The Great Ridgeway Live Chicken
Catching Contest

by Georgepat
forum: The Great Ridgeway Live Chicken Catching Contest
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Great Ridgeway Live Chicken Catching Contest


        Ridgeway, 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 years ago.

* * *

        The 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.

        “You 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 were.”

        “Yep, you’re right, Tom. What’s on your mind?”

        “I 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 hasn’t seen the likes of in a long, long time.”

        Tom 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.

        “A 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.”

        His 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 his plan.

        “Chickens, that’s 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.”

        “For what purpose, Tom?”

        “Pioneer 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.

        “The shop keepers could set outside stands and sell… well, whatever they sell, and make lots of money off the tourists.”

        “What tourists?”

        “The damn tourists that would flock here by the droves to be a participant, of course. We’d advertise in all those silly little papers they read in the big city.”

        “All 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?”

        “That’s 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, they’ll be back for more.”

        “Ok, 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.”

        “Well sure, of course,” Tom said, as he smoothed his wild, white hair over his head and wiped his arm across his brow. “Next meeting, I’ll be sure to bring it up.”

* * *

        “Now 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?”

        “Yes sir, that’s about right,” he said, “but Jim, I had another idea that will make this work even better.”

        “I’m almost afraid to ask, Tom, but what is it?”

        “Well, 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 you’d 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 can’t lose.”

        “I’ll admit that you make a convincing argument, Tom, and I’m prone to go along with your request. Our treasury could use a shot in the arm and if the other council members agree, which I’m sure they will, I’ll authorize a check for you to purchase those chickens, and Tom, please don’t disappoint us.”

        “You won’t be sorry, Jim, just wait and see.”

* * *

        Two 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.

        “Well 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.”

        The 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 his home.

* * *

        The alarm on his bedside table once again startled him from his deep sleep and he sat up, running his fingers through his course, unruly hair.

        “Today’s the day,” he said aloud, as he scurried into the bathroom to perform his morning rituals.

        As 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 public’s imagination and add some much needed money to the town’s coffers.

        He 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, ‘Ridgeway’s First Annual Pioneer Days Festival’.

        The 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 Woman’s 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.

        Tom’s 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.

        The town’s 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.

        Jim Thomas walked over to him and clapped him on the back.

        “Morning, 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.”

        “Yeah, it looks like this is going to be a great day for Ridgeway,” he said, as he scanned the busy street, “and you couldn’t ask for any better weather.”

        Heather 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.

        “I’m standing here with Tom Jorgensen,” she said to the cameraman, “the man that came up with this wonderful idea for Ridgeway’s Pioneer Days.

        “Tell 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 his face.

        “Well, Heather, I’m glad you asked me that because it’s been on the tip of my tongue all day. I’m just so glad that things are going as planned.”

        “How so?” she asked.

        “I… 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. I’m sure that somewhere back in time, they had to chase down their food just like… well, almost like we’re going to do today.”

        “And that would be what, Tom?” she asked, giggling, and once more fluffed her hair, “What’s going to happen?”

        “In 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 you’d want your viewers to miss.”

        “Why, Tom?”

        “Just picture this, Heather, Three hundred chickens running loose on Main Street and all these people trying to catch ‘em. Man, what a sight that’s going to be.

        “A sight to see, Tom, a real sight to see, and we can hardly wait.”

* * *

        The 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 face.

        After 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.

        Tom 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.

        Pandemonium broke out and the first annual Ridgeway live chicken catching contest was underway!

        “I’ve 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.

        Tom Jorgensen’s 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 man’s 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.

        Tom 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.

        Those 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.

* * *

        Jimmy 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.

        He was tired, dog-tired, and it wasn’t 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.

        By 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.

        This 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.

        “Bet 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.”

        The 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.

        By 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.

* * *

        The 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.

        Shouts 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.

        The 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 behind them.

        One 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.

        The 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.

        The 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.

        His 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.

        He 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.

* * *

        Tom 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.

        A 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.

        His 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.

        “God 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 tourists ahead.

* * *

        Jimmy J’s 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.

        In 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.

        Heather 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.

        Disappointed 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.

        Anxious 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 shot.

* * *

        Tom 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 mouth.

        It 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.

        The 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.

        The Chief of Police was standing by the driver’s 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.

        Fear gripped the chief’s 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 chief’s mangled upper body going along for the brief ride.

        The chief’s 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 still.

        The 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 town’s single garbage truck loaded with thirteen tons of trash collected that day.

        While 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.

        The 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.

        The opening of the driver’s 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.

* * *

        Tom 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.

        The 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 and greed.

        The money? None of the five chickens with the money tied to their necks was ever caught or seen again, and to the best of everyone’s knowledge, no one ever brought a fresh one hundred dollar bill into any store or bank.

        And thus ended the day of the first, and ultimately last, Great Ridgeway Live Chicken Catching Contest.




copyright 2006 Georgepat.