Childhood is fraught with perils. We can all recall at least one terrible aspect of our own younger years that have kept us warm at nights with deeply scarring nightmares and crushing regrets. For some, it’s bullying; others, it’s the secret knowledge that they’re fascinated with glitter-paint and mascara. I never had a problem with bullying, or mascara. No, my childhood terror came in a very different form. It was a damn huge chicken named Augustus, and he looked a lot like this.
Actually, he looked more like this…
A dread-beast spawned in the blackest pits of hell and regurgitated by the devil with the sole purpose of trying to end my life and that of all I held dear. And like the real Augustus, he was a tricksy, conniving, despotic, murderous ruler, whose ruthlessness was unparalleled. While the actual Caesar ruled Rome, his reincarnation ruled my world.
I grew up hopping from one lifestyle block/farm-type setting to another, and my dear parents always thought it was just so darn neat keeping homicidal farmyard animals about the place to complete the whole rural-living vibe. We had cats and dogs, and there were cows and sundry other beasts floating about just over the fence. But within our section, Augustus ruled supreme. And he was a tyrant. Think some old Persian king who conquered his enemies, drank their blood, and kept a harem of chickens for his own personal amusement. He raped and pillaged and woke everyone up at dawn with his damn demonic bugling from one side of the section to the damned other. Every goddamn day. Without goddamn fail. And the bastard could hardly hold a tune to save himself.
He was utterly, incurably mad. I could see it in his eye. Only the one eye at a time, considering the other was on the far side of his stupid pointy chicken face. He had bandy, scaly yellow legs ending in three diabolic talons like knives, and I swear if he had opposable thumbs, he would’ve taken a whetstone to his spear-like spurs. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were sharpened somehow. Sometimes I’d catch him by his throneroom (a tin chicken shed-thing), in the act of scraping his spurs against the sharp metal edge. He was all sleek like an arab arms-smuggler, and shiny, and sometimes, in the right light, his sleek arab feathers would glisten iridescent green. His flappy red comb wasn’t much like a turban, but that’s what I imagined.
I’d watch from the house, trembling with fear, as he pointed his beak at me as if to say, “You’re on my list, bub, and I always pay my bills.” Or something equally as threatening. Of course, he was perfectly sweet and polite to my parents. Always careful to stay out of their path, and cluck in a sickeningly appreciative way when they sprinkled feed down of an evening. He’d even continue the disgusting farce by pointlessly scratching at the ground to show his slave-chickens where the feed had landed. “Look, see, here’s your dinner, come, eat! There is nothing to fear from me! You will find that I am kind.” And then when said parents left, he’d leap atop the closest chicken and savage the hell out of it, all the while, watching me with his one beady black eye. “You see, boy, you see this? You’re next!’ I couldn’t believe such vile acts of the blackest villainy were being perpetrated right under my parents’ noses.
And oh yes, there were days where I’d have to run the gauntlet when it was feeding time. That injustice never diminished. The pestilential beasts scratched around eating all day, why did I have to go giving them more? So no matter how quietly I stealthed up on the chicken-run, Augustus always knew where I was. He’d crouch down and start growling. And if you’ve never owned chickens, you won’t know what I mean by that. The bastards growl, and put pit-fighting dogs to shame. He’d puff his neck-feathers up and paw the dust like an enraged bull. I’d stop, a shivering pants-wetting ball, about ten meters away, and hiff the feed as hard as I could to avoid getting any closer. Of course none of it made it within meters of the things, so I’d have to go further in. Augustus would take a flying, flapping, squawking leap at the fence in a crazed effort at clawing my eyeballs out, and I’d run screaming back into the house to find a new pair of underpants. The savage.
He was clever, too. He used to watch my movements, send his chicken-spies to different points of the section to stake me out. They’d watch and report, all because they were too afraid to stand up to his reign of terror. If they refused to do his bidding, rape. If they didn’t act interested in a worm he’d just dug up, rape. It wasn’t their fault, but at the age of seven, my tiny child’s mind couldn’t help but resent them for their part in the multiple mutinies they played against me.
I had to walk across the section and up the loooong driveway to get to the road where I’d wait for the school-bus. Now, it probably wasn’t that far for an adult, but for a kid who’s being systematically targeted by a vindictive bipedal demon with a grudge, it felt like gate-crashing a Head-Hunters general meeting and screaming ‘I love the police!’ I’d run as fast as I could. I’d weave, I’d dodge, I’d roll, I’d carry a stick, I’d wrap t-shirts around my shins, I’d do anything and everything in my power to prepare for the daily onslaught. None of it worked. It felt like running up the beach at Gallipoli (you don’t know, you weren’t there ). Augustus was always waiting for me, like a damn nazi. He’d be in different places each day, too, so I’d never know where he’d come from next. One moment I’d be gangling my way across the lawn and next moment, BOOM! chicken to the face.
Engulfed in a scud missile of feathery carnage, that thing would blow me off my feet. I’d scream and kick and swing my stick, all to no avail. Augustus was a mean dirty fighter. He wanted the eyes, taking chunks out of flesh if he couldn’t get at them. And those sparkly green feathers were too much of a distraction to defend against. I was forever bedazzled by his glorious plumage. I’m pretty sure he’d attack from out of the sun to blind me, too. He used every goddamn tactic in the book, and I was as helpless as a lamb.
It got so bad that I became too afraid to leave the house. I’d have nightmares about being dismembered by those spurs, of having my eyes pecked out. And I would hear his out-of-tune warbling every morning and every night. He knew he was singing me into a nightmare-filled torpor, and I was sure he was laughing himself sick with glee to know he’d broken my soul. His crow always ended with a drawn-out wheeze, like a set of bagpipes that have been stepped on. All I heard was his mocking chicken laugh, and I hated him for it.
Now, this is about the point of the story where I tell you how I hatched a cunning and overly-elaborate plan of revenge. Of how, at the end of a montage accompanied by Eye of the Tiger, I laid a trap for the seed-scoffing overlord and handed him back all the pain and terror he’d dished out on me for years. I’d casually walk away from a gigantic explosion in slow-mo, wearing aviators and a scarf, carrying some sort of assault rifle, and then the credits would roll. Oh I wish that were true. I could make it up. I could tell you I stabbed the damn chicken in the throat with a carving knife and drank its blood. Truth is, nothing of the sort actually occurred. The ending is quite different. I was, and will forever be, a coward.
It wasn’t I who ended the dreadful reign of Augustus the chicken. As an aside, I refuse to call it a rooster. He was and is a damn chicken, and that remains my only victory against him. Anyway, when you’re a kid, who is the most important person, or people, in your life? Your parents. Unless you’re an orphan, but that’s irrelevant. Parents are why we have religion. As adults we’re forever trying to recover that feeling of complete safety we had as children, by replacing parents with gods. And to my rescue came my old man.
As per usual, I was being terrorised by the chicken. Years of running away from him had fostered a small version of survival of the fittest. I had to become a faster runner to out-pace Augustus, and in return, he had to increase his chickeny speed to catch me. I was running flat-tack with the ball of black death nipping at my heels, and my dad just happened to be doing something out in the yard at the time. I zoomed past him screaming like a little bitch, and, displaying heavenly timing, he turned and took a penalty kick, catching Augustus right in the wing. Now, the bird was huge. I know I say he was big only because I was so small. He actually stood as tall as my hip, so, he was hefty. One solid avalanche of malice, evil, and murder, rolled up together.
And my old man punted him straight back into the hell-pit from whence he came. Oh man did I exult that day. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. I knew I’d never have the courage, or the hand-foot coordination, or the strength in my spindly bamboo leg, to pull off such a game-winning kick, and yes, that is my secret shame, BUT my dad came to my rescue and messed that bastard up but good. I swear he flew two hundred meters.
Again, I’d love to say that’s the end of the story. It isn’t. Not just yet. By booting the bird into next week, all my father succeeded in doing was making Augustus mortally afraid of him. Oh yes, he lived. In fact, after he picked himself up and shook himself off, he was back as mean as ever. And he blamed me for his ignominious toppling from the alpha-male throne. And so the campaign of terror and indignity continued with renewed ferocity, with the one difference being that he only did it when the boot wasn’t around. I, in effect, became Augustus’s bitch.
And that just goes to show that, unlike the stories, real life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Still, like all despotic rulers, he met an ignoble end at the edge of the headsman’s axe a few years later…
NB: For the record, that edge was a sharp as a rolling pin, so after a series of brutal blows, all my father succeeded in doing was wedging the chicken’s head deep into the chopping-block. That sight may have scarred me for life, but it was deeply satisfying all the same…
Because of Augustus, my inner rage and hatred of all poultry endures to this day.
Damn that chicken…