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Old Tom

by Joshua Campbell 10 days ago in urban legend / supernatural / psychological / monster / fiction
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by J Campbell

Lisa saw him sitting on the back porch, his ax laid across his lap.

"Tom?" she asked, coming up behind him to put a hand on his shoulder.

Matt nodded, glancing over as their baby girl squirmed in Lisa's arms. Sara was growing fast, three months old now, and it was hard for Matt to imagine life without her. She was his first child, and his life had changed so much since she'd been born. The money had finally come through. The bank had decided they were stable enough to receive the loan they needed. The farm was on the verge of finally becoming what it had once been.

Matt was ready to transition from the state's largest turkey farm to the state's largest dairy farm and cattle ranch.

Old Tom, the last of the farm's turkeys, was all that was left of that legacy.

Old Tom stood at the edge of the fence, looking at the now cleared field and the newly constructed cowshed that had taken the place of the long turkey sheds that had once graced the land. He had been standing there for days, watching the direction the trucks had taken his last few children, and Matt was a little worried for him. Old Tom hadn't eaten, hadn't drunk any water, and hadn't moved in nearly three days. That's why Matt was sitting there now, trying to muster the courage to do what must be done.

Lisa kissed the top of his head and took Sara inside, leaving him with his thoughts.

Matt imagined that Old Tom knew these were his last few days.

Old Tom had been with the family for years. When Matt's grandfather had died, the farm had been on the verge of bankruptcy. It had been a cattle ranch at that time. They had supplied beef to many of the surrounding towns, had signed a lucrative contract with the local schools to supply fresh beef, but as good as the times were, they had turned in a matter of months. Disease had spread through the cows, killing them and making the meat worthless. The land had been covered in the rotting corpses of their prized cows, and Matt's grandfather had slipped away in the night of the same unknown illness. His son, Matt's father, had told Matt that his grandad had been a strapping man at six-foot, a mountain of muscle, but the disease had shriveled him like a grape and aged him well before his time. No one knew what it was or where it had come from, but it had killed him as quickly as the cows, and soon all his Dad had was a farm of corpses.

That was when Old Tom had come.

Matt's Dad had been standing in the field one morning, contemplating selling the farm so he could be done with this place, when he saw three turkeys come wandering out of the woods. They had come through the field and made a beeline for him, and his Dad couldn't believe his luck. He had reached for his gun, meaning to kill them and take them home for supper, but the middle turkey had fixed him with a withering look, and he couldn't even summon the strength to pull the trigger. All three had wandered past him, taking up residents in the barn, and his Dad had let them stay. Maybe, he thought, he'd kill them tomorrow and have a meal then. They were in the barn, and they clearly weren't going anywhere.

The next day, though, his father discovered a surprise. Both hens had lain eggs in the barn, with one nest near the gate and one near the back. Dad said Old Tom had looked at him, and something inside had told him that the eggs near the door were for him. That same feeling also told him that trying and collecting anything from the back would be a fight he didn't want. His Dad left both sets be. He had devised a plan the night before, a plan involving the turkeys that had roosted in his barn, and the addition of young turkeys would only help it along. Dad fed them and housed them in the barn to his wife's ire. They had enough to worry about, with a failing farm and her six months pregnant with Matt. His Dad stood firm, though, that the turkeys would be good to have. About a month later, there had been little turkeys, and Matt's Mom had begun to see the value of the plan. Matt's Dad had always marveled at how they had grown. They needed only minimal attention and grew much larger than any turkey he had ever seen. They ate up the food he gave them and seemed to grow huge on what amounted to scraps. Five months after they'd hatched, his Dad had taken ten toms to the country fair. Some of them had won prizes, but all of them had been sold. He'd come home with no turkeys, but Dad had made enough money to get by for a little while.

Every year after that, there had been ten to twenty turkeys waiting to go to market several times a year. The ones he was to take were always set away from the rest of the turkey family who had taken over the old barn, and Matt's father was always careful to leave a selection of Hens behind. Old Tom, it seemed, was better at population control than his Dad, though. Old Tom allowed him to cull his herd, and in exchange, he received a safe place to stay and more food than they strictly needed. Old Tom made the farm profitable. Hell, he made it a household name within the state, and a Turkey might as well be the family crest.

Dad had warned Matt on his deathbed, though, not to do what he was planning.

"You can't go back, son. Turkeys are our legacy, and so shall they remain."

Matt had placated him but had already set things in motion that couldn't be undone.

Besides, he was tired of turkeys.

It was time for a new era on this farm.

It was time to make some sacrifices.

He got up and walked towards the old turkey. Old Tom didn't move, he was a trusting old thing, and he let Matt move up to the fence so he could follow the old turkeys' gaze. His sightline ran off into the field, towards the road where the Sanderson Farms trucks had taken his kin.

Matt shook his head as he thought about it. That had been a fight. Tom's brood had swollen to fill the other three sheds and three more that had been built just for him and his children. Half of those born were culled and sent out to take their place in the trucks every cycle. However, the turkeys in the back of the barns were almost like royalty. They lived untouched for generations, and they had been in no hurry to give that life up.

They had taken the invasion of their home very badly. The men had come in to get them, long gloves and leather smocks, but more than a few of them had left with cuts on their faces and long slashes on their gloves. The turkeys that were this cycle's sacrifice, five hundred docile birds, had walked onto the truck as though hypnotized. When the men returned for the rest, though, the turkeys still in the barns had looked at the men with distrust. They had fought, swooping down on the men, fighting them with surprising ferocity. By the end of the day, they had loaded close to a thousand birds into the backs of the trucks and taken them away.

Matt had assumed that Old Tom had been among them, but then he'd recognizable the white head, and blood-red waddle as the ancient bird stared at him through the fence.

One of the men had offered to go get him, but Matt had refused.

Old Tom was his, and he would let the turkey live until the time came for him to grace their table this Thanksgiving.

"Sorry old fella, but times are changing. I'm moving on from turkey; I'm moving up in the world. It's time for a change. It's time for your legacy to end."

The turkey turned his head to Matt, making him feel even sillier for talking to a bird, and that's when he heard a hateful voice crawl across my mind.

"My legacy may end, but it won't end alone."

Matt stared at the turkey, his mouth hanging open a little. What the hell was that? Was he losing it? He had been through a lot of stress lately, designating graze land and fixing up the old barns, but not enough to hear a freaking turkey talk. Matt looked around suddenly, wondering if someone was goofing with him, but it was just the Methuselah of a turkey and he.

"Did...did you just…"

"Yes," Old Tom said in his head, turning back to the field, "just as I did to your father when we first met. I doubt he told you. He thought he was mad. You have sent my children away, condemned my hens to a slow death in cages, but it needn't end like this. I can call more hens. I can sire more turkey. The cycle can continue. Your family name can once again be known for the flesh of my people, and I will continue to live."

Matt thought about it. The turkey trade had been good for them. It had gotten them through some hard times. He could do both, Matt thought. He could have cows, bulls, and turkeys. He could split the sheds. They could share the farm. He could...keep stepping in shit every morning and having dreams where he was five years old with a bucket of feed and a swarm of skeletal turkeys swarming around him before Dad picked him up. Matt could stop having dreams about looking down and seeing their hateful little eyes as they stared up at him. He could stop the dreams where he found his daughter's corpse picked clean in the shed while this hateful old bird stood nearby and looked on placidly.

He could stop all of that with just a swing of his ax, and he meant to.

"I don't think so," Matt said, hefting the ax as he prepared to swing.

Tom stuck out his neck and looked at him with eyes full of malice.

"Then go ahead and doom your line forever."

The sound of the ax coming down would haunt Matt for the rest of his life, but he slept like a baby that night.

The last peaceful sleep he would ever have.

The sound of people knocking woke them the next day. Matt looked at the clock and was horrified to discover that it was almost ten o'clock. Lisa came groggily awake, looking around frantically as she asked him why they hadn't woken up earlier? Matt shrugged. They had never needed to set the alarm. They had always been awakened at five am to…

They both tore off towards the nursery, but Matt could already guess what they would find.

Sara was missing, her window hanging open, and her bassinet empty except for a scattering of feathers.

Lisa didn't notice the feathers, but Matt sure did.

You didn't raise turkeys as long as Matt did without being able to recognize turkey feathers.

Matt nearly bowled his in-laws over as he charged through the door and made his way to the old turkey barn. His father-in-law huffed angrily, but his brother-in-law turned to keep pace with him. He had a nose for when things were wrong, and he could tell that something was off. He and Matt had been friends long before he'd married his sister, and he knew at once that Matt was agitated. They ran to the turkey barn, the one Matt had always seen Old Tom sleep in, but it was empty. Of course, it was empty. All the turkeys were gone now. Matt had gotten rid of them before he killed the last one yesterday.

Matt didn't know why he had thought they would find anything here. He and Lisa had spent the evening cleaning and preparing the turkey after he'd killed it. It was Thanksgiving, after all. That was why Matt had sold all the turkeys in the first place. Sanderson Farms had paid him a rather hefty sum for that many birds, and it had made their transaction with the bank all the smoother. Old Tom, Matt had decided, should die here, where he had lived out most of his life. He would be the family's Thanksgiving meal that year. His final act would be to feed the family he had helped elevate.

They had put his corpse in the oven before going to bed, and Matt had thought, fondly, that this would be the last turkey he'd ever see outside of a grocery store.

When the scream cut across the yard, Matt knew where he should have started his search.

He could hear Lisa screaming hysterically, her cry high and mournful.

It sounded like they had found Sara.

When Matt came into the farmhouse, Lisa was sobbing on the dining room floor. Matt had never seen her cry like that, and her sorrow shook her whole body. Her eyes fixed on his, and Matt saw a look of intense confusion and mistrust. What had she seen? Why was she looking at him like he had done something? Where had they found Sara?

Matt got his answer when he walked into the dining room.

Matt's mother-in-law was still holding the carving knife. His father-in-law clutched his chest in the corner as a piece of meat lay on the floor in front of him. The turkey sat in the middle of the table, pristine save for the slices on its left side. Matt saw the source of the panic as it protruded from that cavity, and he felt certain he would vomit right there in his mother's once pristine dining room.

The turkey sat on the table that so many of his mother's Thanksgiving turkeys had graced throughout my childhood.

The turkey that sat there now profaned her old farm table.

Sticking from the cavity in the turkey was a tiny arm. Its flesh had been browned and crisped, its skin marred slightly by the carving knife, but Matt knew who it must be. His legs unhinged, and he fell against the china cabinet, the dishes inside clattering angrily as Matt looked at that arm. It swam before his eyes as his mind tried to unhinge, and Matt passed out amidst the shrieks of his wife and the cries of her family.

Matt woke up on the couch with the police standing over him.

Lisa had needed to be taken to the hospital, her shrieking having devolved into a catatonic state. The police were very interested in knowing how Matt's three-month-old daughter had gotten cooked into a turkey and how no one had a clue how it had happened? They took him down to the station and asked Matt question after question after question. They were certain he had done it, but they didn't understand why. Hell, Matt didn't fully understand why at the time.

He still didn't understand why as he sat in the living room of his childhood home.

He'd been drinking since they released him. He tipped the whiskey bottle and let the delicious fire fill his mouth as he tried to put out the fire in his guts. He was good and drunk as he watched the fields fall into darkness. Matt wasn't sure he'd be alive in the morning to see the sun come up over them. There's a gun in his other hand, but it wasn't for him. Matt had been watching the field, watching it darken, and he believed he could see something moving growing there. Something was massing in that barren field, cloaked in shadows but still very real. There were eyes in that field, beady red eyes filled with a hatred that Matt knew all too well. Hadn't he seen those eyes as a child? Hadn't his father snatched him away before they could have him?

Well, it looked like they might have him now.

A huge something blocked out the moon as it came through the screen door.

Matt suspected that it might be Old Tom come to end his legacy.

He supposed he couldn't have Matt's legacy continue in some other way.

Matt supposed what he was thankful for was that he was too drunk and numb to care what corner of hell these turkeys were about to drag him off to.

urban legendsupernaturalpsychologicalmonsterfiction

About the author

Joshua Campbell

Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.

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YouTube-https://youtube.com/channel/UCN5qXJa0Vv4LSPECdyPftqQ

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