The rooster crowed. Amie yawned and stretched her hand slapping against Wilma’s pillow. ‘Oops! Sorry,’ Amie mumbled. Wilma did not stir; she slept like the proverbial babe.
Amie peered at the window.
The rooster crowed again.
Amie eased her way out from under the doona, and then tottered over to the window. The landscape was cloaked in shades of violet, the black blocks of village buildings barely discernible against the nightscape. Standing at the window so long she shivered, Amie studied the stars, trying to make sense of them. Stars sparkled through a cloud shaped like the hand of God. She thought it must be a cloud. Why do the stars all look so different? She examined the clusters but couldn’t make sense of any constellations. None seemed familiar. ‘Must be I’m tired or perhaps dreaming,’ she mumbled.
The rooster crowed yet again.
‘Oh, go on, you! It’s the middle of the night,’ Amie said. She returned to her bed and crept under the quilt.
The rooster continued to herald the dawn. Cockle-doodle-doo! Cockle-doodle-doo. Amie lay awake. Cockle-doodle-doo. Cockle-doodle-screech! Squawk! Squawk! Screech!
‘Don’t tell me—foxes.’ Amie turned over and tried to steal a few more hours’ sleep. But sleep eluded her.
The hens clucked. The rooster squawked. A gate squeaked and then clunked. Then the noise of chooks in the chook yard sounded like a party with a cacophony of squawking, clucking, cockle-doodling and footsteps scrunching.
Amie heard a thud. Shrieks and the sound of wings flapping followed.
Must save the poor rooster. Wearing only her nightdress that Frau Biar lent her, she raced out of the bedroom. She stumbled in the darkened living area as she made her way to the door. The squawking spurred her on. She fumbled for the knob. No knob. She groped at a long metal thing—a latch. She worked the latch, tugging it, pulling at it, wiggling and waggling trying to open the door.
A long raspy shriek hit the airwaves.
Amie finally hoisted the latch out of its cradle and the door sprang open.
By the light of the “hand of God” cloud, that hadn’t moved, Amie galloped to the chook yard.
Herr Biar and his son Friedrich paced the pen. Herr Biar carried an axe.
‘It’s over there,’ Friedrich said. With hands outstretched, he ran to the corner of the hen house.
The chooks whooped and bocked in protest. Something feathery skittered out into the yard with Friedrich in hot pursuit. Herr Biar joined the chase. Round and round the pen they ran. Tracking their frantic laps made poor Amie dizzy.
Amie mused. What were they doing chasing some small feathery animal, probably the rooster? Did his crowing tick them off that much, they get up in the middle of the night to kill the poor bird?
Rays of a torch lit up the scene. ‘Wicked! A headless chook!’ a voice said behind her.
Amie glanced over her shoulder. Joseph stood there grinning like the Cheshire cat. ‘What do you mean, headless?’ she asked.
Leading the father and son on a merry chase, a rooster’s body. Blood spurted out of the open neck. Hens pecked at the detached head. They looked like they were enjoying a feast.
Meanwhile, Biar and his son cornered the headless creature. Father made a grab for it, but it ducked out of his reach. Friedrich hurled himself on the rooster’s body, but the body with a life of its own, slipped from his tackle.
Friedrich rose to standing and dusted poultry poop off his shirt and trousers. ‘That beast is not normal. It has eyes on its body, I swear.’
‘Why do you think we kill it?’ his Papa said.
Biar darted left, his son right, again trying to trap the unruly body. But the ball of feathers and muscle darted in between them.
‘It’s got a life of its own,’ Joseph said.
‘It’s one very angry body,’ Amie said. ‘It didn’t like them chopping off its head. Why did they do it?’
Joseph leaned close to Amie and whispered, ‘I heard Herr Biar talking to his Frau last night. Apparently, the cock has been fathering defective stock.’
‘Stock? What do you mean? Mutant chickens?’
‘Yes, not surprisingly, knowing this place. Look around. Look up at the sky. How could the chickens come out normal?’
‘You mean I’m not imagining the stars being all different?’
Joseph shook his head.
The headless rooster slowed. Friedrich pounced on it and commenced plucking out the feathers.
‘But why would the rooster be all munged up, I mean, his offspring?’ Amie asked.
Joseph shrugged. ‘Dunno. But I bet Boris’s behind all this.’
‘Boris? Who’s Boris?’
‘You don’t want to know—but I guess you’ll have to one of these days.’
Herr Biar held the carcass by its feet, the blood dripping onto the floor of the pen. He approached the spectators. ‘The rooster was evil. What is this place, Australia?’
‘This place is not Australia, Herr Biar.’Joseph leaned on the fence pole. ‘This place is not even our world.’
The first touches of dawn reflected pink on the mountain peaks. Herr Biar studied the sky, now a lighter shade of purple. ‘Nein, I thought as much. I should believe my wife.’ He nodded. ‘We’ve been tricked by the devil.’
Friedrich ambled up behind his father. ‘I told you, Papa. I told you that Herr Roach, was bad. I had a bad feeling about him. Didn’t I tell you, Papa? He gave us that rooster and it was bad too.’
‘So, what did the chickens look like?’ Amie was curious.
‘Chickens? No, no chickens,’ Biar said. ‘When the eggs hatched, giant cockroaches come out of them.’
‘Urgh! Gross!’ Amie fixed her attention on the rooster body. Blood fell with a plop to the dusty floor. Then it seemed to crawl away. One blob scuttled over her foot. ‘Yew! The blood’s moving!’ Another blob rolled towards her. She jumped. ‘It’s alive.’
Joseph stomped. ‘No, Amie, it’s not blood, they’re cockroaches.’
Herr Biar and Friedrich glanced around their feet and screamed. The chook yard floor was alive and heaving with cockroaches. In the morning light, Amie witnessed millions of them swarming like a plague over the yard and into the fields. Biar and Friedrich jogged on the spot as black beads streamed up their legs. Hens flapped and squawked as the critters hung onto their wings and feet.
‘Get them off me!’ Amie slapped at her limbs, and face. Some critters flew in her hair. She swiped at her locks trying in vain to untangle these unwanted hair pieces.
‘Quick, the dam!’ Herr Biar pushed through the gate and led the way to the body of water.
Amie, Joseph and Friedrich staggered after Biar. Amie wiped her eyes of the roaches that wanted to lodge there. As she swiped at them, they dislodged and flew away.
‘Are you sure the water’s safe, Papa?’ Friedrich asked.
‘Either we die from the cockroaches, or risk whatever’s in the water,’ Biar replied and then waded into the water. He washed the roaches off as he went deeper.
Joseph plunged in. A ring of roaches swirled around him. He sank under the water’s surface and bobbed up a few metres from the floating bugs.
Amie jumped in. She sprang straight up. ‘It’s cold.’
Friedrich stood on the shore. He flicked bugs from his face and arms.
‘What are you waiting for? Jump in. It’s fine,’ Joseph said.
‘I don’t like the cold.’ Friedrich continued to flick. He looked like he had a nervous tick.
‘Get in, son. It’s the only way to get rid of the cockroaches.’
Friedrich, still twitching, dipped one foot in the water, and then the other foot. He shivered. A cockroach crept over the corner of his mouth, and then made for his nostril. Friedrich blew. But the critter held on. The boy waggled his head and wiped his nose. As the creature slid off his face, Friedrich grimaced. Then he closed his eyes tight and pushed his way into the water. With one dunk, the roaches floated off Friedrich.
Friedrich asked through chattering teeth, ‘How long do we stay in the water?’
‘Until it is safe, son,’ Biar said.
The four gazed to shore. In the salmon toned morning light, the beach from where they had come was black and writhing.
‘Could be some time,’ Joseph said.
‘Great, and I was hoping to be back by lunchtime.’ Amie brushed a sluggish roach from her arm. ‘You do realise although we’ve escaped the cockroaches for the time being, we may not’ve escaped the effects of hypothermia.’
‘What’s that?’ asked Friedrich.
‘Dying of cold.’
‘We cannot do that,’ Herr Biar said, ‘we’ll swim around the lake and then walk back to the house.’
‘But the cockroaches, won’t they have invaded the house?’ Amie asked.
‘Not if Frau Biar has anything to do with them,’ Herr Biar said.
Friedrich said, ‘She’ll be swatting them with her big broom.’ He began paddling to the far shore.
‘Come on, we better help Frau Biar and Wilma,’ Joseph said.
Following Friedrich’s lead, Amie, Herr Biar and Joseph swam to the far shore.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Painting Study: Pre-Dawn Lost World of the Wends © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017