The Hellkite

StevenW. flickr creative commons

Mr. Knight took out a short newspaper ad that read:

STOLEN: two laying hens

Reward for information leading to the thief’s arrest

Call B. Knight with pertinent details

Nobody talked, even though Knight had a bit of influence around those parts. The man was supremely protective of his property, especially his brood, and took deep offense to the thievery. He’d checked his stock one morning and found a clutch sans the biddy and about blew his top.

A few people around there knew who had taken the birds but didn’t want the boys to get into any trouble. Times were hard.

Henry and his kid brother were the culprits. They were diminutive boys as it was, but being hungry most of the time didn’t help matters any. Henry tried his best to help out at home — scrounging for bottles and collecting some change for the deposits. His eyes were trained on the sidewalk for any silver that might have fallen through a holey pocket of some unlucky Schmo. So they’d sneaked into a door left unlatched and crept silently through the litter to snatch a couple pullets, their presence undetected amid all the clucking.

Destitution, plain and simple, was the same desperate situation where most folks found themselves. It was the times. Their dad had it rough earning any scratch, and the family was left with little on the supper table. Those were hard times to make a decent living.

The scrawny things provided only enough for one meal of grilled meat for the group of them. The kids didn’t realize at the time just how much they’d risked by crossing the threshold into that old wooden building. Stealing from Mr. Night was serious business. He was a hard man. His poultry barn was the site of many a Saturday night cock fight, attended by even the County Sheriff himself.

Games were held once a month in Summer with big bets made on the best bird. Cars and trucks lined the highway full of sporting types and thrill-seekers coming from miles far and wide. Inside, was an ugly cut-throat site to see — all metal spurs and blood. Men’s mouths frothed at the chance to win some quick cash, which flew around in there as much as the gamecocks. These were people it was best not to cross.

Knight eventually got word of who’d stolen from him but decided not to have the boys punished. In fact, he had Henry’s father bring the boy to work at the barns instead. He didn’t want to just throw him out like any old dunghill. The kid mucked out horse stalls, stabbing errant rats with his pitchfork along the way, and cleaned the pit after each big game.  He earned the pittance Mr. Knight doled out for those back-breaking chores. All his sweat and the stench of manure and carrion were worth it for his family to be afforded a fine poultry stew on pay day. Times were truly hard.

*This post was written from the Studio 30+ prompts – scratch & grilled– and based on a true story (an actual 1961 newspaper ad).   Studio30


    • Thanks, Jennifer! I love Daniel Woodrell’s “country noir” style and kind of try to emulate him (not that I would, in a thousand years, ever be as good).

  1. Katy, I love your writing. You are so dynamic and each of your characters is so believable and well described. Truly amazing talent you have.

    • Oh, Cheney ~ you absolutely made my day with your comment! Thank you so much for your kind words.

      My dad’s mother wrote him letters when he was in Army bootcamp, and she told him about that ad (purchased by someone they knew) in one of her letters. My brother told me the part about the cock fights that happened there – I think from what our dad told him. And I embellished the rest.

      Thanks again for your response. I appreciate it more than you know.

    • The man, his ad, and the boy(s) were real. My grandmother said he later found out the boys stole them because they were hungry so he didn’t prosecute. Hard times indeed!

  2. Interesting twist, to have such a hard man go from taking deep offense at the theft, to showing such sweet mercy. I’d like to hear more about him and his side of the story!

    • Hmmm … that’s something I might think about writing. I’ll have to ask my sister and brother about the “real” man whose barns they used to help clean (who also inspired the story). Luckily, I never had to work that hard as a teenager!

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