The ear bud slipped into place, and soon after a wave of crashing cymbals and guitar riffs flooded Tom's ears. The squeal of Steve Tyler's alto crescendos always seemed to appeal to Tom more than almost any other musician. Aerosmith had been his one confidant on long days in the houses. When the heat was bearing down hard and the humidity wouldn't cease. It was the clever lyrics and bluesy bass guitar that carried his spirits back and forth from the dark endless corridor of the house to the stinking putrid mass steaming into mush at the corpse bin. Now with a full day of work ahead of him, and only half a day's worth of light, Tom was glad to have Steve and the crew with him.
The first chicken was almost directly at Tom's feet as he stepped inside. Sometimes he would have to wade in pretty deep before finding any of the puffed up corpses to haul out. Today - no sooner did his eyes adjust to the low light than Tom found what he came looking for. He bent at the waist, swung down with expert precision and snatched the lifeless body off the dirty floor. His fingers wrapped about it's limp and bony legs, hooked just around the knees. The bird lifted off it's final resting place to experience a bit of flight. The highest point it's rotund, over steroided body would ever reach. Some of the others here would ascend to great heights - all be it on the conveyor belt of a slaughter line.
Tom continued on and after another couple paces found a cluster of the dead birds. These had to be a couple days old by now - their feathers were matted with droppings, and their eyes had already been pecked out by passing poultry interested in a bit of hunt in peck. Unfortunately, that also left room for other creatures to take root. The mites, bugs, and worms that infested the bird would come pouring out the minute Tom touched the pile of corpses. Better to get it done quickly than to try and kick the pile free of any insect infestation. He learned that the hard way years ago - and his grandfather was fond of reminding him how ridiculous he looked running out of the chicken house covered in bird crap, blood, and bugs.
It wasn't Tom's favorite memory of his grandfather. But the old man had helped wash Tom down and encouraged him to head back into the fray and finish his chore for the day. Today however, no one was coming to help. No one would rinse him off. No one would lend a hand to extricate the lifeless birds from the floor of this death chamber. Tom swooped low once again and grabbed two birds in one hand. In a practiced motion he swung the first single bird around in a wide arc, and hooked two more birds by the ankles as he passed the pile. That would be enough for one pass. No need to exhaust oneself this early in the task.
Tom turned and walked to the warm pile of rotted corpses and tossed his new found treasures on top. The State had come and forced them to put in this contraption. It was supposed to reduce pollution, manage run off, and improve the quality of fertile material the farm could use once the compost was complete. That's when the system worked ideally. That's when the system wasn't operated by his father. At best the pile served as a testament to the failures of the chicken farming operation his family oversaw. At worst it was a cesspool of disease and festering rotting chicken corpses.
Tom reentered the long corridor, adjusted his eyes, and continued the process of cleaning the house. He knew this would keep up for a few hours. So Tom settled into the routine, let his mind wander into the music, and settled on a memory somewhere between Donna's foot hitting the ground next to the River and her hand holding his down by the dock. Steven Tyler happily obliged the young Casanova and supplied the perfect soundtrack for a trip down memory lane.
And Donna was happy to oblige Tom's every whim. More so this time than before. Before they were surrounded by a half dozen friends. Even when they were down at the dock Tom never got closer than a drunken peck on his lips. It was enough. Enough to send him reeling and enough to cause him a momentary lapse of consciousness. Man, but that girl could kiss! And by the time he realized it she and her friends were walking back to a newly arrived car and headed home for the night. But not today, not in his mind, not when he had the full accompaniment of Aerosmith to set the mood.
Moving to the faster beat of Janey's revenge, and rounding out with a bite of rich fare, Tom was able to get to know Donna much better. In his mind, Tom saw a dark wooded path away from the River and to a more secluded dock. One more secluded than the clearly visible dock they all partied and swam from all summer long. He led Donna along the path, through a few dark turns, behind a few thick trees, and out into the open of a large calm pond. The glassy pool reflected the full moonlight perfectly, and Donna understood what was in store. A girl like that always understands. Tom held her close for a moment, breathed heavily into her neck as they embraced. He could smell the sweet vanilla perfume she'd poured on thick. She could feel the warmth of his hands gliding over her barely exposed belly. The shirt she wore just hovering above her navel was more than an open invitation to Tom - it was a red carpet. Just as he was about to reach his hand down below the edge of her jeans Tom's hand got extremely wet and gooey.
He glanced down to see what Donna had presented only to look into the hollowed, bloodied eye sockets of a huge buck. Tom's hand had slipped between a large gash in the dead deer's large and rotting neck. His hand was buried up past the wrist and covered in a sticky oozing slime that smelled almost sweet. Not so sweet that he mistook it for Donna's perfume. But then again - Donna hadn't been wearing perfume last night – that he could remember.
He wretched his arm back quickly and slung the slime off his hand. Looking around him on the floor Tom saw that he was surrounded by dead chickens. All were covered in splattered blood. Some had been covered in a white puss and foam that had been slung around this end of the chicken house by the dying deer in it's last throws of life. It looked as if the deer's neck was slashed deeper and longer with every jerk it made to free itself. Along the gaping hole of metal there was a long trail of blood that poured down onto the floor. At the puddle several birds had taken time to imbibe what would prove too thick to swallow and ultimately kill them. The thick mucus and blood choked the life from the small birds and in their thrashing they sprayed more bird droppings, foamy bile, and spilled blood into the air.
The whole scene was a macabre master chef's dream come true. For Tom it was the final cherry on his vomit sundae. He dropped the birds in his hands and bolted for the hatch left open at the far end of the house. Not ten paces away from the deer he lurched forward and sprayed a small flock of birds with the remains of last night's entertainment. Up came everything that made last night worth attending, and still more that reminded him time and again why last night was never worth it in the end. The birds screamed in surprise and attempted to flee. Their short weak legs and over filled flabby bodies limited their flight. Getting only a few wobbles away they simply spread the mess onto others. Tom wretched again and had to hold his knees to keep from dropping to the floor. Another violent heaving fit toppled him over and his hands flew out to stop the fall. In his descent Tom's left hand landed directly on the bloated corpse of a roaster that should have been removed on his last pass. He was sure to find it this time, but there wouldn't be much left to carry out. The bird exploded with the force of Tom's hand flattening it and spread rotten innards over the dusty floor.
Tom stumbled and stood as he tried to run forward and escape the house. House Four would have to be cleaned that was a certainty. There was a crew coming soon to carry away the living birds and prepare them for the line. But Tom had to compose himself before he could continue. And it was going to take a bit more than Steven or Donna could muster to help Tom back onto his feet.