In just one iteration, the birthday stories managed to grow incredibly more elaborate! My friend, Jenna, had half-jokingly made a remark several months ago along the lines of, "If ghosts are real, imagine how many spectral chickens must lurk around us!" I thought this was a pretty hilarious and creepy thought, so I filed it away for future reference, like you do when you're a weirdo like me. "Yes, I can use this," I whispered to myself in the dark...
Anyway! Jenna loves historical figures - and one in particular - so I decided to run with it. Somehow she ended up a detective for her birthday. Enjoy! :-)
A Girl, a Chicken, and a President
The rain fell hard on the roof of her car as Jenna peered out a water-streaked window. Down the unkempt country road, the sprawling wreck of an old industrial farm sat ruined and abandoned. Minutes passed as Jenna assessed the rusted machinery, the monolithic metal pipes, and the strange mansion sitting in the heart of the thousand-acre operation.
The house’s southern gothic architecture spoke of a time long past, of a dark history its owners were once proud to display for all to see. Seated as it was amid the monument to mechanized manufacturing, it seemed sad and menacing; a home to unbridled ambition. Where once a humble farmhouse stood, an industrial beast now waited.
As the story goes, the place had fallen victim to a rampant spectral infestation. She’d gathered rumors of unexplained death, heard whispers of otherworldly torment. Of course her curiosity was piqued. It would have been even if she weren’t able to see the souls of the dead, but as it happens, she could and there she was.
Jenna grabbed her umbrella, checked her flashlight, and stepped out of her car. Rain pitter-pattered on the black vinyl dome above her as she dodged puddles the size of ponds. Old wooden steps creaked beneath her as she strode ever closer toward the mansion’s looming mass of rotting wood and broken windows. On the threshold of the enormous house, a cold presence froze the warm, mid-summer rain. A voice, too close for comfort, whispered in her ear.
“Happy birthday, my dear Jenna,” it said, a note of playful teasing in its tone.
Jenna yelped in surprise and spun around to face her stalker, ready to unleash a furious barrage of insults. But when she turned and saw who it was, she didn’t bother. She should have known. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States stood before her.
“Ugh. Theodore…” Jenna sighed and put a palm to her forehead. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s your birthday! I wanted to accompany you on one of your adventures!” The presidential ghost giggled and smiled with boyish earnestness.
“I thought I told you after our last adventure—“
“I know, I know. But listen…”
“I don’t want to hear it! You made a mess of things last time. Why don’t you just move on already?” Jenna folded her arms and flipped her hand toward him, as if dismissing an ill-behaved pet.
“I love this country too much to move on,” Theodore proclaimed. He folded his arms in defiance and stood proud and handsome, the spitting image of a textbook illustration of the man.
“Ugh,” Jenna moaned. Looking at the long-dead Nobel Peace Prize winner, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man she’d so long admired. Her frustration evaporated and she relented. “Fine. You can stay. But only if you do exactly as I say.”
Theodore perked up and energetically nodded, “Of course! It’s your birthday, after all. Your wish is my command, my lady.”
“Whatever,” Jenna muttered as she turned from her supernatural companion.
Focusing her attention on the front door, she could feel the spiritual pressure of residual sorrow beyond it; of sad lives and sadder ends. She wondered what had become of the humans that once inhabited this place and knowing better, decided she didn’t want to know. Something else resided in this place. Something smaller, more primal, more innocent than any human she’d yet encountered in her strange travels.
Jenna put a hand to the door and pushed it open. It squealed as it scraped along the grimy floor and pushed dirt from its swinging path. It was clear no one had entered this portal for years. The young investigator switched on her flashlight and stepped inside the dark house.
Around her, the weathered remnants of an abandoned home gave testament of the life that had once been lived there. Wet dust covered every surface. Portraits hanged askew, their frames peeling and glass cracked. The faded image of a cruel-looking woman watched Jenna as she made her way among the wreckage, the old woman’s eyebrows raised in unsatisfied critique and lips set in a permanent scowl. Couches and chairs sat torn and shabby, their lifeless husks now home to errant fauna. Pops of amateur graffiti decorated the walls in places, lending brightness to flaccid wallpaper. Theodore perused the mildew-covered books on one of the shelves as Jenna took in the unsettling visage of the old woman. A small stream of rainwater dripped on her shoulder, splashing into her hair.
From the darkness of the long central hallway, a tiny incandescent creature stepped lightly toward Jenna.
“Jenna, look!” Theodore closed the open book in his hand and pointed in the direction of the little being. He waved and shouted, “Hello!”
Jenna scowled and snapped at the man, “Would you shut up?”
A plump mother hen emerged from the gloom, her spectral body silently picking along the tattered floor boards. As the bird stepped closer, Jenna smiled and dropped to one knee, now eye level with the mysterious creature. The hen stopped, scratched at the ground, then turned its head and clucked in what sounded like bewilderment.
“Hello,” Jenna said. A note of sympathy warmed her voice.
“H-h-hello?” The hen responded. Its unlikely chicken voice was quiet and dignified and mournful. “You can… You can understand me?”
“I don’t know why, but yes. I can. How long have you been here?” Jenna asked.
“Too long,” the sad chicken whispered.
“I see,” Jenna replied, her brow knit and mouth frowning.
Behind the hen, at the end of the long dark hallway, more chickens peeked around corners and out of doors, curious to see what was happening. The hen turned and clucked in their direction what must have been some ancient sign of safety. Before long, the ghosts of more chickens than Jenna could count had crowded the foyer of the dilapidated house. The tiny creatures stood silent and expectant. A heavy cloud of melancholy lingered in the air.
“My word!” Theodore exclaimed. He was astonished by the sight.
The hen looked at the friends and family beside her, then back at the human. With desperate hope in its voice, she asked, “So many have suffered. Can you help us?”
“I don’t know. But I’ll try,” Jenna said.
She closed her eyes and raised the palm of her left hand toward the congregation before her. Without a word, Jenna let her mind and spirit roam free. Energies unseen to normal humans became visible to her. Dark energies. Light energies. The infinite interwoven threads of the universe that maintain the balance of life and death.
Jenna stood up and with her eyes still closed, approached the old woman’s faded portrait. There, she could see the black anchor of anger and greed and inhumanity that bound the innocent creatures to this place. She climbed up on a creaky chair to tear the painting off the wall. With joyful abandon, Jenna removed the canvas from its frame and slowly ripped it in half, grinning all the while.
“We could never tha—,” the mother hen clucked as she and her companions winked out of existence. Jenna opened her eyes. She never thought much about her abilities and wouldn't count herself a believer, but still she hoped they were somewhere happy. Somewhere green and far away from any cruel place like this.
“That was beautiful,” Theodore whispered. He looked away to wipe a spectral tear from his eye.
“You’re such a big baby,” Jenna sighed. She ran her fingers through her hair to tousle the wet tangles. She picked up her flashlight, readied her umbrella. Together, the pair walked back through the mansion. It felt as though a great weight had been lifted from the place. Satisfied, Jenna made her way through the door.
“I liked those chickens,” Theodore disclosed. A giddy smile played on his ethereal lips, raising the corners of his notorious mustache. He adjusted his hat, as if he needed to worry about the rain outside.
“Yeah, me too,” Jenna replied. She returned the dead president’s smile and nodded.