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The Running of the Chickens

It was my mother’s fault. On summer vacation from elementary school (or as my blood-brother Willy put it, “out of the joint”) between the fourth and fifth grades, I was hanging around the house drawing designs in the dust on the woodwork when mother suggested I go outside and play. “Get out of this house. You’re driving me nuts,” was the way she put it.

Realizing the potential danger I would place myself in should I dally around, I dashed from the house, my pace quickened by a broom slapping wildly about my backside. Thus forced from my own home, I aimed my walking feet toward my friend Willy’s house where the whole episode concerning the chickens would come to pass. So as anyone can plainly see, it was my mother’s fault.
This part of the state was farm country, and although Willy’s parents were not farmers, they were not wealthy either and so kept a coop full of chickens as a cheap source of eggs and feather meat, which was quite necessary to feed the abundant Willy household: the 10-year-old Willy plus five brothers and sisters betwixt the ages of two and six years.

As I walked up the drive to Willy’s house, his father Tom passed me going the other way in his car. Tom was the minister at the local Baptist church. I waved, but when Tom recognized me, his eyes went a bit wide, his mouth dropped open, and he shook his head. Then he stopped the car and began praying. I was going to go over and say “Howdy,” but I spotted Willy out feeding the chickens so I moved on.
Actually, Willy was not just feeding the chickens. He would throw down some feed, and when a chicken would bend over to peck it up, Willy would shoot the chicken in the butt with a water gun. The startled chicken would leap straight up into the air, spin around, and, upon landing, run off squawking back into the coop—a nifty show of acrobatics that the giggling, sharp-shooting Willy seemed to enjoy immensely.

“Hey, Willy,” I said, thumbing back toward the direction of the driveway. “What’s with your dad? He seems to spend a lot of time praying anymore.”
“Not really,” answered Willy, “Just when you come over.”

“Oh,” I said.

“It’s hot out here,” said Willy, sucking on the end of his water gun. “Let’s go in the house.”

We entered the house through the kitchen door. Willy’s mother was washing dishes. When she saw Willy and me, she rolled her eyes, looked skyward, and said, “Oh, Lordy.” A very religious family, I thought—although the religion thing hadn’t seemed to rub off on Willy yet.

Willy and I went into the living room and settled down to what we had originally planned to be a leisurely afternoon of soda pop swigging and television watching. Our peaceful plans quickly changed however—National Geographic could not have known their weekly television special, watched that day by two impressionable young lads, would lead to an event which would change the serene Willy household into one besieged with mayhem and terror. The subject of the show, “The Running of the Bulls,” so affected Willy and me with scenes of bulls chasing foolhardy men through the streets of Pamplona, Spain that we could think of but one thing: chickens… Yes, chickens.

“Chickens!” Willy and I shouted in unison, as I slapped my knee in glee just at the thought of our intended use of the feathered critters.

“What about chickens?” questioned Willy’s mom as she leaned at an angle through the living room doorway, one eyebrow raised, head cocked, wiping her hands dry on