Sorry if I was out of commission yesterday. My stomach was feeling a bit off. We went to a party at The Belly and that chef, Chubb Champo, had just got back in town; he’d taken a trip into the rural cornfields of Illinois and came back with some spoils. Spoils. That might be the best way to describe what he brought back. It was real important that he throw a dinner party immediately.
As Chubb served us through the window of that decrepit food truck, his name written in soap on the windshield, he told us about his dish in that booming voice of his. There were probably a hundred of us gathered around it, the word had spread quickly that morning. What he had cooked up did smell amazing: citrusy, with a peppery kick that activated your nostrils further, and it overpowered the usual hint of dusty brick and earthy mold that typically lingers in that dank warehouse party space.
He’d been driving around the countryside – it started with an interest in familiarizing himself with different varieties of corn, for some sort of fall harvest dish he was thinking up. He was distracted by someone he’d met in a small town bar. A lanky dude that looked like he hadn’t eaten in days. Chubb made a comment – one that was customary for him – told the guy he looked like shit. The guy looked at him and shrugged. Chubb tried to further his abrasive attempt at small talk: “why do you look like shit, then?”
Turned out it was the guy’s birthday, and when Chubb pressed to find out why he looked so glum on his birthday, the guy told Chubb that every year on his birthday he wakes up to find a new rooster, alive and healthy, at the foot of his bed. He knows it’s a different rooster from previous years because of the distinct patterns in the feathers’ colors. It’s like it’s indicating something for him to focus on in the coming year, through symbol. Last year it looked like a dollar sign was weaved in yellow over the brown. He took this to mean he should focus on money. This particular year it looked like a ring, and he knew instantly what that meant. It was as though someone in his family had sent the rooster to echo their persistent line of questioning.
He also knows it’s a different rooster because they all stick around. He has about 17 roosters in his home, even though he’s 34, but that would make sense because roughly 17 have died throughout the years. This doesn’t mean the deceased roosters have left him; he still catches glimpses of them out of the corner of his eye, in the mirror, as shadows, and sometimes as full-bodied apparitions if he gets up to pee in the middle of the night.
The thing about these roosters: they’re not like roosters you’d typically find on a farm. Instead of cockadoodledooing, they seem to screech the word “should” over and over and over again, even the ghostly roosters, as cold whispers in his ear. Shoullllllldddddd. He teeters between finding himself desensitized by the word – like it’s background noise – and extreme distress, as the cacophony of varying pitches of shoulllllllddddddd resound around him, and turn over in his mind as he lays down to sleep, or tries to snooze a little longer come morning.
At first Chubb didn’t believe him that he had so many roosters in his home, and Chubb told him this. The guy felt like he was being challenged and asked Chubb if he wanted to see for himself. Chubb is, of course, the type of guy who would go to the house of some guy in the boonies on the whim of an off-the-cuff invitation. So they went and Chubb saw these 17 roosters wandering around a small one room house. Remarkably, it was clean, the floor wasn’t coated in the bird shit he had expected. They were some kind of harbinger, beyond animal, and Chubb understood there was terror afoot. The tuft on each rooster’s head appeared as a crown, and it made Chubb think on the phrase introduced by Freud many years ago: tyranny of the should. And it was clear this guy was suffering from it, bad. Post-it Notes lined the wall, a running list of demands brought to him each birthday. Read the Bible. Call your grandparents more. Run every day! Don’t drink booze. Take Lent seriously. Stop masturbating. Throw out your TV. Keep to a budget. Fix the barn, it will collapse! That one looked like it had yet to be addressed.
Chubb thought up a plan to steal the roosters away. He’d slaughter them and use them for a feast, but not on that guy’s property, he didn’t want him to be stuck with any more of those rooster ghosts. The guy was more than happy to stock Chubb up with his burden. It would be nice to, at the very least, be free of the living ones. But next birthday, he’d find himself followed by yet another rooster, he knew there’d be no end to it, until possibly the day of his death, but even then, he had a gut feeling he’d be sentenced to an eternity in a rooster themed Hell. Chubb said not to worry, he’d be back every year for the guy’s birthday, pay a visit and take the thing off his hands.
Chubb sped back to Chicago with 17 roosters sounding off within a large net in the back of his van, and once back at the butt crack of dawn, he had his girl Shoshana call everyone up, put the feast in motion, while he slaughtered them one by one in the middle of the warehouse. He enlisted his cooking frenemy Fats Hugo to give him a hand, barking orders to keep control of the net so none escaped while he chopped off heads. It sent the rest of them into a frenzy of panic and Fats struggled to hold down the net.
He made Fats hose down the floor we later stood on – it was still a bit wet when we got there – to rinse off the rooster blood. There was a drain a few yards away from us, a red puddle still festered around it.
That took up his morning, and the afternoon was spent slow roasting them over a controlled dumpster fire behind the building. When I heard this, I at first wanted to gag, but friends of Chubb assured me the dumpster was clean, it was purchased for the sole purpose of charring large quantities of meat. Ribbed rods were secured across the opening as a makeshift spit where the flames licked, the smoke escaping notice of the city police, whose primary focus was on the gang activity that surrounded their block. Besides, Chubb knows how to keep himself in good graces: the cops know where to go when they’re in need of a late night meal.
My complaint about the meat wasn’t that it tasted bad, in fact it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. But I felt like I was having a hard time digesting it. It was like something unsettling was crawling around in my gut, it was the worry of something that I needed to get done, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was as though he infected all of us with that tyranny of the should, gave us the ghosts to absorb into our own intestines. In his altruistic attempt to help that hillbilly, he’d only shifted the problem.
In the middle of the night I woke up, and in the faint street light that peeked through my curtains, it appeared as though tattoos had seeped through the inside of my skin, like ink had been squeezed up from my bones, to cover every inch in a series of scribbles; beaks, agape in a synchronized scream, in the midst of a nagging command, in a tongue that will never translate. In the morning light the phantom designs appeared much more bold. I didn’t notice your texts until that vague, but obnoxious, message on my skin faded near twilight. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t still bug the shit out of me.
The story above is an inspired spin-off of the novella “Probiotic Hot Sauce” by the same author, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 1, winter, 2015. To read more about the culinary warehouse world of Fats Hugo and Chubb Champo, please visit the link below to order a paperback or Kindle copy of the publication: