometimes imagined scratching about there for worms as long as my neck and lying about in the sun.

The noise of my compatriots rose to a feverish pitch the moment the disciples entered; they were dressed in their usual blue overalls with the sacred sign painted yellow on their chests. I squeezed my head through the bars and watched them as they approached each cell, dropping small quantities of offerings in our bowls. We were forty thousand tiny fertility gods; imprisoned, helpless, yet worshiped like the very sun.

Soon one of the disciples reached my prison and poured my food before me just when I thought the hunger would drive me insane. I did not wait, I could not, and I plunged into my offering with a chaotic frenzy reserved for the starved.

Eventually my pace slowed as my stomach settled. I heard the others around me calm also and the sound of feeding was replaced by a shallow bubble of conversation as neighbours conversed freely. I was contented to join in the chit-chat, discussing the new arrivals across the aisle with my neighbours; there was precious little else to distract us from the daily boredom.

While we were distracted with feeding, conversing and bickering, the disciples returned as I knew they would. It was the same every day: first they fed us, then they stole our future. I determined that I would not let it happen again, I would not let them take my egg.

I heard the periodic clash of metal as one-by-one the prison doors ahead of mine were being opened. It was followed by the indignant clucking and pitiful ‘buerkkkk’ as the inmate’s eggs were stolen.

I shuddered with fear as the cell door next to mine slammed open, I closed my eyes. I would NOT let them take them. They were mine! A few seconds later my door opened and I let them have it.

I pecked wildly, but ineffectively, at the disciple’s hand as it searched my cell. I clenched my backside over my little egg but the hand swatted me aside and grabbed it. I swore and pecked again but to no effect. It was too late, my egg was gone. Like all the others before, my loss was acute and I could not contain my despair. Beurkkkkkkk.

With the burglary complete a number of the disciples gathered in front of me, in the open space between the aisles, and began to talk in their low chatter. Then, after some time, I watched them with interest as they created a roughly circular enclosure from some empty boxes and whatever they could find. I knew what was coming, and a mixed feeling of dread and awe filled my mind.

Two prisons, like my own, were brought forward, only they contained two impressive and handsome-looking cocks. The first was a broad and muscular, red brute who looked as though he had seen a fight or two. The second was a white and slender youth, he had a feistiness about him that suggested he might be a threat. As they were brought out of their cages, but still separated so that they could not see each other, my fellow sisters (including my self) launched into manic clucking and rattling. I ran my beak along the bars in uncontrolled excitement; it was not often that we saw boys, especially ones as handsome as these two. I prayed they would look my way.

The feathered gents, who still had their spikes (inmates were otherwise clipped of these primal weapons), stamped and scratched about indignantly (though they would lose their civil and proud demeanour as soon as they saw each other). When cock meets cock there can be only one outcome: total war.

The disciples, who were now standing around the enclosure, began to wave small pieces of paper and they offered them to a high priest, presumably signifying their choice of one of these two strutting gods of war. In return the high priest gave them a small note with his scratch mark emblazoned on it.

With the ceremonial part of the event completed the boards, which had been separating the two, were removed and for a moment the two warriors paused and simply eyed each other; I shrank back into my cage. Then, in a flurry of feathers, the larger of the two struck like a dagger. He launched himself high into the air with his claws raking forward, he came down upon the smaller and more youthful male. Blood flowed freely as the spikes left their mark across pristine white feathers; the boy was far from done however.

Flapping wildly and screeching he rolled aside, his claws in the air raking savagely at the red giant. Again blood arched through the air. At this riposte the human onlookers, who clearly had feared that it would be a short and one sided battle – in the red’s favour, cheered with obscene pleasure, punched their tickets in the air. It was a good fight.

Enraged by the insolence of the young cock the red male lashed out again but this time failed to make contact, the youth was quick and easily retreated. Seeing an opportunity as he fell back, he feinted right then leapt to the left and swiped a savage claw, catching a red wing and tearing a deep gash.

The red was now the worse for wear, though he still had a few tricks left; I’d seen him in many fights and he was not one to resign to fate. He backed up and moved slowly swaying a little. Thinking he had victory in sight the white gave a great crow and strutted forward, but that was where his inexperience let him down. The old and wily cock made a surprising recovery and launched himself high and came down on the neck of his opponent, forcing him over. Now in control he slashed his opponent’s eye while it tried to recover. The white rolled free but screeched horribly running around madly. All was lost, the old general again striking hard, opening wide a fatal wound in the white’s neck.

I could not watch further, I knew how it ended: The red would peck and scratch till the loser stopped moving. Peck! Peck! Peck! I felt sick, I regurgitated some of my grainy meal. It was a horrible end for a young, brave warrior.

Gradually the sound of the disciples died down. Some returned to the high priest to collect more papers, the others dispersed returning to their duties around the prison. Soon, all fell quiet and most of us fell asleep as the day turned into evening.

I fell into a dream of an open field, the kind I remembered from when I was a chick, the sun was warm upon my neck. In the long grass I could hear my brothers and sisters, my mother was calling. I weaved my way back to where she waited, near the big old shed, and raced under her legs. I was quickly joined by the eight other warm little bodies all vying for the best position. I felt safe and happy.

Later that night I awoke from my dream disoriented as I heard the prison door rattling down the aisle. I pushed my head through the bars to get a look but all I could see were a number of shadowy figures darting about. They raced from cage to cage opening doors as they went. Within a few minutes they had reached my cell and flung the door open before I’d even had a chance to assess what was happening. I froze too afraid to move, if I looked out the cage I fully expected a rough hand to shove me violently back into my cell.

Here was freedom offered to me by a mysterious hand, yet I could not move. My recent dream of my youth echoed through my brain and urged me forward when I thought I could not. I shuffled to the edge and looked down, many of my sisters had already made their bids for freedom; I could see them squirming in the shadows below.

It was only a short drop to the floor, so I closed my eyes and in a rare leap of faith (for I had little trust in it), I let myself fall forward. I tried to flap but my wings had been clipped and I fell like a stone to the floor. My flabby mass bounced at first but then slid across the bare, cold concrete, coming to rest a few feet further into the aisle.

I looked about and I saw with horror what I had not realised from my cage; no one had moved more than a dozen feet, nor were they going to. We had lived our entire adult lives in these prisons and gradually had lost the use of our legs. I watched my sisters swimming about like beached whales and looked longingly and sadly towards the great door which stood agape into the moonlit night.



  1. Fabulous and heart rending, well written Martin!

    • Thanks ozquilter ! Stay tuned for more soon!

  2. This is great Martin. Well written, and great use of the word Miasma

    • Thanks for reading Lachlan and for the comment – yeah gotta love that word!

  3. ehehe, nice one. However I think I would prefer to read it as a story about humans that reveals the reality at the very end. it would make it more quirky and interesting.

    • Hey thanks for reading Pawel!

      The story was written for a short story competition and the theme was “birds”, but I like your idea! That would have been funny.

  4. Excellent concept, well executed, especially the end. Some sentences could use some tweaking, but it wants for nothing else.

    • Thanks for reading Al and for your kind comment. If there is something you feel I could change please let me know and I will rework it. Thanks!

  5. Hey,

    Nicely done!

    • Thanks Steve, this one had some love and attention poured on it 😉

  6. nice work martin can’t wait 4 the next story 🙂 😦

    • Thanks Jini 🙂 :O Maybe you can read next time!

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