Congratulations to Charles Rafferty, winner of a 2017 Write Well Award for his story, The Silver Smile of the Hatchet, originally published in the March 2016 issue of Brilliant Flash Fiction. For details, check out writewellaward.com.
Here is Charles Rafferty’s award-winning story:
The Silver Smile of the Hatchet
By Charles Rafferty
Magda was too tiny to kill a cow but her mother needed help with the weed-like tenacity of her daily chores. The chickens were put on Magda’s list. The worst one could do, her mother concluded, was to run headless around its pen.
Magda surprised her mother. With a succession of little kisses, she would persuade the chicken to her side. She let it peck the seed from her palm as it had done on a daily basis since the first time it left the henhouse. Then she scooped it up and took it behind the barn.
The bird never complained as she laid its head upon the stump. It may have smelled the dried blood or the feathery scent of a missing companion, but Magda reasoned the recognition was comforting, as if some grand reunion were in the offing. Then the silver smile of the hatchet thunked into the wood, and the body of the bird began to flap and sprint.
Magda was always careful of the head lying in the dirt, staring up at her with the last twinklings of consciousness. Sometimes it even winked at her, and Magda spoke to it as if she would make it better with a little extra feed, a little rub behind the ears.
One day, Magda’s mother interrupted the cycle of murder and comfort. “Magda!” she called. “Stop talking to that chicken.” Magda tucked a hair behind her ear, laid the head upon the ground, and stood to face her mother. “Your uncle is coming for dinner. Go get another bird.”
Magda had blood on her hands, an arterial spatter across her coveralls. She wanted to clean up before returning to the chicken yard, but her mother would never stand for that. “They’re just animals,” she would say, as if that put them into the same category as coffee cups or grass.
So Magda came out from behind the barn and picked another Black Star that had stopped laying eggs. It didn’t look much different from the others, but its insides had grown old. The chicken came over when Magda made kisses in the air. It climbed willingly into her arms as if it were accepting a hug.
But then the bird became agitated. Perhaps it could smell the fresh blood, or the hunger of her uncle approaching on horseback. Twice it tried to crawl up the front of Magda’s shirt, its claws cutting into her. There was a lot of flapping and squawking, and when Magda got finally back behind the barn, she kicked at the gate but it didn’t catch.
As always, the hatchet came down, and the body of the bird began to run. Somehow, it found its way between her legs and out of the un-shut gate. Magda hurried after it, but the remaining chickens saw its headless arrival, her bloody pursuit. The Black Star fell over into the dirt like a toy that needed rewinding.
Magda bent down to retrieve the lump of feathers and felt the blood trickling over her breast where the bird had clawed her. “Trying to walk to heaven” is what her mother would have said. Magda stood up. She felt conclusions being drawn. The silence of the chicken yard blossomed before her like a strange new orchard whose only fruit was fear.