It’s the short man who holds the camera, the tall man who gives the orders. The tall one tells me to stand by the chickens, to scatter cracked corn so the birds will scratch and peck around my feet. Red, those birds. Brick-red feathers and candy-red combs on their heads like blistered knuckles. They make me nervous with their taloned dinosaur toes, their beaks a dull yellow and scarred from use.
I’m wearing thin slippers, pale blue leather things made for dancing. A movie, they’d said. Don’t you want to be in a movie? And yes, of course, yes. The answer to that has to be yes, doesn’t it? And so my good blue dress and borrowed shoes and up at dawn to get my hair just right and so excited I got to the place where we were supposed to meet nearly forty minutes early, waiting in the cold in the car Tom’s cousin lent me because Tom couldn’t drive me out here himself—though he’d wanted to—on account of he had to work. A movie, I’d said to him. They want me in their movie. And he hadn’t said, Well what do they want you for? He hadn’t said anything like that. He’d said, How wonderful. He’d said, Look at you! And he’d called his cousin John straight away and drove me over to pick up the car so I’d have it in the morning. Eight a.m. call, I’d told him. They want me there at 8 a.m.
When I got here, there was nobody. Just an empty farmhouse half collapsed, the roof caved in, swallowing itself into the leaning clapboard body and a sense of death and empty hanging over it all and it made me want to lock the car doors and sit tight. I sang to myself, waiting, to keep myself company, but for courage, too. There was no movie crew. There was nothing but the old farmhouse and beyond it the shadow of a barn and then fields, and the fields all tangled and gone to weeds and grass and nothing else for miles that I could see. No man nor animal, none of it.
And then the two men arrived in a box truck, the same men I’d met the day before come through my line at the Foodtown and asked when I’d be getting out of work and could they buy me a cup of coffee they had a business proposition for me. Same men but harder looking in the morning, harder and older, like they’d been filtered through something ugly in the night. They pulled wooden crates of chickens out of the truck, twenty of them, maybe more, angry and squawking. They set them loose there in the farmyard and the fat man, the taller of the two, the one with the sheen of sweat over his top lip, the one made me nervous and got me set back on my heels, he cast some scratch down to keep them where they were and they went at it like they hadn’t seen food for days.
The shorter one, the one with the nice smile, the good haircut, he pulled a movie camera from the front seat of the truck. Bigger than a home movie camera, but not so much bigger. Nothing like what I’d expected.
“Are we waiting for the rest of the crew?” I said.
“Just a small shoot,” the tall one said, “intimate. Just the three of us today.”
Of course I knew then that it wasn’t right. Of course I did. But there wasn’t any escape to be made then that couldn’t be made later so long as I kept my eyes and ears open. And I wanted to see what they had planned. I wanted to know what they thought they were up to with their camera and their chickens and luring a girl out to an abandoned farm like this.
So I stand with the chickens, I scatter corn. I watch Debbie’s leather slippers get stained with the sticky green shit the birds drop every few steps they take.
“Good,” the tall one says. “Just like that.”
I look up and he’s got a smile cracking his fat face, and a hand scrabbling inside his coat at the small of his back and when his hand comes out it’s full of gun, heavy black pistol in that big mitt of a hand, and I’m in for it now. I’m really in for it and I don’t know whether to freeze or run or beg for my life and all around my feet the dumb hungry birds and then the gun goes off and there’s a cloudburst of feathers and squawks and half a twitching chicken not two feet from me and the rest of the chickens running mad around me but not flying away and some of them still scratching for corn and I’m standing there dumb and senseless as the birds and there’s a voice in my head yelling RUN! RUN! but it’s not my voice, it’s coming from beside the camera, its the short one yelling it, but he’s yelling it with a grin and a whoop like it’s all a game and maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but I do it. I turn and I run and I run.