“It’s time,” she said to herself, “there are far too many roosters; they’re attacking each other, eating too much feed, costing me money. It’s time.”

She dressed in her old torn and stained jeans, the t-shirt that wasn’t good for much more than being cut up into rags, and a pair of rubber boots. She drank what was left of her coffee, cold now and a bit crunchy with some grounds that’d snuck through the screen of her French press (this might be the country, but good coffee knows no class). Rinsing the mug and setting it in the drainboard she headed down the stairs and out the door.

She walked through the pasture toward the coop. There was a stump of oak in the ground from when the oak beetle had decimated her favorite tree. That stump had been eyeing her for weeks. Calling out to her. Whispering to her. She knew it was perfect for the chore at hand. Knew the minute the tree was felled and the stump appeared. With the rest of the tree cleared away and smoldering under a tarp a few feet away, there was nothing left but to make use of the stump. No other chores to distract her from the task at hand.

It was cruel to leave the roosters this long. It was no kindness making them live for her squeamishness, letting them peck and scratch and attack one another, spilling one another’s blood so she wouldn’t have to. It was time.

She found the ax out behind the barn, leaning casually against it, waiting right where she’d left it after cutting up the oak. The ax normally lived inside the barn, a little tool and tack room that protected the ax from the elements. But she’d been tired the other day, finished with the oak, preparing for the roosters. So tired. Too tired to put it away properly. Plus, she figured the roosters might see her with it and know what was coming. She didn’t want to spoil the meat. She didn’t want their last few days to be spent in fear.

Although how could a creature fear a thing it’d never seen before? She’d read a thing once, or did she hear it on the radio? She wasn’t quite sure. Anyway, it was all about how human babies who have never seen a snake or been warned about them can see the squiggle of a snake and are immediately afraid. Dern things have never seen a snake in their short little baby lives, but you show ’em a snake squiggle and they cry and cry for their mamas. Ever since she learned about that she’s taken more caution with things.

Walking the ax out to the stump she dropped it down in the weeds and mimed the actions to come: if she walked up to the stump this way with a rooster in her left hand, she could hold it down like this and…oh. There weren’t any nails in the stump yet. She’d forgotten that part. Leaving the ax in the weeds she went back to the barn and this time entered the tool room rifling around for a hammer and a couple of nails. Finding what she needed she headed back out to the stump.

Once again standing before the stump, she figured about where she’d need their necks and hence about where they’d need their heads. She drove the nails into the stump in a “v” formation. Once again she mimed out the process: she’d walk up to the stump this way with a rooster in her left hand, she could hold it down like this, slip it’s head into the “v”, pull the body back a bit to straighten the neck, then grab the ax with her right hand, like so, holding the body with her left hand like so, then a quick downward motion with her right arm, and… the stump didn’t move a bit as the ax hit it but the air resonated with the thunk.

She tried not to shudder. She could do this. She had to do this. “It’s time,” she said aloud.

Walking back to the coop she saw two of the roosters attacking one another, wings outstretched, leaning backwards, dancing on their toes. It could have been a mating dance if it weren’t for the sounds they were emitting and the occasional jump, dive, slash movements they did with their spurs. It would have been funny, two ridiculous animals fighting over nothing (she’d moved all the hens to a chicken tractor when the roosters became old enough to be a nuisance to them), if it weren’t for the blood they drew, the eye they occasionally removed, and the brutalization of the losers body that sometimes occurred afterwards.

She opened the gate to step into the coop and the parade of roosters watching the fight ignored her. The sparring partners ignored her. She knew it was mean to let them continue, but it was also the best way to keep the gawkers from flapping around like crazy as she tried to catch them. She quickly and without hesitation grabbed the rooster closest to her around the neck and swept him up into the crook of her left arm. Nobody stirred except the two roosters on either side of the gap she’d just created; they shuffled a little bit, closing the gap, eyes still locked on the two roosters intent on killing each other.

Exiting the coop she wondered why anyone would ever pay to watch such a thing. Her right hand still around the roosters neck and her left arm cradling his body, she cooed down to him hoping to keep him calm. It was no use, of course. His heartbeat had been wild from watching the fight, she felt it the moment he was in her arms. It hadn’t gotten faster since she nabbed him, but it hadn’t slowed since the scenery changed either.

She wondered how badly the meat would be affected by the fighting going on today. Was it even worth it to butcher these creatures today? If not today, when? Tomorrow would be another day of fighting, and the day after that. Plus, she could only butcher so many birds in a day and she had to kill all twenty. Or did she?

She had planned on keeping one rooster. She liked hearing their crowing throughout the day. Most people thought a rooster only crowed in the morning but it wasn’t so. The roosters crowed all throughout the day, several times a day. In fact, a week ago there’d been a full moon the likes of which she’d never seen in her forty years. It’d been so bright and so clear that the roosters had taken to crowing much of the night, too. That night she’d decided she didn’t need to keep a rooster.

Still. Maybe just one rooster.

That left nineteen to kill, gut, pluck, bag, and freeze. That was more than she could get through herself in a day. She thought she could probably get through ten on her own in a day…maybe twelve. She liked the idea of getting through more on the first day so she’d have less the second day. A mini-reward on day two, the reward of having to do less. If she kept one and killed twelve today, she’d only have to get through seven tomorrow. It would still be a full days work, but not quite so full as today.

Quick as she could she held the rooster down on the stump, stretching his neck a bit to get his head on the other side of the “v.” Quick as she could she raised the ax and brought it down hard. The thunk sounded more like a shlunk this time and the echo was a bit muted.

~~~That’s an hour~~~

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