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What the Cluck?

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Some would call it unethical, but Paul liked having an archaeologist in the family. His sister Sarah had little to no qualms about grabbing artifacts from the dig sites she went to, and Paul made a tidy profit for the both of them fencing the items through his antique shop. It was a perfect arrangement.

Things were good. Right up until Sarah brought back the Etruscan rooster.

She looked exhausted when she handed it over, but she had just gotten back from a dig, so Paul didn’t think anything of it. He continued not thinking anything of it until he came into the store the next morning and found the merchandise scattered around. The store hadn't been even close to this messy when he'd left last night.

At first, he assumed thieves had broken in, and tossed things around looking for the truly valuable items, but a quick check revealed everything was still there. Paul grumbled as he cleaned up, trying to figure out how and why the store had been ransacked.

He opened an hour late that day, so he decided to stay an hour late, hoping for more customers to come by. It was an uneventful day: he sold some lamps to a few couples decorating their homes, and a couple of knick knacks to various collectors. Paul yawned as the sun went down, and wiped down the counter. The store was empty.

Suddenly, he heard a loud cluck.

Paul frowned and turned around. Clucking? Nothing he had in the store clucked. The only bird noises that had any right to be heard were his cuckoo clocks, which had the decency to chirp. He sighed as he realized what must have happened. A bird must have gotten in when a customer had the door open. He got a broom and a basket and went on the hunt.

He went around one of the tall sets of shelves groaning with antiques, looked up, and dropped the broom with a shout.

There, in the middle of the aisle, was a chicken. A four foot tall, translucent chicken. It jerked its head back, turned so it could fix an eye on him, and clucked again.

Frozen, Paul stared at the chicken. It couldn't be real. It looked like a ghost. The chicken fluffed its feathers and a metal statue of a panther fell off a nearby shelf and landed on the floor.

At least he’d figured out why the store had been wrecked this morning.

Keeping his movements slow, Paul retreated back the way he’d come. To his horror, the chicken ghost followed him. He sped up, to keep it from catching him. Thankfully, it kept being distracted by various antiques it passed.

Sadly for Paul’s bottom line, it kept knocking breakable things onto the floor. The shop was filled with the sound of clucking and shattering porcelain.

Paul judged himself far enough away, and darted into his office. Behind him he heard more smashed antiques, and winced. He leaned against the door and pulled out his cell phone, stabbing the contact entry for his sister.

She answered on the second ring.

“Hey, Paul,” Sarah said. She sounded much more rested today.

“Sarah, what the fuck did you give me?” His voice was a little screechy, but Paul figured the circumstances excused it.

“Oh, damn,” Sarah muttered. “I guess I should have told you about-”

“About the enormous chicken ghost!?”

Sarah sighed. “Yeah, about that.”

Paul wanted to keep swearing at his sister, but making her hang up on him wouldn’t help clear out his store. “Explain,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.

The explanation, if that was what she giving him, was very disjointed. Paul gathered that the temple she’d found the rooster statue in had been covered in chicken carvings, and possibly warnings about trespassing. The night after she’d taken the statue, the chicken ghost had appeared, and every night after it had followed the expedition, making a mess of the camp each night.

“I was hoping since it hadn’t bothered me last night, it was gone,” she finished.

Paul pinched his nose. For as intelligent as Sarah was, sometimes she just wasn’t very smart. “You never thought to warn me you’d given me a haunted artifact?”

“I wasn’t sure it was the rooster! We took a couple of other things to date and translate. I thought maybe it was the egg Simon took.”

“Come get it,” Paul demanded.

“Hell no,” Sarah said. “I’m not dealing with that thing again. Sell it to somebody.”

“You want me to sell it to some poor sap?” Paul considered the idea. Actually, that didn’t sound like a bad plan. He would just have to make sure it was somebody from a long way away who came too early in the day for the chicken to reveal its little secret in time for them to bring it back easily.

“Why not?” asked Sarah. “That’s what you usually do, isn’t it?”

True, but- “You don’t usually give me cursed artifacts, Sarah.”

He could almost see her shrug through the phone. “It wasn’t intentional, Paul. Just sell it.” There was a murmur of voices on her end of the phone. “I have to go, I’ll talk to you soon. Good luck!”

Paul put the phone down with a sigh, then yelled in shock as the ghost chicken’s giant head came through the door next to him. He dodged as it took a peck at him, and ran for the back door.

He went around and locked the front door from the outside, figuring the expense of one night of having all the lights on was preferable to dying while trying to turn them off. Paul hurried off to his car and drove home, mentally flipping through his customer list. Who was into roosters? He wanted to get that statue gone as soon as possible.

To soothe himself, Paul had chicken for dinner that night, chewing with vicious intensity as he thought of the ghost messing up his store. He went through his contacts list physically, and then through his email requests.

“Aha!” he said, after an hour's search. Paul had finally found an old email from a woman completely obsessed with roosters. He sent her an email with a picture of the statue, taken when Sarah first brought it to the store. Then he brushed his teeth and headed to bed.

Paul woke up to an enthusiastic email from the rooster lady. She promised to be there that morning. Paul grinned at his computer, showered quickly, grabbed some toast and coffee, and went to see what the damage was.

The store was even more of a mess, and Paul winced as he walked over piles of shattered antiques. His broom, abandoned yesterday, had peck marks in the handle, but it still worked well enough. Paul groaned and started sweeping.

He was going to have to charge a fortune for the rooster statue just to make up the difference for all the inventory the ghost chicken had destroyed. Paul grimaced. But if the price was too high, the lady might not take it, no matter how much she liked roosters.

By the time the woman arrived, Paul had come up with what he felt was a fair price: not quite enough to pay for everything the chicken ghost has destroyed, but more than he would have charged before the ghost appeared.

From the raptures the woman (“Call me Trey!”) flew into when she saw the statue, Paul probably could have charged her enough to make up the difference, but it was a little too late now. She clutched the statue to her bosom and thrust her credit card at him.

“It’s perfect!” she exclaimed, stroking her fingers over the carved tail feathers. “I’ve been looking for something just like this!”

Paul ran the credit card, wrapped the rooster up for her, and waved cheerily as she drove away.

He was free!

He tidied away the last few shards of broken porcelain, finding an intricately carved stone egg that had fallen off its display table. He dusted it, put it back on the table, updated his inventory, and went about the rest of his day.

The next time Sarah brought him an artifact, he knew to ask more questions. Hopefully in the future she'd have the sense to avoid giving him cursed artifacts of all kinds.

Especially those haunted by chickens.

Humming, Paul went back to work. The egg statue sat on the table, looking innocent as it waited to hatch.