Minnesota, had a thriving population of 2500 very happy people
and six old grouches living there year round. During the summer
it swelled to three thousand folks and only because Ridgeway was
founded on top of a famous Indian burial ground was there any
interest at all. Students from the nearby universities came and
worked in the interruptive center and played out daily the supposed
lives of the great settlers that founded this town over two hundred
* * *
two old men stood in the middle of Main Street at high noon and
looked in all directions. There were hardly any vehicles on the
street and damn few people walking from shop to shop; it was basically
dead as usual.
know Bill, what we need is a shot of excitement here, something
to make these sleepy heads wake up and smell the coffee, as it
youre right, Tom. Whats on your mind?
was thinking that what we need is to somehow capitalize on the
fact that we were settled by pioneers. You know what I mean, Bill?
Intrepid souls with nothing to lose and everything to gain by
going out and laying claim to the land. Fearless, hardy souls
with steel in their spines and able to withstand the daily hardships
thrust at them by nature. True blue, dyed in the wool pioneers
that this berg hasnt seen the likes of in a long, long time.
Jorgensen was on a roll and he knew it. His thin arms gestured
wildly as he explained his idea in great detail to his friend.
contest! He almost choked in his enthusiasm. Yes,
a contest that would remind all of us what it was like before
we could go to the market and buy what we needed to survive.
bright, blue eyes were full of excitement and his small, pink
tongue frequently licked his narrow, leathery lips. He grabbed
his friend by the shoulders and shook him lightly as he continued
thats what we need, live chickens. Dozens, maybe even hundreds
of them; we could throw them off the roof of the market and let
the folks try and catch em.
what purpose, Tom?
days, Bill. Just think of it, we could start an annual event that
showcases the spirit of our forefathers. A whole weekend set aside
for the public to mingle with those damn collage kids in the old
costumes and pretend for a while that they are of the same mettle
as our founding fathers were.
shop keepers could set outside stands and sell
they sell, and make lots of money off the tourists.
damn tourists that would flock here by the droves to be a participant,
of course. Wed advertise in all those silly little papers
they read in the big city.
that for a damn chicken that they might or might not even catch?
Bill scratched his head. And even if they are lucky enough
to catch one, then what?
the beauty of it, Bill. They can leave after the weekend and tell
all their friends that they captured it here. Hell, they can keep
it as a pet or eat the damn thing, what do we care? All I know
is that the next year, theyll be back for more.
I gotta admit it sounds good, Tom, almost too good, but I think
we oughta run it by the council and see what they think.
sure, of course, Tom said, as he smoothed his wild, white
hair over his head and wiped his arm across his brow. Next
meeting, Ill be sure to bring it up.
* * *
let me get this straight, Tom, you want a check from the city
to buy three hundred live, full grown chickens. Is that right?
Jim Thomas, the city manager asked. And then you're going
to toss them off the roof of the market to the people below and
see if they can catch them?
sir, thats about right, he said, but Jim, I
had another idea that will make this work even better.
almost afraid to ask, Tom, but what is it?
sir, what if we were to attach a brand new hundred dollar bill
to five of those chickens' necks before we threw them off the
roof? Think of all the scrambling that will ensue when those tourists
go after all those chickens looking for that money. Hell, Jim,
I bet if we play our cards right and notify the TV stations beforehand,
we can get some of the best advertisement youd ever want
that will bring those tourists here by the car load. Think of
all the money that will come rolling in to the town treasury,
Jim. This year is just the start. The way I see it, Jim, is that
we just cant lose.
admit that you make a convincing argument, Tom, and Im prone
to go along with your request. Our treasury could use a shot in
the arm and if the other council members agree, which Im
sure they will, Ill authorize a check for you to purchase
those chickens, and Tom, please dont disappoint us.
wont be sorry, Jim, just wait and see.
* * *
weeks to the day later, a large semi tractor-trailer pulled into
the lot below the local market and waited until Tom had signed
the receipt for three hundred live chickens loaded into four large
crates. The teen-agers Tom had hired to assist him broke open
the large crates and carried the thirty smaller cages up to the
roof of the market, setting them beside the edge of the roof facing
towards Main Street.
done, lads, Tom said, as he checked off on his list of duties.
Be here tomorrow at noon and be ready to have some fun.
teens left, promising to return tomorrow, and Tom walked easily
between the two rows of cages, double checking the count of the
chickens, looking for the one he deemed suitable to carry the
money that he had tucked tightly into the corner of his wallet.
He wanted everything to be perfect and was leaving nothing to
chance. After checking the chickens twice, he finally left the
roof and climbed down the ladder the firemen had left to the street
below, tucked his notebook into his back pocket and walked to
* * *
alarm on his bedside table once again startled him from his deep
sleep and he sat up, running his fingers through his course, unruly
the day, he said aloud, as he scurried into the bathroom
to perform his morning rituals.
he selected his clothes, he thought of the TV coverage that this
event was sure to draw and smiled as he pictured it in his mind.
This was sure to capture the publics imagination and add
some much needed money to the towns coffers.
left his house and started the short walk into the center of town.
Turning the corner onto Main Street, he saw a cloth banner stretched
across the road that in large bright red letters proclaimed, Ridgeways
First Annual Pioneer Days Festival.
shopkeepers along the street had set up tables on the sidewalk
that contained products they hoped to sell to the visitors that
day. The Ridgeway Womans Club had a small trailer set up
for selling food and soft drinks and the farther down the street;
near the market, the local undertaker had a booth for killing,
cleaning and packaging the chickens after they were caught.
face simply beamed as he returned the greetings to his many friends
that laughed and strolled along the already busy street. Nearing
the market, he saw what he had been hoping for all along. Both
the local TV station and one from out of town had set up their
vans in the street in front of the market. The technicians were
busy laying cable and adjusting the dials on the many pieces of
equipment set up outside the vans.
towns police chief and his one officer were busy directing
traffic into specially designated parking areas set up on either
side of the market. Already the small lot was filling fast and
arrangements were trying to be made to close the street for the
day to allow for more parking.
Thomas walked over to him and clapped him on the back.
Tom. It seems that you were right on the money about this. Just
look at all the folks coming here today. There must be two or
three hundred people already here and more on the way.
it looks like this is going to be a great day for Ridgeway,
he said, as he scanned the busy street, and you couldnt
ask for any better weather.
Witherspoon, the young, sexy woman from channel 13, walked towards
them, a microphone in her hand. She smoothed the hair out of her
eyes and then shook her head to disarray the rest of her hair,
appearing as if she was hard at work.
standing here with Tom Jorgensen, she said to the cameraman,
the man that came up with this wonderful idea for Ridgeways
me, Tom, what did you have in mind when you came up with this
idea? she asked as she thrust the microphone in front of
Heather, Im glad you asked me that because its been
on the tip of my tongue all day. Im just so glad that things
are going as planned.
so? she asked.
well, we wanted to share the feelings of how it must have been
for our forefathers to depend on themselves to supply all that
was needed to survive. Im sure that somewhere back in time,
they had to chase down their food just like
like were going to do today.
that would be what, Tom? she asked, giggling, and once more
fluffed her hair, Whats going to happen?
just a few minutes, my helpers will release those chickens and
throw them off the roof and when they do, make sure that you tell
your cameraman to pay close attention. This is not something youd
want your viewers to miss.
picture this, Heather, Three hundred chickens running loose on
Main Street and all these people trying to catch em. Man,
what a sight thats going to be.
sight to see, Tom, a real sight to see, and we can hardly wait.
* * *
town clock struck twelve and every eye in town was riveted to
the roof of the market where Tom Jorgensen stood amidst his young
assistants with his hand up in the air and a big smile on his
a few moments, to let the tension build among the tourists, he
dropped his hand and the teenagers opened crate after crate of
chickens and dumped them over the edge of the roof to the eagerly
waiting crowd below.
watched as the crowd broke apart and young and old together began
to run after the quickly dispersing chickens that had already
spread the length of the parking lot and were running hell bent
for leather to escape the thundering, shouting crowd behind them.
broke out and the first annual Ridgeway live chicken catching
contest was underway!
got one cornered! Tom heard a man shout to his family and
watched as the young man ran headlong into the side of the market,
his head smashing into the cinderblock wall with the sound of
a melon hitting the pavement from a great height.
Jorgensens smile slowly left his face as the man fell back
from the impact, his head bleeding profusely and with his brain
leaking through the broken skull. The mans wife screamed
and ran to his side only to be immediately slammed to the ground
and rendered unconscious as another crate of chickens was thrown
over the side of the building and landed full force on her head.
looked on in horror as he noticed the young woman from the TV
station running towards the bloody scene with her cameraman in
tow and was already speaking excitedly into the microphone.
remaining tourists that had not yet run after the chickens looked
on in disbelief as the scene unfolded in front of them and stood
rooted to their places until from somewhere in the crowd, a young
voice shouted that he had seen the chickens with the hundred dollar
bills attached to their necks land and run towards the main highway
that ran through the small town.
* * *
J. Johnson sat hunched over the steering wheel of the Peterbuilt
eighteen-wheeler that barreled down the two-lane road headed for
the town of Ridgeway with a trailer full of farm machinery. He
had been driving for fourteen hours straight and had gone over
what the state considered to be a safe amount of time behind the
wheel by six hours.
was tired, dog-tired, and it wasnt all from the driving.
The day before, his wife had insisted that he help her sister
and brother-in-law move from the small apartment they had lived
in for two years, to a large house out in the country. He was
amazed with all the possessions they had accumulated in those
two years and he drove his pickup back and forth between the two
locations several times, and then with the loading and unloading
the damn truck, he was pooped.
the time he was finished with that chore and had showered, eaten
supper and settled into his favorite chair to watch a little mindless
entertainment on the tube before a well deserved night of sleep,
his wife decided that tonight was the night for them to become
frisky in the bedroom.
morning had dawned all to soon for him and as he dragged his ass
out of bed and to the shower, he grinned and remembered his performance
from the night before.
that keeps the little woman happy for a few weeks, he mumbled
to himself, as the hot water tried without much success to wash
the tiredness from his body. No sir, not too shabby for
an old man, if I do say so myself.
eleven hundred mile trip to Ridgeway loomed forever in his mind
and by the time his trip odometer had turned four hundred miles;
he wished that he had a spout from his thermos of strong coffee
directly to his mouth and by the time he hit nine hundred miles
he would catch himself drifting off to sleep and had to stop at
a rest area, use the bathroom and walk around to try and hold
the tiredness at bay.
the time he saw the road sign announcing that Ridgeway was two
miles ahead, he had reached the limit of his endurance. Instead
of preparing to slow the heavy rig to a manageable speed, his
foot remained planted firmly on the accelerator and his bloodshot,
burning eyes, though open, saw little of what he was fast approaching.
* * *
five chickens with money tied to their necks were mixed among
several dozen other chickens all heading for the road with a multitude
of tourists running closely behind them. All civility of the contest
had been tossed to the wind with the spotting of the money and
grown men were seen pushing women and children out of their way
where they were trampled by the throng behind them.
of pain and fear ensued as bones were broken and faces smashed
into the course gravel of the parking lot. Teeth were knocked
out, noses broken and several small children had their heads crushed
in the stampede but there was no let up from the crowd behind
as they kept surging ahead.
first of the chickens hit the road and suddenly and apparently
for no earthly reason, stopped and for a few moments wandered
aimlessly around. When the next wave of fowl hit the road, instead
of crossing they turned and began to run down the road away from
Ridgeway with a large pack of very intent tourists running blindly
of the moneyed chickens veered off the road towards a building
site and five men immediately turned with it. They were pushing
and shoving each other in their bid to be the one that was the
first to capture the hundred dollars and the mentality they shared
at that moment was nothing less than pure greed.
man in the lead looked over his shoulder and saw that his nearest
competitor was but a few feet behind him and put on a burst of
speed. As he turned his head to the front, he tripped over an
errant board lying on the ground and fell into an open ditch where
the day before, workmen had poured the first section of the foundation
and rebar was left sticking eighteen inches above the concrete,
ready to tie into the next section of the wall that would be poured.
man saw his doom coming and could do nothing about it except scream
as the first piece of rebar entered his chest, pierced his heart
and then emerged from his back As his head slammed forward from
the momentum, the second piece impaled his forehead and passed
through his brain, killing him instantly.
close competitor realized what had happened and trying to avoid
the same fate, side stepped but was pushed from behind and fell
atop the dead man. He managed to keep from impaling himself on
the rebar sticking up through the impaled man by the strength
in his upper body but when the large, fat man behind him used
his back as a springboard across the open ditch, his chest was
pushed down against the rebar and he felt it as the half inch
piece of steel punctured his lung and a bloody froth exploded
from his open mouth.
was in the process of thanking God for still being left alive
when another foot landed on the back of his head and drove his
face down onto the rebar below. It entered his eye and exited
through the back of his head with the gelatinous fluid mixed with
gobbets of gray matter and blood slowly spiraling down the shaft
of steel and pooling on the top of his disarrayed hair.
* * *
Jorgensen, standing on top of the market, had a bird's eye view
of the horror that was quickly unfolding in front of his eyes
and stood there in total disbelief as his plan to start a yearly
event that would pump money into the coffers of Ridgeway turned
to shit. He looked down to see the young woman from Channel 13
motion her cameraman toward the road and tossing her microphone
to the soundman, quickly sprinted towards the action that was
unfolding on the main drag of this small, out of the way town.
deep throated, rumbling sound attracted his attention and as he
turned his head slowly in the direction it came from, saw an eighteen-wheeler,
black smoke pouring from the chrome stacks on either side of the
cab, bearing down on the last bend in the road before the straight
stretch that went through the town.
eyes darted from the large, speeding semi to the scores of tourists
that were running blindly down the road; shoving, pushing and
tripping each other in their quest for the four remaining chickens
that still had money tied to their necks.
helps those that helps themselves, he cried to the heavens
and clasped his hands together in front of his chest and then
dropped to his knees as the semi bore down on the unsuspecting
* * *
Js truck, loaded with a gross weight in excess of seventy
eight thousand pounds, bore steadily towards the town of Ridgeway
with its large turbo-charged Cat 425 five hundred and fifty horsepower
engine already red lined to the max and its semi-comatose driver
drifting in and out of reality.
a last, brief moment of clarity, Jimmy could have sworn that he
saw pedestrians on the road but he was so tired that the moment
passed and he pressed on. When his truck traveling in excess of
sixty-five miles per hour struck the first group of chasers, a
bright red mist enveloped the cab covering the windshield with
blood and small chunks of gore.
Witherspoon, the pretty TV reporter, had her back to the road
as she reported the horrific events at the construction site and
did not see the first bloody impact but her cameraman did. He
shifted his camera away from her and began taping the carnage
unfolding in front of his lens.
that she was no longer on camera, she turned her head to see what
had taken precedence over her commentary when she saw the heavy
truck and its completely oblivious driver continuing to plow through
the remaining chicken chasers like a hot knife through butter.
to be in front of the camera and resume her reporting of the horrible
event happening before her eyes, she took several steps towards
the cameraman and as she turned to speak, was struck in the head
by a severed leg with enough momentum behind it that it snapped
her head backwards, breaking her neck with a sound of a pistol
* * *
Jorgensen opened his eyes and prayed that he was having the worst
nightmare of his life but when he saw the red mist still lingering
above the road and body parts of all shapes and sizes flying into
the air as the truck screamed through the few remaining chasers,
his stomach heaved twice and vomit spewed in a torrent from his
was at that moment when an ear splitting scream of rubber against
blacktop was heard as sixteen of the rig's brakes locked and thick,
white smoke poured from underneath the tires.
tractor steered slightly to the left and the fifty-three foot
trailer began to jackknife towards the right, smoke still billowing
from the protesting tires.
Chief of Police was standing by the drivers door of his
patrol car, giving orders over the radio to the county Emergency
Management teams and calling for every available medical transport
and first aid crew to respond to Ridgeway as quickly as possible.
The close sound of the screaming tires caused him to look over
his shoulder in time to see the jackknifed trailer quickly bearing
down on his position.
gripped the chiefs guts and he stood immobilized with shock
as he watched his eminent demise approaching faster by the millisecond
until the trailer slammed into him at chest level ripping his
upper body apart and cutting everything above the hood of the
police cruiser off, sending it slamming and banging down the street
with the chiefs mangled upper body going along for the brief
chiefs lower body slid down the side of the cruiser and
fell over on its side as blood poured from the torn and ripped
tissue. His lower arms lay beside him with the fingers of both
hands twitching sporadically until the nerves died and they became
trailer continued down the street, clipping the few streetlights
that the town of Ridgeway had like matchsticks, until it finally
came to rest when it hit the towns single garbage truck
loaded with thirteen tons of trash collected that day.
the impact of hitting the garbage truck stopped the trailer, the
heavy farm machinery burst through the thin aluminum sides and
clipped the top of the garbage truck off, sending steel and garbage
flying further down the main road of Ridgeway.
silence was deafening when everything had finally come to rest
and the surviving townsfolk and tourists that had survived the
carnage looked at one another in total disbelief.
opening of the drivers door to the big rig broke the silence
and a man stumbled slowly down the three stainless steel steps
and stood unsteadily on the street. He looked up the street and
saw the many bodies lying ripped and broken in the wake of his
truck's passage and then behind him at the mangled garbage truck
and his load of farm machinery mixed with the garbage lying scattered
down the street and then collapsed in a heap beside the torn and
bloody cab of the tractor.
* * *
Jorgensen survived the day but sixty-three people died and 123
were injured or maimed for life. Tom was forever shunned by the
townsfolk and within a few months died in his sleep of a massive
heart attack. No one attended his wake or funeral and there were
never any flowers placed on his grave.
townsfolk never spoke of Tom or that day again and though they
tried to put it out of their minds, the area newspapers and TV
stations often brought up the carnage as a lesson in stupidly
money? None of the five chickens with the money tied to their
necks was ever caught or seen again, and to the best of everyones
knowledge, no one ever brought a fresh one hundred dollar bill
into any store or bank.
thus ended the day of the first, and ultimately last, Great Ridgeway
Live Chicken Catching Contest.