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Story by Natalie Warther (Read author interview) December 18, 2023

Art by Wallace Fonseca

On the farm we had 20 of them, each as big as a rat terrier. Our yard wasn’t ours—it was theirs—and in it they hunted bugs, running wide legged and severing worm heads with their beaks.

“Chicken” is the wrong word to describe someone who is scared.

Visitors came. “We want to see the chickens,” they’d say, and I’d retreat to my room, chew on my hair, and watch from my window as twenty birds came streaking, screaming.

We heard rumors of genius chickens: chickens who rode bicycles, chickens who solved puzzles, chickens who could add and subtract, chickens who played God Bless America by hitting their skulls on piano keys. “Break its neck,” my older cousin demanded, to prove I wasn’t a chicken. So I did, I twisted its neck like a wet rag until I heard a snap. The other chickens flapped and squawked, memorizing my face. The cousins threw the chicken body into the woods like a tomahawk, its neck spinning around its body into the night. We never saw it land, but we heard it: heavy like a sob. I dreamt of the bird hitting the ground over and over again, the sound of it as crisp as a single word: Fight.

In the morning the chickens were positioned under my window, looking up, subtracting.


“Chicken,” a finalist in the 2023 SmokeLong Grand Micro Competition, was originally published in HAD.

About the Author

Natalie Warther is a senior writer at Chiat Day with an MFA from Bennington College. Her most recent fiction is forthcoming in Wigleaf. Her story “Bye Bye Baby” was a 2024 Pushcart Prize Nominee and she is a current finalist in the 2024 American Short(er) Fiction Award. She lives in Los Angeles.

About the Artist

Wallace Fonseca is a Brazilian photographer and digital artist.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Two

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