Congratulations to this year's Prize Turkey, Katherine J. O'Hara!
TurkeyTime! 2020 Prompts:
Shtories may be any genre, but must feature either A LIVE TURKEY, A LONG-LOST RELATIVE, A "PECULIAR" FAMILY TRADITION, A ZOOM THANKSGIVING, or PIES.
Read Katherine's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Weezie Prescott and second runner-up Zoe Miller—below!
ONE TOUGH BIRD
By Katherine J. O'Hara
It's never a good day to be a Turkey, but every fourth Thursday in November is about as bad as it gets (and December 25th’s a helluva runner-up). Now you might be asking yourself, what gives? Am I some hardcore vegan or PETA activist? Why do I care so much about the plight of these fat, feathery birdbrains?
Well, my friend, I care because I’m a Turkey. But not just any Turkey. I’m a Turkey with a badge, a licensed P.I., and the best damn Poultry Inspector cornmeal can buy. I’ve stuck my beak in places it doesn’t belong and lost a few tail-feathers along the way, but I always get the job done. But on T-Day, even I tend to keep a low profile. The stakes are too high. The ovens are too hot. It’s just not worth it.
But this year was different. It was T-Day eve, a cold, blustery miserable day, and I was closing up shop. That’s when she walked in. She was a fine bird with beautiful plumage and a beak you could never forget. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was trouble.
“Detective, I need your help...”
“Sorry, Miss, the agency’s closed.”
“It’s about my brother.”
“What about him?”
“He’s gone missing. He was flying in from out of town this morning and never landed.”
I looked out my office window. The sun was setting. Bad news.
“I don’t mean to be cold-hearted miss, but...it’s that time of year.”
“Oh please! Can you at least try to find him? I’ll pay you in grasshoppers! Anything you desire!” And then she burst into tears. I can’t stand it when a bird cries. She had me on the hook.
“Alright, there, there” I gave her a wing to cry on and a handkerchief to blow her beak. “I’ll take
She jumped for joy. Thanked me a hundred times. Gave me all the info she could on her brother’s last known whereabouts. And off I went, into the night, risking it all for a few grasshoppers and a beautiful bird.
I soon found myself in a seedy alley. Sunflower seeds, to be precise, with a smattering of millet and rye. Prime bait. A few scattered feathers. All the tell tail signs of an avian abduction. Like any good detective, I followed the breadcrumbs. I pecked for what felt like miles, leading me through a serpentine network of neon-lit back-alleys and sinister storefronts. I was starting to worry the case had gone cold turkey when I heard a faint gobble-gobble emanating from the back of a dark-tinted van parked by a warehouse. A couple of shady characters were unloading some two-bit catering supplies and....
Inside that cage, sure enough, was one scared looking Turkey. The poor feller had been clucking for hours and his gobbler was hoarse. I decided to lay low, and bide my time. I watched the men finish unloading and disappear into the warehouse, when the lights clicked off and the loading bay’s garage door started to close. I had to hurry!
I scurried as fast as I could, caught a little air off the loading ramp, and flew into the warehouse, beating the garage door just in time (and losing a few tail feathers in the process). I hid behind some crates to catch my breath, and checked my surroundings as my eyes adjusted to the dark. The men had disappeared into a corner office, door closed behind them, but I could heard their voices faintly. I had to be quiet. I ducked out from my hiding place, and found my target: his cage was perched atop a stack of George Foreman grills. Oh, the savagery!
He noticed me as I hopped over to him.
“Who are you?”
“Your sister sent me, I’m here to break you out!”
“Thank god you’re here! I’m too young to be plucked!”
“Don’t thank anyone yet.” The padlock was no joke. Fortunately, I’m a skilled beaksmith. With a bit of finagling and a streak of instinct, I pried the lock.
“Great, now we just have to get the others!”
I turned my head and realized we were not alone. On the far wall, trapped in an enclosure, were dozens of birds: turkeys, chickens, a mallard, and a couple of geese. I had a feeling their captors were no strangers to turducken. But I couldn’t afford to let emotion get the better of me.
“Listen, pal, I’d love to help, but if we don’t get out of here now, we’re gonna have the stuffing knocked into us!”
“What’s the matter with you? We can’t just leave them!”
“I’m a Turkey, not a swan!”
“You’re a damn soulless buzzard!”
Damn my heartstrings. They’ll be the death of me.
“Alright, kid, but you’re really grinding my gizzard!”
We dashed for the enclosure and I picked the lock quick as I could. The birds, eager to express their gratitude, raised a bit of a ruckus and, to our horror, the warehouse lights switched on and the men appeared from the corner office. But realizing that numbers were on our side, I turned the tables:
“Quick! Everyone, throw your weight at those boxes!”
With the full force of a dozen angry birds, we tumbled a tower of George Foremans onto the hapless bird-nappers and gave them the grilling they deserved. I pecked the garage door button and we flocked for the exit and flew the coop. And, I’m proud to say, every bird made it home.
After saving her brother from a date with the cranberry sauce, my client offered to pay me handsomely in primo grasshoppers, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t accept. Every now and then, you take a case as an errand of mercy and the job is its own reward. I’m not about to start celebrating T-Day, but I’ll give thanks for that.
THE FOWL SNATCHER
By Weezie Prescott
Purdy and Elmer Worm sat bolt upright in their feather bed; the early morning still draped in darkness. A chill breeze rattled the windows of their rustic cabin.
“Purdy, my darlin’,” whispered Elmer. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Oh, pumpkin, it’s Turkey Day. You best be getting dressed and hightailing it to the woods to catch us a bird. And do make sure it’s the fattest gobbler in the county.”
“I’ve had my eyes on three hefty birds since they were poults. They may be the size of badgers now, but they won’t out fox me. Heh, heh, heh.”
Elmer pulled on a pair of long johns, clean ones for the holiday, followed by overalls, a cozy flannel coat, heavy galoshes, and a trapper hat with fuzzy ear flaps. He reached for his fowl snatcher, a large net with a long handle.
“Mind you, Elmer, to tread lightly. Those feathered rascals will hear you coming a mile away in those boots.”
“Not to worry, Purdy me sweet. I’m as cunning as a snake and quiet as an ant. And, you know what I always say … the early Worm catches the bird. Heh, heh, heh.”
“Oh Elmer, you do put me in stitches.” Purdy giggled and gave Elmer a good luck smooch.
Elmer stepped into the foggy, dank morning and tightened the collar of his coat. His breath blew puffs of dewy air as he trudged across the yard and entered the woods. The leaf cover and thick mist made him cuss.
“Drat. I can’t see a darn thing. Where are you, you overgrown chickens?!”
Elmer flinched. He peered left and right, thrusting his brow and chin toward the source of the sound.
Elmer readied his net. “This way, birdy, birdy, birdy,” he whispered.
Leaves rustled and tiny feet pattered. Elmer tiptoed in the direction of the noise, hiding behind tree trunks as he went. He squinted at a patch of ferns and spied the silhouette of a knobby head poking up, its warty snood flopping down from its pointy beak. Elmer could see the bird’s beady eyes shining in the last of the moonlight and they were staring at him.
Gobble. Gobble. Cluck.
Oh, you think you’re clever don’t you Tommy, thought Elmer. He extended the long handle of the snatcher under the ferns, unseen. With a quick twist, Elmer lifted the net up and turned it toward the turkey’s head, but the bird was too quick.
“Tarnation. He is a clever one.”
Elmer again followed the stirring of leaves and twigs through the woods. Abruptly, the forest ended, revealing a large open area. Darkness had lifted a smidge by now and Elmer could see the outlines of square objects jutting up from the ground. He gasped. Goosebumps crept up his arms. The fowl snatcher shook in his trembling hands.
“Graveyards give me the creeps,” Elmer muttered in a shaky voice. He raised his foot to take a step forward then set it back on the ground. His feet wouldn’t budge.
Gobble. Gobble. A large, very meaty looking turkey scurried between the tombstones.
“Oh, you won’t get the best of me, you wily gobbler!” yelled Elmer. Forgetting his fears, he lunged forward with his net, chasing moving shadows around bushes, over flower bouquets, and between grave markers until he found himself in the center of the cemetery. All was suddenly quiet. No gobbles. No rustling. No pitter-patter of feet.
Elmer stood statue still, his only movement the suspicious shifting of his eyes from headstone to headstone. The sky was brightening now, and he could see the etched names on the gravestones. He crouched and meandered around the tombs.
Suddenly, Elmer screamed. A cloud of bats took flight, screeching loudly. On the ground, in front of a tombstone, lay a large turkey, grey all over as though covered in a misty cloak. The bird was motionless with its wings folded across its chest as though in a ghostly sleep.
Elmer leaned in to read the writing on the gravestone.
Here lies Tom Higgins. May He Nest in Peace.
“T-T-T-Tom? Higgins?” moaned Elmer. “Is that you?” A tiny cluck sounded but the bird remained as still as the tombstone.
“Eek!” Elmer ran but the fog was so thick, he stumbled on a tree root and fell. When he looked up, he found himself in front of another tall gravestone that read Tom Tuttle, Beloved husband of Henny Tuttle. Lying flopped over the top of the stone was another ghostly gobbler, as limp as overcooked noodles. Cluck.
“What foolery is this?!” shouted Elmer. “Tom Tuttle left this world twenty years ago.”
Elmer dropped his fowl snatcher and dashed toward the woods. He was almost there when … Gobble. He spun round to find himself face to face with a large crypt. The name above the door read Tom Barnstable, Town Musician, Buried with his Drumsticks. Sitting atop the crypt was the largest turkey Elmer had ever seen, its tail feathers spread wide like a fan. It, too, was shrouded in gray mist, appearing lifeless. Cluck.
“It c-can’t be …” But Elmer could say no more. He bolted from the graveyard, through the woods, and back to the cabin. He burst through the door to see Purdy preparing a savory stuffing.
“Why Elmer, where’s the bird?”
Elmer stumbled to a rocking chair by the fireplace. He sat and stared into the flames.
“My dear, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
That evening, Purdy and Elmer Worm sat at their cozy dining table. Bowls of potatoes, turnips, corn, cranberries, squash, and carrots were arranged across the checkered tablecloth. In the center of the table sat a tremendous platter, empty.
Elmer still stared at the fire, his skin a ghoulish gray. Behind him, through a windowpane, three bumpy, featherless heads with yellow beaks and droopy wattles peeked in. Cluck. Heh. Heh. Heh.
By Zoe Miller
Bill punctured his thick, sun-brown finger with the lancet and the Accu-check tasted his blood and spit out a number. He examined it and then shuffled off to the bathroom for his date with a needle full of insulin. Thanksgiving was, as it had been for the last several years, a mess of calculus; carbs in this, sugar in that, milliliters and grams, miles and gallons of gasoline, pounds of turkey, dollars and cents.
Bill decided he would take a walk before his children and grandchildren arrived. That was supposed to be good for his blood sugar. "Susan," he called to his wife, "I'm going out."
"What for?" She called from the kitchen.
"To stretch my legs."
Bill walked out into the light flurry that the afternoon had brought on, into the cloistered little town where he had spent the last thirty-five years of his life. Nestled to the north of the American heartland, he felt the nation churn feverishly around him.
Will we have civil war? He pondered. No. That's nothing but alarmism. Nothing but words of provocation. Nothing at all.
And yet, was that not the kind of thing that people must have thought before wars in the past? Did the inhabitants of crumbling empires not always feel that the status quo could never shift?
Bill caught his reflection in the window of a cafe, superimposed on top of the students talking and studying inside over scones and cappuccinos. Maybe someday the empire will fracture, he thought, but I think I'll die before that day arrives. His transparent reflection looked old. Looked stooped and limping. Looked like his knees and feet hurt, which they did. He walked onward. It's these kids who really need to worry about the future, he thought. These poor kids. Born right at the brink of some strange new age. I have the good fortune to be departing the world just as the old world itself disintegrates.
There was a bakery up ahead. A midwestern blonde girl was at the counter inside, was talking in her chirping, lilting accent to some enraptured customer about all the kinds of pies they had.
"We've got pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie," she was saying, almost singing. Bill stopped and watched her through the window, watched the pink flush in her cheeks, watched how tight her apron was tied around her little waist. It must have been smaller than his thigh, he thought. He imagined he could almost enclose it in his hands.
He headed home. His knees were hurting badly now, and he felt his blood sugar dropping too low. He wanted to rest before his grandchildren arrived. Watch some tv, relax, let his thoughts leave him. Let them dissolve away, into the early night. Soon it will be the solstice.
At dinner that evening, Bill kept to the proper types and proportions of food. A palm's worth of lean turkey, half a plate of vegetables. Is it just this until I die? he wondered. Just filling half the plate with vegetables until one day I am dead?
His youngest daughter Lucy, had a new boyfriend that year, Michael. She had been living in New York and met him there. He was an investment banker, a classic New York guy, and his pitch black hair was perfectly coiffed. He sat with his legs spread wide and a hand slipped below the table and resting on Lucy's thigh. His concern is with numbers, he said, not words. Good for him, Bill thought, and he said it- "Good for you. That's very practical."
What had Bill's writing done for the world, in the end, anyway? Out of print, out of style, taking up a shelf in their home and at the end of the day, not making all that much money or changing the world in any manner. Signifying nothing, Bill thought, like The Bard once said. Was that why his little Lucy had found this banker attractive? Because he was practical, because he believed in numbers over words, unlike her father had? Had he driven her to seek out a life partner who was his exact opposite? Bill's two grandchildren, boy and girl, siblings, spawn of his eldest child Jack, came back into the room from their exploration of the upstairs.
"The upstairs closet smells funny," They said, with unrestrained delight. "Like mothballs!"
It doesn't smell like mothballs, Bill thought. It smells like the beginning of decay. That's the smell of death lurking.
Jack and his wife brought two pies for dessert. From that bakery, that local bakery, with the local blonde. She might have even touched them with her gloved hands. One was pecan, one was pumpkin, rich and creamy, sin, sin, sin. He watched his family divide the pies, so golden brown, so flesh-toned, into many pieces.
"Oh, he can't have any," said Susan, gesturing towards Bill. She was his exact age, but healthier. Full of pep yet, that old girl.
"I can't have any," Bill agreed. He could feel that his blood sugar was getting high again.