A short story
In the 3 o’clock hour he shimmies up from the floor boards, a dark grey vapor, partially translucent. John nods some sort of greeting, smiles. His teeth are like voids, the dark space in negative film, what should be bright and white. He’s fat and wears a blurry hoodie, what was probably a black one, as it is the brightest thing about him. A film negative projected hard against the floor.
John spends most of the night lying on his phantom stomach, his face disappeared through the floor, neck craning, he’s really looking. I tell him he’s a voyeur, to cut it out, the downstairs neighbors are nice people, and he pulls his head up, turns towards, grins, then resumes.
I’m sorry he does this. There’s no stopping him. He started this up when the new neighbors moved in.
To understand why he’s here, I conducted an EVP session, though he’s so focused on his god shot peeping, the sound of his disembodied voice is muffled through the floor boards. He does his talking while he’s spying. I had set the tape recorder with the mini mic right up against the floor, and sat Indian Style by his feet, which to me are cold spots. I sometimes lean my back up against them to feel sudden wakefulness.
Things came together during an afternoon when I noticed a paper sign taped to a telephone pole with a printed picture of a chicken named Henrietta that had gone missing. Someone’s pet? Or someone’s dinner being raised, slow cooked with intimacy.
John always acted real hungry and real sad when he’d pull his face up from the floor. At first I confused the hunger for lust and the sadness with jealousy. The tape recorder was just static in the early days of attempting EVPs, but then I used the sound recorder on my laptop and got the crisper details. Apparently one day while the downstairs neighbors had their back door open to the sun porch, the lost chicken, Henrietta, walked right in. At first the gentleman of the apartment tried to chase the chicken out while the lady shrieked, but after the games extended with the chicken maintaining his ground, they found joy in the chicken’s presence.
As it turns out, the husband and wife use the room not right below us as their bedroom, but the room below what we use as our office. So John wasn’t looking down on the newlyweds in their bed, but the chicken pecking around the office, getting chunkier each day, sending residual reverberations of hunger, what John was known for when he was alive. In fact he died in our apartment of a heart attack just before he was about to bite into a bucket of chicken. So what a taunt, this live chicken, seeming to be his last supper. The confused phantom watches it nightly, feels it must grow to a certain size before feasting, so he can then move on to another realm. This chicken, this is his last task, but he is unsure of how big the chicken should get.
Once John had tipped me off that the neighbors below had taken in the chicken as their own, I didn’t feel right about it. A family out there is looking for their friendly chicken, so I ripped off one of the flyers from a pole and knocked on my neighbor’s door. “Hey, have you seen this chicken?” I asked. They pretended they hadn’t. I pressed further “I thought I heard chicken noises from your apartment?” “No, no,” they denied it. “We were playing charades.”
Meanwhile John drools every night. It drips through the floor and the neighbors complain to me that there must be a leak. John’s stomach growls through the night the bigger the chicken gets and I can’t sleep.
I bought several buckets of Popeye’s and spread a blanket by the foot of the bed one night. A picnic for ghosts. John didn’t want anything to do with it.
I haven’t slept in days because of the loud pangs he has, I feel I’m damn close to becoming a ghost myself. The EVP told me the next day when I got around to cleaning up the audio that he has to eat this particular chicken. Information bubbles in the astral plane have cued him into this as destiny. It is his heaven to taste a non-genetically modified chicken, and the chicken’s purpose in life is to be devoured by him, and only him.
I tried roasting a whole organic, free-range chicken I picked up from the Mexican grocery store. And he ate the whole thing, I cheered, even though I developed a taste for it while cooking. The smell was intoxicating, mouth watering, and I thought it could be something John and I could share before he departed. He may be a nuisance but we’ve formed a strange bond. But this didn’t do the trick because he’s got it so ingrained in his cold vapor of a ghost brain, whatever neuro-electricity makes him tick, that he’s got to eat the chicken from downstairs. He accused me of trying trick him and I had to endure him shaking my bed for an entire night.
So I broke into the apartment below to steal the chicken and I was about to chop its head off in my kitchen when John told me it’s not time yet. He communicated this by throwing plates and chairs at my head. The gentleman downstairs heard the racket, came to my back door to see if everything was okay, saw me with his chicken and took it back. We’re on weird terms now.
A recent EVP informed me the chicken will be ready in 23 days, and it will be in line with a full moon so he can chow and then wisp his way to heaven or hell. I haven’t slept well in 32 days so returning Henrietta to its family is not something I’m even considering anymore.
In 23 days I will be back in the downstairs neighbor’s unit, pilfering a chicken, and preparing for one juicy, well seasoned séance. Before this I’m going say Blood Mary in the bathroom mirror the necessary number of times so I can raise the spirit of Colonel Sanders and the guy behind the original Harold’s Chicken Shack, so this can be the proper party it should be.
John always wanted to feast with the best, and it’s been said of him he could eat his way to the other side of a bowl.
We’ll even pull up a YouTube clip of a classic commercial so we can dance to “I feel like chicken tonight, chicken tonight, chicken tonight!” And I guarantee if you look at the sky that night, you’ll see in the moon man’s mouth, a drumstick slowly being devoured, behind the veil of a cloud, giving the illusion that the meat is steaming, crisping, fresh from God’s industrial sized oven.
Jeff Phillips is a washed up varsity cross country skier and storefront theatre method actor. His short fiction has appeared in Seeding Meat, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Metazen, and Literary Orphans. He has dabbled with a few self-publishing experiments, including the novel Votary Nerves, keeps a blog sometimes at TheIglooOven.com, and co-hosts the Pungent Parlour reading series in Chicago.