Large like a truck with rough edges and sides, it was the biggest box Ernest had ever seen. Who put it in the middle of his cow pasture wasn’t the biggest question, how did it get here was; and second to that…what was in this darn thing?
Shaped like one of those hat boxes he’d seen in his young days down at the Woolworths on Main St., but pitted like lava rock, he thought it might be from outer space. Or maybe it was a hoax by one of them internet influencers who set out to secretly film his reaction.
Ernest, being an honest hard-working kind of fella, definitely didn’t abide by those TikTok jokers, and surely wasn’t going to stand for being in one of those videos; even if it did go viral.
With that in mind he grabbed his only love, Bessy, from the shotgun rack of his old worn-out truck, loaded her with buck-shot, and clicked her to the ready before doing a tour around the perimeter of the thing; hoping to get a sense of how someone could get something so big here without anyone seeing.
Not three steps around the first corner the box moved with a shake, startling Ernest so bad that he prematurely pulled Bessy’s trigger and sprayed his buckshot into the air.
Fumbling with a shaky hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out another shell, only to drop it on the ground. He bent low and patted the grass like a blind man, trying to locate his last piece of protection, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the box.
“I ain’t messin’ around!” Ernest yelled out with as much bluster as he could manage, his pitch and tone escalating with his fear. “I’mma gonna shoot you! I mean it!”
The box moved again. He heard it thump and then bump as it shook and rocked from side to side. Ernest jumped back, worried it was fix’n to fall on him, and pointed his empty shotgun at it, having failed to retrieve his shell from the grass.
The box shook and rocked ‘til all four sides and the top fell away, leaving no mystery as to the internals of the box. There in the center stood the strangest sight Ernest had ever seen: A Polish Frizzle chicken the size of a large dog.
Ernest wasted no time and rushed the feathered creature with his gun, stopping short of the frizzle chicken’s beak.
Looking up at Bessy’s long barrel, the chicken blinked twice, moved its head to the side of the gun, and slowly pushed the barrel away with its beak, like a person might use their finger.
With the gun safely out of its face, the chicken spoke. “Good day, Sir. Are you Ernest P. Morcot the Third?” Its voice sounded like a plucked guitar, which was to be expected from a chicken.
Ernest froze, too shocked to speak. He stood a moment and digested these unusual circumstances. There was a darned frizzle chicken talking to him from inside a box. More than that, it knew his name!
He lowered his gun, hugged it tight under his arm, and raised his hand to his face rubbing his eyes and forehead hard, tipping his John Deere cap up in the process. Then scrunched his face up like he’d eaten something sour, righted his hat, smacked his lips, and took a deep breath before he answered.
“That'd be me. What’s it to ya…Chicken?” He said with heavy disdain as if he were ready to go to fisticuffs right there and then with the feathered creature.
“Well, Mr. Morcot there’s been a death.”
“Whose?” Ernest said in disbelief. He wracked his brain for any living relatives that he could think of. “Bill? Is it Bill, did he die?” His gun sagged, loosely cradled under his arm, as he stuck both hands in his jeans pockets and turned to the side for a bit of privacy.
He hung his head low and shook it from side to side saddened by the news. “Bill, why’d you have to go, Bill?” He cried plaintively, his breath catching with sorrow. One tear rolled down his cheek. The only one he'd cried in the last ten years; it was reserved for Bill.
“Ahem, um, no Mr. Morcot.” The chicken stepped towards Ernest and waived its wing to get his attention. When that didn’t work it moved closer to him and craned its neck, as only a chicken could do, placing its face directly under Ernest’s bent head; beak to nose. “Mr. Morcot. It’s not Bill.” It said again. “Mr. Morcot. Sir. It’s you. You died. Well, not yet, but you will…die that is.”
“What?” Ernest said, sniffing. “What do ya mean, I died?” His tone turned serious. With his head still bent, he stared into the beady eyes of the chicken and waited for an answer.
Unbending its neck, the chicken stood up straight and waited for Ernest to join him.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Princess Fluffybutt. Before you ask, I'm a rooster. There was a mix-up with labeling at the lab when I was an egg, and well - it stuck. Personally, I like it. I think it sounds quite royal.” He noticed the frustrated look on Ernest’s face and realized he’d been rambling.
“Anyway, back to you Mr. Morcot. I represent the Arcturus Intergalactic Insurance Company and our client, who, preferring to remain unnamed, caused you harm in the future. To wit, one Ernest P. Morcot the Third will prematurely expire by the year 2030. The events of such will remain unknown to protect the future timeline.” Mr. Fluffybutt paused and examined Ernest’s face to asses if he understood what was said.
Ernest stood there, plumb shocked at having heard about his own death...from a chicken.
“Mr. Morcot, this is good news. I’m here to give you your insurance payout now, in advance of your demise--minus costs and services of course--so that you may enjoy the few remaining years you have left. It’s money you wouldn’t normally have come by.” He paused and waited for Ernest’s reaction.
“Well, how much is it?” Ernest said, wondering what his life was worth in the future.
“Two million, three hundred and fifty thousand U.S. dollars.”
“Wooooheeee!” Ernest yelled, slapping his hat across his knee in excitement. “I ain’t never seen that kind of money. Do I need to sign somethin' for that?” He said hurriedly, afraid the money would be revoked at any moment. He reckoned that dying was gonna happen eventually, and if he had to die, well, living life to the fullest with the money now was better than living longer without it.
Mr. Fluffybutt toddled over to the center of the box and pecked at the floor, like one of those chickens at the county fair playing a toy piano. With a peck-peck-peck, a settlement agreement, a bank card, and a pen appeared.
“If you will,” Mr. Fluffybutt said as he nodded over to the items on the floor, indicating that Ernest should pick up the agreement, review it, and sign it.
Ernest gently laid Bessy in the grass, sauntered over to the papers, stooped low, and picked everything up. Not reading a single word he signed the document with the pen provided and put the debit card in his pocket. “Well, here ya are. Where do I put it?” He said as he motioned around the empty square with the agreement.
“That’s your copy Mr. Morcot. The pen you used transmitted your signature on the document, and it’s already registered.”
He nodded his head in both understanding and goodbye, picked up Bessy, and started to walk away, cogitating on how he would spend his millions.
“Mr. Morcot, Ernest, may I call you Ernest? You’ve forgotten something.”
Looking back Ernest puzzled over what he might be missing. Confused, he looked at the chicken.
“Me, sir. You’ve forgotten me.” Mr. Fluffybutt trotted over to where Ernest stood and continued, “If you look at paragraph nine on the second page it says that you agree to the welfare and maintenance of my person. This is a one-way trip you see. I can’t go back.”
“Well, what am I gonna do with a talkin chicken?” Ernest said exasperated. “C’mon then, get on over here and get in the truck.” He didn’t want to breach his contract and risk his millions, and he felt kinda bad that the chicken took a one-way trip just for him. He decided it was a small price to pay in return for the money. “What’s gonna happen to that box in my pasture?” He asked.
“Oh, it’s bio-degradable and designed to fertilize the area in which it’s placed, so your grass will grow the best in the area that it covers,” the chicken said, nodding his head as he spoke.
Ernest felt good about the bio-degradable part, and about the millions. “Let’s you and I stop off at the coffee shop on the way home and get us a treat to celebrate. What d’ya think about that?” He looked at the chicken expectantly.
Mr. Fluffybutt looked at Ernest and smiled in agreement, as best as a chicken could smile.
A little ways into town they pulled up to the local coffee stand. Ernest leaned out the window, greeted Martha the barista, and ordered an espresso for himself and steamed milk for Mr. Fluffybutt. Being a farmer, he knew that chickens can’t have caffeine.
He grabbed the to-go cups as they came out and passed his new debit card over to Martha to pay for the drinks. Martha swiped the card and asked Ernest for an additional five dollars and sixty cents.
“What d’ya mean you need an additional five dollars and sixty cents?” He said confounded. “There’s millions on that card.” He turned to Mr. Fluffybutt and asked the question, “There’s millions on that card, right?”
The chicken stayed silent.
Madder than a wet hen, Ernest muttered something under his breath and reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, and paid Martha. He tipped his hat to her and drove home in silence.
He pulled up to the front porch of his house and shut off the rumbling vehicle. Once out of the truck, he slammed the door behind him and stomped off into the house without a word. Mr. Fluffybutt hopped out of the open window of the truck, not having any opposable thumbs or fingers to open the door.
“Mr. Morcot, sir. I’ll just stay out here.” The chicken called out toward the house. “I see a coop over by the barn. I’ll go introduce myself and settle in.”
“Did you know?” Ernest bellowed, as he opened the door of the house and stuck his head out to holler at the chicken. “Did you know there were only a couple of dollars on the card?”
“Well, sir yes and you did too. It says so in the contract. It’s the deduction of costs and services. Time travel is very expensive and so is a biologically engineered talking chicken, myself, which now belongs to you. After those items were deducted it left three dollars and seventy-five cents that was put on the card.”
“So, you’re sayin' that I’m only left with you?”
“It would seem so. Well, and the pen, of course.”
“Well ain’t that somethin’.”
Ernest stood in the doorway for a long time and stared at the chicken. He contemplated what, if anything, he should do next. Having pondered a great many possibilities, some of them downright morbid, he settled on what he thought was the best solution. "Can you do math?" he asked.
Mr. Fluffybutt, nervous about what kind of things Ernest was thinking, answered him quickly. "Yes sir, I'm very good at math. I can keep your books and do your taxes if that's what you're asking. I just need a printing calculator to keep the records."
"Fine, you're hired. But you're gonna work for your coop and chicken feed. That okay with you?"
Relieved that Ernest found a use for him that didn't involve an oven, Mr. Fluffybutt bobbed and nodded his head in enthusiastic agreement.
"All right then. Just head out to the coop and get settled and I'll see you first thing in the mornin'," was the last thing Ernest said before he shut the door.
As Ernest settled down for the night he ruminated on the day's occurrences and wondered what life was going to be like with Mr. Fluffybutt around the place. He’d warmed to the idea of not being alone anymore and having someone to talk to.
Even if it was a chicken.