by Samuel Caleb Wee
The mutant chicken got kidnapped by the agents of the food industry.
She had been on the run for a long time, and, weary from sun and dust, had finally fallen victim to an offer of grain and worm. The turkey innkeeper had looked kindly, after all, and really he was, the sort of upstanding bird who volunteered to coach community football games and tithed regularly, but the recession had taken the wind out of the travel industry. As the agents dragged the sedated body of the mutant chicken away, the turkey innkeeper cried out in apology, and his wattle turned a deep oxblood red from the shame. It was the last thing the mutant chicken saw as a free bird.
When she woke up it was at a secret testing facility. The intention was to hold her captive and run rigorous experiments to determine the full extent of her powers. If she had been the sort of mutant chicken who could project energy blasts from her beak or turn her feathers into deadly darts she might have had a fighting chance of escape. As it was, however, her superpower was an accelerated healing factor. This was discovered very quickly when the scientists who tried to cut her open discovered that her wounds healed over within seconds.
“So you mean to say,” said the director of the facility slowly, “that the chicken can’t die?”
He had to process all reports this way, in slow paraphrases. He was not a scientist per se, but he had an excellent LinkedIn profile.
“We can’t kill her, yes,” said the chief scientist.
“We’ve been losing all sorts of surgical tools in her insides. They come out eventually, of course, but all covered in fecal matter.”
“Chicke—fecal matter. It doesn’t matter. I don’t mind telling you the rest of the scientists are very cross. They didn’t spend years at Oxbridge to end up washing avian waste off their tools.”
“But don’t you see,” said the director excitedly, for he had a very business-savvy brain, he was the Steve Jobs of cutting up chickens, “this changes everything!”
The direction of the experiments changed. Practical limits were tested. How fast could the mutant chicken regenerate—how often, how much? They began by shaving her daily and making constant incisions on her thighs. It was soon discovered that the nature of her regenerative properties ran contrary to the conventional proportions of morphogenic processes in chickens. While the mutant chicken retained typical rates of growth for epidermal intergumentary appendages (in popular parlance, feathers), its bones and viscera and muscle tissue regenerated at rates that were off the charts. To that end, the mutant chicken was kept trussed and stripped while the experiments were conducted, distinguishable from her friends at the market only by virtue of the fact that she was still in possession of a head.
Tests were bumped up from incisions to deeper cuts and gouges. The goal was to determine how much muscle tissue could be removed at any one time without compromising the overall structural integrity of the body. For the longest time, this figure was capped at 453 grams per day, and no breakthrough could be made.
“One pound of flesh?” The director scratched his head. “You’re not having me on, are you? Fudging the figures just to make a Shakespeare reference?”
The chief scientist had never read Shakespeare before. He was Asian, and his tiger mother had demanded he focus all his efforts in school towards lucrative subjects like biology. It had worked. He made lots of money as the chief scientist of a mutant chicken testing facility, and every Chinese New Year he showed his appreciation by digitally transferring large sums into her bank account. In return, she would send him pictures of his nephews and nieces, and actual striped wooly jumpers, for she had taken up knitting, having mellowed in her old age.
The chief scientist never wore them. They chafed.
It was a dream one night, or perhaps a memory, it was hard to tell. He was attempting to eat a bowl of yellow yarn as his mother stood above him imperiously, demanding that he eat, and be grateful, and he did, but the ball was endless, and the yarn would not stop.
When he awoke, he reached for his papers, and began to feverishly work out the calculations.
It turned out that what had been needed was a paradigm shift. They had been working under the assumption of sustenance as a constant, and had never even thought to consider it a variable. A series of tests soon yielded the results he’d hoped to achieve: increased protein intake resulted in increased levels of acceptable muscle tissue removal.
It was then that the second great epiphany came to him, again in a dream, this time a particularly pornographic one. Up till then feeding had been structured at regular intervals, according to usual farming conventions. Instead, the chief scientist ordered the construction of a long tube. One end was attached to a giant vat, and the other was fitted into the throat of the mutant chicken. Through this tube protein provisions were channeled constantly. The brilliant solution solved two problems. Firstly, it exponentially increased the bar for muscle tissue removal, such that the scientists could now lop off entire appendages and strip the flesh from her breast every 30 minutes. This was a massive breakthrough, one which the chief scientist felt confident would result in a huge bump-up in his salary.
The second, however, made him felt good as a human being and a manager. It had to do with workplace satisfaction. The insertion of the tube effectively stopped the mutant chicken from being able to cry out every time an amputation occurred, or plead to the scientists in between the sessions. This greatly increased employee morale.
“Please,” the mutant chicken would say. “I’m a person too. I have parents. They loved me very much. Please. Once I was in love. He was a beautiful rooster. He had brown mischievous eyes. He worked as a firefighter but secretly he loved poetry. Please. He wrote me some poems once comparing my feathers to flames. We broke up after our chicks were stillborn. I still think of him when I see a house on fire. Please. Let me go, or let me die. It hurts very much. It hurts every time. Oh please. Please.”
Eventually they calibrated the liquid feed for maximum protein density, which was a breakthrough in itself, and was eventually marketed to weightlifting enthusiasts as Soylent Chix (the director’s idea). At the facility, muscle tissue removal rates were optimized by 6000 per cent. The wings and thighs and breast of the mutant chicken could be acquired and regenerated every 30 seconds. The process was very quickly mechanized, a fact which made all the scientists quite cheerful, for it meant they had a lot more free time now.
One of them bought an Xbox. One took up squash.
Another proposed to his long-suffering boyfriend, who had been feeling guilty for turning to Jack’d and Grindr to assuage his feelings of neglect. The boyfriend said yes very quickly, and wiped his history on the app store for good measure that night.
The breakthroughs revolutionized the food industry. The mutant chicken’s meat flooded the global market. The director had been waiting for this moment all his life, and within the span of six months he pulled off the greatest hustle in chicken meat history. Top chefs from all around the world were flown in to prepare their signature dishes using the mutant chicken’s meat, and esteemed reviewers invited to review said dishes.
Save for an invective-filled bust-up between Gaston Acurio and Gordon Ramsay, the event was a roaring success.
By the end of that year, chicken farms all around the globe had been devastated.
Liberal activists protested the neo-colonialist destruction of Third-World economies by genetically modified food products.
TIME Magazine named the director and the chief scientist joint Persons-Of-The-Year.
The chief scientist’s mother was very proud. She knitted her son an exceptionally garish jumper, and insisted he wear it at the Nobel ceremony. When the pictures hit the headlines the next day, the jumper was universally derided as being problematic.
The chickens of the world began to roam free again, the way they did before human civilization had domesticated their species. They built chicken cities in the wild and were largely left alone. A particularly popular religion sprung up around the mutant chicken, for greater love had no one than this, that a chicken sacrificed her flesh and her blood for her fellows to roam free.
They built monasteries and churches dedicated to her worship. Usage of her real name was forbidden. Instead, followers were to refer to her only as the mutant chicken.
It was an evangelical religion. You didn’t have to be born into it. All you had to do was remove a particular toe from your claw to demonstrate your devotion to the mutant chicken.
A turkey walked into one of their churches one day. Yes, they asked, have you come to hear the gospel truth of the mutant chicken? The truth will set you free.
The turkey stared at the giant, amputated statue for a moment, before breaking down in tears.
They could not make him stop, or explain why he was crying.
It was blasphemy to turn asylum-seekers out of the church on a Sunday, so his sobs punctuated every other line of the sermon.
Even after he left, his sobs remained. Every Sunday the weeping would well up from a disembodied place within the church, like a violin counterpoint to the preaching.
Years later, a rapper from Indonesia would set up studio in the church, and sample the weeping for a hard-hitting track about the oppressed condition of fowls.
It went to Number Two on the charts.
Back in the testing facility, the mutant chicken was no longer capable of begging, since her larynx could not heal through the feeding tube. She blinked instead, in her trussed naked state, in Morse code, to anyone who was present in the room.
None of the scientists had ever been boy scouts, so no one was particularly bothered.
At night, when there was nobody left to beg, the mutant chicken would think. Sleep was impossible. So were dreams. But she could think.
She thought about brown, mischievous eyes, about poems of plumage and fire.
Mostly she thought about her parents. They had all lived together, once, on a quiet farm, in a small coop made of tin and wood. When the rain came down upon the tin roof of the shed it sounded like rapturous applause, like the skies themselves were applauding the simple facts of their daily chicken existence.
Once, she had asked her parents about their lives before her birth. They had been lifelong best friends, they said. Everyone on the farm knew before they did, and when it finally happened the wedding had been a moving and riotous affair. Everyone turned out, the lambs and the pigs and the horses, and everyone had gotten drunk and danced hilariously. When they walked down the aisle, they did so to confetti rained down by the ducks.
(The blades came every 30 seconds, incessantly; eternally. Wings. Thighs. Breast.)
It was a lovely wedding, her mother had said. Your father started his speech too high and made everyone laugh. Really, really lovely.
Samuel Caleb Wee is a Singaporean writer whose poetry and non-fiction has appeared in publications such as Kitaab, OF ZOOS, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Esquire and August Man. A member of the poetry collective A.T.O.M., he is also the co-editor of this is how you walk on the moon, an anthology of experimental anti-realist fiction published by Ethos Books in 2016, and launched at the Singapore Writers Festival that year.